Wednesday, December 18, 2013

New Story in Front Porch Journal + Reviews of X Marks The Dress

In the latest issue of Front Porch Journal, Kelly Magee and I have a collaborative short story titled With Snakes. It begins and ends as a love story, but the middle is serpentine, and sounds like S.
photo: NPR
I'm grateful for two smart, thoughtful reviews of X Marks The Dress: A Registrymy poetry collaboration co-written with Kristina Marie Darling. The first review, up at The Collagist by Laura Madeline Wiseman, focuses on the letter X and all it stands for in our collection. The second review, up at Front Porch Journal by Laura Drell, emphasizes our critique of ceremony and tradition. Thanks to both reviewers for reading so carefully and setting our work in a larger cultural context.

New Story in Hayden's Ferry Review!

Kelly Magee and I have a new collaborative short story, "With Animal," in Hayden's Ferry Review issue #53, Fall/Winter 2013. It's the title story to our forthcoming short story collection, and it's one of my favorites. Enjoy!

Monday, November 11, 2013

New Story @ Sundog Lit!

There's a stellar new issue of Sundog Lit and I'm delighted to be included! Kelly Magee and I co-wrote "With Jellyfish," part of our magical realist story collection With Animal, forthcoming from Black Lawrence Press in 2015. We hope you like it! If you teach, take note that we're happy to create reading guides, correspond with students, or anything else you can think of. In fact, I was just persuaded by my friend and fellow fiction writer Tanya Perkins to create YouTube videos for her class at Indiana University East. Here I am talking about the making of Index of Placebo Effects: Part One, Part Two, Part Three.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Friends of Woodland Park Zoo Elephants

Seattle can do better than this: the Woodland Park Zoo's elephants are suffering. Science, compassion, and common sense obligate us to release these amazing creatures to a sanctuary. It's difficult to face this sadness, but please take the time to view the materials on the website of the Friends of Woodland Park Zoo Elephants. This includes a heartbreaking video of Watoto pacing in solitary confinement. 

Only by speaking in defense of animals will human cruelty toward animals ever change. There are so many options for action. Anything you can do is helpful; take even the smallest step toward change and you will have an impact. Don't be overwhelmed; single out one or two actions that you can do today.
Elephant Sanctuary: Hohenwald Tennessee
A fantastic example of this sort of small step activism is the Justice for Joseph movement that's been created around the case of Joseph, a German Shepherd found starving and neglected, tied to a tree for four years in someone's backyard in Ohio. There's a wonderful community that has formed on Facebook to rally around Joseph's recovery; happily, this community has expanded to call for justice for the many other abused and neglected dogs who deserve rescue and loving homes. It's great to read posts by people who learned about Joseph and decided to take action -- adopting a dog from a shelter, donating money or time, writing letters, making phone calls, making art. Action is one alternative to depression and every action counts in this instance.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

New Short Fiction @ Word Riot

Kelly Magee and I have a short story up on Word Riot. It's titled "With Cat," but don't think cute, think claws. We had so much fun writing our first book together that we're working on a second short story collection, tentatively titled Your Sick
Also, today I'm giving a two hour lecture on the history of 20th/21st century American feminism and the lesbian sex wars. I'm very excited. Also, I've been thinking about shunning as a form of violence, particularly among women. It seems to me that there are some very specific ways that women bully other women, and shunning/exclusion/ostracism is a common kind of casual violence, usually justified by passing public judgement, which can also be a form of violence. I know there's lots of research on this, and I'm glad someone is finally paying attention to the particular ways that women bully women (or girls bully girls). Thinking about the history of feminism, I wonder what can be done differently to balance the need for inclusion with the need for definition; the very human need for kindness/compassion with the need to express rage. I'm also excited to be reading Sarah Schulman's The Gentrification of the Mind; you might want to read it, too.

Monday, October 7, 2013

New Fiction Collection in 2015

I'm thrilled that Kelly Magee and I have a short story collection forthcoming from Black Lawrence Press in 2015. Titled With Animal, the stories focus on humans who become pregnant with animal (or non-human) babies. We've got unicorns, dragons, jellyfish, locusts, hippos, sparrows, and lots more. Individual stories have already appeared here, there, and everywhere, including Smokelong Quarterly, Heavy Feather Review, Animal Literary Magazine, and Juked. Look for stories forthcoming in Hayden's Ferry Review, Passages North, Indiana Review, Sundog Lit, Word Riot, Animals Among Us, Spittoon, and elsewhere. We're incredibly lucky to feature art by Todd Horton on the book's cover.
Art by Todd Horton
If you're in the Seattle/Bellingham/Vancouver, BC region, be sure to catch Todd's latest show at Smith &Vallee Gallery in Edison, Washington.

