A headshot of Cavar.

Pride Community Project Episode Two: Claire van Doren Interviews Cavar

Superstition Review is excited to share a podcast project planned and produced by SR intern Claire van Doren. In this four-episode audio series, Claire will be talking with SR’s queer contributors. In today’s episode, Claire interviews Cavar. [sarah] Cavar (they/them) is a PhD student and writer of transMad things. They are editor-in-chief of Stone of Madness and swallow::tale presses, and their writing can be found in CRAFT Literary, Split Lip Magazine, Electric Lit, and elsewhere. Their debut novel, Failure to Comply, is forthcoming with featherproof books (2024). To learn more, visit their website, follow them @cavarsarah on twitter, and at librarycard.substack.com

The following transcript has been edited for clarity. Credit goes to FreeSound.org for the sound effects.

Claire van Doren: Hi! My name’s Claire van Doren, and you’re listening to the Superstition Review Pride Community Project. Today, we’ll be hearing from Cavar. They’ll be discussing their experiences with the queer community and how it impacts their work. This is one of four Pride Community specials. Stick around to hear from more of Superstition Review’s queer contributors.

[Phone ringing]

Cavar: I’m Cavar. I use they/them pronouns. I’m a PhD student in Cultural Studies at UC Davis, and also run around, put my little raccoon hands in a bunch of different writing and editing kinds of projects. I usually describe my work as—not really bridging the creative and the scholarly—but rather, sort of, undoing the binary between them. I hope to write things where dividing them into creative work and academic work doesn’t really make sense anymore. I’m also interested in doing work that really confounds sense-making, as a goal—mad works, quite frankly, which is a theme that comes up again and again.

I think that surrealism, in a lot of ways, is a way that writers approach—and tap on the shoulder—of madness, even if they don’t quite feel comfortable with the terminology of madness specifically. I think that the idea of the surreal—this idea that you’re able to cross from this reality to into a slightly bent or modified reality… It’s something that’s so in line with this “mad politic,” where multiple realities are accepted and celebrated. Instincts that one person might see , might not be the things that you see. And using surrealism to really get into those spaces—I think it’s a really incredibly valuable, mad tool.

It also frees me up to write things that feel a lot truer to me. I feel like I often experience these feelings, thoughts, experiences that go beyond what realism has to offer. And, to be freed up to use the language of the surreal, paradoxically, even though it’s supposedly “fake,” actually allows me to be a lot more honest. So growing up, I actually didn’t write fantasy or science-fiction very much. I think it’s because I associated all of it with—either like the hard sci-fi, where it’s hard to understand it. Or, like, A Song of Ice and Fire fantasy, with the maps and the names and the seven hundred pages. And so I thought that that was completely not for me. And I was right, but there’s a lot more to fantasy and science-fiction than that.

And so I gradually dipped my toes in later and got more enthusiastic about fantasy and science fiction. And I was really compelled by the way the authors used the languages of the future to address those realities and contemporary problems. And I was really impressed by the way that systems of magic and sorcery can be used to articulate everyday forms of violence and strife that we were dealing with now. And from there, I passed from a more grounded sense of fantasy and science fiction, to people beginning to recognize it—folks like Samuel R. Delany, who is taking fantasy and science fiction—being like, “Okay, but what if we challenge the structure of realism itself? What if we didn’t simply imbue future politics or wizards or witches into a kind of present-day logic? What if we up-ended logic?” And I think that both discovering the surreal that way—and also beginning to read my first collections of poetry when I was in college—it really made me realize that I was allowed to write things that didn’t only not exist, but didn’t really make sense in any universe.

One of my favorite authors is actually a literary young-adult author named Neal Shusterman. He writes mostly speculative fiction-slash-dystopian kind of books, for the broad category of reluctant readers. And I was skeptical because I feel like reluctant readers books are often stereotyped as “boy books” and books that don’t really have a lot of interest for people who are already drawn to a bunch of different genres and to writing. But I began reading Shusterman’s books when I was in middle-school. And I physically cannot put those books down—and I still can’t. And I think that that’s a testament to the fact that good work is good work, and it’s going to draw people from all different backgrounds and all different spaces.

I would really like to focus more on forms of writing that right now I simply don’t have the tools or knowledge to do. I talked to a couple of colleagues who are into boardgames, and they’re like, “Oh my God, what if I made a novel that was a game?” Or thinking about multi-modal approaches to writing. Things that involve QR codes and music and videos and all kinds of weird shit.

One of the great things about using mixed media is that it draws in people who are into music and into graphic novels and into computer games and into board games. I would love to work on something where visual art was the central component to it. I would love to work more on “found” documents and work more on archives. Really, just using as many forms and technologies and methods as possible—because so far, my expansion beyond just writing prose on a page has just gotten more fun the more weird stuff I do.

[Phone hangs up]

CVD: Thanks for joining us! Be sure to check out our YouTube page for more audio and video content, as well as our official Superstition Review blog.

Sherrie Flick

Flash Fiction America, Co-edited by Sherrie Flick

Congratulations to Sherrie Flick for co-editing the upcoming flash fiction anthology Flash Fiction America with John Dufresne and James Thomas, published by W. W. Norton & Company. The anthology features 73 stories examining the breadth of the American experience.

Thomas, Flick, and Dufresne’s elegant anthology brims with economical, well-crafted prose…[Flash Fiction America] showcases a multitude of talent.

Publishers Weekly

Literary Cleveland will be showcasing the anthology through its annual, remote Flash Fiction Festival from February 19th to February 25th. Register by February 17th to participate in the festival. The festival will feature workshops offered by authors and editors from Flash Fiction America including Aimee Bender, Venita Blackburn, Desiree Cooper, and John Dufresne.

The anthology will see many in-person readings as well, including a reading panel at the AWP conference hosted in Seattle with Chauan Craig, Rion Amilcar Scott, Terese Svoboda, and Venita Blackburn. Flash Fiction America will be read Friday, March 10th, during the conference’s time at Seattle Convention Center from March 8th to March 10th.

Later, on March 30th, an in-person book and reading will take place at the White Whale bookstore and Bottlerocket Social Hall in Pittsburgh. Those expected to attend include Tyrese Coleman, Bergita Bugarija, Dave Housley, Chauna Craig, Gwen Kirby, Desiree Cooper, and potentially Terese Svoboda.

Finally, back in the west coast, the anthology will be featured at the Bay Area Book Festival in Berkeley, California on May 6th and 7th.

These deeply original stories create a mesmerizing kaleidoscope of experience.


