Thursday, August 4, 2011

Writers Talk - Nancy Krygowski

Happy Thursday, everybody!  We’re here with the latest installment of Writers Talk, which is an interview with Robert Frost’s Banjo’s newest contributor, Nancy Krygowski.  I’m excited about this one!

Poet Nancy Krygowski is an adult literacy instructor and was co-founder & poet booker for the Gist Street Reading Series. Her poems have appeared in Prairie Schooner, River Styx, Southern Poetry Review, 5 A.M., and other magazines. She is the recipient of a Pennsylvania Council on the Arts Individual Artist Grant and awards from the Academy of American Poets and the Association of Writers & Writing Programs.

In addition, Nancy’s book Velocity won the 2006 Starrett Prize & was published by the University of Pittsburgh Press.  The University’s press release stated, “Poet Nancy Krygowski is a fresh, surprising voice that speaks for the intelligent heart in each of us,” while poet Gerald Stern, who selected Velocity for the Starrett Prize, described Nancy in this way, ““This is a wide-eyed, assertive, wild, well-read, street-smart, edgy, loving, suffering, heaven-crazed poet. It’s a joy to find her.”

If you’re a regular Robert Frost's Banjo reader, you know that Nancy Krygowski has stepped in as the blog’s “Visiting Poet” while L.E. (AKA Dani) Leone is off on a series of jaunts.  Based on Nancy’s first poem, “Moving Van,” (which you can read at this link) & this interview, I have to agree with Stern’s assertion that “it’s a joy to find her.”  I’m very happy to have Nancy participating in the blog even on a temporary basis.  Don’t forget: next poem by Nancy will appear next Tuesday, August 9th, & her poems will appear every other Tuesday alternating with regular contributor Barbie Dockstader Angell, for the next while!

& now—the interview!

When did you first realize your identity as a writer?

I grew up in a big, practical, Polish family, and though lots of reading happened in our house, I never thought that actual people wrote what we read.  In college, I started to hang around people who identified themselves as writers, real live writers.  This was a huge deal for me.  I had written poems for myself since I was young but never even thought to show them to anyone.  When I found these poets and fiction writers (Robert Frost’s Banjo’s Dani Leone was one), my world started to shift. 

At first, hanging out with writers affirmed my identity as a reader—I thought of myself as an appreciator of their work.  Then I got up the nerve to show my poems to my writer pals, and things started to change.  They liked what they read, and I liked that.  I was in graduate school in New Hampshire at that time, not for creative writing, and I brazenly showed some poems to Charles Simic to see if he would let me into a workshop.  He did.  That’s when I started to feel like a poet. 

I struggle with my identity as a writer. Yes, I’m a poet, I know this, but writing poems is still, at least initially, something I do for myself. I get personal satisfaction from writing a poem that I like. I feel way more at ease identifying as a teacher because teaching is something I do for others. (I teach English as a second language, mainly to refugees, and specialize in teaching reading skills.)  I get a larger, social satisfaction from that.

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

The most fascinating writing process for me was putting together the final draft of Velocity.  I had gathered up poems and sent them out to book competitions and even got good responses, but I knew they weren’t working as a book.  The poems weren’t bouncing off each other, speaking to each other enough.  I showed the collection to a smart poet friend, and he asked the simplest question I hadn’t seriously considered:  What is the book about?

I don’t usually think of poems in terms of about, like you do with novels or books of non-fiction. So I got on my living room floor and started making various stacks of poems.  I stacked poems by content, by emotion, by length, by whether or not they contained swear words, anything to try to see the poems in new ways. I kept asking myself, What is it about?  After many stacks, I made a conscious decision to use my sister’s death as the book’s backdrop, which meant cutting poems I liked, digging up and breathing life into some older poems, and writing new ones.  I made the more intuitive decision to order the poems to recreate the feeling you have a few years after someone you love dies—you go on with life, but the death is always on your mind, sometimes staring directly at you, sometimes hovering as a feeling of loss that permeates how you see the world, that sense that something is always missing. 

When I finished, I didn’t show the manuscript to anyone; I sent it off to competitions.  I felt like the book would either be taken or I was going to give up (I had been at the process of sending out the manuscript for about 4 years), and at that point, I thought either end would be okay.  I’m really, really happy things turned out as they did. 

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

Damn. I know this sounds unprofessional, but honestly, I feel pretty disconnected from the publishing process.  I’m awful at sending out poems to journals.  It feels too impersonal, too distant, like I’m depositing little drips of thought into a very large and hard to find bucket.  Publishing a book was much better—I felt a huge sense of accomplishment—but it made me confront the fact that part of publishing is self-promotion, which I suck at.  I’m essentially an introvert.  (See below.)  Nevertheless, my favorite kind of ‘publishing’ is doing readings.  I have a strong belief that poems should be heard, and though I write with an emphasis on sound and hope that readers can hear my poems on the page, I really like the immediacy of reading to listeners, of having the poems in my voice filling a room.

How has being a writer affected your relationships?

Writing has brought a lot of great people who are writers into my life:  Dani Leone, Aaron Smith, Sherrie Flick, Neno Perrotta, Terrance Hayes.  But writing makes me a pretty serious introvert.  (Or being an introvert made me a writer and trying to get the work of writing done makes me more of an introvert?)   In either case, because I am a slow, often unfocused writer, I need lots of time alone to create anything.  I need silence.  I need to read and stare and listen to people on buses.  I need to take walks by myself.  I go interior and I don’t want to talk.  I have months of not seeing my dear friends.  Writing hasn’t helped my social life. 

I’m married to an engineer—a very eclectic, wonderful, engineer—and writing plays a very small role in our relationship. Tom seems to like the idea that I’m a writer (I can’t say for sure if he’s ever read my book) maybe only because that gives him time alone to read whatever geeky stuff he reads.  The truth is, I like having the perspective that writing is simultaneously hugely important and not important at all. My marriage helps me remember that.  My husband’s at work making decisions that will affect whether or not people get clean water, and I’m spending some mornings wondering if I can use the word giggle in a poem.  I never want to take myself too seriously as a writer; this helps.

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. 

Right now, my main community is my dear, old friend Dani Leone (see her sweet response to this question) and my wonderful poetry students at Pittsburgh Center for the Arts.  Dani and I write for each other each week (though she’s behind).  I love her wild, sturdy, beautiful writing and am committed to our pact of making sure it comes into the world.

My poetry students inspire me with their joy, their willingness to be pushed and to share, and with all they have to say in their poems and to each other. They make me happy about poetry. (In fact, I’m using my RFB posts to showcase what I create from the prompts I give them.)  Also, I’m lucky to have great poet friends like Aaron Smith and Lois Williams to turn to when I need smart poetic eyes and serious edits, plus other writing and visual artist friends who I can talk to about creating in general.

What are your future goals in terms of writing?

I’m working on another manuscript, and my goal is to have a draft done in the next few months.  I’m just about at the point where I want to start making stacks on my floor, and that excites me. 

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

The metal slide you put on your finger and wiggle around to make those soulful, eerie steel guitar sounds. 

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Two Poems by JoAnne McKay

From The Fat Plant

Diamond People

There was a shooting once in Bristol
on a brilliant shining august day.
Unsurprisingly, I can remember
the name of the killer: Crackhead Trevor.
The man who died?
His name? His name I have forgot,
but not his roles: jewellery shop manager,
victim, nor the golden hair still gleaming
on the remaining side of his head –
it was a shotgun job, you see.

And there were others too that blinding day
whose names… whose names I have forgot.
The woodentop, recently excised
from collator’s office where he had sat
amongst paper shadows and bad men’s names
for far too many informing years,
he had the brains to grab the witness
and drive her straightway to St. Pauls
to tour the area to see if he,
the suspect (name unknown then) could be found.

And that witness was a youngish woman
with a daughter dressed in sparkling blue
who she gave away to a passer-by
older woman, but stranger still
trusting child’s life to an unknown other
to seek the killer of an unknown man.

She found him, by the way, and I was there.

