Kathy Fish and Joan Wilking Talk About Writing

Joan Wilking

Joan Wilking: Both my SOS piece (At Risk) and yours (Grip) were inspired (or triggered) by five word prompts posted in an online flash fiction workshop we’ve participated in for years. What has the use of such prompts and membership in the workshop meant to your writing?



Kathy FishKathy Fish: Great question, Joan. I saw someone recently decrying the use of prompts in writing, saying they resulted in inauthentic writing. Nonsense. To me, writing prompts such as the ones you and I get in our flash workshop, are simply kindling. It’s up to each writer to set the sticks and twigs aflame. And what we do to start the fire comes wholly from within us and is therefore completely authentic.

I’m often struck by how, given the same five words to work with, we in the workshop create such utterly different and unique stories. The prompt words just get things going. I’m so grateful for Kim Chinquee and you and everyone in our Hot Pants workshop!

You all have meant everything to my writing life. I doubt I would still be at it today without you. There’s such huge value to having a longstanding group with whom to work. We all know each other well, know our quirks, and strengths. We’ve taught ourselves over the years how to relate to each other in a way that brings out the best in our work.

I’m interested in how it is for you, Joan. I know you have recently been using the workshop and prompt words to create a memoir. Can you talk a little about your process in putting that together?

waverly-beach-docks-At Risk

JW: I love the kindling analogy. Because I was a graphic designer long before I ever tried to write, my work pretty much always begins with an image. The prompt words, more often than not, force me to think beyond the imagery. They light a fire, as you said, that quite often changes how the piece eventually evolves, sometimes by adding a twist that enhances the story, sometimes by enriching or challenging the language.

As for my process, when I’m writing fiction I tend to take familiar situations and “awfulize” them. Years ago I read a Joyce Carol Oates novel and thought to myself, ‘She must have the best time taking her characters and putting them through more misery and heartbreak than any non-fictional character could survive and then manipulating them to enable them to come out the other side.’ Manipulation of character is a good term for how I see fiction.

Memoir is something else. For me it’s about mining the feelings attached to remembrance without straying from the truth. On my 70th birthday, this May, I started writing seventy pieces, seventy words each, for seventy days, alternating the past and present. I used the Hot Pants prompts in many of them. That was a very personal journey and I don’t think I could have completed it without the sense of safety the Hot Pants workshop provides.

That’s a true tribute to Kim who has been so passionate about keeping it going, and of course to everyone else who shares there.

You are known as a flash fiction aficionado. I often end up using my flash as a steppingstone to my longer fictions. I’m wondering, after the work you share on Hot Pants has been critiqued, how much of it remains flash and how much, if any, becomes part of longer works, which all begs the question, what role does flash fiction play in the ongoing panorama of literary history?


KF: Wow, I really love the notion of taking a familiar situation and “awful-izing” it! Yes, putting one’s characters through hell. I’ve heard variations on this idea. It really does make for potent fiction and is a great way to approach flash fiction.

You know, my flash pieces from Hot Pants very rarely turn into longer works. They almost never go beyond flash length. I do remember one time posting a really odd paragraph in there and one of our group, I think it was Gail Siegel, responded with such unexpected enthusiasm, I just wrote and wrote and wrote and ended up with 3000 words, which to me is a tome, ha. It ended up being one of my favorite (of my own) stories. And there again is the huge value of that group.

But no, usually my stories remain flash. I honestly don’t know what role flash fiction will ultimately play in the literary canon. Those of us who write it are so passionate about it! My sense is that is ought to remain a fluid form, that it’s too early to lock it down. I get so excited when I see people doing different things with it. I say as long as it’s fewer than 1000 words, it’s flash. Well, maybe a 1000 word grocery list doesn’t qualify, but you know what I mean. I rather like the idea of flash being the rebellious teenager of the literary world.

I wonder if visual artists, actors, directors, musicians approach writing differently. It has to inform the work. As you said, you nearly always begin with an image and then you move beyond image to story. Lately, I’ve been trying to take a very cinematic approach to writing, though I have no background in film. Do you do this as well? Would you like to see any of your work committed to film or stage?


JW: A couple of years ago I was in Mexico with a bunch of writers and J. Ryan Stradal, author of the new best seller, Kitchens of the Midwest, read a story that was a series of grocery lists, which was hilarious. Each list was a little flash story.

I used to participate in a group called Writers & Actors INK. We met once a month is a black box theater. Writers brought short scripts or stories and actors came to read from them. It was amazing how differently some of my stories played out in front of an audience. What I thought was funny actually had people in tears and vice versa; people saw humor in what I’d written as tragedy. I’d love to see my work on stage or screen where the visuals have parity with the words. I hadn’t thought of my work as cinematic, at least not consciously. You may have just changed the way I perceive it.

We haven’t talked about our stories in r.kv.r.y. yet. Can you speak to the origins of your story?


KF: Oh yes. Can you imagine a series of short films or plays based on Hot Pants stories? That would be so great. I can see how all of us would write to that idea, you know? Not changing our flashes to screenplays or stage plays, but keeping in mind that they may be seen.

My story, “Grip,” is only slightly fictionalized. In March, my brother died of multiple sclerosis. I’d gone home to Iowa when he was in hospice. It was one of the most profound experiences of my entire life. I came back feeling incredibly sad, of course, but also just…dazed. And for a time, every single thing I wrote stemmed from watching my brother die, watching my family watch him die.

As you know, we take turns in Hot Pants providing the prompt words. When it was my turn, I gave five words in honor of my brother. I don’t remember exactly what they were, but I know I used them in the story. The title, “Grip” came from one of those beautiful moments, one of those gifts you get in the midst of tragedy, when—weak and depleted as he was—he squeezed my younger brother’s hand very tight (for story purposes I made it my own hand). It spoke to so many things, that moment, and I knew I’d eventually write about it. I’m glad I did.

Now, please tell me a little about your story, “At Risk,” Joan. I love the opening sentence: “I think a lot about ghosts these days.”


