MY PERSONAL FAVORITE: Shanta Lee Gander

GHETTOCLAUSTROPHOBIA by Shanta Lee Gander

 

Hi Shanta,

Thanks for joining us today! Please let us know: at this moment in time which of your own poems is your personal favorite, and why?

 

First, please read Syna-ghetto-sthesia An Exhibition by Shanta Lee Gander

Shanta Lee Gander on her personal favorite:

This is an interesting question because it is not only hard to choose, I am still working on looking at my work as “good enough.” Perhaps an odd thing to admit out loud, but as an artist – I am also a photographer as well and write in other genres – I find my work to be perfectly imperfect in different states and stages of finish. Some things are more finished or “complete” than others. While some things I have decided to let them stay as they are while constantly seeing what could have been better.

I feel like that is just the overall cycle of life. If I am to pick which one of my poems I feel the most drawn to at this moment, it would have to be, “Syna-ghetto-sthesia: An Exhibition.” I wrote this a bit ago and it was the first time that I actually started engaging with the place where I grew up without shame but as an artifact within the process of creating and making art. When people ask me where I am from, I often say Connecticut clear and without a mumble. But if there is a further question of where, or if I am just volunteering saying, “I grew up in Hartford,” there are edges and notes of shame underneath my voice. I think for the construction of this book, before I ever knew it was a book, I decided to engage the urbanscape as a place of possibility within my poetry. It was something, previous to this, that was easier to do in prose. The urbandscape didn’t have to just be in places like New York, but other places where the urban offered a lot of flavors of the surreal, fantastic, the ridiculous, alongside all of the other things about the place that still cause my face to twist in disdain.

Creating the past and the place that I have so many complex feelings about into an exhibition space on the page allowed me to enter it a different way. Again, it was not expected in terms how how this came to be and when it did, it was almost as if the place itself – the apartment building that did burn down in late 2019 while my parents were still living there – was instructing and inviting me to see it, in habit it in a different way.

***

 

Shanta Lee Gander

BIO

Shanta Lee Gander is a writer, photographer, journalist whose work has been featured in The Massachusetts Review, PRISM, ITERANT Literary Magazine, Palette Poetry, BLAVITY, DAME Magazine, The Crisis Magazine, Rebelle Society, on the Ms. Magazine Blog, and on a former radio segment Ponder This. Shanta Lee’s photojournalism has been featured on Vermont Public Radio (VPR.org) and her investigative reporting has been in The Commons weekly newspaper covering Windham County, VT. Shanta Lee is the 2020 recipient of the Arthur Williams Award for Meritorious Service to the Arts and 2020 and named as Diode Editions full-length book contest winner for her debut poetry compilation, GHETTOCLAUSTROPHOBIA: Dreamin of Mama While Trying to Speak Woman in Woke Tongues. Her contributing work on an investigative journalism piece for The Commons received several New England Newspaper & Press Association (NENPA) awards for her journalism work. Shanta Lee gives lectures on the life of Lucy Terry Prince (c. 1730-1821) — considered the first known African-American poet in English literature — as a member of the Vermont and New Hampshire Humanities Council Speakers Bureaus. She is the 2020 gubernatorial appointee to the Vermont Humanities Council’s board of directors and has a solo photography show, Dark Goddess, being featured in the Manchester, VT gallery, Southern Vermont Arts Center in August 2021.

Shanta Lee is an MFA candidate in Creative Non-Fiction and Poetry at the Vermont College of Fine Arts. She has an MBA from the University of Hartford and an undergraduate degree in Women, Gender and Sexuality from Trinity College. To see more of Shanta Lee’s work, visit Shantaleegander.com.

 

GHETTOCLAUSTROPHOBIA: Dreamin of Mama While Trying to Speak Woman in Woke Tongues is available at Diode Editions. Also at Bookshop

 

In other news:

I’ll be visiting the Crazy Wisdom Poetry Circle next week! Please join us AND bring a poem to share during the open mic. See the link below:

Kelly Fordon.flyer.6.23.2021

Esperanza Cintrón–Let’s Deconstruct a Story

 

Today on the blog, Esperanza Cintrón and I will be talking about her story, “The Beard” from her award-winning Wayne State University Press collection, Shades, Detroit Love Stories, which was chosen as a 2019 Michigan Notable Book.

It’s best to read the story before listening to our discussion so we don’t spoil the ending for you.

 

Just click on this link for the full story, “The Beard,” here.

 

I hope you enjoy our discussion of “The Beard” below! Or directly on Spotify here.

 

 

Bio: Esperanza Cintrón is the author of Shades, Detroit Love Stories, a collection of interconnected short stories published by Wayne State University Press (2019) and selected as a 2020 Michigan Notable Book and a finalist in the 2020 Midwest Book Awards.  Her three books of poetry include: Visions of a Post-Apocalyptic Sunrise (Stockport Flats Press, 2014), the 2013 Naomi Long Madgett Award winner What Keeps Me Sane (Lotus Press, 2013) and Chocolate City Latina (Swank Press, 2005). Boulders, Detroit Nature Poems won first honorable mention (2021) and will soon be published by Finishing Line Press. Her work is anthologized in Manteca! An Anthology of Afro-Latin@ PoetsOf Burgers & BarroomsAbandoned AutomobileDouble Stitch: Black Women Write About Mothers & DaughtersErotique Noire/Black Erotica and others. She has been awarded a Michigan Council for the Arts Individual Artist Grant, a Metro Times Poetry Prize, Callaloo Creative Writing Fellowships at Oxford and Brown Universities and a National Endowment for the Humanities scholarship. A native Detroiter, she is co-founder of The Sisters of Color Writers Collective and creator of its literary journal Seeds for which she served as Editor until 2006. Cintrón holds a doctorate in English Literature and teaches writing, film and literature at WCCCD in Downtown Detroit.

 

Shades, Detroit Love Stories is available for purchase from Wayne State University Press, Bookshop, and Amazon.

In other news:

Check out Robin Luce Martin’s fantastic story, “Through the Hole,” on Pendust Radio.

I am reading at the Crazy Wisdom Poetry Circle on Wednesday, June 23rd at 7pm and there is an open mic event following my reading, so please think about attending and reading your own work as well!

Here’s the link to sign up.

LINDA NEMEC FOSTER

 

MY PERSONAL FAVORITE

Hi Linda!

Welcome to the blog and thanks so much for answering the question:

“At this moment in time which of your own poems is your personal favorite, and why?”


A Kiss is Just a Kiss

“It’s the kissiest business
in the world. You have to keep
kissing people.”
–Ava Gardner

My mother (in her own words)
“didn’t know much,”
but what she knew, she knew.
How to darn a sock’s hole until its universe
imploded into a white dwarf of string theories.
How to polish Window Wax into a mirror
until it reflected a gaze more intense
than Snow White’s stepmother.
How to magically stir the cauldron of laundry
to transform Prussian bluing into a pure white shirt.

