Kate Ashenden, Wanted in Paradise

wanted in paradiseHello Book Smugglers!

I recently picked up a romance novel, Wanted in Paradise, and am so excited to announce that I had the opportunity to speak with the author, Kate Ashenden. Keep reading to see what Ashenden has to say about becoming a published author and advice she has for fellow writers.

What inspired you to write a book?

I’ve loved creative writing, ever since primary school, so the idea of writing a book was always in the back of my mind. Then I thought, in three years I’ll be celebrating my 40th, so I better get on and do it! Life is always busy, whatever is happening, so waiting for the best time to write, is like waiting forever!

It is often said that in order to write something, you must believe in what you are writing. Do you agree with that?

I think it helps. If an author has a strong feeling based on empathy or experience, then it should convey well in their writing. My debut novel ‘Wanted in Paradise’ certainly highlighted something I feel passionate about – but I won’t give away too much.

Tell us about your writing style, how is it different from other writers?

When I write I regularly ask myself – “is this section becoming slow or boring?” and if it is I scrap it, hence the reason I love romantic suspense. My goal is always to create a page-turner. I don’t want the reader drifting off or wishing the chapter would hurry up and finish.

What, according to you, is the hardest thing about writing? What would you say is the easiest aspect of writing?

The hardest thing is planning the plot and the finer details, to create an extraordinary scenario, but also a believable storyline. The easy aspect, by far, is the dialogue. Some days it just flows so naturally, it’s like the conversation is actually happening.

Any advice you would like to give to aspiring writers?

If you choose to be an indie author, then be aware that promoting your book is really hard work. You need to do a lot of research about the most effective approaches, but even then it doesn’t guarantee amazing results. It takes time and a lot of effort, so you’ve got to have the energy and enthusiasm for the challenge. However, it’s important not to become too obsessed with selling your book; I guess that’s the reason why many of the bestselling authors I contacted advised me to keep on writing.

Are you working on something new at the moment?

I hope to write a ‘Wanted’ trilogy. I have some exciting ideas for the next book, but I haven’t put pen to paper yet; hopefully soon!

About Kate Ashenden

Kate Ashenden is a copywriter, public relations professional, and author of the new book ‘Wanted in Paradise’.

With nearly fifteen years of creative writing experience, Kate is keen to become a full-time romance author. 

Kate’s desire is to continue to write unique storylines with traditional love interests that grip the reader. Based in the United Kingdom, Kate spends her working time eyes glued to a computer screen (usually with coffee and biscuits on either side of the laptop!) If you would like to connect with Kate, please visit her Facebook Page.

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David Ellis, See a Dream Within

Hi, Book Smugglers! We’re super excited about giving you the chance to get to know two fantastic authors this week, Cendrine Marrouat and David Ellis. They are the cofounders of Auroras & Blossoms Poetry Journal and will be publishing their second issue at the end of the year. The submission period closes soon!

While you start brainstorming something to submit, take a look at what David has to say about being an author.

What inspired you to write a book?

See A Dream Within Kindle CoverI mostly get my own inspiration from life experiences, music, literature and films. For my debut poetry book that I published three years ago (Life, Sex & Death), I was inspired to write it because I had many poems that I wanted to make into a collection. I didn’t want people to have to trawl through my blog for all of my poems, so it made perfect sense to self-publish it. I’m so glad I did, as the book itself won an award, which was the best day of my life 🙂

Was there a book or author that you admired that played a role when developing your book?

For my latest book, the specific author that influenced me was Edgar Allan Poe. I used all of his incredible poetry to help me to write my own found poetry collection, based on his entire poetic works. I have always admired Edgar’s poem “The Raven” (along with all of the people who have read it aloud, including Vincent Price, Christopher Walken, Neil Gaiman and even The Simpsons!)

My book ‘See A Dream Within: Found “Poetry Based On The Collected Poetry Works Of Edgar Allan Poe’ to me is my very own love letter to the writings of Edgar Allan Poe.

It is often said that in order to write something, you must believe in what you are writing. Do you agree with that?

I invest all of my writing with my own deep, emotional content. I sincerely believe in the words that I write and the power that they can have to inspire or motivate people. It’s why I have adopted themes of inspiration and romanticism in all of my poetry because they are the things that mean the most to me and what I want to share most with the readers of the world.

Do you have a set schedule for writing, or are you one of those who write only when they feel inspired?

I tend to write best when I have some sort of deadlines, whether they are actual or self-imposed. I tend to do most of my writing around midnight onwards. I am very much a night owl, as I enjoy the peacefulness and serenity working through the night brings to me, along with the lack of distractions and ease of getting to the refrigerator without being caught.

Tell us about your writing style, how is it different from other writers?

I think I have a very fluid and flexible writing style that can encompass much versatility based on the subject matter that I am writing about. Even with my most negative experiences in life, I have been able to channel them into positive, emotionally inspirational journeys that people can relate to. Ultimately, my style is one of a teaching nature, to be in tune with your own emotions, to inspire positivity and kindness in others through your own actions.    

What, according to you, is the hardest thing about writing? What would you say is the easiest aspect of writing?

I think for me, the hardest thing about writing is choosing a concept or a theme when there are infinite resources and choices available. Once the theme/concept is chosen and you are committed to a writing project then for me, that becomes the easiest part of writing because you now have a specific writing purpose/goal that you can build towards.

Have you ever experienced “Writer’s Block”? How long do they usually last? Any tips you would like to share to overcome it?

I believe in a little and often, all the time, regardless of what you are doing, so I don’t tend to experience a lot of Writer’s Block, since I will write as much as time allows and how much I feel like doing on any given day. My biggest motivational tool has been to be emotionally invested in a project and the joy of creating it tends to ward off any feelings of doubt, procrastination or other things that may slow me down or stop me.

However, I do understand when it hits how debilitating Writer’s Block can be. If a project is not working then try writing something else to unblock yourself. This could be your own personal diary or a tiny poem, anything to get the words flowing again, which will hopefully lead you back to your original project. Never force yourself to write rubbish, unless you are willing to just do it to get it out of your system, shelve it and then start writing quality work again for your project. If you have burn out then go take a rest, go for a walk in the countryside or to a museum, watch a movie, or play a video game then come back refreshed and energised to start crafting again.

Any advice you would like to give to aspiring writers?

Don’t be afraid to keep on writing, submitting, marketing and publishing. There is always something for you to be doing regarding your books, be it writing new ones or shining the spotlight on your older ones. It never pays to stay still, be innovative in the ways that you share yourself and your content with the world. You only grow with meaningful experiences by making new, exciting experiences for yourself. Be the one to create writing opportunities for yourself and others. Make friends and be supportive of fellow authors, they too are on a journey that will last a lifetime.

Experiment and decide on what kind of writing you really like creating the most and then evolve yourself around these genres/themes. Writing should be a reward to yourself and a wonderful gift that you can share with others.

Are you working on something new at the moment?

I am currently working on a writing project influenced by William Shakespeare. I anticipate having another collection of poetry available for publication in the next couple of months.

We should also be releasing the second issue of our Auroras & Blossoms Poetry Journal at the end of the year when our current submission period closes. It is a very exciting time for us, since in addition to adults, we have opened up submissions to 13-16 year olds too (via their parents and guardians). We have so many inspirational poets and poems that we want to showcase to our audience, we hope to be doing this for many months and years to come!

Is there anything else you would like to share with our readers?

I appreciate every single one of you for taking the time to enjoy the process of reading, be it Fiction, Non-Fiction or Poetry. Authors love, admire and respect their readers. Thank you for spending time with us and I hope you find the time to enjoy our books too!

