ELLEN BIRKETT MORRIS ON “LET’S DECONSTRUCT A STORY”

Hi Everyone,

I’m thrilled to welcome Ellen Birkett Morris to the show today.

Please read her story “Inheritance” before listening to our discussion.

(Content warning: sexual assault and suicide)

During our talk, Ellen also mentioned a book by Ron Carlson called “Ron Carlson Writes a Story” which is out of print unfortunately but you might find a used copy here.

Next month, Rion Amilcar Scott will record his episode with me on June 28th from 6-7pm. Pages Bookshop in Detroit is sponsoring this virtual event; if you would like to sign up for it, you may register here:

Register in advance for this meeting:
https://us02web.zoom.us/meeting/register/tZAqceqqpj4oH90WB1dmqCvRaHNT-DQkmzUU

** Please read (or listen to) Rion Amilcar Scott’s New Yorker story, Shape-ups at Delilah’s,” beforehand.

Many thanks to the Grosse Pointe Public Library and Pages Bookshop in Detroit for their support of this podcast. Please let your local schools, libraries, and bookstores know about “Let’s Deconstruct a Story,” if you find the material valuable. LDAS is a labor of love, but every donation helps, and we are deeply grateful for them.

My conversation with Ellen Birkett Morris is available on Anchor and Spotify below but also at several other places including Apple Podcasts.

Anchor:

Spotify:

 

Enjoy!

Kelly

Bio: A native of Louisville, Ellen Birkett Morris is the author of LOST GIRLS, a short story collection, and SURRENDER, a poetry chapbook. LOST GIRLS is a finalist for the 2021 Clara Johnson Award for Literature and winner of the Pencraft Award for short stories. She holds a Master of Fine Arts in Fiction from Queens University – Charlotte. Her short stories have appeared in Antioch Review, Shenandoah, South Carolina Review, Upstreet, and elsewhere.

Purchase “Lost Girls” from Bookshop or Amazon. Thanks!

SARA MAJKA ON “LET’S DECONSTRUCT A STORY”

Hi Everyone,

I’m excited to share my interview with Sara Majka about the title short story, “Cities I’ve Never Lived In.” Here’s a brief description of the collection from the publisher Graywolf Press:

“Fearlessly riding the line between imagination and experience, fact and fiction, the linked stories in Sara Majka’s debut collection offer intimate glimpses of a young New England woman whose life must begin afresh after a divorce. Traveling the roads of Maine and the train tracks of Grand Central Station, moving from vast shorelines to the unmade beds of strangers, these fourteen stories circle the dreams of a narrator who finds herself turning to storytelling as a means of working through the world and of understanding herself. A book that upends our ideas of love and belonging, and which asks how much of ourselves we leave behind with each departure we make, Cities I’ve Never Lived In exposes, with great sadness and great humor, the ways in which we are most of all citizens of the places where we cannot stay.”

Before you listen to our discussion, first please read “Cities I’ve Never Lived In” here.

Then enjoy our discussion here on Anchor:

 

Or here on Spotify:

 

Or wherever you get your podcasts!

Thanks,

Kelly

Sara Majka

Bio:

When she was young, Sara Majka’s family moved along the New England coast, living in Martha’s Vineyard, Nantucket, and small towns in Maine. She received graduate degrees from Umass-Amherst and Bennington College and was awarded a fellowship at the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown. Her first book, Cities I’ve Never Lived In, was published by Graywolf Press / A Public Space in 2016. She lives in Providence, Rhode Island where she teaches writing at RISD.

Sara Majka’s book can be purchased here on Bookshop and here on Amazon as well as directly from the publisher, Graywolf Press.

Upcoming shows:

June 1st: Ellen Birkett Morris

July 1st: Rion Amilcar Scott

July 15th: Maurine Ogbaa

August 1st: Selena Anderson

September 1st: Jacob M. Appel

October 1st: Peter Ho Davies

November 1st: Peter Orner

December 1st: Toni Ann Johnson

MY PERSONAL FAVORITE: POEMS BY KEN MEISEL

Hi Everyone,

Even though I am mostly working on “Let’s Deconstruct a Story” these days, every now and then I still like to feature a stellar poet! Today’s post includes a reading by Michigan poet, Ken Meisel, from his new book, Studies Inside the Consent of a Distance published in January by Kelsay Books.

Poems in the recording include “Fatherhood,” “Two Portraits of Hunger, South Carolina” and “The Angel of the Wonderful “ all published in the San Pedro River Review. “Studies Inside the Consent of a Distance” was first published in Third Wednesday.

Please enjoy the recording on Anchor here:

Or you can access it on Spotify:

Apple, or wherever you enjoy your podcasts.

Ken’s new book is dedicated to another legend in the Michigan poetry world, Joy Gaines-Friedler! They will be reading together on April 19th at 7pm on zoom through the Royal Oak Library. Register here.

Happy weekend, everyone!

Kelly

Bio: Ken Meisel is a poet and psychotherapist, a 2012 Kresge Arts Literary Fellow, a Pushcart Prize nominee, and the author of eight books of poetry. His most recent books are: Our Common Souls: New & Selected Poems of Detroit (Blue Horse Press: 2020) and Mortal Lullabies (FutureCycle Press: 2018). His new book, Studies Inside the Consent of a Distance, was published in 2022 by Kelsay Books. He has recent work in Concho River Review, I-70 Review, San Pedro River Review, The Wayfarer, and Rabid Oak.

Ken’s new books are available here at Kelsay Books.

LILY KING ON “LET’S DECONSTRUCT A STORY”

Hi Everyone!

