“Gut” by Lucinda Kempe

“Determining” by Jane Cornish Smith, oil on canvas, 2014.

I held his toe in my hand. The toe had become disengaged from its disinterred paw. I hadn’t meant to dig up the body. In my mania for replanting I excavated an empty spot in the garden, completely forgetting what I’d buried there.

I could have had Nick cremated and tossed his ashes, the way I did with half of Mama. But I couldn’t do that to a creature I loved. A body should be returned to the earth in its original state, even if it’s stiff with rigor mortis and bled out.

Nick was diabetic and I gave him insulin shots for years. Not a people-friendly cat, he preferred the other felines, particularly Maxwell who tolerated being sodomized. I’d find them in the basement on a shelf near the towels, Nick on Max’s back happily humping away, and Max wearing a stoic expression. A vet in New Orleans rescued Maxwell, who, in turn, my mother rescued. Mama was kind to strays.

I brought Max and another cat I’d rescued, Miss Mouse, with me when I moved to New York. Nick was a Yankee cat I adopted from an upper west side Manhattan rescue. My husband and I called him “Baby” the first year we got him. Not long afterwards I got pregnant with our first child, a son.

I reburied Nick’s toe with the azalea. His skull I tossed off into the woods. I found it later, after I’d replanted the shrub. I buried the other half of Mama’s ashes with the corpse of a beloved dog named Comus. Nick wouldn’t have minded. Like my mother, he didn’t have truck with boundaries. Mama wouldn’t have minded either. She loved dogs more than anything.



Lucinda Kempe has had work published Jellyfish Review, Summerset Review, Matter Press’s Journal of Compressed Creative Arts, decomP, and Corium. She won the Joseph Kelly Prize for Creative Writing in 2015 and is an M.F.A. candidate in writing and creative literature at Stony Brook University.


“Yard Sale” by Nancy Ludmerer

“Orange Horizon Line” by Jane Cornish Smith, encaustic, oil on board, 2014.

Jackie’s present to Brooke from two weeks before, Richard Scarry’s Mother Goose, was going for two dollars. The baby shoes she bought Brooke were on offer for a pittance as well. “Yard sale! Moving today! Last chance!” clamored the sign.

The screen door hung off its hinge. “Deirdre!” Jackie called softly to her daughter. The only sound was the baby crying. Deidre’s baby, and Tonio’s. Not yours, Deirdre said last time. Jackie’s ideas about child-rearing were antiquated, Deirdre complained, her gifts well-meaning but off. The pink baby shoes were kidskin — but they were raising Brooke vegan. Mother Goose was sexist.

When she heard they were moving to Tempe, Arizona, to be near Tonio’s people, Jackie said, “I’ll never get to see Brooke.”

Deirdre said she could come visit. She didn’t mention how hard it was for Jackie to travel – how she’d forget her tickets, or her house keys, or even where she was going. Jackie had gone to the library and looked up the city they were moving to, tried to figure out exactly how far it was from Clifton, New Jersey, but couldn’t even find it on the map. An hour later she realized she was looking for Temple, Arizona – a place that didn’t even exist – when the place they were moving was Tempe. She was too embarrassed to tell Deirdre about her mistake, or even what she had learned from her research, which was that Tempe, Arizona was named after the Vale of Tempe in Greece, where in ancient times there was a temple to Apollo. Somehow she knew Deirdre wouldn’t be interested, or at least not interested in hearing this from her.

But she wasn’t there for that. She came to say good-bye to them, and to the baby.

Tonio appeared at the door. He was small and wiry and no match for her Deirdre, who was 5’9” with large, jutting hip bones. “Brooke dozed off before I could feed her,” he said wearily. “At least she stopped crying.”

“Isn’t Deirdre home?” Jackie asked.

“At the gym.” Then he left, too, to gas-up the U-Haul.

Brooke lay on her back in her crib, awake, violet eyes blinking, forehead wrinkled in puzzlement. Jackie wanted to say “I’ll make it up to you,” but knew it was a lie. Your parents are your destiny, not your brain-addled Grandma.

Instead Jackie chanted the one rhyme she could remember by heart: “Pussycat, pussycat where have you been? I’ve been to London to visit the Queen. Pussycat, pussycat, what did you there? I frightened a little mouse under her chair.”

The baby watched her. She kicked her bare feet and moved her small hands like birds, as if she recognized Jackie was her grandmother, as if she knew this was special, like a visitation from an angel.

Little mouse, Jackie crooned, lifting her in her arms.

In the taxi Jackie called to speed her and Brooke to the station, she untied the shoes’ ribbon laces, stroked the soft pink kidskin, and fitted them on.



Nancy Ludmerer‘s fiction and essays have appeared in Kenyon Review, Hospital Drive, Litro, Amsterdam Quarterly, Green Mountains Review, Cimarron Review, and Literal Latte, among other fine journals. Her flash fiction has been published in Vestal Review, North American Review, KYSO Flash, Grain, Night Train, and Blue Monday Review and her flash “First Night” (a prizewinner in River Styx) also appeared in Best Small Fictions 2016. She lives in New York City with her husband Malcolm and their cat Sandy, a brave survivor of Superstorm Sandy.

Interview with Tina Cane

Photo by Michael Salerno

Jude Marr: Tina, I have so much enjoyed reading your new chapbook, Once More With Feeling. You pretty much had me at New York—my favorite place to be in the world—but then I became immersed in a new experience of the city, scenes that feel like gifts from a true New Yorker—detailed, complicated and compelling.

These poems feel rooted in the negotiations of childhood, adulthood, and the time between seem to me to negotiate also the neighborhoods of the city. I am reminded of the architectural construction—and anchoring detail—of New York poet, Frank O’Hara. Can you say something about your relationship with, and your work’s connection to, the city?

Tina Cane: I realized after this collection took shape that New York City exerted a presence in my life like that of a parent. I even allude in one poem to “the streets that raised me up.” This revelation shed light on my connection to the city, which I’ve always felt was molecular. Its streets were my playground and, like any child, I learned through play.

