Scale Model by Rachel Kolman is the sixth story in our series of twelve. Please click on the READ IT link to download the story and don't forget to check out our below interview with the author.
If you are on the go, use “Klip.me” or “Push to Kindle” to send to your e-reader.
Hometown: Spring Hill, FL
Currently reading: Vampires In The Lemon Grove, Karen Russell
Music you dig: Sleigh Bells, Lana Del Rey, Patrick Wolf
An underrated author we should know about: Pasha Malla
Favorite drink: Brooklyner Weisse
Bowling or Bumper cars? Bowling!
Question: You’re on an island. You can bring three books. What books would you bring?
oh, that is much too hard. I’ll have to go coffee though, because I need that to function.
Rachel Kolman recently received her MFA in fiction from the University of Central Florida. She likes to write stories about characters finding obsessions. She herself is obsessed with finding good craft wheat beers, Legend of Zelda timeline theories, and organizing her Netflix queue. Her work has most recently been published by WhiskeyPaper. You can find her online at rachelkolman.wordpress.com.
Support poets in April and beyond!
Poetry is important to the folks at Unmanned Press. There are many poets that we admire and seek to read their work whenever and wherever we can. Poets such as: Atsuro Riley, Dana Ward, Lisa Robertson, James Arthur, Kathleen Rooney, Steve Davenport, Douglas Kearney, Zachary Schomburg, Karyna McGlynn, Ariana Reines, Bryan Estes, our own short story authors, including Casandra Lopez and Susan Yount, and many, many more. So, rather than publish a short story this month, we would like to encourage you read a poet that you've just discovered. Plus, if send us the name of that poet, we may just post your response. And, of course, we'll have an excellent short story for you in May.
Granite by Susan Yount is the fifth story in our series of twelve. Please click on the READ IT link to download the story and don't forget to check out our below interview with the author.
Hometown: Scottsburg, IN
Currently reading: Two chapbooks: Poisonous Beautyskull Lollipop by Juliet Cook & First Wife (forthcoming) by Laura Wiseman
Music you dig: Neutral Milk Hotel
Favorite drink: Chianti or a nice dry red
Pen, pencil or keyboard: Keyboard
Thank you! Thank you! Would it surprise you if I said it came from real life? When I was a grade school, latchkey kid growing up in rural Indiana, my neighbor and BFF was kidnapped by her own mother. At the time, I didn’t realize she had really been kidnapped. I honestly never thought that I’d never see her again and by the time my mother finally asked where my friend had been, all I knew was that her mother had come to get her. After a couple of weeks had passed my classmates asked if I’d heard from her. My heart broke. I didn’t even think to give her my address. Back then, we had strange rural route numbers for addresses—it would have been difficult for her to figure it out.
It was such a traumatic experience and it often makes appearances in my poetry but I never really thought anyone would be interested in the whole story until I read Shampoo Horns by Aaron Teel. I found that his collected flash fiction had a similar theme and in some sense, we had a similar writing style. Discovering Teel’s work gave me the courage to submit Granite.
Absolutely! And emotion always comes first. In everything I write, I’m most concerned about the way I’m manipulating mood. I try to channel the emotion of the experience first and use that as a guide when crafting facts, etc.
T. Stores. Granite would still be sitting in My Documents unedited. Thank you. I’m proud to be here and with such amazing company.
The next person I thought of was Arsenic Lobster contributor, Brenda Mann Hammack. The world needs her words like it needs air. I simply floated away when I read her neo-Victorian fantasy in verse. Humbug is dark, illuminating and frightfully original. I’ll have it ready for the Fall Semester.
Another Arsenic Lobster poet immediately came to mind, Sara Tracey. I originally solicited her manuscript as a backup, but after I’d read through it a couple of times, I couldn’t believe such a perfect thing had been offered to me. She turns the slush of the Midwest into a handful of shattered sequins. I could live forever in a Sara Tracey poem. I’ll have Some Kind of Shelter ready for Christmas.
I’m committed to this pattern: one guy book, two gal books, one guy book, two gal books. Arsenic Lobster is the perfect place for me to find these guys and gals!
Susan Yount was raised on a farm in southern Indiana where she learned to drive a tractor and hug her beloved goat, Cinnamon. She is an editor at Arsenic Lobster, madam of Chicago Poetry Bordello and founder of Misty Publications. She also works full-time at the Associated Press and teaches online poetry classes at The Rooster Moans Poetry Cooperative. As if all that wasn’t enough, she recently completed her MFA in poetry at Columbia College Chicago, co-writes the Rebellious Women in Poetry column and is mother to a darling 6-year-old. Her chapbook, Catastrophe Theory, is just out from Hyacinth Girl Press.
Fresh Air by T. Stores is our fourth story in a series of twelve. It is a lovely story about taking leaps. It’s also a story about the threat of disturbance to happiness—not so much by violence, but by choice.
Please click on the READ IT link to download the story and don't forget to check out our below interview with the author.
