JULY SHORT OF THE MONTH: FORTHCOMING


We are pleased to announce that Edmund Sandoval is the author of our 'July' story, which will be available in March, 2014. 

 

Edmund Sandoval resides in Madison, Wisconsin. He received his MFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. His stories have appeared in numerous journals, including Waccamaw, Necessary Fiction, Hobart and Nat.Brut. He has a story forthcoming in the minnesota review.

JUNE SHORT OF THE MONTH: A SLICK SIX FROM CAMOUFLAGE COUNTRY

A Slick Six from Camouflage Country by Mel Bosworth and Ryan Ridge is the seventh 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 authors. 

​If you are on the go, use “Klip.me” or “Push to Kindle” to send to your e-reader.

READ IT

AUTHOR INTERVIEW 

 

Low-down on Mel Bosworth:
Hometown: Belchertown, MA
Currently reading: Fun Camp by Gabe Durham
Music you dig: Vampire Weekend
An underrated author we should know about: Christy Crutchfield
Favorite drink: Chocolate milk
Sledding or Cow tipping? Sledding


Low-down on Ryan Ridge:

Hometown: Louisville, Kentucky

Currently reading: Factories of Knowledge, Industries of Creativity by Gerald Raunig
Music you dig: Father John Misty, Silver Jews, Foxygen, Simon Joyner, and Wax Fang
An underrated author we should know about: Derek Pell
Favorite drink: Bourbon, rocks
Cereal or pancakes? Waffles

 



How did you two come together to write Camouflage Country? We’re asking Mel the same question and if we're not careful this might turn into an awkward ‘How Well Do You Know Your Partner?’ quiz.
Ryan: The Buddhists say that when the student is ready the teacher will appear. The same can be said for collaborators. One day Mel appeared in my Twitter feed and said that we should write something together and I happily obliged.

You and Ryan co-wrote this piece, which is part of a larger project, right? How does co-writing work? I tried to co-write once. It was a long time ago, I don’t remember what happened, exactly, I think it was some sort of manifesto. It failed, that much I remember.
Mel: Ha! Oh, failed manifesto! Dammit! And yes, this piece is part of a larger project Ryan and I are working on called Camouflage Country. We’ve been plugging along since late last summer. It’s fun, and we keep it pretty stress free. The way it works is Ryan will start a piece and I’ll finish it and then I’ll start a piece and Ryan will finish it and so on. We polish up our favorites and then work on order and groupings. Pretty simple. Simple is good.

How do you and Mel agree on titles within Camouflage Country? In our planning stages of the press we threw out a lot of ridiculous names. When Unmanned came up, it made us laugh, and that was that.
Ryan: Unmanned is a great name for a press! It’s hilarious and awesome and timely. In terms of titles, I like a good one-word title. I also like long, sprawling titles, especially when they’re tacked on to very short stories. Within Camouflage Country, Mel and I alternate titling duties. He’ll title one and then I’ll title one and on and on and very rarely do we change the original title because it usually rings. Mel’s got a nice oblique tactic to titles. They hit horizontally and there’s always an indirect directness that I admire. Me, I’m prone to puns and I realize that they get a bad wrap, but fuck that. I like them.

We read your novel FREIGHT, which was terrific and crammed with love—good love and bad love. Love. Can you tell us a little bit about the process of getting FREIGHT published? Was there anything that surprised or especially frustrated you?

Mel: Hey! Thank you for reading my novel! And liking it, too! Yay! Luckily, the process of getting FREIGHT published wasn’t much of a process at all. I’d been working with Folded Word Press for some time already (they published my first chapbook of fiction in 2009) and they solicited me for a full-length book. I just had to write it. That took about two years. Two very challenging years. Well, a year and a half of really challenging edits. Those first six months I just cranked and had a blast writing, mostly.



Another thing we like about you is that you’ve got a Small Press Book Review website. How’s that going?

