Titillating ~ Remembering Edward Gorey with Todd Summar and Kenneth Gerleve

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“To take my work seriously would be the height of folly,” Edward Gorey once said. And yet, we do take it seriously. Gorey’s drawings and writing—sometimes creepy, sometimes silly, sometimes moving, and always skillful and clever—have inspired and delighted readers, writers, and artists for generations.

Among these Gorey aficionados are Chicago writer Todd Summar and Chicago artist and storyteller Kenneth Gerleve. In honor and celebration of the work of Edward Gorey, this talented duo have launched the journal Goreyesque, and are mounting a related exhibition this month at LUMA, Loyola University Museum of Art. Recently, I had the opportunity to speak with Todd and Kenneth about both of these endeavors. Todd Summar

PMc: Todd, tell us about the project:

Todd: Goreyesque is an online literary journal featuring work inspired by the spirit and aesthetic of Edward Gorey. It was originally created to provide a forum for work that celebrates Gorey’s influence across all genres, featuring up-and-coming artists and writers alongside seasoned professionals. The spark of the idea was triggered by the Chicago debut of Gorey’s work at the Loyola University Museum of Art (LUMA). Elegant Enigmas: The Art of Edward Gorey and G is for Gorey C is for Chicago (a companion exhibition from the Thomas Michalak Collection) are on display until June 15, 2014. My partner Kenneth Gerleve is a visual artist and storyteller, and was asked by LUMA to design an installation that would appear in conjunction with the Gorey exhibition. Ken’s Summerland: A Ghost Story is a sixteen panel narrative installation that combines image and story in a fashion similar to Gorey’s famous picture books.

That project led to the conception of an anthology of work that would combine fiction with illustration and other forms of art in an ongoing literary journal style format. Sam Weller (co-editor of Shadow Show: All New Stories in Celebration of Ray Bradbury) was an early supporter, and helped us establish a partnership between the Department of Creative Writing at Columbia College Chicago and LUMA. I joined forces with editors Howard Simmons, Corey Klinzing, and Jess Millman, and soon after, Goreyesque released its first issue in February, its second in March, and will release issue three on April 25, 2014 in advance of our public reading event to be held at LUMA on April 29. Established authors such as Joe Meno, Weller, and Adam McOmber will read their Goreyesque work, alongside writers specially selected by judges Weller and Mort Castle. After April, we will release issues on a quarterly basis. We have featured work from writers and artists from around the world, and continue to accept Summerland_Installation_600x900_Finalsubmissions on an ongoing basis.

PMc: Why did you choose Edward Gorey? 

Todd: Edward Gorey’s dry wit and darkly humorous style has inspired authors, filmmakers, and artists, such as Neil Gaiman, Tim Burton, and Lemony Snicket, for decades. His appeal spans genres and disciplines and is the perfect avenue for artists of all varieties to converge. Beyond that, Gorey’s sensibility lives on, and still feels fresh, after nearly 60 years of existing in the public consciousness. Work as recent as Wes Anderson’s latest film The Grand Budapest Hotel draws heavily upon the tone and style for which Gorey is known. When Ken began his work for LUMA, and I spoke to various people about the project, their reactions were overwhelmingly enthusiastic. It was clear that Gorey’s work captivates people’s imaginations, eliciting fond memories of their first exposure to his books, or reminiscence of the opening animated sequence he designed for the PBS Mystery! television show. On the other hand, people who may not have immediately recognized Gorey’s name were familiar with The Gashlycrumb TiniesCautionary Tales for Children, or other signature Gorey works. Before entering the Creative Writing-Fiction MFA program at Columbia, I was a big fan of the tribute Weller and Castle paid to Ray Bradbury with Shadow Show, and I wanted launch a similar project that would showcase work inspired by Gorey. The support the project has gained has been exciting and overwhelming.

PMc: You are a writer of many things yourself, Todd, including fiction of a haunting nature. Does this particular literary interest come in part from your exposure to the work of Edward Gorey? Tell us about your “first time” with Gorey. And Ken, do you have a “first time” story? Was Gorey an influence on your art before this project?

Todd: In my early youth, and in the years that I’ve grown as a writer, I was more influenced by authors and artists whose work actually veered into far darker territory than Gorey’s. But one of the key lessons I learned as I began to appreciate his work more and more, is that in even the most haunting of stories, a humorous or quirky element actually helps to enrich and deepen the material. Gorey’s wit, even when it’s as dark and dry as a bone, allows us to laugh in the face of death, to celebrate the mundane, and to considerate life with a deceptively insightful simplicity. When I find myself getting too morose or too monotone in my fiction, I try to step back and remember the skillful way Gorey managed to balance these light and dark elements in relatively few words and images. I think this is why his influence has endured.

My first memory of his work, like many people, would have to be The Gashlycrumb Tinies. I discovered the alphabetical picture book chronicling children’s deaths when I was grade school age, in the 1980s, right before everything meant for children was sanitized and scrubbed for safety. Back when kids could stumble upon books like Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark by Alvin Schwartz, and its frightening illustrations, and stay up all night, disturbed by their own imaginations. I was captivated by Gorey’s frank, but humorous, depictions of the gruesome deaths of 26 children, describing but never quite showing the final moments. This fascination with the dark side of humanity always existed inside of me, but Gorey’s work helped draw it out.

Illustrations © The Edward Gorey Charitable Trust. All rights reserved.
Illustrations © The Edward Gorey Charitable Trust. All rights reserved.