Low-down on T. Stores:
Hometown: Born and raised in Jacksonville, Florida, but my “true” home is Newfane, Vermont, where I now live.
Currently reading: Best American Short Stories 2012
One underrated fiction author we should know about: Edith Pearlman
Favorite location in nature: Cumberland Island National Seashore, Georgia
Coffee or tea? Coffee, cream no sugar
Favorite writing instrument? Macbook Pro
Fresh Air is one of those stories for which it seems I’ve been saving fragments my whole life. About ten years ago on a drive home along a dirt road in Vermont after a softball game, I hit something that I now believe was a Luna moth (or Tinkerbell). It seemed huge when I hit it, thumping much like a little person with wings into my windshield and then along the roof of my car. I kept that image in the back of my mind, trying to find a character for whom flight and the adult rejection of fantasy and play would be significant. Four years ago while on sabbatical in France, I was charged with the care of a bunch of chickens while my friends, their owners, were away. My grandmother had told me about how she killed chickens when I was young, and my friends told me about trying to butcher a chicken and their problems with “too many cockerels,” and then, in the middle of the night while I was caring for the place, a “fouine,” which is a kind of weasel, got in and slaughtered the whole flock, much like the scene in the story. The smell of blood, the total silence in the stable, the senselessness of the predator’s frenzy is still fresh in my memory. I’m a college professor and have chaired departments, so that part of the story line was just familiar (though not my own experience), and I also wove in stories of “Fresh Air Foundation” kids I’d heard and familiar Vermont settings.
I have known many people—especially men—who both refuse to “grow up” and who work too hard to “act” grown up, sometimes in the same person. While the story of Peter Pan is meant as a kind of cautionary tale, for me it is a very sad tale, because it demands one or the other—innocence and play and imagination or adult responsibility and seriousness. Ashley is a child and is therefore innocent—at least for another moment or two—but it is Hal and Will about whom I am most concerned. I worry that we adults forget to play, to keep some innocence and possibility alive in our very busy and very serious adult lives. I am often guilty of that myself. I want Hal to show Will a possibility for adulthood that is not just about competition and power and winning, but first he must find his way back to that “childish” place himself. I’ve found that I tend to resist the “either/or” of our contemporary reality a little, and I think Peter Pan presents that dichotomy: one must either be innocent or one must be an adult, which seems to mean competing in the adult world. In Neverland, the fights are illusory, fanciful, and no one really dies. Time never runs out. But for adults, death comes closer and closer, and we feel we must do something, accomplish something, before it gets us. Call me a romantic, but I think that there is room in adulthood for the flights of fancy Peter Pan embodies. I actually think it’s a much more complex and difficult path to constantly weigh and try to blend the traits of either end of the binary together. That, for me, is the adventure and task of true personhood—the adult, perhaps the writer, who tries to do something, accomplish something, but who still holds onto play, to innocence, to possibility.
I know people who have hosted Fresh Air kids and I expect that my partner and our children and I will likely participate one summer soon.
Vermont is a very special place. I’ve lived in New York, in Connecticut, and in Vermont (as well as Boston, Denver, the Colorado mountains, rural France, and several places in Florida and the Deep South, where I was born and raised). In Vermont, “development” is more positive. I would not say that it’s “slower” meaning “delayed” but that development is more “careful” and “considered.” There is a very deliberate choosing of which new developments to incorporate into one’s life and at what pace and how much comparative emphasis. Certainly there is crime—a few years ago the body of a woman murdered in Connecticut was dumped along I-91 in Vermont, which contributed to the idea of the gun in the story—and drugs and new technologies and politics and all the rest, but I think there is something also very important about the proximately of Vermonters to nature and the land and to a very tight and small community. When something happens to one person in a community of a few hundred or even a few thousand, it impacts us all. We know and care for our neighbors. We encounter the biological realities of life and death through encounters with extreme weather and wildlife and our neighbors almost every day. We do not forget that we are just parts of the natural world, that we are connected through that reality. When I lived in the city and in the suburbs, the emphasis on money and business and competition seemed to mask that very basic equalizing fact of biology—we live, we eat, drink, breathe, and we die. We are more together in this adventure than we are separate. We must think of this more than we think of our iPhones and jobs and hairstyles and clothes and cars.
My general stance for fiction is “whatever the story demands.” That said, I don’t like guns very much. I’ve owned one and carried one and shot one. When I was a kid, I went to hunting camp with my dad. But it’s easy power, and I don’t think killing should be easy. In this story, I’d say Hal’s contrasting emotions around the gun are very much my own. I understand him. A gun makes the owner or the wielder of the gun feel strong. And that’s a very dangerous feeling.