 

This month I”m happy to host Lily King who will be discussing the title story from her new short story collection “Five Tuesdays in Winter.”

The short story collection Five Tuesdays in Winter is available at most libraries throughout the United States or for purchase through Bookshop and Amazon.  The title story “Five Tuesdays in Winter” was first published in Ploughshares in 2005, and may also be available here.

I’m so sorry a PDF was not provided by the publisher this time. I believed it would be available in PDF form, but I was mistaken. Grove Atlantic does not own the serial rights.

Despite my disappointment, I am very grateful to have a writer of Lily King’s caliber on the podcast, and I wanted to make this episode available to listeners anyway.

It is best to read the story before listening to our discussion.

And then listen to our discussion:

Here on Anchor:

Or here on Spotify:

Or wherever you get your podcasts!

Lily King is the award-winning author of five novels. Her most recent novel, Writers & Lovers, was published on March 3rd, 2020, and her first collection of short stories, Five Tuesdays in Winter, was released on November 9, 2021. Her 2014 novel Euphoria won the Kirkus Award, The New England Book Award, and was a finalist for the National Book Critics Award. Euphoria was named one of the 10 Best Books of 2014 by The New York Times Book Review. It was included in TIME’s Top 10 Fiction Books of 2014, as well as on Amazon, NPR, Entertainment Weekly, Publishers Weekly, and Salon’s Best Books of 2014.


Upcoming Episodes:

May 1: Sara Majka
June 1: Ellen Birkett Morris
July 1: Maurine Ogbaa
August 1: Selena Anderson
September 1: Jacob M. Appel
October 1: Peter Ho Davies
November 1: Peter Orner
December 1: Toni Ann Johnson

**

This is the second “Let’s Deconstruct a Story” podcast offered in collaboration with the Grosse Pointe Public Library in Michigan. The GPPL has committed to purchasing ten books by each author this season to give to their patrons! If you are a short story writer who has tried to make money in this game then you know what a big deal this is! My hope is that other libraries will follow the GPPL’s lead and be inspired to buy books by these talented short story writers. I will be contacting many libraries this year to suggest this programming. Feel free to do the same if you enjoy this podcast!

Cheers!

Kelly

 

CAITLIN HORROCKS ON “LET’S DECONSTRUCT A STORY”

Life Among the Terranauts

Hi Everyone!

Welcome to the first “Let’s Deconstruct a Story” podcast offered in collaboration with the Grosse Pointe Public Library in Michigan. The GPPL has committed to purchasing ten books by each author this season to give to their patrons!

If you are a short story writer who has tried to make money in this game then you know what a big deal this is! My hope is that other libraries will follow the GPPL’s lead and be inspired to buy books by these talented short story writers. I will be contacting many libraries this year to suggest this programming. Please feel free to do the same if you enjoy this podcast.


Our first guest this season is Caitlin Horrocks, author of the story collections Life Among the Terranauts and This Is Not Your City, both New York Times Book Review Editor’s Choice selections. Her novel The Vexations was named one of the Ten Best Books of 2019 by the Wall Street Journal.

Caitlin was gracious enough to speak with me twice over the past year despite having three kids under the age of three! The first time we talked about her story “Chance Me” at Pages Bookshop in Detroit in front of a Crowdcast audience. This time we discussed “The Oregon Trail,”  a story that delighted and baffled me in equal measure because I missed the central premise.

You will see. It was very very embarrassing! 

First, please read “On the Oregon Trail” by Caitlin Horrocks.

Then listen to our podcast available:

Anchor:

Spotify:

Apple, Podbean, or wherever you listen to podcasts!

 

Also, I kept my annotated copy of “Chance Me” so when you read Life Among the Terranauts please feel free to reach out if you would like to discuss that story as well.

Thanks,

Kelly

 

 

Caitlin Horrocks

Bio: Caitlin Horrocks is the author of the story collections Life Among the Terranauts and This Is Not Your City, both New York Times Book Review Editor’s Choice selections. Her novel The Vexations was named one of the Ten Best Books of 2019 by the Wall Street Journal. Her stories and essays appear in The New Yorker, The Best American Short Stories, The PEN/O. Henry Prize Stories, The Pushcart Prize, The Paris Review, Tin House, and One Story, as well as other journals and anthologies. Her awards include the Plimpton Prize and fellowships to the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, the Sewanee Writers’ Conference, and the MacDowell Colony. She is on the advisory board of The Kenyon Review, where she formerly served as fiction editor. She teaches at Grand Valley State University and in the MFA Program for Writers at Warren Wilson College. She lives in Grand Rapids, Michigan, with the writer W. Todd Kaneko and their noisy kids.

Life Among the Terranauts is available at the Grosse Pointe Library (for FREE–your very own copy!!) if you happen to live here, at Bookshop (where the purchase benefits “Let’s Deconstruct a Story”), or on  Amazon.

Kelly Fordon’s books are also available on Bookshop and Amazon and through Wayne State University Press.

If you would like to support this podcast, it would be greatly appreciated! Donations can be made on the main blog page.

 

 

LET’S DECONSTRUCT A STORY AND Q AND A WITH EDWARD BELFAR

A Podcast for the Story Nerds

Hi Everyone,

I’m thrilled to return to podcasting after a brief hiatus this winter. And I’m also a bit giddy because the podcast is now being produced in collaboration with the Grosse Pointe Library in Michigan.

The GPPL has committed to purchasing ten books by these authors to give to their patrons!

