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Five Burning Questions with Joey Sheehan

WW-April2019

Joey Sheehan is one of our featured writers at our April 9 reading. Check out our interview with him below.

What’s your favorite thing about writing?

I don’t really know how to answer that except to say that writing is something I can identify with and can give context and articulation to my experiences and my vision of the world. I got into writing through rock and roll and I got into that through a history of abuse, a predilection towards drugs, and a sexually alternative lifestyle. I heard The Velvet Underground when I was 13 and that’s when life really began for me. Before that, I just felt like a monster instead of a misfit. From there, I found my way to William Burroughs, Jean Genet, Patti Smith, Jim Carroll. All that stuff.

What is your favorite genre to read, and is this also your favorite genre to write?

I read a lot and I write a lot. I had the opportunity to ask Patti Smith a couple years ago about the difference between writing as orgasm and writing as narrative when her second memoir, M Train, came out. She said it’s not all that different and that it’s just a matter of looking out for the punchline. I think I see what she’s saying. I keep a journal and would like to see more of my prose in print but writing prose is typically not as ecstatic as writing poetry is for me.

Describe your ideal writing situation.

The city is very important to me. I walked away from a very minor drug habit recently. I hadn’t done any drugs in many years and I found myself just gravitating toward it out of boredom and, I think, just to shake things up and find a new perspective in my writing. What else am I gonna do? Hang out at a yoga studio? A microbrewery? See some shit movie at the Parkway? That’s what Baltimore seems to be these days. If those are my options, I’d rather have drugs. The Baltimore I know and used to be a canvas for me to paint my poems onto is gone. All the spaces that had always felt like such a part of me are under occupation by the upwardly mobile. It’s creepy.

What is something you would love that your readers know about you as a writer?

Instead of drugs, I’m doing yoga now.

What is your most re-read book, if any, and why?

Instead of answering this question, I will name the books I am rereading most at the moment. Art in the Light of Conscience is a collection of poetic theory and criticism by the Russian poet, Marina Tsvetaeva. This book continues to be life-altering every time I pick it up. It also reminds me of the necessity for writing poetry in times of upheaval. I am not a revolutionary and don’t want to be a part of anybody’s hashtag utopia so to read Tsvetaeva calling from poverty and exile from post-revolutionary Russia is a reminder that my craft and my vocation are not vain or unimportant. On the contrary, poetry resonates deeper from periods of upheaval. I will also recommend Ishion Hutchinson’s recent book, House of Lords and Commons. This man is just an incredible poet. Nothing more to be said.


 

Joey Sheehan is a poet from Baltimore city. He has work published here and there in Anti-Heroin Chic, Porridge Magazine, Five::2::One Magazine, Memoir Mixtapes Volume 2, and a few others.

 

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Five Burning Questions with Ann Quinn

 

What’s the worst thing about writing?

Getting to know your own extraordinary procrastination habits.

What do you do when people ask “How’s your writing goin?”

Say “fine” and smile, unless it’s a fellow writer who is asking in which case I give them a face which says “you know exactly how hard it is.”

Describe your thoughts on writing (either your own or in general) using as many nouns as possible.

Paper plus pen or finger plus keyboard plus brain plus heart sometimes yields pleasant surprise. First draft plus the above plus time sometimes yields something worth keeping.

What is it about your discipline (fiction/poverty/nonfiction/other) that draws you to it?

It’s my quiet way of being in the conversation.

What’s your favorite word or words? What about it/them appeals to you?

The word that I find when I need it in a poem!

Bonus question: What is the perfect Pandora station for me to listen to right now. Interpret ‘me’ however you’d like. 

Being a musician, I need silence to write, and I need to know the name of the piece when I’m listening to music, so no Pandora here.

___

Read more from and about Ann Quinn at www.annquinn.net.

 

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Five Burning Questions with Dorothy Bendel

1. What’s the worst thing about writing?

1. Knowing/accepting when a piece is “finished”

2. Being asked to write on spec ***shakes fist at sky***

3. Running out of snacks

2. What do you do when people ask “How’s your writing goin?

Smile & lie, or curl up like a hedgehog until everyone gets uncomfortable and walks away.