I’ve continued to write in multiple genres—novel, short fiction, essay, and poetry—throughout my career, but I’ll also say that some stories or images or situations just seem better fitted for one or another genre. Very personal work tends to be poetry. The personal from which I have learned something that might be useful to others tends to ask for personal essay. Short fiction and the novel overlap a little, though the shorter form seems to be more precise, a thought or idea that comes almost whole-formed, while the novels are more exploratory, their endings less likely determined before I start. I have indeed tried out ideas or stories or images in multiple genres, and sometimes I’ve had success with the same story in poetry and fiction and essay. Sometimes the choice of genre is also to do with the particular physical situation of my life at that time. I’m always collecting ideas, but, for instance, when I had twin newborns at home and never slept, poetry seemed better adapted to my shorter spans of thought-time.
We can talk sports, but other than my own children’s various sports teams and my own softball team and the Boston Red Sox, I don’t follow sports very much any more. The Red Sox are a sentimental favorite, connected to my very complicated family history and memories and life. We love Fenway. We always have hope they will win, even when they can’t possibly. There’s something very “story-like” in the saga of the Red Sox, too. (See diatribe on fantasy versus reality above!)
I wrote novels because I wanted to write novels. I chose to write a collection of short fiction because I wanted to push myself, to test myself, and because this particular set of stories is also the story of community—a community of individual protagonists connected by proximity and setting. Short fiction allows for no mistakes. There’s no room for error. One must pay attention to absolutely everything, every word, every turn of plot and character and all the rest. Writing these stories has made me a better writer of fiction.
Never give up. If you practice and listen to what others tell you and read and read and read, and practice more and more and more, you will get better. If you’re stubborn enough, you will eventually write something someone wants to publish. Get used to rejection. Get used to failure. Write because you love it. Write because you can’t not write. Keep at it.
A Member of the Wedding, by Carson McCullers. The Sound and the Fury, by William Faulkner. The Catcher in the Rye, by J.D. Salinger.
Students don’t read when they’re young as much as I read when I was young so they don’t develop the habit of reading and love of the story at as young an age. You have to read a lot to be able to write fiction well. That was my primary entertainment, and I believe it’s part of what made me a writer. I loved the art of the story and the simple act of reading everything all the time engrained my mind with strategies and tools that come “naturally” to me in story-telling. I don’t find as many young people who consume literature for fun. There are just too many other distractions in everyday life. And the art of telling a story in film or on television is not the same art. Perhaps there are more screenwriters now for that reason.
I can’t think of one. I am, quite frankly, pretty eclectic in my taste. I will read almost anything lying about when I have time to read.
No, I’ve never had a pet chicken. I did have a pet rabbit and a pet guinea pig who lived together in the same cage to ripe old ages of about 12. We used to call it the bachelor pad. They seemed quite happy together.
Time. I never have “writer’s block,” but I never have enough time to write everything I want to write. That’s just the reality of my world. I love my work as a teacher, and I love my family, and I love my writing. The first two demand my attention in ways that can’t be avoided. Kids and partners and students and university administrators require my labor and attention sometimes in ways that take away from my writing time. On the other hand, the attention my writing demands of me feeds a part of my being that nothing else feeds, and so I have become a master (mistress?) of stealing time… often from sleep. I am very lucky to be able to manage my writing life fairly well most of the time, but I always hunger for just a little more time to write.
I don’t know what he will do either. Life is cruel that way.
I want them to think again about the more difficult path of being both child and adult, of taking risks and letting go of control and the quest for power while still being responsible. I want them to watch for the moth that might be a magic fairy. I want them to believe again that they might fly.
Fresh Air is from T. Stores’ collection of linked short stories titled Frost Heaves, each exploring connections and conflicts between wilderness and human community. The title story won the Kore Press Fiction Prize and was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. Stores is the author of three novels, and her poems, essays and stories have appeared in journals including Sinister Wisdom, Rock & Sling, Cicada, Out Magazine, MotherVerse, Blithe House Quarterly, Oregon Literary Review, Bloom Magazine, Earth’s Daughters, Blueline, SawPalmand Kudzu. Stores teaches at the University of Hartford and lives in Newfane, Vermont, with her partner and children.
Multiple Children by Margarita Meklina represents the third story in our series of twelve. Multiple Children explores the themes of alienation and loneliness. Please enjoy and click on the READ IT link to download the story.
If you are on the go, use “Klip.me” or “Push to Kindle” to send to your e-reader, and after you have read the short story, make sure you check out our below interview with the author, Margarita Meklina.
Low-down on Margarita Meklina:
Hometown: San Francisco, California
Currently reading: Montano's Malady by Enrique Vila-Matas and The Songlines by Bruce Chatwin
Favorite word in Russian: совпадение (a coincidence)
One underrated author we should know about: It would be the American writer Guy Davenport and, basically, all literature in translation–this literature is like one hugely important author that’s being dismissed by American publishers.
Libraries or bookstores? Libraries
Guitar or drum? Drum
The thread is alienation, alienation not only of immigrant parents and their children from others, but also the alienation of these parents from their children. I think that the world that surrounds us is foreign to us because nothing in it is straightforward and can always be explained by science, but for newcomers to the U.S. this foreignness that even natives feel here is multiplied. The inspiration was my desire to fragment life into minuscule capsules, where in small episodes one can see the whole; in some other dimension all these minuscule capsules are interconnected, but often people cannot see any other dimension besides the linear path from home to work and that’s why they feel alienated from others and from the bigger picture of themselves.