Mel: Thank you for asking! And I am happy to report it is going really well. And many thanks to author/publisher/awesome person Mike Young for posting about it on HTML GIANT. The site got some great exposure very quickly, which in turn got me a fabulous roster of eager reviewers. And as long as Google/Blogger exists, every review there will stay alive.



Let’s take a moment to talk about book design. The cover of Mel’s novel, FREIGHT is killer. That was done by Brian Manley and he also did Mel’s Every Laundromat in the World. And the cover of your book, Hunter & Gamblers is ridiculously rad. And then Ox is a beautiful hand bound book of poetry and Rust Belt Bindery puts out some very lovely limited editions. Is design something that you are personally invested in after the writing process?

Ryan: I’m fully invested in the design aspect of books. The world needs good-looking books. Book design is a personal fetish, but if the Internet has taught me anything it’s that there are much stranger fetishes out there. One of the wilder ones I read about recently is called Chremastistophilia. It’s when a person gets off by getting robbed. But the more I think about it, the more I feel implicated. Ultimately, we’re a nation of chremastistophiliacs. Else we wouldn’t allow the vultures of Wall Street to carry on treating us like carrion.



Rumor has it that Camouflage Country will be illustrated. True or false? 

Ryan: True. It’s going to be illustrated by the inimitable Jacob Heustis. Jake and I have collaborated since high school (for over fifteen years now) on various musical and literary endeavors and I think we always will.



OK, let’s talk about this Slick Six from Camouflage Country. Would you describe this as flash fiction? Can you tell us a little bit about your and Ryan’s inspiration?

Mel: Yes, I think I’d describe this as flash fiction. Micro shorts. Micros. And, fittingly, Twitter was our inspiration, or at least our vehicle for it. I wrote a silly tweet one night and Ryan kind of finished it off. I thought it was goddamn great so I asked if he wanted to do something together. Months later, and with a growing project on our respective tables, here we are. Hopefully that first piece will make it across the finish line. I think it has to.



In the first piece, there is an absent mother and a clear relationship between a father and a son, but by the last piece—the who is less clear. What is the theme that connects these pieces together?

Mel: Thus far, the project is kind of a like a big funhouse mirror filled with images of relationships—familial or romantic or otherwise—ripe to evolve, or devolve. The thematic link for this particular six is impending change. The characters in these pieces are about to do big things, or things they feel important, or, in the case of Donner Party Time, things essential to their survival.



I remember reading a piece of yours in [PANK], which may have been years ago now. Can you offer any advice to writers submitting to lit mags? 

Ryan: Value your work. Send it somewhere good. And good luck.



How often do you talk about the weather living in Southern California?

Ryan: Almost never. But living in permasun isn’t without its flaws. Sans seasons it’s easy to forget some of the graver implications of life, namely death. This phenomenon breeds certain arrogance, which is perfect for entertainers. Me, I just like that every day looks like a lost scene from a Terrence Malick movie.



What kinds of stories do you gravitate toward?

Ryan: Ones with hearts and guts.

 

 

I was going to ask what a manly beer was, just because, but then yeah—it is kind of Michelob Ultra, isn’t it?

Mel: Without a doubt.



Do bands still come and play around Northampton? I seem to remember emo being all the rage.

Mel: Ha! Yes, Northampton is still a great hub for great music. In June I’m going to see Jim James at The Calvin Theatre. A few months ago I was lucky enough to catch the first show of Kishi Bashi’s tour. Amazing. There’s still some emo around, I’m sure, but there’s also Danny Brown (who I just missed).



Who are some of your favorite writers?

Mel: Ryan Ridge!, Mary Miller, Jensen Beach, Bonnie Jo Campbell, Lao Tsu.

Ryan: David Berman, Michael Bible, Richard Brautigan, William Burroughs, Blake Butler, 

Raymond Chandler, Lydia Davis, Alan Grostephan, Barry Hannah, Michelle Latiolais, David Markson, Christine Schutt, Hunter Thompson, and Diane Williams. 



What are some the best things about co-writing fiction?