Ken: When I was nine years old, my family took a vacation to Door County, Wisconsin. We stayed in a cabin on a lake with no television and little else to do. My parents’ concession was a trip to a local bookstore, where I found a copy of a young adult Gothic mystery novel called The Curse of the Blue Figurine by John Bellairs and illustrated by Edward Gorey. Needless to say, I became hooked. For years afterwards, I sought out and devoured copies of Bellairs’ books which were nearly always illustrated by Gorey. I also started to collect the reissued versions of Gorey’s Amphigorey anthologies and his individual books. I was devastated when both men died. When I started writing and illustrating my own stories in high school and college, I was essentially creating Ken portraitpastiches of their work. In a sense, The Osiris Mechanism—and “Summerland” by extension—is an homage to both men. [Editor’s note: The Osiris Mechanism is a larger work in image and text of which “Summerland” is part.]

PMc: In doing this work for Goreyesque, have you discovered anything new about the writer/artist that you didn’t know before?

Todd: I wasn’t always aware of the level of camp that Edward Gorey reveled in. In fact, he famously detested his work being called “macabre,” and instead preferred “titillating.” He enjoyed everything from going to the opera to watching The Golden Girls. There are many videos on YouTube in which he flamboyantly discusses everything from his own career to the prurient details of his favorite soap operas. Fans of his work may not automatically associate him with such wild contradictions, but upon closer examination, this playfulness exists throughout his stories. Besides, someone whose signature outfit once consisted of a floor-length fur coat with sneakers and shorts had to have had a fiendish sense of humor!

PMc: What do you hope his legacy will be, and how do you intend this project to be part of that?

Todd: Gorey’s obituary in the Guardian quoted him as saying: “I see no disparity between my books and everyday life … I write about everyday life.” One could argue that he presented everyday life through a somewhat bizarre and often whimsical lens. For those unfamiliar with Gorey’s work, or only familiar with limited aspects of it, I hope that a project like Goreyesque, and the works on display in the exhibition, will expose them to the vast range and multiple angles of life that Gorey explored throughout his career. He wasn’t just a children’s author, an illustrator of dark subject matter, or a godfather of modern Goth culture. I also hope that Goreyesque provides writers and artists with an enjoyable challenge – a writing or visual prompt, perhaps – that encourages them to approach their work in a new and exciting way and allows them to participate in this celebration of Gorey and to be part of this community of creative thinkers who have benefitted from his legacy for decades. We have already received so many interesting pieces from an amazing pool assortment of talent. I can’t wait to see what else comes our way.

PMc: Anything else you want us to know?

Todd: Though the LUMA show ends in June, Goreyesque will continue indefinitely, becoming a quarterly publication this summer. Our Chicago reading event at LUMA is April 29, 2014 but we are still accepting submissions for future issues. Chicago is certainly our home base, but we accept and encourage work from writers and artists around the world. We are hoping to eventually raise the funds to produce a printed anthology of the best selected works from Goreyesque, but that is a long-term goal and we will keep readers updated on its progress as we move forward.

Illustrations © The Edward Gorey Charitable Trust. All rights reserved.
Illustrations © The Edward Gorey Charitable Trust. All rights reserved.

 

Elegant Enigmas: The Art of Edward Gorey and G is for Gorey C is for Chicago and Kenneth Gerleve’s “Summerland: A Ghost Story” will be on display at LUMA, 820 N. Michigan Avenue, Chicago, IL until June 15, 2014.

A special Goreyesque reading will be held at LUMA on Tuesday, April 29, 2014.

For further information, please go to these websites:

Goreyesquewww.Goreyesque.com

LUMA Gorey exhibitionhttp://luc.edu/gorey/

Kenneth Gerleve’s “Summerland”http://www.luc.edu/luma/exhibitions/summerlandaghoststory.shtml

Goreyesque Reading Eventhttp://www.goreyesque.com/news-and-updates/2014/4/18/goreyesque-reading-event

 

→Thanks, Todd and Ken, for filling us in. And as always, thanks everyone for reading. -PMc←

The Writer’s Handful with Eric Charles May

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Mondays + Writers = Finally something to look forward to.

Happy Monday and Writer’s Handful, all! I don’t know when I have been happier to bring a debut novelist to your attention. Many of you already know ERIC CHARLES MAY and his kickass new novel, BEDROCK FAITH (Akashic Books.) And if you do, you know, too, that there is hardly a nicer or more industrious writer guy around, and that this new book of his is garnering all sorts of acclaim. O Magazine, Ebony, Booklist, Publishers Weekly and a bunch of other folks in the literary know are singing their praises to Bedrock Faith. Dennis Lehane (Dennis Lehane? The Dennis Lehane? Mystic River, Shutter Island Dennis Lehane? Yes, that Dennis Lehane) called the book “A wonderful urban novel full of vitality and pathos and grit. I dug the ever-living hell out of it.” Wow.

Eric and I have been colleagues for many years at Columbia College Chicago as well as Stonecoast Writers Conference and Solstice Writers Conference (back in the day.) Do I have stories I could tell you! But I know it is not my stories you come to this series to find. So I am going to let Eric speak for himself (in a previously captured conversation.) And in case you haven’t yet heard enough from him (and I guarantee, you won’t have) by the end of this brief chat, you can tune in to Chicago’s NPR station, WBEZ (91.5 FM) to hear some more Eric Charles May. Bedrock Faith has been chosen as BEZ’s Afternoon Shift Book of the Month for April. And if you are reading this today, Monday, April 14, 2014, you can even hear it live this afternoon. (Otherwise, it can be heard re-broadcast on-line.)

