image1We are pleased to welcome Keith McCleary to Writers on Craft this month. Keith McCleary is a writer and graphic designer from New York, currently living in Southern California.  He is the author of several graphic novels, as well as assorted prose, poetry, and digital media. Keith holds an MFA in Creative Writing from UC San Diego, and a BFA in Film from NYU. He teaches and writes about comics, composition, and multimedia.

What do you read when you despair at the state of either your work or a particularly difficult manuscript in progress—any “go to” texts?

I don’t know if I despair about the things other writers and artists despair about—I don’t usually have a problem with generating new work, or with the state of the work itself. Not that I think everything I do is perfect, but I’m usually fairly confident that I can get what I’m writing into decent shape with enough elbow grease. My despair is rooted squarely in getting the work out there—I’ve never been great about self-promotion, and doing it makes me feel a little sick. In that sense I always feel like I’m falling short of the expectations I place on myself. That’s despair for me.

That was a long preamble, and I don’t know if my specific anxieties color the ways in which I take textual refuge. I ultimately feel like there are still two answers to the question of “go to” texts: the kinds of texts I go to in order to center myself or be inspired, and the kind of texts I go to for comfort and decompression.

I suppose the work that centers me and makes me feel less awful about the demise of the world might be comics by Peter Milligan and Brendan McCarthy—together or individually, pretty much anything they’ve done. Paul Pope’s 100%. Farel Dalrymple’s work, and Jaime Hernandez’s Love and Rockets stories. Stephen Murphy and Michael Zulli’s The Puma Blues. Tank Girl. Scott Pilgrim. Grant Morrison sometimes, when he’s really on, although a lot of his work is so self-congratulatory it makes me hate art.

Comfort food reading is pretty much any X-Men comic from Grant Morrison’s run forward, and any Batman comic from Kelley Jones’ run backward.

Warren Ellis’ Transmetropolitan and Neil Gaiman’s Sandman, and everything Alan Moore has ever written, fit in both categories—both centering and comfort food.

Since you’re a visual artist as well, working with comics and graphic texts, are you more drawn to visual media as inspiration?  Which websites or forums are particularly inspiring for those in your field/s?

Seeing as I only listed comics for the first question, I think the obvious answer is that comics are where my influences come from. Films and prose also fill in some of the blanks—I feel like I read a book or so each year, and see a film or so each year, that gets added to my personal canon in a meaningful way.

I think that visual media and music is what inspires me. Prose is more instructive to me. I’ll read a book and think about new things I can try with voice and language and structure. I get really microcosmic in order to figure out how a writer is creating an effect, or why something they’re trying to do isn’t working. In either case, I end up adding more tools to my toolbox. But when I’m writing, I’m probably just thinking something like “This should feel like Blade Runner meets Fever Ray.”

I’m not sure that I get inspired by specific websites. Like most humans, I live on Facebook and Tumblr, and I think that following people whose work I like, and being able to see those people produce and just be human on a daily basis, is the most useful thing for me.

mocca08-Keith_McCleary02If you could give just one piece of advice to emerging authors or artists about editing or storyboarding that has served you well, what would it be?

Hm. I work with a lot of new writers both in my teaching and editing, and I think the trend I see most often is that people treat writing like editing, and editing like writing. A lot of people get frozen at the starting line, or write mud-slow, because they’re terrified that every word they’re going to write might be the wrong one. I see new writers attempting to draft an entire work in their minds before they’ve typed a line, and spending too much time fixing the sentences on page one when they should be halfway through writing page five.

Conversely, when the draft is finished, these same people stubbornly refuse to change a word. They think that “editing” means grammar and typos, instead of deeply taking stock of what it is they’ve created, and helping that work be its best self. The work’s gotta be perfect out of the gate, and if someone suggests it’s not, the walls go up.

You’ve got to let writing be writing, and editing be editing. That’s rule one. When you’re writing, you need to trust that everything you’re putting down is genius. Trust yourself completely. Be embarrassingly self-indulgent. When you’re editing, then the claws come out.

Today I had a student who asked me how to start writing a novel. He said his biggest problem was that he didn’t know what the moral of his story should be. Like, a moral? Who cares? Write something down. Get it started. How can you know what you’re trying to say until you try saying something?

As you progress with multiple projects, has your perception of what you “do” with your work changed as you have continued to write and draw? Are you impacted by the external world in different ways?

7d1fe042b22ec0ea949d1d54f413be6d._SX640_QL80_TTD_I had an artistic crisis about ten years ago when I had to own up to the fact that I was a straight white guy telling straight white guy stories. I was living in New York City at the time, and I was really aware of how much I was reinforcing stereotypes about writerly subjectivity just by being alive. I didn’t want to try and appropriate a wider perspective in some way that felt false, but I also couldn’t continue what I was doing.

I know that my first comic, Killing Tree Quarterly, came out of that frustration—it’s this politically incorrect western about multicultural assassins that, for me, felt both really taboo and also historically accurate in a lot of ways. That project opened me up quite a bit, and got me thinking about how I could push my limits while still being honest with who I was as a writer.

I suppose there’s still sort of a political soapbox festering in the work I do these days, and maybe I’ve gotten more comfortable having my politics filter into my writing. The comic I write now is called Curves & Bullets, and it’s sort of Tank Girl meets GI Joe. I knew when I teamed up with the artist, Rolo Ledesma, that all he wanted to do was draw scantily-clad women on motorcycles. I remember thinking, “My day job is being a grad student and teaching writing to 18-year-olds—this is going to be a lot for me to reconcile.”

I went back to Larry Hama’s old GI Joe comics from the 1980’s, and was reminded that the main thing those stories focused on was camaraderie and kicking ass, with no mention of the fact that the characters were a bunch of sweaty, ripped, half-naked dudes. So I wrote Curves & Bullets with the same basic guidelines. After our first issue came out, I immediately got responses that it  was “weirdly feminist.” And my girlfriend points out that it’s one of the few action comics she can read that passes the Bechdel test. So, you know, small victories.

I guess the short answer is that I’m a genre writer with personal politics that don’t always jive with the tropes of the genres in which I work. I try to just let those two sides of myself disrupt each other as naturally as I can.

What do you feel is the purpose of literature or art? Feel free to answer separately.

I really don’t feel there’s a purpose for either. It’s like wood. Wood has no inherent purpose except to the tree. Saying that wood’s purpose is to be a chair, or a house—that feels sort of imperialistic. I know the implication here is for me to explain the purpose of my literature or art, but even that’s too much for me.

I do think it’s important to understand a particular project’s purpose, and to evaluate the worth of that purpose. But that’s case-by-case, and involves making sure you understand and abide by the rules of the thing you’re making, as you make it. It’s not about the purpose of literature or art as a grand gesture.

Here’s what I think: make the thing. Worry about what it means later. If you try to assign purpose to an entire medium, that’s editing. Editing something that isn’t done yet, that won’t be done until we’re done. See rule one.

You’ve been a design assistant, a proofreader, a video editor and graphic designer, a writing coach—how does having worn so many hats influence your selection of new projects?

I suppose sometimes I take on a project just because I want to see if I can do it. But more often, I take on projects that I think will be easy and straightforward, and then they’re not. And then I have to learn how to do something new in order to get them done.

That’s the cranky answer. I guess the real answer is that each new thing I learn to do helps me do everything else better. Two summers ago, Grant Leuning suggested I start running a game of Shadowrun for a group of our friends. Designing game scenarios instantly began influencing my writing, and managing a group of peers through those scenarios both drew upon and impacted my teaching. The more stuff you know how to do, the more stuff you know how to do.

Till you do too many things, and then you get cranky. Just ask anyone who’s ever collaborated with me.

What do you dream of, when you dream big, for where you’d like to be in your art or process in the next ten years?

Main thing, above all other things—I’d like to get over my hangups about submitting and have some work out on a large press. I’d like to have an agent—I hear they’re useful. I have a rather unwieldy 300-page “word hoard” kind of manuscript that I’d like to devote a summer to. Sophia Starmack and I wrote a teleplay for CCLaP a few years ago called The Gothickers, and we have at least a hundred pages of more Gothickers material that we need a winter abroad in order to finish.

Someday I would like to have an ongoing comic series with a big publisher. Someday I would like to write X-Men.

I also just want to get really good at Netrunner.

As a human being, what is the best advice you have to offer?

I feel like what I’m supposed to say here is that it’s important to love, to listen, to be. Or something. Something that would look good in an inspirational font with a beach scene behind it. But my preferred response to this question is Gary Oldman’s, when asked about his personal motto: “Fuck ‘em.”

I guess I would say, you know, three things: Get enough sleep. Don’t be afraid to be critical. Fuck ‘em.

With Matt E. Lewis, you’ve been engaged with editing a three volume project called States of Terror that pairs artists and authors to create a wonderful series of horror stories with illustrations.  That’s an exciting multi-volume project.  Can you speak to that?

Matt publishes a zine called The Radvocate, and he emailed me about a year ago when he was between issues. He said he was kicking around the ideas for a Halloween zine that would focus on monsters from each of the fifty states, and he wanted to know if I had any interest in collaborating. I kind of had an image right away for how I wanted it to look and feel, so I said yes. I’d worked with our art director, Adam Miller, on a variety of comic book projects for years, so I asked him if he knew three of four artists who might be willing to do illustrations for 20 or so stories. Adam said, “Well, how about 20 artists then?” We ended up with an artist and writer for each state monster, and our first volume covered 18 states.

I remember that about 72 hours after Matt sent me that first email, we had the title, the aesthetic, all the monsters, and probably 95% of the writers and artists. I crunched the numbers and realized that our “zine” was going to end up being a 200-page book, and we’d set ourselves a goal of getting the whole thing written, edited, assembled, and printed in a month. I think we ended up taking two months with it, but it was really nuts. The second volume just came out last month, and we got a ton of amazing people to contribute. It also took much longer to make, and was probably even more nuts.

The series has opened a lot of doors for us. We’ve gotten to know all these accomplished and talented people in a way that’s felt natural and fun, and I like that the project balances all the worlds I straddle personally—comics and fiction, literary and genre writing, graphic design and prose editing. To me the project feels so traditional in a lot of ways—the entire thing is modeled after old Creepy and Eerie magazines—but people seem to freak out at its hybridity, at all the things it’s doing. That’s kind of funny to me, but also really validating.

topoftheheapI’m really drawn to your comic Top of the Heap, available on your website, about a circus train crashing and the animals foraging for survival.  One of my favorite things about it is both how the drawings themselves are so evocative and also how the text functions with both power and density (readers of this interview are invited to go read it).  “The ringmaster and the acrobats served as food the first three days,” is the text on the first page depicting a crash, for example, spread across the artwork, moving along a diagonal in a visually appealing way.  It almost seems each page is its own micro fiction entry, though they work together.  The next page reads only, “The clowns were next.”  When you pair image and text, is one or the other always primary, or at least in your first inclination?