And then, her encyclopedic knowledge of movie stars.
She never called them actors or actresses but Stars.
As in the heavens, the constellations, the Big Bang.
Her lessons were taught by chain-smoking
gossip columnists. She poured over their theses
illuminated in the pages of Confidential, The Lowdown,
Hush-Hush, and Uncensored.

My mother could tell you:
how Jean Harlow really died
“It wasn’t kidney failure but she was poisoned
by all that peroxide she used on her hair,”
how Greta Garbo brushed her teeth
“She never used toothpaste–only salt,”
how Joan Crawford plucked her eyebrows
“She didn’t–enough said.”

My mother loved the back-stabbing of it,
the kiss and tell of it, the guilty pleasure of it.
And when she read this quote from Ingrid Bergman–
“A kiss is a lovely trick designed by nature
to stop speech when words become superfluous”–
my mother (with her blue hands and absent husband) almost
believed it.

 

***

 

“A Kiss is Just a Kiss” was previously published in The Apalachee Review and included in the book, The Blue Divide (New Issues Press, 2021). Copyright 2021 by Linda Nemec Foster.


“Memory and Forgiveness: A Kiss is Just a Kiss”

When the critically acclaimed movie Terms of Endearment came out in 1983, I saw it with a friend—a neighbor who had a very close and positive relationship with her mother. For those who aren’t familiar with the film, its plot centers around the tumultuous relationship between a controlling mother (played by Shirley MacLaine) and her strong-willed daughter (played by Debra Winger). My friend couldn’t understand the characters’ relationship: how could a mother and daughter fight so much? how could they not have a wonderful friendship (like she had with her mother)?

I don’t remember how I responded to her questions (which I thought were naive) but I do remember telling her I didn’t find the characters’ relationship unrealistic at all. What I didn’t tell her was that I could definitely understand that relationship because I had a similar one with my mother. We were never close, we were never friends. It wasn’t until dementia “softened” her mental capacities in the last seven years of her life that we had some semblance of a decent relationship. That might sound like the irony of ironies —dementia being a “saving grace” of some sort—but it’s true.

And it wasn’t until I acknowledged my mother’s own difficult life of abandonment (her father died when she was 10 and her mother died five years later) that I began to understand her weaknesses, her emotional challenges…and I began to forgive her.

When I wrote this poem, “A Kiss is Just a Kiss,” it went through many drafts (at least 20). But with each draft, I became more convinced of my mother’s love for me—even when she found it so difficult to express that love. Because of the early deaths of both her parents, she was a drop-out and basically had an eighth-grade education. She didn’t read lofty “tomes” written by Fitzgerald or Hemingway, but she was a voracious reader when it came to gossip magazines. She loved learning about the “true lives” of the Hollywood stars. I think it was pure escapism for her—just like her addiction to certain soap operas: General Hospital, Days of Our Lives, Another World. My mother created her “other world” by slipping into the private lives of Jean Harlow and Greta Garbo, Joan Crawford and Ava Gardner.

“A Kiss is Just a Kiss” was previously published in the literary journal, Apalachee Review, and included in my new book, The Blue Divide (New Issues Press, 2021). A number of reviewers have described the book as “tender, brutal, unflinching, magical” and my poems as “acknowledging loss wherever it occurs—all with…tenderness and resilience.” I could have never achieved that tenderness and resilience without having the mother I had. With her Window Wax and Prussian bluing, with her obsession for housework and gossip. With the dementia that made her laugh. With the understanding that made me forgive.

 

***

 

Check out the starred review of The Blue Divide in Publisher’s Weekly!

Also, please take a peek at this stunning video of Linda’s poem, “City of Stone, City of Trees,” which was produced as a video/poem with watercolor animation by Matvey Rezanov (who worked on the Oscar-nominated film “Coraline”) and music score by Lena Orsa. The piece was screened at the REELpoetry Video/Film Festival sponsored by Public Poetry in Houston on February 24-28, 2021.

 

Bio:

     Linda Nemec Foster is the author of twelve collections of poetry including Amber Necklace from Gdansk (finalist for the Ohio Book Award in Poetry), Talking Diamonds (finalist for ForeWord Magazine’s Book of the Year), Living in the Fire Nest, and The Lake Michigan Mermaid (2019 Michigan Notable Book). Her work has been published in numerous magazines and journals: e.g. The Georgia Review, Nimrod, Quarterly West, Witness, New American Writing, North American Review, Paterson Literary Review, and Verse Daily. Foster’s poems have also appeared in anthologies from the U.S. and U.K., been translated in Europe, inspired original music compositions, and have been produced for the stage. Her first commissioned libretto, Spirit of the Lake, will have its world premiere in 2022. She has received over 30 nominations for the Pushcart Prize and awards from the Arts Foundation of Michigan, ArtServe Michigan, National Writer’s Voice, Dyer-Ives Foundation, The Poetry Center (NJ), and the Academy of American Poets. From 2003-05, she served as the first Poet Laureate of Grand Rapids, Michigan. In the fall of 2019, she was the poet-in-residence at the University of Bielsko-Biala in Poland. Her new book, The Blue Divide, is forthcoming in April of 2021 from New Issues Press. Foster is the founder of the Contemporary Writers Series at Aquinas College.

Linda Nemec Foster
www.lindanemecfoster.com
poet, writer, literary presenter,
founder, Contemporary Writers Series at Aquinas College

Linda Nemec Foster

Purchase Linda’s book at  Amazon | B&N | IndieBound
ShopWMU | Chicago Distribution Center

IN OTHER NEWS:

I Have the Answer has received a couple of warm hugs after a year in pandemic lockdown. It is a finalist for the Midwest Book Award in the short story category and a category finalist (short story) for the Eric Hoffer Award. In the month of May, it is available at #WSUPress for 40% off. See the link above!

Linda Nemec Foster and I were both featured on “A Little Too Quiet” the stellar Ferndale Library Podcast produced by Jeff Milo. Our interviews are available here:

Kelly Fordon on “A Little Too Quiet”

Linda Nemec Foster on “A Little Too Quiet”

LET’S DECONSTRUCT A STORY WITH JOSEPH HARRIS

Hi Everyone!

Happy May!

Today on the blog, Joseph Harris and I will be talking about his story, “Jack” from his award-winning Wayne State University Press collection, You’re in the Wrong Place, which was chosen as a 2020 Michigan Notable Book.

It’s best to read the story before listening to our discussion so we don’t spoil the ending for you.

Just click on this link for the full story:

“Jack” by Joseph Harris

 

Kelly Fordon and Joseph Harris discuss “Jack.”

**If you would like a written transcript of this discussion, please use the contact form to request a PDF. I have a rudimentary transcript provided by Otter (it isn’t perfect!) I can provide as an alternative to our recorded discussion.