All right. Enough from me.

Welcome Eric!

Did you write today? If yes, what? If no, why not?

Haven’t written yet today but I plan to later. I’ve been up to my eyeballs with preparations for my book launch party, travels to support the book, interviews, and last but not least, the preparations for and the teaching of my classes. When I get back to my neighborhood this evening I’ll sit down in a coffee shop or at a restaurant bar and write in my journal. I’ve been doing extensive journal writing the last two months on a novel-in-progress that’s two-thirds done. I’ve worked out a slew of plot problems with the journaling.BedrockFaith2-533x800

What’s the first thing (story, poem, song, etc.) you remember writing, and how old were you when you wrote it?

I was maybe seven years old. It was the story of my mother and father, my imagined scenario of how they met and their ages: My dad 22, my mom 21. Actually, my mom was a couple of years older than my dad, a fact that I did not find out until many years later.

What are you reading right now?

In one of my classes I assigned Sister Carrie, which I have read twice before but not for a number of years, so I’m reading it again and thoroughly enjoying Theodore Dreiser. I assigned Far From the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy for another class, which I also haven’t read in a while. I’m giving it another go as well.

What’s the most important advice you ever received? (Writerly or otherwise.)

“Never have sex with anyone who’s crazier than you.” (The “you” in this case being me of course.) I haven’t always followed those cautionary words, but it was very good advice.

If your writing were an animal, what animal would it be? Because…

A walrus. It’s not particularly pretty, but under the right circumstances it can maneuver through waters quite gracefully.

walrus

ERIC CHARLES MAY is an associate professor in the Fiction Writing Program at Columbia College Chicago. A Chicago native and former reporter for the Washington Post, his fiction has appeared in the magazines Fish StoriesF, and Criminal Class. In addition to his Postreporting, his nonfiction has appeared in Sport Literate, the Chicago Tribune, and the personal essay anthology Briefly Knocked Unconscious by a Low-Flying DuckBedrock Faith is his first novel.

→Thanks, dear friend Eric Charles May, for the chat. Happy novel release, happy book club day, and happy belated birthday. Maintain. And thanks to everyone, as always, for reading. – PMc←

The Writer’s Handful with Jeff Jacobson

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Mondays + Writers = Finally something to look forward to.

Jeff Jacobson will make your skin crawl. Really. Well, not Jeff, exactly—because he is one of the nicest guys you’ll ever want to know—Jeffory Jacobson’s writing will make your skin crawl. His work lives in the creepy shadows, he digs into the muddy plots of our nightmares, preys on our irrational (and our rational) fears. And he’s funny.

SLEEP TIGHT. FOODCHAIN. WORMFOOD. The titles of his novels sound almost innocent…His next one, due out in July, is called GROWTH. How scary can that be? Answer: very. And not just scary, but good. Very, very good.

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Welcome Jeff!

Did you write today? If yes, what? If no, why not?

Fuck yes. I’m staring down the barrel of a deadline for my next novel, so whether the writing is good, bad, or ugly, it’s gotta get done. This one is about a small town under siege from a nasty threat slithering out of the cornfields. Basically, I’m exploiting concerns and fears about GMOs and the role food plays in our lives, but of course, as usual, the serious stuff is buried inside a goofy plot about monsters eating people.

What’s the first thing (story, poem, song, etc.) you remember writing, and how old were you when you wrote it?

The first thing longer than a page that I remember creating was a story called “Creature from the Black Swamp” somewhere around the first grade. I think it was essentially a retelling of “The Creature From the Black Lagoon,” where an adventurer/explorer hero goes searching for Bigfoot, and the monster tears the hell out of everything. Clearly, my writing has really evolved since I was a kid. The first time I ever felt a story take off and leave my control was my junior year of high school. A twist came out of nowhere and knocked me sideways and I felt the hair rise on the back of my neck. Later, I discovered that particular twist has been done a million times and it’s a godawful cliché, but at that particular moment, Sleep Tight Coverwhen I didn’t know it was a cliché, man, it fucking ruled. 

What are you reading right now?

I’m rereading A Feast of Snakes, by Harry Crews, to get a feel for how he tackled the POV shifts in a small town. Plus, it’s just flat-out amazing.  Sometimes I’ll read it out loud before I dive into my own stuff and hope that some of it will leap out of the book and into my own voice.  

What’s the most important advice you ever received? (Writerly or otherwise.)

Pretty much every rule I’ve ever read about writing has an exception, so I suppose the simplest advice is the best. I first encountered it from Joe R. Lansdale, but I think he heard it from someone else. Anyway, it wasn’t complicated. “Put your ass in front of a typewriter.” You can argue with just about any “rule” about writing, but you can’t really find a crack in the sentiment that if you want to be writer, you gotta write. The only other “rule” that I try to follow is pretty absolute as well: “If you want to be a good writer, you have to be a good reader.” You could try to argue with that one, but you’d be wrong.

If your writing were an animal, what animal would it be? Because…

God, how I long to say that my writing is like a Great White Shark, because it’s a fast, sleek, killing machine with a mouth full of teeth. But it wouldn’t be honest. I have too much fun pushing things to ridiculous extremes. So I’d have to say that my writing is more like one of those bears that’s been trained to ride around a circus on a tricycle. It’s sort of threatening when they first bring it out, then you get to laugh at the absurd image, and just when you least expect it, the bear lunges into the audience and rips somebody’s face off so they have to shoot it with tranquilizers before it kills anybody else.