 Ryan:   

  1.) Instant audience
  2.) Diminished ego
  3.) Increased awareness
  4.) Greater joy



How did you get involved with Wigleaf’s Top 50?

Mel: I was approached by author and pal Laura Ellen Scott, who was the series editor this year, and I was like, “Yeah! Let’s do this thing.” I’d been a fan of Scott Garson’s Wigleaf for several years and the roster of editors and readers was phenomenal. I couldn’t say no. In the end my involvement is really just a bi-product of staying active in the indie lit community. If you keep working, good things happen.



What are some of the many things that you are working on now?

Ryan: Historically, I’ve been a juggler of projects, but as things have heated up with Camouflage Country over recent months it’s become my lone literary interest. Otherwise, I’m working on my tan. Just kidding. When I’m not writing, I’m mostly teaching writing or hanging out with my wife and not writing. My wife is a writer, too. She’s also a light.



Is there something you hope readers will take away from Camouflage Country?

Mel: I want readers to take away a Holy Shit! feeling that lasts for many moons.





Mel Bosworth is the author of the novel FREIGHT (Folded Word, 2011). He is an associate series editor for Wigleaf's Top 50 (Very) Short Fictions, and the curator of The Small Press Book Review. Visit his website at melbosworth.com.


Ryan Ridge is the author of Hunters & Gamblers (Dark Sky Books, 2011), and Ox (BatCat Press, 2011), as well as two chapbooks, Hey, It's America (Rustbelt Bindery, 2012) and 22nd Century Man (Sixth Finch Books, 2013 ). He has work in or forthcoming from The Santa Monica Review, McSweeney's Small Chair, The Los Angeles Review, Salt Hill, The Southern California Review, and elsewhere. He is a fiction editor at Juked and teaches at the University of California, Irvine.











Mel Bosworth

Ryan Ridge

MAY SHORT OF THE MONTH: SCALE MODEL

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.

READ IT
AUTHOR INTERVIEW 
Low-down on Rachel Kolman:
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!
We loved Scale Model, Rachel. Can you tell us a little bit about your inspiration for the story? 
Thank you! The story was inspired by my own trip to Fort De Soto with my sisters a few years ago. We actually found a dead baby shark on the beach. And then later, when we checked out the fort (which was open, no one jumped any fences!) I remember thinking that I needed to write about how someone could find themselves in a compromising position there.
Have you ever escaped a bad date? I’m talking: windows, fire escapes, or quicksand, possibly?
[Laughs] I haven’t! I don’t think I could. I’ve probably feigned a headache to leave early, but I’ve never flat out ditched anyone.
Kelsey has a sense of innocence, which helps the ambiguity and suspense of the relationship between her Adam, no? The relationship seems to be somewhere between desire and fear.
Exactly! Part of her wants to go through with it so she can consider herself more of an exciting, adventurous woman. She doesn’t understand what she’s gotten herself into until they’re alone. She’s pretty naïve. 
What are you working on right now?
A short story about a young married couple that go around to estate sales and buy other people’s junk to fill up an empty baby’s room.
What kind of stories are you most interested in writing?
Stories that show characters doing odd, obsessive things to cope or escape from something. I like throwing characters off the deep end and seeing how they react in new and bizarre environments.
Do you build sandcastles, metaphorically or otherwise?
I haven’t built a sandcastle in years. I think they’re fascinating, though.
Where is your favorite place to write?
Either in bed with lots of pillows and a good playlist, or a quiet corner table in a coffee shop or library. 
You’re a recent MFA grad, right? Do you feel that process was helpful to the maturity of your writing? 
Absolutely. For me, it was vital to commit myself in such a way to writing and reading and talking to people who cared about writing and reading. My understanding of fiction, and the quality of my work, has grown immeasurably in the last three years.
What unusual place in nature should we check out in Florida?
Near my hometown is a place called Weeki Wachee Springs, which is bountiful with manatees and, on a good day, you can go swimming with them. That’s pretty unusual, I think.
What is your worst writer habit?
I dread revision. I’m terrible at killing my darlings. I like my first drafts more than I should.

