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PERSISTENCE PAYS

by Jeff Sykes

Press 53 announces first Award for Short Fiction

jeff@yesweekly.com | @jeffreysykes

Wendy J. Fox recently won the inaugural Press 53 Award for Short Fiction.

Finding a balance between real world demands and the dream of success every novice writer clings to is a science unto itself. Even freshly minted graduates of traditional and boutique MFA programs alike struggle with the literal (and literary) grind necessary for success.

Every working writer has heard the mantra which posits that success is one percent talent and 99 percent effort, but a lot of times the effort to pay the bills zaps more than that.

So it’s refreshing to come across a success story, to read fresh fiction that has something relevant to say and comes from the depths of a fresh voice.

Such is the case with Wendy J. Fox’s debut short story collection, The Seven Stages of Anger and Other Stories, set to be released from Winston-Salem-based publishing house, Press 53.

Fox grew up in Eastern Washington, a point clearly made in a handful of the 11 stories that make up the collection, which will be released Oct. 17. She received her MFA in 2001 from the Inland Northwest Center for Writers at Eastern Washington University. In published interviews she’s detailed the frustration and deflating of her idealized vision of what it means to be a writer.

She told The Missouri Review last year of her efforts to keep focused on her personal writing goals while trying to move beyond college graduation and build a career that actually provides income. After bouncing around the adjunct circuit, and then working for a contractor as an office assistant, Fox moved to marketing and finally landed a good job at a software company in Denver.

Still motivated to achieve literary success, she found it tough to split the time between work and art. Finding little kernels of time for her creative writing became difficult. But her business discipline proved crucial.

“I began to feel about writing the way people talk about business: talent is important, but effort can mean just as much,” she told Alison Balaskovits of The Missouri Review in an interview last year. “I wrote more and kept more manuscripts in the mail than I had ever had, urged on by the corporate grail of productivity. Also, because I’d chosen, very consciously, to work for a living outside of academia, writing on my own was my strongest connection to the arts.”

Fox won the inaugural Press 53 Award For Short fiction earlier this year. As part of the award she received a $1,000 advance. She will also be a featured speaker at Press 53’s Gathering of Writers on October 18.

Press 53 Publisher Kevin Morgan Watson said that Fox’s writing stood out for its specific use of detail, the way she observed the particulars that bring stories into sharper focus.

Others noted her strength of writing at the sentence level, the poetry with which she graces the narrative.

“Wendy J. Fox’s prose is strong and fragile at the same time,” said Anastasia Ashman, editor of Tales from the Expat Harem. “As she explores in these stories the hairline fractures in our relationships with life, ourselves and each other, you can’t help but hold your breath for the big break you know is coming.”

Beginning writers, and even some recently celebrated, could gain from observing Fox’s prose. The way in which a view contains “low, brown hillsides”, or children walk along “dirt cow paths.” Timbers are spindly. Lichens are dried. Rocks are exposed. Dust is atmospheric. And that’s all in two paragraphs.

The stories I read in the uncorrected proof I received were resplendent with such prose gems. Characters alive despite their difficulties. The type of fiction we all aspire to.

Watson is excited to be publishing this book. He also is looking forward to Fox’s visit and her seminar at the Gathering of Writers, among others.

“This year’s faculty is pretty amazing.

A set of North Carolina award-winning authors in Lee Zacharias, who has a new collection of essays with Hub City Press, and Kim Church, who has a new novel with Dzanc Books, and then we have David Jauss from Little Rock, Arkansas, who has been published in numerous awards anthologies, and David James Poissant, who recently signed a two-book deal with Simon & Schuster,” Watson said. “And we invited the winner of the Press 53 Award for Short Fiction, Wendy J. Fox of Denver, Colorado, whose fiction amazed us on so many levels. We think writers of all levels will come away from the Gathering energized and focused.”

WANNA go?

The Press 53 Gathering of Writers is set for 9am on Oct. 18 at the Community Arts Café at Fourth and Spruce streets in Winston-Salem. Wendy Fox will be the guest at a reception on Oct. 17 at 7pm at Artworks Gallery at Sixth and Trade streets. For more info visit www.press53.com.

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