 

If you enjoy this discussion, please check out the podcast “Let’s Deconstruct a Story”, for more episodes on Spotify here.

 

Joseph Harris

 

Bio:

Joseph Harris is the author of the story collection You’re in the Wrong Place (Wayne State University Press, 2020), recently named a Michigan Notable Book by the Library of Michigan and a Midwest Book Award Finalist for the short story. His stories have appeared in Clackamas Literary Review, Midwest Review, Moon City Review, Great Lakes Review, The MacGuffin, Third Wednesday, Storm Cellar, and have been nominated for the Pushcart Prize. He holds an MFA from the University of Minnesota, where he received the Gesell Award for Excellence in Fiction and the Winifred Fellowship, and an MA from Wayne State University, where he received two Tompkins Awards in Fiction, the Loughead-Eldredge Endowed Scholarship in Creative Writing, and the Thomas R. Jasina Endowed Scholarship in English. He lives in Oak Park, MI, and is completing a second collection of linked stories set in Northern Michigan.

“You’re in the Wrong Place” is available at:

Book Beat (via Bookshop)
Wayne State University Press
Pages Bookshop

Also coming up on May 11th at Pages, see below! Please follow this link to join us!

 

LAURA VAN PROOYEN

Laura Van Prooyen

Laura Van Prooyen’s latest collection, Frances of the Wider Field, was published by Lily Poetry Review in 2021.

I’m thrilled to have her on the blog today reading from her stellar new collection.

 

Or join us on Spotify here.

Afterward, be sure to check out her bio below and purchase a book.

 

Upcoming Events:

On May 1st, I’ll be deconstructing a story from Joseph Harris’  new short story collection, You’re in the Wrong Place, available at Wayne State University Press here on the blog, and on May 11th, I will be talking to Caitln Horrocks about her short story collection, Life Among the Terranauts, at Pages Bookshop.

 

 

Bio: Laura Van Prooyen’s collections of poetry are Frances of the Wider Field (Lily Poetry Review Books 2021), Our House Was on Fire, nominated by Philip Levine, awarded the McGovern Prize (Ashland Poetry Press 2015), and Inkblot and Altar (Pecan Grove Press 2006). She is also co-author, with Gretchen Bernabei, of Text Structures from Poetry—a book of writing lessons for grades 4-12 (Corwin Literacy 2020).

Laura has over 20 years experience teaching poetry and writing in a variety of academic settings including: Dominican University, Henry Ford Academy: The Alameda School for Art + Design, Chicago Public Schools, Del Valle High School, and the University of Illinois at Chicago. She also facilitated therapeutic writing sessions for soldiers with PTSD in an Intensive Outpatient Program for three years at Brook Army Medical Center.

Having been raised in a tight-knit Dutch community just outside of Chicago, Van Prooyen now lives in San Antonio, TX. She earned a B.A. at Purdue University, an M.A. at The University of Illinois at Chicago, and an M.F.A. in Poetry at Warren Wilson College. Laura serves as the Managing Editor of The Cortland Review and teaches in the Low-Residency Creative Writing MFA Program at Miami University in Ohio. She is launching Next Page Press, with the first title to be released late 2021.

 

Frances of the Wider Field is available at Lily Poetry Review here, Bookshop here, or Amazon here.

LET’S DECONSTRUCT A STORY WITH RENEE SIMMS

 

Hi Everyone,

On “Let’s Deconstruct a Story” we read a story and then “deconstruct” it with the author. This week, I’m talking to Renee Simms about her story “Rebel Airplanes.”

Please read her story, Rebel Airplanes, before listening to our discussion.

Follow this link to listen to our discussion on Spotify.

Renee Simms

Bio:

Renee Simms’ work appears in GuernicaOxford AmericanCallalooThe Los Angeles Review of Books, and elsewhere, and her short story collection Meet Behind Mars was an Indies Forward finalist and listed by The Root as one of 28 brilliant books by Black authors in 2018. She’s received fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, Ragdale, Vermont Studio Center, and Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference. Renee teaches creative writing and African American Studies at University of Puget Sound and in the MFA program at Pacific Lutheran University.

 

***

 

I hope you enjoy this blog post! If you do, please support Renee and buy the book, which is available at either Wayne State University Press or Bookshop.

 

***

See you in two weeks when Laura Van Prooyen will be reading poetry from her new book, Frances of the Wider Field!

 

 

ARI L. MOKDAD

Ari L. Mokdad

 

Hi Everyone!

I’m always testing out new venues, so I hope you will follow me over to Spotify this month where I’m talking to Michigan poet Ari L. Mokdad about two of her amazing poems.

Below you will find links to Ari’s two poems, available in journals online.

If Nothing Changed, There Would Never Be Butterflies

After the Israeli Army Burned Our Land, We Remember the Olives

 

CHECK OUT OUR OTHER EPISODES ON SPOTIFY here.

Thanks, Everyone! Please sign-up for the blog, if you’d like to hear more features. Next up, Renee Simms with a story from her collection, Meet Behind Mars!

Kelly

Bio:

Ari L. Mokdad is an alumna from Grand Valley State University where she received three Bachelor of Arts degrees in Dance, Writing, and English. She has earned regional and national choreography awards, most notably, for her work “Grounded” which was selected to perform at the American College Dance Association in 2014. Ari had the privilege of working with many artists while at GVSU, such as Julie Blume, Thayer Jonutz, Autumn Eckman, Lauren Edson, Lizze Mackenzie, and Thodos Dance Chicago. Ari received her Master of Arts from Wayne State University in 2017. While in Detroit, she debuted a projection-mapped solo at the historic Detroit Music Hall titled Body Studies. Ari’s embodied lyric essay, titled “Body Studies: Arabets” was published in Elemental: A Collection of Michigan Creative Nonfiction, which was the recipient of the 2019 Michigan Notable Book Award. Reimagining the Mother of God which was generously supported by the Lynch and Sons Fund Institute of Arts. Ari is currently completing her MFA from Warren Wilson College and her Ph.D. In 2019, Ari performed in Theotokos: for the Arts and debuted Water Studies with the Detroit Dance City Festival at the Detroit from Wayne State University. She is the recipient of the 2020 Rona Jaffe Foundation Graduate Fellowship and was awarded the 2021 Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs Grant for her forthcoming performance When Water Moves.

 

LET’S DECONSTRUCT A STORY WITH DONNA BAIER STEIN

Donna Baier Stein

 

Welcome to #letsdeconstructastory!
Today I’m happy to talk to Donna about her story “A Landing called Compromise” from her prize-winning collection Scenes from the Heartland.

The way the blog works:

  1. Please read the story, “A Landing called Compromise” here at The Saturday Evening Post.
  2. Listen as we “deconstruct” the story below.
  3. Afterward, please purchase the book at the link provided below.