Question: You’re on an island. You can bring three books. What books would you bring? 
 

Coffee or beer?

oh, that is much too hard. I’ll have to go coffee though, because I need that to function.

Is there a story of yours that was particularly difficult to write?
I wrote a story about lucid dreaming, which I find fascinating, but I kept trying to make the characters fit around the concept and I was getting it all wrong. That went through so many rewrites, and I still don’t think it’s right.
As a reader, what writer are you challenged by?
I think I’m challenged by any writer that can quietly pull out an emotional response in me. Pasha Malla’s short story collection did that. On the opposite side, I think comedy writing is the hardest thing and really funny writers, like Steve Martin and Etgar Keret, blow my mind.
What is your favorite daydream?
Living overseas, particularly London. Quitting my job. Seeing my first novel in bookstores. 
What are some of your favorite lit mags? How did you learn about them?
I love Paper Darts, McSweeney’s, Eleven Eleven, PANK. I think mostly through the Internet, and also through the AWP book fair.
Another thing we really liked about Scale Model is the descriptiveness of the scenes. We could image ourselves there. Do you think it was helpful to your imagination to base the story at the beach, which is not an uncommon backdrop in Florida?  
Very much so! When I was writing this story, I was intentionally trying to develop more of a sense of place in my fiction, so I went with a very familiar setting and I think it worked out well.
The ending of Scale Model is ambiguous. Is there something you’d like readers to take away from Scale Model
The ending to me was all about Kelsey sort of snapping out of the fantasy she was in with Adam and realizing he’s kind of a childish guy who plays in the sand just to look impressive to anyone who bothers to watch him. I like that her decision to abandon him in the end is the first real independent decision she makes in the whole story.

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.

APRIL IS NATIONAL POETRY MONTH

 

​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. 

MARCH SHORT OF THE MONTH: GRANITE

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.

​If you are on the go, use “Klip.me” or “Push to Kindle” to send to your e-reader.

READ IT
AUTHOR INTERVIEW 
Low-down on Susan Yount:

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

Granite is an excellent story. It kicked our ass. Where did the idea come from?

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

One of the reasons we liked Granite so much is that it feels real and raw. In your writing, do you pull more from the facts of your experiences or more from the emotions of your experiences? Does that distinction make sense?

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.

In Granite, Betty is still playing with dolls, yet has to deal with processing more mature ideas and situations, which for better or for worse, is also true to many childhood experiences, don’t you think? 
Absolutely. Young children have to live with adults–and often older siblings. Children encounter many mature experiences, obviously, adults argue, get drunk, spend too much time at the computer, die, etc.  As parents, we try to shelter our children from that but it is nearly impossible. We’re adults after all, with adult ideas and behaviors we must face everyday. How can we not expose our children? Hopefully, we are there to help them with the processing afterwards, but that isn’t always the case and certainly not the case for Betty and the narrator. The two of them are left alone together not only to face these mature situations but to also interpret them. I think that is the main tension in the story.  
You are primarily a poet, right? Is that fair to say or sort of offensive?
My writing has certainly concentrated more on poetry and being called a poet is better than getting poked in the eye–someone told me that once. I’m happy anytime someone calls me anything writer related. I’m primarily an ass-kicking office worker.
Do you have a different mindset when you’re writing fiction rather than poetry?
Not really, and that is probably my downfall with writing longer works. Once I actually get over feeling intimidated about the length of a short story, etc., I can ease into thinking about each paragraph as a prose poem. There is a lot of reward with that, after each graph, I feel a sense of accomplishment, but also a lot of pain. Once I’ve worked myself into a certain kind of emotion, it is difficult to turn that off before the project is finished. When I’m working on fiction, I tend to stay up much later than I should. That often makes me a cranky office worker the next day. When that happens, I’m vicious over the telephone. Once I’ve had a couple of cranky days at work while also working on a piece of writing, it is difficult for me to want to finish that piece, and so I end up with a lot of abandoned beginnings. I’ll believe the piece of writing isn’t worth the side effects of the process. It wasn’t until I had read Teel’s Shampoo Horns that I even thought to work on Granite again and if it wasn’t for Unmanned Press inspiring me with short stories by THE ladies: Vicki Wilson, Casandra Lopez, Margarita Meklina, and

T. Stores. Granite would still be sitting in My Documents unedited. Thank you. I’m proud to be here and with such amazing company.   