Top of the Heap had a pretty strict set of self-imposed rules—I felt that each page had to require both text and image to make sense, and that the reader wouldn’t get the story unless they interacted with both. This comes from my experience with comics and picture books. It’s always easy to tell when you’re reading a comic that was created script-first—there’s way too much dialogue, and panel after panel of talking heads. It’s like a low-budget TV show on a single set. Comics that are planned visually, and then use text as support, almost always offer a more immersive experience even if the story is somewhat simple.

I think the same thing holds true for picture books. My mother taught children’s literature for most of her career, so I grew up with a lot of picture books around the house. I always felt a little let down by books that would have blocks of text on one page, with an illustration opposite. It seemed like a lost opportunity.

Alan Moore has written quite a bit about the uniqueness of the interplay between text and images in comics, and all the things that comics can do to a reader that no other form can do. When I make comics, I’m interested in exploiting the medium’s strengths in whatever ways I can.

With this comic, you tell a big story with few words.  Can you tell us how the vivid artwork and structure of the narrative was conceived?

how it's madeIIIBoth Top of the Heap and Killing Tree Quarterly were illustrated using a combination of Photoshop and Poser, which is consumer-grade 3D software that, as far as I can tell, is mostly used in the creation of animated porn. I learned about Poser back in 2006 at the first New York Comic Con, where they’d set up a booth and were running demos. I thought the renders looked kind of junky, actually, but I figured I could use my graphic design chops to clean them up. I’d been looking for a way to make comics on my own without having to rely on my shaky drawing hand, so it was a real boon for me.

On a technical level, the way my process worked was that I would design the characters and make setpieces in 3D, set the lights and the camera angles, and then render still images to make my panels. The backgrounds were usually some kind of photomontage, run through a bunch of filters (and sometimes even run through Poser as two-dimensional objects) in order to make the whole thing more seamless. My assembly was all in Photoshop, and I think some of those pages ended up with over 100 layers.

In terms of conceptualizing the project, I started with a three-page prose story, as I mentioned. I originally had the idea that each page would have multiple panels like a traditional comic, but the renders were so complicated and labor intensive that doing full-page images ended up making more sense. Then it was just a LOT of storyboarding, stripping the story down to its most basic elements, the fewest number of beats I could while still keeping the text minimal. Not including pre-planning, I think making the book took about six months. I remember writing down “Show, Don’t Tell” on all of my notes. How could I make an entire story with zero dialogue and zero exposition? Show, don’t tell. Show, don’t tell. I still look back on it and see sentences that feel too long.

You run The New Comics, an ongoing interview series, on Entropy.  How do you find the time to do all the things you do?  Is it service to the comic community to support the work of other artists?

I don’t think I manage my time as well as I could. It’s only when I look backward that it feels like I’ve done a lot of stuff. Any time I’m focused on one project, that means three others are getting ignored. I was having a conversation with Nick Francis Potter when I interviewed him, and we agreed that the main way we knew of to get multiple projects done at once is to use them against each other—when you’re procrastinating on one thing, use that time to do another thing. Getting two projects done at once is somehow easier than focusing on one.

In terms of the Entropy gig, I’d been wanting to work with that group for a long time. I have a lot of respect for Janice Lee and Michael Seidlinger—talk about workhorses. Those two aren’t even human. When Janice put out a call that she was looking for someone who could curate comic content for them, I knew that was something I could do better than anyone else. I think that was literally my pitch: “I know what you want, and I know you will not find anyone else who knows how to do it.” Being able to bridge indie lit and comics, that’s pretty tricky, but it’s right in the middle of my particular sandbox.

I do like to support the work of people I like—I don’t know that I consciously think about the ‘community,’ per se, but I’m interested in spotlighting people who are good, who might be like me in that they’re still in the process of figuring out how to get their creative machine up and running. Helping to make that happen, or to talk to people about how they’re tackling the problem, is really cathartic for me. It’s made my own insecurities less insurmountable. It’s made me feel less alone. I just wish I had the time to do more interviews, but I’m happy each time we finish one and get the work out there.

Ken_circusRegarding fiction, you have a blog called Gchatus where flash fiction is the primary medium.  There are some beautiful pieces there.  I particularly like the piece called “On a Beach Outside: Fanfiction” where the text reads, “We forget that there are a thousand universes and we are lucky to live in this one. We doubt that this means we are allowed to want for larger things, to hunger for wider spaces. Our luck does not exclude the possibility for wanting more.”  The depth of the work is clear.  But you also have a novel you’re shopping and a graphic novel, can you speak to moving between short work and long work in prose?  How your process works?

Gchatus started when I was at a particularly low point in my writing—I think I was stop-starting on a novel, and otherwise didn’t have a lot going on. I was envious of my artist friends who were drawing every day, especially because I would see them post their warm-up drawings on social media each morning. It seemed like a nice way to break up the isolation of making new material, and to build a bit of a fanbase at the same time. I started writing these microfictions—maybe 80 words max—in my gchat status box, and when I had enough of them I began a Tumblr. I did one every day, and pretty soon my longform writing started getting better. I just felt so much more well-oiled.

When I was writing the rough draft of the novel you mentioned, I was working a desk job where I knew no one would ask me to do anything before 11am, even though I had to be at my desk at 9. So each morning I would come in, brew some tea, write a gchatus, and then do 1000 words on my manuscript. Five days a week, weekends off.

I don’t use the blog as regularly now, but I think writing short fiction has REALLY helped my long fiction. Minimalism is the key to everything—even if I’m writing longform, I’m jumping from topic to topic, trying to make a collage of the best bits. It’s just that I’m building bigger and bigger collages.

Other than that, my process is really straightforward. I write. I force myself to write. I force my fingers to move. I have a little outline for a new project I’m working on, but it’s only about a page of notes—when Sophia Starmack and I started writing together, we decided we would aim for a 60 thousand word book by writing 12 chapters, 5 partitions per chapter. 60 little parts, a thousand words each. I still use the same formula. It’s a completely arbitrary formula, and you’ve got to be willing to let yourself tangent from it so that things stay fresh. The only purpose of the formula is to help you generate a draft, and by extension the only purpose of the draft is to give you something to revise. Revision is where the actual work lies. Until then, you’ve just got to do whatever it takes to make yourself into a word-churning machine.

When I sit down to write, I tend to just put on pop songs on repeat and zone out, then check my word count after I run out of steam. If the writing is getting boring, I turn the scene around until I can see another way in. I remember once I was riding the L train from Manhattan to Brooklyn, and there was a guy across from me with a Rubiks Cube. He kept tossing the cube in his hand, and with every few tosses the panels would have a new pattern on them—checkerboard, flat colors, other things. When I’m writing and hit a wall, I stop and I think about what I’m writing like that cube. I throw it around until I can see something else to do with it.

SoT-V2_webcoverWhat’s in the immediate pipeline for your readers next? And what are you working on now? Give us a sneak peek.

The novel I’m shopping is called CIRCUS+THE SKIN, and it’s about a tattooed man at a circus who’s also a war veteran, and who starts losing his grip on reality after his circus is wiped out by a bad storm while en route through the Midwest. It’s got some elements of noir and horror and western gothic in it, and right now I feel pretty good about it. I’ve had a bit of it published in Weave with some amazing art from Ken Knudtsen, and more of it is due to appear in New Dead Families next year.

Matt and Adam and I are going to start production on States of Terror Vol 3 just as soon as we’re properly recovered from Vol 2, and Rolo has started pestering me for thumbnails so we can start the next issue of Curves & Bullets.

Other than that, I’m in the middle of hardcore NaNoWriMo’ing with some other San Diego writers. I’ve always sort of poo-pooed NNWM in the past, but I’m getting a lot out of it. I’m already about halfway through a new manuscript. It’s this big cyberpunk thing about a guy who’s addicted to reprogramming his personality through a hard drive in his head. I’m trying not to read back on it too much, but I wrote this paragraph yesterday and liked it, so I’ll just add it here:

“You might think that there is something profane in the way that we watch each other, the way each moment is not a true thing but simply an instant to be monitored and recorded, catalogued and framed. To this I ask you, have you engaged in the glory of a collective? To you know what it is to bring an Indian Elephant made of wood to life? How is it not that we are working together toward constant theater? How is it that this unliving is not in fact us at our most alive?”

Writers on Craft is hosted by Heather Fowler, who cares about writing. She does a lot of it. Visit her profile on Fictionaut or see here for more:

Why hello! I’m excited to have been given this opportunity to select for the Editor’s Eye.  I was asked to select pieces of writing that had few or no comments.
My personal approach was to read things I may have passed over myself in the rush of trying to take it all in. I was looking for a variety of things that appeal to me.  I think that the pieces I’ve chosen all stand alone, for different reasons, in the group of six that I’ve chosen.
I urge everyone to take a second look! I do not expect anyone will be disappointed.  Here they are, in no particular order.

Smartphone by Damion Hamilton

My feelings are that this poem may have been overlooked because, as writers, we like to see the romance and tragedy in everything.  I read this one a couple of times and what is between the lines seems to be the tragedy of our time.  This poem is one that we can all relate to and the beginning draws you in and in some more and makes the very honest, very scary observation that the “digital age” is actually killing our human connections.  Above all of this, it was a poem I could personally relate to seeing as I like to experience everything and not tweet about it. The honesty the poem bleeds is beautiful.

Crossed Out by Anthony Van Hart

I realize, of course, that all writing is open to the interpretation of the reader.  I selected this poem because it seemed to touch on feelings that we have all had as people.  The feelings that are unspeakable because the words do not exist to express them and so we put up other ideas and actions around where the words would be.  This is one of those poems that can be looked at in several ways.  It could be a deep poem about the way humans feel increasingly uncomfortable in our speedily changing environments or it could be a simple comment on the writer’s feeling at the moment.  I think that everybody can agree that sometimes “there” does not exist in the moment at hand.

