Interviews

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5 Burning Questions with Mike Maggio

Mike Maggio is one of our featured writers for a 2020 reading which has been postponed, but we wanted to introduce you to him anyway. Check out our interview with him below.

What is your first memory of writing for fun?

I was a child of maybe 9 years old and I started writing short plays, based on B-rated horror movies. They were awful – very melodramatic. The good thing: I knew it. But I didn’t know how to fix it.

How many drafts = done?

Good question.  MY first novel, The Wizard and the White House, went through 8 drafts. Then, when it was accepted for publication, it went through another. It probably could still use editing. So the answer: there is not answer. It’s as many drafts as it takes. And maybe a story or a poem is never done.

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

This is such a difficult question. I could easily answer who my favorite author it: Nikolai Gogol. But my favorite book? Perhaps Bram Stoker’s Dracula. I’ve read it many times. Or Bulgakov’s The Master and Margarita. But then there’s Kafka (Metamorphosis, The Trial) and Camus’s The Stranger.

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

I love the creative process. I love starting something and not knowing anything about it and slowly learning. And then I like the revision process which is an on-going thing as I write.

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

Periwinkle. I love the sound of it. How it rolls off your tongue. It’s soft and, of course, it evokes visions of the sea and of a soft blue color.

Bonus question: What level of quarantine are you at? 1) relaxing with a book,  2) the dog clears her throat too loudly,  3) hot dog fries, 4) THE PRINTER IS BROKEN I DON’T NEED A PRINTER, 5) I am one with the Force and the Force is with me.

What level of quarantine?  Hard to tell. I am now finishing up my fourteen-day quarantine after a possible contact with someone who has COVID. Seems like I’m free and clear. I still have to work (an essential worker) and I work in a small room with some others in the basement of a government building. It’s also Ramadan (I’m Muslim) so I’m in the middle of a fast).. And the streets are eerily empty (though it seems traffic is building again). So this all adds up to something totally surreal. It’s like a dream. A nightmare that you want to end but it doesn’t seem like it will. Depressing? Yes. Scary? Yes. Filled with uncertainty? Yes.

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Mike Maggio has published fiction, poetry, travel and reviews in many local, national and international publications including Potomac Review, The L.A. Weekly, The Washington CityPaper, and The Washington Independent Review of Books. His novel, The Wizard and the White House (Little Feather Books), was released in 2014 and his novella, The Appointment (Vine Leaves Press), was released in May 2017.  His newest collection of short stories Letters from Inside (Vine Leaves Press), was just released in October 2019. He is a graduate of George Mason University’s MFA program and the Northern Regional Vice-President of the Poetry Society of Virginia. His web site is http://www.mikemaggio.net

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5 Burning Questions with Courtney LeBlanc

Courtney LeBlanc is one of our featured writers for a 2020 reading which has been postponed, but we wanted to introduce you to her anyway. Check out our interview with her below.

What is your first memory of writing for fun?

I was 13 and writing truly bad poems!  

How many drafts = done?

I generally write a first draft by hand (I carry a journal with me everywhere I go for this express purpose!) and then some initial edits when typing it up. Then I send it to my writing group for review and do edits based on their feedback. Then it’s ready for the world to see!

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

I don’t think I have one all-time favorite book but every year I have books I really love. Recent favorites include Wanderers by Chuck Wendig (fiction), Strange the Dreamer (book #1) and Muse of Nightmares (book #2) by Laini Taylor (fantasy), The Going and the Goodbye by Shuly Cawood (CNF) and for poetry, pretty much anything that Megan Falley, Jeanann Verlee, Shaindel Beers, or Amorak Huey writes.  

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

Poetry is such a great way to express things – emotions you’re feeling, situations you’re dealing with, issues in the world. It gives a voice to things that you may not otherwise be able to articulate.  

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

I don’t think I have a favorite word but I do have words that show up repeatedly in my poems: mouth, touch, skin – I sometimes have to actively edit a poem to remove these words! They’re wonderful, sensual words that can convey so much, I think that’s why I’m drawn to them.  