I love Frank O’Hara and it gives me joy to have my work mentioned in the same sentence with his. O’Hara captures a different New York from the one I lived, but he paints it with an exuberance and feeling of possibility that I recognize. He enjoyed a glorious New York whose creativity and caprice made making art seem as natural and reflexive as breathing.


JM: Childhood memories, in particular—images and emotions that are, to quote “Wish List,” the collection’s introductory poem, “intricate and entirely plausible”— feel pinned in time and place by details of cultural ephemera, honestly recalled. Do you have a debate with yourself about the use of pop culture references? And, in light of the intricacy and plausibility of the family dynamics you explore, how do you feel when readers conflate poet and speaker?

TC: Conflating the poet and the speaker is a mistake all readers make, including writers. It stems, I think, from a yearning to connect the voice to some “truth.” It’s a function of mistaking “truth” with fact. Once More with Feeling refers to my biography more directly than a lot of my other work, but it’s life shot through the prism of poetry—which means images refracted and distorted by what the poem requires, freed from fact.

I don’t hesitate to use pop culture references because those details paint a period. I mean, “Roland’s Fried Pork Rinds,” has a lot of information built into it, as does Tosca. I am a big fan of the “high” and “low” meeting up in the same place. As in life.


JM: Speaking of your introductory poem, “Wish List,”—I love that you begin with an aspirational ars poetica that becomes also as an index of achievement. The first wish, “To be the Mary J. Blige of poetry,” suggests a showbiz vibe, as does the collection’s title, Once More With Feeling. What part do you feel performance plays in these poems—and why, specifically, Mary J. Blige?

TC: Hahaha…I am pretty skeptical about showbiz. My dad was an actor for a while and he rarely had a kind word for the impulses behind an actor’s need to perform. That rubbed off on me, in that I can be pretty cynical in that regard—like discussions about getting into character and craft. I mean, I hate it when poets do it, too. In fact, poets can be the worst. And yet, here we are…

Once More With Feeling, as a title, tries to capture a return to the past with a (re)newed capacity to see it and feel it for what it was. It’s a little tongue in cheek, but also meant in all earnestness, if that’s possible.

I’ve always admired Mary J.Blige, even in her cheesy periods. Mary is a survivor. She is fierce and talented and unapologetic. It’s rare for me to revere a pop star—except for David Bowie, who I think is a genius—so the reference is also me poking fun at myself. But Mary, I love her.


JM: You make careful use of space in these poems. Can you speak to your decisions about space and form, and how they inform your work?

TC: I abandoned punctuation a long time ago, because I felt marks injected too much static into the line. I use space as punctuation, pause and breath. I like to write landscape-wise, so that I can spread out my lines and accommodate the need for space. I like to give phrases, images and sounds room to exist as units of meaning on their own—unencumbered. At times, I see small group of words in my poems as micro-poems and space allows me to do that.


JM: You live and work in Rhode Island now. How—if at all—has that move affected your view of New York and/or your writing about NYC? Do you think there’s any sense in which you might be “in recovery” from the city—or what it represents? 

TC: I’ve never thought of myself as “in recovery” from the city, but absolutely. There is a thread of violence and survival in this book that I am able to see more clearly from here. Moving to Rhode Island was tough in the sense that I had to cut the cord from New York. That distance spurred me to see the city differently. New York, however, has changed greatly from the one portrayed in my book. When I miss New York, I miss the New York of being fourteen years old. On a bike.

Funny, I’ve been reading an interview from 1961 between Studs Terkel—whose book, Working, I have been dipping into over the past couple of months—and James Baldwin whom I’ve always revered. Baldwin speaks of a stint he spent in Switzerland and how that rupture of landscape, and the resulting isolation, released him to write of his childhood in Harlem. Obviously, he is addressing a different set of circumstances and a different era, but time and distance always affect perspective. And for writers, it affects our writing. I imagine, he was “in recovery,” too.


Homepage Summer 2017

Brown Days_King of the Marsh
All artwork appears courtesy of the artist Pam Brodersen.

Welcome to our July 2017 issue with the theme of “SPECULATION.” I am uploading this issue from the final week of a month-long road trip through the western United States. It’s been wonderful and exhausting, and right about now I’m really hoping that I’ve done everything necessary for this issue in advance. This marvelous issue contains the work of sixteen talented authors who we are thrilled to be presenting to you, our readers, showcased alongside the outstanding artwork of Pam Brodersen.

This issue exists, thanks in no small part to my devoted editors and readers who make my job easier, and to the contributors who have trusted us to bring their work into the world. Also, thanks for the gorgeous artwork, Pam. You made each essay, story, flash, and poem pop just a little bit more.

Thanks for reading.

Yours in Recovery,

Mary Akers

Contributors Summer 2017

Cazarija Abartis
Cezarija Abartis (Quantum Mom) Nice Girls and Other Stories was published by New Rivers Press. Her stories have appeared in FriGG, The Journal of Compressed Creative Arts, The Lascaux Review, r.kv.r.y, and New York Tyrant, among others. Her flash, “The Writer,” was selected by Dan Chaon for Wigleaf’s Top 50 online Fictions of 2012 and “To Kiss a Bear” was selected for Wigleaf’s Longlist 2016. Recently she completed a novel, a thriller. She teaches at St. Cloud State University. Her website is http://magicmasterminds.com/cezarija/

Digby Beaumont‘s (Mother) stories have appeared or are forthcoming in The Journal of Compressed Creative Arts, KYSO Flash, Literary Orphans, Blue Five Notebook, Bartleby Snopes, Change Seven Magazine, Flash Frontier, Jellyfish Review and 100-Word Story among others. He worked as a nonfiction author for many years, with numerous publications, and lives in Hove, England.

Pam Brodersen (Illustrator) shot Morris the cat. She also shot a tiger named Tony and a Doughboy in mittens atop a Christmas cookie. This all took place in her Chicago studio when she was a freelance photographic illustrator hired by “Mad Men” to promote their clients’ products. In the process, she exposed countless sheets of 8” x 10” Kodak Ektachrome. Today’s technology has morphed her “darkroom” into computer software and a stylus on a pressure-sensitive tablet. This complete control and limitless creative possibility challenges and inspires her to continue to shoot–without the “Mad Men” looking over her shoulder.