Enjoy!

 

Also, please check out our other episodes on Spotify here.

 

 

Bio:

Donna is the author of The Silver Baron’s Wife (PEN/New England Discovery Award, Bronze winner in Foreword reviews 2017 Book of the Year Award, Will Rogers Medallion Award and Paterson Prize for Fiction, more), Sympathetic People (Iowa Fiction Award Finalist and 2015 Next Generation Indie Book Award Finalist), Sometimes You Sense the Difference (chapbook), and Letting Rain Have Its Say (poetry book). She was a Founding Editor of Bellevue Literary Review and founded and publishes Tiferet Journal. She has received a Bread Loaf Scholarship, Johns Hopkins University MFA Fellowship, grants from the New Jersey Council on the Arts and Poetry Society of Virginia, a Scholarship from the Summer Literary Seminars, and more.

Donna’s writing has appeared in Virginia Quarterly Review, Saturday Evening Post, Writer’s Digest, Confrontation, Prairie Schooner, New York Quarterly, Washingtonian, New Ohio Review, and many other journals as well as in the anthologies I’ve Always Meant to Tell You (Pocket Books) and To Fathers: What I’ve Never Said (featured in O Magazine).

Donna was also an award-winning copywriter for Smithsonian, Time, World Wildlife Fund, The Nature Conservancy, and many other clients in the direct marketing industry. www.donnabaierstein.com

Purchase Donna’s book at Bookshop here or Amazon here.

KEITH TAYLOR

Keith Taylor (photo credit: Doug Coomb)

 

Hi Everyone,

I hope you are all doing as well as can be expected during what is HOPEFULLY the last few months of this pandemic.

I’m so thrilled to share this audio recording of Keith Taylor reading from “Let Them Be Left” his stellar new chapbook from Alice Greene books! The poetry in this chapbook is wonderful. It transported me to a better place.

Alice Greene & Co. books are so aesthetically pleasing. If you don’t know this publisher, check them out here. I’m just in love with their products. You will not be sorry to own this stunning book.

Another beautiful one to check out from Alice Greene is Holly Wren Spaulding’s new book, “Familiars.”

Also, I am happy to announce I’ve started a podcast! Keith Taylor’s reading is also uploaded to Spotify as the first episode of a podcast called “Let’s Deconstruct a Story or Enjoy a Poem.” You can enjoy Keith’s reading on Spotify anytime if you go here: https://open.spotify.com/show/0Z3kQKEci3XNxgjIpH9Obn

 

KEITH TAYLOR READING FROM “LET THEM BE LEFT.”

 

PLEASE CHECK OUT OUR OTHER EPISODES ON SPOTIFY here. 

 

 

Bio:

Keith Taylor is originally from Western Canada, but has lived for the past 45 years in Michigan. He has authored or edited 18 books and chapbooks. His most recent are Let Them Be Left (Alice Greene & Co., 2021), and Ecstatic Destinations (Alice Greene & Co., 2018). His last full-length collection, The Bird-while (Wayne State University Press, 2017), won the Bronze medal for the Foreword/Indies Poetry Book of the Year. His poems, stories, reviews, essays, and translations have appeared widely in North America and in Europe. More than two years ago, he retired from the University of Michigan, where he taught Creative Writing for 20 years.

 

Before that, he worked as a bookseller in Ann Arbor for almost 20 years, but over the years he has also worked as a camp-boy for a hunting outfitter in the Yukon, as a dishwasher in southern France, a housepainter in Indiana and Ireland, a freight handler, a teacher, a freelance writer, the co-host of a radio talk show, and as the night attendant at a pinball arcade in California. Taylor has received fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and from the Michigan Council for the Arts and Cultural Affairs. He has been Writer/Artist In Residence at Isle Royale National Park (twice), the Detroit YMCA, The International Writers’ and Translators’ Centre of Rhodes, Greece, the University of Michigan Biological Station, and Greenhills School.

Purchase Let Them Be Left here.

MY PERSONAL FAVORITE: Karen Schubert

 

Karen Schubert

 

At this moment in time, which of your own poems is your personal favorite, and why?

 

Currently, my favorite poem is:

 

I Miss You, Chicken in Every Pot

 

The party theme is idioms, so I pocket a toy block. We arrive late, and every counter is crowded with coconut bars, pizza, eggs on the half shell that look like eyeballs with green olive pupils, lying on red squiggly pasta brains. Are you Left Holding the Bag? I ask Luke. He fishes out a pair of dentures, clenched shut with green Duck Tape, a fresh shell poking out between them. I’m Biting the Bullet, he says. Bats in the Belfry asks me about my costume. I hold up my prop. Writer’s block is not an idiom, she says. Then I’ll take the cake, I counter. Penny For Your Thoughts says, Eat dessert first. Chalk and Cheese walk in. They’re British. We have to look it up.

The t.v. is hooked to an extension cord in the driveway, and Dressed to the Nines, Two Peas in a Pod, and Tears Before Bedtime are watching the Cleveland Indians rack up runs in the championship game. A fire burns in the firebowl, even though the night is freakishly warm. Bored to Deaths stride in with a board on their shoulders, skeleton faces. Three Sheets to the Wind pours us drinks with sparkling wine and violet liqueur, like drinking fragrance. Bite the Bullet tells us he feels awkward at parties, never knows what to say. Half Bored to Death is a good listener. I keep missing Mike, who died so quickly in June. He’d be Chicken in Every Pot, a big social justice guy. Or maybe Role Model, brown pillow/bun in fishnet stockings.

The host, Cat Out of the Bag, gives us ballots. We know Bats in the Belfry will win, even though she knocked over the pizza and left her belfry on a chair. You should have seen her a few years ago as Phyllis Diller. I vote for Three Sheets to the Wind, who looks a bit like Westward Expansion. To me, Halloween’s a spectator sport, I tell Raining Cats and Dogs. But look, I say, Now I’m Eastern Bloc, holding my arm all the way out. I’m Blockhead, Artist’s Block tells me. We came together. When we leave, we take the cake plate, empty.


Karen:

Thank you for asking about my favorite poem! At this moment in time, I am partial to “I Miss You, Chicken in Every Pot.” It was a fun poem to write. Much of it is true—my friend throws wonderful Halloween parties. I consider Halloween a spectator sport; I’d rather spend half a day making a dessert than a costume, and although the costume-committed may take a little swipe at my lame-osity, they also like dessert, so I’m a tiny bit off the hook. This poem is meant to immortalize their amazing talent and enthusiasm and to express my affection.

I like the way the theme of idioms lent me an opportunity to mess around with humor, the funny contradictions, and double-meanings. I hope the mention of death doesn’t feel jarring in a light-hearted poem, but rather an emotional layering. We’re always feeling more than one thing, no? The prose poem format is a nice package for storytelling and scene-building while retaining its poemy resistance to backstory and context.