If you are a short story writer who has tried to make money in this game then you know what a big deal that is! My hope is that other libraries will follow the GPPL’s lead and be inspired to buy books by these talented short story writers. I will be contacting many libraries this spring to suggest it. Please feel free to do the same, if you feel so inclined!

The upcoming LDAS schedule includes:

Caitlin Horrocks
Lily King
Sara Majka
Ellen Birkett Morris
Maurine Ogbaa
Selena Anderson
Jacob M. Appel
Peter Ho Davies
Peter Orner
Toni Ann Johnson

The podcast starts up again on March 1st and will drop once a month on the first of the month. It’s available here and on many other podcasting platforms.

Please sign up for my newsletter if you would like more information about upcoming shows.

Tidbits:

This winter while on break, I was thrilled to learn about George Saunders’ Story Club offering on Substack. It’s a master class in craft all for the low low annual price of $50!

George Saunders is one of our greatest living writers, but he also seems like a person who has not lost hope. And that’s saying something. I don’t know about you, but these days I feel a little like my dog, Bruno, who just tore his CCL–still circumventing the yard but not going to win any races. However, every time I read George Saunders’ work, I feel better. Full stop.

Plus, Story Club is a blog devoted to dissecting stories by master writers. What could be better? Check out George Saunders’ Story Club here.

Another newsletter worth checking out is Natalie Serber’s Read.Write.Eat. Just plain fun– chockful of great intel for writers. Take a peek here.

I’ve also been carrying around Matt Bell’s Refuse to Be Done this winter. There isn’t much I haven’t heard in terms of writing advice, but this book is a notch above, and even though it’s “technically” meant for novelists, short story writers will benefit as well.

Here are two gems:

“If I find a fact or detail I want to include, I don’t write it down anywhere unless I can write it directly into the novel, either by finding an existing scene where it can live or by starting a new one centered on the fact or detail. That way, I don’t generate a separate document full of inert, non-novelistic prose, which feels so different from the kind of language I want my novel to contain. This practice has the side benefit of letting my research tell me what to write next: your research questions will guide you as powerfully as any whisperings of plot can, especially if you do your note-taking inside your novel, in the voice of the book.” Page 64

And:

“Set or reset the clock. One reason some early drafts feel baggy is that they’re taking place over too large a span of time, or else the span of time they cover simply isn’t defined yet. Once you’ve got some idea of what your novel’s plot is, can you determine the smallest span of time the book’s present action needs in order to unfold successfully?” Page 55

See you all on March 1st.

Please check out the Q and A with Edward Belfar below!

Kelly

Q and A with Edward Belfar

Edward and I met at a reading hosted by The Great Indoor Reading Series created by writer Treena Thibodeau in March 2020, as a way to connect and experience artistic community despite the challenges of social distancing during the COVID19 Pandemic.

This February selection with Edward is part of a Q and A series I will be offering occasionally in addition to the “Let’s Deconstruct a Story” podcast and operates under the same general principle, which is that one should read the story before listening to our discussion, so here’s a link to Wanderers by Edward Belfar.

Please read, and then enjoy our discussion below.

Thanks and Happy 2022 everyone!

I am hoping it will be better than the last two years, as I know we all are.

Kelly

Q and A 

Kelly: Please give us a brief two or three-line summary of “Wanderers.” I always like to know how writers see their own work.

Edward: The story concerns a chance encounter between an attorney named Peter Dolan and his one-time law school professor. Peter is sitting in a bar one rainy night, carrying on a half-hearted flirtation with the bartender, when a vaguely familiar-looking, elderly man enters. Before long, Peter recognizes the stranger as Professor Lawrence Whitfield, who had taught him constitutional law. The daunting figure Peter remembers from his law school days is no more. Now frail and confused, Professor Whitfield, having gotten lost and wandered far from home while running some routine errands, has come in to ask for directions. Out of concern for the older man’s safety, Peter decides to drive Professor Whitfield home himself—an act of kindness that evokes mixed feelings in its beneficiary.

Kelly: Do the characters from “Wanderers” appear anywhere else in your collection?

Edward: They do not. “Wanderers” is the title story of the collection in which it appears, which was published by Stephen F. Austin State University Press in 2012. The book Wanderers does include two linked stories—“Roman Honeymoon” and its sequel, “Visitations”—which, respectively, portray a marriage in its early stages and again as it nears dissolution. The remaining stories are entirely self-contained but do have thematic ties. As is true of both Peter and the professor, the principal characters tend to be wanderers in one sense or another, never quite at home in the worlds that they inhabit.

Kelly: You have some amazing lines in “Wanderers:” Here are three of my favorites:

“The older I get, the less I understand. Parents become like children. Children disown you.”

Talking about his wife, Peter says: “Mine only threw me out. She kept everything else.”

Professor Whitfield says: “I do envy the young their expectations.”

Please tell us a little bit about how you came up with these lines. Did they come to you in the initial drafting of the story, or later, in revision?

Edward: I will take those in reverse. Professor Whitfield’s line is a comment on the indignities that come with aging and infirmity. When I wrote that, I may have been thinking about the lines from Yeats’s “The Tower”:
What shall I do with this absurdity —
O heart, O troubled heart — this caricature,
Decrepit age that has been tied to me
As to a dog’s tail?

The sour quip from Peter about his ex-wife reveals his lingering bitterness over his divorce and his estrangement from his children. The line beginning “parents become like children” further illustrates how confused and adrift he feels in middle age. He is as much a wanderer as Professor Whitfield. He has lost his family, does not place a great value on his professional accomplishments, and sees his best days as having passed long ago. The line also speaks to the experience of many adult children who have had the responsibility of caring for frail, elderly parents and suddenly found that the parent-child relationship has, in a sense, reversed. When the parents can no longer care for themselves, the adult children must take on a quasi-parental role, sometimes leading to resentment on both sides.