Do you listen to music while you write?
I do. I find that listening to music helps me escape my everyday life and to channel the specific emotion I’m seeking. Sometimes, I listen to the same three songs for hours. When I was writing the poems for Catastrophe Theory I listened to Depeche Mode’s Wrong non-stop for at least a year–no kidding, yay, headphones! When I wanted to edit the poems, I listened to Pearl Jam’s “Better Man.” Once I’ve attached a specific mood/emotion/time period to an album/tune/piece of writing, I find that I can return to the music as a trigger. Right now, I’m listening to Florence + The Machine’s Ceremonials album and I specifically purchased it so I could edit Granite; I was quite struck by My Boy Builds Coffins.” Oh, but just at this moment, I was briefly distracted by Pearl Jam’s Wishlist.”  
We read Steve Davenport’s Overpass, which you published under Misty Publications. It’s a stellar book and Misty is publishing two new books this year, right?
Thank you for asking! Steve is an amazing writer. I was lucky to meet him and I’m honored to publish his work. He is a deeply committed author and a rare beast—he works tirelessly to get Overpass into readers’ hands. I’m so grateful for the book and for him, but it lit a fire I wasn’t quite prepared for. I want more. MORE!

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!

You are insanely busy. What’s your secret to getting so much done and can we drink whatever you’re having?
Black coffee all day. Then, drink beer from 4:30 to 8. Red wine till bedtime is divine. Have a glass of water every two or three drinks and everything will be fine. Seriously? I was raised with a strong work ethic. If I take on a project, I’m going to do it to the best of my ability even if my hand goes numb while I’m doing it. I also don’t give up easily–if ever. That kind of die-hard energy attracts other amazing people with even more amazing gifts. I’d never get anything done if it weren’t for all the amazing and committed people who help me. 

