We’re back with another installment of SR’s book picks. Here are some of the books the SR staff is reading right now along with some of our all-time favorites. Happy reading everyone!
What we’re reading right now:
Our trainee Guillerly is reading Cthulhu Mythos Tales by H.P. Lovecraft. She likes “The in-depth descriptions of the environment. She says “it’s very immersive.”
Teri, our Content Coordinator, is reading Fever Dream by Samantha Schweblin because “The exclusive use of dialogue to tell a mind-bending and eerie story is unique and striking.”
For her fiction writing class, Hannah, one of our Fiction editors, is reading The Art of the Novel by Milan Kundera. “I like that Kundera looks at the novel as something profound and an exploration of the self,” says Coleman.
Bailey, our trainee, is reading The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes by Suzanne Collins. She says, “I like the Hunger Games series and was excited to see the prequel come out. It’s been on my list to read for a while.”
What we’re reading next:
Daniel, a Fiction Editor, is going to read The Treasury of the Fantastic edited by David Sander & Jacob Weisman. He says that he’s “recently become interested in reading fantasy stories that were published before Tolkien’s time. This anthology brings together fantasy stories written by the greatest writers in the 19th and 20th centuries.”
Our Advertising Coordinator Au’jae says that she is, “reading The Source of Self Regard by Toni Morrison next because she is one of my favorite authors, and as someone who struggles to be immersed by nonfiction, this book of essays should be immensely interested given Morrison wrote it.”
Khanh, our Editor-In-Chief, says, “I’ve been reading non-fiction for a while now, so I’d like to return to fiction with On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong.”
Taylor, the Blog Editor, will be reading The Scene Book: A Primer for the Fiction Writer by Sandra Scofield. “I’m excited to read this to gain better insight on how to become a better writer and how to write a great scene,” she says.
What we recommend:
Ashley, our Art Editor would recommend The Midnight Library by Matt Haig. “I just finished this book and it changed my perspective on life. It also calmed my anxiety and stress more than I thought it would,” she says.
Interview Editor Veronica recommends Crying in H Mart by Michelle Zauner. “It was an incredibly touching, lyrical memoir, and I cried in every single chapter. It explores Zauner’s relationship with herself, her mother, and her experience as an Asian American woman. The complexities of that exploration were something that I definitely resonated with, and I think even those who don’t identify as Asian American would still love this stunning memoir.”
Anna, a trainee, says her favorites are The Host by Stephine Meyers “because it was my first starter sci-fi type book” or the Fablehaven series by Brandon Mull “for people who like more realistic fantasy.”
Kate, a Social Media Coordinator, “recommend[s] Eckert Tolle’s novel The Power of Now. It offers valuable tips on how to practice mindfulness, which has been helpful given my busy schedule!
We hope that you enjoyed our book choices and gain inspiration for what to read next. Tell us what you’re reading in the comments below!
Kate Cumiskey lives with her partner Mikel in coastal central Florida. She has a social justice novel, Ana, forthcoming with Finishing Line Press, and a biography, Surfers’ Rules: The Mike Martin Story, forthcoming with Silent e Publishing; both will be out in late 2022. She is currently concentrating her writing to reflect her perspective of social justice without judgement or paternalism as regards homelessness, and continuing her work in meeting the needs of homeless human beings in her community. She also leads efforts locally to ascertain safety and educational fidelity for students within the public school system through boots-on-the-ground advocacy.
Our Poetry Editor, Bree Hoffman, read and reviewed Kate’s recent book of poems, The Women Who Gave Up Their Vowels and was lucky enough to also interview Kate about the book. The interview was conducted via email.
Bree Hoffman: “Candor” is the first poem in your book, and it lives up to the name by truth-telling right away. What was your thought process when opening the book with “Candor,” and what is the desired effect for the reader?
Kate Cumiskey: I’ll start with answering the second part of this question. This poem, I hope, serves as a bit of a warning to readers, “there be dragons here.” I don’t want readers to be surprised by the literal candor in the book. It’s important to me that writers speak truth, and with this book I particularly wanted to focus on truths we don’t normally speak out loud, but which do keep us isolated in that they make us feel alone. In fact, such things as hemorrhoids, death, and rape, while two of those are fortunately not universally shared, are common and lose a bit of their power when acknowledged as such. I had been struggling with a bit of inertia when this book was initially accepted by Finishing Line Press – how do we speak truth in such horrific times? – and I reread Candor to get myself back into the fray of writing what is happening to all of us, right now. FLP was gracious enough to allow the book to change with the rapidly changing, deadly times through the publication process. Candor had originally been the title poem of the book, but that too changed through this process. The title reflects my own grappling with deliberately losing my deep Southern drawl as a married teenager living in California, where nobody deigned to speak to me in public. I trained the South out of my voice, and I miss it. This book is an attempt not to recover those vowels, but to speak, now, with the voice I’ve developed on issues which are absolutely vital to me. So, Candor is a warning for readers.
BH: In poems such as “Dirge” and “Favoring Boys” your activist roots come through. How does activism influence you as a writer, and how do you hope to factor them into your work in the future?
KC: It is interesting that you choose “activist roots,” as I think of this book as very active in voice, and independent from my roots, so to speak. I do not tend to think of my parents as activists, but you are spot-on; certainly they were, both of them. I hope it is evident in the poems that my mother and I had a very complex relationship, but she was in fact the bravest person I’ve ever known. She did things I’d never dream of, and that I’d consider down-right dangerous, for example, always picking up hitchhikers no matter what, until literally the week before she passed away in 2017. That’s activism. She also reserved judgement on people outside her own circle, such as homeless individuals panhandling, saying judgement was for God-she’d give out money and when less radical individuals called her on that, saying, “what if they spend it on drugs?” She’d say, “It’s a tough life, maybe that’s what they need to get through the night.” My father was a NASA pioneer, and even though his designs were crucial to getting humans to the Moon and our technology into interstellar space, when I asked what he was proudest of in his career, he replied, “I couldn’t keep a secretary. Every one of them out-degreed me and went on in the Program. I helped them all do that.” Activism in the workplace, helping females move forward in what at the time was absolutely a male domain. So, yeah, activist roots. Right now, I’m working on a series of poems about withholding judgement. In fact, one of the central poems to that book, Cokeheads I Have Known, is forthcoming in an anthology, The Literary Parrot, Series Two. I am pushing myself hard to speak about our shared humanity, and to encourage readers to strive to leave judgement behind. Again, there be dragons here. It’s hard to examine your own boundaries.