The name was changed from Leningrad to St. Petersburg in 1991, which means that I lived in one city called Leningrad for 19 years and then in another city called St. Petersburg, or “Piter,” for 3 years. The same’s true for the country: the Soviet Union where I spent my childhood and youth was officially dissolved in 1991, so when I left it in 1994 for the U.S., it was a different country already. Raised on classical Russian literature written by Count Tolstoy and other writers with a degree of nobility like the Nobel laureate Ivan Bunin, I always despised Communism and decided to leave Soviet Russia when I was 10. At 20, I mailed my application for refugee status to the American Consulate. My refugee status was granted and I found myself in the U.S. where I celebrated my 22nd birthday.
I’m not a success story for now. For instance, I have completed a 100,000 word young adult novel in English about a boy who lives in Argentina, but to acquire an agent, I must hide my nationality because it will play against me. First of all, Russia is now neither America’s best friend nor best enemy. Either of these two circumstances would make anything Russian as popular as it was in the 1960s, when everybody would go “ga-ga” about sputniks, spies and dissident dancers fleeing to the West. Second, any literary agent would immediately think, “How can I market a novel about the Pampas, gauchos, and riding a rhea written by somebody born in the snobbish cultural capital of Russia dubbed the Russian Venice?” It just doesn’t add up. Third, I can’t even mention that I’m an author of several books because they were all published in Moscow, and, at present, no Russian writer in translation brings sales in the U.S. unless it’s a Banana Republic clothes collection called “Anna Karenina!”
California was mostly known in Russia because of the Santa Barbara TV series, so I had no idea what the Bay Area was like. Immediately after I landed in San Francisco, one of my Russian acquaintances warned me that “there are crazies and homosexuals freely walking in the streets here,” but this actually turned out to be one of the best things that ever happened to me. The LGBT community was very welcoming and I loved frequenting “A Different Light Bookstore” in the Castro. They had all these books on gender and sexuality that were never available in Russia (and that will not likely be available soon because of the recent Russian law banning “gay propaganda”).
There was this very unique pedagogical book series in the Soviet Union that my parents had for some reason. It featured real-life experiences of teachers who had to struggle with difficult kids, in kindergartens, schools, orphanages and juvenile detention centers. Inspired by these books, I wanted to become a new Makarenko, a Soviet educator who was working with these juvenile delinquents, trying to change them by applying the concept of “productive labor.” So, I wanted to educate people and change them for the better and describe my experience in writing. In other words, I wanted to be a writer from this very early age, but what I wanted to write about was always shifting. Sometimes I wanted to be a psychologist who would describe her subjects in research books and at other times I wanted to be a criminal investigator who would document her gruesome discoveries.
It’s funny that you ask me about this because my first job in the U.S. was passing out flyers for a fortune teller on Powell and Market in San Francisco. She did not trust her psychic powers enough to guess who was doing a truly good job (it was me!), so she would periodically hide in the tourist crowds to check if we were passing out flyers quickly and efficiently and to a sufficient number of passersby. She gave a higher pay rate to my co-worker, thinking that he was more productive, but she had no idea that he would simply toss a whole stack of flyers into a trash can when she wasn’t watching him.
Now about the Tarot cards… my occasional journalistic activities once brought me to one of the governing officers of Ordo Templi Orientis (OTO), who wrote about Aleister Crowley and his Tarot cards… When I was preparing to interview this OTO officer for a Russian publication, I got inspired by the Thelema philosophy and bought a pack of cards. But they remained unintelligible to me for some reason. Even though I somehow dig Magick and transpersonal psychology and all that New Age thingy, some occult organizations remind me of the Young Communists League in the Soviet Union and I try to stay away from them.
I would rather call it a “sense of being out of place” rather than a “sense of place.” Because of the accent I acquired right after coming to the United States, Russians assume that I’m a foreigner who had learned Russian somewhere at an American college, so I cannot blend in when visiting Russia. And when a couple of years ago I was answering phones in an office in the U.S., Americans thought that they had reached a call center somewhere in Siberia. This is very annoying and has resulted in a sense of “displacement.” According to Wikipedia, displacement is “an unconscious defense mechanism whereby the mind redirects effects from an object felt to be dangerous or unacceptable to an object felt to be safe or acceptable.” Which simply means that I try to avoid feeling and writing like a “typical immigrant.” Perhaps, Multiple Children is an exception.
There is no exact equivalent not only for many words but also for the way of living and thinking (and Russians have a love-hate relationship with America), so I’m not even trying to match them. I know Russian too well even for a native Russian, so I’m conscientious about word choice up to the point of sliding into a rhythmical prose which stops me from developing a dynamic plot. I love English because I will never be able to conquer it, so it rides freely, coarsely, and very fast, unsaddled and unsettled, because I don’t understand its intricacies enough to stop and admire every vowel, every little devil and little detail. In English, I just rush, chasing the plot.