Pre-order Flash Fiction America before its February 14th release here. Learn more about Sherrie Flick by visiting her website, connecting with her on twitter @sherrieflick, following her on instagram, and checking out her facebook page. Her nonfiction piece Not Talking About Sage was featured in issue 10.

A photo of Kelly Gray.

Kelly Gray’s Tiger Paw, Tiger Paw, Knife, Knife: An Interview

Congratulations to Kelly Gray for her upcoming memoir Tiger Paw, Tiger Paw, Knife, Knife, published by Quarter Press. Filled with beautiful pros, each story twists and recurs back on the stories told before it. Gray expertly blends themes of love and abuse, birth and rebirth, and death and life. Her words are complimented by Holly L’Oiseau’s stunning illustrations.

Some of the works within Tiger Paw, Tiger Paw, Knife, Knife spark like tiny flashes of brilliance—as in “The History of Flowers that Eat Meat.” Only a page long, this surreal piece depicts a strange sort of growing up. In the short space, a single word holds dozens of meanings: “I am bog blossom pretty, which is to say, not at all. My skin is fly paper sticky and boys think it’s honey.”

Other, longer works burn more slowly but are no less rewarding. In “Serenade Switchblade,” Gray artfully describes a relationship that descends from teenage infatuation to terrible violence. The last, powerful sentences of the piece grip the reader and won’t let go: “It tasted like the moment before you scream because I am prettier dead than any poem you’ll ever write.”

Kelly Gray (she/her/hers) lives in Northern California on unceded Coast Miwok and Kashaya Pomo land. She writes about what she knows or is trying to know; parenting, eco-grief, mental health, dead things, monsters, prophetic animals, relationships to self and others, and rural life. To learn more, visit her website.

To purchase Tiger Paw, Tiger Paw, Knife, Knife, go here.

We’re also very excited to share an interview that dives deeper into Kelly Gray’s book. This interview was conducted via email by our Blog Editor, Brennie Shoup.

Brennie Shoup: Tiger Paw, Tiger Paw, Knife, Knife is described as a “folk-told” memoir. Could you discuss what inspired you to write a memoir in such an unusual way?

Kelly Gray: I have always found genres to be containers that don’t fit my writing. The separation of fiction, poetry, creative nonfiction (which can hold memoir) seems unnecessarily clinical to me. I hope to have a level of fluidity within my work which represents my beliefs around connection in the world. I want to share my stories while being real about the people in my life. When appropriate, I want to honor and protect other people’s experiences but still be able to say these are my origin stories, this is where I come from.

When I say folk-told, that is a nod towards all the storytellers before and after me, as well as the characters within the stories. Folk-told is my acknowledgment that we have these experiences together and I just happen to be the writer this time. For instance, in Sylvia, I was drawing from my work as an abortion and birth attendant watching families grapple with loss and the logistics of death, but the character Sylvia was coming up through me and my own witnessing of an infant’s death and my desires to be held more fully by my community. The life of Sylvia and William come from a careful folding in of years of experience and influence, told through the lens of fiction, because that is how we get to the fox, which is probably the truest-to-my heart part of that story.

BS: Your memoir blends humanity with nature, often through surrealism. Could you talk about why you chose to do this?

KG: It’s less of a choice and more of an acknowledgment of how I absorb the world. Specific images will take up in my body as I am move through the world. My writing process is often an act of personal translation, from imagery to sentences to stories. My first drafts are my attempts to understand myself—I am learning as I go. The act of revision is when I begin to mold what I’ve learned and through sound and syntax and sometimes trajectories, I get to relate it to others. It comes out as surrealism, or speculative, or fantastical. But I think it’s just where my brain is blooming pictures.

As far as the nature aspect, it may reveal as much about the reader’s place in the world as mine. It’s what I am looking at every day. If you don’t see it as much, maybe it stands out more in the stories. As I write this, I am looking at a wall of trees, and the creek below my house is so loud it sounds like a storm. I can see a raven on a tree and above that, in the sky, a kettle of turkey vultures are out warming their wings after weeks of ravaging rain. This is just what I see, and as a naturalist, I have learned a langue that allows me to name what I am paying attention to.

BS: The title itself—Tiger Paw, Tiger Paw, Knife, Knife—is eye-catching in its specificity, especially with the repetitions. Why did you choose this title for your memoir?

KG: I wasn’t intending to do this initially, but tiger paws and knives come up in several stories, starting with Frank the tiger cutting off his own paw in the face of domesticity. That is the overarching theme of the book: how much we are willing to cut out to find our more authentic selves? For me, apparently, it needs frequent repeating in my life. The titles ends up
being a mantra of sorts.

BS: Many of your smaller prose pieces deal with both love and abuse, as in “Coyote Story” and “Switchblade Serenade.” Could you discuss how you balance these themes as a writer, particularly in such short spaces? 

KG: This book was always more about the impetus for change as opposed to the change itself. In “Switchblade Serenade,” the main character had to die and be dead for some time before she realized she had been tricked into foregoing love by little affections. Of course, the reader sees it. The reader is like, “Sweetie, this is a horrible situation for you, you should bounce.” But she doesn’t—she stays. I think that is relatable because many of us are in a collective holding pattern with abuse right now.

Abuse is complicated because it’s often shrouded in kernels of what we need for survival. An abuser can make you feel good or can provide you essentials like shelter or income. You may not think you can provide these things for yourself, and sometimes that is true. For instance, this is why we must look at the housing crisis when we are talking about domestic violence, or why union busting tactics often include things dispensing really great benefits in the face of a mounting campaign. My writing is as much about the misconceptions of personalized love as it is about systemic abuse, because what I am really talking about is getting rid of what we don’t need, and that is hard to do when it feels so good, or is legitimately something that you need, such as a parent.

Writing is always an act of self-love because as writers, we are saying I am worth listening to. At the beginning of any piece, no matter how small the work, we have an invisible contract with our reader that says I am taking up this space and that requires some amount of self-love. From there, we can explore all the places love doesn’t exist, and I think the reader is able to go along for the ride because it is story, as opposed to living it or witnessing it in real time. The readers understands that at some invisible yet foundational level, love is beaming up through the work. Love makes writing about abuse palatable whereas the craft makes it engaging.

Flotsam, a mixed media art piece by Valyntina Grenier

Valyntina Grenier’s Exhibit at ShockBoxx Project Gallery

We are thrilled to share that past contributor Valyntina Grenier’s art is being featured as part of ShockBoxx Project Gallery’s show Intergalactic Open. Intergalactic Open had an in-person opening on Saturday, January 14th in Hermosa Beach. The show can be enjoyed online through Artsy until January 29th.

