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     Susan Tepper

Welcome, Susan, and congratulations on The Merrill Diaries.

I appreciate your warm words, Robin, and so great to be speaking with you!

My first question is probably what everyone asks: How much of this is autobiographical?

Certain parts are from my life. For instance, I did live in a spider infested cottage in the English countryside, in a marriage that did fall apart. But other details of that section of the book are entirely constructed. During that time and marriage I was a stewardess flying for TWA. I had to fly across the Atlantic to NY to pick up my “overseas flight”! Total craziness. I didn’t see much of my husband, and neither did Merrill see much of hers, but for entirely different reasons. I also never worked the candy counter at Fortnum. A few years ago I noticed the employees spraying the cases with glass polisher (a very bad idea). And, so, being a “green proponent” I decided to slip that bit into Merrill’s life. It’s my little political statement via Merrill!

What triggers a book for you—theme, character or storyline?

This is such a hard question. I get constant triggers—a crack in the sidewalk can trigger a book or a story. I tend to notice things that are inconsequential but somehow they resonate with me. The Merrill character had been previously written and published as a middle-aged, very-married woman in three Pure Slush anthologies. Matt Potter suggested I write a book of Merrill stories. I resisted profusely. Frankly I did not want to spend my time with a much-married, middle aged woman character. But he kind of pressed, and so I decided to write the book; but making Merrill just 21 years of age at the start. I figured she would be fun. She was.

Interesting! I find as I age that I prefer reading about women who are closer to the middle of their life, because the thought process is so different in the heads of the very young. What made you not want to spend your time with a middle aged character? Or was it that she was married? I sometimes find stories with women who are happily married difficult to connect with.

I’m a (ahem) middle-age woman. I am married again. Many of my close friends are in the same circumstances. Frankly, Robin, I’m bored to tears hearing their mid-life complaints, their husband complaints, their desire for their lost youth, their cougar fantasies of younger men. While writing this book, I was in the midst of a pretty miserable back injury and I needed some cheering up. Nothing like going on a made-up journey of new horizons as a gorgeous young woman! I got to travel with Merrill, get in trouble with her, and lots more. It was a total blast, and helped me get through my enforced rehabilitation.

I totally get this! The main character in my novel Of Zen and Men has such an exciting background – sizzling hot one night stands, open mic nights in smoky jazz bars, traveling alone and sleeping under the stars… I had so much fun living that through her! Anyway, The Merrill Diaries takes place during the Vietnam War era, and I noticed that another book by you, Deer and Other Stories, does too. Can you tell us why you chose that period?

It was my coming of age time—the 70’s. The war was raging on, and I was flying with the troops into Vietnam. On my off-time, I was singing protest songs with bands. Talk about confusion. I never backed that war, but I back those soldiers who were mostly drafted into that catastrophe. Young men who had no idea what they were in for and what would result. My cousins and friends got drafted to Vietnam. It was a hugely influential time for me. Flying into that country with intact soldiers, and flying out with many that were wounded, well, it was a time in my history.

How much of a challenge was it to keep language time appropriate?

I didn’t have a problem with that, my memory of those years is very clear.

The character of Merrill was fascinating to me–she was at times sensible, other times bratty, but what was loveable about her was that she owned her brattiness. What else did you do to make readers like her? The reason I ask is because I have two novels that feature characters who are sort of spoiled and a few pre-publication readers said the characters weren’t likeable. As a writer, I needed that arc–I needed the characters to have flaws, so they could end up in a better place… but I know how important it is for readers to care about your characters. Like Scarlett O’Hara—you might not want to hang out with her, but you can’t help admiring her inner strength.

Robin, this is why I never use readers! Never. As for making a character sympathetic, it’s not on my mind while I write. I just lay out the story. If I’m working out of my own organic truth, and by that I mean ‘writer truth’, then the characters will come out as they should. I never thought of Merrill as particularly likeable or not likeable. In fact, a male who read the book told me he “hated Merrill” in the beginning of the book. He said he almost put the book down for that reason. But he kept on, he said, because Merrill “seemed to grow and change.” And he ended up “loving the book” (his words). I suspect Merrill taped in him some insecurity about himself and women. As for Merrill ‘changing’, that is a good thing because she starts at 21 and almost reaches 30 by the book’s end. So that time passing factor was always present with me while I wrote her story. By the way, I have never attempted to make a character likeable. I think it’s a bad idea. I believe it will end up corrupting the storyline via manipulation on the part of the author. Just let it roll out. It will go where it wants to go. This is a mysterious art form.

How would you say Merrill grows and changes?

Merrill’s changes and growth are reflected mostly in her inner life, her interior monologues as the story goes on. The significant changes begin to happen when she travels to Italy. I am of partly Italian background, and I think it was affecting those parts of the book. I always connect to Italy when I go there. I connect to its beauty and its shabbiness. It was the longest chapter section in the book, too. At any rate, Merrill comments on the city of Firenze, how the Italian women stroll in small groups of twos or more, and how she admires their compatibility. She senses a loneliness inside that she never felt before, when she had her “friend of sorts” named Lena, and her various men. It’s there in Firenze that Merrill recognizes female compatibility as a primal need.

Merrill admits that when she doesn’t know what to do, she tends to run away. Is that you?

At times, yes. It varies. I can stick to the ground and fight the good fight, if it’s a worthwhile one. Or I’ll move along without a backward glance. Some people have written that Merrill didn’t actually “run from something negative” but rather she “ran toward something better.” I like that analysis of Merrill.

I do too. For me, the climax was that third-to-last sentence… I felt that it put most of Merrill’s need to run on her mother. Is that what you intended readers to think?

Robin, I had to go and re-read that sentence. Because I’m not a conscious writer in any respect, so I had no intention there. But if I am to analyze: Merrill is father-less. And her mother, well, she’s a piece of work. I suspect you are onto something here, something that I wasn’t conscious of. It has been said that women who lack a father while growing up tend to spend their life in search of one. For approval. Validation. I suspect Merrill needed double validation, since her mother was kind of disapproving.

Yes, that’s what I thought, too. What writers do you enjoy reading, and who would you say has influenced your style the most?

So many, for instance the Irish authors. William Trevor and Edna O’Brien have been extremely wonderful to read. They can tell a story so well, and they understand behavior. Alice Munro is superb. Kurt Vonnegut for his off-beat brilliance. Many playwrights such as Arthur Miller, Tenessee Williams and O’Neill. Chekhov for his stories and his plays. I advise my students to read plays if they want to write good dialogue.

I really want to comment on the ending, but don’t want to give it away… so I am just going to say that I expected it to end differently, and in a way I was disappointed… but on a deeper level, more satisfied. The last scene is extraordinary.

Endings. I never know my endings. Or what will come next after any word. I see the scene as a picture that moves. It’s totally the journey for me. I knew Merrill had to do this “thing” that meant something to her life. And this “thing” may be considered a small thing by some people. But it was Merrill’s thing. I also know that life doesn’t end at THE END. The character (s) live on, in some other sphere or realm. Or a sequel. So to tie up an ending always bothers me. There was a conclusion, but not a tie up.

So are you saying there might be a sequel?

Not with this book. I was just using the word sequel for explanatory purposes above. Merrill has had her say in the world. I love her for it. I love her for her strengths and her weaknesses.

Can you tell us about the 4th Plinth? During this time period was it THE thing for an artist to perform there? I googled it but couldn’t find any info for pre-1990s, and it seems now to be mostly a spot for artwork to be displayed.

Traflagar Square in London has 4 plinths (bases) for holding sculpture. The 4th plinth never got its sculpture. It always stood empty there. A few years ago, the 4th Plinth Project was inaugurated. I was in England that summer.

Did any famous people get their start there when it was used for performers?

I truly doubt it. They were not exactly professional, but mostly wild, crazy fun things people did up there. At least the ones I witnessed.

You also have a book of short stories… are the processes very different for you?

My process never varies. I don’t pre-think the work, I don’t outline, and once I’ve written for the day, I shut the writing off in my brain. If I write something that needs to be more specific, I will do some research. But only after the thought or scene is down there on the page. Research after, but never before. That’s how I work.

What about your poetry?

Poetry for me also comes from that unconscious, spontaneous place in the brain that makes art come alive. I just let it rip onto the page. Sometimes I will move sentences around. Doing that can really change a poem. I also remove extraneous words. I like shorter poems. I’m working on a new poetry collection right now. Also, a play which I’m writing with a partner. It’s really funny, the play, and makes me laugh out loud.

Be sure to keep us posted on the new stuff! So where can people find you online to check out all your works?

The Merrill Diaries is available everywhere books are sold. The best pricing deal (!) is via my publisher Pure Slush. Pure Slush offers discounts periodically. The only book that has to be purchased directly from my own website is From the Umberplatzen because that book sold out its limited print run. I do have some Umberplatzen books left in my office, however. Happy to sell them to anyone interested. www.susantepper.com.

Thanks so much for stopping by, Susan. Good luck with Merrill!

Robin, I want to thank you for such a great, in-depth chat about writing and life.

     Jeffrey Miller

Welcome, Jeffrey! What I want to do is begin by thanking you for being such a support system here in the writing community… you are so wonderful about buying books from small presses like Big Table Publishing and posting reviews on Amazon. So thank you!

It's nice to be here, Robin. Thanks so much for having me. And yes, about being this support system, the pleasure is entirely mine. As an indie author I know how much reviews mean for authors to help them drive sales and I try and do my part to help out these writers and the small presses. It's an honor and a privilege to help out—plus I get to read a lot of great fiction!

For readers who are unfamiliar with your work, what is the main thing you want them to know about you and your writing?

See, you warm me up with an easy question and then hit me with the hard one right off the bat (laughs). I guess if I were to put it in a sentence or two, I would say that it's always been about the "need for the examined life." Ever since I started writing it's always been about trying to understand the world around me and being able to convey what I have learned and observed to my readers. And I do this through ordinary characters who are thrust into extraordinary situations.

In addition to your new Christmas novella, which we'll talk about in a bit, you've got five books under your belt… let's start with War Remains, the haunting story of Robert "Bobby" Washkowiak and his death in the Korean War. Can you tell us how you came to write about this subject?

I love telling this story. From 2000-2003, while I was a feature writer for The Korea Times, South Korea's oldest English-language newspaper, I had the honor to cover almost all the Korean War Commemorative events for the 50th anniversary of the war. I met dozens of veterans who came back to Korea and learned so much about this so-called "forgotten war" by talking to them and interviewing them. One of those veterans was Oscar Cortez who came to Korea as an eighteen year old and was captured by the Chinese on February 12, 1951 and spent the next two-and-half years in a POW camp.

In 2009, I wanted to write something for the 60th anniversary of the war and had thought about compiling all the articles I wrote ten years earlier. However, it wasn't enough for a book, so I decided to write a novel instead, based on those articles and interviews. I chose the same battle that Oscar fought in for the book. Also living in Korea helped. I live In Daejeon now, which is about two hours south of Seoul, and the city, which was destroyed in the war, is surrounded by mountains. On many cold mornings as I walked to school, I thought about that coldest winter of 1950-1951 when the story takes place and thought about those young men and boys so far from home having to climb over these mountains, trying to keep warm and stay alive. Just thinking about it now sends a chill down my spine.

I saw the book as a movie in my mind. I knew how it was going to start and I knew how it would end. I spent one year writing it and not long after I finished it I went to the battlefield where much of the action in the book takes place. One of the few battlefields in South Korea, though not like the ones in Europe or Civil War ones in the US, that you can visit (most battlefields are along the DMZ).

And the title War Remains? Well, let's just say that "war" is just a part of the novel. There is much more to this book.

The first book of yours that I read was your autobiography, Waking Up in the Land of the Morning Calm. A fascinating account of how the hell you wound up in South Korea! Can you talk to us a little bit about that?

I turned left at Japan (laughs). I came to Korea in 1990 to teach English; 23 years later I'm still here. I had only intended to stay for a few years but then I got a better job and then I started writing for The Korea Times, and then—I think you get the picture. Seriously though, Korea is such a dynamic place to live, Gangnam Style notwithstanding. I used to work in Gangnam, but when it was spelled Kangnam (which means south of the river), so you might say that I am the original Gangnam Style (smiles). I've seen so much history here, and as a student of history (I teach three history classes, two of which are Asian history classes) it has fascinated me so much that in many ways it has kept me here.

I'll be honest—I never heard of Invaders from Mars until I went to your site! Was that your first?

In a way because all of those essays were written for my blog when I turned 50; they're about my life growing up in the 60s and 70s. Think of Bill Bryson, Dave Barry, and The Wonder Years combined together.

I absolutely devoured Ice Cream Headache… it's got all my favorite elements: compelling characters, lives intertwining, suspense, great ending. Did you know where things would go from the start, or did the book sort of write itself?

I knew how it was going to end and that I wanted the novella to be told from multiple perspectives with the lives of the characters intertwining with one another. That was the conflict that I wanted to come out in the story. I loved writing this story a lot. There are some stories that as a writer you get in the groove and the story writes itself, which I know sounds cliché, but this one was the easiest of all my books to write. And the nostalgia that fills the pages—it will always be a book near and dear to me.

What do you look for in a novel as you read, what are some of your favorites?

I look for a good story, but more importantly, I look for someone who tells a good story. As I writer that is something I have always aspired to be: a good storyteller. Ray Bradbury, Stephen King, James Lee Burke, these are the authors who have inspired me the most.

I love that you look for a good story but you also look "for someone who tells a good story" because—and I think this is SO important for writers to keep in mind—you have to have both. How many times do you love the way a plot sounds in the synopsis on the back cover, but when you try to read the book, the story gets buried in bad writing? You find yourself wishing a more competent writer had done it!

What is it that makes a good story? Why do we like a good story? Why do we tell stories? I think back to when people used to travel from village to village telling stories like Beowulf. Is Beowulf a good story? Of course our English professors would tell us that is and that it will be on the test, but is it a good story? Did it entertain people? Did it celebrate the usage of language in such a way that made the story soar? One can only imagine how it was told back in the day. It's all about entertainment and finding the best way to tell that story. Imagine the power of the written word when someone sat down one day and began to write out that story for the first time. Imagine how his or her hands were shaking when they created those words on whatever medium they were using.

When I was in graduate school in 1988, I took a seminar course on Thomas Pynchon and Joan Didion and for my final paper, examined the role of the storyteller in Pynchon's fiction, specifically his short story, "Lowlands." There are a lot of "stories" inside Pynchon's fiction and this is what I wanted to explore by by using "Lowlands" as a focus for the paper. What I argued was that we tell stories to inform and educate, to entertain and sometimes shock, and that we also learn something about who we are. Our stories are what binds us and what allows our cultures to survive.

And you got… ?


Nice! Okay, over the summer you published When A Hard Rain Falls… another nail biter! Bet it was fun to write!

Yes and no. It was the most problematic of all my books because of the timeline. It gave me such fits that I shelved it for a year and wrote Ice Cream Headache. When I finally came back to it I had a fresh perspective which allowed me to work on the problems I had earlier. Sometimes we have to do that as writers—we have to walk away and take some time off for an idea to percolate.

What do you mean by "the timeline"?

The story originally began in the present and then jumped back to the past as a flashback before it continued in the present. However, the real problem was introducing a major character halfway through the story. That was caused me the most stress and hair-pulling anxieties! (laughs) I decided to shelve the story and work on Ice Cream Headache. When I came back to the story this past year, I figured out how to introduce that character. I simply went back in time and write about the two characters and put them on a course that would eventually have their paths crossing.