In other book news,  decomP magazinE features a review of F IN. Thanks to Spencer Dew for such an insightful review! And while you're thinking about animals in art, please take a minute to learn about Justice for Joseph on his Facebook page, and maybe even donate to the cause at Network for Good.

Monday, September 30, 2013

Troubling The Line (new Trans and Genderqueer anthology)

I'm thrilled to be teaching Troubling The Line: Trans and Genderqueer Poetry and Poetics in my Queer Studies class this quarter!
From Nightboat Books' website:

The first-ever collection of poetry by trans and genderqueer writers.
The first of its kind, Troubling the Line: Trans and Genderqueer Poetry and Poetics, gathers together a diverse range of 55 poets with varying aesthetics and backgrounds. In addition to generous samples of poetry by each trans writer, the book also includes “poetics statements”—reflections by each poet that provide context for their work covering a range of issues from identification and embodiment to language and activism.
Poets in Troubling the Line: Ahimsa Timoteo Bodhrán, Aimee Herman, Amir Rabiyah, Ari Banias, Ariel Goldberg, Bo Luengsuraswat, CAConrad, Ching-In Chen, Cole Krawitz, D’Lo, David Wolach, Dawn Lundy Martin, Drew Krewer, Duriel E. Harris, EC Crandall, Eileen Myles, Eli Clare, Ely Shipley, Emerson Whitney, Eric Karin, Fabian Romero, Gr Keer, HR Hegnauer, J. Rice, j/j hastain, Jaime Shearn Coan, Jake Pam Dick, Jen (Jay) Besemer, Jenny Johnson, John Wieners, Joy Ladin, Julian Talamantez Brolaski, kari edwards, Kit Yan, Laura Neuman, Lilith Latini, Lizz Bronson, Lori Selke, Max Wolf Valerio, Meg Day, Micha Cárdenas, Monica / Nico Peck, Natro, Oliver Bendorf, Reba Overkill, Samuel Ace, Stacey Waite, Stephen Burt, TC Tolbert, Tim Trace Peterson, Trish Salah, TT Jax, Y. Madrone, Yosmay del Mazo & Zoe Tuck

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Top Ten Reasons To Earn An MFA in Creative Writing from WWU

Top Ten Reasons to Earn an MFA in Creative Writing or an MA in English Studies from Western Washington University
1. We are a small program, where you will receive individual attention for your particular passions and goals. 

2. We offer thorough preparation for your future, whatever your destination: future graduate study; a teaching job; personal enrichment; or a career in professional writing and editing. 

3. We offer paid Graduate Assistantship positions, where graduate students receive intensive training within our renowned First-Year Composition program or gain experience by serving as assistants to professors in literature classes. 

4. We are proud of our award-winning graduate faculty members who are dedicated to teaching, scholarship, and creative work. Our faculty have received the highest teaching awards offered by the University. They have also received NEA and NEH awards, Pushcart Prizes, Fulbright scholarships, as well published a wide range of creative and critical work. 

5. We foster close working relationships between faculty and graduate students, with seminars limited to twelve graduate students, as well as small, customized advisory committees for exams and theses. Every year we offer a diverse range of seminar topics in national and global literatures, creative writing, composition and rhetoric, cultural studies, film studies, linguistics, literary theory, and pedagogy. 

6. Many of our students have gone on to receive critical acclaim in their work, including a Lambda Literary Award winner and a best-selling novelist. Many students have gone on to further graduate study with full fellowships at prestigious research and teaching universities, while many others have received tenure-track teaching appointments at community colleges around the region and the nation. Still other graduates are successfully employed as technical writers for major companies, and others have chosen to teach in the public schools. 

7. We foster close working relationships with your peers. We are a cohort program, so you will develop genuine community as you move through the two-year program together. 

8. We offer opportunities to work on the award-winning literary journal Bellingham Review: from a paid Managing Editor position, to volunteer genre editors and readers. 

9. You will live in one of the most beautiful places on earth—with Mt. Baker to the east, the San Juan Islands to the west, British Columbia to the north, and Seattle to the south. 

10. You will enjoy living in the “city of subdued excitement,” a small town on Bellingham Bay that has excellent film, theater, music, restaurants, lakes, and hiking trails. For less subdued excitement, Seattle and Vancouver are within easy driving distance! 