BH: I noticed recurring themes of motherhood and generational trauma several times. Could you discuss why those themes resurface in your work?
KC: Again, you bring up something about the book I’d not noticed! Brava; I love it! I remember discussing what I was most concerned about in my work with my dear friend and mentor, Robert Creeley. He’d asked, and I responded, “Being labeled a ‘domestic poet’.” He replied with his fabulous candor, “Well, you are a domestic poet, but you’re in good company.” He was saying he too was a domestic poet. That long-ago conversation freed me of the concern, and I allowed my work to truly reflect my domesticity–what’s more domestic than parenthood? I took a sort of semi-conscious approach to this book, letting it be whatever it wanted to, even to the point of playing with, allowing myself to play with, voice in person. That evolved into my writing some of the easier poems first person, and dealing with more difficult topics, like that generational trauma you cite, in second person, and letting the poems stand that way. It’s subtle, but there, and I hope creates a bit of chaos and discomfort and puzzlement in readers. Like trauma does. I believe the deepest root of that trauma goes back to my father’s loss of his parents before he was eight; he was a Mississippi Depression orphan, son of a sharecropper and a teacher, and although he missed them, as a practical Christian he knew he would be with them again, and told stories about them as if they were just away for a while. Which, from a Christian perspective, they are. So, I really missed my grandparents growing up. In fact, as a small child in school I was confused by other children having two sets; I thought of my Atlanta grandparents, my mother’s, as my father’s parents, too, before such things were explained to me. It came as a real blow that I had missing grandparents. This deepened as it became very apparent I most resemble my paternal grandmother, who was also incredibly domestic, and a teacher; my mother was decidedly not. In fact, because I loved these things and she didn’t, she had me take lessons in sewing, cooking, even deportment and etiquette. Because back in the day a woman should be graceful and I was clumsy as a child, I also took dance lessons for several years; I still love to dance. As far as my work, the obvious answer is also that I use these underlying specificities in my past to attempt to connect with readers. It is important to me that each reader experience each poem differently; what the reader brings to the reading through their own past is as important to me as the words on the page.
BH: What advice would you offer to our readers about writing?
KC: Connect! Read! Reach out to writers whose work speaks to you, if they are living, and ask the questions you are burning to ask. Ask for help. If you are stuck too deeply in your own, isolating experiences, force yourself to look outward and write just what you see, sans analysis. Take a piece of rotting fruit, put it on the table, smash it to bits, and sit down and write that. Keep the self completely out of the work. That’ll get you writing. Work outward from there: write the doorway, then the hall, then the threshold. Then, write what’s outside that door.
BH: What does your personal writing process look like when you are building a book of poetry?
KC: It’s a mess! In fact, I’ve recently opened an office in a classic old building in order to grapple with my lack of organization, and am working on a schedule. Seriously, although outwardly I’m a bit of a mess, I’m actually pretty organized and disciplined. I keep poems in print and on the computer, and when they start to build up in number, I have a serious look at them to see if they belong in a group, in a book. And I am always sending out finished poems to find a home in a journal or anthology. My mentor Mark Cox worked hard with me on how to put together books when I was in graduate school, and I still use his method, which is deliciously physical. I find a space with a large surface area – The Women Who Gave Up Their Vowels was put together in my brother’s beautiful kitchen, in the afternoon overlooking Turnbull Bay, Atlantic Center for the Arts just visible on the opposite shore–and lay out the printed verses. I choose the opening poem, and circle until I find the poem which calls to it, which wants to be next. I keep going until the book is finished. Any poems left I simply hold for another day. Another book or spoken word venue.
Kate Cumiskey’s, The Women Who Gave Up Their Vowels, is her latest and perhaps most intimate book of poems published thus far. In a recent interview with Superstition Review, Cumiskey said of its origins:
“The title reflects my own grappling with deliberately losing my deep Southern drawl as a married teenager living in California, where nobody deigned to speak to me in public. I trained the South out of my voice, and I miss it. This book is an attempt not to recover those vowels, but to speak, now, with the voice I’ve developed on issues which are absolutely vital to me.”
The Women Who Gave Up Their Vowels expands on this promise, and provides a candid, autobiographical collection of poems relevant to Cumiskey’s lived experiences. This includes the appropriately titled, “Candor,” a poem that opens up the collection and lives up to its name.
Write your history; write that fear at 2 a.m. the night
your son overdosed. Write tile beneath your knees.
Write rats in the kitchen, raccoons in the roof, your dog
over the fence, gone all night.
I found Cumiskey’s poems to be moving and sincere in their attempts to reclaim ownership over her lived experiences. Her poems cover topics including sexism, assault, politics, loss, and hope for the things she cannot fix. It’s hard to separate the author from the poems in this particular collection, because the two feel so intrinsically linked, and it’s readily apparent when reading them.
Bit by bit my body settles into age: fractious, screaming all the way
down. Only in twilight sleep I feel my lower jaw shift, relax, offset
to the right, the side I sleep on. My mouth clamps, thin-lipped, crooked,
and settles for sleep into Mother’s fighting look, the one she wears
when will not be moved. Then I can rest. And it feels good
like falling into my own skin.
(From “Just Lately I Feel My Body Settling”).
To purchase a copy of The Women Who Gave Up Their Vowels, head to Finishing Line Press. Congratulations and thank you, Kate!
Our Issue 28 Poetry Editor, Bree Hoffman, interviewed Robert Krut, a three-time SR contributor, about his new poetry collection Watch Me Trick Ghosts. The interview was conducted via email.
Robert Krut is the author of four books: Watch Me Trick Ghosts (Codhill/SUNY Press, 2021), The Now Dark Sky, Setting Us All on Fire (Codhill/SUNY Press, 2019), This is the Ocean (Bona Fide, 2013), and The Spider Sermons (BlazeVox, 2009). He teaches in the Writing Program and College of Creative Studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and lives in Los Angeles.
Bree Hoffman: In a previous interview with Frontier you said that as a writer it is important to be “open to new ideas, new voices, new styles, [and] new suggestions.” What role has teaching poetry professionally played in the conception of your own poems? What have you learned from experiencing writing both inside and outside of the classroom?
