An Interview with Lauren Tess

The Machine

Past Lucky Diamond, Montana Lil’s, casinos
roofed in Lincoln Log green. Past Lithia
Ford and Montana Motor Mall, cars shining
back the blue sky knife-edged white.
Past Albertson’s and Ace, I turn off at last:

The Bitterroot—I say it as if I can claim it—seems
to languish as it rests at ebb, biding time. I mine
rocks like gold from the only uniced spot, the eaten
away bank. My toddler throws them in the river,
shallows it.                                               More:
I claw all I can from amid pine roots.

Shamelessly, to please her, feed her needs
and have her touch the earth I take it, eat away.
What’s that if it’s not what water does, unblamed?

Our going-to takes away.
Our staying takes it too:

Ice clutches bed rocks all its rest then with this
brutal blue takes off with them, drops them
downstream when it reevolves to water.

On the road home we stop for bowls. Disposables
pass through my hands to a large black receptacle.
Does everything return to earth? To us? I do not
like the food but eat it anyway because she does.
I’d raze a forest, dam a watershed. I’d cut out the heart
of the country and give it to her. Full now, I drive on.

Back past the dealerships with their lots of cars
just like ours, glinting like pebbles in the sun.
Past the casinos, warm and dim and carpeted,
little wombs where you drop a coin in the machine
and hope somewhere down the road it gives it back.

Lauren Tess’s poetry appears in or is forthcoming from a number of journals including Poetry Northwest, Nimrod, Salamander, Meridian, and Cimarron Review. She received a 2023 Academy of American Poets College Prize as an MFA candidate at the University of Montana, and a 2021 Open Mouth Poetry Residency in Fayetteville, Arkansas. Lauren currently lives with her family in Missoula.

Ashley Goodwin: I’d like to talk about your poem “The Machine.” I was moved by the bond between a mother and her child. Could you describe how you came to write this poem?
Lauren Tess: Thanks so much! It’s lovely to hear that you were moved by the relationship in “The Machine.” When I sat down to write, I wasn’t thinking about circularity, an idea I only came to as I was composing the last stanza. Some things on my mind at the time were the outing itself, which was essentially as it’s described in the poem, and some guilt at pulling rocks out from between the exposed roots of trees just barely clinging to the riverbank. I felt I was accelerating their demise.

To get to Maclay Flat Nature Trail on the Bitterroot River here in Missoula, where we go in this poem, we have to drive down Brooks Street, which is overrun with big-box stores and car dealerships. I’m always trying to love and find value in these eyesores, these artifacts of our greed. Then there’s a jarring contrast between this commercial corridor and where it leads: these trails at the base of the Bitterroot Range. I wanted to make a world in the poem where the two locales aren’t mutually exclusive, and one isn’t the doom of the other. I’m not sure I succeeded, but after the first draft, I saw that some of the stanzas began and ended with the same word, and thus, I discovered a cyclicality in the poem that I hope for in life.

I’m choosing to have the long view, that the desires that brought about Brooks Street are the same desires that can save the world. That the love I have for my daughter, even though it leads me in this poem to selfishly pollute, waste, and claw away at the riverbank, is at heart completely selfless and full of hope, and that we all have this selflessness and hope in us, and it can be found anywhere.

AG: What is your process for composing?
LT: When I sit down to write, I usually take time (lately, an hour or more) to quiet my brain and arrive at a kernel from which to begin a poem. The kernel is often a mundane moment or outing. Then I write, by hand, in an unlined notebook. The writing itself takes less time. After that, I type it up, adjusting line breaks where needed to what feels like the right line length. Sometimes during the transfer I will change a couple of words.

AG: On your website it shows you have two forthcoming poems called, “Turnout, Highway 200” and “Hoverfly.” What can you share about these?
LT: I like to think these both also touch on my effort to reconcile being an animal that has happened to evolve some different traits from other species, and also being beholden to the built world in almost all aspects of my daily life. “Hoverfly” is about taking a walk as I was preparing to move apartments and observing the insect lift off from a flowerhead. Also in there is Beryl Markham, the first person to fly solo and non-stop west across the Atlantic, and her gliding over the ocean toward Nova Scotia after her plane’s engine died, suspended in uncertainty. (She crash-landed and was okay.)

“Turnout, Highway 200” is about a few minutes spent with my partner and our daughter on one of those scenic pullouts here in Western Montana. We had meant to go for a proper hike in an archetypal wilderness, but this ended up being our outing. We were by the side of the two-lane highway, and on the other side of us was the Blackfoot River and huge mountain peaks. Since I always feel like an interloper, the in-between space of this turnout felt like home for me, for the few minutes we were there.

AG: What is the most important piece of advice you have received as a writer?
LT: That’s a tough question! Sometimes I feel like I can make anything into writing advice, for better or worse. My partner Brendan, who’s a writer, has often urged me not to revise too much, and this has been really useful advice. I know a lot of people find extensive revision to be an essential part of writing, but that’s not the case for me. Usually, I find it best for myself and my writing to abandon a poem that isn’t good rather than try to make it good. I write poetry because it’s fun and exciting and teaches me things about myself. In dedication to this fun, excitement, and discovery, I choose to write a new poem rather than try to revise a mediocre old one.

AG: What are your current poetic influences?
LT: Lately, I’ve been inspired by Donna Stonecipher and Ed Roberson. They have mastered certain things I’m working on in my writing. As I read their poems, the words travel along my tendons; I feel their writing in my muscles, and I become more dimensional and feel my physical being as part of the physical world, and this is a joy. In The Cosmopolitan, Stonecipher shifts scales and locations so deftly, and writes about cities as if they were intimacy deployed or deferred; in her poems, the built world is as tangibly organic as a heliotrope. And Roberson’s syntax is always like oxygen; I think maybe my breathing actually changes when I read it, as his writing makes me feel euphoric. His poem “Prairie with Road” from MPH is one of my favorites.

AG: What does your writing space look like?
LT: My writing space right now is a slightly uncomfortable armchair in one room of our apartment. We call the room the office. The chair is beside a window with a view into a maple tree’s canopy and our apartment parking lot. I do not like to write poems at a desk or table, and I need to have a view to outside. I always write during the day; I don’t think I’ve ever written a good poem at night.

An Interview with Sofia Wolfson

An Interview with Sofia Wolfson

The Book of Numbers

Our heads bobbed up and down like buoys. I flailed my limbs how the swim instructor taught me, desperate to keep myself upright. I’d never swum in the ocean before, finding the texture and flow of the waves unmanageable. All I’d known was the stillness of the chlorine pool at the tennis club, where I’d spent long hours floating in the shallow end while the adults drank.

But this wasn’t Palm Springs. This was Sicily.

For the first time in my life, I was undergoing jet lag, never hungry at mealtimes. I slept in two-to-three-hour intervals on top of the covers, sweating out of every pore, the ceiling fan more decorative than functional. Aunts and uncles and grandparents and cousins had made the trip for my great aunt’s bat mitzvah. When she retired from the Red Cross in the 80s, she followed a lover to Sicily who soon abandoned her for someone younger. But it wasn’t in her character to return home defeated, so she stayed. After spending her adult life as a devout atheist, she claimed that God showed himself to her in the ocean one day, not unlike the parting of the sea. She reconnected with her Jewish identity, at first practicing privately. Once she could confidently sing the prayers in both Hebrew and Italian, she joined a local congregation, whose recent formation symbolized the end of Jewish persecution in the area. Soon, between Shabbat and holidays and volunteer projects, her whole schedule was defined by the temple. Her bat mitzvah would be the culmination of her new identity, a permanent marker of her faith. At 75, she was the oldest person in her community to undergo this tradition.

On our third day in Sicily, I felt a stinging underneath my belly button, then a warmth in my groin. I rushed to the café bathroom to find a splotch of maroon in my Gap underwear. I took about 20 squares of toilet paper and folded them into a sturdy rectangle. Thankfully, the pseudo-diaper couldn’t be detected under my flowy skirt, the silhouette hidden under layers of paisley cotton. It wasn’t until later that night when my mom spotted the blood in the trash can that she finally knew what had occurred and offered to teach me how to insert a tampon. I screamed as it went in and she hushed me, fearful we’d wake my grandparents in the next room, who we were sharing our suite with. She ran her fingers through my hair and assured me that I’d be alright, that she didn’t start using tampons until she was in high school. I wasn’t sure if she was telling the truth or just trying to get me to feel better. Pads were going to have to do for now, even in my bathing suit.

The trip was the most time I’d ever spent with my mom’s side of the family. Most of her relatives lived in Palm Springs, where she grew up. Up until then, we’d only seen them for brief visits around the holidays. After my mom graduated from UC Berkeley, where she met my dad, they settled in San Francisco, got married and had me. She was often called the black sheep of her family, an animator amongst lawyers and doctors. Our relatives never made an effort to understand her, which alienated us from them. The car rides to Palm Springs were often plagued with a sense of fear of what my uncle or grandma might say to antagonize us, although they always hid their insults behind the guise of play.

In the days leading up to my great aunt’s bat mitzvah, most of the family would leave the hotel mid-morning to set up camp on the beach, where we’d linger until dinner time. Unlike my cousins, I had no desire to go into the water, so I always brought a book with me. That summer, I was making my way through the Divergent series, often picturing myself as the heroic Tris. There I was, 13, laying out on the hot sand for days on end, watching my second cousin rub almond-scented tanning lotion into her chest, listening to my grandma bicker with my grandpa about putting too much on the Amex. Tris’s life was so much more exciting than mine.

