Interviews

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5 burning questions with Austin Allen

Austin Allen is one of our featured writers at our June 11th reading. Check out our interview with him below.

What is your first memory of writing for fun?

Writing a poem on the bus on the way to kindergarten. The meter was terrible.

How many drafts = done?

It’s hard to measure in terms of drafts, but on average, I finish a poem (if I finish it) several months after starting it.

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

I’m currently enjoying Zadie Smith’s essay collection Changing My Mind.

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

Finding a way to write about something I’ve wanted to write about for years.

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

I love how secret or secretly creates instant drama, even in the most mundane contexts. “I secretly opened the refrigerator.” “She filed the secret tax form.”

Bonus question: What is your favorite shape of the moon?

Secretly? Waxing gibbous.

Austin Allen’s debut poetry collection, Pleasures of the Game (Waywiser Press, 2016), was awarded the Anthony Hecht Poetry Prize. His poetry has recently appeared in The Hopkins Review, The Missouri Review, The Yale Review, 32 Poems, and other outlets. He studies and teaches creative writing at the University of Cincinnati. http://www.austinallenwriting.com

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5 Burning Questions with Susan Muaddi Darraj

Susan Muaddi Darraj is one of our featured writers at our May 14th reading. Check out our interview with her below.

What is your first memory of writing for fun?

I remember being in fourth grade, in the Catholic school I attended in South Philadelphia – my teacher’s name was Sister Euphemia (never forget it), and she encouraged me to write creatively. I once wrote some godawful story about a princess and a castle, but in the end, I thought it wasn’t serious enough, so I killed off the princess dramatically. Anyway, Sister Euphemia liked it and said I should copy my stories neatly in notebooks to start my own “collection.” Something about that struck a chord with me – that I could be a storyteller, and so I started writing more seriously, even illustrated some of my tales.

How many drafts = done?

It’s never really done! I have given readings of my work, from a published book, and before the reading I will edit myself. Someone following along in the book would notice that my reading differs from the printed text. But BEFORE the thing goes to print, there are numerous drafts. Probably a couple dozen. I print out every draft and edit by hand, then put the changes into the electronic version, then print it out again. It’s a slow process.

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

Coyote Songs by Gabino Iglesias – a barrio noir (a genre Iglesias invented) novel set at the border.

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

I am passionate about depicting the lives of working-class people, especially immigrants. There is such passion and beauty and tragedy in their daily lives and struggles – I want to bring that to the page, to the reader.

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

I have a lot of favorite words – some I love for their sound, some for the meaning, some for their associations. But I will offer the word “mosaic,” because my books are “mosaic novels” — I like to depict a larger, sweeping picture of a town, a way of life, an historical period by showing the reader fragments from multiple points of view.

Bonus question: What kind of fruit best describes your least favorite celebrity or relative?

Prickly pear. Maybe it’s sweet on the inside, but really, who wants to bother?


 

Susan Muaddi Darraj is the author of two linked short story collections, The Inheritance of Exile and A Curious Land; the latter won the 2016 Arab American Book Award and a 2016 American Book Award. In 2018, she was named a 2018 Ford Fellow by USA Artists. In January 2020, Capstone Books will launch her debut children’s chapter book series, Farah Rocks, about a smart, brave Palestinian American girl named Farah Hajjar.

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5 Burning Questions with Danny Caine

Danny Caine is one of our featured writers at our May 14th reading. Check out our interview with him below.

What is your first memory of writing for fun?

I was applying to college. The essay prompt that year was horrible and vague and I was totally stuck: “Write about an issue of global, national, or local significance and its importance to you.” I was 100% sure they probably didn’t want another essay about the legalization of marijuana or some bullshit like that, and I absolutely didn’t want to write that. In a moment of panicked desperation, I wrote about writer’s block as my issue of local importance, and by giving myself permission to be a meta smartass, I had fun writing something for the first time. I also got into college!

How many drafts = done?

Some poems are done almost right away, some poems take years. Some poems in the book are showing me that they still want some changes, though I’m resisting that. So it really depends on the poem, but I’d say the average is 3 or 4.

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

The most recent book to knock me over was Amy Hempel’s new collection Sing to It. It’s revolutionary. She’s running laps around everyone. I could say the same thing about Colson Whitehead, too. I was lucky enough to read his new book The Nickel Boys in advance, and if there’s any justice, they’ll be teaching this thing in schools soon.

