Today we are pleased to feature author Chelsea Dingman as our Authors Talk series contributor. In her podcast, Chelsea discusses her creative process and how it “almost always stems from reading and discussion.” She also reveals that she loves “that poetry lives in uncomfortable, uncertain circumstances…There’s no resolution required in a poem.”
Chelsea then discusses the background and inspiration behind each of her poems in Issue 18, as well as her forthcoming collection Thaw. After discussing her other projects, like her thesis on her grandfather’s immigration experience and her current manuscript centered on the female body, Chelsea ends her podcast by repeating her earlier sentiment: “I am interested in the uncertainty of those moments and asking questions, every question. I still have so many.”
Good afternoon, readers! We are absolutely thrilled to announce that Amanda Eyre Ward, a contributor featured in the Interview Section of our 7th issue, has a new novel available for preorder, titled “The Nearness of You,” which will be put out from the good people at Ballantine Books, an imprint of the literary titan Random House. Jodi Picoult calls the book “Wrenching, honest, painstakingly researched.,” while People Magazine calls “The Nearness of You” “Deeply affecting.” Ward has created a braiding of perspectives that offer the reader a number of intertwining narratives, all centered around the story of a family in its formation, meditating on ideas of motherhood, love, relationships, and what it means to be a family in this day and age. Don’t wait another moment to go out and preorder yourself a copy of Amanda Eyre Ward’s transformative new novel, “The Nearness of You.”
It’s 6AM. My daughter has nursed long enough to be lulled into a nap. She’s struggling to push out some gas, her shoulders tense and legs jimmying, her face scrunched as she grunts. She awoke hungry at 5. She’s no cruising nurser – she’s so serious about the food and the social opportunity at the breast that she stays until last call. And now, if she sleeps for fifteen minutes, I’ll be amazed.
It’s been almost two months since I was admitted to the hospital because I was overdue, because I am of “advanced maternal age,” because my amniotic fluid was low and my placenta, the experts surmised, was growing calcified and fatigued. Two months since I was induced for two days, my cervix constantly checked to the beat of the fetal heart monitor that echoed in my dreams long after delivery, midwives’ fingers attempting to pull my fisted cervix forward. Despite the prodding hands and pills and IV drips, the cervix remained stubbornly posterior, clamped.
It’s probably weird to draw a poetic analogy between my cervix and my current inability to write. But now that every minute is taken up with feeding and holding and showing the world to this child and the nagging question of when I can do the other work I want to do, my writerly self (whatever that is) seems locked up tight somewhere else.
Two months in, emerging from a haze of novice parenting to the work I choose to do, I’m starting to consider the inevitable merging of parenting and writing. Like all of us who face a new kind of writer inside as our lives change, I must get acquainted with this newly-born part of me that influences how I perceive and generate my work. I’ve written about mothers before, but now I wonder who that woman was who could write about motherhood before her own pregnancy, before her own baby. The novel I’m working on boasts two main characters plagued by the ghost of a teenaged son who killed himself in their backyard. A short story I published last summer in Nashville Review is about a woman whose toddler died. Who was that woman writing about the deaths of children? Not me, I suspect. Not me anymore.
The short story with the dead child was originally an essay about my time in Ireland just after graduating from college. Then it became a story, though the narrator was still me, observing and reflecting upon some things that happened abroad when I was twenty-one. Eventually, I applied some basic fiction lessons: give your main characters more interesting reasons to be wherever they are, and don’t make them observers with little at stake. Enter a young mother, visiting Ireland with her husband. Their marriage is falling apart because their young child has died. While we traverse Ireland, there are flashbacks of the mother feeling ambivalent about this child. I wonder if she is a convincing mother. She was a plot device, and her memories of her weird child were my memories of the way I imagined my parents perceived me sometimes. The story is published and finished, but I wonder how I would write that story now. I almost wish I could have another go at it, though perhaps the mother and child would evaporate from the story.
