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Exquisite Duet: Kate Braverman and Kim Chinquee

the-duetExquisite Duet (formerly Exquisite Quartet) is not so much a composition between two writers, but rather something created within the murky midlands of each author’s mind, yet set off by the same first sentence. Meg Tuite chooses two writers each month and gives them a first sentence to start with and a 250-word limit to finish an exquisitely mesmerizing story or poem. These duet-dueling writers will craft two completely different cosmos that have rotated, pitched, and blasted from the depths of their cerebral cortex to the twitching nerve endings of their digits onto dueling keyboards and separate screens until their sublime duet is prepared to see the light of an audience.


Even Streetlights Suffocate the Night

by Kate Braverman

Even streetlights suffocate the night.

It’s an autumn of insomnia and rogue forests
rising from golden rod and thorny heather.
A gash of maples, a welt in wild grasses.
And locusts with teethy leaves
like lips ripped by kisses

The wind is ashy from mistakes.
Flirtations, the dangerous caresses
and unmaskings with not camouflage enough
for all the carcasses and orphans.
Then the shabby poplar guitars and coffins
tangled in dried reeds like wire.

Defoliated limbs sway nude and obscene
scraped thin as deserters, informers, snitches.
They will rat you out.
November is a spasm of thunder—
a tiny birth the size of a violet’s mouth.
It’s the cusp of disaster. Frost makes it worse.

Love is an aberration.
It’s infectious like St. Vitus dance
and rashes that turn your limbs to stumps.
Afternoon is tea in porcelain.
Aunt Ruth died for my inheritance.
Cancer. Insanity. A bad divorce or two.

I call the plates festive—
holiday trays, aperitifs and bourbon
with Daddy in the vast aubergine corridors
of fall with our bridges and mirrors
our biographies and notorious ports
brazen with neon, cinnamon and cloves.

Meanwhile old women eat alone and die
with their cherished china cups
hand-painted roses in pink rows
on the edge where their lip goes.
Drowned women from ferries float
blue as monk’s hood and larkspur.

This is the residue, what leapt
from barges and slid from riverbanks.
The Ganges, Genesee, Thames.
They were cutting mangoes by moonlight,
waiting for the lilac to bud. Then suddenly
the sliced wrist, blood like a spigot.

 

She Was

by Kim Chinquee 

Even the streetlights suffocate the night, Ellen says to her dog’s dead body as she drives down the road. It is ten below, the streets so caked with snow that the movement of the tires make creaking noises as they move over them. Ellen turns the radio up. Something horn and flute. Even the snowplows suffocate the night, she says, looking at the plow ahead of her, with its big wide rump, knowing the enormous mouth on the front of it. Her dog was twelve years old. Her dog was a Chihuahua. Her dog weighed seven pounds. Ellen turns right, to a street that really isn’t plowed well. The road is narrow, with cars parked along one side of it. Even my headlights suffocate the night, Ellen says to her Chihuahua. Ellen’s Chihuahua’s name was Elle. Ellen has been with Elle for seven years. Ellen takes a left, to a busier street, passing a 711, then a Target, where she used to buy a lot of dog treats. Where she bought a leash and then a dog bed.  Shirts and sweaters, jackets that Elle always tried to squirm her way out of. Ellen looks at the bag on the passenger’s side. The bag is black. She put the body in it. Ellen found the body on the dog bed. She’d told Elle the night before, “Get out of my bed.” She told Elle she needed sleep.  “Get out,” she had said, like her father used to. Like her mother and her sister and her husband who never really was a husband and then became an ex. When Ellen scolded Elle, Elle would duck her head, like Ellen used to until she didn’t anymore. Elle would not get down until Ellen picked her up and moved her. Ellen got her from a rescue. Elle’s last owner died. Now Ellen drives in circles. At a red, she finally stops. She picked up Elle’s body when she found it. She smelled it, hugged it, kissed. She held her dog. She cradled it, and rocked.


 

ABOUT THE AUTHORS

Kate Braverman is a poet and experimental writer of a singular and ruthless breed. She is author of four books of poetry, the novels: Lithium for Medea, Palm Latitudes, Wonders of the West, and The Incantation of Frida K. Her Graywolf Prize for Creative Non-Fiction award winning memoir, Frantic Transmissions to and from Los Angeles: An Accidental Memoir was published in Feb. 2006. She taught creative writing for 20 years at UCLA and privately for 9 years. Some of the awards she has received are: Best American Short Story Prize, O. Henry Award, Raymond Carver Award, Pushcart Prize, Mississippi Review Prize and a Christopher Isherwood Foundation Fellowship for lifetime recognition of achievement.

