So You Wrote a Book? Len Kuntz

Looking into the darkest parts of humanity with compassion and honesty, the nuggets in Len Kuntz’s This is Why I Need You are keyholes into the quiet desperation of your neighbor, the painful tragedy of your lover, and the exquisite experience of being human: both pain and wonder, horror and redemption. Kuntz overturns the dark stones and pokes at the wiggling decay with a loving, careful, but unflinching bedside manner. He faces the wound of humanity, pulls out the poisoned arrows, and lets us see the rupture. And in seeing it, somehow, we are healed.

 

Nancy Stohlman: Describe this book in six words.

Len Kuntz: Stories for broken and imperfect people

NS: I’ve read several of your books, including Dark Sunshine and I’m Not Supposed to Be Here and Neither are You, and they all have that searing “Len” quality: you love to break our hearts, and we love you for it. How is This Is Why I Need You different from your other books?

LK: Honestly, I think the only thing that is different are the stories.  The voice is pretty much the same.  People still struggle with their problems.  Characters get hurt.  The only slight difference is the last linked twelve stories are a little bawdier than I usually write.

NS: You have a character, Jess, that continues to show up in multiple stories but isn’t (I don’t think) the same exact character. Can you speak to Jess as a literary device? Is Jess more of an archetype or an everyman/everywoman?

LK: Names are important, and maybe even more so in stories.  But they can trip things up, claim too much attention or even mislead the reader.  I like Jess when you need a name for reader convenience, yet the name itself isn’t crucial to the story.  I also like the quasi asexual quality of the name, how Jess/Jesse could be female or male.

NS: Many of these stories have a little thematic or imagery “hook” into the story before or after like literary chain mail. Were the hooks intentional in the writing or in the arranging process? Did you have to manipulate them or were they already apparent?

LK: I almost never know what the story is going to be about.  I just start with the first sentence, and if I like the sound of it, or the weight or potential of it, then I move to the next sentence, then the next, and so on.

NS: The last 12 stories in fact are linked more overtly, like self-contained flash sequence connected by the 14th of each month. Any significance with the 14th?

LK: Yes, it’s a linked flash-novella.  That was born out of a really cool project Matt Potter (PURE SLUSH) created where he took 30 writers and assigned us a date.  Mine was January 14th.  Then from there we had to continue through an entire year—Feb. 14th, March 14th all the way to Dec 14th.  Matt is a terrific editor and all-around great guy.  He published all of our pieces in an anthology through PURE SLUSH then separately printed each of our novellas into our own private book.  He titled mine My Uncertain Search For Myself, which I thought was brilliant.

NS: Have you thought about writing a book that was more intentionally threaded, a flash novel or novella?

LK: I have briefly, but now that you’re bringing it up I’m thinking about it more.  My best friend, Robert Vaughan and I spent a couple of months where we each challenged ourselves to write a poem a day, so we ended up with something like 120 combined.  We’re going to paginate them into a manuscript and hopefully find a publisher.

NS: Your characters are often hiding secrets, summed up perfectly in this thought: “All your life you think you know someone and then you discover you don’t. That must be how it is when neighbors learn the insurance salesman in the rambler ends up being a serial killer.” Can you talk about this impulse in your work? Should all writing aim to expose?

LK: Secrets are fascinating, don’t you think?  We all have them, and we all have secrets that are kept from us as well.  As material for writing, secrets are brimming with possibilities.  I don’t necessarily know if all writing should aim to expose, but it should jolt you in some way.  When I worked in the corporate world, I used to say that, as a leader, when you’re through talking to someone you should leave that person feeling as if a warm mitt had been imprinted on both their head and heart.  You should leave them stimulated, their mind buzzing, and their emotions stirred.  I think that’s what any type of writing should do.

NS: This metaphor seems to describe your work perfectly: “…like those wicked weeds that look plain until you touch them and invisible needles sink into your skin.” Would you say your writing is like those invisible needles?

LK: Hopefully, and that’s nice of you to ask.  I tend to write about the tough stuff in life because we’ve all been through our share of it, and if I’m able to portray things authentically, yet hopefully, I think the reader can identify with the writing, even when it hurts.

NS: You publish both poetry and prose, although this book is prose. Can you talk about your own crossover? Where are you most comfortable?

LK: I love writing anything short, sometimes very short. Novels, especially tomes, bogle my mind.  I’m in awe of how an author can write about tedium without making it tedious.

Poetry is probably my favorite form.  You can do so many things with it.

But mostly I just enjoy starting small fires, pieces that (hopefully) pop and spark and bring out some sort of emotional depth, then get out of the room.

NS: This is Why I Need You is published by Ravenna Press. Talk about your path to publication with this book and/or your experience with Ravenna.

LK: Kathryn Rantala runs Ravenna.  I’ve still never met her yet I feel as if I have.  She put out three books by Kim Chinquee, one of my idols and virtual mentors.  On a lark, I sent Kathryn a note asking when their submission window would open because the site said Closed.  She wrote back that they’re always open for writers they like and to send something, so I did that very night—a poetry manuscript and This Is Why I Need You.  Kathryn was a delight to work with.  She’s just a lovely person through and through.  If I could, I’d put out all my books with her. 