The poem was a finalist in Winning Writers Wergle Flomp contest, which was a real kick. I included it in Dear Youngstown, a chapbook of poems centered around my adopted home, where blight and struggle are set against the arts and people working so damn hard to keep this place whirring. It’s also in my new book The Compost Reader, with maybe a longer lens and also several Halloween poems.

One more note about the content of the poem: when I wrote it, I was thinking about Mike, who had died the summer before. Every time I turned a corner, I expected he’d be standing there. Last week, our friend Luke, Bite the Bullet in the poem, also true, also died, and now with COVID, it feels cruel to be grieving without coming together to cry, remember, raise a toast. So here’s to you, Luke, and to all friends, yours and mine.

 

 

 

 

Bio:

Karen Schubert was born in Portsmouth, Ohio, and grew up mostly in Orchard Park, New York, close enough to the Buffalo Bills’ stadium that if she climbed the pear tree, she could hear the rock concerts. She lived in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, for twenty years, then settled in Northeast Ohio, where one line of her family has lived since the early 1800s. She is the author of Dear Youngstown (Night Ballet Press), Black Sand Beach (Kattywompus Press), I Left My Wings on a Chair, a Wick Poetry Center chapbook winner (Kent State Press), Bring Down the Sky (Kattywompus Press), and The Geography of Lost Houses (Pudding House Publications). Her poems, fiction, creative nonfiction, essays, reviews, and interviews have appeared in numerous publications, including National Poetry ReviewDiode Poetry JournalDMQ ReviewGrist: A Journal of the Literary ArtsLouisville ReviewApple Valley ReviewWater~Stone ReviewAGNI OnlineAeolian HarpBest American Poetry blog and American Literary Review. Her awards include the William Dickey Memorial Broadside contest winner, an Ohio Arts Council Individual Excellence Award in poetry, and residencies at Headlands Center for the Arts and the Vermont Studio Center. She holds an MFA from the Northeast Ohio Master of Fine Arts and is co-founding director of Lit Youngstown, a literary arts nonprofit with programs for writers, readers, and storytellers.

The Compost Reader is available for purchase here.

LET’S DECONSTRUCT A STORY WITH JOHN MCNALLY

John McNally
Hi Everyone,
I know it’s been a while since my last post but you know how life goes by…especially during the pandemic.
It feels like one day has passed but it’s been three months.
Or is it that three months have passed in the space of a day?
Or is that a different way of saying the same thing?
If you, like me, are having trouble grasping paradoxes that would not have troubled your pre-Covid-era brain, then I’m sorry, but I am sending one more your way, and I hope it doesn’t cause your brain to implode.
“The Phone Call” by John McNally, is a story that will deposit you deep in a closed timeline curve and though it is quite a trip, I have faith that you will make it back to reality in one piece.
In fact, I think you will find it quite enjoyable.
As a bonus, after you’ve read John’s story and watched our video, please loopback (!) and check out this video on time travel/time loops that I happened on by Vi Hart, which completely blew my already addled mind.
Here’s a refresher on #letsdeconstructastory because I have not posted anything new since December 1st:
#letsdeconstructastory is all about unpacking short stories to see how they work on a cellular level. It’s a place for writers to geek out about the work of other writers and hopefully add some new tools to their own toolbox.
Here’s how it works:
1.  Please read the story here first.
2. Listen to our discussion
CHECK OUT OUR OTHER EPISODES ON SPOTIFY here.

Biography:

John McNally is the author or editor of eighteen books, including The Fear of Everything: Stories, The Book of Ralph: A Novel, and The Boy Who Really, Really Wanted to Have Sex: The Memoir of a Fat Kid. His craft book Vivid and Continuous has been adopted in many college creative writing courses. He has also had screenplays optioned and in-development and his work for a Norwegian film company in 2019 took him to Norway’s Arctic Circle for research. A graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, John is Writer-in-Residence and the Dr. Doris Meriwether/BORSF Professor in English at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. He is presently writing a thriller set in Thailand, where he plans to retire.
Buy the book:
John’s book is available for purchase: On Bookshop here or The University of Louisiana Press here or Amazon here.
Also! George Saunders has a new book out about deconstructing stories called “A Swim in a Pond in the Rain“:

“One of the ideas in the book is that, when we read a story, we read with the same mind we use to read the world. So, concentrating on a story and the way we’re responding to it can tell us a lot about ourselves. I’ve found it so pleasurable and clarifying to tune out everything but that one story, those specific lines. Reading a story is, really, an exercise in believing that other people exist and are valid—the writer of the story, but also those fictive people. We get to practice caring about some people we don’t know—good practice for real life.”

—George Saunders

JACOB M. APPEL

Hi Everyone,

I am posting a workshop today that I offered last month on #letsdeconstructastory about Jacob M. Appel’s story, “Creve Coeur.”  I’m also attaching the story–please read it before you view the video. I would love to hear from anyone who has other thoughts about this story. I’m sure I didn’t catch everything 🙂

 

New this month: A free writing prompt below!

 

On January 1st, I will return to author interviews and story discussions.

 

I hope you all have a wonderful holiday!

Kelly

 

jacob m. appel

 

Please read the story before you watch the video.

Creve Coeur

 

 

 

You can find Jacob’s books at Bookshop.com and Amazon.com.

 

Free Writing Prompt (you will need one hour at least): 

  1. Brainstorm about high school. What comes to mind? Don’t think too hard about this: just write down the first ten things that surface. For me: lemon creme cookies, Roy Rogers, nuns, my dog, Shannon, walking to school along cobblestone streets, etc…you get the idea. It doesn’t have to be anything riveting. In fact, your memories might be quite ordinary. That’s OK! We can work with that.
  2. Circle three items on the list that you think you could write more about. Set a timer and spend five minutes writing about each one.
  3. Read through the writing you generated during those fifteen minutes and circle one sentence that intrigues you. Write for five minutes with that sentence as your starting point.
  4. The goal now is to write a story under 1000 words. Take one word/item/object from the three sections in #2, as well as the writing you generated in #3. The goal is to use all four items in your story.
  5. Write the first draft of this 1000 word story in first person. When you do this, you may find that the narrator is essentially you, which may or may not work well in a fictional story.
  6. Write the story again in the third person and allow the narrator to do at least a few things you would never do, just to get some distance.
  7. I would love to hear what you come up with! Send me your story for a free two-line critique via my contact form! Good luck! 🙂

In other news:

Goodbye Toothless House is a finalist for the Eyelands International Award.

“I Have the Answer” received a nice review from Sundress Reads.

Also, Wayne State University Press is having a HUGE holiday sale. Use the code HOL1 for 45% off of all titles! Here’s the link to my books: I Have the Answer and Garden for the Blind.

