So You Wrote a Book? Michael Loveday

Michael Loveday’s debut novella-in-flash, Three Men on the Edge, is a story in three movements, a triptych of liminal spaces that forces the reader to consider the interior landscapes of others and how rarely we intersect with or even understand the tortured lives of our nearest neighbors, friends, strangers.

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Nancy Stohlman: In the spirit of flash fiction, describe this book in six words:

Michael Loveday: “For sale. Crazy muse. Never porn.” (that’s Hemingway, right?)

NS: Ahem–of course (wink)! Now your bio says that you are “inspired by his experiences of an in-between place.” Explain. Do you think we are all living in in-between places in some form or another?

ML: The specific inspiration for ‘Three Men on the Edge’ was the weird hinterland between northwest London and the Hertfordshire countryside where I lived for ten years – an urban-rural “edgeland” that became the setting for the book. These kinds of places (neither fully city nor countryside) are quite a common phenomenon in 21st century capitalism, certainly in the West (and of course have been so for a while).

But it’s true I was interested in liminal states in an emotional and abstract sense too. The geographical edgeland is a backdrop for describing those.

I guess in some sense this human experience is always one of “becoming”, as much as we might crave it to be only one of “being”. The more the pace of the world seems to speed up through cultural and technological change, the more we always seem to be hurtling towards some other way of living.

NS: I read this almost like the three movements of a symphony with a fast-slow-fast movement. Talk about your organizational choices?

ML: Yes I guess you’re right. I knew I had three separate but related sequences of short prose pieces, adding up to a kind of triptych, all linked by the shared setting (and certain shared themes about relationships and mental health).

Originally I had the middle sequence (‘The Invisible World’) as the last one. It stood out as different – more meditative, more descriptive, closer to prose poems, and as much about the watery landscape of the canals and lakes of Rickmansworth as it is about a person. I thought, naively, it would be a more substantial way to end the book. But it was just sort of dangling out there as a third limb.

It was my wife who suggested putting this section in the middle. She was so obviously right! With the new order, there was a sense of symmetry, the energy picked up again in the final third, the mood became (slightly!) more comic again, and the pieces more character-driven once again. It also created the pattern that the main protagonists became progressively younger in age through the course of the book.

NS: I find it interesting that all three of the men in here are defined in some way by the women in their lives—loveless marriage, dead wife, fantasy woman. Comment.

ML: Yep, and I’d argue they’re defined by a need for non-sexual female companionship too. Women have been influential, stabilising influences in my own life and the book was intended as an exploration of what can happen to men if they aren’t connected in a healthy way to women, or to the feminine principle in general. I think it’s a big problem in some parts of our culture.

NS: You have super detailed eye to nature, especially in the second movement (Gus). Are you a secret botanist or gardener?

ML: Oh gosh I’m terrible! I never know the names for anything and am always wondering “what the hell type of plant is that?” If I had more time I’d definitely do a course of study in it. The book was a deliberate act of witnessing in terms of the local landscape, but I had to work with terms and concepts that were fairly familiar to my suburban soul.  Eco-fiction for the suburbs?

NS: All three of these men are living lives of “quiet desperation” as Thoreau would say. It makes me wonder (and this has been a topic of conversation in wider circles): do you think we talk enough about men’s darkest emotions and weaknesses?

ML: There’s been improvement but I think there’s so much further we could go as a society. When I had my own struggles with my mental health starting in the mid-90s I had no preparation for it, no vocabulary or language or comfort with the territory. I was very aware of the fact that I was embarking into terrain that would mean I lost connection with some of my “closest” male friends. And I did. Not with all, but with some.

Things have got better in general since then, at least for the broad majority I think, in terms of awareness, understanding and acceptance of mental health issues. But we can go further. So many men are carrying profound wounds that are unexplored or unexpressed and just get acted out – in violence, aggression, intimidation, ruthlessness, lust for power, competitiveness, lack of empathy, problematic relationships etc. There are examples at the very top of our social food chain in both the US and the UK!

I’m very interested in the idea, from Jung, that we all need to come to terms with the feminine and masculine impulses within us, anima and animus as Jung put it, reconcile them and learn to express them healthily. I’m still working on this! (And when I’ve figured it out that’ll probably be the death of me as a writer! Haha).

NS: Your stories share locations—Bury Lake, Our Lady Help of Christians, etc. In Part 1, Denholm is even making a town diorama, which seems very telling. How does the shared location—or even just the location itself—facilitate these stories?

