Interview with Matt Thompson

Matt Thompson

Matt Thompson is interviewed here by me, Briana Morgan. First, I should paint a picture for you: Matt is tall, funny, and fairly quiet until you get to know him—to look at him, you wouldn’t know that he had just written a novel and has been going through the publication process. In spite of having graduated from GCSU last year, Matt remains a prominent fixture in Milledgeville, where he spends his time reading, writing, and basically just becoming more awesome. I recently sat down to interview Matt just ahead of the release of his ebook (at the date of this publication, the book will have already come out). He had a lot to say.

Briana Morgan: How did you get into writing?

Matt Thompson: I have a very typical and less than exciting story about how I got into writing. I started college as a history major, but my 1101/1102 class convinced me that English is what I was supposed to study. My intro to creative writing class did the rest.


How would you describe your writing style?

I wouldn’t, but given no other choice I’d say my writing is to the point.


Which authors or works do you think have influenced your writing the most?

This is a fun question. Anyone who knows me could tell you that I read a lot, even for a person who studies writing/literature, so this is difficult. It’s impossible not to mention Hemingway, because I read him a great deal when I was younger and I think some of my techniques are definitely influenced by him, but his influence stops there, at the technical level. I wish I could write like Philip Roth—the way he weaves past and present is something I try (and hopefully at least partially succeed) to emulate. As far as subject matter goes I think Jonathan Franzen has had the biggest effect, especially on my newer work. While writing Oleanders In Alaska I actually read Freedom twice. It’s amazing to me how he’s picked up the family drama torch from his Russian predecessors and he’s even made me pick up old Russian classics that I’ve avoided in the past. So I like to write about families and relationships. Wow that was wordy, sorry.


What are you reading at the moment?

At the moment I’m reading Travels In Alaska by John Muir.


What do you think about e-books?

This is a question that I was hoping you’d ask. I’ve learned that there’s a stigma. There is a perception that there is no one out there writing serious fiction for e-books, that e-publishing is only an outlet for those who want to write their own vampire or s&m story. I’d like to change that perception. Just because a book is published as an e-book doesn’t mean that it’s glorified fan fiction. There’s good stuff out there, lots of it, and we’d like you to read us too. That isn’t to say I’m one of those people who thinks traditional publishing is dead and we should all ignore it. On the contrary, I have a few short stories that have been published…on actual paper! So I’m not necessarily against traditional avenues. Nothing as complex as this can ever be absolutely black and white. There are positives to both. Was that self promotion subtle enough?


What have you learned about the publishing industry?



What’s the best advice you can give aspiring writers?

Just write. I write every day and a lot of it sucks. Some of it ends up being pretty good. The thing is, I rarely know when I’m in the process of writing. It takes some time to know if something is any good. So write every day.

Archive – spring 2014

Cover Image1

spring 2014
vol. xi. no. 2



“I Am the Widow” by Leslie Pietrzyk

“Seeds” by Matt Thompson

“Thanksgiving” by Cezarija Abartis


“Scar Tissue” by Carrie Krucinski

“Labradorite, or Black Irish” by Kyle Laws

“Tilt” by David Faldet

“The Body of an American Paratrooper” by Ashaki Jackson


“What I Know of Madness” by Sarah Einstein

“Old Colony” by Tim Hillegonds

“All the World Before Me” by Jennifer Cherry

Shorts on Survival

“Breezeway” by Kim Church

“People Eat Chickpeas Bathed in Vinegar” by Zarin Hamid

“Pulled Under” by Amanda Meader

Interview with Sarah Einstein

Sarah Einstein

Mary Akers: Hi, Sarah. Thank you for agreeing to talk with me today, and for sharing your wonderful work with us. One of the (many) things I liked about your essay “What I Know of Madness” was the accompanying pictures you supplied. I feel like they add to the mood and understanding of your essay. Sometimes images say more than words can articulate. Have you ever done this before? Paired an essay with your own images? How do/did editors respond to this?

Sarah Einstein: This is the first time I’ve used images in an essay, but I was so struck by the things I saw on the tour that I couldn’t see how I could leave them out. I was particularly struck by the awfulness of the sign that reads “Your Mother Doesn’t Work Here! Clean Up Your Own Mess!” hanging in, of all places, the children’s ward. The sheer obscenity of that took my breath away, and I can’t imagine anything I could write speaking so clearly to the way in which inmates (because that’s what they were) were so thoroughly dehumanized than the cruelty of that sign. It struck me like a punch to the gut, and I wanted the reader to have that same experience.


MA: It was definitely a punch to the gut for me, too. Shocking in its callousness. Speaking of images, what did you think of the image selected for your piece by our artist Wiley Quixote? Do you feel like it shapes the reader’s perception of the story before reading? If so, is that a good or bad thing?

SE: I love the image, and I think it’s perfect for this piece. The way in which the the man’s face, eyes closed, is obscured by shadows that look as if they come from bars on a window speaks so clearly to the experience of the former inmates. I was very pleased that the journal chose to focus on the actual people who had lived and died in the old State Hospital rather than on the ghosts that had been conjured for the tourists.


MA: Wonderful. That’s what struck me–the real people who lived and died there. But…now that you’ve said that, of course I have to ask. Do you believe in ghosts? What (if anything) changed in your mind after visiting the Trans-Alleghany Asylum?

SE: I don’t believe in ghosts, but I do believe that places can be haunted by the horrific events of the past. In fact, what bothered me most about the sanitized ghost stories that were told on the tour–the stories of little Victorian girls who danced to music boxes and of protective, maternal spirits–was that they made the old asylum less haunted, obscured the truth of the atrocities that happened there. I wanted the guides to tell the more awful, more true stories of patients who died because we called torture “treatment,” of patients who were lobotomized to make them easier to deal with and not to make them healthier or happier, of the ways in which the administrations benefited from the slave labor of inmates. These are the things which haunt the Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum, not pretty little girls who dance.


MA: I agree. Thanks for this insight and your wonderful essay. And finally, because we are a recovery-themed journal, what does “recovery” mean to you?

SE: I think “recovery” means so many things. In this piece, I try to “recover” the truths that the fictional ghost stories elide, the stories of people who themselves were sent to “recover” from illnesses we didn’t understand very well, and who were “treated” with the most horrific tortures imaginable. People who, when they were finally released, called themselves “psychiatric survivors” and worked to recover the human rights that had for so long been denied to them. All of this is recovery, and all of it is important.

Phantom Limbs

David Faldet
by David Faldet

Thinking about the sources of my poem, “Tilt,” what comes to mind is phantom limb pain. I wrote the poem when my father-in-law was in a nursing home and my mother-in-law was living alone in the home they had shared for many years. After I wrote the poem my father-in-law passed away. This has only deepened my mother-in-law’s keen sense of absence described in the poem.