Bonus question: What level of quarantine are you at? 1) relaxing with a book,  2) the dog clears her throat too loudly,  3) hot dog fries, 4) THE PRINTER IS BROKEN I DON’T NEED A PRINTER, 5) I am one with the Force and the Force is with me.

I definitely oscillate between 1 and 4. Either I’m fine and relaxing or I’m losing my god damn mind. There’s no in-between.

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Courtney LeBlanc is the author of Beautiful & Full of Monsters (Vegetarian Alcoholic Press), chapbooks All in the Family (Bottlecap Press) and The Violence Within (Flutter Press). She has her MBA from University of Baltimore and her MFA from Queens University of Charlotte. She loves nail polish, tattoos, and her dog. Read her publications on her blog: www.wordperv.com. Follow her on twitter: @wordperv, and IG: @wordperv79.

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5 Burning Questions with Meg Eden

Meg Eden is one of our featured writers for a 2020 reading which has been postponed, but we wanted to introduce you to her anyway. Check out our interview with her below.

What is your first memory of writing for fun?

Probably middle school. All the “cool kids” were writing poetry online. I conformed, got hooked, and kept writing after the fad passed. It was also around this time that my history teacher told me I was a good writer. I hadn’t really thought about writing before these things, but both of them were instrumental in getting me to write for fun.

How many drafts = done?

When I can look at it after a year and still love it without marking the red pen all over it. This can be anywhere from one to one hundred drafts. Have a novel right now that’s on about draft twenty and I’m still not happy with it. But I keep coming back to it, so one day it will get there.

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

The Bible is the single most versatile and most relevant book, especially right now in these scary, often discouraging times. I know that’s totally a cop-out answer, but it’s true!

I also just finished Barbara Dee’s “Maybe He Just Likes You” and have been using the quarantine to fall in love with a genre I’d never really read before, middle grade. Dee’s book made me feel like a seventh grader again (which was also ironically when I started enjoying writing!)

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

Anything is possible in writing. I never know what’s going to happen next. It’s such a spiritual process; I’m completely not in control. I’m excited to come to the page and see what God gives me for the day. I’m like an archaeologist, digging, wondering what I might discover, and I simultaneously love and am completely terrified of the whole process.

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

Defenestration. It makes me laugh every time I say it. I also love the word ubiquitous, in part because it was one of my vocab words in elementary school, but would easily impress any adults in my life, who couldn’t believe some punk kid like me would know a word like ubiquitous. Also it’s just so much fun to say!

Bonus question: What level of quarantine are you at? 1) relaxing with a book,  2) the dog clears her throat too loudly,  3) hot dog fries, 4) THE PRINTER IS BROKEN I DON’T NEED A PRINTER, 5) I am one with the Force and the Force is with me.

Ha! Depends on the day. I think mostly hovering around 3. We have been eating like college students more days than not. One day our delivery groceries were out of blueberry waffles and I lost it. Sometimes I just NEED WAFFLES.

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Meg Eden’s work is published or forthcoming in magazines including Prairie Schooner, Poetry Northwest, Crab Orchard Review, RHINO and CV2. She teaches creative writing at Anne Arundel Community College. She is the author of five poetry chapbooks, the novel “Post-High School Reality Quest” (2017), and the poetry collection “Drowning in the Floating World” (2020). She runs the Magfest MAGES Library blog, which posts accessible academic articles about video games (https://super.magfest.org/mages-blog). Find her online at http://www.megedenbooks.com or on Twitter at @ConfusedNarwhal.

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5 Burning Questions with Faye McCray

Faye McCray was one of our featured writers for our April 14th reading which has been postponed, but we wanted to introduce you to Faye anyway. Check out our interview with her below.

What is your first memory of writing for fun?

Gosh. I had to be about six or seven. I wrote a story in a birthday card to my big brother. It was horror and completely inappropriate but it made him laugh. I really loved seeing him react.

How many drafts = done?

I would say four – though it depends on the project. The first draft is always dream-like for me. I give it some room to breathe and revisit it. Then I hand it off to readers I trust. I’ll usually only go back one or two times after that unless something really isn’t working.