Grenier’s featured piece Flotsam was designed to be hung in any orientation as the curator or collector pleases. To learn more about Valyntina Grenier, visit her website. You can also connect with her through Instagram at @valyntinagrenier.

Valyntina Grenier’s art appeared in issue 30.

A headshot of EJ Levy. Credit: Desiree Suchy

Pride Community Project Episode One: Claire van Doren Interviews EJ Levy

Superstition Review is excited to share a podcast project planned and produced by SR intern Claire van Doren. In this four-episode audio series, Claire will be talking with SR’s queer contributors. In today’s episode, Claire interviews EJ Levy, whose work has been published in The Best American Essays, The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Nation and The Paris Review. Her writing has received a Pushcart Prize, as well as many other awards. She holds a degree in History from Yale and an MFA from Ohio State University. To learn more, visit her website.

The following transcript has been edited for clarity. Credit goes to FreeSound.org for the sound effects.

Claire van Doren: Hi! My name is Claire van Doren, and you’re listening to the Superstition Review Pride Community Project. Today we’ll be hearing from EJ Levy. She’ll be discussing her experiences with the queer community and how it impacts her work. This is one of four pride community specials. Stick around to hear from more of Superstition Review’s queer contributors.

[Phone ringing]

EJ Levy: I’m EJ Levy. I’m a lesbian, non-binary writer of fiction and nonfiction. I’m the author of The Cape Doctor, which came out from Little Brown. The book was a New York Times’ book review editor’s choice, and a Barnes & Noble Book of Summer pick. Prior to that, my story collection More than Theory won the Flannery O’Conner Award, among other prizes, and was the finalist for the Land of Literary and Edmond White awards. My anthology Tasting Life Twice: Literary Lesbian Fiction by New American Writers was published by Harper Perennial and won a Lambda Award. And I finally also have an obscure feminist eco-memoir titled Amazons: A Love Story that I allow almost no one to read.

Before I got up the courage to write, I worked as an independent film and home magazine editor in New York City. I edited an LGBTQ newspaper in New Mexico and was an environmental activist. I’m currently faculty in the MFA program at Colorado State University, having previously been on the MFA faculty at American University in DC, and the PhD program in literature and creative writing at the University of Missouri Colombia.

As a young, aspiring writer, I found my way, honestly, to my life—and to the page—through the work of brilliant writers who walked that path. And among them, Audre Lorde, Edmund White, Gertrude Stein, Christopher Ishwerood, Adrienne Rich, David Leavitt, Jeanette Winterson, Toni Morrison, Leslie Marmon Silko—to name a few.

I got to say that when I was in college, I studied Latin American studies and economics. And then I drifted toward a degree in History after a pretty disastrous year in the Brazilian Amazons. I wanted to write, but I didn’t want to write fiction because I didn’t think fiction told a true story. It always seemed to me that stories in books were too shapely, too crafted. That they were a lie against our experience. And after I finished college, a roommate had a copy of Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse. And I had moved towns and having trouble coming out… And I read To the Lighthouse, and I thought it was a vision of why—it was so awake, even if what it’s portraying is often very simple: a dinner, an effort to paint a picture, a trip to a lighthouse. But I thought, “This is what it is to be awake and to be alive.” And so that book literally saved my life and also brought me to fiction. It made me want to write fiction. And I became a bit of a completist and read everything of Woolf’s. I read a few books about Woolf and was really pleased when one scholar told me that I could be a Woolfian, that I knew so much about the obscure, that she considered me a Woolfian.

But I would really recommend that practice. To let ourselves fall deeply in love with writers, artists, and musicians, and to the whole of their work. Partly because I think it teaches us that when we’re making stuff, sometimes we achieve it pretty fully—and sometimes not so much. I’ve always found a brilliant mind really attractive in friends and in partners. But I’ve also known and loved a lot of people sexually or in my family who were very smart, or inept, at love. So I think that it can be hard to trust the body and its desires and be vulnerable, especially if you live in your head a lot, and especially if you grow up queer in a heteronormative culture—as we do. It’s easy to second guess oneself, and to think too much of love and desire and maybe talk your way out of it—as I often d0. And maybe go astray, instead of trusting your heart.

So writing these stories in my collection—when I was an MFA student—which considers relationships through the lens of a scholarly theory of a kind, whether it’s economic theory or political science. Writing each of the stories was a way of finding my way back to a love story that I could believe in. I kind of—I could trust as I wrestled with questions of desire and monogamy—what it is to be faithful, what it is to be honorable in love. It was also about the fact that in my early thirties, I learned—as my mother did—that my father had been cheating for forty years. It explained a lot, but for me it was also an ambivalent discovery—because I felt, “Thank God,” that there was more authentic desire happening somewhere in the landscape. Even as I thought and understood that he’d made a lie of the relationship with my mom. So I was trying to wrestle through what it is to be faithful. It was a way of finding my way back to a love that I could believe in.

And maybe not surprisingly, after that, I finally was able to settle down.

[Phone hangs up]

CVD: Thanks for joining us! Be sure to check out our YouTube page for more audio and video content, as well as our official Superstition Review blog.

Tune in next Wednesday for the second episode of the Pride Community Project!

A headshot of Jemele Hill.

TomorrowTalks with Jemele Hill: Uphill

Join ASU’s TomorrowTalks with Jemele Hill on Thursday, January 26th, at 6pm AZ time. TomorrowTalks is a student-engagement initiative meant to put students in conversation with authors, who explain how they use their writing to address society’s most pressing issues. It’s led by the Division of Humanities at ASU and hosted by ASU’s Department of English in partnership with Macmillan Publishers.

This event takes place over Zoom and is free, although registration is required. Hill will be discussing her memoir Uphill, published by Henry Holt and Co. One of Oprah Daily’s Best Fall Nonfiction Books of 2022, Uphill is a bold, unflinching look at Hill’s life and her battle to overcome intergenerational trauma. Hill forges a new path with truth and confidence, rising to find her voice and speak to the world.

Jemele Hill’s commitment to truth telling is unparalleled. Whether she is exposing white supremacy or being radically transparent about her own history, Jemele’s resolve remains steadfast. She makes you want to lean in and listen, but more importantly, she encourages us all to use our voices to tell necessary, hard truths.

Gabrielle Union, New York Times bestselling author of We’re Going to Need More Wine and You Got Anything Stronger?