The poem ends with an image of two flowering crab trees: one cut off at ground level, the other with its trunk and limbs tilted away from the first to make way for the space the absent tree took when it was living. The cut-down tree is a phantom tree, its presence registered in the twist and angle its limbs etched into the shape of its neighbor.

When my father-in-law was in the nursing home, as in the poem, he was a diminished man, with little short-term memory. Even there, his worries as caretaker of his house remained in exaggerated form: concern about the garage door, an outdoor light, a touchy furnace, the door locks. He couldn’t follow the evening news or read a newspaper story. He was too weak to work a trowel, grub out a weed, or pick a flower: activities that once filled his days. Now, he is gone completely.

And yet, that is a lie. He left a real though unoccupied space, a deep and complex impression, especially on his wife. My mother-in-law spends much of her day going through his papers, his records, his pictures, his souvenirs of a long life as a married man, a family man, a Lutheran pastor. Though in her eighties she has a memory that puts mine to shame. All those pieces of her dead husband’s life are keen, colorful, and evocative of feeling in her mind. Though she has taken his name off the address on the gas bill, her heart is filled with the man whose life intertwined with hers for sixty years.

Although phantom limb sensations can register as freedom of movement and activity, doctors say these feelings are dominated by pain. That may not be true for the living memories of the dead whose lives have grown lovingly intertwined with your own, but from my experience those memories carry a shadow of pain.

Tilt (Faldet)

Interview with Zarin Hamid

Zarin Hamid

Amanda Meader: I found your piece People Eat Chickpeas Bathed in Vinegar to be very evocative and moving. What was the inspiration behind it?

Zarin Hamid: That poem came about last summer, in the heat and humidity of New Jersey, and it was really just a result of longing across space for Kabul in the summertime, full of sun and dust, but also abundance of fruits and vegetables and cool mountain air once you get outside the city. The weather in the summer is very similar to southern California, even the landscape is similar, and I was reaching for that feeling of happiness of countless times I was stuck in the horrendous traffic of that city, but right next to rose bushes planted in between opposite going lanes, which in itself should give you a picture of the duality of the city, and of the people – nature loving people with their lives and their land ravaged by war. And overall, Afghanistan is a large part of my consciousness, and often my poetry unashamedly treads back to it.


AM: How does your professional work inform your writing?

ZH: My professional work is focused on, in broad terms, values of peace and gender equality, and often so is my writing. But what I often tend to write about has been with me as long as I have been able to think consciously and critically. Maybe my understanding of what I write about has improved over the years, and that is linked to my academic and professional work which has made me grow as well.

I don’t think the professional work informs my writing though – I think it’s the other way around. And I think I have given myself the freedom to go professionally where I am most moved or feel most ethically drawn to, and that often tends to be related to the natural environment, social justice issues, or international events. My critical consciousness first woke up as a young refugee child, and seeing my parents struggle, and trying to make sense of why we were in that situation. This has forced me to look outward, to the world, and to the connections of why and how our world is the way it is.

People Eat (Zarin Hamid)

AM: What is your biggest challenge as a writer?

ZH: Finding the time to write, and to really give it the care and attention it deserves.


AM: Do you have a designated writing space? What special object do you keep on or near your writing space to inspire you?

ZH: I don’t have a writing space – I tend to write in any place, and I don’t have any objects that particularly inspire me to write. In the last few years, I’ve started typing on the computer and usually only use paper when away from a computer or a phone. In that case, I end up using whatever bits of paper are around. In the summertime, on long lazy days, I do love to write outside, though.


AM: What are you working on now?

ZH: I’m editing and organizing previous material and I’m hoping to create a few more pieces this summer, because honestly, there is a limit to editing and you really need to just write until something decent comes out of the mess.



Amanda Abbie Meader was born and raised in Maine, where she returned to practice law after graduating from Cornell Law School in 2004. By day Amanda is a staff attorney for a non-profit organization; by night she is the wife of a very patient man and the mother of two ridiculously spoiled Boston Terriers. Reading and writing infuse her with peace and energy in a way that nothing else can, and she is constantly dreaming up ways to devote more of each day to pursuing her true passion.

Interview with Kyle Laws

Kyle Laws
Kyle’s poem “Labradorite” appears in the April 2014 issue.

Barbara Daniels: Can you tell us about the title of your new book, Wildwood? I know it refers to a New Jersey shore town, but does it mean more than that, maybe all the wildness in your family or that you’ve encountered in your travels? Do the wonderful bars in the book, such as The Ugly Mug and Smitty’s Bar at the New Jersey shore, imply some wildness in you as well?

Kyle Laws: The name Wildwood has always had a special meaning to me, much more than the town that goes by that name. I grew up on the Delaware Bay, in a town first known as Wildwood Villas that was later shortened to the Villas. It was carved out of land held by the descendants of whaler yeoman families that had settled the area in the late 1600s and early 1700s. It was a “wild,” cut-off part of New Jersey, which is why it was so pristine when I was growing up. Many of the original trees had never been cleared, and some advertisements for the lots made a point of them being wooded. So, it was not only wild in its cut-off way, but wooded as well, which made it much more suited to the name of Wildwood than the barrier island on the ocean side. And, unlike most of the other residents, we lived there all year round in a house converted from a saloon. So, if bars show up repeatedly throughout the work, it’s because I grew up in the remnants of one. Liquor had been stored in the basement where I played hide-and-seek. And because story-telling was so much a part of my mother’s personality, I grew up with that history repeated over and over. The bar, owned by one of the original thirty-five whaling families, was lost in a tax sale.

From there I came west to Colorado, which certainly fits with being wild and wooded. It’s the extremes of landscape that have always been my home.

Barbara: Your book portrays fascinating people—Kay, Ordelia, and your father among others. Did growing up around these people influence your sense of the dramatic or inspire you to depict extremes of emotion?

Kyle: I think people have always sought places that were large enough to contain them, where something besides themselves was in charge. The West originally drew people who didn’t fit in the polite society of the East, who had a respect for the land and the native inhabitants. Of course that changed. The personalities in my family didn’t seem so extreme when compared to a nor’easter. And the overwhelming sense of their own morality (although a sexually-charged one) was not out of place in resistance to the culture of the town. It was two places, one in winter, one in summer. Winter was poor and lonely, but so pure in its way, so stripped of artifice. Summer was like a carnival. To be able to live well in those extremes takes a certain type of personality. And our family had it. It was a place where you could be yourself, no matter what that was. Who were you going to offend? The horseshoe crabs, the seagulls, the families who barely got by because of lack of work?