The day before the bat mitzvah began like the rest of them. We settled in the same spot. My mom did her usual twenty-minute morning swim. My cousins all splashed around closer to the shore, throwing wet sand at each other, playing Marco Polo and Colors. Lily, the youngest, got thrown to the ground and cut her shin open on a rock. She sobbed as her mom bent over her with the first aid kit. The rest of the cousins, completely unphased, went on playing without her. I was already well into the second book of the series when my uncle, my mom’s brother, approached my towel.

My uncle was more muscle than fat, a stocky 5’6’’. When he walked, his feet turned out slightly, his legs struggling to bear the weight of his upper body. His hair came out in odd patches, remnants of biotin shampoos and collagen supplements. He looked nothing like the TV ad models. Against the wishes of his third wife, he had an affinity for extreme sports, spending his weekends jumping out of airplanes or participating in endurance swims, in which someone in a little boat next to him would have to pour liquid food into his mouth so that he didn’t starve. He never survived these trips unscathed, often landing himself in the hospital. But it didn’t matter. He had money and health insurance and a family that did nothing more than give him a friendly slap on the wrist every time he almost died.

“Camille,” he said. “Get up.”

I looked up at him in confusion. I hadn’t slept more than an hour the night before. Throughout the two weeks we’d already been in Sicily, he had never addressed me directly.

When I didn’t offer a response, he yanked the book out of my hands.

“Come on,” he said.

My uncle led the way towards the water. My cousins all followed him like puppies, yipping and screaming. My mom was already wading about 100 feet from the shore. Suddenly, I was the only person left on the sand. I had been so enraptured reading that I hadn’t noticed everyone either head towards the water or back to the hotel.

“Don’t be a wimp, Camille!” My uncle yelled back at me. I looked towards my mom. She smiled and waved, clearly having not heard him. Just to get everyone to stop looking at me, I took off my cover-up and walked towards the water.

“Does she even know how to swim?” my uncle’s stepson Devon asked. He was a recent addition to the family. I hated the way he smelled like Axe body spray and armpit all the time, even after showering.

“She knows how to swim,” my mom said as she paddled towards us, then stood when it got too shallow. “Don’t be silly.”

We slowly waded our way in together. The adults were able to walk farther due to a height advantage, so for a little while, us kids swam next to them as they marched on. Once everyone was in deep enough, we formed a loose triangle, my uncle leading as our central point. I tried to stay next to my mom, but she kept swimming in front of me. Ever since we’d gotten to Sicily, she seemed uncharacteristically distracted. Back home, she noticed every small thing, if my dress was missing a button, if I had lied about doing my homework. Now she seemed somewhere else entirely. When we were alone in the hotel suite, she spent most of her time catching up on work. She didn’t seem to notice when I slipped out or when I charged Junior Mints to our room. One time, I even took a small bottle of vodka from the mini bar just to see what she’d do. I made a farce out of trying to open it. She looked over, smiled, and went back to her call with my dad, who couldn’t get enough time off work to join us.

I kept looking behind me. The shore receded. Soon enough, with so much water in my eyes, I couldn’t make out our umbrellas and beach towels from the rest of the landscape.

“Duck!” My uncle yelled. A wave, medium in size, was approaching. My heartbeat quickened and I lost feeling in my arms. At the last possible moment, I plugged my nose and ducked like everyone else. A few seconds passed in total darkness before I miraculously came up on the other side. I managed to use my right arm to tread while I moved my bangs out of my eyes. Everyone suddenly came into view. Devon was cutting his arms through the water like an electric mixer, thwacking Lily in the face, who seemed to have recovered enough from her injury to join us. Then I saw my uncle with his hands on my mom’s shoulders. He had this dumb, sweaty grin on his face. She was laughing but there was something about her expression that suggested she wasn’t fully in on the joke. He pushed her under the water.

“No!” I screamed. “Stop!” I aggressively dog-paddled my way towards them. “Stop it!” I screamed again, but my uncle just laughed. In a quick succession of mental images, I pictured my life without my mom. My dad sobbing over her grave. All my graduations she wouldn’t attend, the dance we wouldn’t share at my wedding. No more Passovers on the porch, no more Halloweens knocking on doors in Seacliff.

My rapid mourning turned rageful.

Feeling as though I was left with no other choice, I socked my uncle in the jaw. He let go of my mom instantly and reached for his cheek. For a fraction of a moment, I felt Tris-like, heroic, like I had done some good for the world. My mom devoted her life to caring for me. For once, I had returned the favor.

My mom bobbed up to the surface, coughing up saltwater. She rubbed her eyes and as everyone came into view, she smiled and laughed through her nose. More water came out.

“I’m fiiiiine!” She said, elongating her vowels. “Come on.” She nodded her head in the direction we were initially heading in.

The cousins all turned their attention to my uncle, who was screaming: “What the fuck!” His face was only six inches or so from mine.

“She was drowning,” I said, my words all chopped up from trying to get my breath back while treading.

“Camille,” my mom said. “It’s fine. We were just playing.”

“But I—you were going to die.”

 My mom giggled. All the cousins joined in a choir of laughter.

She paddled closer, wedging herself between me and my uncle. “I’ll never die,” she said.

My uncle was silent at dinner. I caught glimpses of him leaning his left cheek into his palm, trying to cover up the swelling as he ate his spaghetti in massive, messy bites. His new wife did most of the talking, even sang for us after a few glasses of wine. She bragged about her 4-octave range and her time studying opera in Vienna. The younger cousins, who had not yet learned how to feign politeness, plugged their ears and grimaced at her out-of-tune and nearly glass-shattering performance. Devon, her son, rolled his eyes in embarrassment. I tried to discreetly check my flip phone under the table, waiting for a message from my dad. I wanted to tell him about what happened in the water, but I didn’t want to bother him while he was at work.

“Camille,” my grandma hissed at me during the dessert and coffee course. “Put that away.” It was only then that I noticed the soft glow of the screen under the white, lace tablecloth. I reddened through my sunburn and focused on cutting up my tiramisu into perfect triangles. 

Back in the suite after dinner, my mom wrapped ice in a washcloth and held it to my right knuckles.

“My little pro-fighter,” she said.

I didn’t know what to say so I didn’t say anything. Too many things I wanted to say floated around in my head, all canceling each other out. I studied the patterns in the carpet and counted how many squares I could see in my visual field.

“Hey,” she said to get my attention. “I’m fine, ok?”

“But you were drowning,” I said, automatically. My voice cracked a bit, warming up after my hours of silence. “You were going to drown.”

“You’ve heard the stories of Tahoe,” she said. “We’ve always been like that, your uncle and I.” The ice was melting. She fumbled around her luggage and pulled out a plastic bag to put the DIY ice pack in. “You don’t have an older brother,” she explained. “This is how he shows his love.”

I had trouble understanding her comparison of love and violence. I had grown up with parents who hugged the bad feeling out of me, rewarded me with treats and presents when I got good grades or moved onto the next level of piano lessons. If violent love was a part of her identity, why had she never treated me that way?

“I think you need to apologize to him,” she said.

“Why?” I asked, tears welling up in my eyes. I was so convinced that I had saved her. Shouldn’t she be thanking me?

“We still have a week left here,” she said. Her phone rang and she reached for it on the coffee table. “Please do this for me.”

She took her call into the bedroom and closed the door behind her.

I did not like the dress my mom bought me for the bat mitzvah but there was nothing else fancy enough in my luggage to replace it. Yellow was my least favorite color, but my great aunt, who had micromanaged her special day into oblivion, had assigned each generation its own hue. The top was a little too tight, so some skin spilled out of the bodice. The skirt was made up of layers of tulle, which made a scratching sound every time I moved.

My mom did my make-up and hair before tending to her own, so I sat there watching an Italian talk show, all done-up at nine in the morning while I waited for her. Although I did not want to apologize to my uncle, I was afraid of upsetting my mom further.

I’m sorry for punching you, I wrote on the hotel stationary, then crossed it out. It seemed too curt. I’m sorry for what I did yesterday. I was scared and I acted before I thought. Please forgive me. This seemed acceptable. I mouthed the words to myself a few times. It felt silly to rehearse something that was supposed to come from the heart, but I knew that I’d freeze the second I had to face him. It was better to go into the situation with some level of preparedness.

The temple was small and fit only our family and a few of my great aunt’s friends from Torah study class. Other congregation members stood in the back out of courtesy. I spent most of the service entranced by the architecture, the stained-glass depicting scenes from the Torah, the intricate fresco on the ceiling. The service was conducted primarily in Hebrew and Italian. After my great aunt led us through all the typical blessings, she gave a lecture, in English, on the significance of her Torah portion. That week in the Book of Numbers, God encouraged Moses to take vengeance on the Midianites. Although the Torah typically condemns violence, according to my aunt, this was a time where vengeance was permitted simply because God said so. As she slowly read through her speech in her best radio reporter voice, I rubbed my sore knuckles. Was my act of violence morally good because I had saved my mom in the process? I couldn’t help but feel a spiritual connection to the portion, as if God had been the force that turned my hand into a fist. I decided then that I wasn’t going to apologize.