For even more reasons, visit the WWU English Dept. website:

Or contact Dr. Brenda Miller,, 360-650-3242

Seattle Reading Update / Call for Submissions

Hi friends. Unfortunately it looks like Kristina Marie Darling won't be able to fly out to Seattle for our upcoming reading at Open Books. So please note that her WWU reading is canceled due to An Injury Involving The Feet. I'll be reading solo from X Marks The Dress: A Registry at Open Books on Friday, October 11th at 7:30pm. This event is free and open to the public. Teachers: please note that I'm happy to correspond with you and your students about my books, so consider adding this text to your reading lists for poetry, prose poetry, hybrid texts, and Queer Studies. Kristina: please note that you will be missed! Open Books is in Seattle's Wallingford neighborhood: 2414 North 45th Street. It feels like heaven, because both heaven and hell are lined with words. 

Also, the After Coetzee Project has created a fabulous call for submissions of short fiction for a print anthology. Here's the call, which I'm pasting from Christiane Bailey's blog: 

The After Coetzee Project: A Call for Short Fiction

Deadline to Submit: December 1, 2013

Until Disgrace, The Lives of Animals, and Elizabeth Costello and other works by J.M. Coetzee, nonhuman animals figured in contemporary fiction primarily as metaphor, allegory, and objects of blood sport. Their worlds — their lives — had been elided. Coetzee’s work prepared the ground for the animal subject to reemerge in fiction*. The After Coetzee Project picks up from there.
The After Coetzee Project seeks short story submissions of up to twenty-five double-spaced pages for a print anthology. We seek stories that explore the worlds animals inhabit; depict non-dominion-based relationships between humans and nonhuman animals; deflate speciesist paradigms; enact the dismantlement of technologies of slaughter and confinement; and etc. So many possibilities exist for reimagining and reinviting animals back into the fictional space.
Because the namesake of Elizabeth Costello lectured so compellingly about nonhuman animals, it might be tempting to interpret these guidelines as inviting sentimentality and bald polemics. But if Coetzee’s work prepared the ground for the animal subject to reemerge, The After Coetzee Project wants fiction that engages those animal subjects. Stories that merely talk about animals — even those that feature virtuous activists “saving” them — would likely read as regressive.
Having said all that, we want to be careful to note that there always exceptions; convince us. In the short story The Transfiguration of Maria Luisa Ortega, for instance, animals are symbolic, but they are symbolic in a parable that’s about rejecting pillars of Western thought — science and religion — in favor of the nonhuman.
Above all, TACP seeks stories of nuance and depth. Moments of unbridled beauty and levity as well as moments of gravity and pathos. And innovation — all kinds of fictional approaches are welcome, but especially variants of weird fiction and hybrid narratives (e.g., Hilary Mantel’s French-Revolution novel A Place of Greater Safety). We look forward to your amazing forays into this terrain.
Please submit stories as attachments to and include a short bio in the body of the email.
*There are exceptions here and there. But Coetzee’s work sustains themes about the importance of nonhuman animals, both as subjects-in-themselves and as beings with whom we are interrelated.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Western Washington University's new MFA in Creative Writing

I'm happy to announce that Western Washington University now offers the MFA in Creative Writing. Our program emphasizes hybrid forms. We teach innovative workshops and foster a supportive community. It's a two year residential program with teaching fellowships available for our graduate students. Our faculty:
Bruce Beasley
Oliver de la Paz
Carol Guess
Kristiana Kahakauwila
Kelly Magee
Brenda Miller
Suzanne Paola
Kathryn Trueblood
Also, we live here:

Seattle Reading October 11th

I'm reading with Kristina Marie Darling at Open Books in Seattle on Friday, October 11th, 2013 at 7:30pm. We're excited to meet in person for the first time and read together from X Marks The Dress: A Registry. Please join us at Open Books, Seattle's only all-poetry bookstore, one of the most beautiful rooms I've ever seen:
Kristina will also be reading from her solo work at Western Washington University on Thursday, October 10th at 4:30pm in Haggard Hall 153. Both events are free and open to the public. 

Monday, September 16, 2013

New collaborations in Banango Street

Kristina Marie Darling and I have collaborative work in issue 5 of Banango Street. It's a fabulous issue, full of poets I admire. I'm honored to be included.
Art by Will McEvilly
Also, photographer Holly Andres has an exhibit forthcoming in Seattle at the Photo Center NW. Titled "The Homecoming," it's showing Oct. 24 - Dec. 15, 2013.
Holly Andres, Anna’s Birthday Party
Finally, although I think Breaking Bad is brilliant (up there with The Wire on my list of favorites), I don't have a TV and haven't yet seen the new season. Please don't spoil it! Also, I am so jealous that real live science professors get to be consultants on the show. When do I get to be a consultant? When is someone going to write a fabulous show about wayward academics in an English Department at a small state school? When will television ask me how it feels when someone disrespects Robert's Rules of Order? Or when a student won't stop texting during lecture? Or when the state budget for education is so tiny that we're forced to steal free pens from the credit union?
I know, Walt. Sometimes no one is paying attention so you have to set things on fire. 

