Thursday, September 23, 2010

A Story - B.N.

A Story

This time I begin with my life story:
The version where nobody suffers
Too much from one of my
Fool-hearted mistakes.  For the record:
I began wrong-headed.  Bad boys,
Translucent dreams, a stolen lipstick.

The year after my mother took
A lover, my brother and I
Climbed and held secret
Meetings in the attic.
Red-lipped lighthouse keepers
Talking Cockney.  We flashed
Beams from the window.

The next year I had my face
Slapped for saying “cunt” in front of
Company, and “lezzie” at the table.
It was like watching a fire—
Room by room the curtains catch.  A blaze.
Even the forsythia whips guarding
The house lashed out.
And we were landlocked with
The maudlin cello music, lewd cats
Crying into the small hours.
Changed of heart.

I have learned little of pastorals—
The blue turn of the water, a
Twilight barking of dogs, the way
The past might appear innocent because
Poetics play fast and loose, like
A car careening down a back country road.

On the phone my brother admits that
Sometimes he is still transfixed by the
Light.  The way someone lost at sea
Can barely make out the edges of a thing.

© 1988

this poem originally appeared in Timbuktu

Writers Talk - B.N.

I'm so very happy that my good friend B.N. has agreed to participate in the Writer's Talk series.  My association with B.N. goes back to 1984, Charlottesville, VA, when she was in the final year of her poetry MFA & I was in my first year. B.N. really was the first person I connected with in the program, & we've maintained a friendship based on both writing & a shared wry view of reality.  I have the greatest respect for B.N.'s writing talents, & it's been a privilege to make her work available here on Robert Frost's Banjo; it's also been heartening to see how many people have responded to her work, because I strongly believe her work should have a wide audience, & in fact much wider than what I can offer her here.  Speaking of B.N.'s work being posted here: please check in next week for her story Still Life with Girl, which will be serialized from Monday September 27th thru Thursday Septemer 30th.

B.N.'s work has appeared in the following publications: Gulf Coast, The Gettysburg Review, The Cream City Review, Quarterly West, Memphis State Review, Seneca Review & Timbuktu.  Speaking of Timbuktu, the production of another dear old friend, Molly Turner, you can read B.N.'s poem "A Story" from that publication over at the Writers Talk blog.

Without further ado, here's B.N.

When did you first realize your identity as a writer? 

I wanted to write from an early age—maybe 12.  I grew up in a home with thousands of books.  They were perhaps the most significant possession—certainly afforded the most space.  Books were sacred objects.  This came from a history of the Holocaust—Nazis burned books.  I understood pretty early, maybe six, that books were what separated the clean from the dirty, the compassionate from the brutish, the sacred from the profane. 

My identity as a writer—me calling myself a writer has waxed and waned over the years.  At points I found it deeply pretentious—would rather call myself a wife, a mother.  I think that is because I am an Orthodox Jewish woman and our identity in our day to day lives is much more based on family.  

Describe the creative process involved in any one piece you’ve written—this could be book, a story, a poem, an essay, etc.

I write reams—or it feels like reams.  How I picture the character in a certain situation.  I will also have themes—class and money, sexuality and age.  In fiction I never plot—although I love an O. Henry twist, these days very out of fashion.  In general my creative process will involve one piece of music—a song over and over until a draft is done.  As I work a very dull day job, I write small notes all day long and then when I get home I type them into the computer.  I review them every few days to see what I can still use.

Could you describe your relationship to the publishing process (this can be publishing in any form, from traditional book publishing to blogging, etc) 

I have had very limited relationship with publishing.  For some early years I published a couple of things a year—both poems and stories.  Those few publications a year required me sending out a lot.  This became costly both in money and energy.  Then I had a family and had to support the family.  The last thing I ever wanted to see in those days was a rejection note from a grad student that said something to the effect of—nice stuff but not today.  That would have just been too much.  My favorite line is: “this just does not meet out needs.”  I always have a vision of little grimy editors trying to satisfy their needs—black Lycra.

In truth, I think there is so much great stuff published—much more in fiction than poetry but then there is also a lot of crap—a lot.  I can’t figure it out.  Taste and trends are not something I have ever had a handle on.  It seems that much of the fiction I see published is articulate, not super ambitious and invariably makes gestures toward some third world life in traditional garb. A cult of the exotic—change the characters names to Joe and Dianne, set the whole thing in the rust belt and nobody, nobody would give it a second glance.  Unfortunately it does speak to a poverty of imagination that is American—and not very exotic at all.  This scares and saddens me.  What we take as diversity only (which is morally good) and giving other voices is only happening because to a large extent there are few voices emerging.