Tina Cane, recently appointed Rhode Island's new poet laureate by governor Gina Raimondo. Photo by: Michael Salerno
Tina Cane (Nocturne) is the founder and director of Writers-in-the-Schools, RI and is an instructor with the writing community, Frequency Providence. Her poems and translations have appeared in numerous publications, including The Literary Review, Two Serious Ladies, Tupelo Quarterly Jubliat and The Common. She is the author of The Fifth Thought (Other Painters Press, 2008), Dear Elena: Letters for Elena Ferrante, poems with art by Esther Solondz (Skillman Avenue Press, 2016) and Once More With Feeling (Veliz Books, 2017). In 2016, Tina received the Fellowship Merit Award in Poetry from the Rhode Island State Council on the Arts. She currently serves as the Poet Laureate of Rhode Island, where she lives with her husband and their three children. Photo credit: Michael Salerno

Ree Davis (cropped)
Ree Davis (An Opening) has worked as a cook, dishwasher, seamstress, farmworker, typist, and baker. She’s traveled across the Americas, Europe, and Asia. Graduating from Cornell University, she headed R&D for a Fortune 500 Company and gained masters degrees in architecture and creative writing. Ree lived on both US coasts, in Japan and China. Her work has won two Pushcart Nominations and appeared in Narrative Magazine, Daedalus: The Journal of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, Limestone, and Penmen Review, among others. Her story “A Limitless Sky” was adapted to a radioplay by Delmarva Public Radio. She lives in southwest Virginia.

Rebekah Keaton
Rebekah Keaton (It Hangs a Delicate Chain) has had poems appear in various online and print journals, including recently in The Dying Dahlia, PoemMemoirStory, The Healing Muse, Rust+Moth and Common Ground Review.

Kathryn Kulpa (cropped)
Kathryn Kulpa (Shelby County Courthouse) is the author of Girls on Film, a winner of the Vella Chapbook Contest, published by Paper Nautilus. Her stories have appeared in Thrice Fiction, Reservoir, Monkeybicycle, and other journals. She leads writing workshops for teens and adults in Rhode Island and will be a visiting writer at Wheaton College in fall 2017.

MH Lee (cropped)
M.H. Lee (Brown Days) has been published in The Quotable, Green Eggs and Hamlet, Forge Journal, and RearView Mirror. She graduated with an MA in theatre from Texas A&M University-Commerce and a BA in journalism and theatre from Southeastern Oklahoma State University. She has studied with Billie Letts and Stoney Hardcastle. Having lived in several states growing up, she is now working as a foster care recruiter for DHS in Oklahoma.

Joe Mills
Joe Mills
(Teeth) is a faculty member at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts and holds an endowed chair, the Susan Burress Wall Distinguished Professorship in the Humanities. He has published six collections of poetry with Press 53, most recently Exit, pursued by a bear which consists of poems triggered by stage directions in Shakespeare. He edited the collection of film criticism A Century of the Marx Brothers. With his wife, Danielle Tarmey, he researched and wrote two editions of A Guide to North Carolina’s Wineries, and his essay “On Hearing My Daughter Trying to Sing Dixie” won this year’s Rose Post Creative Nonfiction Competition. More information about his work is available at www.josephrobertmills.com.

Barbara Presnell
Barbara Presnell (When Words Spill Like Rain) is an essayist and poet who lives in North Carolina. Her latest poetry book, Blue Star, traces her family’s involvement in war from the Civil War to the present through military records, census reports, letters, journals, and photographs. Her book, Piece Work, won the Cleveland State University Poetry Center’s First Book Prize. She has published work in Cumberland River Review, The Southern Review, Malahat Review, Appalachian Journal, Chariton Review, and other journals and anthologies. She has received grant and residency support from the North Carolina Arts Council, the Kentucky Arts Council, Soapstone, Inc., and Willapa Bay AiR.

Meaghan Quinn
Meaghan Quinn (I Met Him at an Anonymous Meeting) is an Assistant Poetry Editor for The Tishman Review. She holds an MFA from the Writing Seminars at Bennington College. She was nominated for Best New Poets 2015 and a 2015 Pushcart Prize and was a recipient of the Nancy Penn Holsenbeck Prize. Her poems are forthcoming or have been published in Heartwood, 2River, Adrienne, Triggerfish, Free State Review, and other journals.

Ron Riekki (The One-Time Return of Night Terrors) wrote U.P.: a novel (Sewanee Writers Series and Great Michigan Read nominated) and edited The Way North: Collected Upper Peninsula New Works (2014 Michigan Notable Book from the Library of Michigan and finalist for the Eric Hoffer Book Award/Grand Prize shortlist, Midwest Book Award, Foreword Book of the Year, and Next Generation Indie Book Award), Here: Women Writing on Michigan’s Upper Peninsula (2016 IPPY/Independent Publisher Book Award Gold Medal Great Lakes—Best Regional Fiction and Next Generation Indie Book Award—Short Story finalist), and And Here: 100 Years of Upper Peninsula Writing, 1917-2017 (Michigan State University Press, 2017).

Carroll Sandel photo
Carroll Sandel (The Memory Keeper and the Myth Maker) After a career in social work, Carroll Sandel took her first class at Grub St. Writing Center and felt as though she had leapt off a cliff. That exhilarating, terrifying feeling re-emerges each time she sits at the computer to write again. Her work has appeared in Hippocampus Magazine, Pangyrus, The Drum, Grub Daily and she was a 2014 finalist for the Dorothy Cappon non-fiction prize in New Letters. She has recently completed a memoir, Lying Eyes, which explores her untrustworthy memories and how certainty about our memories can betray us.

Ryan Stembridge (cropped)
Ryan Stembridge (The Void) recently graduated with an MFA in fiction from the University of Memphis. He enjoys magical realism and exploring experimental formats, as well as more traditional styles. Ryan’s poetry recently appeared in the Merrimack Review’s spring issue and he worked as an editor with The Pinch Journal for three years. Outside of writing, Ryan is a proud new father and sometimes sleeps.

Foster Trecot
Foster Trecost (Cactus) writes stories that are mostly made up. They tend to follow his attention span: sometimes short, and sometimes very short. He lives in New Orleans.