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Animals In Art

Kelly Magee and I are pondering the art we'd like to use for the cover of our forthcoming short story collection, With Animal (Black Lawrence Press, 2015). Right now (and always) I'm obsessed with Todd Horton's animals -- foxes, bears, deer, and birds that feel simultaneously alive and mythical. 
Todd Horton
His art means even more set against the backdrop of Washington's Skagit Valley, home to the tiny town of Bow-Edison, with its sweet single street of commerce and community, bordered by two or three blocks of houses and miles of fields. 
Tweets = delicious

Friday, September 13, 2013

What I'm Listening To

Because poetry, dancing, activism, storytelling, and hope all come together so beautifully in Janelle Monáe's linked musical sequences. Because of the footwork in Tightrope and the anti-establishment vision of Q.U.E.E.N. Because I'm about to start teaching again, and I'm reminded that my students look to (liberatory) pop culture to teach them to resist the negative messages that (repressive) pop culture sends. Because the assimilationist focus of the contemporary GLBT movement is limiting and privilege-bound. Because I'm interested in art that sends a message without feeling didactic. Because if I hear or see Blurred Lines one more time, I'm going to scream. Because criticizing culture isn't as interesting as making it new.

New poems! New story!

Hi friends. Lots of new work to share! Kristina Marie Darling and I have a collaborative poem in the August/September 2013 issue of Shelf Unbound. "Flowers Pressed In A Book" appears on page 62. It's taken from our collaborative book X Marks The Dress: A Registry, which describes a faux wedding registry. Another collaborative poem, "3-Tiered Steamer," appeared on Verse Daily today. Sadly, D. Bruce Hanes has been barred from issuing any more same-sex marriage licenses in PA, while Batwoman's marriage to Maggie Sawyer 

via Jezebel
has also been called off (and the creative team of J.H. Williams III and W. Haden Blackman quit in protest). In much happier news, Autostraddle is throwing a bake sale,
Graphic by Geneva Armstrong via Autostraddle
Orange is the New Black exists (THANK YOU FOR HOT, FUNNY, FEMINIST TV), 
and Writer's Digest interviewed me and Kristina about our book; thanks Robert Brewer! Finally, raccoons. They're here, there, and everywhere. For real. A few months ago, raccoons took up residence in a 150 foot tower crane in the Ballard neighborhood of Seattle (ie where I lived at the time). Then the feisty creatures disappeared without a trace. Kelly Magee and I couldn't resist writing a story about raccoons for our collection With Animal (Black Lawrence Press, 2015). It's called "With Raccoon" and it lives here, in Animal Literary Magazine. 

(Also, we blame the typo on the raccoons. They steal C's and eat them. In fact it is possible to spell raccoon with only one C, but as a C name myself, I prefer two.)
Raccoons via

Thursday, July 25, 2013

New Collaborative Work and Imitations

Issue 5 of Dressing Room Poetry Journal includes several new poems co-written with Kristina Marie Darling, as well as an interview and imitation poems (I imitated Kristina and she imitated me). Enjoy!

Jess Bouchard reviews X Marks The Dress

Thanks to poet Jess Bouchard for this lovely review of X Marks The Dress: A Registry.

And thanks to D. Bruce Hanes, the register of wills in Montgomery County, PA, for deciding that his office would start issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples. "I decided to come down on the right side of history and the law," said Hanes, allowing several couples to celebrate with wild abandon:
Ladies who earned their damn cake.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Julie Marie Wade reviews X Marks The Dress

One of my favorite contemporary queer writers just reviewed X Marks The Dress: A Registry in Lambda Literary. Check out Julie Marie Wade's thoughtful, precise review; then check out her thoughtful, precise poetry and nonfiction. Thanks to Julie for her insightful analysis of my collaboration with Kristina Marie Darling
Edith Windsor and Thea Spyer