Robert Krut: I don’t think I can overstate the importance teaching has played in my own writing, particularly recently. It has helped with my attempts to stay agile, excited, and engaged over the years. Working with students means working with numerous types of writers, each an individual requiring different suggestions, both in terms of reading and writing. There is a responsibility to share the entire scope of literature with them, and present them with the latest and most exciting poetry out in the world right now—this, in turn, helps keep me engaged, as well, and not complacent in my reading and participation.
During lockdown, in particular, my poetry courses were more than classes I was teaching—they were biweekly opportunities to talk with other writers (over Zoom, of course) who were all fully engaged in their process. If any of them happen to read this, in fact, I’d like them to know what an impact they had on my energy and enthusiasm toward writing over the past two years—their interest and passion really provided a spark for my own writing. In Norman Dubie’s great The Clouds of Magellan, he wrote “Work with young writers—never for them,” and it’s a quote I’ve thought about for years and years. It becomes more and more clear to me as a teacher. Working with poetry students isn’t a top-down operation. In the best cases, it is truly an interactive community.
BH: One recurring theme of your poems is the element of grimness that is present in the mundane. In “Walk Don’t Walk Walk Stand Still” we see it in the things people avoid, and in “The Dinner Party” we see it in the wounds people share with one another, sometimes willingly and sometimes not. What were some of your influences when writing these poems?
RK: Grimness in grimness has always been boring—I have always been fascinated by its presence, or at least the implication of its presence, in the mundane, that mysterious element in the everyday, as I’m sure many people are.
Way back in high school, my part time job was at a video store, which was perfect for a movie-obsessed teenager, but also meant I wound up working just past midnight. I would drive home through suburban New Jersey, fascinated by what I was seeing at that hour: stopping at my favorite 24-hour place and seeing people arguing in the parking lot, driving past the school and seeing people smoke right in the middle of the football field, passing a stray dog scratching at the church door near our house. It was all engrossing.
That job not only afforded me a reasonable excuse to be out so late, but it also led me to watch David Lynch’s Blue Velvet for the first of many times, which solidified this interest, and put it right there on the screen—in those opening moments, when Jeffrey finds the ear in the field, I saw the perfect representation of what I found interesting in the world, and it served as a sort of concrete seed for what would come, years later.
That was the same year I read “A Supermarket in California,” which shares similar DNA, the other side of a quiet town, slipping into something doomed. Those are the worlds where this book finds most of its poems; there, or in the flipside, in the mundane of the grim—they go hand in hand.
BH: There is a really interesting relationship that these poems have to other people as well as the world, creating a tone that is isolating and internal. For you, what is the role of these interpersonal connections in “Watch Me Trick Ghosts”?
RK: I sensed from the earliest stages of writing this book that it was going to be a quieter one, one that is, indeed, internal. As the themes began to become clear, it seemed to be the introverted sibling to the extroverted previous collection. This was led by the ideas I wanted to explore, but was surely enhanced by the fact that the vast majority was written during lockdown, where we were all isolated by circumstance. When you mention interpersonal connections, I flash to the fact that I wasn’t walking outside to talk to neighbors up close; there were simple hand waves from across the street. I wasn’t meeting strangers in crowded places; I was driving past closed up shops. This book is not “about” that particular time—that would be too narrow for my taste—but the writing couldn’t help but be influenced by it. In the end, it is indeed an internal book, centered on solitude in some ways, voices you hear when you are alone, and spirits tethered to your body as you move through the day. The title poem was one of the very first, and it served as a sort of guide.
BH: What are you currently working on in your writing and various workshops?
RK: In terms of my own writing, I’ve just been trying to write a little each day right now—sometimes that’s a whole draft of a poem, and sometimes it’s just a few lines. After a book comes out, I typically have an “deep breath” period where I’m writing, little by little, getting back to full momentum for where the poems will go next. As for my courses, this Winter I’ll be teaching a class specifically designed for third-year students who are beginning the process of creating a manuscript for their upcoming senior projects—I’ve taught this for the past few years, and it’s always an exciting process, and never the same. I’m looking forward to reading some great new work, and the chance to work closely with the students.
BH: What advice would you give to fellow writers and readers?
RK: The old standbys still hold. Write every day. Try to write every day. I know that’s an easy thing to say, and it’s hard to truly follow it all the time, but I have found that periods where I really try to write something every day, even something that turns out to be garbage, the momentum leads to truly productive periods.
And read a lot. Specifically, read people who are writing differently than you—don’t wind up in a literary echo chamber.
Finally, writing is such a solitary experience, which is often one of the nicest aspects of it, but it can slow down inspiration and growth. Reach out to friends, and other writers, while working. One of the rare benefits of social media is that, even if you don’t have someone in your immediate circle who writes, or reads poetry, there are ways to find a community, even if it is online. I love the independent nature of writing, alone, in the early morning hours, or late at night, but it’s not until I start sharing, editing, revising, and sharing again, that the poems start to breathe.
We’re so excited to share an interview with past contributor Michelle Ross about her new short story collection, Shapeshifting. The book came out in November from Stillhouse Press. The interview was conducted via email by our blog editor, Sara Walker.
Sara Walker: Just about all the stories center on motherhood, children, and those relationships. What inspired this?
Michelle Ross: My first story collection There’s So Much They Haven’t Told You was less unified in its focus, so for my second collection, I wanted to be more deliberate with theme. As the mother of a young child, I found myself, perhaps inevitably, drawn to writing fiction about motherhood and mothers. Motherhood has been a big part of my lived experience these last eleven years. It’s on my mind. I’ve been mentoring high school writers for several years now via the Adroit Journal’s Summer Mentorship Program, and there’s this passage I quote from Lorrie Moore in my syllabus about the importance of writing about what’s on your mind, what you care about. One of the things she says is “You really have to write from the center.” She talks about how one of the big mistakes her students make is that they write about topics they don’t really think about or care about. I think it’s impossible to write well about a topic you’re not at least a little bit obsessed with. Trying to fake it won’t do. The story will be missing something crucial. I see that in the submission queue for Atticus Review, where I’m fiction editor: some stories are missing that spark of energy that you just can’t fake, and I think that whether or not a story has that spark has a lot to do with whether the writer is writing from the center.