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

I really enjoyed the rhythm and mood of Bluets by Maggie Nelson. I read it for the first time a few years ago and I am re-reading it now. All time – I never get tired of reading Sula by Toni Morrison or The Color Purple by Alice Walker. I’ve lost count of how many times I read those books.

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

I’ve considered myself a novelist for the longest time but about a year and a half ago, I wrote my first play and fell in love. I’ve been writing them ever since. Last August, I had the pleasure of working with actors to put on a staged reading of one of my ten minute plays. Everything about the process was thrilling. I loved the creative collaboration between the actors, the directors and all the other creatives involved. They took words I wrote and breathed life into them in a way I could have never done on a page. I remember sitting off the side of the stage watching them perform with my arms covered in goosebumps and a huge smile on my face thinking, “This is it. This is exactly where I want to be.”

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

I really, really love the ‘F’ word. I know that is probably the least literary (or mama – hey, kids) thing to say but I love writing it. I love saying it though because I’m a mama, I don’t say it nearly as much as I did in my twenties. It represents the absolute rawest, most uncouth and id-driven representation of human emotion. It can be ice cold, it can be sexy, it can be funny. It is a great fucking word.

Bonus question: if you could go on a virtual date (romantic or not) with anyone in the world right now in this time of social distancing, who would you connect with?  

I’m married so totally unromantic but Lena Waithe. Queen & Slim moved me in a such a deep way. The story, the telling of it, the subtext. I just want to learn more about her process and what other stories she wants to tell. She also seems like a foodie so we’d probably go somewhere dope and make the best choices on the menu.

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Faye McCray is an author and essayist whose poetry and essays have been featured in the HuffPost, Little Patuxent Review, AARP Magazine, Madame Noire, Black Girl Nerds, and other popular publications. She is the editor-in-chief and co-founder of Weemagine, a website devoted to celebrating and inspiring all children and the people who love them. Faye is also the author of White Belt, a collection of horror short stories; Boyfriend, a novel about a troubled college student struggling with love and fidelity; and I am Loved, a collection of positive affirmations for children.  By day, Faye is an attorney and married mother of three boys, and a Master’s in Writing candidate at Johns Hopkins University.

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5 Burning Questions with Matthew McBride

Matthew McBride was one of our featured writers for our April 14th reading which has been postponed, but we wanted to introduce you to Matthew anyway. Check out our interview with him below.

What is your first memory of writing for fun?

This is hard. I didn’t start writing seriously until I was in my 20’s and actually resented it when I was younger. Fun fact, I actually failed my 9th-grade proficiency test in writing. I remember when I was in junior high, our English teacher would read the first couple pages of a short story, then we would have to think of an ending for it as homework. I really enjoyed those, though I did my best to pretend I didn’t since it wasn’t cool as a dude growing up in the Midwest to like school.

How many drafts = done?

I don’t know if I ever “finish” a poem. I just become more comfortable letting it go. I remember thinking that when I had a book, I would feel like the poems in it were complete. Even now, after years of writing and revising the thing, I still cross out or add words to poems from the printed book when I read from it.

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

Natalie Shapero’s Hard Child. It’s wry and ironic and absurd while still managing to be deeply vulnerable.

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

I like poetry’s willingness to be small. I get overwhelmed easily, so I hear better when someone whispers.

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

Surly. I’ve always loved the way it sounds. I like how the “s” slides into the drop of the “u,” and the growl of the “r” is made ridiculous by “ly” at the end. I don’t know why, but it always makes me laugh.

Bonus question: if you could go on a virtual date (romantic or not) with anyone in the world right now in this time of social distancing, who would you connect with?  

Honestly, I would care less about meeting a person than being able to sit a drink coffee somewhere that isn’t my one-bedroom apartment.

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Matt McBride’s work has previously appeared or is forthcoming from Court Green, Cream City Review, The Cortland Review, Diagram, FENCE, Guernica, Mississippi Review, Ninth Letter, and [PANK] amongst others. His first book, City of Incandescent Light, was published by Black Lawrence Press in May, 2018. He teaches in the English department and in the interdisciplinary MFA at Wilson College in Chambersburg, PA.

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5 Burning Questions with Kristina Gaddy

Kristina Gaddy is one of our featured writers at our March 10th reading. Check out our interview with her below.

