Guest Blog Post, Edmund Sandoval: The Things You Put in Your Head Sometimes Make It into the World

An anatomically drawn brain.

Photo credit on hover.

This much is true: I haven’t been writing much lately. At least not creatively. Or with any kind of fervor or grace. I have been writing, though. I’ve been writing copy. Like that scruffy guy in Mad Men. The one who eventually cut off his nipple. Ginsburg. I’ve been writing ads and newsletters and product descriptions and stuff like that. Content for websites. It pays the bills and then some. It affords a life of minor plenty. But it does not inspire. It’s commerce, it’s not art. Though, sometimes, and only sometimes, I like to joke that it’s the other way around, and that it is in fact art, not commerce, as periodically an occasion presents me with the opportunity to splash a bit of that woebegotten grace around the page/screen. You’ve seen the work I did for that luxury hotel? In Chicago? So I’ve been writing but I haven’t been writing. I’ve been losing writing. Displacing water. Something-something.

In lieu of writing, I’ve been thinking of writing. I’ve been reminiscing. Pulling notes of old harmony from the sticky depths of my glial stew. It has given me that subtle kind of joy that’s so often associated with nostalgia for things gone by: years, cardigans, cross country trips with my brother.

To that end, I have been thinking of firsts. Not those kinds of firsts. These kinds of firsts. First story written; first story/essay published; first book (what book?); and so on. You’ve been there right? Not writing like you feel you ought to be. That self-generated guilt. Rafts of the stuff. Right. So here we go.

First Story: I started writing my first story outside of Orland, California. I was living at the Farm Sanctuary. I was living in a communal home and surrounded by hills and the smell of cows and ducks and pigs and the like. There were three donkeys and no horses. There was a herd of skittish sheep that ran through the hills like dirty laundry possessed of a poltergeist.

I was younger, then. Twenty-two, I think. I was a vegan, then. And strong. And kind of angry. But mainly happy. And careless.

There wasn’t much to do out there. The internet connection was spotty.

Out there, you could spend time with the staff who lived in the communal house and those who didn’t. You could walk the hills. You could run them. You could go into the forests if you could catch a ride or to the Black Butte Lake Reservoir on an old mountain bike. You could suck down beers and smoke a single cigarette while watching the sunset with a woman named Anne. Those are things I did.

Too, there was downtime and alone time. So I read and napped with a cat whose fur was a luminescent shade of gray that trended blue when hit with the sun. I read Gabriel Garcia-Marquez. Haruki Murakami. Toni Morrison. Yukio Mishima. Pearl Buck. Borges. Peter Singer. Whatever was leftover from staff that had come to live in the communal house before eventually leaving. I read magazines. Sometimes the cat would pee on my shirts. The staff who’d been there for awhile said it was because it liked me and didn’t want me to leave, though I, too, eventually would.

It was after I closed the back flap of One-Hundred Years of Solitude that it struck me: I should write a story/I will a story/Let’s write a story! And like in fairy tales of and the lore of writers new and old, the story came to me prepackaged and ready to use.

All I had to do was write it.

Which I did.

In between my chores and after dinner in the communal house. While I emptied feed troughs and mucked barns. It was about an old guy who was friends with a ficus tree. As it goes, the story was called: “Ficus Tree.” It was probably clichéd as all get. But I had to write it. Like a new tooth coming in and shoving aside the old. A tendril pressing through the hull of its seed.

There was a scene I remember liking, the man leaning against a pane of frosted glass in winter and the skin of ice evaporating around his profile as he sat and drank.

When I was through, I printed it out and shared it around with my housemates. It was momentous (for me, at least), as it laid bare the roadmap my life was looking for.

That story, though, is long gone. I’d saved it on a hard floppy but who knows where that ended up. Maybe my mom has a copy somewhere. Probably it is full of typos and tense errors and springs too tightly wound. I’d like to see it again, if possible. I’ll ask her if she held on to it. I wouldn’t blame her if she didn’t.

First Published Story: I was spinning my wheels and waiting to get into graduate school when my first story was submitted and accepted for publication.

I was living with my mom and stepdad in Carbondale, Illinois. It was a good time. I hadn’t a job yet had some money. I drank whiskey with my town friends. I ran fast around the lake situated on the campus of the local university.

The story? Well, it was accepted by the Paris Review!! It was such a shock. Like realizing, suddenly, I could levitate at will. I’m kidding. It was accepted by The Thieves Jargon, an online-only publication. You remember it? I feel like people liked appearing in that one. Like getting something accepted and published by elimae. Like elimae, The Thieves Jargon has gone the way of the ghost. Even its archives are extinct. Scraped from the face of the earth. Like river silt washed into and swallowed by the ocean.