Barbara: In what ways are you a poet of place–the mid-Atlantic region where you grow up and the American West, where you live now, as well as all the places you’ve traveled to?

Kyle: More than anything else, I’m a poet of place. I remember being at a poetry conference in Cape May, New Jersey in winter, and someone commented that they didn’t really understand my reverence for the land. I was in front of a window looking out as the waves crashed on a shore lightly crusted in snow. It was the shore at its most beautiful. And even though I knew the winter wind would bite my face, I had a strong desire to walk along the tide line. I didn’t understand how that could be lost on people. In some ways it’s about your homeland, even if it’s an adopted one as mine in the West. I remember looking up at a man in the group who was born in Israel. I could tell he got it. Every evening in the Villas, people walked to the top of the street to watch the sunset. It was a ritual. It kept you connected to where you were, what was going on. I think if you understand the land, you understand the inhabitants. And you really need to understand people, even the wild ones of your family.


Barbara: You write so vividly about specific locales, such as La Veta Pass in Colorado, Decatur Street in New Orleans, and the Deer Dance at Taos Pueblo. Do you return to the same places again and again for inspiration or head out in new directions when you travel?

Kyle: I return to a place until I think I’ve gotten it down in all its aspects. Then a new idea will pop up, and there I go back again. I’ve returned to the Villas at least once a year for twenty-five years. My mother’s ashes were spread from the Cape May-Lewes Ferry, and my sister and I visit her resting place each January. I’m now working on another series about the area and my family’s connection to it. But I’m always going someplace new. Often I follow threads backward. The four trips to Haiti were following threads from New Orleans, and threads from the American West. The first horses in the Americas were brought to Hispaniola, now Haiti and the Dominican Republic. But here, in Colorado, to go anywhere south you have to cross a pass, and that’s why La Veta shows up so frequently. This fall, I’ll be returning to Taos once again. I’m hosting a Poetry Rendezvous over Labor Day weekend at the Sagebrush Inn. The Rendezvous group has been getting together for twenty-six years now, longer than the fur traders from which the name came.


Barbara: My favorites among the poems in Wildwood include “The Other Thing Kay Said at the Ugly Mug,” “Ranson,” “Father Left on Monday for the Swing Shift,” and the title poem, “Wildwood.” Do you have favorites among the poems in the book and if so, why?

Kyle: Not necessarily favorites, but I do have a fondness for the long poems in the book, “199 Steps to the Top of the Lighthouse,”“Bottom of My Voice,” “Coronado’s Trail,” and The Bridge Builder.” I like the extended rhythms that can be developed in a long poem. “The Bridge Builder,” and why it’s named that, was written to the rhythms in a sound recording of Hart Crane’s “The Bridge.”  “Coronado’s Trail” was written on the route of that trip. “199 Steps to the Top of the Lighthouse” and “Bottom of My Voice” were also written on location. So, they bring up thoughts and feelings as listening to a song on the radio will about where you were and what you were doing when you first heard it. And as I look through the table of contents, I realize that the majority of the poems were written on site.


Barbara: Some of your poems, such as “Bottom of My Voice,” are love poems. Do you set out to write love poems or are you surprised to find that you’re writing them?

Kyle: I think the hardest thing to write is a love poem, and because of that I would never just sit down to write one. For me, it would be a sure recipe for disaster. I have found that when writing about the relationship between two things, even in a landscape, that a love poem can come out of it. It’s the tension. And I don’t think I’ve ever thought about that until you asked the question.

Labradorite (Kyle Laws)

Barbara: Often your poems are about losses (such as the buildings “washed away by the sea” in “199 Steps to the Top of the Lighthouse” and the darkroom your father lost “to his own darkness” in “Coronado’s Trail”), yet your book as a whole is remarkably upbeat, and, it seems to me, life affirming, full of passion, energy, and desire. Did you intentionally choose such poems for this book, or is your work usually positive?

Kyle: Because I believe in the power of transformation, from dark to light, from despair to hope, that must come through. I’m always interested when people say what they do about the narrative being upbeat. I once had a psychologist scream at me for not acknowledging my family’s negative effect. I came to find it an interesting story, and one that had its origin in a specific time and place. Once I understood that and them, it had little to do with me, and more to do with them. And they were hardly boring. I cannot even imagine growing up with “normal” parents.


Barbara: In “Waiting in New Orleans” you mention “something unsaid” between Hawthorne and Melville. Your poems reveal some secrets about yourself and your family history, but is there “something unsaid” in your own work, some theme or topic you’ve shied away from? If so, why?

Kyle: Someone once asked me about how I got through the things I did, and my answer was “I always told the truth.” If you don’t have secrets, then there’s not much anyone can do to hurt you. There’s little I shy away from. There are things I might not shout about because I’m protecting someone else, but not myself. Because not much would shock me, I am the kind of person people talk to. I hear a lot of interesting things that I never write about. It all goes into the mix of understanding human nature, which is fascinating. But that being said, there are always secrets, ones you don’t even know. Like my maternal grandfather’s family claimed to be Scots and “Indian” as they called it. Well, they were Irish, not Scottish, but at the time if you could pass with a name that sounded Scottish, it was best to use it to your advantage because the Irish were looked down on. It was a variation of Dundee: Dundess. And recent research has the “Indian” showing up as “Mulatto” on a census. I’m still trying to track that down. Wildwood Villas had a covenant in all the deeds against anyone other than the Caucasian race living there. Talk about secrets.


Barbara: You allude in Wildwood to work by other writers, including the poet J.C. Todd’s Nightshade and a verse novel, Ludlow, about a deadly labor dispute in a Colorado mining camp. Are there poets or teachers that have influenced your writing?

Kyle: The first influences were the French Surrealists, especially André Breton. I diagrammed a number of his poems to learn how to layer and build images. After a while, I could see patterns. And I did study with Diane di Prima, a Beat poet, early on. Books mentioned in poems are often ones I’m reading at the time of writing, and there’s some connection to what I’m working on. I prefer the mention to a footnote.

I would have to say artists have influenced me more than writers. I have always looked for strong women in order to figure out how to live my life. Georgia O’Keeffe, Frida Kahlo, Emily Carr, and George Sand (the one writer in the group) come to mind as influences. I have always thought of writing as an outgrowth of how you lived. Create the life; then write about it.


Barbara: The titles of the poems in the book sometimes transport readers to specific times and places, such as “Nat King Cole and Pepe’s Cottage on the Bay 1961,” while other titles are wonderfully mysterious, such as “I Walk the Abyss” and “The River Is Hungry.” Do you choose your titles first or do they occur to you as you’re writing your poems?