JW: I think many writers, including you and me, use writing as a way to process pain.

Other than ad copy, I never wrote until I was well into my fifties, never thought of myself as a writer. I never had the undeniable passion to write that some writers do. As a result, when I started, I felt like a freshman. Now I read the work of young and younger writers, and workshop with them, and feel like I fit in better with them than with many of my age-wise peers. That has led me to do a lot of thinking about how we marginalize groups of people according to age. Google me and my age is apparent. I wonder how that influences how other writers, agents, publishers and editors view someone like me.

At Risk” is based on observations that keep piling up as one enters old age. So many losses offset by the smell of lilacs and fog on the Bay, and the young, always the young, around to envy and be a reminder, when they look at you a certain way, that the end is a hell of a lot closer now than the beginning.

And one last question, if there was only one more thing you could accomplish in your writing career, what would it be?


KF: Oh man, I could NOT relate more to what you’ve said here. I, too, came late to writing. I, too, feel I have more in common with younger writers. And I also wonder at the marginalization of “older” writers and artists. Can only young people “emerge” for instance?

And I relate, keenly, to your story, to those feelings. Ah, but we keep those feelings at bay by just living and creating all we can. I guess. Ha.

Wow, your question is a good one! I can tell you, that I used to think in terms of awards and honors and recognition. Now, for some reason, I find myself pining for those things quite a bit less. I think it’s realizing that the “good stuff” is in the writing itself. And what we ultimately manage to leave behind. I’ve recently discovered a love of teaching. I think if some new writer I’d had the pleasure of teaching or inspiring went on to do great things that would be a wonderful accomplishment. But hey, if I could get TWO more accomplishments, a short story in BASS would be thrilling!

I’ll volley your question back to you, Joan. One more accomplishment. What would you pick?

JW: I’m greedy. Publication of one of my as yet unpublished novels, which will land on the New York Times bestseller list, be optioned for film and made into a major motion picture that grosses a huge amount of money. Short of that, just a good chunk of time left to keep on writing.

KF: Okay, I want that for you so you can invite me for an afternoon of wine and sunshine on your yacht with all your fancy friends. You’d do that, right?

JW: Absolutely!

Interview with Dan Jacoby

Dan Jacoby

Andrew Stancek: Can we talk a bit about your poem “Cross“?  What jumps out at me are the contrasts, on the one hand “cross,” “confession,” “faith,” “elevate,” and on the other “binge,” “shit,” “boots,” “mattress.”  I am intrigued, eager for any elucidation at all.

Dan Jacoby: You have to remember that the word cross has all kinds of connotations. It is a measure of salvation, burdens, deception and grief to name a few. It can also signify a transition which is kind of what this poem is all about. It gets to the removal of all the labels. It’s the in-between, getting to some kind of peace, a dharma bum sort of quest to find what was lost or to deal with what one has become. Some people run away from themselves and spend lives lying to themselves, others search for meaning. It used to be called securing a heavy peace……


AS: Interesting. Can you tell us about your influences, or about poets and other writers who bring you to “zero at the bone?”

DJ: I must confess to not liking too many of the newer poets. John Logan, Kinnell, Ginsberg, Plath, John Knoepfle, Roethke are some. I started writing in the sixties but just for myself. It’s only recently I started submitting and publishing. I have read many of the beat poets and tend to like that style — seems to be more flesh on those bones.


AS: What about your routines? When during the day do you write? How do you work from the moment of inspiration to the moment you consider your poem to be ready to face the world?

DJ: Writing starts with an idea that pops into my head. I have to write it down because I will forget it. I find any kind of media (tv, my phone) to be idea killers. I have to get off by myself and just let it flow. The first of it usually gives me an end point and I work backwards. I go off for days at a time in the fall and sit in an old duck blind and spend the day writing. I find my inspiration in people and nature. A writer needs to get out of his or her own head to help him understand how things affect one another. I have been accused of being a southern writer because a lot of what I write draws on my country upbringing. But I have also lived a very metropolitan life. So the city also offers its inspiration. I write something and then I abandon it for a week or two. Going back to it makes it look fresh in my mind and I rewrite it. If it seems to come to life I will put it out for display. If not, I let it “cook” a little longer until I feel it’s done. I confess to falling asleep at the computer late at night.


AS: What do you dream of?

DJ: I am a dreamer of the first order. I like nothing better than to sit in a duck blind and watch eagles fish and spider webs on a soft south wind try to make the far bank. As a young man I floated on rafts in Macoupin creek and fished the day away. I have seen war, riots, and other terrible things. They have, in a sense, provided a balance to why I write and how I write. Art is about vision brought on by dreams.


AS: What does recovery mean to you?

DJ: Recovery is an interesting question. We are all damaged by life. We tend to remember the good things and forget the bad. But life has a way of reminding us. We never really get over great loss but we steady ourselves accepting it and sharing it. So recovery is having a funeral. It’s what the living do, until the next.



Andrew Stancek was born in Bratislava and saw Russian tanks occupying his homeland. His dreams of circuses and ice cream, flying and lion-taming, miracle and romance have appeared recently in Vestal Review, The Journal of Compressed Creative Arts, The Windsor Review, r.kv.r.y, Tin House online, Flash Fiction Chronicles, The Linnet’s Wings, Connotation Press, and Pure Slush. His novel-in-stories, starring a teenager named Mirko, set in Bratislava in the sixties, is nearing completion. Andrew joined our masthead after we published his excellent SOS piece “Elephants and Banana Leaves” in our July 2012 issue.

Interview with Allen Forrest, Illustrator

Allen Forrest

Andrew Stancek: Did you paint these works after reading the written work, or did you match work which you already had to the work?  Can you tell us about the inspiration, or how the matching occurred? Perhaps even a specific piece of writing and your specific painting.