Unfortunately, I no longer have access to the earliest drafts of the story. It seems likely, though, that I gave all of those lines some thought and that they took their present forms during the revision process.

Kelly: The story is quite sad overall but there were some redemptive moments. At one point, Peter talks about how he saved a baby from a burning car, and I thought, this is a noble person. How would you describe him as a character?

Edward: Like most people, Peter has his share of noble and ignoble traits. With the dissolution of his family, he has let himself drift, drinking to excess and having short-lived affairs with his receptionists. At bottom, though, he is a kind, caring, generous person who never hesitates to help someone in distress, even at considerable cost to himself and even though the world does not always return his kindness. I do see his decision to come to the aid of his former professor as a redemptive act, in that his innate decency wins out over his inertia.

Kelly: How would you describe Professor Whitfield?

Edward: Once a formidable presence in Peter’s life, a man both admired and feared by his former pupil, Professor Winfield has been much reduced by age and illness. Sometimes, he seems confused and disoriented, but at other times, particularly when he turns his still caustic wit upon Peter, he appears as sharp as ever. Though aware of his physical frailty and even, if to a lesser degree, of his cognitive decline, Professor Winfield remains proud and defiant, chafing at what he perceives as the threats to his autonomy posed by his wife and Peter.

Kelly: What usually comes to you when you start drafting a short story? Character? Plot? Scene? Or is it different every time?

Edward: The origins differ from story to story, but often the kernel is an incident, whether observed or experienced first-hand, heard about, or stumbled upon in the course of my reading. In the case of “Wanderers,” someone had told me about an incident that was similar in its broad contours to what I would eventually set down on the page. The story I heard was not very detailed, and I did not do anything with it right away. For whatever reason, I was thinking about the incident again one day, and I began to reimagine the Good Samaritan in the story as a person who had once known and admired the Professor Whitfield character, rather than as the stranger that she was in real life. At that point, the story “Wanderers” began to take shape.

Kelly:  Since people are supposed to read the story before they read this interview, I’d like to ask about the ending. (spoiler alert!)
Peter seems to be escaping a bad scene at Professor Whitfield’s house, but, like the rest of us, I feel like he’s not going to escape for long. At least that’s the way I read it. Is that the way you meant it? Did it take you a while to come up with this ending, or did it come to you naturally?

Edward: The story was shorter in its earliest incarnation. I think it may have ended with Peter on the sidewalk, watching Professor Whitfield drive away. Unfortunately, I cannot be sure because those early drafts, which I composed two or three computers ago, are lost to me. At some point, though, I must have decided that Peter is not the sort of person who would let Professor Whitfield drive off into the rain; rather, his sense of responsibility would impel him to see to it that the professor got home safely. Having performed his good deed, however, Peter knows that he has done all he can, and witnessing the Whitfields’ quarrel, he feels like an intruder. He slips out of the house “quietly as a burglar.” The experience has left him shaken. Whether it will lead him to reevaluate the life he is living and change its direction is anybody’s guess.

Kelly:  In general, how do you know you’ve reached the end of a story?

Edward: As suggested by my previous answer, I do not always know immediately. Sometimes, I get it wrong. In general, I look for something—an image, an action, a line of dialogue—that will tie together all the various strands of the story and reveal something about what a character has learned or failed to learn or how he or she has changed or not changed. There is an element of intuition involved. Early in the pandemic, I took up the guitar again after not having played for many years. (Unlike my writing, my guitar playing is something I would not inflict on any audience.) I do not know enough about music theory to explain why, but in many common chord progressions, e.g., C→C diminished→G7, the ear perceives a building of tension. By following the G7 with a return to C, the player resolves that tension. I would liken the ending of a short story to that final C chord, in that it provides a similar sense of resolution. Of course, the analogy is not perfect, because the apparent resolution is not always quite that tidy. The future for Peter after he leaves the Whitfields’ house remains murky.

Kelly: Tell us a little bit about the novel you are shopping.

Edward: A Very Innocent Man is a satirical novel about a physician who seeks to become a celebrity television doctor but whose greed and amorality cause him to get into legal trouble and lose his medical license. Otherwise lacking in redeeming qualities, he is resourceful, and rather than giving up on his dreams of fame, he seeks to realize them by reinventing himself as a motivational speaker and life coach. In 2021, I came close to getting the novel published. One press did make me an offer but not a satisfactory one. A Very Innocent Man was also a finalist in Winter Goose Press’s fiction contest. I plan to continue shopping it around in 2022, and I hope that I will have better luck.

Kelly: I noticed you mentioned Caitlin Horrocks as one of your favorite writers and she will be on the podcast in March. I’d love to hear about a few of your other favorite short story writers. What do you love, in particular, about the short story?