Kyle: I always title a work after it is done, after the full concept of the poem has been developed. So, the poem determines the title. Sometimes I try to set a mood for the poem by the title so the reader has a frame of reference for what follows, and titles can do that without having to explain a lot in the poem. The more mysterious titles have a tendency to be philosophical in nature and often provide a link to the poems around them.


Barbara: Your poem “Dazed” is about your first experience of writing poems. What prompted you to begin writing? “Dazed” mentions “the bends / on the way to the surface,” during the process of writing. Does your writing still sometimes cause pain, or is this something associated more with your early work?

Kyle: That image came from the thought of the sheer volume of material and experience I would have to go through to get to any kind of truth, as if I could not hold my breath long enough to get there. The nice thing I discovered about poetry is you don’t have to do it all in one poem. You can take a whole book to do it.

I began writing seriously in my mid-twenties after being a dancer for years. The body wasn’t going to continue to cooperate. Since I’d written pretty consistently since grade school, teachers always encouraging me, I thought it was something I could do if I worked at it.


Barbara: You’ve sometimes written poetic sequences.  Do you plan them ahead of time or do the poems coalesce around specific themes and situations?

Kyle: I would say both. I have finished a poem to find that it doesn’t tell all there is that is interesting about a subject, so have continued onto another, and another, an organic process. And I have started out with a very specific subject and structure in mind. I recently completed a 30/30 Project series for a Tupelo Press fundraiser, thirty responses to Zane Grey’s Desert Gold. That was conceived ahead of time. The structure, which consisted of text from the novel, responses to the text, and related historical and personal footnotes, really helped with writing and posting a poem every day.


Barbara: What has kept you writing for thirty years?

Kyle: I think I have a writer’s temperament. I’ve always been a meticulous observer, and while observing I often draw connections to other things. I see interrelationships, or make them up in my mind. I love to research. I enjoy it as much as writing. My sister recently spent two days in the County Clerk’s office in Cape May Court House (the name of a town, not just the building), NJ patiently sitting in a chair while I researched 300 years of deeds, drawing connections I had anticipated and those that were surprises. I dragged her to a cemetery at dusk to see the site of a mass grave for nine African American Union soldiers washed up on shore not far from where we grew up. She bragged to my brother about the cemetery, but not the two days in the stacks. It really is the adventure of discovery, coupled with the telling. I write easily. It’s the editing that is a slow go, as it should be. Poetry is my main medium. I love the rhythm and sound of words.



Barbara Daniels received a 2014 fellowship in poetry from the New Jersey State Council on the Arts, and one of her poems was selected for the 2013 Best of the Net Anthology. She is the author of a book of poems, Rose Fever, and the chapbooks The Woman Who Tries to Believe, Quinn & Marie, and Black Sails. She earned an MA at New York University and an MFA in poetry at Vermont College.

Interview with Ashaki M. Jackson

Ashaki Jackson

Ashaki M. Jackson is a poet and social psychologist residing in Los Angeles. Her poem “An American Paratrooper” appears in our April 2014 issue. Noted authors and Ashaki confidants Khadijah Queen ( and Kima Jones ( recently pitched a few questions to her about her work – an ongoing reflection on grief, coping, and defunct mortuary rites grounded in her grandmother’s death.


Khadijah Queen (KQ) begins a little late but gracefully: Snap! I got distracted by YouTube and middle school homework and cake and hot dogs… ​What distracts you most from your creative work, and how do you overcome said distraction(s) and/or use them to your advantage?

Ashaki Jackson (AJ): This day-to-day thing. I’m responding from bed while deep-conditioning my hair and jotting a To Do list for the next four hours.

Chicken is marinating. Dishes still aren’t going to wash themselves. This basket of clean laundry is giving me the side-eye. It is 5:30 PM.

Being swallowed by the mundane is very comforting to me. My writing revolves around personal loss — mainly that of my grandmother. I still reside in her memory and fold into my grief when I evoke her in poems. The feelings are oppressive even when I write about my broader reflection on loss as I did with An American Paratrooper. Inundating myself with a Big Bang Theory-spring cleaning-pedicure session or reading books in a loud restaurant gives me respite. It gives me spaces to tuck my grief until I’m ready to see it again.


KQ: Talk about the bodied-ness of your poems. How central, tangential, and/or inextricable are the physical and the linguistic?

AJ: I have bodies. Many bodies. Other peoples’ bodies. Loved ones’ bodies.

Sometimes it is the thought of the last state in which I saw a late loved one that pops into my mind.

This is a painful but helpful entry into my drafts. I also spent quite a bit of time studying anthropologists’ articles about mortuary rites. Cecilia McCallum, Ph.D., is a lasting favorite. She documents the care with which certain South American tribe members once treated their deceased family members’ bodies before consuming them.

I learned that mourning isn’t merely psychological; it is a ceremony, a meal, something that lingers on the palate. The language of consumption in relation to the lingering sense of loss underpins many of my pieces—devouring, preservation, and that sense of never being sate. Some of my poems read as if words are falling out of the mouth haphazardly. Others read as if I’m choking on the grief. I’m not able to articulate the craft, but thematically I might refer to it as written keening.


Kima Jones (KJ): Essentially, form is choosing skin, so I want to revisit Khadijah’s question on bodied-ness: Which form, which body do you like to take on most? And for your grandmother? 

AJ: My good friend, Noah, mentioned that some of us “like to wear each other’s bodies.” We were speaking about recent travesties — Malaysian Flight 370, MV Sewol in South Korea, the Chibok girls. For all of those bodies lost, families only received apologies from officials — the emptiest gesture. Like gristle.

I think you crave a body — living or dead — particularly when you do not have one.

Bodies are tangible and to be cared for. That care is some kind of ritual.

My work doesn’t have a particular body. Forms are rare in my work. However, I allow my lines to occupy the page in non-traditional ways. One poem is written in the choppiness of a choking cry. In a different piece, the words collide at the bottom of the page – a visual homage to hopelessness in grief. The reader should want to gather words from these pieces, scrape them from the ground, and comfort them.

I spend a good amount of time thinking on my late grandmother’s passing. It aides my coping to wade through the memories, but it also gives me access to a dialect of grief that others might make use of in the future. In my manuscript, I write about her transition in various forms with the same sentiment about the body. She should be home, with us, and cared for. I don’t know if it’s the best I can do to evoke her in my pages as if my manuscript is her portable body. It is a start for me.


KJ: There is always something hiding, even in the uncovering and undoing. I am wondering how Ashaki keeps the secret things hidden during the excavation, the mining of all those graves?

AJ: I’m of the mind that the reader does not need to know me to enter, understand, experience, or relate to the work. Few books would ever be read with this requirement. What I need from the reader: trust. I might not hand you my articulated grief or reveal everything I’ve had to unearth to write a piece, but I’ll share work that will resonate in some way with the reader–that will rub the reader’s bruises just as my ache is continually touched.