About David Ellis

David Ellis Colour Profile PicDavid Ellis is a UK based author of poetry, fiction, and music lyrics. He has been writing poetry and music lyrics for years.

His debut poetry book Life, Sex & Death – A Poetry Collection Vol 1 is an International Award-winning volume, having won an award in the Readers’ Favorite 2016 Book Award Contest for Inspirational Poetry Books.

Think of him like the thriller genre in that he is fast-paced, relentless and impossible to put down!

David’s latest book See A Dream Within: Found “Poe”try Based On The Collected Poetry Works Of Edgar Allan Poe can be purchased via all major outlets. It is available on Amazon Kindle and in print.

For more information on all of David’s published books and creativity resources visit his website, Too Full to Write or you can connect with him on social media.

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Also, be sure to like his Facebook Page. It’s full of great resources for writers!

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Cendrine Marrouat, Walks: A Collection of Haiku

Earlier, we had the pleasure of meeting David Ellis, author and co-founder of Auroras & Blossoms Poetry Journal, a literary magazine that promotes uplifting and inspirational poetry no matter the topic. Now we get the chance to meet Auroras & Blossoms Poetry Journal’s other co-founder, author Cendrine Marrouat. Marrouat’s Walks: A Collection of Haiku is one of her many publications that are available now. It’s one book of Haiku’s you’ll want to check out!

Walks cover 1What inspired you to write a book?

Life and the things around me have always inspired me to write. The same goes for photography. 

Was there a book or author that you admired that played a role when developing your book?

Kahlil Gibran is my favorite author and artist. The Prophet has had a major impact on my life. Trying to emulate Gibran’s style helped me understand my own. 

It is often said that in order to write something, you must believe in what you are writing. Do you agree with that?

Of course. It is the essence of good writing. When you write, you leave some of your energy on the page. If you don’t believe in what you write, readers will feel it. 

Do you have a set schedule for writing, or are you one of those who write only when they feel inspired?

I write when I have time, which is rare these days. With that said, even if I had a set schedule, I highly doubt it would work for me. I find inspiration in the most unexpected moments. 

Tell us about your writing style, how is it different from other writers?

What makes it different is the fact that I write about topics that many are afraid to tackle. For example, I released a book of short poems on death to help others grieve better. My play, In the Silence of Words, deals with issues like depression and suicide. 

Everyone has experienced or will experience challenging or terrible things in their lives. But not everyone is ready and willing to talk about them in a positive way. Without the heavy depression I went through for ten years, I would not be the person I am today. I am grateful for what it has taught me. 

What, according to you, is the hardest thing about writing? What would you say is the easiest aspect of writing?

I have never really found anything hard about writing. When you aren’t afraid of sharing your own voice with the world, things happen naturally.

Have you ever experienced “Writer’s Block”? How long do they usually last? Any tips you would like to share to overcome it?

Every author in the history of the world has been hit by Writer’s Block. The people who tell you otherwise are probably lying. If you want it to leave you alone, do not fight it. Just embrace it. Meet a friend, go for a walk, etc. Do something that will take your mind off of it and it will go away. 

Any advice you would like to give to aspiring writers?

Cendrine:- The same as most authors will give you. Practice, practice, practice. Don’t listen to your inner critic. Don’t compare yourself to others unless you want to understand your style. Be yourself and write. 🙂

Are you working on something new at the moment?

The third and fourth volumes of my “Walks: A Collection of Haiku” series are almost ready. Unfortunately, I am extremely busy. So, I am not sure when I will be able to publish them. I recently released my 2020-2021 calendar, though. It’s full of photos from my portfolio. David and I are also working on Issue two of Auroras & Blossoms Poetry Journal. Poets, if you have inspirational and uplifting poems to share with the world, send them to us soon, as we offer one free poem submission per submission period 🙂

Is there anything else you would like to share with our readers?

Thank you for this opportunity. We appreciate the support very much!

About Cendrine Marrouat

Cendrine LinkedIn profileBorn and raised in France, Cendrine Marrouat moved to Winnipeg, Canada, in 2003. She is a photographer, poet, author, and the Head of marketing and communications at ConnexionFranco.Coop. 

Cendrine has released 13 books in several genres: poetry, theatre, photography, and social media. She created her own poetry form called the Sixku and co-founded FPoint Collective.

Cendrine’s books are available for purchase on Amazon and several other major online outlets. For more information, visit https://www.cendrinemedia.com/Books

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Let’s Chat with L.M. Bennett

Hello Book Smugglers!

the accidental tsundereRecently in a previous post, I reviewed The Accidental Tsundere by L.M. Bennett. I am so excited to announce that I had the opportunity to interview her this past week! Keep reading to see what Bennett has to say about becoming a published author and advice she has for fellow writers.

What inspired you to write a book?

I was having a discussion with a friend about romantic issues she was having. I guess somewhere along the line, I said something that hit her, and she told me I should write a book about dating and love. I laughed it off. “I’m not writing a dating book,” I said. More than once. Then, I opened up my phone’s notepad and started writing a dating book. Next thing I knew, I had five thousand words, ten thousand, fifteen thousand words on a topic that I initially didn’t want to write about. When I stumbled upon an old joke tweet I had made about three years ago about what a dating book might be called, I decided to just go with it and see where it would lead me.

Was there a book or author that you admired that played a role when developing your book?

I had been reading Roxane Gay’s Hunger off and on and had come across a passage that knocked the wind out of me because I felt seen and exposed. She was talking about how her size had, in a way, kept her very small in relationships because she felt like she wasn’t good enough. She didn’t assert herself because she had been made to feel like she wasn’t enough in some ways yet too much in other ways and I was so uncomfortable by how much I related to that. I picked partners that I allowed to make me feel interchangeable and “less than” and that was a very telling reflection of how I still felt about myself despite the two hundred pound weight loss. I felt it was very brave of her to say that out loud. I felt a kinship with her, and I wanted Tsundere’s readers to have that same kinship with me and to recognize some difficult-to-admit things about themselves as well. There’s no shame in wanting love and acceptance, and sometimes we do and say things in search of that that later makes us cringe, but this is okay. Some of the book’s more vulnerable moments were some of the feelings stirred up by reading Hunger, honestly.

It is often said that in order to write something, you must believe in what you are writing. Do you agree with that?

I feel that you certainly have to have an understanding of what you are writing, and you do that by immersing yourself in the scene, the emotion, the character, the memory you are trying to describe. I don’t feel you can describe something or show the reader why they should care about what you’re talking about if you don’t believe in what you’re writing. I don’t feel you can detach from your subject and simultaneously convince your readers to care.

Do you have a set schedule for writing, or are you one of those who writes only when they feel inspired?

In general, I write sporadically and only when inspired. A dream, a scent, a song, a person that I encounter and must unpack and pick at that very second until I have nothing left to say on the matter. For The Accidental Tsundere, however, I stole time whenever I could find it. My mother was in inpatient rehabilitation after a bad car accident, and so my schedule was a bit crazy. I wasn’t sleeping well, so late nights, early mornings at 4 a.m., even on Saturdays and Sundays became my de facto writing time. Commuting to and from work, during lunch breaks, I would be writing.

Tell us about your writing style, how is it different from other writers?

I think one thing that comes across in The Accidental Tsundere is that I can be quite blunt and to the point. I’m the same way in my fiction writing, in that the narration can be a bit dry. I’m not a fan of flowery language. I love writing that gives us enough detail to paint our own picture of what the person looks like or the exact shade of red of the tablecloth, but then gets out of the way and lets the reader get on with the scene. I trust my secondary characters to exposit at the worst possible time for my main character. I let them do and say things out loud that they probably shouldn’t. I let my characters be messy, vulnerable and sometimes unlikable. I really respect authors who allow characters to be themselves, and I try to emulate that as much as possible

What, according to you, is the hardest thing about writing? What would you say is the easiest aspect of writing?

