Friday, December 18, 2009

An Interview With Nick Ostdick

Nick Ostdick’s short story, “True Hair,” appears in STORYGLOSSIA 37. Here, Nick takes the time to discuss the use of second-person, Poison as inspiration for the story, the process of creating images and theme in this piece, and his current work at Southern Illinois University.

Anne Valente: Why did second-person feel like the right choice for this story?

Nick Ostdick: Second-person felt right for this story for a couple of reasons. I think the first and perhaps most uncraft-like answer is because the story and the characters just wanted it to be that way; various other points of view were attempted in earlier drafts, and none of them really hit it the way I thought--and ultimately the way the characters thought---it needed to be hit. It was a gut decision in the end. But more than that, I really felt that this narrator would be so hesitant to tell this story, so terrified by it in a sense, that he would need something to hide behind, some kind of artifice. This need to hide away or create something temporary or fake really seemed to rest hand in hand with who he was too. Hopefully the use of second-person gives him that distance. He manages to keep everything else at arms length, so why wouldn't he keep the telling of this story there too? And lastly, when I trace this story back to it's roots, which is almost two years ago now, the second-person came about because the story was spawned from Poison's ‘Talk Dirty to Me.’ I was fascinated with the uber-hyped masculinity in that song and in so much of 80's hair metal, except I wanted to flip that--I wanted a female character who embodied that bravado, or in this case, rumored bravado.

AV: You do a really nice job of capturing the conflict between imagined versus real - the narrator's expectations of Connie, how he really wants to believe the rumors about her, and what she's actually like. What role does this conflict play in the story, for you?

NO: Well, I think that this idea of imagined versus real plays a big role in the story—I don’t think it plays much of a role for me, but for the characters it’s huge. Especially for my unnamed POV character. He’s attempting to create a separate world for himself, to invent a place for him to hide not only from the ‘real world’ but from his ‘real world’ self too. You see that with him fleeing to the Conservatory, with his creation of this whole other reality. The same goes for these rumors about Connie—if he buys into them, even though he knows they’re most likely not true, he’s managed to create an alternate take on what’s really happening, on who people really are. For me, the build up of rumors about Connie and his quickness to believe them are symptoms of a bigger issue that this character is trying—or perhaps not trying—to deal with. He’s, in a somewhat subtle way, losing a toehold on reality.

AV: Though it's a small moment, I absolutely love the notion of the narrator hiding in the Conservatory exhibits and crying. How did this image come to you?

NO: That scene was part of another story for some time. Actually that scene was the entire story, a story of a middle-aged man who was hiding in a Conservatory and creating an alternate world after the death of his wife. I was writing both ‘True Hair’ and this other story over the same period of time, and at some point it hit me that these stories and the characters were running on parallel tracks so to speak—both of the principle characters were very similar and dealing with very similar things, albeit at different points in their lives and in different ways, but they were driving toward the same destination. Eventually, this other story started to fail for a number of reasons, but the idea of someone seeking refuge from the outside world in a faux jungle environment really stuck with me. After some thought it struck me that perhaps this was something the principle character in ‘True Hair’ would do. It was something active, yet something completely delusional as well, and it seemed like the kind of thing that was suited for someone younger, someone with a stronger sense of naivete.

AV: Both characters are tentative in forging some connection, both scarred by their parents' mistakes, both unsure that love exists. How does love - or fear of love - underscore the story for you?

NO: I think that the question of whether love exists or not is huge for these two characters, these two people. And to me, that’s what the story is about: a very quiet moment where these two people sort of acknowledge that it does exist, that it almost has to for what happens at the end of the story to happen—for two semi-fucked up people to find a moment of understanding. Whether or not they think it’s love, I think the ending forces these people to realize that there is something tender accessible in the world. I think you’re right that there is definitely a fear there between them and that they’re both very aware of it, but the fact that they both wanted to take that chance says a lot to me.

AV: That last scene where Connie and the narrator try on wigs is fantastic. How did wigs come to be the perfect element for this ending?

The ending with the wigs was the last piece of the story to fall into place. I wrote a first draft of this story about two years ago, and then did some light revision before letting it sit for some time. Then over this past summer I came back to it and found that everything up until the last scene was what it needed to be; I knew that whatever shape that last scene was going to take would be crucial, especially given what I was trying to say with the story. The scene with the two of them trying on the wigs actually took place in the middle of the story in early drafts, and after some months of trying to craft an ending and coming up empty, I decided to rewrite the story backwards in order to find it. It was when I did that that I realized the story needed to end there—that in order to show these characters accepting each other and some sort of kinship that exists in the world, having them essentially become other people in a very superficial manner made sense. They’re themselves, but they’re just cloaked enough to be vulnerable with each other, to hide a bit. That last scene was actually a huge turning point in the writing of this story; once I had that, everything seemed to fall into place very quickly, over the course of another month or so.

AV: What are you currently working on? Any stories forthcoming that we can point readers to?

NO: Right now I’m currently working on my MFA at Southern Illinois University, which is plenty to have on my plate—taking classes, teaching freshman composition, writing, etc. I’m currently working on a number of stories that I hope at some point will become a collection, most of which are longer, more traditional short stories, but I’m also working on a number of shorter pieces that I hope to send out for publication soon—perhaps this spring. In terms of forthcoming work, this story is it for right now, and I have to say how stoked I am to have it published in Storyglossia. It’s a very fine publication, one I’ve admired for some time, and I’m honored to be included with so many great writers. This interview was real boss as well, so many thanks. Many thanks indeed.

Nick Ostdick
is in the MFA program at Southern Illinois University, where he also teaches. His fiction and poetry have appeared or are forthcoming in Prairie Margins, Annalemma, Night Train, Pindeldyboz, Anthills, and elsewhere, and his story 'The Sleeping Shags,' originally published in Identity Theory, was a 2007 StorySouth Notable Story. Sometimes he has a beard; currently, he does not.

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An Interview With Owen Duffy

Owen Duffy’s apocalyptic narrative, “A New Plan,” appears in STORYGLOSSIA 37. Here, Owen discusses tone, characters acting from fear, his recently completed novel manuscript and story collection, and forthcoming stories.

Anne Valente: Where did the premise for this story come from?

Owen Duffy: I had a bad cold last winter and couldn’t sleep one night. I was on some nasty cold meds and that image came to me – of guest workers arriving peaceably, and then suddenly running around with hearts in their hands. The next day, I realized I’d envisioned a story-scape about a lot of things I was thinking, teaching, reading, and feeling at the time.

AV: The tone of this piece is haunting, foreboding, it crawls under the reader's skin. How did you work to achieve the overall mood of the story?

OD: I basically just wrote down what I’d imagined – a stark, grey, invasion-y story. No one had a name or a face. I didn’t try to see things too clearly, and that in itself created its own tone. I think by using a generic narrator and setting, it allowed those frightening elements to remain in the shadows, where they’re scariest.

AV: "A New Plan" feels apocalyptic in its widespread sense of panic for coming change. How does fear underscore the story, and perhaps speak for all forms of impending change?

OD: When I wrote the story, fear of change was a very present idea. I started writing about characters who live and act out the things real people subconsciously think and feel. I thought about their worst fears, their worst actions. I thought about how these characters came to accept their beliefs, the things they might say in private as opposed to in politically correct settings. I really messed with the storytelling – how their universal experience becomes personal/collective. I thought of the dangers of all this and tried to portray it. Looking at it now, I’m horrified by these characters, because in many ways, I know they’re real.

AV: You have recently completed a novel manuscript and a collection of short stories. Can you talk a little about both projects?

OD: The novel is tentatively entitled Artichoke Queen. It’s a character driven success/tragedy, set in California and Mexico in the early 1950’s, focusing on a beautiful, competitive woman. Sordid love triangles, seedy beauty contests, amateur car racing, and lots of hard knocks. It’s the most fun I’ve ever had writing. The story collection is entitled The Electrical Age; themed by characters struggling to achieve love, success, dignity - and not sure they ever will.

AV: What are you currently working on? Any forthcoming stories we can point readers to?

OD: I’m currently editing a story, “Ultralight” – about an amateur pilot who goes missing in the ocean and his girlfriend’s lurid coping mechanisms. I do have a story, “Skinner Lake” coming out in the Winter 2010 Passages North. It’s a dense, textured story about a dying man trying to bribe his daughter into forgiving him for his misdeeds.

Owen Duffy holds an MFA from Rutgers University-Newark. His work has appeared in New Delta Review and is forthcoming in Passages North. He runs a small guitar based business and lives in Charleston, SC. He's completed a novel manuscript and is finishing his collection of stories. You can reach him at ocduff (at)

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An Interview With Mikael Covey

Mikael Covey’s short story, “Transubstantiation,” appears in STORYGLOSSIA 37. Here, Mikael takes a few moments to talk about the premise for this story, writing character psychology, his work with Lit Up Magazine, and what he’s currently working on.