As a self-published writer, can you talk to us about how you promote your books?

I wish there was an easy answer to this question. As we all know, marketing is the most challenging for writers but for self-published authors it's even more of a challenge because you not only have to deal with the stigma that some people with authors who publish their own books as well as vanity publishing in itself, but also how to sell your books in a market inundated with books. Of course I use Facebook, Twitter and Linked-in as well as my website. But the best way is word of mouth. You have to get people talking about your books and have them to a lot of the work for you. And you also need to promote other authors. Buy their books, write a review, blog about them. We're all in this together. There is a market for what we write—though I see that novellas and short fiction are becoming the rave because of our iPads, Kindles, and Nooks—so we all have to help each other. And let's face it, a book that's 2.99-3.99 is still cheaper than a cup of coffee.

I spend about an hour a day promoting my books. You have to work the crowd. You also have to use sites like Pixel of Ink and BookBub—though I have found them hard to get on.

Wasn't War Remains your best seller, and do you think it's because it was your first, or the subject matter, or both or neither?

Yes, yes, and yes. (smiles) It's the book which has received the most acclaim from critics given the subject matter. However, it is not a war novel. Yes, it takes place during the Korean War, but it is just as much about the home front as it is about the war. After reading it the title will make more sense.

As you know, I have a small press, Big Table Publishing Company, and so many of my clients complain about disappointing sales. I always tell them it has to be about the writing, not about the sales… how do you cheer yourself up when sales aren't what you hoped?

I write. That's what we do. That's what we have to do. It's only natural that we want to check our sales because it is a validation of sorts. The thing is not to let it overwhelm you. People will buy your book. It's important to keep writing though.

Do you ever worry that you release books too soon? When I'm dealing with a client who's had multiple books, I usually try to convince them to wait at least a year between books.

Not really. I think you have to get as many books as you can in circulation. It's also useful if you want to feature one of your books for free to drive readers to check out your other books. It's worked for me.

Okay, this is really important and I want to clarify… you've offered free downloads of one of your books and it has led to the sale of other books?

Sadly, it didn't work as much as I thought it would. Free downloads are great, but if readers don't write a review or buy one of your other books, it is a waste of time. The problem is that even though your book could jump up the charts, once the free download period is over, you do not retain that position. It's all about algorithms. I recently read an article which stated that offering a book for .99 cents is much better than a free download because you will keep your chart position which will affect sales.

Given that you live in South Korea and most of your readers are probably American, do you sell copies direct, or just send customers to Amazon?

I sell the majority of my books through Amazon, though I have made arrangements with some individuals in my hometown to sell my books at some local businesses. I've tried to sell books to folks directly from Korea but it is too expensive for the shipping. I will make special arrangements for bulk orders and yes, the books are autographed!

Okay, please tell us about your latest, I'll Be Home for Christmas.

I've always wanted to write a Christmas story. This one felt really good to write. I love this story. It reminds me a lot of Ice Cream Headache in the characters and the drama that unfolds. I'm proud of this story. It's just as much heartwarming as it is riveting. It makes a great Christmas present, too! (smiles)

And still plenty of time go pick up a copy!! Tell us where!

Of course all my titles are available through Amazon.

Hey, Jeffrey, thanks for stopping by and sharing your knowledge… and again, thanks for all your support and friendship. Happy holidays!

Thanks, Robin, and same to you!

    Blue Line

     Meg Tuite

Meg Tuite

I am so excited to have you here, Meg! Recently I was trying to remember exactly how we met, and I couldn’t… it was probably via BLM, but I guess what I mean is that I don’t remember a time when we weren’t friends. Do you happen to remember?

Ah, I remember it well! You were the first editor to publish a story of mine in 2009. It was “Obstacle,” which is published in my first chapbook, Disparate Pathos. I have always loved you from afar, but am excited to hear we will be reading together in May, 2014. Now, that’s cause for celebration! We’ll wreak havoc in Boston, or at the very least have some margaritas and hang out together.

Yeah, this town’ll never be the same!! Okay, now, you have a fantastic new collection of short stories out, but let’s take a minute and talk about another book of yours, Domestic Apparition. Meg, I know you to be sweet and warm and loving. So the gritty energy of the writing took me by surprise. Do you hear that a lot?

Not much, anymore. Most of the people I know have read a story or two of mine by now and are prepared for something that wouldn’t be in with the kittens and puppies. It might be cordoned off and certainly be expected to wear a choke collar for a while.

Okay, let’s talk about Bound by Blue. Congratulations! Love the artwork!

It’s an exquisite cover by a brilliant artist, Goro Endow, who lives in Japan and is renowned internationally. I’m honored to have one of his paintings for Bound By Blue. The collection is made up of thirteen short fiction stories. The first story, “The F Word,” is about a girl who’s anorexic, brilliant and slowly losing her grip as her brutal past comes back to haunt her. And it moves from there into many wounded characters who somehow find a way to survive whatever attempts to break them down. As I recall, all of them make it through this book. At least, the protagonists do.

Yes, the wounded and the brilliant. Now don’t be coy, Meg—tell us where you come up with this stuff… this haunting chaotic tone… these storylines… a reflection of your childhood?

Certainly not trying to be coy. Coy frightens me like floral prints. I’m a reader. I’ve been reading since I was a kid and haven’t stopped. We all have certain arenas that we are drawn to more than others and I have gravitated toward character-driven stories over plot. Of course, something must happen and I need a build-up of tension to keep reading, but the most exciting books for me delve into the psyche of our species and why we decide to keep doing the things we do to make it through another day. Many people don’t continue on and they are equally as fascinating for me. It’s a tough deal for many and those are the ones I like to write about.

I grew up on the North side of Chicago with an amazing family. Every one of them is interesting and absolutely hilarious. Of course, we dealt with some shit in our childhood, but we also found out about life through other kids and worked it out in the city and of course, the books. All of us are readers. We had a good time cruising around and our parents wanted us home and at the table for dinner by six. It was a great time to be a kid because parents never hovered at that time. They were working out their own issues. If anything, they kept some distance.

What kind of books did you read, though? I mean, when I was a little girl, I loved Nancy Drew.

I read everything! It was a pecking order and books traveled from my mom to my older brother, Kevin, than my sister, Bev, and I was next in line. I remember when my Mom was reading The Confederacy of Dunces, by John Kennedy Toole and laughing hysterically and I wanted to know what was what with the book and when I could get my hands on it, but had to wait and listen to all the older ones laugh and fall off couches until it was my turn. I read all the usual suspects: All of Dr. Seuss and some of my other favorites were The Crystal Cave by Mary Stewart and the story of a sister and brother who skip school and spend the night in the Metropolitan Museum in From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. I obsessed over that one, wondering how I could get to a museum without my parents and live there. That was a fantasy that stuck with me for a long time.

I just have to ’fess up to being the only person I know who HATED Confederacy. I even went back to it years later thinking maybe I was just going through a thing… but I still hated it! Anyway, okay, “Thy Blood is Cold.” I mean, readers have no idea where this is going! What was the process like for this one; did you know in advance how it would end, or do you just come up with characters and situations, and go from there? Does your writing ever surprise you?

I have some background for this story. I did live in a Hasidic neighborhood for a while in Montreal and developed the tale around it. I never know how a story will end, so in that way, yes, each story is its own surprise.

Mothers feature prominently in so many of your stories… can you talk about that?

Mothers feature prominently in most of our lives, as mine did. My mom was absolutely brilliant. She read everything she could get her hands on and she passed that love on to my siblings and me. She dealt with depression, incest and a bad marriage and yet came through it all with a glorious sense of humor. I don’t know how anyone exists without one? Those are the maimed and deeply troubled in my mind.

And the mental illness theme that figures in so many of your pieces… characters you met while you were a nurse? Or do they come from in your head?

I have never really known a so-called sane person. Or at least I never hung out with any of them. I believe some of us are able to hide our “stripped down” selves through jobs, money, surrounding ourselves with people and activities to keep from being alone with ourselves to actually deal with ourselves, or those who continually remind us that they are leading the good life, have found the answers if only the rest of us would listen. Most people are running from “fear of going mad,” over “fear of death” in my opinion. No polls have been taken on this that I know of, but if you hear of one let me know.

I worked “hospice care” for over fifteen years and those were the closest to what I would call the liveliest insane people I have ever met. They took the curtains down and said it like it was. They spoke their truth. They had no need to bullshit anymore. I have only written a few stories of people on their way out. I’d love to write a collection of “hospice” stories at some point. I did write a bit about a woman in this collection in Vulture of Habit, who because of her age wasn’t heard, but continued to tell her story whether anyone listened or not.

I thought about trying to get together a collection of true stories about Hospice nurses from people I know who transitioned someone with their help... with my parents, man, they were angels… I might do it someday. Maybe I could have you write the introduction!

I would be honored. I had the same experience with the hospice nurses and staff when my mother was dying. They were my heroes. I was enamored by all that they did to make my mom comfortable and forget that she was dying. She was alive. She wasn’t any different than anyone in the room. They listened to her stories and told their own. It was captivating and I was always relieved when they were with us. Those are the people I want with me when I’m on my way. I want to laugh and know that when it’s painful they are there to diminish it.

Yes… the compassion, plus the drugs! Anyway, what is it like to be Meg Tuite? Is it chaotic?

You don’t know the half of it. I ponder that question every day when I get up, seriously. Well, maybe not seriously, but somewhat chaotically. The best moments of the day are when I stop pacing to figure out what I’m supposed to be doing and lay with my dogs and cats. They’ve got it down. There is nothing frantic about this menagerie at my house. Lists are always collaborating in my head to get me racing. And I do. But the best antidotes to that are taking a run around Crazy Rabbit Road with my headphones on or sitting on the porch reading. Though when I’m writing and really in something, and you know what I speak of, Robin, then I am truly as close to elevated insanity as I can be.

“Elevated Insanity”—love that! Back to the book, “Bound by Blue” is also the title of one of the stories. Can you tell us why you chose that to be the title of the book?

My original title was Implosion. That’s one of my most favorite words and seemed to work with the collection. But then the publisher, Paula Bomer, and I decided that it should be one of the stories in the collection. When I picked out the painting for the cover by Goro Endow from his collection I realized that the figure was surrounded above and below by blue. The more I thought about it, the more it made sense. The characters are bound by blue, as we all are. Blue can be anything you want it to be: sadness, big sky, opening the curtains, letting it all in.

My favorite in the book was “The Healer.” Again, I just didn’t know where it was going… and it ended the collection on such a beautiful note… holy even.

I’m so glad that you liked that story. Once again, the stories are bound by blue, right? It is about a woman who finds her strength not so much through a healer, but through nature itself, or maybe both. It’s all a mystery.

So according to your blog, you’re working on a novel now? Can you tell us about it?

It’s the novel that I started two years ago and haven’t returned to in some time. I am going to try to work it through NaNoWriMo in November to write another draft and pick it up again. You read through the first draft of Eternal-E and I’m so thankful for that, Robin. I loved your comments and am using those to work by because they resonated with me. We will see what comes of it, but it’s the usual family with all its secrets that haunt them and will hopefully unfurl as the story is told.

Oh I’m so glad my comments were helpful! Okay, here’s the link where people can buy autographed copies of all your books—and by the way, people, books that have been autographed by the writer make EXCELLENT gifts! Go to:www.megtuite.com or you can order through Sententia Books at:sententiabooks.com

Meg, it was just great to have you stop by, thanks so much! Congratulations again on the book, and good luck with it! Love you, girl!!

I can’t thank you enough for ALL, Robin! I adore you and can’t wait to meet you LIVE!

    All That Remains

     Brian Fanelli

Welcome, Brian! There are so many things I want to say before we begin the interview, first off—I’m just such a huge fan of yours. For those who don’t know, Brian Fanelli and I did his first chap together, Front Man… he was the dream client— brilliant, talented, easy to work with, and did a great job promoting the book. Brian, you’ve got a new collection out titled All That Remains, and it’s fantastic, so congratulations!

Thank you for your kind words, Robin. You were a pleasure to work with for Front Man, and I would like to work with Big Table Publishing again at some point. Thank you too for your kind words about All That Remains. It was a long process writing and revising the book, so I’m thrilled that it has finally taken shape, and the publisher, Unbound Content, has been wonderful to work with.

What I think I love most about your writing is the narrative tone… the visuals, the characters, the scenes… that takes so much skill.

Thank you. I think it’s important that poetry has grounding in the visual, the image, the metaphor, and I am also drawn to the narrative form, especially borrowing elements from fiction, such as scene, characters, voice. When putting a collection of poems together, I think a lot about voice and how the poems speak or react to each other, and I like the idea of sketches. Some of my favorite poets were masters at capturing a moment in time, a sketch of people or a scene. I think of Langston Hughes’ depictions of Harlem, William Carlos Williams’ brilliant ability to depict working-class characters in his poems, usually the people he encountered as a doctor when he went into neighborhoods. These are just a few of the poets I find myself returning to again and again.

You are so drawn to the narrative that I often wonder why you don’t do a novel. I think I’ve asked you.

I just don’t think I have a novel in me. I find fiction writing to be a grueling, long process. As a poet, I am too obsessed with one line, one word at a time, so I can’t even fathom how long a novel would take me. I am currently taking a fiction writing workshop as part of my doctorate program at SUNY Binghamton. It’s been a good experience to write some short fiction again, but I can’t imagine myself doing anything longer.

Do you read your poems out loud as you write them, to hear how they sound?

Yes, I always read my poems out loud, and I am obsessed with sounds and ensuring that my poems have musicality and that the content, form, and language are working together. I employ some traditional techniques in my poetry, but I try to make sure it’s not too heavy-handed. For instance, I do use rhyme sparingly, but I might use slant rhyme as opposed to doggerel rhymes.

You stunned me by saying that a lot of the poems in Front Man weren’t based on real events… I could have sworn they were, remember how surprised I was when you told me? And so I’m wondering about this new collection… how much of what you’ve got here is based on things that happened to you?

Some of Front Man was based on people I knew going through and coming out of the punk rock scene. Some of the poems in All That Remain are based on my experiences or people that I knew. For instance, in 2011, northeast, Pennsylvania experienced record-level flooding, so I witnessed what it was like for towns to evacuated, and I was an evacuee myself. It was utterly terrifying. I have a poem in the new collection about that, but there is certainly distance between myself and the experiences described in a lot of the poems. However, I do think most writing springs from some lived experience and truth. Am I contradicting myself?

I think what you’re saying is that you use the emotions of your experiences and plug them into fictional circumstances… but yeah, “Evacuation” was a great one. Okay, so you’re a teacher, and I found myself wondering if some of the poems in All That Remains are based on some of your students. Right now my heart is breaking for the kid in “A Mother’s Concern”:

When the mother retreats to the break room,
away from badgering customers at one job,
impatient diners at another,
she wonders what kids say
about her son, the lunch he packs daily—
white bread, apples from ALDI that brown
in hours, stale crackers, thin slices of cheese,
all food stamps can afford.
He wants what other kids have, a chance
to stand in line at lunch for ice cream,
even an orange that glows in the hands of other boys
like fire, but mother’s double shifts
leave little after bills.
When he comes home, silent about a boy who knocked
his imitation Air Jordans or no-name shirt,
she knows his anger by the way he digs
his fingernails into his palms, or retreats
to his room to read and ignore his stomach groans.
She wishes to hold him, rock him
like when he was a giggling baby boy
and she said, We’ll be just fine.
Now he shrugs her off, plugs his ears
with headphones. She clings to the hope
he’ll never know what it’s like
to raise a son who stares across the table and asks,
Can’t we eat out just once?
She never wants him to know
searing blisters, throbbing headaches from working doubles.
She imagines him behind a desk, hot shot CEO,
first in family to finish college,
or a teacher, confident in a classroom,
willing to lend extra dollars to all the students

“A Mother’s Concern” was one of the fastest poems I had written in the book, and it was written a few years ago, in 2011, when there was a lot of talk about class division in this country, in light of the Occupy Wall Street Movement and some of the concerns they were raising at the time. I remember I drafted that poem in the heat of the moment. Then I revised it later on. I have certainly had students like that, but it is not based on a particular student. I just thought about some of the issues this country was facing then and is still facing now and the impact on average Americans.