Logistically, publication is a challenging.   I am also not a very record keeper.  It has happened that something was accepted that I do not remember sending, and once I just received a copy of a journal and lo and behold there was something of mine in it.  I essentially gave up the whole notion of publication

How has being a writer affected your relationships?

It may have made me more difficult to live with and more messy as there are sheets of paper every place.  In reality I am not sure it has had such a huge effect.

How would you describe the community of writers you belong to—if any?  This may be a “real” or “virtual” (in more than one sense) community.

I have a few “writer” friends and those relationships are “virtual,” meaning email and phone. They are like any other “long distance” relationship in that in some ways they are more precious than my day-to-day relationships.  For people who live far from large communities or cities where there are other writers they are essential.

What are your future goals in terms of writing?

I want to write the best book of short stories to hit the world in the last 50 years—I want it to knock socks off.

Bonus Question: If your writing were a musical instrument, what would it be? 

Oh it would have to be something with broken strings.  It is hard to be a mediocre violin.  What else has strings?—not a guitar—they are too sexual—maybe some kind of dulcimer

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Beyond Peaking - Aaron M Wilson

Elise Winter sat down with a large bowl of popcorn. After a long day of work, she was ready to relax and think about something other than her boss’s pending promotion, which would mean she’d likely have to do the work of two for several months. However, Elise had poured a stiff rum and Coke and her favorite mysteries were on tonight.
Elise didn’t think it was odd that violent imagery, murder, and alcohol helped take the edge off an exhausting day. Instead of the gore, and if you asked her, the gore did bother her, she focused on the sexy, smart detectives and the workplace drama that empathized right and wrong – catching the bad guys. Everyone, including the crime scene cleanup crew, was nothing but smiles. Elise’s work place was full of ambiguity and sullen expressions.
About half way into her first mystery, a reporter interrupted. “Sorry for the interruption. We go live, now, to the White House for coverage of what we have been told will be a turning point in American history. No wait, world history.” The reporter looked pale and ill prepared. “We’ve been told that in just a few seconds we will be addressed by the president.” There was a strange pause as the reporter listened, putting his hand over his left ear.  He looked into the camera and sternly said, “We go live to the White House.”
Elise didn’t believe that anything this president had to say was important enough to interrupt her mysteries. As she waited on the couch, too tired to get up, too depressed to even try and change the channel, she started thinking about work. What was going to happen? Should she apply for her boss’s job when her boss got the promotion? She didn’t want to have to work under anyone else. Her current boss was a good boss. She listened to Elise’s input and took it seriously. Elise thought they worked well together and didn’t want the team to separate. Besides, it had been a long time since Elise had had a good boss, and she felt she’d had her fair share of terrible ones. 
The president sat in the oval office, but Elise had tuned him out. He wasn’t her president. Her president would have respected the sanctity of evening mysteries. However, she sat up and paid attention when she heard the words, “gas prices,” because she commuted an hour each direction, to and from work, and the trip was too expensive at $2.75 a gallon now.
The president continued: “OPEC and the oil industry, either in an attempt to keep the junkie hooked up or in ignorance so complete, have lied to the American people. They have lied to the world. I deeply wish that I had better news, but we – the human race – have come to a head…”
In her pajamas, Elise pushed aside her popcorn and grabbed the keys to her car. She was seeing an environmental economist a couple times a week. He was a cutie, but he was depressing and overly serious about the state of the world’s natural capital, whatever that was. What he did have going for him, besides his looks, was a deep voice that cause Elise to dream of better tomorrows on sandy beaches. She hung on every word he spoke. One night, he had told her over dinner that if the president ever said “OPEC” and “lied” in a national address, she’d only have a few minutes to act.
Elise couldn’t believe that her boyfriend was right about all this fossil fuel mumbo-jumbo. She had wanted to stick around and listen to the end of the presidential address, but she had taken her boyfriend’s advice and driven to the nearest store. She felt lucky as she stood in line at Wal-Mart that Wal-Mart was only just down the street. She was drawing attention from other shoppers, but she knew what she was doing was right.
The cashier asked, “How many? I can just scan one, if that’s all you got in your cart.”
“Twenty. I could only fit twenty in the cart.” Elise put hand over her mouth. “What if twenty isn’t enough?”
“Ma’am, I’ve never seen anyone buy more than one at a time.”
Elise nodded and paid with her credit card. She hated credit cards and used it only for absolute emergencies. She couldn’t think of bigger emergency than this one, but she still hated the feeling of the potential interest accruing if she didn’t pay it all off at once.
After loading her car, Elise noticed that the streets were still quiet. She was having a hard time understanding why no one was on the move. Was she just that far a head of everyone else? When she saw her boyfriend again, she would have to thank him. She was sure that he was out doing the same thing right now. She thought of calling him until she realized that as she hurried out of the house she’d left her cell phone on the coffee table in front of the TV. Elise pulled into the first gas station she came across.
The Shell station was empty. Elise didn’t understand what was taking everyone so long, but it was in her favor. First, she filled up her car. Then, she slowly, carefully filled up each of the twenty, four-gallon tanks she’d just bought from Wal-Mart. Filling all twenty went faster than Elise had expected. After replacing the pump, she watched the small gray and black screen. When the screen was finished asking her if she’d like a carwash, coffee, or cheap cigarettes, and she selected “Yes” for a receipt. Her receipt read as she expected it would read: $2.75 per gallon.
After loading her car and pulling out into the street, she stopped at the light. Elise could see down the hill into the valley headlights pulling out from driveways. She thought she could hear angry car horns in the distance. Still waiting for the light to turn, she happened to look in her review mirror. The Shell sign that had just read $2.75 per gallon, now read: “Closed. Gas Reserved. Homeland Security.”  