And what about this novel with the grieving parents? For almost eight years, I’ve been picking away at it, but I don’t know how to return to it. Writing a novel doesn’t match the blood, sweat, and tears of laboring with a baby, but it has been an awful lot of work, and I have to ask myself if I’m willing to lose all those pages and hours and immersion in that world just because I am not sure if I want to delve into the plight of those mourning parents. If I open this dormant document, how will I re-imagine them? Will I be able to stand even imagining their feelings? Will I be able to get around my superstitious certainty that writing or thinking about horrible things can both cause them to happen and ward them off? How can I write about a dead child when that is now the worst horror I can imagine?
The opportunity I have before me is to reassess the problems and choices I used to see in my fiction, to generate new problems and choices based on a perspective that is not necessarily clearer but different. It seems that being a mother and a writer will be about mining the generative parts of myself in several directions, like splitting the sun. After all, at least for the moment, I am the center of my child’s universe. Every morning I eagerly wait for my baby to rise and do simultaneously pedestrian and miraculous things. And, as these questions about my writing have emerged, I wait for the writer-me to return. I think I am the only one waiting, the center of my writing’s existence.
This spring I lost a manuscript. A hundred and fifty pages of handwritten text that I’d been working on for a year.
We’d suffered an upheaval of the home, a bedbug infestation. To get rid of these fiends, you must evict yourself from the rooms they have taken. Defeated as soon as you begin, you must vacuum, wash, bag, roast, poison or discard your belongings. Once you have removed all evidence of yourself, the exterminator sprays down a poison that must remain on your floor for months. The bugs don’t die easy. The poison must be set down in layers. It was not these actions alone, but the required repetition of these actions, that unhinged me.
I like to write in the morning, sitting in bed. The book I’d been working on, months of research and piles of handwritten text, was kept in a binder. I always write everything by hand first, but this time I was trying an added experiment of not entering any of it into the computer. I wanted to see how organic the structure might be if I didn’t interrupt the writing for typing.
Obviously, I kept this binder by the bed.
I think I believed that my binder would be immune. A book being created feels pristine, supernatural, imperishable. But when I opened my binder after cleaning out the bedroom, the first pages were full of blood. My blood. Also, black specks of feces. Those bugs drank my blood and then shat it out in the pages of my book.
In the hysteria that ensued, I vacuumed the pages on the back stoop, thrust them under the doormat in a vortex of ripping pages, wind, weeping. After, I heaped them into doubled plastic bags. There, memory fails.
A day or so later, I realized that I didn’t remember what I’d done with the manuscript. I remarked to my husband that it was somewhere in the sea of black trash bags we had surrounding our house, filling our shed, in the Bluebeard’s chamber of our closed-off bedroom. We fondled bags. We opened them. We looked. It wasn’t there.
We had been throwing away bags of stuff marked “bedbugs” for days. I am known for my memory, which is sometimes obscenely accurate. But I couldn’t remember anything after I’d vacuumed and bagged the thing. And if I couldn’t remember, then it was entirely possible that I’d done the unthinkable, that I had thrown it away, that it was in the landfill, baking alongside diapers and banana peels.
I had spent months researching historical Tucson. Free weekends, winter break, I spent hours in historical museums, on historical websites, in libraries. I read books on WWI, on Tucson history from 1860-1920. I wrote pages capturing the mirroring sorrows of war, epidemic, broken landscapes. I birthed a Paul, an Aggi, a family.
I mentioned the lost manuscript to friends, but my telling was impassionate, distant. Oh well, I’d say, I have lots of other books to write. The friends looked at me strangely. It must be in the shed, they’d say. Aren’t you upset, they’d ask? Are you okay? I shrugged. They told me of Maxine Hong Kinston’s fire, Hemingway’s stories lost on a train, Dylan Thomas’ misplaced manuscript (three times!), of Flaubert, burying his book in the face of oncoming war (never found). There’s internet sites listing lost manuscripts through the ages. None of this resonated with me. These lists of absences seemed strange. The truth was, the book was simply growing silent.
One day, my husband said something to me about the main character. “Paul, who?” I responded. He blanched and stared at me in genuine alarm.
As a practice, I often imagine the book I’m writing as I fall asleep, so that I can see the characters up close. When I tried this, on our squeaky airbeds in a room with blank walls and bugs in the outlets, it was as if I looked through the wrong end of a telescope. The figures were small, smaller, tiny. I couldn’t hear what they were saying or see them distinctly at all.