KJ: It’s a question I’m turning over more and more in my head in regard to my own heart and my own good feeling, so I ask you, what is the use of the love poem?

AJ: Use of the love poem: praise for a body; idolatry; celebration of the mind’s fire; a method of serenading; to fully taste; to build a word altar to a moment; to sustain a beautiful feeling; to tuck a piece of candy in my pillowcase for later; to be reckless in my selfishness by flaunting; to maintain my warmth; to serve me.

I think that’s broad enough to comfortably fit my poems on grief and loss and loose enough to include the poems I have yet to write for the loves I have yet to know.

 The Body of a Soldier

KQ: Truth & honesty– where on the spectrum when dealing with loss/grief do these consciously figure? Are they seeds or threads? Both? How much gives way to metaphor or story or construct? 

AJ: I think Kima’s question about the use of a love poem is relevant here. If I were to write a love poem — let’s say “romantic” in some way — my approach could be seen as dishonest because I haven’t known love. I’d tell you that in the poem. I’m pretty forthcoming with what I don’t know. But, it would still be a decent poem because lies are often the most interesting genre.

When dealing with loss, I am more honest about what I have experienced than what I have not. I think my feelings are evident and even resounding when I write about personal loss because I know its labyrinth. I become the omniscient tour guide. When writing others’ losses: my empathy might seem insufficient. My feelings about documenting grief are still true and perhaps a projection of my mourning. But, I don’t know others’ specific pains, which are rooted in long relationships, family, home, and hopes for the future.

The lyric fills in those hollows. The poem becomes indigenous to its characters — not me. I am honest until my imagination converts a paratrooper’s body being retrieved from Cambodia into a native stork.


For more indigenous birds, endocannibalism, and loss, find Ashaki M. Jackson’s work in the newly released VONA anthology Dismantle from Thread Makes Blanket and the forthcoming Read Women from Locked Horn Press. Her work is also in the publications Eleven Eleven, Suisun Valley Review, Generations, The Drunken Boat, and Cave Canem anthologies among others.

Interview with Carrie Krucinski

Carrie Krucinski
Read Carrie’s wonderful poem “Scar Tissue” in the Spring 2014 issue.

Kristin Distel: You’ve stated that you admire the work of Glück, Plath, and Trethewey. In what ways have these and other poets influenced your work?

Carrie Krucinski: As you can see, they’re all women. It’s not that I don’t enjoy the poetry of men like Robert Lowell, Bruce Weigl, and Charles Simic, because I do. But I feel such a kinship with female poets, especially those that have had any trouble with mental illness. When I was first diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder, I had to have an outlet for what was going on inside my head. These women understand me, and I understand them. Even if the poetess has not had a problem with mental illness, there seems to be so much they are trying to work out in their poetry. This past March, I had the opportunity to attend a lecture by Trethewey. Listening to her explain that she communicates with her father about issues of race through her poetry was beautiful and familiar. I think I try to explain myself to the world through my poetry, as well. The one overwhelming influence these women have had on me is to be honest. I think they’ve influenced me to write as though no one will ever read what I write, and if they do, who cares?


K.D. You’ve mentioned that Plath has motivated your work from your earliest efforts as a poet. What techniques or stylistic choices have you observed in her work that you most try to recreate in your own?

C.K. My favorite poem by Plath is, “The Moon and the Yew Tree.” Plath is simply describing her home in Devon. She doesn’t come out and say, “Hey! I’m depressed!” She describes her world in such a way that by the end you feel this weight on your chest. Most times, Plath is a study in subtlety, if you don’t include “Daddy” and “Lady Lazarus.” When I read her work, I don’t feel as though she is being heavy handed. She is delicate, intelligent, sneaky. When I started to write in earnest, I lacked subtlety. It wasn’t pretty. That’s why it is so important to read widely and deeply; I learned from Plath how to structure a poem. She also has this lovely thing she does with repeating words. In quite a few poems she will repeat a word three times. The repeating of a word isn’t a big revelation, but I really find it interesting. Also, the woman knew how to create a metaphor! The poem, “Scar Tissue,” might not be a work in subtlety, but I also don’t think it is as distraught as it could have been.


K.D. Your poems are forthright in examining mental health issues, self-harm, and other very private concerns. Have you ever questioned whether you wanted to divulge such personal matters in your writing?

C. K. I question myself about content all the time! The thing about mental illness is that no one wants to admit to having it. I spent so many years hiding my struggle. I couldn’t work for ten years. I had to live with my parents and be taken care of by them. I found that I didn’t want to have friends or let anyone really know me. When I met my husband eight years ago, all that began to change. On our third date, I rolled up my sleeves, let him see my scars, and waited for him to run for the door. He didn’t. I felt such relief when I was honest about where I was in life. In 2007, I took a poetry writing class with Bruce Weigl; he was amazing. He was so open about his struggle coping with the Vietnam War and a brain surgery that he went through. I think that planted the thought that I could be honest, as well.

Once I started my MFA, I knew I had to write openly about what my life looked like, and people didn’t judge me! Let’s face it; everyone in an MFA program is a little off anyway. I felt right at home. It was a revelation. I think writing about the cutting, medications, and therapy appointments helps me to connect with other human beings. I can come off as defensive when I first meet people because I overthink everything. In my mind, I craft what I am going to say next because I try to “sound normal.” Now that I have had poems, essays, and my blog out for public consumption, I am myself.

Scar Tissue (Krucinski)

K.D. What do you think writers gain by being open about personal troubles and trauma in their work?

C.K. I think writers gain personal insight when they are open and honest. I really don’t think it is about the reader at that point, but the writer is trying to purge or exorcise something. I think that dealing with these issues makes for good writing.


K.D. Let’s turn back to Plath for a moment. Much has been written in recent scholarship regarding the two versions of Ariel—Plath’s original manuscript versus the edition that Ted Hughes revised and edited. Which version of Ariel most speaks to you as a writer and a reader?

C.K. This is a sticky subject for me. I empathize with Plath in a very personal way. For years I hated Ted Hughes and refused to read his work because of what he supposedly did to Plath. Now that I am older and married I feel that Hughes was in a horrible situation no matter what he did. His wife was dealing with a mental illness that made her suicidal. I think of my husband and how he would react if he were in the same situation. I feel, as a writer, that Plath was not in the best state of mind to decide what went into a book and how that book should be ordered. On the other hand, as a reader, I wish he would have let her have her final say. However, he had children to protect, and he had himself to worry about.