NS: Anyone who follows you or your work knows that you are incredibly prolific. What is your secret?

LK: Truthfully, I’m just incredibly lucky.  I get to write full-time, every day.  So many writers have jobs and have to squeeze in 20 minutes of writing here or there.  But I do write really fast.  Usually a story will take no more than 15 minutes.  The other thing that helps so much is finding great authors who use language in surprising ways i.e, Sabrina Orah Mark, Steven Dunn, Heather Christle.  I’ll be reading their book, and a phrase or certain word will spark an idea, and I’ll put the book down every other page, vomiting out piece after piece.  Lastly, a bath with bubbles and wine works wonders.  Really.  I’ve written some of my favorite things in the tub.   

NS: What advice would you give someone who is writing/wants to write a book?

LK: Of course, it depends where they’re at in their writing journey.  For a novice, I would say, study the craft as if you’re studying to get a Master’s degree.  Ultimately, write what moves you, what brings you joy after you’ve written it.  Then get extra sets of eyes on your work before submitting.  Plead for honest feedback and don’t be offended or hurt if some of what they say isn’t what you wanted to hear.  Write you best book.  It’s going to out-live you. 

NS: Anything else you want to add?

LK: I love writing and I love writers of all kinds.  I try to be a good literary citizen to my tribe.  It all feels like such a gift. 

NS: Links to buy the book or other promo links:

I have a blog where I post new writing, or something of that ilk, every M, W, Friday without fail.  It’s at lenkuntz.blogspot.com. My last two books are on Amazon.

NS: Thank you for playing, Len!

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 Len Kuntz is a writer from Washington State, and the author of four books, most recently the story collection, THIS IS WHY I NEED YOU, out now from Ravenna Press.  You can find more of his writing at lenkuntz.blogspot.com

So You Wrote a Book? Cath Barton

Cath Barton’s award-winning novella, The Plankton Collector, is a modern-day parable, a allegory for a defeated world. The Plankton Collector is that archetype from dreams and fairytales: a hero in disguise who arrives just as one family is on the ledge of their grief. This slim book gives you hope for humanity and lets you remember that angels are among us, watching, and, every so often–stepping in.

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Nancy Stohlman: Describe this book in 6 words:

Cath Barton: Mysterious stranger helps grieving family recover

NS: This is your first published book! Has the process been what you thought it would be?

CB: I really had no idea what the process would be! I entered the book for the New Welsh Writing AmeriCymru Prize for the Novella in 2017, with absolutely no expectation of success as the competition was open to writers throughout the UK and in the whole of North America. So I was amazed and delighted to win, and that the prize included publication.

It was a whole year before the book came out and that seemed an awfully long wait. I understand more about timescales in the publishing industry now!

NS: You say in your Acknowledgements that you weren’t planning to write a novella until challenged. Where did the idea for this story come from? Had this idea always been there or did it come after the challenge?

CB: The family in my book started life in a flash fiction piece I had written as an exercise some time before the challenge, about a boy looking out of his window at his mother visiting the grave of his brother. The graveyard is just beyond their garden. The house, the garden and the graveyard became key locations in the novella, which grew around the death of the brother. As for the Plankton Collector who helps the family, where is came from is as mysterious as everything else about him!

NS: Have you ever met the Plankton Collector?

CB: Not yet, as far as I know, though I could of course have been sitting at the next table to him in a cafe without realising it. As could you!

NS: How did your experience writing flash fiction help you write a novella (or not)?

CB: Yes, I think the discipline of working on flash, making every word is essential, is good training for the novella form, where not only is there no room for excursions from the story, but also, I feel, the emotional content is very concentrated. I like that – I’m not by nature a discursive writer, and I appreciate the challenge of making a story as taut as possible. 

NS: The Plankton Collector won the 2017 New Welsh Writing award—congratulations! Do you consider yourself a Welsh Writer? If so, what does that mean to you?

CB: Thank you! The answer to that is yes – and no! I wasn’t born in Wales, so I’m not Welsh.  I have lived here since 2005, and I do have an affinity with the country, but so I do with England, where I was born, and Scotland, where my parents were from. I identify as a British writer and also, I might add, as a European one.

Of course, as a writer living in Wales I have access to some specific writing opportunities, for which I’m very grateful. I was given mentoring support through Literature Wales last year, which helped me complete a collection of short stories.

NS: You have another book coming out later this year, I believe? What can we expect from that book? How is it similar/different from The Plankton Collector?

CB: I’ve got a second novella coming out in September 2020. It’s called In the Sweep of the Bay, which refers to Morecambe Bay, in north west England, where it’s set. It’s about a family as The Plankton Collector is, but focussing on the joys and sorrows of a long marriage, so the emphasis is different. And there’s no magical realism is this one.

NS: What is your best advice to someone who is writing/wants to write a book?