You also tend to like that gritty city underbelly vibe… as in “One Night.” Love the visual here:

She parked her pink Corvette curbside outside the hotel,
ran her fingers through her black wind-whipped hair,
touched up her cherry-red lipstick.
I bought her a drink
before she reached the bar,
fell in love
before we even talked.
She traced her black fingernails
along the martini glass, licked her lips and said,
Boy, I need a man who makes the devil pale.
She caught the guy with spider web tattoos
who tossed back whiskey shots,
howled, cracked pool balls.
Her low-cut cocktail dress could ensnare
any guy who looked her way.
I listened to her heels click clack
as she exited the bar,
his inked arm around her shoulder.
Now I hook my fingers around a six-pack,
drain each beer as I hear
moaning through the hotel’s cheap walls,
and wonder if it’s her.
I crush the last can, fall asleep,
wake up with the faded smear,
her lipstick on my left cheek.

I’m drawn to the grittiness of big cities. I lived outside Philadelphia for a while and certainly the Scranton area has a grittiness to it. Some of my favorite poems are about cities—Carl Sandburg’s “Chicago,” T.S. Eliot’s “Preludes,” parts of William Carlos Williams’ Patterson. I think they’re honest in their depictions, and it’s ok to write about the underbelly.

There’s a wonderful poem here titled “What Remains” and the title of the collection is All That Remains. Can you tell us why that theme is so important to you?

Well, a lot of the book explores what remains after relationships unravel, but in the larger context, I think the book looks at where America is right now in terms of the growing economic divide. What remains when a dream unravels? What do people do when they can’t find work? Yet, I think the book has a silver lining and optimistic tone overall. At least I hope it does!

When you have a whole bunch of poems and it’s time to publish a collection, is it hard to choose? What’s that process like?

Yes, it is hard to pick poems for a collection, at least for me. Jenna was a great help to me in that process. I remember one day, in the summer of 2011, we sat down and looked at the poems I had for the draft of this manuscript. She was wonderful in terms of helping me place the poems in some kind of order so they didn’t sound too repetitive next to each other, while still interacting and speaking to each other.

I probably do have enough poems for another manuscript. A lot of poems were written after All That Remains was accepted for publication by Unbound Content, and those poems appeared in various literary magazines. I’m not sure when I’ll sit down and put them in some kind of order, but I will at some point. I have to make sure there is a common thread. I don’t like the idea of putting random poems together just to have a manuscript.

That’s what I loved about Front Man, it was a technique I don’t see… you told a story with a plot and recurring characters with your poems. Many chaps have a theme, but not a plot.

Well, I think more and more we’re starting to see poetry collections that have a narrative thread. I would like to see that happen more, frankly. I think it’s a way to make poetry a little more accessible and less abstract.

And what’s different in your writing since Front Man?

Well, I hope I’ve become a better writer! Haha I think we should be improving as writers each day and certainly each passing year. I’ve read much more since the time I completed Front Man. There are poets I really like now that I wasn’t as familiar with then. Furthermore, I’m not interested in punk rock as much as a subject now. I feel like I got that subject out of my system through Front Man.

How do you choose whether you’re going to write in first person or third person? You do both really well.

If I want something close and intimate, I’ll go with first person usually. If I want to create more distance, I’ll try third person.

Why would you want to create more distance? What’s the thinking there?

Sometimes I simply want to present a scene and remove the “I” from the poem, so third person works for that, or I want to create a poem that is not heavy on emotion, that is not a lyric poem, so it lacks a particular “I” persona.

I also pick up on a theme of loneliness… of seeking that perfect mate… and it’s another thing I love about your writing, the melancholy guy out looking… trying… insecure and doubting himself.

I didn’t even think of that theme! I hope some of these poems don’t come across as real bummers! I do think, though, that we all feel insecure at some point, no matter how much we may have, be it a good job, the perfect mate, or success, whatever it might be. We all doubt ourselves from time to time.

So many poets talk about it, but don’t show the way you do… they hit readers over the head with the waking-up-alone-she’s-gone-and-nothing-I-can-do-so-I-think-I’ll-kill-myself scene, but they don’t explain what led to the loneliness… the poems I’m thinking about are “When She Left” and “Winter Break-Up” where we get such a deep sense of the man who has lost a love. I really love the way you draw us in so we know WHO is lonely, what happened, and the unhappy aftermath.

I think the best way to depict any emotion, including loneliness, is through the language and more specifically the imagery, such as an empty chair in an apartment or the way the heat pipes keep coughing and coughing, or the way an ex-lover’s mug or favorite shirt still lingers in the apartment after its gone. Sometimes we use noise to try to drown out our problems too, so the chatter of a TV show or the radio can hold some weight too. I suppose it always goes back to the fundamentals tools of this craft and using them as a way to depict the intended emotion.

And you’re so good at portraying sweet enduring love, too. We published “After Working Hours” and later nominated it for a Pushcart Prize… it will always be one of my favorites:

After Working Hours

She comes home to a husband
just as bone-tired, slow to the kitchen
for a snack before sleep.
In dreams, she sees her hair streaked gray,
her back hunched from years behind a counter.
She still hears her manager's screeching voice
call for clean-up in aisle 9.
Her husband also dreams work sounds—
buzzsaws grinding down wood, hammers pounding nails,
the site boss bellowing, Move your ass, boys!
When they wake, they speak nothing
of his blistered fingers and swollen knuckles,
her headaches caused by nagging customers.
He pours her coffee with two scoops of sugar,
his demeanor as pleasant as a well-tipped waiter's.
She picks up the paper, then slips her hand over his,
feeling warmth beneath his callouses and cracked skin.

That poem may be my favorite in the collection. It was the last poem added to the collection, I think, written fairly late compared to the rest of the poems. Luckily, Annmarie Lockhart let me add the poem late. I imagine I was a pain to work with because I continued making changes to the manuscript up until a few weeks ago! She was wonderful, though.

I think that poem touches upon that idea of optimism that I mentioned earlier. Even though the husband and wife in that poem work awful jobs, they still have each other and can come home to each other at the end of the day. Sometimes those relationships are what pull us through the difficult moments, the really bad days.

A great poem for right now is “Advice from Grandfather.” Can you talk about the role politics plays in your writing?

I think it’s impossible to totally avoid politics as a writer or be unconscious of what is happening in the world, especially during this time. Adrienne Rich is one of my favorite poets because of the way she was able to weave politics and social issues in her poems without being heavy-handed. Her poems are wonderfully crafted and brilliant while still addressing a host of issues, especially gender issues. For me, class issues matter a lot, and we’re experiencing the greatest class division since the 1920s, pre-Stock Market Crash. This book deals a lot with that theme, but I have to have some faith that we will somehow get out of this mess, like generations have in the past. That’s what “Advice from Grandfather” is all about, the idea that we will somehow pull out of this.

Yes, and again this is the sense of optimism that rounds out the collection so beautifully. Now be honest—“Public Displays” really happened, right?

I’m not going to say. Haha

Ha ha! Okay, I guess I know when I’ve crossed the line between interviewing and being nosey! Hey, Brian, thanks so much for spending some time with us, and best of luck with your new book! Can our readers get autographed copies at www.brianfanelli.com?

They can purchase books through Amazon, BarnesandNoble.com, Powell’s online, unboundcontent.com, or at one of my readings. All of my readings are listed on my website. Thanks again for this interview!

    Art, Crime & Lithium

     Oleh Lysiak

Oleh Lysiak... You have been the darling of BLM for years, and it’s so good to have you here for the spotlight.

Nice of you to say so, thanks. You’re obviously a woman with impeccable literary taste and a sense of humor. Our first BLM interview is always fun for me to re-read. We share history, a literary relationship. Your support of my poetry has helped to keep me working. I always look forward to writing something engaging and fresh for the next issue of BLM.

You and I also did a wonderful chapbook together, Scars in Progress... you were my first client, as a matter of fact.

Scars in Progress was my first published chapbook, a milestone for me. As a basis to submit my work on a broader literary scale, your publication of Scars In Progress is partially responsible for the writing, submission and publication of my autobiography, another milestone. Our working together has certainly helped me on my literary adventure.

I’m so glad to hear that! But you are not just a brilliant poet—you have a brand new autobiography out, Art, Crime & Lithium, which you sent and which I tore through and finished last night. I have so many questions and comments, but I wanted to begin by telling people that when you and I were getting to know each other, you told me you’d lived an interesting life and wanted to write about it... at the time, man, I had NO idea how amazing your life has been!

What’s amazing to me is I’m here to talk about it. I set out to live an adventurous life, necessary, for the kind writer I aspired to be. I wrote a poem in Ukrainian about a cross-country motorcycle ride, which, along with two others, was published in The Word Almanac by the Ukrainian Writers Association in New York in 1968. In 1970, Estafette, a Ukrainian language literary journal in Toronto, Canada, published three more of my poems as well as a short story by father, the only time we were published together. I’d been published for 41 years when Scars In Progress came out.

What I didn’t take into account when I set out to live an adventurous life was the extent of my intrinsic enthusiasm. I didn’t find out I was bipolar until age 47. By then I was way off into living on the edge. My saving grace is that I have always had a healthy respect for the edge, which is primarily why I’m here writing this now. It’s been one hell of a ride and I have to scars to document it.

I’m sure it’s been compared to On The Road, but have people told you it reminded them of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance?

I’d be honored to have Art, Crime and Lithium compared to On The Road or Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance but so far nobody has. Thanks for asking. It’s an entertaining thought.

Really? That surprises me a lot… the other thing I wanted to say was, I think a lot of people don’t realize how hard it is to write an autobiography... I think most people think it’s just a matter of telling your “story” .... but most autobiographies don’t succeed because the voice isn’t strong, too many uninteresting details are included, the pacing is off or it’s confusing, and they often don’t end in a way that satisfies me. What impressed me about your book is the way you somehow managed to report events (without crafting scenes with dialogue the way I usually make my clients do it) in that edgy present tense... was it hard to write?

I set out to write 1,000 words a day, not a problem most days. The story was familiar so the story line was no problem. The process took two years. Events in the story are like skipping stones, touching every so often, in what begins as a straight line with a wealth of kinetic juice and subsides in a curve before sinking. A hundred thousand words were my goal. I stopped just short of that. I could have written three times as much, which would have been overkill and eventually boring. Writing it wasn’t difficult. I enjoyed it. Editing and publishing were a monumental pain in the ass. The total project took approximately three years. I’m glad I did it.

I’m glad too!!! Were you tempted to include some of your poetry in the text?

Of course, the end of the next to last chapter is actually Circles Berserk, which was published in BLM, as the last paragraph of the original book before I added a postscript.


Dogs on scent slip over driftwood,
bolt circles berserk, rile gulls into rising,
blast heedless through surf moist muzzles
brush by hauling ass up the beach, joyful,
our walks sweet saving grace of days spent
tinkering with enthusiasm’s used to be.

In the book:

I keep taking my daily lithium and for nearly a year, walk the beach alone with occasional thoughts of dogs on scent slipped over driftwood, bolting circles berserk, riling gulls into rising, blasting heedless through surf moist muzzles brushing by hauling ass up the beach, joyful, sweet saving grace of days spent tinkering with enthusiasm’s used to be. Seven weeks after April Fools Day two years ago we take in two puppies and walk the beach daily at dawn, rain or shine, better now than never.

Loved “Circles Berserk!” Now I just have to ask this (probably everyone does!) Did all the references to other lovers bother your wife, Tina?

Not so I noticed. She’s a salty girl with a rich and varied history of her own. This is an excerpt from “The Chromium Kid In The American Zoo,” a poem I wrote in 1975:

I’ve planted in England and I’ve planted in France.
I met a real woman and planted her pants.
She planted me back like a classy old skid
and now we’re a fambly with a sweet planter kid.
I got a week off so I planted some peas,
strawberries and taters but I planted no trees.
Planted my fine old lady the whole black night through
but don’t get me wrong, she’s an ace planter too.

I knew I’d meet her someday. We met 19 years ago October 4. I included the encounters as a means of illustrating excessive bipolar sexual behavior, necessary to the story. So far you’re the only one who asked.

Did you consider writing it in past tense, or was it always in the present tense?

It was always the present tense. I wrote my autobiography, a memoir, a voyage into the past in the present tense, which is how it was lived. It gets immediacy across. Everything happens now, startling.

Any regrets?

I should have started writing my own stuff and submitting it much sooner.

So do you mean you were published and then 41 years went by before you wrote again?

I wrote for those 41 years but I wrote primarily for newspapers, a reporter. I also wrote my own stuff but I was waiting for my voice to emerge. I wanted to be sure I knew what the fuck I was writing about. Fiction wasn’t an option for me, although I wrote Barely Inside the Lines, a thinly disguised novel, after I quit The Norwood Post in 1994. I locked myself in my house and wrote 8 to 10 hours a day, dreamed dialogue, lived a magnificent obsession for four months until the book was done. What a ride!

Faced with choosing 12 good poems to enter a poetry competition in 1992 I instead deposited 20 years of work into a dumpster at the Third World Trailer Park and Sex Emporium, in Moab, Utah, where I lived in a 1952 Silver Streak trailer. I started over. You’ve published the results. It was a good move.

For me, too! Hey, so would the Oleh of today enjoy hanging out with the young Oleh?

We do hang out together. Consider “Moment Alive,” which you published:

Replacement knee clicks rhythmic
with hip titanium, tongue licks pulled
tooth gums, past weighs on his back
like an invisible rock-filled pack. He grins
at fogged dawn breaking cobalt metallic
pink, recalls tumult endured to arrive
at this very moment alive.

We’re the same guy, a few scars down the road.

That’s what grabbed hold of me about your writing… the contentment. Do you think the young Oleh could have imagined himself so calm and happy?

The young Oleh might have imagined being here. It’s moot. What you perceive to be contentment is resignation, acceptance. I lived my life as I saw fit and paid the price. Regret isn’t something I entertain. I don’t drug, drink, smoke, ride the edge, bait fate or fuck around anymore. But I have, to excess. Since there isn’t much more I can do about who I am, I live with it, enjoy what I can and don’t concern myself with what I can do nothing about. I set out to be an adventurer and write about it. I accomplished what I set out to do. I’m a geezer with an attitude, with people I love who love me. I have stuff to do I enjoy doing. It’s a good life.

I wrote this in the beginning, when I was 20, 48 years ago, and didn’t have a clue.