And we chased Trevor in our escort
and knocked him down and he got up
and we jumped out and ran and got him
and as I held him, found I was holding still
the cigarette lit as we left the scene
tiny comet trail sparks on bloody jeans.

Once he was safe at the station and swabbed
I returned to shining Park Street,
where the sunlight bouncing off the stone
made the whole rising street heavenly.
When another woman walked up to me
and handed over an eternity ring
worth fifty-seven thousand pounds, 
and she looked so sad that a man had died,
so she did her bit, for this could be
important, unsoiled, evidence.

Trevor had been emptying his pockets as he ran
and in the following hazy days
many others, nameless now
handed us precious, shining jewels
whose glints made hard certain that we’d found
the route Trevor ran down to get to ground.
All these people, these good, good people
and the only name I can now recall
is that
of Crackhead Trevor.

JoAnne McKay
© 2009-present

From Venti

The Magdalene Fleur-de-Lis

Call me Iris. Call me Lily. Your flower.
I’ll keep the boys’ chins up in wartime,
French letters and kisses a lover’s mime
that only costs them three francs for an hour.
It’s memory of me that lends them power,
yellow flag on an azure bed through time
of all the symbol whores I reign sublime;
meanings bloom with every passing shower.
Bas-relief in Babylon, carried by kings,
my spear-head as sceptre shines divine right,
the splayed sepal structure inside me cries
to the Three-In-One whose salvation sings
from within to those who can hear the light:
I split as prism before your rainbowed eyes.

JoAnne McKay
© 2009-present

Writers Talk - JoAnne McKay

Please be sure to check out JoAnne McKay's Writers Talk interview on Robert Frost's Banjo!

Thursday, April 21, 2011

House of Exile – James Weeks

House of Exile

My address is Oliver Ave, Oakland CA 94605; I welcome cash, money orders, credit cards and flowers. Do not send ill will or personal problems—we strive to get our troubles locally. Several years ago, for example, an elderly woman in my neighborhood, who might be en route to hell, called the Oakland authorities and claimed I (of all people) was raising chickens in my backyard– something that immigrants and rural folks have been known to do. These days, I get my eggs from the supermarket just like everybody else.

Chickens are not welcome in Oakland. Neither are goats, roosters, ducks and pigs–the very creatures that remind me of home. Chickens played an important role in "Operation Breadbasket" –my ambitious project to become somewhat self-sufficient in food production. Besides chickens, Operation Breadbasket also called for growing organic vegetables and raising New Zealand rabbits for meat.

But "Operation Breadbasket" was about more than just food. Deep down, I think, I was trying to reconnect with my Caribbean roots. Chickens strut in and out of backyards back home, without a care in the world. And one of the things I miss the most about home is the sound of roosters crowing. Shouldn’t all beings awaken to this concert of nature?

My neighbors don’t seem to think so. We live on the same block but in different worlds, and sometimes these worlds collide. And when one isn't clashing on the outside, one clashes on the inside –often it's rooted in nostalgia but sometimes it's prompted by plain old guilt.

"When are you coming back to live?" asked the mother of a close friend the last time I went home to visit. "Are you going to stay away while outsiders come in and take over the island?" She wasn't joking; she was visibly upset and wanted an answer.
This badgering went on for several minutes. I felt like I and other expatriates were being blamed for the islands' woes. I didn't know what to say. "I'll be back," I finally said sheepishly. But honestly –I don't know when. I'm married, and I have a family. When making decisions I have to think about the welfare of five people. Maybe I'll return to live when I retire or when the kids are in college, I sometimes tell myself.

Nostalgia, however, has to be weighed against economic, political, social and cultural realities, and sometimes the realities conspire against you. The Virgin Islands are in dire economic straights, salaries are low and we have mounting social problems just like anywhere else. Yet I still feel the ancestral pull....and the years passing.

James Weeks
© 2008-2011. All rights reserved

Writers Talk - James Weeks

Please check out the Writers Talk interview with James Weeks on Robert Frost's Banjo!

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Two Poems by Barbie Angell

the meeting.

i bumped into Truth on the subway,
his clothing was ragged and torn,
and he looked with dismay
at Hatred and Rage,
and with pity at Anger and Scorn.

it seems he had left with the world in this mess
and had given up trying to try.
and he gazed up at me,
with this look so serene,
and the tear of Fate caught in his eye.

he had hidden himself in the details
by sealing up all of the doors.
he retreated inside,
just a new place to hide,
far from the violence and wars.

he had lost all his faith in Humanity
and Humanity lost faith in him,
as he started to fear for his sanity,
seeing children abused
and the face of Love bruised
while Ignorance lied on a whim.

’cause he needed a decade to think
and mix it around in his brain.
the Hurt we inflict,
the Evil, the Sick,
the Torture, the Horrors, the Pain.

he returned with a sense of frustration
that no one could help him defeat.
quite unable to find
a Peace in his mind
that would aid his attempts in the street.

see he couldn’t abide by Injustice
and he didn’t find Racism fair
and he just couldn’t see
why someone like me
could’ve found any reason to care.

i bumped into Truth on the subway
and our meeting just doesn’t seem real.
to encounter blind grace
in such a chance place,
that’s made up of concrete and steel.

barbie dockstader angell
© 1995-2011

She’s Come Undone.

I saw her today
and she’s still unraveling.
She twists her hands in her lap,
as if she could somehow knot the ends.
For a sense of closure maybe,
or to keep herself together.
Either way, it doesn’t seem to be working.
Pieces of her scattered across the coffee shop floor.
They mixed in with the stray cigarette butts
and empty sugar packets finally released
from the confines of their ceramic caddy.
And I stared at her.
Wanting to talk to her and let her know that
I was certain that a glue would hit the shelves of
some tiny, little environmentally friendly store for
$29.95 an application and she would be saved from
the daily chore of reassembling her jigsaw self.
But before I could decide just how to correctly
phrase all that was swimming furiously through my
brain, she was gone.
She left behind quite a bit of herself that afternoon.
And it took the bus boy a half an hour to clean up the mess....

barbie dockstader angell
© 2011

Writers Talk - Barbie Angell

A happy Thursday, dear readers!  As advertised, today we have Writers Talk, & this is someone with a refreshing & to my mind, quite unique take on the writing biz. 

As has been the case with several of the writers involved in this series, I’ve gotten to know Barbie Angell on Twitter, where I find her humor & her perspective on the world & its quirkiness to be both compelling & entertaining.  As I came to know Barbie a little better, I began exploring the poetry on her blog, & was delighted to find a fresh & unique voice, chockful of wit & demonstrating a sparkling facility for rhyme & rhythm— undervalued skills in "poebiz" these days.  Here’s a brief writerly biography:

It has been said that if Shel Silverstein & Dorothy Parker had conceived a child, the result would have been Barbie Dockstader Angell. Razor wit & simple rhyming verse combine to create an innovative style. Barbie has named it “poetry for the common man.” (Although she does have plenty of women readers as well.) Bitter, satirical, humorous & sometimes brutally honest, her portfolio contains everything from rhyme to free verse, children’s and adults, as well as short stories.
Barbie was raised in Illinois & has lived in the Asheville area since 1999. She has been writing since 1986 and has won awards both academically and artistically for her poems & short stories. Barbie has been published in small press books, magazines & newspapers throughout the years & has performed her work for audiences small & large around the country.
& yes, she does have an odd obsession with Alice in Wonderland.

Barbie Angell says: “my life is in progress….constantly seeking renovations but unable to find an affordable contractor.”

I know you’ll enjoy this interview, & please check out a video of Babrie Angell reading her "Ode to Shel Silverstein" at the end of this post. Then you can read two more of her poems—“the meeting” & “She’s Come Undone”—in the post just below; these poems are also posted or on the Writers Talk blog!

When did you first realize your identity as a writer? 

from the time i was 6 years old, my dream was to be a lawyer.  i had seen the t.v. show “paperchase”and desperately wanted to make that my life.  while i was living in the children’s home “Mooseheart”my english teacher Miss Ruch encouraged me & i won the only award that the school gave out for writing; the memorial day award.  i met Jerry Dellinger my senior year & he convinced me to turn down my acceptance to harvard & instead attend lincoln college where he taught theater.  by my second semester freshman year, he had become such a force in my life that i didn’t hesitate to follow his advice.  he assured me that i was a writer not a lawyer and he encouraged that up until his death in august of 2010.