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Jeff Jacobson‘s most recent novel, GROWTH, will be released this summer. His short stories have appeared in All American Horror of the 21st Century, Read by Dawn, and the forthcoming Cemetery Dance anthology Shocklines. He teaches Fiction at Columbia College Chicago and lives near the city with his family and far too many animals.

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→Thanks, Jeff, for the chat. Feeling a little afraid of going to sleep tonight now, though. Anyway, thanks everyone, as always, for reading! – PMc←

The Writer’s Handful with Tom Williams

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Mondays + Writers = Finally something to look forward to.

“Part elegy, part master-student story, part road-trip Americana, Williams riffs on the dichotomy between appearance and reality.” That’s how Kirkus Reviews talks about Tom Williams new comedic novel, Don’t Start Me TalkingThe story of Brother Ben, the “only remaining True Delta Bluesman” (Ted Dawson, and anyone else who is enthralled with music and blues culture, get this book!) is one of the latest additions to Curbside Splendor‘s fabulous literary roster. Lucky for us, Tom had a moment to answer some questions here, just as he heads back on the road.

Welcome Tom!

Did you write today? If yes, what? If no, why not?

No, because I’m on an early leg of a book tour and only just got my power cord out of my car, which was parked in the garage next door to the hotel and am still trying to orient myself to Central Time.cover

What’s the first thing (story, poem, song, etc.) you remember writing, and how old were you when you wrote it?

Aside from things I had to do in school, the first thing I remember was in the winter of 1978, which was a pretty bad one in Central Ohio, so bad that my school system could only reliably heat the junior high. Thus, all the kids would come in on one day of the week and get their weekly assignments, then go back home until the next week. I was in sixth grade, so I was eleven. But in addition to all this, my grandmother, who lived a couple hours away in Akron, started sending my sister and me these supplemental things to do to pass the time while we watched the winter take over our lives. And each week she’d ask us to do extra chores and some intellectual and creative exercises and then we’d get twenty bucks if we completed enough tasks. One thing was to write a story. I cheated and wrote a comic book, borrowing characters from Marvel and DC and throwing them into a time-travel/dinosaurs deal, but I remember still the thrill it gave me, and, as Hawthorne said of the “sensible ends of literature”: “the solid cash.”

What are you reading right now?

I’m teaching, so I just finished re-reading Kafka’s “The Metamorphosis,” and was surprised at how much I cannot tire of that. I also just finished Samantha Irby’s Meaty, and it is a real wonder. She’s a label mate at Curbside Splendor, so I’m probably biased. Just as I am with Dave Housley’s Commercial Fiction and Ben Tanzer’s Orphans: both dynamite. But this is a period where the books keep coming and there’s a lot to choose from and, most of all, a lot to be wowed by.

What’s the most important advice you ever received? (Writerly or otherwise.)

Hemingway and Andre Dubus: Stop in the middle of a sentence and come back to it the next day. I have done this for years now and find it to be so useful and practical, yet it verges on the spiritual. Stopping in the middle very nearly makes one commit to completing the next sentence, and it stands to reason that another sentence will follow.

If your writing were an animal, what animal would it be? Because…

A chameleon. Though I just found out that, really, chameleons don’t change color to match their backgrounds, that common misperception is what I want my writing to do: I want it to always take on the characteristics and hue and heft of the story I’m trying to tell, to be so integrated that it’s only in the briefest of moments—and then you’re not even sure—that you see a flash of movement that suggests there’s more to the story than at first appears.

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Tom Williams is the author of the novel, Don’t Start Me Talkin, just released by Curbside Splendor. His first book, The Mimic’s Own Voice, a novella, was published by Main Street Rag Publishing Company. He chairs the English Department at Morehead State University and lives in Kentucky with his wife, Carmen, and their son.

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→Don’t Start Me Talkin’, just released. Thanks, Tom, for talkin’. Thanks, as always, to everyone for reading. -PMc←

The Writer’s Handful with John Mauk

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Mondays + Writers = Finally something to look forward to.

I am so excited to bring this chat with John Mauk to you today. John is one of those remarkable fiction writers, the kind whose work makes your mind spin and dance, makes you ache and rejoice. But don’t take my word for it, preorder his upcoming collection of stories, Field Notes for the Earthbound, forthcoming from Black Lawrence Press. Its release is imminent. Be the first on your block.

Welcome John!

Did you write today? If yes, what? If no, why not?

I wrote a little. I’ll call it polishing–maybe even fussing over a story. Okay, it was fussing. But in defense of fussers and the art of fussery, I think some of my more delicate discoveries come after the tenth, eleventh, or twentieth draft and just before I’m ready to send a story out. When I commit to submitting, that’s when my radar goes way up, when I detect those last few phrases that seem flat or familiar or simply out of tune with the story. In short, I did write today, but no worlds, humans, situations, or scenes were invented. A couple movements or descriptions got a bit more oomph, maybe more vitality or breath.

What’s the first thing (story, poem, song, etc.) you remember writing, and how old were you when you wrote it?

The first creative thing I wrote and made public was a poem about autumn. I drew orange leaves drifting around and down the page. And I remember a line about a single leaf–dying alone, broken free from the others. Funny. I was in the 6th grade. We’d been reading Poe. Poe!!! My God. If I ever say anything crabby about public education, someone remind me that middle school teachers had us reading Poe and I’ll shut the heck up. Bravo to them.  

What are you reading right now?