Anne Valente: Where did the premise for this story come from?

Mikael Covey: I got the idea from reading Bill Ectric’s book Space Savers. He has an intriguing story there about Easter Island. And at the same time, I was reading an article about the ritualistic usages of yage; which reminded me of when I was a car salesman in Atlanta and the fire and brimstone preachers would rant and rave on AM talk radio, publicizing their upcoming revival meetings.

But that’s a great question because it illustrates how our little minds work, connecting all these vaguely related ideas from different times and places which all happen at once within our thoughts. I suppose that’s what storytelling is all about - bringing various ideas together to form a somewhat coherent whole; or trying to make some sense out of what we see and feel.

And I guess the general background of the story comes from when I lived in the poverty stricken tropical paradise which is the country of Panama - the Indian girls, palm trees, and so forth.

AV: This story so effectively places us inside the narrator's head that we begin to feel uncomfortable, perhaps even claustrophobic, inside his paranoia. Was this effect difficult to achieve? How did you go about achieving this so powerfully?

MC: I wasn’t aware of that, but I suppose any story belongs as much to the reader as it does to the writer. And it’s very odd to think of how the human specie of animal communicates amongst itself with these various odd symbols and sounds - like we was sumpin, huh. And despite that ability, we spend much of our energies hating each other. Whuz it for?

There is one thing though (back to your question) - I was very sick for awhile, some time back - suicidal depression for months, which is altogether unbearable. Seems I’d just finished re-writes on a novel about my life; and that was too depressing to endure. Really awful to be constantly thinking about how you’ve wasted your life, misspent your little allotted time on this planet. So, no sleep and constant dread of not being able to sleep and having to get up and go to work anyway. And still not being able to sleep after that. Dreading sundown; being okay during the daytime. Thinking it’s alright now, you’re gonna make it. Then the blackness of winter sunset, and the agony all returning. Anxiety, shakiness; hands shaking so bad I can’t take my pills. Typing faster than I can think. Drinking the horrible bourbon and cough syrup - nothing helps. But my old friend Susie, emails from Florida about her life, her kids, that sorta thing. Saved me…thanks Susie.

So of course I figured I could maybe use that in a story sometime. But you can never really describe the horrors of suicidal depression. That’s a tough one.

AV: In addition to fiction, you write poems, essays, reviews and opinion pieces as well. Do these forms intersect often for you? How do the other genres influence your fiction writing?

MC: When you’re a kid, you think you can write fiction like poetry, but you can’t. Like it or not, the genres are their own beast. So I used to be a poet, but that was a long time ago. Had to re-learn how to write like the moderns, like Tony O’Neill, like Puma Pearl, and I can’t get to their level. So after I was a poet or before that, I became a philosopher – long essays about life love religion government economics - every anything. The cure for all the world’s ills. I think we’re all obliged to do that - part of our main function in life (maybe Sartre said that, maybe Kant; I don’t know).

Anyway, when I was writing one of my favorite books, called Princessa, I was reading Dan Fante and Tom McCarthy, and surprised to find that it didn’t bother me to read great writers while writing. Like - yeah that’s good; yeah, I can do that too.

AV: Speaking of reading other writers, you serve as the editor of Lit Up Magazine. Can you talk a little about your work with the magazine?

MC: Great question. I was talking to Joe Ridgwell about starting a zine; not for real, just sort of making conversation, idle thoughts, whatever. Then Matt Borondy, editor of Identity Theory, was looking for new assistant editors. I threw my name into the hat, and started thinking of all the stuff I’d like to see in a magazine - the best writing in the world that every a-hole loves to reject, streaming video, live chat with great writers and great minds, music, opinion, every anything. And I thought to myself, why not just do that; have complete control o’er it. Then I found out you can’t get that stuff - like MSN homepage - without very expensive software or a degree in web design. So I settled for just great writing, and whatever else we can fit in.

AV: What are you currently working on?

MC: I’m currently retired, wore out, exhausted, ova the hill. My first book, Out There, was recently released. And I thought if I could ever consume enough Red Bull, I’d do a book tour, do some stuff to promote the book, send out review copies, all that sorta stuff. So instead, I’m helping my neighbor fix up some of the aches and pains of her old house. Needs some new doors put in, lot a broke windows replaced, that kind of thing. And since my father died in March, I’m very much into only doing precisely what you want to do. No - this needs to be done, ought to do that, supposed to be doing this. Nope, only gonna do exactly what I want to. And that’s kind of satisfying.

As for my professional career as a professional writer – I haven’t written anything since my dad died. Well, I did do a couple of book reviews during a long layover at O’Hare airport. And I’ve been reading Knut Hamsun, about a page a week or so. (Everybody who sent me review copies of books - I will get to them. Just need to be stuck in an airport for a few hours, is all.)

Also, I do have a new book I’ve been working on for the past year or so. It’s about a teenager whose grandfather dies, so he decides to do exactly what he wants to do in life. Kinda funny how my own life would imitate what I’m writing about.

Mikael Covey lives in Dakota. He is the editor of Lit Up Magazine. His story “Panama” appeared in Issue 24 of Storyglossia. More of his published writing can be found at

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An Interview With Mimi Vaquer

Mimi Vaquer’s short story, “Creative Handwriting,” appears in STORYGLOSSIA 37. Here, Mimi takes a few moments to discuss the origins of the story, establishing tone and mood in fiction, writing both poetry and fiction, and forthcoming works.

Anne Valente: Where did the premise of this story come from?

Mimi Vaquer: I work as an 8th grade English teacher, and this story idea actually came from one of my students. I had given a poetry-writing prompt where the students had to combine columns of nouns and verbs to generate interesting juxtapositions. One of my students came up with “The hand sits on the sofa and watches TV.” After praising him for his creativity, I thought to myself that it was actually a pretty good idea for a story. I coupled that with my unlikely, morbid fascination with decomposition and exhumations, and the idea was born.

AV: How did the elements within this story come together for you, in linking the discovery of a hand with a sixth-grade student?

MV: I thought it would be fun to not only use my student’s idea, but to include him in the story as well. I changed all of his details of course, and I even let him read the story before I sent it out to anyone. I was a little nervous because I didn’t want him to get the wrong idea concerning the ending and think I was really my character who had it in for him! He was a good sport and proud of being my inspiration.

AV: The tone of this story is quiet, yet so filled with tension. It haunts the reader afterwards. How did you establish mood in this piece?

MV: I tried to bring the reader into the woman’s mental and physical environment as much as possible. She speaks to the reader as a confidante, as though the reader understands what she is experiencing and would think that her reactions were natural. I hoped to almost make the reader feel complicit in her actions and definitely a bit sullied.

I tried to emphasize the women’s de-sensitivity to things that should have been alarming or out of the ordinary. Hearing voices from the hand, sucking on the fingers, extreme paranoia –the woman seems to have no self-awareness that lets her know that things have gotten out of hand (pardon the pun). This and the quiet tone all added to the deliberateness of everything the character does, which I hoped would create a sense of foreboding in the reader.

AV: You write poetry as well. Does your poetry ever influence your fiction writing? How do the two forms work together for you?

MV: I really like being able to go back and forth between the two creative outlets. I’ve written poetry for years, but fiction writing is actually a newer venture for me. I feel like I’ve wasted so many years when I could have been churning out so many stories!

In a lot of ways, poetry and fiction writing serve opposite purposes for me. Poetry magnifies and fiction minimizes. I like to take a small idea and make it grow in my poems, while in my stories I try to boil an event or a situation down to its essence.

AV: What are you currently working on? Any stories forthcoming that we can point readers to?

MV: I currently have a story in Up the Staircase called “Breadcrumbs” that I’m particularly attached to, and many different poems soon to make their appearances in places such as Ruthless Peoples Magazine and Poetry Quarterly, which is a lit journal new to the scene. I’m always working on something new, so I’m sure you’ll see lots of me in the coming year.

Mimi Vaquer lives in Savannah, GA where she is a graduate student at Armstrong Atlantic State University who also teaches 8th grade English. She is a poetry and fiction writer who has previously been published in decomP, Emprise Review, Foundling Review, Boston Literary Magazine, and Ouroboros Review, among others. She is also an Associate Editor for Oak Bend Review.

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An Interview With Meg Pokrass

Meg Pokrass’s story, “Her Own Music,” appears in STORYGLOSSIA 37. Meg took a few moments to discuss writing humor, her recently released chapbook, Lost and Found, her work with the Dzanc Creative Writing Sessions and Smokelong Quarterly, and her forthcoming work.

Anne Valente: The people in "Her Own Music" seem to rely on technology for communication - Facebook, telephones, iPods. Does this piece comment on these mediating tools, in how they affect our human connections today?