The hardest part of writing, for me, is figuring out what things to put on paper and which things to leave out. I am, by nature, a very observant person who picks up on the undercurrent of things. During meetings, I’m the person whose eyes ping-pong between people talking, and I’m sitting there picking apart what’s being said and what’s not. I do the same thing with my characters, whose stories I know inside and out, and this affects how they communicate with each other, and so I feel it’s my job as a writer to pick which things I want to reveal at that moment without projecting—and I apologize for this term—word vomit all over the page. I think where I fall down is that sometimes I err on the side of being a bit too vague. I forget that people are not in my head and that it might not be evident to my readers why a character is behaving a certain way, even though it makes perfect sense to me. This is something I am working on, without losing what makes my writing distinctly mine. The easiest aspect of writing is brainstorming and daydreaming. It’s also conveniently my favorite!

Have you ever experienced “Writer’s Block”? How long does it usually last? Any tips you would like to share to overcome it?

I don’t really call it that, I just think of those moments as moments in time in which my energy is simply focused elsewhere. Life happens, and you can’t always lock yourself away for hours until the words come. This could be a few days or even a few weeks. What I find helps me get back into the mood is listening to music. Part of coming up with a new project for me is picking out a playlist of songs that remind me of characters, moods, scenes or situations. Listening to the playlist eventually turns the faucet on again so the words flow.

Any advice you would like to give to aspiring writers?

Read as much as you can from authors you admire. If there’s one thing writers love to do, it’s write about writing, so read those articles, too. Watch a lot of movies, get your hands on screenplays and study screenwriting as much as possible, to learn how to integrate action into dialogue to subtly reveal character and the underlying dynamics of a scene. Study the ways in which characters interact with each other, verbally and non-verbally. Go out into the world and people-watch. Be a total creeper and write down your observations. No matter what genre you write in, you can enrich your writing with an intimate knowledge of how people treat each other.

Are you working on something new at the moment?

Before The Accidental Tsundere took over my brain, I was working on a book of short stories and flash fiction centered around black LGBT characters in our messy, complex glory. Now that my brain has been graciously returned to me, I have started working on that book again.

Is there anything else you would like to share with our readers?

Make great use of the voice recorder on your phone. You never know where inspiration will strike, and you don’t always have a pen and paper to jot things down. These little bits and pieces can always be arranged into something that makes sense much later, adds details that humanize your characters or breathes life into locations. Always be open to where your imagination takes you.

About L.M. Bennett

L.M. Bennett, 38, is a native of East Orange, N.J. and a surgical coder by day.

Growing up in East Orange, L.M. was the child of a working mother and was often left with her great-grandmother who favored Perry Mason and All My Children. Ensuring she wouldn’t interrupt too much while her great-grandmother watched her favorite shows, her mother kept her entertained with workbooks that often required L.M. to fill in the blank or finish stories. It was during this time that eight-year-old L.M. discovered her knack for telling stories and her love for words. She had no idea that her beginnings would lead her to pursue writing professionally.

With her quick wit, eclectic style, and need to make an impact, L.M. is set to soar on many levels and to become an intricate part of the fabric that makes up the culture of publishing and a true leader in her own right.

You can follow Bennett via her blog for more updates and information about her book.

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Let’s Chat with Nan Sanders

Now let’s see who our long-time contributor Carol Smallwood had a chance to speak to this week! Smallwood is a literary reader, judge, and interviewer who recently published a poetry collection Patterns: Moments in Time.

nan sanders mango rash

Nan Sanders Pokerwinski (NSP) was a science writer at the Detroit Free Press for more than a decade, worked as a science writer for the University of Michigan News Service for fourteen years. She’s been a contributing editor to Health and Alternative Medicine magazines and has written for More, Fitness, Dallas Morning News, and other print and online publications. Her journalistic byline is Nancy Ross-Flanigan and she’s received a Pulitzer nomination, several awards.

What awards has Mango Rash won so far? How did you come to write it and how long did it take?

NSP: Mango Rash won first place in the memoir/nonfiction category of the 2018 Pacific Northwest Writers Association Literary Awards and was a finalist for the Northern Colorado Writers Top of the Mountain Book Award, the Tucson Festival of Books Literary Awards (twice), and the 43rd New Millennium Writings Literary Awards.

I started writing about my Samoa experiences (which form the basis of Mango Rash) when I joined my first writers’ group in 2004. I’d always struggled to convey to anyone who wasn’t there at the time what it was like living on a tropical island as a teenager in the 1960s. I began writing my Samoa stories as a way to explain not only what the experience was like, but also why it made such an impression on me—something I’m not sure even I fully understood until I started writing about it.

I finished a first draft of the manuscript within two years but had to set it aside for a number of years, due to my workload and other circumstances. I kept submitting individual chapters to my writers’ groups and to writing workshops, however, and filing away all the feedback. Eventually, I was able to make time for more concentrated work on the manuscript as a whole, and I spent a year or two revising it, drawing on all that feedback I’d stockpiled. So I guess you could say it took 15 years from start to finish, but it was really only three or four years of active work.

How do you manage to write on such a wide range of subjects and styles? In what genre did you begin?

I write about whatever interests me, and I’m curious about a lot of things. I also try to write about things other people are curious about, which opens up a world of topics. I began in nonfiction, as a journalist, and most of what I write is nonfiction.
Writing in different styles is something that developed over time. When I decided to write my memoir, I wanted to get away from a journalistic, magazine-y style and adopt a more lyrical, literary nonfiction style. It took a lot of study, practice, and trial and error to begin to write differently.

Please share with readers your literary education background.

I’ve had no formal literary education beyond high school and one or two college classes. I’ve learned as I’ve gone along, from reading and from writing workshops. I missed a lot of classic literature on the way up, and I’ve enjoyed catching up (as well as discovering emerging authors) in mid-to late-adulthood.

I was surprised about you selecting potholes as a writing topic—how did that come about?

During my years as science writer for the Detroit Free Press, I specialized in looking at everyday experiences with a scientific slant. One winter I heard so many people complaining about potholes I decided to find out what scientists and engineers were doing to address the problem. I never expected to win an award for that story, but apparently the National Society of Professional Engineers thought it was prize-worthy.

Do you see a connection between your photography and writing?

What an interesting question! I’m not sure there’s a connection, but the two activities are complementary. When I take photographs, I shift from thinking in words to thinking in images, and that shift gives the verbal part of my brain a rest, which stimulates my creativity and gives me fresh perspectives when I return to writing. Likewise, when I’ve been working with words for a long time without doing any photography, I find that I’m much more receptive to imagery the next time I go out to shoot.

How has living in Michigan influenced your writing and outside interests?

I’ve met and learned from so many gifted writers here in Michigan, and I’ve found very supportive writing communities in every part of the state where I’ve lived and worked: Detroit, Ann Arbor, and now West Michigan. It was here in Michigan—at the Bear River Writers Conference, to be specific—that I first felt I’d found my tribe of kindred writers. As for outside interests, I’ve always been drawn to nature and the outdoors, and living in Michigan—especially West Michigan—I have ample opportunity to indulge those interests through hiking, kayaking, photography, and just living in the woods.

What are you working on now?