3. Describe your thoughts on writing (either your own or in general) using as many nouns as possible

Writing is a windowed shelter, inhabited by ghosts, enduring endless hurricanes. Sometimes the shelter is on fire. (Or, at least, that’s what it feels like at the moment).

4. What is it about your discipline (fiction/poverty/nonfiction/other) that draws you to it?

I work in multiple disciplines, but as far as nonfiction goes, I’m interested in work that uses form as a channel of truth-telling, of giving voice to the unspeakable. I get excited about work that breaks down perceptions of what nonfiction can be.

5. What’s your favorite word or words? What about it/them appeals to you?

Favorite made-up word for no apparent reason: scrumtrelescent

Favorite French word that’s fun to say: pamplemousse

Favorite word for obvious reasons: royalties

Bonus question: What is the perfect Pandora station for me to listen to right now. Interpret ‘me’ however you’d like. 

I haven’t listened to Pandora in a while, but I have been revisiting some 90s Riot Grrrl stuff lately, which seems appropriate right now.

—–

Read more from and about Dorothy Bendel at dorothybendel.com.

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5 Burning Questions with Timothy DeLizza

What’s the worst thing about writing?

My least favorite thing about the writing process is how long everything takes: I read slowly, I edit fellow writers’ work slowly, and I write slowly. Yet, I want to read, help edit, and write so many things. The drafting process even for a short story can take over a year, and I’ve been working on my novel for almost a decade now. Then, when you get journals, agents or publishers involved, even rejections can take quite some time. I understand good reasons exist for this (quality control, most of us have other jobs/responsibilities, sheer volume of submissions journals/agents/publishers get, etc.), but it creates an odd dynamic where when something is finally published I almost feel like a prior version of me deserves the credit.

What do you do when people ask “How’s your writing goin?”

Per the above, I almost always say “Slowly.”

Describe your thoughts on writing (either your own or in general) using as many nouns as possible. 

Archivist. 

Borges. 

Empathy. 

Mordor. 

Resonance. 

Sub-subtext. 

Subtext. 

Text. 

Voyage. 

Whiskey. 

What is it about your discipline (fiction/poverty/nonfiction/other) that draws you to it?

Nothing allows you to find works that are more bespoke to your particular interests than fiction. According to the website 538, about 350 original scripted shows and 650 movies are made in the United States each year, whereas 1.4 million books are published. This disparity is unsurprising. Filmmaking and TV almost always require significant investment and at least dozens and at most hundreds of creative “cooks” involved, many of whom have been to the same schools, the same backgrounds and hold the same broad theories of what a film should be. By contrast, while not easy (I’m know), the barriers to having a novel published are simply lower and the opportunity for one person’s unique vision to be fully realized is far greater. 

This allows for so much more diversity of viewpoint and subject matter. No matter where your interests lie, you can find a kindred soul that written something that’s going to touch you. 

While I read broadly, I tend to fall hardest for fantastical works infused with real human pathos. I grew up reading fantasy and science fiction, and moved over to magical realism in college. 

For example, my favorite book published last year was Han Kang’s Human Acts. The book does everything good fiction should do, including engagingly reminding us of important history that has faded from (or never entered) our collective memory. Kang’s a South Korean author whose earlier book The Vegetarian received more attention than Human Acts, including winning the International Man Booker. The Vegetarian was about a homemaker who descends into madness and starts to think she’s turning into a tree. And I loved that, but Human Acts was better, more personal and more globally resonant. The story opens around a real 1980 student movement against the South Korea’s government’s implementation of Martial Law, including a ban on political activities. The opening section is told in a second person POV (a broadly discouraged literary device that Kang manages well) who is soon revealed to be the ghost of a murdered student watching as the bodies if his fellow students are gathered. We learn the government had sent troops that killed hundreds, perhaps thousands, of protestors. I can’t overstate how much of a gut punch the reading experience was. 