Edward: What I love about the short story is the way it can illuminate character and experience and encompass an entire life in a handful of pages. There is a story of Chekov’s that I first encountered decades ago as an undergraduate and to which I keep returning. Titled “Grief” or “Misery,” depending on the English translation, it tells of one night in the life of a cab driver, a humble, unremarkable man who just lost his son to a sudden illness. Unable to contain his grief, he tries to speak of it to his passengers, but their interest in him extends only to how quickly he can get them where they want to go, and they react with indifference and scorn. In the end, because he has no one else to whom he can unburden himself, he relates the story of his son’s death to the mare that pulls his cab. In that single heartbreaking image, Chekov has somehow found a way to give expression to the most universal and yet ineffable of human experiences—that of grief.
If I absolutely had to name a favorite short story writer, I could not go wrong with Chekov. Economical yet meticulously detailed, his stories are almost always flawlessly constructed. What really sets his work apart, though, is the breadth and scope of his imagination, his uncanny ability to bring characters from all strata of society to vivid life.
Other short story writers whose work I greatly enjoy include, to name just a few, Guy de Maupassant, Isaac Babel, and Katherine Mansfield. Of Caitlin, I would add that she is not only a terrific writer but a very engaging and dynamic reader. I attended a reading of hers at the Writers’ Center in Bethesda, MD, in 2013, the year that This Is not Your City came out. The reading was more than worth the price of admission—which, in that instance, was a signed copy of the book, which I still have.

Thanks, Edward!

Bio:

Edward Belfar is the author of a collection of short stories called Wanderers, which was published by Stephen F. Austin State University Press in 2012.  “Errors,” one of the stories in the collection, was chosen as the winning entry in the Sports Literature Association’s 2008 fiction competition.  His fiction and essays have also appeared in numerous literary journals, including Shenandoah, The Baltimore Review, Schuylkill Valley Journal, Potpourri, Confrontation, Natural Bridge, and Tampa Review.  He lives in Maryland with his wife and works as a writer and editor.

 

ALIX OHLIN ON “LET’S DECONSTRUCT A STORY”

Vancouver author Alix Ohlin among five finalists for 2021 Atwood Gibson Writers' Trust Fiction Prize | Georgia Straight Vancouver's News & Entertainment Weekly

 

Hi Everyone,

Welcome!

“Let’s Deconstruct a Story” is a podcast for the story nerds–those who know that examining the components of a good story is the key to writing one. In each episode, I interview a writer about one of their own stories, delving deeply into their choice of POV, plot, setting, and tone. The stories are available for listeners to read (below) before they listen to our discussion.

This week, I’m talking to Alix Ohlin about her story “Quarantine” which was first published in The New Yorker, in 2017, and then later in her 2021 short story collection, We Want What We Want.

First please read the story “Quarantine” in The New Yorker here.

This story should be free and accessible (you may have to enter your email address) but if you have any issues, please click here.

If you would like a transcript of our discussion, please feel free to contact me as well.

Here’s the podcast on Spotify and Anchor.

Anchor:

Spotify:

Extras:

A link to Alix Ohlin’s essay in Lithub on How to Map the Shape of your Short Story, which we mention in our discussion.

A link to a portion of the Charles Baxter essay about the request moment.

Ohlin also mentioned this book by Joan Silber, The Art of Time.

Bio: Alix Ohlin is the author of six books, including the novel, Dual Citizens, which was short-listed for the Scotiabank Giller Prize and the Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize. Her work has appeared in The New Yorker, The Best American Short Stories, and many other places. Her 2021 short story collection, We Want What We Want, was shortlisted for the 2021 Atwood Gibson Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize. She lives in Vancouver, where she is the director of the UBC School of Creative Writing.

Alix Ohlin’s books are available on Bookshop here or on Amazon here.

***

Thanks also to Andrew Mason at Upwork for some help with editing this episode.

***

News:

I’m pausing “Let’s Deconstruct a Story until January 15th to have time to download and edit some previously recorded videos. Next season look forward to an outstanding line-up including Toni Ann Johnson and Caitlin Horrocks among others.

I’ll send more information sometime in December!

I’m including a donation button on my website these days because I am saving up for podcast equipment. If you’ve enjoyed the podcast but have noticed the audio quality is not always top-notch, it’s because I am dealing with old headphones and a free editing program. I am flying by the seat of my pants!

At the same time, as fellow writers, I’m sure you know how little we make in this business, so it will take me a while to save up for the equipment.

If you feel like donating, I would greatly appreciate it. Every little bit helps! Thanks!



NATALIE SERBER ON “LET’S DECONSTRUCT A STORY”

Natalie Serber

 

Hi Everyone,

Welcome!

“Let’s Deconstruct a Story” is a podcast for the story nerds!

This is a podcast for aspiring writers who know that examining the components of a good story is the key to writing one. In each episode here, I interview a writer about one of their own stories, delving deeply into their choice of POV, plot, setting, and tone. The stories are available for listeners to read (below) before they listen to our discussion.

Today’s guest is Natalie Serber. We are discussing her story “Children are Magic” which was originally published in One Story Magazine and is a part of her upcoming short story collection.

You can read the story Children are Magic here.

Enjoy! Kelly

And our discussion available on Anchor here:

Note use of strong language and adult content.

or on Spotify here:

Transcripts of our discussion are available upon request.

If you have any additional questions for Natalie, or suggestions for future shows, please don’t hesitate to contact me!

Natalie Serber is the author of a memoir about her experience with breast cancer entitled, Community Chest, and a story collection, Shout Her Lovely Name, New York Times Notable Book, and an O, the Oprah Magazine Summer Read. Twice nominated for a Pushcart Prize, her fiction has appeared in One Story, Zyzzyva Magazine, Hunger Mountain, The Bellingham Review, Gulf Coast, and othersEssays and reviews have appeared in The New York Times, The Huffington Post, O, the Oprah Magazine, The San Francisco Chronicle, The Rumpus, and others. Currently at work on a novel with the working title, Must Be Nice, and a memoir entitled, Go Back to Sleep, you can visit her online at natalieserber.com and subscribe to her popular newsletter, read.write.eat.