Meg Pokrass: Technology is changing so rapidly that our brains are constantly and desperately attempting to adapt! I find this phenomenon enormously useful material for stories. I (usually failing to adapt) find that I am my own best study. I make mental notes of my foibles and rare successes in ever-expanding worlds of communication and technology to use in stories.

AV: There's so much great humor in this piece. How does humor lend itself to your work? Is it difficult to write and include in stories?

MP: Humor is indeed hard to write, because when a writer tries to be funny, it often doesn't work. Humor emerges from a character's way of seeing things - both the character's lack of awareness about what they are seeing/experiencing or his acute awareness. Strangely enough - many times when I write serious pieces, they end up comedic - and the other way around!

AV: You've recently published a chapbook, Lost and Found, of elimae stories. Can you tell us a little about this project?

MP: My recently released chapbook, titled Lost and Found from Bannock Street Books is a collaboration of my stories from elimae, and Cooper Renner's art. The pieces in Lost and Found were edited by publisher Cooper Renner. They all originally ran in elimae. "Lost and Found” is the title of one of these pieces.

AV: In addition to serving as an editor for SmokeLong Quarterly, you also work as a mentor for the Dzanc Creative Writing Sessions. How are both of those going? How does this work inform your writing?

MP: Being an editor/mentor is a wonderful way to expand my own understanding of the creative brain, sort of doing research in the field! - I honestly cannot get enough of it. Working with writers who are like-minded is like feeling at home nearly immediately. I love helping other writers to help figure out what works for them personally and designing exercises - finding a way to access the window that allows them to find their voice.

AV: What are you currently working on? Any stories forthcoming that we can point readers to?

MP: I have stories forthcoming in many online and print magazines. The print mags include Gargoyle, Pank, Gigantic, and Ampersand. I am doing video readings and loving that. Here is the link to my YouTube channel. Also, I recently completed a Podcast for Prick of the Spindle in which I talk to writer/editor Cynthia Reeser about the creative process and my way of writing and finding what works.

All are welcome to join my prompt blog network or visit my blog:

Meg Pokrass is a fiction writer and poet who edits for Smokelong Quarterly and serves as a mentor for the Dzanc Creative Writing Sessions. Her story, "Leaving Hope Ranch," published in Storyglossia in September of this year, was also selected for the Wigleaf Top 50 list. Another of Meg's stories, "Lost and Found," first published in elimae, was selected for Storyglossia's Short Story Month. She has a chapbook of the same title which was released Thanksgiving week - which includes art by Cooper Renner of elimae. Her fiction pieces, "What the Doctor Ordered" from Monkeybicycle, and "The Big Dipper" from Annalemma, received nominations for the Dzanc Books Best of the Web 2010 anthology. Meg also interviews writers for Fictionaut, having taken over the Fictionaut Five. She has published over 100 stories and poems.

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Thursday, December 17, 2009

An Interview With Laura Ellen Scott

Laura Ellen Scott’s “Karaoke People are Happy People” appears in STORYGLOSSIA 37. Laura Ellen took a few moments to discuss the novel this piece came from, Elvis fans, narrative structure, and forthcoming works.

Anne Valente: Where did the premise for this story come from?

Laura Ellen Scott: My novel Social Aid & Pleasure is set in post-Katrina New Orleans during a phenomenon called "death wishing," whereby final words can come true. The narrator is a corset maker named Victor who struggles for normalcy in a destabilized world--cats are wished away, mothers grow third eyes, and the clouds turn orange, etc. Eventually someone wishes Elvis back.

The Elvis sections of the book are not central, but every once in a while the telling switches to Elvis's story because he's the control, not so much in terms of narrative structure but emotionally, within the world of the book. He is a known entity, a point of stability and innately powerful. The fact that he has returned by fantastic means is irrelevant.

AV: Another of your stories, "The Elvis" at kill author, also rests upon Elvis, in a similar way. How did Elvis become an object of fiction - or fascination, maybe - for you?

LES: Actually, I don't have an interest in Elvis, and aside from my paranoia that the Elvis-as-concept was a bit on the nose, I found it really natural to use him as an anti-ironic device. I tried to think of an alternative to Elvis, but nothing satisfied.

My Elvis is strong and noble, just as Elvis people might conceive of him. Elvis people are my real interest--they have chosen a very human deity/intercessor out of the thousands of magicians available, and unlike conventional zealots, Elvis people are nice people--as David Thomas of Pere Ubu points out in "Turquoise Fins." Niceness means a great deal to me. I don't want to be saved, but I do want to be nice.

AV: Structure plays a large part in this story, with the narrative broken out in five sections. How did you go about constructing each section, in an order that felt right for the story?

LES: The sections come straight from the novel, extracted because my husband noticed something going on there. And then I looked at the parts and thought, "Huh, that's a Storyglossia story." The approach has a lot in common with "Felly Stories," which appeared in Issue 31. I did worry that Steven would think I was repeating myself, but he didn't mention it.

The order of the sections is chronological except that 4 and 5 are reversed so Victor can have one of those "happy endings" you hear about. Section 4, by the way, is not possible with the POV.

AV: The narrative centers on change in each section, in subtle mourning of the passage of time, or the loss of what was. A displaced Elvis feels like the perfect, haunting choice for this theme. How did you come to explore this concept, in this way?

LES: The narrator has an adult son, so he relates to Elvis as a fellow father whose job is done, essentially. I tried to work with melancholy in the voice without making the reasons explicit. The huge difference between the novel and the short stories I've pulled from it has to do with the management of anchors and reason. My novel is fairly mainstream in how emotionality is constructed and explored, but the short stories don't feature real "plot"; I use its rhetoric to allow something else (who knows what) to come through.

AV: What are you currently working on? Any stories forthcoming that we can point readers to?

LES: I'm working on putting together a bunch of very short ghost stories for a possible chapbook. I mentioned elsewhere that I'm more frightened by objects than normal narrative tension--a wrong eyed doll is much more troubling to me than any "Johnny, I'm on the first step" story, so I'm trying to do as much with that sense of bother as I can. (Think Nick Antosca re-writes Joseph Young's Easter Rabbit). One of these stories is coming out in Wigleaf, probably well after the winter holidays, and I have other stories coming out in JMWW and Writer's Bloc, soon. The Vips on vsf blog that I started for my students has been a great project this semester, and as it winds down I'll be posting student micros on the site:

Laura Ellen Scott made this year’s Wigleaf Top 50 and has had two stories nominated for Dzanc’s 2010 Best of the Web anthology. Her most recent stories are online at >kill author, PANK, The Northville Review and decomP, and in print in the Paycock Press anthology Gravity Dancers: Even More Fiction by Washington Area Women. She blogs at

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An Interview With Laura Hirneisen

Laura Hirneisen’s short story, “Besties,” appears in STORYGLOSSIA 37. Here, Laura talks about the origins of the story, unreliable narrators, symbols in fiction, and what she’s currently working on.

Anne Valente: Where did the premise for "Besties" come from?

Laura Hirneisen: I’ve always been fascinated by relationships, and I tend to write fiction based around them. What began this story for me was the concept of two friends in a destructive relationship. From there, the story developed around the characters.

AV: The narrator criticizes Beth for needing men to love her, but she's complicit in this too - she can't exist without Travis. Was it difficult to write this character, to get inside the mind of a somewhat unreliable narrator?

LH: I’m drawn to challenging characters and subjects, so for me, writing the narrator was all the more compelling for her unreliability.

AV: Makeup appears a lot in this story - gloss, lip liner, Seductress Pink nail polish. How does makeup inform the story, for you?

LH: The makeup represents not only the cultural trappings of femininity (which I think play an important part in this story) but also the way the characters disguise themselves with the roles they assume.

AV: The ending is devastating, and the title feels like a slap in the face when we're finished reading. Did this feel like an inevitable ending for this narrator?

LH: Some writers like to plot and develop outlines for their story, but my writing style is based more on discovery. When I began writing the story, the ending was an unknown. It was only when I reached the midpoint that the ending became inevitable.

AV: What are you currently working on? Any stories forthcoming that we can point readers to?

: I’m working on quite a few short stories that I’m hoping to place. In the mean time, I have a short story called “Hit” forthcoming soon from Wigleaf.

Laura Hirneisen’s work has appeared in Monkeybicycle, Word Riot, 2River View, Mud Luscious, Ghoti Magazine, and other journals.

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An Interview With Mary Akers

Mary Akers’Bones of an Inland Sea” appears in STORYGLOSSIA 37. Here, Mary takes a few moments to discuss the origins of this story, research in fiction, how forms of writing intersect and inform each other, and her current writing projects.

Anne Valente: This story makes wonderful use of the notion of fossils, both in terms of Alicia's work and her obsession with what was the most 'alive' time of her life. How did this focus on the passage of time - and perhaps, with death and dying - shape this story?