Allen Forrest:  In most cases a magazine will take an existing drawing or painting and match it to a story or poem they are going to publish. Then there are my illustration pieces, in which case I work with a writer who sends me their words and I interpret them. Usually I create just one piece for visual interest which relates to a story event or a main character to entice the reader. My work is initially inspired by my feeling for an existing visual, a model, something I see on my daily travels or a photograph, perhaps another artist’s work and I will create my stylized interpretation of that subject.


AS: Can you talk about the influences on your work, your background, where you studied, what artists make your heart stop?

AF: Some years back, I was taking a Reichian Therapy program and became so drawn to art that I needed to do something about it. This need began my journey into the world of fine art and illustration. Since then, I have mostly taught myself, but with the aid of an occasional drawing or painting class.

I like to visually challenge myself. For instance, I’d rather paint some older, less picturesque part of town than a beautiful one, which I have done my share of. I’d rather capture rough industrial areas on my canvas and show the beauty in them. I have traveled, lived, and worked in different parts of the U.S. and Canada. Sometimes I paint cities and locales from my past. I have special memories and feelings about these places and painting them helps me stay connected with those experiences.

As far as artists that make my heart stop, I would say inspire me and create that ache inside to create, there are too many to name, but I will name a few. My favorites (in no particular order): William Steig,  Terry St. John, David Park, Pablo Picasso,  Judy Molyneux, Richard Diebenkorn, Vincent van Gogh, Ben Shahn, Beth Betker, Romare Bearden, El Greco, Francisco Goya, Mark Rothko, and the list goes on and on…


AS: I continue to be intrigued by process, and have had little opportunity to talk to visual artists.  Could you talk about one of the pieces which appears in r.kv.r.y and tell us what the original inspiration was, and the steps along the way which you took until you felt that the work was ready to send out into the world?

AF:  This is watercolor painting from my Greater Vancouver series. It is of Capilano Canyon River Canyon in North Vancouver, B.C., a lagoon pool, where the river slows down. As a young man when I was working during the summer in-between university semesters on my days off I would go down to a secluded beach by this river. Here I would get some sun, read a good book, lie around and dream of things to come. This park is very beautiful and I have special memories there. Unfortunately as time went on the river changed its level and the beach area is not there anymore. So as a way to preserve my memory of that time, I decided to do a series within the Vancouver series about this special place.


Sometimes beginner’s luck waves its magic wand over me. My best work is generally done without the usual preparation that many other artists engage in. Or as a lady friend of mine says about her morning coffee, “The first press is the best.” Even though I hadn’t worked in watercolor in some time, I just dove in and let the strong feelings I have for this subject guide me. I created this series in a couple of sessions. I really felt I had caught what I was after, so I uploaded them to my online albums and started submitting them to publications. Several magazines have been interested in this series and I still have a fondness for them.


AS: I am also thrilled by the disparate list of artists who inspire you.  I have two Steig drawings framed in my house and he has given me enormous pleasure.  And when we visited Paris, some years back, I spent two days in the Picasso Museum, since so many of the works touched me. One of the great many sources of wonder about Picasso is how many times he recreated himself, how he was always bold enough to set off in new directions.  It is sometimes said of writers, with perhaps some justification, that they keep telling different versions of the same story.  I know I have certain motifs which I keep returning to in my writing, settings which continue to inspire.  Where do you see yourself in this spectrum?

AF: Once a criticism was leveled at my work. The critic said my art was derivative of other artists’ work and that worried him. Even Picasso was influenced by other artists and a saying has been attributed to him, “good artists copy, great artists steal.” Picasso first stole the European masters with his neo-classic look, then he took from Cezanne’s late geometric landscapes and further expanded this style into cubism. Then one day an artist friend took Picasso to see ancient African art: masks, statues, and symbols. Picasso turned to his friend and thanked him for showing him these works of art—and along comes those huge heads of Guernica. If you study art from ancient civilizations you will see familiar shapes and styles that became fashionable in artists’ work many centuries later.  The important thing about stealing others’ ideas and styles is to “make your own version.” Let the work have your own particular uniqueness that comes from both your strengths and your weaknesses as an artist. As far as re-inventing myself, or painting the same paintings over and over, I feel it is by getting inside other artists’ work, creating my version of them and shaping them in a slightly different direction or angle, that I begin taking on pieces of that art heritage in my style. I am terrible at “copying” something. My perceptions always lead me to a distorted take on the model and as long as I don’t try to fight it too much, but allow those mistakes to exist in the work, they will lead to uniqueness. You will create originally with the styles that you have, as Picasso said, stole from others, because they are “your way” of using them. The more styles I explore, the more I push and pull my instrument, until I reach a point where the focus becomes staying where I am. For instance, I was after a certain style of oil painting. It was what I worked at first, now eight years down the road. I have a certain way that I like to paint that creates the thick paint and emotional distortion I feel so strongly about. This style may evolve more, but that is no longer something I concentrate on; I let that go its own course. Currently I am pushing my drawing style into new areas that may have some of my peers wondering about me. That’s okay, I need this time to push and pull and try this and that as I slowly get closer to what I am trying to create. Then, as with painting, there will probably be a slowing down and a focus on where I am, without the need to try and take it further, it will evolve on its own.


AS: Finally, in this journal we always ask, what does recovery mean to you?

AF: For me, the most important form of recovery is a recovering from being lost, of finding one’s path again. We are all born knowing what path in life to take, but for many the inner compass gets blocked by society’s conditioning and they lose their way. People search to find that “something”, something that clicks in them, makes them feel—I was born to do this! This “knowing” is what many have been missing all their lives. They long to feel this creative need deep down inside. Whether this will lead to creation in art or science, it is the same ache that comes from within—I WANT to do that! When you “know” this, you will not stop. You will not follow this path for monetary reasons, but for your own private creative one. You may find, as many artists do, you will need to support yourself with other work, but it is the love of your creations that will feed you and keep you alive, truly alive.