What are you working on right now?
Other than this glass of wine? I’m organizing a group of Poetry Bordello poets to participate in the First Ward Ball on St. Patrick’s Day. I’m preparing to fly out with another Bordello poet to PA so we can participate in our first out of Chicago Poetry Bordello! I’m finalizing Humbug’s layout and working with the printers and the cover artist. I’m editing my workshop lessons for the Writing in Grotesque Workshop. I’ll be teaching at the Rooster Moans in April. Lesson one is complete! I’m reading a forthcoming manuscript and thinking about a review I’ll be writing for the April Arsenic Lobster. We’re also still selecting and rejecting poems for the April issue. At least all that, plus I’m kicking ass at my fulltime gig where I’m currently running four journalism contests at once. I’m also in charge of family dinner tomorrow night for my super supportive husband and our gorgeous six-year-old. Oh, and I’ve been submitting my manuscript, House on Fire, which has been rejected more times than I want to recount. Also, I just now sliced up an ox image into four pieces with a razor blade. I’m splicing poems and images while in this nutty kind of frenzy. I plan to give the final image/poem splice book to a beloved (who gifted me the book in the first place) as a Christmas gift. I’m working on some poetry tarot cards. I’m in way over my head.
Where is your favorite place to write?
My desk, surrounded by paintings, posters & books, in the farthest corner of our house. Yay, headphones!
What kind of stories are you most interested in? 
Stories with real heart and honesty. I prefer memoir best and I’m a die-hard Francesca Lia Block fan.
Can you offer any advice to writers that are struggling to get published?
 Keep on keeping on.
Granite is time distinctive. The story mentions parachute pants and Jelly shoes. Are you guilty of wearing these items and did you burn the pictures?
I’m so completely guilty of wearing generic plastic parachute pants–those kinds of pants made more noise than taffeta when you walked. And, of course, Jelly shoes, till they rotted off my feet. However, there are no photos of me in that garb. I promise if I had one, I’d share it with you.
What bar should we frequent in Chicago?  
You’re asking an old married folk? Every Friday night my husband used to take me to this bar called Exit where we would dance our asses off. Once we had our son, we stopped going so frequently. Give it a twirl for me?
Can you recommend a little known author that we should check out?
I’m not sure if the authors I think you should check out are actually little known. Of course I’m a huge fan of Brenda Hammack and Sara Tracey but also Juliet Cook, Susan Slaviero, Arlene Ang, and Kristine Ong Muslim.
Do you ever get stuck while writing? How do you overcome writing ruts? 
Of course. I do something visual. I’ll break away with a poetry tarot card or I’ll razor cut some ox body and splice it with lines from other writers’ poems. I’ll make a new poster for the Poetry Bordello or work on the cover for the next Arsenic Lobster. I’ve been making super awesome postcards, too! I also read a lot and that seems to help.
What poem should we read out loud right now? 
Anything from We Bury the Landscape by Kristine Ong Muslim. I LOVE that book.
We noticed that when Betty's mother comes to take her away, Sarah says nothing and does not react at all while Betty protests the departure. What was your intention in leaving her silent at the end?
I think Betty only protests leaving the kitten behind. Her mother has come to rescue her and at the very end, at that moment of tough love, Sarah is overwhelmed. It is difficult for her to process what is happening and she just shuts down. It also represents the silence the two girls share when it comes to bad stuff. Will Sarah tell her own mother what just happened?


Granite makes excellent use of the colloquial voice of a child. Was it a challenge to write in this voice and show sensitive subject matter through the eyes of a child?
O yes! It took lots and lots and lots of editing. Fortunately, I took some post graduate classes at Kent State in young adult literature, which I’m really very interested in, and a fiction writing course with the amazing Jeanne Bryner. She gave me the best writing advice!
Is there anything you’d like readers to take away from Granite?
Life is a handful of hard rocks. Get over it. Carry on.

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.

FEBRUARY SHORT OF THE MONTH: FRESH AIR

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.

 

​If you are on the go, use “Klip.me” or “Push to Kindle” to send to your e-reader. 

READ IT
AUTHOR INTERVIEW

 

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 a great story! Can you tell us a little about your writing process and how long this story took to write?

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.

Oddly enough, this is the second story we’ve published that mentions Peter Pan. Fresh Air seems to associate childhood innocence with the story, particularly when it comes to Ashley’s character. Is Peter Pan a story that is shared around your home?  Do you find that it is a common childhood association like Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland?

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.

Do you have any personal involvement with the Fresh Air Fund?

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.

The gun in Fresh Air is found off I-91. I-91 goes through cities like Hartford and New Haven. New Haven, I think, has one of the highest crime rates per capita. And in Fresh Air, Connecticut seems to be viewed as a mix of city and suburban life, Vermont as more rural, and both states are contrasted as slower in comparison to New York City, where Kareem lives. In life, do you feel that a slower development is an indicator of a more positive development or just a different kind of development?

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.

The gun is a very interesting aspect of the story. On one hand, it’s terrifying and Hal wants to protect his family from it, but on the other hand he also senses its power. It’s subtle, but that contrast is powerful. What is your general stance on violence in fiction?

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.

A runner may find that their cross-country trails are building the wrong leg muscles for short distance speed running, do you think it’s different for writers, or writer-to-writer? For example, do you find it is easy to transition between fiction, poetry, and nonfiction, or do you find yourself attacking forms in separate stages?

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.


Should we talk about sports because you live in New England? I lived there for a number of years and it’s tough for anyone to debase a home team there and I say that from experience.

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!)