Kim Chinquee is the author of the collections: PRETTY, PISTOL, and OH BABY.  Her website is www.kimchinquee.com


Let Me See It by James Magruder (reviewed by MikeTager)

Let Me See It

Let Me See It

James Magruder

Triquarterly Books

208 pp.

$18.95 paperback

ISBN: 0810152444

 

 


Let Me See It, author James Magruder’s novel of linked short stories, might be the closest thing to actually experiencing the 70s and 80s as a burgeoning young gay man without actually having lived it. The experiences within these tales burst with honesty, humor and a frank exploration of love, sexuality and mortality. But beyond that, Let Me See It is not limited to any particular demographic; everyone makes terrible decisions in love and friendship and everyone knows death and disappointment. Coming of age – learning from those awful, misguided decisions – is universal and enjoying another’s ascent to adulthood can be a delightful experience for readers.

Let Me See It follows two cousins, Tom and Elliott, as they grow and learn in parallel and contrasting directions (while rarely meeting). From the innocence of their youth in the 70s, through their not-as-jaded-as-they-think in the 80s and into the 90s, the narratives span a period that is at times filled with joie de vivre and schadenfreude, deep empathy and deep cynicism and a clear-eyed narrative, all in equal measure. “Elliott Biddler’s Vie Boheme,” a romp through Paris and men of dubious character, is warm-hearted and amusing  –  quite a contrast to “You’ve Really Learned How,” wherein Elliott learns a bit more than he bargained for from an older man with a predilection for candlesticks and a cavalier disregard for the word “no.”

Complementing themes run throughout Let Me See It’s tales. Tom and Elliott aren’t flip sides of the same coin, though they may appear that way at times. The novel, set during the plague years of HIV and AIDS, ends as one might expect it to for one of the protagonists, but it isn’t so much meant as a how-not-to guide. These stories are scripted, but their truths are not. Looking back at this era, it’s easy enough to condemn and lecture. “Why weren’t you more careful,” one might say while wagging a finger. It’s to the novel’s strength that such a sentiment isn’t even implied. Let Me See It could happen to anyone.

Some readers may long for a more obvious connection between the stories, until Tom and Elliott meet up again in the 90s. It’s a fair wish. A bit more direct commentary might have served the stories (and the readers) in good stead. What might Tom learn from Elliott and vice versa? And in turn, what might we learn from their shared growth? We can hazard a guess, even if the answer isn’t directly given.

Where the book really shines is in Magruder’s command of the inner worlds of Tom and Elliott. They are distinctly separate, actualized men. They may share terrible taste in men, but their tastes are indisputably their own.  They live and breathe while we read and it makes us wonder: is this pure fiction? Are some of Tom and Elliott’s stories cribbed from an undoubtedly fascinating life? Does it matter if the stories are pure fiction if the stories they tell are true? Probably (definitely) not.

Regardless of Let Me See It’s real-life basis, it remains an uncommonly engaging read. There aren’t enough books that make the reader stop, mark their place and stare up at the ceiling to think. Let Me See It is one of them.

 

Note: The author of this review has taken a class with James Magruder and regularly encounters him in the Baltimore Lit scene. He does, however, mean every word.


 

Mike Tager

 


Six poems by Ruth Elizabeth Morris

 

Picture My Father As A Young Man:

Handsome, no failed marriages beneath his belt. In the summer,
he rides a bicycle from Zanesville, Ohio to a farm in Pennsylvania

and the wheels churn like windmills against the sky. Towns slip
in and out of focus in a kaleidoscope of unchained cloud.

At night, he dreams he rides alongside Mary Pickford
and F. Scott and asks, How far to Wyeth’s house?

When my father tells me this story, he swears the next day
he found himself lost in Chadds Ford, paintbrushes for hands.

Decades later, in the National Gallery, my father and I stand
in a room full of windows that are not windows—Wyeth’s

figureless portraits, exits painted on canvas. My father
buys a print of Wind from the Sea and my sister frowns.

She asks why he would buy a painting without people in it.
He doesn’t answer but holds it close, and on the Metro home

he sits alone, takes a window seat. In another life, my father
might tell me how Wyeth reaches through the frame

to hold his body up while he stares through windows
instead of killing himself. In that life, a braver version of myself

might tell my father the sadness he has passed to his daughters
pools dark in our bellies and threatens to bury us in the yard.