The service was followed by a luncheon in the temple’s courtyard. My great aunt rented a hardwood dance floor and a DJ who exclusively played Italian covers of 80s hits. After sneaking a glass of wine, which I chugged out of fear of being caught, I decided that nothing mattered and joined my cousins on the dance floor. I showed them some moves Sammie, my occasional babysitter, had taught me back home, like the “Shopping Cart,” in which you pantomime pushing a cart down an aisle while you check the labels for expiration dates. Soon I had everyone, even my grandparents, doing it.

But not my uncle. He remained at one of the circular tables, slowly sipping a glass of wine and snacking on grapes. When his wife tried to pull him onto the dance floor for the Horah, he vigorously shook her off. I watched her scan the room in embarrassment, hoping nobody had seen their minor altercation. His left cheek had turned a reddish blue. It looked as though there had been attempts to cover up the swelling with his wife’s make-up, but it being summer in Sicily, any concealer had already melted off.

“Oh, come on,” my mom yelled to my uncle as the DJ smoothly transitioned from the Horah to “Girls Just Want to Have Fun.” “Quit being such a curmudgeon.”

He acted as though he didn’t hear her and clicked through his Blackberry with his right index finger.

“All right, Mr. Grumpy,” my mom said. “Have it your way.”

Suddenly, my uncle backed his chair away from the table and started towards the building. My mom chased after him. After about thirty seconds, when I was sure nobody was watching, I shimmied off the dance floor.

The poorly ventilated temple was now warmer inside than out in the courtyard. I took my kitten heels off and followed the low hum of voices down a few hallways until they got louder. When I sensed my mom and uncle were just on the other side of the wall, I sank down onto the cool tile and quietly folded myself into a cross-legged position. 

“I’m not going to tell you how to raise your daughter,” my uncle was saying. They seemed to be standing in the alcove by the bathrooms, which helped carry their voices to me. “But she has no manners. Also, what’s up with her? You know.” He paused which led me to believe he was making some sort of hand gesture.

“She’s just a little under the average height,” my mom whispered. “She’s catching up.”

“And what are you feeding her?” he asked. “Do you just let her have junk whenever she wants? I see her out on the beach, just eating, eating all day. The other kids, they’re out there getting their necessary exercise, you know. It’s good for them!”

“She’s on vacation. Can’t you just cut her some slack? She’s your niece.”

“Has she even gotten her period yet? Aren’t you worried about her?”

“Yes,” my mom said. “She’s gotten her period. She’s just a bit of a late bloomer, that’s all.” I felt my face get hot in embarrassment. The idea of any man knowing what was going on down there felt like the end of the world.

“I was just trying to help yesterday,” he insisted, changing the subject. “I wanted her to feel included.”

“Bullshit,” my mom said under her breath.

“I don’t know why you’re getting so defensive,” he said, raising his voice. “Camille is the one who hit me. And she hasn’t even apologized.”

“You know, I wanted her to apologize,” my mom said. “I felt bad about what happened. She doesn’t have a brother. She doesn’t know what it’s like to grow up with one, all the rough housing and all.”

“But she—”

“For once, can you let me finish?” My mom asked. “You never let me finish.” That seemed to shut him up. “I’m tired of you treating me as a lesser parent because I didn’t stay near mommy and daddy and I didn’t go to law school and I don’t make my kid do a sport every goddamn day. You parent different than I do, and that’s fine. Your kids are fantastic in their own ways. And even if I don’t agree with how you do everything, I’m an adult. I would never say anything bad about my own nieces and nephews.”

There was a ringing in my ears, then total silence. I looked down at my belly, which now appeared to me three sizes bigger than it had been the day before. I’m not sure how much longer they went on fighting after I stopped listening. I sat there until a janitor approached with a mop and told me, in Italian, to move, which I only understood by his hand gestures. I shuffled back towards the party barefoot.

David and the girls left for the grocery store in our rented baby blue Civic a few minutes ago. Based on how far from town we are, I have about an hour to myself.

Every summer since the twins were born, David and I have rented this house in Martha’s Vineyard to get some quiet before heading into Boston to visit his parents. It’s not something we could ever afford on our own, but David’s family friend lets us stay here for practically nothing.

And now the girls are eight, although only yesterday they were crying at all hours of the night or giggling wordlessly with gummy smiles. I’m not ready for them to grow up and be their own people. I don’t know what I’ll do when I’m no longer depended on.

Ever since that trip to Sicily, I haven’t swum in the ocean. It’s not a fear of the water, considering I often attend a water aerobics course at the gym near our house back home. It’s something about the ocean itself, the vastness, never-ending sensation of it. My knuckles get sore just thinking about it, thinking about him.

But recently, it’s been calling to me, like when someone says your name in a dream. 

The summer house is on the sand, the water only a short walk from the back door. I quickly gather the few things I’ll need, worried if I wait too long, the desire will pass. A few feet from the water’s edge, I lay out a towel and take my shorts off. I put my phone underneath my sun hat and lay the book I’m reading, Bolaño’s 2666, on the brim so that the hat doesn’t blow away. I’ve been lost in the 900-page epic all summer and picture myself as everyone on the page. I think about the books I read in middle school, about living vicariously through Tris, about wanting to escape the present circumstances, the blood in my underwear, the belly forming. I walk towards the water. It’s warmer than expected. I march at a steady pace towards nothingness, no end in sight, although I know it’s there, miles and miles away, another shore with another beach just like this one. When I can no longer walk, I lean forward and begin swimming. I glide for a few minutes until I can barely make out the house behind me. After surveying my surroundings to make sure there is nobody to interrupt me, I plug my nose and dunk my head under. At first, I study the water, cool blue in the afternoon sun, but when my eyes get tired, I close them and lean into the blackness. My tears seem microscopic against this great body of water. In a few moments I will resurface, my body’s final push towards survival, but for now, I curl my knees into my chest, put my free hand against my cheek, and give in.

Sofia Wolfson is a musician and writer from LA, currently living in Brooklyn. She has toured the US and UK with original music and her fiction has been published in Westwind and Open Ceilings. She currently attends the New School MFA Writing Program. Learn more about Sofia and find her music at her website, Instagram, or Twitter.

Eden Smith: You are not only an author, but a songwriter and musician. How does creating music affect your creative writing? What is the difference in your process between writing song lyrics and writing fiction?
Sofia Wolfson: The most important lesson I take from writing songs that I try to infuse into my prose is concision. In a song, you’re only given a few minutes to get the whole story out. When I first turned to short stories in high school (after years of writing songs), I felt so freed by the blank page that I started writing these really lengthy and convoluted sentences. I quickly learned that prose and lyrics had a lot more in common than I originally thought, and soon enough my stories started to sound more like my songs, precise and honest. I always ask myself: how can I get this emotion across as clear as possible? But that doesn’t mean I don’t get to play with language. I find myself lifting many figurative elements from lyric writing (wordplay, alliteration, an obsession with the sound of words) when I’m crafting stories.

Both songs and stories start in the same place for me: I have to be engaging in another activity, whether that’s driving or running errands or walking around a museum, to get some sort of spark of inspiration. I find it extremely difficult to start from nothing and just write, whether that’s composing music or drafting a story. I’ll jot down a lyric or two in the notes app if it’s a song, or a brief summary of a conflict if it’s a short story, and save the note for when I get home. It’s usually pretty clear to me from the beginning if something will become a song or a story, but there have been times when I have explicated a concept in both lyric and prose form. In the novel I’m working on, certain chapters have a song sibling on my forthcoming record; there are memories, scenes, moments I’ve felt compelled to explore in both song and story-form. Almost all of my songs and stories have begun while I’m out and about, which can be frustrating at times if I’m unable to get it all down quickly! 

ES: This story explores the transition from child to teenager and the richness of Camille’s Jewish culture, set against the backdrop of the Italian coast. How did you negotiate trying to capture these places and identities? 
SW: What I love about fiction is that I’m given the opportunity to imagine my way into spaces unknown to me. Through a combination of research and imagination, fiction lets me go beyond my lived experience. Camille undergoes a series of internal struggles not unlike I did at that age, but I wanted to employ some device to separate me from her, so that I could construct her with a bit of distance, which is where the setting of Sicily comes in. I have never been to Italy, despite having taken a few semesters of Italian in college. I chose it because I not only grew up interested in the country (my dad speaks Italian and spent time there in his 20s), but also because I wanted to set the story in a place with a rich and fraught Jewish history, which mirrors Camille’s own struggles with her religious identity. The Italian coast interested me because I wanted there to be tension between the beauty and luxury of the setting and Camille’s own bodily/emotional struggles. 

ES: When did you decide that this story would be told from Camille’s point of view? What challenges or constraints did you run into when writing in the voice of someone so young?
SW: I find family vacations to be very emotionally rich and formative experiences. I wanted to tell the story through Camille’s POV to explore how an unknown setting can shape a child’s relationships and internal life. There’s something very dissonant about witnessing your parents on vacation, seeing them outside of their daily routines. There were a few moments while drafting the story where I wanted to include a detail or insight that I had to omit simply because it would not make sense for a pre-teen to know, which can frustrate the writing process. But writing in a child’s voice is something I’ve taken much interest in over the years, so I found the experience to be primarily enjoyable. I was a theater major at an arts high school and despite quickly figuring out I was not cut out to be an actor, I relished in all the written work we had to do, all the character studies and scene analyses. I think that primed me for getting into different characters’ psyches. Much of the process of constructing “The Book of Numbers” was tricking myself into being Camille, reliving that awkward age, and letting her tell me what she was thinking. 