At night, I’m reading some early Marquez stories that I somehow missed along the way. ?!!! Down here in my basement, where I hide out in the evening, I’ve got a Lee K. Abbott collection by the chair. That’s typical a formula for me: a couple different writers for two rooms in the house. Also, I’m generally always reading Foucault. He’s on my coffee table and has been for years. When I don’t read Foucault regularly–even a section or chapter every week or so–I start not-hating the goofy worldview that I’m supposed to inherit and implement as a productive citizen, a sane person, and a teacher of English. Foucault throws me out of the big, safe, cultural boat. Okay. I’ll shut up about that. In short, to the question, I’m currently reading some early Garcia Marquez and some fine Lee K. Abbott stories.

What’s the most important advice you ever received? (Writerly or otherwise.)

That’s hard. Someone recently told me to slow down. Well, it was a sheriff. He was talking about my speed, but he meant it broadly too. I could tell. He was one of those guys. I drove off and thought, yeah, what’s my hurry? IMG_1582 (1)

If your writing were an animal, what animal would it be? Because…

On good days, my writing is a pack of wolves. It eats, rolls in carcasses, picks up foul stenches, and howls into the distance. Ya-freakin-hoo. On bad days, my writing is a singular domestic dog–a schnauzer, I think. It eats brand-name biscuits and growls at children.

wolf call

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John Mauk has a Masters degree in language and literature from the University of Toledo and a PhD in rhetoric from Bowling Green State University. He is a college instructor and an avid student of philosophy. He has a fiction chapbook (The Rest of Us) published by Michigan Writers and a forthcoming collection (Field Notes for the Earthbound) on Black Lawrence Press. He has three college writing textbooks and currently teaches at Miami University of Ohio. For more info, please see: www.johnmauk.com

→Thanks, John, for the chat. Looking forward to Field Notes! And thanks everyone, as always, for reading. -PMc←

The Writer’s Handful with Ben Tanzer

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Mondays + Writers = Finally something to look forward to.

This week marks the launch of Chicago writer Ben Tanzer’s 1,000th book. Okay, not really 1,000th, but this guy is giving Joyce Carol Oates a run for the money in words written and books published. Tanzer fans have waited patiently for Orphans, and now the wait is over. Ben Tanzer and a handful (see what I did there, Ben?) of his writer pals (me included) will celebrate the release of this new Tanzer title this coming Wednesday, November 6, 2013, 7 PM at Chicago’s Beauty Bar. But before that exciting event, you get this.

Welcome Ben!   

Did you write today? If yes, what? If no, why not?

I did not. For a handful of reasons. See what I did there? Sorry. Mainly though I have been on a stretch starting some time in 2012 through this past summer, where I’ve felt incredibly manic, mostly in positive ways, but everything has seemed like an idea for a story or essay, a new book. Every conversation, every interaction with my kids, wife, at work. Every article I’ve been reading. Every fucking thought I’ve been having. And it started to scare me, so I decided that when I finished the things I was working on, I was going to take a break and try to chill out, which I have, and though I’m still thinking about writing all-day, every day, it’s been surprisingly pleasant. Was that too much information?Orphans

What’s the first thing (story, poem, song, etc.) you remember writing, and how old were you when you wrote it?

I never really wrote until I started writing at 30, though I thought about it for years before that. But I did write a story for a required creative writing class my senior year in high school inspired by the song Downbound Train by Bruce Springsteen. Guy loses his job, and his girl, and in my story he kills himself, puts a shotgun in his mouth, but he doesn’t die, it just relieves all of the pressure he’s under. Which seems somewhat telling given the answer to my previous question. Not to mention, that if a student turned in that kind of story today they would be referred for therapy. But I was kind of celebrated for it, which felt good, though it didn’t feel better than the act of writing it, which felt really good, and that feeling lingered for years, and still does now that I actually write, and don’t just think about it.

What are you reading right now?

So many cool things, mostly some wonderful ARCs for books at Curbside Splendor where I oversee Publicity and Content Strategy, including The Old Neighborhood by Bill Hillman, If I Would Leave by Lauren Becker, and Once I Was Cool Megan Stielstra, but also, the already released elsewhere and quite terrific Transubtantiate by Richard Thomas and Understories by Tim Horvath. A lot of goodness really.

What’s the most important advice you ever received? (Writerly or otherwise.)

Moisturize. That or hydrate. Really though it’s a tie, and it’s writerly. One, don’t edit first drafts until you’re done with the first draft, and two, don’t linger on rejections, send the work right back out to someone else who will love it like you do.

If your writing were an animal, what animal would it be? Because…

I Googled the words “animal sparse quick punchy,” thinking that might help me determine said animal, and I came up with the novel We the Animals by Justin Torres, which apparently takes place in upstate New York where I grew up. So color me intrigued as far as that goes. Not that this answers your question. I am not really into animals, but thinking quick and punchy, if not sparse, how about a hyena, they seem to make quick work of things, and they’re sort of rough, yet still funny and seem to enjoy themselves. Plus, they play a key supporting role in The Lion King, which I name-drop in Orphans, so now I’m marketing, and cross-pollinating, and there we go. Thank you.