News:

I’m including a donation button on my website these days because I am saving up for podcast equipment. If you’ve enjoyed the podcast but have noticed the audio quality is not always top-notch, it’s because I am dealing with old headphones and a free editing program. I am flying by the seat of my pants!

At the same time, as fellow writers, I’m sure you know how little we make in this business, so it will take me a while to save up for the equipment.

If you feel like donating, I would greatly appreciate it. Every little bit helps! Thanks!



SEJAL SHAH ON “LET’S DECONSTRUCT A STORY”

Sejal Shah

 

Hi Everyone,

Welcome!

“Let’s Deconstruct a Story” is a podcast for the story nerds!

This is a podcast for aspiring writers who know that examining the components of a good story is the key to writing one. In each episode here, I interview a writer about one of their own stories, delving deeply into their choice of POV, plot, setting, and tone. The stories are available for listeners to read (below) before they listen to our discussion.

Today’s guest is Sejal Shah. Her story “The Half King” is a part of her upcoming short story collection.

You can read the story online below.

Enjoy! Kelly

Story available here:

The Half King by Sejal Shah in The Literary Review

Discussion available here:

or on Spotify here:

Bio: Sejal Shah is a poet who works in prose, writing across genres and disciplines. She is the author of the award-winning debut essay collection, This Is One Way to Dance (University of Georgia Press, 2020). Her stories and essays have appeared in The Guardian, Brevity, Conjunctions, Guernica, the Kenyon Review, Literary Hub, Longreads, and The Rumpus. The recipient of a 2018 New York Foundation for the Arts fellowship in fiction, Sejal recently completed a story collection with images; her newer writing is about friendship, school, and mental health. She lives in Rochester, New York.

Sejal’s book is available here on Bookshop and here on Amazon.

News:

I’m including a donation button on my website these days because I am saving up for podcast equipment. If you’ve enjoyed the podcast but have noticed the audio quality is not always top-notch, it’s because I am dealing with old headphones and a free editing program. I am flying by the seat of my pants!

At the same time, as fellow writers, I’m sure you know how little we make in this business, so it will take me a while to save up for the equipment.

If you feel like donating, I would greatly appreciate it. Every little bit helps! Thanks!



CLIFFORD GARSTANG ON “LET’S DECONSTRUCT A STORY”


Cliff Garstang

 

Hi Everyone,

Welcome!

“Let’s Deconstruct a Story” is a podcast for the story nerds!

This is a podcast for aspiring writers who know that examining the components of a good story is the key to writing one. In each episode here, I interview a writer about one of their own stories, delving deeply into their choice of POV, plot, setting, and tone. The stories are available for listeners to read (below) before they listen to our discussion.

You can read the story online or you can download the PDF below.

Enjoy! Kelly

Stories available here:

Lost in Translation Online Here

Lost in Translation by Clifford Garstang

Listen to our discussion below. Please contact me if you need it transcribed.

 

Or on Spotify here:

Bio:

Clifford Garstang is the author of the novels Oliver’s Travels and The Shaman of Turtle Valley, a novel in stories, What the Zhang Boys Know, winner of the Library of Virginia Literary Award for Fiction, and two short story collections, In an Uncharted Country and House of the Ancients. He is also the co-founder and former editor of Prime Number Magazine and the editor of the anthology series Everywhere Stories: Short Fiction from a Small Planet. A former international lawyer, he now lives in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia.

In other news:

Natalie Serber and I are collaborating on a workshop based on her story “Children are Magic,” which was published in One Story. The first part of the workshop will be a roundtable discussion with participants about the story (in the vein of “Let’s Deconstruct a Story”). The second hour will include a writing prompt based on the story and time to share our work. Hope you will consider joining us for this fun event. Here’s the link to register.

Also, I’m including a donation button on my website these days because I am saving up for podcast equipment. If you’ve enjoyed the podcast but have noticed the audio quality is not always top-notch, it’s because I am dealing with old headphones and a free editing program. I am flying by the seat of my pants!

At the same time, as fellow writers, I’m sure you know how little we make in this business, so it will take me a while to save up for the equipment.

If you feel like donating, I would greatly appreciate it. Any little bit helps! Thanks!



 

NOLEY REID ON “LET’S DECONSTRUCT A STORY”

Noley Reid

photo credit: Jason Wheat.

Hi Everyone,

“Let’s Deconstruct a Story” is a podcast for the story nerds!

This is a podcast for aspiring writers who know that examining the components of a good story is the key to writing one. In each episode here, I interview a writer about one of their own stories, delving deeply into their choice of POV, plot, setting, and tone. The stories are available for listeners to read (below) before they listen to our discussion.

If you enjoy the podcast, please let me know, and if you have any writers/stories you’d like to recommend, I’d be happy to hear about them.

Also, be sure to scroll down to the bottom where I am announcing the first “Let’s Deconstruct a Story” workshop with Natalie Serber!

Thanks,

Kelly

**Warning: This story includes a discussion of suicide.**

First, please read Noley Reid’s excellent story, “Coming Back,” which is available in Split Lip Magazine here.

Or you may download a PDF of the story here: “Coming Back” by Noley Reid

or on Spotify here.

A transcript of our conversation is available upon request.

Bio:

Noley Reid’s third book is the novel Pretend We Are Lovely from Tin House Books. Her fourth book, a collection of stories called Origami Dogs, is forthcoming from Autumn House Press. Her stories and essays have appeared in The Southern Review, The Rumpus, Arts & Letters, Meridian, Pithead Chapel, The Lily, Bustle, Confrontation, and Los Angeles Review of Books. Follow her on Twitter @NoleyReid and find out more about her writing and upcoming events at http://www.NoleyReid.com.