Edith Windsor, fighting for same-sex marriage rights

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Interview in The Storialist

Kristina Marie Darling and I responded to Hannah Stephenson's wonderful interview questions on her blog, The Storialist. Here's our interview, focused on X Marks The Dress: A Registry and written a few days before DOMA was overturned, which makes these musings on marriage and queer identity seem positively historical. 
Artist: Jack Hunter
Hannah's book In the Kettle, the Shriek has a gorgeous title and gorgeous cover art. Find it here, at Gold Wake Press.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Stunning Review of F IN in PANK

Poet, musician, and theorist J/J Hastain has written a startlingly beautiful review of F IN for PANK. I love the challenge of this review, which is really a collaborative response to my text. I read J/J's words as an extension of/offering to/engagement with both my words and my silence. I'm honored by this understanding.
Photo: Holly Andres

Saturday, June 15, 2013

New Collaborative Poem in Anti-

Here's a new poem, co-written with Kristina Marie Darling, 
in Anti-. This piece is from our forthcoming collaboration, 
Instructions For Staging, to be published by Patasola Press
I'm excited to work with Lisa Marie Basile, Alyssa 
Morhardt-Goldstein, and Katherine Gilraine to produce this book!

Collaborative Interview

Kristina Marie Darling and I participated in an interview for Les Femmes Folles I loved the questions and feel delighted to be included in this venture! Thanks, Femmes. xo

For this interview I let down my guard a little bit, so my answers are more sparkly than usual. Recently I've questioned why I feel the need to be so cautious and guarded in interviews. I'll try to let more of my real self show through. 

Saturday, June 1, 2013

New Prose Poems in Gone Lawn

The latest issue of Gone Lawn includes three new prose poems: "Olympic National," "Pink Priss Pot Weighs In," and "Early Floral." These are part of a manuscript-in-progress, so stay tuned for more new work! Also, this picture. Because, well, obviously. 

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Anne Champion reviews F IN

Poet and essayist Anne Champion has written a beautiful, thoughtful 
review of my book F IN  for Rattle. I've been urging Anne to write 
a collection of essays on popular culture,and this just makes me 
want to read more of her cultural analysis. The cover of F IN 
is a photograph by Holly Andres, who has a show opening in June 
at the Hallie Ford Museum of Art in Salem, Oregon. Her show runs 
June 1-August 4, 2013. 
Photo: Holly Andres

Friday, May 24, 2013

Interview on "We Are Homer"

Traci Brimhall keeps a blog that's focused on collaboration. This week she interviews me and Kristina Marie Darling about our new book, X Marks The Dress: A Registry. Check out Traci's blog, We Are Homer, for our interview. Kristina and I welcome inquiries from reviewers and teachers. Please let us know if you are interested in learning more about our book, which would work well in Creative Writing classes focused on poetry, flash fiction, or hybrid forms; as well as Women's Studies and Queer Studies classes. In honor of our lingerie-laden feminist approach to a (fake) wedding registry, here's Autostraddle's gallery of 50 lesbian brides.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

New Book co-written with Kristina Marie Darling

My collaborative poetry collection is now available from Gold Wake Press! Co-written with Kristina Marie Darling, X Marks The Dress: A Registry uses the objects in a fake wedding registry to tell the story of three tangled lovers and the rituals that bind them. 
Our book begins with call-and-response prose poems, followed by footnotes and other miscellany, flash fiction, and erasures of the initial prose poetry sequence. It's a hybrid text that examines contemporary American heterosexual marriage rituals from a subversive perspective. Cue the bouquet!

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Krystal Languell Reviews Darling Endangered

Here's a smart and politically savvy review of Darling Endangered,
written by Krystal Languell and published in Sink. 

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Interview With Sara Greenslit

After reading Sara Greenslit's wonderful book As If A Bird Flew By Me, my students conducted an interview with Sara about writing, witches, and whales. Thanks Sara! Thanks students! And be sure to check out Sara's earlier novel, The Blue Of Her Body. This lyrical novel first led me to Sara's work.
Sarah's bio:

My novel, As If a Bird Flew By Me, was recently published by FC2 for winning the 2009 Sukenick/ABR Innovative Fiction Award. My first novel, The Blue of Her Body, won the 2006 Starcherone Innovative Fiction Award. I earned an MFA in poetry from Penn State University and have been awarded grants from the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts and from the Barbara Deming Foundation/Money for Women. I work as a small animal veterinarian in Madison, WI. 

First of all, thanks so much all of you for taking the time to so carefully consider my book! You flatter me. Really, I am honored!

I hope, below, I answer some of your questions to help you get inside the book a little more. And here, I was interviewed by my press' intern, that may illuminate some threads too. 