Ekweremadu Uchenna (cropped)
Ekweremadu Uchenna-Franklin (Requiem XIV) writes from Kaduna, Nigeria. He was Longlisted for the Erbacce Prize For Poetry 2015; he was the First Runner-up for PEN Nigeria/Saraba Magazine Poetry Prize 2011, and made it to the Book of Winners, Castello di Duino International Poetry Competition 2010. His works have appeared in Coe Review, The Write Room, Saraba Magazine, Wilderness House Literary, A&U American AIDS Magazine, Kalahari Review and elsewhere.

Hannah Whiteoak
Hannah Whiteoak (The Elephant in the Garden) is a freelance writer from the United Kingdom. Her poetry has been published in Ember Journal. She is the winner of a Reedsy Weekly Short Story Contest and was shortlisted for the OWT Short Fiction Contest in 2017.

Interview with Karin Aurino

Karin Aurino cropped

Cathleen Young: Model. Teacher. Business owner. Hollywood producer. How did all this lead you to writing?

Karin Aurino: I began writing as early as elementary school. I would hide under our staircase at home in Amherst, NY and spy on my two sisters. I wrote stories about them, often portraying them as evil villains, though their only offense was the role of ‘older sister.’ My mother encouraged my sisters and me to keep a diary then, and I have been journaling ever since. I have also sporadically written short stories and song lyrics over the years, most of which, fortunately, I did not keep.

Before working in the talent department at ICM, I began writing screenplay coverage for Brillstein/Grey. I was told my coverage was much too long, but the exercise was so rewarding, that I felt there must be a place for me in the entertainment industry. As a television producer, I did a good deal of writing, whether I was developing someone else’s material or creating my own original work. I found the writing process gratifying, whether I was able to sell the project or not.


CY: What came after producing in terms of the type of writing you are working on now?

KA: By my early 30’s, my husband and I agreed that I would take a break from working so that I could focus on raising our two children. That has been one of the best decisions of my life. Yet, even as a full-time mom changing diapers, breast feeding, taking my kids on park runs and play dates, and volunteering an outrageously excessive amount at their schools, I never stopped writing. I have always found the process therapeutic.

As my children grew, I wrote bad poetry, short fiction and essays, as well as two screenplays. These things I kept to myself. After I blinked twice, my kids were suddenly in upper elementary school and middle school. In 8th grade, my oldest began to exert her independence, which sent me into early panic mode—my children would one day leave me. I had to do something! I began to write a novel. I used one of the screenplays as my outline, and today I am working on the final draft before the submission process begins.

Magic Cure

CY: You’re a mother of two children. Do you ever worry about being “too honest?”

KA: I do, which is why I suppose I focus on fiction for publication. My personal essays tend to be heavy hearted, and I have shared some of them only with my writing group. I recently began submitting short stories, including “The Magic Cure,” and I feel this need for them to convey a positive message. This is important to me because I have children—and a husband, a mother, a father, five sisters, friends… I want them to feel uplifted in some way. I believe my children have made me a more empathetic and responsible writer.


CY: How does “The Magic Cure” tie into a positive message for your children, and everyone else?

KA:The Magic Cure” is about a high school girl with abandonment issues. She makes bad choices when no one seems to be watching. Her parents started out as strong, attentive role models, but that fell by the wayside, as sometimes happens when teenagers become more independent. Some parents don’t think their kids need them as much anymore. Yet the truth is, teenagers need their parents more than ever, and I wanted this good family to learn this lesson and reconnect in the end.

What I hope my children will take away from “The Magic Cure,” is that even though parents make mistakes, and their children may make bad choices as a result, that is not the end of the story. Life is trial and error, and if you take the time to open your heart to those who love you, in this case the whole family, the rewards are immense. Happily ever after will still require maintenance and care, as it does in this story, but it is best acquired with the love and support of one’s family.


CY: You’re a member of the WOOLF PACK – a group of 75 Hollywood writers. The group was inspired by Virginia Woolf’s book, A Room of One’s Own. What challenges do you feel women writers have to deal with in particular?

KA: According to VIDA, Women in Literary Arts, in their 2015 VIDA Count, women are still underrepresented in many publications. The question is, why? There are many reasons, but believe it or not, in some cases we have ourselves to blame. I have read that women are less published in journals than men because we tend to give up more easily. I’ve discussed this with many of my female writing friends and they agree. After a few rejections, we actually believe our work may not be good enough. What a fallacy as well as a tragedy!

Instead of giving up, I suggest women turn to their writing communities for support. If you don’t have one yet, start with friends, public library groups, or websites such as Poets and Writers, Writers-Network, Book-In-A-Week, or Writers Café, among many others. In my case that would include my intimate writing group of four accomplished women, my writing residency friends, my non-writer friends and family, Women Who Submit-LA Chapter, or the Woolf Pack, which consists of humble writing, directing and/or producing superstars, whose advice and support often astounds me in the most valuable manner. Ask your writing community honestly how your work can be elevated. Then do the work. Then submit again, and again, and again. Keep writing and enjoy the process. And most importantly, keep reading, because so many of our successes often come from the inspiration of others.



Cathleen Young is the Executive Director of HUMANITAS. In her 20-year television writing career, she wrote 13 two-hour network movies for ABC, NBC, CBS and Lifetime. Young won the HUMANITAS Prize and a Christopher Award in 1995 for her ABC Hallmark Hall of Fame Presentation A Place for Annie, which was a WGA Award finalist and nominated for an Emmy. Recently, Young secured a deal with Wendy Lamb Books for her middle grade novel, The Pumpkin War. Publication is scheduled for 2018. Young lives in Santa Monica, California with her husband, Patrick DeCarolis, and their twin daughters, Gemma and Shaelee.




Interview with Ron Tanner

Ron Tanner

Mary Akers: Hi, Ron. Thank you so much for agreeing to talk with me today. I loved your short story BOOM! for so many reasons, especially the point of view, which is that of a Marshallese young man with big dreams and hopes for how (he believes) love intersects with those dreams. I was a big fan of Jeton in both this story and in your wonderful novel MISSILE PARADISE which it was my great pleasure to read. Jeton plays a big role in the novel and gets into trouble a lot, but you do such a fine job of taking us through his thought processes that we really root for him to succeed. Would you like to say anything about your relationship (as creator) to Jeton?