People asked: Would I rewrite? Would I write about the losing? Would I write something else? I gave vague answers. I decided I’d write it in some radical format: short, sharp bursts of text. I decided that I would never write it. I decided to write it without the research. In truth, the whole story had gone faint and muffled. There was nothing to be done about it. It was sinking away. But I didn’t want anyone to know that. It seemed like such a sad failure.
Bedbugs are a shadow plague, difficult to eradicate. They linger and drink and hide. Over a couple of months, our house was increasingly dissected and strewn. Our mattress and belongings roasted in the sun. We didn’t sleep well. We touched hands at night, across the poisoned floor, our hollow beds squealing. The loss of the book fell into the folds of the loss of our home, fell into the loss of our immunity.
When the bugs were finally gone, we moved our whole house around. The bedroom was a place where creatures had crawled across my face, thrust tubes into my skin, drank from my blood. There had been too many mornings where the lasting blooms of bites on my body pointed to our continued entrapment. I could not sleep there anymore. So we created a new house. Everything came off shelves, was cleaned, set up in new rooms.
In the great rearranging, I noticed that a shelf of older, handwritten manuscripts bulged noticeably. I pulled these binders out and found some thin poetry books jammed behind them. It was strange and nesty and behind all these books, there it was. Wrapped in plastic and fragile as an infant, the pages of my book. A ferocious sense of motherhood arose and I walked around the house, weeping and holding this baby to my heart.
Without meaning to, I buried it to protect it, as amulet, as saint, as bone. Unearthed to light, it came right back. Thoughts about the text streamed in as though there had been no hiatus, no terror, no muffling, no loss. The book re-entered my vocabulary.
I am altered, knowing that what is created, invented, and conceived in the mind can be silenced.
I get back to the writing nonetheless.
What he remembers jumbles, rolls, slides. He cannot keep it organized and understandable. He has returned, but some part of him is nowhere, is vanished, a hole. At the bar, they’d told him of their wheat-less, pork-less, beef-less, sweet-less days. He listened and nodded and had no reply. He wished he’d been there. He wished he’d stayed, folded bandages, melted tin, grown gardens. He would have himself, if he had stayed. Something to go on. What would make it different now? How would he fix things? The massive weight of all that Paul did not know rose before him.
Italicized text from the lost and found manuscript, titled, Are There Words for Everything?
Julie Hensley grew up on a sheep farm in the Shenandoah Valley, but now she makes her home in Kentucky with her husband (the writer R. Dean Johnson) and their two children. Julie has won The Southern Women Writers Emerging Voice Award in both fiction (2005) and poetry (2009). Her work regularly appears in a variety of journals, most recently in Redivider, Ruminate, Superstition Review, PoemMemiorStory, The Pinch and Blackbird, and has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize. Her novel-in-stories, Landfall, won the 2007 Everett Southwest Literature Award. Her chapbook of poems, The Language of Horses, is available from Finishing Line Press.
Superstition Review: What inspired you to write The Language of Horses?
Julie Hensley: My girlhood, like so many, was marked by a period of intense love of horses. When I was very young, my three sisters and I took riding lessons. Saturday mornings, we dawned jodphurs and leather boots, rode around and around a ring of sawdust, and then stopped at Seven Eleven for Slurpees on the way home. When I was nine, after much waiting and saving, my parents bought a farm. Finally, we had our own horses. We could ride them on the overgrown trails that snaked out through the woods behind the barn. We could lounge bareback with a book while the horses grazed.
For my mom, this move marked the fulfillment of her own childhood wishes. Every Christmas, she told us, she had begged her parents for a horse, but had to settle instead for a string of Breyer ponies. Her yearning for horses was a palpable part of my childhood, and as an adolescent, I began to recognize in the fulfillment of that yearning, its metaphoric power. It wasn’t surprising that our move to the farm heralded my mother’s return to college and her development of a career as a teacher. Horses were desire. They were imagination. They were autonomy. They were the things that, I was just then beginning to understand, women ultimately have to fashion for themselves.
SR: The poems have very vivid memories and stories. Are they connected to your own personal memories and what made you want to share these certain moments?
