We are excited to announce that Leesa Cross-Smith’s new book Half-Blown Rose, published by Grand Central Publishing, is out today!
Travel to Paris with Vincent as she deals with the complications of the past and decides on a future filled with romance, friendship, art, and long, starry walks along the Seine. Watch her blossom as she grows into the woman she decides to become in this heartfelt book about self-discovery and love.
We are also thrilled to share some of Leesa’s inspirations, writing process, and thoughts about the complexities of relationships. The interview was conducted by our Blog Editor, Taylor Dilger via email.
Taylor Dilger: This book is about “a woman remaking her life after her husband’s betrayal leads to a year of travel, art, and passion in Paris.” What inspired this?
Leesa Cross-Smith: I was inspired during and after my trip to Paris in 2019! Right after lockdown, I (like everyone) wanted to escape and dreaming of spending a year in Paris sounded like heaven. I love writing strong, independent women who are fully present in their lives after major life changes…who are figuring out how to move on without losing themselves completely. I put my character, Vincent, in Paris because I love Paris and wanted to see what adventures awaited her there!
TD: A review from Deesha Philyaw says, “Reading her stunning prose is a full-blown experience. Within the deeply intimate worlds she conjures, she captures love, lust, and longing with such emotional intricacy and verve.” What was your writing process for this book like?
LCS: Thank you so much to Deesha! I wrote the majority of this book during lockdown, but the process wasn’t so different from how I write all of my books. I really do just get to work in the morning and write and write and write until I get to my stopping point for the day. I write the first draft to tell the story to myself…to get to know my characters fully…then I rewrite and rewrite. I actually wrote more during quarantine lockdown than I usually do because I didn’t even have to do the ordinary, everyday things like carpool since school was cancelled, etc. I had more time to write. Looking back now, it’s a wonder I was able to focus enough to write books, but I’m glad it worked out! (And that I was blessed to be healthy during that time!) 🙂
TD: This book is filled with “playlists, travel journal entries, and excerpts from Cillian’s novel.” Could you tell me more about the choice to use different formats?
LCS: As much as I can, I always like to try something new with every book. I loved the idea of including some of Cillian’s novel (also called Half-Blown Rose) in the book so the reader could see exactly what he had written and why Vincent reacted so strongly to it. I often thought of metafiction while I was writing and although I wouldn’t say Half-Blown Rose is exactly metafiction…it is very aware of itself and I occasionally use screenplay snippets to sort of “direct” the reader…reminding them that this is a deliberate work of art/fiction and also, sometimes that Vincent is imagining herself/her new life as if it is a film. I added the playlists because I love the ones I made and wanted to share them and I love when there are playlists in books! And the journal entries since Vincent teaches journaling classes at the modern art museum in Paris…it gave me a chance to put that to practice and for the reader to hear from her in first person since the rest of the book is written in third. It was just a device I used to bring the reader and Vincent evencloser to each other.
TD: Vincent is learning to find herself again after a betrayal from her husband. Why is it important to highlight the messy complexities of relationships with ourselves and others?
LCS: This is a great question! I think it’s important because relationships are messy and complex. It’s so true! Whether we’re talking about ourselves or our relationships with others, I know how important honesty is, and faking it can only get us so far. I love writing a messy, complicated relationships because I love writing about intimacy and sometimes it’s our most intimate relationships that are the most complex. I love these things because they interest me and they interest me because I love them….relationships and human nature, in general…how we get through this life, and the big (existential, unspoken) questions without neat answers to wrap everything up in a bow. Those unspoken questions keep me writing.
TD: What does your writing space look like?
LCS: Sometimes I write at my kitchen table, sometimes my couch, sometimes my bed! I can write anywhere in my house but I have to be here at home. I can’t write out in the world because I’m too easily startled and it’s usually too noisy. When I was in college, I could write anywhere. But now, I have to be at home in the quiet with my cat and my tea and my warm, cozy things.
Superstition Review has another interview with Leesa in Issue 15 about her book Whiskey & Ribbons. Be sure to check that out along with Leesa’s website and Twitter for more updates and information on her work.