Ron Tanner: Thank you, Mary. I have great affection and sympathy for Jeton. As I have worked with Marshallese teenagers, I knew something about the world he inhabits. To make him a viable character, he had to have agency—an agenda, a dream, a stubborn streak to follow. He couldn’t simply be a victim. To curry the reader’s sympathy, Jeton had to make mistakes as he followed his agenda. I knew he’d get into trouble but I wasn’t sure how bad it would get for him.
MA: I also loved your rotating points of view. I’m a big fan of that style of writing I guess because I feel like all of my life I’ve been aware of the fact that each story has many versions. Or, perhaps better said, each principal character in a story has his own convoluted take on that story. Cooper is a great character. I feel like I’ve seen people like him so many times in my life–the expat who leaves his country looking for excitement and challenges and runs smack into a brick wall–or a wall of water. There’s a really wonderful passage on page 265 that I keep returning to because it speaks so well to the American dream as it collides with the American experience.

“Cooper thinks of peasant factory workers in China punching out golf balls, five thousand a day. What is that work compared to his own? Is his work–despite its many acronyms–any more useful? He suspects that it is not. In fact, it may be less than useful, like selling parachutes to people in high rise buildings in the expectation of another 9/11. Do you really think that, when and if they hit your building, you’re going to have time to dig out your chute, strap it on, brace yourself at the window (assuming your window opens) and then bail yourself into the city traffic fifty stories below?

“There will always be crazies, there will always be bombs. Everybody knows that much. What nobody knows is how to live with this uncertainty. The work at USAKA must make some people feel more certain, especially at the Pentagon, he imagines. Never mind that the fruits of this labor have been decades in coming. In the meantime, year after year, the engineers, technicians, and programmers like himself burn billions of America’s dollars on their computer screens and in their finely drawn schemata. In many ways, it’s no more or less than alchemy, Cooper decides, everybody looking for the formula to make gold.”

That passage is so great. Tell me something about how you came to understand and write Cooper’s point of view.

RT: Thanks. Cooper is young enough to be a big-time dreamer—the world hasn’t beaten him down (yet). But he’s beginning to see that all isn’t as free and easy as it once seemed. Specifically, the American presumption of superiority unsettles him. Now, he finds himself doing work that, despite the hype, seems to be useless. It’s making his head spin. This is what happens to many, if not most of us, as we mature. Or so it seems to me: Growing older is mostly about managing disappointment. Cooper is just beginning that journey in earnest.


MA: I really love Art, too. His cranky take on Americans especially speaks to me. He tells Cooper,

“Americans are just bauble-dazed peasants. They’re doing what anybody would do after stumbling into Ali Baba’s cave. Forty years ago, before I left for the Corps, the most popular show in the States was ‘The Beverly Hillbillies.’ That’s us. We’re eating supper around the pool table thinking it’s a fancy dining room. And we’re hemorrhaging money to live like that. It’s tragically hilarious.”


Tell me something about who Art is to you.

RT: Art is based on a Peace Corps washout I met in the 1990s when I visited Kwajalein. He still had hopes, still wanted to fight the good fight but knew, too, that his day was pretty much done. He’s the conscience of the novel and my favorite character.

Missile Paradise by [Tanner, Ron]

MA: I love the cover of your book–could you describe the process of designing it?

RT: My publisher came up with two designs. This one hit the mark dead-on. I had nothing to do with it but was grateful that had found a talented designer. The cover conveys a jaunty, almost comic spirit, which suits the book.


MA: It definitely does! Can we talk a little bit about self-publishing? I’m really fascinated by the process and I’ve been considering going that route, after two consecutive novels failed to ignite the minds of any editors. What are some of your favorite and least favorite aspects of taking control of the end product in this way?

RT: The great thing about self-publishing is that it gives voice to writers who have been silenced or shut out of mainstream publishing. The bad thing about self-publishiing is that it encourages everyone to publish when many of these writers aren’t ready to publish. I worked recently with a college sophomore who proudly told me he had self-published three novels. I advised him to proceed with caution—to slow down and give his writing more time to test itself.

In this student’s case, rushing to publication very likely undermined the advantages that drafting and editing would yield over time. For example, ten years from now, he may discover that he didn’t quite get that first novel right: it was a great idea but poorly executed. But he can’t re-publish the same book. Worse, no publisher in the business will be interested in anything that has already been in print (there have been a few, rare exceptions).

The first version of Missile Paradise—over ten years ago—got me a big New York agent who was convinced the book would sell big. She shopped it to the major houses but no publisher would take it because none of them knew how to market it—the novel didn’t fit the categories they thought would sell. So the agent dropped the book  and me too. I was devastated. After re-drafting the book for years, I considered self-publishing it because I was convinced Missile Paradise was a good book. (By the way, the American Library Association named it one of the “notable” books of 2016.) Fortunately, I found a small-press publisher that was enthusiastic about the book.

I say “fortunately” because self-publishing is not easy. Not only is it expensive (though you can save upfront costs by doing print-on-demand), but it can also be exhausting: it’s hard enough to promote a book published by a small press. It’s ten times harder to promote a book all on your own. Studies have shown that self-publishing works best when the writer already has a following he/she can draw on. Self-publishing from a cold start—with no readership behind you—can be most daunting.


MA: Agreed. Can you tell me a little bit about how your interests in the Marshall Islands came about? And about the organization you founded to help tell the stories of the Marshallese?

RT: As a teenager, I lived on Kwajalein, the missile base I write about in Missile Paradise. It changed my life: Living among the Marshallese made me aware of the wider world, the privilege of Americans, and the profound differences rooted in social and cultural diversity. At bottom, my time in the Marshall Islands made me politically aware. When I returned to the states, I got politically active and motivated to bring about social change.