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

a great deal of my pieces begin with one line.  typically it’s something that i say in conversation or post on a social media site.  there are poems which i have been revamping for years and ones which took only a few hours.  i am constantly editing & revamping my work.  mostly i try to look at anything from a new perspective.  of course, this becomes difficult when the perspective i’m trying to steer away from is my own.  there is a piece entitled “the meeting”which i began writing in 1995.  it starts with the line, “i bumped into Truth on the subway”  i was hanging out with my friend michael horn at denny’s after seeing the movie “mr. holland’s opus”and for some reason i spoke those words.  at michael’s urging i wrote them down with the intention of using them in a poem.  it was a full year before i ever was able to continue that thought.  the poem was originally “completed”in 1996 and went on to help me garner much attention, multiple publications and achieve a 12th place out of 1400 poets in competition.  last year i gave it a complete overhaul and i still don’t know if i’m done with it.  at times i write while listening to favorite music for this is Peter Gabriel....but other times all i need is a place to sit and ideally be uninterrupted.

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

my poems are normally not accepted in the world of academic poetry.  rhyme goes in and out of vogue and most publications do not even finish reading a work in that style.  i consider my writing to be “poetry for people who don’t know they like poetry.” because of this, i typically get passed over in publications geared toward “traditional”verse and instead find opportunities in places where one does not normally find any type of poetry.  i currently publish my own books as it is difficult to find an entry into the world of publishing when one has an untapped area in the world of literature.  the bias in literary circles doesn’t bother me however.  if one is so close-minded that they will not accept rhyme as a viable art form just because it wasn’t written 75 to 100 years ago....then that is obviously their own issue to deal with.

Has being a writer affected your relationships? 

absolutely.  arguing with spouses in the past, the thought of, “are you going to write about this?’or “was that line or piece about me?”has come up.  when i was living in bloomington, illinois i was incredibly well-known as a performing poet.  this caused quite a large problem with my boyfriend at the time since i was garnering more attention than he was a musician.  we simply couldn’t go anywhere without my being recognized & asked to sign something or recited a piece.  i’m far less well known here in asheville, nc but it never bothered me at all.  i think that it’s really only an issue because i’m a performer and not just a reader or writer. 

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. 
most of my community is online.  i’ve found them to be predominantly supportive, even if my style of work isn’t what they believe is the “correct”way to write poetry.  i get a lot of messages and critiques from people who attempt to convince me that i shouldn’t rhyme.  they seem to not notice that i do write in a variety of styles including micro-fiction, prose and free-verse.  but, as i’ve said, the anti-rhyme perspective doesn’t concern me at all.  if i painted my house green and green was someone’s least favorite color then their dislike wouldn’t bother why should a dislike for rhyme be an issue for me either?

What are your future goals in terms of writing? 

literary world domination.  : )  i’d like to get a literary agent and ideally be published with Grand Central Publishing.  my goal used to be Harper Collins because they published Shel Silverstein, but Grand Central publishes two of my favorite authors....Rachel Simon & Steve Martin.  i’d also like to have work in The New Yorker.  Dorothy Parker and Steve Martin were both regular contributors and i feel that my work would be well-received by the magazine’s audience.

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

the violin.  it’s an instrument which can be used both as a violin or a fiddle.  the versatility of it is reminiscent of my variety of styles and genres. as i understand it, a slight change in pressure and tempo can change the same combination of string, wood and space into an entirely different instrument.  that appeals to me and is precisely what i attempt to do with my words.  recently a theater company in illinois produced some of my poetry for the stage.  i wasn't involved with any part of the production, not the choice of poems, order of pieces or how they were performed.  i was happily surprised to see that some work, which i had always thought presented itself as comedic, came off well as dramatic or vice versa.  i was honored to discover that not only was my writing far more adaptable than i had imagined, but also able to be enjoyed as a performance even without me being onstage.

it is my habit online to type in all lower case unless i capitalize to illustrate respect or for emphasis.  this being an online interview i chose to continue this practice....i hope that it has not interfered with your understanding of my responses. : )  thank you for reading.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

"Blackbird Lawn" - Juliet Wilson

Blackbird Lawn

This male blackbird has one white eyebrow
but sings as beautifully as the rest.
His mate is the brown of polished chestnuts
with a beak as bright as his.
Dutifully they collect food, wait
every morning for the scattered raisins
to carry to their brood.

Soon they will come to the lawn
with large-mouthed, speckled young -
teach them to pull worms from grass,
to recognise the footfalls
that promise sweetness.

Juliet Wilson
© 2010

from the chapbook Unthinkable Skies, published 2010 by Calder Wood Press

Writers Talk - Juliet Wilson

Please check out Juliet Wilson's Writers Talk interview on Robert Frost's Banjo!

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Wolves at Bay - Jack Varnell

Wolves At Bay

I loved you enough to not understand.
I could not fully relate or sympathize.
I did not really want to, even if I could have.
Whatever he, or they, did with you, or to you,
will die with you, though it lives, churning in you now.

Rusty autumn day, leaves fell like youth abducted.
Stumbling from the abandoned house on Bay Lane,
late using your latchkey, emerging disoriented,
with school uniform blouse ripped, and a bloodstain
red like maple leaves, on your skirt.
"Do you believe in God?" was the first thing you said.

For the first and only time in my life
I was very aware and very sad I wasn't God,
and that holding you seemed wrong.
Comforting you, an elusive goal.

Together, over the years,
two creative spirits led by denial, and fear
conspired enough to create a band-aid tale.
One of how you encountered, in shortcut alley
a slobbering, rabid alpha wolf,
followed by his frenzied omega pack.

You escaped out the window,
with the leaves raining orange and red like fire.
You stumbled down leafy paths,
into the safety of the concrete paths
where kneeling, you were reborn.
By asking if I believed in God.

It seems so long ago,
almost another time and place.
Even now, when I hold you in my arms,
I wonder where you are.
If you are hiding from me.

From my deepest slumber
I sometimes awaken to hear
the howls of wolves at Bay,
and your sleepy whispered cry.

I wonder if it is their night.
I check out the window,
with leaves raining orange and red like fire
wondering if the moon is full.
I ask myself if I believe in God.

Jack Varnell
© 2011

Writers Talk - Jack Varnell

It’s Thursday, & time for Writers Talk!  I’m most gratified that we can include Jack Varnell, AKA The Emotional Orphan, in this series.  His poems are memorable: flashes of emotion & image, & are very direct, a characteristic he shares with one of my own favorite poets, Kenneth Patchen.  Here’s a brief writerly bio:

Jack Varnell is a contemporary prose poet & writer living in the suburbs of Atlanta, Ga. USA

Usually writing under the pseudonym "The Emotional Orphan", & predominantly an online writer, he has been published at Culture Sandwich, The Literary Burlesque, Verses In Motion, Undead Poets Society, Sick Of 'Em, Pigeonbike Poetry, & Red Fez

Print Selections include Guerilla Pamphlets 7, & due this spring from Popshot Magazine, & All The King's Horses-Volume 3 in the 'Expression of Depression' anthology series from LittleEpisodes/Little Brown Book Group in the UK

Jack's blog is Emotional Orphan.
His RedRoom author page is at this link.

Please be sure to check out Jack Varnell’s poem “Wolves at Bay” over at the Writers Talk blog—& now, on to the interview!

When did you first realize your identity as a writer?
I began writing at a very young age. I wrote a short story called “Freddy the Rat” at around age six. It was around the same time my mother held a figurative gun to my head in order to encourage me to play the piano rather than concern myself with silly games like baseball. I had seen “Ben” with Michael Jackson, and “Willard” - those cheesy 70’s movies about the rats, and decided the theme from Ben needed to be the song I did in my recital. “Freddy the Rat” was homage to him. Ben. Not Michael.