A novel by Noley Reid

“Pretend We are Lovely” is available at Bookshop here and on Audible here.

“So There!” is on Bookshop.org as well: https://bookshop.org/books/so-there/9781936205455.

“In the Breeze of Passing Things” is out of print but Noley has copies. If you are interested, feel free to contact me, and I will put you in touch with her.

In other news:

I’m happy to announce the first “Let’s Deconstruct a Story” workshop with Natalie Serber on October 13th at 6pm EST. We will be talking about her story, “Children are Magic” which was first published in “One Story” in 2019. More information is available here.

JEFF VANDE ZANDE ON “LET’S DECONSTRUCT A STORY”

 

Hi Everyone,

Hope you are enjoying the last days of summer! I’m happy to have Jeff Vande Zande, a fiction writer from Michigan, on the blog today!

How this work:

“Let’s Deconstruct a Story” is a podcast for the story nerds!

This is a podcast for aspiring writers who know that examining the components of a good story is the key to writing one. In each episode here, I interview a writer about one of their own stories, delving deeply into their choice of POV, plot, setting, and tone. The stories are available for listeners to read (below) before they listen to our discussion.

***

Please read Jeff Vande Zande’s story, “Load” or listen to the MP3 recording here.

***

And then enjoy our discussion here:

or on Spotify here:

BIO:
Jeff Vande Zande teaches fiction writing, screenwriting, and film production at Delta College in Michigan. His award-winning short films have been accepted over 200 times in national and international film festivals. His books of fiction include the story collections Emergency Stopping (Bottom Dog Press) and Threatened Species (Whistling Shade Press). His novels include Into the Desperate Country (March Street Press), Landscape with Fragmented Figures (Bottom Dog Press), American Poet (Bottom Dog Press) and Detroit Muscle (Whistling Shade Press). In 2012, American Poet won a Michigan Notable Book Award from the Library of Michigan. In 2020, Whistling Shade Press released his new collection, The Neighborhood Division: Stories, and in 2022, Montag Press will release his new dystopian novel, Falling Sky. He maintains a blog at http://www.authorjeffvandezande.blogspot.com

My Personal Favorite: Chloe Yelena Miller

Chloe Yelena Miller photo by Hans Noel.jpeg

Chloe Yelena Miller

Hi Chloe!

Welcome to the blog, and thank you for answering the question: At this moment in time, which of your own poems is your personal favorite, and why?

Kelly

***

Carrying by Chloe Yelena Miller

Advice:
Slice the avocado around the wide middle
and across again,
until the quarters split.
Drop the pit in the trash,
scoop the flesh with a spoon.

But it’s never that easy.

Should I have pierced four toothpicks
into the sides of the pit, balanced it
halfway in water,
waited for a sprout?

Should I have willed
life by the window sill?

Most miscarriages
aren’t mamma’s fault,
doctors say.
No one says much else.

Silent first trimester:
breast and uterus bulge,
strange hungers.

Slow shrinking after removal.
Night sweats. Repeated dream —
someone calls my name.

I have hope inside of me
is a Greek pregnancy euphemism.

Funnel clouds trace the land
as leaves flip in the wind.

I stand in a basement doorway,
emergency pack on my back.

How do I know when it’s over?

No sirens screamed
when the doctor said
The fetus has no heartbeat.

My legs in a stirrup,
I couldn’t rush to shelter.

To be, such a weak verb.
To howl, to breathe, to linger,
more viable.

To be.
As in, she is, she isn’t.
She was, she wasn’t.

State of being.
Irregular.

Carriage. Someone behind the curtains.
Such magic.

Miscarriage. The undoing.
Avocado pit, dry in the trash.

***

Chloe Yelana Miller:

I think my answer to the question, “What is my favorite poem in Viable” might change, but for now, it is Carrying. At first, the collection was named after that poem. Later I read Ada Limón’s gorgeous book, The Carrying, and, of course, changed the manuscript’s title. For a longer time, though, the title was Baby Book, which is also the title of composer Lauren Spavelko’s work which uses some poems from the collection. https://www.laurenspavelko.com/baby-book While editing the poem, publisher and editor Eileen Cleary suggested a word be changed to “viable” in the fifth to last stanza and voila!, the manuscript was named.

An early draft of this poem came quickly and is longer than most of the poems. Carrying winds through the experience of learning from the doctor that I had miscarried. I use food, a Greek euphemism for pregnancy, and a storm as three metaphors for what is happening. Maybe that’s too many metaphors for one poem, but since it’s long, hopefully, I get away with it. I like that the poem is framed by an avocado. During an early draft, a friend suggested that no one cuts an avocado the way I do and so, of course, I dug my heels in to leave my strange avocado-cutting approach in the poem as a private joke.

 

***

Bio:

Chloe Yelena Miller is the author of a poetry collection Viable (2021, Lily Poetry Review Books), and a poetry chapbook, Unrest (2013, Finishing Line Press.) She is a recipient of an Individual Artist Fellowship from the DC Commission on the Arts & Humanities (2020.)