I returned to the Marshall Islands in 1993 to teach. Then, in 2008, I applied for and won a grant from the National Park Service to pilot an educational program that would teach Marshallese college students how to write better English and learn other real-world skills by 1) doing field work to collect tales from their elders (to preserve their oral culture), 2) translates these tales into English, and 3) make a website to broadcast these tales to the world. The program was a great success and can be found at www.mistories.org


MA: I feel like we have a somewhat similar approach to writing and life. I’ve traveled, lived in many places, been a potter, a military wife, a writer, co-founder of a marine ecology school, co-author of a book, I like to build and renovate, I like to re-envision spaces, I like to learn new things. I feel like you have a lot of parallel sorts experiences and interests in your life–making things and learning and taking on challenges. It definitely keeps life interesting, but sometimes I wonder if this breadth of experience has made the depth of my work suffer. Do you ever feel this way? If so, is it a source of comfort or discomfort? (Maybe like me it depends on the day.) If/when you feel this way, what do you tell yourself to make it feel right?

RT: Let me congratulate you on the breadth of your interests: you are living large. That said, I do admire those people who have singular passions that take them deeply into their one interest. But that’s not who I am (or who you are either, apparently). In order to be true to myself, I pursue many interests—that’s what makes me happy. But it has its costs.I am often stretched too thinly. Had I not done so many things, I might have written more books, for example. Currently, I am restoring an historic farm: it takes up almost all of my free time. Should I be writing instead? Yes and no. I am the writer I am, for better or worse, due to my varied interests. Much of my writing occurs when I’m not writing.

Which brings me to this: one of the big myths of writing is that you’re supposed to do it every day  . . .  and all the time. Not true. We are often writing—working through the problems of a story or an idea—when we’re not in front of the screen (or pad of paper). Obviously, you have to have discipline to write: that is, at some point, you have to sit down and make it happen. But that doesn’t mean you should feel guilty if the act of writing does not dominate your days.


MA: I like that answer. And finally, because we are a recovery themed journal, what does “recovery” mean to you?

RT: I think most of us are familiar with the process of recovery. In great part, it’s about getting back the best of yourself. Each of us strays at one time or another, in one way or another. The hallmark of maturity is that we realize this—and it humbles us. Which is to say: I don’t presume half the things I presumed when I was younger. That’s a good thing.

Announcing our July Illustrator: Pam Brodersen!

Brown Days_King of the MarshWe are thrilled to announce that Pam Brodersen has graciously agreed to allow us to use her beautiful photographic images to illustrate our July issue.

Birds on a Line (Requiem)




Pam worked for years as a freelance photographic illustrator in her Chicago studio creating images for national print campaigns. These days, she uses digital tools to capture the world around her and creatively alter the images to express their deeper beauty and resonance.

Sanibel Surf (Words Like Rain)

We are so fortunate to have her donate her time and talents to illustrating this issue. Thank you, Pam!




“The Elephant in the Garden” by Hannah Whiteoak

Elephant in the Garden_Paradise
“Paradise” Image by Pam Brodersen

My world is small. That’s what Ian says. My world consists of our bed, the kitchenette with the hot plate, microwave, toaster and kettle, and the view from the window. He says it’s small enough to drive a person crazy.

Some days, my world is so grotesquely huge it overwhelms me and I have to get under the duvet to shrink it to a manageable size. Faced with too much stimulation — the traffic outside, the sudden shadows of birds on the window — I pull the covers over my head and lay there in the warm dark, listening to my loyal heart beat out a lullaby. That’s where I was the day I found out about the elephant.

“I’m home!” Ian announced as he came into the room and stomped over to the window. “Oh.”

“What’s wrong?” I threw off the duvet to find him frowning and squinting out of the window.

“You can’t see it from here.”

“See what? What’s happening?”

He stroked my hair, tucking the duvet back around my chin. “Don’t panic; nothing’s wrong. But there are elephants all over the city. Not real elephants, sculptures for some kind of art project. They’re big and bright and beautiful. I wish you could see them.”

He always wishes I could see the things he does, the things out there. “I’ll look online,” I said.

“It’s not the same.” He frowned and walked away to begin preparing dinner. I got up and followed him. While he cut carrots into careful slices, I rinsed lettuce, turning each leaf over in the stream of water.

Twice he inhaled as though about to say something. Finally, he spoke. “There’s one of those elephants in the botanical garden, just across the street. Why don’t we go and look? It’ll take 10 minutes at the most, and I’ll be right there.”

I arranged the lettuce leaves and set eight cherry tomatoes and eight olives on top. “I don’t go out there.”

He sighed and pushed the vegetables into the pan. Over dinner, we talked about his work, stories in the news, recipes we wanted to try. Anything but the elephant.


Now I knew it was there, the elephant trampled through my dreams, trumpeting so loudly I’d wake up, sweating, with a nagging feeling of self-doubt that wouldn’t let me go back to sleep. Instead of its usual steady beat, my heart buzzed and jumped, like a broken alarm sounding for no reason.

After the sixth night of broken sleep, I was ready to do anything to get some rest. “Fine,” I said, pushing away my cereal bowl. “I’ll go see the elephant.”

Ian looked up from the newspaper. “You don’t have to.”

“I do. I’ll go crazy if I don’t. We’ll go tonight, when you get home from work.”

All day I felt sick. Worried about throwing up on the way to the elephant, I didn’t eat anything. As my stomach growled, a dizzying dread skipped from worry to worry so fast I couldn’t keep up.

I met Ian at the door when he arrived home. Confined inside shoes, my toes cramped.

“Are you ready?”

“I think so.”

At the top of the stairs, I stood tense and dumb for over a minute before I could force myself to take the first step down into the world. Instinct screamed that this wasn’t safe, that I needed to get back inside, right now. Ian’s patient stare from the bottom of the staircase cranked up the tension even further, until, finally, something broke. Eyes closed, I ran down the stairs, hand sliding along the rail, ready to grab if I tripped.

Outside, the cars were hostile and angry. One wrong step and they’d mow you down. After six tight, controlled breaths, the lights changed and we hurried in front of an arrogant Mercedes, the engine grumbling and the driver’s stare heavy on my back.

Speeding up, I made it through the gates and into the garden before the lights released the traffic. In this quieter place, I noticed my shoulders up around my ears and forced them down. My fists unclenched.