“In the End”

I’d get into the bathtub when the water wasn’t very hot,
just warm enough to feel, then sink and let only hot run
from the spigot until the water became scalding, a gradual
process which turned my body redder as the water
got hotter. I slid along the porcelain until my nose
was barely above the water and finger-tipped the floor
taking hold of the book I was to read. I read and slowly
slipped to sleep. I drowned in the hot water
when my head went under and, with the pulling of the plug,
was washed down with the water waste through plumbing
sucked into the sewer. I was a sewer fish below while you
walked on the streets above though I couldn’t discern
much difference in our respective situations. I traveled
through the sewers and eventually spilled out of the concrete
sewer spillway in to a river which in turn spilled into the ocean
which swallows everybody’s waste. I grew on the waste
and became a greater fish in a greater pond, made
spawning runs each fall returning to my place of origin
to originate progeny who would eventually return
to their place of origin to originate more progeny
who would do the same in turn thinking originally.
Eventually I was snared by a trawler and, after being
yanked out of the ocean I was filleted, smoked, cooked,
canned, eaten and in turn discarded into the same
goddamned sewer. I thought this place looked mighty familiar,
what being with my friends and all, I felt right at home except
I wondered what happened to the tub, who pulled the plug and
how the book turned out in the end.

That’s a great poem for a 20-year old… makes me want to ask what you think of some of our younger poets… do you ever hear any of the new voices? Do you read much poetry in general?

Poets I love are Sharon Olds, David Lee, Stephen Dobyns, Charles Bukowski. And I read poets you publish because I trust your taste.

Oh, Oleh, you old charmer, you! Thanks so much for dropping by… and readers—please check out Art, Crime & Lithium at Amazon.com, or read Oleh’s poetry, which can be found in every issue of Boston Literary Magazine!

     Robert Scotellaro

Robert, welcome! It's always a blast to hang out with you!

Hi, Robin. Great to be with you. It's always a pleasure.

I want to start by saying that of all the poets published by Big Table, you hold the distinction of being the only one we've ever pulled on our boots and gone after. We were such fans of the pieces you've had published here at Boston Literary. Was I ever glad you said Yes, and the result was The Night Sings A Cappella (2011).

Those are the kinds of singular distinctions a writer can never get enough of. I was familiar with Big Table Publications, and admired what you were doing with the press. Had seen several Big Table chapbooks to that point, and was taken with them. When you asked me to send a book proposal for consideration, I was thrilled and immensely grateful. It's rare when the scenario plays out like that. The Night Sings A Capella was the happy result.

I have so many things I want to say about this new collection of short stories, Robert… I should start by saying that I'm just in awe of your writing. As I flip through the book again, I keep feeling amazed at the way you capture so many moods here, you are just a master at setting a stage swiftly… I think that takes more skill than people realize.

Thank you so much for that. I'm very comfortable working in small spaces. That really helps. I enjoy the immediacy of flash fiction and the implications—the tacit allusions that are built into it. It allows the reader a bit of partnering, in terms of nuance and fillers. There's no room for verbal flab and hefty exposition. Flash pieces are usually very fit. A lot like poetry in that regard. I think all my years of writing short poems prepared me for very short fiction. The challenge is not just what to put into a piece, but what to keep out. It's a genre that suits me.

Any projects on the horizon, a novel, maybe?

Not a novel. I'd love to join your esteemed ranks but, as it regards literature, I'm a sprinter. However, I'm currently putting together a group of very short (micro/prose poem pieces) I feel work well together. I'm in the process of sending them out to magazines. The response has been favorable. I'm having a great time writing them.

I don't want to sound like I'm nagging (would I love a novel by you!) but long fiction is like that too, ya know… ! Remember that old joke, How do you carve an elephant out of cheese? Take away everything that doesn't look like an elephant? Come on, might you change your mind and do a novel some day?

I've never heard that joke. It's a good one. Certainly not a traditional novel. I could envision a group of interlocking very short pieces that build momentum and continuity as a whole. The way Sandra Cisneros did with The House on Mango Street or Safekeeping by Abigail Thomas. That, I feel, might be doable and would, more than likely, be autobiographical. About growing up in my East Harlem neighborhood.

Keep us posted if you decide to do it! So what's the submission process like for you? Do you have some favorites, or do you try to hit as many as you can?

I find Duotrope an invaluable search resource, and use it regularly to research markets. I try my best to read what various journals are publishing and carefully go over the guidelines and their mission statement. There are also many magazines I've been published in, that I go back to. I believe in a more specifically targeted and measured approach.

I have to ask the usual question—how old were you when you started writing?

I was a teenager, and wrote songs, then epic poems, and eventually free verse and short stories. Emily Dickenson was an early discovery, and I was amazed at what power she created in terms of mood and emotion, so succinctly, and with such fresh, stunningly crisp language. It was an eye-opener. I published my first poem in a high school yearbook. It's buried somewhere, and I don't dare unearth it.

Ha ha ha ha! Nothing is more embarrassing than the stuff we wrote as kids! Even stuff I wrote as an adult… I was one of those writers who knew something about the book wasn't right, but assumed the editor at the big publishing house would "fix" it for me. What was the poem about?

A camel, rhubarb, and a can of red paint. No, only kidding. I don't really recall, but it was probably something equally profound.

You won Zone 3's Rainmaker Award in poetry. Tell us a little bit about that.

Zone 3 is a wonderful university quarterly out of Tennessee. Some of my poems were accepted, and automatically entered into the competition for the Rainmaker Award (2003). It came with a $500 cash prize. That was nearly 10 years ago and quite a bit of money for me at the time. I was honored to receive that award.

What was the poems about?

It was autobiographical—about my old Italian East Harlem neighborhood. About living in a tenement built for turn-of-the-century immigrants. About family and what it was like coexisting in that world. The judge that year was the poet, essay writer, and memoirist, Patricia Hampl.

How different is the poetry writing process for you from the short story writing process?

With poetry, I find myself (for whatever reason) leaning toward personal history. But with fiction, it flips the other way. There are sometimes, fragments, or even critical elements lifted from what I've seen or lived. But mostly, it's actually fiction. I spring off of a line or title from one of my notebooks—a scrap of an idea, or detail, and let the story develop as I go. It's exciting to me to see the essence of a piece reveal itself. When I started writing fiction, I felt a need to work out many of the details in advance. Now I find, the less I know, the more there is to discover. And I like that.

Poetry differs for me also, in language and cadence. Poetry, it seems, is more elegantly language-based, more metaphorical—philosophical. Prose poems, of course, are a wonderful blending of the two. Another genre I'm very drawn to. Flutter Press published a chapbook of my prose poems in 2010.

Do you teach writing?

No, I don't teach. But feel I am still a student every time I sit down to a blank page, and with new stories I read by writers I admire.

Okay, now the book. Tell us about this wonderful cover! This is one of the best looking covers I have ever seen in my life!

Many images were considered. Diane Frank, the editor of Blue Light Press, was kind enough to allow my input. I'd been looking online for images, and saw the one currently selected. It took a great deal of detection to find out who owned the rights. We finally did. The artist, Achille Beltrame, was one of Italy's most famous illustrators. It's an eye-grabber and seems to fit the title perfectly. Blue Light's book designer put it all together beautifully. I'm very happy with how it's turned out.

Are there any very short fiction authors that you admire?

Yes. Dozens and dozens. Some favorite authors that have print collections are: Linh Dinh, Stefanie Freele, John Jodzio, Darlin' Neal, Matt Bell, Kim Chinquee, Claudia Smith, Etgar Keret, Pedro Ponce, Ethel Rohan, Meg Pokrass. There are many, many more. And, there is a plethora of very fine writers working with very short fiction forms, I see featured in literary journals regularly. Writers, I admire, who do not yet have their own published collections. I'm hoping that will change.

Yes, I see a lot of exceptional writing, not just at Boston Literary (although we do get the crème de la crème here) that I find myself hoping will come out with a collection at some point. Hey, so, Robert, thanks so much for stopping by! Is there a way for readers to contact you?

Yes, here's my email address: scottydiana@earthlink.net. And my website is RobertScotellaro.com.

And here's the link where people can buy your latest: Amazon.com.

Thank you, Robin, for inviting me here to discuss my work. You've made it a pleasure to do so.

     Zack Kopp

Welcome, Zack! I met you through Boston Literary Magazine, but you’re not just a poet—you’ve written three novels. Tell us a little bit about them.

Thanks a lot for having me, Robin. I’m very grateful for the chance to talk about my writing with an audience of interested readers. After discovering Jack Kerouac as a teenager, I became fascinated with the idea of novelizing my experiences as they occurred the way Kerouac seemed to have done with his Duluoz Legend. My last three novels, Homework, Undamned!, and Sorehead, all concerning the adventures of my fictional alter-self, are the latest example of that ongoing effort. I’ve come a long way since Kerouac, though. My undergrad thesis was all about truth vs. fiction in autobiography, and the last three novels, which are in no conventional way contiguous (in Undamned!, Howard’s an orphan, while his relationship to his widowed, aging mother is central to Sorehead) represent a sort of existential compromise in that they are purely and terribly works of art drawn directly from living experience.

I have to say, I admire that ability to “compromise” as you put it… not to compare your writing to the Three Stooges (or to in any way imply that I am a Stooges fan) but I’m always struck by the way the writers never made them in the same logistical situation twice… I mean, it was always the same characters, but sometimes they were doctors, sometimes they were housepainters, sometimes they were out of work… and every time I watch them, I try to come up with any other book or tv show that exercises that freedom, and can’t. But of course a book is not a tv show, and I have to ask, why not just come up with a new character for each book?

After discovering Kerouac, writing pure fiction instead of applying artistry to personal experience seemed like avoidance to me. For years (decades?), I kept track of every event in my notebooks, obliged to understand my given life and overcome any perceived setbacks or limitations. Homework is the most literal of the three, Undamned! the most allegorical, and Sorehead, while arguably the most honest in certain respects, includes excerpts from the protagonist’s creative writing throughout, to give evidence of the symbiotic relationship between imagination and experience. I remain puzzled and fascinated and inspired by my life, but in no way constrained by a need for accurate reportage. Having started with pure accuracy and progressed further and further away from that ideal, I feel sure I have come to the end of the cycle and will be writing fiction from now on. Or will I?

I just finished reading Undamned!, I posted the comment on your Facebook page that I was enjoying it, but wanted to save the more detailed feedback for this interview, and I have so many things to say about the writing, the storyline, the reader suspense you created… but let’s begin with your hero, Howard Plumber, who is featured in all three books.

I first conceived of Howard Plumber as a cartoon of my worst side and by extension, (provided I’m doing my job as a writer), everyone else’s too. When I read John Fante and saw how he made his own alter self, Arturo Bandini a sort of perpetual figure of fun to be pitied and sympathized with, rather than admire or be impressed by purely, that gave me the perfect model. And so did the nameless hero of Knut Hamsun’s Hunger, a writer who refuses to eat except with money paid for by his writing and as a result of his obstinance nearly starves to death. In Undamned! especially, Howard’s a figure of fun, because he plays the role of a stubbornly irreverent human for most of that book, inspired in no small part by Flannery O’Connor’s character Hazel Motes, founder of the Church Without Christ. I’m not a Christian, by the way, or any other form of ism. I try to stay zetetic, which means skeptical of the established canon of bias, including your own. That way, there’s always more to know.

I have always admired a writer who can pull off that surrealistic vibe… mostly I see it done not well… but you captured the magic and the sense of wonder as Howard struggles to make sense of it all… and what I loved was his tendency to squelch the wonder with skepticism… it’s so human. For you to say he represents your “worst” side takes me a little bit by surprise. I liked him a lot. To compare him to the Motes character… I don’t see it at all—I hated that character. Howard wasn’t in anyone’s face about his beliefs… to me he seemed to need not to find the answer, but to figure out what question to ask.

That’s exactly right, he’s driven by confusion and determined to be correct all through Undamned!, keeps getting very inspired and excited whenever he thinks he’s arrived at a conclusion, remaining dissatisfied until the very end. This device was inspired by the flights of fancy the nameless hero of Hamsun’s Hunger is especially prone to, all of which are comically impeded and shut down, and John Fante’s Hansun pastiche in his Road to Los Angeles, particularly with regard to Arturo’s private vanity as a great undiscovered writer. So by “worst” I guess I mean most self-important or least open to contradiction when deserved, and this only applies to his behavior in Undamned!, in which his first creative act is composition of an angry letter to the publisher of a magazine he hopes to get into. While readers consider it bold of him, taking such an aggressive tone with the editor, it’s a purely envious perspective he’s coming from, like an overt declaration of his weakness. This brand of belligerent vanity was directly inspired by Hazel Motes - who angrily founds a “church without Christ” in offended response to being mistaken for a preacher - as was Howard’s declaration of a war on God. While Howard Plumber may be a more sympathetic character, he’s definitely in the same lineage, at least in that particular book. And both characters have similarly evocative surnames—where Hazel is mired in the motes, Howard’s a sort of detective. In Homework, the me-like lifelong writer grows through the first exciting rush of life as a counter cultural teen and young man hosting spoken word readings in Denver and Austin, Texas. In the latest, Sorehead, Howard’s trying to make it as a freelance citizen journalist in the dying newspaper scene while writing a psychoemotional self help manual for young adults on the side. I always try to make fun of myself.

How is Howard like Zack?

Many of his adventures are directly based on experiences of the author’s, but at least that many and more are purely invented. So I call these Howard Plumber stories episodes in my “fantastic biography,” which is a phrase I lifted from English musician and author Billy Childish. I never hesitate to alter my documentation of experiences, including compression of time, change of location, date, name etc. to make Howard the scapegoat for any moral lesson or humorous embellishment demanded by the narrative. This is inherent in his name, which implies that he considers himself at all times to be plumbing the depths of a rather impressively deep mission, when in fact his true life circumstances typically contradict this lofty self-evaluation.

As a Beat fan (I am too!) what aspects of their writing do you see in your own?

Jack Kerouac was a big influence on my initial relationship with writing, for his embodiment of the idea that every day life deserved utmost respect as subject matter. I have to say my enduring favorite Beat writer is Gregory Corso. The thing I love most about him was his addition of humor to the mix in poems like “Marriage” and “Last Night I Drove a Car” and many others. Henry Alarmclock even got to meet him once some years before he died in 2001 (I had a pen name in my spoken word days). All Corso’s poems are still possessed of their first powers of amusement and charm, such an excellent gift for a writer to give to untold millions of unmet readers. I try to write with the same generous angle of approach. I call it hospitality.

Gregory Corso was surely the least-known of the Beats and I think a lot of people aren’t familiar with his work. To be honest, I never liked their writing as much as I liked the energy of the movement… I love Kerouac’s Zen side, but never really felt that he lived it. Ginsberg, to me, was the embodiment of holy beatness… he was my hero.

Yeah, poor Kerouac. The Original Scroll (of On the Road, published in 2007) is great, though, his famously lapsed convictions notwithstanding. The late William S. Burroughs was easily the most farsighted of the original group, having studied the Mayan Codices as far back as 1947. His late son William S. Burroughs Jr. (Speed, Kentucky Ham), is arguably even less well known than Corso, perhaps because of his speed addiction and alcoholism. John Clellon Holmes (author of Go) gets overlooked too. Those are all great books. Ginsberg was the most overt cultural ambassador of them all, for sure and the most credibly spiritual-minded. Denver’s Neal Cassady, who, along with Times Square hustler Herbert Huncke (all these names!) inspired Kerouac to write spontaneously, went on to drive Ken Kesey’s Acid Tests bus in 1963, providing the most colorful link between the Beats and the subsequent Love Generation.