Arcana Magi Pure Vol.6 – c.1 by H-M Brown

This is a longer piece of writing, it is actually the first chapter of the sixth volume involving these characters (indicated by the title). This piece actually struck the side of me that is in love with mysticism, mysterious authority, and enchanted animals. I know we often skip over the longer pieces, due to time constraints and in the rush of our morning breaks, but this piece is worth the read. I must admit I have not read any other volumes to this story. I didn’t need to because within minutes of reading the first section, I was hooked. I was in love with the mysterious thing in the forest, the character Ayane, and the mention of mysterious Society and Clans. I think that this piece was adventurous but full of a lot of underlying themes that I’m personally anxious to explore.

Swimming by Mark Waldrop

This is a poem that caught me first by the title. Swimming is something we all (hopefully) learn as children in a safe environment with a trustworthy adult. I chose this poem because after reading it I spent a few minutes thinking about the underlying meaning of the poem. The imagery is simple but enough. The point of view of a child is represented extremely in the thought process of the written voice. The ending drove me kind of nuts (in a good way) because I sat for a bit longer (after re-reading it) wondering about the ending. This is one of those poems that makes you think, not about love or hate or revenge or tragedy, but about simplicity that may be squirreling away complicated thoughts and feelings between the words.

Sonnet Nought by Iain James Robb

The word “octopii” is what first drew me to re-read this poem. Since I’m not up to par with fancy poetry lingo, I’ll do my best with this one. I absolutely love it because it reads evenly. I think it may come off as somewhat endearing but there’s also something of a smirk to the words. I like when I find smirks like this. The form itself was done very well and the imagery is packed in there, tight from the beginning to the end. I know that some may be thrown off by the form or the rhyming and that’s okay! I do believe that this one does deserve a second (or even third) read. I had a lot of fun reading it several times and taking the images apart (bedtime exercises). I think Shakespeare would be proud and maybe giggle a bit.

This Wife of Burning Suns by Kenny Mooney

I had never seen this writer before (doesn’t mean much as I disappear for months) but the title caught my eye at first (Wife of Burning Suns! What’s that about?) and I gave it a read and then I read it again. This story is full of elements and events that would fit into any mythology book or maybe a book of fairy tales. The entire thing struck me as an interesting metaphor for the search of love, replacing love, and burning for love. I think this, out of all of my picks, was the one to illicit the most emotional response. The author did a good job at describing the desperation of the man in the story without actually spelling it out. It was subtle, tragic, beautiful.

Not qualified to comment on

the cult of “etiquette”

or the death of chivalry

or the war against biology

or technological folklore

or philosophical suicide

or political masturbation

or predictive programming,


I concern myself with works that speak only for themselves.

Some things seem hidden but are really just lying out there in the open for all to see, but a hell of a lot of people see what they want. This is about humility and how it doesn’t always arise from the righteous or the gentle but from those who can be immensely cruel, certain souls that swim too long in the pool of their own narcissism have to rise to the surface eventually, dry themselves off with a towel, to see in others what they see in themselves and see in themselves what they see in others, its inevitable. Let us engage the composition of pain by its nihilistic distillations and produce huge orchids of understanding, we must court consciousness. Amen to that. Ignorance leads to enlightenment leads to ignorance leads to enlightenment. Its evolution. Evolution as a circle.

Hints of Dickinson and Rosetti. Reminds me that sometimes it is better to take the more difficult way out, something that is rare these days. Inverted cliche, you’d assume she’d take the lifeboat, anyone would, right? Going your own way is often the best way even though you know it won’t be easy. It doesn’t say anything overly profound but this piece tells us that anyone can overlook the familiar and neglect the element of mystery it still contains/sustains. What the eye doesn’t see is more important than what it does see. Not all the dots are supposed to be connected. Life is not a workshop. Sometimes that lifeboat is the carrier of your own demise.

And hell, at least it isn’t pretentious.

Mortality. When people are young they think they are immortal, the rest of time is forgotten, the fact we are all just part of the history of dying, the fact we are only here because of our ancestors, the fact we are only here because of the dead. We should give thanks to the dead. Always the dead are within us, whispering, challenging, confounding, and ultimately revealing. Will the questions of the tenth month be answered? I hope so, but not completely.–2

This isn’t geography.

Sometimes going from a place you know to a place you don’t is simply the expression of the defense mechanism, that primordial reflex, a process of moving within ourselves, that constant state of internal transit. Not to flee from a cobra or a tiger or a stampeding elephant would be madness, but what are we fleeing to? To know that too is equally important. To move is good as long as it’s with a degree of caution, sometimes the removal van tips over and destroys some of the furniture. Keep in mind, you might lose some of your favorite possessions.

John Cassavetes once said “the journey is the destination” and I feel he is probably right. I keep wondering when the aliens will reveal themselves openly. I met one on a bus once, he told me it was stupid we were still being kept in the dark. I want to see the inside of that starship but I’m not quite sure I could pass myself as a revolutionary. The correlation of the flash of the camera with the glare of the sun is a damn good one. I identify. I’m photosensitive.

The sun is always different, to every eye.

Domesticity reaches out, motions precariously to the ether.

I can be a sucker for sentimentality but this poem isn’t sentimental.

I hear Karen Carpenter singing Rainy Days and Mondays,

I also hear The Bangles. The sound of the voice can be more meaningful than the words it emanates. What is it about Monday that inspires? After all, time is supposed to be an illusion, isn’t it? How many of us remember what happened last week? Ideas are better sometimes for collecting than putting to any obvious use, ask the ghost of Whitman, ask Anthony Bourdain. Sometimes you’re better off just beckoning rain, drinking champagne.

This is a mood piece. I’m not saying it isn’t about anything, just that it isn’t about anything tangible, it doesn’t flirt with absolutes. It speaks Memory. How memory can seem like an entity in itself. The last line could be cliche but is rescued, because it is the speaker remembering in the dead of the night what he never took notice of during the daytime.

Darkness and light can seem like lovers.

How can I comment on this one? It’s hard. Anything anyone could say about it would pale in comparison to what the piece says itself. It says that without suffering we would suffer, addresses darkness in a luminous way without expressing any need to destroy it, paints brutality with a weird elegance, makes tragedy edible. Don’t quote me on that, I could be wrong.

I haven’t read any prose in a long time. This makes me want to reread Balzac and Zola with a bout of Kafka in between. This isn’t Cultural Marxism. This isn’t Feminism. This isn’t Gender. It’s the willingness to know frailty. The need to embrace despair. Just read it.

Samuel Derrick Rosen was born in Glasgow, Scotland. He enjoys sub-meaningful sojourns in the park, lazing outside his local cafe sipping Italian coffee mixed with Chinese green tea, playing the odd games of Chess and Croquet and looking into his dog Trixie’s eyes. He has had his works presented in several publications, Omphalos 12, The Banana Peel, Shorelines, Wire Mothers, The Cataclysmic Rose, The Four of Cups, Interdimensional, The Stranded Jellyfish, Second Tide, Fathers and Daughters, The Queen of Hearts, Lost Children, Tracks In The Sand, Slippery Science, Gutter 10, and many others.

He believes any form of completeness is ultimately deceptive.

We are pleased to welcome Daniel Olivas to this month’s Writers on Craft. Daniel is the author of seven books including the award-winning novel, The Book of Want (University of Arizona Press, 2011). He is also editor of the landmark anthology, Latinos in Lotusland (Bilingual Press, 2008), which brings together 60 years of Los Angeles fiction by Latin@ writers. His newest book is Things We Do Not Talk About: Exploring Latino/a Literature through Essays and Interviews (San Diego State University Press, 2014). Daniel has been widely anthologized including in Sudden Fiction Latino and Hint Fiction (both from W. W. Norton, 2010), and New California Writing (Heyday Books, 2012).

What do you read when you despair at the state of either your work in general or a particularly difficult manuscript in progress—any “go to” texts?

The only time I remember suffering some kind of literary, existential despair was about five or six years ago when I was working on a short story and I suddenly realized: (a) I was not having fun; and (b) I was imitating myself.  That really scared me.  So I set aside the story and threw myself into some of my “go to” texts in the form of short stories by Sandra Cisneros, Ernest Hemingway, Jorge Luis Borges, and a few other masters of the form (I am an eclectic reader).  I also worked on some poetry and nonfiction.  After a few months of not writing fiction, I felt ready to go back and all was fine.

If you could give just one piece of advice to emerging authors about editing that has served you well, what would it be?

Don’t take advice from only one person when it comes to editing!  Every writer has a different take on the process.  Some like to complete a rough draft and then go back and edit it straight through.  Others (such as myself), edit as they go taking advantage of the word processing.  I know that I’ve edited the first page of a short story for months before I felt ready to move on…other times I’ve completed a bit of flash fiction in one sitting, coming back to it the next day to put it through a tough round (or two or three) of editing.  Regardless, a writer should be ruthless with editing.  Each sentence, each word, should matter.  Kill zombie clichés!  They are the true walking dead—at least for writers.

Your work explores a diversity of cultures and doesn’t hesitate to mention current political struggles.  Do you think that’s an important thing to bring to the page as an author? 

It’s important to me, certainly.  I am a very political person especially when it comes to the bigotry we see every day.  Exhibit A: Donald Trump.  So, current events do seep into my fiction, poetry, and nonfiction.  But I try not to preach because that’s boring.  I think it’s better to allow current events to come into the narrative naturally—no need to say “bigotry is bad” because we all know it is.  It’s the subtly of bigotry that can be most interesting.  Of course, I want to contradict that last statement: sometimes the upfront, ugly, in-your-face kind of bigotry can also be an interesting element to weave into my writing.

How has your perception of what you “do” with your work changed as you have continued to write?

I’m not certain what you mean by “do.”  If you’re talking about what I do to place my work with a literary journal, newspaper, book publisher, or elsewhere, I don’t think my perception has changed much over the years.  I want an editor or publisher who understands my work and who can offer intelligent and creative ways to get it to readers.  Nothing fancy!

What do you feel is the purpose of literature?

I can’t speak for others, but I want my own literature to—of course—entertain, but I also want readers to be inspired, amused, irritated, or perhaps take comfort in my work.  For example, with respect to The Book of Want, my main character Conchita is a sixty-something smart, beautiful, self-possessed woman who enjoys sex and love but not the traditional confines of Roman Catholic marriage.  I’ve had several women tell me that that they loved her and that there should be more Conchitas in literature.  I’ve had other people tell me that they get so angry with the “bad” characters in my fiction (a bigot here, a child molester there) which makes me happy because those characters must have seemed very real to those readers.

As a human being, what is the best advice you have to offer?

