Check out our third print edition on ISSUU!

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As we dive head-first into work on our fourth print issue, the time has come to share our third issue with you. In her publisher’s note, Melissa Connolly sums up our feelings about issue number three:

In this, our third printed edition of Windmill, we continue to learn lessons.

Since our staff is an odd amalgamation of MFA students, undergraduate volunteers, and a one-credit publishing studies class, some of those lessons are obvious, and the questions posed along the way are usually voiced in a slightly annoyed tone: Why isn’t Submittable letting me write notes on this piece? Why does the printer keep talking about signatures? Why can’t I add a second line to the title in this InDesign template?

But other lessons are more subtle, and longer lasting: How to find beauty in writing, and how to discuss the merits of different types of work? How to find consensus? How to take disparate pieces and create something whole, something organic, something even—dare I say—beautiful? And perhaps the most important: how to continue to love writing and art and this literary magazine when you’ve spent the last several hours making small windmill-shaped section dividers for the book that should have been at the printer last week?

This is the part of the unseen work, along with the opportunity to comb through the pages of emerging and established writers line by line, word by word, and work with them on perfecting and publishing their art. Along with these short stories and essays, it is also our charge at Windmill to explore the relationship between creativity and art through our narrative features and interviews. In this issue, we learn about poet and teacher Jane Wong’s craft and highlight a selection of her poems. We also hear from vibrant personalities who visited us at Hofstra this year, including renowned choreographer Twyla Tharp, who shared her thoughts on the creative habit, and the illustrative John McPhee, who discussed the painstaking process of writing, and rewriting.

We even spend some time with our founding editor, Kelly McMasters, who normally writes this letter, but stepped away from much of the day-to-day process of putting this book together this year to tend to the publication of another: This Is the Place: Women Writing About Home, an essay collection she edited with Margot Kahn. In this issue’s Faculty Spotlight, we see Kelly through the eyes of her MFA student, Lily Vu, and consider the twin crafts of creative non-fiction and editing.

Much of our fiction has a distinctly dark and dystopian feel to it, led off with the familiar-yet-postapocalyptic world that colors previous Windmill contributor Heather Whited’s “Things Read by Moonlight,” and the darkly real suburbia in Matthew McGevna’s chilling “The First Few Steps.” It’s in the nonfiction that we feel the immediacy of the natural world, the poetry of the every day—our hometown, the nature we surround ourselves with—whether in Jen Fitzgerald’s meditation on loss and solitude in “Shuttle Launch” or through Akiko Busch’s memory essay “Home in Seven Acts.”

And so the art we chose for this collection reflected the frenetic nature of our written selections: homey yet unfamiliar, beautiful but with dark and foreboding shadows. The otherworldly tulips of the cover, Russian Red Really by Bear Kosik, illustrate this sensibility––natural, yet false; something so familiar and every day that seems just a little off, in a way we cannot quite define. Perhaps this, then, the collected works of friends new and old, of writers and artists, is in its entirety a reflection of our times—the shadows that line the unfamiliar road, the acknowledgment of a work- in-progress, the promise of tomorrow, the beauty of the everyday moment. In days both dark and light, perhaps that is all we can hope for. Perhaps that is what art and writing provide.

Lessons learned.

Melissa Connolly Publisher

Check it out on ISSUU!

 

8-Bit Narrative: Sekiro™ Shadows Die Twice

Sekiro is perhaps one of the most difficult games to discuss when considering narrative—because it doesn’t really try to be narrative-driven.

Yeah, I know it’s a bit counter-intuitive to this series’s focus on video game narrative.  But something rare is accomplished in Sekiro—something that’s rarely accomplished in writing, let alone video games: the side-lining of exposition.

Not entirely, of course.  Sekiro condenses all its exposition into a 3-minute cutscene at the beginning of the game.  It’s gorgeously rendered in CG, but it doesn’t overstay its welcome.  I’m not here to watch a movie.  I’m here to play a game.

There are some important bits in this cutscene: a brief glance at the bloody conflict of Sengoku Era Japan; and the introduction of Wolf—a shinobi (ninja) and the main character of this story.

That’s all I need.  From here, the linear storytelling falls to the wayside.  From here, it all flows naturally as I play.  No long-winded cutscenes.  No expository dialogue.  Just the world as it is: a narrative playground just begging to be uncovered. It’s what my British literature professor calls a “sprezzatura,” or what Oxford dictionary calls a “studied carelessness.”

When exposition does rear its head, there’s always a reason—and not because the writers have artificially placed it there.

It surprised me to learn, early on in my playthrough, that one of those reasons is sake.  Yes, sake.  While Wolf is out in the world, he’ll eventually come across pitchers of sake he can gift to certain characters.