Mary Akers: I struggled quite a bit with the shaping of this story. I wanted to depict the various time frames of the story existing simultaneously, as they do in our minds when we remember a past event even as we are experiencing the present. The combination of an unexpected obituary-find and an archaeological dig seemed like interesting backdrops for a story with as many sedimentary layers as this one has. I ended up depicting Alicia in the present, remembering and regretting, but also in the past, as we experienced it with her in flashback; and then I hoped to evoke the shadowy sort of geologic past that hovers about and around whatever human drama we’re experiencing in the present moment. I’ve always loved the song “Walking in Your Footsteps” by The Police; it’s that sort of melodious longing for a buried past even as we live atop everything that has gone before us that this story is about for me. “Hey, mighty Brontosaurus, don’t you have a lesson for us?”

AV: So many great details in this story center on archaeology. Did this require much research?

MA: I did do a lot of research, but I love research. It’s so much easier than writing and it almost always leads me to change what the story is about in some way. Since Alicia is a scientist, and a sardonic one at that, I wanted her to tell her story using scientific details in a humorously cranky way. I tried to set that tone from the very first sentence.

AV: In addition to her focus on fossils, Alicia also mentions a number of modern references - helicopter parents, Silicon Valley, Reaganomics. Are these things characterized by the passage of time as well, of what will also come to pass?

MA: I think so, yes. And I think they also help to characterize Alicia--what she thinks about and what she has lived through in her little nano-slice of geologic time.

AV: In addition to fiction, you write poetry and non-fiction as well. Do these genres inform your fiction?

MA: I hope so. I hope readers of my stories learn a little something that they didn't know before, or at least think in a new way about something that they thought they already understood. Otherwise, what’s the point of writing? I would also love to think that each story gets delivered with a little bit of poetry. Fiction is like life – a whole bunch of messy carbon life forms all mucking about. But poetry? Poetry is the shiny, multi-faceted gem that all that carbon messiness condenses down to become.

AV: What are you currently working on?

MA: Well, I have a co-authored non-fiction book that is coming out in January of 2010 that I’m very proud of. It’s titled One Life to Give and is the story of my co-author’s childhood in Siberia, where he was banished by Stalin at the start of World War Two.

And I’m currently writing a novel set in a near-future dystopia when everything that can go wrong, has – environmentally, politically, and sexually. It’s a worst-case scenario of what the world might look like if we continue on with our current divisive, destructive tendencies. Think Margaret Atwood meets Kurt Vonnegut and you'll get an idea of the tone I’m striving for. I’m also thinking about how I might structure a book of essays, and tinkering with some flash fiction, too, which I’m finding that I really love.

Mary Akers’ fiction, poetry and non-fiction have appeared in Bellevue Literary Review, The Fiddlehead, Brevity, and other journals. She co-founded the Institute of Tropical Marine Ecology in Roseau, Dominica, and frequently writes fiction that focuses on the intersections between art and science, including such topics as diverse and timely as the environmental movement and the struggle for human and animal rights. She has an MFA from Queens University of Charlotte and has been a Bread Loaf writer and returning work-study scholar.

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An Interview With Len Kuntz

Len Kuntz’s “Summer Scalping; Scarecrows” appears in STORYGLOSSIA 37. Here, Len discusses where the story came from, his characters’ motivations and choices, and stories forthcoming in other journals.

Anne Valente: Where did the premise for this story coming from?

Len Kuntz: Much published fiction today (and I’m not being critical, because I’ve written my fair share) hinges on shock value or bizarre elements, and at the time I’d been reading Cormac McCarthy’s Border Trilogy, which breaks most of the rules of writing yet is perfect. The lyrical quality struck me, but even more so was it’s simple and honest narration. So “Summer Scalping” was an homage to that type of tale, while also being a page torn from actual events in my childhood. Close to ninety percent of the story is true.

AV: Though the narrator is somewhat forced to steal from Mr. Henderson, it's ironic that he constructs scarecrows to deter scavengers when he himself is more of a thief than crows might ever be. Was it difficult to create a narrator that is both sympathetic and culpable?

LK: Most characters I enjoy are likeable, but conflicted or damaged somehow. They’re ultimately good people that maybe make a bad choice or two. In this case, the boy struggles with loyalty and allegiance. He’s pitted against a morality that is colored by his family’s brutal indifference.

AV: I love the moment where the narrator confesses to Mr. Henderson that he wants to be a fashion designer. Why did this profession in particular feel like the right choice for the story?

LK: It was meant to juxtapose a blue collar life of hard labor. Fashion can be frivolous, yet it connotes freedom of expression and individuality. The sweater (purposely a “sky blue” shade) that Mr. Henderson gives the boy symbolizes possibilities and hope. A designer, by nature, controls the way he or she shapes things versus environment or another person (i.e., his mother) having that power.

AV: Mr. Henderson is an endearing character, and feels like more of a parent to the narrator than his own mother. How does his personality contrast with the narrator's, or create conflict?

LK: Henderson represents the boy’s conscience, so he becomes a symbol of righteousness while unknowingly casting the narrator’s guilt and shame back at the boy. I’d like to think that each of us has a person in our life who’s filled a few cracks our parents either couldn’t, or didn’t quite want to address. So certainly Mr. Henderson becomes a father figure.

AV: What are you currently working on? Any stories forthcoming that we can point readers to?

LK: I’m halfway through a novel that I hope to have finished by spring and I have a few stories forthcoming in Mud Luscious, decomP, Prick of the Spindle, Cricket Online Review and others. I also have a really lame blog which is really just a receptacle for my writing:

Len Kuntz has pieces appearing or forthcoming in such places as Mud Luscious, Dogzplot, Elimae, Word Riot, Outside Writers and others. He sometimes blogs at

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Wednesday, December 16, 2009

An Interview With J.A. Tyler

J.A. Tyler’s "When Jimmy Fishes For What Was His Mother" appears in STORYGLOSSIA 37. Here, J.A. discusses connecting objects in prose, haunting images, his editing work with Mud Luscious / ml press, and his forthcoming novel(la)s and works, including the just-released Inconceivable Wilson.

Anne Valente: This piece includes a series of haunting images in brief scene - hats, locusts, jars of preserves, rocks. How did these images come to you, and come together as a connected whole?

J.A. Tyler: I think, as with most images I use in my work, they are amalgamations of objects I have seen before I sit to write, while I am writing, and from the history in of my mind, the place where all the leftovers are stored. And while their occurrence / initiation is typically from the most random background, the connection of these into the piece at hand is where I focus my energy, letting the tone and environments of each text take over the images, roll them into the story and imbed rather than just leave them as brief whispered encounters.

AV: The images are not only haunting, but beautifully rendered in stunning language. How do your words find their shape? Did this story require much revision?

JAT: I am a fast writer and a minimal editor. When I write, I blare music to the point of being overwhelmed, I close my eyes, and I let go. That is my structure, my routine. Then as a segment or piece finishes (usually 1 – 2K a day) I revisit it top to bottom just once or twice to make sure it all hooks up in the way I intended and, hopefully, in the most effective way for the reader.

Also, thank you – I am enormously pleased that these images are seen as both haunting and beautiful - that was the most prevalent goal for me during the writing of these Jimmy texts.

AV: You are the founding editor of Mud Luscious / ml press. Does your editing work influence or affect your own writing?

JAT: My work with mud luscious / ml press affects my own writing on a daily basis. I am stirred by those pieces of lit that arrive in the inbox and nail something new, something unique, those texts that make me want to write then and there. And on the flipside, the terrible fodder that also shows up in the submission stream, it constantly reminds me of the elements to avoid, the traps we can fall into, the ways we can destroy our writing.

AV: You have four novellas forthcoming - Inconceivable Wilson (Scrambler Books, 2009), Someone, Somewhere (Ghost Road Press, 2009), In Love With A Ghost (Willows Wept Press, 2010) and A Man of Glass & All the Ways We Have Failed (Fugue State Press, 2011). Can you tell us a little about these projects?

JAT: The first is Inconceivable Wilson, which is available now from Scrambler Books. It is a novel(la) about a man being consumed as he consumes others. The writing is fragmentary and staccato, mimicking his own gaping in and out of consciousness as he is both metaphorically and literally devoured. This is my debut book and I think sets the right tone for readers who want to check out my extended work – it captures the rant / roll that I enjoy writing in and the environmental poetics I attempt to create. They can also read an excerpt that appeared previously with Storyglossia, in Issue 33.

Someone, Somewhere was actually written before all the others and contracted prior to them as well, but is now being slated for a very cool AWP release in Denver 2010. It is less aggressive than my other books but also has a genealogical bent that I really loved writing and that I think will give readers a bit of a breather after the constant push of the Scrambler release.