ES: As I read “The Book of Numbers” I was struck by the theme of the tension between loving and being hurtful. Whether in the interactions between Camille and her uncle, or her uncle and her mother, love and hurtfulness often get mixed up in a very human way. Can you elaborate more on the connection you see between these two themes?
SW: I was interested in the idea that hurt can be masked not only by love, but by family obligation. So often I’ve heard people justify hurtful actions by using (or rather, misusing) the language of love, which has always unsettled me. I think my generation is willing to fight back a bit more against the idea that there has to be a certain level of decorum and kindness to people who hurt you simply because of social constructions. The story was my way of exploring what happens when you attempt to put love and pain in their respective boxes (which you point out often get very mixed up in each other), and to assure the younger version of myself that the complexities I was feeling at that age were completely justified, that not everything (especially the bad feelings) has to be housed under the tent of familial love. 

ES: Your descriptions of characters are arresting; you have a knack for knowing what details to include to paint a vivid character sketch. For example, the introduction of Camille’s uncle: “Against the wishes of his third wife, he had an affinity for extreme sports, spending his weekends jumping out of airplanes or participating in endurance swims, in which someone in a little boat next to him would have to pour liquid food into his mouth so that he didn’t starve.” This made me laugh, for starters, and it also relays a lot of information about the kind of person he is. Can you tell me a bit about your process for describing characters?
SW: Thank you! I think it helps to be an introvert. I get most of my inspiration for characters at parties, or working one of my many public-facing jobs over the years. I love asking questions and getting people talking. I don’t know what it is about my face or body language, but people seem to love to tell me their entire life story (haha). The characters that end up in my stories are usually amalgamations of people I’ve met briefly at parties/work, people I’ve people-watched, and people close to me. No character is exactly based on a person in my inner circle; instead, I find a lot of joy in collaging details together to bring people to life on the page. What I love most about fiction is that I can mold characters to my liking in order to illuminate some sort of theme or answer to a question I’m trying to get at. I’m always trying to find that balance between the character appearing painfully and honestly human, and the character being used as a vessel to house larger meaning for the story. 

ES: Can you tell us about any new music or writing projects we should be on the lookout for?
SW: My forthcoming record Imposing on a Hometown will be released next year. Three singles from it (“View,” “New Year’s Eve,” and “From up Here”) are already out! I’m currently in revisions for my first novel, which is an ekphrastic exploration of an age-difference relationship between visual artists, set in LA (where I grew up). It’s my dream to see it published one day. 

Meet the Interns Continued, Pt. 3

This semester, Superstition Review is highlighting the Editors producing Issue 32. On Dec. 1st, readers will be able to view content that these interns have worked to compile over the course of the semester.

Meet Zoe Soderquist, issue 32 blog editor

SR: What are your plans for after graduation?
I plan on getting my Master’s in Technical Communication at the Polytechnic campus and becoming a technical writer (hopefully at a software company!)

SR: What are some of your hobbies?
I love gaming, embroidery, watching movies, working out, biking, and watching YouTube.

SR: What is your favorite midnight snack?
ZS: Anything sweet! I have a massive sweet tooth. Probably a drumstick (the vanilla fudge kind with peanuts) or some popcorn (properly buttered and salted movie theater style).

Meet Carolyn Combs, issue 32 interview editor

SR: What are you currently reading?
I’m reading Oathbringer by Brandon Sanderson which is part of a longer fantasy series. I’m also reading Therapon by Dan Beachy-Quick and Bruce Bond!

SR: What is one place you’d like to travel to?
I really want to travel to Spain, specifically Castilla, I’ve always been fascinated with Don Quijote so I’d love to visit some of the sites from Cervantes’s tales.

Meet Alyssa Samson, issue 32/31 content coordinator

SR: What are your plans for after graduation?
After graduation, I plan to pursue my passion for the English Literature field through editing, content writing and public relations. Eventually, I plan to return to university to complete my Master’s in English Literature in hopes of becoming an undergraduate professor.

SR: What is your hidden talent?
I have spent many years working in different fields with animals and it is a huge passion of mine. Being able to understand animals and their embodied communication is very important to me. I am very grateful for all of the experiences I have been able to accumulate with animals over the years.

SR: What are some of your hobbies?
AS: I have so many ways I enjoy spending my time. My hobbies include listening to music, working out, sewing old clothes to give them a new life, going on walks with my dog, and binge watching many different TV shows.

Meet Rich Duhamell, issue 32 student editor-in-chief, issue 31/30 interview editor

SR: What are your plans for after graduation?
Master’s degree in Library Sciences at UA

SR: What are you currently reading?
Burning Down the House by Charles Baxter

SR: What is your hidden talent?
RD: I cross stitch in 25pt, meaning 25 stitches per inch and 625 stitches per square inch. Miniscule and very detailed, a nightmare to do with stiletto nails, yet I get by and still enjoy it

Be sure to read Issue 32 of Superstition Review launching December 1.

In Her Web: An Interview with Ambrielle Butler


I walked into a spiderweb in my backyard today, wispy tendrils spanning the landscape,
a fine coating like a silk-strand tightrope, the walls, the fence, the door, it must have
taken her days to build, the cobweb was gentle as it broke against my face, nature’s lace,
the sun hitting it and the webs looked striped— three short, three long, three short
again, the spider sat in the middle, a pin in the pincushion, a dart in the center,
a cyclops eye to the soul, her visitors didn’t look too pleased, the flies lazily
lounging in her creation, ungrateful bastards, I met a man who knew that pleasure,
the high of enjoying another’s handiwork, I needed more from him than fading
wordlessly into the background, more than an expert at excuses, more than wrapping
himself in the threads of my labor and pretending they weren’t the trappings of love,
stuck, a bag of marbles that remembered the feeling of skidding down the drive, a dimmed
bulb that reminisced on the time it was turned on, I was done with stuck, so like the sinister
weaver of my dreams, so like that darkened widow of the past, I plucked this man-child
from the strands, pitied him for what he was, let him fall.

Ambrielle Butler is a writer and poet from Texas. Her poetry can be found in publications like Valley Voices, On the Seawall, Plainsongs, Red Ogre Review, and others. You can find her on Instagram and Twitter @ajbutlerwriting. 

Daniel Gernant: Did you always plan on writing, or did you start out on another career path before you changed passions? Why did you decide to become a writer?
Ambrielle Butler: I’ve been writing stories and poems since I was seven, but I didn’t fully commit to writing until after I became a mother. While I originally was pursuing a career in the sciences, having a baby provided me with time to slow down and tap into my creativity as I sat with all these new emotions and experiences. I started writing again as a way of processing motherhood and I haven’t stopped since. 

DG: I really enjoyed your poem In Her Web, could you share what inspired you to write this poem? Why did you choose to employ imagery of spiders?
AB: We were given an assignment in a workshop to write a stream of consciousness poem. This piece started as an ode to the busy spider I saw creating her web outside my window. Watching her weave such elaborate handiwork, I couldn’t help but marvel at the lengths spiders go to meet their needs. From there, the poem evolved into a reflection on past relationships and the dynamics therein, the concept of being stuck in a mechanism of your own creation and the inevitable undoing of it. 

DG: What is your ideal environment for writing? Please tell us more about it.
AB: I have my best ideas at night. I’m less inhibited and can sit quietly with my thoughts. I’ve also always loved writing outdoors. Nature is so inspiring, which is probably why it shows up so often in my work, and helps me feel more connected to the world around me.

DG: If you had to choose a poem of yours that is your favorite, which would you say? Why is it the one you like the most?
AB: That’s a hard choice. Every poem is personal and reflects a part of myself, and so some poems have more meaning at different times in my life. I’d say at the moment I’m particularly drawn to the vivid memories that Aubade for the Edge of the Cliffs of Moher brings. It was one of the most stunning places I’ve ever been, and perched on the cliffs, you really feel like you’re dangling at the edge of the world. It’s terrifying and exhilarating, your sense of fear and wonder playing tug-of-war the entire time. I also love the playfulness of Lobster Roll. As a self-proclaimed “foodie”, I had a lot of fun flipping the script and poking at the absurdity of the fine dining experience.

DG: How do you find inspiration when you are having trouble? Tell us about your process.
AB: It sounds cliché, but I’ve learned that the best way to find inspiration is to simply start writing. I may sit down and feel like I have nothing to say, but if I can fill a blank page (or two) with words, I’ll usually unearth something worthwhile. I also always carry a notebook with me to jot down thoughts or phrases I may want to write about later. I’ve found inspiration from even the most seemingly mundane days. 

DG: What are your future plans for writing? Can you tell us about whatever you are working on next?
AB: I am continuing to publish poems and short stories in literary magazines, and hope to publish a chapbook in the near future. I also have a mystery novel I’m currently querying to agents and another one in the works. I’m very optimistic about what the future will bring and look forward to growing even more as a writer. 

Issue 32 Launch Party

Issue 32 Launch Party

The Launch Party for Issue 32 will be held over Zoom on December 1st, from 11:00 am – 12:00 pm MST. It is free and open to the public.

The party will include statements by the editors, and a roundtable discussion on collaborative writing with Issue 32 contributors Bruce Bond, Dan Beachy-Quick, Kim Magowen, and Michelle Ross.

We hope to celebrate with you!