You’ve published three novels and are now working on your first short story collection, right? Often it’s the opposite: short stories followed by a novel. Did you ever feel pressured to write a novel rather than a short story collection?

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.

 

Can you offer any advice to writers that may be struggling to publish their work?

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.

What are some of your favorite books?

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.

What are some of the biggest challenges in teaching literature to your students?

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.

Is there a writer that you have outgrown in the last decade?

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.

So, have you had a pet chicken? I’ve heard some real-life stories about pet chickens and rabbits and unfortunately they didn’t end well.

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.

What are some of your biggest challenges as a writer?

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.

The readers don’t positively find out in Fresh Air if Hal is going to take the promotion or if his recent experience may alter the decision. We can only guess. It’s almost cruel. What do you have to say for yourself?

I don’t know what he will do either. Life is cruel that way.

What do you want readers to take away from Fresh Air?

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, SawPalm and Kudzu. Stores teaches at the University of Hartford and lives in Newfane, Vermont, with her partner and children.

JANUARY SHORT OF THE MONTH: MULTIPLE 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.

 

READ IT
AUTHOR INTERVIEW

 

Low-down on Margarita Meklina:

Hometown: San Francisco, California 

Currently readingMontano'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

Thanks for joining us, Margarita. We love how well the stories link together in Multiple Children; can you talk a little about the thread that links them together and your inspiration for the storyline?

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.

How long did you live in St. Petersburg and when did you move to the United States?

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.

Can you tell us about some of the challenges you’ve encountered as a bilingual writer and how you’ve learned to overcome them?

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!”

Some people imagine that everyone in the San Francisco Bay Area drives a Volkswagen—the bug or the van, but it’s sort of true. Did you have any predisposed ideas of the Bay Area before you got here and how did they turn out in reality?

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”).

Multiple Children is in sympathy with the dullness of on-the-clock type jobs. Over the course of my maturity, I had to work hard to outgrow some ideas about vocation, the workforce, and making money that were beaten into me. When you were a kid what kind of jobs did you hope to have?

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.

Santo Toribio in Multiple Children reminded us of tarot cards, which seem to be strangely popular in the West Coast. Are you into tarot cards at all and have you ever been to a fortuneteller?

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.


Throughout Multiple Children we saw nods to the San Francisco Bay Area, Russia, and the experience of being an immigrant. Do you often find that your sense of place appears in your writing?

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.

Word choice is obviously very important for a writer. Do you sometimes think of a word in Russian and there is not an exact equivalent in English?

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.

 

Do you find anything nonsensical about the English language? Some stereotypes that are true?

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.

Hm. OK. Who are some of your favorite authors?

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). 

Can you tell us about a Russian author or poet we should check out in translation?

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.

You travel a lot, right? What location is on your list but you haven’t yet had the opportunity to visit?

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.

Can you offer any travel tips to us?

Brains and common sense (as well as the sixth sense when meeting people) are still more important when traveling than all possible gadgets. 

What writing projects are you currently working on and what is on the horizon for you?

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?

The San Francisco Bay Area has a sizable expat Russian community. Have you been able to connect with individuals that have gone through similar experiences?

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.

Can you tell us about some of your writerly influences?

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…

OK. We’ve watched too many movies, or at least that's my excuse, but we’d like to know: is Vodka really better in Russia than in the United States?

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.

When writing, do you sometimes get stuck?  If so, what helps you move forward?

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.

What dead author would you like to have a dinner party with?

Gertrude Stein.

What idea or object are you most protective of?

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.

DECEMBER SHORT OF THE MONTH: WHAT CAN BE HARVESTED

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.

READ IT
AUTHOR INTERVIEW

 

Low-down on Casandra Lopez:

Hometown: San Bernardino, California 

Currently readingDanielle 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 hideIn plain sight
Favorite poetOh, so many to choose from. At this moment I'm picking Demetria Martinez

One of the things that struck us about this story was the narrator’s yearning to understand his heritage and his struggle to provide an oral history to his children. Can you tell us a little bit about what drove you to write What Can Be Harvested?