Not about the English language but about American literature. Somebody decided that it should be this energetic display of action verbs, and family conflicts justified by verifiable experiences and an author’s biography rather than metaphysics and imagination, and this makes prose published in literary magazines somewhat interesting to read but not innovative and not at all memorable.
I love writers who do not fall into the patriarchal paradigm and who are not writers at all by training–this makes their prose less traditional, more edgy and more non-fiction like… this is the direction in which all literature moves anyway… So I read Cecil Beaton’s diaries (he was a photographer and a big socialite who knew how to appreciate women), Andy Warhol’s diaries (I think he is still misunderstood by many: artists and the general population alike), and Harry Partch’s diaries (he was an avant-garde composer who made his own instruments and wrote theoretical works about micro-tonal music).
I’d recommend the poet and prose writer Arkady Dragomoshchenko. Even though he lived in St. Petersburg, he was an American in spirit: he taught at UC San Diego and at SUNY Buffalo and translated works by Paul Bowles and Robert Creeley, John Ashbery and Lyn Hejinian… they call the American branch of what he was writing in Russia “language school poetry.” His works are not for everybody but they can be easily found in English translation, published by the infamous Dalkey Archive Press and other publishing houses. He was my close friend and mentor and he died unexpectedly four months ago.
I prefer islands: I have visited the Galapagos Islands with its marvelous blue-footed boobies and Easter Island with its mysterious giant stone sculptures, and even our local Alameda Island in the Bay Area is full of wonders for me. So, I want to visit one more: it’s the Island of Jersey between the northern coast of France and the southern coast of England. This is where the French surrealist writer and photographer Claude Cahun lived and fought almost single-handedly with German troops when they invaded… She was sentenced to death by the Nazis but miraculously rescued at the very last moment… I’d like to see where she lived.
Brains and common sense (as well as the sixth sense when meeting people) are still more important when traveling than all possible gadgets.
I’m finishing up a novella called “Клок” in Russian, which is a word play on “clock,” a time piece. In Russian, “klok” means simply a piece of something, for example, of wool. I think of it as a clump or tuft of time, because my “Klok” is a fictionalized reflection on “The Clock” by the American-Swiss artist Christian Marclay who used a compilation of 10,000 images of clocks to make a 24-hour movie. Once I’m done with it, I’ll write a short story in English about entertaining a person who feels no emotions because she was born a psychopath. So how can you tell her something concerning family matters and make sure she doesn’t lose interest?
More than 50% of the Russian community in the Bay Area was raised during the Soviet times when the culture was forced on people, when factory workers and engineers alike were taken to theater performances about Lenin’s youth or Stalin’s victories in World War II. Or, vice-versa, artists and singers were actually invited to collective farms and lumber camps to perform… In the U.S., nobody takes citizens by the hand and brings them to, let’s say, an 18-hour concert in Berkeley in honor of John Cage’s 100th birthday. So they think that in the U.S. there is no culture. They and I do not click.
Quantum physics and performance art. With respect to quantum physics, I’m inspired by the ideas of the physicist David Bohm about implicit and explicit orders; with respect to performance art, I’m influenced by some of the works and ideas of James Lee Byars and Ulay whom I befriended and I even traveled with him to Lithuania, where Ulay thought his family’s last name, Laysiepen, was from… He is more known for his works with Marina Abramovic, but what he did alone, or just with a little bit of her help, was impressive too: he grabbed a painting by Carl Spitzweg, Hitler’s famous painter, from the wall in the Berlin National Gallery and put it up on the wall of a tiny shack belonging to a Turkish immigrant family… This was at a time when these immigrants were despised… and this action was very radical at the time. It’s not literary style that inspires me but ideas. Literature is stalled and behind the other arts, so these other arts as well as physics can provide an infusion…
My American friend thinks that Russians cannot distinguish between good and bad drinks, because the drinking process and the company is what matters. As for me, I always prefer vodka, any kind of vodka, to wine because it looks more pure and clean.
Before, I would just put aside one story and start another one. Now I just switch between languages. If I’m stuck in a story in Russian, I move on and write a story in English.
Memories. People’s lives evaporate if memories are not written down.
Margarita Meklina is a bilingual writer originally from St. Petersburg, Russia. Born in the cradle of the Revolution and Vladimir Nabokov, she now calls the San Francisco Bay Area home. She is the recipient of the 2003 Andrei Bely Prize, Russia's first independent literary prize, and the 2009 Russian Prize awarded by the Yeltsin Center Foundation. Her fiction has recently been published in The Cumberland River Review and her story, Buy Your Own, was published in the Spring 2012 Issue of The Conium Review was nominated for a Pushcart Prize.
What Can Be Harvested by Casandra Lopez is our second short story in our series of twelve. What Can Be Harvested explores the themes of tradition, identity, and cultural. Click on the READ IT link to download the story.