Bruce Bio 2

Dan Bio
Michelle Bio

Register now for our online launch party for Issue 32.

The Eighth Rule of Fight Club: An Interview with Jane Copland

The Eighth Rule of Fight Club

Hi Jane

It arrives at midnight on a Friday.

a couple folks mentioned your name in the list of people who made them feel uncomfortable.

they didn’t provide details

another member left the group voluntarily earlier this year, citing concerns with you

I wait. There’s no more.

It’s me. I’m the witch.

What is it about you? An seesaw from reassurance to self-reprimand. Why do you do this? I am angry at myself. I know why people are uncomfortable with me, and I know why I was informed of this in this manner by someone who’d known me for thirteen years. I know why the message had been written using that phrasing, ‘you made them feel uncomfortable’, rather than putting the state of feeling uncomfortable on them, a reflection of what they’d done, or indeed what they had failed to do. He knew my tendency to internalise guilt, to feel dirty. He knew that I was sensitive to shame. He knew, from having known me since the age of twenty-two, that I let shame grip me by the throat and squeeze, even if I am also aware that I have done nothing wrong. But I am not twenty-two anymore, and I know how this works.

In tech, you can wear a WonderWoman outfit to the office and reclaim the word cunt and talk about your period on Twitter but if you ask a hard question and don’t let it go, you will be caught and tried and burnt. From my very first days as a recent college grad, I couldn’t abide by the misogyny and the violence, and I’ve never lived it down.


I’ve written about abuse and objectification so many times that it feels embarrassing and old. It became my thing, a personality I never meant to adopt. However, people would still send me messages when something happened. Did you see this? And often, I had. I was drawn to it like a moth, not because I found it titillating, but because I felt I’d failed. Frustration, every time one of those messages arrived. Anger, every time.

I began my career in the space between marketing and technology in the autumn of 2006 having recently graduated from Washington State University. Not six months had passed since I’d downed a pint of Mac & Jacks at the Coug in Pullman, removed my graduation robes and driven out of town, and there I was: a woman in tech. During my time at college, I had been a member of the WSU women’s swim team, an endeavour that both brought me to the United States and paid for my education. The majority of the people I knew were tough, able women, including my two coaches. I knew very little about feminism because for twenty-two years, my life had roughly fulfilled the goals of the movement and not included many poor experiences on account of my gender. Perhaps an earlier awakening would have been useful. I entered the professional world at a time when women were supposedly liberated from the constraints of decades past; a lie of appeasement to satisfy contemporary demands. As industries, marketing, advertising and technology were extremely male-dominated, and both my femaleness and the burgeoning mid-2000s culture meant that I was noticeable in a way I had never experienced before.


During its peak, the first decade of the twenty-first century held itself up as a period of victory for women. While still under-represented in many professional spaces, it was at least becoming slightly less acceptable to question why we were there at all. We were allowed to exist, and exist outside the narrow tropes of decades past. At home, my television was perpetually tuned to MTV and VH1’s reality offerings, where streaky-haired girls fought with each other for praise, validation and fame. Their personalities and eventual downfalls were a staple of the cultural diet whose food pyramid layered over-sexed female naivety and conflict as its foundation, but granted these female characters stardom nonetheless. It had been ten years since the Spice Girls’ rise to “power.” We had been liberated from the trials of our mothers. What was left to achieve?

In the public-facing industry, my young, female contemporaries were placed in a similar position as the women on the TV in my apartment: we were allowed to be there, but there were trades to be made in return. In the throes of Facebook’s roll-out to the public, countless men who only knew me as a new hire at my company added me as a “friend.” Until that point, Facebook had been a platform used only at universities, and I had never met any of the people who now sent me requests and made comments, some more suggestive than others. Many had unsolicited advice, professional or otherwise: a man I didn’t know saw a joke I had posted on a colleague’s Facebook wall and admonished me for it, telling me in the middle of a long-winded diatribe he was going to “slap my wrist.” There it was: the first mention of physicality. I couldn’t smell it yet, but a representation of the stench that passed for networking in the days of early-2000s tech started to emerge. Greasy and confident, patronising and familiar. Laced with violence.

In reality television, happy people make terrible entertainment. Drama sells, and reality TV culture prized the exploitation of other people’s pain above all else. Work ethic, professional output, decency: none of this mattered. Conflict was currency. It still is, of course, but it is clear now that the trend of real-life television drama found a home for regular people on social media. Many of the interactions I had with members of the digital marketing community were not only inappropriately familiar and flirtatious, but fit neatly with the zeitgeist of the time, salivating for the salacious.

To my discredit, I was happy to play the part cast for me: the party girl, the snarky girl, the twenty-two year old girl with the foreign accent who was married. If I had been older, I might have wondered why my marital status mattered to men twice my age who only knew me through blogs and social media. I might have asked why a personality that I did not naturally possess had been cut out for me by the same people, and why I was happy to adopt it as my own. Instead, I let it wash over me. I had a good job, which was becoming less of a given and more of a scarcity as the 2008 economic crisis loomed.

The closest I’ve ever come to self-loathing was after two years of this. I realised with a growing dawn of self-aware horror that I had become someone I did not recognise or like. I had become a pathetic reality TV show character, providing bites of scandal whilst bickering with similarly typecast characters. We were the streaky-haired girls on the television, only we were playing our roles via message boards, blog comments, and Twitter. We were entertainment, sugar and sherbert and fondant icing, a distraction while the grown-ups, almost all of them men, did the real work.

Young women in tech were identified for our social media extroversion and pitted against each other for sport. I wrote off men who sent lewd messages like wanting to see a “cat fight” between another woman and me as losers and perverts, but the objectification still wore me down. Those men were not isolated in their thinking or reasons for approaching us. They operated in the same cultural reality as we did, one that promised female entertainment, conflict, suffering and eventual misery. During the same year as Britney Spears shaved her head and attacked a paparazzo with an umbrella, many women were looked upon to provide tiny versions of Spears’ story to assembled audiences: be hot, be naive, be the centre of attention, make a spectacle of yourselves. I harbour shame for how easily I fell for this exploitative version of fame: on a fairly clear intellectual level, I knew that I had been a more mature version of myself eighteen months earlier as I had competed in my last national championships, completed my final university papers, flat-hunted in Seattle and begun my job search. I had regressed behaviourally, and I knew it. Totally at the mercy of serotonin and with no understanding or tolerance of its effects, this was also the only professional reality many of us had known. In general, we were well-raised, intelligent young women, but we were also coaxed and encouraged by a pit of cheering onlookers who loved the show and, while telling us off, encouraged us to keep it up. Britney and the umbrella, the razor. You crazy bitch! Do it again.

All the same, I was shielded from this breaking all my boundaries and invading my life. I was married, and my husband did not work in technology. He didn’t engage with social media at all. When my marriage ended four weeks before my twenty-fifth birthday, this turn of events piqued the attention of men in my industry who maintained an interest in the personal lives of the industry’s young women.

It was January in Seattle and I was sitting in the tired light of our Capitol Hill office. Going home had become even less appealing than anxiously twirling on my swivel chair until bedtime. A man I only knew from our blog messaged me, prying for information about my break-up. He wrote screeds, instructing me on what I should and shouldn’t do, demanding insight into my life. It was three years later, in a pub underneath my London flat, that I learned this individual was apparently responsible for curating and distributing a list of women in the industry that he and his friends wanted to “photograph naked.” A campaign for revenge porn before it had a name, covert, upskirt, violent. I had been off-limits when I belonged to another man. But in the midst of a break-up! Now we have a mark on our hands. Smudged stamps not yet dry on my divorce papers at the courthouse down the hill, I had been added as a target. Inquiries were being made. Plans were drawn up. He visited London for a conference shortly after I moved there a month later, and he requested a private meeting with me. I didn’t reply. A twenty-five year old’s brain is completing its final stages of maturation, and for me, this came with an alarm system common to most adult women. When it came to this man, the alarm had gone off. I made sure not to meet with him, years before I knew what he really wanted. Later, I was told by a friend that she had lunch with him that week, frozen in terror as he stroked her thigh under the table. Only three years earlier, I couldn’t have told you much about feminism but by the time I was twenty-five and living alone in London, I fucking knew.

But we––mid-twenties women coming to terms with the fact that our empowerment and exaltation had actually been exploitation and objectification––we were never going to be enough. We had enough agency to back out of situations that became dire; we reported our assaults, even as I came to understand that those reports fell on deaf ears no matter the job description of the woman making the allegation. We were presented in the fashion of entertainers but we were not actually being paid for our performances. The industry hungered for more flesh and fewer repercussions. The first time I went to a conference and was presented with a group of hired models as entertainment, we stared at each other with the deadened fatigue of incompatible hardware, software programmed in different languages, a diesel engine looking at a petrol pump. We had no use for each other: they had not been hired to entertain me, and I did not wish to be entertained by them. They perched awkwardly beside male conference attendees, bony relics of the equally toxic nineties/early-2000s era when women were not only meant to be pleasingly dramatic, but excruciatingly thin. I started asking, why are they here? and learned with speed about the existence of weaponised sex positivity.

Do you hate them because they’re beautiful? It was an absolution from criticism, casting me as sex-negative and jealous. It was very effective. Yet again, women were pitted against each other: models from an agency, hired to populate an tech event, and the rest of us. Hate each other, please! Who’d be interested in a cat fight between Jane and Rebecca? asked a man on Twitter who’d also messaged me repeatedly about the end of my marriage. We need to make this happen! another replied. Let’s get it on! They suggested mud wrestling. “Who isn’t interested in that? Does it really matter who wins?” asked a man who, years later, would sheepishly visit my office in London and try to look me in the eye.