JH: The poems are highly autobiographical. My husband Bob (R. Dean Johnson), who himself writes nonfiction, loves to tease me when I give him a new poem to read. He says, “Huh. Why don’t you take the line breaks out of that and submit it to Brevity.” While there is usually a narrative moment to my poems, and these are no exception, it is not story as much as raw, highly sensory imagery which spawns a poem for me. For instance, while “Monsoon Season” recounts the memory of a hike Bob and I did in the San Francisco Peaks, the poem really began with the immediate smell of vanilla rising from wet pine bark.
Once I realized horses could work as an extended metaphor, I did begin actively siphoning imagery around that theme, which led to specific memories such as my sister teaching me to French braid on a horse’s tail.
SR: In your fiction piece, “Expecting,” your descriptions are still very poetic. Is writing fiction more of a challenge for you compared to poems?
JH: I would have to say that fiction is harder for me. Or perhaps it is more fitting to admit that I simply work harder at fiction. My MFA is actually in fiction. Poetry has always been my secondary genre. Because I teach, I dedicate summers to fiction–for several summers in a row, I have been trying to complete a novel. When I feel hung up on the fiction, rather than sitting and fuming with creative wheels spinning, I will open a new file and begin a poem. During the academic year when I teach four classes at a time, it is difficult to drop fully into the world of my fiction, so during the winter I revise fiction and write new poems. I’m grateful to have my poetry because moving back and forth between the two genres releases pressure.
SR: The Language of Horses brings the reader to many different beautiful settings like Virginia, Kansas, and Phoenix. What does traveling offer to the pieces you write?
JH: It’s funny. My dreams take a while to catch up with my actual life. For instance, I have a nine-month-old daughter, but she has yet to appear in my dream life. I moved to Kentucky three years ago, yet my home here has really only just begun to formulate the backdrop of my dreams. I think my writing life works the same way. When I was a student in Arizona I constantly wrote of Virginia and Kansas. When I moved to Oklahoma, I wrote about the desert. Now that I live in Kentucky, I have begun to write about the plains. For me, being away from a place breeds a yearning that is quite productive to the creative process. I like to cultivate that yearning, to play with the power of dislocation.
I think that’s part of the power of low and brief-residency MFA programs such as the one in which I teach at Eastern Kentucky University—they allow emerging writers to feel the beautiful strangeness of a new place and the warm yearning for home that accompanies it. Two years ago, I traveled with students to San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, and I actually crafted “Expecting” there, sipping espresso each morning in Café Montenegro. This summer, I’ll accompany students to Edinburgh, Scotland. Maybe that trip will help me make progress on my novel.
SR: What are you writing now? What are you reading?
JH: It’s winter, so I’m writing poems. I’m working simultaneously on two cycles. One, with the working title Viable, explores motherhood and fertility. The other, Breaking Ground, channels the voices of a fictional couple—Gracie and Nohl—whose marriage dissolves into physical abuse as they build a farmhouse together.
I just finished Jennifer Egan’s A Visit from the Goon Squad, a book which absolutely blew my mind. In general, I’m a fan of novels-in-stories. (“Expecting” is actually the capstone piece in Landall, a novel-in-stories which I have just begun to circulate.) Egan’s novel is so imaginative. She inhabits the lives of an array of characters so fully, and she balances decades of branching relationships with such flawless, nuanced control. I just began and am thoroughly enjoying Nancy Jensen’s The Sisters, a sweeping novel that moves, through six different perspectives, from 1920s Kentucky to Vietnam era Indiana. I’m also reading collections of poems in preparation for a poetry workshop I’ll be teaching in the spring—this week it’s Beckian Fritz Goldberg’s Lie Awake Lake and Claudia Emerson’s Figure Studies.