As for In Love With a Ghost, it is actually only in draft form now, but Molly Gaudry of Willows Wept Press liked the initial 12K words enough to contract it for publication in late 2010. In rough, it is piece that snaps whiplash style between a man drowning his wife and his experience in a warring nation, stacking rocks on top of burning fires in both locations, attempting to bury himself and his issues under mountains.

A Man of Glass & All the Ways We Have Failed is a book I just finished editing in the last month or two and happened to hit the estimable James Chapman of Fugue State Press in just the right way. Chapman has read (and rejected) all of my previous manuscripts and so knowing that I have finally found one that fits, that works among his tremendous catalog, is a great triumph for me, something I am enormously proud of. As for the piece, the content and the story, I want it to speak for itself: there is a reading of some excerpts at Apostrophe Cast and a short excerpt at the new Spilt Milk.

AV: What are you currently working on? Any stories forthcoming that we can point readers to?

JAT: If readers are interested in a little more Jimmy, a lengthy piece is forthcoming in the next issue of Caketrain and another smaller excerpt will be included in the second print issue from Corduroy Mtn.

Beyond that, I am working on pushing language harder in a piece tentatively titled ZZZZZZZZZZZZZ. It is a book-length project told in five parts, each one a repetition, an echo, a riff, a chant based on the previous; basically the same core story told five times, with five variations and a fantastic amount of stretching, adjusting, repeating, and restructuring between each. Excerpts from that are slated to appear soon with Diagram and A Capella Zoo.

J.A. Tyler’s is the author of the novel(la)s Inconceivable Wilson (Scrambler Books, 2009), Someone, Somewhere (Ghost Road Press, 2009) and In Love With a Ghost (Willows Wept Press, 2010) and has had recent work in Sleepingfish, Caketrain, Hotel St. George, elimae and Action, Yes. He is also founding editor of Mud Luscious / ml press. For more details, visit

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An Interview With John Jodzio

John Jodzio’s short story, “Octane,” appears in STORYGLOSSIA 37. Here, John takes a few moments to discuss humor and sadness in fiction, the art of restraint, his forthcoming collection If You Lived Here, You’d Already Be Home, and what he’s currently working on.

Anne Valente: Where did the premise for this story come from? That opening line is fantastic.

John Jodzio: This story was pulled together from a million different places. A friend who used to mix up fuel for an oil refinery, the inordinate number of men who look like warlocks at my neighborhood gas station, a newspaper story of a wife who cremated her husband in an barrel in her backyard. A bunch of these strange things somehow got mashed together into one.

AV: There's so much great humor in this piece, both subtle and poignant in how it brushes up against the sadder moments as well. How do humor and pathos work together for you, especially in this story?

JJ: What's funny to me is the fun way that the narrator's sadness over her husband's death bubbles up in her dealings with the other characters in the story. Everything that she says/does is borne out of this despair and out of her inability to confront his death directly. To me, the humor in the piece can't escape her sadness and her sadness can't escape the humor.

AV: The sadder moments are well-rendered, with the restraint to trust the reader in understanding. Are these poignant moments difficult to create? Is there ever a fear of overwriting, or a need for revision to achieve that restraint?

JJ: I am enormous fan of restraint. Poignant moments are always difficult to achieve, but they are especially difficult to achieve when they are overwritten. In revising a story, I think the one thing I am always certain to do is strip any sentimentality the story has in it. And I know that when I read things, I certainly enjoy filling in the some of the white space on my own.

AV: That final line is so wonderful, in linking gas and fuel lines to the human heart. How do you know when an ending is the right ending?

JJ: For this story, it was the realization that everything here was wrapped up in that metaphor and returning to that. For other stories, it is more of an emotional thing, finding some way to express the momentum in the story that was inevitable from its first line.

AV: Your story collection, If You Lived Here, You'd Already Be Home, is forthcoming from Replacement Press in 2010. Can you talk a little about the collection?

JJ: The collection comes out in mid-March. It's a fun batch of twenty stories that I've written over the last couple of years. If you even remotely enjoyed "Octane," the collection is probably right up your alley.

AV: What are you currently working on? Any stories forthcoming that we can point readers to?

JJ: I am starting to slowly outline a novel. We'll see what happens. I haven't ever written a story longer than twenty-five pages, so it's certainly up for debate if I can figure out how to push myself to a longer form.

Upcoming stories? I've got one on tap at Flatmancrooked called "Homecoming" and then "The Moonlighter" will be up at Five Chapters at the end of December.

John Jodzio is a winner of the Loft-McKnight Fellowship. His writing has appeared in a number of places, both print and online. A collection of his short fiction, If You Lived Here, You'd Already Be Home, will be published byReplacement Press in March 2010. Find out more at

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An Interview With Kodi Scheer

Kodi Scheer's short story, "Hero," appears in STORYGLOSSIA 37. Here, Kodi discusses the origins of the story, character psyche, her community work as a Dzanc Prize recipient, and her forthcoming works.

Anne Valente: Where did the premise for this story come from?

Kodi Scheer: Several years ago, I did the ritual backpacking trip to Europe, always wondering how anyone with a disability could navigate. I spent several evenings in the teahouses of Granada, sitting around the hookah and listening to flamenco with the other tourists. But mostly, I was observing people, and Granada was a great place to do that. The two characters arose while I was thinking about physical limitations, the body, and control.

AV: There is wonderful tension in "Hero" between emotional control and physical control. How do the two intersect - and perhaps conflict - for you in this story?

KS: It’s not so much a conflict between emotional and physical control as a misunderstanding on the part of the narrator, who’s been abused both emotionally and physically. She sees a disabled guitarist and, in her mind, empathizes with his condition—she begins making up backstory based on her own history. The narrator seeks to control her emotional anxiety by physically controlling another. For her, the two are much the same. This is the world as interpreted by a very damaged psyche.

AV: I love how this piece thwarts our expectations of seduction - here, instead of fabulous dresses and drinks, the narrator instead is met with a catheter, and a choice of drink or sex as a result. How does this scene, and the story altogether, manage the line between expectation and reality?

KS: Everything we see and know has already been filtered and interpreted and compared with similar memories. In the story, the narrator has already imagined a sort of history for the guitarist, based on her own experiences and pain, before she ever speaks to him. Everyone does this. What’s interesting to me is that moment in time when the fantasy can no longer be maintained by reality. The narrator doesn’t consider the practical difficulties that could arise from having a physical disability. It never occurs to her, so she fails to incorporate this into her fantasy. In the split second that the chasm between fantasy and reality first becomes apparent, she’s left without control. She realizes that yes, she can physically control this other person, but that’s not enough. What she really wants is control over herself, her own past. It’s in this moment that she realizes she’ll never be able to do that. It’s a problem that I think affects all of us, although maybe not so dramatically as the narrator of this story. That constant shifting of our worldview, shaped by our past and filtered by our expectations, when confronted by the minute, divergent details of life.

AV: You were recently awarded the Dzanc Prize for Excellence in Literary Fiction and Community Service. Can you talk a little about this achievement, and the community work you've been doing?

KS: Every year, Dzanc Books awards $5,000 to a fiction writer, which funds work on a community service project of the literary persuasion. I’ve had the wonderful opportunity to lead writing workshops and tutorials at the University of Michigan Cancer Center for patients, caregivers, and staff. At the moment, I’m working with a cancer survivor to produce a chapbook of her poetry. Overall, it’s been a very challenging and rewarding experience, and I hope to continue such work in the future.

AV: What are you currently working on? Any stories forthcoming that we can point readers to?

KS: I’m polishing a collection of fantastical short stories—actually, “Hero” is one of the few realistic stories in the manuscript—and working on a novel as well. I’m thrilled to report that my story “Gross Anatomy” is forthcoming in the winter issue of The Iowa Review.

Kodi Scheer earned an M.F.A. from the University of Michigan, where she received the 2008 Prize in Creative Writing for her thesis collection of short stories. Recently, she was awarded the Dzanc Prize for Excellence in Literary Fiction and Community Service. Her fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in The Iowa Review, Quarterly West, and Bellevue Literary Review.

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An Interview With Jennifer Greidus

Jennifer Greidus’s “Offa Rex, Pigeon Fancier” appears in STORYGLOSSIA 37. Here, Jennifer takes a few moments to talk about her own love for Offa Rex, the origins of the story, structure and style, her two novels, and forthcoming stories.

Anne Valente: In our previous interview for your work in Issue 36, you mentioned that "Offa Rex" is one of your favorite stories. We're very excited about its debut too - what makes this story one of your favorites?

Jennifer Greidus: Offa Rex is a super-villain that I know. He may not seem evil in this story, but I know him to be fraught with vile flaws and antisocial behavior. He assassinates his own character. He is perceived by the public as one of the dirtiest, most disloyal assholes in the world, and yet he commands attention, affection, and adoration. Lovers and losers wait for him – they wait on him – and all because he does one thing well: entertain.

