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Archive for the ‘Writing’ Category

Duff Man, Oh yeah.

8612461Cyrus Duffleman is an adjunct university professor fighting to reach the end of what seems like the single longest day of his life. From dawn till midnight, he sprints amongst four different educational institutions where students test his patience levels–particularly the ones with a raging sense of entitlement and blind patriotism–and where tragedies such as suicide and murder go down. In the rare moments when Duffleman does catch a breather, he can’t help but stress about his financial limitations, school administrative bureaucracies, and on a more personal level, crippling loneliness, which emerges in his daydreams of what-if scenarios.

Occasionally, Duffy doesn’t always make the most rational decisions, but we sympathize with him since he just can’t seem to catch a break. On top of dealing with an aching knee, empty wallet, the chronic fear of not having his classes renewed, he falls victim to internet phishing scams, temptations gone awry, and losing control of classroom discussions. He also strains to come to terms with his failed pipe dream of writing a novel:

[Duffleman’s] terminal degree states that he has a “Masters” in theso-called “Fine Art” of creative writing, and he applied years ago, long before the seven deadly sins of literary blockage—daily drudgery, anxiety, low self-esteem, depression, lack of talent and ambition, and above all, laziness—stole away any chance he had of concentrating for long enough to produce anything even loosely resembling a work of art, or tight and tidy enough to be considered that marketable commodity, “the contemporary novel.”

Despite the stressors and personal doubt, Duffleman never ceases to put his full effort into his work and his heart into the community. He tutors students for minimum wage, often gives away his last few dollars to those he feels need it more, and at the very end of his long day, he helps end a domestic terrorist attack.

An author with a phenomenal writing ability, Alex Kudera has written a powerful debut novel about perseverance, and seeing through not only work but life commitments with dignity, respect, and most of all, unyielding passion.

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Dave K recently released a collection of steampunk stories drafted and fine-tuned throughout his creative writing degree program at the University of Baltimore. He’s generously taken the time to allow me to interview him about his collection How To Stone A Pig, his writing process, among other interesting tidbits.

 

L^2: You have a unique writing style in How to Stone a Pig; it’s almost Victorian intellectual but modernized with interjections of blatant Gen-X vocabulary. In your own words, what was your literary angle?

DK: There are two angles at play with that, actually. I felt like a combination of semi-formal narrative voice and modern casual dialogue would be both a fun anachronism to play with and a way to build up the surrealistic tone that I wanted for this collection. Speculative fiction (or genre fiction, whatever you want to call it) is uniquely equipped to do stuff like that, so I wish more writers in that ouevre would take advantage of it.

The other angle is that I didn’t want readers to think I was trying to sound British. Most people associate anything Victorian with England, after all, and I wanted a more American sound to my work because that’s where I’m from and where I live. The best way to achieve that, I thought, was through informal, American vernacular dialogue.

L^2: Throughout your writing career, who have been your greatest influences and inspirations?

DK: The writers who’ve impacted my voice the most are John Bellairs, Robert Louis Stevenson, Philip K. Dick, Douglas Adams, Hunter S. Thompson, and Dave Barry. I’ve made it a point in recent years to build up a more diverse reading list, but those six guys grabbed me early.

My inspirations aren’t writers at all, for the most part. A lot of them are musicians: Jello Biafra, Henry Rollins, and Lemmy being the dominant three. I like people who are stubborn and unorthodox and get away with it without sacrificing their curiosity along the way (which is why G.G. Allin is not on this list). There are some visual artists who stir something up in me, too; Edward Gorey is a big one, as is Ralph Steadman, and I really like J.M.W. Turner’s work, even the more Impressionistic stuff he did late in his career.

L^2: Who are you reading now and name the last 3 great works you’ve read, and why.

DK: Right now I’m working on my friend Justin Sirois’ book, Falcons On the Floor, and also reading Ekaterina Sedia’s The Secret History of Moscow. They’re both fantastic.

As far as great works go, I’ve been singing the praises of Chimamanda Adichie’s Half of a Yellow Sun to everyone everywhere – the prose is both gorgeous and graceful. Ander Monson’s Other Electricities is also a phenomenal book; the structure is as poetic as the content. And while it’s not a novel or even a piece of fiction, Michael Azerrad’s Our Band Could Be Your Life is a thumping good reminder that you don’t need traditional channels of patronage and distribution to be a working artist. Hell, you can even be riddled with insecurities and behavioral disorders and still make a go of it.

L^2: How has your formal education at University of Baltimore in Creative Writing and Publishing changed your approach to writing? The publishing industry?

DK: Well, it broke any lingering desire I had to work in the publishing industry, that’s for sure. But my MFA program introduced me to a lot of people who believed in my work and helped it grow. I don’t absolutely have to write from anger or cynicism anymore, as I once did, and it’s much easier for me to draw inspiration from other things (music, visual arts, etc.) now. To paraphrase Garrison Keillor, I have a lot more keys on my piano these days.

Most importantly, my MFA program helped me really enjoy writing. I went through a phase where I was pretty bitter toward it, because I felt like I wasn’t good at much else and had therefore been shanghaied by fate into writing. I feel much differently now. There’s more joy in my process now than ever before, and that makes it a lot easier to tell stories.

L^2: As a writer, describe your writing process.

DK: A lot of things change depending on what I’m working on, but I tend to be a night owl who doesn’t start writing until well after dark. I need to listen to music while I write, and lately I’ve been exploring experimental/ambient music; lots of soundscapes and long, droning instrumentals. What I’m listening to has a direct effect on my narrative voice, so it’s fun to listen to different things and pick out the changes they make in my writing.

I also have trouble concentrating in my apartment, so I often go elsewhere to write. Coffee shops and libraries are my go-to places right now.

L^2: There are some creepy and somber photographs woven in between each piece of How to Stone a Pig. Did you create them? What were you trying to highlight by placing them where you did in the collection?

DK: I did create those images, yes. They’re a mix of public domain photography, stock photos, hand-drawn stuff, and clip art, all fed through Photoshop sketch filters and layered with grunge textures to give them a worn-out, used look. I really like combining text and image – it brings me back to being a kid and tearing through John Bellairs books so I could look at Edward Gorey’s weird, wonderful illustrations.

Creating those images helped my writing, too. It’s easier to find the right words for things when you’re seeing what your characters see, and I’d like to think the images contributed to the overall mood of the collection.

L^2: Some of us are familiar with the genre of “steampunk,” for those who aren’t, would you mind explaining the genre?

DK: Steampunk has a lot of definitions, but I like to think of it as science fiction set in the Victorian/Edwardian era. Victorian interpretations of fashion, technology, art, politics, and culture are centerpieces of the genre, to the point where it can veer into alternate history at times. There’s also a pervasive man-against-the-world element to steampunk protagonists, which is where that “punk” part comes in, as well as a sense of optimism about human potential.

That said, a lot of steampunk literature is overly focused on the technology and aesthetics, and so there’s a lot of empty, rich-guys-in-airships fanservice as a result, but it’s such a clever and provocative setting when it’s done well.

L^2: I recall you mentioning that this collection was part of your thesis. Can you tell us about the journey to getting it from concept to print?

DK: All the stories in the collection were written at various points during my time in the program, and the first semester of my final year was an advanced fiction workshop where my classmates and I wrote some new stories and revised old ones and put together the manuscripts that would become our self-published books. The following spring was the thesis semester, where we all revised our manuscripts, thinking of them as whole collections rather than just clumps of stories.

Once my manuscript reached the point where my advisor signed off on it, I got to work designing the thing. Page size and layout, margins, typeface, all that stuff. I also designed the cover. That whole process was grueling, but I imagine it would be a festival for someone more OCD than me – there are so many mental doorknobs to touch, and the Adobe suite just enables that tendency in people.

My book design had to be approved as well, and I contacted a printer once it was. That was the most stressful part, honestly. Not because of the printer, but because that was the first time the book was actually out of my control, and they were far enough away that I couldn’t watch them physically assemble the books to make sure they didn’t do anything wrong. It was like sending my manuscript to summer camp for the first time and hoping the counselors would keep it from drowning or being eaten by bears or something.

When the books arrived, it took me a minute to accept that they were real, that all the stress and fatigue and countless hours of resetting paragraph indents and making Photoshop collages finally had a real, physical presence. I’ve never been prouder of anything in my life.

 

 

L^2: Big thanks to Dave for taking the time to chat. I’ve also highlighted a few of my favorite stories below of How To Stone A Pig in a flash review.

One of my favorite stories was How to Adopt a Cat, a story written in a somber, almost sedated tone, fitting of the protagonist’s state of mind post-psyche ward release. He touches on what it’s like to feel like an outsider in the “outside world,” and how the hustle of passersby created a deep-rooted anxiety for the protagonist. One of my favorite passages is: “When the conductor passes by and tells me my stop is next, I can only nod. My speech has slurred during the years, and I’m hesitant to converse above my station. When he leaves, I pat myself down to make sure I still have my papers, that none of them have fallen out of my pocket, that I am real and solid and free of that wretched place.”

My other favorite was a disturbing piece titled The Experiment, a story that draws on the haunting and eerily creepy images of a man strapped down and electrocuted by a sadistic doctor without concern for safety or well-being of his subject: “Few words native to English or any other language are fit to describe how Mr. Crisp felt. Suffice it to say that the second-to-last thing coursing through his mind was a brief, white-hot, explosive realization of complete and total independence from everything. He flushed numb from fingertips to brain as electricity folded him into thin, sharp creases. The last thing to go through his mind, of course, was the fatal shard of current that popped his eyes like paper bags.”