If you are on the go, use “Klip.me” or “Push to Kindle” to send to your e-reader, and after you have read the short story, make sure you check out our below interview with the author, Casandra Lopez.
Low-down on Casandra Lopez:
Hometown: San Bernardino, California
Currently reading: Danielle Evan's Before you Suffocate Your Own Fool Self and Claire Vaye Watkins' Battleborn
Music you dig: Morrissey, Neko Case, Ozomotli, Brenton Wood, Erykah Badu, J Cole, Lucinda Williams, Talib Kweli, Marvin Gaye, Ryan Adams, Girl In A Coma
An underrated author we should know about: Californian Indian poet Shaunna Oteka McCovey
Favorite place to hide: In plain sight
Favorite poet: Oh, so many to choose from. At this moment I'm picking Demetria Martinez
A couple of years ago, I was taking a creative writing trauma seminar in my graduate program and the professor gave the class the word, “intrusion” as a writing prompt. In the context of the class, “intrusion” was often discussed in terms of a sort of bodily or emotional type of trespass, but I wanted to explore the idea of trespass in a different way. I also wanted to examine ideas of land ownership and culture, though, through this lens. The first image I had in mind was that of a father trying to coax his children to trespass through a fence. Later, I returned to this story when I was having a difficult time working on my other writing projects. I'd just experienced my own sort of personal intrusion and the loss of my brother, and I wasn't ready to return to my novel, which was tackling grief head-on, so instead I focused on writing this story. To me this story is very much about loss, and how one can heal from both a cultural and personal loss. I was also inspired by my memories of how my brother worked to be a good father.
I think this a complex issue. Tony is nostalgic for the traditions of his family, but he also realizes that culture is not static. And even though he knows he's sort of limited to what he can pass on, and his kids are at times ambivalent about what he's trying to teach them, he still values passing along these traditions and stories, and wants to create opportunities for them to have these lived experiences he didn't have. One of the dynamics that I was interested in exploring in this story was the intra-cultural aspect of Tony's relationship with his ex-wife. They are both Native, but there are still some cultural differences between them, which shapes how and what sort of traditions they each want to pass along to their children. And that is part of what spurs Tony to give his children this experience. I believe it's important for traditions to be passed down as it provides a sort of foundation to how we live our lives and a connection to family and ancestors. But I also think it's important to allow for a certain amount of fluidity. I've always been fascinated by how and why certain cultural or traditional practices evolve.
I love that quote! It reminds me of when I worked for a short time at an outdoor science camp. The idea was to teach 5th and 6th graders for a week about biology, geology and ecology through activities in an outdoor setting. It was always a great experience when we would have kids come from local schools in the city who never had the opportunity to experience being in the mountains, which is about 30 or 40 minutes from the city. I felt like these kids would always learn so much from being able to bird-watch or go on guided hikes.
In terms of writing about California’s natural landscapes, I am most comfortable writing about it, but it is still challenging to try to bring to life a piece of California that many people might not be familiar with. Not only am I inspired from my own experiences, but my father's, mother's, grandparents’ and even from really old stories. I feel like there is a persistent reverberation of California within me that I'm always trying to get down on the page.
Unfortunately, I have never harvested yucca, but it would be something I would want to do. I have seen what yucca looks like once it has been cut down and what the preparation process entails. The snake that appears in the story was inspired by a story someone told me about their yucca harvesting experience.
Susan Straight, Junot Diaz, Lauren van den Burg, Kaui Hart Hemmings, Luis Rodriguez, Li-Young Lee, Brian Turner, Catherine Barnett's Into Perfect Spheres Such Holes Are Pierced, and more.
I don't know if “challenged” is the right word, but I love Louise Erdrich's work. I enjoy reading it, but I am also interested in deconstructing it–figuring out how she does what she does. How she juggles so many characters and storylines. How she constructs orality and expands the first person perspective. Basically, I want to be able to do what she does, in my own style of course. I always find it thrilling to come across a poem or story that I wish I could have written.
I'm working on a novel that is set in the same fictionalized town as What Can Be Harvested. The novel is called When We Were Hunted and it's about a family who is grieving the death of their father who was killed while incarcerated. I'm also working on a poetry collection titled Brother, Bullet. After that I would like to work on more short stories. Another important project I am proud to be a part of is As/Us: A Literary Space For Women Of The World. I co-founded this literary journal to publish the creative and scholarly works of indigenous people and women of color. We are very excited about our first issue!
I try to write in the morning and I tend to write late into the night. I'm usually the most productive at night. I like to listen to music and sometimes I have different playlists for stories or characters. I also have this embarrassing habit where I will mumble to myself as I'm writing, especially if the writing is going well. But sometimes you just have to do what Project Runway's Tom Gunn says and “Make It Work.”
I have so many. I often get distracted by Facebook, Youtube, Twitter and gossip websites. But probably my worst habit is when I start not to believe in my writing.