ML: My experience of this particular suburban “edgeland” was that I had very ambivalent feelings about living there – I felt like I was neither in London nor in the countryside, neither belonging nor not belonging, geographically on the margins, with something very significant glimpsed further off.

The physical experience of the landscape was the foundation for being between states emotionally too. I had this idea that “edgeland” locations might be sites for ambivalent, transitional, liminal experiences in fiction or poetry. (And it’s true – it’s reflected in films and TV, for example, when so many acts of transgression or secretive (often criminal!) acts take place on run-down industrial estates or in neglected woods or in empty warehouses out on the edge of town).

Rickmansworth is in the Three Rivers District of Hertfordshire, a valley where the Gade, Chess and Colne rivers converge (and feed into the Grand Union Canal between London and Birmingham). The manuscript began (as my MA dissertation) as something called “Three Rivers, Rickmansworth”, with the idea that each of the three third-person voices was a different “river”. So landscape and geography were feeding into it from the start.

NS: The three men’s stories don’t overtly overlap but they pass by one another, almost “pass the baton” from one to the next. This is one of those clever tricks that the flash novella form allows us to do. Talk about the form and how it informed the way you told these stories?

ML: Oh gosh. I could bore people for days about the novella-in-flash! Working on ‘Three Men on the Edge’ kindled what i think is going to be a lifelong love affair with the form. I’ve since written essays about it for SmokeLong Quarterly [http://www.smokelong.com/strange-feasts-and-where-to-find-them-twelve-more-great-flash-fiction-novels-novellas-part-iii/] and been lucky enough to judge the Bath Flash Fiction Award Novella-in-Flash competition for the past couple of years.

As I developed the book, I did a lot of research, exploring examples and “permission-givers” that might inspire me and influence me. There are so many great examples of novellas-in-flash or “flash novels” out there – your own included. I was conscious of the fact that I wanted ‘Three Men on the Edge’ to add something new to the conversation, so I tried to make it as close to prose poetry as the form could bear and use the structure of three related “mini-novellas” set in the same location.

I knew some readers who were looking for a stronger sense of plot might struggle with the book – there are other novellas-in-flash that have a much more explicit narrative arc, like a traditional novel has. But I hoped that other readers, perhaps ones who separately enjoyed reading poetry, might find it an interesting and unusual way of reading fiction, one where you’re asked to fill in lots of “gaps” – a suggestion of narrative rather than an actual narrative.

NS: This is your first book of prose, and it was shortlisted for the Saboteur Awards—congrats! Talk about your path to publication.

ML: Thanks! I spent a long time struggling with the project. It was hard writing three mini-novellas at once, especially when I hadn’t written fiction before. I could really have done with a mentor, but I didn’t think I could afford to pay for one, and I didn’t dare inflict all my drafts on my friends – I drafted well over 200 stories for it from 2011 to 2017, although only 64 made it into the final manuscript.

A writer who read one late draft (not far off the final manuscript – about 25 pages short of the final version) suggested I send it to her publisher. That was around December 2016. I got my hopes up, as a result, and was gutted when it was rejected – the publisher was planning a transition into an “even more experimental” direction, they said.

But ultimately that nudged me to do some more editing and add some more stories to beef up the manuscript – I basically rediscovered a number of stories that I’d written but abandoned over the previous few years of editing, and I couldn’t understand why I’d overlooked them. It was weird encountering them again – like someone else had written them. But the manuscript was better off for including them. I’m now relieved that that earlier version didn’t get published.

In the meantime, I’d read a couple of V. Press flash fiction pamphlets and liked them very much. Because of the hybrid nature of the manuscript, I knew I wanted to send it to a publishing house that dealt with poetry as well as fiction, as V. Press does. So when their submissions window opened again (for pamphlets) in the late summer 2017, I sent a very tentative enquiry about the possibility of them doing a full-length book. Thankfully, they were willing to consider it, although they had only done them for poetry before. I was still writing a few more stories after the manuscript was accepted (and in fact some that I really wanted to include were written too late for the publisher to agree to include them. They very gently suggested it was time to stop writing the book. Haha).

NS: Advice for writers who are writing a novella-in-flash or other book?

ML: Well, maybe don’t try writing three at once! Be patient, read lots of published writing, keep editing, seek feedback. If you can publish parts of it (if perhaps it’s a story collection or poetry collection) as you go along, then do so, it will give you – and a publisher – necessary belief in the book. Lastly, be protective of your baby and don’t rush it into the world. There are so many books already out there.

NS: Anything else you want to add?

