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Welcome, Rebecca Turkewitz!

This month we are celebrating the titles that we’ve acquired over the past twelve months. These manuscripts came to us through our open reading periods. Today we bring you Rebecca Turkewitz, whose short story collection Here in the Night is due out next summer.

Have a manuscript you think we’d like? During our June Open Reading Period we are looking for poetry (chapbooks and full-length collections), short fiction (again, both chapbooks and full-length collections), novels, novellas, nonfiction (CNF, biography, cultural studies), anthology proposals, and translations from German. 

 

 

The Author

Rebecca Turkewitz is a writer and high school English teacher living in Portland, Maine. Her short stories, essays, and humor writing have appeared in The Normal School, The Masters Review, Chicago Quarterly Review, Sonora Review, Catapult, Electric Literature, The New Yorker’s Daily Shouts, McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, and elsewhere. She holds an MFA in fiction from The Ohio State University. She’s been a resident at Hewnoaks Artist Residency and won a 2020 Maine Literary Award in the short works category. She loves cats, the ocean, and ghost stories.

 

 

 

On Writing Here in the Night

The stories in Here in the Night were written over a span of ten years. My life looks very different now than it did when I began this project. Still, as I was putting the manuscript together, I was struck by how many of these stories grappled with the same questions and preoccupations. What is wonderful and what is harrowing about being a woman? How do we reckon with the debts we owe one another? How can communities be so crucial to our survival and also so suffocating in their expectations for us? Apparently, I’ve been thinking about ghosts, and queerness, and uncertainty, and all manner of hauntings for a long time.

I wrote the earliest stories in this collection propped up in bed in the attic of an apartment I shared with five other graduate students in Columbus, Ohio. Later, I wrote in a coffee shop in Maine with an expansive view of the harbor and homemade marshmallows. Later still, I wrote on the screened-in porch of a cabin at Hewnoaks Artist Residency, listening to the loons crying out on the lake. I wrote the beginning of one of these stories on the train from Portland to Boston. I wrote at my parent’s dining room table, and while my legs fell asleep under my domineering cat. I wrote during quarantine, and after grading 40 essays on 1984, and in the blissful freedom of summer break. I wrote some of these stories frantically, all in one rush, hours before a workshop deadline. I wrote some of them slowly and painstakingly over fourteen months. Pretty much every lesson I’ve learned about how to write well I’ve forgotten and then remembered a hundred times. Sometimes it seems like the only constant is that I kept writing.

 

 


Excerpt from “At This Late Hour”

 

I’ve been working the front desk of the Leavitt Hotel for three years, but booking rooms and greeting guests is only part of my job. It took some persuading, but William, the owner, lets me haunt the place. When William hired me, the Leavitt was already considered one of the most haunted spots in New England. At first, William dismissed the spooky stories and the ghost-hunters’ claims. He’s a history buff, and he’s been meticulously restoring the two-hundred-year-old mansion to as close to its original state as he can possibly make it. He couldn’t see that hauntings and history are really just two sides of the same coin, just different ways of using what came before us to make sense of our lives. After a few months of gathering visitors’ and staff members’ accounts, I went to William with my proposal: I wanted to play up the hotel’s ghostly reputation. I told him it could attract business, especially in the off-season when the summer beach-goers and the fall tourists have deserted us. I assured him I could draw in a crowd that would appreciate the original fireplace he had restored in the lobby and the antique light fixtures he was buying for the dining room.

To test the waters, William let me add a few eerie touches to the hotel website: a picture of the small graveyard on the northern side of the property and a black-and-white photo of the building with all the windows dark, save one. I left a few false reviews online, added some stories to ghost-hunting websites, and dimmed the lobby lights in the evening. When business picked up and guests started asking about the Leavitt family tree hanging on the lobby wall, William relented completely. Together, we installed new locks on the doors so I could present each guest with a heavy brass skeleton key. Once a month I give a ghost tour of the property, pointing out the spot in the yard where no grass grows, the empty stone well hidden behind a stand of birch trees, the unlit coal room in the basement, and the study where Samuel Leavitt supposedly died at his desk, still tallying the debts others owed him.

I’ve learned that the best way to cultivate spookiness is to only hint at it, letting the stories stand for themselves while I express my doubts. I tell people on my tours that I’m only the reporter. The last guest just told me the craziest story as he was checking out, I say as I hand over maps of hiking trails. Every now and then, when I’m feeling anxious or bored or the urge to pack up and move, I slip into empty rooms and leave handprints on the windows and mirrors or scurry noisily through the halls at night, rapping on the walls. At first, I didn’t tell William about these last flourishes. But William spends hours trying to recover old tax records and photos, tracing the Leavitt-Johnson family tree, and scouring antique stores for rugs and furniture that match the original design of the house. He understands fascination with strange and particular things.

Blackstone, New Hampshire is a town that lends itself well to hauntings. Driving in on the main road, you pass the wide, hilly cemetery; the somber, spired churches; and the black clouds of flies swarming above the salt marshes. The town center is full of winding streets and old clapboard houses, and its crooked shoreline reaches, like a long arm, into the bay. Its nights are dark and full and brooding. It’s the first place I’ve ever lived that has not lost its character or that excited feeling of newness, even with the dull slog of passing days. I came here from Manchester, leaving behind, at thirty-three, not much else besides a pervy boss at a waitressing job I hated, some friends who still occasionally forget I’ve moved away and text me about parties, and an apartment I shared with my ill-tempered ex-boyfriend.

Although I’m an avid collector of Blackstone’s ghost stories and superstitions, I’m mostly skeptical when it comes to the occult. I’m sure the majority of the guests’ accounts of sudden chills and wailing women aren’t actually evidence of supernatural phenomena. But I love the stories and the way they grab hold of people and cast a spell over the hotel, giving shape to the night and its mysteries. And I don’t doubt that people are sensing something—a shift in mood or change in the air. Why not entertain the idea that, for a few brief moments, the past can spread like a deep soft bruise into the present? How else can I explain the thrill I feel as I sit alone at the desk in the evening, hearing—or imagining I’m hearing—the rhythm of the ocean waves, even though we’re almost a mile from the shore? And there is one ghost I do believe in. Everyone in Blackstone knows the legend of Emily Leavitt, and I feel her spirit, if not her actual specter, lingering.