Be kind.  I know I fail in this quite often.  Twitter can sometimes bring out the snark in me especially when it comes to Jonathan Franzen.  And I apologize for that…I must do better. 

Your novel The Book of Want espouses the idea of the significance of love and represents many types of love.  Is it a sort of manifesto on love, even the kind that hurts?  The passage where a young Mexican boy named Mateo is enchanted with a racist Cinderella at Disneyland really sticks in my memory as a memorable departure from the more romantic varieties.  Did you put that into the book to speak to the divide between children’s and adults’ understanding of racist talk or racist action—or potentially add this as a bold condemnation of how California culture can ignore or diminish the significance of its Mexican influences? Your Cinderella is terrifying.

Love hurts.  Love scars.  Love wounds and marks any heart not tough or strong enough to take a lot of pain.

Sorry…I couldn’t resist.  My apologies to Nazareth.  In any event, my novel is indeed a manifesto on love in all its forms, from the healthy to the truly evil.  It’s funny you mention the Cinderella scene: most people believe that happened to me as a child.  It did not.  But I have encountered seemingly “beautiful” people who turned out to be rather ugly bigots.  Walt Disney himself reportedly had a bigoted side to him.  Sadly, children are not spared encounters with such people.  I agree that “California culture” can—at times—ignore or diminish the significance of its Mexican influences, history and people.  I’ve heard rather hateful, anti-immigrant talk just waiting in line at the pharmacy or at the gym.  That’s a whole another discussion.

The last half, of The Book of Want in particular, diverges in form from standard novel chapters to more experimental motifs such as selecting certain minor characters for interviews.  When you first began to write this text, had you already planned for the form to make such departures in the second half? 

The last portion of the book was meant to be nothing more than fun for me as a writer.  Each of the ten chapters was inspired by the Ten Commandments and all but the last chapter could stand on its own as a short story (and, in fact, most of the chapters first appeared in literary journals as short stories).  What really happened in terms of the experimental motifs came down to one word: selfishness.  I wanted to have fun as a writer and, for me, that means playing with form and taking chances.  My publisher loved it and happily so did the reviewers. 

Since you are known as a magical realist, what do you think the value of magical realism is in today’s literary landscape?  What is the best thing it gives readers?

Growing up in the Mexican culture, the concept of “magic” and a belief in the existence of spirits were natural parts of my family’s approach to life including my parents’ own storytelling.  I believe that the type of magical realism I write grows directly from that upbringing.  So, in terms of what it gives readers, I think they get a taste of that part of my culture, which I consider wonderful and particularly perfect for becoming a writer.  In terms of today’s literary landscape, I think there’s some wonderful magical realists out there doing fantastic things.  One need only pick up an issue of The Fairy Tale Review to read some great magical realism (though some of the contributors might consider themselves more fabulists than magical realists, but no matter…we’re all in the same family).

How would you quickly sum the difference between the defining traits of magical realism and fabulist work, for those who may not be familiar? 

It’s a very fine line between the two types of traditions. Most of us grew up reading Aesop’s fables where there were magical elements (talking animals, for example), but in the end we learned some type of lesson. The magical elements in magical realism, however, are meant to heighten the realistic themes and narrative of the story itself. Whether or not there is also some kind of lesson embedded in it is beside the point. Modernly, I think writers feel free to blend the two traditions.

You recently had a beautiful story appear at The Fairy Tale Review, accompanied by an interview that you mention grew out of a collaboration with the acclaimed Chicano artist, Gronk. Do you enjoy working with fine and visual artists often?  How do such collaborations inform your work?

That story you refer to is titled “The Last Dream of Pánfilo Velasco” and was incredibly fun to write. In truth, I wrote it to be an adult picture book but the text held together very nicely as a short story so I submitted it for publication.  It was “reprinted” in full online at La Bloga and may be read here.  I don’t very often work with visual artists except when I get to choose artwork for my book covers.  I’ve been lucky to have some of the most evocative art adorn my books including pieces from Gronk for The Book of Want, Maya González for Latinos in Lotusland, and Perry Vasquez for Things We Do Not Talk About, to name but three.

What do you believe is the role of dreaming found or created in literary texts?  How would you define your use of that conceit?

Dreams and magical realism go hand-in-hand, don’t they?  In The Book of Want, dreams play a big role especially in the matriarch’s life who has the ability to decipher dreams’ meanings and who eventually appears in her daughters’ dreams once she passes on to the next life.  I wouldn’t call it a conceit…it’s simply another form of storytelling.

What’s in the pipeline for your readers next? And what are you working on now? Give us a sneak peek.

I have another story collection that I am shopping around, one that is equal mix magical and social realism.  Here’s an example of one of the stories from that collection that recently appeared in the lovely online journal, Fourth & Sycamore.  I also have a poetry collection (my first) being considered by a publisher titled, Crossing the Border.  And I continue to conduct author interviews and write essays for La Bloga, the Los Angeles Review of Books, the El Paso Times, and other publications.

Writers on Craft is hosted by Heather Fowler, who cares about writing. She does a lot of it. Visit her profile on Fictionaut or see here for more:

We are pleased to welcome Denise Patrick to this month’s installment of Writers on Craft.  Denise Lewis Patrick was born in Natchitoches, Louisiana. She attended local schools and earned a degree in Journalism from Northwestern State University of Louisiana in 1977. That same year, she moved to New York City. She has been both a writer and editor in various areas of the publishing industry, particularly for children.

In addition to being a published author, Denise is pursuing an MFA in Creative Writing from The University of New Orleans. She’s an adjunct professor of writing at Nyack College. She’s also worked with budding writers in an afterschool program, and has managed middle and high school writing programs.

What do you read when you despair at the state of either your work in general or a particularly difficult manuscript in progress—any “go to” texts?

I have a great book of essays culled from a NYT series by various writers. It’s simply titled Writers on Writing. There are two volumes and they include craft advice or observations by Elmore Leonard, Walter Moseley and others. Then sometimes I fall back on Dickens, Austen, or Agatha Christie to remind myself what a master really is.

If you could give just one piece of advice to emerging authors about editing or even hanging in there while you edit that has served you well, what would it be?

I’d invoke that awful/wonderful adage to “kill your darlings.”

How has your perception of what you “do” with your work changed as you have continued to write?

I think more about an intended audience, in a way—not driven by whatever the trendy literature of the moment is. But I used to just write to write, to express whatever the ideas were. Now I think about the audience for something as I’m doing it. And that’s a big difference for me. Some things I still write to write, but less so. For Finding Someplace my audience was really people who were not directly impacted by Katrina.

I’m gratified that there are a lot of people who were impacted who are positively responding to the story.

What do you feel is the purpose of literature?

Wow. The purpose of literature is to entertain and to teach, at the same time, I think.

As a human being, what is the best advice you have to offer?

Try to be kind. Try to listen. Be observant of people and nature. Know that you’ll make mistakes, and that you can learn something about yourself from just about every one of them. Make, share, and keep close friends—and not through social media.

As a writer/creative artist, what is the best advice you have to offer?

Advice that I don’t really take as much as I should—is read. Spend as much time doing that as you can when you’re not writing, and read all kinds of things. I feel right now that I’m not reading enough contemporary artists’ work. I do probably pay more attention to contemporary visual artists work, and I’m reading a lot of non-fiction these days so I feel like I’m not keeping up with contemporary fiction. I’m also reading a lot of contemporary poetry, and all of those are things I enjoy, and they express my creative side. I’d say also to immerse yourself in creative endeavors, too. I think my writing is influenced a great deal by the visual arts. 

I’m delighted by the work you’ve done with writing for the middle grade and YA levels, while I’m aware you also write many other things.  Something striking about your work, for me, is how it feels inspiring to read books with realistic yet spunky narrators, those with real world problems who struggle to encounter them with grace.   As a parent, I love when I pre-read a book these days that I’m excited to pass on to my children.  Do you get a lot of lovely messages from parents about how your books have reached their kids? 

I do, sometimes. As a parent, that’s special.

What would be the best piece of advice you could give someone just starting out who would like to specifically get into either middle-grade or YA fiction publishing?

Know or learn about the not just the market, but the people in it. I have four kids and worked for a time in a middle school, so I was submerged in that experience for quite a few years. However old you are, it’s different now.

Your newest work Finding Someplace is a story about a girl named Reesie Boone who struggles to accept Hurricane Katrina’s impact on her life and family.  Having spent a lot of time talking to those from New Orleans in the last couple years, I felt the palpable pain and loss in this book really rang true for  me in terms of what I’d heard from multiple people.  Does this book have a special mission to highlight the reality of a national emergency for its young readers?  The author’s note at the end does feel like a compelling reality check for what happens after a disaster—continuous recovery.

I think it might have a special mission to highlight the difficulty of young people being able to cope with any kind of major disaster or family issue in their lives, because Reesie has to deal with all of that. I guess I would want it to be broader than Katrina per se, and show a kid who has resilience in dealing with big[ger] things.

Finding Someplace is a book so intelligently rendered.  I love how it combines elements of literature and music, as well as modern aspects of everyday life for people Reesie’s age.  Is it important to you to put culture into texts to stir the curiosity of young readers?  Reesie’s aspirations, as example, are to become a famous clothing designer.  In the book, she designs her own garments. This requires innovation, hard work, desire, and engagement.  Can I tell you how relieved I was to see a profession promoted that’s believable in this media driven culture as a targeted profession for a young girl—yet isn’t simply “pop star”?

It’s totally important to include culture. What makes something real, other than experiencing the day–to-day culture of whoever the characters are? I really try to make things come to life in that way. Yes.

How do issue of race and race representation play into your work?  Is there a conscious filter?

Conscious filter?  Not sure what that means, but…I am controlled about how I include issues of race in as much as I think about the ages or possible ages of readers. For instance, if I’m writing something for middle graders, as opposed to adults as opposed to perhaps young adults, I am conscious of how I represent race. (What kinds of interactions would this character have? Where does this character live, and how would/does that affect social relationships?) But I live race, therefore any characters I create are going to live race in certain kinds of ways, too—no matter what their race is. This does mean, despite belief to the contrary, that each day there is some aspect of my experience that is influenced by race in a minute or large or subtle way. There could actually be a conscious filter in me that processes these things differently during any given occurrence. I think kids don’t have the same (if any) filters.

How does writing for younger generations differ from the work you are doing or planning for adult markets?

In addition to the above, I guess it’s in topics that I pick to discuss. When I’m writing for younger people I try to think about what’s on their radar. Certain kinds of relationships are on kids’ radar: friends, parents, siblings, “frenemies.” With adults there are other relationships on their everyday radar. That’s how I differentiate those things.