The 2020 Rochester Writers Author Fair took place on November 28th and 29th and all of the author interviews are available via Youtube. Thanks to Michael Dwyer for including me!

 

LET’S DECONSTRUCT A STORY WITH RACHEL SWEARINGEN

 

I’m thrilled to talk with Rachel Swearingen today about a story from her new debut collection, How to Walk on Water! Rachel’s book was just mentioned in the New and Noteworthy section of The New York Times on Sunday, which is a huge deal! Check it out here.

 

To get the most from our conversation about the story, “Advice for the Haunted,” it’s best to read it first here: Advice for The Haunted.

Enjoy!

 

PLEASE ENJOY OUR CONVERSATION HERE:
OR ALL OF OUR EPISODES ON SPOTIFY HERE.

 

 

Rachel Swearingen is the author of How to Walk on Water and Other Stories, winner of the 2018 New American Press Fiction Prize (October 1, 2020). Her stories and essays have appeared in VICEThe Missouri Review, Kenyon ReviewOff AssignmentAgniAmerican Short Fiction, and elsewhere.

She is the recipient of the 2015 Missouri Review Jeffrey E. Smith Editors’ Prize in Fiction, a 2012 Rona Jaffe Foundation Writers’ Award, and the 2011 Mississippi Review Prize in Fiction. In 2019, she was named one of 30 Writers to Watch by the Guild Literary Complex. She holds a BA from the University of Wisconsin – Madison and a Ph.D. from Western Michigan University and teaches at the School of the Art Institute in Chicago. https://www.rachelswearingen.com

You can find this fantastic book at Bookshop here or Amazon here.

 

IN OTHER NEWS:

My essay, Astraphobia, has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize by River Teeth.

My poem, Riding out the Pandemic in My Great Grandmother’s Bedroom, was nominated by the Museum of Americana for Best of the Net.

I Have the Answer is available for purchase, and I may be biased, but I think it would make an excellent and affordable holiday gift for your friends and family. I am happy to send a signed bookplate to anyone who buys the book. Please contact me via the website contact page, if you are interested. Stay safe and well, everyone!

LISA LENZO

 

     Lisa Lenzo

I’m so excited to talk to Lisa Lenzo today about her exquisite short story, “Lorelei,” which is a part of her award-winning short story collection, Unblinking, published by Wayne State University Press in 2019.

Please read “Lorelei” before listening to our discussion. It’s available in PDF format right here:

Lorelei

 

 

Lisa Lenzo is the author of three award-winning story collections: Unblinking, published by Wayne State University Press and the 2020 Midwest Book Award Winner for Short Story Collection/Anthology as well as a two-time finalist for the 2020 Next Generation Indie Awards; Strange Love, a novel-in-stories also published by WSUP and the recipient of a 2015 Michigan Notable Book Award as well as a finalist for three national awards; and Within the Lighted City, chosen for the 1997 John Simmons Short Fiction Award and published by the University of Iowa Press. Other honors include a Hemingway Days Festival Award, a PEN Syndicated Fiction Project Award, and seven Finalists and Honorable Mentions in story contests sponsored by The Missouri Review, The Bellevue Review, The Philadelphia Review, and Glimmer Train. Raised in Detroit, Lisa is a graduate of the MFA writing program at Western Michigan University. She has recently finished a novel, Before the Revolution.

Unblinking is available at WSUP here or Bookshop here or Amazon here.

 

 

IN OTHER NEWS. “I Have the Answer” has been out for almost six months. There’s a birthday giveaway on Goodreads. As always, if you’ve read the book and enjoyed it, I’d love a review or some stars on Amazon or Goodreads. See you November 1st when I’ll be talking to Rachel Swearingen about her new collection, “How to Walk on Water and other stories.”

 

Goodreads Book Giveaway

I Have the Answer by Kelly Fordon

I Have the Answer

by Kelly Fordon

Giveaway ends October 10, 2020.

See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.

Enter Giveaway

SHARON HARRIGAN

This week I’m talking to Sharon Harrigan about her terrific new novel, Half. Among many other things (including Michigan!) we discussed how she turned the award-winning short story, Half, published in Pleiades in 2013, into a novel.

In a starred review Booklist said, “Fans of Jeffrey Eugenides, Andre Dubus III, and Jane Smiley will adore Harrigan’s suspenseful, lyrical, and consuming exploration of two difficult lives, intertwined. . . Raw and powerful, Half will stay with you.”

Publisher’s Weekly wrote, “Harrigan’s bold stylistic choices and memorable voice lend the novel a sense of mystery and magic, well suited to the themes of childhood fears and adult disillusionment. Riveting and inventive, this is a cut above the average coming of age tale.”

Foreword Reviews called Half “gripping” and New York Journal of Books called the point of view “astonishingly effective.” Sharon is also the author of the memoir Playing with Dynamite. 

Sharon Harrigan has a B.A. in English from Barnard College, Columbia University, and an MFA in Creative Writing from Pacific University. She teaches writing at WriterHouse in Charlottesville, where she lives with her family. For more information, see her website here.

 

Purchase the book here at Bookshop or here at Amazon or here at the University of Wisconsin Press.

 

In other news:

I read at Lit Youngstown on August 30th and it’s up on Youtube. Ignore the hair dye. Sheesh! What was I thinking? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XJ86ZXpvEHg&fbclid=IwAR3qT3EcEhgz-qMt69OsVvKhkbEYm1eVRJfQC2N-ABJJWAPVl4vB1K6aowA

If you feel like giving I Have the Answer some love on Goodreads or Amazon or any place else, I would greatly appreciate it! Thanks! Stay safe and well, everyone.

BILL HARRIS

harris picture

Bill Harris, Art by Nicole Macdonald from her Detroit Portrait Series

Today on the blog, Bill Harris and I will be talking about his story, “That First Year the Business Was Wood,” from his award-winning Wayne State University Press collection, I Got to Keep Moving.

Bill Harris is a Wayne State University emeritus professor of English. He is a playwright, poet, and arts critic. His plays have been produced nationwide and he has published books of plays, poetry, and reappraisals of American history. He received the 2011 Kresge Foundation Eminent Artist award. http://www.billharriswrites.com.

It’s best to read the story before listening to our discussion so we don’t spoil the ending for you. Just click on this link below:

That First Year the Business Was Wood from I GOT TO KEEP MOVING

 

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i-got-keep-moving-103670

 

“I Got to Keep Moving” is available from Pages Bookshop here or Wayne State University Press here or Bookshop here or Amazon here.

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I plan to continue discussing stories through the fall. Please let me know if you have a new book of short stories out so we can talk about it!

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I HAVE THE ANSWER: MARKETING HELP NEEDED! 

I Have the Answer has been out since April 11th. It was hard to market or even think about a new book this past spring, and if you are so inclined, I would love your help.