SW: Why is it important to you to highlight the imperfection of motherhood and feelings of imposter syndrome?
MR: I was grappling with many questions in these stories—the impossible pressures put on mothers, the erasure of motherhood, what mothers owe their children, the tremendous power mothers have over their children, the violence and cruelty of children—but most of all I just wanted to write honestly about motherhood. No sugarcoating. No prettying things up. That’s what I want to do with any topic I write about. And one of the truths of motherhood is that no one is born a mother. There’s so much mythologizing about motherhood—that nurturing comes naturally to mothers, for example; that it comes naturally to women and girls in general. But the truth is more complicated. Nurturing isn’t an inherently female trait. It’s at least partly a learned trait. If you’ve rarely, if ever, been nurtured by someone, how do you learn to nurture another person? It wasn’t until my son was born that I really and fully grasped how incredibly vulnerable children are and how, therefore, incredibly easy it is for parents to harm their children; and, of course, the world is full of adults who were harmed by their parents, and many of those adults have children of their own.
SW: What is it about “Shapeshifting” that made you choose it as the title story?
MR: While the book’s title did come from the title story, the book was not titled after the title of that story; at the time, “Shapeshifting,” the story, had a different title altogether. It was originally published in The Pinch as “Gestation.” The real inspiration for the book’s title was a metaphor within the story. The pregnant protagonist in the story says that as a kid she liked the idea of being a shapeshifter but that it didn’t occur to her that pregnant women are shapeshifters, too: “Shapeshifting isn’t the way I’d imagined it. I’d always pictured myself behind the wheels of other bodies I assumed. This is the opposite. I’m the wheels, not the driver.” I wasn’t yet finished writing all the stories in this book when I decided that Shapeshifting was the perfect title. All humans are shapeshifters (consider puberty, for example), but I’d say mothers are a particularly interesting kind of shapeshifter. Motherhood is a strange metamorphosis. Mothers might come out of pregnancy looking more or less like they did before, but the world sees them as other than who they were. Whatever kind of mother one is, motherhood changes one in a deep way. There is no going back.
I’m not much of a fan of books sharing the same title as a story within. I’m wary of giving so much weight to one particular story. But when the editors at Stillhouse Press suggested I retitle this story to match the book’s title, I agreed that it was a better title for the story, too; and I kind of like that the story was titled after the book rather than the other way around.
SW: “The Sand and the Sea” is written in a different format – almost like vignettes, rather than a straightforward narrative. How did you make that choice?
MR: This story originated in a weekend workshop I took with the phenomenal Kathy Fish some years ago. The exercise was to write a braided flash piece. If I remember correctly, I think we started by creating three columns on a piece of paper and each column was dedicated to a different thread. I know that one of the threads was to be composed of lines that began with language such as “I wonder…” or “I wish…” I believe the other threads were supposed to be two different time periods in the character’s life? I played for many, many months after that workshop with the pieces I’d written—rearranging, cutting, adding, trying to get the right pieces in the right order. In a way, I felt like I was going back to my roots in this story. When I first started writing short stories seriously in college, the writer who changed everything for me was Amy Hempel. I had struggled with plot, with how to string sentences and paragraphs together in such a way that they were a story. Long scenes, long exposition felt unwieldy. Then I read Reasons to Live and fell so in love with how Amy Hempel constructs her stories out of these concise little fragments—scenes lasting no more than a paragraph or a page or so. Of course, some of those stories aren’t just pieced together somewhat like a series of flash fictions, but some are flash fictions. I didn’t learn the term “flash fiction” until several years later, and I don’t think I tried writing my own flash fictions until many years after that. However, I did start writing and thinking about writing differently after reading Hempel—thinking about stories in a more modular way, as composed of these tight little units that I could rearrange to different effects. Many years would pass before I would try once again to write stories that weren’t so modular.
SW: Which story was the most challenging to write? Why?
MR: Most stories are challenging for me, honestly. I work on stories, including flash fictions, for many months, often many years, before finishing and submitting them. Maybe I should answer this question backwards. One of the easiest stories for me to write was “A Mouth is a House for Teeth.” The general premise and tone of it came to me quickly. Then, before I’d written much of anything down, I floated in one of those so-called sensory deprivation tanks for the first time. I spent pretty much the whole hour thinking about that story. It was a weird and wonderful experience. I felt like I was alone floating out in the middle of a dark ocean, and this story was building in that darkness. After, I went to a coffee shop and wrote pretty much all day—by hand in a notebook, which I hate to say I rarely do these days, and probably should do more often. Writing by hand has a different kind of energy and rhythm. I can easily remember which stories of mine I first drafted by hand and which I first drafted on the computer. Anyway, after that I spent several weeks typing up the pieces, fitting them together, discovering what was missing, what could be cut, and so on. I think that from start to finish, that story took only a few months to finish, which for me is incredibly fast.
SW: “Keeper Four” approaches motherhood in a way different from the other stories; it’s sci fi-esque. What inspired this story?
MR: One of the primary inspirations was a book I’d read with my son when he was younger: Unlikely Friendships: 47 Remarkable Stories From the Animal Kingdom. The photos and stories in the book are endearing, but at the same time, this book creeped me out. Some of the unlikely friendships involved predators befriending prey. Some of the unlikely “friendships” weren’t friendships at all, but mother-child relationships. For example: a dog mothering a monkey. Of course, a mother-child relationship is quite a different kind of relationship than a friendship. We expect friendships to be reciprocal, not so much mother-child relationships. Sure, young children can be loving and kind, but even many of their more charming behaviors are largely driven by their own needs, their own survival. A very young child clings to their mother more for security and safety than out of “love.” That’s not a judgment; I think it’s only natural for a creature that is vulnerable and helpless to charm larger, more capable creatures into protecting it. Anyway, this book disturbed me. Something about the mislabeling of these relationships. Something about the way humans praise females of a species for being nurturing. Something about the oohing and aahing over predators refraining from doing what it is in their nature to do—to prey. From that disturbance was born the idea of humans experimenting to develop a drug to induce mothering behavior even in the most unlikely of candidates.
SW: What do you hope readers will keep with them after finishing Shapeshifting?