Right now, mainly promoting Mango Rash and keeping my blog, HeartWood (www.nanpokerwinski.com/blog) and newsletter, “Mango Meanderings,” active. But I have several projects on the back burner that I hope to get back to work on soon: a novel about outsider art, creativity, and madness; a childhood memoir with themes of individuality, inclusion, and exclusion; a multi-media project that combines autobiographical collages with micro-memoirs; and a children’s book that I’m collaborating on with my husband Ray Pokerwinski. For more information please visit http://www.nanpokerwinski.com/about

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Carole Mertz, Toward a Peeping Sunrise

toward a peeping sunrise

Carole Mertz, author, poet, and editor, has had works published in literary journals, U.S., Canada, Great Britain, and Africa. An Oberlin College graduate, she’s Book Review Editor for Dreamers Creative Writing; reader of prose and poetry for Mom Egg Review; member Prize Nomination Committee for Ekphrastic Review; advance reader WNBA 2018 Poetry Contest. Kendra Boileau, Penn State University Press noted: “Mertz is a master of poetic form, imagery, sonority, and wit.”

Your poems show a knowing of the darkness but also of the sunrises while “…searching for a distant view of everything.” The poems encompass childhood, courtship, marriage, maturity, and the reader is advised to “hang on to your memories.” How did you decide the chapbook’s title?

Thank you for searching out my themes and encapsulating them so well. I suppose I wanted a title that would show a kind of awakening. For Toward a Peeping Sunrise I borrowed a line from one of the poems. 

You’ve said your chapbook follows an arc. What do you mean by that?

I suppose there’s an arc to the thematic subdivisions, simply beginning, middle, end. But what I mean has more to do with the tempo of the poems. Progressing from one to the next with a rising tempo, as in “Dolly’s Broke” moving faster and louder into the implied dangers in “Ballast.” These urgencies settle down in the two final poems toward a quiet diminution, as if equivalent to a musical crescendo and decrescendo.

What have you learned from creating this chapbook?

Selecting from fewer number of poems made it easier for me to arrange them around given themes. (When I worked with larger selections, I found I was unable to organize the greater number of poems coherently because too much of my work was as yet eclectic and impossible to group.) I also learned lessons after the chapbook’s publication—that you’re never prepared enough for the PR work that must follow. Writing is only the beginning; marketing and continued networking are additional responsibilities. These inevitably intrude on the writing time. Learning to balance these activities is always a challenge.

When did you begin writing poetry? Was it the first genre you used?

I began writing poetry about twelve years ago, though I was then taking a course in writing short stories. My first poem about a snowstorm was accepted by a small digest. The success of it and seeing my name in print got me hooked on poetry, though I hope vanity was not the only motivator at the time. Soon a mystery won second place at the Toasted Cheese Literary Journal. But doing poetry became and remained the dominant genre for me.

My very first serious work, however, was writing nonfiction. After a week-long course at Concordia Publishing House, my writing, and that of my husband, was accepted for publication by CPH. During this shared project, we each wrote on 15 separate themes. I must admit, I enjoyed the subtle competitive element that entered in— I wanted to write as well as my husband.

Why did you choose the particular publisher for your chapbook?

When Prolific Press chose my manuscript, I was approaching one of my decade years. Their acceptance came as a nice birthday present. The owner of the press promised a deliberate schedule that he followed throughout, meeting every one of his projected deadlines. Working with Prolific Press for a first volume was a pleasant way to learn the steps needed in matters of cover design, collection of blurbs, and decisions about layout. A former writing school instructor had persistently advised students to self-publish and I had planned to do that. But everything requires time and know-how. Working with Prolific Press was a non-stressful alternative.

What are some magazines/anthologies where your essays, stories, poetry, appear?

Going back a few years, I’ve had work in Arc, Copperfield Review, CutBank, Conium Review, and World Literature Today. More recently I’ve published a series of reviews at Mom Egg Review, Eclectica, and Dreamers Creative Writing, with poetry at Indiana Voice Journal, The Write Place at the Write Time (recently discontinued), Eclectica, The Ekphrastic Review, and elsewhere. I was pleased to have a poem included in Journal VII, the 2019 anthology issued by the Society of Classical Poets, an online poetry site I regard as one of the finest. 

Why is that site of interest to you?

The Society of Classical Poets furthers the writing of poetry in classical forms. I regard the preservation of these techniques as important as, for example, the retaining of classical forms in music. One cannot perform an Aaron Copland, for example, before one has studied a Beethoven Sonata or perhaps a Debussy Prelude. I don’t mean to preach, but I believe unless we preserve the old forms, we lose a great deal. A number of fine poets today are writing sonnets of equal caliber to Keats or Shakespeare, though written in contemporary language. The Society promotes these modern-day writers. The Society also values the concept of beauty which seems so lacking in much contemporary work I read.

What is the form of “The Mellow Season” included in your chapbook and published by the Society?

This poem consists of three quatrains. The lines alternate regularly between 8 and 7 syllables, which is to say it has consistent meter. 

Where are your most recent publications?

In addition to Toward a Peeping Sunrise, recent reviews appeared in Main Street Rag, Into the Void, and Dreamers Creative Writing. I like the method of publication at Dreamers. First a 300-word review is published in the print edition. This is followed by a 700-to 1000-word review printed online. I like the process of writing on the same material in both the shorter and longer form. The long form first, and then condensed. But sometimes the process is reversed.

What poetry writing challenges have you won?

I was happy to win several poetry challenges issued by the Wilda Morris Blogspot. Morris’s imaginative prompts differ each month. They taught me new ways of approaching poetry. One could write about colors, or about “memories of my father”, or use of numbers in poems—simple approaches, but they always taught me to innovate and also introduced me to classical poets and contemporary poets I hadn’t yet known. 

What’s your association with the Mozart Academy in Salzburg, Austria?

My studies at the Academy gave me a year of learning not only in music performance (I’m a professional pianist and organist), but also in European history, the fine arts, and the German language. Seeing major artworks face-to-face in the museums of Paris, Vienna, Florence, and Rome created impressions during my early student days that have remained throughout my life. 

You write with ease poems based on a picture. How do you select the pictures and what’s the name of this poetry form?

In my family, two sisters are visual artists. Not a painter, myself, it became very satisfying to write my own impressions of paintings in poetic form, though initially I knew nothing about ekphrasis, which is an artist’s interpretation of another artist’s work. During 2019, I suddenly encountered all these wonderful works at The Ekphrastic Review, both the writers’ and the painters’, and began submitting my own poetry there. Lorette C. Luzajic, owner of the review, makes it all very inviting. She simply requests poems (preferably unrhymed) or nonfiction pieces based on what you see or feel when viewing a work. “Have fun while you write,” she says. At her site, you can select a visual of your own choice or respond to one of her bimonthly ekphrastic challenges. These have ranged from works by Rothko to Joan Miro to Franz Kline. I’m musing here, but I suppose one could also write ekphrasis based on aural works, as well, or based on architectural constructions. Camille Paglia, for example, wrote an astonishing ekphrastic essay on the altar and the Pope’s Chair at the Vatican. Similarly, passages within a novel I’m reading (Josephine Wilson’s Extinctions) are written as ekphrasis on Marcel Breuer’s Wassily Chair, photos of which are included in the novel.

In the first poem in Toward a Peeping Sunrise, a chapbook divided into three sections, “Singularity” appears in the title—a word often used in physics. How did you come to select it? 

I hadn’t thought of “singularity” as a physics term. I merely wanted a word to indicate something unique, something happening only once. If I may add something about that poem, “Seeing to the Singularity…” it’s almost shocking to me that I should have published a poem of self-affirmation. 

Why does that surprise you?

