Ever Wanted To Ask Peter Orner A Question?

New Standards, a selection of the best fiction of Fourteen Hills’ first decade, is being reprinted in two weeks. To celebrate its re-release in bookstores and libraries near you, Fourteen Hills is sponsoring an evening of literature and discussion on March 25, 2010, at 7 p.m. at the Poetry Center (Humanities 512).

San Francisco State faculty members Nona Caspers and Peter Orner, as well as contributors John Clearly and Eireene Nealand, will be reading from New Standards and taking your questions about process and craft. Admission is only $10 and includes a copy of the fiction anthology (a $15 value).

We are taking questions via our blog (leave a comment below), via email, or you can tweet us a question anytime before 10 a.m. on March 25.

If we ask your question at the event, you'll get a free back issue of Fourteen Hills: The SFSU Review at the event.

Here’s a little bit more about our special guests:

Nona Caspers is the author of Little Book of Days (2009) and Heavier Than Air (2006), which received the Grace Paley Prize and was a New York Times Book Review Editors’ Choice. She has received a 2008 NEA Fellowship and an Iowa Review Fiction Award, among others. Her stories have been widely published in journals and anthologies including Cimarron Review, The Iowa Review, Ontario Review, Women on Women and the Hers Series.  

Peter Orner is the author of The Second Coming of Mavala Shikongo and Esther Stories. He's also the editor of Underground America. He proudly teaches at SF State.

John Cleary lives and writes in San Francisco. He is currently an editor for Sidebrow, a literary press dedicated to collaborative experiments in publishing.

Eireene Nealand graduated from San Francisco State in 2005. Her short stories, poems and translations have been published in ZYZZYVA, Fourteen Hills, Transfer, The St. Petersburg Review, and Sidebrow, among other places. She has won numerous awards, including the Elisabeth Kostova and Ivan Klima Fellowships in Fiction. She is currently an associate editor for the literary magazine Tarpaulin Sky and a resident at the Tannery Arts Center. She teaches creative writing at the University of California, Santa Cruz where she is a Ph.D. candidate specializing in contemporary Russian literature.

When established writers take time out of their schedules to talk to students about their own hang-ups, habits, and driving forces, we get the unique opportunity to examine what works for them and what doesn’t. We might consider how their methods could apply to our own work, and at the end of the day, we might find ourselves trying something new.

Start asking questions; we’ll get you some answers.

-Editors, Fourteen Hills


  1. Question for Eireene Nealand: How important do you think danger is, when writing a a short story?

  2. Question for Nona Caspers: As a writer, is there a consciousness about not letting a piece becoming too autobiographical? How often do you fictionalize instances from real life?

  3. Eireene Nealand: While working on the editorial staff of a literary journal, what do you think is the overall future of small-press literary journals? Since it is mostly not a profitable business, can they survive and remain vibrant in the literary community?

  4. The New York Times Book Review describes the characters on your novel Heavier than Air as real people. What did you do to create this effect in your writing? Was it important to draw on personal experience, or did you start building characters from the ground, up?

  5. Nona Caspers: As a professor of creative writing, your teaching style encourages students to become 'more generous thinkers and creators.' Can you expound on this and offer examples generous thinking and generous creating?

  6. Anonymous1:19 PM

    How has writing fiction changed the way you see the world?

  7. Anonymous1:29 PM

    In your path to writing, if you had to choose one element of your process (something you were taught or something you learned on your own) that you could arrive at sooner, what would it be? Why?

  8. Lori Savageau9:55 PM

    Question for Peter Orner: In a small space you manage to explore broad physical and emotional landscapes. How do you decide what not to write, while still achieving the intentions of the story?

  9. Question for John Cleary: When writing a story like "The Blue Room," which features a lot of dialogue, are there any tricks you use to keep the dialogue so fresh and natural sounding, such as acting it out or reading it aloud with someone?

  10. Question for Eireene Nealand: How has your focus on studying contemporary Russian literature affected your writing process?

  11. el guapo11:34 AM

    For Ms. Nealand: 'On commercials democracy fit like a tight jeans.' In your story, "Goat Milk and Honey" from the wonderful fiction anthology New Standards, there are several moments where you capture the accents and nuances of spoken language. These moments often evoke the deeper social/political aspects of the story, as well as the emotionally charged. The affect is humorous and sometimes gut wrenching. Is this a conscious choice, and can you talk about the role of language, as it is heard, in your work.