MR: I hope that readers find Shapeshifting to be greater than the sum of its parts. I see these stories as being in conversation with each other, and I think I’m able to achieve something more in the book as a whole than I could in individual stories. But that said, mostly I just hope readers find something of value in this book, whatever that may be for them as individuals—whether it be that they feel seen, that they feel less lonely, that they’re entertained, that these stories make them think, or that something is illuminated for them.
SW: You also write collaboratively with Kim Magowan. How did your experience with collaborative writing influence this collection?
MR: It’s when I’m feeling a bit in a slump that I’m mostly likely to nudge Kim into writing something together. Collaboration reminds me that writing is as simple on some level as making choices, and that all choices can be unmade, too. It helps train me to make choices quickly, to keep moving forward, instead of allowing a story to stagnate in indecision. It trains me to keep a story’s momentum going. When we collaborate, we typically pass a story back and forth rapidly, several times in a day sometimes. I write a few paragraphs, she writes a few paragraphs. Even a long story gets drafted within a week or so. That energy carries over into my own writing. Writing with Kim always renews my excitement for my own projects.
SW: What does your writing space look like?
MR: When my partner and I bought our house about fourteen years ago, it was important to me to be able to have a home office of my own. I wanted a room with a door, a room that was all mine, a room meant for nothing other than writing (and reading). This was important even back when we were in an apartment, only then we didn’t have all that much space so I had converted our walk-in closet into my writing space. Since the beginning of the pandemic, my home office is no longer just my writing space; it’s also where I do the job that pays the bills. Most of 2020 was a struggle because I was trying to do both these things at the same desk and on the same computer. When I tried to write fiction, I was distracted by work clutter. Early this year, I brought in a second desk and computer so that I have a writing half of my office and a work half of my office. Everything has gone much more smoothly since.
SW: What does writing mean to you?
MR: Writing is how I discover meaning and how I discover what I think. Writing is how I communicate most effectively. Writing is how I push back against the things that bug me. Writing makes me more present in my life, more observant. Writing is hard work but also immensely pleasurable. There’s no other way I’d rather spend my time.
Shapeshifting won the Stillhouse Press 2020 Short Fiction Prize and is available for purchase from Stillhouse Press. Check out more from Michelle on her website and read her stories in Issue 17 and Issue 20. Thank you so much, Michelle!
We’re back with another installment of getting to know the Issue 28 contributors! In this post, we hear from some of our Fiction and Nonfiction contributors.
What’s your coffee/tea order?
Katherine Tunning (Fiction) says, “The order goes: coffee on Tuesday, Thursday, and the weekend. Black tea on the other days, plus the coffee days, so I can pretend I don’t have a caffeine problem.”
Kelly Gray (Nonfiction) goes for “dark roast coffee with more cream than you would expect.”
Where do you like to vacation?
Jacqueline Doyle (Nonfiction) says, “It’s nearby, but I always love weekend trips to the Northern California coast.”
Barbara Lock (Fiction) tells us: “I’ll vacation anywhere that provides a washer and dryer, and a chance to get on water! Last summer we paddled on the Colorado, even though the access highway was blocked with half a mountain’s worth of rubble. We took Cottonwood Pass to get from Vail to Glenwood Springs–it was really narrow! The river guide told us that the great thing about driving back on the pass at night was that since we could see all the headlights from far away, we could drive as fast as we liked, ha ha. We didn’t do that though, because we didn’t want to die.”
Melissa Llanes Brownlee lives “in Japan, so anywhere I haven’t been in the country yet, and usually I am camping. If I leave Japan, I like to explore Southeast Asia! Next on my list is Thailand.”
What’s a holiday tradition that you love?
Ashley Wolfe (Nonfiction) shares, “I’m lucky to have a lot of wonderful family traditions. I love cooking a traditional Thanksgiving dinner for a big group of relatives. Baking Christmas cookies with my mom, sister and all our children is another favorite. I also treasure waking up too early on Christmas morning to watch my children discover what Santa left under the tree.”
Kelly explains: “My daughter and I stopped celebrating Thanksgiving many years ago. We take the money we would have spent on food/celebrations and send it to Native run organizations or land trusts. Then, we sit around watching Dolly Parton movies, and now we just refer to it as our own personal Dolly Day.”
Molly Andrea-Ryan (Fiction) says, “My husband and I started a Christmas tradition that I’m pretty fond of. We watch the 1954 White Christmas followed by the 1974 Black Christmas, back to back on the same night. (If you haven’t heard of the latter, it’s a Canadian slasher movie set in a sorority house—and yes, it counts as a Christmas movie. There are Christmas decorations and everything!)”
Tell us about your pets!
Amanda Gaines (Nonfiction) has “two cats—Lady and Carlos. They like to watch squirrels and destroy my house when I’m out of town.”
Erin Murphy (Nonfiction) has “two Siamese cats: Vixen and Djuna. They’re like dogs in cat bodies — they greet you at the door and play fetch. We are in the process of adopting a third cat.”
What are you reading right now?
Molly is “wrapping up Misery right now. Before that, I read a few books by Jennifer McMahon, a contemporary horror novelist from Vermont. I’m also enjoying a few collections of poetry, including “Peculiar Heritage” by DeMisty D. Bellinger—highly recommend.”
For Barbara, “Michael Ondaatje’s Coming Through Slaughter is what I’m reading now. My To Read pile, which takes up six boxes on the upstairs landing of the house, threatens to trip me daily. Right now, Yasunari Kawabata’s Beauty and Sadness and Jenny Offill’s Dept. of Speculation are on top of the pile, but that could change at any moment.”
What are you streaming/watching right now?
Ashley says, “I’m not one to watch much TV on my own, but I do enjoy shows with my husband and kids. As a family, we’re re-watching every season of The Office and eagerly awaiting the Netflix release of Lost in Space season three. My husband and I also just finished watching Squid Game – I’m still not sure how I feel about that one.”
Jaqueline is watching “‘Minari” (finally). Always on the lookout for Scandinavian noir releases on Netflix.”
Molly tells us: “I just finished a months-long binge of the Sopranos and a days-long binge of Midnight Mass. Oh, and the Bachelorette is back. Seinfeld’s on Netflix now. I’m not gonna lie, I watch a lot of TV.”
If you could instantly learn any language, what would you choose? Why?
Amanda wants to learn “French, so I can watch Amelie without the subtitles.”