Aaron M. Wilson
© 2010
all rights reserved
"Beyond Peaking" originally appeared in The Hive Mind. Ed. Alexandra Wolfe. Web. 18 June 2010.
This is an excerpt from Mr Wilson's novel-in-progress, Solar Capital

Writers Talk - Aaron M Wilson

Aaron M. Wilson lives in Minneapolis, Minnesota, U.S.A. where he attempts to understand life, others (including his two cats – one good and one bad), himself, and especially his wife – in that order. He earned his M.F.A in Writing from Hamline University located in St.Paul, MN. He writes about books, stories, movies, and his experiences as an adjunct instructor of English, Literature, and Environmental Science on his blog: Soulless Machine.

His fiction has appeared in eFiction Magazine: The Premier Internet Fiction Zine, Pow Fast Flash Fiction, The Hive Mind, and he has forthcoming works in Eclectic Flash (September 2010), Twin Cities: Cifiscape Vol. I (August 2010), and The Last Man Anthology (October 2010 – also featuring stories from Barry N. Malzberg, C.J Cherryh, and Ray Bradbury).

You can get a sense of Mr Wilson's writing by reading an excerpt from his novel in progress (working title: Solar Capital) on the Writers Talk blog.

When did you first realize your identity as a writer?

I think that I’ve written about this elsewhere, but I’ve always been a liar and a storyteller. I exaggerate when there is no need. Just ask my wife. We play a strange game where I’ll relate some happening from the day, and she’ll stop me and ask, “Did that really happen?” Then I’ll have to admit that it didn’t. I don’t know why I exaggerate. I just do it. I’m just glad that I’ve found a partner who will not only put up with my crazy but enjoys it. 

Describe the creative process involved in any one piece you’ve written—this could be book, a story, a poem, an essay, etc.

I’m in love the process that produced my story “Spilling Sunlight” published in August by Evolve Journal. The editor contacted me thought Twitter and asked if I would like to write a story for their August issue. The catch: The story had to be inline with Evolve Journal’s theme – the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. The assignment, it was an assignment, had my interest.

I quickly wrote a short story of about five thousand words and shot it off the Evolve Journal’s editors. The editors were interested, but they suggested a few fixes. From that point, the story started to change as we went back and forth a few times. I’m very happy with final product, and I enjoyed their comments and watching my story improve through feedback.

Could you describe your relationship to the publishing process? (this can be publishing in any form, from traditional book publishing to blogging, etc)

I blog. I Tweet. I’m thinking of getting into Scribd. Right now, I post some of my fiction on my blog and on others around the web. I’m excited about the #TuesdaySerial community where authors post flash-sized segments of a longer story on their own blog or website. On Tuesdays, a link list opens at Inspired By Real Life, and authors link their stories for the community to read and comment on during the week. When I’m finished posting my contribution, Bike Mechanic, I think that I'll publish it via Scribd.

My interest in Scribd started with the publication of three short stories and an author feature in the June issue of eFiction Magazine. Doug Lance, the editor, has been able to create a dynamic and beautiful publication and post it using Scribd. To my surprise, Scribd is being used by a diverse and talented group of writers and artist. I really wish that I had an eReader to make better use the technology.  