 

After the Shootings in Santa Barbara

I keep looking behind myself

in the airport bar. I drink alone,
shirt buttoned to my neck

so I won’t have to tell anyone no.
Men say I should be softer, more ghosting,

a raindrop rivered in window-glass—
They want me to open my body up

to prying hands and say thank you
as they reach inside.

*

Where the river crooks
like an elbow, water calms.

A water skipper’s walk is holy, her
thin legs straddling air over the surface

as if she is perched on an unseen saddle,
poised at the place where ripple begins.

Through the reeds, a crane wears
my fish-hooked neck, lowering her face

to look behind herself before drinking.

 

Three Daughters

1.

From inside the house, through pupil-dark shutters agape as his mouth, our father sees my
youngest sister on the roof. She poses with the weather vane. At its apex, an iron cow

jumps over a crescent moon still damp with monsoon haze. The rain is near, so the Bull City
air lifts summer dirt from the ground as easily as blowing an eyelash off the tip of a finger.

Like an egret, my sister hooks one foot below the cow-belly and raises the other, demi
pointe, to support the full weight of her body stretching toward the sky. Beneath her pose,

concrete steps lead to the cellar. She crooks her neck to stare at our father through a
feathering of curls: unspoken challenge. Thunder claps. Her arms pinwheel and the sky

blooms sunflower-bright.

2.

December arrives like a boot at the door and brings with it a familiar cold. I hike the Eno
with my father until we reach a swimming hole where the water has started to lick rime

into the riverbank. There, a star-bellied weaver fights to gain traction on the ice.
We watch the spider struggle until, in pity, my father uses a fallen leaf to scoop her up

and place her in front of her web. She hesitates, legs clicking against legs, then scuttles
down the bank and back to where she began. My father reaches for another leaf—

guides the spider back to her web before we go. On the walk home, everything sounds
like someone is holding my head underwater and I feel chicken-wrung,

more naked than the trees.

3.

Spring: my middle sister makes gnocchi for our father’s birthday. Long fingers coil flour,
potato, yolk to make the dough. When he gets home, she will be the one to tell him

our youngest sister is on the roof again. He’ll fold himself as small as he can be and crawl
through the window to hold her, let her drum pearl-knuckled fists against his chest

until the storm inside her calms. He’ll gather her body, light as a paper crane, and carry her
inside to bed. After, downstairs at the table, I’ll hand him a glass of wine

the color of the blood we share and when he drinks it, for a moment, I will feel like I am
looking in a mirror. We, the quieter sisters,

reach for his hands.

 

Phoenix

My mother’s city sprawls like thunder
beneath the smog-pinked sky:
a ruddy hand, palm to God, fingers radiating
out to unclaimed desert in every direction.

I count my stepfather’s pills for the week
to give my mother a break. I take coffee
from the cupboard and drink out of a mug
with her name etched in the clay.

This house is not mine anymore.
It makes my body feel small, until there is
nothing left of me here but a picture
in the hall from my childhood:

my younger self, peeking from behind
my mother’s legs on her wedding day
to smile at her new husband, one palm
on her knee, one palm reaching for his face.

To keep busy while they sleep, I clean
all traces of myself from the kitchen.
The cat wails. I take out the trash, inhale
damp clay through a nose like my father’s.

Fingers flush Navajo blue, swollen
as the Colorado between monsoons.
Near the gate, a grackle taps at the place
where sidewalk slopes into red earth.

When her beak lodges, caught below
the concrete lip, she uses her claws
to pull it free in a scrubbing
of feathers and blood.
                                     In the morning,

I’ll sleep on the plane back to Maryland.
My partner will ask how my mother is doing,
which isn’t well, which is a story
we are trying not to tell, and I’ll think about

a dream I sometimes I have, where I take off
my hands and bury them in my mother’s backyard—
some gruesome evidence of my homecoming
as keloidal bumps in the clay.

 

To the Stargazer, as She Dresses for Bed—

You tell me again, to explain why you cover your body up:

For years, you’ve lifted your eyes to the same cosmic blueprint your father
could see above his post in Sarajevo, looking for evidence to reject
the parts of you that whisper, You are flesh. You are ruined. You are full
of light that will someday go dark. This is the animal you can’t escape:

When you were sixteen, your father returned from Bosnia wrecked
by guilt over his absence. The day you argued and he hurled himself
into your truck-bed as you tried to leave, kicking the back window
into your shoulders, you told him you wished he were still overseas.
You didn’t stay to hear his reply. You ran to your bedroom and hid
until it was dark enough to see the constellation of your birth. Cancer,
the crab, watched your father sweeping up the glass you left behind.