There is inherent melancholia woven into Dave’s mature writing and bizzaro story lines. Reading this collection induced occult sensations, and though I was not always 100% certain about a story’s intent or direction at times, the literary ride was a psychedelic journey, and one worth taking a few times over. Check out his collection in limited availability here: www.beeohdee.blogspot.com

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Fairy tales. The genre shows up all the time, everywhere–in film, art, and literature. Consider films like M. Night Shyamalan’s Lady in the Water, and the very aesthetic of Shyamalan himself, across the body of his work. (Lady in the Water  is itself a treatise on the interpretation of modern myth in light of its historical distillation.) With regards to literature, I recently had the opportunity to discuss the use of the fairy tale genre in contemporary writing with Sandy Longhorn, someone who is thinking and writing about this very subject. Sandy is the author of Blood Almanac (Anhinga Press), which won the Anhinga Prize for Poetry.  Her newer poetry is forthcoming or has appeared recently in Cincinnati Review, New South, The Rumpus, South Dakota Review, Valparaiso Poetry Review, and elsewhere.  Longhorn lives in Little Rock, Arkansas, is an Arkansas Arts Council fellow, and blogs at Myself the only Kangaroo among the Beauty.


CR: Could you talk about your interest in fairy tales as a medium of interpretation in literature? What sparked it and what elements provide for the continuation of your interest?

SL: First, thank you for the interest in my work and for posing these intricate questions.

I started writing a series of fairy tale poems based on the Midwest after reading Mary Biddinger’s book of poetry, Prairie Fever.  Although not a book of fairy tales, I was impressed with the way Biddinger presented some of the darker undertones of living in the Midwest.

After I drafted the first poem “Midwest Nursery Tales,” I went back and read many of the iconic Western fairy tales as they are presented in the original Brothers Grimm books.  These are the non-Disneyfied versions where the ‘good guys’ are often injured or horribly transformed and the ‘bad guys’ often meet bloody ends.  There are versions that go back even farther, but I haven’t done the research yet to find those books.

The gender issues presented in both the Disney versions and the Grimm versions may be one of my primary interests, that and the social ethics the tales attempt to prescribe.  An education in literature gave me the skills to think critically about the tales, and from my first lit classes in college, I began to look beneath the surface of any media I absorbed and into the ideas of self-identity and social positioning, those powerful messages often at work without our acknowledgment.

 


CR: What are you doing in your own work in regards to the fairy tale genre?  How are you using it?

SL: My work in fairy tales is a bit different than what I’ve seen in the past when I’ve read re-interpretations of traditional tales.  Instead of building on the past, I’ve attempted to create new tales, tales that more accurately reflect my own experiences.  Those experiences are grounded in the landscape and the people of the rural Midwest.

In my reading of the Grimm tales, I was struck by the idea of transformation.  In many cases that transformation results from a spell put on a person by a witch or due to some other magical element.  However, in my reality, there was a rock-solid disbelief in anything but hard work and a pure heart.  People got what they deserved; we reaped what was sown, literally and figuratively.  Thus, each of my fairy tale poems is about a girl who is transformed not by magic but by the weather, the land, and/or the industry of agriculture around her.


CR: Going back to the original fairy tales–the gritty, unprettified versions where sometimes the characters get picked to shreds–do you think there is a need in the literary world for the censored (Disney) versions to be ousted?

SL: I don’t know about a need, but I do know that kids can take a lot more than Disney gives them credit for.  Even while I was happy as a child to watch the Disney versions of Cinderella, Snow White, and all the rest, I knew that they didn’t match my reality.

I’m not one to exclude much of anything, but I would argue for a balance.  In particular, when talking about the ‘censored versions,’ we are usually talking about books and/or movies designed for children.  I’m not a parent and I wouldn’t begin to impose my beliefs on those who are; however, we live in a perilous world.  Ask the children who survived Hurricane Katrina about terror, stress, and heartache.  Ask the children whose homes burned down in wildfires in California, Texas, and Oklahoma.  Ask the children whose parents have lost lives or limbs or mental stability to wars overseas.  Ask those who have suffered from domestic violence.  Perhaps the argument for the ‘censored versions’ is one for pure entertainment and escape.  There is a place for that, surely, yet that escape will not necessarily help heal the wounds.  Reality will be waiting when the book cover closes or the movie reaches the end of its run.  How will we prepare our children to return to reality?

 


CR: Do you think we are creating our own fairy tales in this day and age?  If so, how and to what extent, in your opinion?

SL: I do.  The first examples that come to mind are many of the Pixar movies (and the like) that appeal to both children and adults.  I think of Wall-E, Up, and Finding Nemo right off the top of my head.  There are truly scary scenes in each of these movies that expose the hard truths about danger in our world and how we navigate it.  Certainly, the Harry Potter phenomenon lends itself to the fairy tale and draws in modern issues of diversity and a global morality.  The idea of Voldemort as the embodiment of evil fits how overwhelming the bad things of the world sometimes feel.

I suppose some might claim the rise in vampire and werewolf novels for young adults is another foray into fairy tales.  I confess I haven’t read them, as I have a really low scare tolerance (I’ve always had trouble with the line between fiction and reality).  Stephen King’s novels might fall into this same category, in particular The Green Mile comes to mind, although I can’t read much of his work, either, for the nightmares his scenes induce in me.

At the root, a fairy tale goes beyond entertainment.  There is a cautionary purpose there, a moral lesson meant to build a stronger community.  Even though we no longer gather around the hearth, we still have folk tales, just in a variety of media.

 


CR: Do you think there is an aversion toward fairy tales in some literary circles, and if so, why would you say this exists?

SL: This is so interesting.  I’ve heard this question several times now, and I must admit, I wasn’t aware of any aversion to fairy tales.  However, since the question has been raised, I’m beginning to sense that others have felt this aversion.

My own poems are quite new and still making their way out into the world of lit mags and publishers.  I simply might not have felt any push back against the content yet.  I did have one editor email me a rejection with a note that the poems I’d submitted (four of my fairy tales) didn’t fit her journal’s aesthetic but she would welcome a submission with other poems.  I suppose that could be the aversion to which the question refers.

I’m guessing that there have been a lot of poems and stories written that are based on traditional tales that have not gone beyond the tradition and made something new.  In some ways, writing in response to fairy tales might be similar to writing ekphrastic poems.  The writer’s duty is to use the previous art and explore some new territory.  If that isn’t done well, it could lead to a negative branding of the genre, I suppose.

There could also be some gender issues at work here, although I have no scientific proof.  Fairy tales fall in the realm of the domestic.  The connotation of the words brings to mind a mother, grandmother, or nanny with her children gathered around her listening with rapt attention.  Many feminist writers have re-imagined the traditional texts as a way forward into empowerment and a new paradigm.  If anyone has a problem with fairy tales for those reasons, then I’d say it is his or her loss.  Everyone’s voice, everyone’s vision, should have a place at the table.

 

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Some Kind of Monster

Recently my wife and I happened across the last forty minutes or so of the Encore mini-series version of Moby-Dick with Ethan Hawke as Starbuck and John Hurt as Ahab. This was the first I’d heard of this newest version and certainly I watched as I always watch these things: possessed by something like disgust and horror (plus, I’ve never watched Ethan Hawke without wanting to punch him in the face).  This trailer seems to confirm my initial impressions (I don’t think I’m capable of watching the entire mini-series): that this version is about Ethan Hawke’s tug of war with John Hurt’s obsession plus some action and some adventure and some period costumes and some guy with mutton chops playing the role of Ishmael. From what I’ve seen, it is another fairly literal translation of the novel onto the screen with some alterations made to appease Hawke’s ego.

And according to this review from the NY Daily News “For the first 10 or 15 minutes, the film lingers on the genteel life Ahab has built on Nantucket, heart of the whaling industry in 1850.Whaling captains were royalty then and Ahab lives accordingly. This is no ruffian who slouches around until he can climb on a boat and go kill something. Hurt’s Ahab is a man of culture and refinement. He lives in a grand, tastefully appointed house. He eats good food, drinks good wine and enjoys relaxing in his library with a good book. He has an obviously caring wife, Elizabeth (Gillian Anderson) and all the money he needs to live out a comfortable life.”

To me, these seem like perfectly reasonable additions to add background depth to Ahab’s character (even if I disagree with them). In general, I’m in favor of any adaptation that bends from the source material and creates its own logic and reality. If this were, say, Pride and Prejudice I would see nothing offensive in any of this. However, Moby Dick is not a perfectly reasonable book. It is not about period costumes and mutton chops. Moby Dick is a novel written in full fever. It is a little bit insane, in parts, and all parts are written by a writer of high ambition.

I’ve been on a Metallica kick these last few weeks. I have no idea why, but every so often “The Call of Ktulu” calls to me. Anyhow, I’ve been listening to the entire output, but the album that I come back to, and enjoy the most, is the much derided St. Anger, best described as a 75 minute bludgeoning although it is probably most commonly called “laughably bad.”   The 2004 documentary of the recording of this album, Some Kind of Monster, shows a petty, desperate, emotionally strained group of musicians with enormous egos and thin skins who spend as much time in group therapy as they spend recording the album. Most seem to use this documentary to illustrate the reasons why the album is bad. To me, it sort of explains why it sounds so good. To me the album sounds furious and unhinged and frustrated and confused but it also sounds like a band of great talent going all out to make a really good record. There’s something about this coupling of insanity and uncertainty and talent and ambition that, for me at least, makes a really nice sound. At the least, I suggest giving this youtube clip of Frantic a listen. I may be the only person who like this record.

Anyhow, for me, this is what all film versions of Moby-Dick are missing–the unhinged ambition and risk taking and fearlessness. This brings to mind an article (I’ve since misplaced where or when it was from) about Werner Herzog’s Hollywood adventure/ rescue film Rescue Dawn. While making the film the Hollywood crew and producers were horrified by Herzog’s approach–considering him no better than an amateur in his methods. Not surprisingly, Rescue Dawn is a very safe, button-down movie compared to Herzog’s non-fiction take, the slightly unhinged and risk taking Little Dieter Needs to Fly. Dawn only works when Herzog’s madness peeps through, fleetingly, here and there. Give me madness and ambition and risk taking over professional and safe and well done any day.