In my old Pennsylvania Dutch upbringing, there was always the underlying tenet, spoken or unspoken, that one should avoid bragging in all its forms. This comes from the religious restrictions I experienced at the time. 

What are some of the topics you cover in your essays?

I like to offer tips I think might be of use to beginning writers. I’ve written about how to establish good relations with editors of literary journals, the importance of MOOC learning, meeting writing deadlines, how a bird can teach you about persistence, about the selection of nominees for the Pushcart and other prizes, etc. But writing reviews is an entirely different matter.

Please explain MOOC learning

Many MOOCs are offered online free of charge. MOOC stands for Massive Open Online Course. A participant simply logs into the website to sign up. Through interactive participation, the writer MOOCs put writers in contact with numerous other writers across the globe.

Please tell us what you mean about a bird’s persistence

I wrote an essay that drew the parallel between the patience required of the writer and the persistence of the robin, sitting on the nest until her fledglings are hatched. The writer must use the same persistence as the bird, remaining at the desk until the work is completed. The bird sits long hours, she doesn’t run off for a “snack” until the male robin appears to take her place on the nest. Our writing requires similar care and devotion. 

What appeals to you about writing reviews?

Each volume taken up is like receiving an entire new personality into my life. I’ve reviewed collections by Mary Jo Bang, Layli LongSoldier, Judith Swann, and Dovali Islam, for example. Each artist has her unique view, style, and content. It’s like entering a new country, each time. I don’t critique until I feel I’ve become thoroughly immersed in the given work, and personality, to the extent possible. Reading contemporary artists is what makes this business of writing such an adventure.

You look squarely at time and the importance of memories in free verse and formal. Your poem “Waking” is in a form reminiscent of Emily Dickinson. The poem looks at space, time, and “tiny tufts of pure thought.” Who are your favorite poets?

Dickinson is certainly a favorite. But there are so many. Among the classics, Keats in particular. Then Whitman and Frost. Of late, Stafford, W.S. Merwin and Bishop. I’ve loved Wallace Stevens who always gets at things “not quite sayable,” to quote Carol Frost. And then contemporaries such as Gluck, Harjo, and so many others.

What are you reading now?

My latest are Joan Gelfand’s You Can Be a Winning Writer (I hope its wonderful title rubs off on me!) and Clive James’s Poetry Notebook in which he offered reflections on the intensity of language.

Are you working on another chapbook or poetry collection? 

It’s my intention. As I write more, it’s fun to consider how certain themes might combine into a cohesive whole. April Ossmann, author of Event Boundaries, a poetry collection, offers strategies in the ordering of poems in a collection. These useful tips appeared in The Practicing Poet, Diane Lockward, Editor.

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Let’s Chat with Julian K. Jarboe

everyone on the moon is essential personnel

In the titular novella, Jarboe situates us in a dystopian near-future as a group of teens, in the throes of generational malaise, consider finding employment on the moon. In “The Heavy Things,” a young speaker experiences their maturing body as a flow of sharp objects and tools. Their struggle for bodily integrity is waged against time itself, as well as family and caretakers who use love and nurturing to control.

“The Nothing Spots Where Nobody Wants To Stay” spotlights a teen whose dad died in 9/11, their secret school makeout sessions, shoplifting stints, and nonbinary gender expression, offering a knotty take on American victimhood. In “Estranged Children of Storybook Houses,” Jarboe nods to classic fairy tales while exploring changelings, fairies, and how we define family and belonging.

Many of the stories in this collection are backgrounded by what feels like an imminent collapse of society as we know it, brought on by a heady mix of climate crisis, unregulated tech companies, and late capitalism—issues not far off from our current reality. What do you hope readers take away from these pieces? Should they serve as warnings? Guidelines for survival?

I think for some readers, the social and environmental circumstances in a number of the stories will feel like a warning about the near future, but for other readers these might reflect the past or the present. The typical survivalist apocalypse genre is fundamentally reactionary: it’s a fantasy about indulging brutality and individualism, and placing the worst things imaginable just ahead of us so bright and loud that nobody can bring up that settler colonialism and genocide and slavery and war crimes have been happening, are still happening, all along. Some of the characters in my stories joke with each other about preparing for the eventual end of the world (or subsume themselves in nostalgia for an irretrievable past) as a way of putting off dealing with the problems right in front of them. A few months ago a friend of mine said, “Things may and probably will get worse, but there will be no pre-apocalyptic moment where you get to shrug off your life. You have to keep living,” which resonated with me a lot as I was putting the book together. I’m a pessimistic person (a negativity apologist?), but I think if I’m offering a guideline for survival it’s that accepting just how bad and confusing things are can free up a lot of energy, clarity, and compassion to actually do something.

You’ve said that you are, and have been for some time, “incurably online” in a way that impacts everything you do. Can you speak to the relationship you have with technology—specifically the internet—and how it has affected your writing?

I’ve never known life without the internet but I’m also just old enough to remember certain shifts in attitudes about its use. At some point it was felt, not without reason, that it wasn’t a place for real research about anything serious, and so being online for hours was about the same as watching too much TV. I would sneak down to the family room in the middle of the night and hope that the 56k modem didn’t wake anyone up, so I could read about dragons and anime and things like that at very niche levels that weren’t available in a lot of library books. I got real into LiveJournal and AIM and so forth. It was expressive and social in a way that felt very safe for me, and so that’s where I ended up practicing my creative writing and conducting most of my social life for a while, too. So when I say that I’m “incurable online,” I mean that it’s impossible for me to disentangle some deeply set formative aspects of how I learn, think, and communicate from the technology of the internet. My biggest literary influence in the most literal sense has to be social media, because I have simply poured so much time into reading from it and writing on it. And I guess I’m impatient with the moralizing about whether or not this way of life is good or bad, stunting or enlightening, isolating or connecting. It’s more complicated than that.

Like many of your characters, you are a part of the queer community and have faced violence, discrimination, and anti-queer sentiment throughout your life. In the midst of the apocalyptic backdrop of your stories, the bonds between queer characters in your stories act almost as lifelines. Is this true to your lived experience within the queer community? Was it important for you to represent these relationships in this way?

It’s necessary for some groups of people, such as queer people, to at least be aware of each other, even if the infighting never ends (it will never end). People I’ve never met in person have saved my life, and that doesn’t even mean we’re friends, but that doesn’t matter. You might be insufferable and kind of dangerous and I still care if you live or die. I’ve still noticed you’re there, and want you to stay alive to be an annoying jerk well into old age, maybe even a sober one. It’s that deadly serious. And I am not talking about pity or romantic notions of shared experience. Community might be a cozier way to say interdependence, for better or worse. I didn’t set out to represent these kinds of relationships as a goal in itself, as some moral instruction, but how could I not write about them? It’s only because of people who have this habit of looking out for each other that I’m still around to write at all.

Faith and family are common motifs across this collection. What is it about these themes that compelled you to explore them? Why tackle them through the styles of magical realism and surrealism?

God shows up a whole lot in this book! Sometimes as an inscrutable tyrant, sometimes as the assurance of your inherent worth, and sometimes as your problematic mom. Faith and ritual are present in life whether we think they are or not. When I really started writing more and more to ask questions that I didn’t have a clever answer already lined up for, I discovered that I have several more thoughts and feelings about growing up Catholic than I previously believed. Speculative fiction, broadly, and magical realism or surrealism more specifically, offer me a way to externalize the sublime and irrational and extend points of view which might not otherwise develop or work in mimetic fiction.

The impermanence of one’s physical body and the myriad ways it can be altered, disrupted, or changed—by choice or by circumstance—is central to many of your stories. What is it about physical bodies that spurred you to examine both their capacities and limitations?