Since I never really attended school successfully, I really didn’t write too much in my teens and early twenties. My imagination was always on spin cycle, and I was more concerned with living the stories that eventually become poems. I read all the time, and developed a keen taste for some of the masters like Hermann Hesse, Sartre, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Nietzsche and the likes, but missed a bunch of the more familiar contemporary authors, and studied few contemporary poets. I tended to lean more towards a spiritual, philosophical, or even utopian or dystopian type of write, so when I did pick up a pen it was usually something flavored by those writers. My writing output was limited, with the exception of sappy, silly love letters, legal briefs, letters to the Parole Board asking for leniency, and Writs of Habeas Corpus for my hoodlum buddies.

I am a recovering addict, clean for seventeen years now. In rehab I was told I was told I was an “emotional orphan”, and that I needed to learn how to get in touch with my feelings at a deeper level. Journaling on a daily basis was the tool they used to have me learn that, and I discovered that it worked, and more importantly offered a way to express myself in a truthful and creative manner. I rarely do fiction, and have been writing essays, stories, shorts and poetry since then. Much of my work is under the pseudonym “The Emotional Orphan” for that very reason.

Describe the creative process involved in any one piece you’ve written—this could be book, a story, a poem, an essay, etc.
Most all of my poetry follows a similar pattern, and it is a little different than most poets I have known or read about. I generally am focused on the actual who, what, where, when, and why of my own life experiences. I don’t usually shy away from topics that are not that easy to swallow because that is how a lot of my life has been. I have had a colorful and exciting life with exposure to things most have only seen on television or read in books. Anything I may be exposed to may end up on the page at some point. Some have notebooks of stories, poems, etcetera. I have phrases, anecdotes, half finished pieces, observations and random thoughts.

My writing usually includes two important factors. The first is honesty. I cannot succeed if I am afraid of telling the truth, or with too much concern of how it will be interpreted. Secondly, my experiences are the key piece of evidence in my crimes against poetry or literature.

Could you describe your relationship to the publishing process? (this can be publishing in any form, from traditional book publishing to blogging, etc)
At this point, my relationship with the publishing process is a bit like two teenagers at a school dance. She is the homecoming queen, cheerleader - too pure for any car backseat. I am the acne scarred guy, leaning against the wall staring lustfully at her from across the room. The secret weapon is poetry, not beer. 

I have been writing, and refraining from doing submissions for about two years, and simply focusing on the art, and the mechanics involved. I also want my voice to be heard so I read any and all journals, lit mags, and different publishers with the intent of learning where that voice might get heard. I did a little self publishing test online to evaluate the potential, and timing for a chapbook or larger collection.

I’ve been experimenting with Broadsides, and simply writing to build an arsenal of poems ready to be …somewhere.

Having a sales and marketing background, I have also been somewhat a student of the changes in the publishing world and who is responsible for the success of a writer. The reality is that ultimately the writer controls his own fate. Branding has been important to me with the Emotional Orphan Blog, and  twitter, tumblr, posterous, and many other social media outlets, blogs, and writing / arts communities.  So, if you look at your business card and the words Penguin, Copper Canyon, or something similar is attached to the company you work for, I have done half the work already.

How has being a writer affected your relationships?

Although writing is a solitary exercise, I have been given so much from the writing community from across all genres, and forms. My real world relationships may have been minimized a bit.They have been replaced by a strong core group of creative and talented friends who support each other and offer critique and feedback, from an honest perspective with the intention of perfecting their craft. Writers like Caroline Hagood, Laura Mercurio Ebohon, Fran Lock, and Jodi MacArthur, whose writing styles are completely different, have been particularly gracious and instrumental in sharing words of wisdom and making sure to pay attention to my work that gets “out there”        

Besides them, there are possibly hundreds of writers online that I read as often as I can, and many others who lend support through Facebook and other social media outlets. Daily, I am embarrassed by running across someone that I meant to keep up with that I have neglected to read.

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 some long time friends and writers who I try to interact with regularly. I also float in and out of various groups designed to support, enlighten and critique each others work. The HIGHdra Syndicate is an outstanding group of young writers and poets who study at the feet of the masters from the Outlaw Poetry Movement. We are pretty headstrong about making some noise, and a difference in the publishing world, and the reception and recognition of poetry at large. Outlaw poetry, as described by the incomparable S.A Griffin just last night, is not picking up guns, robbing banks and going on the lam, it is about having a finger on the pulse of society and having the courage to shake things up a little in order to wake up the masses. Poets like S.A., A.Razor, Rafael F.J.Fajardo, Scott Wannberg, John Dorsey, and infinite others have been doing it for a long time. There are many others like Frankie Metropolis, Edaurdo Jones, Diana Rose, Murphy Clamrod, Jason Hardung, High Jack Flash, Jack Shaw, Christian Alvarez, Yossarian Hunter,  Newamba Flamingo, Sean Hogan, and a host of others are making some noise. Publishers like Epic Rites Press, and Wolfgang Carstens are giving an outlet for the voices of writers like Rob Plath, John Yamrus, Jack Henry, and Karl Koweski, while keeping alive the words of Todd Moore, one of the original Outlaws and a master no longer with us …in the physical. We believe pretty strongly in the power of both the spoken and written word and make use of any and all tools available to connect with the masses. These tools include everything from banged up antique typewriters, to iPhones, and our internet radio channel on BlogTalk Radio.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the community of artists and writers at Little Episodes. Primarily based in the UK, LE has a stated mission of “Dispelling the notion that art is a corporate commodity-Giving the artistic industries back to the artist- Promoting the arts as a platform to incite empathy and understanding.“  It is an incredible community of support, and talent that has proven to be an indispensible place to give and take in order to grow as an artist.

What are your future goals in terms of writing?

For now, my intention is to keep writing, and submitting. I have had some success, but I don’t necessarily measure that in number of books or poems published. It is more about gleaning all I can from those more educated, and experienced, and following the proven method of getting the words out there. I tend to be a little analytical about it all. The words of my fellow writers are more powerful to me than how often I have been published, the rejections with critique more valuable than the acceptance letters.

I think finding a cure for my aversion to apostrophes and extreme addiction to ellipses may be equally as important, and I do have a secret desire to actually finish an English class one day. Hopefully royalties from my first book may provide the means to actually go to college. For a while, at least.

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

Let me clarify, would a machete be considered a musical instrument?

Seriously, I think my Mother’s statement many years ago about how I would one day regret that I didn’t pursue the piano with a little more dedication holds true. I believe a piano would accomplish what I would like to with my writing. It has the potential to offer intense and powerful music, while also having the ability to calmly tickle the imagination and take it to places unseen. There is a journey to be enjoyed, and if you just close your eyes it can take you almost anywhere through the good, the bad and the ugly. For the bad and ugly, it offers a solution and some peace. You can find a home there.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Erasmus on Rise Again - Lana Bortolot

Erasmus on Rise Again

New York, February 1, 2011

As the abandoned, 225-year-old Erasmus Hall Academy in Flatbush slips into decay, some have been dismayed by the Department of Education's apparent lack of interest in saving the building and by private donors' broken promises to do so. But it now looks as if Erasmus will finally get its angel.

A new, $300,000 matching grant from the state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation is likely to jump-start restoration of the building, which once housed the oldest chartered high school in New York and counts Founding Fathers John Jay and Alexander Hamilton among its early benefactors.

While the DOE had no apparent plans for the academy building, it gave the New York Landmarks Conservancy its blessing to pursue a rescue plan. When previous attempts by the alumni association to raise awareness or funds were unsuccessful, the conservancy sought grants on behalf of the city and commissioned a survey of conditions in the building. The report, completed in December, raised new hope for Erasmus.

"Now, for the first time we have a report that says here's what has to be done, and it's not a building that's going to fall down unless people allow it to," said Peg Breen, president of the landmarks conservancy. "It's to [DOE's] credit that they're willing to work with us and turn us loose."

Built in 1786 on land donated by the Flatbush Dutch Reformed Church, the Federal-style wooden structure has good bones and an undisputed pedigree. In 1966, it became one of the earliest city-designated landmarks; it received National Register for Historic Places designation in 1975.