There are two main ways:

  1. Write a review on Amazon and Goodreads. Reviews at these places make a big difference and help drive sales. My hope is that people read the reviews and then purchase the book from their local indie bookstore like Pages Bookshop in Detroit!
  2. If you have already read and enjoyed the book, please let your friends know on social media with either a picture or just a suggestion that they might want to buy the book. Here’s a link to WSUPress for more information: https://www.wsupress.wayne.edu/books/detail/i-have-answer Please use the hashtag with #IHAVETHEANSWER and please tag @WSUPress and @kfor24. 

 

I recorded a podcast last week for Without Books and if you haven’t heard of them, I highly recommend the short messages they record by authors reminding us all about the importance of books.

Stay safe and well.

Love,

Kelly

 

LOLITA HERNANDEZ

LOLITA

Lolita Hernandez

#letsdeconstructastory

I had so much fun this past month deconstructing stories with Desiree Cooper and Laura Thomas, I plan to continue with this format through the fall. Please let me know if you have a new book of short stories out so we can discuss it!

Today on the blog, Lolita Hernandez and I will be talking about her story, “Process Server,” from her award-winning Wayne State University Press collection, Making Callaloo in Detroit.

It’s best to read the story before listening to our discussion so we don’t spoil the ending for you. Just click on this link below:

Process Server from MAKING CALLALOO IN DETROIT

 

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Kelly Fordon and Lolita Hernandez discussing “Process Server.”

 

Bio: Lolita Hernandez is the author of two collections of short stories: Making Callaloo in Detroit, a 2015 Michigan Notable Book, and Autopsy of an Engine and Other Stories from the Cadillac Plant, winner of a 2005 PEN Beyond Margins Award. Her short fiction and poetry have been published in a wide variety of literary venues. She is also a 2012 Kresge Fellow. After over thirty-three years as a UAW member at General Motors and twelve on the faculty of the University of Michigan Creative Writing Department at the Residential College, she recently retired to Las Vegas, Nevada from her native Detroit, Michigan.

 

making callaloo

 

Making Callaloo in Detroit is available at Wayne State University Press or Pages Bookshop or Amazon.

 

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I HAVE THE ANSWER: MARKETING HELP NEEDED! 

I Have the Answer has been out since April 11th. It was hard to market or even think about a new book this past spring. For that reason, sales are going slowly, and I thought I would give the book one more tiny push before letting it float off like a paper lantern into the night sky. If you have a moment, I would love your help.

There are two main ways:

  1. Write a review on Amazon and Goodreads. Reviews at these places make a big difference and help drive sales. My hope is that people read the reviews and then purchase the book from their local indie bookstore like Pages Bookshop in Detroit!
  2. If you have already read and enjoyed the book, please let your friends know on social media with either a picture or just a suggestion that they might want to buy the book. Here’s a link to WSUPress for more information: https://www.wsupress.wayne.edu/books/detail/i-have-answer Please use the hashtag with #IHAVETHEANSWER and please tag @WSUPress and @kfor24. 

Lastly, I do have one nice thing to report: I Have the Answer was chosen as a Top Indie Summer Read by Kirkus Reviews! Yay!

Stay safe and well, everyone.

Love,

Kelly

LAURA HULTHEN THOMAS

laurathomas

 

Let’s deconstruct a story!

Today Laura Thomas and I will be discussing the story “Sole Suspect” which first appeared in Midwestern Gothic and is included in her  2017 award-winning short story collection, States of Motion. 

In order to get the most out of our discussion, you might want to read the story first and then listen to our conversation afterward. Here’s a PDF of the story. (Below the video, you will find a link to purchase the book.)

Sole Suspect from STATES OF MOTION by Laura Hulthen Thomas

 

 

 

states-motion-105708

Available locally at Pages Bookshop or Indiebound or Amazon and the other usual suspects.

Bio: Laura Hulthen Thomas’s short fiction and essays have appeared in a number of journals and anthologies, including The Cimarron Review, Nimrod International Journal, Epiphany, and Witness. She received her MFA in fiction writing from Warren Wilson College. She currently heads the undergraduate creative writing program at the University of Michigan’s Residential College, where she teaches fiction and creative nonfiction.

DESIREE COOPER

Des headshot

Let’s deconstruct a story! Today Desiree Cooper and I will be discussing the story “Night Coming” from her 2016 award-winning short story collection, Know the Mother. 

In order to get the most out of our discussion, you might want to read the story first and then listen to our conversation afterward on Spotify.

 

Here’s a PDF of the story. (At the bottom of the page, you will find a link to purchase the book.)

 

Night Coming from KNOW THE MOTHER

 

Please enjoy our discussion here:

or directly on Spotify here.

 

 

know the mother cover

Bio: Desiree Cooper is a 2015 Kresge Artist Fellow, former attorney and Pulitzer Prize-nominated journalist. Her debut collection of flash fiction, Know the Mother, is a 2017 Michigan Notable Book that has won numerous awards, including 2017 Next Generation Indie Book Award. Cooper’s fiction, poetry and essays have appeared in The Best Small Fictions 2018, CallalooMichigan Quarterly Review, The RumpusRiver Teeth, and Best African American Fiction 2010, among other publications. Her essay, “We Have Lost Too Many Wigs,” was listed as a notable essay in The Best American Essays 2019.  In 2018, she wrote, produced and co-directed “The Choice,” a short film about reproductive rights and recipient of a 2019 Outstanding Achievement Award from the Berlin Flash Film Festival, and Award of Merit from the Best Short Film Festival in Los Angeles. Cooper collaborated with the Dance Department at The College William & Mary to create a dance “Aloft” inspired by her feminist fiction which debuted in October, 2018. Cooper was a founding board member of Cave Canem, a national residency for black poets, and has received residencies at Kimbilio and Ragdale.

PURCHASE THE BOOK HERE:

WSUP here

Bookshop here

Amazon here.

 

In Other News:

 

Zilka Joseph is offering manuscript consultations and private classes right now! Joseph is an Ann Arbor poet whose work has appeared (or is forthcoming) in POETRY, Poetry Daily, Mantis, Kenyon Review Online, Michigan Quarterly Review, among other places and whose first full-length collection of poems Sharp Blue Search of Flame was published by Wayne State University Press (2016) and was a finalist for the Foreword INDIE Book Awards,  You can find out more information about her editing services here.

My new book I Have the Answer was named a Top Summer Indie Read by Kirkus Review!

Kirkus Review July 1 2020

If you have read the book and enjoyed it, I would truly appreciate a star rating on either Goodreads here or Amazon here. It only takes a minute and makes a big difference to authors like me.

If you are on Goodreads, please friend me so we can share our reading lists. I’m always looking for suggestions, but even more so during these isolating times…

See you in two weeks!