Miller teaches writing at the University of Maryland Global Campus and Politics & Prose Bookstore, as well as privately. She has an MFA in creative writing from Sarah Lawrence College and a BA from Smith College. Miller lives in Washington, D.C., with her partner and their child. Follow her: http://www.chloeyelenamiller.com or @ChloeYMiller

Carrying was originally published in All We Can Hold: A Collection of Poetry on Motherhood (Sage Hill Press; 2016)

 

 

Viable cover .jpg

Viable can be purchased from the press: https://lilypoetryreview.blog/lily-poetry-review-press/
or a signed copy from the author http://chloeyelenamiller.blogspot.com/p/unrest-poetry-chapbook.html
or your favorite independent bookstore, like Politics and Prose bookstore in Washington, D.C. https://www.politics-prose.com/book/9781734786927

WENDY RAWLINGS ON “LET’S DECONSTRUCT A STORY”

 

Short Story Collection by Wendy Rawlings

Hi Everyone,

I’m thrilled to have Wendy Rawlings on “Let’s Deconstruct a Story,” the blog where we read a story and then discuss it with the author.

As Susan Perabo said, “This is a blog for the story nerds!”

Please either read the PDF of the story below or listen to the audio recording below before tuning in to our discussion.

 

All best,

Kelly

 

Coffins for Kids on Sound Cloud

Coffins for Kids PDF

 

Our discussion of “Coffins for Kids” is available on Anchor here:

 

 

Or on Spotify here.

 

 

Bio: Wendy Rawlings is the author of a novel, The Agnostics, and two collections of stories, Time for Bed and Come Back Irish. Her work has most recently appeared or is forthcoming in AGNI, Creative Nonfiction, Kenyon Review, and The Pushcart Prize anthology. She’s a professor in and director of the MFA Program in creative writing program at the University of Alabama.

Wendy Rawlings

SUSAN PERABO ON “LET’S DECONSTRUCT A STORY”

Hi Everyone,

I’m thrilled to host the acclaimed short story writer, Susan Perabo, on the blog today. “Why They Run the Way They Do” is one of my all-time favorite short story collections!

As usual, please read the story posted below before listening to our discussion.

Also please send me reading recommendations! I’m always looking for good short stories.

All the best,

Kelly

Susan’s story available here:

This Is Not That Story in The Sun

This Is Not That Story PDF

 

Our discussion of “This Is Not That Story”:

On Anchor:

Or on Spotify here!

And here is a rough transcript of our discussion brought to you by the dictation service at Microsoft Word:

Susan Perabo and Kelly Fordon transcript

 

 

 

 

Susan Perabo

 

Bio: Susan Perabo’s most recent books are The Fall of Lisa Bellow (2017) and Why They Run the Way They Do (2016), both from Simon & SchusterHer fiction has been anthologized in Best American Short Stories, Pushcart Prize Stories, andNew Stories from the South, and her fiction and non-fiction have appeared in numerous publications, including One Story, Glimmer TrainStory, The New York TimesThe Sun, and The Chronicle of Higher Education. Her work has been featured on the podcasts Modern Love and Selected Shorts. She is a professor creative writing at Dickinson College in Carlisle, PA.

Why They Run the Way They Do: Stories and The Fall of Lisa Bellow are available at Bookshop and Amazon.

In Other News:

I am hoping some readers will help support this worthy cause! I love Inside Out Literary Arts in Detroit 🙂 I’m writing in support of them, and I will send anyone who donates $100 an original poem 🙂 You can even send me three words you’d like included in the poem!

TREENA THIBODEAU ON “LET’S DECONSTRUCT A STORY”

Treena Thibodeau (@TreenaThibs) | Twitter

Treena Thibodeau

 

Happy July, everyone!

Welcome to “Let’s Deconstruct a Story” where we read a story and then “deconstruct” it with the author. Today I’m thrilled to have Treena Thibodeau on the podcast.

In order to get the most out of our interview, please read Treena Thibodeau’s story first here:

Someone Will Come and Get Us at The Rumpus

SOMEONE WILL COME AND GET US PDF

 

Please enjoy our Podcast discussion here on Anchor:

or on Spotify:

 

Bio: Treena Thibodeau’s work has appeared or is forthcoming in The Rumpus, Atticus Review, Able Muse, Vol. 1 Brooklyn, Pithead Chapel, and Barrelhouse. The director of the online reading series TGI (www.tgicast.com), Thibodeau’s fiction has received support from the Vermont Studio Center, the Tin House Summer Conference, and the Gulkistan Center in Iceland. She holds an MFA from Columbia University and resides in Queens.

 

WANDEKA GAYLE ON “LET’S DECONSTRUCT A STORY”

Motherland 1.jpg

 

Hi Everyone,

Happy summer!

Welcome to “Let’s Deconstruct a Story!” This week I’m talking to Wandeka Gayle about a story called “Prodigal” from her new collection, “Motherland and other Stories.”

First, please read “Prodigal” by Wandeka Gayle

And then enjoy our discussion below!

Kelly

PS: I’m always interested in learning about great stories I might have missed, so if you have any ideas, feel free to contact me any time.

 

You can listen to this episode on Spotify:

 

Anchor:

 

Or:

Google Podcasts

Radio Public

Pocket Casts

Breaker

Wandeka Gayle

 

Bio: Wandeka Gayle is a Jamaican writer, visual artist, Assistant Professor of Creative Writing at Spelman College and the author of Motherland and Other Stories (Peepal Tree Press, 2020). She has received writing fellowships from Kimbilio Fiction, Callaloo, the Hurston/Wright Foundation, and the Martha’s Vineyard Institute of Creative Writing. She has a Ph.D. in English/Creative Writing from the University of Louisiana at Lafayette.  Other writing has appeared in Prairie Schooner, The RumpusTransition, Interviewing the Caribbean and other journals and magazines. Her work has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize. 

Motherland and Other Stories is available at Peepal Tree Press, Amazon, and Bookshop.

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 CINTRON ON “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”