While movie studios like A24, and expanded TV programing from studios like Netflix, have made strides towards greater creative risk-taking, books will always be ahead of them. Consider this: in 2016 the movie Moonlight made movie history and won an Oscar for its sensitive portrayal of a poor LGBTQ minority, in which the main character denies his identity by publicly shaming his first male lover. This also can describe Giovanni’s Room, a novel written in 1956 by James Baldwin. (Moonlight’s director has acknowledged this inspiration). Hopefully we won’t need to wait 60 years to see something like Human Acts on screen, but I expect novels will remain significantly ahead of the curve.  

What’s your favorite word or words? What about it/them appeals to you?

I only learned “Defenestration” with the past year or two, which is the act of throwing someone out a window. Like, the toss can’t be from a roof or parapet. The fact the English language has a word (and Wikipedia page of famous examples) for this is both morbidly funny and distressing. Note that this doesn’t have to be fatal, and you can also self-defenestrate.

I’ve also always admired “Lull” because it is visually representative of what it means (the three L’s towering and drooping down to the U). 

Skullduggery is a gift of a word.  

Bonus question: What is the perfect Pandora station for me to listen to right now. Interpret ‘me’ however you’d like. 

So, I’ll interpret “me” as Timothy DeLizza. I’ve actually been working on a music piece for a friend’s website on the wave of great melancholy female singers that came out between 2000 and 2010. The below is a mixtape I’ve put together for that article (I realize some songs fall outside that decade). Anyhow, for me, a Pandora created by blending these songs together would be perfect.

Both Sides Now, Joni Mitchell (from “Clouds”)
Black is the Color of My True Love’s Hair, Nina Simone (from “Wild is the Wind”)
Tigers are Noble/ The Tigers have Spoken, Neko Case (from “The Tigers have Spoken”)
I’ve Been Thinking, Cat Power (from Handsome Boy Modeling School’s “White People”)
Anthems for a 17 Year Old Girl, Broken Social Scene (from “You Forget it in People”)
Werewolf, Cat Power (from “You Are Free”)
Maybe Not, Cat Power (from “You Are Free”)
Low Point, Trespassers William (from “Having”)
Righteously, Lucinda Williams (from “World Without Tears”)
Anchor, Trespassers William (from “Different Stars”)
Because the Night, 10,000 Maniacs (from “MTV Unplugged”)
Fade Into You, Mazzy Star (from “So Tonight I Might See”)
Lonely, Lonely, Feist (from “Let it die”)
Haiti, Arcade Fire (from “Funeral”)
Walking with a Ghost, Tegan & Sara (from “So Jealous”)
Oh God, Those Darlins (from “Blur the Line”)”
Funeral, Phoebe Bridgers (from “Stranger in the Alps”)
Fatal Gift, Emily Haines & The Soft Skeleton (from “Choir of the Mind”)
Wanna Be on Your Mind, Valerie June (from “Pushing on a Stone”)
Matching Weight, Trespassers William (from “Having”)

Timothy DeLizza lives in Baltimore, MD. During daytime hours, he’s an energy attorney for the government. His novella “Jerry (from Accounting)” was published by Amazon.com’s Day One imprint and is available as a Kindle Single.

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Five Burning Questions with Kanak Gupta

Tonight’s featured poet is Kanak Gupta. Below are her answers to our five burning questions. Don’t miss your chance to hear her work in person tonight at Charmington’s at 7p.m.

What is your first memory of writing for fun?

I thought I wrote my first poem (and my first non-school assignment piece of writing) when I was six. It was called “If I Could Fly” and was written in all of fifteen minutes. It had 5 rhyming couplets and each one started with ‘if I could fly’…so all in all, pretty terrible. But hey, it made the yearbook! However, I ran into my first grade teacher a few years ago and she fondly remembers me giving her these four line poems all through the year. (What a teacher’s pet.) Maybe my brain repressed the memories to save me the embarrassment, or I just didn’t realize I was writing “creatively” until it was pointed out to me. Either way, my point is, my brain cannot be trusted.

How many drafts = done?

Draft until published (and only because I can’t edit it anymore).

What is your favorite book or favorite book-of-the-moment?