                                                                          As she watched you too,
you dressed for bed, separating your skin from starlight. You pulled
your nightshirt over your head and there, where the light couldn’t reach,
you heard a low hum, like white noise slicked at the edges of a still
unfolding universe shaped by everything humans have sent away.
The stars that form Cancer’s claws were the dimmest pinpricks
of failing light, ready to flicker out one by one.

Reflected in night sky, your question:
                                                             what does being human sound like?

When you woke, the truck was waiting in the driveway and your father
was at the sink, throwing open the curtains on the kitchen window.

 

Cooking Goat Curry in Silver Spring, Maryland

It all sounds like the beginning of a joke
with an uncomfortable punchline: two white lesbians
try to braise a goat shoulder.

We’ve made a game out of cooking foreign cuisines
together. How typical, that you think braising
a goat is exotic, our neighbors observe rightly.

We gather cumin, turmeric, and coriander
with small hands. Rub fingers below heavy bone,
work yogurt into the caustic joint, the swarthy muscle.

It cost us nothing, a gift from an enthusiastic butcher.
We don’t shoot the shit, as unfamiliar meat
thaws and the cat yowls beneath the table.

Instead, we drink wine while the flesh softens
and wonder: was this goat grass-fed? Castrated?
Are we enlightened, in our knowing the body’s history?


Ruth Elizabeth Morris is an M.F.A candidate and English lecturer at the University of Maryland. Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in [PANK]Cargoes, and the Album. She is currently the Assistant Editor for apt. literary journal.


Find Me, by Laura van den Berg (Reviewed by Mike Tager)

Find MeFind Me

Laura van den Berg

Farrar, Straus and Giroux

288 pp.

$26.00 hardback

ISBN: 0374154716

 

 

 


 

What happens when the world changes? What happens when it dents – but doesn’t break – and comes to resemble your inner world? Laura van den Berg’s impressive first novel, Find Me, seeks to answer those questions not through extensive action, but in the unfolding and matching of a stunted soul who learns to make choices.

Post-apocalyptic fiction has exploredthe human condition for a long time (utopias are somehow less interesting), and van den Berg’s world resembles them, if only topographically. Unexplained deadly virus? Check. Mysterious hospital and suspicious doctors? Check and check. Love interests who may or may not succumb to apocalyptia? Check. All the ingredients are there, but that’s where similarities end. Find Me is not cast in the same mold as other PA fiction; there is little action and no grand, obvious villain. Instead, the story unfolds slowly through the protagonist’s inaction and quiet, beautiful flashback.

Van den Berg knows her way around a sentence, contemplation and subtle philosophy. It’s through these lyrical passages that the point of this story comes about. What does it take to change and grow? Does biology dictate who we are? Does the world reflect itself onto us? Is it the horrors that were inflicted upon us?

While the first act sets the stage, establishes the character and the tone, it’s the second act where the action gets underway and Find Me explores these questions – and others – through the quintessential American voyage: the road trip, a shout-out to the exemplars that have gone before (from King’s The Stand to McCarthy’s The Road). How else to explore the disaster’s effect on America and how it reflects inside oneself?

There are alternatingly amusing and disturbing mini-adventures during this road trip, notably one featuring drug-induced vision quests and backwoods squatters. That these deeply idiosyncratic characters exist, bowling in the attic and vision-questing in basement tunnels, harkens back to van den Berg’s skill with prose. In another’s hands, these plot points might seem implausible, but we trust van den Berg to guide. She does not disappoint.

Readers expecting an action or horror oriented novel instead of a deliberate, thoughtful, beautifully written character study will likely be disappointed. Find Me resembles van den Berg’s story collections The Isle of Youth and What the World Will Look Like When All the Water Leaves Us. There are plots, yes, there is action, but it’s about what’s under the surface, how we change and resemble the world around us. Find Me is about family, found or made, born or borrowed.


 

Mike Tager 


That’s When the Knives Come Down, by Dolan Morgan (Reviewed by Ashley Begley)

Dolan

 

That’s When the Knives Come Down

Dolan Morgan

Aforementioned Productions

226 pp.

$16.50 paperback

ISBN: B0194114300807A56DAE

 

 


 

Dolan Morgan’s collection of stories, That’s When the Knives Come Down, is about nothing. If you don’t believe me, just take a gander at the dedication page. Staring back at you are two words: “For nothing.” And isn’t he right? Haven’t our lives become monotonous, filled with duties to which we are expected to adhere? One character aptly laments, “We don’t know what’s true. I can’t trust anyone. I don’t remember if I had family or even who I was before I woke up here, chasing a deadline” (108). With his wry tone, Morgan exposes the endemic that has snuck up on us—paperwork, debt, insurance, loans—and shows us just what we are missing.