I’m continually fascinated by how our bodies are, literally, shaped by our environments, our experiences, and our choices, and by this weird ideology that there could be a “natural” state for a human body to inhabit. Things are done to our bodies that get called natural when they affirm some hierarchy or another, and everything else is supposedly artificial. You don’t even have to deviate on purpose to be artificial, you could do as little as be considered ugly or strange by others through no fault of your own (look at how we regard fatness as the failed modification of a hypothetical thin person, autism as a “stolen” neurotypical person, and so on). A lot of my characters are either living with the consequences of major change in their bodies or about to enact one to change their relationship with their circumstances, and either way they want to or have to disregard this trap of naturalness to pursue their ends.

About Julian K. Jarboe

Julian K. Jarboe is a writer and artist from Massachusetts. They are the recipient of a Writers’ Room of Boston Fellowship (2018), a graduate of the Odyssey Writing Workshop (2018), an Honorable Mention from the Tiptree Fellowship (2018), and a residency from The Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts (2016). They graduated from The Massachusetts College of Art and Design with Academic Honors (2012).

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Let’s Chat with Regina G. Hanson

Hello Book Smugglers!

I recently got the chance to read an unpublished chapter of, Racism: The Real Reason I Left The South, and am so excited to announce that I had the opportunity to speak with the author, Regina Hanson. Keep reading to see what Hanson has to say about becoming a published author and advice she has for fellow writers.

What inspired you to write a book?

Racism: The Real Reason I Left The South Kindle by Regina Hanson
Genre: Nonfiction, biographies, memior Kindle 87 pages, Published by Personal Empowerment Publishing December 21, 2019 Get your copy on Amazon

I use writing as a form of activism. To shed light on injustices or cultural needs helps me to feel like I’m giving back in a positive way – a part of the solution instead of the problem. This is very important to me. The most natural way for me to do that is to write.

Was there a book or author that you admired that played a role when developing your book?

I remember the first time I read “Why I Caged Bird sings” by Maya Angelou. It was the most incredible experience. I could hear her voice as I read the words. Many years later I would see an interview with her on Oprah. Her voice was exactly as it had sounded in my mind. She was an incredibly gifted writer. Ms. Angelou left no stone unturned in her work. From rape to racism, she dissected it all in an effort to facilitate positive change. She wasn’t afraid to delve into the ugliness of life in order to help others heal. I too carry this torch. If my writing helps someone, even just one, then it was worth every ounce of effort. This belief affords me the strength to write about difficult subjects that others may shy away from. My first book was a brief memoir about racism. A brutally honest look at my family and community, this work delves into waters few are willing to tread. Of this I am most proud, and I have Maya Angelou’s legacy to thank. She has been an immense inspiration.

It is often said that in order to write something, you must believe in what you are writing. Do you agree with that?

This is a true sentiment in my mind’s eye. Whether you are journaling to process your own emotions or writing to help another, you have to believe in its power to do so. Writing can change hearts and minds. The power of the pen is as mighty as the sword.

Tell us about your writing style, how is it different from other writers?

I am a stream of consciousness writer. This may be my greatest gift. Whether research and writing for an article or blogging, I just let it flow. The astounding part is I rarely have to reorganize my work. Even in my first book, there were only one or two places where I moved a piece to another section. For the most part, it flows through me as it is meant to be read. That doesn’t mean I don’t edit. As a matter of fact, I never publish anything, not even a LinkedIn article without having someone else edit it. (My roommate is also a writer so we edit each other’s work.) Most writers already know that our mind often sees what it supposed to be there instead of what is. When we write a piece of work ourselves, we hardly ever find our mistakes. However, I do find it helpful to put it away for a day and then go back and reread the piece. But overall, I write when I am inspired. And inspiration finds me almost daily.

What, according to you, is the hardest thing about writing? What would you say is the easiest aspect of writing?

I think getting started is the hardest part for most writers. We tend to wonder if it will ever be read and think, “what’s the point anyway”. But remember, writing will help you process your own emotions and stay mentally healthy. It’s like therapy. Don’t make it a chore. Do it because it is a part of you. Consider it your gift to humanity. The greatest part of all of us is our uniqueness. We all have to something to say. And as most writers are introverts, writing is the easiest way for us to communicate.

Any advice you would like to give to aspiring writers?
I’m a firm believer in speaking your truth. If you have a burning desire in your soul to write and don’t know where to begin, look inward. Nobody has lived your life, your way. Even if you are writing fiction, your mind is a one of a kind. Putting your own spin on a creative tale will be different from any other, particularly if you draw from your own life experiences. Don’t suffer over every word. If I reach a point where 2 words pop into my mind and I can’t decide, I put a slash in between them and choose my preference during the edit. If I still can’t decide, I’ll let whoever does the final edit pick their favorite. Editors appreciate the gesture.

Are you working on something new at the moment?

Currently, I’m working on Sexual Intellectual Female. This is a term I penned for my master’s thesis. I use it to describe the 21st century “real woman”. By exploring social media, popular culture and current events, I’m validating a new woman emerging. It’s both empowering and exciting for me. For me, writing about subjects that carry potential for personal growth help me stay inspired and motivated. I’m hoping to finish it up by July of this year. Wish me luck!


regina hanson

Regina G. Hanson has a B.A. in American History from Armstrong Atlantic University (now Georgia Southern), and an M.A. in American Studies from Kennesaw State University. As a writer, she incorporates a conversational tone that affords the reader a more intimate experience. Her writing genres include historical documentaries, cultural studies, children’s books, memoirs, blogs, and general content. Regina is a music lover and nature observer. She finds inspiration in both, as well as, cultural circumstances and societal needs. This author is also a dynamic public speaker, as well as, activist. Promoting equality for all and cultural appreciation is the foremost of her agenda. Having founded Personal Empowerment Publishing, it is Regina’s hope that each work published will empower her readers to grow and evolve into their best selves.

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Let’s Chat with Bell Hammer’s Author, Lancelot Schaubert

I recently got the chance to speak with author and producer Lancelot Schaubert whose book Bell Hammers is available to read now. Keep reading to see what advice Schaubert has for his fellow authors and what he enjoys most about writing.

Bell Hammers - eBook No QuoteWhat inspired you to write BELL HAMMERS?

An accident. Normally I write scifi, fantasy, and the like, but I started interviewing the elder men in my family because there’s so little institutional and familial memory in Southern Illinois. As I did, I started to undercover multiple, multiple lawsuits my family should have filed against a couple of energy corporations. I wanted to tell their stories.

Was there a book or author that you admired that played a role when developing BELL HAMMERS?

With his last words to me, my maternal grandpa Deno Bubba recommended Paul Angle’s Bloody Williamson as a key to unlocking some of my family’s past. The further I went into that book, the more it taught me about what my own family had experienced and the more clues it gave me for exploring resource surveys and economic development plans from the midcentury that had been hiding in corporate libraries in New York City.

It is often said that in order to write something, you must believe in what you are writing. Do you agree with that?

I mean, yes.

C.S. Lewis said writers ought to know exactly what they want to say and say exactly that. If you didn’t want to tell the truth, why write? I definitely believed that we needed to expose the evils that large cities and corporations visited upon Southern Illinois, things that continue to harm the people that live there, that even screwed up my life still — but I believed I should do it hilariously. I think I did. My brother — who calls me his big sister — doesn’t think I’m that funny. He’s the sort of guy that, in terms of lived experience, wracks up several one-armed stripper stories before settling down and starting a family.

Do you have a set schedule for writing, or are you one of those who write only when they feel inspired?