Certainly, as critics of his day were glad to point out, Melville’s great novels from Moby Dick on were not “well made” in many aspects. Potentially major characters and plot points are introduced and then forgotten, inconsistencies abound in the point of view and in the plots (to the extent that there are plots). And a few even accused him of having gone insane.

I’ve often said that Moby Dick should be made into a film–I’m all for our greatest literatures being translated into other mediums. But it would take a filmmaker of a certain greatness and madness to pull it off. At times I’ve thought the Wes Anderson of The Life Aquatic (probably the film closest in spirit to the true Moby Dick) is just weird and ambitious and fearless enough to pull it off. Other times its clear that the Paul Thomas Anderson of There Will Be Blood and Magnolia would make a masterpiece. What do you think?

 

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Saul Bellow’s great novel, Humboldt’s Gift, partly fictionalizes his own idolization and subsequent friendship with Delmore Shwartz. The idea of a young, unknown writing a fan letter to a famous writing and then moving half-way across the country to essentially study under the master was a profound one for me when I first read that book.

Rimbaud similarly contacted Paul Verlaine. Their famously tumultuous love affair soon followed.

I doubt Philip Roth had much of a physical relationship with Bellow, but it seems their three decades of friendship began in much the same way—with the young, unknown upstart meeting the literary figure who so influenced him. I’ve
never felt Roth surpassed Bellow as an artist, but he certainly achieved a wider fame and sold more books than Bellow did. No matter these two literary friendships, Bellow did famously complain about the lack of community with his generation’s great writers.

I always thought the only people who could possibly connect, on that very deep and fundamental level, with a great writer was another great writer. There is something deep and shared between them that is unsuspected by regular people. Or maybe there is no mystical bond. There’s no more of a special connection than the truth that people who share a mutual hobby or interest often flock to each other, while in public and in regular life they often suppress their true passions. Railroad enthusiasts and stamp collectors. I suspect these stories carry across all the arts, though, and there is always something fascinating about the friendship and appreciation between two great artists.

The literary importance of the friendship between Hawthorne and Melville after Melville contacted the older, more accomplished writer (although Melville had the earlier commercial success) is without question. Here we find Hawthorne’s genius (as Melville saw it) awakening something nascent in Melville’s own soul. Under this encouragement Melville ceases to be the man who wrote sea adventures and became the great artist we remember and admire today.

Of course, sometimes hero worship leads not to surpassing the idol, as Melville surpassed his, but to emulation, as Woody Allen, who so admired Ingmar Bergman from afar, and then later emulated in films like Interiors, going so far as to use Bergman’s iconic Persona cinematographer Sven Nykvist in films like Another Woman and Crimes and Misdemeanors. Through this relationship Allen learned of Bergman’s admiration for his films, and the two later became good and mutually respectful friends.

I remember thinking about this story when, years ago, in my early 20s, I wrote an ailing Saul Bellow a letter of appreciation. I may have implied or made assertions of our, ah, kinship, letting the master know I was also, in my small way, attempting to become a writer. Thankfully I did not bore him with any of my pages, although I have since, occasionally, reached out in this way, as they did in the old days—although, mostly out of desire to share my appreciation and humble thanks, than any attempt to make friends.

Who are your idols? Have you contacted them? Met them? Surpassed them?

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Bl Pawelek is the jack-of-all-trades artist. His work has been featured in places such as Blood Lotus Journal, Curbside Splendor, Prick of the Spindle, Monkeybicycle, LITnIMAGE, decomP, and Dogzplot. Over the past few months, he has worked hard to craft the photographs and prose featured today at Plumb Blog. Below, he opens with an amazing shot of an oak paired with amazing prose.

Bl Pawelek

one definition of ‘plumb’ – ‘a weight at the end of line’

the plumb oak
the shortest route: a five-mile hike to get there. The last mile,
fields and stream. He is at the end of his line. I feel the weight on
me.

I have visited about every month since I moved here, sang him Leopold
songs and fed him purple coneflower dust. He gave prizes in return.

Deer Creek slides along, small trout in its water. On sunny days, I
hide still, jump and dive, splash about in the water. Come up with
nothing in my hands.

Dinner the found fruit. Nothing more sour, tart and delicious than a
not-yet ripe wild apple. Nothing as sweet as wild raspberries.

Dead branches, black lines in the sky I sleep under. I ignore the
memories of Maryland’s black rat snakes, waiting in trees.

Parts of him will stay on the line after winter. Others will drop off
the end. Like the movie, I rub the bark, whisper, “you can, you will.”

In addition, Bl Pawelek snapped a few other photos on his journey to that beautiful oak tree.

Bl Pawelek

Bl Pawelek

Bl Pawelek

Bl Pawelek

Bl Pawelek

Bl Pawelek

Bl Pawelek

Mr. Pawelek has given me the opportunity to to a bit of Q&A with him as well:

What came first? Writing, painting, photography?

Honestly, it all started with hiking.

I started to take hiking seriously in 1997, and everything else started to branch from that. I brought a camera with me everywhere I went; started to read books of places I hiked (Desert Solitaire, Wilderness Journals of Everett Ruess, Death Valley and the Country, etc); and started my hand in writing and painting what I saw. Most of my creative effort is still centered in that world.

You often pair photography and other artwork with a few lines of poetry. What is your process? Do you have a muse in mind that you seek out when you go out and snap photos? Do you write first then pair?

If I pair them, the artwork definitely comes first. The artwork is more intricate, takes longer and there is plenty of internal critique before I think it is “done.”

The lines that I typically add to them are based generally on the theme/tone/thought of what was happening during construction.

You have an MA in literature. How do you feel that’s shaped your literary voice and style?

Props to Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles!!

Although the university did not have an MA in Environmental Literature, I did my best to weave as much as I could. The professors allowed me to bring in texts from Carson, Eastlake, Stegner, Snyder while taking some “deep dives” into Thoreau, Muir and Emerson.

As for the “voice and style” – I was (and am) horrible in the technique and mechanics of writing/editing/critiquing. I am sure that I have some sort of voice and style, but hell if I could describe what it is. Maybe Ben Tanzer said it best …

“Poems of isolation and detachment, punctuated by blasts of color and a longing for nature.” – Ben Tanzer, author of You Can Make Him Like You

What is the best independent novel you’ve read?

I could never do one! How about these best ones of the last year-ish:

We Take Me Apart, Molly Gaudry (the writing is so elegant)

Normally Special, xTx (the writing has zero fat)

Inconceivable Wilson, JA Tyler (the story is only the tip of the iceberg)

Whose releases are you looking forward to this year?

I am checking my mail every day for: Finding Everett Ruess (The Life and Unsolved Disappearance of a Legendary Wilderness Explorer) by David Roberts.

Your kids are drop-dead adorable. Do you find that they are a source of inspiration in your art?

Sidebar: Many times I have been asked if writing or artwork was a “passion” of mine, or something that I felt I was “meant to do.” I have always said “no.” I have always felt that I could simply “stop” and move on to something else.

However, once I started a family, I knew I was meant to be a “dad” – nothing else.  So, my wife and kids are the cornerstone of everything. They influence everything. Sometimes they are included in different pieces that go public, but mostly only my Facebook family and friends get to see my dadliness.

You’re a very active member in the literary community. What are a few words of advice you could provide aspiring writers out there? What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned since jumping in?

I cannot say it any better. Aspiring writers should start with this – http://htmlgiant.com/behind-the-scenes/22-things-i-learned-from-submitting-writing/

If you could pair these marvelous images with a brew of your choice, what would it be? Why?

Take a long hike, get lost, get worried, pray frequently, get bitten by an animal and try to bite back. Forget your phone, your map, your way home, your watch, bug spray, sun screen, sun glasses. Forget to tell your loved ones where you were hiking, forget to tell anyone.  Thankfully, you remembered your journal and pen. Forget food and water, drink water from a stream, drink rain water, lick it off the plants. Try wild fruit, eat cobwebs, try to catch a rabbit.

Hike quickly at night when you can’t see a thing; hike slowly through the desert feeling the water leave you. Jump cliffs, balance on rocks, climb tall skinny trees. Get hurt, lose blood, get worried again and pray more frequently, do not see another person for days, and then remember the one beer in your pack. For me, it was a Boddingtons.

My sincerest thanks to Bl Pawelek for devoting the time and efforts to this Plumb feature. You can find more of his amazing photography, art, and writing over at http://blpawelek.wordpress.com/ and he can be reached at blpawelek(at)gmail(dot)com

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Learning from Faulkner

Lately I have been re-reading Absalom, Absalom! It is a book of such high brilliance that it seems almost impossible to relate to the person who wrote it. In fact, I have often shied from reading Faulkner biographies because his genius seems almost too vast–whereas when I was in my teens I would read Fitzgerald and Hemingway and Kerouac and Stephen King bios to pick up hints on “how to be a writer”–how long to write, what to write with, what to read etc. Faulkner hardly seems to offer any useful inspiration–even a writer as talented as Cormac McCarthy is criticized for failing to improve on Faulkner, or incorporate, so much as attempt to emulate.