One of these characters is the Sculptor, a one-armed hermit who carves Buddha idols in his free time.  The Sculptor’s not a social character.  His voice hangs low, he never looks you in the eye, and he spends almost the entire run time of the story hunched over in a small dilapidated temple.

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Wolf meets the Sculptor, in all his reclusive glory

But like any reasonable human being, the Sculptor never passes up an opportunity to share a drink.  Actually, he doesn’t even hesitate.  He chugs the whole thing in front of you, and he even gets a little social between bouts.

What he says depends on what sake Wolf brings him. Each sake, a different flavor, stirs different memories.


(After giving the Sculptor Monkey Booze)

SCULPTOR:  It burns the throat, same as ever.  This really brings back memories.

WOLF:  Did you drink this often?

SCULPTOR:  I trained in the techniques of the shinobi in the valley where the monkeys dwelled…

WOLF:  … By yourself?

SCULPTOR:  No.  There were two of us.  We were rogue Shinobi—there was no proper master for the likes of us.  That’s why we went to the valley.  To run, to jump, to clash swords, where one slip would mean your doom. That was how we trained.  We came to move exactly as monkeys did after a time.  (Takes a drink) I’d drink this Monkey Booze whenever I tired of training.  And I’d listen to the howl of my partner’s whistling finger while I drank.  It was from his unique ring.  Whistling through that ring—would fill the valley with a somber melody.  Strangely enough, I enjoyed that sound.  I listened to it so often.


The purpose of the sake then, is not simply to watch a character blabber nonsensically about their life.  Sake stimulates nostalgia.  It stimulates memory.  Not unlike ice cream or a Coca Cola.

Or Proust’s madeleines.  For me, that was the real kicker: to find hints of Marcel Proust and his memory-jostling cookies in a video game.  Here, of course, it’s alcohol in place of confectionary delight, but the purpose is the same: an involuntary nostalgia trip.  A brief adventure back in time.

At some point, Wolf will find himself in a valley where monkeys dwell, and after beheading a giant ape, he’ll find a “Whistling Finger” in its belly.  When he comes back to the dilapidated temple, the Sculptor asks about it—only to never speak of it again.

When I’m writing, there’s always a larger story I want to tell.  Something grandiose and epic.  Something that is simply too ambitious.  There’s never enough room.

So instead, I pick a focal point—like madeleines or sake—a lens through which I can weave a story.

I can never say everything, but I don’t need to.

8-Bit Narrative: Red Dead Redemption 2

I’ve been begging for more of NPR’s excellent series, Reading the Game, which explores the crossover between literary and video game narrative.  I got my wish, a few months ago, when Jason Sheehan wrote on last year’s Game of the Year contender, Red Dead Redemption 2.

The game’s old news now, but even so I can’t help but thinking back to this game, this 50-hour-long glance at the Wild West: a period so warped by American mythology that it’s difficult to think of as a real place.

RDR2’s story opens in the most unforgiving of mountain ranges, where a blizzard whips and batters a poor caravan as it slogs through the snow.  If I had ignored the prior text scrawls, I would have no idea this caravan belongs to the notorious Van der Linde gang.

The gang takes shelter at an abandoned settlement, where Dutch van der Linde, the leader, makes a motivational speech. There’s no music—just the voice of a man talking to his starving, crumbling followers.

It’s here where a little exposition is dropped, but it’s not much to go on.  The gang’s running from a job-gone-wrong in some place called Blackwater.  A few characters, who I never got to know, are already dead.  That’s all I know.

It’s important to note that RDR2is not a chronological sequel to its predecessor. It’s essentially a prequel. Knowledge of the first game, while helpful, barely serves a purpose here.

After Dutch’s speech, the player takes control of Arthur Morgan, the main protagonist and Dutch’s pseudo-right-hand man.  I say “pseudo-right-hand” because the gang hierarchy goes mostly unsaid.  Characters flow in and out of Dutch’s graces.  Arthur starts somewhere near the top.

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Arthur Morgan, RDR2’s troubled protagonist

Immediately, I realize how loyal Arthur is to Dutch and the gang.  He says little.  He rarely hesitates.  He does ask questions though, and it’s here where RDR2’s conflict is set in motion.  All’s not right with the Van der Linde gang, and Dutch’s credibility is already being called into question.

The player’s first task as Arthur is to find food. That’s all.  Not shoot up a saloon.  Not rob a bank.  Just find food.  How quaint for a developer like Rockstar Games, whose pedigree has largely been defined bythe Grand Theft Auto franchise.  This is not a loud and proud opening.  This is cinematic but reserved and self-contained.