  12. Anonymous12:20 PM

    Question for Nona Caspers:
    Do you feel that teaching creative writing/ workshops has effected your own writing? If so, in what ways?

  13. Tera Ragan1:18 PM

    For Eireene Nealand: Your story "Goat Milk and Honey" in Fourteen Hill's New Standards verges on creative Non-Fiction with the way you capture Bulgaria and the interactions between the people living there and the Americans during a time of violence and decline. How much historical and factual evidence was needed to write this story? What kind of research goes into writing a piece about a different culture, country, and politics?

  14. Christopher1:23 PM

    Question for John Cleary:

    What informed your decision to write this story in second person and with almost as much dialog as narration?

    Was this approach something you planned from the outset or discovered as you wrote it?

  15. For John Cleary:

    What was the germ in your mind that this story grew from and how did you do the research necessary to write it?

  16. For Peter Orner:

    What was your process for writing the short piece, "From the Collected Stories of Edmund Jerry (E.J.) Hahn, Vol. 4" in the New Standards anthology? Of course the title implies a lot more writing, but I wondered how, specifically, you constructed it: if you worked on it individually or as part of a larger body of stories? Did you record and transcribe, or is E.J. Hahn a fictional character?

  17. For Eireene Nealand:
    As a former student, how has your education and experience from SFSU helped you in your career as a writer or as a teacher?

  18. Anonymous6:22 PM

    For Peter Orner:

    As a firm believer in the beauty of the short story, what would you say short fiction can do that no other form can?

    posted by Maria DeLorenzo

  19. Do you consciously develop a voice or let it emerge organically? What advice do you have for writing a piece in multiple voices?

  20. Rebekah Pickard2:09 PM

    Peter, in the process of writing a story or novel, have you ever been helped by a specific work or author in pushing through a problem or difficult period? If so, can you talk about that experience? If not, can you talk about a specific time when you made a breakthrough in technique, in the sense of figuring out how to get what you wanted onto the page, and how that happened?

  21. This comment has been removed by the author.

  22. For Eireene Nealand:

    Since your initial fiction publication in Fourteen Hills 9.2 in 2003 (anthologized in New Standards) your work has been widely published in print and online journals, including some experimental poetry, visual art and collaborative projects; would you talk about how your writing has evolved in the last 7 years?

    Would you say that even as your form expands to explore new mediums, your core themes and questions persist?

    What was your experience of Sidebrow's collaborative "Project Epistolary"?

  23. Anonymous11:08 PM

    nice job! waiting for your new artical. ........................................

  24. Sara Marinelli6:56 PM

    Question for Nona Caspers
    I am fascinated by the idea of the subconscious level of writing: those glorious moments in which the unpredictable germinates on the page and guides your writing by force of intuition and instinct, taking you to an unknown territory. In your experience, how do you know when that instinct needs to be regulated in order not to sidetrack your original quest? But also, how do you retain that impulse of discovery while revisioning?

  25. baruti10:00 AM

    General questions (re: “perspective,” “power,” and “possession”):
    1) How, does perspective relate (if at all) to a construction and employment of writing strategies used to create the discourse around landscape?
    2) To what extent can the narrative be understood as another way to perceive, as a desire to "read" about sites of production—in the particular sense of there being a “landscape” first perceived and then “read”—a “landscape” from which meaning can be made?
    3) In what ways is perspective no longer just a position with or without power (or a physical placement where one “sees”), but also a medium, which gives sites of production new life?
    4) Can historicism suggest that human existence is not so decisively bound to the mechanisms of instinct, the force of movement and expansion, and the singular telos of reproduction? Does it take the capacity to have a history and the ability to move from place to place, and lead one to conclude that perspective is a discursive product—even possibly the contingent construction of a particular culture or a given historical moment?

  26. Alexandra O'Connor11:03 AM

    About how long do you let an idea evolve before typing it out or writing it down? Or is it immediate?

    Also, which do you find more enjoyable, writing longhand or on the computer? How does your method speak to the way you craft your story?

  27. Anonymous11:37 AM

    Question for all:

    What feelings do you have in encountering these works that were published so long ago now? Do you see any specific ways in how you write now vs. then? How often do you revisit old work? Is there anything specific that you see in these stories that evoke strong reactions, pos. or neg.?