There it was again: violence. A request for gendered violence, and one on which they were publicly getting off. A reply, five minutes after the cat-fight request: “I want $5K on Rebecca.” Someone I knew through work was putting money on the table to see me beaten up.

It wasn’t just a joke. It’s not just banter. It’s a scale, a slope, a continuum. Invoking us in relation to sex and violence, over and over again, had consequences. When a group is objectified, disrespected and joked about for years, eventually that treatment becomes normalised and expected; the social blow of real violence is softened by the effect of continuous rhetoric. When a woman is actually beaten, raped or worse, it is just the far end of the continuum from a wager, placed on Twitter, to see us punched at the hands of our colleagues.


That smell, the high-whine of tension and extreme discomfort. It frustrated me to my soul. I knew that if I complained too much, I would be abandoned. I’d no longer be invited to speak at conferences, I would no longer be asked to contribute to articles or studies. Referrals would stop coming the way of my agency. And if people avoided my employer because of me, my job might be in jeopardy. I berated myself: why can’t you just go with the flow? Why can’t you just ignore the semi-naked models, the obscene requests, the hands on your skin? Why do you do this to yourself? Women around me ignored them and were rewarded for their efforts. Why couldn’t I? People noticed my discomfort. Men grew defensive before I’d said anything. One accosted me in a corridor to complain about my feminist leanings, towering over me, shouting. Two years after moving to London, I’d lost my patience.

I wrote a blog post that tore the collision of objectification and harassment apart and I left it in my WordPress drafts for a year. My palms broke out in sweat whenever I thought about the post and the Publish button. I knew that publishing it would be a moment of enormous change. I would lose professional opportunities. I would lose friends. I would lose business. During 2011, I came close to posting it a number of times.

Backed into a bar after an industry event with a hand slithering down my back, finding my low-rise jeans and beginning to rub, I pushed him away and ran, and I thought of that post. Photographs emerged from a conference that hired “nine former Playmates” as entertainment. I thought of that post. I travelled: seminars, networking events, training days. People hugged me too tight, squeezed what they shouldn’t, asked for too much. My female colleagues and I traded intelligence: who was safe, who was not, who had been assaulted and by whom. I thought of the post, sitting in drafts. At a conference in Poland, I was repeatedly taunted by two male speakers about the arrival of yet another hoard of hired models as soon as the event was over and the drinks began. A Twitter discussion about “booth babes” took place a year to the day after I’d written my article, and I was overcome. I had to let it out if I were ever to shake the aching frustration about what I thought I wasn’t allowed to say. At 9:42pm on a Wednesday evening in late December, I clicked the Publish button I’d feared for a year, tweeted the link and turned off my laptop. I turned off my phone. I went to bed.

By the next morning, I had comments to wade through from everyone from my parents to the then-head of SEO at Google. I had indignant, mean, mocking comments to field from men whom I’d upset. It was a few days before Christmas, and in the rush to leave for the holiday I only read an email from my line manager three days after he had sent it. I was, he said, treading on dangerous ground. Some of the men whose behaviour I had criticised were important. These were people we really couldn’t afford to piss off, or so the legend told. You could, he reasoned, make your point without identifying the people who’d perpetuated the culture, who’d shouted the insults, who’d emailed you the requests, who’d grabbed your flesh, who’d left you powerless and afraid. In my second act of defiance, I decided to simply not reply to his message. At that point, firing me for what I had written would have placed him on more dangerous ground than the shaky copse on which I stood. He never mentioned the piece to me again, but I never trusted him again, either.

If I were to spell out the incidents that followed, all the attempts to take back the scrap of power I’d scavenged, it would deteriorate into a laundry list of humiliation that wasn’t dissimilar to the treatment I’d had in years past, but at least included less groping. All the same, I noticed that most of the industry started to clean up its act. At the time, digital marketing was a much smaller community than it is today and it was clear that an industry whose origins were piecemeal and fairly wild-west, was growing up. I took pride in having played a part in this maturation, even though it had earned me all the stigma I’d feared.

The stigma didn’t disappear, but it morphed, and it was rendered somewhat toothless by the mid-2010s and the #metoo movement. Weinstein’s shaming, arrest and imprisonment took the gusto out of every old boys’ club. Quietly, the people who’d bragged about their terrible behaviour not five years earlier, cleaned up their public perceptions. They began to deny they had ever acted in the way they’d previously loudly advertised. I was branded again, but this time as a liar rather than a harpy. The narrative changed from “what we’re doing is fine!” to “we never did that!”


When they tell you the word “gaslighting” has been misused out of any meaningful existence, remember that this is what it originally meant: the things you remember aren’t real. The things you saw weren’t there. The words in your email or chat records, or even the tweets you can still look up? It’s you, you’re the liar. You’re the witch. By 2019, a full gaslighting campaign had come and gone to obfuscate the past. My former boss, not the one who’d warned me via email but the man who’d employed me straight out of college in Seattle, had tried to start an initiative to curtail the inclusion of abusive people at tech events but had abandoned the project due to legal concerns. He was billed to headline an event in the Netherlands. The event was run by a man who’d mocked me about feminism, and who’d sent a number of questionable tweets to both me and other young women. My boss’s wife, a feminist author, also spoke at the event, delivering a presentation on navigating online gendered harassment.

As the week began, historical images and video content of the event’s host and a number of other largely reinvented men flooded the conference hashtag. Not many years earlier, the host had appeared rather proud of the almost-exclusively male industry parties he attended with “playmates”, and video evidence of this had been easy to find, and to share. While it had been lauded on social media as impressive and fun in the time period between Spears’ torment and Weinstein’s downfall, it hit the ground like a sack of wet sick in 2019. The change I had tried to start almost a decade earlier had materialised. It was wild to watch. I was transfixed by the spectacle of an industry forest fire where my little matchstick had once been. The host of the conference publicly apologised for his poor behaviour in years past, remaining the only person from that era to have done so. Well-known as an activist whose primary bugbears were now receiving their proper cancellation, I was naturally blamed for a lot of this publicity and embarrassment. If I had only kept my mouth shut in 2011, and 2012 and 2013 and onwards, they could have had their champagne and drunk it too. The hypocrisy of quietly putting debauchery to bed and capitalising off feminism instead could have gone unnoticed.

A couple of months later, a different conference circuit stalwart climbed on stage at one of Europe’s leading marketing events and presented a slide that showed the silhouette of a man slapping a woman, the woman reeling backwards. I had fallen foul of this particular speaker in the past because I found his much-touted work with the far-right wing tabloid and network TV press reprehensible. Noting negative reactions to his violent image, he took to Twitter after the talk to claim that the slide had been included solely as “bait” for certain people. Including, presumably, me.

There it was again. A slap. A fight. Violent imagery. He was admonished, but at the same time, his “frustration” with people like me was offered by sympathisers as a point of note. This was more cryptic than in years past; in 2007, someone would just have said that I’d asked for it. He wrote an apology post on Medium, deleting both the post and all his apology tweets at some point after they had received numerous shares and much praise. In the midst of this, I was called “Queen of the trolls” in a large industry Facebook group by a regular keynote who had once taken me aside on the Brighton pier to tell me I was “getting a bad reputation as a feminist.” The picture being painted was that my concerns about misogyny and violence were nothing but trolling. Again, the narrative shifts: from prude to liar to subhuman. Weeks later, I received a message from my first boss about the email network he maintains between industry professionals. It arrived at midnight.

a couple folks mentioned your name

concerns with you



you’re the witch

It starts with a grope, a slur, the acceptance that “she”, whoever she is, doesn’t mind or doesn’t matter or was asking for it. It makes hurting us that little bit more okay. The people whose imagery slapped wrists and faces, or others who asked for sex, others still who leant over me screaming, whose hands slid over my body, who stroked thighs, typed threats: their credibility remains. When millions of women flooded social media in 2021 to say, stop placating and protecting bad men, people looked on in shock, unwilling to recall those emails they received or conversations they had in 2008, 2012, 2014, 2017, with you, trusting them with your story. It’s the first email every time, slate clean. No history, only you: a problem to be solved. A woman who doesn’t know her place. Again.

Hi Jane.

Jane Copland’s work has been published in Witness Magazine, The Independent, Newsroom New Zealand, Identity Theory, Litro, JMWW, Hayden’s Ferry Review, trampset and other publications. She is a Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net nominee. Her stories have also been finalists in the Brick Lane Bookshop Prize, the Fresher Prize, New Millennium Writing, and the Nobow Press short story competition. She is from New Zealand and lives in Oxford, England.

Bryan Lurito: In your piece “The Eighth Rule of Fight Club,” I was particularly interested in the line “I’ve written about abuse and objectification so many times that it feels embarrassing and old. It became my thing, a personality I never meant to adopt.” Could you expound upon your personal experiences with this line a bit more? If you could go back in time, would you change anything so as to not obtain this affiliation, or do you feel what you write is important enough that you would still do it all again? How come?
Jane Copland: I think it’s a fact that my life and career in technology would have been easier had I never said anything about these issues. That said, if I were given the chance to choose, I would do it again. I started talking about these issues in around 2009, so while I wasn’t the first person to bring them up, this came a few years before #metoo became a phenomenon. By that point, my activism and the work of several others had already made a difference, albeit a small one when compared with the progress made later in the 2010s. That head start was important. Almost fifteen years later, it’s also helpful to be able to look back on the evolution of the movement. In some cases, progress has been made. In others, as I speak about in the essay, people have tried to obfuscate the origins and realities of these problems. My early adoption of this cause helps keep those attempts in check, and provides context for when something damaging or regressive happens. I wouldn’t change this, because I know this work had a positive impact on what was a really grim environment fifteen or twenty years ago.