Not many people admit to feeling empty, to feeling like there is something more out there. Morgan not only writes about it, he tells us straight. In “Plunge Headlong into the Abyss with Guns Blazing and Legs Tangled,” Morgan writes, “And so it was that Wilson Bettertone became a security guard of the endless void inside all of us and all around us— though admittedly concentrated most densely here at his post in the fields of Tandahone, Montana” (52). The story continues with this gaping, raw, physical manifestation of the despair that suffocates everyone—children fall in, men attempt suicide. Yet, Morgan maintains a humorous viewpoint which is perhaps the best way to deal with such a topic that sends thousands of people to therapy on a daily basis. Well, here. Let me just show you…

“Soon afterward, Mr. Fuller, an unmarried fourth grade teacher at the elementary school, woke up one morning missing a leg—no explanation. ‘It’s not there anymore,’ Chief Rickman made clear, ‘and that’s what’s most important here really if you follow a certain train of thought.’ There was no sign of forced entry and no disturbance in the house other than the missing leg. ‘Sometimes,’ the Chief went on to say, ‘people steal limbs. You don’t hear about it so much because you wouldn’t really believe it if you did. I mean, do you believe it right now? When I’m telling you at this moment? Here at this time? I know I don’t. It’s ridiculous. But still it’s true.’ After three weeks, the leg showed up in Mr. Fuller’s mailbox, stuffed in haphazardly. Hanging around the ankle was a note that read: ‘Sorry, wrong leg.’ It was only two days later that his other leg was stolen just before breakfast” (57).

Some stories seem bizarre and out of this world. I’m looking at you, “How to Have Sex on Other Planets.” Some stories make no sense, such as “Cells,” where whole towns float in the air, citizens holding weapons to each other’s throats, trying to get what they want. Morgan asks us to bear with him, to believe even if we can’t understand. It is only after letting the stories seep into our bodies that we begin to grasp what Morgan is saying. And we realize that we want it; we want time that has been stolen from us. We want space to love and hate and feel. “The first night, we stand under the ceiling fan and stare across the expanse of floorboard, hold hands and laugh, run through the rooms and hide in the darkness amidst our own echo…It’s fantastic and we are in love… [We] fall asleep heaped in each other’s arms—in the corner, a doorway, a windowsill” (42).

The stories that started out as nothing have suddenly turned into everything. Morgan is desperately honest, portraying “our longing to believe in something just out of reach, something waiting for us around corners and over hills … something to shake off the feeling that this is it” (94). And we do believe him because we don’t want to watch as our lives drift by. We want more. So don’t wait. Don’t let yourself get away. Start the chase—it will be terrifying, but oh so worth it.


Ashley Begley

 


Interview: Sheila R. Lamb (Virtual Book Tour)

Banner

Sheila Lamb received an MFA in Creative Writing from Queens University of Charlotte and an M.Ed. in Curriculum and Instruction from George Mason University. Her stories have earned Pushcart and storySouth Million Writers Award nominations. She’s also the journal editor for Santa Fe Writers Project. Sheila has traveled throughout Ireland and participated in the Achill Archaeology Field School. She loves Irish history, family genealogy, and is easily distracted by primary source documents. She lives, teaches, and writes in the mountains of Virginia. Once a Goddess is the first book in the Brigid trilogy. Sheila’s work previously appeared in JMWW, so we welcome her back!

Sheila Lamb

Sheila Lamb

Once A Goddess is described as “set in a time when myths were reality.” Can you tell me a bit about what that means?

Myths, I believe, were based on things that happened before written records. Stories were told orally and, like in the game of telephone, events changed, became exaggerated, over time. Some part of the myth is based in truth. For example, I believe there was a king named Dagda. There was a woman named Brigid.

Even though there are characteristics of fantasy, Once A Goddess seemed more focused on plot and characters than magic. How do you balance story and fantasy elements?

I began this trilogy many years ago, with the intent of researching St. Patrick’s story. This was way before I decided to write a novel. I was toying with a possible Irish history-related thesis and deciding whether to go to grad school for Irish studies. I wanted to see what was out there, what was plausible.

I was really curious how Ireland converted from paganism to Christianity, relatively peacefully. St. Patrick was kidnapped from Britain and forced into slavery. Later, he escapes, becomes a priest, and then returns to Ireland. It’s an amazing story and even more amazing how he was accepted by the Irish people. Part of the acceptance, I believe, was from his connection to Brigid. I found many legends and Christian hagiographies with interactions between Brigid and Patrick (all of this makes up the second book in the trilogy, Fiery Arrow).