What’s in the pipeline for your readers next? And what are you working on now? Give us a sneak peek.

Short stories for adults, and some things for young readers that I can’t really talk about yet. I am actively working on a couple of other projects—three other middle grade projects in the pipeline, probably for 2016, 2017. I would like to work on a screenplay of one of my short stories…maybe not Finding Someplace right now. I’d like to put together a collection of poetry, and maybe finish a YA fantasy that I’ve been kicking around for a few years.

Writers on Craft is hosted by Heather Fowler, who cares about writing. She does a lot of it. Visit her profile on Fictionaut or see here for more:


We are pleased to welcome Barry Graham to this month’s installment of Writers on Craft. Barry Graham is a writer, healer, foodie, Tic-Tac-Toe champion, horror enthusiast, and founder of DOGZPLOT. His latest book, American Guerrillas: Manifesto is out now from Underground Books. He is a regular contributor for Revolution John Magazine and a perpetuator of all things conspiratorial.

What do you read when you despair at the state of either your work in general or a particularly difficult manuscript in progress—any “go to” texts?

I wish I had a better answer, but books don’t really help me out when I’m in that type of jam. When I write, I draw from observations and sensory details, things I’ve tasted and touched. I admire writers like Dr. Seuss or Matt Bell, writers who are capable of inventing entire universes. I’m just not that clever. I’m a house of mirrors. If you took any random group of strangers and put them in the same neighborhood, the same social setting, for a year or so, then asked them to write down everything they observed and experienced, you would have very different tales. Because we are all unique. What is unique to me isn’t my language, isn’t my sentence structure, isn’t my vocabulary or the books I’ve read, there’s nothing new under the sun, it’s the way I interpret my observations, the way I experience sensory details, that’s what’s unique to me, and to each of us individually in the exact same way. Then I just arrange my observations and perceptions in a way that forces readers to experience what I’ve experienced. Sometimes I fail, sometimes I succeed, but that’s always my attempt. I wish more writers understood and utilized that weapon.

If you could give just one piece of advice to emerging authors about editing that has served you well, what would it be?

“Put every word on trial for its life.” – Francine Prose. There isn’t even a close second.

Your work has moved in a more overtly philosophical and political direction of late.  What do you think has caused this?

The way I experience and understand the world.

How has your perception of what you “do” with your work changed as you have continued to write?

I wrote for so long before I even thought about publishing my writing. It was never a priority. I had a bunch of bullshit inside that I wanted to let go of. It was a way to remove negative energy from inside and replace it with the positive things in my life, the beautiful energy of my family and friends and my spirituality, so in a way it makes sense that so much of the early fiction I published was thought to be grimy and unpleasant. That’s the energy I had stored up, that’s what needed to be replaced. Writing is very therapeutic in that way. But I guess, over time, like a lot of other folks, I sought validation, I was concerned with getting into this journal or that journal or getting a book deal with this press or that press, and I became unhappy very very quickly with using publication as a motivation or a factor in determining my own failure or success. A jury of your peers will never be a very realistic or healthy thermometer. I had a pretty honest conversation with myself concerning my own motivations and intentions and I came out of it very unconcerned with publication. Sheldon over at Revolution John Magazine was gracious enough to give me an outlet for anything I do feel like sharing via magazine publication, and what I don’t I either throw away or put in a Dropbox file and put it online for anyone to access. That’s the only way I care to publish a book at this point. Call me pretentious or whatever, but I’m an artist. What I attempt through words is to create something that forces people to react physically, whatever that means to anyone individually. That is my only personal standard of judgment. If I fail or succeed it will be on those terms.

What do you feel is the purpose of literature?

The same as bass fishing or eating a really good ham and cheese sandwich.

As a human being, what is the best advice you have to offer?

Nothing you know is real and there’s no remedy.

Embrace the interdependence of all humanity in order to survive as a whole.

Be kind. Always. Even when it hurts.

Your new book American Guerrillas: Manifesto radicalizes the concept of what conformity means in America today—while highlighting some larger issues about how the rich stay rich and how American greed has gutted the future of the American middle class and the poor.  Do you imagine anyone could actually follow the manifesto? 

All things are possible. We’ll see how it goes.

In one excerpt of the text, American Guerrillas reads, “A true guerrilla remains strong and spreads his prosperity by overcoming ego and pride through constant internal struggle and self-improvement; once he has ensured his own survival, safety, and security, he immediately strives to make the world a better place by stabilizing and uplifting those around him and securing freedom, equality, and justice whenever they see it threatened or repressed.” This kind of idealism/ethics connected to your concept of guerrilla seems often to me to be on parallel with my idea of any individual who embraces activism and good ethics—but stands in contrast with the way this book sets up the powerless American average citizen paradigm regarding any non-1% citizen’s actual ability to stand against corruption, class ownerships by big business, integration of government war efforts with profit sector activities, and the use of penal institutions as additional cheap labor sources for the wealthy. But your book also stresses stealth and anonymity as a good costume to embrace for covert change.  Do you believe that activism via regular channels fails to make change?

One premise that has to be understood about American Guerrillaism is, it’s very Whitmanesque, riddled with daily contradiction, on every practical, ideological, and spiritual level possible. So, really, it depends how you define change. There are certain social issues, that yes, absolutely, working the system will bear fruit. We see this every day. Marriage equality, recreational marijuana, etc, but as far as our place in the corporate oligarchy, the reduction of our civil rights and liberties, the slow and steady decline until we collapse, no, absolutely not. We are along for the ride. With that said, it doesn’t mean we should ever stop trying. It doesn’t mean there isn’t a way just because I don’t know it. It doesn’t mean I’m not wrong. There are forces in this world that have decided, collectively, that they’ve agreed with my observations concerning America’s strength, so they have set in motion very complex plans, involving very complex people, places, and things, that transcend the boundaries of time and place. It’s been happening for centuries. Very very covert. Those people get it.

 What is the real purpose of a manifesto? Any manifesto?  I enjoyed reading this one since it touched on so many topics I care about, such as the dwindling power of the poor and middle class to impact their own lives or create paths to power in a world where such people are actually used and thrown away by the rich, increasingly more so as consumables are created as disposable and capitalism causes a buy and toss mentality that both creates pollution and waste, i.e. cheap crap that must be bought and bought again as replacement to keep the capitalistic cycle turning. 

I can’t speak for anyone else who has ever written a manifesto, but the purpose of American Guerrillas Manifesto is to get people inspired to take immediate and necessary action to ensure the safety and survival of their loved ones, and to start by redefining their own personal moral compass, to evaluate their priorities, their allegiances, their role in society, and stop serving a master that doesn’t care whether or not you exist.

Is it possible that this book attempts to tie together the many causes of such disempowerment for anyone not pulling the strings—is meant as a wakeup call to the reader as to the complexity of the reasons why “the American Dream” as it once was imagined has lost so much of the good empowerment once thought to be attached?

In a sense. What I’d like for people to understand is that the American Dream doesn’t exist and never has. Even if you think you’re living it, you’re not. It’s a conformity package so everyone plays nice and feeds the machine. You have power. We all do. Lots of it. But the American Dream isn’t it. Find it for yourself.

Your work is philosophical as well as political.  Do you imagine your readers will see more of this type of work in your future publishing timeline?

I have no idea what I’m gonna write minute to minute. Right now I’m working on a series of poem collaborations with Peter Schwartz. I also wanna write a version of Pinocchio.

As an editor, a fiction writer, a father, an activist (clearly! Manifesto!), what are your most important goals in the next five years?

My most important goal is the same it has been since May 23, 1997, to raise my children to be quality human beings. That will never change. I would also like to be ready to go totally off the grid by the time my youngest daughter graduates. Travel, write, take some photos, do some great drugs, have some great sex, eat some great food, fall in love with as many things as possible. The world is gonna do what it does.

What’s in the pipeline for your readers next? And what are you working on now? Give us a sneak peek.

Working on a poetry collab with Peter Schwartz, Here’s a raw taste, sans edits…

When the square root of a moonbeam directly correlates to the size and shape of a universe you can’t control.  Mama don’t tell tales.  The armor which least protects my vital parts.  Once a flood, twice a reservoir.  Regulated clusters of bad intentions, transparency as a radar, as a symptom of miscommunication.  Footprints serve two purposes.  The collection and transformation of unwanted molecules.  Mass converted to disaster, to the only part of ourselves we understand.  Not philosophers.

A puddle of mush where his face should be.   Ascension takes a lot of collapses. 

Writers on Craft is hosted by Heather Fowler, who cares about writing. She does a lot of it. Visit her profile on Fictionaut or see here for more:

What an honor it is, to be asked for my selections for the Editor’s Eye. As instructed, I looked for pieces that received only a couple of likes or comments. Although the following selections were viewed by many, they received little critical attention or feedback.

When making my choices, I looked for writing that struck an emotional chord in me or created a visceral response. I found in each of these some moments of illumination and grace, something more deeply resonant than clever wordplay or technical proficiency.

I hope you will take another look at these gems that went largely unrecognized the first time around. I applaud each of the writers I’ve chosen for their beautiful work.

He Brings Things Closer by Steven John Horay

I like the way this piece jumps almost immediately into a difficult situation and then slowly unfolds, building tension all along the way. The narrator doles out information gradually, allowing us to form a clear picture of what is happening in layers of understanding. Perhaps most gratifying was the way I, as a reader, learned something about how to manage a particularly challenging encounter right alongside our protagonist, who is surely being forced to think on her feet. I found myself reflecting on how delicate a thing it is to communicate effectively – at any given moment, a wrong perception or an inaccurate conclusion can plunge one into even worse circumstances. And yet, somehow, we humans blunder on, figuring out how to help each other get what we need, against all odds.  I really enjoyed this tightly written, delicate tale of discovery.

This is a Tender Ache by Han Kondabalu

I will admit. I have a soft spot for the intersection of the sacred and the profane as well as that crazy place where science flips over into spirit. This short blast of writing vibrates intensely between opposites. I see someone who is at once utterly lost, yet somehow tapped into some universal truths. How can that be?? I feel the narrator’s pain – of elusive satisfaction, of truth slipping beyond grasp, of a numbed slide towards destruction. And yet, even though there are signs of depravity, I am rooting for the narrator, who seems to be, underneath all the rock-n-roll, yippee ay yay, muthafucka affect, a real human being. I was compelled to read this one again and again…

Sunday in Dogpatch, circa 1990 by Angela Kubinec

This short, stream-of-consciousness piece in the voice of a young girl establishes an entire world in the space of one paragraph. Living within the swirl of a chaotic, most likely abusive, at the very least neglectful environment, she somehow manages to maintain a sense of childlike curiosity and appreciation for small pleasures like Fruit Loops without milk. One has to wonder how long this child will maintain her innocence in this toxic environment. In the meantime, it’s a thorough portrait, one that could go off in any number of directions for a more developed narrative.