Yet, I’ve become more and more interested with the idea of how geniuses are created or forged–so many great writers showed little hint of their greatness before making some unsuspected leap–Bellow, Melville, Proust come to mind, so too does Balzac who, upon conception of La Comedie Humaine declared “I am about to become a genius”–So, with this rereading of Absalom! I read also a biography, William Faulkner: His Life and Work by David Minter. Here were learn Faulkner was started early on great literature–by the time most readers begin reading “chapter books” Faulkner had mastered Dickens, Shakespeare, Balzac–perhaps more of a credit to his mother’s schooling than to his genius. Early on, then, a sense of the vast, and epic, and ornate, and interconnected was wound with his DNA. Still, for all the talent he clearly possessed, and there were those (his mother) who believed young Faulkner possibly a genius, his work through his twenties show little evidence of what he would become. From the time of his boyhood Faulkner had been a serious writer, a serious reader, and a serious watcher of people and listener of stories, and he was mentored by writers such as Sherwood Anderson, but it was not until he was liberated from the constraints of writing poetry, of literary rules, that he was able to recognize the voice he sensed struggling within–a sort of combination of influences: those authors he had read as a boy, those stories he heard on street corners and on stoops all his life. And when he became convinced he would never achieve literary fame or fortune, and that he should simply write for himself, that Faulkner tapped into his genius. Now, something heretofore unsuspected and brilliant emerged and, with this emergence came the confidence to become ever more original and ambitious–thus was born The Sound and the Fury and his subsequent masterpieces.

In this context, then, an awesome book like Absalom, Absalom! is more understandably the work of a writer who lived and worked like the rest of us. Less the work of dark arts or inexplicable genius, Absalom, Absalom! is but the combination of influences–a boyhood before Balzac and Shakespeare is apparent, and so too is the time spent listening to endless stories of the past, told and retold, from an endless array of strangers, parents, uncles, aunts, teachers. It is also a masterpiece which towers above other masterpieces, a book that stands as a culmination of a writer who gained ambition and courage and strength and wisdom from novel to novel. It is a novel that learns not from other novels, but from the experiences and authentic nature of its author. And then Faulkner, we learn, finally reached a point when he looked back, and he lost much of his greatness.

I think only a madman would assign Absalom, Absalom! to a creative writing class, but the works of Faulkner can offer a great deal to the young writer in the way of advice and inspiration. For all of its brilliance and the delight it offers the reader, then, I think a book like Absalom, Absalom! offers something of a roadmap by the route one writer took to learn how to write it, than anything a young writer should learn from its technique. For, ultimately, Absalom is an authentic work, the work of a combination of who Faulkner was and what he learned and what he heard throughout his life, rather than something he tried to copy or tried to write or tried to emulate.

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Yesterday, while kibitzing at the inaugural Indie Lit Summit in DC, I saw the news that Reb Livingston has decided to shut down her enormously influential online poetry magazineNo Tell Motel after October and that No Tell Books would be going on hiatus after August. In a blog post Reb reassures us that this is a natural conclusion for a project that has required a lot of commitment to sustain:

Anyone who edits a publication knows the amount of time and energy required to start and maintain a literary magazine. After 7 years of channeling much of my time and energy into NTM I decided that I very much wish to channel it into new directions . . . I’m not sad about NTM ending. Everything has a lifespan.

Reb’s contributions as a writer and publisher of contemporary poetry cannot be over-estimated. I look forward to her future projects, should they be public ones. The body of work showcased at the elegantly designed Motel will astound you. If you have never been there yet, go now and spend the rest of 2011 getting caught up.

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Where Do We Go Now?

Two days ago I “finished” (as much as these things are ever finished) work on what I will call my first novel. There was a little joy, some anxiety, and then I looked around the room and I thought, now what?

Typically I am the sort of writer who writes every day, with whatever time I have. If the only time I have to write is during my commute then I write on my commute. Since summer began I have been working on my novel up to 10 hours a day–researching, rewriting, revising, read aloud. My novel has been, for the last 8 months, my all-consuming occupation and fascination. A few months ago I decided I wasn’t working on my book enough, that with classes and prep-work and commuting I didn’t have enough time in the day, so I began rising from bed at 5:30. Yesterday I rose at that time and I wandered the silent apartment, unsure of what to do with myself. I looked out the window for a while, I made a shopping list, I thought about doing the dishes, looked forward to doing the dishes, and the laundry, and then I decided to read.

Initially I vowed to not write a word of fiction for several weeks. My logic was that after working every day, and almost every spare moment, on one project, that I probably need time to reflect, to rest, and to gather new ideas. In a way I feel like the end of this project is the end of what has been my most creative and productive period–from April ’09 to this point–and there is some sense that now something else needs to happen–some new direction, some new goal. My thought was that all writers must take a pause after a large-ish project, and they must go around, doing things, and then after a few weeks or months they must return, reinvigorated,  ready to assault the next project.

Yesterday I read the last 200 pages of Madame Bovary with my new spare time and the first 80 pages of Kate Racculia’s This Must Be The Place (which I then finished today). I suppose I could keep on reading a 300 page novel a day through the end of summer break. But my arms are already a little itchy–up through my elbows, and my fingers are getting restless. There’s a little panicky catch in my breathing. I daydreamed for a couple hours, yesterday, about writing a new story. Today I opened a new word document and titled it NEW STORY and a wave of joy washed over me, even though I have no ideas for a new story other than the first sentence:

If not for the animal noises, I would have only the darkness.

I feel like I should take the break, and just walk around, doing things–whatever things it is people do. Yesterday, my wife and I talked about taking a vacation and, amazingly, I didn’t  immediately think “Well, I suppose I could write on the way, and in the mornings” and this was sort of nice. But then, of course, I think: What if I get lazy? What if that drive to write somehow goes away once I get used to not working all the time?

Today I’ve been thinking about the writers I admire–what was their post-project mode? Did they take time off? Did they wait for the next project to dawn on them? Or did they immediately rise the next morning and wander again into the white screen, fearless and uncertain? For all of the author bios I’ve read over the years I don’t know that I’ve ever paid much attention to the time they spent in-between projects, and I don’t know how much of a focus it has been in those bios.

What about you? I’m curious about your habits (and the habits of your favorite writers). Do you take the time to recharge? Or should those writerly muscles, those gained through repetition and rigor, be kept in shape, no matter if a large project has been finished, and the next is yet to appear on the horizon?

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Thomas Williams’ novella The Mimic’s Own Voice is nothing short of extraordinary. It details the enigmatic life of Douglas Myles, a mimic, in his rise to the spotlight, the tours of his talents, his death, the ignition of awe and greater fame postmortem.

What stood out the most was the intellectualism of the writing. Where the hell did this guy come from and how has he managed to craft such an artful and clever production? Williams packed a kick in every single line, not just in detail but also style. Think the formal approach of Shakespeare crossed with the class of F. Scott Fitzgerald, something immediately illustrated in a potent opening line, “In the halcyon days of professional mimics, shortly after they’d outpaced their predecessors, the vernacular storytellers, who had, a decade earlier, wrested the comedic throne from the one-liner royalty, it would have been difficult to name a town of ten thousand souls that didn’t possess some venue where performed those artists who made their fame and fortune with stunning mimicry of the period’s political leaders and actors, athletes and musicians, scholars, and men of science.”

It’s not easy reading, and it takes a great deal of focus to wade through the complexities of his narration. Take this string, “Had any other comedian been enlisted to provide Myles’s comeuppance, the last line of their exchange might have eventually faltered, as most, when surveyed by The Jester, replied that they’d have avoided the stage for a week, allowing the public to forget Myles’s prediction (our national attention span as short as it is). But King David Blum was not called king for nothing. Few had a mild response to his act, so he was met at every concert by fans and detractors alike, all of them now turning out to see if the upstart from, as Blum called it, ‘the fucking prairie,’ knew more than the comic’s voice and routine, but as well the workings of his mind.”

There’s definitely a heaviness in the novella’s lengthy passages (sometimes it read like an encyclopedia), but by far this writer has one of the most unique styles I’ve come across in today’s indie contemporary market. Definitely check it out, you will be awed.

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A month and a half ago, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar made something of a stir when he complained about his lack of a statue in front of the Staples Center; after all he had been a multiple MVP and a major part of 5 LA Laker championship teams.  This is a remarkable complaint, and maybe incomprehensible display of self-importance for anyone who is not a famous athlete, although I think most people could relate to the fear of being overlooked and forgotten.

Less incomprehensible, to me at least, was Jack White’s complaint during a 2005 interview with Charlie Rose about the lack of appreciation afforded Orson Welles in this country, suggesting at the minimum Welles should have a statue in Manhattan for his early productions of Macbeth and War of the Worlds, never mind Citizen Kane. And yet, it seems unlikely Welles would ever receive a statue in Manhattan or that you would find many people who would believe he deserves one—unlike Kareem, Welles is still often considered a career loser in this country—more famous for never directing a hit film or for getting fat or for his association with commercials and the Muppets and the Transformers. His early brilliance tainted by his disgusting fall—in some ways he’s seen as more of a Shawn Kemp than a Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Welles was certainly aware of this impression, and it caused him much agony over the later 40 years of his life (and no small stress when attempting to fund a new film).

With this in mind it’s pretty remarkable how many writers with monuments or statues dedicated to them. In the case of the Jack Kerouac Memorial in Lowell, Mass, it’s all the more remarkable considering how badly and out of favor Kerouac ended. In many ways, Kerouac followed something of a similar trajectory to Welles (and many American artists)—the break out hit, and then years of failures, obscurity, ridicule, and money problems. I remember thinking about this when I first visited that memorial about six years go: how I regretted Kerouac died so long before his city honored him.

F. Scott Fitzgerald was another writer who died young and out of favor and he has a statue in St. Paul. I tend to think of Fitzgerald in Paris or, more sadly, in Hollywood, where he was unable to find copies of his books in print, but I like the idea of a major city paying tribute to a native son.

Nathaniel Hawthorne has a statue, and several sites dedicated to profiting off his memory, plus a hotel named after him in Salem, Mass. I wonder how Hawthorne would feel about the tribute paid to him by a town whose major industry is exploiting the same witch trials he so abhorred.  Still, as with Kerouac and his writings on Lowell, Hawthorne does claim fairly frequent association with Salem and the surrounding area in his work.