Jemele Hill is currently a contributor for the Atlantic, where she writes about the intersection of culture, politics, race, and sports. She was an Emmy-Award winning cohost of ESPN and was 2018 NABJ Journalist of the Year.

Hill is relentless but fair, and she is equally comfortable parsing out instances of institutional racism and admitting to her own mistakes. She balances humor, vulnerability, and passion, creating a text that is both exciting and emotionally satisfying.


To learn more about TomorrowTalks and register for the event, go here.

A black-and-white headshot of Bridget Lillethorup.

Circles by Bridget Lillethorup: An Interview

First, she found a red drop of blood on her bike seat. It was the day my grandmother convinced herself she was dying, splitting in two at the seams, right down the middle. It was rural Iowa in 1941 and information on growing bodies was hard to come by, harder to discuss. Then, there was a fatal pinprick discovered in her younger sister’s heart. The hole was a gate, and it was just wide enough to take her life. Another flood. My grandma lost her sister the year she got her period. It was the year she found out about all this. All this. The possibility of birth. The guarantee of death.

I can imagine the owl’s eyes glowing on a banister in the family barn, chaperoning late nights for lonesome teenagers. I can hear the two “o’s” in “hoot” as my grandma calls back. I can see her grow up, the way she told me she did: the cereal barrels she cleaned at the Kellogg factory after high school; the nursing hat she wore as a hospital aid; the white lace covering her head before Vatican II; her palms touching in devotion, asking, offering. And I can stay here with her, when
she was most like me now: young, with just a handful of grays (you get one for each person you love, she told me later), not understanding that everything swings around, keeps swinging back, forward, back and forward, hits you in the face sometimes or comes up from behind. At least I think that’s what happens when you turn 30. I’m only 29.

For years, I watched my grandma. Friday nights. Sunday afternoons. Anytime my parents were both working, my sister and I were escorted to her yellow house. And then I got my period. And my parents divorced. And I moved in with her. And I watched her. I watched as she wallpapered every room in the house twice over. As she scrubbed the tiled kitchen floor each week. As she laughed at The Price is Right. As she made bad smelling food and wore too much purple. I saw
everything in her: a childish giggle when we watched cartoons, dentures in a cup when she fell asleep at 4pm. She might ramble an old memory or hum a tune in my ear as I rested in her lap. But never once did I hear her start a sentence with I feel or I love or I want or I at all. I waited. All I wanted was for her to bend down and say I feel sad. I love you. I want to be loved. I need you to understand me. Instead, we orbited. She went through her days. I observed. No one was allowed to be close. To close the distance.

Here’s what happened to her. There was a missed period. There were two wedding rings exchanged, too quickly. There were no birth control pills. There were many rounds of pregnant bellies, many more drops of blood. One child, then another, another, another, another, another, another, another. The sixth baby didn’t survive birth. Another hole in another heart. The seventh baby survived only two days outside the womb. Another fatal pinprick. A gaping hole. A brand of grief, now too familiar. My grandmother’s orbit, predictable encounters with death. The final womb was my own mother. Her entrance into the world was followed by a hysterectomy. The possibility of birth was wrung out.

This next part, I know the least about. I know there were tumblers strewn around the basement by her husband. I know she confessed sins to the priest each week—Bless me, father, but what to confess? I know that one day her second child ran away from home and never came back. I know that on that same day, a hole formed in my grandma’s heart that didn’t kill her but never healed. I know there were conversations that never found their answers—did he call? have you heard
from him?
I know that eventually she stopped asking. I know she felt echoes of emptiness inside her. I have looked into her eyes.

The “o” in ok, it’s ok, it’s ok, it’s ok, she said, if you brought up the past. My grandmother was a broken person.

I like to live in the periphery memories. I like to think about the strokes she made on the cat’s back when she listened to Johnny Cash on her record player. I like to think about her purpley lipsticked mouth asking for a divorce at age 62. I like to remember the mouths of the old tumblers repurposed as cookie cutters; her freshly permed curls the day of her weekly hair appointment; the steering wheel of the Oldsmobile turning away after she dropped me off at Catholic school; the cans of tuna she dumped into the noodle casserole; her famous deviled eggs, extra paprika; the decorative ash trays placed around her home; the teacup collection in her living room; the blue oilcloth that covered the kitchen table; the birthday cake I shared with my cousin the year she made us kiss for a photo; the fitted sheet she secured on the spare bed for me after my parents’ divorce; the bowls of instant oatmeal she heated up for me each morning; the way she contorted her lips when she reminded me to “warsh” the kitchen floors; the trashcan where she found the handle of cheap vodka I hid from her in high school; the black opal ring she gave me one day with no explanation; her eyes when she met my first boyfriend—oh my, he is so handsome; her laugh when I broke up with him—you little heartbreaker, just like me; the curls on my head that she wished were her own; the sound of Alex Trebek’s voice in the vents before she fell asleep each night; the way she repeated Birdie, Birdie, Birdie whenever I came down from my room.

I don’t like to think about: the cloth belt that kept her usually robe closed; her large breasts exposed when I found her unconscious on the floor; the search for a heart specialist; the hole in her neck for dialysis treatments; the hand mirror she held while I brushed her unpermed hair; my own reflection in that mirror: wild curls from knotted sleep, cloudy eyes from studied books, slanted teeth from bitten nails. I realized I had missed her my whole life.

I don’t like to think about: the peppermints she said were soothing; our palms touching; the Burger King hamburgers she wanted everyday near the end; her closed eyes.

On her deathbed, she screamed out. She said, I’m tearing in half right down the middle, right down the middle, right down the middle.

The end. Her blood still in mine. My body. Me, making circles around that block where we lived, sometimes in the middle of the night, thinking I understand what it feels like to live with a little hole in your heart. My blood still circulating.

Bridget Lillethorup is a nonfiction writer living in Omaha, Nebraska. She is a lecturer at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln, and an editorial assistant at Literary Mama. More of her writing can be seen in Sweet Lit, Essay Daily, The Rupture, Up the Staircase Quarterly, and others. Learn more about her here.

We are pleased to present an interview with Bridget Lillethorup below, conducted by Taylor Montaño—one of Superstition Review’s nonfiction editors for Issue 30.

Taylor Montaño: As a writer who not only lives in Nebraska, but lectures there as well, how has Nebraskan culture affected your writing?