The story was heavily (and I mean heavily) influenced by Rick Bass’s “Mississippi.” My story was called “Agnes is Gorgeous.” It was about a guy and a woman named Agnes. I don’t think the guy had a name. I think it was in written in the third person. Or maybe it was the first?

(I’d started working on it New Orleans, on the floor of my friend’s apartment, writing under the swirl of the ceiling fan and caressing the keys of my gigantic Dell Inspiron laptop.)

In the story, the couple were together, though I don’t remember what they did together or what drove the story. My sense memory tells me that they were nice enough to each other, that they were perhaps too dependent on each other, that they had a box fan in the window. Probably they drank iced tea and were familiar with each other more often than not.

Anything else, I don’t know.

What I do know is that when I received the acceptance email from the editors at Thieves, I damn well did levitate up the stairs from my mother’s basement and into the kitchen to tell her and my stepdad that I was to be a published author. It was the most incredible feeling I’d felt in a long while, as I’d already been loved by someone not my parents. It was validation that my work had some merit, however fleeting or thin. While Thieves was still up and running, I’d come to publish another tiny story or two in the magazine. Stories about deli workers wrapping steaks in thick white paper. Laborers. The times I knew when I was between schools and standing on ladders and swinging sledge hammers and breathing in crystalline silica dust and coughing it up at night after hours and hours of drinking.

First Published Essay: The one season of little league I participated in, I tried my best to emulate Will “The Thrill” Clark, first baseman (at least when I was a player) for the San Francisco Giants.

He wore number twenty-two.

His first homerun occurred during his first professional at bat, off of Nolan Ryan.

I admired him because, when in the box, he held his bat like a hobo held a bindle stick, slung carelessly behind the back, its end tipping toward the ground in a careless little wag and dance.

I was living in Wisconsin when The Thrill would come to feature in my first foray into essay.

I was working for the state, at the time.

I was most definitely hating life, at the time, and my own in particular.

I had a cubicle, then, and was checking my Twitter account and in the doing, saw that a literary magazine I followed had a call for writing having to do with baseball. That magazine was Hobart Pulp. I hadn’t any thoughts of sharing pieces of myself through writing or writing of baseball until the moment I saw that tweet. But when I did, I said to myself: Let’s write about little league and Will Clark and being a kid with a younger brother being raised, at that time, primarily by our mom, who was doing her best but who did not, when taking me to the Hibbett Sports Store at the Carbondale mall to buy an aluminum baseball bat and white leather (fresh!) batting gloves, did not buy me a protective cup (I already had a ball glove). And I, being in fifth grade, was too terrified and shy to ask for one, as doing so would implicitly/explicitly imply and foretell that I was growing up, so off I went into the fields and dugouts of the sporting complex with nothing but my reflexes and a polycotton fabric blend to protect me from the potential energy stored within a baseball.

As mentioned, I had a stupid job (it really was) in a stupid department in a stupid state and though I didn’t like to, I did my work and still had plenty plenty of time to sit there in my desk chair, idling with my two screens open, my official work stuff always up, my writing stuff off to the side, always ready, at first, to minimize the page, and always ready, later, to just keep it up.

So when the prompt hovered in front of me in my cubicle area, I pulled up a fresh Word Doc and started typing away about Will Clark and being from a broken home (ha), the only one among my friends with divorced friends.

I wrote about striking out all the time and Will Clark’s beautiful swing, as gorgeous a thing as Ken Griffey Jr’s, and how it was almost more gorgeous than KG’s because Will Clark looked more like a guy who’d just clambered down from a deer stand than an athlete who could loft balls out of the park as easy pressing a glass to the little piece that made ice fall from an automatic ice dispenser.

I wrote it sent it out and it was accepted and published, I think, in 2015, April, the usual month Hobart holds kicks off its baseball theme.

I guess it was a coming of age piece, in a way.

It was so much fun to write while sitting in that drab cubicle, in the sense that it provided a kind of sanctuary from the doldrums I was so often kicking around in those days.

It was a pleasure to think of Will Clark and how I saw his glove and cleats in Cooperstown, a place he’ll probably only ever visit as a guest. In the years since, I’ve had the pleasure of having a poem and short story accepted by Hobart and asides from my own personal sense of accomplishment, they’re just a damn fine journal whose staff work tirelessly to highlight excellent writers across the board.