While Kareem’s complaint is obviously thin-skinned, there’s something quite nice about a town going out of its way to pay tribute and to make immortal their appreciation for the contributions of some cultural or artistic figure. I wonder now how many other writers or filmmakers or artists have monuments and bronze statues dedicated to them in various towns and cities along the country. I can certainly think of a few who deserve them—most prominently, I believe Saul Bellow deserves something, Bellow who so memorably wrote of Chicago in The Adventures of Augie March and Humboldt’s Gift (and elsewhere). I think Bellow, who did worry over the lasting importance of his works (although his writing is certainly at the very top of our literature), would have greatly appreciated the gesture (or even the gesture of suggesting the gesture).

Who else?

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From his consistently brilliant musical projects like Kill Me Tomorrow, Tender Buttons, and The Dabbers to his boundary pushing periodical, New Dead Families, to his own wonderful and often bizarre (in the best way) writing, Zack Wentz is one of my very favorite people. And I’m very glad and thankful he could take the time to answer some questions regarding the relationship between writing and editing and more.

Q: What was your motivation in starting New Dead Families in relation to your various other artistic projects?

A: That’s a very complicated question, and I hope I don’t bore you in the process of trying to answer it.  I think it’s fairly safe to say that my motivation didn’t directly relate to any of the musical projects I’ve been involved in, although I would like to start running spoken word/music pieces along the lines of certain tracks I did with Kill Me Tomorrow and Tender Buttons (which were science-fiction themed bands).  I create very little visual art these days (and when I do, it literally is “little”), but what I do create I try to push toward something that is science-fictional, you could say, without being illustration work, comics, graphic art, etc.

It really had more to  do with my reading, than anything else. Like many readers, I enjoy work from a broad range of genres, and hope for the best of all worlds.  There is a sort of vague batch of ideal aesthetic models floating around there:  many “if only’s.”  Early on I would be reading, say, Philip K. Dick, and thinking, damn, if only he had had more time to write some of these things, had had a better editor, or maybe just a better ear; then I would be reading, say, Hemingway, and thinking what a fine stylist; if only his imagination had extended beyond himself, his experiences, and stories he had simply heard.  You start to do mash-ups of sorts in your mind.  I’m unloading a bookshelf, and there goes Philip Jose Farmer next to Faulkner, Knut Hamsun next to Heinlein, Henry James next to Shirley Jackson; not that those authors didn’t each already produce a number of perfect, or near perfect, works, but if only you could find some unique ways to blend them together, just for the fun of it, to see what would happen.  I’m not talking about some sort of silly Pride and Prejudice and Zombies publishing stunt; I’m talking about making something truly wonderful, in every sense of the word.

It also has to do with a certain “rebirth” I had as a reader in my early 20’s, which I think was probably quite typical.  As the son of a writer and extreme bibliophile, I gravitated fairly quickly toward what I thought of as fine writing.  I wanted to read (and, hopefully, to write) “the best.” Well, that meant pursuing literature with a capital L, and after spending a fairly massive portion of my adolescence in the bookish dark, I ended up with a good chunk of the classics under my belt, ruined by James Joyce and post-modern theory, with impeccable “taste” and savagely developed critical faculties, but little-to-no capacity left for genuine joy-in-reading/writing.  A kind of depression set in, and a large part of me wished I could somehow cough up that bitter bit of fruit and go skipping back into the Library of Eden.

One day I was at a thrift store, disconsolately pawing through stacks of dusty paperbacks, and I came upon a Dashiell Hammett novel, The Glass Key, saw it was published by Vintage, and thought, what the hell, maybe I’ll read this thing; at least it might be a different flavor of disappointment.  So I began to read, and was thinking, this isn’t too clunky so far. Actually quite smooth.  Hmm.  That was rather well done.  Perhaps this fellow actually knew what he was doing.  Hmm.  Cripes, this is rather addictive.  So on and so forth, and well before the end I am utterly captivated and delighted with this thing, this fine little book, going hot damn, I need to find the rest of this Hammett’s stuff, and see if there’s anyone out there like him.

Ho, ho, ho . . .  Anyone out there like him . . .

At any rate, I quickly expanded my digging into other sections during my bookstore visits, and was researching madly outside of those to find who might be “the best” of all these mysterious genre folks.  I also went back to the genre authors I had read indiscriminately as a child from my father’s massive library: Frank Herbert, Ray Bradbury, Fritz Leiber, A. Merritt, etc., to see how they held up.   Just fine, it turned out.  There was much I had missed in my youthful readings, but the fact was that I had enjoyed them then thoroughly, and again later in many different ways.   That was wonderful.

In taking it all in, I was re-discovering that “fine writing” was not the be-all-end-all.  In fact I found that I could derive more enjoyment and satisfaction at being in the world, and often gain more insight into it, from an original, vividly-imagined fantasy that was quite clumsily written than from a self-consciously crafted, highly compressed literary work that was very clearly created by a person with an advanced humanities degree, thinking through language about living the life of a typically advanced human to that certain, qualified degree.  Beyond that, I was finding writers who had published books with gaudy, unfortunate-looking,floppy covers that actually possessed a greater command of their language than many who had had the luck or connections to end up captured for posterity in more solid, dignified hardcover volumes.  In accidentally chipping a hole through the mighty edifice of my snobbism, I began to see my problem elsewhere.  “Literary”was just another genre, and in many ways a much more limited one than those I had for so long shrugged off, particularly the genre of science fiction.

It doesn’t sound like much of a paradigm shift now, especially to serious literary people who came of age reading David Foster Wallace, George Saunders, Ben Marcus, Haruki Murakami, Mark Z. Danielewski, and others who are very clearly writing “literary” work that is also science fiction, fantasy, horror, noir, what have you, but at the time I became “serious,” everybody was up to some sort of post-beat, Bukarverian, pseudo-autobiographical business, and your level of accomplishment was only indicated by how esoteric and/or involved you could get with your prose.  True literature was about the ego of the author, which was the character(s), story, and everything else.

In other words, we were fucked, but now I feel like we are less fucked.

We seem to be in the middle of something like the late 60’s and 70’s, when magical realism and picaresque black humor fantasies where the hip thing in mainstream fiction, and the new wave was sweeping through SF.  Inevitably, many faddish“moves” became established as a result, enabling innumerable authors to fake their way through it, burning out readers in the process, but overall I found it a more interesting period than the whole menace-of-the-mundane thing that dominated the 80’s and 90’s, and I’m happy to see something like it coming back into vogue.

So here I am, motivated and eager to celebrate the best of the new mutations and hybrids that come my way.

Would you consider NDF a creative outlet?

Fortunately, there’s little in my life that I don’t consider a creative outlet, but then again I just might not really understand what the term means.  Each issue of NDF is a multi-faceted object, to me, and I assemble them with as much care and pleasure as I would anything else.

How does the work you have published and are looking to publish in New Dead Families relate to your own fiction?

Well, I haven’t received anything from anyone that’s at all like my own stuff, or what I’m working on, which is probably a good thing.  I suppose I am trying to stretch open a space that would be ideal for my own ideal work, but the catch there is that I would never publish myself.

Unfortunately for me, I really don’t create “short” things these days, and online still really isn’t the proper place for anything long or large that must be read as a single piece.  Online, however, is where everything is going.  Classically constructed “big novels” will continue to fall out of fashion, not just because of publishers’ un-willingness to risk the expense, or because readers don’t have the time, but because newer authors will continue to think and write in terms of more fragmented, ever-shrinking structural elements, due to very recent developments in communications technology.  It can’t be helped.  Compression is taking place across the idiomatic board, on all levels.  Not to say this is a “bad” thing, but it is a reality.

It has made me more aware of what I’m doing and want to do with my own fiction, but mostly in terms of cultural contexts and contours.  As far as NDF goes, I cope/compromise by regularly publishing “self-contained” portions of larger works.

Could you talk a little about your approach when working with contributors?

Once I’ve decided to accept a piece, and gotten back to its creator, I’ve usually already started going through it for mistakes and rough patches. I’ll generally print up a copy to read over several times, red-pen it,then add those marks as comments to a Word document, send it to the author, and back and forth it goes until we have the finished piece.  Sometimes there isn’t much to tinker with, sometimes there’s a great deal.  It can be slow, and occasionally my suggestions will involve a fair bit of re-writing, but I do, ultimately, really see things from the author’s perspective, and simply want the most effective version of the work to appear.

Have your experiences as a writer shaped this approach in any way?

Of course.  I am trying to be my own ideal reader and editor.  I am certainly not ideal in those capacities for all writers, but it is the most sincere approach I can muster: following the golden rule to the best of my abilities.

Has editing other writers helped or impacted your own writing?

Much less than I imagined.  I’ve always been fairly available as a reader and editor, just not to this degree, and, of course, not with total strangers.  It has helped me to become more sympathetic to other editors, and the people who keep these sorts of venues running.  It has certainly taken away a bit of the time I have available for my own writing, but I knew that would be the case going into it, and still felt the whole endeavor was worth pursuing.  I still do.

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Here’s how it is: I’m going balls out and offering an open round of applause here at Plumb for our curator Charles White for receiving a fat cash writer’s grant from the North Carolina Arts Council for his prose work this past week.  That’s how I’m rolling today.  Dig it.

So give it up people.

I can’t hear you.

That’s better.

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Prize Winners is a take on human behavior and what we spend a good portion of our lives doing, everything from inexplicably idolizing celebrities to nursing an addiction to obsessing over intimacy issues to having and/or thinking about sex, sex, and more sex.

There were tender moments that hit hard, moments strategically masked with contemporary voice in pieces like Motherhood. Take this excerpt: “Girls in porn have never been mothers. Molly knows this. They haven’t felt the pain of pushing eight and a half pound miniature humans into the world through their vaginas, or had their nipples bitten and sucked raw by thirsty infants. This is what Molly tells her husband, Bill after she checks the history on their internet browser and finds he’s been looking at sites like milfbang.com or wankstop.com. Sure, the sex has been closer to unusual than infrequent, but shouldn’t Bill be happy he’s getting any?”