Inside Brooklyn's Very Old School

The 225-year-old Erasmus Hall Academy in Brooklyn once housed the oldest chartered high school in New York and counts two founding fathers among its early benefactors.

But the academy, enclosed in the quadrangle formed by the newer Erasmus Hall High School, a Gothic structure that's also a city landmark, has been vacant for more than 10 years. Cracked paint, crumbled porches and broken shingles now define its exterior.

Inside, a few artifacts—mannequins in period costume, Colonial furniture and school memorabilia—hint at its failed stint as a museum. It's now used as storage for school records and discarded band instruments.

Ron Schweiger, Brooklyn's borough historian, visited the site three years ago. "I don't know what's going to happen to the thing—it's a piece of local and national history," he said. "It's a shame because it's part of the education history of New York and Brooklyn."

No schooling has taken place in the academy building since the mid-1930s; students attend the adjacent high school, which boasts a long list of noted alumni such as Barbra Streisand, Eli Wallach, Mickey Spillane and Oakland Raiders owner Al Davis.

Despite the exterior deterioration, a sagging attic and considerable water damage, the consulting engineers who surveyed the building gave the former school a good report card.

"It's remarkable that we still have this building intact and in a condition that's not so bad that we have to throw our hands up," said Daniel J. Allen, partner at Cutsogeorge Tooman & Allen Architects, the firm that prepared the conditions report.

Still, exterior restoration is estimated to cost $2.2 million. Paint abatement for toxins such as lead, a new roof, dormers and windows are the highest ticket items. Structural work is estimated at another $500,000.

Before restoration can begin, the conservancy must first match the state grant. Then it can prioritize work to stabilize the building. Full-on restoration likely won't begin for a couple of years. In the meantime, the conservancy has recommended no-cost measures such as gutter maintenance to allay further water damage.

"Bringing in the funding is on the horizon. We first had to understand what we were dealing with," said Karen Ansis, the conservancy's funding manager and an Erasmus alumna. She met with alumni Jan. 22 to apprise them of costs and funding strategies.

Finding a use for the quirky building is another challenge. Its location within a secured school setting presents access and related issues for others using the building. People close to the project envision a cultural or community center or administrative offices for educators.

"It's an issue for the DOE to figure out how to use the building; we don't regulate the use," said John Weiss, deputy counsel at the city landmarks commission, adding, "[But] the future certainly looks bright for a building that is very historically significant on a national level."

A DOE spokeswoman said it was too early at this stage to comment. The department will remain owner of the building, and the School Construction Authority—DOE's building and design division—will likely oversee restoration. What remains uncertain is whether a user will be found for the building.

That doesn't deter Ms. Breen. "I think in the midst of all this—who's on first and how we're going to do this—we have this incredible building with ties to our Founding Fathers: How can you not go all out to save it?"

Published in The Wall Street Journal, Feb. 1, 2011

Writers Talk - Lana Bortolot

Happy Thursday to you!  I’m so pleased to announce that after a month-long hiatus, Writers Talk is back—& we’re celebrating its return by interviewing a special writer & a special friend, New York City journalist Lana Bortolot.

My association with Lana Bortolot dates back to the early 1980s when we were both studying English literature at the University of Vermont.  Lana moved on from studies of Henry James, Geoffery Chaucer et al. to work in a Washington, DC law firm, but on to study journalism & obtained her masters degree from New York University by way of Virginia Commonwealth University.  Lana is a regular contributor to The Wall Street Journal and amNewYork, where she covers arts & culture, & urban affairs as well as other travel/lifestyle magazines. She specializes in historic preservation & community development, wine & travel, especially in regions where grapes grow (she is someone who gives her passport a regular & thorough workout).

I know Lana as someone with a dry & incisive wit, deep passions & an equally deep sense of integrity.  All these characteristics come to thefore in her writing, which is consistently crisp, clear & inviting to the imagination as her words take the reader to exotic locales—whether those locales exist on the shores of the Adriatic or the sidewalks of Astoria.  I’m very pleased to bring a journalist’s perspective to the Writers Talk series & even more pleased that the journalist is my dear friend, Lana Bortolot.

Please check out the companion Writers Talk blog for a piece Lana contributed to the Wall Street Journal (published in the Wall Street Journal, February 1, 2011
—here's a link to the article on the WSJ site, where you can watch a super slideshow the Journal put together for the piece), & you can also check out more of her writing, as well as find back stories for her reporting on Lana’s excellent blog. & now—here’s Lana:

When did you first realize your identity as a writer?

I wrote my first short story when I was nine years old and that’s when I thought I would be a writer. I didn’t write anything again until a few poems in college after a heartbreak. When those poems were dwarfed by the more brilliant writer in my life, I didn’t pick up again on writing until I went to grad school for journalism about 10 years later. But it took a while to figure out what to write because I was never interested in a news beat: I fancied myself a features writer. Which, of course, is in high demand and pays quite a lot. As I’ve evolved as a journalist, I found I could cover news stories in a humanistic way—and even incorporate those elements of creative non-fiction to which I’d always been attracted. People don’t think news stories are crafted. But that’s not true. And when I realized that, I evolved from being a journalist to being a writer.

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

While living in Italy, I wrote a number of travel essays for newspapers and guidebooks and I always remembered what Zinsser said about travel writing, which pertains to much writing: “The writer must keep a tight rein on your subjective self … and keep an objective eye on the reader.”

So, my approach was experiential: what did it feel like to be in a place and why? Was it mystical or romantic because of history? Some sense of loss or abandonment? Why would a reader forsake the better-known sites to come to this one and what were the rewards? Those were always the questions I had to answer before I pursued some folly of a story. Those details have to be significant to someone other than me. Once I articulated the experience of being there, I went back and inserted the facts that were the backbone of the story. The goal: make the story serviceable, imaginative and free of cliché.

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

I’m on deadline for everything I produce, and it’s a pretty clean relationship: my editors assign and I deliver. But now, with the onslaught of social media and the necessity of engaging in that as a form of self-promotion, I spend a lot more time thinking about how I can extend the story beyond my assigned word count. Having a blog, for instance, allows me to write the back story. And it also allows me to deliver uncluttered copy to my primary publisher, usually a newspaper, knowing I can explore related ideas or segues into a blog. It’s a lot more work—sometimes writing the story twice—but it also gives me license to combine experiential writing with more candid observations outside traditional journalism.

How has being a writer affected your relationships?

I have made a vow to never become involved with another writer. So, while I have no competition, I also have no support. Oh well.

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 find journalists fairly supportive of each other because there’s enough room for everyone to find a niche and thrive. So, there’s a lot of room to be admiring, supportive and congratulatory. Maybe that’s because NYC, where I live, is so huge, there are a million stories and a million opportunities to succeed. And when things are bad, we all bitch about the same thing, and that’s strangely bonding. About half the time I write about wine, which is a much smaller community. Still, I find my wine-writer colleagues friendly and willing to share sources and ideas. Maybe it’s because wine journalism is such a social vocation?

What are your future goals in terms of writing?

I think I have a memoir in me somewhere. I would like to try writing in longer, more descriptive form that doesn’t bow to the ecomony of words. But, I am also very happy in my current urban-affairs reporting gig, which allows me to pursue under-the-radar stories, and I’d like to develop that more. Technology is causing us to lose so many human stories; that kind of journalism helps preserve them.

Bonus Question: If your writing were a musical instrument, what would it be?
A cello: long and deeply thought. Not easy to get into, but, I think, with an unexpected reward at the end.

Image of Ms Bortolot in the Writers Talk graphic is from a photo by Uschi Becker.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Nine Ladies Dancing - P.J. Kaiser

Nine Ladies Dancing

My back hurts me.  I stand, stretch my arms over my head, and then settle back onto the concrete stoop.  I push myself up against the door so I don’t hang off the tiny step too far.  Folding my hands on my lap, I look up and down at the front doors lining the city sidewalk. 

I really got to pee. 