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

I’ve been thinking a lot about poetry’s ability to question. You don’t need an answer to write a poem. To me it feels like the discipline that’s most suited to searching, to sorting out your feelings, to questioning. It’s liberating to be able to write through something without having figured it out first—to write through something as a way of figuring it out. Or not.

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

This is super corny but I’m going to say the combination of “Continental Breakfast.” I know, I know, it’s the title of my book. Still, I named my book that primarily because I love the phrase. What a slalom of consonants it is, with hard sounds around every corner and a pleasing meter. I knew the book would be called Continental Breakfast before I wrote the poem “Continental Breakfast”—I wrote that piece so I’d be allowed to use the title for the book. Plus, the words instantly bring to mind a host of images, tastes, and smells, none of which are particularly amazing but they’re distinctly of-a-place. You’ve probably had a continental breakfast. You’ve probably been a bit disappointed in it, hungry a short 50 miles later. I love that.

Bonus question: What kind of fruit best describes your least favorite celebrity or relative?

I won’t say who it is, but they’re definitely unripened honeydew in a fruit cocktail. The kind that’s so unripe it kind of crunches.


 

Danny Caine is the author of the poetry collections Continental Breakfast (Mason Jar Press 2019, originally appearing in Hobart) and El Dorado Freddy’s (collaboration with Tara Wray, Belt Publishing 2020). His poetry has appeared in Hobart, Barrelhouse, New Ohio Review, DIAGRAM, and other places. He hails from Cleveland and lives in Lawrence, Kansas where he owns the Raven Book Store.

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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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5 BURNING QUESTIONS WITH ARIELE SIELING

 

What is your first memory of writing for fun?

When I was in third grade, I wrote a story called “2 Inches Tall” for school, in which I visited my best friend’s dad at work (he was a Chemist) and knocked a bottle of the table and then became two inches tall. I had so much fun writing it, but I got a B because it wasn’t believable. Then in 8th grade, I wrote an essay on food during the Renaissance period—and I wrote the entire thing in second person. I got an A on that, but my teacher told me not to do that on any state exams, haha. After that, I went all out on short stories, poems, whatever popped into my head.

How many drafts = done?

My first book got 27 drafts, but after that, I refused to count. I think the easiest book only had about 9. I typically go through the book several times myself before sending to beta readers, then several more times after the beta readers send back feedback, then at least one more time before sending to the copy editor, and then two or three more times after that. It’s a process, but worth it.

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

Just like everyone else, I have about 80 favorite books, but the one book I always go back to is Emily of New Moon by L. M. Montgomery. I read it for the first time when I was about 10, and I connected with it then, and I connect with it now. I love the descriptions and the story, and I love the way Emily thinks and does things. I’m going to cheat though, and also include Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion by Dr. Robert Cialdini, The Black Magician Trilogy by Trudy Canavan, and Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones.

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

I love The Zone—being in that state of writing where you don’t hear, see, or feel anything else except the world you’re creating. I recently read that when writers are in The Zone, it gives them the same endorphin release as when runners get a runner’s high. But I also love words, and the way the same words can have a completely different meaning, simply because of the way you’ve arranged them or the perception of the person reading them. Writing creates a strange, ethereal kind of connection with others—it’s like telepathy, time travel, magic.

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

Petrichor is my favorite word. It means the smell of the earth after the rain (or something to that effect—basically it describes the smell of wet dirt). I love description and I love sensory detail, so words like petrichor help pinpoint some of those sensations that I feel and see and notice without having to write paragraphs of description. I’m always looking for new words too—a couple of my new favorites are rubatosis (the uneasy awareness of your own heart beating) and sonder (the realization that the strangers around you have a life as vivid and complex as your own).

Bonus question: if you were a month, which month would you be and why?

It kind of depends on where I live, but in Maryland, I would pick October or May. I love watching the seasons change, and in May it’s easy to watch winter turn to spring turn to summer—the browns and greys shifting to pale greens and yellows, and then into dark greens and deep blues. It’s really stunning. And the same thing happens in October—the greens darken until they’ve shifted to browns and yellows and orange, and then it’s just the barren branches of trees contrasted against a grey sky. I go for a walk every day during these months, and it seems like something looks just a little different every time I go outside.

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Come out and see Ariele read on Tuesday, March 12th – here’s the facebook event!

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Ariele Sieling was born and raised among the trees and her dad’s honeybees. She began writing at an early age, and now has two scifi series, Land of Szornyek and The Sagittan Chronicles, and a children’s book series called Rutherford the Unicorn Sheep. She has been featured in numerous anthologies (most recently Beamed Up by Amphibian Press), Bewildering Stories Magazine, and Bee Culture Magazine. She lives in Baltimore with her husband, a dog, three cats, and a fish. You can learn more at http://www.arielesieling.com or follow her on Instagram @arielesieling.