I’ve been writing a book about the Beats since… well, I probably started it about ten years ago… and it seems like there were lots of literary movements—The Lost Generation, the Beat Generation, the Love Generation… I often wonder if there is a phrase for the current literary world – do you know? An underlying common theme?

My impression is that the bigger publishers favor what they consider saleable over quality nowadays. There are exceptions, for sure—my friend Amy Greene sold her excellent first novel, Bloodroot, to Random House, for instance. But I spent years as a spoken word host and saw lots of quality stuff, none of which ever hit the big time. I want to self-publish because I’m in a hurry and I'd rather not cater to anyone else's standard. Last night my friend Lisa A. Flowers in New York offered to share some ISBNs from her imprint — Vulgar Marsala, which is legally a press having published more than one author—“self-publishing in the Henry Miller/Leonard and Virginia Woolf way,” as she says. Anything might happen next.

You self pubbed Undamned! with Lulu, but ran into some issues with that…

What happened is I was in such a hurry to get that done, I failed to notice the site in question was completely automated, meaning there was no one to contact if the slightest mistake was made. Things got worse from there. There’s a part of that book in which Howard is scornful of self-published novels as really just being cop outs for bad writers, which makes my incompetence in self-publishing my own highly ironic, if you get my drift (Howard’s adventures in this connection are satirized to great effect in Sorehead, actually). Still more ironically, I never fully understood how I was even supposed to make money off this project, never having read that part of the fine print. Won’t let that happen again. It’s still listed as “out of print—limited availability”, so by all means give it a try. Odds are I’ll republish again very soon with CreateSpace. I recently gave away the last of three or four copies I ever obtained, but I still have the ISBN no. lulu assigned, and presumably still own the copyright. Right?

Yes, the copyright is yours… I use CreateSpace when I publish via Big Table Publishing… I’ll give you a hand with your docs if you want. So, what’s the status of the other two books?

I’m days from self-publishing Sorehead, presenting Howard as the creative writer in no man’s land blundering into the exposure of terrifying post-millennial conspiracies in his tragicomic attempt to support himself as a citizen journalist and gain spiritual enlightenment while comforting his widowed mother and recovering from his second skull fracture. Months of unsuccessful job searching have led me to the realization I've never been properly grateful for or trusting of my creative-ness, despite knowing it to be my truest self. Last night I was invited to my first channeling session ever. After several minutes of thinking about how to phrase the question, I tried asking the adept if they/she/the Pleiadians approved or not of my recent intuition that life consists of an encountering of currents, thus self-publishing, i.e. going with natural impulse as creative self, is the most profitable way to go financially and for soul-growing. Was told to look at what resonates to find the truth (which I took as a yes) and that they honored my divinity in so doing, or that my doing so consisted of honoring divinity . . . which was vague, but by no means negative. In the next weeks I'll be publishing three books, paperback and possibly digital too - I just realized how everyone can download books to their cell phones nowadays, an option perhaps obvious to the majority which, still not being a cell phone user, surprised me pleasantly to realize. Starting 2013 with a bang.

Yes! Fantastic! Now, tell us about your poetry. What do you tend to write about?

I haven’t written proper poetry for a long time, but when I did I wasn’t usually bound by form, often telling a story from life experience and breaking lines according to intuitive sense of rhythm and word sound. I like Kenneth Patchen, Corso, Bukowski, Adrian Lewis, Mayakovsky. Lately I’ve been writing these absurdist shorts having something in common with automatic writing in that they happen very quickly and are barely preconceived. I published a couple collections of those shorts last year, both of which have since gone out of print.

Can you tell us about Doggerel?

Since 2009, I’ve been editing a webzine called MightyMercury, publishing poetry, prose, art and pics from all over the world and interviewing everyone from ex-Merry Prankster Paul Krassner to author and Handsome Family lyricist Rennie Sparks. All that stuff got knocked offline by hackers several months ago and I recently decided to resurrect the project and give it a new name, Doggerel (which means low brow rhyming slang, but that’s not our specialty, just me being cheeky again). The webzine has been parked temporarily on Blogger but in a day or two a much improved, fully functional version of Doggerel the webzine will be available for viewing via WordPress. The content so far is mostly my stuff, but the new look is much more professional, and several submissions are already lined up. Perhaps you’d be interested in letting me interview you there sometime, what? Interested parties can reach me at doggerelblog@hotmail.com

I would love to! Just let me know!

I certainly will.

So, you’re also a musician?

I’ve been in a couple of bands the last few years, writing songs, singing and playing guitar. My style is best described as “skiffle-ska-soul-esque,” as it contains a lot of elements but doesn’t attempt to live up to any set form beyond melodic. My friend Apachula, a singer and flute player, is bringing her traveling recording studio to town any day now, and I’ve been getting ready for our collaboration.

Sounds great! Hey, Zack, thanks so much for stopping by. Please keep us posted about your novels!!

My pleasure, Robin. Thanks again for giving me the chance to talk with you and all your readers. A lot of things are on deck to come through in the very near future, and I’ll be sure to keep you all updated.

Sorehead and Fire Diner copies available at Amazon.com

     Anna Faktorovich

Welcome, Anna!

Thank you for inviting me to interview with you in the Spotlight.

Congratulations on the release of your new poetry collection, Battle for Athens, let’s start there… does everyone ask you what made you come up with the idea for poems about subject?

I perform meticulous research not only for my academic books, but also for creative projects. In this case, I was doing a final edit on my Rebellion as Genre in the Novels of Scott, Dickens and Stevenson book that’s forthcoming this Spring 2013 with McFarland, when I had a sudden urge to attempt writing in the rebellion genre to put my theories to a practical test. I knew I had a quick prose-poetry writing speed from the Improvisational Arguments collection that I published in 2011 with Fomite, so I decided to experiment with a short poetry book, rather than trying a novel, which would have been a full-time job for many months. Thus, I knew I wanted to write a poetry book, and one that centers on the plot of a specific historical rebellion. To follow Scott’s structural rules, I chose a rebellion that occurred around 60 years ago, and in my home country, United States. When I looked over the history of rebellions from 1940-1955, there was really only one significant rebellion that happened in the US and this was the Battle of Athens (TN) shortly after the end of WWII. Since I was thinking about the upcoming presidential election, and was personally concerned with the growth of corruption in US politics, and judiciary, this was the perfect historical event for the book. I found several online sources that recounted the events—since the plot was all there, I finished the book very quickly and had a lot of great materials to dramatize and turn into interesting poems.

I was especially concerned about corruption in the US because I’ve filed numerous complaints with various police departments across the US and have faced unbelievable corruption in the officers’ unwillingness to fight crime in their neighborhoods. I’ve also seen corruption from regional judges, police chiefs, and local and even state and national officials. It’s possible that I’ve never met a US politician, police officer etc. that was not corrupt. I speak from various perspectives, as I’ve also done half-a-dozen internships with national and local politicians.

We always think of how the Civil War divided the country, but “Two Faced Dealings” describes how a single county was divided: twelve units to the Union and eight to the Confederate army… such a haunting thing to think about, and the last line really nailed the horror.

“Two-Faced Dealings”

A few decades later, the Civil War
Descended on McMinn County
And split it in two ideological halves.
It sent twelve units to the Union
And eight to the Confederate army.
When they talk about brother
Fighting brother in that war,
They probably have McMinn in mind.
There must’ve been several brothers
Firing handguns and rifles,
And throwing grenades at each other.
Imagine if you’d killed your brother
With a grenade and then had to come home
To tell your ol’ ma and pa about it…

This poem sets up the atmosphere and history of McMinn County where the Battle took place. The polarization that was there before the Civil War remained until after WWII and in-part caused the events. If there weren’t too campus—rich and poor, black and white, veterans and non-veterans —there would not have been enough ammunition to kindle a fire that exploded in the Battle of Athens. This historical reality would have been a bit too cliché for my taste without a specific example in the ending. Yes, the example is grotesque and horrifying, and it wouldn’t be appropriate for the occasion if it wasn’t.

Tell us about Vestal, who stars in so many of these poems.

Vestal is the real name of one of the main veterans that fought in the Battle of Athens. His name is frequently mentioned in historical records, and most of the information I provide about him is factual. In “Thirty Months in WWII” we learn that Vestal went to WWII:

Because he was eighteen and drafted
For a term up to six months after the date when
The long war ended or he turned thirty-eight.
He joined in the hot August of forty-three,
Two years after Pearl Harbor.
After a brief stint in a training camp,
He joined the invasion of French North Africa,
Winning it for the Allied Forces.
The rest of his time in the marines was split
In battles between Japan and the Philippines.
It was five months after Hitler’s suicide
That he witnessed the signing of Japan’s surrender
On his USS Missouri battleship in September of forty-five.
Then, he joined the liberating troops and worked to
Reconstruct fallen European cities for six months,
Helping to identify and bury the dead,
Clearly their bones from under the crumbled stones.
Despite his mostly engineering duties, he was shot twice.
This was the man who returned to Athens in March of forty-six.

Later in the story, Vestal became offended when his mother was kicked out and barred from observing the voting when she objected to a black man being shot for voting. Vestal and a couple of his veteran friends complained and attempted to observe the vote themselves, but were also escorted out, and as they were leaving with the deputies’ guns pointing at their backs, the crowd outside became enraged and the events that led to the later violence started to unravel.

What I felt was so powerful about this concept was that “The Veterans Return” is about soldiers coming home from WWII and finding no jobs could have been written about America’s current situation.

Three thousand veterans returned to the county
In nineteen forty-six, when their contracts ran out.
In the first three months after their return,
They grouped together and celebrated their victory.
When their glasses ran empty, they looked around for work.
Local mills were full, and with few other jobs in the county,
Getting by on their pensions was about as tough as welfare.
So, having no employment, they socialized some more,
Remembering old friends who didn’t return,
Talking about what they fought for,
And drinking to make up for the sobering years at war.

Yes, without a description of the type of uniforms and clothing the veterans are wearing or the type of weapons they were using, the situation is nearly identical to the current crisis of veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan to a continuing recession and a growing debt-crisis. Many of them are struggling to find civilian work just like the veterans did after WWII. While US as a whole eventually recovered and became a world super-power, those individual veterans didn’t feel this change, and instead faced numerous problems with adjusting. They might have obtained a high military rank at war, but suddenly they were being told that military skills were not of practical use in peace-time employment. When this was coupled with incompetence and corruption among the local law enforcement officers and politicians, the veterans’ anger spilled out. But, there haven’t been any similar unified outbursts of violence among the veterans today.

There are some comical moments too, as in “The Night Before the Ballot,” but overall, it’s pretty grim… was this a fun project?

Weeks earlier, Cantrell met with Mansfield.
“I handed over the Sheriff ’s seat to you for two terms,
“What are you going to do now to help me win?”
“All fifty of my deputies are fully committed.”
“Fifty? That’s not enough. We’ll need two hundred.”
“They would still be outnumbered against the vets.”
“This is not a war; it’s politics. We just need to intimidate.”
After that talk, Mansfield rallied his deputies,
“Go out there, arrest and give fines to anything that moves.
“If somebody looks like they can’t afford it,
“Offer to deputize them instead.”
The fifty deputies spread across the county
And set traps along the roads, or went into pubs
And made arrests, deputizing over a hundred.
One of these was Fred West, who was handed a gun
Instead of a speeding ticket, to his surprise and delight.

The above details are historically accurate. I just made up the details of what exactly the various characters said, and specifically what they did. These details like the rest of the poems in this book are a dark satire that occasionally gives up on humor and just recounts the horror of the events. I could have exaggerated the events, stretching the truth, to make the book more comical, but I preferred to depict the events honestly because I believe that this type of election fraud and intimidation must be stopped. Yes, I’ll admit that I laughed a lot while I was writing this book, and I did not put in many of the things I was thinking as I was laughing, as I was recalling incidents that I witnessed myself, and they didn’t fit with the story. It’s likely that some readers will see the humor in these poems, while others will be frightened into realizing some of the types of corruption they probably see on a daily basis but haven’t understood what they were seeing before. My goal was to satisfy both of these groups of readers, while also thinking through the serious political details of the events and laughing at their ridiculous nature myself.

How do you feel about the election that just took place, and is there some relevance to the Battle of Athens that took place in 1946?

I’m writing these replies from Shantou University in China, where I’m working as an Associate Professor. I’ll be teaching at Pima College in AZ in the Spring, when I will shortly return to the US. I didn’t vote in this election, and if I was in the US, I still wouldn’t have voted. The election results for the last 4 or so elections have been identical—always at around 52-48% splits. It is statistically impossible that the American people are split down the middle on all issues. Most people in the US are poor, especially with the ongoing recession, in theory they want more social benefits that democrats offer (even if they fail to meet these offers once they are in office). If the numbers showed this obviously in the middle of the elective cycle, republicans wouldn’t spend hundreds of millions on advertising. I worked for major US banks before, and the pattern I’m seeing in US elections, over the last couple of decades, looks like cooked books to me. We’ll stay in a recession, and will continue to see unprecedented crime, and multiplying bankruptcies in the US until somebody fires the book cookers. Things might be bad here in China, and things might have been bad in the USSR where I grew up, but I might have to migrate elsewhere if things in the US keep getting steadily worst for two more decades.

The Battle of Athens happened at the point when the US suddenly emerged as an economic and political world leader. The veterans didn’t know this at the time, as they just knew they couldn’t find work. The vets also knew from personal experience that their local deputies and officials were corrupt, and took actions to resolve this local problem. What we are all watching today is the beginning of the end of the US as a world leader unless electoral corruption stops. Because corruption has steadily spread since WWII, it is not something a few veterans could solve with equivalent means today.

Here’s the link to purchase The Battles of Athens at Amazon.

Okay, let’s talk some more about the other Anna Faktorovich… tell us about Anaphora Literary Press.

I started Anaphora when I started my Ph.D. in English studies back in 2009, and it has been steadily growing out of a scholarly journal, Pennsylvania Literary Journal (tri-annual, available on EBSCO, ProQuest, and in print), to over 50 books in print, including textbooks, poetry books, fiction, and reference books. Many of the writers have received glowing reviews, have been featured in local newspapers, have done readings and signings, and otherwise are successfully published. I have had over a dozen interns per semester working with me over the last year. One of these interns, Catherine Griffin, has an MS in journalism from Columbia University, and is currently doing an interview with Cinda Williams Chima, a New York Times best-selling YA fantasy author of the Heir chronicles, for my PLJ journal. The editorial board of this journal includes Davis Bunn, a novelist that has sold over 7 million copies.

I hope to grow Anaphora over the upcoming decades until it also has some best-sellers under its belt. For now, I’m working on at least three different jobs simultaneously to feed this goal. I teach college English full-time, publish critical and creative books and do freelance writing and editing, and work as the Director of Anaphora. These jobs sponsor my regular conference trips to the MLA, Tucson Festival of Books, etc. and mean that I focus on finding the best works in the market rather than solely looking out for profits with Anaphora. Many potential employers ask me why I feel compelled to do all three jobs simultaneously—well, it’s a tough market out there and the way to stay ahead of the competition is to have many safety nets. All of these three projects feed each other—to become a better writer I obtained a Ph.D., and to become a better professor I have to publish, and to become a better publisher I have to understand the business from a writer’s point of view. I have fun when I’m busy working. Those who are interested in starting an independent press should take a look at my Book Production Guide.

Here’s a link to the website: Anaphora Literary

Can you tell us about your other book projects?