I began to research Brigid, too, and found her pagan and druid background. Enter the fantasy elements. It seems that any time a druid is thrown into the mix, the story is considered “fantasy” though I argue that it’s not. If druids believed in past lives or ritual magic, etc. is that fantasy or is it reality? It’s their reality, whether you or I believe it or not, correct?  Do we place magical happenings of other religions into a fantasy category?

This research led to Brigid and the Tuatha de Danann. The very first pages I ever wrote (handwritten, yellow legal pad) was her background in Chapter 2 of Once A Goddess.  I treated the myths as I would historical record. I felt I was writing a novel based on that past, stayed true to some of the major elements, fictionalized where a story needed to be told. The Tuatha de Danann were, according to myth, shape shifters of some sort. They controlled the weather, for example, but they also fought bloody battles.

Your publication history includes Monkeybicycle, New Lit Salon Press, and Conclave. What made you decide to write a trilogy that most would describe as fantasy?

The Brigid trilogy came first. I’ve been working on it for over ten years, if you count the research and reading, before I set pen to paper (I always start with pen and ink). At first, I was curious about Brigid. Who was she? Was there more than one Brigid? What was her role in Christian and pre-Christian history? It wasn’t my intention for it to be a fantasy. It turned out that way because of the Tuatha de Danann myths. I entered a realm of Celtic legends that were terrific to read and then the characters, Brigid especially, began to speak.

How is it different seeking publication for fantasy pieces vs. non-genre writing? Or is it?

It’s all about finding the right home for the piece. I also edit the Santa Fe Writers Project Quarterly (new! we’re moving to the quarter system under new exec editor Kyle Semmel) and I read lots of submissions. Many are good but they aren’t right for the journal. I’ve read romance pieces or science fiction, and it just doesn’t fit. I always describe the publishing process like dating. It’s very subjective. A story clicks or it doesn’t.

There are many small publishers, literary presses…going back to that genre label. I knew Once a Goddess wasn’t a fit with many literary publications. So, I guess this is where genre labels do help? Perhaps its more helpful if we could define “literary fiction?” Is it elevated language? Contemporary setting? Character focused? Whatever the label is, it doesn’t fall into the literary category. As an aside, in one historical fiction online critique group I was in, years ago, pre-MFA, I was told that my draft of Once a Goddess was “too literary.” :-) Go figure.

Did your MFA program at Queens University of Charlotte ever discuss genre writing? Were the instructors and students welcoming of genre writing?

Queens was a literary focus. In fact, I had good conversation with Fred Leebron, co-director of the program. He warned me that if I wanted to write solely genre fiction that this may not be the place for me. But when I applied to MFA programs, I made it clear that while I am most drawn to historical fiction, I wanted to expand my writing, push myself beyond my current boundaries. I wanted to take two years and focus on literary fiction. Fred and I talked about this and Queens turned out to be the right decision for me.

Do you feel that labeling books certain genres helps or distracts readers from finding the kind of books they enjoy?

Overall, I think its distracting though it may be more of an issue for writers rather than readers. No one wants to be defined or labeled. However, when we walk into a bookstore (remember those?), we want to find the historical fiction or science fiction or non-fiction sections rather easily. When we scroll through online bookstore, we tend to look under certain labels – literary, paranormal, historical.

On the flip side, I’ve always had problems finding Morgan Llywelyn books because they are scattered throughout science fiction/fantasy (why are those two paired together?) or historical fiction or general fiction. Red Branch, Bard, and Druids have druidic/Celtic elements, I suppose, though her more recent works, 1921, 1972 are straight historical.

The same is true for Diana Gabaldon books. She writes, in my opinion, historical fiction but because the Outlander series has the time travel element, it’s sometimes thrown into fantasy. She won the Quill Award for A Breath of Snow and Ashes, which is for science fiction/fantasy, and horror.

I just looked up The Time Traveler’s Wife, another one of my favorites. Literature & Fiction/Women’s Fiction/Domestic Life. Really? The guy is time traveling all over the place.

In my writing, I was very much influenced by Mary Sojourner. She writes both fiction and nonfiction and taught writing workshops out in Flagstaff, Arizona (where I lived for five years). It was in one of her workshops that I wrote the first Patrick and Brigid confrontation scene (a scene now about halfway through book two, Fiery Arrow).