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Ben Tanzer’s official bio says this: Ben Tanzer is a prolific novelist and an Emmy Award-winning public service announcement writer. He lives in Chicago where he lives with his family. Visit him at bentanzer.blogspot.com

And, in case you are wondering: In Ben Tanzer’s futurist science fiction novel Orphans (niupress.niu.edu/niupress/scripts/Book/bookResults.asp?ID=692) the metropolis of Chicago has morphed into a place called Baidu, a burned-out shell of its former self. Homeless people have been banned from the central city and have set up makeshift camps along the lakefront. Drone helicopters constantly patrol city streets from above, and hapless people who congregate run the risk of being summarily executed. The recession has devastated the landscape and all menial jobs have been taken over by life-like robots. The lucky few who can find work are scanned, profiled, and even cloned by “the corporation,” a secretive and ominous organization reminiscent of Orwell’s Big Brother.

It is a story about the impact of work on family. How work warps our best intentions. And how everything we think we know about ourselves looks different during a recession. It is also a story about drugs, surfing, punk music, lost youth, parenting, sex, pop culture as vernacular, and a conscious intersection of Death of a Salesmanor Glengarry Glen Ross with the Martian Chronicles and the Silver Surfer. Ultimately, Orphans is a literary survey of the 21st century male psyche, yet it does so with a newfound twist and contemporary themes. This is a world where the recession is all we know, work is only available to a select group, and this group not only need fear being replaced on the job, but in their homes and beds.

→Thanks so much, Ben, for the chat. See you Wednesday! And thanks everyone–as always–for reading. -PMc←

The Writer’s Handful with Fleda Brown

Fleda Brown 2011 4x5 color-2011

Mondays + Writers = Finally something to look forward to.

I am so excited to have Fleda Brown contribute to this week’s Writer’s Handful. Fleda is a fabulous poet and nonfiction writer, and her latest (her eighth!) collection of poems, No Need of Sympathy was just released by BOA Editions. If you don’t already know Fleda’s work, you really, really should. Why not start with this latest collection and work backward? You won’t be disappointed. I promise. And to tide you over until your Fleda books come in the mail, let me invite you over to Fleda’s blog, My Wobbly Bicycle.

Welcome Fleda!

Did you write today? If yes, what? If no, why not? 

Oh yes. I’m blessedly “retired,” and I write almost every morning. This has been a relaxing day, since I didn’t feel the pressure that always accompanies starting a new poem or essay.  I revised a longish poem, worked on one that’s not even at finished first draft stage yet, I proofed and suggested some small changes in an essay coming out this fall in The Georgia Review, and I turned what had been a prose poem into a lineated poem for a downtown Traverse City poetry project I was asked to contribute to. The poems for this project will be read instead of seen. I was listening to it in my head and realized its cadence is better with line-breaks. It’s been interesting working today. I’m in our guest cottage at the lake and the painters are spray-washing. It’s like writing inside a waterfall.

What’s the first thing (story, poem, song, etc.) you remember writing, and how old were you when you wrote it?

My father and I together did a re-write of “The Night Before Christmas.”  It began, “T’was the night before No Need of Sympathy coverChristmas/ and all through the house / not a creature was stirring / not even a louse.” I no longer have a copy, but I remember it got sillier from there. My sixth grade teacher loved it.

What are you reading right now?

I’m reading a Nineteenth century novel, North and South, by Elizabeth Gaskell, I started it because we’re at the cottage and I’d read everything I brought with me. This book was here, and my husband, who’s written a great deal about early women’s fiction, recommended it to me. It’s set in England and deals with the rise of manufacturing in the North, comparing it to the genteel South of England. It’s a romance, and the heroine does a lot of thinking about the philosophy and morality of each before she chooses a husband. It’s a fine novel and quite contemporary in some ways. I plan to write about it in my blog post this week. [My Wobbly Bicycle, 38.]

I’m also reading Maurice Manning’s poems, The Common Man, and Debra Bruce’s Survivor’s Picnic. I’m going to talk about them for my commentaries on IPR’s “Michigan Writers on the Air.” They’re terrific books, each very different. I’m particularly interested in how Bruce writes about her cancer, since I’ve had cancer, too, and I’m working on poems that seem to keep bringing that in.

What’s the most important advice you ever received? (Writerly or otherwise.)

Donald Hall, who has been extravagantly generous in his help to young writers, read and commented on poems years ago that eventually appeared in my first book. When that book was accepted by Purdue University Press, I wrote to him, all excited. He wrote back to say, “That’s wonderful! But remember there’s always something else out there. Even if you win the Nobel Prize, you won’t be satisfied. So concentrate on each poem. Don’t let the hunger for prizes and publications distort your work.”  Or something like that. I keep that in mind.

cat1If your writing were an animal, what animal would it be? Because…

I will choose a cat, because my dear cat Wally is lying with his big feet hanging over the top of the bureau beside me at the moment and he opens one eye to convey to me that he wishes to be included. He is gentle but steadily persuasive. He does not have an agenda except eating. His ears are sensitive to every fluctuation in the environment. He licks himself with great abandon. In short, he, like Christopher Smart’s cat Jeffery, worships in his way. He, too, writhes his body with eloquent quickness, sharpens his claws upon wood, and every house is incomplete without him. If you wish to know all of the ways my poems are cat-like, you must read Smart’s poem, not mine, but I’m most hopeful you’ll read mine as well. Especially, ahem, my new book from BOA Editions, No Need of Sympathy, out this October.     

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Fleda Brown was born in Columbia, Missouri, and grew up in Fayetteville, Arkansas. She earned her Ph.D. in English (specialty in American Literature) from the University of Arkansas, and in 1978 she joined the faculty of the University of Delaware English Department, where she founded the Poets in the Schools Program, which she directed for more than 12 years. Her books, essays, and individual poems have won many awards. Her sixth collection of poems, Reunion (2007), was the winner of the Felix Pollak Prize from the University of Wisconsin. She has co-edited two books, most recently On the Mason-Dixon Line: An Anthology of Contemporary Delaware Writers. Her collection of memoir-essays, , was released in 2010 from the University of Nebraska Press.