The garden was as I remembered. Wisteria tumbling from trellises, rose bushes firmly rooted. Squirrels bouncing across the grass like skimmed stones. Benches where we used to cuddle, before my world shrank. And then there was the elephant.

Painted in garish colours, the elephant stood square and proud on its four squat legs. Taller than me, its bulk blocked out my field of vision as I approached to touch it. The fiberglass surface was smooth and cool against my cheek.

Sealing my ear to the elephant’s side muffled the roar from the road. In its place was a gentle throb, like the sea inside a shell. With the eye furthest from the elephant squeezed shut, the patterns painted on its flank stretched out in a distorted landscape that curved around the front leg and plunged into a valley behind the ear.

Ian put his hand on my shoulder. “Do you like it?”

I thought for a long time. “It’s just an elephant.”

“Oh. I thought you’d like it.”

Laughter spilled out of me. “Just an elephant. Just a garden. A tiny corner of a garden.”

When I turned to look at him, he was smiling. A real, hopeful smile, like I hadn’t seen in years.


The next day, I pulled the duvet over my head and didn’t respond when Ian left for work.

All day, I thought about how small everything was. Me, the flat, the public garden across the street. Even the elephant seemed small and unimportant. What was the point of expanding my world if it just made everything seem smaller?

“Have you been there all day?” Ian asked when he came home. He peeled the duvet from me as though unwrapping the cling film from a crumbly slice of cake.

“Come on,” he said. “Let’s go and see the elephant again.”

This time, crossing the street wasn’t so bad. The cars still roared, but at least I could visualise coming back, slipping between them and into the safety of home.

The elephant was still standing quietly in the garden. We walked around it, admiring the interweaving swirls of pink and blue and yellow, but soon got cold and hungry. We took a photograph, pinning down the elephant like a butterfly on a board, and went home.


My world is small. My world consists of our flat, the botanical garden, two hundred paces along the road in either direction and the book shop at the end of the road. I don’t go inside, but I look through the window at the titles and ask Ian to get them for me. He says I’m making progress. He talks about going to see some of the other elephants, before the art project ends and they disappear from the city for good. “You have to see them while you can,” he says.

I’m not so sure. Maybe he’s right, and my world is small enough to drive a person crazy. But I’m afraid the more elephants I see, the smaller it will seem.



Hannah Whiteoak is a freelance writer from the United Kingdom. Her poetry has been published in Ember Journal. She is the winner of a Reedsy Weekly Short Story Contest and was shortlisted for the OWT Short Fiction Contest in 2017.


“The Void” by Ryan Stembridge

“Evening Light” Image (detail) by Pam Brodersen

A few months ago, a hole appeared in my bedroom. For the first few days, I mistook it for a balled black sock as I dressed for work in the grey mornings. I didn’t have to wake up that early, but I liked to. An early run does wonders when you’re stuck in an office all day.

On laundry day, I reached with my toes to grab the stray sock and instead a cool whisper of air tickled the hairs of my big toe knuckle. I pulled my foot back with a shiver and looked closer. It was smaller than a baseball and too deep a black for fabric—a drop of pure night sky pooled upon my floor.

There’d been no breeze, I assured myself, and holes didn’t appear for no reason. On all fours, I looked into the hole. It seemed deep, possibly bottomless. The edge showed a cross-section of floorboards, as if cut and carefully sanded. Under them was . . . nothing. Nothing, where there should have been floor space and support beams. Or at least my downstairs neighbors. I reached out, slowly.

This breeze felt colder than it should. Memories floated up: as a boy, cracking open the freezer on hot nights, standing on my toes, pushing my neck toward the chilled air—cool, dark, and lonely. I pictured my floor floating over nothing—in a great vacuum. I stopped. I’m not afraid of heights, but something about that picture—the vast emptiness, and me floating somewhere in it, left me nauseated.

I made a deal: if the hole was still there when I opened my eyes, I would stop calling myself crazy.

It was still there. I wasn’t crazy. Is that something you could decide? Like not letting the rain bother you by deliberately walking slowly?

The air felt even colder as I reached my arm into the hole. Once my arm was fully extended, my fingers danced for contact. I tried to stretch the space between my joints. I felt nothing but pressure, like I’d reached into a deep sea.

Well, maybe I wasn’t crazy, but that damn hole sure was. I debated calling the super, but I couldn’t guess what he’d think. Something deep within rose up at the thought. I couldn’t tell him. He’d blame me, say I was vandalizing the place. So, I did what I do. I ignored it.


A few days later, I stepped into it. A feeling of weightlessness ran up my spine, expectations upended. In that moment—during the inch and a half drop—I questioned. Would I keep falling? Had the floor had caved in? Had there ever even been a floor? These doubts, although faint, sprang up in the back of my mind as if I’d always been ready to question the basic laws of physics and that brief moment gave me a reason. And then my heel stoppered the hole. Painfully. The sharp edge scraped back skin. The distraction of pain dispelled the worries for a time.

But later, as I tried to sleep, doubts poked me awake. Then I dreamed of drifting through space on a tiny raft of floorboards—no air but somehow still alive. It became recurring. I’d have nowhere to go and nothing to do but count the stars and watch the occasional comet pass. Sometimes, it wasn’t so bad. But then I’d wake, gasping for air, as if the vacuum had finally closed in.

I tried to get back to my life. I woke early and ran. I ate and worked and drank and slept. More routine than I anticipated when I moved from Flyspeck, Ohio to Chicago. I had a few friends, at least—was part of a semi-regular crowd at the bar. The occasional date went well. Or they used to. Since the hole appeared, I’d been hesitant to invite anyone over.


I noticed a whistling sound a few weeks later. I blamed ringing ears, faulty electrical wires, static hums from the TV. I even pictured some far-off jackass playing with a dog whistle that I could barely hear. But I knew what it was. It sounded hollow. I ignored it. I tried to. The hole grew, and with it, the wind.


A few days later, I almost dropped a whole leg in. I’d gotten comfortable with my habit of stepping wide as I entered my closet, gaze aimed carefully away. But this time I reeled forward, pushing hard off the sharp edge and falling into my closet, landing painfully on one knee. My other foot dangled in the hole behind me; air rushed around my ankle. No longer the whisper I’d felt before, now a steady flow of crisp, dry air, as if it swirled over morning snow. I looked closely for the first time in weeks.