ML: If you’re reading this blog and enjoy flash fiction, why not come to the Flash Fiction Festival in the UK – it’s in Bristol in the summer each year – June 19-21st in 2020. It’s an amazing, inspiring event, very welcoming and full of writerly camaraderie. Nancy and I will both be there teaching two workshops on the flash novel / novella-in-flash. And there are dozens of other brilliant workshops to choose from. https://www.flashfictionfestival.com/

NS: I second that! Thanks so much for playing, Michael!

ML: Thank you, Nancy, for inviting me to think about these interesting questions!

Links to buy the book and other promo links:

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Here I am reading “Three Men on the Edge” while in Mexico…

Buy from V Poetry Press

Michael Loveday’s website

Novella-in-Flash workshops with Michael

Michael Loveday’s novella-in-flash Three Men on the Edge (V. Press, 2018) was shortlisted for the 2019 Saboteur Award for Best Novella. He also writes poetry, with a pamphlet He Said / She Said published by HappenStance Press (2011). He specialises as an editor for novellas-in-flash: https://novella-in-flash.com/. Other info about his writing, editing and mentoring can be found at https://michaelloveday.com/ When he’s not found holed up in cafés in Bath, United Kingdom, reading manuscripts or doing his own writing, Michael enjoys the usual distractions of music, cinema, and countryside walks. He has a soft spot for very earnest songs by Bruce Springsteen. 

New Book: “Going Short: An Invitation to Flash Fiction” to be published by Ad Hoc Fiction in June, 2020!

Drum roll….!

Going Short: An Invitation to Flash Fiction is a craft book that has been seven years in the making and is the product of my 12+ years in the flash fiction movement. I draw from workshops, lectures, interviews, and my experiences as a flash publisher, editor, curator, and teacher, but most importantly as a fellow writer, in the beautiful trenches of a new genre.

I’m THRILLED to be joining the ranks of Ad Hoc Fiction writers! Ad Hoc Fiction has been a leader in flash fiction publishing both in the UK and abroad, winning the 2019 Best Publisher Award at the Creative Bath Awards. Going Short: An Invitation to Flash Fiction will officially release at the 2020 Flash Fiction Festival UK, in time for the Fall Semester writing classes.

(Educators and reviewers, please contact me if you would like early previews.)

Advanced praise:

“In Going Short, Nancy Stohlman captures the true spirit of flash fiction, those brief narratives imbued with all the urgency of life itself. An extremely practiced flash fiction writer, Stohlman is also a veteran teacher. She knows the territory and takes us on a trip from getting started to the finishing line, and everything in between. It’s hard to think of a more thoughtful, adept, and enthusiastic guide.”

~David Galef, author of Brevity: A Flash Fiction Handbook

“Nancy Stohlman has written the definitive, and appropriately concise, book on the flash fiction form. You’ll learn what flash fiction is and isn’t, tips on writing it, tips on honing, sculpting, and polishing it (I especially like her idea of “swapping” sentences and paragraphs in revision and “strategic cutting”), along with thoughtful discussions on the flash novel and tips for pulling together a flash collection. As a widely-published master of the form herself, Stohlman brings years of teaching experience and her own engaging voice and wit to this useful, encouraging, and entertaining guide. A must-have for flash writers of all levels.”

~Kathy Fish, author of Wild Life: Collected Works 2003-2018

“This book is an invitation to flash dance with Nancy Stohlman, an accomplished partner who will show you the steps you can take, the fluid moves you can make on the flash fiction studio floor.  It is all about practice. She will spin you around and show you things you didn’t know you could do, and lead you to a kind of prose performance you didn’t think possible. It’s all about paying close attention and getting it down with the necessary urgency. It’s not easy at first, it’s a tricky art form, but Nancy shares her sharp insight and offers short cuts to get you more quickly to your own satisfaction and your reader’s delight. And at the studio door when it’s time to leave, she hands you a scroll of a hundred good ideas and wishes you happy travel. Just follow the map.”

~James Thomas, Co-editor of the Norton Flash Fiction books

 

So You Wrote a Book? Kim Chinquee

The stories in Kim’s Chinquee’s new collection, Wetsuit, are the barest of wisps, impressionistic in their minimalism and yet dense with implied meaning. Each one is a gem, deceptively simple but hiding entire, barely concealed worlds in the silences. With each revisiting you discover the truth: that the stories are shadowboxes that continue into infinity, a magician’s hat with no bottom.