Fleda has read and lectured in secondary schools, retirement communities, libraries, bookstores, a prison for delinquent adolescents, Rotary Clubs, AAUWs, and many universities and colleges, from Oxford University, Cambridge, to small liberal arts colleges. She has slept in a bunkhouse and has read with cowboy poets in North Dakota, and she has read for the Governor of Delaware and for the Delaware Legislature. She served as poet laureate of Delaware from 2001-2007, when she retired from the University of Delaware and moved to Traverse City, Michigan. In Traverse City, she writes a monthly column on poetry for the Record-Eagle newspaper, and she has a monthly commentary on poetry on Interlochen Public Radio. She teaches in the Rainier Writing Workshop, a low-residency MFA program at Pacific Lutheran University in Tacoma, WA, and she spends summers with her husband, Jerry Beasley, also a retired English professor, at their cottage on a small lake in northern Michigan. Between them, they have four children and ten grandchildren.

http://fledabrown.com/

→Thanks so much, Fleda, for the chat. Wishing you all the best with the new collection! And thanks to everyone, as always, for reading. -PMc←

The Writer’s Handful with Ryan W. Bradley

Ryan

Mondays + Writers = Finally something to look forward to.

Today’s featured writer is a poet who takes on the good stuff: “love, lust, and the sea,” Ryan W. Bradley tells us in the introduction to his brand new collection, THE WAITING TIDE. Mikaela Jorgensen, in her review for Gapers Block, says: “The poems are affectionate and sensual and intimate, but written in a way that only a poet can write about these things. You’ll read this collection and wish that someone would write poems like this about you.”

THE WAITING TIDE, a tribute to Pablo Neruda’s The Captain’s Verses, is the first release of Concepción, an imprint of the mighty small press Curbside Splendor, whose mission is “to publish books of elegant prose and poetry in English and Spanish.” And elegant this book is.

Welcome Ryan!

Did you write today? If yes, what? If no, why not?

I did! I just finished my weekly NFL diary for The Good Men Project, and I’ve also worked sporadically on a new novella called Winterswim that takes place in my hometown, Wasilla, Alaska. Currently I’m working on a chapter that is the pivot in the story, things are about to race to a climax! Or something…

What’s the first thing (story, poem, song, etc.) you remember writing, and how old were you when you wrote it?

I wrote a couple poems in seventh grade as part of an assignment in my English class. I approached it as a joke, decided I would show my teacher how dumb the assignment was by writing the dumbest poems I could imagine. Problem was I ended up liking them.Waiting Tide_Front

What are you reading right now?

I somehow got into the middle of a couple books. I’m reading Jonathan Lethem’s Dissident Gardens, Piper Kerman’s Orange is the New Black, William Alexander’s Goblin Secrets with my five year old, and I’m listening to the audiobook of Sarah Vowell’s Assassination Vacation.

What’s the most important advice you ever received? (Writerly or otherwise.)

When I was younger I was really frustrated with being short. I loved sports, and it’s hard to be taken seriously in sports if you’re short. I spent a lot of time lamenting that I wasn’t taller. My stepdad, who is 6’3″ told me “There will always be someone who’s taller or faster or better than you are.” It’s a sort of grass-is-greener philosophy for analysis of one’s own achievements and goals. “There will always be better” is a sort of mantra. I know it doesn’t matter how good I am at something in comparison to others, I can only be best version of me, and I try hard to do that in everything I do.

If your writing were an animal, what animal would it be? Because…

I can’t think of this kind of question the same way since I listened to the audiobook of Zoobiquity (which is brilliant, by the way). I learned a lot about animal sexuality. Animals are kinky. Lots of animals partake in masturbation and mutual masturbation, and really isn’t writing kind of like mutual masturbation? At least when it’s done well? I’d like to answer this question by just listing hundreds of weird facts I learned, but instead I’d say read Zoobiquity. That’s not a cop-out, it’s just genuine excitement for the naughtiness of the animal kingdom.

Ryan W. Bradley has fronted a punk band, done construction in the Arctic Circle, managed an independent children’s bookstore, and now designs book covers. He is the author of several books of poetry and fiction, including the novel, CODE FOR FAILURE (Civil Coping Mechanisms, 2013). He received his MFA from Pacific University and lives in Oregon with his wife and two sons.

→Thanks, Ryan, for the chat. And especially for the very valuable information about animals and their, er, compassion for one another, let’s say. And, once again, thanks everyone for reading! -PMc←

The Writer’s Handful with Daniel Nathan Terry

Drayton Hall SC_Ben with Umbrella and Umbrella without Me

Mondays + Writers = Finally something to look forward to.

Today I am so excited to share with you a brief conversation with Daniel Nathan Terry. Many of you already know the work of this fine poet (and fiction writer—Dude! Welcome to our playground!) I was lucky to be on the program with Daniel at Southern Illinois University’s 2012 Devil’s Kitchen Fall Literary Festival (sponsored and curated by Grassroots Undergraduate Magazine.) His work is stunning. Check it out immediately.Front-Cover-of-Waxwings-194x300

Welcome Daniel!

Did you write today? If yes, what? If no, why not?