The Ego Rises by Samuel Derrick Rosen

Again I found myself captivated by a piece of prose that explores a paradox of opposites. In this piece, the narrator inhabits the smallness, the solitude in the face of a mountain’s grandiosity, even as he tracks a path to something greater. He paints a vivid portrait of the landscape, the air, the psychic space of the climb, a portrait of “a passionate descent to something high above them, a rapturous lament…”

I found this piece evocative for its suggestion of a rising consciousness, a rising sense of self in the face of the almost unimaginable scope of nature. Perhaps it is the poetic homage to nature that softens what would otherwise be, to my sensibilities, a self-absorbed, narcissistic need to conquer it. In this rendition of the climb, there was more than a little grace and reverence, rightfully expressed. I particularly enjoyed the framing of the entire piece in opposites – starting with “I submit to you,” ending with the plea, “… accede, to me.”

unsettling by Helen Yung

This poem, inspired by a dream, evokes a lush world of desire and loss. I was carried through the landscape of random elements by the evocation of familiar ties and missed connections. This dream journey, at once sensual and heady, managed to leave me with a sense of longing and regret. I love how I felt transported through an entire world, pulled into something intimate and vital, only to be left at the end, unsettled indeed…

I was impressed by how well this piece evokes the way a dream can create an all-encompassing fictional world. It really conjures that sense of something deep and ancient that I’ve experienced in dreams, the kind of connection that leaves me feeling rather desolate upon waking. In this piece, there are so many levels – the family background to the romantic relationship, the natural world in all its danger and fury, and the heady drama of a loss at sea. A couple of reads left me awash in feeling.


The Life, Death and Art of Rachel Wetzsteon by Con Chapman

This essay caught my attention, as I had never before heard of Rachel Wetzsteon – surprising, considering her stature in the literary world, but then my knowledge of writers and their work is idiosyncratic and arbitrary. Reading about her life and her death by suicide made me want to know more of her work. I felt immediately compelled to get beyond the notion that she was “not pretty” (do I agree? I think not…) in comparison to Sylvia Plath, the more iconic suicidal poet, and learn more about her as a woman and a writer.

This essay raises questions of perception and appearance and how they intersect with the quality of a female writer’s work. I’m also led to wonder at the way she, a single woman in New York City, may be perceived, with pity, or even disregarded in death, and how this may contrast with male writers whose suicides might be seen as more robust statements of suffering. There is a significant group of poets who have committed suicide. It would be impossible to read their work now without seeing it through the lens of this knowledge. But somehow, learning about Rachel Wetzsteon, I feel compelled to try.

Deborah Oster Pannell is a freelance writer and editor. With roots in music, theater, filmmaking and holistic health, she engages in a variety of collaborative projects, ranging from publishing and online content development to event production and promotion. An experienced blogger, interviewer and essayist, she writes about the arts, audience development and entrepreneurship. Her online portfolio can be found here. She is currently working on a collection of short stories about grief, parenting and sexuality, which, she is happy to report, are not mutually exclusive. She has had work published in The Miscreant, Her Kind at VIDA: Women in Literary Arts and Negative Suck.

We are pleased to welcome Lidia Yuknavich to Fictionaut’s Writers on Craft.  Lidia Yuknavich is the author of the forthcoming novel The Backs of Small Children, the novel Dora: A Headcase (Hawthorne Books), and the memoir The Chronology of Water (Hawthorne Books), as well as three books of short fictions-Her Other Mouths, Liberty’s Excess (FC2), and Real to Reel (FC2), and a critical book on war and narrative, Allegories of Violence (Routledge). Her writing has appeared in publications including Ms., The Iowa Review, Zyzzyva, Another Chicago Magazine, The Sun, Exquisite Corpse, TANK, and in the anthologies Life As We Show It (City Lights), Wreckage of Reason (Spuytin Duyvil), Forms at War (FC2), Feminaissance (Les Figues Press), and Representing Bisexualities (SUNY), as well as online at The Rumpus. She writes, teaches and lives in Portland, Oregon with the filmmaker Andy Mingo and their renaissance man son Miles. She is the recipient of the Oregon Book Award – Reader’s Choice, a PNBA award, and was a finalist for the 2012 Pen Center creative nonfiction award. She is a very good swimmer.

What do you read when you despair at the state of either your work or a particularly difficult manuscript in progress—any “go to” texts?

Well here’s a true story—ALL the manuscripts I work on are a wrestling match!  Ha…then again, if they weren’t, I’d likely lose interest.  But there really are books that I keep near to help me remember three things:

  • o   There is more than one way to render a story and there always has been
  • o   Women writers have a right to their own bodies, forms, and storytelling
  • o   Language carries its own physics.  Particles and waves.  Energy never dying, just changing forms.

So the writers who help me remember those three things include Marguerite Duras, Carole Maso, Virginia Woolf, Clarice Lispector, Toni Morrison, Joy Harjo, Maxine Hong Kingston, Anne Carson, H.D., Walt Whitman, Emily Dickinson, Samuel Beckett, Doris Lessing, Gertrude Stein, and Kathy Acker. All collected they are like a build-it-yourself New Testament devoted to formal play—to making meaning not only through content, but through form.

But I’d be lying if I didn’t also admit this:  I’m a slutty reader.  I also turn to Sci-Fi A LOT, Thrillers, True Crime, Historical Fiction, all kinds of Fantasy—those books have helped me out of creative jams too.  They loosen the limits of my stubborn addiction to language and remind me to play.

Lastly: here’s a secret: when I’m stuck I go to paintings, not books.

If you could give just one piece of advice to emerging authors about editing that has served you well, what would it be?

Do you mean the process of revision?  Editing one’s own work?  Revision isn’t a drag for me at all—I love the idea that you can go in and change anything!  At any moment! I don’t find much that’s precious in my own writing so I’m fairly willing to shape-shift any line or idea.  And for me, deep revision is about reading my own work vertically—like a poem—and identifying patterns, figurative opportunities, hidden pockets where I can dive deeper.

I save line editing for the proofreading round.

My favorite kind of editing or revising happens in collaboration with someone else though.  For example, the creative collaboration I had with Rhonda Hughes at Hawthorne Books when I wrote The Chronology of Water, or the one I just experienced with Calvert Morgan at Harper for The Small Backs of Children.  Trust me when I say I am a lucky writer—both of these editors are brilliant co-conspirators who love literature as much as I do.  So “editing” felt like pushing the creative process as far as it could go.

But again, when it is just you, alone with your writing, I’ve found a process that works for me that I am developing for others…it involves letting go of your critical : logical : grammar drunk mind and instead letting your subconscious drive the car for a bit.  It involves hunting for latent or implicit material in your own work, seeing if there are any places where you can dig deeper, open up, seeing what words and images, themes, and metaphors recur and reworking with an eye toward a more authentic gestalt.  Sometimes there is a whole book hiding within the one you think you “finished.”

I’m in the process of developing a workshop series and book on this methodology.

Looking forward to the book, for sure. How has your perception of what you “do” with your work changed as you have continued to write?

OH I like this question a good bit because it really does change.  Radically.

Technically speaking, trauma brought me to the page…my daughter died the day she was born and I moved toward psychosis from grief.  Then writing started to come out of my hands.  At first it was gibberish.  Then it wasn’t.  Likely putting what I was feeling to the page kept me from death or insanity.  I’m often surfacing the idea in my novels that the intensity of the imaginative realm is not unconnected to altered states of mind—even psychosis.  I’ve been there so I know what I’m talking about.

In my twenties, which is when I started writing in a way toward entering the world, my creative drive was quite a bit about refusing to be quiet anymore, and about claiming a space within language and experience from which to speak.  And I truly had an urge to bite and scratch.  I suspect I was trying to get my body into representation.  I had a rage driving me like you wouldn’t believe—but then, rage is something we don’t afford girls growing up, is it, and so I think now that my rage was a necessary developmental stage.  Who among us can push up and through to an authentic life by skipping anger?

In my thirties, I met my own intellect for the first time.  It was literally like meeting a second self, one I had no idea existed.  At first I wanted to punch her in the face.  I was threatened.  I thought she wanted to kill my creativity or something.  But what I learned in my thirties is that a woman’s intellect and her creativity could, if she let them, love each other.  The writing I did in my thirties reflects that process…that struggle toward integrating different parts of a self.

The writing I did in my forties was driven almost entirely by a colossal desire to go back and get the pieces of self that I’d hidden or lost or injured along the way in my life.  A sudden flash of realization that I was not whole, and that I could not go on missing an arm and a leg and half of my heart.  But too, the decade of my forties is pretty much when my skill as a writer began to kick in.  I’m a late bloomer I guess.  And so the question became, what to do with a whole self and a bit of skill.  And that is a radically different “place” to be as a writer than any of the other places I’ve been.  I went straight to the body.  This time in my life is where I discovered corporeal writing for myself.  And it changed my writing forever.

On this side of fifty?  What I am “doing” with my work is leaving the comfort of the personal and venturing into the territory of the world and what we’ve made of it.  I’m interested in things like empathy and geopolitics and eco-novels and social justice. When I grow up I’d like to be Doris Lessing.  I’m pretty sure I’ve got a leg up on the hair.

What do you feel is the purpose of literature?

To wake people the fuck up.

At least the literature I love the most does that.  But we need all kinds of literature, everything there is on a living spectrum, alive, noisy, unflinching.  It only takes a sentence to change someone’s life, and that sentence could come from anywhere.

Sometimes in writing classes you teach, you discuss a wonderful idea for writers that involves “writing one’s way in” to difficult topics through objects.  Can you speak to this concept of writing one’s way in for a moment, share it here?

This is a poet’s wisdom—I am ever in debt to poets and painters and musicians and filmmakers.  Images, objects, metaphors—they can carry part of the story for you if you let them.  And they can get more of the story to come out of you as well, because bypassing the critical mind, the mind that overthinks and analyzes things, can sometimes yield what exposition cannot.  Look what “water” or “rocks” did for me! Or read any poem by your favorite poet—because a poet can distill experience via language better than anyone else in the world.  What I learned when I wrote about water until I could not write about water any longer is that my whole life can be rendered in stories about water.  What I learned about rocks from refusing to stop writing about rocks is that I can meet the reader there, in the palm of their own hand, and I can invest that object in their hand with a truth that was mine, but is now ours.