BL: You have found yourself successful with quite a few literary magazines and short story competitions. What advice would you give to people wanting to break into the writing industry? How did things change as you gained experience within the industry?
JC: As repetitive as this may sound, practice practice practice. Write and read as often as possible. My most recent publication was in a short story competition’s anthology (the Brick Lane Bookshop prize here in London). I wrote the first draft of the eventual published piece four years ago. After the book launch this November, I found the first draft in my files and re-read it. It’s not nearly as strong a piece as the final copy; the difference is incredible! It was long-listed (but not published) once in a 2019 competition, but it failed to go any further. I edited it many times over the years, and even filed it away as a publication failure for quite a while, only deciding to try submitting it again this year. Four extra years of practice and experience gave that piece what it needed to earn publication.

It’s also true that for every good story, I’ve written thousands of extra words for the piece that end up getting cut. Those words aren’t wasted. All that “extra” writing solidifies the story in my mind: I know the entire universe inside out by the time the story is complete, and that knowledge comes across in consistency and confidence with place, characterisation, tone and storyline. I used to worry when a story I intended to be (let’s say) 6,000 words was making its way up to 8,000 or more. Now I don’t; I know this is a good thing, so I’d encourage young writers not to worry about this. Write 15,000 words! Maybe it’s actually a novel in waiting! Maybe you’ll find a brilliant 5,000 word piece in there. Just keep writing.

BL: What gives you inspiration when beginning a new story? How much of your work is translated directly from personal lived experience?
JC: Some pieces I’ve had published are very thinly-veiled creative nonfiction! In fact, most of my early published flash fiction pieces were like this: translations of personal experience. Only after a while, you run out of good stories from your past to mine. Most of what I write is at least sparked by something I’ve seen or experienced, although it’s normally just a fleeting inspiration. For example, my work-in-progress is about a professional rugby player who finds himself set upon by a tabloid journalist in a lounge at Singapore airport, after the player has suffered a catastrophic knee injury in an international match. I got the idea while sitting in a lounge at Singapore airport with a badly injured knee (suffered running down hospital stairs in New Zealand, not while playing rugby against England!). The sense of place and conflict was so strong, I knew I had to use it. Similarly, my story “The Angel, Islington” was published in Witness Magazine earlier this year. It is about a teenage lifeguard at a central-London health club who is bullied by one of the club’s managers. However, due to circumstances entirely of the manager’s making, the lifeguard ends up saving the manager’s life. This is almost pure fiction. However, I started writing about the fictitious bully manager after watching a woman let her children behave badly at a swimming pool, and claim “my mother works here!” as her defence. They’re small sparks of inspiration, but they can grow into entire worlds.

BL:  You repeatedly use the word “witch” to describe yourself throughout the piece. Why did you choose this title specifically? I have noticed there has been a cultural movement in recent times reclaiming the idea of a witch as something positive, however the use of the word within the text appears to be more negative in nature. How did you decide to use the title of witch to depict a form of negative othering?
JC: The choice of the word “witch” as a negative wasn’t a literary decision. It was a word that popped into my mind when I received the message from my old boss, telling me I had been named as someone who made others uncomfortable in his email group. “Burn the witch” came to mind due to how I was clearly being blamed for post-#metoo negative publicity. I had done absolutely nothing to make anybody uncomfortable besides tell the truth about women’s treatment in tech. Those truths were the actual source of the discomfort, and I was being lined up as the scapegoat for the ensuing embarrassment. However, just as you say, I found myself internally reclaiming the title over time. A different person called me “the queen of the trolls” during the same period, which I didn’t hesitate to ironically claim as my own (aside from to say that if we’re doing the Tolkien universe, I’m clearly an elf, and my Legolas costume is flawless).

BL: I enjoyed your first-person style, which read like a dialogue or chain of thought rather than a traditional narrative. What made you decide to write in this unique format? How did the writing process differ when compared to writing a piece with a more traditional structure?
JC: This was such a personal story to me, and I think the style reflects that. I’m not sure I would be able to write this any other way. Before writing this piece, I had only ever told this story verbally or via emails to friends, which clearly had a huge influence on how I was able to tell it in an essay. It’s a complicated piece in that regard, because it combines memoir with cultural criticism and facts of the period: my personal story is offset against the early 2000s in entertainment, technology at large, and the smaller industry of digital marketing. It’s also a style I like reading.

BL: Your piece is particularly empowering towards female readers while at the same time highlighting some of the issues they may face in the world. What advice would you give to young women transitioning into the workforce?
JC: The workforce, including in tech, is a much friendlier place for women than it was twenty years ago. That said, some of these problems remain and, in fact, are just better hidden than they were before. This may sound cynical, but I don’t mean it that way. I think this is just good knowledge; a “trust but verify” prudence when it comes to professional interactions and relationships. People will tell you that they are on your side: that they would never again work with or support someone who abused you, or engaged in gross behaviour. But some people will let you down. I am certainly not saying not to make friends through work: I’ve made so many, I consider myself extremely fortunate to have met so many wonderful folks through work over the years. But especially with people who are purely professional acquaintances, it’s wise to have healthy reservations and internal boundaries. I did not do this. I believed shallow words from people who were not actually good friends, and allowed myself to feel let down by the things they went on to do. This is unhealthy on my part. Tech can easily foster this sort of failing, because it makes us feel very closely connected to people who are, in fact, nearly strangers. It is also a field that can attract people who are very good at leveraging this false sense of community for personal gain. Be mindful of that, and balance the creation of true friendships and professional networks with your own physical and emotional protection.

Editors Are Writers Too: A Guest Post by Albert Liau

Editors Are Writers Too: A Guest Post by Albert Liau

After years of writing and editing fiction, I’ve developed a real soft spot for articles on literary craft. At their best, they intimate the secrets of effective storytelling. But so many of them (including ones I’ve written) assume that deep discussion of deft writing is the way to go. And while learning from the work of masters is certainly valuable, we can also get personal and discuss what we actually do as writers, directly engaging with one another’s competencies and foibles. By sharing our ongoing journeys towards mastery, we can cultivate an honest and accessible conversation on literary craft—one that enacts an ethos described by meditation instructor Jeff Warren:

Make your problem someone else’s solution. We can all learn to use the energy of our challenges and turn it into care for someone else. Call it Cosmic Love Judo.

Let’s take a Cosmic Love Judo tack to literary craft by trying something more workshop, less TED Talk. Here’s how I used perspectives on literary craft to revise the first section of a story I thought was close to completion.

This is the way that story began for something like fifteen drafts:

This time, I have a crush on Meridienne, and the affection is stunningly quiet. Nothing like the last crush—that menagerie of thoughts and feelings about Altina. Now with Meridienne, I’m mainly interested in details I never really paid attention to, if I even noticed them before. Like the half-used eraser she places in the upper right corner of whatever desk she’s sitting at. During Psychology, she didn’t use it at all, but the eraser was there the whole time, at the ready to rub away mistakes.

The crush also changes how I feel toward the things about Meridienne that have stood out ever since we started having classes together back in the autumn. Those mostly make me feel bad for her now. The frilly socks that are simultaneously fancy and ridiculous (especially when worn with sneakers), her mother must have bought them. And I’m sure that some classmates and even teachers are also irritated by how Meridienne says everything with so much emphasis, as though she’s always making sure to get her point across. Even when she complimented my ideas for the social studies skit we worked on together last week, I didn’t like her tone. It gave her the air of someone who has a high opinion of her opinions and thinks of her praise as precious, coveted validation. Maybe she doesn’t mean to come off that way but can’t help it. Or maybe she’s afraid she won’t be taken seriously if she doesn’t speak assertively.

If this is what it’s going to be like liking Meridienne—a combination of fascination and sympathy—I’ll take it. Not that I have a choice, but I can do another four days of this no problem.

This section bothered me for a while, and eventually I determined that the issue was its exclusive focus on the narrator’s thoughts. That focus had allowed me to quickly lay out the situation at hand—the latest crush—but the trade-off is that we (as readers) have no idea where we are; unanchored in time and space, we’re adrift in the as-yet undefined world of the story. This opening is overtly at odds with the standard craft advice of grounding the reader—advice that Benjamin Percy champions in Thrill Me:

When a reader first picks up a story, they are like a coma patient—fluttering open their eyes in an unfamiliar world, wondering, where am I, when am I, who am I? The writer has an obligation to quickly and effectively place the reader in the story.