Bridget Lillethorup: I used to say that if you could find the Nebraska landscape beautiful then you could find anything beautiful. But that’s not to say that anything about this state or the many cultures within it is simple. It just takes a more patient observer to see everything. It takes time, energy, and care to see through Midwestern stereotypes and Nebraska’s whitewashed history. I teach writing to mostly first-year and sophomore students at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, and we discuss this a lot. We talk about who we are, and how often that directly contrasts with who people think we are. Being from here sometimes feels like an ongoing battle to dismantle perceptions, and this tension comes through in my writing. There’s a lot to wrestle with in being from red state in the Great
Plains. I often consider geography and the communities that raised me as intersections in my work, and I challenge myself to show them as rounded and complicated, just as they are.

TM: Writing can be challenging to some writers as certain aspects can seem mechanic and mundane. One of these challenges is describing yourself or others.
Your craft is interesting in that you describe yourself through comparing/contrasting yourself to others. How do you battle other trials within your writing so that it is original and un-restricting?

BL: I am lucky to be in a writing group with people I trust deeply. For me, writing must always take part in a community. My group has seen my written voice in many forms, some strong examples, and plenty of weak ones too. They help me stay true to myself.

The first drafts of my essays are usually heavy with images and descriptions. Here’s what I saw. Here’s another image it reminds me of. I often struggle to explain to my audience why these images are important to the larger story. My group can see these holes more clearly and quickly than I can. Sometimes it hurts to be vulnerable with this group; they know my weaknesses better than some of my closest friends. But unchecked, I don’t think I could strike the right balance in my writing and would probably write things that would never leave my creaky old desk.

TM: The use of color within Circles is something to take note of. You mention the red blood, the house being yellow, and your grandmother often wearing
purple. How has visual effects such as color allowed you to translate a memory into prose for your reader?

BL: Color is a beautiful tool for translating a memory to the page. Recording images precisely from my imagination has always been important to me. I remember falling in love with books as a kid, and then being so disappointed when I saw the movie version, because the movies didn’t look like what I pictured in my head. (I particularly remember this feeling with The Chronicles of Narnia). I would go home after the movie and try to remember what the characters and places looked like in my imagination before I saw the movie. I was terrified of losing my original renditions.

As a writer, translating the visual aspects of old memories seems similarly urgent. I don’t have access to many spaces of my youth anymore. My grandma’s house was renovated and has sold twice since I lived there. I want to remember everything exactly the way it was. It’s a fool’s errand, but an important one. I remember the color of the tiles in the bathroom, but not what she kept behind the mirrors. Why? I was never invited “behind the scenes” of her makeup routine. That’s interesting to me. What I remember, or don’t remember, leads me to meaning, which I can then explore through prose.

TM: Furthermore, how—do you think—does utilizing color allow doors to open within your writing?

BL: I clearly remember my art teacher in third grade giving a lesson on the color red. She told us that red is the first color that the human eye detects. Humans are naturally drawn to its deep hues, she said. The assignment that day was to draw a wintery scene that was blue and white save for one element, which had to be red. It could be the scarf on a snowman, a roof, a shovel, etc. It was our choice—where did you want our audience’s eyes to be drawn? What did we want them to remember?

I don’t know if that factoid about the color red is all truth, and obviously people’s perceptions of color vary vastly. But I like the sentiment behind her lesson: when used sparingly, adding color can highlight even the smallest details, or make our big sentiments bolder. Although, saturating an essay with color sounds fun, too.

TM: Your piece has a voice that is uniquely yours. You have parts in which you are honest with your reader and mention in a matter-of-fact tone that “this is what [you] know.” What are the advantages and disadvantages of your perspective alone?

BL: I think it’s important to acknowledge the limitations of your own perspective in writing. I am reminded of something the late Brian Doyle wrote in his famous essay, “Joyas Voladoras ”: “We are utterly open with no one in the end—not mother and father, not wife or husband, not lover, not child, not friend.” I agree; you can never really know someone. I don’t ever want to write an essay where I argue that I have the whole story of someone’s life. I can only present what I see and tell you what I think of it.

For this particular essay, I could have interviewed other people in my grandma’s life to get more angles on my own interpretation of her. I’m sure that would have been a rich experience and given me different ideas to think about. The way a person remembers an event or person is deeply individual. I remember color and shapes, but my sister might remember conversations and verbal expressions better than me, while my mother might remember feelings above all else. For this essay, I was particularly drawn to the lines of connection I felt between my grandma and me. I wanted to keep it tight and focus on what a young person can learn from a grandparent, despite age differences and communication barriers.

TM: You take the concept of circles—circling her house symbolizing your blood cycling within you—and use it to clearly tell your story. Do you often find
semblances through shapes to tell your stories? If not, how does utilizing this shape within “Circles” help your reader glimpse into what you have experienced?

BL: At some point in the drafting process, I have to visualize a structure in order to move forward. Maybe it’s a braid, a series of folds, or a circle, like in this essay. I think shapes carry meaning and associations just like any other literary element. I was drawn to the circle for this essay because it represents processes: fertility, birth, death, grief, blood circulation. When I think of my grandma, I feel these circles moving around me.

I’ve never forgotten the story my grandma told me of getting her period as an adolescent and being terrified that she was dying. As a young girl myself, I related to that fear a lot, and that was one of the first moments I felt a kindship between our lived experiences. I don’t think my grandma and I had too much in common, but we are related, and her experiences live in me somewhere, even the ones I’ll never know about. Her life still circulates in me, and I feel that deeply.

Superstition Review Submissions Open

Superstition Review Submissions Open

Superstition Review

Superstition Review is open to submissions for Issue 31! Our submission window closes January 31st, 2023.
Our magazine is looking for art, fiction, nonfiction, and poetry. Read our guidelines and submit here.

A picture of Benjamin Faro.

Benjamin Faro’s A Party of One and Many: An Interview

Benjamin Faro’s poem, “A Party of One and Many,” is forthcoming in Nimrod Journal. A brief but moving piece on grief and reminiscence, it was chosen by Amsterdam University College’s creative writing students to be the focus of an interview with Faro. They have also curated a variety of questions for Faro about “A Party of One and Many” and his writing process. We are pleased to include those questions and Benjamin Faro’s responses in an interview below. Due to the time difference, this interview was conducted by Brennie Shoup, Superstition Review’s blog editor. Read more about the collaboration between AUC’s creative writing students and Superstition Review here.

Benjamin Faro is a green-thumbed writer and educator living in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, on stolen Taíno lands. He is the Editor-in-Chief of Equatorial, an international curation of undergraduate poetry, and is also pursuing his MFA in Creative Writing at Queens University of Charlotte, where he serves as Poetry Editor for Qu Literary Magazine. His poetry has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and has appeared or is forthcoming in a number of literary journals, including Atlanta Review, EcoTheo Review, Interim Poetics, JMWW, Portland Review, West Trade Review, and others. Learn more on his website.