Congratulations to Rochelle Hurt for her new poetry collection, The J Girls: A Reality Show, published by Indiana University Press. Meet Jocelyn, Jodie, Jennifer, Jacqui, and Joelle as they navigate growing up in the late 1990s. In this hybrid blend of poetry, screenplay, and drama, episodes capture moments of the girls’ adolescence, following them through every bad decision, poetic monologue, and campy performance where every girl experiments with who they are on and off screen.
Fierce, fresh, and playful, this book is something we’ve all been waiting for. From the descriptions of the Cast List to the End Credits featuring the “Beatitudes for Meek Girls,” the entire collection is a wild, candid ride through the highlights and critiques surrounding teenage life. The themes, much like the friendships within, transcend across every generation, unleashing the universality of self-discovery and the importance of creating a better world for girls.
Like the teenagers at its center, Rochelle Hurt’s The J Girls: A Reality Show is wild, smart, aching, and fearless. This genre-exploding book exquisitely captures the thrumming ecstasy and terror and guilt and bravado and tenderness and rage of adolescent girlhood. The J Girls understand that no girl is ever only one girl, and they claim themselves, in all of their iterations, again and again. This book is the bite-and-glitter I wish I’d had as a companion during my own high school years; I’m so grateful to have it now.
We’re also very excited to share an interview that dives deeper into the collection and Rochelle’s inspirations and writing process behind it. This interview was conducted via email by our Blog Editor, Taylor Dilger.
Taylor Dilger: Could you describe some of your inspirations for this collection?
Rochelle Hurt: This book is a reflection of my own adolescence that is both fictionalized and deeply personal. It was heavily influenced by my own girlhood: the rust belt, Catholic school, church festivals, the wet n wild makeup section at Rite-Aid, girls’ bathrooms, single parents, Avon, hot dogs, belly-button rings, skunk highlights, Salt-N-Pepa, The Craft, But I’m a Cheerleader,Survivor, MTV, Jerry Springer, Ricki Lake, the Spice Girls, and PJ Harvey–as processed through some later influences: Reality Hunger, RuPaul’s Drag Race, Lana Del Rey, Baroque paintings, the Gurlesque, burlesque, Gwendolyn Brooks, Anne Sexton, Dolly Parton, Sylvia Plath, Sharon Olds, Harryette Mullen, Judith Butler, and just feeling out of place in academia. I wanted to write all the delicious trashy things that sophisticated culture tells me to hide.
TD: You combine poetry, screenplay, and drama together in a unique hybrid blend. Could you tell me more about this choice and why you decided to fit this piece in this particular form?
RH: While I was writing this book, I was also studying in a Ph.D. program and reading a lot of gender and queer theory on performance as a means of subversion. In a dramatic performance, one can control her own image and manipulate the audience’s gaze, sometimes by parodying the stereotypes that have been placed on her and exposing the scripts she’s been given as bogus. I knew that performance and camp had to be a part of these poems, so I thought about the ways that teen girls perform their identities in groups in order to understand and empower themselves. In the late 90s, when this book is set, reality TV was really taking off, and the ways in which reality so often seems “scripted” came into focus–the roles we’re supposed to play based on gender, class, race, sexuality. It was a toxic culture in many ways, and direct critique was just not available to many young women. So I wanted to give the teens in this book another way to process, perform, and parody their own reality as working-class girls while still allowing them to have fun and gain some agency.
TD: In “The Birth of Anger at the Roller-Skating Rink” you write, “Even my first kiss came / like an accidental slap from a strange man, who, / on his way across this very room to the arcade / or concession stand, tripped over me like a dropped / candy box and decided he wanted a piece, so took it.” Many of these poems cover women’s sexuality and identity. Could you elaborate on the importance of talking about these topics in our society today?