Your interest in biology and career as a vet are apparent in As If a Bird Flew By Me. Does this passion always work its way into your writing? How do you balance your work life and time set aside to write? What kind of background led you to this point where you do both?

SG: My biology training certainly has influenced my vocabulary, like of anatomy, ornithology. Interests within the zoological studies. The more you read or study, the more exacting your language becomes, its own diction. And your training shapes your "eye", too, right? Fourth year of vet school is largely learning how to touch/examine patients, how to talk to clients, and how to slow down and pay attention. This learning never ends really. After training as an veterinary acupuncturist in 2011, animals "feel" differently than they did before: pulses, ear warmth, foot pad softness, tongue color. I want to train to do vet chiro too: and imagine the subtleties one's hands should be able to differentiate after this! And how could this not affect how one sees everything? Use all your senses.

I luckily work part-time, so I have large chunks of time to mull, read, and hopefully write. I have been in a 3 year lull of not writing and am trying to not panic. Some say one should write even when you can't. I can't and haven't. So I read instead, walk my dogs. I watch a lot of documentaries. 

I loved animals and books concurrently, since I was little. So I got a BA in biology, and took a writing course each semester as a treat, to balance out my science load. Then I decided I wasn't ready to go to vet school at 22, and wanted to be a better writer first. After my MFA, I had a copywriting job for 5 years, but the cubicle was killing me. I kept looking at the vet school requirements. I took a few classes, talked to the admissions office, and crossed my fingers. Vet school was hellish, exhausting. But then you come out and you're a vet. I feel lucky.

Why did you choose to write about the migrations of Humphrey the whale? How does it tie into the rest of the story?

SG: Way before I became internet-news obsessed, I heard about Humphrey some regular way, newspaper, perhaps, 15 years ago. His case got me thinking about the way (human) immigrants migrate and how we and the animals sometimes get off track, lose our way.  The animal sections are also tied to the "Forever" time, shaped around the form from the musical piece Ghost Opera's: Now, Past and Forever. 

What do you wish to convey by putting together migrations next to the story of the cellist and the descendent of a Salem witch? Is it a story of returning to your roots, or those of your ancestors? Or are they completely separate?

SG: It's related to the structure of Ghost Opera (see above). I was also interested where I came from, literally in soil and person. Landscape shapes us like our families, don't you think?

On page 14-15, you have a list of legacies that family members leave behind; which description fits you or which would you like to fit you?

SG: I hope I am in the family that writes names on the pictures! I am the quiet type… I have a couple of books, so this is a great whisper out into the universe, I suppose. But these are small whispers, so who knows what lasts?

Did you translate any of your writing from the musical piece Ghost Opera? (Movements versus chapters) Why did you want to add it?

SG: I thought about Ghost Opera for a long time, how I could translate it into a written piece. I listened to the cd, read the liner notes, read the composer's bio. I was struck by how the layers of time overlap, and how we think Past is Past, but in fact, it layers with us Now. This second, in fact. 

How much did the writing of sections and sentences interlace with rhythm? Were they lyrical?

SG: I grew up playing the cello, for about 20 years until carpal tunnel said, Stop. Then I studied poetry, got my MFA. So the roots of lyricism are in both. I wanted to make a song on the page. 

Beginning on page 108, seemingly unrelated pieces start to conglomerate. How did you decide to order of the pieces? 

SG: I was aiming to combine music with nature, to dig a little deeper, to see where we come from. I don't' know if it worked! Going deeper, back to our roots, I guess. 

Which character, if any, do you identify with?  How do you incorporate this into the rest of your writing?

SG: I am the cellist, I am Celia, I am the birds (my wish). You start with your life's template and then extrapolate to fit a story, or a hope of a story. 

How much of your work is inspired by real events in your life? Why did you choose to use your own last name?

SG: Some writers are good making up completely new worlds, writing about lives that do not look like their own. I fail at this. I take notes from where I live. As a starting place. 

I have a hard timing working solely in one genre. I had for at least 10 years wanted to write about my relative killed in Salem, but I couldn't figure out a way until I came across Ghost Opera. I used my last name because it's important to know where you come from, what history laid out for your family, how that changed the present, most likely.

Can you share a bit about how you got your work published?  What was the process?How much control did the editor have over your work, and are you satisfied with the final product? 

SG: I got my first poem published in grad school in the Beloit Poetry Journal. I think a teacher or a friend recommend I try them. It's all random, in a way. What poems you write, you send, you get published. 