We’re at the end now. This mosey down memory lane is the most writing I’ve done in awhile. It was fun. It felt good. It said to me, as I was writing, stop taking on so many freelance projects, guy. Your job is enough. Writing is more important than a few extra bucks. And it is. So I should. And maybe I will. If I know what’s good for me.

Guest Blog Post, Susan Browne: Thanks to a Cockroach and a Cat

 

The cover to "archy and mehitabel."

Picture courtesy of the author.

My love for poetry began when I was eleven. A neighbor, an artist, gave me a book of poems. She must have seen my hunger and fed me. The book was archy and mehitabel by Don Marquis. Archy is a cockroach and Mehitabel is a cat in her ninth life. These two live in a journalist’s house, and when the journalist goes to work, Archy hops up on the typewriter and writes poetry. In a previous life, Archy was a free verse poet. He records his thoughts, feelings, and experiences, and Mehitabel offers him many stories from her treasure trove of nine incarnations. Mehitabel has an exuberance for living, (toujours gai), and so does Archy in his grouchy way, but he has a darker, more philosophical vision. He has to throw himself headfirst onto each key to operate the typewriter, and he can’t make capital letters because he doesn’t weigh enough to hold down the shift key. I was inspired. I read and re-read this book. It was surprising, funny, and took on every subject from the mundane to the celestial. The language was ordinary but also possessed its own original elegance. I loved the flow and construction of the lines down the page and was amazed at the lack of punctuation, how it wasn’t always necessary as I had been taught in school. Poetry was liberty. It was wild. I learned from Archy what I would learn again later from Leonard Cohen who wrote: Poetry comes from a place that no one commands and no one conquers.

I immediately wanted to write it. I remember the day I wrote my first poem, sitting in the living room listening to my parents and their friends talk. It was one of those social occasions where the kid sits there all dressed up and remains quiet. It was raining outside.

Bored, I went over to my mother and asked if I could get a pencil and a piece of paper. I came back into the living room and sat in my chair by the window. The poem I wrote was about the rain. I titled it, “The Rain.” It was fascinating to me, to take what was inside, feelings and thoughts, and connect them with the outside—the rain on the inside and the rain on the outside. I wrote the poem in quatrains—without knowing what a quatrain was—and at the end of every other stanza I repeated: “What’s a poor child to do?”

What can a child do in a world of adults that often seems false, trapped in convention? This was the 1960’s. I didn’t know how to articulate my growing concern about the world that was so troubling. I loved my parents, they loved me, but something was wrong. Many things were not being said, and I felt them. I wanted to be able to name how I was feeling and what I was witnessing, and to do it in an interesting way. I wanted a rhythm to it and some rhymes; I wanted to make pictures in words, with a connection from the inner to the outer landscape. I wouldn’t read Emily Dickinson’s poems until I was in college, but I had the desperate desire to tell my truth and tell it slant. This process would become my way of being in the world.

For years I wrote poetry without any instruction. My father told me he used to find little scraps of paper with writing on them on the floor of my bedroom. When I published my first book, he said he wished he had saved those scraps. That was a sweet idea, Dad, but I don’t think it would have made our fortune. Poetry is a continuous experiment beyond the realm of the marketplace. Alive and ever-changing, shape-shifting. Poetry is beyond anyone’s grasp or control. As a young woman, I adored that about it. So much of life looked like a trap for a woman. Poetry was a place where I couldn’t be hunted down. I wouldn’t let what was wild in me be domesticated out of existence, and every poem I wrote, from a scrap on the floor to a poem published in a literary journal, was an escape hatch.

And yet, poems show us to ourselves; they tell all the truths, the secrets we can barely tell ourselves, so poems are also the opposite of escape.  

At first, poetry had nothing to do with schools or teachers, but then I spent many years studying it. One of my greatest experiences in a poetry workshop was a three day seminar led by Jack Gilbert. I filled two notebooks, writing down what he said. Here are a few lines:

Poetry is a living object.

Get stark, primal energy into the poem.

Good poetry is truly caused by something.

Real surrealism has to have truth in it.

Get away from writing cleverly and write from a deeper place.

One of the functions of poetry is to teach people feeling, to reawaken feeling.

I can never get to the end of learning my craft. It’s infinity on fire. And as a fellow poet said to me recently after I complained about my frustrations with my work and about the art in general, “Susan, it’s just a poem.”

What? I spent hours, days, weeks, months trying to get this poem to fly, and it’s just a poem? I thought he’d lost his mind.

But he’s right. And I could relax and start again, ever the novitiate.