As a human being, what is the best advice you have to offer?

I’m afraid I’m a failure at offering “human being advice.”  Everything I know about becoming a better person has come from my son.  The last thing he said that astonished me was yesterday (I often post his witticisms on my Facebook page as “Milesisms”).  He busted out with:  “We don’t need more fictional heroes.  We need regular people to wake the fuck up.”

To me, that’s a profound statement.

He also said love is the fifth element, after we watched The Fifth Element, and that government can never fully contain art, after we watched and read V.

I get my wisdom from popular culture, literature, art, and 14 year olds. 

I love the visceral quality of your work.  Both Dora and The Chronology of Water are fascinating with how vividly they approach and examine the individuals in their narratives, despite that one book is a novel and the other a memoir.  What created your vision or pull toward the newest book, The Backs of Small Children?  Can you speak to what compelled you toward writing this book in particular?

There is a quote from a Kathy Acker novel that, for better or worse, lodged itself in my heart forever:  “War, if not the begetter of all things, certainly the hope of all begetting and pleasures.  For the rich and especially for the poor.  War, you mirror of our sexuality.”

When I first read the novel that carries that quote, Empire of the Senseless, I had no idea what it meant, but I was definitely gutted by the language.  The book changed me forever. It made me look at psychosexual development and cultural inscription and capitalism in ways that haunted me the rest of my life.  It made me look at the relationship between art, war, and sexuality different forever.

The Small Backs of Children is a book I began before I wrote a word of The Chronology of Water.  But it was more abstract when it first started coming out of me, so it didn’t have a form yet.  For a while there it was what my husband Andy Mingo called an abstract epic poem.

To be honest?  I think I had to stop and write The Chronology of Water in order to finish figuring out what was fractured in me before I could return to The Small Backs of Children.  I kept running into the same wall:  OK, this emerging book is about art, war, sexuality and a girl child…what in the world do art and war have to do with the psychosexual development of children?  Am I nuts?

What was fractured in me was something my beloved friend Vanessa Veselka nailed:  How is it that I am alive when you are not?  The wound I carried in my body—the death of my daughter—there was something inside of that wound besides grief, pain, loss.  There was an entire world.  A character.  A story.  About what art means to me.  About the agency of girls—ALL of their agency, including their rage and desire and fire—and how we have yet to honor fully honor their bodies and lives and stories.

Ever since then, I’ve been writing books that loose new girl bodies and stories into the world.

Too, The Small Backs of Children is partially informed by events from my Lithuanian family history.  This novel is also a kind of answer to the question I’ve been asked two trillion times:  “What is the difference between fiction and nonfiction?”  To which my answer remains:  a slight membrane, thin as infant’s skin. 

I love how dense and fine The Small Backs of Children is—and how many forms of writing dominate the pages, the formal play you discuss.  It feels like a magical package rather than a book:  a poetic narrative, a theatrical narrative, a fictive narrative, a correspondence, a shifting fever dream, and an independent film.    All of these things.  Sometimes all at once.  It’s also intensely erotic and savage, in turns, so your above answer is very satisfying. It does feel epic.

As an aside, I think the formal authorial skills displayed by this text, the high and low topical and tonal variances in the narrative stream, allow for a lot of good liberty to bring complex sexual identities into a wider readership’s consideration.  For example, I think readers of literary fiction who would not deliberately read erotic fiction outside of a hetero-normative standard will likely gain exposure to more than they bargained for when they crack this book—and yet there is enough of what the literary reader seeks that will satisfy him/her as well. Do you think this book is an artful embodiment of a sign of the times in terms of societal changes both to come and in progress now regarding how people see sex and love in comparison to what was formerly considered perversion—or instead a gauntlet tossed into the literary hetero-dominated landscape today in terms of encouraging a more open societal embrace of diverse sexualities? The power of the pen is mighty here.

LOVE this question.  I have more than one answer (I’m a Gemini. What are you going to do?).  My first answer is, it depends on where one locates “perversion.”  I locate perversion at the site of war and damage it does to human bodies.  And I focused in on the non-soldier body on purpose.  It is profoundly perverse to me that we ignore the ways in which torture and mutilation of the bodies of women and children are prominent features of warfare.  How many children in the world have survived this brutality?  Where are their purple hearts?  So that I surfaced explicitly sexual material alongside the story of a child surviving wartime abuse and damage of the most horrible kind, means I was unwilling to avert my eyes to what we mean when we say “perverse.”  The private sexual practices of individuals—like fisting between women—that is not perverse to me.  The ravaged bodies of women and children as a result of perpetual war.  That’s perverse.

My second answer is, yes, I consciously set out to monkey-wrench the literary het dominated landscape in an effort to raise questions and diversify what we mean when we say sex, sexuality, sexual identification, and even love.  There is more than one love story in the book.  But it’s not the love story we’ve been trained to value and award.  There are a variety of sexualities represented in the book.  But they do not fit the categories we’ve been trained to accept in our literature.  In particular I was interested in restoring both agency and exploration to the sexuality of women and girls.  We are not the story our culture has made for us.  We never were.  I don’t know a single woman or girl (or boy or man or anyone in between) who fits the script culture hands to us with regard to how to live and love and experience desire.  So I’m bracing for the “these women are unlikeable” response, or “this sexuality is excessive” response, because I quite consciously wrote those questions alive in the bodies of the women characters.  I did it on purpose.  I’m not sorry.

It wouldn’t be untrue to say that the women characters in the book are all versions of one woman’s sexual diversity played out across the plane of narrative form.

My third answer (don’t panic I don’t have a hundred answers ha) is, I don’t think there is anything “new” about what I’ve done with the sexualized material in this novel.  Certainly my influences were way ahead of me—Anais Nin and Kathy Acker and Marguerite Duras and Clarice Lispector.  But I have noticed that sexualized language in literature sort of comes and goes in waves.  And sometimes what passes for representations of sexuality in literature makes me laugh.  If a woman writer conforms to representing sexuality in prescribed forms and traditions that qualify as entertaining, green light.  But if a woman writer, breaks those codes, risks representing sexuality in every part of her life, in its raw and messy and chaotic forms, if a woman writer, for instance, dares to articulate desire as a perpetual force in her life, away from the heterosexual love plot or chase plot or male savior plot, it’s “deviant.”  And I think the same thing is true for LGBT writers and writers of color.  Which is complete bullshit.  I hope in my lifetime we see thousands more representations of sexuality.  We don’t need less, we need more.  This is my call to arms.

As to the multiplicity of literary forms you mention at the top of your question, I think we have come to a moment in our evolution as people and makers of art in which the traditional notion of mimesis has been flipped over.  Whereas it MAY have been true that art mirrored life experiences in the past, you know what? I’m starting to think we have come to a time where we’re starting to live our lives based on the representations around us.  I think we are acting our relationships in the terms of drama, film, television, narrative form.  In other words, I think we live by the codes of our dominant representations, whether we admit it or not.  I think we are often stunned that we can’t work out conflicts like they do on T.V.  I think we are devastated when our relationships don’t rise to cinematic proportions and magically resolve like the ends of novels. So the fact that I conjured a variety of representational modes to create the story of a handful of people coming to terms with their own lives by and through art, well, I think in some ways that’s how we get through our lives.  We narrativize experiences so we can live with them.  We create necessary fictions in order to bear the weight of things.

Do you think that women are truly more violent than they are depicted in most literature?  Less passive?  In your view does literature’s portrayal of women remain stunted or certainly progressing less rapidly than that presented in most current visual media (TV, motion picture, etc.) in terms of depictions of women’s motivations, needs, psyches, and variable sexualities?   


I think women are complex, contradictory, sometimes excessive, absolutely active mammals.  I think it’s long past time we open up representation to the fact of us, rather than the fiction of us that has for so long served a certain social order. 

The Small Backs of Children does an amazing job with its male characters as well. They are fully integrated into the text.  Did their presence in the narrative expand, remain static, or shrink in the final editing process?  Any words or thoughts you had about writing men into this narrative—especially since war and the theft of female agency are often tied to heavily gendered realities? 

Well I think it is important to admit that the limits we have placed on male subjectivity—on men and on boys–are crappy shackles too.  So I specifically set out to present a variety of male subjectivities as complex and contradictory as the female ones in the book.  They all have certain “male” traits that we are all familiar with, but I also tried to give them traits that escape those inscriptions, traits that call gender and action and hero and savior and violent impulses into question.  There are no perfectly good or perfectly bad men or women characters in the novel.  I’ve not met any in life, either. I’m pretty sure we call that human.  And anyway I’m tired of the old tropes and character options. I’m hunting for “what else” can happen with characterization in this book and in the ones I’m working on next. 

What’s in the pipeline for your readers next? And what are you working on now? Give us a sneak peek.

My second novel with Harper is coming out in about a year.  It’s called The Book of Joan, and it’s a revisioning of Joan of Arc, one of my personal totems.  I took god out.  But I left the voices, and I put something in his place…something brutal but beautiful.

Writers on Craft is hosted by Heather Fowler, who cares about writing. She does a lot of it. Visit her profile on Fictionaut or see here for more:


Daniel Harris, portrait by Susan Murtaugh

Daniel Harris, portrait by Susan Murtaugh

Approached to contribute to the Editor’s Eye, I accepted. But I’m not a professional writer, I don’t have that glib command of critical vocabulary that professional writers have. But I accepted the challenge.

Faithfully reading Fictionaut’s new postings every day, I kept a list of stories and poems that struck a chord with me. Most of my choices won a place on the Recommend Stories list. The purpose of the Editor’s Eye is to find unheralded gems. I changed tactics and decided to select stories that involved lists, litanies and catalogs.

The tradition of lists is as old as Homer. Lists are flexible and have great appeal to writers, compressing quantities of information in a small space. Graphically, lists can be straightforward, take the form of a litany, or be embedded in the text. Lists can also be mnemonics, establishing place, timeline, mood and character. Lists, for example, dominate Georges Perec’s masterpiece La Vie mode d’emploi. They are key to that novel’s structure and narrative.

Most of my choices found their way to the Recommended list, but they serve as examples of different ways authors use and incorporate lists.