There’s that pigeon again, strutting on the sidewalk like he was a peacock.  I swear he gets paid to keep an eye on me.  He bends to the ground, pecking among the brown leaves at invisible treats.  If he gets paid more than I do to sit here, I’ll be pissed. 

I lock eyes with the pigeon.  ”Can you watch while I go pee?”

He nods.  I jump up from the stoop, fling open the door and slip into the bathroom just inside.  I hear their voices from the basement.  Some laughing.  Some yelling.  Panic runs through me at the thought of them hearing me come inside.  I almost can’t pee.  Oh, there it comes.  I button up, fly back out the door and sit on the stoop again.

The pigeon looks up from his pecking.  His expression seems to warn me not to leave my post again.  I knew I shouldn’t have had that soda this morning.  It always makes me pee.

I scan the doors and windows around me.  I catch a glimpse of a shadow in one of the windows across the street on the second floor.  Squinting, I see the apartment is still vacant, the way it’s been since the old guy who lived there died a couple of months ago.

Tom Spinosa walks down the sidewalk towards me.  He must be running late today.  Or maybe he had an errand to run.

His loud voice always startles me. “Morning, Howie. How’s it goin’, kid?”
I stand and step to one side so he can go in the door.  ”Oh, you know, Mr. Spinosa.  The usual.”

“Take it easy.”  He closes the door behind him.  I sit again.

I check my watch.  10:30am.  I hope I didn’t miss her while I was inside peeing.  I crane my neck around the side of the building.  Nope, here she comes:  my favorite scenery of the day. 

She floats down the sidewalk, blonde hair slicked back.  Her long black coat is unbuttoned; it sweeps open as she walks so I can see her costume.  I’m going to cry when she has to button it against the cold.  Pink, gauzy fabric covers her.  Her hips sway, ruffling the gray ballet skirt flaring out from her waist.

Some days she is running late and doesn’t glance at me.  Today she’s early.  She smiles at me with fiery lips and tosses her head, flipping her ponytail.  I attempt a smile but it feels more like a smirk on my face.  She walks past and leaves a soft scent of fancy perfume behind in the crisp air.  I breathe it in as I watch her continue down the sidewalk. 

Once she’s out of sight, I pull on the corner of my baseball cap and settle back against the stoop.  The pigeon looks at me again and seems to raise his eyebrows, if he had any. 

“No, you can’t have her.  She’s all mine.”

I hear Christmas music from one of the nearby apartments and recognize it instantly:  ”Dance of the Sugarplum Fairies” from the Nutcracker.  I have plenty of visions of sugarplums dancing in my head.


Chief Miller falls to the carpet in the second floor apartment, as Howie looks straight at him.

He says, “Shit.  He might have seen me.”

The Chief crawls on his knees until he is well back from the window in the shadows and resumes peering down at Howie on the stoop.  He sees Spinosa arrive.  Scanning the checklist on the table – the only furniture in the room besides three folding chairs – he makes a checkmark next to Tom Spinosa’s name.  All the other names already have checkmarks.  At some point during the morning, all gang members have entered the house and nobody has left. 

The Chief says, “I figure we have at least another hour while the group is there to make our bust.  Let’s go ahead and radio the guys to take their positions.  Tell them ten minutes to ‘go’ time.”

The Lieutenant picks up the radio mic and says into it, “Attention all units.  Operation Ballerina will commence in an estimated ten minutes, at 11:00am.  Take your positions and wait for the signal.”

Chief Miller turns to the rookie standing next to him.  “OK, kid.  Your job is to get Howie away from that door without him ringing the buzzer.  I think our plan will work, but in the end, just do whatever you have to do.  He’s not the sharpest tool in the shed, if you know what I mean.  I’ve known his family for years.  I’d really rather not have him involved in any of this.”

“OK, Chief,” the rookie says.  “I’m ready.”


A kid about my age comes walking down the street.  He stops when he gets to where I’m sitting.

“Hey, how’s it going?” He says.

“It’s going okay.  What’s up?”

He slips his hands in his pockets.  “Oh, nothing.  I’m just on my way to the dance studio around the corner.”

“The dance studio?” 

He grins at me.  “Yeah.  You know there’s a class going on right now in the front room.  You can stand on the sidewalk and watch it through the picture window.”

My heart beats in my ears.  “Really?  Those classes are normally in the back room.”

“I know, right?  Well, my buddy called me and told me that today it’s in the front room and …” He leans towards me and whispers.  “They’ve got nine ladies dancing in there today.”

“Nine?  You’re shitting me.  There are usually only three or four in that class.”

He nods slowly.  “Nine.  My buddy just told me.  You want to come with me to watch them?”

I shake my head.  “No, sorry, I can’t.  Um, I’m waiting for a friend to come.”  I have butterflies in my stomach thinking about my blonde with eight other ladies dancing.

“Are you sure?  It’s just around the corner and it would only be for a minute or two.  These women are incredible in their dance outfits with their fluffy skirts …”

“Oh, okay.  But only for a minute.”  I look for the pigeon but I don’t see him anywhere.  My hands shake as I walk with the kid down the street.

We round the corner and I rush to the window of the dance studio.  Darkness fills the front room, but a glimmer of light shines through the doorway to the back room.  I look at the kid and start to ask him what the deal is.

He says, “Kid, you’ve got to get out of here.  A bust is going down.”

I just stare at him and then I hear the shout from around the corner.  ”Police! Open up!”  My eyes fly open.

“Run, kid!” He pushes me.  I stumble and then run in the direction away from my stoop.  I hear more shouts in the distance.  A staccato of gunshots.

 My raspy breathing drowns out any further sounds from my ears.  I run many blocks until I feel my lungs seize up and my legs buckle.  Panic has now spread to every corner of my body.  An image flashes through my mind:  the look on Spinosa’s face when he finds out I wasn’t at my post when the bust went down.

I reach into my pocket.  $71 and some chewing gum.  Plenty to get some lunch.

I have run and walked further than I thought because I see my favorite diner just across the street.  I cross, swing open the door and enter, taking a seat at the counter.  Sweat pours down my face and neck.  I mop myself with a napkin.  The silver-haired waitress takes my order, but then my eyes are riveted to the television hanging in the corner.

Dozens of dancers recede to the edges of the stage and one ballet dancer in soft pink floats across the center of the stage as if a string suspends her.  The soft plucking sounds come at my ears for the second time today:  “The Dance of the Sugarplum Fairies.”  Anger and shame boil up in me.

I say, “Could you change the channel, please?”

The waitress purses her lips and sighs, but she flips the channel with the remote.

The head and shoulders of a newscaster fill the screen.  I pour cream into my coffee from a tin pitcher and stir.  I put the cup to my lips.  The next image on the screen is that of Tom Spinosa.  The newscaster says, “We have some breaking news to report…”  My hand begins shaking.  I put my cup down on the saucer as coffee splashes out of either side of the mug.

“We don’t have many details at the moment, but we are working on a story for the evening report regarding the arrest of the notorious crime boss Thomas Spinosa and many of his gang members.  We are getting reports of up to twenty-two arrests.  Three of the members of the gang were fatally shot during the bust, which was carried out a short time ago by local police.  Be sure to watch the six o’clock report for further details on this story.”

The silver-haired waitress appears with my plate of food in her hand.  She sets it down in front of me.  “Are you okay, son?”

I pick up my napkin to clean up the spilled coffee.  “Yes, thanks.”

As I chew each mouthful of food, I run some calculations.  Twenty-two arrests.  Three dead.  That leaves seventeen gang members who are still free.  That leaves seventeen gang members who will be coming after me for betraying them by leaving my post.  Seventy-one dollars.  Subtract fifteen dollars for lunch.  That leaves just enough for a forty-nine dollar bus ticket to my cousin’s house in Spartan.  My mom’s been trying to kick me out of the house for years, anyway.

I finish my lunch, leave the fifteen dollars next to my plate and walk outside.  It feels much cooler than it did earlier.  The pigeon sits just outside the diner door.

“You want to come with me?  You know, you weren’t there either.”

The pigeon twitches his head from side to side.