As I mentioned earlier, McFarland is about to release my Rebellion as Genre in the Novels of Scott, Dickens and Stevenson academic book, www.mcfarlandpub.com. I’ve done several public workshops and lectures with the two editions of my Book Production Guide, which I initially wrote to explain my editing policies to my interns. In August 2011, I published my first poetry collection, Improvisational Arguments (Fomite Press), audiences were rolling with laughter when I read from it during my book tour in LA and Atlanta last year. I’ve also written the introductions and conducted interviews for around 10 issues of my Pennsylvania Literary Journal.

And what’s next for you? Got the next thing in mind yet?/p>

Your Bostonian readers can meet me in person during a “Chat with an Editor” session I’m doing on Saturday, January 5, at 11am, at the MLA at the Sheraton in downtown Boston. This will be a session when I’ll give advice to writers and editors about different policies, guidelines etc. that are a part of my job as the Editor-in-Chief of Anaphora. If anybody plans to attend the Tucson Book Festival in March, 2013, I will be presenting in a panel on publishing, editing and writing.

I have a few publications that I’m working on this year. I’m under contract to publish a new book on current popular fiction with them, Formulaic Writing within Genres, next year; it covers genres like fantasy, science fiction, mystery, and romance. I have had some interest from Focus Publishing in my proposal, Creative Composition, a unique textbook for introductory composition classes.

I have written many novels, screenplays and other creative projects before that haven’t yet found a publisher. But, they are a bit dusty by now, so I plan on writing a new novel for a popular audience in the coming years; I might start it later this semester, if I have a moment between my other obligations. I hope to find a tenure-track academic job for next year that would allow me more time to focus on fun projects like this Battle for Athens poetry book.

Thanks so much for taking time out of what looks like a very busy schedule to talk to us!!

It has been a pleasure. I hope to speak with you again when my next creative project is released.

    John Amen

John, welcome! When someone is as big a part of the creative community as you are, it's hard to know where to begin an interview! You're a poet, an artist, a musician, and editor at Pedestal Magazine. Hey, so.... what do you do in your free time?

I’m a big fan of boats. I mean, I just like to hang out on board, even if the boat is still tied to the dock; actually, especially if it’s still tied to the dock. Also, I collect information—mostly marginalia or minutia—although my eidetic memory is starting to slip a little. Lastly, when the opportunity arises, I still like to make elaborate forts out of used cereal boxes. I actually won an award a few years ago for one of my designs.

I can’t tell if you’re joking… did you really? I’d love to see it…

At one point the piece was, I think, on display in a regional museum somewhere near Lawrence, KS. I got an email two or three years ago, however, telling me that the museum had been broken into, that my cereal-box fort, as well as a car made of toothbrushes and a functional crane constructed from dry strands of spaghetti, had been stolen. So I guess that’s the end of that. But who knows, maybe my piece will surface at some point on the black market or show up in an estate sale twenty years from now. I certainly hope so.

I first heard about Pedestal when a poet friend said she'd been reviewed there, and I remember her exact words: “Pedestal is a very big deal.” Tell us about the magazine, what made you start it, and when.

The magazine launched in 2000, although I think I first started thinking about it when I was three. I’m serious. That’s a long time to be thinking about something. I mean, obsessively. So it was a relief but also a bit of an anticlimax when the first issue actually went live. I think it’s been a great source of distraction and a powerful affirmation in terms of my particular ego structure. Changes are coming!

When I had my chap reviewed at Pedestal and I was thrilled to pieces! Can you tell our readers how to go about getting a chap reviewed at Pedestal?

Send us an email query, and we’ll get back to you as soon as possible.

Here’s the link: www.pedestalmagazine.com/submitguidelines.php ... and please make sure to check the submission guidelines! Okay, let's talk about your writing. When I read At the Threshold of Alchemy I was very excited by the beat energy. Do you hear that a lot?

I actually haven’t heard that, but I’m grateful for the comparison. The Beats were what I call quintessential aliens; they brought a cosmic orientation to the textual world and managed to translate their kinetic tendencies into what we call English. I still marvel at that.

There were so many, many great lines... possibly my favorite was “Not everything God tells me is worth repeating.” Where did that come from?

Not sure. Sometimes I go in search of lines. I frequent grocery stores, coffee shops, slaughterhouses, office buildings, waiting rooms. Sometimes I find what I’m looking for in ads or promotional packets. Mostly, I don’t know, things just make themselves up.

How has your writing changed over the years, and what has stayed the same?

I’m more connected to my alternate or second-tier muses than I used to be. Earlier in my life I focused almost exclusively on what Ramal-siti—an eleventh century monk from the Bethlehem area—fed me. Now I’m more attentive to a wide variety of muses. That said, I still get tripped up by obsessive-compulsive tendencies; for example, I can’t shake this thought that I’m supposed to use the word “vacuum” every six hundred and sixteen characters, spaces not included. I also have this thing about exclamation points—that if I use one, I have to skip the next meal. Stuff like that. But all this is getting better, too.

Does it bother you when people like me use a million exclamation points? Does it burn your retinas or anything?

I used to punish myself for how other people used punctuation. When I was at my worst, I would give myself a demerit every time someone else used an exclamation point. If I got 10 demerits…well, the system was quite complex, filled with various justifications and counter-justifications. At one point, I started responding to people who had written me, asking them if they would reconsider their use of exclamation points. I told them that if they would agree to replace the exclamation points with periods or other punctuation, things would go easier for me. On a couple of occasions, people did agree to revise accordingly; there were, however, several incidents when people were offended and actually changed periods and even commas to exclamation points just to spite me. Those were particularly difficult times. Fortunately, this is no longer an issue.

Let's talk about your art... is it a reflection of what's going on in your head? Some look chaotic to me... others, peaceful.

I think you’re on to something there. I’m not sure what accounts for the shifts in tone, though. At one point, I wanted to create an instrument that would manifest imagery in rhythm with certain cerebral practices—counting exercises and other austerities like that. I had a scientist-friend who was on board. I thought we had secured a grant, but it fell through. I suppose fluidity is the thing. Also, as I mentioned before, different muses express in different ways, depending on what I call pantheonic dynamics, which seem to change radically every day.

And now, the music. I absolutely flipped over Ridiculous Empire! You probably get asked this a lot, but... how different is the writing process for poems vs. lyrics? Does anything ever start out as a poem and become a song?

Yes! Things so frequently start as one thing and end up as another. This is one of the great delights and perplexities for me. I don’t know what anything is anymore. I mean, I can’t categorize anything effectively. It seems that as soon as I say “you’re a poem,” the thing becomes a “song” or a “sculpture” or a “birdhouse” covered with graffiti. It’s amazing. I can’t even categorize myself or other people anymore. Everyone is a changeling.

Tell us a little more about the musical side of you.

Well, I wish I could play the ukulele and may take lessons. When I was five, I was traumatized into learning a few chords on the piano and had to memorize tablature before I was allowed to eat, but it all worked out for the best. I think music is the primary portal.

One of the main things I want people to do after they read this interview is to visit your site, www.johnamen.com but I also want them to go to You Tube and put in your name so they can see you... I absolutely love watching you perform.

Thank you. I enjoy it. I mean, I think I do. At least sometimes I do. Most of the time, I don’t remember anything after a reading. It’s just a blank, a blur. People will fill me in on what happened, and I’ll feel happy or anxious depending on what they say. When I see a video of myself or hear an audio, I don’t recognize myself. I don’t think it’s me. I really don’t. I don’t know how all that works, but none of that is actually me.

Okay, now it's time to be honest. What can't you do?

I can’t fix anything. When something breaks, it’s down for the count. This is actually ok with me—everything has its lifetime, its appointed duration. Also, I’m no good at fishing or making espresso, though for some reason I keep trying. There are a lot of other things I could add to this list, but I’ll mention, too, that I’m clumsy when it comes to developing my own negatives. I can’t tell you how many vacation rolls I’ve inadvertently compromised or outright destroyed.

Bummer about your photos, but I think that fixing things is overrated. ;-) Well, so what's next, got any new projects in the works?

A. My new work—a multi-genre collaborative project co-written with Daniel Y. Harris, is now out from NYQ Books: www.nyqbooks.org/title/thenewcana

NYQ describes the book this way: “The New Arcana is a multi-genre extravaganza featuring verse, fiction, mock journalism and academic writing, drama, and art. Both referencing and transcending various literary precedents, the book is a pronouncement for the 21st Century, an exploration of and commentary on the fast-paced and mercurial nature of life in the 2000s. Co-written by poets John Amen and Daniel Y. Harris, the book presents a compelling, jazz-like, and satirical style, a third voice born from the mingling of two distinct individual voices. The New Arcana is a memorable literary statement—a manifesto for our time—as well as a proclamation regarding the transformative qualities of true collaboration.”

I just went to the site and took a look—love the cover!!! Any comments about it or the artist you’d care to share?

I think the cover work is the perfect complement to the book’s content. There are, of course, all sorts of subliminal elements in the piece; also, the image, if viewed under certain conditions, is actually a “magic eye” tableau. Those who have viewed the “magic eye” image report that their lives have been changed radically. To quote one person: “I don’t think I’ll ever be the same.” And this was before he even read any of the text!

Hey, John, good luck with everything, and thanks so much for taking the time to hang out!

It was great. Thanks. I really appreciate the opportunity to lathe myself a bit. It’s hard to get down to the nitty-gritty these days. I think my work is cut out for me.

    Avis Hickman

Welcome, Avis! We’ve known each other for quite a while—it’s nice to have you in our spotlight!

Why thank you Robin. It’s great to be in the spotlight, so to speak.

I’ve just finished reading A Plate of Bits, your new collection of short stories. Love that title, by the way!

It’s taken from the name of a well-loved family dish. As I explain in the forward of the book, my son and I devised this standby tea-time meal when he was just a little boy. It generally consisted of a couple of small (crusts cut off) triangular sandwiches of, maybe peanut butter, or one or two times tuna and jam (his choice), a few cubes of cheese, some raisins, an apple, cored and cut into segments, or a peeled Satsuma, and some small-cut ham. It filled a small tummy just enough. He’s now a hulking twenty year-old and seems to have done well on it, anyway! (I did feed him a proper lunch, BTW!) And so now I’m dishing up a literary Plate of Bits!

What I like best about your writing is the characters—I’m sure I’m not the first one to say that… but I really think a lot of writers don’t get that characters are what make a story… I always think it’s easier to describe a setting than to create a character that compels readers to keep turning pages. And yours really come to life like the beleaguered sister characters in “Pecking Order” and “Elephant in the Room,” and recurring characters like Charlotte and Edythe.

Bless you, Robin, for that! For me the stories all revolve around the characters. They come and whisper to me and I just have to get their voices down. I’m glad you like Edythe. These tales make up a mini-series within the collection and are based on true stories about my mother. She used to tell my sister and I about her childhood when we were small, and they’ve stayed with me. Of course, I’ve fleshed-out the dialogue to tell the story, but the basic facts are true.

I find myself wondering how much of the writing is autobiographical? Some of them, like “I Never Knew” I hope not!!

All this time, and I never knew you wrote poetry.
We married, had a family, laughed, cried; fought. You liked the window shut in winter, I don’t. I take tea black, no sugar; you liked it sweetened and milky.
When you told me the news, I railed against fate; hated the powers that be. I wanted to jump up and do something about it. Stop the world and make it undo what had occurred.
Protect you.
You waited for it to happen; quiet, resigned.
And afterwards, I found your letter—with the poem at the end. The letter that told
me I never really knew you. The beautiful words blurred before my eyes, as I
read your last thoughts aloud.
Thirty-four years, and I never knew you loved someone else.

Thank heavens no! I haven’t been in that situation. But the kernel grew (as with many of my stories) from a basic what-if musing. How would I feel if that had happened to me? And the feelings and words flow from there. But going back to the original question, yes some of these stories are from experience, and some are from imagination—such as “Corn Bread & Candy Sauce”, a black-humour take on shopping for the Christmas joint that sprang completely from my imagination. But the voices from the pure imagination stories are just as strong in my head as from the fact-based ones.

I notice that death features into a lot of your stories.

Really? I hadn’t counted up! Now, I wonder why this could be? I think it’s perhaps when facing the life/death struggle that we find out what we’re made of? No room, or time, to BS. But I don’t think, for all that, that those stories actually dwell on death per se—more how it is approached by my characters, that’s the interesting margin for me.

What was your childhood like, and how did it influence your writing?

I think it was a very ordinary childhood. The summers seemed endless, holidays were looked forwards to, and school was obligatory. I was a late bloomer in the education system. Through infant school I looked something of a dud, then I began showing signs of learning in middle juniors (about 8 or 9). Possibly I was an undiagnosed mildly dyslexic child, and this started to work its way loose as my brain began to mature and the synapses turned on. I had one blessing of a teacher at that time, Miss Sharples. She used to keep me after school to give me extra work and let me sharpen the pencils for the next day! Bless her; she must have seen something in me, because after her extra work I began to do well. In fact so well that I eventually gained a good degree in Environmental Chemistry from Salford University in UK. The urge to write was forgotten for a few years whilst on this path, but in recent years it’s resurfaced and grown insistent.

Who were your favorite writers growing up?

I was a precocious reader, once I got going! I loved Louisa M Alcott’s Little Women series, and I remember distinctly my first read of LM Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables. I was in the third year juniors, so about nine years old. My contemporaries were still pretty much checking pictures books out on the weekly library ticket, and I got hold of Anne. There were a lot of closely packed words, and absolutely NO pictures—but I loved that book. It was so vivid and more real than some everyday events for me. My grandmother bought me every one of the series over the next several birthdays and Christmases. And my mother always knew if there was a book under the tree for me, they’d not get a peep out of me all Christmas until I’d finished it. I wrote the short story “Temptation” in small tribute to LM Montgomery—it’s in A Plate of Bits. I hope I captured the flavor there.

Tell us about your participation in the on-line magazine community… when we started Boston Literary I think there were about 300 mags listed on Duotrope and now it seems like there are about a zillion.

When I began writing a novel seemed it would require too much concentration. But I just loved telling stories. So I began writing flash fiction and short stories just for me. Then I joined an online writing community—WriteWords—and I didn’t look back. The people I met online encouraged me to submit my work to on-line magazines. I remember my very first piece was published by The Shine Journal and was called ‘The Centre of the World’—this is also included in A Plate of Bits.

What’s your submission process like?

Hmm, my submission process… well I polish the piece until I find myself deliberating over the choice between two words for half an hour at a stretch. That’s when I realized the story is pretty much cooked! Then I’ll scout around for a likely home and take my chances on a submission. Just because you’ve submitted to a particular magazine before, and they may even have heaped praise on past submissions it doesn’t mean you’ll be automatically accepted. There are favourite places to send to—BLM is one of them. But sometimes a piece just doesn’t seem… right for a certain magazine. It’s good to have half a dozen or more places you feel comfortable submitting to, so you can spread your work around—increasing your audience and so getting more feedback.

Any fun rejections to share?

Robin, there are NO fun rejections! Each one is a slap in the face. You just have to pick yourself up and move on. Growing a thick skin helps. You have to try and temper a curt rejection; keep a sense of proportion—after all editors and agents are human—despite rumors to the contrary! And they have off-days. Sometimes the subject matter is not to their taste, so it’s worthwhile taking the trouble to try and find out what particular topics spark their interest. And if you are lucky enough to get some notes back, take them seriously and try and see the piece with fresh eyes.

Thanks for pointing that out, Avis… nothing annoys an editor more than receiving a submission from someone who very clearly did not take two minutes to investigate what a magazine looks for! Now you mentioned having tried a novel… where do you stand with that?