A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khalid Hosseini for now. Hosseini’s protagonists aren’t heroes who change the world, they’re just beautifully complex, engaging humans who tell the story of a country through their own lives. It’s the only book that’s ever made me cry. Also, reading Urdu swear words in an English bestseller makes me so happy.

What is it about your discipline that gets you the most excited?

It’s ability to accept absurdity. And alliteration.

What’s your favorite word or words? What about it/them appeals to you?

Rhythm – It has no vowels which makes it a snowflake, the word itself has a very rhythmic almost onomatopoeic sound, it’s associated with music, which gives it so many more brownie points, and if you say it with a rolled R, just the most amazing mouthfeel.
A close second is randomosity, which isn’t a real word, but my one true aim in life is to make it one. Randomness just doesn’t seem to capture just what a beautiful and rare phenomenon it is to find something truly random. (I feel very passionately about this, as one should.) Thus, randomosity.

Bonus question: This reading is our 4th anniversary reading. What is something you either have done for four years straight or something you hope to do for that amount of time?

I have an alarmingly short attention span, I don’t think I’ve every really done anything for that long. Does writing count? Or wasting too much of my time watching movies and TV?  Though, I would very much like to have a four-year period in my life, at least, during which I live in a different part of the world every year. Now I just have to find a job that pays me to do it.

Born in India and raised in Dubai, Kanak Gupta (pronounced Kuh-nuck) is currently trying her luck in Baltimore, as an undergraduate at Johns Hopkins University. She is the winner of the 2018 Enoch Pratt Free Library Poetry Contest and has had poems published in Little Patuxent Review, her second grade yearbook, and her “I’m a writer” notebook. She likes reading, writing, and living stories.

 

Interviews, Reading Bios & Details

Five Burning Questions with K.C. Mead-Brewer

Our second fiction writer for Tuesday’s reading is K.C. Mead-Brewer. K.C.’s answers to our five burning questions are below:

What is your first memory of writing for fun?

I must’ve been in the first or second grade when I decided to rewrite Bambi so that Bambi’s mother didn’t die. Instead, the entire forest wreaked havoc on the nearby human town. This reimagining clocked in at about 4 spiral-notebook pages long. Straightforward, no flowery stuff, lots of magical animals. It’s the earliest memory I have of creating something and feeling genuinely proud.

How many drafts = done?

This varies from project to project, but I’m a pretty obsessive editor. I can crank out a rough draft fairly quickly, but editing can take months of continuously revisiting a project. Maybe if I was more careful as I drafted, this wouldn’t be the case. My usual method: just throw in every random thought that occurs to me while drafting; I’ll worry about whether it makes sense later.

What is your favorite book or favorite book-of-the-moment?

My favorite book-of-the-moment is Stephen Graham Jones’s novella Mapping the Interior. Jones writes ghosts like no one else.

What is it about your discipline that gets you the most excited?

Earlier this year I was contacted out-of-the-blue by another author via Twitter. She told me that a story I’d written about clinical depression had helped her feel less alone. There are few things more precious to me than the feeling I had upon reading this note from her. Writers have a unique opportunity to help people they’ll never meet feel less alone, and this excites me. This gives me energy to keep writing.

What’s your favorite word or words? What about it/them appeals to you?

I love the word “raw.” I love how utterly naked and exposed it is, how much it embodies its own meaning. Wonderfully autological. It can be both playful and gross, funny and scary. Delicious and repulsive.

Bonus question: This reading is our 4th anniversary reading. What is something you either have done for four years straight or something you hope to do for that amount of time? 

My writing group just celebrated its 4th year anniversary and now we’re moving into year 5 together. We call ourselves The Roving Writers because we live scattered across the U.S. and must travel to see each other. We meet via phone twice a month and strive to meet in-person at least twice a year, as time and money allows. I can’t express how grateful I am to this group and what an honor it is to work with them.

___

K.C. Mead-Brewer’s fiction appears or is forthcoming in Electric Literature, Carve Magazine, Strange Horizons, and elsewhere. She was a proud participant in this year’s Clarion Workshop. For more information, visit kcmeadbrewer.com and follower her @meadwriter.