To See Who’s There

Nonnie Augustine

According to the author, this poem is an ABC poem, i.e. one where each stanza begins with the next letter of the alphabet. That plan was not strictly followed, but that is not what gives this labyrinth of history, genealogy, factoids, gems and catechisms its punch. Its narrative spans many generations of the author’s extended family.

Nonnie employs straightforward lists in the “S”, “T” & “U” stanzas. Here’s “T”:

“Typesetter, cooper, mill worker, farmer, beggar, sculptor, soldier, abbot, king, at home looking after the children, knight, saint, maid, countess, poet, cook, milliner, opera singer, piano teacher, carpenter, politician, dancer, lumberjack.”

I enjoyed “at home looking after the children” which brings attention to itself and slows the tempo.

Or this Joycean “R” line:

Ragoût, der Eintopf, el estofado, stobhach, stirabout, stew.

Try reading that aloud at a good clip. Tricky.

In many ways this poem reminds me of Evan S. Connell, Jr’s Notes from a Bottle Found on the Beach at Carmel. In addition to lists there are jarring historical facts: to wit: “My Scots switched sides, switched back. Lost their land, kept  their heads.”  This narrative poem is an entertaining read and a good example of the power of lists.


Ann Bogle

Klarheit-oder-genug (literally: clarity or enough) is a short prose piece that achieves good effect from the list as litany. The narrative begins as a search for FBI records relative to a fingerprinting episode at the offices of Girls Write Now, and then the story journeys to an aside about data collection and personal brushes with the law. Ann uses commonality as a hinge to change locale or direction. Using a police stop as a hinge, we discover this wonderful litany of a character’s personal facts:

“Davy was nearly blind. He did drive. He collected S.S.I. and perhaps Medicaid that didn’t cover insulin, necessitating that his grandmother’s sister, Esther, pay for it out of her own pocket, among other expenses pledged to be repaid by an elderly hearings court in Houston, who had appointed a guardian ad litem for Esther’s sister, Helen, to care for Helen’s estate.”

One could parse this as:

Davy is blind

Davy drives

Davy collects SSI

Davy maybe collects Medicaid

Davy can’t afford his insulin

Davy’s great-aunt Esther buys his insulin

A Texas elderly hearings court appointed a guardian for Esther’s sister, Helen.

All of the character’s essentials are laid out in two short sentences and one long one. The staccato of the first two sentences followed by the long exhale of the third has an anapestic quality. This last sentence contains a host of interconnected information that is perhaps more genug than Klarheit, but the writing keeps the reader on track.

Ann fluidly moves through time, place and circumstance. Her narrative skillfully guides the reader from non-fiction narrative, speculation and commentary. This piece reminds one of Kerouac, or of Mailer’s power writing. There is a stream of consciousness quality to the writing that makes the piece more powerful than a common list. There’s always a special quality to Ann’s writing. For her less is more. And the spare-and-sparse surface of her work belies the internal complexities.

Would You Ask A Librarian For A Lap Dance?

Roz Warren

Roz Warren is a gifted humorist and a professional librarian. This entire story is itself a list. Roz entertains the reader by a litany of the most outlandish questions and requests she and other librarians have received, including the title request:

“A patron once asked me to sit on his lap. (I laughed at him.)”

The requests range from the sexual, the demeaning, and the illegal to the astonishing:

“A divorced dad came to Story Hour, asked me out, then asked me to marry him!! I did!”

Roz’s writing is always a treat and like most humor it has a serious point. The library is an open public space inviting a steady flux of humanity. Its stewards must be prepared for anything.

Connaught: down at the heels castle

James Claffey

Here is a distinctive piece, a poem inspired by an ancient Irish castle; and it is contrived and crafted entirely as a list. And what a list of images it is. The poem is short, I’ll post it all:

“Norman Conquest.

Rotten floorboards and crumbling battlements.

Lovers fumble in the thick undergrowth.

An Episcopal priest drowned in the moat back in the 1950s.

Long rows of hangdog portraits line the walls.

The local football team plays in burgundy jerseys with a yellow stripe.

A sextant once owned by Magellan is buried in the wine cellar.

Dusty rats travel unmapped tunnels.

A beggar-woman holds a sign at the entrance.

Loons swim in the nearby lake as the dying sun spasms.”

Marvelous images: crumbling battlements, drowning priest, hangdog portraits, Magellan’s sextant, rats in unmapped tunnels, begging woman, and the best of it: dying sun spasms.

This list compresses time from the Norman Conquest to the present day. The poem’s action is hidden really: Claffey quietly gestures to the remains of a forgotten history. The author’s choices delight as they inform.

Our Graves

JP Kemmick

This melancholy story is on the death of children. I suspect it is an allegory for a children’s orphanage or foster home. The setting is a cemetery, or rather the ground under the cemetery where the children leave their coffins and interact with each other.

Here is a paragraph that lists some of the residents of this gloomy underworld, ironically identified as Meadowlark Children’s Cemetery:

“Another kid, Brian Cleary, was accidentally shot by his step-dad when they were hunting. Margie Forsythe, smoke inhalation when her house burned down. Gregory Mountain, drowned in Forrester Lake trying to save his sister’s inner-tube, while she watched from the shore. And on and on.”

Like any society, Kemmick’s world has its share of squabbles, treacheries and a mob that destroys the coffin of the first child to be taken away by an angel. This event is followed by this paragraph embracing features of the list-catalog and a universal existential sigh:

“The conjecturing went on for some time, back and forth, back and forth, all of us transformed into a philosopher, a theologian, an investigator of impossible truths, but all the while, none of us said what it was we were all really thinking, that we wanted the angel to come back, that we wanted to be next, to hold his hand, or cling to his wings, to be led off, or up, or in whatever direction Heaven might lie.”

Our Graves is a story that stays with you. It is long (4830 words) for Fictionaut, but well worth the read.


Tara Isabel Zambrano (Rachna K)

I include this highly recommended flash fiction because its closing line is stellar:

“And love circulates in my blood slowly creating antibodies of doubt and fear as if they always exist together.

One for the time capsule.

Blues Repeat

Tim Young

The blues genre is a sack of woes, to paraphrase the great jazz saxophonist, Julian “Cannonball” Adderly. The blues gets down to a recounting of all that is wrong, gone wrong and been wrong. Tim Young’s Blues Repeat is not in the form of traditional blues, but it surely lists many things that can make one blue.

Two verses that stand out:

“Don’t look at me honey

I fell on the table

my hair is on fire

my heart is unstable”

yeah I’m losing it honey

I spit when I cough

a bloody reminder

it’s time to lay off”

 At times the rhymes are forced and detract from the startling images. Some judicious editing could make this a commanding blues lyric.


Daniel Harris was born in Chicago in 1943 and educated at the Eastman School of Music and Yale University.  He worked for fifty years as a professional classical, jazz and studio musician. He is also a painter (some 3000 works and counting), ceramist, inventor, and author of short stories, non-fiction and opera libretti. He serialized his first novel, Five Million Yen, on Fictionaut. A selection of other stories and flash-fictions are posted on Fictionaut. His previous creative non-fiction works are: The Butterfly Effect, published in Mad Hatter Review #13 (2013 Million Writers’ Award) and The Audition, published in Eclectica. He illustrated Ann Bogle’s Country Without A Name published online by Argotist. As an artist he works in traditional media and also creates works on digital mobile devices (iPhone, iPad, iPod). He is the composer of over fifty musical compositions in a variety of styles and media. He has won numerous awards for music composition, musical engineering and audio engineering. He is a respected authority of underwater musical acoustics. His personal website documents his musical career.

Sharing stories and poems is something I enjoy and something I do almost every day via my Twitter feed and my personal blog. Sharing is the reason I’ve been a fan and a reader of Editors Eye since I joined Fictionaut two years ago so I was pleased to be asked to contribute to the column. The challenge is to find the hidden gems within the Fictionaut writing community and bring them into the light where they will hopefully sparkle in the eyes of readers who missed them the first time.

Susan Sontag said, “A writer is someone who pays attention to the world — a writer is a professional observer.” The stories I’ve chosen prove Susan’s point. Detail is what pulls a reader into a story, it’s what makes you feel like you are there, what makes you feel. The arrangement of those details is what makes up the writer’s unique voice, as you’ll see in each of these selections. I know you will enjoy them as much as I did.

“What You Choose to Take” by Kelli Trapnell

This piece is so subtly crafted that even while you’re being lulled into the tranquil domestic setting, you feel an undercurrent of foreboding that belies the tranquility. Kelli writes with a poet’s eye for detail: “You like how the sweet, summer smell of drying grass blends with the tang of the lemon dishwashing soap you use.” The reader feels an intimacy in this short piece right up to the heartbreaking end. This is one of the best flash pieces I’ve read anywhere.

“Air” by Rene Foran

Very short poetry is my favorite kind. It takes skill to put a lot into so little and Rene does it well. This little piece is as light as air but it packs a punch with one strategically placed word. It’s just gorgeous.

“X” by A. Starling

There’s beautiful imagery in this piece enhanced by a mood of melancholy. You get a hint that love is slipping away but the writer is trying hard to nourish the small flame that’s left.

The next three pieces are all weirdly wonderful – I’m not sure whether to call them SciFI, Magical Realism, or Fairy Tales but they all defy being categorized and I don’t like labels anyway.

“Bargaining” by Tonya R. Moore

This one totally creeped me out. The descriptive narration in this piece is so good I found myself scratching and thinking about Morgellons Disease and wondering how in hell this woman got into this predicament. This is really good story-telling and if it were a book you could get lost in it.

“Insomnia in Excelsis” by Peter Cherches

This wildly wonderful piece is an insomniac’s fever dream – you’re never sure exactly where you are or what you are, you only know you’re in what seems to be a mash-up of Alice in Wonderland and an old Vincent Price movie. This is crazy-good and I’m envious my imagination isn’t anywhere near this caliber.

“The Heart” by Gary Moshimer

A tale of a man literally becoming his work, this very unique piece fascinates me. I’ve read it several times and I keep thinking about it. This is what obsession is. This is what becoming completely and blindly infatuated is. Another wildly wonderful piece, I am completely smitten.


Charlotte Hamrick reads and writes in New Orleans. Besides her city, she loves her dogs, books, poetry, The Blues, photography and spending way too much time on the internet when she should be doing laundry. She hates laundry. Her work has been published in numerous online and print journals, most recently including Literary Orphans, Camroc Press Review, and Moving Poems. She is a Pushcart nominee and a finalist for the 15th Glass Woman Prize.  She blogs at