Andrew Stancek was born in Bratislava and saw Russian tanks occupying his homeland. His dreams of circuses and ice cream, flying and lion-taming, miracle and romance have appeared recently in Vestal Review, The Journal of Compressed Creative Arts, The Windsor Review, r.kv.r.y, Tin House online, Flash Fiction Chronicles, The Linnet’s Wings, Connotation Press, and Pure Slush. His novel-in-stories, starring a teenager named Mirko, set in Bratislava in the sixties, is nearing completion. Andrew joined our masthead after we published his excellent SOS piece “Elephants and Banana Leaves” in our July 2012 issue.

An Interview with Herb Kauderer

Herb Kauderer

Mary Turzillo:  Your poem “Equal Time” appears in the July ON THE LINE issue of r.kv.r.y. Why poetry? You have so many stories — why not fiction, or memoir, or even playwriting or screenwriting?

Herb Kauderer:  I’ve written all those things. But one of the special joys of poetry is its ability to fit into the small spaces of life. There is always paper in my pocket. And a cell phone, if need be. Waiting in line. Stopped in a traffic jam. Poetry continues to happen. I’ve written screenplays, one of which has been produced, but it is a much longer process.  I’ve been writing a novel for a decade. Meanwhile, ten books of poetry have happened.  Poetry fits into life as it’s lived, rather than requiring life to change for its creation.


MT:  So, are poems by nature lies, or only some of them?

HK:  That’s a marvelously metaphysical question that requires secondary definition. Is a lie only a conscious attempt to mislead? What if the teller of the lie believes it? If the latter is true, then the teller is not qualified to call it a lie or truth.

I write some poems that are intentional lies in pursuit of a greater truth. I write other poems that are as true as I can make them at the time of composition, only to find out that time has turned them into lies.

Richard Dawkins created the concept of the meme, a self-replicating idea that perpetuates itself regardless of its validity. This parallels my view of poetry which I define as ‘speech memorable in its specificity.’ In any class of my teen-aged students a few will know what ‘veni, vidi, vici’, ‘carpe diem’, and ‘caveat emptor’ mean, two millennia, an ocean, and a language away from their creation. But just as a meme perpetuates regardless of its validity, a poem is memorable regardless of whether it is true. It’s up to the reader to figure out whether it’s true.

Therefore a concise answer to your question is, “only some poems are lies, but I’m not telling you which.”

Equal Time_capilano-canyon

MT:  I sometimes feel your poetry is an elevated form of conversation: deep and brilliant observations honed in language down to subtle art. Do you sometimes get ideas for poems from interaction with other poets and non-poets? I mean, besides your excellent Book of Answers.

HK:  I do, and I often write poetry while listening to other poets at readings. I adore good conversation and have oft been quoted for saying “the older we get, the farther we’ll drive for good conversation.”

I use conversation in my poetry in many ways. First off, I often try to capture the special rhythms of compelling conversation. Nobel winner Orhan Pamuk believes in the poetry in conversation. Secondly, I often mishear things, which is a great creative resource. Thirdly, I sometimes simply capture what I hear, and distill it with context and find I have a poem.  It is a specialized form of found poetry.


MT:  Any examples, or is that too personal?

HK: I don’t know that anything is too personal for me. I do withhold work to avoid hurting others. But I am far too old and used up and cranky to be anyone other than who I am.

Here’s a poem capturing conversation. It was first published in ArtVoice in the issue for the week starting December 30, 1999.

The Unspoken Before You
        by Herb Kauderer
Time and time again
my ex-lover stumbles
into the land of pain,
laughing heartily
at my schtick
& saying, “That’s funny.
That’s really funny!”
And each time I answer
“I used to be a funny guy.”
& we each hear
the unspoken
before you.


MT: A friend of mine who I consider fairly bright and educated believes that poems without rhyme are not really poetry. What do you say to people like that? In fact, what do you say to people who insist that only form poetry is really poetry?

HK: To those who insist that only formal poetry is real poetry I say, “enjoy your unfounded belief, but please don’t make any policy decisions based on it. If you do you might accidentally spill your belief on someone.”

It is the nature of interpersonal communication and symbolic language that words and concepts mean only what we as a society agree they mean. The overwhelming majority of all markets, publications, and classes dealing with poetry include open-form (or free verse as it used to be called) in the genre of poetry. Formal verse is a less popular sub-genre (excluding song lyrics which are more popular). People who want to change the definitions will succeed only when the majority of us agree. So far, most of society is not bounded by rhyme.

This is largely a question of labelling and semantics, but it’s fun to discuss, as labelling and semantics are a valid part of poetry. The thing about rhyming verse is that most of us have an emotional attachment to it because of its connection to our childhood. I would love it if all poetry spoke to me as vividly and with as much fun and creativity as the best of Dr. Seuss. I don’t consider formal verse as the only ‘real poetry’, but it is special to me, and clearly it’s special to others as well.


MT:  What advice would you give a very new poet, say, a teenager, or even an eight-year-old?

HK:  Mostly I try to stay out of their way. My two oldest daughters were published poets as teenagers. Had I said anything to them it would have been “be specific.”


MT:  And what about new poets we should keep watch as they develop?

HK:  I think Sarah Borodzik has the potential to breakout if she perseveres. Josh Smith is impressive. I wish I were better at remembering names, as there are two more I can picture but not name.

I’ll mention Don Scheller and Dan Sicoli as two poets who I think should be famous. They are neither young nor new.


MT:  Do you have any dead-poet role-models?

HK:  Two dead poets are overwhelmingly important to my development. Edna Saint Vincent Millay’s work absolutely took my breath away when I was around puberty. Her work made me consider poetry as a possible form for the kinds of things I wanted to say. I still adore her power and willingness to address uncomfortable subjects. Among my early poetry are a few attempts at Millay’s tortured sentence style of writing. In my old age I still love Millay’s poetry, but I am less enamored of the need to keep looking up her words in the dictionary.