When I write, I don’t throw myself headfirst onto my keypad like Archy. But I admire him for it, finding his own writing process and doing what he has to do:

they

are always interested in technical

details when the main question is

whether the stuff is

literature or not

expression is the need of my soul

i was once a vers libre bard

but i died and my soul went into the body of a cockroach

it has given me a new outlook upon life

i see things from the under side now

Poetry is the beauty and the burning. It’s silence to sound and seed to sunlight. A way of being intimate with all things, of praising them, a way to think and feel far into things. Poetry pinches us awake, sings to us in strange and familiar melodies. It belongs to everyone.

 

Guest Blog Post, Alice Lowe: About Chocolate Donuts

Photo Credit- linked

Now and then, if we’re lucky, writing ideas burst onto the scene fully formed, like Botticelli’s Venus on the half-shell. More often they emerge from our routines of list-making, mind-mapping, trial and error. We’re offered prompts or we select them randomly, like choosing a vacation spot by sticking push pins in a map while blindfolded. It’s hit and miss, sometimes an arduous and tedious process, painful as prolonged labor. Will this brainchild ever be born?

We may develop a stockpile of ideas to be developed with the right impetus … or not. When I was invited to submit a guest post to Superstition Review I didn’t say, “Aha, I know just what I’ll write.” Nothing came to mind. I looked at my list of possibilities, hand-printed in alternating blue and purple ink on the dry-erase board over my desk. I eliminated them from consideration one by one: no, not that one; no; uh uh; no, that won’t work. My mind went blank. I explained my dilemma to my husband on one of our morning walks, five miles to Balboa Park and back. This was before breakfast or even coffee, and we’d agreed to stop at Donut Star on the way home, so perhaps he was a bit single-minded. “Write about chocolate donuts,” he said.  

I write creative nonfiction, personal essays—my own stories—so it isn’t as if I have to create new worlds out of wisps of cloud. I am my own protagonist, and the people and experiences I write about are real; I don’t have to design or disguise characters or events. Is this a blessing or a curse? On the one hand the raw material is there for the harvesting, even if it’s covered over with years of accumulated debris. On the other hand I can’t invent—I’m limited by the facts. If I don’t like the way an episode ends, I can’t change it. If I behaved badly, my choices are to tell it truthfully or not tell it at all.

I’ve written essays about family and childhood, about men and mistakes, fear and failure, success and sadness, about getting old (and older still). Extending beyond myself but still in the context of personal experience, I’ve written about crows and cats, sushi and shellfish, science and polar exploration (inspired by a folk song), about baseball and opera, writing and writers. The notes currently on my dry-erase board, potential themes waiting to materialize, include bookstores, boycotts, and breakfast (with donuts?).

My affinity for maps might not have struck me as a prospective topic if I hadn’t seen the blurb in an AARP bulletin that included glove box maps—along with land lines, desktop computers, and analog watches (all of which I continue to use)—among things likely to become extinct in the next fifty years. A lover of fold-out maps, for pleasure reading as well as directions, the idea of writing about them resonated. But what about them? I have a box of maps that I’ve collected from my travels, but I didn’t want to write a travel piece. I needed an in, a hook. The idea hibernated in the “ideas” file that preceded the white board. Periodically I would nudge it and its dormant companions to see if there were signs of life, if anything was ready to emerge into daylight.

My daughter and I went to New York last October to, among other things, run a 10K race. When I printed out a map of the race route, she teased me: “It’s Central Park—why do you need a map?” That was it, the opening of what became “Flȃneur with Baedeker, or, Student of the Map,” published this spring in Superstition Review. In the course of research and dredging my memory, I was able to pay homage to my Long Island birthplace and my Anglophilia, to some of my favorite literary works, and to my mentor/muse Virginia Woolf, and to weave them together into what I think of as a self-portrait in maps. The ingredients were waiting to be assembled, but it couldn’t happen without that first spark, the recognition that here was an idea I might be able to develop.

Perhaps there’s no difference in that respect between fiction and nonfiction. Authors of both are mining the real world as well as their memories and imaginations for themes and stories, for characters and settings, for detail and drama.

When I’m idea-starved and one doesn’t pad over to me like a well-trained terrier, I get a little anxious. I don’t believe in writer’s block, though I might if it was called “idea block.” These are the times when my mind feels a little stodgy, when I even get a little panicky, and I wonder “What am I going to write?” It’s always that initial catalyst that eludes me. Once an idea presents and plants itself, I’m fired up, ready to nurture and cultivate it. If it doesn’t germinate I put it away—that hibernation file—and see if a long winter’s rest might revive it.