However, my hope to find my way into the traditional book publishing biz. I’ve managed to get my big toe in the door. I have stories in two upcoming anthologies: Twin Cities: Cifiscape Vol. I, a collection of Twin City authors speculating possible futures for the metro area published by Onyx Neon Press; and The Last Man Anthology published by Sword and Saga Press in celebration of Mary Shelley’s novel, The Last Man.

How has being a writer affected your relationships?
Positive: I’ve met many individuals both in person and online of like mind. Also, my wife, Jessica Fox-Wilson, is a poet and artist, and we practice, inspire, and support each other. I’ve also sought out and put together a writers group to help enforce deadlines.

Negative: The more time I spend writing and working on a story, the more time I want alone to write. I’m constantly pushing people away to find time to write. It is like Nirvana’s song Lithium, “…I'm so happy 'cause today / I've found my friends, there in my head...” It is not that I always prefer characters to “real” people, but the characters in my head demand to be let out on to the page. 

How would you describe the community of writers you belong to—if any?  This may be a “real” or “virtual” (in more than one sense) community.

I participate in both “real” and “virtual” writing comminutes. My “real” writing community is the most reassuring. They keep me on deadline, and I need deadlines to maintain my writing. We turn writing into each other once a month, and we get together, in person, to workshop stories, poetry, whatever. However, my “virtual” writing comminutes keep me motivated by sending through links to contests and journals excepting submissions. Through Twitter, I’ve found @TuesdaySerial, Pow Fast Flash Fiction, eFiction Magazine, Evolve, and other journals with motivated and charismatic editors that have become important to my writing practice.     

What are your future goals in terms of writing?

I’m always working on novel length ideas that end up truncated in short stories because I burn out on the idea, or I chase the new shinier idea that I just imagined. I really want to complete a full-length novel. To that end, I have started yet another novel length idea. My goal is to complete a novel length work of one hundred thousand words.

Bonus Question: If your writing were a musical instrument, what would it be?

Auto-Tune. (Don’t ask.)

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Winter's Wake - Kat Mortensen

Ice spikes drip, at torture pace;
Pine-clumps plunge from upper place.
Minefield yard of scrap and scree;
More flurries on the way I see.

Mounds of snow rock-hard with ice,
Will not be moved, for trying—twice,
Porch is heaped with husks of seed;
Here nature's hungry came to feed.

Rusty vines of leaf entangle;
Redbud's rangy fingers dangle.
Limp limbs droop where once they bore
Flakes, water-logged, that lag no more.

Frozen fringes, silent creep;
Behind the bushes March hares sleep.
The corvine crew morosely caws,
As winter hedges, hems and haws.

Kat Mortensen
© 2010
all rights reserved

Writers Talk - Kat Mortensen

Many Robert Frost’s Banjo regulars are already familiar with poet-blogger Kat Mortensen.  Her various blogging efforts have attracted a wide following, & with good reason.  Not only is Kat a fine poet, but she is a most friendly & engaging presence in the blogosphere.  I’m very honored that Kat was one of the first followers of Robert Frost’s Banjo, & that she still continues to be among its staunchest supporters.  She has also been a booster of my poetry, which I have appreciated greatly.

Kat Mortensen’s blogging efforts include: Poetikat’s Invisible Keepsakes, Kathus, Kigo of the Kat, shadowstalking & Acadianeire's Heritage.  In addition, she published her first book of poetry, shadowstalking, earlier this year thru her own Hyggehus Publishing venture & which you can purchase here.  You can read a poem from that collection, “Winter’s Wake” on our own Writers Talk blog—Kat discusses the process involved in creating that poem in her interview.

I’m very pleased that Kat Mortensen has agreed to participate in the Writers Talk interview series & I hope you enjoy her interview as much as I have!

When did you first realize your identity as a writer?

Although I have always loved to write and work with the English language, it is only in recent years that I have felt comfortable with thinking of myself truly as a writer/poet.  It still feels a bit strange when people ask me what I do and I say, "I'm a poet."  It is so conventional to believe when you are growing up that you need to find employment in some field that will give you not only a feeling of purpose, but will make you money.  I went through school assuming that I had to be a teacher and when those efforts turned out not to be aligned with who I am as a person, I found myself floundering for years in unsuitable jobs that did indeed make me money, but left me feeling emotionally and spiritually dead at the end of the day.

Being able to say now, that I am a poet, is liberating - still a bit odd, but very freeing.