The second and more currently influential dead poet for me is Dorothy Parker. I love her short snappiness. I still try to emulate it with some regularity. You may note that both poets were renowned for dealing with romantic unhappiness. There is a large section of my poetry that deals with that, including the poem above. It’s harder to write bitter romantic poetry now that I am very happily married. It’s part of the movement of life which individual poems defy by capturing a moment and freezing it while the inhabitants of the poem move on from the moment. Those old photos from the 80’s show how black my hair was, but those poems show what I thought and felt, who I was. I have not been that person for three decades, yet a good poem still feels immediate, and renders a vivid image of a used-to-be.



Mary Turzillo is a professor emeritus of Kent State University.  Her poetry has won the Elgin Award, been nominated for the Pushcart, and has received many more accolades.  Her Nebula winning novellete “Mars Is No Place for Children” and her novel An Old-Fashioned Martian Girl have been selected as recreational reading on the International Space Station.

Featuring James McAdams

James McAdams

James McAdams in the author of “My Back Pages” a wonderful essay featured in our July ON THE LINE issue. We are so thrilled to have the opportunity to share this fine essay with the world.

James actually dropped out of high school and worked in the mental health and web design industries for a decade before getting his G.E.D. in 2005. After acquiring his B.A. in Creative Writing from the University of Pittsburgh, he acquired his Master’s in English from Villanova University, where his Thesis was on David Foster Wallace and The New Sincerity (which was actually a somewhat novel observation at that time).

Currently James is working on his dissertation examining the imbrications between Anglophone postmodern literature and contemporary psychiatry at Lehigh University, where he also teaches and edits the university’s literary journal, Amaranth.  His two objectives for the year are to collect his Ph.D. (thus becoming one of what one imagines is a very small set of people with a G.E.D. and Ph.D.) and publishing his collection of short stories, provisionally entitled Ambushing the Void.  

You can read (and enjoy!) more of James’s work at the following journals:

The NIEMS Method” at decomP

Meran” at One Throne Magazine (this story is a fascinating fictional version of his r.kv.r.y. piece “My Back Pages“)

Get Back Your Life” at Literary Orphans

All of That” at TINGE Magazine

No Better Plenitude: 1685” at Copperfield Review

An Interview with Tessa Yang

Tessa Yang

Bismarck Martinez: You mention in your bio that “Moonlight Sonata” is inspired by your real-life experience spending sleepless nights in a noisy college dorm. Are Grace and Seth inspired by real people? If so, did you feel obligated to represent them honestly in your work or did you feel comfortable adjusting their characters for the sake of fiction?

Tessa Yang: Yes, that’s right. I remember lying awake one night when the first line, “My roommate and I are insomniacs,” just sort of floated into my head. But as for Grace and Seth, no, I can’t say they’re based on anyone in particular (though I did borrow Grace’s distinctive hairstyle from a former classmate). In general, my fiction strays quite far from my personal reality. I might draw a plot out of something I experienced or something I saw on the news, but characters almost never have intentional real-world models.


BM: Were there any challenges that you faced while writing this story?

TY: The hardest part about “Moonlight Sonata” was giving Lola a sense of agency. She’s clearly being taken advantage of here, and she’s struggling with some issues that are out of her control, but at the same time, I’m not interested in writing about passive people to whom things “just happen.” I wanted it to come through that Lola is ultimately responsible for her actions, that the biggest obstacle to her recovery is not in fact Seth, but Lola’s own capacity for self-deceit.


BM: What is your revision process like? How much revising did you go through for this story?

TY:Moonlight Sonata” was part of my college honors project, so I was fortunate enough to have an advisor, Dr. Pedro Ponce, with whom to discuss possible edits. One major plot point I ended up discarding was Lola’s sexual assault; this was originally construed as the source of her insomnia, but my advisor and I agreed that it wasn’t coming through clearly and was too much for “Moonlight Sonata” to handle along with everything else. I also had to cut about 800 words to meet r.kv.r.y.’s word limit. This turned out to be great for the story, as it forced me to be really selective with my details.

piano-Moonlight Sonata

BM: Lola gets caught up in the nocturnal world led by the charismatic figurehead, Seth. At the end, Lola appropriates Seth’s line when offering sleeping pills to Grace. In your mind, what does this mean for Lola and Grace?

TY: The way I intended it, that lines showcases the limits to Lola’s growth as a character. Although she does stand up to Seth in an earlier scene, the irony is that she effectively becomes Seth, despite genuinely good intentions, when she offers Grace the pills. So again, it goes back to her agency as a character. Lola is in a position of power in that last scene, yet there’s something corrupt about her new status. And as for Grace, well, I hope she’d have the good sense not to take the pills, but who really knows?


BM: Do you write every day? Do you have specific goals for how much you should write in a given amount of time, or do you write only when you feel inspired?

TY: As I mentioned above, this story was part of an honors project, and for that I was writing every day, every morning before class. I was amazingly productive, and I hope I can develop a similar daily routine for grad school. Without a hard deadline, I definitely do not write each day. As you say, it’s about when I’m feeling inspired, which might be just a couple of times a week, if that.


BM: When and how did you start writing? How has your writing changed since then?

TY: I began typing stories on the computer around age nine. Apart from the fact that my actual writing ability has (I would hope) improved a lot since then, a big change is that I write mainly realistic fiction now, whereas when I was younger, I wrote fantasy. It’s not that I’ve abandoned fantasy or anything, but I do think, growing up, you start to realize that reality can be as weird and fascinating as any imaginary universe.


BM: As a young writer, where do you see your writing going from here? Are there any genres that you haven’t explored that you would like to? Do you plan to endeavor upon a novel or a collection of short stories?

TY: I’m thinking a short story collection for my grad school thesis. I’ve gotten really comfortable with short-form fiction over the past few years, and I just don’t have any one idea that seems like it could sustain itself over a novel. As for genres, yes, absolutely, there are many I would like to explore! Recently I’ve become interested in flash fiction; it’s so different from the long stories I usually write, and I’ve come to appreciate how word count restraints can really energize the prose. l have a similar feeling about poetry, though I’m slightly intimidated by it, and this is also something I’d like to work on. I think forays outside your “home genre” can only help you grow as a writer.