K.D. Much of your work is entrenched in your great-great grandmother’s experience with mental illness. To what extent do you feel your writing can or should provide a “voice” for those (like your grandmother) who have been silenced or ignored?

C.K. I feel a huge amount of responsibility to tell my great-great grandmother’s story. I also feel as though I have a duty to all of the women she lived with in the asylum. Their story, which took place at the turn of the 19th century, is so miserable and sad. The first nine people who were committed to the Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum were women. Their husband’s dropped them off because they weren’t able to control them. If I had been a contemporary of these women, we would have shared a room. Because they cannot speak for themselves, I feel I must memorize their stories.


K.D. You’ve identified yourself as a religious poet. To what extent and in what way does religion influence your poems?

C.K. I was raised in a fundamentalist /evangelical home. For me to even admit to having a mental illness means, in that community, that I have sinned and am being punished. That upbringing stays with you in a palpable way. Last month I joined my husband’s church, which is Lutheran. It is so different from how I was raised. They ordain women! They allow gay pastors! It’s really the most excited I’ve been about church in a long time. I would have to say that I really abhor religion, but I believe in God. So much of my poetry comes back to religious imagery because of my childhood. I just can’t seem to escape it!


K.D. Could you describe your writing process? How does an idea for a poem generally come to you?

C.K. Many times I mishear things. I will be half listening to a song or not paying attention to a television show, and I will “hear” a first line. Also, the more I read or research a subject the more likely it is that I will find a first line. Reading is so important! My husband can also attest to the fact that I often get up in the middle of the night because I have a first line or idea come to me as I drift off to sleep.


K.D. Can you comment on the significance of the title “Scar Tissue”? I’m particularly interested in the connection between the title and the poem’s final line.

C.K. One of the things that I will always have are my scars. They cover my upper arms like sleeves. The idea that Nirvana isn’t eternal has always fascinated me. I took a religion class in my undergrad program, and we learned about Buddhism. When the Buddha was dying he said that nothing was eternal. I asked the professor if this applied to Nirvana, and she told me, “yes.” That was mind-blowing to me. I grew up being told that you do everything right on earth, you die, and you go to heaven forever. While I was severely ill, people kept telling me that I should give it time; everything would eventually be okay. So, I guess my response is, “Oh yeah? Well, your heaven isn’t eternal, either.”


K.D. Paul Valery said that a poem is never finished; only abandoned. How do you personally determine when a poem like “Scar Tissue” is complete?

C.K. Poems that are filled with tension or emotion seem to have their own way of telling me to stop. I get to a certain point where I don’t know how to explain this topic, in this form, any further. The poem tells me when it’s finished. When I wrote the last line, “Nirvana isn’t eternal.” There isn’t really anymore to say after that. I tried a couple of lines after that, but they didn’t belong in the poem. I think poems are little beings, and they let us know when they are complete.



Kristin Distel is a graduate student in Ashland University’s Master of Fine Arts program. She will begin doctoral studies at Ohio University in August 2014. She has recently presented papers at The University of Oxford, The Sorbonne/École des Mines—Paris, The University of Manchester, the South Central Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies, and many other conferences. Her poems have been published in DIN Magazine and Coldnoon. Cambridge University Press published her essay, “Gendered Travel and Quiescence in Toni Morrison’s Paradise,” in Women’s Utopian and Dystopian Fiction. Her article entitled “The Red Death and Romeo: Poe’s ‘Magnificent Revels’ as a Re-vision of the Capulet Masquerade” will appear in Perspectives on Edgar Allan Poe: Collected Essays. Additional articles on Natasha Trethewey and Larry Levis, Phillis Wheatley and Mather Byles, and Theodore Roethke are all forthcoming.

Interview with Wiley Quixote

Wiley headshot

Mary Akers: First off, thanks so much for agreeing to adopt our GRAVITY issue and supply your wonderful images to pair with our poems, essays, and fiction. I’m so pleased with how the issue came together. And since I’m starting off with that, I think I’ll go ahead and make my first question on a related topic. How do you feel about pairing images with writing? I ask this, because I’m of two minds. On the positive side, I love connections anywhere I find them. And I love bringing different genres of art together; I feel like the combination of two art forms takes us more places than either one can take us separately. That, said, there is also a danger of one art form informing the other in a way that neither artist intended. Where do you come down on this spectrum?

Wiley Quixote: Thank you – I was happy to be asked and felt ready for the challenge, the timing was good for me.

Pairing images with writing is a welcome challenge. Happily, you offered me two choices – to tailor the images to each piece or to explore the idea of gravity on my own and let you do the pairing from the available shots. My first impulse was to do the former, but really, I had my own ideas and time constraints so I ultimately opted for the latter hoping for the best. I was happy with the results.

I think that the all art is (or should be) by nature dangerous and risky and you have to take the chance that it might fail. That’s part of what makes it pleasing when it works. Pairing an image with writing seems pretty tricky to me – it’s not a script for a movie where little is left to the imagination with the intent of telling that story through images, you’re providing a companion piece to another piece of work, where each has its own merit and form of expression. Given that there were 14 pieces from 14 different authors, I found that challenge on a one-to-one basis too intimidating an approach and it would have felt hubristic to have tried. The beauty of this collection to me was great diversity of expression around a particular theme and I felt like I wanted to be a participant and add to that conversation. In a conversation, the connections happen on their own.


MA: Yes, I agree. Maybe that idea is similar to what you say about art–it might fail, that conversation. But when it works, it’s a boon to both sides.

I have another, somewhat related question. Who do you think “owns” the interpretation of art? Do we, as artists, make our art and then simply surrender our creations to the viewer who then is free to take whatever meaning he or she wants from our creation? This being the “collaborative” notion of art, where the viewer is as important as the creator. Or do you think we, as artists can (and maybe should) expect viewers to recognize and appreciate the meaning with which we imbue our art? How do you think either viewpoint affects the “interpretive ownership” of art?

WQ: On the one hand, I really want the ideas I’m trying to communicate  – explicit and implicit – to be executed well enough that they are witnessed, recognized, and appreciated. On the other hand, I only want to take responsibility for communicating it well enough to get the message across but not to fencing in someone’s imagination or hindering an interpretive response. I’m happy to disagree with someone’s interpretation that does not suit my intent, as long as they’re provoked or inspired to make use of their imagination. To me, that’s the dynamism of an otherwise static representation.

I’m inclined to return again and again to the idea of arrest and provocation. We can shape and channel with intention, we can qualify, manipulate, suggest and critique with expression, but we cannot command and dictate impression. What is art without an audience? What is expression without impression? It’s got be both things, and a matter of degrees as to which is the predominant factor in each instance.