RH: Writing about the lives of women and girls is a form of resistance for me. American culture remains toxic in many ways, and while attitudes toward sexuality and women’s bodies have improved, we still see direct assaults on reproductive rights and LGBTQ rights in our political system, which is deeply racist, misogynistic, homophobic, and classist. We still live in a culture that objectifies and sexualizes women and girls while demonizing them for expressing their sexualities–particularly if they are working-class or women of color. We live in a culture that punishes women seeking abortions but gives second chances to rapists if they’re white and educated. I live in a state (Florida) that is currently trying to ban abortion after 15 weeks and to ban discussion of sexuality and gender identity in schools. They have already banned trans girls from playing sports in school. We haven’t made nearly enough progress in the last 50 years, and now it seems we may be going backward politically. Somebody once told me my poems were full of rage, and they were right.
We’re so excited to share an interview with past intern Leah Newsom, the Nonfiction Editor for Issue 15 and the Interview Editor for Issue 16. Find out about the lessons she learned at Superstition Review, what she’s working on now, and her relationship with art. The interview was conducted by our blog editor, Taylor Dilger.
Taylor Dilger: You were the nonfiction editor for Issue 15 and the interview editor for Issue 16. What were the most valuable lessons learned in these positions?
Leah Newsom: Well, they were both really different positions. I might have to transport myself through time. I remember at the same time I was the nonfiction editor, I was taking a nonfiction class, which was a workshop that was offered when I was a student. I don’t know if it still is, but it was cool because I don’t think at the time I really understood creative nonfiction as a genre, separate from journalism or essay writing, you know what I mean? So, for me as the creative nonfiction editor, it was still a continued learning experience about the genre and who the main players in that field are. It was a great learning experience to be immersed in a type of writing that I don’t normally do, but to be able to use transferable skills from being a fiction writer to identifying what I liked about nonfiction and what I liked about creative nonfiction.
I found creative nonfiction to be so much more experimental than I thought it would be and so I saw a lot of similarities between that and poetry. It felt like a really exciting space that people were writing in. I think one of the things about being an editor for a journal is that it’s valuable to be able to see the other side of the process because when you’re submitting to journals it can feel very isolating and you’re like everybody hates my writing and I’ll never get published anywhere and are they even reading it? It’s very anxiety-inducing, but knowing how the other side works helps you understand how your work is being read elsewhere, so that’s part of it.
But in the nonfiction space at Superstition Review for me, it was also learning the kinds of work that was being submitted to SR and sort of getting engaged in different spaces that creative nonfiction lives. Even now it has helped me identify books that I love. Creative nonfiction that I would like to write now is influenced a lot by what I learned as an SR editor when I was an undergrad. Being the nonfiction editor lent itself to the interview editor position because all the people that we interviewed were creative nonfiction writers. We interviewed them all at Nonfiction Now which is an international writing conference that happened to be in Flagstaff that year, so all of it was very serendipitous. If I hadn’t had the experience of taking that class for creative nonfiction, editing in that part of it, and learning about it, I would’ve been very ill-equipped to do those interviews in the first place.
TD: In your Superstition Review bio, it says that you were “an active participant in the Phoenix literary community, and [have] hopes to help develop [your] city’s focus on the arts.” In what way have you done that in the last couple of years?
LN: This might be a sad answer. I think, in fact, I’ve actually turned more inward. I used to be a part of the Four Chambers Downtown Phoenix literary art scene. I lived Downtown, I went to a lot of readings Downtown, I was an intern for the Write On, Downtown journal, you know? I was a reader for Spillers when that was an event happening at Crescent Ballroom. I was really a big participant in that scene and then when I went to grad school there was no time. Everything I did was at ASU and basically, I’ve been in an ASU bog since then.
In a way, I think that my writing community has also expanded outside of Arizona so I’m friends with a lot of writers around the country and especially in the days of Zoom my network isn’t necessarily local or ideas of locality have changed. That being said, I love Phoenix and whenever anyone trash talks it, I get very mad. My husband is a local business owner and owns two tattoo shops in central Phoenix and all of our friends are local artists. We remain in a community of artists, whether that be the exact same community of artists when I was a student, not so much. But I don’t know, I’ve always had dreams of running some kind of reading series. I ran an online literary magazine called Spilled Milk for a long time and I thought what if that could be a print one? But it’s also a question of I work 40 hours a week, I teach, I have a kid. It’s a lot.