And there were stories about damaged relationships intermittently interrupted with a sex scene or two: “It’s been a month since we lost the baby and we’ve been fucking like a tornado ever since. I slam into her like I’m trying to punish her uterus, and she clinches tight around me like she wants to be torn in two. People say there’s a first time for everything. When we got pregnant my father told me marriage was a lifetime of firsts. But sometimes you have to test the mattress a thousand times to make sure it’s right. Sometimes you have to act like every moment is the goddamned last.”

Many stories focused on people with OCD-like compulsions or character flaws fueled by some subconscious desire or internal void. The protagonist in A Culture of Bacteria was driven to madness because he found his girlfriend’s huge dildo. Then there was relationship drama induced by petty arguments like the lack of gifts in funny-because-it’s-true observation, “So I go through the perfumes at Macy’s, Mervyn’s, and every other store in the mall. The bottle is nearly thirty bucks. For two ounces. I think about all the shots of Jack Daniels I could be doing for thirty dollars. The lap dances I could get when my boys and I go out after work. But I want to make Beth happy, so I buy the perfume.”

Sometimes it’s hard to absorb the constant mention of bodily things like periods, semen, boners, and it seemed like someone was always naked, having sex, jerking off, getting sucked off, spanking or fantasizing about being spanked. Occasionally, stories crossed into the bizzaro: “Once, when I fucked Tinkerbell, thirty glowing lights sprang to life in the dark static air of the by-the-hour motel room.”

I’ve read a good portion of Bradley’s published and unpublished material, and Prize Winners may not necessarily represent his finest work, though I do look forward to what he has in the wings with Black Coffee Press, Artistically Declined Press, and his design ventures.

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More than just about anybody, it was Blake Butler who inspired me to reach out toward a larger literary community  with his blog posts, his journals, his books and stories. So, I am particularly thankful that Blake took the time to chat with me about his role as a writer, editor, and publisher.

Q: A few years ago you wrote a blog post on the idea of literary citizenship. I’ve always found it an eye-opening and inspiring post–in part because for a long while I believed that a serious writer or artist should focus entirely on creating art–somewhat out of fear of being distracted or writing for the wrong reasons and somewhat because for me writing was always something done behind closed doors and when my parents weren’t looking. Was this idea of being a literary citizen natural for you? Has being an active part of a larger group of writers influenced your writing and your idea of being a writer?

A: I don’t know about being a literary citizen, but the idea of being open to ideas and motions and building off of other people in not a creative way but an energy kind of way came naturally, I think. Primarily because of it being online, and that you could do it from home on your ass, which is conductive to me because I’m bad at being motivated physically to correspond as often, particularly about books. The main value the internet has for me is this way of being able to connect with people who like the same shit you do, so why not use it and build a kind quasi-structure in this way, like the way one would in a quest videogame. If anything, it’s a wish to destroy the ego that has often surrounded literature and made it seem like a classroom rather than the yard around the school.

One thing I’m particularly interested in and impressed by is that all of your output–from journals you edit and publish to fiction to non-fiction to things like tweets–seems to share a remarkable consistent and distinctively “Blake Butler” voice. Do you have a particular voice or tone you are looking for when you begin a journal or edit an issue? Or are you just accepting work you like or soliciting writers you enjoy?

As an editor I think the common element of what I want is that it be raw: that is, not sloppy necessarily (though sloppiness can be used effectively at times), but more so a concision of vision and power that kind of ignores why it’s being made or what is being made and instead is the thing itself. A lack of formality, maybe, though as well a formal tone can be used in the manner I most like. Something that burns, perhaps, or operates out of a destructive center, where destructive can also mean becoming larger than the thing itself. I like to not fully understand, and I like things that feel full already: if I have to make suggestions or edits or something, I’m less interested, even if the edits are copy-based: I like typos and weirdism and mess ups when they contribute to that center. It should almost be as if the thing were published before it were even written.

Do you have any concerns about opening things up too much? Maybe not for you, anymore, but for younger writers or writers who are working their way up. I mean, there are benefits to being obstructed, right? To having an authority at the front of the room saying “this is how you should do things”?

Yeah I mean it’s easy, particularly online, to come off sounding like a snot no matter what you say. I think particularly early on in typing into these places I would just blather off at the head however it came on, and even if I thought I meant it at the time, and even if I meant it all with the implied “no one really knows anything about anything I’m just a fuck,” it definitely can end up blowing up in your face or seeming like too much. No tone online means people will often assume the worst about you as a person, and I guess I’ve made splashy sounds that made others think I’m some kind of Mussolini in my mind when really I think everyone is the same person. So, the longer I’ve been around it, the more careful maybe I’ve become about knowing when is the right time to spout off, and when to just keep it to myself, or to return to the truest thing for me, which is just sitting quietly and listening and doing what you need to do in silence.

I can certainly see that as a common thread in your work and in the work you publish–and it was certainly something I found particularly compelling when I discovered it.  I wonder where that moment of perception happens that there is a beauty in mistakes and weirdisms. After all, as writers we spend so much time learning how to polish and being told to polish and reading the most polished type of writing.

Did this interest in and openness to ‘raw’ writing come from editing or was it something formed out of your own work or maybe another medium?

I guess it came from having had a certain kind of excited feeling about creation when I first sat down at the machine for years, and writing basically alone without these online forums much and just banging the buttons and working in a kind of nowhere of my mind. When I went to MFA school, and the more I was around the mind of a certain kind of literary journal culture, which I became obsessed with, I went through a phase of trying to ‘act like a real boy’ or something, to try to clean away what now I think of as my best strengths because they didn’t seem to fit this idea of what things are supposed to be, based on this very specific sect. And as the online world took off more and I started doing my own journals and finding more in my own original spirit of doing it for yourself and letting things fall where they lay, and just feeling way more at home and open and free in the original spirit of working in my own mind but now paired with this kind of open void spirit place where things both had no stakes and therefore had a totally different kind of brain to it, which thereby at the same time ended up turning me further inward, in my own work, and further outward, in the approach and in the milk of other people. So it was kind of just an inherent, fleshy reaction, like when one contracts a terminal disease, in this case one where the symptoms require, in my body, prolonged periods of sitting and staring into a light, and eruptions of control in the lymph and fingers.

Where is American literature going at this point, as an industry and as an art? Where do you see the future and what should our goals as writers, editors, and publishers be?

I have no idea where it’s going. I don’t see the future. I see a hole. Our goals should be to break shit without moving.

I think you’d run an interesting press. Have you ever put any thought into starting a press of your own and publishing books? And, building off of that, have you ever thought about publishing your own work?

Shane Jones and I put a book out together last year. Kristina Born’s One Hour of Television. (http://www.laminationcolony.com/LIQUIDATOR/born_ex.html). If I had more energy I’d do it again. It’s a good feeling. I don’t know what I’m doing with my mind anymore. I’ll probably end up publishing my own stuff one day, sure. I have a couple novels on my hard drive that wouldn’t probably come out any other way, but I’ll more likely just let them sit there and remain published only among the community of their peers: the jpegs and the spam. Every day I say things out loud I might do to see how it feels to say them. I do like 1 out 1,000. The one that is most inside the hole.

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Knuckleheads

Jeff Kass comes out of the gates hard in his debut story collection, Knuckleheads. I asked him some knuckleheaded questions and this is what came of it:

CDW:  Your stories are charged with a violent, contemporary realism. How do you see this as fitting in with the writing that’s being done by your peers today?

JK:     There are a number of writers of stories who are writing similar worlds to the ones I write. I look at Junot Diaz, Lewis Robinson, Michael Delp and Ben Percy in terms of short stories, and a novelist like Adam Mansbach. I also think writers generally associated with crime or detective fiction like Dennis Lehane and Richard Price are trafficking in similar neighborhoods. All of us on some level are exploring how men encounter violence in their lives and how they respond to a situation that could potentially turn violent – will they react quickly and throw a punch? Will they get punched? Will they look for some other resolution or just try to avoid such situations? Do they lust for them? Dream of them? Do different circumstances call for different responses?
I suspect one thing I’m concerned with which these other writers are concerned with is that acts of violence don’t necessarily define a character completely. They can reveal something, but they’re not the whole story.
CDW:  What’s the difference between a guy and a man?
JK:   Labels are interesting – guy, man, dude, knucklehead, douchebag – what are the subtle shadings of difference between terms? A knucklehead, for instance, I think has less cruelty about him, a douchebag something more petty, a streak of meanness. A guy seems more anonymous to me than a man. He’s a back-up singer, a henchman, a third wheel. A man’s out front, screwing up or doing the right thing, but making some kind of attempt to control his destiny, whether misguided or not.
CDW:   Does redemption matter in the short story form?
JK:   Redemption matters in all forms. Even poems. Not every character needs to be redeemed, of course, and some stories are better left in the midst of the struggle, or somewhere headed along the way either toward redemption or away from it, but, absolutely, can redemption can matter if it’s an important part of any particular story, regardless of length.
CDW:   What’s your favorite beer and why?
JK:  My taste for beers runs to simple and mid-priced. I like a good Heineken, a Molson’s. Temperature to me is often more important than anything else. I’ll drink a Keystone as long as it’s cold enough.
CDW:   What makes for good fiction?
JK:   I like a story to transport me out of my own life for the time I devote to it. If I feel like I’ve been taken on a journey and buffeted along to the point where I forget my present surroundings, that’s probably a pretty good story. I like character-driven narratives with narrators that have compelling voices. I like a little snark, but not too much. I’m not terribly interested in stories where the point seems to be, oh, well, life is meaningless, stuff happens that we can’t control. I don’t need a writer to find meaninglessness for me. I need writers to find meaning. I get bored when writers make pets important characters in stories. I like to read about struggle, psychological and physical, but I get frustrated if struggles are presented and never confronted.
CDW: cigar or pipe?
JK:  Pipe.
CDW:  Describe what would happen after you sat down to a steak dinner with Ernest Hemingway.
JK:    We’d probably talk sports. He’d want to compare everything to bull-fighting. I’d want to compare everything to wrestling. We’d both be wondering who could bench-press more weight. The answer is that I could. I’d ask him about lakes and rivers in Northern Michigan. I’d pretend to know more about fishing than I actually do. I’d tell him how I saw a lion once in Kenya in the wild and how it moved with a a confidence no human being can possess. I’d tell him how I don’t stand up to my principal as much as I should at staff meetings, how I feel like a fucking coward walking out of those meetings. We’d talk about writing. I’d ask him what he thought was the best way to test the character of a character. He’d look at me as if that were a really stupid question. I’d ask him if he’d look at my novel manuscript. He’d say, sure. I’d send it to him. He’d never look at it.