I have several stories and projects that I have put aside, but I wouldn't say I have given up on them. Sometimes when a story or a writing project has a lot of structural problems it can seem overwhelming to try to get it to where it needs to be. There did come a time when I struggled with having the motivation to write fiction. I'd experienced a profound loss and it was hard to see how fiction was relevant to my life. I wrote a lot of poetry and then at some point I had to force myself to go back to my novel. Once that happened I saw the added depth I could bring to my fiction and that allowed me to re-engage with my novel.
Depending on my mood, all of those seem like great options. Right now, I would like to be camping on one of California's state beaches.
As a writer who is struggling with this now I wish I had the answers. For myself I found it has been important that I have faith in my work and remain tenacious about writing, improving my craft and looking for publishing opportunities. Building and being a part of a supportive community of writers is a part of this. It's also important that writers actively seek out and even create opportunities to share their work not only for themselves, but also for other writers.
“Imagine being more afraid of freedom than slavery constantly sabotaging and squeezing into places too small for your potential and even though you know this you can’t stop because [it’s] all you know.” – Pamela Sneed
I think there has been a part of me that has been interested in my heritage, culture, and family history. I just sort of took it in and it wasn't something I questioned too much until I got older. As I got older, I'd listen and pay attention more carefully and would ask my dad, grandmother, or another family member to retell a story that I wanted to understand better. Or I would ask my dad to take me to specific places that holds significance to my family.
New Mexico has a lot of beautiful landscapes and great sunsets. Taos, Acoma Pueblo, and Albuquerque might be of interest. I also spent a couple of productive writing days at Ghost Ranch in Abiquiu a couple of years ago.
Having grown up in California I didn't really appreciate it until I went away to college. Leaving California allowed me to see it in a new way, from both an outsider and insider's perspective. Also because my family has a long history with California, either as being indigenous to California or having lived in the region for many generations, I've been able to see it through their eyes from their stories. I enjoy learning about native plants and all their uses from books and from personal experience. It's much easier for me to remember or learn a plant or some other aspect of the natural world if I have a specific memory or story to connect it to. I'm also interested in how the landscape in my region is changing California’s history. I have found that the more of this context I have, the more I have as a writer to draw from.
I find myself repeatedly coming back to issues of diaspora. I'm interested in the migratory experience that is rooted to a specific place. Which raises lots of questions about what it means to be from a place and to leave it, especially for people that have strong cultural, ancestral, and family ties to a specific place. I like to explore characters who are living in a sort of transitory space, whether it's a internal kind of space or an actual physical place. I also don't think I have ever written a story that wasn't about loss or family in some way.
Most of all, I want readers to enjoy the story and hope they find something within it that resonates with them. I would like for people to think about their own understanding of contemporary indigenous peoples and for my story to add to this understanding of the diversity within indigenous lives. Oh, and it would be great if people who didn't already know were reminded that there is a whole bunch of California Indians who have living cultures and are busy with their lives in California and other places.
Casandra Lopez was raised in Southern California's Inland Empire and has an MFA from the University of New Mexico. She has been selected as the 2013 Indigenous Writer-in-Residence at the School of Advanced Research and is one of the founding editors of As/Us: A Literary Space for Women of the World. Her work can be found in or is forthcoming in High Desert Journal, The Acentos Review, Weber: The Contemporary West, and The McNeese Review.
Each month, Unmanned Press publishes an original short work of fiction
from an emerging and underserved writer. We hope that over the course of a year readers will pay attention to these writers, ask questions, and look for more of their work. November is the launch of our Short of the Month series and we are delighted that we can present to you: The Pool by Vicki Wilson.
Click on the READ IT link to download The Pool.
If you are on the go, use “Klip.me” to send to your e-reader, and after you have read the short story, make sure you check out our interview with the author, Vicki Wilson.
Low-down on Vicki Wilson:
Currently reading: Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage by Alice Munro
Most used word in real life: Jack, the name of my two-year-old (as in “Jack, don’t put that in your mouth. Jack, come down from there. Jack, don’t touch that. Jack, Jack, Jack!”)
Least favorite word in real life: Panties (makes me shiver just typing it)
Favorite place in nature: In the woods in autumn, when it’s cool and a little damp and you can smell the leaves that are falling from the trees
Two life-changing books: The Awakening by Kate Chopin and, most recently, in nonfiction, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain
Thank you! My inspiration was a brief story in the local news. An unidentified family had discovered human remains on their property while, yes, digging a pool. I kept watching for an update on the story, but I never heard anything about it again. It stuck with me: Whose remains were they? What must the family members be feeling? Did they finish the pool?
The husband’s voice was an easy part of the story. He was clear to me right from the beginning: a typically unsentimental guy who couldn’t help being affected by something like this. I knew he worked in a sawmill and that sawdust would stick in his arm hair—he was that kind of guy.
When writing fiction, you’re in control of everything, right down to the shoe size of your protagonist, if you want to be. With plays, you’re not. That’s what directors are for, and you have to trust them. You write the dialogue, and he/she’s going to tell the actors what to do on stage, how to deliver the lines, etc. So holding back—not drowning the play in stage directions and relinquishing some of that control—can be hard for me.