To get my novels published, I sent my manuscript out to contests because they were strange, non-linear projects, i.e. books large presses couldn't make money on. I didn't care. Just holding your book in your hands! I cannot explain the deep joy this blooms. 

The books had to be nearly perfect/done before they were sent to contests. You don't get to change much after you get picked up. Small edits, yes. But they are on deadline, and they want finished works. I have been very happy with both presses I have been so lucky to work with, Starcherone and FC2. 

If you had the option to shift from an independent publisher to corporate would you? Why or why not?

SG: I would not. I love the independent spirit of small presses. You count to them. They know you, they love you and your work. There's nothing like this.

Why would you choose a paper printing over electronic publication? 

SG: I am glad my books can be downloaded as e-books. But this cannot replace the actual physicality of reading, holding the book, smelling the fresh paper pages, how the light hits the white and black. I always feel more comfortable in the world when I know I have a book in my bag.

Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?

SG: Oh my! Ok, let's see: read, of course. Be patient. It took many rejections to get poems picked up, and then my books. Many! Right now I am looking for a home for my first poetry collection, and I am on rejection number 30. Don't take these rejections personally: just do your research (web helps a lot), and pick the places that fit your work. Buy others' books, see where they publish. Make writer friends, ask them to read your work. Carry a notebook with you everywhere. Go to art and science museums, go to gardens. Hike. Nap and then write down what your dream-brain was thinking. And again: read read read. 

Friday, May 3, 2013

Interview With Joseph Young

My students at Western Washington University conducted
interviews with writers Joseph Young and Sara Greenslit. Here's
the first of the two interviews, with microfiction writer and artist
Joseph Young. Thanks to both authors, and to all of my students!
Joseph Young lives in Baltimore. His book of microfictions, Easter Rabbit, was put out by Publishing Genius Press in 2009, and his chapbook, 5 drawings of the maryland sky, by Ink Press in 2013. He also makes his own pdf chapbooks, which can be found on his blog, Joseph makes visual art as well, which has appeared in various galleries and some of which can be found on his blog. 

When writing, do you start by writing a longer piece, and then compress it, or do you write compressed to begin with?

I write compressed to begin with. The stories start out small and I write them all at once. The revision comes in playing with the words, syntax, and rhythm to get them right. Often what will happen is I will get a story almost right but then spend several hours to several days trying to figure out one or two words that aren’t clicking with me. 

How did you come up with the individual titles for your writings in Easter Rabbit?

I try to use the title to stretch what the story is doing, to give it an added dimension. Because of that, they often aren’t descriptive—telling you what’s in the story—but rather I try to made them open things out, expand the story. One thing I’ll pretty often do is think about the story contents and then do wikipedia searches to find words, phrases, or ideas that can work as titles. I’ll end up reading about all kinds of weird stuff during this “research.” 

Why use the spaces on the page and how do they function? 

I’m really interested in visual art, as much so as writing, and I have been pretty devoted to making it over the past several years. One of the reasons my stories shrank the way they did (I used to write more conventionally lengthed stories but then they got smaller and smaller) was in the attempt to make them as “visual” as possible. What I mean is that I wanted the reader’s eye to be able to take in the whole story at once, the whole thing on one page, in one compact unit. The white space helps in that, I hope. 

Would you say you could compare your form to a haiku? How or how not? 

Yes and no. I definitely thought about haiku a lot as I was first getting into microfiction. I admire how a really great haiku takes those 17 or so syllables and a few images and points to the entire world. It’s like this haiku by Issa:

With his radish, the radish picker points the way.

There’s everything in the universe in that poem!

And I want to be able to point to a much larger world beyond the story itself, for the reader to find a lot more between the words and between the sentences. But haiku usually does that with a great deal of clarity, whereas my stories are often (usually?? always??) so obfuscated!

Is there an over-arching theme that you wished to convey? 

I think a theme I come back to a lot—or at least I used to—is the one sort of pointed to in the story “Epistomology.” How do we understand, or not understand, the things we say to each other? How, honestly, do we manage to understand each other as much as we do? We actually make meaning for ourselves despite the fact that the world is so confusing and strange. 

Are you okay with the audience interpreting the writing different than you mean it? Is it meant to be specific or vague?

Yeah, I love when a reader interprets a story in a way I never thought of. Matter of fact, I often don’t have any idea what a story might “mean” until some really sharp reader tells me. Oh, right, that’s it!

I think the language is supposed to be very specific but the meaning, it’s not supposed to be vague, but what I hope for is that the story is big enough to carry more than one meaning. If I do it right (once in a while), then a story can mean X but also mean not-X, too. And it can mean Q and E as well. Actually, and sorry for getting so “out there,” but I’m more interested in a story having meaningness—that is, being meaningful—than having a particular interpretation. I mean, what’s the meaning of a rock? Rockness. So, what’s the meaning of a story? 