Bismarck Martinez is a native of Queens, New York and a reluctant migrant to Long Island. He is a student at John Jay College in NYC where he also works as a writing tutor and serves as editor-in-chief of the student creative writing journal, The Quill. His work can be found at The Monarch Review, Drunk Monkeys, and Poetry Quarterly.

Interview with D Ferrara


Lori A. May: You often find characters with dark, but subtle demeanors. This time, in “Special Forces,” you have a soldier narrator. Can you share a little about how you find or create your characters?

D Ferrara: I don’t think I create my characters – they arrive fully formed in my head, or sometimes show up in front of me, on the street, in my family or among my acquaintances, although sometimes they cross pollinate. All I do is imagine them in different situations. That is the hard part. In “Special Forces,” the main character is based largely on a late friend, with some anecdotes drawn from soldiers I have met over the years. I imagined him in my own cancer treatment.

Lucille” is based on my own life, although I’ve added events, as my time in France was less eventful than Lucille’s. “Then and Now” was triggered by my husband’s terrible experience on September 11.  “Sample Sale” published in American Writers’ Review, sprang from a conversation I overheard between two young women at, you guessed it, a sample sale.


LAM: How do you know when you have the right narrator for the story? For that matter, how do you determine the appropriate POV?

DF: Most times, my stories derive from the character. Without the character, there isn’t a story. In “Special Forces,” that is especially true. Sometimes, however, I find that the story is more interesting from another point of view. My play, “Favor,” for example, started out as a biography of Edith Stein, the nun who was killed at Auschwitz.  While that was a great story, it didn’t resonate with me as much as why the Catholic Church had decided to make her – a woman born Jewish – a saint. When I changed the focus to the political intrigue at the Vatican, the story took off.

As for how I determined that: I couldn’t find anything new to say about Edith.   Not only could I not say it better, I couldn’t offer anything different. At that point, I could either give up on the idea (wasting years of research) or find a fresh approach. That approach germinated when I read an article by James Carroll, a Catholic writer, who questioned the motivation of the Church in canonizing Edith. I created a character to embody the controversy, gave Edith a voice in it and I was off.

seattle-post-alley-Special Forces

LAM: You publish widely in a variety of literary journals. What strategy do you have for submitting your work?

DF:Special Forces” seemed perfect for r.kv.r.y. There are stories like that – they just fit. Mostly, I submit to journals that I like, which means I submit a lot.  I subscribe to TSP and make note of the publishers of short stories there. Once a quarter, I choose a story and send it to journals which have published my work or which I have enjoyed. I have also used Writers’ Relief to explore new outlets.


LAM: Tell us a bit more about your writing life. How do you balance your writing, submitting, promoting, and community involvement while keeping up with day-to-day life?

DF: Like most writers with a day job and a family, I dream of the perfect retreat with nothing to do but write. I doubt I would write a word there. “Special Forces” happened when I was lying on a gurney, waiting for an MRI, worrying about my family, work, nausea, hair loss, sex, chemo-bloat, chemo-brain, but not, oddly enough, dying. Some of my best stories were born on the 6:25 bus to Manhattan. Stories have to be about something that touches the reader. What about an idyllic retreat is likely to touch most readers?

In short, I don’t so much balance as squeeze. I write on my iPhone, my iPad and a paper notebook, although my handwriting is dreadful. In a pinch, I gabble ideas into the voice recorder on the phone. It isn’t perfect – or even pretty, but I have published fourteen stories in the past two years, as well as a lot of articles for work, so I feel productive.

As for community involvement, I often feel that it gets the shortest end of the stick. If it weren’t for social media, I would have a hard time keeping up with my writers’ group. Still, when I get together with them, I always feel as if I’ve been rejuvenated, injected with new ideas.


LAM: When you think about your future writing plans, what might we hope to see from you in the future? Do you intend to pull together some of your stories for a collection?

DF: I have a collection of twenty-five stories ready to go (any publishers reading this?), from which “Special Forces” is drawn, and am adding to them, although somewhat erratically As every short story writer knows, publishers shy away from collections. Still, it is a wonderful experience to see them published individually. Next up, I have stories in MacGuffin, The Evansville Review, Adana and Diversity Art Project.


LAM: What do you know now as a writer that you didn’t know ten years ago? What advice might you offer to those starting out?

DF: Ten years ago I had given up on short fiction and was working on screenplays and ghostwriting. It paid, but was miserable work. I rarely got credit, and affected a hard boiled pose that was alien to my nature.

Slowly, I returned to my first love, the short story. It will never make me rich, but it makes me happy. Yes, I still write scripts, and collaborate with others on their work, but I don’t need the tough-as-nails posture. My life has been good: I can share that good fortune with others.

As for offering advice – besides the usual, excellent wisdom, “just do it,” I would add, don’t resent other people’s success. Envy is a waste of energy. Put that energy into your work. If you don’t “succeed” at what you are doing, maybe you need to redefine success. Do you need to change your genre? Find a different art form? Choose other outlets? Or revisit rule one – just do it? If you don’t write it, no one can read it.

If your only dream involves sitting on Johnny Carson’s couch, remember – Johnny is dead.




Lori A. May is the author of several books, including The Write Crowd: Literary Citizenship & the Writing Life (Bloomsbury, 2015) and Square Feet (Accents, 2014). Her work may also be found in publications such as The Atlantic, Brevity, and Midwestern Gothic. Lori teaches in the nonfiction MFA program at the University of King’s College-Halifax, and in the MA/MFA programs at Wilkes University. Find her online at www.loriamay.com and on twitter @loriamay.