A watermelon could have rolled in with room to spare. I pulled my foot away and spun around to face it. With the hole so large, more light should have revealed its depths, but inside was the same deep blackness in every direction. Vastness. I stood and dressed as if nothing had changed, but was careful to jump over it on my way out.


A week later, I had the usual crew over for poker night. I was only close with Mark and Iris, but we needed more for poker and my place had the largest living room. I usually left my bedroom door open as a low-key invitation for Mallory, but that night I shut it and wished it had a lock.

The hole had grown so large it filled the closet doorway. I put a cardboard box over it. I tried to forget about it—easier said than done. Twice that week I’d found myself staring at it without realizing. But this was poker night—no room for the void.

The game was going fine. Seb had the lead, as usual, but I had a good start. Mark flamed out early, but was enjoying spicy wings in the kitchen. I was nursing my third beer and trying to stay calm. I had pocket kings. The flop came out with another. I was riding pretty. Iris and Blair stayed in, bets came out, and the pot grew. One of the biggest of the night. Everyone watched.

“What’s that howling sound?” Mark asked. “Is it storming?”

A cold fist gripped the base of my spine. I kept my eyes on the table. No big deal. I couldn’t relax my shoulders.

Iris raised an eyebrow. She’d had her hand on a large stack of chips, probably to call my bet. Instead, she sighed. “I fold. Nice try looking scared, but you exaggerated it.”

Seb made an oof at the hand—he wasn’t one to be distracted—but now Mallory and Mark both were looking out the window and cocking their heads. Yellow street lamps illuminated still trees and grey, week-old snow. No storm.

“Is there a window cracked?” asked Mallory.

My stomach churned. “Oh, yeah, in the bathroom,” I said, hoping poker had helped my bluff. “The heater’s in there, so it gets crazy hot.” I felt trapped in my clothes, hotter by the second.

No one got up to look. A few hands later, Mark went to the bathroom.

“Does that window even open?” he asked as he reemerged and stood by my bedroom door. “It’s louder over here.”

What if they saw? What if they fucking saw? They’d want to know: what it was, where it came from, how it happened. How could I explain? Maybe they’d laugh it off as an oddity. Tell me to fix it already. I told myself it wasn’t a big deal, that it would be easier to show it than describe it. But I couldn’t. Deep down, I knew I couldn’t.

“I think it’s coming from in here.” Mark tapped on my bedroom door.

Panicked, I said, “Oh shit, you know what, I forgot I left my humidifier on.” My mom had one. It always made weird noise.

“You use a humidifier?” Iris asked.

“Yeah. So what?”

They were looking at me. My neck felt wrapped by a thick, scratchy scarf.

Mark reached for the doorknob.

“Christ, Mark, leave it the fuck alone,” I said.

Seb and Blair exchanged looks that said, spaz. Assholes.

Mallory looked concerned, a little annoyed. Fickle.

Jayesh hid in the kitchen, avoiding the tension. Coward.

Iris looked offended.

Mark raised an eyebrow, still listening at the door.

“Poker,” I said, in a more relaxed tone. I could still be chill. “Let’s play, man.”

Mark listened for a few more seconds. He said, “It sounds weird,” but walked back to the table and sat.

My game fell apart after that. Seb won. But they left and I could breathe again.

I approached my bedroom door and cracked it open. The howling had grown. It was a wonder they hadn’t all heard and stormed in.

The cardboard was gone. The void must have swallowed it. A quarter of the room was missing—baseboards hung over empty air on both sides. Wind pulled at my clothes as if it might pull hard enough to unbalance me mid-stride.

I sat on my bed and stared into the void. I pulled the blankets close around me and shivered as I stared.

My alarm went off, startling me. I’d fallen asleep slumped against the wall. My neck didn’t want to straighten. I hit snooze, but didn’t. Instead, I sat on the edge of the bed and stared. I could run tomorrow. Something drew me into that void. It was cold, dark, and lonely. Captivating. I was late to work that day. Only by a minute.

I tried to get back into my routine, but failed. My morning runs, most of my sleep, my bar nights, they all fell away. The howling wind became a blizzard and loose objects started disappearing. I’d find myself awake, lying on the edge of the bed, staring toward the hole while the wind pulled at my blankets. I had to sleep with them curled underneath me to hold them. I could still see the void in the dim glow from my alarm clock—a darker shadow than the rest.

I started stumbling into work, late and red-eyed. I had a meeting with my project manager last week about coming to work hung over. She wouldn’t believe I wasn’t.

I saw Mark and Iris a few more times, but I avoided the group. Mark kept asking me what was wrong with me. Iris kept saying I looked stressed and patting my arm. We were supposed to play poker again yesterday, but I cancelled. Iris has been texting me a storm since. Mark sent a few angry texts, but gave up.

My phone vibrates in my hand. It’s Iris again. She sounds worried. I should say something. Tomorrow. I’ll text her tomorrow.

I look back into the void. It’s truly massive now. My bed’s the only thing left in the room save for my desk and chair, out of reach, in the other corner. I’ve been here all day, sitting on the edge of my bed. My feet hang off the side, chilled to the bone in the howling wind. My heels rest on what’s left of the hardwood floor. There’s only three or so inches left sticking out from under my bed, barely enough for me to stand.

It’s been growing. Soon, the entire floor will be gone. Will my bed slide in and fall away? Or will it be like the walls by my closet, floating on nothing like a raft on a sea of emptiness? I balance on the lip, calves against my bed. The wind tears the blanket from my grip and swirls it around the room until it catches my desk chair and pulls them both into the void. They fall away, further and further until the black envelops them. I raise my arms to feel the wind. It’s almost strong enough to lift me.



Ryan Stembridge recently graduated with an MFA in fiction from the University of Memphis. He enjoys magical realism and exploring experimental formats, as well as more traditional styles. Ryan’s poetry recently appeared in the Merrimack Review’s spring issue and he worked as an editor with The Pinch Journal for three years. Outside of writing, Ryan is a proud new father and sometimes sleeps.