TD: You were a published writer with a short story in Four Chambers Press and a flash fiction chapbook. Do you have any updates on what you’ve recently worked on or are currently working on now?
LN: Oh yeah, things have changed quite a lot since then. You can find links to these on my website, leahnewsom.com but I have short stories in Juked, PANK, Passages North, and Ninth Letter. I have a short story in Everything Change: an Anthology of Climate Fiction published by the Imagination and Climate Futures Initiative that was judged by Kim Stanley Robinson. Those are my more recent publications and then I am working on a novel right now. Novel writing is slow and kind of a slog. I think my last publications were about this time last year so it’s been a little bit of a dip while I’ve been novel writing.
TD: Do you have any information about your novel that you’d like to share?
LN: I don’t know…it’s hard to write a novel. The stuff that I’m thinking about in my novel has a lot to do with well-being, the ways that we talk about self-care, mental health, and ways in which those are used both constructively and in toxic ways to create strange tensions between people. Actually, here I’ll give you an anecdote. When I was in grad school, I wrote a short story that is now the short story in Passages North called “Break Point” in which there were two women and a man in the story, and the two women had a very toxic intimate relationship (if you read it you will find out why) but I realized that the man was a pawn. As a character, he wasn’t really doing anything other than being a thing that the two women were bouncing off of. So, I created a new revision tactic that sits with me to this day called “cut all the men out of the stories.” And when I cut the dude out of the story, the story got a lot better because the two women were now in tension with each other fully, as opposed to partially, and whatever space between them was removed, and then the story just clicked. So, my novel, very intentionally, is following that same “there are no men in the novel.” It takes place in an isolated place in the desert in which women are residents for some kind of vague treatment “for the sake of their own well-being” and then toxic intimate relationships ensue. It s a lot of work. It’s very hard.
TD: What does writing mean to you and how do you hope to share that with your students this semester?
LN: That’s a sweet question. What does writing mean to me? I mean writing is sort of everything, but I would rephrase that and say art is sort of everything to me. Writing for me was the art form that I mostly leaned into because it felt the most accessible to me. I’m very bad at drawing, I’m not a visual artist, I’m incapable of a lot of the skillsets or haven’t learned them.
For a long time, I thought I was going to be a musician. I played music all throughout my childhood and high school, but I think for me writing was a place where I felt really comfortable. I could string words together and I felt good about them in a way that I couldn’t play my guitar. Being in that space, initially, for me was, “This is a way I can make art.” This is a way I can make art. I mean it sounds weird. It sounds like I settled for it in some way, but I think that to me writing has so much possibility. Writing can be anything. Writing is so vast.
I’m sure you’ve heard your professors say this before, but it’s the closest thing we get to being able to see inside someone’s head. And that’s kind of magical, I think. So…writing. I don’t know what that means to me, I just think I’m continually in awe of it. I read a book that I love and I’m like, “Wow.” Whereas the music that I loved in high school I’m just like, “What?”
For my students, the one thing that I remember when I was an undergrad, I felt what was getting squished out of me, in grad school as well, was the actual creative part of writing. I felt like there were all these new rules I had to follow and plot structures. I had to write a 15-page story that had a certain word count and it had to have a character that had to have an epiphany, or something had to change, or whatever. It was partially because A. I hadn’t read enough to see what the alternatives were and B. when you’re in a creative writing classroom a lot of what you’re there to get is the rules and the assumption is that your creativity and your interestingness will persist through those rules. So, I hope that my students this semester do not feel like they need to subscribe to the rules, but they can take what is useful to them, run with it, and not let the rules of fiction writing squish whatever creative genesis they started writing in the first place for.
TD: What is your favorite book at the moment?