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Photo by Diane Sardes

Nancy Stohlman: In the spirit of flash fiction, explain this book in six words: 

Kim Chinquee: Water. Swimming. Food. Animals. Motherhood. Men.

NS: I’m super intrigued by your titles, which are very often a seemingly random phrase pulled from the story that becomes the title and then suddenly isn’t random at all. Talk about your process with titles. Does it change the story for you?

KC: Absolutely! Titles are so much fun. A title can inform a piece, and can also turn it on its head. I’m always experimenting with titles, whether removing the first sentence of a story, and using it as a title. Or sometimes I’ll choose the last sentence, or one from the middle. Or perhaps the title is a word in the story that repeats itself. When I studied with Mary Robison, she recommended (to me and other students) closing our eyes and randomly pointing to places (on the physical copies of) our stories and opening our eyes and imagining the words and phrases (where our fingers landed) as potential titles. That’s a fun exercise I share with my students a lot. Sometimes a title can have nothing to do with the text of the story and can give that entire piece a different meaning. I think I have a few stories with titles like that.

NS: Your stories are very sculpted—sometimes down to almost an impressionistic wisp. I often find myself rereading them several times, as they are slight but extremely dense, sometimes deceptively so.  How do you know when to stop? Do you think flash writers ever go too far?

KC: It’s possible to go too far, of course. But one can always save the latest drafts and rearrange the words, add them back, etc. I struggle with writing longer work because I’m always cutting.

NS: Water is a theme connecting these stories, from puddles to steam to oceans to ice. Talk about your connection to water and why it ripples through this book? (By the way I love your picture of Iceland’s Blue Lagoon on the cover!)

KC: Thank you! Pier Rodelon designed Wetsuit (and my books Oh Baby, Veer, and Shot Girls). And (in speaking of titles): I had several other titles of the book before deciding on Wetsuit (I think maybe MILK was one.)–and when I saw the cover, I realized Wetsuit was the one that best “suited,” and included mostly pieces pertaining to liquid and/or water of some form. And I added some words and lines to some of the pieces so they would better fit the overall theme. So, the theme of water was kind of accidental, I suppose. Or something that I didn’t see until later. I had been swimming a lot and doing triathlons when I was writing these pieces, so it makes sense to me now that I was writing a lot about water.

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NS: The narrator seems consistent through many of the stories, and we get reoccurring images tagging back to other stories.  Was this an intentional weave or a happy discovery? And if intentional, how you would distinguish this collection from, say, a flash novel? Or is it?

KC: It probably was a bit of both intentional weave and happy discovery. Some of these pieces were written long ago, and some were written during the same timeframe and in consecutive order. When compiling the collection, I ordered them to have some sort of arc, and/or storylines that connect and speak to each other.

NS: On that note, your beginning and your ending are also circular, with one image from the end hooking up with the initial one. It gives a certain sense of spiraling around and around a life. Can you about your circular concept? 

KC: Thanks for noticing that! My editor and publisher Kathryn Rantala suggested ending on that last piece “My New Skin,” which I thought was kind of brilliant. I suppose, when looking at it now, I like to think it’s a metaphor for the front crawl or the breast stroke, the circular motion and the constant movement that keeps one not only moving forward, but afloat.

NS: About 2/3 of the way through the book your stories start to get super short and extremely dark. It feels like both a shift, a deepening, a quickening, and also, consequently, like the climax of the book. Can you talk about your design and intention with this purposeful pondering?

KC: As I was compiling the collection, it seemed natural to me to put these pieces closer to the end of the book, I suppose like a climax. I was afraid that if I included them near the front of the collection, they might discourage the reader, and that some content before might give them more context. I suppose it’s a lot like writing a novel. Wetsuit feels, content-like, or at least the way I compiled it, much like how I put together my first collection, Oh Baby.

NS: You have been an important voice in the flash fiction movement for a long time, and you’ve authored many books, including Shot Girls, Pretty, Veer, and Oh Baby. How is this book different than your others?

KC: Ah! Good question. I was about to talk more about this in the previous answer. I like to think Wetsuit holds a bit more hope for its main protagonist, and that there is maybe more maturity and depth. The son of Wetsuit is older, an adult, and there is a longing, I think. Artistically and aesthetically, Wetsuit is much like Oh Baby, imo. Veer was compiled as a collection to celebrate the venues where the pieces appeared (and where I’ve published most regularly): NOON, Conjunctions, Denver Quarterly, Willow Springs, Story Quarterly. Pretty was published (as a prose poetry collection) with White Pine Press, under different editorship and is told in three parts. Whereas Shot Girls (also with Ravenna Press) includes mostly longer stories, of women working in “service,” including the military, and it includes a few flashes.