Describe the creative process involved in any one piece you’ve written—this could be book, a story, a poem, an essay, etc.

There are generally, two methods by which I create a poem; the first is spontaneous and quite random, where an idea strikes me with no warning and the second is far more methodical and deliberate.  Both methods require different amounts of time to foment.  In the first case, I usually work through ideas, lines and words in my head (this often happens when I awake in the middle of the night) and I hope to recall what I've thought, but know that even if I don't, what does result will still be what is "meant to be".

In the second case, I will make notes and work things out before I go to my computer, then I will do a first draft and walk away from it for a while.  When I go back to it, I often have moments of clarity that bring the piece together.  Of course, sometimes it doesn't always go the way I might wish.  I never think of anything as "written in stone".  I believe since I am the creator, I can change what I want, when I want or even scrap entire verses or the whole thing, if I so choose.

I am keenly motivated by what I see and hear, rather than what I think.  I translate what my eye and ear perceives into words that attempt to convey the feeling and the response to the original.

This is not to say that I don't think about things too—I think far too much, if I'm honest, but what I think about has usually been motivated by a visual impression. A poem that comes to mind is "Winter's Wake" which was prompted by the scene outside my kitchen window in late March. My yard was a mess of snow remnants, broken branches, rangy trees and a few creatures.  I was compelled to capture that picture in words for posterity.

Could you describe your relationship to the publishing process (this can be publishing in any form, from traditional book publishing to blogging, etc)?

Blogging has been the best platform for me and in effect, it is blogging that really helped me to develop as a legitimate poet (whatever that means).  On the other hand, blogging is a difficult thing to incorporate into one's life on so many levels.  There is such a need to commit to the online journal if your goal is to have people commit to reading it.  If you're only doing it for yourself, then you won't feel obligated, or impinged upon by what it demands.  I find it hard work to keep the blog up to the level of expectation that I create for my readers.  I am also continuously drawn to find other worlds in the blog-sphere to keep myself stimulated apart from my own writing.  That's just me; I need to have many "irons in the fire".

I'm leaning more and more to keeping my poetry an entity unto itself.  I have recently separated all my extraneous interests from Poetikat's Invisible Keepsakes in an effort to distinguish the creative art of my work, from the more mainstream day-to-day experiences.

I have self-published my book, but I've talked about that at length already and those comments can be found through the interviews on my shadowstalking blog.

How has being a writer affected your relationships?

Prior to self-publishing my volume of poetry, shadowstalking, the people in my life had an interesting reaction to learning that my sole occupation is writing.  Words like, "cute", "interesting" and questions such as, "Where have you been published?" were commonplace.  Since releasing my book, and having it read by these same people, I have had genuine approbation and support that has actually surprised me.  Extended family members and friends have all been very encouraging and have said they are proud of me, which certainly feels good.

I must state firmly, that both my husband and my mother have shown nothing but love and support every step of the way.

I have also noticed that people in the blog community seem more interested and loyal even when I can't reciprocate that same commitment to them.

How would you describe the community of writers you belong to—if any?  This may be a “real” or “virtual” (in more than one sense) community.

I feel honoured to be an accepted and acknowledged part of the online community of writers the world over.  It is so creatively invigorating to be boosted by others of such great talent and inspiration.  It feels like I am part of a global family from North America to the UK and points all over the world.  I am moved when someone who has my book in their possession shares a photo with me. I have to pinch myself when I think that my work is in the hands of an appreciative fellow-poet in a far-off place.  It's just the ultimate high on top of the actual creation of the work.

What are your future goals in terms of writing?

I'm getting the itch to put another book together.  I have no idea at this point in which direction I'm going to take my work, but I trust that will evolve naturally.  Deep down, I have fears that if I produce one too soon, no one will be interested, but the actual process of constructing a book is so absorbing and fulfilling that when I'm not doing it, I feel like something is missing.  I suppose that's a good thing; I don't think I will ever tire of finding the best of me and putting it in book form.

With everything that's going on with me transitionally - moving from one home to another and losing a beloved pet, I really feel like I need a break from the blog world, but we'll see.

Bonus Question: If your writing were a musical instrument, what would it be?

If my writing were a musical instrument, I think it would have to be a fiddle.  The beauty of this instrument is that it can be lighthearted and whimsical.  So too, it can be mournful and reflective. I feel that my poetry is a bit of everything, like me.  I had thought perhaps, the violin, but the fiddle also represents from where I am descended.  My work is all the things a fiddle can be and besides, the sound of a fiddle moves me to dance, sing and create.