Early on, I’ve already discovered what this game is about. This is about people.  This is about struggle, natural and man-made. This is about a man with a vision, Dutch, and his followers as they seek to keep up with him.  This is about one follower in particular, Arthur—loyal to the vision yet a cut above the others.

It’s a slow opening for sure, something that you would sooner see in a book or a 5-season Netflix series.  The freedom of the open world doesn’t really become “open” for the first few hours, and for some, that’s just too long for a video game.  I had one friend who quit the game just an hour in—because he said it was so slow.

And I guess that’s fine.  Games are games for a reason.  They’re meant to be played and interacted with.

But as a writer, I’m inspired by games like RDR2—ones that take their time, develop their characters, and weave an engaging story.

Submissions Are Open!: The 2019 Print Issue

It’s that time of year, folks! We are so excited about this year’s print issue of Windmill and we hope that you are too!

For our print issue, we are seeking short stories and essays, both fiction and creative nonfiction, that celebrate strong narrative voice. We strive to showcase both emerging and established writers. Our print issues are not themed and submissions should be 5,000 words or less. Longer pieces are judged at a higher standard. Additionally, please note that we are not accepting poetry submissions at this time.

Submissions are live now, and we are accepting submissions until April 1, 2019.


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Holiday ’18: “Carp Per Diem” by Bear Kosik

We celebrate the Lunar New Year. We don’t have any Asian heritage, although being one-quarter Lebanese kind of technically qualifies me as Asian if you want to get geographical about it. Anyway, the Asian Lunar New Year falls in February. The Chinese call it the Spring Festival. It breaks up the winter the way Christmas would if it were held a month later. The red decorations blend in for Valentine’s Day, too. Très festive!

I don’t know all the details about the holiday. We just focus on the food. Certain dishes are served for special reasons. For example, long noodles symbolize long life, greens mean making money, et cetera. Serving a whole fish is one of them. Something to do with living out the whole year, I think. If it even hints at providing good luck, I’m all for it.

My Spousal Unit insists on going to the Asian market to pick out a live fish. This year, I went with him. I remember the supermarket I went to as a kid had a tank with live lobsters. Other than that, I’ve never seen any protein sold on the hoof (claw? fin?). Supposedly, my grandmother used to cut the heads off chickens. They ran around the yard before dying. That might just be a false memory to explain how my family usually behaved before Sunday dinner at Granny K’s.

So, Hubby and I go to the Asian market to pick out a fish. He hates when I call him Hubby. I do that to remind him that hate is really too strong of a word to use in that context. Anyway, we get to the fish tank and find five good-sized carp steadily swimming around. The tank isn’t really crowded. It is close quarters though, if something can be close quarters without being crowded.

I know things to look for when choosing dead fish: no fishy smell, clear eyes. I haven’t a clue how to pick a live one and Hubby can’t remember. Choosing baby bok choy wasn’t this difficult, although I do have an issue with anyone calling a food ‘baby’ anything. Well, unless it is food for a baby. I still can’t eat breakfast with my younger brother because he calls eggs chicken miscarriages. It’s a good thing I know how to pretend to be an only child.

The Spousal Unit engages the Vietnamese owner of the market. The owner pauses as a ‘what are you, stupid’ expression emerges on his wrinkle-carved face. Then he tells Hubby the fish are all fresh because they are all alive. I hadn’t thought of that.

The market owner gets a net to pull one of the creatures out of the tank. Now, trust me on this. A carp stopped swimming right in front of me. Its eye on the side I could see moves, as though it’s studying me. You know, like when the eye doctor tells you to look up left, down left, et cetera. It slowly moved its body to where it could face me. And it just continued to look at me.

Naturally, since the staring carp stopped swimming it is the easiest to scoop up. I’m standing right next to the scale where the guy dumps the fish to weigh it. I swear it didn’t take its eye off me. And it just lay there. I thought fish flopped around.

No, this one wanted to die in peace. Maybe it sacrificed itself so the others could live or it was tired of being held captive. I can anthropomorphize this incident as much as I want, but I’m just making matters worse.

I said a prayer like the aliens do in Avatar when they kill something for food. Thankfully, that turns out to be sufficient amends for me to enjoy the meal later on. What worries me is the impact that fish has had on my life. Seriously. I don’t think I can look my food in the eye ever again. In the future, we may have to serve steamed lobster for Lunar New Year. I never could tell what were eyes or antennae in the lobster tank.


Bear Kosik’s book Remaking Democracy in America was just published (Stairway Press). He also writes novels (two as Hugh Dudley), plays (six produced in Manhattan since 2016), and screenplays (sixteen laurels from competitions since 2016). Bear’s short fiction, poetry, essays, and photos have appeared in reviews and anthologies since 2015.