My next collection will also be published with Ravenna Press in 2020! It’s tentatively titled Snowdog. (And involves a lot of snow. And dogs.) Though I tend to change my titles a lot!

My novel-in-flashes, Battle Dress, will be published with Widow + Orphan House in 2021. I wrote the pieces in Battle Dress in consecutive order, while I was running a lot of local 5K, 10K races. So, there’s a lot of running and repetition in that book. Kind of like running the same kind of races (with different results) over and over.

I’ve also written a couple of “non flash” novels, and am currently revising Pirouette, which takes place in Boston, with alternating points-of-view of three protagonists and their experiences during the Boston Bombings. I’ve also started a new book called Stray Voltage, which is mostly about cows.

I probably write flash fictions with the most consistency and frequency, especially when I’m in the midst of teaching and doing administrative work. So, when compiling Wetsuit, I drew upon the flash fictions in my inventory, and put them together in a kind of collage.

NS: Congratulations! I’m looking forward to all of these! Wetsuit is published by Ravenna Press. Talk about your path to publication?

KC: Ravenna Press published my first book Oh Baby in 2008; I had such a great experience with Ravenna, and continue to publish with them. Kathryn Rantala is a great advocate and supporter of my work. I believe we have a mutual respect for each other and I love working with her.

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

KC: Read a lot. Write your story. Collect advice and keep what’s useful. Pay attention to what’s happening around you.

NS: Anything else you want to add?

KC: Thank you!

NS: Thank YOU!

Links to buy the book and other promo links:

You can buy copies of my books at www.kimchinquee.com, at Ravenna Press, and they’re also available at Amazon.

There’s a new review of Wetsuit available at Rain Taxi:

Kim Chinquee is the author of six books, most recently WETSUIT. She’s the recipient of two Pushcart Prizes, and serves as AWP Northeast Regional Chair. Her website is www.kimchinquee.com

 

 

So You Wrote a Book? Robin Stratton

In Some Have Gone and Some Remain, Robin Stratton takes us on a retrospective, a slideshow of love, loss, nostalgia and hope. Simmering within these poems and essays is a sweet, simple and honest invitation to witness the many interludes that make up one human life.

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Nancy Stohlman: Describe this book in six words

Robin Stratton: Sad, funny, honest, bittersweet, raw, hopeful

NS: I really love the way you take the flash fiction form and weave it with poetry to create this flash/poetic autobiography. Where did you get the idea to do this?

RS: Most of the flash form pieces began as poems, but were such involved narratives (“And Then There Was the Time”, “A Tumor Not a Cyst”) that they just looked better structured as paragraphs, not stanzas. The two long pieces, “Moms” and “The Summer of Lizzie Borden” were written years ago, and were waiting for a home.

NS: Unlike memoir, that generally focuses on just one aspect of a person’s life, this feels like a true autobiography—a retrospective beginning in childhood and taking us on the up and down journey through many moments of a life. I imagine this could make you feel somewhat “exposed”, especially compared to fiction writing. Can you speak to this idea?

RS: “Exposed” is just the right word for how I felt. When I was writing the ones I feel were most revealing, like “It’s 4:30 in the Morning” and “Results”, I kept thinking, Just write, but don’t show anyone. I kept thinking how my brothers would feel, knowing some of these things that happened to me, or how much damage I did to myself, emotionally.

NS: I love the reoccurring You Men (Vol 1-5): it reminds the reader that romantic relationships are so often the highest and lowest points. You even dedicate a note of gratitude to all the former boyfriends in your acknowledgements. Talk about this.

RS: Wasn’t it grand of me to acknowledge how their criticism and bullshit helped me grow? All those years of trying out different men introduced me to different aspects of myself; what I was willing to put up with when I was in my 20s, versus my 40s and 50s. Looking back on my evolution was fascinating to me. I hope other people found it interesting, too, and could relate. By the way, thank you for blurbing the book! I have admired you for years, and that meant SO much to me!!

NS: Oh, you are so welcome, thank YOU! Now you publish both poetry and prose, and you utilize both in this book. Can you talk about your own crossover? Where are you most comfortable?