“Ownership” implies ego to me. Artists, critics, and viewers can fall into that trap, but art is a living force that rises up from the spring of the muses and seeks a channel and a form of expression for an audience – even if you’re the only audience. We – the artist AND the audience – are the channel and receptacle and, at best, can collaboratively midwife an idea and give it an opportunity for form – it takes both expression to come into being and impression to achieve meaning.

What I Know (Einstein)

MA: I like that answer. I struggle a lot with owning my old work versus letting my completed work go, so it’s nice to have that feeling articulated.

I love your pseudonym, but I’ve got to ask–and I know readers are curious, too. You’ve given your nom de photog a lot of thought, so I’m looking forward to your answer. Why the pseudonym? Is it for the sake of anonymity? Is it a statement against the NSA? Is it just for fun? Is it a way to say that the creator of art isn’t as important at the art created? Do tell!

WQ: I’m happy you’ve asked this question because I’d like to give the idea some public expression. I do so like to chase roadrunners and fight windmills.

My pseudonym is a compound of the trickster and the fool, and being crafty with your approach is implicit in the name “Wiley.” Obviously, the name is foremost a pun on the familiar character of Wile E. Coyote. The coyote is a trickster figure in Native American mythology and plays a role in their creation mythology. As I recall, roughly, in the beginning there was only water. Coyote and fox where in a boat together. Coyote slept while fox rowed and created the world. Once it was created, coyote woke up and devoured it all. That is the essence of creativity to me. There is a creative aspect and a destructive aspect and the process is one lead by the ambivalent figure bearing those two faces: the trickster and the clever creator – foolish in retrospect, but ultimately the benefactor of all the innovations we come to take for granted.  If I have a personal psychopomp for creative expression it is the trickster figure who always makes an appearance for better or for worse.

Then, there’s Don Quixote.  Perhaps a tragic and foolish character, but a divine one – the archetypal dreamer: so detached from reality, and so noble in vision. His is the personification of the vivid and creative imagination that performs great deeds in lands far away.

To me the figure of this pseudonym is a personal gnostic demiurge.

The name actually arose as a consequence of being called quixotic and foolish for taking a principled stand years ago about something I felt strongly about (involving contemporary ideas of privacy and corporate and government transgressions against the fourth amendment – long before the Snowden revelations). In that regard, hyperbolic as it may sound, I’ve become accustomed to feeling like a kind of “Kassandra” – a mythological figure who was given the gift of prophecy but cursed to having no one ever believe her. It suits my intuitive nature, my anima. However, it’s not solely about that, indeed, that’s a small part of it, only an impetus. It quickly became part of a larger set of realizations about character and expression and identity – public and private.

I like to think that we are all “Horatios” and “Percevals”, fools everyone. And wisdom is the currency that rewards us for accepting it and living it honestly, sincerely. There’s great humility in that, and great reward – especially, I think, as an artist. You’re performing a service to the muse, not to the ego.

As someone who has long known the experience of the creative personality, but only recently, at a later stage in life, found opportunity for the expression of it, I am constantly hounded by my naiveté, my inexperience, my lack of academic training, and am subject to countless self-criticisms that stultify and smother progress and expression.  All this is wrapped up in a dubious identity and self-image. It can be a prison, a poison, a windmill, a coyote.

The pseudonym gives me freedom from all that, and the opportunity to fail forward. I belong to the pseudonym, it doesn’t belong to me.  It’s a way of surrendering my ego to the divine character of creation without the trappings of trying to own it. That doesn’t absolve me of responsibility; it’s just taking it on in a specific role distinct from whoever and however I may otherwise see myself. I cannot stress how important and freeing that has been for me as a burgeoning artist these past several years.

Old Colony (Hillegonds)

MA: I can see that. A sort of freedom from expectations–expectations that come from the world at large, but that also come from within. I like it. It seems very wise–a trickster even unto the self, if tricking is what it takes to create art unselfconsciously (and I think it is for most of us).

What is it about photography that draws you to it? Your images are so expressive. They are like stories all on their own. I know you’ve explored many art forms over the years. How did you arrive at photography?

WQ: I arrived at it by mistake. I bought a DSLR to take quality photographs of my drawings and pastel paintings and to photograph subject matter – I work from photographs. However, I took to photography like no other form of expression I’d taken to prior. To me it contains all the elements of painting, poetry, music, imagination – it’s so cinematic and so expressive of feeling. It can communicate so many ideas around a particular subject in just one click of the shutter. I continue to be amazed by it. It’s like a snapshot of the imagination.

Every photographer wants to tell a story. I find that, for the most part, the photojournalistic approach is too much like prose; I prefer poetry. So I’ve settled on the poetic narrative as my preferred form. Hopefully, it will continue to evolve in both style and expression.


MA: The poetic narrative. Nicely put.

Every artist I’ve ever met has a “second choice” option for their professional pursuit, creative or otherwise. What would you be doing if you were not doing photography?

WQ: Currently, photography is not a professional pursuit for me – I pay the bills with a full-time corporate job. However, my creative pursuits are dominated by photography right now. What would I be doing if not for photography? I don’t know, sulking? Is that a career path? 😉

I think outside of artistic expression it’d either be something in the humanities/people sciences or something without responsibility so that I could travel and experience life, living and the environment.  I never want to live for my job; I want a job so that I can live. If I could have both, that’d be great, but I’m not sure it’s possible for me.


MA: Oh, I feel like I’ve known a few professional sulkers over the years.

And speaking of professional sulkers, who are your favorite writers?

WQ: In no particular order, for fiction, Mark Twain, Kurt Vonnegut, Tom Robbins, Umberto Eco, Philip K.Dick, Edgar Allan Poe. For nonfiction, Carl Jung and several of the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd generation Jungians; Joseph Campbell, Alan Watts, Mircea Eliade. And for poetry, Galway Kinnell, Rainer Maria Rilke, Adrienne Rich, Denise Levertov, Mary Oliver, Pablo Neruda.

And just about any set of myths and fairytales I can come across.

Seeds (Matt Thompson)

MA: Oh, me, too. Myths and fairytales are wonderful sources of inspiration.

I’ve really enjoyed this interview, Wiley Quixote. Thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts with our readers. I’d like to close us out with one final question, if you don’t mind. What does “recovery” mean to you?

WQ: My experience has been one of self-discovery, determination, self-reliance, and the search for meaning; consciously and conscientiously accepting the path of Individuation; becoming; being; continually sloughing off old skins; adapting, creating.

Interview with Kim Church

Kim Church

Mary Akers: Kim, I loved your short piece “Breezeway” in this issue. I feel like I read it and accepted it very quickly (if I didn’t, please let me keep my fantasy of the good, timely editor). I love the feeling of flying and freedom that I get from reading it, even though it’s a story about an unhappy marriage, those final lines feel like redemption. How do you feel about “redemption” in stories? Do you like it in the work of others? Do you strive for it in your own work?