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Fireside Chat with Cynthia Reeser

Today I continue my ongoing series of conversations regarding the relationship between writing and editing by chatting with Cynthia Reeser. As you likely already know, along with her duties here at Plumb, Cynthia is the Editor-in-Chief and founder of  the always wonderful Prick of the Spindle as well as the Publisher of Aqueous Books.

Q: Which came first–the desire to write or the desire to edit/publish other writers’ work? Did one emerge out of the other–are they born of similar impulses?

A: The desire to write came for me at an earlier age, but then as I started reading more widely, especially the classics for some reason, I realized I wanted to do both. Going into publishing was underscored, for me, more by an appreciation for books on a creative level; it came from an appreciation for design.

In what ways has working with other writers impacted your own work?

Editing other writers’ work has impacted my own in all the expected ways–developing over time a keener eye for pre-writing, for extraneous material, flimsy characterization, weak plot and language, and so on–but it’s also been a great opportunity tosee what other writers are doing. I’m interested in trends in literature over time (long periods of time), especially regarding interpretation and theory. I write a lot of reviews, so in a way, reading others’ work, large quantities of it, on a regular basis hones a sense of interpretation, largely because of the way I read, I suppose.

Between the time and mental energy is there any conflict in your many and various roles as a literary figure? Resentment?

I think everything I do is really woven into everything else pretty inextricably. Writing, editing, publishing, design work, web design, book layouts and design, and even my own artwork–they’re all connected. I see all of these things as equally balanced in technical and creative aspects, too. I always wish there was more time for everything, but I’m a big proponent of time management. The way I see it, I won’t be around forever, so I might as well make the most of every minute. I don’t watch TV, and every minute of my day is purposeful. Technically, I shouldn’t still be around, and that’s made me really appreciate the time I do have, which is a gift. Resentment doesn’t play a part in my life; it is just a form of negative energy and basically, it’s a time waster.

How does being a writer shape your views as an editor and publisher? 

Being a writer who edits and publishes is a definite advantage. Unlike editors and publishers who aren’t writers, I’m not looking at every manuscript as just a business decision. It’s also a creative decision, and because I appreciate the creative potential, and if I believe in it, I’m not afraid to take a risk on it. There’s nothing to lose, and everything to gain: the writer gets his or her work published by someone who believes in that work and whether it sells 50 copies or 5,000 (or more) doesn’t matter in the end.

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I love origin stories. It doesn’t matter in what form. Comic book heroes, scientists, the construction of the Panama Canal, the first shot fired during any war on any continent. There’s something about how a person or event first became inspired or first began that captivates me. I’ve never turned this inward and thought of how I decided to eventually spend my free time telling myself stories at a typewriter or computer.

The reasons are simple on the surface. Mostly because it was painful and confusing to consider. Of course I, like any writer or anyone who creates or strives for anything, can pinpoint the moment. I can pinpoint the actual minute, the very second to be exact. But it’s not one of those stories you talk about over dinner. So I’ve tucked it away for years.

I dislike utilizing the personal narrative form, though I greatly enjoy reading others who do it well. I don’t trust it, and the practice seems self-indulgent, but I’m setting that aside to tell you about the evening I was forced to throw my books away twenty-three years ago.

Between 1985 and 1987 I read a set of books I still hold collectively as my favorite books of all time. The set was called Childhoods of Famous Americans Series. Juvenile biographies of various people throughout history – Luther Burbank, Crispus Attucks, Knute Rockne, Eli Whitney, and so on. More than one hundred books. When I finished these I felt empty, as if a good friend had just told me he needed to be going, that he had to work tomorrow and it was getting late.

My father, a lifelong reader, thinker and eccentric, suggested I read “grownup” books once I had finished my beloved Famous Americans. He said Stephen King might be a good start and gave me a copy of Christine. Like many others, I became an avid fan. Over the next year I saved my dollar-a-day candy store allowance and bought what was available of King’s work, one book about every two weeks or so. Dad provided me with a bookshelf and my library was underway.

Reading, as it will, led to writing. My stories then were horror stories. Killer plants, haunted airplanes, and one story about a boy killed by a snowman. The story ends after a evening-long search for the missing boy turns up nothing and the next morning the snowman he had been building in the yard has melted revealing the boy who had been trapped inside and froze to death.

Go ahead and laugh. Of course I understand.

But my father did not laugh.

Unlike my prior stories, he gave no feedback or encouragement. He simply ordered me to take my books from the shelf and throw them away, specifically in a nearby creek that ran lively along the edge of the house. I pleaded. I cried. I finally begged. And when I saw it was going to do no good, I made one last request. I asked that he allow me to give the books to my cousin instead of throwing them away. The request was denied and he watched while I carefully placed the books into a garbage bag and followed me as I went to the creek bank.

It was dark and cold. I remember those moments at the creek dipping my hand again and again into the garbage bag with my basic senses. Dark, cold, numb, silent. I had moved a grown man to such emotion he felt it necessary to have me throw away my books. Me, a kid, having this power over a grown man, my father. And how? With words. Writing words on paper.

He had created a monster and a warlord and a rebel and a writer, and he had forged it from anger brought on by fear. I felt untouchable.

As you can imagine, the episode made me more determined. I wrote and wrote and continued to read. If my father had left me alone I may have well moved on to some other interest. I thanked him years later for forcing me to destroy my books. He thought I was being spiteful and mean. He misunderstood. I was and still am truly grateful.

Words on paper. Magic, real magic. My formative years, my origin story, my place of birth was along that creek bank in Pike County, Kentucky, watching a swollen paperback copy of Skeleton Crew dip under the water, drowning at my hands. In many ways I’m still there now, full of anger and determination. In many ways we’re all there.

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Lauryn’s got pizzazz that many would covet. She’s a talented young writer and editor with pixie-good looks and an incomparable sexy voice. She is a literary princess with the brains and intellect of a Columbia College Chicago graduate in Fiction Writing. Her writing has appeared in Dogzplot Magazine, Bartleby Snopes, Knee-Jerk Magazine, and Curbside Splendor. Not only is she an assistant editor and regular contributor at Barrelhouse Magazine and Literary Chicago, but she regularly hosts all-night dance parties in her kitchen. Recently, she debuted a chapbook called The Beauties, an artistic venture of hers that crosses fiction with imaginative design. Today, I sit down with Lauryn to chat about writing, The Beauties, and other things like beer bongs.

Lauryn, your writing has been described as “dark” or “sinister” by some. I am also referencing your opening lines, “Mrs. Waite’s face appeared in the wash bucket and told me to hide from my father. The ripples of his monstrous butcher’s apron swirling around my chapped fingers in the cold, greasy water arranged themselves into the almond shape of her eyes, her gaping mouth and its message: Your father is coming to kill you, Opal. Hide! Hide!” which to me, seems quite the opposite of what we’d expect from something titled The Beauties. Where does your literary inspiration come from?

Beauties is a direct reference to the family in the story; Jerry, Opal, Fern, and Enid Beauty. It’s also meant to be a counterpoint to the story, an ironic twist in a way. Each of the Beauty women grapples with what some might consider a physical mutation, or anomaly. But it’s the way they pull through it, strive to overcome these challenges, which makes them true beauties.

One of the characters, Fern Beauty, is very lost to herself and others, she has a beauty which she refuses to recognize, but which the audience can see.

I’ve also heard that the cover art really throws people for a loop. The art on each book cover is unique, no two the same. They’re very vibrant, glittery, sequined even. I can’t say that my choice to make the covers this way was meant to intentionally throw readers off course, but I do like the thought of making the book truly something one can’t judge by its cover.

What is the writing process like for you? Do you start with bits of a concept and let it grow, or do you hash out an ending and write toward the beginning? Lay it out for us.

I’m often struck by a tiny fragment of story or a flash of a scene, something I just can’t shake, which is eventually how I realize I’m supposed to write it down and expand upon it. I get a ton of ideas from my dreams. If I could make a living out of dreaming, I’d be a wealthy woman. It’s strange because I actually have a hard time surrendering to sleep, it feels like such a waste of valuable time. If it weren’t for dreaming, I’d never sleep.

I’ve read of and talked with writers who plot out their story endings and work backwards; Amy Hempel (one of my favorites) does this, I hear. For me, so much of what’s fun about writing is being lead down the strange, winding path toward discovery. If I knew the ending before I’d arrived, I don’t think I’d bother making the trip.

You’ve studied fiction writing at Columbia College Chicago, and have immersed yourself in the literary works of many contemporary writers. What is your favorite style of writing out there today?

Oh, gosh, this is a toughie. The style I favor–tight, vibrant, quirky–is not exclusive to contemporary writers, though I do think writers of our time often do a better job of it, perhaps because we’ve gotten very good at being economical in our writing as well as our processes.