“Okay, suit yourself, but I’ll bet they have ballet dancers in Spartan.”  I head towards the bus station, leaving the pigeon to face his fate alone.

PJ Kaiser
© 2010
This story appeared previously in the 12 Days 2010 anthology, edited by Jim Bronyaur.

Writers Talk - PJ Kaiser

Happy Thursday, folks, & welcome to another edition of Writers Talk.  Today’s writer is PJ Kaiser, a real presence in the Twitter & blogging writing communities & a wonderfully supportive person as well as a talented writer.  It's been my observation that Ms Kaiser has a good grasp of how to utilize social media in her career as an independent writer, & I believe she has a lot to teach others who are looking to make a mark in fiction or poetry outside the traditional publishing model.

P.J. Kaiser stays at home with her two young children and finds time to write – generally in thirty-second increments. She writes mostly flash fiction and serial stories in a variety of genres. Several of her stories have appeared in print and electronic publications. Two of her stories - “The Request” and “The Foot of the Bridge” have appeared at Soft Whispers. Her story “The Turtle Dove” appeared in the anthology 12 Days 2009. “Halloween Guests” was selected for the Best of Friday Flash Volume 1 anthology. Her micro-fiction “Ditz Alert” was selected for the chapbook Dog Days of Summer 2010 – Not From Here, Are You?. She also assisted with editing the anthology 50 Stories for Pakistan, which includes her story “Arthur’s Emptiness.” In early 2010, she won the February writing challenge at Write On! Online with her story “Waiting for Spring.” She also has stories forthcoming in 100 Stories for Queensland and in Nothing but Flowers:  Tales of Post-Apocalyptic Love,  a publication of Emergent Publishing.  She can be found hanging around at her blog Inspired by Real Life.  P.J. is also the co-moderator of Tuesday Serial, a weekly collection of links to the latest installments of some of the web’s best online serials. P.J. is working on publishing a collection of her stories and is working on her first novel. P.J. lives with her family in Hoboken, New Jersey.

Don’t forget to check out PJ Kaiser’s story “Nine Ladies Dancing” on The Writers Talk blog!

When did you first realize your identity as a writer?

In high school I had an assignment to write a short story.  So I wrote the story, but I wasn’t sure of the ending.  So I kept writing.  And writing.  It was, of course, complete drivel, but I had great fun writing it and I began to think that maybe one day I would like to learn how to write “for real.”  I’ve always been an avid reader and I think most avid readers harbor dreams of being a writer.

We lived in Mexico for several years and while we were there I met a woman originally from Germany.  She told us the most fascinating stories about her life and I told her she should write her memoir.  She dismissed the idea since she had no interest in writing.  So I decided to take up the challenge.  I spent a summer interviewing her and gathering information for the book and then unfortunately we lost touch.  So the book will be fiction but very loosely based on a real story. 

I decided that I had to learn how to write properly in order to do her story justice and it’s been a fascinating journey for me.  This first novel is in very rough draft stages right now (I won NaNoWriMo 2009 with it) but in the meantime I have enjoyed learning how to write short stories and serial fiction.  I’ve experimented with a wide variety of genres, but haven’t yet found one with which I want to be monogamous. 

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

My most recent serial story “Rainy Rendezvous” was inspired by a friend’s Facebook update.  He commented that he enjoyed going kayaking alone because it was so peaceful.  I commented that would be a great inspiration for a story…and no sooner had I made the comment than my mind began churning on an idea and within a week I had drafted five installments of a serial story. 

Recent short stories have been inspired by seeing a woman fall on a street corner next to a crossing guard, getting a pedicure, and going swimming (not all at once ;-).  And several stories have been inspired by dreams.  Nearly all of my stories are inspired by something from my real life, even if it’s just a tiny nugget of real life.  Hence the name of my blog “Inspired by Real Life.”

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

My main publishing activity at the moment is blogging, apart from a few short stories that have been published.  I began writing in the summer of 2009 and my main focus at the moment is on improving my craft rather than publishing.  I am, however, beginning to pull together and polish some of my stories in hopes of publishing an e-book collection.

My blog recently crashed and I am in the process of reconstructing it.  So, because it’s fresh in my mind, I can tell you that I have written 71 stories – including flash fiction and serial installments.  Twenty-four of these, by the way, will not be carried over to the new blog (or anywhere else); they are being “retired.”

How has being a writer affected your relationships?

Most of my family thinks I’ve been pursuing a strange little pastime.  That might have changed a bit when I gave each of them a copy of “50 Stories for Pakistan” which includes one of my stories. ;-)

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 don’t have a “real” writing community because I can never seem to leave the house without my two children.  But my virtual community more than makes up for its absence.  I got the bug to write originally from people I encountered on Twitter and my writing community has grown organically through Twitter.  I participate off and on in various Twitter chats such as #writechat and #litchat and my main writing communities come from #fridayflash and #tuesdayserial.  I can’t even begin to describe the friendships that I’ve made and the things I’ve learned from my friends in my virtual writing community – they’ve been indispensible. 

What are your future goals in terms of writing?

At the moment, my goals are very loose.  I want to keep writing short stories and serial fiction as I have bits of time here and there.  I want to continue to improve my writing by taking classes and working with editors.  Eventually I want to finish my novel.  I find that if I put too many deadlines or milestones on my plans, then I get too stressed out and I turn away from writing.  So, keeping things low-key allows me to continue to enjoy it and stay with it.

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

Hmmm, I’m going to say a piano.  When it works, the sound is fantastic.  Every now and then, though, I strike a clunker that sticks out like a sore thumb.  I am just trying to work on striking clunkers with less frequency.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Writers Talk - Caroline Hagood

It’s my pleasure to introduce this week’s writer, Caroline Hagood.  Ms Hagood is yet another writer I’ve meet in the Twitterverse—you writers out there who aren’t on Twitter, I must say you’re missing out on lots of smart & supportive folks.  Since meeting Caroline on Twitter, I’ve also begun to follow her excellent Culture Sandwich, an aptly named blog that I recommend highly.  Ms Hagood’s writerly bio reads as follows:

Caroline Hagood is a poet and writer who spends way too much time on the internet. She teaches English and writing at St. Francis College in Brooklyn. She has written on arts and culture for The Guardian, Salon, the Huffington Post, and her own blog, Culture Sandwich, among others. Her poetry has appeared in Shooting the Rat (Hanging Loose Press), Movin' (Orchard Books), Huffington Post, Angelic Dynamo, Ginosko, and Manhattan Chronicles. She has also written a collection of poetry and a novel. She's always looking for adventure, the perfect slice of pizza, and new creative projects.

& now, on to the interview:

When did you first realize your identity as a writer?

As a weird little girl who thought everything should be either magical or funny, and when it wasn’t, decided to write it that way.

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

Whenever I’m working on anything, the equation seems to be writing with a side order of life. So my typical Sunday would look something like this: Writing with brief interludes of eating anything in the chocolate family; watching old Twilight Zone episodes; crying over little things; laughing over little things; going people-watching; reading some big book that I feel I should have read already; calling my friend to tell her something funny; and googling for entirely too long.

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

I should really hatch some green plan to recycle all my rejection letters into something extraordinary. Yet my relationship to the publishing process remains…hopeful. I’m certainly grateful to all the people who have agreed to publish my poems and articles.

Actually, publishing takes on a whole new meaning when you start your own blog. I remember being nervous at first, then hesitantly sending my words out into the blogo-verse. Suddenly, I got to assume all the roles in the little play of my own publication. I had a place to air my interests and found myself with more of them than ever. Having a blog is like being able to place each of your orphaned ideas in loving homes. It’s pretty powerful.

How has being a writer affected your relationships?

It’s a wonder my husband hasn’t left me. Just kidding (I think). I like to think that my all-encompassing fixation brings new things to the lives of those I love. This is true on good days. On bad days, I can be a moody one—one of those horrible writer stereotypes that’s true, in my case.

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.

At this point, it’s definitely more virtual because most of my in-flesh friends aren’t writers. Of my cyber-writing-squad, I’d say we’re an obsessive, lonely, self-deprecating, goofy, excitable bunch, in love with information and putting together and taking things apart with our minds, who can take out a box of donuts in one sitting, oh wait, that last one is just me.