Kim Church: Mary, you did accept the story quickly—it was a breeze! About redemption: When I was young I romanticized darkness. I lived on a steady diet of writers like Kosiński and Kafka. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve become more mothlike. I want a flame, a flicker of hope in whatever I read or write, or at least a little levity. I’m done with unrelenting bleakness. The last unrelentingly bleak book I read, I threw out the window. (Okay, not really, but I wanted to.)


MA: “Mothlike.” That’s a great description. The picture that accompanies “Breezeway” helps me have that flying feeling about the piece. I’m always fascinated by the way written work and images can complement and influence the viewers’/readers’ perception of each form—a conversation, or inter-genre dialogue, if you will, and the person who chooses the image starts that conversation. In this case, that person was me. So…no pressure, but what did you think of the illustration? Did it have any special meaning for you that I couldn’t have known? (I’m amazed by how often that turns out to be the case.)

KC: My reaction was, wheeeee! The dancer’s leap illustrates the sense of weightlessness and release a child feels on a bicycle—a feeling the wife in the story remembers from her childhood. At the same time, the dancer’s discipline is evident in the photograph. Here’s a professional executing a difficult move she’s practiced and prepared for—much as the wife is preparing for her own difficult letting-go.

Breezeway (Kim Church)

MA: In addition to this great SOS piece in r.kv.r.y., I’ve just had the pleasure of finishing your wonderful novel BYRD. (For some reason, I like typing the title in all caps. Or… maybe I’m just shouting the title because I loved BYRD so much!) This book has a lot of epistolary elements, but I wouldn’t call it an epistolary novel. Still, the biggest plot twist of all comes from a letter that only gets to its intended reader in a very roundabout and tragic way. Was that particular ending always a part of the book? If not, how did it evolve throughout the process of writing and editing?

KC: I’m thrilled you liked the book, Mary. The plot twist you’re referring to wasn’t in the original draft. Originally I wrote the novel as a first-person narrative from Addie’s—the birth mother’s—point of view, since the book is largely her story. When I began to revise, I realized that Addie doesn’t know enough to tell her whole story. She makes decisions for reasons she doesn’t understand, and they affect others in ways she can’t see. To get at those parts of the story, I needed different points of view. So I started over, adding new characters. And as new characters often do, they took the story in a whole new direction. The plot twist you mention was part of that new direction. It surprised me as I was writing but felt inevitable once I’d written it.

MA: I like it when characters surprise me. Makes everything just a little better–a little more fraught. And speaking of letters, that last one from the adoptive parents. Whoa. What a killer final line. Letters always seem voyeuristic to me—in a good way. I’m reading someone else’s mail! I think that’s why I like them. Also, they are telling for what they don’t say, like in Lee Smith’s marvelous book The Christmas Letters. What is it about letters that drew you to them as an aid in telling this story?

KC: I wanted the book to have the intimacy of a confession, which is why I initially wrote it in first person. I didn’t want to lose that intimacy when I changed the structure of the book. Addie’s letters to her son were a way of keeping her voice. There are other letters too, from the adoptive mother and others; I thought of these as little points of contact, or almost-contact, between characters who, though connected by circumstances, were unable to connect in person.


MA: You succeeded! The whole thing feels very intimate. Like Addie and Roland’s friendship, which is interesting and wonderful. And complex. You manage to cover many years of Addie’s life and their changing relationship. What challenges did you encounter in writing a story that spans many years?

KC: The book spans 45 years in under 250 pages. In my notes and early drafts, I tried to connect all the dots, to account for everything that happened with all the characters. As author, I needed to know. The trick (isn’t this always the trick?) was figuring out how much to include in the book and how much to leave out. I did a lot of compressing and distilling, and when my agent submitted the manuscript to Dzanc it was pretty lean. But it still needed some shaping. I was blessed with a brilliant editor, Guy Intoci. He not only helped me trim and arrange, but he also showed me where the book was too elliptical, where it needed more. More Addie, more letters.


MA: Yes, how much to include of all the hard work we do is always the trick.

BYRD has a great sense of place. Which makes me curious: do you consider yourself a southern writer? And what do you think the term “southern writer” implies?

KC: I don’t label myself, but I’ve lived all my life in the South, and that’s bound to affect my writing. I try to create a strong sense of place in my work, which is largely set in the South. And I write a lot about family, a perennial Southern theme, even though my approach is unconventional.


MA: I thought one of the themes was about following your dreams…or maybe even learning to recognize your dreams. Would you care to comment on that?

KC: I think “learning to recognize your dreams” comes close. I might add, “learning to accept that you’re worthy of your dreams.”


MA: Yes! Definitely a theme and a recurring struggle for many of us. I also felt like another theme was exploring identity and the idea of how we know WHO we are. Also how we are shaped by our choices and the choices of others. Addie and Byrd are most directly affected by Addie’s choice, but Roland is, too—tangentially at first, and then hugely and directly by the end of the book. Were you consciously thinking about choices and their consequences when you were writing?

KC: Absolutely. That’s what motivated me to write the book. Years ago, a friend told me that his 30-some-year-old girlfriend had given up their baby for adoption. I didn’t know the girlfriend, but I couldn’t stop thinking about her—a grown, capable woman choosing to surrender her child, then having to live with the knowledge that he was in the world somewhere, a stranger. How would that feel? The idea haunted me. I felt a deep, inexplicable empathy for this birth mother. I tried to find a character like her in a book. There wasn’t one. The only stories I could find were about young unwed mothers whose babies had been taken from them or women who had otherwise been victimized—compelling stories, but not what I was after. I wanted a book about a woman who makes and has to live with her own hard choices. So I wrote one.


MA: Wow. Fascinating. I love how the things that initially shock us can turn into art. Speaking of art, I love the cover of the book. Could you talk a bit about the process of cover design and selection? Have readers given you any interesting feedback regarding the cover?

KC: Thanks! I love the cover, too, and it’s had great response from readers. The Ackland Museum Store in Chapel Hill is carrying the book—partly, I’m sure, because of the cover. One reviewer, Trina Hayes, wrote: “I rarely comment on book covers but this one is special. The striking title font and the solid bird perched on a leafless tree pull the reader into a story that shows how a child can rise like a bird and impact those left behind. [The designers] deserve an award for capturing the book’s essence.” Steven Seighman of Dzanc designed the cover and incorporated art by Ilsa Brink, who also designed my website. I agree with the reviewer—they both deserve an award.


MA: Wonderful. I agree. And thank you so much for speaking with me today, Kim. I really enjoyed it.