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5 BURNING QUESTIONS WITH LAURA A. HAZAN

 

What is your first memory of writing for fun?

I remember in 6th grade I wanted to write a book about my class. After school ended that year I wrote the teacher a letter and asked her if I could have her planning book so I could remember all the things we did that school year. I guess I was always a researcher.

How many drafts = done?

Infinity. I’m not sure I ever feel like anything is really done.

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

All-time favorite is hard to choose. I have different choices for different reasons, like Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates for the hard, bitter truth of suburban life. Atonement by Ian McEwan for the beautiful writing. Handmaids Tale for the disturbing plot so well-told. Currently I’m enjoying The Music Shop by Rachel Joyce.

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

First let me admit I have no discipline. I am not a writer who sits down every day and writes – even though I want to be that person. When I am disciplined and writing regularly my favorite part is reading my words the next day and finding myself surprised at some of the words, dialogue, phrases I wrote the night before – when I find a bit I really like I have to remind myself that I actually wrote it.

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

Clompy. It’s a word my son made up when he was about five to describe the head of an adult sitting in front of him at a theatre. “I wish that lady would move her clompy head.” I’d never heard this word before but immediately understood what it meant. If Shakespeare can invent words than so can my kid.

Bonus question: if you were a month, which month would you be and why?

I’d be February, not because I’m cold but because I like the slow movement in the winter months. There’s no expectation to go someplace because the sun is shining. It’s a month to stay home and be cozy. I love being cozy.

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Come out and see Laura read on Tuesday, March 12th – here’s the facebook event!

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Laura Hazan is a librarian with the Enoch Pratt Free Library where she runs the bi-monthly Light Street Writers Exchange. She completed her first novel, Little Boxes, while attending the “Your Novel Year” program at Arizona State University’s Piper Writing Center where she was instructed and mentored by best-selling novelists Michael Stackpole and Jean Rabe, among others. She is still seeking representation for her novel. In addition, her work has been published in Natural Bridge, Sauce Magazine and Strongly Worded Women an anthology for the #yearofpublishingwomen. Laura is a resident of Baltimore and lives with her son, her husband and their one-eyed dog, Boh.

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5 BURNING QUESTIONS WITH ASHLEY ELIZABETH

 

What is your first memory of writing for fun?

My first memory of writing for fun actually started with a school assignment. In 4th grade, we were tasked with creating our own folk tales. We only needed to write one, but I continued to write and write them at home. I was obsessed with creating my own world and being in control. For poetry, however, writing for fun started in middle school when I was getting bullied.

How many drafts = done?

Sometimes one, sometimes five, sometimes fifty-seven. My heart has to be finished with a piece before I consider it finished, which never really happens. I mean, it’s come close, but sometimes I re-reed work months or years later and change some things around.

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

That’s so hard. My favorite book that I’m currently reading is The Cruel Country by Judith Ortiz Cofer. I’ve been reading it over and over to help with my grief, but it is written so beautifully. Another favorite of mine, both to read and to teach is House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros. The voice really speaks to me. Both authors were introduced to me during undergrad, and I cannot get enough of them.

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

When my work resonates with others, when it helps them without me even trying. I also like playing with language and sound. Poetry, and writing in general, are such amazing worlds to be in. You create your safe space. You create your rights and wrongs instead of being dictated to. Something else that I appreciate about writing is the fact that my voice can change people. Doesn’t happen often, but the possibility is there.

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

My favorite word is truth; it feels good leaving my lips, but also because truth is relative. No two truths are always exactly the same. It’s a simple word, but one with a deep meaning. I also like the word moue. It was one of the words I found in a thesaurus when I was writing my first novel.

Bonus question: if you were a month, which month would you be and why?

I would be April. Not only am I an April baby, but there is both a sadness and a joy in April, and I feel like that encompasses who I am. I have great days and some not so great days, but in the end, I have grown for it.

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Come out and see Ashley read on Tuesday, March 12th – here’s the facebook event!

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Ashley Elizabeth is a 20-something year old poet from Baltimore who draws inspiration from her city, her people, her space, and her body. She has been featured in online journals such as Rose Water, Passages North, yell/shout/scream, and For the Sonorous among others. Ashley is also Assistant Editor at Sundress Publications. She habitually posts on twitter @ae_thepoet