Mary writes about the southwest, environment essays, but she’s also written one of my favorite novels, Going Through Ghosts. It’s paranormal/mystery (the main character works with the ghost of a murder victim to solve the crime — label that one!). More importantly, I think Mary’s work has shown me that many authors write broadly and it’s okay to read broadly.

For example, currently on my nightstand I have Kyle Minor’s Praying Drunk, Diana Gabaldon’s An Echo in the Bone, Ian McEwan’s Atonement, and Roxane Gay’s An Untamed State.

If a book club were to pick Once A Goddess, what kinds of conversations do you think they would have?

I hope that they would talk about the problems Brigid faces. Was her family right in arranging her marriage to Bres? What choices did she have? How does Bres play as a character? Can we sympathize with his situation? How does Eiru’s story play into the tribe’s hypocrisy? Is there such thing as soul mates? What’s the difference between the Irish anam cara and perhaps our modern, romantic view of soul mate?


Extended Deadline (and new contest judge) for The Claudia Emerson Poetry Chapbook Award

SandraWe are honored to announce that our new judge for the second annual jmww Poetry Chapbook Contest is Sandra Beasley. Claudia Emerson, our prior judge, remains in our thoughts and hearts, and so in tribute to Claudia’s spirit and to her importance as a mentor to so many, with permission of her husband, we are renaming the contest The Claudia Emerson Poetry Chapbook Award. We are deeply touched to be able to offer this remembrance to a poet and woman who has meant so much.

The final deadline for contest submissions is now February 15th. If you have already submitted a chapbook through Submittable, and wish to send a revised version before the deadline, please send it to jmwwpoetry@gmail.com. All new submissions will only be accepted through our Submittable site, where submission instructions can be found, as well.

ABOUT OUR JUDGE

Sandra Beasley is the author of three poetry collections: Count the Waves, forthcoming in 2015 from W. W. Norton; I Was the Jukebox, winner of the Barnard Women Poets Prize; and Theories of Falling, winner of the New Issues Poetry Prize. Honors for her work include a 2015 NEA Literature Fellowship, the Center for Book Arts Chapbook Prize, and two DCCAH Artist Fellowships. Her most recent book is the memoir Don’t Kill the Birthday Girl: Tales from an Allergic Life. She lives in Washington, D.C., and is on the faculty of the low-residency MFA program at the University of Tampa.


Exquisite Duet: Kaite Hillenbrand and Ken Robidoux

the-duetExquisite Duet (formerly Exquisite Quartet) is not so much a composition between two writers, but rather something created within the murky midlands of each author’s mind, yet set off by the same first sentence. Meg Tuite chooses two writers each month and gives them a first sentence to start with and a 250-word limit to finish an exquisitely mesmerizing story or poem. These duet-dueling writers will craft two completely different cosmos that have rotated, pitched, and blasted from the depths of their cerebral cortex to the twitching nerve endings of their digits onto dueling keyboards and separate screens until their sublime duet is prepared to see the light of an audience.


 

 “stragglers edge in on either side of my joy”

by Ken Robidoux

 

On the job and in demand, he’s the guy
who paints instructional placards at sites of interest
mostly in and around the greater continental US.

Scratched deep into one of Christo
& Jean-Claude’s Gates running
along Wagoner Cove, while doing
touch-up work on a GAZEBO
sign, he found it, as he had in ’91 on the Maestro
Two’s westernmost umbrella, and again
stenciled in Sharpie on the swing-set at Graceland,
which an English Professor once told him, over
hot lemon whiskeys, was a tired old trope.

Scrawled onto page six of a Barrett-Jackson
auto auction program found under foot: McCormick-
Stillman Railroad Park, Scottsdale, AZ.
And again, gouged into the sidewall of car three, Montezuma’s
Revenge: Knott’s Berry Farm. Buena Park, CA.
Niagara Falls: the Canadian Side on the overlook
handrail. Space Needle: Seattle, WA, on a MEN’s
room stall wall:

“stragglers edge in on either side of my joy”

It was in Arches at North Window near Moab,
through which Turret Arch is magnificent at dusk,
when the tag moved, when it changed.
The rusty-red megalith was left pristine
but under the space where his sign slid,
under the protective Plexiglas covering
where he was to install his completed project,
on a spot no one but him would ever see:

“stragglers edge in on either side of my joy…
…and still I wait for you.”