I love this man. He’s a thief, a liar, a misery, and he shows up in my writing again and again. Offa Rex is self-destructive and theatrical, and at his best, he has charmed the pants right off me.

AV: The use of style - particularly with plus signs and italics - is prominent in this story, adding a kinetic energy to the words. Why did these feel like the right choice for the content at hand?

JG: This story is a spasm. It’s a panic. I didn’t pull the plus sign stunt to be quirky. I hastily wrote this on hotel stationery in London, and the plus signs were my shorthand. My recent memory is shifty, and my long-term memory is patchy. If I’m asked to recall an occurrence from more than a week ago, most of what I say is going to be embellished.

I had just attended an event – Offa was there, hating me and loving me – and I returned to my hotel room, dropped my bag on the floor, found that ever-present courtesy hotel pencil and the embossed letterhead, and shook out my spasm. The Offa affair was an obsession for me, and obsessions often follow the predictable and embarrassing lines of doom. My fixation, however, was welcomed and nurtured the closer I got to its object. I frantically wrote, hoping I could capture the detail of my experience, hoping I could snapshot what would never be as clear to me as it was at that moment.

When I returned home to Pennsylvania, I transcribed the story exactly as I’d written it, plus signs and all. Then I shaped it into fiction. I do think that the plus signs look lovely in there. There’s something about this work that’s visually pleasing to me: the way the dimensions of certain words complement their neighbors, the structure, the odd punctuation, and the beauty of italics versus the straight font. All of these things roll and halt and hiccup in such a way that pleases my eye.

AV: How do both the style and content work to reveal the relationship between performer and audience, particularly with these two characters?

JG: I might say, since this story is a bit abstract, that I don’t wish to elaborate on the poetry of it. But that would be an excuse, and a cheesy one. Truth is, I think it’s difficult to annotate your own work, so I might butcher this.

Offa’s a bastard, but he’s the kind of bastard you’d like to love. Hers is a life centered around this bastard. Because there is no traditional story arc, it feels to me as if she’s waited forever for Offa, she’s waiting as you read, and she’ll still be waiting after you’ve moved on to load the dishwasher.

During the show, she admires the hypnotic pull that Offa has over his audience, how they deem him beatific, yet confident, sexy, and capable, while she alone recognizes his blemished beauty: the unclean, needy addict, the lazy, lying egoist. She admires Offa for duping his audience and aligns herself more closely to him because of her acuity. Her delusion is that she’s the only person to have sussed out his true character, and she longs to tell him how she’s the only one who’ll ever love and understand the real – though sometimes revolting – Offa Rex. (You know, how stalkers are made.)

It was meant to be jarring when her ordinary life crept in, disrupting the reader, the protagonist, and the anxious, Asperger-like narrative. The hotel, her Connecticut scene, and the “wasters” – no one wants to ruin a good high with this bullshit reality. I hastily revealed the setting and the back-story because the focus is her frantic passion, how it is bloated with expectation, how it is her singular motivation to be near him, to understand him, and to have him somehow understand her. All the rest, though necessary for a brief sense of place and timing, is peripheral to her pursuit of and convergence with Offa Rex.

AV: You have completed a first novel and are currently working on a second. How is the long-form project going?

JG: Actually, thanks to Storyglossia, I was approached by another agent about my novel-length fiction. She read “This One, You’ve Heard Before” in Issue 36 and solicited me through an email. So, thank you, Steven and Anne.

I am still at work on my second novel, The War in Your Core, and I expect to be done the first draft by February. Currently, I am collaborating with an editor, whom I met through another literary magazine site. He is vicious! I’m having nightmares about his critiques: “You’re using no discretion;” “This isn’t as funny as it’s trying to be;” and “Tighter. Faster. No idioms. Next.” I laugh now because this story, “Offa Rex, Pigeon Fancier,” probably is one he’d shred. But I still love it. Offa is my love.

AV: Are you working on other short stories in the meantime? What other projects do you have going?

JG: Mostly, I’m tightening my existing work. I have another short piece, “Recover the Doubt,” an excerpt from The War in Your Core, forthcoming in Velvet Mafia’s 8th Anthology, but the publish date is still TBA. I was recently named a finalist in the 2009 RRofihe Trophy for the piece “The Six Hillocks of Hiss,” and I have ten or so stories in the open waters at this time.

Jennifer Greidus lives and writes in Bucks County, PA. She has work forthcoming at Velvet Mafia and Eclectica. Her story, "The Six Hillocks of Hiss," was a finalist in the 2009 RRofihe Trophy. Contact Jennifer at greidus1 AT

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Monday, December 14, 2009

An Interview With Isadora Wagner

Isadora J. Wagner’s “A Mathematical Theory of Elasticity” marks her first publication, appearing in STORYGLOSSIA 37. Isadora took a few moments to discuss found stories and origins, narrative structure, math and love, and story endings.

Anne Valente: Where did the premise for this story come from?

Isadora J. Wagner: It actually happened quite randomly. Brad Kessler assigned it as a writing exercise at the Kenyon Review summer conference in 2007. I was in his fiction workshop with ten other people, and one morning he came in the door with a stack of books from his nose to his knees. They were big, dusty books he'd pulled from the library. He proceeded to toss them down the table, telling us each to come back the next morning with a new story. The stories could be about anyone or anything, but had to in some way touch on the subject matter of the books. Some people got psychology; others got treatments on the orientation of the planets, or the proper care of white poodles for dog shows. The book I got was a 1923 Yale University Press textbook by A.E.H. Love called, "A Treatise on the Mathematical Theory of Elasticity". I had Love, math and elasticity right there.

Later when I sat down at a park bench and scanned through the book, I remember jotting down phrases that stuck out to me and sort of half thinking, what if it's a lovelorn math student on a college campus? I had been thinking to write a story about a young man caught between two loves at Madison for some time. From there, the story pretty much assembled itself. I remember walking back to my room with the phrases tumbling in my head. When I sat down, they poured out pretty much as you see them now. I don't think the story took more than 35 minutes to write.

AV: Structure plays a large part in this story, both in terms of the mathematical overlay and the numerical sections. Why did this structure feel right for the piece, and how does it interact with the content?

IJW: The section headings are phrases or paraphrases I lifted from the 1923 textbook. I had about twenty I had jotted down, and in assembling the piece and selecting material, I wanted some way to separate the book content from the narrative response. Cadence, or the idea of calling back and forth in submission and reply, was also on my mind. It's strong in poetry and song, and to me, the piece was almost like a poem of lament. It felt like a poem as I was putting it together with all its different parts, although it is also a story. These concerns led to the italics for the book parts, with the non-italics parts marking off the narrator's response: his lament back in lovesick love as he is working through the issues, both theoretical and personal. As for the numbers, they came from a different direction. I thought the piece read better with them, particularly aloud, and also I had an idea of the young man writing this stuff out in a journal, not all at once, but over the course of a few weeks or a semester.

AV: I love the notion of human relationships - and love - fitting into the structure of mathematical models. How does the relationship in this story either fit into or elude the given structure?

IJW: I was intrigued by the idea that love and math could be juxtaposed if elasticity was in the middle. I saw elasticity as a middle ground between the polar opposites, the one calling for a more flexible way of existence, and the other grounded in rigidity. As a non-math major, it was a revelation to me that fuzzy terms like plasticity and elasticity, stress and tension could be explained with mathematical or scientific models. I was working up in my thinking; I wondered what someone working the opposite direction, from the theoretical to real life, might conclude. Or rather I wondered how they might think, how love and its complications might get distorted or clarified through the rather particular lens of these theories. I'm not sure if I solved the problem this way, but I did feel at the end that the narrator felt he had.

AV: That final section is a perfect, haunting ending. How do you know when an ending is the right one, particularly for this story?

IJW: About the best explanation I've heard of endings is that they're right when there is nothing more to say. I felt that my narrator had reached that point when he got to the plant. He was done with the relationship, the girl was in Detroit, and the new love interest, Katya, had moved in or was about to--it really didn't matter what happened next since the piece was about the young man and his journey to let go of one love and turn toward another, and how even in rigidity, elasticity can be found. Once that was done, there was nothing more to say for the piece.

In this particular story, I was lucky that the narrator found the last lines; in others often I have to fish around. The thing that helps me, usually, is to try to separate out who's finishing--is it me the author, wrapping up my last thoughts and lines, or is it the character or narrator, seeing or thinking whatever it is that they see or think? That makes a difference in terms of where I can land, and sort of knowing as I get into the home stretch who's speaking helps. Of course it's always the character, but some characters and modes of narration are closer to the author than others, which are more like a temporary visitation or maybe a friendly possession!

AV: What are you currently working on?

