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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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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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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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