Melissa would go for “Korean – I love Kpop and Korean food. Also Hawaiian, because I feel disconnected from my heritage sometimes.”
Katherine says, “I guess Japanese, because I’m currently trying to learn it the traditional, non-instant way, and it turns out that takes kind of a long time.”
What’s the next thing on your bucket list?
Erin tells us: “My niece convinced me to sing along to her new karaoke machine recently, so now I want to try singing karaoke in a club.”
Jacqueline is excited for “a trip to Paris.”
Katherine says, “it is probably tempting fate to say ‘publish a book,’ but: Publish a book.”
What is your most-used phone app?
For Amanda, it’s “Google Docs—I’m not that cool.”
Jacqueline and Barbara both make extensive use of Waze to shave time off their travels.
Melissa: “*whispers* Twitter.”
What song can you listen to on repeat without it getting old?
Ashley loves “anything by the Beatles. And ‘I Feel It Coming’ by The Weekend.”
Kelly enjoys “‘Over Your Shoulder’ by Calexico.”
Erin chose “‘Radar Love’ by Golden Earring (also the first song I chose on my niece’s karaoke machine).”
Thank you to these contributors for helping us get to know them! We can’t wait for the Issue 28 virtual launch party on November 30!
We are thrilled that we recently had the chance to interview Anne Liu Kellor about her first book, Heart Radical: A Search for Language, Love, and Belonging. Heart Radical is a memoir about Anne’s experiences navigating her ethnicity, heritage, and place in this world. The interview was conducted via email by our blog editor, Sara Walker.
Sara Walker: Could you describe the inspiration for this memoir?
Anne Liu Kellor: Between 1996 and 2001, I traveled back and forth between the Pacific Northwest and China, my mother’s homeland, as well as to Tibet. Growing up bilingual, I set off as a young, twentysomething mixed-race Chinese American woman searching for my connection to my linguistic roots, as well as to my greater path in life. Underneath this, what I discovered was my desire to speak truth, to break silence, and to follow my intuition. To give voice to all the moments where I knew something in my body, but could not find the right words to own what I knew. And to give voice to how I come from a lineage of silence—of stories not told, trauma not named, feelings not expressed.
SW: Much of the book is written in present tense, but you’re recalling your past. What precipitated that choice?
ALK: Originally, I wrote a lot of the chapters as stand-alone pieces, experimenting with voice and form. Eventually it became clear that my writing in present tense felt more charged, whereas past tense got too bogged down in reflection—reflection that in some cases had not had enough time to gestate, so it could not say all that I wanted it to. As I revised the memoir over many years, my perspective on this period also kept deepening, and thus there was the temptation to keep revising, adding layers to what the story was “about.” Finally, by changing it all to present tense (and interspersing chapters that were purely backstory or more lyrical), I tried to create both a traditional arc-driven narrative of my outer journey, and hint at all of the deeper layers of spiritual questioning. All of this was a challenge because my story ultimately resisted one tidy arc and redemptive ending. It was hard for me to explain my spiritual unfolding at the time, because some of those lessons I’m still living out to this day. So while I wanted to keep the narrative focused on a certain time period, there were deeper layers I just couldn’t get to yet. The point of view choices were in part a response to this tension.
SW: I’m sure some of your past was challenging to write about. How did you navigate that? How did you get into the headspace to write in depth about your past?
ALK: Since I worked on the book on and off over twenty years (!), when I wrote a lot of the early drafts, the events I was describing were only a couple years in the past—still relatively fresh. Plus, I had a ton of journals to mine for details. Often I would first spend time reading my old journals and free-writing, and then I would find an image or scene or line that carried energy, and use that as a point of departure to begin a more crafted piece. Sometimes I played music that evoked the emotion of that period for me, and I also had the gift of long consecutive days to settle into writing. I find I need that extended silent, alone time to get a discovery draft out. Later, with all the stages of editing, I can dip in and out more easily.
SW: As we all know, the Covid-19 pandemic brought forth intensely anti-Asian-American sentiments. What was it like to work on and release this book in a year when Asian-American violence was so high?
ALK: I don’t tend to watch a lot of news or let myself get swept up in Facebook scrolling if I can help it, so while I stay abreast with headlines, I also often feel insulated from the sudden impact of the rise and fall of violence. I choose when to let it in. I don’t need to read the details to know how it impacts me; I feel the swell of pain continually, the pain of being alive in this ignorant, racist world. The ways in which all of our pain is connected. I have, however, continued to deepen my relationship to other Asian American and mixed-race writers over the last several years. I’ve offered more classes for our communities, as a way for us to share hard stories, interrogate complicated relationships, own our voices, and join the crucial conversations around race that our world is having more of these days. What does it mean to be Asian American—to be so often erased from the conversation or seen as a model minority monolith, and how can we own our inherited biases, privileges, and participation in white supremacy culture?
In implicit bias tests, Asian American women are the group that is viewed as the least capable of leadership. How have we been conditioned to see ourselves as silent or weak too? The outer violence against Asian Americans—or any racial group for that matter— starts with these kinds of fucked up biases and dehumanizing beliefs. Becoming a more visible, public writer and more fully owning the political identifier as Asian American, raises the stakes for me and my writing. I am increasingly aware of how I am a part of a lineage, and how sharing my story creates more space for other people to believe that their story matters too.
SW: In Heart Radical, you’ve captured countless experiences from your life and share them in a remarkably lyrical and straightforward way. Which memoirs and memoir authors inspire you?
ALK: A lot of my early writing was influenced by my mentor from grad school, Brenda Miller. I learned a lot from her about how to trust that images can carry deep metaphorical resonance, or that one can convey so much through juxtaposition and white space. Poets are often my favorite memoirists. So much can be encapsulated in one line—so much of what is not being said, for the reader to fill in. Recently, I’ve been super inspired by memoirs like Tastes Like War by Grace M. Cho, The Magical Language of Others by E.J. Koh, Long Live the Tribe of Fatherless Girls by T. Kira Madden, and Made in China by Anna Qu. Old favorite non-linear collage memoirs include The Chronology of Water by Lidia Yuknavitch, Another Bullshit Night in Suck City by Nick Flynn, and Safekeeping by Abigail Thomas.
SW: You’re a teacher in addition to a writer. How has your role as an educator shaped you and your writing?