How short can a short story be? Meg Pokrass asks – and answers – that question in her fiction, which often takes the form of flash-fiction and micro-stories. Though her stories are short, they pack the same emotional punch that can be found in a lengthy piece of a prose. She delivers her characters and narrative in compact, meticulously chosen details. For example, in her short-short story “The Big Dipper,” about a young girl trying to navigate her adolescence by purchasing a four-foot-deep pool for her backyard, she conveys a great deal of personal information about her main character’s background in a single sentence. Referring to her mother, the narrator divulges that “Now that Dad has his own place and his bi-polar disorder, she had all kinds of new expressions.” Some of her shortest stories are only between 90 and 100 words long. In this compact form she writes of mother-daughter relationships, adolescence, sexuality, insecurity, and identity.
In her review of Meg Pokrass’s recent collection of short stories, Damn Sure Right, Tessa Mellas compares Pokrass’s flash fiction to the “richest morsels of chocolate. You can’t inhale them by the fistful.” This description does Pokrass’s stories justice; her fiction demands that you stop for a moment after reading, that you take in every single detail individually to get the full experience of her micro-narratives.
We asked Meg Pokrass to share her writing process, in particular what inspired the short story that will be appearing in Superstition Review Issue 8, which will launch in December. Click here to view the video that gives us a glance behind the scenes.
Nonfiction Editor Terrah Hancock is an English Literature major at Arizona State University. One of her nonfiction essays, Snobbery Tower is being published in the upcoming edition of Lux Literary Magazine. She has also finished a working draft of her memoir entitled Singing Myself To Sleep and is in the editorial phase of publication. She aspires to attend graduate school at Vermont College of Fine Arts where her Creative Writing Thesis Project will be the tangled biography of a 26º Freemason’s son.
1. What is your position with Superstition Review and what are your responsibilities?
This is my first semester with Superstition Review. As the Nonfiction Editor my responsibilities are to review submissions from authors. I correspond with the authors and then submit my vote on which submissions I think should be featured.
2. Why did you decide to get involved with Superstition Review?
I am usually on the submitting end of the publication process. I was curious to experience the other side, so I applied. I want to gain exposure to things like: the always dreaded and nerve wracking Query Letter and to witness how fellow writers develop and sustain relationships with literary magazines.
3. Besides interning for Superstition Review, how do you spend your time?
I have a set of detailed and lofty academic and professional goals, so a great deal of my time is spent studying or writing in the basement of Hayden Library. Beyond striving to achieve my childhood dream of being a writer, I am the happy and playful mother of two beautiful sons. We spend much of our time riding bikes, playing football or taking our three dogs to the dog park.
4. What other position(s) for Superstition Review would you like to try out?
I could see myself trying the Superstition Review Blog Editor only if it doesn’t exclude me from being able to read all the incoming submissions!
5. Describe one of your favorite literary works.
I get asked this all the time and I contend that one favorite is impossible! I have a strong three way tie for my favorite work: Of Human Bondage by W. Somerset Maugham, The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck and Great Expectations by Charles Dickens. Each of these books left me feeling immensely connected to humanity and with a deep compassion for all the things I’ll never know about other people’s lives.
6. What are you currently reading?
After semesters full of close, analytic readings I yearn for a story that I don’t have to dissect and appraise. My very favorite story to get lost in is Stephen King’s Dark Tower series. Like the gunslinger’s repeated journey, I read this entire series once a year. I love that I don’t study the sentence structure or even acknowledge that structure exists. Right now I’m reading The Art of Time in Memoir by Sven Birkerts.
7. Creatively, what are you currently working on?
I am working on polishing the working draft of my first book right now. I completed my first draft over a year ago and have been following a detailed plan to achieve my eventual goal. My manuscript is with my editor now and when we are finished with this lengthy editorial process, I’ll move along to the stage of acquiring publication and literary prestige!
8. What inspires you?
I am inspired by the people who never gave up on their dreams. In 1888, Mona Caird wrote “Every good thing that we enjoy today was once the dream of a ‘crazy enthusiast’ mad enough to believe in the power of ideas and in the power of man to have things as he wills.” Also — one of my goals is to someday be an answer to one of The Writer’s Chronicle crossword puzzle questions!
9. What are you most proud of?
I make sure to cherish every accomplishment in my life. Every semester, every essay, every test, every publication. I’m proud of my life collectively. Most recently, I’m very proud of my first publication. A short story of mine entitled, Snobbery Tower, was published just this month in a local literary journal.
10. Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
I wrote my first book at age six, entitled The Heart and The Ant. Ten years from now, I will still be on the path that began with that book. I will still be writing and possibly in school; hopefully on the other side of the podium by then. I’ll still be happy and proud. I’ll know that I never gave up on my dreams — maybe got distracted a few times, but I never quit.
Rebecca Glenn is looking forward to the challenge of contributing to the publishing process at Superstition Review. Her experiences in upper-division class work have inspired and encouraged her to consider a career in publishing. She is thrilled to have an opportunity to experience the field first-hand through Superstition Review.
Superstition Review: What is your position with Superstition Review and what are your responsibilities?
Rebecca Glenn: I am an Art Editor and I am responsible for soliciting art submissions from local and national artists. I also make decisions on art to include in the issue and then I correspond with artists to facilitate its publication.
SR: Why did you decide to get involved with Superstition Review?
RG: I took a class on publishing in literary magazines with Trish Murphy and my interests stemmed from that experience. I have always been drawn to the publishing process, but it wasn’t until I took the class that I was educated on what exactly literary magazines are.
SR: Besides interning for Superstition Review, how do you spend your time?
RG: I’m a homebody with a traveling streak. I love to cook and goof around with my two girls. We do a lot of drawing, art projects and impromptu dance parties.
SR: What other position(s) for Superstition Review would you like to try out?
RG: Nonfiction is my passion. It would be exciting to be the nonfiction editor. I also really like the idea of being a reader.
SR: Describe one of your favorite literary works.
RG: Madelene L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time is a personal favorite. There are certain creations, like A Wrinkle in Time, that are beyond category and that is part of the appeal to me. Most would say it is a children’s novel and yet I read it again a couple weeks ago and was entranced.
SR: What are you currently reading?
RG: I like to spend summers re-reading books from my childhood. I was addicted to reading in my youth and my summer days were almost always monopolized by a book and a cool spot in the shade. Since we are just coming out of the summer months now, I most recently finished the Lord of the Rings trilogy.
SR: Creatively, what are you currently working on?
RG: I paint sporadically and also dabble in charcoal. I am constantly drawing. I just finished a charcoal portrait of my mother for her 50th birthday. It is such a momentous celebration and I spent a lot of time trying to capture the years of her life in a single expression; it was tough. As far as writing goes, most of it is academic these days due to my school schedule.
SR: Where do you see yourself in 10years?
RG: That is the big question…I’m not so concerned with knowing. I can say with all confidence I have no idea; maybe a pig farmer in Peru.
Intern Veronica Martinez, Advertising Coordinator here at Superstition Review, is currently based out of ASU’s Tempe campus. At this time, she is of junior status and an English (Creative Writing) Major, also on her way with a Minor in Justice Studies. Upon graduating, she hopes to attempt graduate school and be accepted into the Social Justice and Human Rights Master’s Program at ASU West.
Elizabeth Anderson: What do you like most about being an intern?
Veronica Martinez: What I have enjoyed most is the opportunities that are presented to learn new skills and expand my knowledge of how online art/literary journals and magazines are published.
EA: What do you hope to get out of this experience?
VM: I hope to gain some knowledge of how to market this kind of literary journal, further more to gather skills that will enable me to not only pursue opportunities in the publishing field but also in online media. I think this internship really gives you the ability to see how all components are put together to make the issue happen, so that kind of insight is really helpful in other occupations aside from publishing as well.
EA: What has been the most difficult part of this internship?
VM: For me, it has been time. Initially when I decided to do the internship, I had only planned to take three classes this semester but I had to go with four. On top of a full time job, I also attend classed full time so I am feeling the pinch, so to speak.
EA: What is your role for Superstition Review and what exactly do you do for the magazine?
VM: I am the Advertising Coordinator which incorporates creating/writing the Vertical Response e-newsletter for SR. I also advertise SR‘s reading series by finding local free calendars to list the readings on. I also write up press releases for SR to send to various national and local media outlets for coverage. Basically, I am working and researching how to get SR some local and national media attention.
EA: Any interesting facts that you would like to add?
VM: I have an eight-year old daughter who makes me breakfast every morning, bagels with peanut butter. Yum!