Virginia Woolf would swirl her ideas around in her diary, test their validity on paper, often long before she knew what they might become. In a January 1920 entry she writes that she’s “happier today than I was yesterday having this afternoon arrived at some idea of a new form for a new novel … I must still grope and experiment but this afternoon I had a gleam of light.” She goes on to describe the barest skeleton for what would become Jacob’s Room, her third novel and the first to delve into the modernist style that she would develop in subsequent work. A holiday in St. Ives, Cornwall, her family’s summer retreat during her childhood, prompted the inspiration for To the Lighthouse. She’d visited several times in her adult life—she might have written about it any number of times—but it was on this particular trip that she recognized it as a rich foundation for her novel.  

Food is a foundation—one of many but an especially evocative one—from which I’ve explored life and culture and history. I’ve written a number of food-themed essays, from the autobiographical sweep of an abecedarian to more focused pieces on assorted seafood, on noodles, New Orleans food, Cornish pasties, rutabagas, mom’s cooking, and cookbooks. It’s also a wellspring for sumptuous verbal displays, as many authors, including Virginia Woolf, have discovered. Writing about chocolate donuts isn’t as far-fetched as it sounds. Pastries I have known and loved? Muffins and biscuits and scones, oh my?

Authors Talk: Jane Satterfield

Authors TalkToday we are pleased to feature poet Jane Satterfield as our Authors Talk series contributor. Satterfield discusses the process and inspirations apocalyptic literature and her project book played on the creation of her poem “The Zombie Skateboarder at the Bus Stop.”

Jane Satterfield’s poem appears in Issue 21 of Superstition Review.

Authors Talk: Mary Morris

Mary MorrisToday we are pleased to feature poet Mary Morris as our Authors Talk series contributor. Mary discusses her writing process involving the current manuscript she is working on, which relates to her ninety-five year-old mother, and reads her poem, “Deduction.”

“Crone” and “Deduction” by Mary Morris can be read on Issue 19 of Superstition Review here

If you want to know more about poet Mary Morris you can visit her website or LinkedIn.

#ArtLitPhx: Authors Talk, Reading and Booksigning with Bonnie Nadzam and Katie Cortese

Join Leah Newsom, second year, ASU MFA in Creative Writing, as she leads a panel and Q&A with ASU MFA Alumni, Bonnie Nadzam and Katie Cortese. The discussion will be centered on the complexities of writing young women. The writers will also be discussing their writing process after finishing their degree: how does the process change after the MFA? The Q&A will be opened to the audience, so please bring questions prepared. The Q&A will be held at the Piper Writers House (450 E Tyler Mall, Tempe, AZ 85281) on Wednesday, March 28th at 3:00 pm.

On March 29th, at 7:00 pm in the Pima Auditorium in the Memorial Union on the ASU Tempe Campus, the Creative Writing Program in the Department of English at ASU presents a reading and booksigning by two of its stellar fiction alumni: Katie Cortese (MFA 2006) and Bonnie Nadzam (MFA 2004).

Cortese is author of Make Way for Her and Other Stories (University Press of Kentucky, 2018) and Girl Power and Other Short-Short Stories (ELJ Publications, 2015). She teaches in the creative writing program at Texas Tech University where she serves as the fiction editor for Iron Horse Literary Review.

Nadzam is author of Lions (Grove Atlantic, 2016) and Lamb (Other Press, 2011), and co-author of Love in the Anthropocene (OR Books 2015) with Dale Jamieson. She is also currently at work on her third novel.

Authors Talk: Carolyn Guinzio

Carolyn Guinzio

Today we are pleased to feature author Carolyn Guinzio as our Authors Talk series contributor. Carolyn discusses both her inspiration and her writing process for her poems from OZARK CROWS.

In particular, she discusses her encounters with crows and how her love for them has “grown into a book length exploration.” She is fascinated by the ways crows converse with each other and with her. She discusses the strike of inspiration after reviewing crow photos from a gloomy day. The dark crows reminded her of letters, and she began experimenting with the unique format of crow images and text. She emphasizes that the pieces in this project have forced her to be truly engaged with the outdoors, which is a great comfort. She concludes that watching the crows makes her feel “as if the world will keep turning and time will move forward.”

In her poems from OZARK CROWS, Carolyn uses a creative format that intertwines text and images. Her podcast reveals this process as she captures her screen and shares the way that she constructs her poems.

You can access Carolyn’s poems in Issue 18 of Superstition Review.