 

Stragglers Edge Inn

By Kaite Hillenbrand

 

On either side of my joy you
set and strike, hawk-eye and caulk,
safe and bay the world for us,
alone together. We punks,
ex-pats, bunker by the lake,
wide-eyed, listening: helpless,
helpless, helpless. The quetzal
is caged. The book is closed.
Montani semper liberi is a flawed
memory of a dead language.
Under mountain shade,
we dig holes for marigolds.
We slow-roast marshmallows
in the yard, firelight licking our faces.
Here in the Milky Way
wrapped around each other,
we don’t feel too small,
ourselves not even a star.
Frogs honk incessantly
like dried rubber bicycle horns.
Come morning, a Carolina wren
loads moss into the porch birdhouse.
We wait for the day mama and papa wren
dive-bomb a few chipmunks,
then sing the coaxing song
to their feathered chicks, as you
to me to you, come fly. I will keep you
safe always. The wind for us
is a fulfilled wish. It’s okay. Let go.


ABOUT THE AUTHORS

Ken Robidoux is the Publisher and founding Editor-in-Chief of Connotation Press. He is currently working in preproduction as the producer and director of a new internet food and music show focusing on the Appalachian region of the US, and teaching literature in West Virginia. He lives to make Kaite, Hannah, and Lily smile, and he likes flowers, sunsets, and girls who aren’t afraid to cry.

Kaite Hillenbrand has been with Connotation Press since before it launched, and she is honored to have served as its Poetry Editor for most of the journal’s existence. She has an MA in Literature, an MFA in Poetry, and a JD. She is a labor and employment lawyer at Steptoe & Johnson PLLC. Her two girls, who are two of the most amazing girls in the universe, are living in California. She lives in a house by a lake with her two boys: a crazy anarchy bunny named Sam and her true love and fiancé, Ken. Soon, their two girls will visit. Hooray!


Exquisite Duet: Mia Avramut and Barry Graham

the-duetExquisite Duet (formerly Exquisite Quartet) is not so much a composition between two writers, but rather something created within the murky midlands of each author’s mind, yet set off by the same first sentence. Meg Tuite chooses two writers each month and gives them a first sentence to start with and a 250-word limit to finish an exquisitely mesmerizing story or poem. These duet-dueling writers will craft two completely different cosmos that have rotated, pitched, and blasted from the depths of their cerebral cortex to the twitching nerve endings of their digits onto dueling keyboards and separate screens until their sublime duet is prepared to see the light of an audience.


 

From the sky

by Mia Avramut 

 

We ignored whole acres of our silence,

whole fields, whole mountains and valleys.

There came the words, shattered rock avalanche,

and there came the rivers.

Geography unraveled at ends.

 

Yet you were not lost.

 

Waves that tongue tectonic lake lips

and palms of trees feeding shadows

to the mirror’s edge, once a glacier.

 

Voice of the newly-minted shaman

as he tells of the great mask of fire

and last summer butterflies quicken.

 

Snake tongue veins forked in two syllables

thunder syllables against lightning syllables

to cleave open oblivion geodes.

 

Amber tears from a bustling beehive

of primordial clouds born at sunset.

Then salt-drizzle kisses turned trammels for blood.

 

The boreal blue of frost grass,

the slate of remembrance,

the bronze of cormorant feathers,

and molten meteor night crater,

all trapped in an iris.

 

The kind of will that fills light when it

encounters the darkness at the end of the tunnel

and yields to the prism in raindrops

to cry seven colors.

 

All the crystalline rocks we tossed over our shoulders,

and they became many men, many women.

All that we spoke, and existed.

 

Verily ↼ my freed echo shouts

as we stroll the new landscape↽

this man is an advertisement

for the sky.

 

Untitled

by Barry Graham

We ignored whole acres of our silence knowing we lacked the seeds to fill them. We feigned love until harvest, when more substantial proof was required to keep the fraud in motion. Our fields lie barren. Our fields lie. Our. Lie. We ignored our wasteland, our empty silos, the passing of entire seasons until the endless mudslide forced us into collapse. Less sudden though, more tectonic. More in the way volcanoes erupt. Killing everyone it could have protected if only nature was a little kinder. More in the way bad seeds refuse germination. More in the way our silence grew. Always more. Until nothing was left but us. Until nothing was left.

 


 

ABOUT THE AUTHORS

Mia Avramut is a Romanian-American writer and artist who worked in laboratories and autopsy rooms from Pittsburgh to San Francisco. Her poetry and prose have recently appeared in Prick of the SpindleThrice FictionConclave: a Journal of CharacterEscape into LifeSanta Fe Literary ReviewPetrichor MachinePaper Nautilus, and several anthologies. She lives in Essen, Germany.

Barry Graham is a simple man, who writes about simple things, very simply. Look for him online at barrygfunk.blogspot.com


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