There’s one blogger in particular, Hansel Castro over at Hallucina, whose blog I love. I befriended him in the first flush of my blogging life, but have never met him, at least not in that boring, real-world sense.

What are your future goals in terms of writing?

Besides taking over the writing world and reinventing language? No, but seriously, I would like to be able to complete the writing projects on my exceedingly long to-do-list, which I revise in my mind pretty much all the time, but especially while on stopped subways, in boring movies, or while being chewed out by authority figures, which happens more than you might think. It would also be nice to have those writings be appreciated by the public, but that might be asking too much.  At this point, with Manhattan real estate being what it is, I might just settle for a room of my own.

Bonus Question: If your writing were a musical instrument, what would it be?
It would definitely be a trombone. No doubt about it. I was never one for subtle.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Don't Fall Asleep, A Dream Assassin Novel (excerpt) - Laura Eno

Excerpt from Don't Fall Asleep, A Dream Assassin Novel

Light bounced off alley walls in odd places amid the swirling tendrils of fog. Cassandra's heels clicked on cobblestone, the only sound in this junkie's paradise. She knew her quarry heard her footsteps, but imagined his mind tried to fit the sound into his fevered dream as something he created. She smiled. He was in for a nasty surprise.

The only smell in this jumbled place was the man's essence—a mixture of onion/cold/mold that made Cassandra's sinuses ache. Doorways hung at odd angles on either side of her but she ignored them. The man she came for sat against the wall at the end of the alley, a pool of light cast over him like a damn spotlight.

Bloodshot eyes studied her without enthusiasm; she wasn't the pre-pubescent type that got his rocks off.

"Who are you?"

"I'm Death." A blaster appeared in her hand. His eyes widened in understanding just before she shot him.

The alley disappeared, replaced by a gray nothingness that swept his stink away as well. Cassandra smiled in grim satisfaction before stepping out of the dead man's head. Another pedophile off the streets, dead from an apparent heart attack.

She awakened back in her own body, superstition driving her to a mirror to make sure she came back unchanged. Angle-cut auburn hair and startling blue eyes gazed back at her, allowing Cassandra to let go of the tension in her body.

Relaxing on the black leather sofa, Cassandra took in the high ceilinged room with its white walls and carpet, letting the minimalist effect wash over her. She stared out the floor-to-ceiling windows, gazing at the city lights far below her perch on the cliff. Peace stole over her with surroundings so unlike the jumbled constructions of other people's dreams.

One of the hazards of being a Dream Assassin, she thought, having to poke around in the sewers of someone else's creations. She climbed off the sofa and stretched. There was still much to do before the sun rose. She left the house to continue her search.

Cassandra headed to the underbelly of the city. She wanted to experience the heartbeat of the metropolis, not shiny metal and glass buildings full of tourists ogling the sights. The Dream Merchants didn't work up top. They plied their trade down below among the desperate. One of them would make a suitable partner, although she hadn't found one yet in two months of searching.

The nondescript bar Cassandra walked into seemed like dozens of others—smells of booze and sweat, her senses reeling from unsavory essences only a Dream Merchant could read. She blocked them out and wove her way through the tables in the dim light, sitting in a corner where she could watch the customers.

There. In the opposite corner. Another Dream Merchant, weaving dreams for sale as she once had. Cassandra studied the good-looking man as he dealt with a steady stream of customers. He must be an excellent weaver, with a clientele who raced over to him the moment they hit the door.

She let down her barrier for just a moment and watched his head pop up, scanning the crowd as he sensed her. Good. He's quick-witted.

During a lull in his work, Cassandra walked over to the dark-haired man. "Can I buy you a drink?"

He looked up at her with jade-green eyes and a sardonic smile on his face. "Sorry, lady. I don't swing that way."

She smiled back and dropped her mental barrier, watched his eyes first widen then narrow as he recognized what she was.

"I'm not asking for a date. I might have a business proposition for you though." She walked back to her table and let him think it over. His essence was the first one she'd found that Cassandra thought she could work with. He was cinnamon/warm/lemon with a bitter tinge to it. She wondered what had happened in his life to put the bitter there.

Menace rolled off a heavy-set man as he walked in the door, his pug-face scowl deepened further as he walked by the Merchant's table before disappearing into the back room. The man Cassandra waited for raised his glass at the bartender and strode over to her table, flipping a chair backwards before sitting on it.

"The name's Nathan Wilder. And yours?"

"Cassandra Dade." She watched his expression—cool smile but alert for any trouble. "What's the story on Mr. Big, Bad and Ugly?"

Nathan laughed and relaxed a fraction. "The owner thinks I should give him a cut of my profits for using his bar."

Cassandra chuckled and twirled ice in her glass, taking in the faded red wallpaper and burned-out lights above the liquor display.

"You probably bring in more customers than he would ever see without you."

"He knows that, but he doesn't believe in Dream Merchants. He thinks I'm dealing in illicits and complains that Enforcement will find out."

"Did you ever weave a dream for him?"

"Sure, I did. He called it the power of suggestion, although he did admit it was unlike any dream he'd ever had." Nathan shrugged and downed his drink. "I haven't seen you around and I know most of the Merchants. What's your specialty?"

Cassandra observed him while he studied her with greater interest than he would care to admit. That told her he was bored with his present circumstances and looking to put his talent to something new. Otherwise, he would have defended his territory against her.

"I'm looking for a partner. If you're interested, meet me Topside tomorrow in the Golem CafĂ© at noon." She stood to leave, meeting his puzzled expression with a smile. "As for my specialty, I don't weave dreams anymore—I enter them."

Writers Talk - Laura Eno

Happy Thursday, one & all.  We're back with the first Writers Talk interview of the New Year, & it's my pleasure to introduce Laura Eno, a fiction writer with numerous publicationsher Goodreads author page lists five novels & eight fiction anthologies.

Laura Eno lives in Florida with a very tolerant husband, three skulking cats and an absurdly happy dog. She has a pet from the Underworld named Jezebel and a skull called Mr. Fluffy who help her write novels late at night. Please visit her strange imagination at A Shift in Dimensions.  Links to all of Laura Eno's published work can be found on her blog.  In addition, you can read an excerpt from Ms Eno's novel Don't Fall Asleep: A Dream Assassin Novel over on the companion Writers Talk blog.  Please do check that out!

I have to thank Karen Schindler, whose Writers Talk interview appeared here last month for connecting Laura with Robert Frost's Banjo.  The result was the following delightful interview:

When did you first realize your identity as a writer?

I think it was when the voices in my head tied me to a chair and demanded a venue of their own. Since then, we've enjoyed an uneasy truce; they speak and I write down what they say. If I ignore them, my sleep is severely disrupted and the arguments become verbal. It's not a pretty sight.

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

I will jot down story ideas, creating a simple outline, but the characters grow rather organically from there. They have much to say when I shut up and listen to them, weaving intricate stories of wonder.

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

Ah, relationships… First, and foremost, I have a relationship to my story. For that reason, I am an indie author. That means I have complete control and responsibility over content. My readers are the only ones judging my story's worth.

How has being a writer affected your relationships?

Being a writer has strengthened my relationships. I'm happier for having the outlet and my family can now put a label on my strangeness. "Well, she's a writer" as explanation smoothes over many a faux pas—especially if I'm staring off into space or examining a knife with a maniacal look on my face.

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.

Blogging, Twitter and Facebook have opened a wonderful world of like-minded friendships for me. Many writers are introverts and I am no exception. The online community feeds my soul and understands me in a way that I've never encountered before. I'm no longer sitting in the dark, afraid to reach out.

What are your future goals in terms of writing?

I plan to keep writing, both short stories and novels, always looking to connect with my readers. Bringing laughter and tears to those who would immerse themselves in my work is the ultimate thrill for me. It is what keeps me breathing.

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

Definitely drums. The beat of a heart, the pounding of fear, the light tap of laughter—all pulsating in the rhythm of life.