Homepage Summer 2015


Cover Image_mt-diablo-poppies
“Mt. Diable Poppies” by Allen Forrest, oil on canvas

Dear Readers,

Welcome to our Summer 2015 “ON THE LINE” issue. We’re incredibly proud to present to you the wonderful and diverse array of voices in this issue, all complemented by the beautiful artwork of Allen Forrest which he has graciously donated for this issue.

I’m thrilled with the way everything came together for this issue.  A big thank you to my devoted editors and readers and especially to our contributors who trusted us to bring their work out into the world. Also, thanks for the gorgeous artwork, Allen Forrest. You made each piece pop just a little bit more.

Our October themed issue will be GOODWILL and our January issue will have the theme of FLAME. As always, thanks for reading.

Yours in Recovery,

Mary Akers

“Wish Me Well” by Andrew Hahn

Wish Me Well_seattle-asiatown-the-shoppers-7th-ave-s-near-s-weller-stt
“Seattle Asia Town Shoppers,” by Allen Forrest, oil on canvas

I had my first panic attack late September 2012 my senior year of college. I forgot about Spanish homework until I got to class and my friend Kidder asked if I understood a question on the assignment.

“Um, what?” I said.

“We had homework,” she said with a little head nod and a little grace.

I frantically pulled out my course syllabus and flipped today’s date. We did have homework. I hated when the professor called on me and I stumbled through an answer, so I pulled out my textbook and flipped to the back where all the answers were. I started to write the answer to question one, but my hand couldn’t make it past the first word without messing it up—ella.

My body tightened up. My heart raced like I was running.


I couldn’t breathe properly. My vision went in and out of focus like apertures. My heart palpitated. I thought it was going to explode. My hands. armpits, and back started sweating. I wiped my hands rhythmically on my thighs. 1-and-2-and-3-and-4-and on top of my skinny jeans. My sweat stains showed through my oxford shirt. The room was spinning, like I spun my head around on a bat, and I realized that I wasn’t okay to be sitting in a classroom for the next hour thinking I’m walking the balance beam of my body exploding.

My belongings thudded in my bag as I sloppily tossed them in.

“I’m skipping class,” I said.

My few friends in the class all scrunched their brows. “Are you okay?”

“I’m not sure,” I said picking up my bag and racing out of the classroom.


I made a counseling appointment one day while I was on break at work, walking around the parking lot outside. I kicked all the small sticks and stones I came across to see how far I could send them.

“Thank you for calling Wishing You Well Counseling. How can I help you today?” She was happy and helpful like you’d expect someone at a counseling office to be.

“Hi,” I said. “I’d like to make an appointment.”

“Okay, and have you visited our site to know who you’d like to meet with?”

“Uh, no,” I replied. “Yes, I visited your site and read one of the bios, but no, I don’t know who I would want to be with.”

“Well that’s totally fine,” she said. “Why would you like to make an appointment?”

“I’ve just been very anxious. I’ve felt at the edge of myself for the month of July.”

“Well, I’m very sorry to hear that you’re going through that,” she said. I could hear the threads of compassion in her voice. “I know exactly who to set you up with. How’s Wednesday at noon?”

“Sounds perfect.” I smiled, feeling the pulses of hope beneath my ribs.


The counseling office was in a quaint, brick house off one of Lynchburg’s busiest streets. The house itself released an aura of kindness and rest, like I was being hugged by practiced arms. A soft voice inside me whispered, “Everything is going to be okay. Please, come in.”

So I did just that and stepped into the foyer of an old house with a charming staircase in the entryway. To the left was the waiting room with two chairs and a door in view of the foyer and as I stepped in, I saw a sofa and a table with a checkerboard. There was a woman sitting in one of the chairs, so I sank in the chair cushion next to her on the opposite side of a box of magazines that looked like it was from Pier 1.

I browsed Twitter on my phone as I waited. Nothing but rap critiques and quippy rap puns, desperate passive aggressive pleas for love, and a t-rex who can’t do things like wave down a cab and shuffle playing cards. I flipped through pictures of the poor trying t-rex and chuckled to myself. The lady next to me kept glancing over until her counselor called her to her appointment. I signed off Twitter.

The door next to my chair creaks open and a kind-faced, blond haired woman says, “George?”

“Must be me, right?” I say.

“Come on in.” She smiles. Her blue dress brings out the blue calm in her eyes.

There are two brown suede sofas—one along the near wall and one facing the entryway. Each has colorful pillows tucked into the corners like rainbow sprinkles on a chocolate cone.

“Sit anywhere you like,” she says.

I sit in the far corner of the nearest sofa and face the chair in the middle of the room that I assume is where she’ll sit.

“First,” she says, “before we move on, do you go by George?” She shuts the door behind her and takes a few steps toward her chair.

“No,” I say. “I go by Andrew most of the time.”

“Okay. I want to make sure that this is as comfortable a place for you by calling you something familiar.” She takes a seat in the chair and writes notes on a sheet—my “file.” She lovingly brings her hands together like reuniting best friends. “So, what brings you in today?”

“I am anxious,” I say. “For the past month, I haven’t been able to take a full breath. I feel like I’m teetering at the edge of a breakdown all the time. I panic at the most random times, and then I’m on the phone for hours with my grandmother and aunt.”

“Hmm. You find a sense of security in them?”

“My grandmother helped raise me, so I would definitely say I do.”

She scribbles notes. “What else?”

I gaze out the window into the field behind her and thought of how to turn my feelings into words like connecting the dots without the numbers.

“Last week, my friend asked me if I loved myself.”

“And what did you say?” She never looks away from me. And she nods her head and listens with affirming yeahs.

“I said that I do, but she said she didn’t believe me. I spend so much time taking care of other people and making sure their needs are met that I don’t know how to spend time with myself.”

“Do you believe your answer?” She tilts her head like a puppy who’s heard a strange noise.

I shut my eyes. “No.”

“No what, Andrew?”

“No,” I take a deep breath. “No, I don’t love myself.”

“And why is that?”