Brennie Shoup: Hello! My name is Brennie Shoup. I’m Superstition Review’s blog editor, and today I will be interviewing Benjamin Faro on behalf of the Amsterdam University College Students, who have curated a variety of questions about his piece, “A Party of One and Many” (I believe [this] is the title of it). And they were super happy to read this poem, and they wanted to talk to him about the process and his work. So, would you like to introduce yourself?

Benjamin Faro: Yeah! Sure. So my name’s Benjamin Faro, and, you know, this is a piece I wrote over this past summer. And so it’s relatively recent, and I’m really grateful for the questions that the students sent and for this opportunity. 

BS: We are so happy to have you and so happy that you agreed to do this interview. We’re so excited to see what you say about your process and all that. I’m sure the students are really happy about that, too. So, getting into the first question: what inspired you to write this piece?

BF: Yeah, so, recently—within the last few years, I would say—a number of people in my life have passed away, unfortunately. And as people do, we sit with that, and we think about that. We think about those people. And even after the writing of this piece, another person close to me passed away, and one of the unique things about it—all of these people liked to cook. They’re people that I know from the kitchen, which, of course, is where the poem is set. 

Thinking about those things, and thinking about how—as you get older—the more people you know will pass away. That number accumulates, and then you find yourself thinking about, “Oh, it’s the anniversary of so-and-so’s death, and this person’s death.” And thinking about that in terms of a celebration. I realized I can bring these people together in one space, like as I was cooking and thinking about all of them. And, interestingly, in a way that probably would never have happened if they were alive because they lived in such different places… [I was] really just sitting with the idea of having all of these people with me in the post-life. 

BS: Yeah, I think the poem definitely has that sort of unity, and I think it really comes through. And the title of this piece specifically—and maybe your poetry in general—how do you decide on those titles or on a title for a work?

BF: I’ve been thinking about titles… It’s been a focus of mine in my work over, I’d say, the last year or two—and really trying to—you know, of course, maybe not all of my titles achieve this or reach this end… But I really try to make all of them do some kind of work, whether that’s contextualizing the space in which the poem is embedded or initiating a narrative or something like that. Or just stimulating some kind of contemplation. And I think that’s why this title went a little bit… hinting that there’s an ambiguous number of people here—or number of entities, at least. That hinting at that idea of celebration with “party” and playing on that word… Yeah, sometimes you just land on a—I don’t know—as with poetry… I know that I wanted it to do something there, and this is what I landed on. 

BS: Yeah! I will also say the title, at least for me, when I saw it was very intriguing—very like, “Oh, what does this mean?” Would you say that you also try to intrigue the reader a little bit with your title as well?

BF: For sure, yeah! You know, that’s what, I guess, what I meant by bringing them to a space of contemplation, of being—of wondering, of curiosity. Like “What’s behind this?”

BS: I would say you definitely did that with this poem. It’s very much like, “Oh, I wonder what that means,” like what the poem is going to be about. So, for our third question: what is the meaning behind the poem’s narrow form—to you?

BF: Yeah… I was thinking about this question, and, of course, I thought about all of them. But this one in particular I was thinking about as a question where thinking about it—after the fact—actually I think is more clear than how I was thinking about it in the moment of writing. And it kind of feels like it was a subconscious thing to make it this structure. I mean I did it on purpose, but I wasn’t necessarily thinking of the reasons that I’m thinking of now. 

And the reasons that I think of are that I think it mirrors the kitchen, the tight space that it’s talking about. I’m a young adult, but I have lived in nothing but houses with small kitchens or apartments with small kitchens, so that’s kind of the feeling of this setting. But also what it’s talking about in the sort of—the slippery slope between reminiscing and then dwelling, and the kind of tight space that dwelling on somebody who has passed can bring you in emotionally and mentally. It’s a very constricted mental/emotional state. And I think it reflects both of those things. 

BS: For sure. For me, I feel like the form works—I think you did a good job choosing that. And then, for our fourth question: do you think that art can or cannot be—or should or should not be—political?

BF: I have had mentors—people, poets—I’ve heard them say that all art is, in some way, inevitably political. And I don’t know that I think that that’s true. To be honest, I’m not 100% sure what I think about this. But I think that it can and cannot. And which is related to my answer to the should, which is that I don’t think it’s my place to judge whether or not someone should be political with their work. If they decide to… Because it’s your own creative space. And if in your own creativity, it manifests as political or as some people might call political—or the intention is political… Then more power to you.

If your creative space is something that, you know, isn’t—and that’s hard to define, but I do think that they exist—then also power to you. I think they can both happen.

BS: Yeah, and then just for you—would you say that the majority of your pieces are—I’m just curious, I guess—about how you would define most of your pieces or your work. 

BF: I mean, most of my work—I don’t know that most of my work falls into any certain category—but I definitely have two major things happening, one of which is definitely political. And it’s thinking about the socio-political state of the world, the United States—so it’s explicitly political. And then, another body of work that kind of explores the space of family and emotion and what’s there, which is hard for me to say is political. I don’t know if I would call it that. 

BS: I think that’s a great answer! So thank you. And then for our fifth question: how do you know when a poem is complete—or is it ever complete?

BF: This is something that I’ve thought about also. I can ask myself—or anyone—can ask themselves a couple of questions. Have I surprised myself? Have I said something that I have never experienced before? Either reading or in my own writing. Which, that alone doesn’t mean that you’re done. But if it’s not there, then maybe that’s a good indicator to keep digging. 

And then, I was thinking about this in terms of fullness and comfort. Of course, [I] read it over many times and give it space between readings, but… Upon repeated readings, does it feel full? Does it feel like it’s asking for more? There’s something, you know—there’s a vacant space. Or does it feel nice and bulbous and full? 

And then comfort—it may feel full, but the things within that fullness… Do they want to be in there? Are they comfortable there? Or does something not want to be there? And then, if you pull it out, that affects the fullness again. I think those are two criteria to think about. 

BS: That’s a great answer! Something really actionable—something people can look at… And I assume something you use sometimes for your own work. And then, for question six, we have—what is your process for discovering literary journals to submit to? Do you have a system for keeping track of your submissions or deciding where is best to put your piece?