This has a lot to do with how much there is to do in a day and how inundated we are with the technology that’s supposedly helping us to simplify our lives. There’s just not time enough for most of us to dedicate twelve hours a day to our craft, to crank out these epic, massive tomes. Okay, maybe superstars like King and Franzen, but those are freaky exceptions.

I love writing in which emotion and gesture and human nuance are distilled and brought to the forefront, which can often be accomplished in beautifully stunning and subtle ways. I’m thinking of Ann Michaels’, Fugitive Pieces, but also the short stories of Colette, Andre Dubus, Raymond Carver, John Cheever, Miranda July and Aimee Bender. I love writing that’s not afraid to get awkward and messy. Life is awkward and messy. I love stories that look to the tiny things to explain the huge things and vice versa.

Quick, without putting too much thought into it: what are a few of your guilty pleasures? Are you a closet Intervention fan?

Haha! No, though for a while I was watching Deadliest Catch with a religious fervor that was starting to worry my family. I love to cook and bake, which I’m only considering a “guilty” pleasure because I sometimes use it as an excuse to avoid writing. Bacon is guilty pleasure number one. I put bacon in everything. I love bacon so, so much. Also, I check Missed Connections on Craigslist a dozen times a day. It’s so interesting to me, the things people will confess under the protection of anonymity.

Pull out your iTunes/iPod, or other non-commercialized medium for playing music. What are the top five bands or music artists wearing out your stereo speakers?

I listen to Van Morrison’s Astral Weeks album an inordinate amount. I don’t know why, exactly. Something about it connects me with my childhood, and the violins just break my heart, they’re so beautiful. I can also easily visualize the stories he’s telling, and see the way he’ s moving his listeners through each season. It’s old fashioned, but I really love it. On the exact opposite end of the spectrum, I really love Jay-Z. He’s just so cocky, so, “how you like me now?” Another standby is Otis Redding, whose music just melts something inside of me. Obi Best, whose songs remind me of myself and the way I write. And Joe Tex. Find “The Love You Save” and make it a part of you. That song has transformational properties.

Who would you most like to sit and have a cup of coffee with, and why?

My great grandmother on my dad’s side. She was fiercely independent at a time when women’s independence was extremely unfashionable. She earned a law degree and concurrently, was also the first woman in Illinois to divorce her husband. My mom tells this story a lot: when I was just a few months old she used to go over and spend time with my great grandmother who lived alone in a rambling house near the river. My parents had absolutely no money at the time, still both really young and in over their heads. When my mother hinted at how dire things were getting, my great grandmother patted her on the hand and said something along the lines of, “don’ t worry dear, I’ll see that you pull through okay.” My mom went home and later that afternoon, a man came to the door with a gigantic black wool rug. It was from my great grandmother. Apparently, a gigantic black wool rug was her solution to my parent’s money troubles. I’d just really like to meet any woman who thinks in such a way. I’d have a few questions to ask her, for sure.

Who would you most like to sit and have a beer and/or beer bong with, and why?

Living? Sugar, who writes the Ask Sugar advice column for The Rumpus. Mainly, because I need a lot of advice and she’s got a way of delivering it that just flays open the soul to let the truth pour in faster.

Dead? Anais Nin. My favorite quote of hers: “Good things happen to those who hustle.” I can relate to that so much right now. Also, I suspect she’d drink me under the table and then chide me for not being more tough. I could use a little more of that, every once in awhile.

If you had to pitch The Beauties in one sentence, what would it be?

Ultimately, The Beauties is a study of secrecy and the magnificent power one can achieve by breaking rank and rejecting shame for truth and sincerity.

The life of an indie writer is challenging. What advice and strategies do you have for writers entering the market today, especially in an economy like this?

First: stop strategizing so much. If you’re calling yourself a writer, then your first responsibility is to your writing. If you came to writing nurturing the belief that it might make you wealthy, I’m so sorry; you’ve been horribly misled. Either toss that out and keep going, or choose another profession. This has to be a love-before-money life choice, because if the love’s not there, the money’s never coming. Marketing is the cart and writing is the horse. Just write. Write at the absolute top of your ability. Write what you’re afraid to write and what others are afraid you might write. Become so incredibly incredible at what you’re writing that when the time does come to think about marketing, you are ready to step into it and be successful. Success can be scary, especially for writers whose day-to-day professional lives are so often defined by rejection. Practice crafting for so long and so hard that success can’t help but find you, and so that you can feel deserving of it when it does.

Get creative! Text is everywhere, stories can be everywhere too! There’s no law stipulating that stories must be read in books, or in Nooks, or on stages. If you want people to read your stories, if that’s really the most important part, leave them lying around.

Get up, get out, get away from your desk and meet other writers. Find a solid group to keep you grounded and sane.

What’s next? Where will we see Lauryn Lewis in 3 years?

Hopefully on a beach somewhere. French Polynesia, maybe? But probably I’ll be right here, keeping busy. There’s a little publication buzz around the novel-length version of The Beauties. I’m not going to say more than that because I’m incredibly superstitious, but I hope to have it out for the world to read and bashing out my next big idea by then. Even though it can be stressful at times, I love doing this so much. So if I’m right here on a different day with a different project on my plate, I’ll be a very grateful girl, indeed.

I thank Lauryn for taking the time to chat with me. Without a doubt, she has a cutting edge niche advantage on the market with her darkly unique anthology. Below is an excerpt of The Beauties available for purchase at LaurynAllisonLewis.com

    And then.
    And then.
     Fern is falling away. Out into blinding blue light and beyond the reaches of her farthest vision. And something massive cups her body, so that she does not fear the falling. She sees stars. Fern is a star, shooting. She is a hot bullet, shot from a cold gun. And she is power. And she is free. She has time enough to think that this is what the button does, causes her to feel this way; whole and perfect and safe. And she thinks that now that she knows this, there is nothing to fear, and she will go home and hug Enid. And she will show Enid the button. And that will make everything right. And that will explain so much. It is not death like she’d expected. There is time enough for her to wonder how one minute she was standing in front of a train, and now she is floating out toward the home where she grew up, out toward Country Road K, and the mock blackberries growing alongside it, and how they are just darkening and perfect for jam. There is a pop of white light, like from an old fashioned flashbulb, and it rocks Fern’s teeth loose, and she feels them sliding around in her mouth, and the feeling is joy, and loose limbs, and wings for arms. She is winging her way out over the elms and then she is gone. Just like that. 

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James Tadd Adcox always strikes me as an artist willing to bust down convention, to experiment, to try something new and push possiblities beyond what would obviously be possible. He has consistently shown this willingness with Artifice Magazine, where he is Editor-in-Chief, in his own fiction, and in his various side projects, one of which involved trading identities with me for a month. 

My thanks to Mr. Adcox for sitting down and chatting with me about the relationship between all these different sides of creativity and artifice.

Q: I’ve always been impressed with Artifice’s creativity–the concept itself, promotions, tours etc–I’ve always thought there was a distinct divide between mindsets when writing literature and publishing of literature but Artifice seems to blur these lines. To what extent is this intentional?

A: From the beginning we’ve thought of Artifice as making an argument–basically, when we put all these different things in an issue we’re saying that they belong together, that in some sense they’re all doing the same thing, albeit in wildly different ways.

Given that we’re interested, among other things, in art as remixing, yeah, I would say that editing is ultimately a kind of writing: a remix or mixtape of other writers work (many, or, depending on how you look at it, all of whom are remixing still other writers). When we put together an issue of Artifice, we’re creating a larger work that ought to function as a whole.

I think if we’re successful, we put together a magazine that a casual reader can pick up, read pieces here and there, and enjoy; but at the same time, if someone wants to start looking for connections between pieces, the overall formal structure, occasional editorial winks, things like that, well, those things are there too.

Has editing (and editing Artifice in particular) affected your own work in any way?

Definitely. I’ve met, electronically and, often as not, in person, a lot of people whose writing I admire, and meeting and talking with writers you like is going to affect your own work, naturally. I’d say too, though, that the process of having to make hundreds of aesthetic decisions each month–This piece? Well, what’s it doing? What about this one?–refines your own ideas about what’s worth doing. In that sense I’d say that, as an editor, I get as much out of pieces that I think fail in some way as I do from the pieces that we accept. And then there are occasionally pieces that spark ideas of your own–like, “Huh, it would be a totally different piece if it did this instead of that…”

What role does audience play with Artifice versus your personal sense of aesthetics?

I’m not sure about the “audience” part of this question, to be honest. I like to think that an issue of Artifice, if we’re doing things right, should be pretty interesting/fun/enjoyable to read, front to back. But we’d rather put together a magazine that we think is great, than one aimed at a specific audience.

One thing that I’ve been fairly pleased about is how often stories or poems that I’d consider pretty far outside conventional narrative or lyric work–pieces like Cynthia Reeser’s “Story (Prepackaged): Designed for Easy Disassembly and Transport,” which was sort of a graphic map of a variety of possible stories; or Matt Bell’s “In More Practical Terms,” which was a story in the form of a news ticker that stretched along the bottom of the entire issue–seem to appeal to readers who aren’t at all familiar with so-called experimental work.

My own aesthetics are similar but not exactly the same as those of the magazine. Of the three editors on staff, I’m probably the most interested in a sort of pure formalism, constraint-based writing, things like that; Rebekah is generally more interested in fabulism, strangeness in terms of content but with more straightforward narration; and Ian seems to skew a little more in a conceptualist direction, maybe. The overall aesthetics of the magazine sort of emerge from the arguments we have, among these. We don’t vote on pieces. We argue. Best argument for why something should or shouldn’t go in, wins.

Is there any conflict between James Tadd Adcox the writer and James Tadd Adcox the editor for Artifice?

Nah. We’ve talked things through, me and him. We’re cool.

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