“I don’t like what’s happening to me and how it makes me. I hate being alone all the time and I hate that I have to spend all of my time with me. And I hate feeling like what I want for my life isn’t good enough for my family, and I hate that I spend all my time talking about how anxious I’m feeling or if I feel safe and not doing things or eating things that have suddenly become triggers for all of it. And I hate feeling like people are annoyed with me because I give so much to meet my friends’ needs and it feels like no one is willing to care for me the way I need to be cared for.” I wipe my eyes. There’s a difference between knowing something about me and speaking it out, but when I say something, it’s true. It’s looking at your feelings saying, “I know you exist.”

“Wow,” she says.

“One more question before we move on if that’s okay.” She leans forward. “Do you feel like there’s something wrong with you?”

I look out at the window again and watch a little girl with a balloon tied to her wrist run around and around in circles.

“Yes, I do.”

“Andrew, let me tell you something. This anxiety you’re experiencing doesn’t mean that there’s something wrong with you. It’s just your body’s way of telling you something’s wrong. Your brain’s function is to keep you alive and do it well. Your brain doesn’t understand that anything would be going wrong inside of your body, so it equips you to handle conflict externally. Does that make sense?”

“So far, yes,” I say.

“The blood rushes to your fingertips in tingles. Your heart beats hard and your breath tightens to get the blood to your feet quicker so you can run away from the danger. The important thing to remember is this—It is not that type of fear.”

“It’s not that type of fear,” I repeat. “I love that.”

“Yeah,” she says nodding and smiling. “And anxiety is fear of something unknown. And right now you don’t know yourself.”

“That’s beautiful.” I feel the cushions beneath me. Feel the air from the vents. Look out across the expanse of the field. I’m grinning, knowing that my anxiety comes from a lack of love and misinformation about my body, my feelings, and what my brain has learned to believe, and all this can be cured with a little love for myself.

She notices me smiling and she bares her teeth and cocks her head. “You love that, don’t you?”

“Yeah,” I say. “I really do.”

I have problems, but it’s nice to know they’re not the kind of problems I thought. I am a house that’s a little messy in all the hidden places. Anne Lamott, in Bird By Bird, says, “[C]lutter and mess show us that life is being lived. Clutter is wonderfully fertile ground—you can still discover treasures under all those piles, clean things up, edit things out, fix things, get a grip.” I am a house that’s been dusted and vacuumed, but it’s been cleaned like a man’s cleaned it. What it feels like my counselor and I are doing is lifting up the sofa cushions, pulling the sofa away from the wall and collecting the trash and vacuuming up the dust bunnies. With each particle we pull from between and underneath the cushions, we examine it and remember how it got there and also try our best to not let it happen again. And we do this in every room, in every cabinet, in every drawer, until I love myself for who I am.



Andrew Hahn is a graduate of Liberty University and currently lives in Woodstock, GA. You can find him on Twitter @andyhahn1.

“Grip” by Kathy Fish

“Auburn CA Poppies” by Allen Forrest, Oil on canvas

My brother, Mike, is getting solar panels installed in his house. All the materials are laid out on his front lawn. Workers on his roof pulling off shingles. I go inside and confront a small boy in overalls, holding a toy hammer, his cheeks tender and rosy like a picture-book child.

One of the workers couldn’t get a sitter, Mike says, coming up behind me with a cup of dry Cheerios for the kid. Mike works from home. He has three computers in his office, a stand-up desk with a treadmill. I’m afraid he’s going to ask me to stay and watch the kid, but I have things I need to do, funeral errands, like going to Walgreens to have prints made from the old pictures we’ll display, and getting Easter lilies for the chapel. Our brother Tom died a couple of days ago and his daughter requested these things, gave all of her dad’s siblings some tasks. We wanted to help any way we could. He is being cremated as we speak.

The boy sits on the kitchen floor with his Cheerios and his hammer and stares at me. I am suddenly, monstrously angry with this child just for being here.

And why must this be done today, I ask my brother. He sips his coffee. If I cancel it will be weeks before they can come back, he says.

I wonder how it’s possible that a living breathing person can be gripping your hand one day and be reduced to a pile of ashes the next. We all stood around his bed at the hospice, my other brothers and I, and Tom grabbed hold of my hand and gripped it hard enough to hurt. He was smiling, had a gleam in his eye.

Mike said, you’ve still got it, bro. Tom had been a quarterback, a state wrestling champion. My dad used to have the boys squeeze tennis balls while they watched tv. Grip was important. The difference between winning and losing.

Tom had stopped talking the day before. Was given no more fluids per the protocol. Massive amounts of morphine and anti-seizure meds were being pumped into his body, but he gripped my hand like he did those tennis balls of his youth.

Take it easy, you’ll break her hand, my brother Steve said. We all laughed. This was one of those good moments from the last few days. There’d been others. When Tom’s ex-wife leaned in close to him, smiling, and he wrapped his arms around her. When the college buddy showed up, had driven all the way from Texas and sat next to Tom telling all the old, wild stories. The fight they got into in a small town bar and the night they spent in jail there, being fed pork barbecue and corn on the cob and not wanting to leave. The stories made Tom laugh, albeit soundlessly. It was so good to see.

He finally let go of my hand and lay back and Steve dipped the tiny sponge on a stick into the bottle of Crown Royal and dabbed it on Tom’s lips and tongue. There, brother, he said, have some of the good stuff.



Kathy Fish‘s stories have appeared in The Lineup: 20 Provocative Women Writers(Black Lawrence Press, 2015), Guernica, Indiana Review, Denver Quarterly, Quick Fiction, and elsewhere. She is the author of three collections of short fiction: a chapbook of flash fiction in the chapbook collective, A Peculiar Feeling of Restlessness (Rose Metal Press, 2008), Wild Life (Matter Press, 2011) and Together We Can Bury It, a second printing of which is available now from The Lit Pub. She has recently joined the faculty of the forthcoming Mile-High MFA at Regis University in Denver.

Read an interview with Kathy here.