ALK: So much so. In all of my courses, my students and I spend time writing together from prompts. I always participate to make sure that I stay engaged with the vulnerability and presence it takes to show up in the moment and write, then share. Teaching also keeps me actively exploring new voices and forms. Whatever I’m reading then bleeds into my own work. Writing never gets old; even if some of my thematic material can feel well-tread, there’s always a new angle or way to approach it—if I can keep experimenting and staying receptive. Also, being a teacher connects me to so many amazing writers. The work of a writer can be very isolating, so nurturing community has become increasingly important to me. It helps me remember who I am writing for and why I am doing this. Why words matter. What kind of healing and connection can be forged through the often long, slow, plodding process of shaping a piece on the page.
SW: Heart Radical is your first book. What does that mean to you?
ALK: It means it’s about f’ing time! It means hallelujah, it is finally out of my meddling hands, fears, and perfectionism, and into the world of my readers, completing the cycle from fruition to full completion. 😊 It means that I learned SO much through writing this book and revising it over the years, especially about not giving up. It means I have a really strong sense now of who I am as a writer, and I’ve also written so many essays along the way that I also have a full collection that I’m ready to publish, called Uncertainty, Trust, and the Present Moment: Essays from In Between. And I have another memoir, Artifacts of Longing, that I’ve been working on for over a decade. I suppose I now can say that I’m a writer who works on books in cycles—write, let it rest and work on something else when it is driving you crazy or being rejected, but always return, return, return. Return to that seed of trust that a story or book needs to be written. Return to what calls you back, won’t let go. Book-length memoirs especially demand their own timeline for the lessons of a longer period of life to metabolize. We may think we are “ready” or “done,” but so much of the writing—and publishing—process is also not in our control.
SW: What does your writing space look like?
ALK: I write at one end of a big room with an A-frame roof and warm cedar walls. It’s a cabin in residential Seattle, a special place, a home I inherited from my old neighbor (a part of my second memoir’s story). I look out on cedar branches, salal, Indian plum, and moss—a classic Pacific Northwest landscape. Otherwise you can find me at the window seat journaling, or propped up on my bed with my journal or looking through binders of work, music playing, incense lit. I find that when I’m not at the desk I often sink into the more emotional or poetic aspects of my work… mining for new insight or lines, connections. Whereas when I’m at my desk I’m editing on the computer and in productivity mode.
SW: What does writing mean to you?
ALK: Writing is my meditation, my daily practice. It’s work too, yes, but primarily it’s a way of being in the world—a way of paying attention, honoring small details, honoring the wide span of history and time, timelessness. Writing is a way to capture all that is hard to express, a way to revisit old wounds and heal, a way to make amends, a way to see clearly, and sometimes, to forgive. Writing can do so much. It’s a way of connecting, a way of witnessing, a way of praising and mourning, and a way of being.
SW: What advice would you give to up-and-coming Asian-American writers?
ALK: Do not be afraid to put anything down on the page in early drafts. To write what you can’t imagine yourself publishing or sharing. To write it all. To trust, that in time, with practice and community and mentorship, you will be able to name and share more. But this is a lifelong practice—you don’t have to say it all at once. You don’t have to share it with your parents. Your writing has important value, even if it just lives in your notebooks or is entrusted to a few readers. Your writing can help you grow as a human being. And yes, if you want it to, when you are ready, your writing can also challenge long-held familial silences or legacies or beliefs. Make sure you find community to share this journey with. Seek out classes and teachers who are supportive. Create writing groups with fellow students you admire. Trust that if writing truly calls to you, you won’t regret following this path. There is nothing more exhilarating than finally giving yourself permission to do what you love.
To learn more about Anne, visit her website or Twitter. Heart Radical is published by She Writes Press and available for purchase from Bookshop. Our heartfelt thanks to Anne for agreeing to the interview and sharing so eloquently!
Ever wondered who Patricia Colleen Murphy, founding editor of SR, is? This week, the blog sat down with Trish to learn more about her. Below, find out what Trish is streaming, how she got into literary publishing, and more!
What are you reading right now?
I’m reading a really interesting book called How to Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy by Jenny Odell. I love reading nonfiction when I’m working out. I read a lot of poetry and fiction for my job, so it is a fun change of pace.
What are you watching right now?
I just watched Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain. It was so interesting I want to watch it again to get all the details. I also really enjoyed the show On the Verge with Julie Delpy and Elizabeth Shue.
Why do you love what you do for SR?
There are so many reasons!!! First, I truly feel grateful for the relationships I form with all of the interns. It feels like an extended family, and we really look after each other. I also like providing a high quality publication opportunity to so many authors and artists. It’s always a thrill to send acceptances and to support creative careers.
What are your long-term goals for SR?
I would really love it if I could get interns more involved in the local community. This seems to be tough due to Covid restrictions right now. I’m hoping that as students get used to being back on campus they will be more outgoing with events.
What are you most excited about in Issue 28?
We have some super innovative poetry! Curating this section was a fun experience because we got so much good work that was really out of the box. We grabbed a lot of varied content!
How did you get into the lit mag world?
Oh, it started in high school! When I was a senior I was the editor of the literary magazine at the Cincinnati Public Library. It was called Seven Hills Review, and I was in charge of curating content for several issues. So it has been a lifelong passion.
What advice do you have for people trying to get published?
Absolutely read the lit mag you are sending work to. You would be surprised how many submissions we get that are nothing like what we publish. It makes me sad because it sets the sender up for failure.
What are you most proud of right now?
I have a really great group of interns right now who are self-motivated and driven. It’s so wonderful when students take charge of their roles within the magazine and create innovations.
What are you looking forward to right now?
I am really looking forward to creating the team for next semester’s internship. This is the time of year when I assign roles to interns and choose new trainees. It’s always a joy to match students to roles.
Where is your favorite place you’ve traveled?
Oh my, this one is so hard! There is no possible way to pick just one. My heart grows 10 sizes when I travel. I feel alive and happy when I get to explore other places. I have been to 50 countries so I can’t even narrow it down. It’s like a slideshow of memories in my head. My most recent trip abroad was to Morocco, and it was simply stunning. I really enjoyed the history and geography. It’s such a diverse country.
What’s your all-time favorite book and why?