BF: The simpler questions first: my system for keeping track is Submittable basically. I’m on there, and I can keep a handle on that. Deciding where to submit to is a matter of reading, which is a thread through the next couple of questions—is reading. But super crucial, and that’s also my process for discovering journals—is reading. Reading until I find someone—or a poem that I’m blown away by. And then I go down and read the bio—okay, where else are they published? And then go there and then read. And see who else is there, and do the same thing. It just becomes a rabbit hole of finding great writing. 

And I built a database—a whole excel database of hundreds of journals. It’s plotted out like—what do they accept? Is it flash, fiction, poetry? Their submission dates and all of that. It’s a work in progress, but it’s what I use. 

BS: Awesome! I feel like excel spreadsheets, you know? Gotta use them. And then for question seven—what do you wish you had known before starting out as a writer?

BF: This was an interesting question to me because of the wording—“started out” as a writer. Because it makes it feel intentional, which I don’t feel is true in my case. I feel like I had an affinity for it for a long time—like in college. And even before that, musically, creatively fiction—and then set it aside because of career and stuff like that. And then [I] came back to it. And then it really took off. So I didn’t really “start out” in the way I perceive this. 

But something that I learned early on that was helpful—and I think would be helpful to people who are thinking of spending their time being writers—again, comes back to reading. It’s profoundly helpful to just read and see, expose yourself to all of the different ways creative people out there are expressing themselves and doing it in ways that you never thought about. And then that is inspiration for you to do something in a way you’ve never thought about. So for me, and I know for many people, reading is a super inspirational tool. I think I’d say that. 

BS: Awesome! Would you say currently—and I know this isn’t part of the question—do you usually lean toward reading poetry or do you like to read all kinds of things? 

BF: I like to read all kinds of things—poetry, short stories, novels, non-fiction… I really enjoy all kinds of things. And you can get different kinds of inspiration from different kinds of things. But I think, related to the next question about writer’s block—is inspiration and stuff like that. When I’m in a space of writing, or when I’m looking for inspiration, then I will intentionally read poetry, because that’s what I’m looking for. 

BS: Awesome. Yeah—so going on to that next question. Do you believe in writer’s block? And if yes, how do you deal with it?

BF: Yeah. I feel like my creative space or productivity or whatever has been in a little bit of a slump over the past… Well, maybe for a few months, from maybe August, September, October, there was a lot going on, and that can affect things. Whatever the reason is that you get into creative slumps. And then you sit down, and it’s not as much as coming out as what you may be used to. So that definitely happens, because I’ve experienced it, you know?

I think, for me, what worked—reading, like I was saying. And that’s the big one—I’ve realized. I have not been reading, and I get so much… The “wow” factor that you get from poems—from reading—is a really powerful thing. And I think if you’re a creative, you—or, maybe I should say… Many creatives feed off of that “wow” energy and what to do that, then. And turn around and figure out a way to do that. And that can be a way to access that energy. 

Maybe switching up routine… Something I realized was—you know, simple—and maybe it’s simple things. Something I realized—because I’m a morning writer—is I was waking up and trying to write first thing and then walk the dog later. But I realized that if I wake up first and then go walk her, take her thirty minutes outside and wake up a little bit and come back, I’m in a better space. I have more energy. It’s important to also pay attention to yourself and how you’re working and how you’re feeling—your energy levels. And make little changes, if you can. 

BS: I think that’s super valuable advice—thank you for that. And then this is our final set of questions. Do you consider yourself an artist? And did you answer change overtime? 

BF: I think I do consider myself an artist. And I think my answer… Thinking back, I think I was an artist at different times in my life. There was a time when I was an artist doing this kind of thing, and there was a time when I wasn’t in a creative space. And maybe at that time I wasn’t an artist, and now I am. I think it can fluctuate—it’s a flexible, fluid state of being. 

BS: Alright! Well, thank you so much. If there’s anything else you think you would want anyone to know about this piece or about your pieces in general? 

BF: I don’t know that there’s anything else I would want people to know about it. Just—when it comes out, read it and experience it. Let it bring you to the space that it brings you to. And I’m grateful for that. 

BS: We are super grateful that you submitted to Superstition Review, and congratulations on getting it published in Nimrod Journal! That’s so exciting, and it definitely deserved it. I read it, and I was very much “wow”ed, I guess you could say. The “wow” factor—I very much liked it. And I know that the creative writing students in Amsterdam also really enjoyed it. And I’m sure they’re super appreciative of this interview and getting to know your process a little bit. So thank you so much!

BF: It’s been a pleasure! Thank you—to you and the students.

A headshot of Kristina Saccone.

Dementia’s Orphans by Kristina Saccone: An Interview

Kristina Saccone

Six sets of plants and cut flowers surround my mother in varying stages of life and decay. She sits in silence while I help the movers inventory her things. A ficus holds on to the north-facing window. A poinsettia in red foil hasn’t moved since Christmas, and its curled, dried leaves litter the floor. Standing water smells rank in the iris bowl. Bulbs pop out of a wood planter, packed with straw, supposed to foster new spring growth. Instead it’s swampy—she watered it, forgot, then watered it again, and then again and again.

Like a plant, my mother’s mind wilts, molds, droops. First, little things—dates and times—slipped her mind. She fell victim to fraud. She lost words, and without language, she stopped engaging with friends and family. She forgot how to plug in the blender and how to turn off the oven. She failed a driving test.  

Now, movers measure the furniture to see if it will fit in her new apartment in the care home. “This?” they say, pointing to a four decade-old lamp with moth holes in the shade. “This?” to a CD tower, untouched in years. “This? This is a good piece of furniture,” they point to the teak dining room table.

“Let’s try to take as much of it as we can,” I say. Mom sits on the couch, silent with cheeks sagging, biting skin off her fingers. When I hug her, she leans in with her head on my stomach but then abruptly pushes me away.

The movers don’t notice the burst of anger. One of them points: “This ficus is a good, hardy plant.” Its spindly, six-foot branches drink in the suburban sun in the same place it’s sat for decades. “We see this all the time: orphan plants,” they say. Pots that can’t possibly move to a space with three windows instead of twelve. Plants that are easier to throw in the dumpster than stack in a moving truck. “It’s sad,” they say, “to see these thriving, living things left behind.” The movers adopt them, give them a new home and attention. They bring them back to life.

This is the revival I envision for my mother, too. She will move into a building with professional caretakers who understand age and infirmity. She will have everything she needs, from a bistro to a salt water pool and spa. Workout classes, lectures, and concerts all day to keep her busy. A new home to give her water, light, and companions.