​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.

Tony, the narrator, feels a sense of nostalgia for the traditions of his family, and feels a little bit separated from his more modernized children. Do you feel that traditions should be carried from one generation to the next?

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.

The narrator wants his children to have the experience of harvesting the yucca rather than just giving them a history lesson, which reminds me of that famous quote by Richard Feynman: You can know the name of a bird in all the languages of the world, but when you're finished, you'll know absolutely nothing whatever about the bird... So let's look at the bird and see what it's doing--that's what counts. I learned very early the difference between knowing the name of something and knowing something. Do you find that your writing voice is stronger due to your experience among California’s natural terrain?

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.

Have you ever harvested a yucca?

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.

What are some of your favorite books and authors?

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. 

As a reader, what writer are you challenged by?

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.


What are you currently working on and what is next for you?

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!

Can you tell us about your writing routine?

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.”

 

So, what is your worst writer habit?

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.

And what is one of your biggest challenges as a writer?

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.

Would you prefer to camp, hike, or take a road trip?

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.

Can you offer any advice to writers that may be struggling to find readers?

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.

Do you collect words or poems? What we mean is, do you have a favorite quote?

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

Growing up, were you eager to learn about your heritage? And was it something that your parents offered up or more something that you had to inquire about?

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.     

You spent some time in New Mexico. Where should we hangout when we are there next?

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.

We mentioned this a little bit earlier, but What Can Be Harvested talks a lot about nature and the landscape of California. Is this information you had to research or do you know about it, personally?

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.

What are the kind of stories that you are most driven to write about?

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.

What do you want readers to take away from What Can Be Harvested?

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.

 

NOVEMBER SHORT OF THE MONTH: THE POOL
 

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. 

READ IT
AUTHOR INTERVIEW

 

Low-down on Vicki Wilson:

Hometown: Ava, N.Y.

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

The Pool is an awesome story, Vicki. What was your inspiration?

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?

We enjoyed that The Pool was told from the point of view of the husband. Was it troublesome for you to find the voice of his character prior to writing the story?

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.

What is the most difficult element in writing a play that you may not encounter when you write a work of fiction?

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.

Sorry, we have to ask, did you always want to be a writer?

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.

OK. So, what kind of writer do you envision yourself becoming?

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.”

Do you feel that it is harder to gain attention as a writer because of your gender?

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.


What are you currently working on and what is next for you?

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.

It is lovely to hear you are working on a novel. May we ask what it is about?

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. 

 

 

As a freelance writer, do you have a routine and where is your most productive location to write?

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?

In The Pool, Katherine is the name of the wife and one of the missing girls. Can you elaborate on that decision?

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.

Do you have a standout experience that helped you grow as a writer?

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.

Can you offer any advice to underserved writers?

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.

Do you find a difference between writing for its own sake and writing for a paycheck? Do you see those distinctions in your own work?

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.

Sometimes readers misinterpret the author's intention, do you encounter this, and to what degree do you want to guide an individual in another direction, if at all?

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.

Is there a story of yours that was a challenge to write? Can you tell us about that experience?

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.

History can be extremely brutal and individually people have to make choices about how much they will allow their eye to see. The Pool does a good job of challenging the reader to reflect upon this. There is juxtaposition in The Pool between direct and indirect loss, can you tell us more about this and is that a theme that you often find yourself writing about?

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.

What is your favorite daydream?

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.

And your favorite beer?

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.

Do you have a pool?

Nope. My husband wants one; I don’t. I am, however, easily swayed by a Boddingtons.

As a reader, what writer are you challenged by?

Oh, there are so many. Right now, the Polish poet Wisława Szymborska.

The ending of The Pool brings the narrative full circle but leaves us with a difficult question. Why did you decide to end the story this way?

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.

 

UNMANNED, ELSEWHERE 

 

Art of Publishing No. 1
Adam Coombs Writing

 

 

This State of Literature: Of Fine 

Sundog Lit