I have so many. It’s usually the book I am reading now. A book I recommend a lot is Fantasyland: How America Went Haywire: A 500-Year History.
You probably won’t be surprised to hear that the SR staff – interns and trainees – are avid readers. Given that we students have varied interests, majors, and roles at SR, we read a lot of different things! Keep reading to find out what books we’ve got on our shelves this fall.
What we’re reading right now
Taylor, a trainee, is reading Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo. “I was hooked once I saw the Shadow and Bone series on Netflix,” she says. “Now reading this book just makes me love the characters and new adventures more.”
As part of a research project, our Art Editor, Khanh, is rereading The Myth of Sisyphus by Albert Camus. “I love it because, although it’s a philosophical text and not fiction, it makes me reflect a lot on the way I’ve been living and the way I’d like to live. It also calms me as a person who thinks too much!”
Paress, our Nonfiction Editor, is enjoying Midnight Sun by Stephenie Meyer because “it’s an easy read. A nice break from reading formal writing.”
Our favorite books of the year
Sara, the Blog Editor, highly recommends The Only Plane in the Sky by Garrett M. Graff. “It’s a fascinating showcase of 9/11 stories,” she says. “As someone who doesn’t remember that event, I think it’s important to learn about it.”
Our Fiction Editor, Hannah, read Appleseed by Matt Bell for a class, “but it’s a really interesting dystopian take on the environment and how we effect it. The characters are so varied and I really enjoy the writing style!”
Amy, the Content Coordinator, enjoyed The Murderbot Diaries series by Martha Wells. “One of my favorite tropes is the loner character who insists that they don’t need friends and they don’t care about anyone, yet somehow makes friends wherever they go and finds themselves caring about everyone. This series is all over that.”
Bree, our Poetry Editor, recommends Wylding Hall by Elizabeth Hand. She says, “I loved this one the most because it is a combination of a ghost story, and also about the disintegration of a band in the 1970s. There’s a lot of great content in it, and is an especially great read going into October!”
One of our trainees, Etosha, loved Rose by Li-Young Lee. “I reread this book this year because I love the passion that he writes with in each poem.”
What we’re looking forward to reading next
Next up for Charlie, a member of our Social Media team, is The Faceless Old Woman Who Secretly Lives in Your Home by Joesph Fink and Jeffery Cranor. “I love the Welcome to Night Vale universe, and this book gives the spotlight to one of the most interesting characters. Plus, the writing style is amazing.”
Veronica, a trainee, says, “Andrea Gibson’s new poetry collection, You Better Be Lightning, comes out in November, and I’m really excited to get my hands on it and read it! Andrea Gibson is one of my favorite contemporary spoken word poets; there’s not a poem of theirs that hasn’t made me cry. Their poetry is also really insightful in regards to gender, sexuality, and politics.”
Our Student Editor-in-Chief, Madeline is “so excited to read Gone Girl next – I’ve of course heard great things about this novel, and about Gillian Flynn, but have not read it yet. I think I’ve heard that this book has a major plot twist, which I always love.”
Which of these books interests you most? What are you reading? Tell us in the comments!
Have you ever wondered why we’re called Superstition Review? Well, let me tell you the story!
For those of you who don’t know, SR is housed at Arizona State University (students play a big role in the curation of each issue). ASU has four campuses in the metro Phoenix area and SR is housed on the Polytechnic campus in Mesa. From the Polytechnic (or Poly, as we call it) campus, there is a wonderful view of the Superstition Mountains. Not only are these mountains stunning in and of themselves – and therefore worthy as a namesake – our founding editor, Patricia Colleen Murphy, also has a personal connection to these mountains. Since the mountains are beautifully showcased on the Poly campus and they hold a special place in Trish’s heart, the name Superstition Review was a natural choice.
Do you have other questions about SR? Let us know in the comments!
We’re excited to share that Arizona State University alum Reese Conner recently published a book! The Body He Left Behind is Reese’s debut poetry collection and is published by Cider Press Review. Winner of the 2020 Cider Press Review Editor’s Prize Book Award, The Body He Left Behind includes the poem “The Rapture.”
The Raptureafter Robert Dash’s “Into the Mystic”
The first thing to go was a sailboat.
It was raptured, just like that. Snap
your fingers, please. Like that.
An old couple watched from the end
of a pier. Beyond them, the sloop
tickled water for a bit, shuddered
like nostalgia or blackmail, then poof:
The mainsail, the headsail, the hull,
all the boat jargon lost specificity
like a ghost, bleeding form
and crying vowels. The boat
peeled from the water, stretching
a paintbrush of pixels in its wake
as it rose. The skyline, too,
began to glaze, and the sea
poured upward into it, everything
a swarm of movement.
Imaginative men who witnessed it
thought things like justice.
The old couple joined hands now.
And everyone who knew Robert Hass
knew he was right: everything
was dissolving, spiriting away
towards a more perfect self
of itself. As more world
blurred upward—housecats, tire swings,
entire orchards—a gentle murmur
spread in the bellies of the observant,
who saw even the ugly things
begin to ascend—blobfish, Smart Cars,
murder weapons, every issue of Us Weekly—
and thought, or began to think:
What about us? And they were all
naked now, they noticed—
clothes lifted from them
like water in a dry heat. Some ogled
the newly-naked world with intention.
Others began to tantrum—violent
or existential, all unable to translate
what must have felt like betrayal.
And that old couple, still holding hands,
looked skyward and stood up
on their tippy toes.
Cats are a major theme throughout the collection. But not only is there ample mention of cats, the poems speak to us:
These are singular, quietly soaring poems. They innocuously but effectively reach for greater truths regarding the animal nature of our beings and where we as individual humans fall on that hierarchical scale. In these poems, we so easily find in their dailiness depths of feeling we recognize immediately, even if we have never said so aloud before. They artfully connect us to something important inside ourselves. Simply put, these are heartfelt—and powerful—love poems to and about cats, poems of genuine grappling with human sensibility. These are near sentimentality all the time, but without sentimentality. This is dangerously wonderful territory for a writer, and the poems explore their terrain well. They simply make us feel, so that even as they are about cats, these poems humanize us.
Alberto Rios, Author of A Small Story About the Sky
The Body He Left Behind is available for purchase from Cider Review Press. Find more from Reese on his website. Congratulations, Reese!