Before she forgot how to use her email, she sent notes titled “Memories” with no message, just photos from years past. These images show her holding her grandchildren with a recognition and love unseen now for years. The Christmas cactus blooms pink in the background. Fresh cut lilies extend their stamen and perfume the room. These are echoes from the past: the smiles, the smell, the growth and bloom.

I bring fake peonies to her new home, arrange the stems in a crystal vase, and set it on the sill. The next time I visit, I catch her watering them. The sturdy ficus stands nearby, reaching for its new window. All of us are resilient, despite Mom’s forgetting.

Kristina T. Saccone (she/her) writes short fiction and nonfiction. Her work appears in Fractured Lit, Cease, Cows, Gone Lawn, Flash Flood, Luna Station Quarterly, LEON Literary Review, Emerge Literary Journal, and others. She edits a limited-run online literary journal with stories about caring for our aging parents, called One Wild Ride, and she’s querying an anthology on the same topic. Kristina is also a Randoph College MFA candidate.

The following interview was conducted by Taylor Montaño, our Nonfiction Section Editor for issue 30, via email.

Taylor Montaño: One Wild Ride is a unifying development that allows those that we care about to be safe and cared for. How might the readers of S[r] contribute?

Kristina Saccone: Thank you for this question. I started this project to help writers find community in reading others’ stories and sharing their own lived experience. One way to contribute is to read the stories on One Wild Ride and then share them widely. You can keep up with the project by signing up for One Wild Ride’s weekly newsletter. I also encourage writers to keep writing and publishing on this theme. Once I find a publisher for a printed anthology of new pieces about the topic, I’ll open for submissions. Every one of us is affected by caregiving at some point in life, and it’s important to embrace these narratives in several ways! 

TM: The permanence of impermanence is explored within Dementia’s Orphans through the decaying of plants. How did you come to understand that this element would help the reader better understand your message?

KS: I think the pandemic amplified impermanence for a lot of us. In my bubble, we had a five-year old struggling with online kindergarten and my mother who, at a distance, was beginning a steady decline into dementia. I had no control over whether my son would flourish, and the situation with my mother was the definition of unpredictable; we suspected something was wrong, but it took a series of crises to be certain she was ill. 

My mother always loved flowers. It was part of the rhythm of her life, now turned upside down. So, when I saw my mother’s plants in such decay, I was struck by the parallels between her dying houseplants and her declining mind. Despite well-intentioned caregivers who tried to stop her, she insisted on watering them again and again and again. By overfeeding them, she interrupted their cycle of nourishment. When she moved and we faced throwing them in the dumpster, I realized that the plants had actually been abandoned long ago by a mind that didn’t make sense anymore. 

Ironically, I find some stability in the impermanence of living things. Plants, whether in our garden or our homes, are a regular reminder that we can grow something anew from a seed; with nourishment, it flourishes; and at the end of its season, it decays and returns to the earth. That life cycle actually brings me hope. 

This year before the frost, we planted allium bulbs. They will blossom in the spring. They will live for a few weeks and then, with summer’s warmth, decay. The cycle of growth mimics how humans hope to live our lives: we are born, we live, and then we die—all things being, hopefully, mostly comfortable, predictable. It is never quite that straightforward though, is it?

TM: How does writing your experiences fulfill closure, both internally and externally?

KS: Writing about my experience with my mother is a necessary thing; I often feel like I’d like to move on from it, write about something new or more creative, but I always return to it. It sometimes brings me closure, but often in the process of writing, I’ll discover connections or truths about the situation that I may not have noticed before. An example from this piece is, as my mother moved, I felt grief for all the things she had to leave behind and the home that we were losing as a family. When one of the movers called the plants “orphans,” it helped label that grief in the moment. But later, writing about it, I realized that the mover had this label in her lexicon because she took personal care with families through these moves. She had deep respect for the lives they were leaving behind. As I wrote, I tried to recenter my experience outside my own grief, tried to see through the eyes of those who do the moving, who experience these types of losses day after day after day. It gave me empathy for this work and immense gratitude for the people who help families like mine through life’s difficult transitions. 

TM: At the end of your piece, there is a feeling of hope and reassurance that is undeniably pulled from the reader. What words—aside from your finishing lines—would you like to give to those of us that are in need of support during these situations?

KS: I started this project because, at the beginning of this journey with my mother, I found comfort and support in reading flash-length stories about caring for our aging parents. It was hard to find these pieces scattered across the internet, so I created One Wild Ride to compile some of the reprints in one place. I hope that those who are in need of support can find it there, through the words of others who have been through similar experiences.

TM: Would you mind further discussing how nature has affected your writing in terms of personification, imagery, and syntax?

KS: Before her dementia, my mom liked to remind me how much I hated the outdoors as a child. Then, after moving from the east coast and living in Colorado for 15 years, I adapted to the bluebird skies, the dry climate, the crystalline snow. I learned to love low-water plant environments, with deciduous trees, grasses, alpine Columbine flowers, twin Goldfinches in the neighborhood trees, the rhythm of the breezes. These memories—which are now just images—flow through much of my writing. 

When I moved back to the east coast about five years ago, the contrast in climate and nature was disorienting for me. I went from arid to humid summers; tall blowing grasses to tangles of hanging vines like a rainforest; from drought to hurricane conditions. It all felt heavy to me, this wet and gloomy environment, also mirroring the sagging plants overwatered by my mother. Nature here in the mid-Atlantic feels Gothic, and lends to lush-but-often-haunted personifications of people and spaces. 

TM: Do you often do research on the plants you write about to better understand how it can benefit your writing?

KS: I’m a former journalist, and one of the old habits I can’t shake is the need to research details in my creative nonfiction. It’s sometimes my downfall because researching for accuracy can go on ad nauseum—sometimes to the detriment of the writing. My process for this story began with a strong image that is linked to a deep emotion. I find that when my writing begins that way, research sometimes derails whatever has inspired me. So for this piece, I went as far as to ensure I was naming the plants correctly, but I left it at that.

A few years ago, I wrote a piece of creative nonfiction about a rogue tomato plant that popped up unexpectedly in my flower bed in October and November. I was fairly sure it would be a story about climate change, but I didn’t want to assume that tomatoes don’t grow that late in the year in my part of the U.S. I did a lot of research about climate zones, tomatoes, and the changing seasons. I wouldn’t have been comfortable putting that story out for print without that research. 

So, I believe that sometimes research is absolutely necessary in creative nonfiction, but other times, if you feel it getting in the way of your writing process, I think it’s okay to let it go.

Kristina Saccone can be found on Twitter at @kristinasaccone and @one_wild_ride.