I worked on revisions of the few poems from my current manuscript that remain unpublished. Well, I call them revisions, but I think of them simply as poems that are not finished yet. It’s all drafting, to my mind, until the poem lets me know that it’s done with me. The one that just finished with me has been very difficult to get out. It’s about the stillbirth of one of my best friend’s daughter and the movie Wings of Desire (Sky Over Berlin). I have been negotiating with the poem since 2009, trying to free it from the movie, but, in the end, it would not abandon the film and so it is called “This Day Needs Peter Falk.”

What’s the first thing (story, poem, song, etc.) you remember writing, and how old were you when you wrote it?

Photo from author's website
Photo from author’s website

I wrote my first poems when I was quite young. I don’t remember writing them, but my mother has the evidence: a few poems (mostly religious, as my father was and is a Baptist preacher) scrawled in huge block letters on that paper which has the dash lines between each solid one. She keeps one framed on her sewing table to this day. I won’t quote it here, for my own sake. The first thing I remember writing was a short fantasy novel called The Four Kingdoms. I think I was 13 or so, and I was madly in love with Tolkien, Bradbury, and Bradley. It was, I’m sure, terrible, but I worked on it even during school, sitting in the back of the classroom pretending to take notes. No idea what happened to that draft or the maps and drawings I made of the kingdoms and characters. The only thing I truly remember about the story was a queen who had given her life over to controlling the savage storms that besieged her kingdom. She had to forgo any sort of life or happiness and remain in a high tower channeling the storms through her body until they fell as gentle rain on the crops. I was also reading a lot of myth and lore at the time–and poetry, of course, which I was raised on. Yeats was my go to poet at the time.

What are you reading right now?

Kristin Bock’s first collection of poetry, Cloisters. It seems I am always reading that book. It’s like no other book of poetry I’ve ever read, and it continues to give and give to me whatever I need at whatever time it is in my life. So much beauty and pain. It cannot be described; it must be read. I’m also reading Jason Mott’s new novel, The Returned, and Rebecca Lee’s collection of short stories, Bobcat. Both are wonderful, though very different. But then my reading tends to be all over the place. And I am always reading reference books and nonfiction–usually about horticulture or whatever has possessed me at a given time. Right now that is Drayton Hall, a plantation near Charleston, South Carolina that is the model for Sothern Gothic novel I am currently writing between poems.

What’s the most important advice you ever received? (Writerly or otherwise.)

I can think of two things–one writerly, one not. The first was from my first writing teacher in undergrad when I was 18 (I think his name Ben Miller–he looked like a very handsome version of John Denver, and I had a massive crush on him). He told me that my stories and poems usually began about a third of the way into my first draft. He was right, though I resisted him at the time and was determined to write “opening lines.” I think that impulse to open something brilliantly before the piece is written is the root of most cases of writer’s block. At least it is for me.

The other came from a rather obnoxious and opinionated customer of mine when I worked in retail. No matter how difficult she was, no matter how demanding, I smiled and did what I was supposed to do according to my job description. One day, as I was completing her transaction, a fake smile plastered on my face, wishing her gone, she said, “You know, if you don’t like someone, they don’t like you either. Doesn’t matter how well you pretend–the other person can feel it.” I was dumbstruck. I thought my dislike of her was a well-kept secret of mine and that she adored me–after all, I treated her like a queen. That insight has proven to be so valuable over the years. Now, I hope, I never fake it. At least not for long.

 

If your writing were an animal, what animal would it be? Because…

A crow–no doubt about it. Beyond the obvious symbolism (darkness, death, memory), I feel, and hope, that my writing is omnivorous, wandering, moving between the world of the animal and of man, the living and the dead. Loud and harsh at times, but always beautiful if caught in the right light. Capable of flight and of being communal but of also walking solitary on the roadside. I think crows appear in my poetry more often than any animal other than humans. And it’s odd–they’ve been used so often in literature, you’d think they would dry up, and maybe they have as an intentional metaphor, but as a subject they seem as boundless as humans. Maybe because we are so much alike. I think that’s why so many people hate or fear them–they don’t like the mirror they hold up. I think it was Coetzee who wrote (and this is a butchered paraphrase at best) something like, “We hate the animals that refuse to be destroyed or subjugated by us, that survive us, that flourish in our trash, in our excesses despite our efforts to eradicate them–the rat, the cockroach, the crow.”

"City of Starlings" by Benjamin Billingsley
“City of Starlings” by Benjamin Billingsley

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Daniel Nathan Terry, a former landscaper and horticulturist, is the author of four books of poetry: City of Starlings (forthcoming from Sibling Rivalry Press, 2015); Waxwings (2012); Capturing the Dead, which won The 2007 Stevens Prize; and a chapbook, Days of Dark Miracles (2011). His poems and short stories have appeared, or are forthcoming, in numerous publications, including Cimarron Review, The Greensboro Review, New South, Poet Lore, and Southeast Review. He serves on the advisory board of One Pause Poetry and teaches English at the University of North Carolina in Wilmington, where he lives with his husband, painter and printmaker, Benjamin Billingsley.

For more info about and other writing by Daniel Nathan Terry:

http://danielnathanterry.com/books/

http://www.onepausepoetry.org/explore/poets/profile/daniel_nathan_terry

http://www.thisassignmentissogay.com/

http://www.amazon.com/Where-Thy-Dark-Glances-ebook/dp/B00DUHRLD4/ref=sr_1_1?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1375345324&sr=1-1

→Thank you so much, Daniel! And thanks to all, as always, for reading. -PMc←