IJW: Several pieces. Most of my writing these days concerns war vets, Wisconsin, and something that I hope approaches gothic in on the page.

Isadora J. Wagner lives and writes in Chicago. Her story, “The House the Thompsons Bought,” was nominated for Best American New Writers by the Sewanee Writers’ Conference in 2008. This is her first publication.

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An Interview With BP Whalen

BP Whalen's short story, “Semiotic Love,” appears in STORYGLOSSIA 37. Here, BP takes a few moments to discuss structure versus content in stories, working through our own difficulties on the page, how culture influences our desires, his work with Americorps, and his current writing projects.

Anne Valente
: Structure plays such a strong role in this story. How did you go about mapping and constructing it?

BP Whalen: It was a struggle. I'd first conceived of the piece after stumbling across this idea of the "semiotic square" (AJ Greimas), because I was reading a lot of narrative theory at the time and thought it would be fun to annoy people in workshop by composing a story based more on structure than on content. My goal was to physically represent the "semiotic square," and the first few drafts actually sprawled across the page in three columns: my attempt to show the action of the square across the space of the page, with all the detritus between the "Him" and "Her" columns in the center -- as the sort of engine driving the action, or the function, of the square. It got a little ridiculous, and I had to realize that the story suffered when I catered too much to the physical aspects of the piece -- the theory itself. I wound up reworking both the plot and the layout over the course of two years, and probably went through a couple dozen drafts before I finally felt I struck a balance between the organization and the story itself.

I understand now, as well, that my idea could never come across in perfection, and I actually like the way the concept doesn't quite "work" as a whole -- the imperfections are part of how the story functions, I think, a symptom of its own machinery. Every system has its flaws, and sometimes that's ok (says the author): emptiness leaves room for new inventions, new discoveries, differing interpretations. I hope there's enough emptiness -- enough inconclusiveness -- in this story to spark imagination.

AV: How did love and human relationships intersect with diagrams and math for you, in conceiving of and creating this story?

BPW: I always knew this was, at heart, a story about a broken relationship, based loosely on my own failed history with love: but at first I let my obsessions with design, and with theory, interfere with the transmission of the text-- the actual telling of the tale. I think that's the danger of being inspired by something outside of yourself, especially if it has a structural element, like a semiotic formula, a diagram, or anything conceptual. There's a lot of awesome possibility for creating art this way, but there's also a lot of danger if the structure becomes more important than the simple fact of telling a half-way decent story. I've learned that no matter how complex the relationship may be between a story and its structure, the two must mesh, as seamlessly as possible.

I wrote the first draft of this story during a time when I was going through some real difficulties. I'd just been diagnosed with a mild case of Tourette Syndrome, accompanied by a side dish of OCD. All my life I knew there was something peculiar about the way my mind worked -- or rather how it refused to work, in a rational sense -- but this was the first time I had a diagnosis to go along with my oddities. I was also, as I mentioned earlier, reading a lot of narrative and literary theory, and a lot of that stuff really hit home with me -- but at the same time it made me feel even more lost, more confused about my situation. In a way I feel like my OCD is begging me to have more order and sequence in my life, while my Tourette's is busy sabotaging my attempts with chaotic, random impulses and screwy tics -- my Tourette's seems happiest when I'm in ruin.

This story was, I think, a way for me to work things out on the page: to strike a balance between composure and compulsion -- a negotiation between honoring the integrity of the linguistic "square," while at the same time undoing that integrity by embodying this weird, disorderly dreamscape in-between. I suppose the sections in-between the columns owned by Max and the female protagonist represent the mental crap that clogs the holes in the screen that exists between two people. We try to make things work in the real, interpersonal world: but our heads seem to work against us -- the hodgepodge of dreams, nightmares, and random stuff that's constantly churning beneath our controllable personalities.

In another sense, the tension inherent in the design of this story is what it's like to live inside my head. Order versus disorder, control versus chaos. Honestly, I think a lot of writers feel this struggle between what our minds want us to do and what needs to come across on the page in order for a story to be intelligible. It's not just me: it's anyone who has creative impulses. We might feel an itch to write the words "fuckety duckety goose" from margin to margin, but in reality that's nonsense. Writing needs to be intelligible to some degree: to have some sort of meaning beyond itself.

I suppose I feel it's my job as a writer to represent my own insanity in a way that correlates with other people's insanity: so there's a communication going on, a shared space where someone else can say, "Yeah, I get that way sometimes!" Or maybe they say, "Jeez, I'm glad I don't think like THAT character." Either way, they need to be able to relate, in some degree, to something in the story. Theory aside, the reader needs to feel a human being behind the text.

AV: Even though Max is the one who kisses someone else, the female protagonist seems to perpetually want something other, some idea of things and not the actual thing itself (like Max). Is there a disconnect in this relationship - and maybe relationships in general - between concept and reality?

BPW: I think you said it better than I could, but I'll elaborate for the sake of demonstrating how little writers sometimes understand about their own work.

We've all got these images in our head of good love: delusions that can never match up to reality. I think Max, though perhaps a little dull at times, is more mature in his understanding of what love really is. The female protagonist, like myself, is very much a child. I wish, for our sakes, she and I could grow up and accept what reality has to offer. Then we might just make the best of it and stop complaining.

I've never met anyone, man or woman, who was entirely content with what the world is offering. Maybe I'm just meeting the wrong people, but it seems to me an essential part of being human is this disregard for all we have in desire of what we think we ought to have. It would be amusing, really, if it didn't cause us so much pain.

I think culture is to blame, in part: the "Her" in this story is far too smart and too well read for her own good, and all the literary theory she's been forced to swallow in school has wounded her sense of identity. Everything she experiences is filtered through the lens of someone else's idea of life, sex, gender, love, etc. She's never learned to escape the pull of her pre-judgments, her learned prejudices. These things prevent her from appreciating and embracing life -- especially relationships.

On a more everyday scale, it's the problem most of us have with movies, books, music. We all want to fall in love like Ross and Rachel from Friends, or to have interesting sex lives like the characters in Sex and the City. I mean, who wouldn't want to experience love the way Avril Lavigne does in her songs? I know a girl who is obsessed with Jane Austen, and she treats dating like a 19th century affair. I think it limits her, like my own perversions and obsessions, my trivial likes and dislikes, limit me. It's healthy to understand our limitations: it opens up the possibility that someday we might change.

AV: You work as an Americorps Vista in Iowa, in collaboration with food pantries. Can you talk a little about your work? Does your day-to-day work ever influence your writing?

BPW: As a writer, I'm pretty typical: I live inside my head, I'm selfish, I'd rather spent the afternoon in bed than show my face to other people, etc. One of the reasons I chose to do Americorps was because I knew it would force me to extrovert myself. It's been an amazing experience, particularly working with Iowa Homeless Youth Centers and learning about the real material challenges some kids face, beyond the psychological. I've really had to step outside myself to do this kind of work, which is good for me.

Most writers are introverts. It's very difficult for introverts to engage in the world beyond ourselves, even on a small scale -- but I think it's essential. The work I do for Americorps -- helping to build the capacity of small nonprofits, so they can better advocate on behalf of those less fortunate -- is a daily "wake up" call. It's similar to a piece of string tied around my finger: a reminder that there's a hell of a lot going on in the world that doesn't revolve around my own interests. A foster kid who runs away from an abusive home and needs a safe place to sleep doesn't need to know about a semiotic square, just as a single mother of three who just lost her job and needs a week's worth of food from the emergency pantry could care less about the conversations that go on in writing workshops.

It's good to keep perspective, I think, and I'm finding plenty of opportunity to laugh at my own solipsism (like using the word solipsism in this context). I enjoy the daily dose of humility my job provides, and I recommend this sort of thing for any writer who shares my own obsessive tendencies. Writing is fun, sure, and it's important to be creative, to invent. But it's not good to take writing so seriously that we forget to enter reality from time to time. Maintaining a broader notion of the world, and how our small work fits into the larger scheme of things, can only help our craft: can only make our output more important, more humane.

But that sounds preachy. It's been nice, is all -- though whether or not it effects my writing is really yet to be determined. I hope it does.

AV: What are you currently working on?

BPW: Revising the novel I wrote for my MFA thesis, and trying to "clean house" and finish off this horde of partial stories and half-assed poems I wrote during the MFA. Students get a lot of attention from faculty and a lot of encouragement to churn out pages at ISU. The program there is small and wonderful, and it really changed the way I think about and go about writing. But I've come to realize, after graduating, that in my own journey to learn discipline as an artist -- that is, to produce actual work on a regular, if not daily, basis -- I wound up compromising my own vision in a lot of ways. Direction is great when you're a student, but now I feel like I'm coming into my own as writer, and I want to go back through all the work I wrote during the MFA and reinvigorate it with a stronger sense of my own identity, my own gut inclinations.