I was always a huge reader. I wrote nonfiction as part of my career. But it didn’t occur to me that I could write fiction until later, like maybe when I turned 30. It almost felt presumptuous to think I could make up stories that someone might want to read.
A lifelong, evolving one. I want people to say behind my back, “She’s nice enough, but she’s a writer, so she’s a little…strange. But nice.”
I think it’s hard to gain attention as a writer, period. There will always be baseless reasons for people to disregard your work. I can believe that people might not give attention to my writing because I’m not a graduate of any well-known university, because I don’t have an MFA, because I have no significant connections in the literary world, or even because I’m female. But those perceptions feel akin to excuses to me—whether or not they’re true—and they don’t help me get any better as a writer. All it really comes down to is, is my writing good enough? I hope to write something here and there that’s simply too good to disregard, no matter what biases are out there. And then I hope to watch those biases (and those who are biased) eventually become obsolete.
I’m still learning. I’m better at writing characters than plot, so I’m working on improving that and re-reading Alice Munro, who is a master at both. I’m working on a novel.
The novel is about a 75-year-old woman and her new husband who take in a pregnant college student while simultaneously dealing with the advantages and discontentments of aging. At least, that's what it's about so far.
My routine is based on my two-year-old’s nap schedule and whether or not I have a babysitter coming that day. I mostly write in bed on my laptop…is that weird?
Sure. While writing, I knew Katherine-the-wife was going to be deeply, obviously unnerved by the discovery of the bones. Her husband’s uneasiness would be less obvious to the people around him, but still there. I thought, how can I make Katherine-the-wife even more anxious, enhancing that small distinction between the two spouses? So, the shared name. It was kind of mean, really.
Yes. I worked for a university for a while as an associate editor of university publications, where I was responsible for a lot of copyediting. Never in my life had I paid such close attention to every word on a page. I spent hours on 500 words of text. I realized that grammar, word choice, concision, and clarity are as important as heartbeats to me. I cared so much that I burnt out. But I learned to always try to apply that tight examination to my own writing.
Seek out publishers like Unmanned Press, who are committed to publishing underserved and emerging writers. Seriously, this isn’t the place in the interview where I gratuitously suck up. I mean it. Unmanned read The Pool without knowing anything about my writing chops and chose it for publication. That kind of dedication to the writing and none of the periphery is where the opportunity is. It’s also where you can go to find writing you might not otherwise be able to get your hands on. And on that note, if you’re writing, you should be reading everything you can get your hands on. I’m looking forward to reading Unmanned’s books and Shorts of the Month.
When I write for its own sake—poetry, plays, fiction—I never think about who will read the work when its finished (if anyone will). When I’m writing for a paycheck—nonfiction—I’m constantly thinking about the piece’s audience: the client, the people I’ve interviewed, the eventual readers. I want the writing to be absolutely accurate, engaging and fair.
I haven’t had much of an opportunity to interact with readers, so that’s a hard question. All readers bring their own experiences to a piece, but I believe that if I’m doing my job as a writer, my intent will be clear, and then maybe readers will find other resonances of their own in there, too.
If a story becomes challenging for me, it’s usually right at the end, when the ending isn’t working. And that’s probably because I went astray somewhere, or I’m trying to force something into being. So what I normally do is take time away from it, go for a walk or something, and when I come back to it, I either see the solution or I don’t. If I don’t, the story goes in the trash. So I’ve had quite a few challenging stories, but many have been thrown away.
Every day, people deal with extraordinary situations, such as the loss of a child, fighting in a war, or something good, like a waitress saving a choking patron in a restaurant with the Heimlich maneuver. I’ve always been interested in how we respond to these extraordinary situations later, after the initial impact. How we live past them. Perhaps situations of loss interest me the most because, really, what is more revealing of character than how we forge ahead following a loss of what we hold dear? Or how we react to someone else dealing with loss? So yes, loss in all its forms plays a role in much of the writing I do, including The Pool, probably even more than I’m consciously aware of.
I have this fantasy where I get (safely) snowed in at a cabin with a fireplace, a wall of books, and enough food in the cupboards to keep me going for about four days.
Boddingtons. It is smooth—lightly carbonated. I don’t like bouncy beers. I like a good English bitter. My husband is British, so it’s completely his fault.
Nope. My husband wants one; I don’t. I am, however, easily swayed by a Boddingtons.
Oh, there are so many. Right now, the Polish poet Wisława Szymborska.
I think because, in real life, emotions are often never fully resolved, they just evolve. Tim and his wife lost the quiet, happy life they had at their old house. Parents lost children. There’s no resolution for any of that, but every once in a while you’re compelled to go back and take a look at it all, just to see, just in case.
Vicki Wilson is a freelance writer who lives in upstate New York with her husband and two-year-old son. She’s a former newspaper reporter and advertising copywriter. In addition to fiction, she also writes plays and poetry.