I write only when I’m inspired every morning at 9am sharp.

Tell us about your writing style, how is it different from other writers?

By style, I assume you mean prose and narrative? Three ways:
In terms of prose in this novel, BELL HAMMERS, I focused on evoking the extremely regional dialect of Southern Illinois as well as the sort of long-winded sentences that oral storytellers in those regions use. You know, the sort of sentences that are short stories in and of themselves:

Beth tucked her chin and grinned like she did when she’d fished for a compliment and got what she wanted but still hadn’t expected on account of that insecurity her own daddy’d put in her.

That sort of thing.

In terms of stylistic flair, I’m a huge fan of old english alliterative meter, not mere alliteration, but the sort of alliteration that shows up all the time in English phrases like black and blue, spick and span, in for a dime in for a dollar. Our language works that way. Even in the previous sentence. Or something like:

…tanned hides of those heifers of Jim Hunter’s that they’d barbecued after accidentally killing them with…

It’s not a perfect example, but it definitely has several feet taken straight out of an alliterative poem.

As for narrative, my narratives are wild. Absolutely badshit crazy. This novel is about four generations of carpenters taking on a major oil company using pranks. Practical jokes. This novel seems literary and historical fiction, but three major events of it connect to an entire universe full of giant wolfsnakes and magic and shapeshifters who confront Big Data’s spying. So I guarantee, even if you hate my books, you won’t encounter a story like mine anywhere else.

What, according to you, is the hardest thing about writing?

Explaining to everyone important in your life over and over again how short the time is, how long it takes to write a novel from start to printed hardback — often 2 or 4 years — and getting them to respect it as much as if you went outside to pull the weeds. People don’t really respect your time as a writer. They think it’s stupid or childish or that other things should take precidence. No one asks a farmer fifteen times a day why he’s sowing seeds or buying more acreage or walking the borders of the land.

What would you say is the easiest aspect of writing?

When you get into the world and you just go. You just take off running and flying and sailing the stars. There’s nothing like that other than maybe sledding down a massive mountain you climbed yourself or camping alone in the wild or full immersion in a culture and language you’ve never known. It’s not unlike culture shock — invigorating, intoxicating, real. Mostly just real. Tolkien taught us that. I think when we’re making something, we’re testifying to the truest nature of ourselves and reality: that we’re created beings. Anyone that doubts that hasn’t thought through the contingent state of affairs in which we find ourselves. Gravity, for instance, or super strings vibrating in the tenth dimension or even the multiverse — none of these things contain the cause of their own ontology. And interacting with your own characters is a way to get perspective on that.

Have you ever experienced “Writer’s Block”? How long do they usually last? Any tips you would like to share to overcome it?

Rothfuss says that plumbers don’t get plumbers block. I agree with that, however I know that he’s had swaths of dryness. King has — his block for The Stand lasted a year. Everyone has. I think two things we forget make us more stuck:

1. We forget that all writers are humans and humans can get depressed. When they do, they get stuck. Frozen in time. That’s not a writing thing. That’s just a human thing. Happens to carpenters and CEOs and stay at home moms.

2. We forget that a large swath of writing is thinking, as hinted at with the “write what you believe” thing above. If you’re stuck, you likely need (a) research, (b) imagination, and (c) memory to pull from and to do the hard work of solving the puzzle. That’s really all it is. Recently I wrote myself into a corner 30,000 words deep on the 10th draft of THE MOST pain in the ass story I’ve ever worked on. So I went back to the start and looked at the decisions I’d made and reworked the step outline from scratch. I’m writing forward now, slowly, working those notes back in and eventually will arrive back at that 30,000th word. It’ll end up cutting some 20,000 words from the previous draft, maybe more. And it took about 3 weeks to figure out the problem. But enough walks, enough sitting on a hillside away from the internet and doing the hard work of outline and backstory, and I’m back at it.

I could have fretted, right? I could have sat and stewed that it was taking 3 WHOLE WEEKS and I got zero wordcount in. But then I might get depressed. And then I’m right and truly double stuck because I’m a writer who isn’t doing the hard work of thinking and I’m also a human who’s depressed.

Rather than all that drama, I’d much rather go easy on myself, take the 3 weeks to think and plan and solve the puzzle. Remember. Imagine. Do some more research. Then when I write forward it’ll come out quick as a feverdream when the fever breaks. Quick as Jesus rebuking the fever clean out of Peter’s mother. It comes that quick. But you can’t fret about it. And because it takes 3 weeks or so to do that hard work, depending on the size of the problem, novels take a long time. And all that walking and thinking? They’ll shame you for it. They’ll talk like you’re doing nothing, wasting your life, not making a good contribution to society.

But their entire idea of society is predicated on writers, so forget them. Forget all about them. You go away and think and solve the problems they haven’t even dreamed of yet. They’ll thank you when you’re dead. Or they won’t. But you’re not doing it for praise or money or power anyways. You’re doing it because it’s good, beautiful, and true.

Any advice you would like to give to aspiring writers?

Read. Think. Write. Revise.* Repeat.

*meaning write the whole manuscript over again.

Are you working on something new at the moment?

Writing for me is like sowing orchards, so I have different nurseries at different stages. Cold Brewed — the graphic novel — is coming out in print in January 2021 after BELL HAMMERS. Of Gods and Globes 2 comes out soon. So that’s new to the reader, though not to me. THE GREENWOOD POET is a sort of romantic, nature-based meditation on gothic urban cemeteries. “Old growth” in terms of the orchard.

Mid-growth is a horror novella IT RIDES UPON US is basically Over the River and through the Hood — Red Riding Hood meets The Warriors with a giant wolfdragon as the badguy. THE FACELESS is my answer to warrantless wiretapping, sensors, and cameras in the big data future — you know, flocks and murmurations of drones and whatnot. OVERMORROW is a sort of reverse Narnia for kids. FISTFUL OF DIAPERS is a picturebook western. Working on all of those, more or less.

New saplings? I’m working on a novel called ARCANUM, DARKE COUNTY that’s my response to SALEM’S LOT. An old school vampire horror with a unique mythos. Some others, but like I said, different projects at different stages.

There’s always something new in the Vale Short Stories series.

Is there anything else you would like to share with our readers?
Well one time Remmy of Bell Hammers had to have a bunch of Freemasons and Shriners over for dinner that he didn’t like all that much but he had to on account of how much influence they had in the town, he just had to do it. So he bought up some old chairs and took out the planks underneath and reupholstered them with some old curtains he’d found out by the side of the road. Well they all stood respectfully when Beth came in, all around the table and Remmy said, “Let’s stand and say grace standing.” And he said, “Thank you, Good Lord, for humbling us like you do and dragging us low so that we can know what it is to suffer well like your son.” And then he said, “Let’s be seated,” and all ten of those Freemasons and Shriners sat down on those chairs that had nothing but fabric and they all bust right through, butts and all, dangling out the holes like some sort of barreled boys.

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About the author

76 (2)Lancelot has published work in anthologies like Author in Progress, Harry Potter for Nerds, and Of Gods and Globes — the last of which he edited and featured stories by Juliet Marillier (whose story was nominated for an Aurealis award), Anne Greenwood Brown, Dr. Anthony Cirilla, LJ Cohen, FC Shultz, and Emily Munro. His work Cold Brewed reinvented the photonovel for the digital age and caught the attention of the Missouri Tourism Board who commissioned him to write and direct a second photonovel, The Joplin Undercurrent, in partnership with award-winning photographer, Mark Neuenschwander.

He remains a committed husband to the grooviest girl on earth and is a public advocate for more free-range trees. You know, Ents.