DORENE O’BRIEN

cover dorene
Cover photo Dorene O’Brien

 

WELCOME to this new version of my blog where I interview prose writers and post a short clip of each one reading from their book. Today on the blog, we will be listening to Dorene O’Brien reading from her new book, “What It Might Feel Like to Hope.”

 

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A Few Questions for Dorene

How did you come up with the title of your collection, What it Might Feel Like to Hope?

Unless a title sweeps into my brain seemingly unbidden—and this rarely happens—I really struggle. In fact, all the stories for WIMFLTH were written before I had a book title, so I searched for an underlying theme or connecting thread that knit together what on the surface are quite disparate tales. After all, there is a man whose mother sets him up on blind dates, a writer hoping to sell her zombie story to Tom Hanks, a health nut who communes with her neighbor’s pet lizard, etc. Many of these characters’ plights seemed so hopeless to me that the original title of the book was A Kingdom Called Denial. But then I flipped that coin when I realized that being in denial is tantamount to being hopeful, that these characters would never have found themselves dining with strangers or penning horror stories or talking to reptiles if they did not imagine a reward for their efforts. George Carlin once said, “Scratch any cynic and underneath you’ll find a disappointed idealist.” In these dark and anxious times, I chose to see my characters as idealists and not cynics, and then the title swept in.

Which of the stories in your collection provide you with the most hope?

The three women who lose their mother in “Little Birds” may seem hopelessly self-involved, squabbling over her possessions and, in one case, demanding a daughter enter the fray and growing obstinate when she refuses. But Dina, the teenage daughter, has inherited her grandmother’s quiet strength and steady composure, so giving her the opportunity to teach her elders a lesson—and giving her the final word—was deliberately optimistic. I felt hopeful for future generations of this family once Dina took control. “Harm None” has a similar vibe, the student becoming the master in the story’s final scene.

Which story in your collection would you say is your personal favorite, and why?

I’m going to cheat here a little and choose two, but for vastly different reasons. “Eight Blind Dates Later,” the only full-on comedy in the collection, offered an opportunity to lampoon the romance novel, which is utterly formulaic (heroine falls in love on page 38; heroine’s heart is broken on page 87; cad is punished on page 151). The story was just fun to write. Conversely, “The Turn of the Wind” was a bear to write because I made the mistake of studying and initially incorporating crystallography in a heavy-handed way so that it read like a science manual. Complicating matters was my giving the scientist narrator Alzheimer’s. I added and removed scenes; I changed the story from first-person to third-person point of view; I added mythological references and weathervanes. Then I let it sit for years until I could untangle and rewire it into a story of which I’m finally quite proud.

I’d love to know about the genesis of “Honesty Above All Else.” Have you ever studied the tarot or worked as a tarot reader? 

That’s an interesting story so I’m glad you asked! When the editors of Detroit Noir decided to put together the anthology, they reached out to local writers to request “dark” stories set in Detroit for prospective inclusion, making it clear that they would not select more than one story per region (Midtown, Delray, etc.). I set my story on Belle Isle and when I was halfway done a friend who had also been contacted told me she had finished her story, and guess where it was set? So I had two weeks to choose a new neighborhood and write my story. In order to avoid “competition,” I considered neighborhoods I thought might be overlooked because they were too small or too “sweet” for a noir story, and that’s how I chose Corktown and O’Leary’s Tea Room, which was an actual restaurant at Brooklyn and Porter with white lace tablecloths where tarot readings were conducted on Saturday afternoons. I set the story in 1999, a dark time for Corktown as the nearby train depot had closed, the Hudson’s Building had been razed and the Tigers had moved downtown after playing major league ball in Corktown since 1912. Voters were also faced with a third vote on whether to welcome casinos to the city (they had already voted against them twice but in typical “money talks” fashion, the issue would continue to appear on the ballot until the promoters got their way). So this was the backdrop for “Honesty Above All Else.” The landmarks–the Seven Sisters, the Parabox, DuMouchelles–are real, but Mrs. O’Leary, her young employee and the victims are fictional.

I am a collector of tarot cards because they are so visually compelling, and while I’m not a tarot reader, the cards did generate a large part of the plot. After a good shuffle, I simply turned them and then read their meanings in A Pictorial Guide to the Tarot before turning to the keyboard to type. Leaving plot to chance is atypical for me but it was really fun.

How long did it take to write the stories in this collection?

I wasn’t really writing a collection as much as I was amassing stories and then trying to corral them into a book. The oldest and darkest story in What It Might Feel Like to Hope, “Reaping,” was written while I was in college, and the newest and lightest, “Eight Blind Dates Later,” was written decades later. This was also the case with my first story collection, Voices of the Lost and Found, which features 11 first-person stories narrated by a variety of characters from different social and economic backgrounds and written/reimagined/revised over the course of many years. When I wrote those stories, I had not intended them to be part of a collection until I realized that the voices themselves could be the link, just as hope was the link in my most recent book.

Please share some of your literary influences.

Mark Twain was an early influence, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn in particular. After reading it as a child I recall thinking, I want to do that! I’m a huge fan of Kurt Vonnegut’s funny yet biting social commentary and his blending of sci-fi and literary genres. Short story writers who inspire me are Andrea Barrett, who was trained as a scientist and showed me that it’s all right to get your geek on in writing. George Saunders has a brilliantly eccentric mind that inspires risk-taking, and T.C. Boyle’s wit and comedic timing confirm that writing can and should be fun. I also love the work of Lucia Berlin, Tobias Wolff, Lorrie Moore, Anthony Doerr, Flannery O’Connor, Raymond Carver and Ray Bradbury.

photo dorene

Dorene O’Brien is a Detroit-based creative  writing teacher and writer whose stories have won the Red Rock Review Mark Twain Award for Short Fiction, the Nelson Algren Award, the New Millennium Writings Fiction Prize, and the international Bridport Prize. She has won fellowships from the NEA and the Vermont Studio Center. Her work has been nominated for two Pushcart prizes, has been published in special Kindle editions and has appeared in the Baltimore Review, Madison Review, Best of Carve Magazine, Short Story Review, Southern Humanities Review, the Chicago Tribune, Detroit Noir, Montreal Review, Passages North, and others. Voices of the Lost and Found, her first fiction collection, was a finalist for the Drake Emerging Writer Award and won the USA Best Book Award for Short Fiction. Her fiction chapbook, Ovenbirds and Other Stories, won the Wordrunner Chapbook Contest and was published in 2018. Her second full-length story collection, What It Might Feel Like to Hope, was named first runner-up in the Mary Roberts Rinehart Fiction Prize and will be released in 2019 by Baobab Press. She is currently writing a literary/Sci-Fi hybrid novel. https://www.doreneobrien.com/

Buy Dorene’s book from Bookshop here or Pages Bookshop in Detroit here or Amazon here.