While writing my shorts and flash I have also written three complete novels, and have three half-finished ones on the desk top. So my next project is to publish one of the completed novels. I am in the process of a heavy edit of the story of Polly Hargreaves and her search for Mr Right. It sounds as though it’s been done before, eh? But then, haven’t we been told there are only—what—seven basic story-lines? It’s the way you tell the story, the journey the characters go on to get to the end, that’s the trick. So needless to say, I feel I’ve brought a unique twist to Polly’s tale. It will be out later this year under Hawkmoth Press on Kindle.

Would you like to share with us your experience of publishing your first eBook?

Although I have had over fifty shorts and flash published in various online magazines, and I have stories in several multi-author anthologies this book—A Plate of Bits—is all my short and flash stories written between 2007-2010 collected into one handy volume.

As I am still considered a new author, I think the whole idea of electronic publishing and downloading an eBook directly over the web is a terrific idea. Think of all the trees we are saving! And the process is immediate; no waiting on the customers’ part for the mail to deliver or for the shops to open.

So I put my head together with a couple of tech-savvy friends and Hawkmoth Press was born; HMP has been set up to help authors get into print—new authors or just new to eBooks as long as the work is word=processor based. The service doesn’t cost the earth, and the expertise gathered there has been endlessly helpful in converting my word-processor based document, turning it into a shiny new eBook.

To tell the truth, I found the whole conversion process daunting and very confusing. It wasn’t as easy as the guides say it will be to produce a quality eBook. But my colleagues at Hawkmoth have taken my story files and produced a beautiful eBook copy ready for me to sell up on Amazon Kindle.

I’d suggest to anyone wanting to publish an eBook and who is feeling a little… hesitant and overwhelmed about the whole conversion thing have a look around Hawkmoth Press. Click the link and then have an email chat. hawkmothpress.wordpress.com.

Excellent! Congratulations and keep us posted! So where can we download Plate?

A Plate of Bits is available exclusively through Amazon Kindle at the moment, and is downloadable at Amazon.com.

Do you have a website we can visit?

Well there are a several ways you can visit with me.

My blog is at This Bird's Eyeview. But be warned, I am an indifferent blogger. I am not obsessive (yet) and only blog when the fancy takes me. I prefer to write the stories. .. I see little reason to blog for blog’s sake!

Totally agree. Whenever a client tells me they’re going to start blogging, I advise them not to… it takes up so much time that should be spent writing a novel… but my experience has been that they need to discover this on their own!

Robin, that is so right! I hear this from writer friends all the time. “They” (the “experts” that are supposed to know about such things) tell us authors and newbie authors especially, to get out there and meet the public, grow your audience, interact. Yes that’s fine, we all want to do that, but…. a writer doesn’t want to be a one-book wonder because all your effort and creative juices are centered on marketing the first, of what you hope, will be of a string of books that will be available into the future.

I admit, there is a certain amount of chicken and egg here—it’s no use have a perfect ‘set of eggs’ for sale if nobody knows about them sitting in Amazon’s lists un-noticed, un-bought and un-loved except by a few loyal friends and family members! But you have to strike a balance.

Enough of the soap-box, let me finish by saying I’m on Facebook as Avis Hickman-Gibb—writer. It’s a new page to celebrate the release of A Plate of Bits so come over and say hello.

Oh, I’ll go there right now…..

And I’m on Twitter as @AvisHG.
And I have a home-page at hawkmothpress.wordpress.com.

Avis, thanks so much for hanging out with us! And good luck with A Plate of Bits!

It’s been a pleasure Robin.

    Renee Podunovich

Renee, I’m so glad to have you as our Writer in the Spotlight! You’re one of those people I haven’t known a long time, but feel as if I have!

Thank you for the opportunity, Robin. There is this funny thing that happens to me, seriously like twice a month at least, where people I just meet or even strangers in coffee shops or airports say they feel like they know me, or that I remind them of someone they know. I’m not sure why that is. It’s great because I meet a lot of people who just start talking to me that way.

We have become friends by reviewing each other’s poetry. We write blurbs for each other and that means really trying to understand the other person’s point of view, really seeing what they are about. That must surely make for a fast and genuine friendship!

Let’s start with your first chap, If There is a Center, No One Knows Where it Begins. I believe this is how we met—you sent an e mail asking if I would write a review. Right?

Yes and you gave a wonderful review. You said, “With irrepressible zest, she takes us on a Sacred Sight/Seeing tour; from the ‘vastness of cosmic womb space’ to the delicate beauty of the hummingbird's egg shell.”

In creating images, I love moving from vast to small: the bottom of the sea to a small peony seed in my hand. I live in a vast landscape with enormous blue skies, deep red rock canyons and towering mountains. It has given my psyche a tremendous sense of spaciousness. I love that sense of expansion outward and that sense of bringing all of that possibility back to my own psyche. Or vice versa.

My brother and I grew up in beautiful and wild areas of CO. We used to talk about space all the time as kids. I just went on a houseboat trip to Lake Powell with him recently. On shore at night, the stars were tremendous in a darkness not intruded upon by manmade light. Sure enough, he started up about space again, this time with his kids listening in. It really is mysterious: all of this biodiversity and all of this space. Can you believe it? It’s so fantastic.

I love “moving from vast to small” too—I called it going from global to personal… and I love the concept that no matter how different we are, we are all having a Human Experience, we are all from Source. I find that so powerful. I’m sure that’s why your book resonated with me on such a deep level.

I think that is what happens in a really good poem. The poet is able to use language in a way that elevates their very personal experiences so that they resonate inside us because they speak to that larger Human Experience. I feel tapped into Source when I read a good poem like that. It is powerful when that happens.

What I also loved about the book was the theme that something delicate can be really powerful… the beauty of a hummingbird’s egg, for example. At the same time, power itself is fleeting, like a crashing wave.

There are so many things in this world that inspire me this way. Power or strength can be fierce or delicate. I have many wonderful friends that inspire my writing through our correspondences. I just had an email today from one of them and he reminded me how powerful it is to be sensitive in the world. He spoke of several situations (helping his elderly father, watching young, inexperienced musicians playing their hearts out to a disengaged audience) in which he was able to see people in their vulnerability and find them courageous because of it. His responses to these situations reminded me of the kind of strength that is about a softness, an open-hearted presence, a willingness to be touched by the world and all of its pain and wonder. It is the strength of our sentience that I find hope in: hope for healing, for changing our world.

I remember attending the funeral of a very dear friend a couple of years ago… she had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and died six months later, so we were all still in a state of shock. There were so many people at the funeral, and I saw two women who recognized each other and went over to each other, and at the same moment, they reached for each other’s hand, and they stood holding hands. Vulnerable, like your friend said, but in that vulnerability was strength and the power to heal. I sat and cried my eyes out. It was like looking at Love.

Amazing to witness that! I’m sorry about your friend. I know that experience influenced the poems in your chap Interference from an Unwitting Species and the way you handled that grief through poetry and tied it to questioning larger themes was beautiful to read.

I see so often in myself and in working with others the tendency to think strength or power is about control. We tighten our bodies, our minds and our attitudes trying to shield ourselves from what seems frightening or painful. We try so hard to hold on and have control over everything. It’s exhausting. Yet it is in the opposite reaction–yielding, accepting, opening and allowing the self to feel fully–that true healing occurs.

Exactly! And thanks for mentioning my book in your interview! ;-) Back to your book, I also loved the title–it reminded me of the concept that God is a circle whose circle is everywhere and whose circumference is nowhere. Instead of God you could say Universe or Source or even everyone’s Soul. The point is, it’s there and it’s Divine!

The title could have just been “If There is a Center” which speaks to a questioning, a search to find something definitive. The second part “No One Knows Where it Begins” adds another layer. I was coming out of a time of extreme personal grief, trying to find answers to why I had experienced certain suffering and realizing that I was not going to find an explanation. I had always believed that there was a reason for everything. One of the fundamental things we do as humans is make stories, create narratives that explain reality. This collection was about letting go of that need to make sense, letting things be mysterious, unresolved and un-narrated. In that process of releasing the need to understand, I had the experience of being fluid with natural intelligences, in love with such things as humming bird eggs. The poems were my attempt to express the experience of transcending my limited sense of self. I found comfort in merging and dissolving into something much larger than myself. It was a tremendous relief.

I’ve always thought it takes true wisdom to accept that, Okay, I might never understand the reason for this, but I trust that there IS a reason. Sometimes that has to be enough. I struggle with it, but I believe it.

I think that it’s so fundamentally human to prefer having meaning and reason. It’s much more comfortable than the despair of existential depression that occurs when we lose the meaning in our lives. It’s the paradox that things are meaningful and also meaningless. Both exist. We attribute meaning to things and then the meaning falls away and we freak out because it is scary and groundless. Hopefully, we recreate ourselves and find what is meaningful again. I prefer having trust in something too. I try to find a way out of despair when it occurs in my life because I believe in healing and wholeness. Is that faith? It is much more enjoyable. But I’ll have to say, some of my best work comes out of the hollow places. There is spaciousness there, a falling away of certain limits, a certain freedom and a glimpse of possibilities. I think that this cycle has to happen so we can grow and evolve.

Agree absolutely with that, there’s definitely a freedom in the falling! So obviously, If There is a Center is a strong statement about who you are… a therapist guiding adults and adolescents through life transitions… a strong believer in everyone’s inner strength and power to heal… and you live in that funky house! Tell us about that funky house!

My work as a counselor is deeply influenced by a belief in the inherent nature of life to heal, to grow, to adapt. My funky house is sort of influenced by the same belief. My husband and I wanted to explore living in a sustainable way, using resources wisely. We were curious about living outside of a cultural lifestyle of consuming a tremendous quantity of resources at a terrible cost to other cultures and the environment. We wondered how much we could, in reality, live apart from such a culture. We started building that house in the early 90s and did the whole thing by hand. It is built out of recycled materials, powered by solar panels and we can grow food inside even in the winter. The design is called an “Earthship”. It is a great example of how creative humans really are. We were lucky to have the opportunity because we live in a rural county without a lot of building restrictions. In most places, you aren’t allowed to do this because of strict codes. But see what solutions people come up with when they have the space to do it? It’s been fantastic to experience living “off the grid”. Now, we want to live in a city and see about urban sustainability.

Okay, let’s talk about your upcoming chap, Let the Scaffolding Collapse. What an evocative title!

I settled on the title at the last minute. It is a line from one of the poems and I feel it sums this collection up. The poems are very much about disassembling the personality and relationship structures (scaffolding) that had become too small for me. They are more narrative than my previous collection and explore shadow aspects of the psyche. I had become so used to writing lyrical, beautiful, mystical poetry that it was awkward to bring these darker and more uncomfortable topics to light. A lot of the work is about the struggles of long-term relationships and so the imagery is built on very mundane things like household objects. I’m thrilled with how it turned out and that I took this risk with my art.

Let the Scaffolding Collapse was chosen as a finalist in the New Women's Voices annual chapbook competition by Finishing Line Press. What a thrill that must have been! Finishing Line puts out the best looking chaps!

I had entered the contest in February and heard later that year in December. I had forgotten about it, so it was really a shock when I heard. It felt great to get an acceptance like this, especially with work that was so different and new to me and that I was unsure of.

Can you tell us how you feel that poetry impacts the way you counsel clients, and what goes on in those poetry writing workshops?

Being a poet makes me a unique counselor much more than my work as a counselor influences the writing. In poetry, I am interested in exploring what lies beneath the surface of my mundane experiences. I’m interested in the patterns of my inner life, how they are congruent or not to patterns in the world, how they influence my relationships to others, both in positive and negative ways. In counseling, I have the honor of being able to support others as they explore those dynamics for themselves. These patterns of personality, including habitual feelings and behaviors, typically become stifling at some point in our lives, usually during a crisis. Finding a way to understand the self with compassion and to make changes that allow a fuller life is always what I am looking for in both counseling and writing a poem.

The writing workshops are fun. I guide people in exploring their experiences through guided imagery, writing prompts and sharing with the group. I weave in using poetic tools such as imagery, metaphor, line breaks, but the experience is really about finding what is important and meaningful to express right now and the joy of expressing it through poetry in a supportive environment.

I’ve been hanging out at your blog tonight, and I want to give people the link so they can visit: it’s reneepodunovich.blogspot.com. And your website is: reneepodunovich.com

I’m so glad you are hanging out at that cyberspace outpost. I’ll keep it fresh for you and anyone else that stops by.

What’s a typical day like for you?

It’s pretty typical. I’m always looking for something that sparks inspiration within all the typical day stuff. I look for ways to be grateful, inspired, to feel alive. For instance, this TEDx video of Louie Schwartzberg speaking about Gratitude.

Oh, that’s a great one, thanks for sharing it with us! So are there any novels in you, waiting to come out?

I would never want to close any doors on myself, so I won’t say no. I’ve been gearing up to think about trying my hand at flash fiction. That holds some interest for me.

Sounds great, and keep us in mind when you write them and start submitting them! And thanks SO much for spending time with us. Good luck with the chapbook. Seriously, everyone, check it out!!

Robin, your enthusiasm for writers and their projects is so inspiring. Thanks for including me in your circle of wonderfulness.

    Michael Keith

Welcome, Michael!

Hi Robin, It’s good to be with you. I’m a fan of Boston Literary Magazine.

Thanks, nice of you to say… as I recall, that’s how we met! Now, let me start by congratulating you on your new book, Of Night and Light, now available from Blue Mustang Press. “The strange gets even stranger . . .” reads the cover copy… care to elucidate?

Yeah, there’s some pretty bizarre tales in the book, but I think it offers a nice variety of speculative fiction. There are even stories of humor and romance . . . themes I’m not known for but enjoyed engaging. The title of the book reveals my two-pronged approach. But I must admit there’s more darkness than sunshine in those pages. I clearly have a predilection for morose over mirth.

That’s a great title, really paints a picture of both sides! Where can we check it out?

At Amazon or direct from Blue Mustang Press.

Obviously we can’t talk about all your books, because you’ve written about twenty zillion. But for those who don’t know, you’re not just a master short story teller—you’re a bona fide scholar in your field of communications. Is it unfair to ask which kind of writing you prefer?

I don’t think that’s an unfair question at all, Robin. During my academic writing career I very much enjoyed the challenge of composing works that broke new ground in my field (radio studies). Doing so was very rewarding to me in material ways. That said, the freedom of purely creative writing is exhilarating and pleasurable in a way unmatched by any other kind of writing. It’s relying solely on the imagination that I find most stimulating and inspiring. It takes you to extraordinary places. There are times I’m totally amazed at what flows from my pen. I ask myself, “Where the heck did that come from?” I think a lot of my friends and colleagues ask the same question.

Well, we know where your memoir, The Next Better Place, came from! It got rave reviews. I keep waiting to hear that the movie is coming out soon!

From your mouth to God’s ears! The book has been on the desk of several film people but these things take forever to happen, if they happen at all. I’m hoping one of my short stories catches the eyes of a producer. I believe there are potential films in my tales. It all comes down to getting what you do into the right hands, and that’s not an easy challenge. The saying, “If you’re not an insider, you’re an outsider” pretty much sums it up. Say, you wouldn’t know Francis Ford Coppola or Stephen Spielberg would you?

I wish! Can you tell us about a couple of stories you think would translate well into movies? And would you be interested in writing the screenplay, is that among your many talents?