I overdid it on addressing the “who am I?” by placing the reader exclusively in the narrator’s thoughts. I wagered that if those thoughts piqued the reader’s curiosity, then I could launch the story quickly and defer placing the narrator in a scene. But that approach was adopted back when I thought this story might be at most five pages. Soon, it was over fifteen, and that initial opening was obtrusively ineffective. So I replaced it with this…

The moment I see Meridienne walk into Social Studies, my gaze is pulled to her like never before, and I know that this week I have a crush on her. She breezes past the front of the classroom, her creamy blue shirt and blond hair bright against the blackboard, making the air thrum with energy, and that’s the crush making my mind thrum with energy—but quietly this time. Nothing like the last crush, that rambunctious menagerie of thoughts and feelings about Altina. This crush just makes me alert to Meridienne, getting me to notice her poise once she’s settled at her desk—torso pitched slightly forward, forearms angled inward on her desk.

“Good morning,” Mr. Deslar says the instant he steps [strides] through the doorway. “Let’s get started with current events. Randy, you’re up.”

Mr. Deslar closes the classroom door and stands in the corner beside it. Randy quickly skims over some notes then excitedly tells us about new cognitech that makes dreams feel like vacations by creating places for the sleeping mind to explore and enjoy. In a couple years, we might be hiking a majestic mountain or roaming a lively city while getting a good night’s rest. That sounds amazing. Curious about Meridienne’s reaction to this news story, I glance over at her. From my desk near the back of the classroom, I can usually see only the back of her head and torso, but now Meridienne’s turned to the right to look at Randy, and I can see her face in profile. She has that familiar look of paying casual attention, but her eyes have a certain focus, as though clearly gauging her distance from not just Randy but this new technology.


During the other morning class I have with Meridienne, I notice that the crush changes how I feel toward things about her that have always stood out ever since we started having classes together last autumn. These things mostly make me feel bad for her now. Like the frilly socks that are simultaneously fancy and ridiculous—especially when she wears them with sneakers. Her mother must have bought them. And then there’s the way Meridienne says everything with so much emphasis, as though she’s always making sure to get her point across. I’m sure that some classmates and even teachers are also put off by that. Even when she complimented my ideas for the Social Studies skit we worked on together last week, I didn’t like her tone. It gave her the air of someone who has a high opinion of her opinions and thinks of her praise as precious, coveted validation. Maybe she doesn’t mean to come off that way but can’t help it. Or maybe she’s afraid she won’t be taken seriously if she doesn’t speak assertively.

If this is what it’s going to be like liking Meridienne—a combination of curiosity and sympathy—I’ll take it. Not that I have a choice, but I can do another four days of this no problem. Especially since the two classes we have together are in the morning, so for the rest of the day, the crush can’t get me to stare at Meridienne and can only turn my attention to thoughts about her. This may be the easiest crush yet. Is that because of its design?

Now the story begins with concrete details as a naturalistic entry point into the narrator’s life. And those details are presented in a way that aligns with other perspectives on craft, like this one regarding the nature of details in Thrill Me:

Be specific when something is interesting. When something is interesting, you look at it longer. You prolong and amplify it.

In the new version of the opening, the narrator’s attention stays on things that have a particular quality. Meridienne ripples the atmosphere of the classroom. Her gaze gives the impression of gauging distances. The prose is concerned with specificity meaningful to the narrator.

All this is not to say that the best way to start a story is in medias res with scene. Rather, the consideration of revision here suggests that stories can be improved by considering what the text needs to do for the reader. I previously thought this opening had to start the story quickly, but I later realized it must situate the character in the change that launches the story: the first experience of the new synthetic crush. This is the sort of clarity we can gain when we engage in revision and workshopping.

Speaking of workshopping, did you take issue with other aspects of the initial opening? Do you think the revised version is falling short of doing the work it should? If so, that’s fantastic; your literary sensibilities have leapt into action! If not, don’t worry; there are plenty of opportunities to develop and exercise those sensibilities, or maybe the passages presented here work for your sensibilities. Stories can of course work in different ways for different people. And that’s part of the beauty of crafting fiction. Storytelling, like all art forms, is amenable to different sensibilities, allowing us to engage with it over a vast aesthetic range.

Strategies to Try

  1. Decide what should have primacy at the story’s outset. For a story you’ve been working on or thinking of starting, consider what absolutely needs to come through in its first paragraphs. Voice? Setting? A situation? Once you’ve determined that, explore what you might do to further develop this element of the story. Can you also layer in other elements?
  2. Identify how part of a story is falling short. For a section of a story you’re wrestling with, ask, “What work does this section need to do?” Depending on the nature of the section (for example, its length or location in the story), it may need to accomplish multiple kinds of work, like develop the characters and create tension. Use your answer to this question as the basis for revising that section.
Internship for ASU Undergraduates Spring 2024

Internship for ASU Undergraduates Spring 2024

Superstition Review

Internship Opportunities with Superstition Review 

Superstition Review is the online literary magazine produced by creative writing and web design students at Arizona State University. Founded in 2008, the mission of the journal is to promote contemporary art and literature by providing a free, easy-to-navigate, high quality online publication that features work by established and emerging artists and authors from all over the world. We publish two issues a year with art, fiction, interviews, nonfiction, and poetry. We also enjoy honoring all members of our Superstition Review family by maintaining a strong year-round community of editors, submitters, contributors, and readers on our blog and social networks.


Trainees will register for a 3 credit-hour ENG 394 course. The course will offer a study of the field of literary magazines.

Upon successful completion of ENG 394, trainees will enroll in ENG 484 and become active interns with the magazine.

  • All work is done completely online.
  • We welcome interns from all fields.
  • Applications are accepted on a rolling basis.

What Interns Say:

“This class has been a huge eye-opener for me and I feel so lucky to have had the opportunity to work in the publishing and editing industry before graduating.”

“The skills I learned have given me a huge amount of confidence as I begin my search for a job, and I’m so glad this course was available.”

“I feel I got a great internship experience that will help me post graduation.”

As a Poet, I Have Some Questions: A Guest Post by Marilyn McCabe

I have been thinking again, as I often do, about poetry as an inquiry.

book of poetry

I was staring at my blank page, so this was, in that moment, an incitement: What am I wondering about? I don’t mean literally a question that could be answered by research. I mean an opening of some sort, an uncertainty that can barely be articulated, a yearning or a bafflement that is deeply rooted in my experience of living.

In that moment, I idly thought and ended up scribbling “I wonder why against the dim light and gray sky the tree across the street seems to burn even brighter.” Yes, I could probably answer that question with some research into the effects of light and color and optics, but the possibility that some things can seem more clear in unclear situations opened something. I did feel like I could muddle around in the space created there. Between image and question, I could ease into a creative space.

Trying to feel my way into my own questions is also a useful exercise as I grapple with a collection of newer poems struggling to work together. Can I discern in my recent poem attempts what are my questions, where is the focus of my concern? I ask myself that because if I can better understand my questions, I hope to better hone my poems in the revision process. I suspect that from a far enough vantage point, a common concern will emerge from a large number of those poems. And if I can catch that whiff of inquiry, a path will be cleared to create a collection that coheres not around obvious theme but rather around a deep question.

By asking myself to define my question, I may risk writing poems that are ghastly earnest and stiff with self-conscious thought. To be too aware of where my head is at can block the whole process entirely, creation and revision (as revision itself is a creative process).  It’s almost like I have to pose a question and then hum loudly over my own thoughts, distract myself by doing the dishes or mopping the floor, let any response drift in and fade off, leaving sticky things behind: a bit of spider web, a crumb of chocolate. From those bits, I can work.

Do all poems have to have an inquiry behind them? I suppose this is arguable. But deep down inside, I think so. Sometimes though you have to dive deep beneath the veils of your own work, behind the imagery, the humor, the distractions, the voice, the masks, the showing off, to catch yourself peering out, to read your eyes. What do you fear? What do you hope? How do you live?

Meet the Interns, Continued Pt. 2

This semester, Superstition Review is highlighting the Editors producing Issue 32. On Dec. 1st, readers will be able to view content that these interns have worked to compile over the course of the semester.

Meet Daniel Gernant, issue 32 poetry editor

SR: What are your plans for after graduation?
I plan on finding a career in editing young adult novels.

SR: Describe your perfect Saturday morning
My perfect Saturday morning would be to sleep in as long as I need, make lunch/breakfast, and play video games with my friends.

SR: What is one place you’d like to travel to?

DG: I’d love to visit Greece and Italy to see the architecture.

Meet Charlise Bar-Shai, issue 32 art editor

SR: What are your plans for after graduation?
I’m undecided about what field of journalism I will enter after college, but right now I’m leaning on becoming an investigative journalist for NPR. I also plan to move to California (if I can afford it).

SR: What are some of your hobbies?
I’m a visual artist. I’ve been drawing seriously and consistently since 7th grade, and I often post my finished pieces to my Instagram. I’m also a huge music lover, so I collect records (I have about 60). I also love to write short stories, play video games and make crafts. Recently, I’ve also been learning to sew and knit. Basically, I love doing anything creative.

Meet Eden Smith, issue 32 fiction editor

SR: What are your plans for after graduation?
I hope to promote beautiful writers and their work through a career in publishing.

SR: What are you currently reading?
I have been chewing at “The Count of Monte Cristo” since mid-June.

SR: What are some of your hobbies?
ES: Hiking in the Superstition Mountains, reading, coffee tasting.

Meet Emma Raimondo, issue 32 social media manager

SR: What are your plans for after graduation?
Write and work!

SR: What are you currently reading?
I’m currently reading Real Estate by Deborah Levy.

SR: What is your hidden talent?
ER: I’m great at placing famous doppelgängers.

Be sure to read Issue 32 of Superstition Review launching December 1.