 

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5 Burning Questions with Christine Davis Merriman

This Tuesday, Oct. 9, we’ll feature two fiction writers–a slight departure from our normal structure! (Spooky, we know.) One of our two fiction writers this month is Christine Davis Merriman.

Below are Christine’s answers to our 5 Burning questions (and a couple of bonus ones for our in honor of our 4th Anniversary):

What is your first memory of writing for fun?

I wrote my first story just about as soon as I learned to use a pencil. In a black-and-white composition book my mother bought me to use in kindergarten or first grade, I printed a story about an amazingly strong little mouse.

How many drafts = done?

For me, that number is incalculable and, perhaps, infinite. Shall I begin the count with the first conversations I had with characters in my mind?; memories of stories that first came to me in early childhood?; early chapter versions extrapolated from short stories written as an MFA candidate forty or more years ago?; the first full manuscript submitted to my publisher about seven months ago?; a series of edited versions produced after input from copyeditor, content editor, style and format editor, and history fact checker?; a newer version in which chapters were rearranged to make the chronology work better?; an expanded version in which a scene has been added or dialog expanded to develop a theme or reveal a character more fully? Even now, as I read the first published version of my debut novel, potential revisions come to me: “I could have said it better that way” or “I should have crafted that sentence or that paragraph differently.” How many drafts is that?

And don’t forget, each reader will take in a slightly different version, filtered through her or his interpretive lens.

What is your favorite book or favorite book-of-the-moment?

My favorite book-of-the-moment is Alice McDermott’s The Ninth Hour, which is about nuns and the Irish-American community they serve in 20th century Brooklyn. In reading the book, I began noticing (and trying to learn from) the way McDermott immerses the reader (seamlessly, from page one) in plot and setting (including sights, sounds, smells) and at the same time develops character (using gesture, physical appearance, dialog, and internal monologue).

What is it about your discipline that gets you the most excited?

As a fiction writer, I get excited when I am in the shower and an epiphany or an enlightenment of theme comes to me, or when I go for a jog down a country lane and my characters begin to talk with me, revealing something new about themselves.

What’s your favorite word or words? What about it/them appeals to you?

My favorite word is psithurism, which means the sound of wind in the trees and the rustling of leaves, a sound I love to hear while sitting outside on my balcony; it’s a soothing and comforting sound. Hearing it, I feel as though the trees are whispering to me. The pronunciation of the word itself is onomatopoeic and imitates the sound it refers to.

Bonus question: This reading is our 4th anniversary reading. What is something you either have done for four years straight or something you hope to do for that amount of time?

I retired in 2017 to focus on writing fiction. I hope to continue writing fiction for four years straight so that I can complete the Lissa Power series, which I have just begun with my debut novel.

Here’s the projected lineup:

At the Far End of Nowhere: Set in Baltimore and northern Baltimore County, this novel takes Lissa from age four through 22 and portrays the unique bond between young Lissa and her elderly and eccentric father. Published in September 2018 by Green Writers Press.

Where Everything Begins: Lissa awakens from her sheltered American childhood as she spends her junior year abroad in France (1973–74) and travels around Europe. This novel is a work in progress.

Culture Shock (provisional title): Lissa experiences a whirlwind year of activity and culture shock when she returns home from France to finish college and pursue her dream of becoming a writer. This novel is still in the conceptual stage.

More Lissa Power Novels: I anticipate writing additional novels that follow Lissa through marriage, motherhood, divorce, and beyond. Stay tuned!

___

CHRISTINE DAVIS MERRIMAN, a Baltimore native, completed her MFA in Imaginative Writing–Fiction at UMass Amherst forty years ago. As an undergrad, she won Towson State University’s John S. Lewis Fiction Award for a collection of short stories, and was eager to pursue a career in fiction. Then “life” intervened, with marriage, a son, divorce, a second marriage, and a thirty-year career at Johns Hopkins. In 2017, she retired, put down her technical writer’s pen, and completed her debut novel, At the Far End of Nowhere. Christine and her husband live in a 1929 farmhouse in northern Baltimore County, Maryland.