LN: Oh wow, that’s a loaded question. I’m reading actually a really incredible creative nonfiction book right now. I’m not sure if it’s my favorite book at the moment, but I’m reading Blueberries by Ellena Savage. I was gifted this, but my friend had to buy the UK version because the U.S. version is out of print. She’s an Australian writer. Very experimental essays. Like one of the essays that I just read was in columns, which is interesting. Another one was in an outline, like bullet points and so there would be a paragraph or her thought and then all of it is like and also this, also this in outline form. She’s doing really interesting, formally innovative creative nonfiction that is thinking about feminist issues, sexual assault, gender identity, and stuff like that, but it’s very, very personal. She’s laying it out there in a way that I probably never would. But she’s a beautiful writer. I’m really liking it.
You can find Leah and read all of her mentioned writings and more on her website.
Congratulations to Dawn Reno Langley for her book You Are Divine: A Search for the Goddess in All of Us. Immerse yourself in a journey of self-discovery guided by Dawn and experiences of the divine feminine from spiritual teachers and students from around the world. This book includes many things to be successful in finding the divine within, including journal prompts, activities, inspiring stories, and researched instruction on how to take back power, find balance, and connect with your truest self.
A must read for any woman who wrestles with finding her voice and her place in the world.
Susan Sanders, poet and co-author of Behind These Hills
Dawn is currently booking dates to discuss the book and talk about goddesses. You can find more information about these upcoming events here.
We’re also excited to share an interview with Dawn where she answers some questions about her writing process, inspirations, and finding the divine. This interview was conducted by our Blog Editor Taylor Dilger via email.
Taylor Dilger: You mentioned, “There’s no better way to assuage my curiosity than to immerse myself in the research necessary to write with confidence about the subject matter.” Could you tell me more about your research and writing process for this book?
Dawn Reno Langley: This book required extensive research, so I used the skills I’d acquired during my dissertation and conducted first-hand research (interviewing dozens of women), as well as secondhand (reading hundreds of books, articles, and other information on the subject). What surprised me most is that I was writing about goddesses, women, and almost all the books I found were written by men.
TD: Do you have any advice for young girls just starting their spiritual journey toward the divine feminine and finding their innermost selves? How can they best navigate your book and practices to get the most out of these tools?
DRL: I would advise young girls to ask questions, to think about whether they are celebrated or ignored in their journey. Don’t be afraid to explore, seek out people they respect and remember to respect themselves. You Are Divine is designed to lead readers through each chapter by inviting journal entries and exploring what feels supportive.
TD: Throughout the book, you list a myriad of goddesses and divine females and share their inspirational stories. You also said that “to be cocooned within a crowd that is 99 percent female made me feel loved, safe, and immensely powerful.” Who are some of your biggest inspirations and exactly how important is it to surround yourself with such people?
DRL: During my life, I’ve found inspiration through the biographies I’ve read of women like the pilot Amelia Earhart who faced all odds and won, Jane Goodall who almost single-handedly taught the world about chimpanzees and the way human beings ruin their own world, and Mother Theresa who battled the odds to protect the poor and sick. The goddesses who inspire me include Parvati, the Hindu goddess of motherhood; Saraswati, the Hindu goddess of creativity and education; and Athena, the Greek goddess of wisdom and war (sometimes I feel that our wars are not necessarily launched with bombs and guns, but with words).
TD: This book covers females balancing masculine and feminine energies, embracing emotion rather than hiding it to appease others, recognizing our value, and finding the strength to fight back against people who make us feel less than, whether that just means “making the decision to live your best life and love yourself.” How can being in touch with the divine feminine make it easier to reject stereotypes and opposition women face in today’s society?
DRL: Being in touch with the divine feminine helps us to respect those strengths and in respecting ourselves and our abilities, we also are able to respect and be compassionate to others. If we are able to see ourselves in others and can respect them, we remove the prejudice and replace it with understanding.
TD: What does writing mean to you and how has it helped you on your divine journey to discover who you are?
DRL: My writing is everything. Without it, I cannot communicate with others, understand myself, or learn more about the human condition.
If you would like to learn more about Dawn and her book, You Are Divine, check out her website and Twitter!