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keat's odes

Let’s Chat with Anahid Nersessian

In 1819, John Keats wrote six poems that would become known as the Great Odes. Some of them—including “Ode to a Nightingale” and “To Autumn”—are among the most celebrated poems in the English language. On the bicentenary of Keats’s untimely death at the age of 25, literary critic and UCLA professor Anahid Nersessian gathers and revisits these poems in Keats’s Odes: A Lover’s Discourse (University of Chicago Press; February 23, 2021). In response to each one, Nersessian offers an intimate, politically alert essay revealing why these canonical verses have so much to say to her, a woman of Iranian and Armenian descent, and to all of us in this time of collective heartbreak and political crisis. In Nersessian’s telling, Keats is at once an unflinching antagonist of modern life—of capitalism, of Empire, of the destruction of the planet—and a passionate idealist for whom every poem is a love poem.

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About Keats’s Odes

Keat's Odes
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Keats’s Odes is “a love story: between me and Keats, and not just Keats,” writes Nersessian. In a field where women in their 30s of non-Western European descent are rarely asked for their opinions on the classics, Nersessian draws on her personal experiences, including the xenophobic bullying she experienced as a girl, a sexual harassment cover-up at her elite NYC school, and the painful end of a romantic relationship, to celebrate Keats while grieving him and counting her own losses. Like Keats, Nersessian has a passionate awareness of human suffering, but also a willingness to explore the possibility that the world, at least, can still be saved.

There will be much written about Keats’s life and legacy on the 200th anniversary of his death. How does your lived experience as an American woman of Iranian and Armenian descent complicate your understanding of this canonical poet?

I had a very privileged upbringing in New York City, one of the most diverse places in the world, and yet, because of my background, I was constantly being told that the literature I loved didn’t belong to me—that I needed to be British or European, and preferably male, to be able to read and understand a poet like Keats. Many years later, as an academic, I still hear that message: people don’t expect someone with a name like mine to have things to say about poems written two hundred years ago by white men. Keats’s Odes grew out of my experience of being an outsider to the English literary canon—which, it turns out, Keats also was. His family was working-class, he didn’t attend university, and, as his critics never tired of pointing out, he couldn’t read Greek. Keats and I have a certain kinship that way, but it’s lopsided; his poetry will always know less about me than I know about it. The book doesn’t try to overcome that dynamic, but uses it to see Keats in a new, more contemporary light, in a way that makes him accessible to people, like me, who’ve been told they won’t get it or shouldn’t want to.

You write, “When I say this book (Keats’s Odes) is a love story, I mean it is about things that cannot be gotten over—like this world, and some of the people in it.” Can you speak to this sentiment?

Besides his poetry, Keats is famous for two things: dying young, and his love affair with a woman named Fanny Brawne. After he died, Brawne said she would never get over him, and by all accounts she never did. In the book, Keats becomes a symbol for the kinds of things that are impossible to get over and that, in some cases, we shouldn’t get over, like social injustice. Keats was well aware that the economic and political systems we live under make it very difficult to be a human being. He believed that a poet was someone who, by definition, just could not get over that—who couldn’t forget for a moment how much suffering there is in the world and how much of it is unnecessary. The poet, in other words, loves humanity so much that he finds its present state of existence totally intolerable. I’m not a poet but I agree: our lives should be a lot better than they are. On a much smaller scale, we’ve all lost people we can’t stop loving. The book is about that, too.

The book makes clear that Keats is more than just an object of scholarship for you. You’ve had a lifelong personal conversation with him about poetry and pain, activism and revolution, love and the sublime. At what point did you realize that Keats resonated so strongly with you, and how do you anticipate he’ll resonate with readers in the future?

It was love at first read. I stumbled across Keats’s letters to Fanny Brawne when I was about eleven years old, and even though they were way too sexy and emotionally intense for me to really understand, I felt an immediate connection to this person whose voice was so lively, so present, so warm and also so funny and self-critical. At this point I’ve spent so much time reading and thinking about Keats that he’s a part of who I am, and not separate from the other things I give my energy and attention to, whether that’s being a literary critic or political activism. Poetry, and poets, really can change your life, but rarely in a direct way; Marx loved Shakespeare, but reading Shakespeare won’t turn you into a revolutionary. I think people will always be drawn to works of art that believe in the value of human life, and that are passionately opposed to anything that makes life feel like it’s not worth living. Keats is one poet among many who reminds us how much more we deserve from the time we have. As long as we want more, Keats will be right there with us.

It’s always surprising to hear that giants of history or the arts died so young. Keats lived only into his mid-20s. How does this affect your understanding of his work?

One of the most impressive things about Keats is that his poetry got so good so fast. He started writing when he was about nineteen, and a lot of his early stuff is pretty terrible. When he died six years later, he had written not one, not two, but a solid handful of the most famous poems in the English language, with lines—“A thing of beauty is a joy forever” or “Beauty is truth, truth beauty”—that millions of people have heard somewhere even if they’ve never read them. The explanation, besides raw talent, is that he worked extremely hard at being a poet. As if he knew his days were limited, he wrote all the time, from short little songs to 4,000-line epics, and he was always upping the ante, trying to make each poem better than the last one and being careful never to repeat himself or fall into old habits. Of course, if he had lived longer, his poetry could have gotten really bad again! Maybe he only had ten or so great poems in him—which is a lot more than most people.

What role can/should poetry play in times like the present, brimming with fear and trauma and an utterly debased political world?

I don’t think anyone can say, with a straight face, that a poem can change the world. Nonetheless, poetry has always been a vital part of social movements. It’s a very special kind of language that, because it tends to be highly compressed—both emotionally and rhetorically—can pack a very strong punch into very few words. Sometimes those words are straight-up slogans: think of Percy Bysshe Shelley’s famous lines, “We are many, they are few,” which have been popping up at protests all over the world since the nineteenth century. But more often, I think, they function as reminders of the fact that we’re not the first people to object to this form of life, that the tradition of resistance is very old and very powerful, and that hope is very powerful too. Audre Lorde wrote that through poetry “we give name to those ideas which are—until the poem—nameless and formless, about to be birthed, but already felt.” If a poem can help us give shape to our desire for a more free, more just, and less grotesque form of existence, it’s done a good thing.

How do your scholarship of Keats and the Romantic poets color your view of modern poets? What are you most excited about in contemporary poetry?

What I respond to in the Romantics is what I respond to in any poem: I want something original, provocative, passionate, and not afraid to put itself in a compromising or difficult position. Keats is a great poet, but he can also be messy and a little embarrassing, and I’m excited by poetry that has that same kind of fearlessness. Of course, I’m partial to work that has a strong political perspective. When Tongo Eisen-Martin says, “My dear, if it is not a city, it is a prison./If it has a prison, it is a prison. Not a city,” that should stop you in your tracks. The same goes for the poetry of Sean Bonney or Raquel Salas Rivera. Some people might say this poetry couldn’t be further from Keats, and maybe that’s true—it’s not as if we should read contemporary poets because they remind us of white men who’ve been dead for centuries. The point is, does the poem make the world feel impossible in new ways? Does it force you to abandon an idea you had before, and challenge you to bring a new one into being? That’s what counts, ultimately.

About Anahid Nersessian

Anahid Nersessian was born and grew up in New York City. She received her Ph.D. from the University of Chicago, and has taught at Columbia University and UCLA. Her first book, Utopia, Limited: Romanticism and Adjustment was published by Harvard University Press in 2015, and her second book, The Calamity Form: On Poetry and Social Life, by the University of Chicago in 2020. She lives in Los Angeles, CA

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