What is your intention with the front and back cover? 

The cover was made by my dear friend and collaborator, the encaustic painter Christine Sajecki (encaustic is painting with molten wax). We’ve done a bunch of art shows and other events together over the past 6 or 7 years. When I had a book coming out, she was my very first choice to do the cover. She’s actually done two different covers for two separate printings of the book.

In any case, the painting on the cover is filled with a lot of references to our friendship and to our work together over the years. The swans on the back, the dark window-like squares on the front, stuff like that. And the figure on the front walking away from us is actually based on a photo of me that Christine took. 

But more to your question, Christine had in mind the “white spaces” I try to put into my stories, the feeling of things between and among and outside of the words. And she had in mind the feelings she personally gets when she reads the stories.
Have you ever thought of putting pieces on Facebook or any other social media site for review? How do you feel about putting this down in publishing rather than forever documented on the internet? Do you feel like the effect of people seeing your work on Facebook would be different from reading it in a book? Why mention it in the story on 61? 

I put a lot of stories on my blog, I used to text message stories to a big list of people, and I often put together e-books of my stuff that people can access or download online. I’m putting together a new tumblr for the art books I make, but it isn’t live yet. Never have put stories on Facebook but I def promote them there. 

I’m all about putting work out in whatever format works. I like reading paper books and I like reading online magazines, and Facebook, YouTube, Twitter etc. These are all tools available to people, and I say use them! Get creative and use them! And sure, the effect of reading something on social media is different than in a book, but one’s not better than the other. I always say, give a creative person a burnt stick and a square of toilet paper and they’ll do something awesome with it. Same with social media, same with pen and paper.

As for that story on page 61, in that series I was thinking about how inanimate objects could be characters in a story. Facebook seemed like an interesting character.

How does religion tie in to your stories, if at all? There were some times in the story that even from a secular stand point, these iconic images could be imagined. For example we talked about, “Light of No Understanding” (18.) Here take this, is similar to handing over the bread in communion, she could be putting down her faith. “Easter Rabbit” (30) could be references the holiday of Christ rising and saving humanity, but there is still the pain and sin of humans living on. His death was also hurtful. 

It does tie in! I’m not a religious person in that I go to church or temple or what have you, but I’m utterly fascinated with religion and the power of its signs and symbols and the emotion and meaning of it. So, Christianity and Christ and the Saints show up in my stories and so does Buddha and Taoism (the “10,000 things”) and Zen. Although I didn’t think of communion myself in “Light of No Understanding” I like that someone did think of it. Communion is a really powerful thing.

Are you mentioning religion and Facebook as the faiths of people at large, or social media and religion being the things people devote their time and thoughts to? Even if not, do you feel as if there could be a discussion made about this? 

I’m sorry, I don’t understand this question. But in general, yeah, a discussion could be made!

How did Easter Rabbit get published? 

The publisher and editor of Easter Rabbit lives in Baltimore, where I live, and he asked to publish it. Before we really knew each other he had published a broadside of my writing and both of us liked how that turned out, so then we were both really excited to work on a book length project. We were just starting to be friends when he asked to publish the book and through the process of working on Easter Rabbit we became really good friends.

How much control did the editor have over your work, and are you satisfied with the final product? 

REALLY satisfied. He didn’t do a lot of editing—just some small things here and there—but we worked a lot on choosing the stories and putting them in the right order. It was really collaborative. Same goes with the cover artist and the designer for the first printing—it was a collaboration. It was a team effort, and given that, I enjoyed the process so much. 

If you had the option to shift from an independent publisher to corporate would you? Why or why not?

Nope! I mean, if Random House wanted to give me a whole bunch of money to publish with them, okay I probably would, but it’s pretty doubtful that will ever happen. Given that, I want the hands-on, collaborative magic that happens with an indie publisher (another small press, Ink Press, just put out a little book of mine called 5 drawings of the maryland sky). I’m also pretty keen on self publishing and have put out a lot of stuff in pdf form. I like making my own covers and laying it out in InDesign and working with Photoshop, etc. It’s really satisfying. 

Why would you choose a paper print over electronic publication? 

I wouldn’t choose one over the other. Both are great. 

Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?

Be strong, protect your vision, do the “wrong” thing. Taking advice is great—do it—and learn from people, your friends, your teachers. But writing is yours. Own it.