Jeez, that’s a tough question. I suspect most are. I’m a very cinematic writer. I see each story as a film in my head. Pick one: “Hubble2Earth,” “My Drowning Country,” “Returned Message,” “Mozart’s Marrow,” “The King’s Plant,” “A Blue Period,” “Crazy Eyes,” “A Once a Year Ride in the Desert,” “Screen Saver,” “Word Play,” “Magic Skin,” “The Waiting Bell,” “People of Color,” “iDead,” “Baby Love,” “Light and Matter,” “Take the Second Right on Your Left,” “Out on a Limb,” Redemption Lake,” etc. See what I mean?

Ha, I do! The Next Better Place describes your time on the road with your alcoholic father and all the weird encounters along the way… do you think that set the stage for the macabre tone that we see in so many of your stories?

It no doubt contributed. We had some pretty dark times out there on the highways but nothing like the macabre events that often arise in my stories . . . thankfully. I think my life with my father added to my sense of life’s irony. We did laugh a lot at many of our absurd situations. You know what they say about the therapeutic nature of laughter, right? My father was a sociopathic character but he wasn’t intentionally cruel. In fact, he was quite caring in his own peculiar way. He simply had no idea how to provide a child with a normal life. Of course, he didn’t have one either. One thing begets another, I suppose. We’re all at the mercy of our parent’s pasts.

I loved The Next Better Place, and you’re right, your dad comes across as a very decent man, who clearly loved his boy, but who was the product of a lot of bad life decisions.

Thank you. It’s good to hear that. The Next Better Place was kind of a gift from the writing gods. I think my father was born with a vital piece missing. It was compounded by the fact that he had an addictive nature: alcohol, pills, and tobacco. When he passed away, I was tempted to put his initials (FCK) on his gravestone followed by “the only thing missing was U.” Glad I didn’t. I was angry at him for a long time.

When I heard that Ray Bradbury had died, I thought of you—he’d read and enjoyed your book One World Flight. Was he a literary influence for you?

It was such a pleasure having contact with a literary figure of his enormous renown. There was no one like him. Imagine writing a short story every week for fifty years. I can’t wrap my mind around that kind of output. He was made differently than the rest of us. His brain molecules were configured in a very original way. It was wonderful spending time with him when my Corwin book published a couple years ago. He attended the book party in L.A. There was still a sparkle in his eyes even though he was confined to a wheelchair. He had great love and respect for Norman Corwin—radio’s great dramatist—and claimed Corwin inspired him to become a writer. We all stand on the shoulders of giants.

That is so cool! What other “giants” have you met? Besides, me, I mean.

A pretty long list: Walter Cronkite, Barry Goldwater, Robert Kennedy, Ronald Reagan, Jack Dempsey (the latter four as a youngster), Eva Marie Saint, Henny Youngman (really), Paul Harvey, Robert Trout, Mel Gibson . . . lots more!

I also loved your novel, Life is Falling Sideways, a charming coming of age story. How much of you is in that book, and how much in your writing in general?

A lot. And the characters in the book are based on real life people, too—one who is quite well known. It’s an amalgamation of my childhood experiences. I don’t think any writer can completely remove him/herself from the events and influences of life. Impossible! In even the most surreal and bizarre stories, there’s a piece of the author. How can there not be?

For sure!!! Did you always write short fiction, or is that a recent thing?

It’s a fairly recent thing for me. I took it up just a few years ago. In fact, I was never a short story reader. I woke up one morning thinking of the unresolved issues between my recently departed mother and myself and a title rang out in my ears—“The Everlasting Sorrow of Silence.” Within a couple of hours, I had written a story. It seemed to open the floodgates, and three years later, I’ve written and published over one hundred short stories. I think some things are preordained. I had never even considered writing short fiction until then.

A hundred in such a short period of time! What advice do you have for writers just starting out with the craft?

Write about that which you are most familiar. That was Hemingway’s advice, and I think it is good advice. It comes down to having a passion for it. If you lack that, you should go into shoe repair . . . or some other productive occupation. The biggest mistake is writing because you think it will make you rich. Those authors who make a living at it are the real one percenters.

Last month you sent me the link to an interview with you about Hoag’s Object… can we post it here so our readers can see it?

Sure. It’s on You Tube under: Michael Keith Interview on “Books and the World.” Or try this link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jbJj-4K3i4w

How about the link to your website?


Okay, so what’s in the future for you, what’s your next project?

I’m assembling a fourth story collection called A Boy and the World. Beyond that I’ve been contemplating expanding one of my stories to novella length. That’s something I’m certain I’ll be doing eventually. In the interim I am under contract to deliver a new edition of a textbook to its publisher.

A novella! How exciting, I’ll look forward to that! Hey, I just noticed your tie… the design is those little adaptors we used to put on the spindle of our record players so that we could listen to 45s !

Good eye, Robin! The tie is also the colors of Boston College, where I teach. I sometimes wear it to class to test my students. Few know what the spindles are. Heck, fewer and fewer know what a CD is.

Well, since we got on the subject… what do you think, honestly, of the radical changes in the book industry? Are you a Kindle fan?

I think technology has always changed the world to the chagrin of certain people (especially the older generation), who ultimately go along with the changes and adapt. I haven’t taken the plunge to Kindle yet, but I suspect it is inevitable to read electronically. That said, I don’t believe paper books will disappear, at least not for a while . . . if ever. I still resist publishing a book exclusively in eBook format. For me, a book-length publication is not real unless it’s in hardcopy. I have to hold it, smell it, and see it on the shelf. That’s my old-line thinking. Of course, I still like vinyl records.

I’m with you—I think I still have some of those spindle adaptors at my parents’ house. Hey, Michael, thanks so much, for taking the time to talk to us!

It was a pleasure, and congratulations on all of your book publishing, Robin!


    Robbi Nester

Hi, Robbi, welcome!

Hello, Robin.

Of course the first thing that strikes me about your book is the gorgeous cover! Can you tell me about it?

There’s a good story attached to this. One day I was practicing yoga in class, at the same time thinking about what I could put on the cover of the book, which was due to come out soon. In the middle of doing downward dog, I had a vision of an origami lotus made out of the pages of a book. Understand, I had never seen any such thing before. I don’t know how to do origami, and am probably the least likely person you can imagine to produce handicrafts, but all the same, there it was. Since no one I knew had any idea how to make it either, I went to Google, and found to my astonishment many pages of instructions on how to make an origami lotus, but better still, a whole store in Etsy devoted to selling origami lotuses made out of various materials, including several different kinds of books! Once I got the lotus in the mail, I then had to find someone to take a photo of it. My friend, John Genesta, a photographer in Laguna Beach, worked on it, and in a few hours, produced the photo you see here. I can’t imagine anyone doing a better job with it. Finally, my publisher at White Violet Press, the talented Karen Kelsay Davies, composed a lovely cover using the photograph. She was so patient with all my demands and fidgets!

Karen is a good friend and she has a great eye! I was even more delighted when I opened the book and saw the drawings… yoga postures to accompany each poem. What a fantastic idea! Can you tell us about the artist, Nina Canal?

Nina is my first cousin. I am grateful to her for sacrificing so much of her time, especially since we never spent time together since she lives in France and was brought up in London and I was born and raised in the U.S.. She is a fabric and clothing designer who has a boutique in Paris, though recently she has moved to Marseille. When she is not busy running her shop, she tours with her band, Ut. I believe she has made about 8 albums with this band, which has quite a following worldwide. Though Nina has not practiced yoga, she read my manuscript, and really liked the poems, so she wanted to help me, especially when she heard I had lost my teaching job and couldn’t get another. Though she hadn’t done anything quite like this before, she patiently examined books and photographs of Iyengar poses, which differ from other kinds of yoga because of their use of props. The idea is to get students into as precise a pose as possible without injury. The props help approximate the correct position of the body so the student gains the intended benefits from the pose.

How and when did you come up with this wonderful idea to write poems based on yoga positions?

I have practiced Iyengar yoga for about 25 years. I began practicing it because I suffer from anxiety, and yoga is the one thing that allows me to relax. As I have said, this kind of yoga is rather specialized, very precise. Practitioners are expected to hold the poses for a long time. It is definitely serious, not gym yoga at all. But to get the benefits from yoga, this or any other kind, the practitioner must devote significant time and effort. It wasn’t until I began to practice almost daily that I began to see real benefits from doing yoga. About three years ago, my teacher, Denise Thibault, began teaching a new series of poses, the Emotional Stability Sequence. Mr. Iyengar , who just turned 93 this past December, had published the sequence in his book, Light on Life, so she wanted to pass it along to us. The Emotional Stability sequence is composed of the poses you see in my book, in the order in which you find them there. When I did this sequence in Denise’s workshop and classes, I found that it had an amazing effect, allowing me to breathe more deeply, relax, and sleep better. I was calmer and less anxious for some time following the practice. Feeling gratitude for this sequence and the practice that had enriched my life, I wanted to give back something in return by bringing people who read poetry to yoga. Of course, I also hoped to bring yogis to poetry as well. This was not my first effort to combine yoga and poetry, but it was the first one that succeeded.

Has she seen the book?

Of course! She has been better at promoting it than I am, sending notices even before the book came out to all the students and others on her mailing list, which is quite a number! And this weekend, I will attend her workshop (she is teaching that sequence again) and read the poems to the assembled group. I’ve done that a couple of times before. I am sure I will sell all the books I have.

I’m sure you will! Every single poem was charming, unique, and drew me in right away... and what I loved most about each one was the way you turn each posture into a narrative… what you’re thinking, what you’re feeling… where you are and what you see. Some of those postures looked difficult!

The ironic thing, though, is that I am not naturally a physically adept person. I was the person in school chosen last for sports teams. I actually got an F in gym during high school though I attended faithfully. I cannot swim or dance, and am rather clumsy. But by dint of practice, I have become flexible, and do many poses quite well.

To give our readers an idea of what’s inside the book, can you talk about one of the poses and the metaphor you used to represent it? Let’s take the one titled “Uttanasana.”

Robbi Nester - Writer in the Spotlight Diving down and down
toward the distant floor,
I approach the knees’
locked gates , peering
into the darkened space
between, almost at my
destination. Grasping
the heels, the ropy
tendons, I belly forward.
Chest presses thighs,
buttocks rising and rising.
I am an explorer,
entering the ancient city,
descending into another world.


As you can see from the drawing, uttanasana is an extreme forward bend, in which the practitioner aims to draw the torso and head toward the feet, while keeping the shoulder blades drawn in.

In a playful way, I have compared doing this asana to exploring an underwater city or ruin. This is an introverted pose, which constitutes active self-discovery, finding parts of the self that one never knew existed. We all live with the body every day, but do not really know it or know ourselves until we approach the limits of what is possible.

I was intrigued by your presentation of 15 poems of 14 lines… what is the significance of the numbers 14 and 15 for you?

There are 15 poses in the sequence; hence, 15 poems. The poems are all sonnets in that they have 14 lines, even though they generally do not otherwise fit that definition in so far as their form goes. I thought that writing about this precise variety of yoga demanded a kind of form. Thus, I made all the poems 14 lines.

Was it fun to keep everything in 14 lines, or challenging, or both?

It wasn’t challenging. They sort of fell naturally into this form, truthfully. The form seemed organic, as natural as breathing.

I know your poetry has appeared in many, many literary magazines, but I read an interview with you recently where you said you love reading fiction but can’t seem to write it yourself. Given your credentials—PhD in Comparative Literature and an MFA in Creative Writing—I thought that was really interesting.

I think that writing fiction demands a whole different set of skills. I can definitely recognize a good work of fiction, and put my finger on what is not working and what is. But I find it impossible to construct a plot, characters, dialogue, at least at this time. My mind just doesn’t seem to work that way. On the other hand, I have written autobiographical stories. Perhaps if I keep plugging away at them, one will break free of the moorings and I will be borne away on the waves of fiction.

I wouldn’t be a bit surprised! Who are your favorite novelists, and why? Favorite poets?

It is almost impossible for me to offer favorites. I read all the time, so I can only say the works I return to, or the ones I have recently encountered with enthusiasm. I wrote my dissertation on the novels of Vladimir Nabokov. I admire his virtuosic prose, his wit, his genius. However, since writing the dissertation, I have not read his work so much. Writing dissertations will do that to a person. I just read a beautiful new novel by Marly Youmans, who happens to be a good friend of mine from Hollins College. It is called A Death at the White Camellia Orphanage (Mercer University Press). Though her poetry is also wonderful, this latest work has rocketed right up among my favorites of all time. I heartily recommend it.

The books I love and the ones that I have taught largely are products of the 19th and early 20th century. I love Anna Karenina, Middlemarch, The Golden Bowl, Turn of the Screw, Kafka’s stories and parables, the work of Flannery O’Conner, and Alice in Wonderland/Through the Looking Glass, among others.

In poetry, I love the work of Emily Dickinson, Keats, Robert Frost, Wallace Stevens, Stanley Kunitz, Elizabeth Bishop, the Elemental Odes of Neruda, and many more.

What do these works have in common that makes me love them? I reject many books, never getting beyond the first few pages. The ones I love all have the authority to grab me from the start, and immerse me in a new world I immediately inhabit. They are all different, but they have this magical quality in common.

Is there a reason that no contemporary bestselling authors are on your list? Women’s lit is such a hot genre… I admit I don’t read much of it myself, but one current writer I do love is Elizabeth Berg. Have you read any by her?

I don’t think I’ve read Elizabeth Berg, though I know who she is, of course. I am not much on bestsellers, though occasionally I do read and enjoy them. For example, I love the Harry Potter books and Lev Grossman’s novels. I generally read Lisa See’s novels too, though I can’t say they are my absolute favorites. However, Octavia Butler, Michael Chabon, Toni Morrison, Doris Lessing, J.M. Coetzee are favorites of mine.

In contemporary poetry, I read lots, of course. I very much admire Heather McHugh’s work, Sharon Olds, Mary Oliver, and many others. I read and like too many to name.

Can you tell us about some of your upcoming projects?

I have a book of poems, A Likely Story, that I have sent out to some publishers. It contains poems I have written up to this time (minus the yoga poems). And I have begun the next book, only just begun it. I have about half a book of short prose pieces, autobiographical essays and stories, reviews, etc. And the idea for at least one other chapbook. I write slowly, though I am always writing something.

I am going to do an interview with the poet Judy Kronenfeld, whose work I like very much. I may also do a review of her new book, Shimmer. And I’m going to be teaching an online class in literary theory, so I’ll be working on getting ready for that.

What is the writing process like for you?

I generally get words and phrases stuck in my ear and they pester me until I sit down and write something. It can be days later or in the middle of the night. That’s what happened with the yoga book. I got up every night for a couple of months and wrote them, messed with them, etc. This is one reason I would make a rotten novelist: I don’t write every day. I’m not lazy, but that’s not how I seem to work.

Well please let us know if you decide to write one! Where can we visit you online?

You can follow me on Facebook at Robbi Nester. I also have a Facebook page for my book, Balance. You can buy a copy of Balance at robbi-shadowknows.blogspot.com. And I’m on LinkedIn too! I am available for readings or online gigs such as writing, editing, or teaching at my email address, rknester@gmail.com.

Additionally, the artist Nina Canal can be reached at ninacanal.com/sites_internet_anglais/index.html.

And John Genesta, who took the cover photo, is available at sawdustartfestival.org/john-genesta.

Thanks so much, Robbi, for taking the time to talk with us!

Thank you for chatting! It was lovely to meet you.

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