RS: I am not a poet, even though I would love to say I am. I love the visual of stanzas that lead to a kind of unconventional performance of the sentences, but getting it just the way I want it doesn’t come easily to me the way it does to real poets. My mind thinks in terms of indent-paragraph-carriage return. I so admire poets who can break up a sentence right in the middle; especially when it goes against a natural way of speaking and changes the whole presentation. I was happy with the way “Teen” came out… but you can see that most of my poem lines end where you would normally pause in a sentence.

NS: Speaking of crossover, you have published multiple books in several genres, including the novels Blue or Blue Skies and In His Genes, several collections including Dealing With Men and Interference from an Unwitting Species, and even a writing guide! How is Some Have Gone and SomeRemain similar and different from your other books?

RS: Some Have Gone is completely autobiographical, from start to finish, there isn’t a single bit of fiction in it. My novels, of course, have a lot of “me” in them, but I never ever write them that way; it just happens. I always laugh when someone tells me they just read Blue or Blue Skies and they “see” me in the main character – I had gone way out of my way to create a character who was the exact opposite of me: successful, rich, beautiful famous author. I never saw even the slightest bit of me in her until people started pointing it out, and I realized that all my vulnerabilities – about men, and about my loneliness after my friends got married and ditched me – came through in her.

NS: Some Have Gone and Some Remain is published by Big Table Publishing—I happen to have a sweet spot for BTP, who also published my own Madam Velvet’s Cabaret of Oddities—and you are the founder and the brains behind the whole shebang. Can you talk a bit about the genesis and evolution of BTP?

RS: Believe it or not, I started Big Table with the sole purpose of being able to include “publisher” in my bio when I submitted my novels to agents, because I thought it would make me sound impressive, and that was all I cared about. I thought I’d publish a few books, create a website, and so on. I never thought Big Table would be so big. It’s why I started Boston Literary Magazine, too – I never wanted to have a magazine, I just figured agents would say WOW, lookit her!

NS: BTP just put out several “Best of” volumes. Talk about these. What do you learn about your own writing from publishing others?

RS: Any writer who is in a group knows you can learn a lot from observing how other writers do it, either badly or well. When your ear tells you that something they’ve written is wrong, it leaves a trace in your memory (hopefully) that alerts you when you find yourself doing it too. So seeing raw manuscripts submitted to Big Table often demonstrates to me how a character or story line can be ruined by writing that’s sloppy or inconsistent. A lot of Big Table novelists are surprised when I tell them I love their book but they have to re-write the whole thing before we’ll take it. Sometimes I’ll suggest taking a character out, or completely changing the ending. Some resist, but most appreciate it. It’s why our slogan has always been “Work hard. Get published.”

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

RS: This advice has changed over the years. If you’d asked me this ten years ago I would have (and often did!) said, Keep going! Don’t give up! Now I say, Accept that you will probably not be on Oprah, make any money, or sell more than 200 copies of your book; you have to write with the single purpose of creating the best book you’re capable of.

It’s easy advice to give, and I often have trouble accepting it myself. But I lived it this past summer when I posted my novel In Love With Spring on my blog. I started writing it in the mid 90s, and it was a “current” version of Little Women – the four girls are sitting around talking about how John Lennon was just assassinated and Dad has walked out on them. I had a lot of trouble avoiding a Young Adult tone, and wrote it over and over and over. Suddenly a few decades went by and it was no longer current, it was nostalgic, and I knew I’d never find a home for it. I didn’t even bother to send it out, I just decided to put it on line and hope that people read it. I’m working on Volume Two, and there’s a real freedom to writing for the sake of writing, not submitting for publication. When all is said and done, that has to be why we write. If anyone wants to check it out, it’s here: https://www.robinstratton.com/blog

All of my books are available at www.robinstratton.com along with opening paragraphs of each novel and fun little promo vids. Parking is free, and on the weekends we have coffee and donuts! I’d love for people to stop by!

SOME HAVE GONE FRONT COVER

Robin Stratton is also the author of four novels, including one which was a National Indie Excellence Book Award finalist (On Air, Mustang Press, 2011), two collections of poetry and short fiction, and a writing guide. A four-time Pushcart Prize nominee, she’s been published in Word Riot, 63 Channels, Antithesis Common, Poor Richard’s Almanac(k), Blink-Ink, Pig in a Poke, Chick Flicks, Up the Staircase, Shoots and Vines, and many others. Since 2004 she’s been Acquisitions Editor for Big Table Publishing Company, Senior Editor of Boston Literary Magazine since 2009, and she was Director of the Newton Writing and Publishing Center until she moved from Boston to San Francisco in 2018. Now she leads the popular “Six Feet of Poetry” and “Fiction by the Foot” series.  

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