CB: Concentrate on the writing – tell your story the way you want to. Don’t think about publication until you’ve got the book done.

NS: Anything else you want to add?

CB: Thanks so much for inviting me along, Nancy!

The Plankton Collector is available in the US through Amazon as an e-book and also in paperback.

Also through Barnes and Noble as a paperback or NOOK book.

UK readers can order on-line through Amazon, Gwales or any branch of Waterstones.

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Cath Barton’s prize-winning novella The Plankton Collector is published by New Welsh Rarebyte. Her second novella, In the Sweep of the Bay, will be published by Louise Walters Books in September 2020, and her short story collection, The Garden of Earthly Delights, by Retreat West Books in early 2021. Cath is also active in the on-line flash fiction community and is a regular contributor to the online critical hub Wales Arts Review.https://cathbarton.com/  @CathBarton1

Rain Taxi Summer 2019: “Nancy Stohlman–Freaks of Flash Fiction: Clowns, Flash, and Lounge Metal” interviewed by Zack Kopp

Zack Kopp and I had a fantastic time chatting and getting weird in the latest print version of Rain Taxi, now out! Rain Taxi is such an amazing publication, and Zack is a fantastic interviewer! 

Rain Taxi Volume 24, Number 2, Summer 2019 (#94)

To purchase issue #94 using Paypal, click here.

Check out the full issue here

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INTERVIEWS

NANCY STOHLMAN: Clowns, Flash, and Lounge Metal | interviewed by Zack Kopp
ED PAVLIĆ: If the Dead Could Speak | interviewed by Ken Walker
MICHAEL JOYCE: The Telling Falls in the Full of Time | interviewed by Erin Lewenauer

FEATURES

Widely Unavailable: Northrop Frye Unbuttoned | by Richard Kostelanetz
Remembering Tony Hoagland | by Mike Schneider
Black Market Reads: Ross Gay | by Lissa Jones
The New Life | a comic by Gary Sullivan

PLUS:

Cover art by Zak Sally

NONFICTION REVIEWS

Diderot and the Art of Thinking Freely | Andrew S. Curran | by John Toren
The Banished Immortal: A Life of Li Bai | Ha Jin | by Patrick James Dunagan
Tosh: Growing Up in Wallace Berman’s World | Tosh Berman | by Christopher Luna
Native Enough | Nina O’Leary | by Christina Schmid
Questioning Minds: The Letters of Guy Davenport & Hugh Kenner | Edward M. Burns, ed. | by W. C. Bamberger
The Poem Electric: Technology and the American Lyric | Seth Perlow | by Christopher T. Funkhouser
An Informal History of the Hugos | Jo Walton | by Ryder W. Miller

FICTION REVIEWS

Passing | Nella Larsen | by David Wiley
Instructions For a Funeral | David Means | by Erin Lewenauer
If You See Me, Don’t Say Hi | Neel Patel | by Cindra Halm
A Student of History | Nina Revoyr | by Julia Stein
The Secret History of My Sojourn in Russia | Jaroslav Hašek
and Sentimental Tales | Mikhail Zoshchenko | by M. Kasper
Everything Under | Daisy Johnson | by Micah Winters
Coldwater Canyon | Anne-Marie Kinney | by Eric Aldrich

POETRY REVIEWS

Sight Lines | Arthur Sze | by M. Lock Swingen
Kill Class | Nomi Stone | by Jason Ericson
The Blue Clerk: Ars Poetica in 59 Versos | Dionne Brand | by John Bradley
Mitochondrial Night | Ed Bok Lee | by Jeremy Flick
Fake News Poems | Martin Ott | by Erik Noonan
A Memory of the Future | Elizabeth Spires | by Paula Colangelo
Suspension | Paige Riehl | by Denise Low
Waiting for the Wreck to Burn | Michele Battiste | by Denyse Kirsch

COMICS REVIEWS

R. Crumb’s Dream Diary | Robert Crumb | by Jeff Alford
The Three Escapes of Hannah Arendt: A Tyranny of Truth | Ken Krimstein | by Michael Workman

Check out the full issue here

 

Flash Fiction editor Tommy Dean interviews Nancy Stohlman in CRAFT Literary Magazine

CRAFT’s flash fiction section editor Tommy Dean chats with Nancy Stohlman-Author about MADAM VELVET’S CABARET OF ODDITIES, flash fiction, craft, and more:

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EXCERPT

Tommy Dean: What was your process of crafting this collection together? There’s seems to be a shift from the constant narrator around page twenty-one to twenty-two with the list of circus performers. Was this intentional? What effect were you hoping for?

Nancy Stohlman: Oh yes, very intentional. And even more so in the work I’m doing now—I teach that there are many ways of approaching a collection. One way is to look at it like a “greatest hits” album of work in an order that is rhythmic and pleasing and that is perfectly alright. But I tend to go for the “concept album” approach instead, allowing the juxtapostions of story against story to create another layer of white space and give birth to a second layer of story. It’s my favorite part these days.

Read more:

https://www.craftliterary.com/2019/05/28/interview-nancy-stohlman/