I feel a little like the OCD side of things took over while in school, which, for me, was essential in learning how to write a decent story: stuff like plot, character, pacing, perspective -- the orderly business of crafting a readable narrative. But now I think I want to set the Tourettish side of things loose for a while, to see what happens when I follow my own instincts. I'm hoping I've internalized the lessons learned from "Semiotic Love," and that I'm able now to follow my own muse, so to speak, while also striking that balance between the inner and the outer worlds, the order and the chaos -- to be true to myself as a writer and a head case, while also maintaining an open connection with my reader. I imagine, Tourette's and OCD aside, that all writers seek this sort of unity. That said, if I find myself writing "fuckety duckety goose" across the page, I'll reconsider my approach. Maybe.

BP Whalen received his MFA in Creative Writing and Environment from Iowa State University. His work has appeared in Storyglossia, Eclectica, GoldDust, The Dream People, and Raging Face, and is forthcoming in RHINO, WordRiot, The Delinquent, and Noun Versus Verb. He currently serves as an Americorps VISTA in Des Moines, IA, collaborating with Iowa Homeless Youth Centers, Central Iowa Shelter, and local food pantries to raise awareness about homelessness and hunger in the Midwest.

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An Interview With Gary Moshimer

Gary Moshimer’s “Feel Your Boobies” appears in STORYGLOSSIA 37. Here, Gary discusses writing humor, narrative distance, point of view, his own childhood lemonade stand, and forthcoming works.

Anne Valente: There’s so much great humor in this story. Is humor hard to write, or does it come naturally for you?

Gary Moshimer: Thank you. I didn't consciously plan for this to be a “humorous” piece, but I think because of the circumstances and the misconceptions of the brothers it naturally became comical. I see it as an equally tragic story, brothers whose parents are fake and don't spend a lot of time with them, leaving them to their own devices.

AV: The fantastic humor is due in part, I think, to your mastery of narrative distance – the children’s point of view contrasts so well with our understanding as adult readers. Was it difficult to get back into the mindset of young children?

GM: Of course, the humor is totally due to the fact that we as adults see how inappropriate the brothers' actions are. I didn't have trouble getting into the mindset of these two. I did some pretty weird things as a kid. Me and a friend actually did put vodka into lemonade we were selling by the highway, but no one stopped, so we drank it and threw up on the lawn in front of my father.

AV: It’s interesting that you choose two brothers as the collective point of view. Why did two children feel like the right choice for the story, as opposed to the mindset of one child?

GM: The brothers, to me, had to function as one unit, like soldiers, for their survival. It's kind of them against the world, righting the wrongs. They have to save their maid and help the teacher and even salvage a heroic image of their father in their own minds. I never really stopped to think about this point of view. It just seemed the way it had to be.

AV: Breast cancer, Kool-Aid stands, saving the women of the world – how did all of these elements come together for you? How did this story begin?

GM: This all started when I saw that sticker on a car: Feel Your Boobies. I wasn't sure I'd seen it correctly, and some girl at work said that yes, she had one that said, Save the TaTas. I knew I had to use that in a story somehow, and I saw some kids running a benefit car wash, so I began thinking about even younger kids trying to raise money in ways they thought grown-ups wanted them to, and it all kind of went from there.

AV: What are you working on now? Any forthcoming stories we can point readers to?

GM: I'm excited to have a story coming up in Smokelong Quarterly in December, and one in Necessary Fiction.

Gary Moshimer has stories in Word Riot, Eclectica, Emprise Review, PANK, Northville Review, Keyhole 7, and others. He works in a hospital.

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An Interview With Amber Sparks

Amber Sparks’s “If You Don’t Believe, They Go Away” appears in STORYGLOSSIA 37. Here, Amber takes a few moments to discuss imagination, monsters, fairy tales, believing and not believing, carrying the glow of childhood into adulthood, and forthcoming stories.

Anne Valente
: This story is absolutely beautiful. How did it come to be?

Amber Sparks: Thank you! Every once in a while I'll sit down to write something and it just twists and wriggles and slips away from me and sort of turns into something else altogether--and that was my experience with this story. It was going to be straight third person story about the relationship between an old man and a little girl, and then I found that I had little to no interest in the old man and a fascination with the little girl. This actually happens to me a lot with the kids in my stories. This time I found that my interest in the little girl was primarily an interest in her relationship with reality, or rather with imagination, and the story just grew out of that idea: that the most profound and sometimes troubled relationships can be had with an imaginary world.

AV: There is wonderful tension here between imagination and reality, between what is real and what isn't, and how those lines are blurred. Which is privileged in the world of the story? Which should be?

AS: I think here imagination is privileged, as I think it probably is in pretty much all of my stories. I definitely tried to blur those lines not just for the little girl, but for her entire family as well. And so I think imagination is privileged because it ends up being the catalyst for everything that follows. If the little girl were an unimaginative child, she'd probably never have talked to the old man in the first place, because she'd have been told in her DARE class or wherever (do they still have DARE?) not to talk to strangers and she'd never have questioned that. She'd never have interested the old man or been so precious to her family if she didn't have that imagination. And because the lines are blurred--at least I hope it comes across that way--you feel sorrier for the family than for the little girl, because they're the ones who've lost the most, ultimately. Not just a child, but that sense of play and wonder and magic that the little girl was the last link to. And with her goes excitement, too, because of the thrill and the danger inherent in the fairy tale. Things become very dull for her family without it.

That was one of the things I really wanted to emphasize in the story--the sense of danger that comes, or should come, with anything magical. There are the two sides of the coin; the wonder and the danger, the unknown. My favorite fairy tales and stories were always the ones where there was something terrifying in the abyss, a sense of the ominous and sometimes great sadness behind every fairy or spell. And where the danger was especially great for children because they believed. I grew up reading tales by Hans Christian Andersen, E. Nesbit, Roald Dahl, Natalie Babbitt, and later, writers like Isak Dinesen and Borges—and that's the kind of fairy tale I have in my head when I write about childhood.

AV: Childhood is well-handled in this story, for that fine line that exists in children between reality and imagination. Do adults lose that line? The adults here seem to, and the result is heartbreaking.

AS: Yes, I think most adults do lose that line. And so goes that sense of danger, but also the thrill at the unknown that accompanies it. And the fact does break my heart, constantly. I used to do improv comedy, and one of the first things you learn in improv is to start thinking like a kid again--because adults are too bound by what could or couldn't happen. Kids don't care. For kids, anything and everything is real and no possibilities have been lost yet, and that's both terrifying and wonderful and absolutely freeing.

I mean, when I was a kid, my brother and I were going to grow up and--after we were done being famous archeologists and maybe also astronauts--retire and run a turquoise and pink cafe, and drive a purple car, and live in a purple house with my husband Shaggy from Scooby Doo and my brother's girlfriends, New Cindy and Old Cindy, and our mutual best friend Be-Bo-Do-It. And there was no reason in the world we couldn't do those things. And that's what I love about kids--I find kids so charming and funny because their brains are a complete surprise, a living jumble sale. As soon as you start to lose that sense of the possible, you kind of cross that line.

But I try hard to stay in that world as much as possible; I love fantasy and fairy tales and sci-fi and magic realism and monster movies and in the very back of my head I'm always secretly thinking, there's still time. I could still crawl into a wardrobe and fall into a fantastical world with talking fauns. Or wake up in King Arthur's time. Or find a magic amulet. Or be kidnapped by the Snow Queen. You can see why I identify with the kids in my stories.

AV: In some ways, this story feels like the plight of writers everywhere, in believing in stories, and seeing what others might not understand. Was this something you considered while you wrote?

AS: Maybe not consciously, but I think this theme is more or less present in everything that I write. After all, I suppose writing is all about seeing something, understanding something others can't or won't. All writers are a little more like children, because they have to be willing to conjure up all the impossibilities. Well, at least the writers I care about reading.

AV: What are you currently working on? Any stories forthcoming that we can point readers to?

AS: Right now I'm actually working on a bunch of stories that I hope to turn into a book eventually--stories about imaginary figures, from tall tale, folk tale and legend. Not so much straight-up retellings, but stories about how weird they all are. Matchbook is actually publishing one of them in an upcoming issue, a story about Paul Bunyan called “The Monstrous Sadness of Mythical Figures.” I've also got a bunch of stories coming up in really great publications in the next few months: JMWW, decomP, Wigleaf, Annalemma, mud luscious, Grist, and A capella Zoo, for instance. And I'm reading everything I can get my hands on. It's a really exciting time to be a reader, because there's so much terrific writing going on in the indie print and online community right now. I can't get enough of it.

Amber Sparks’s work has been published or is forthcoming in various publications, including Wigleaf, Annalemma, decomP, Mud Luscious, and Necessary Fiction. She lives in Washington, D.C., and can be found online at

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