What is your first memory of writing for fun?

At some point in my precocious childhood, sitting around with a notebook writing who knows what, thinking I was fancy.

How many drafts = done?

As many as it takes. I’m a fast writer (and I love writing), and a slow editor (and I like it much less than writing).

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

My favorite book of the moment is Jane Alison’s Meander, Spiral, Explode: Design and Pattern in Narrative. I really enjoy analyzing structure in storytelling, whether it’s fiction or nonfiction, writing or film/TV. Alison goes deep in mostly fiction to explore non-traditional structure, suggesting that we don’t always have to have the “narrative arc” we’ve been told we need.

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

I love sharing fascinating stories that people don’t know about, but should! In history, we often get limited narratives, or people just think it’s boring because it’s already happened, but I want the new, the innovative, the motivating in history. I think there’s always new stuff to learn and share with writing about history.

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

Hmmm…. I don’t think I have a favorite work. I do tend to overuse obviously, if that counts.

Bonus question: who inspires you the most, living or dead, real or fictional?

All the people, alive or dead, who aren’t getting credit for the awesome sh*t they do.

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Kristina Gaddy is the author of Flowers in the Gutter: The True Story of the Edelweiss Pirates, Teenagers Who Resisted the Nazis (Dutton 2020). She has an MFA in Creative Nonfiction from Goucher College, and her writing has appeared in local and national publications including The Washington PostBaltimore magazine, OZYBitch online, and Narratively. She’s currently working on her second book, Well of Souls: Searching for the Banjo’s Lost History. 

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5 Burning Questions with Barbara Perez Marquez

Barbara Perez Marquez is one of our featured writers at our March 10th reading. Check out our interview with her below.

What is your first memory of writing for fun?

The story on my bio is probably it, before then I wasn’t much of a reader or a writer, but that student collection was a whim entry and it led to a printed anthology. Holding it and realizing that there was this way to spread the reach of our feelings was a life changer.

How many drafts = done?

I usually sit somewhere between 3 to 5. It’s less so about the amount of drafts meaning any progress and more so about “how many times did I reread and refine in a way that hindered the actual progress of it.” It’s a slippery slope to make sure you are actually writing and not just carving at the same section over and over again.

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

All time favorite would be “Tell Me What You See” by Zoran Drvenkar, I’ll recommend that book for as long as anyone lets me. Currently, I am working through “How Rory Thorne Destroyed the Multiverse” by K. Eason.

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

One of the more astonishing things about writing is that often we create things very close to our heart, not just to share ourselves, but also to connect with readers. The ability of a piece of writing to reach beyond words and relate to others is a wonderful experience.

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

“Vaina” – Probably the most multipurpose word in the Dominican vocabulary, translates roughly to “thing”, used in a variety of ways to signal to something that you either cannot recall exactly or don’t know for certain. The word is also the word for the fruit born by the Inga tree, those rattling bits that shake in the Summer breeze on trees.

Bonus question: who inspires you the most, living or dead, real or fictional?

Growing up I was surrounded by Latin-American literature, so I grew up looking up to Salomé Ureña, both as a person and as a poet. A lot of my writing was also influenced by the works of Gabriel García Márquez. I urge those looking to expand their bookshelves to look into their work and other Latin-American creators!

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Barbara Perez Marquez was born and raised in the Dominican Republic and holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Manhattanville College. She writes short stories and fiction, usually using coming of age and LGBTQ themes in her work. During her career, she has also been an editor for several publications and projects. Her work was first featured in a student collection in the 7th grade, the same year she decided she wanted to be a writer. Since then, she’s been featured in Manhattanville College’s Graffiti and Tinta Extinta. Her latest work, The Cardboard Kingdom, is a graphic novel about a neighborhood of kids having a summer adventure and is out now from Knopf Books for Young Readers and Random House Children’s Books. Book two, The Cardboard Kingdom: Roar of the Beast, is due out in 2021. Barbara lives in Baltimore, MD with her fiance and their dog, Eliot.

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5 Burning Questions With Donald Illich

Donald Illich is one of our featured writers at our March 10th reading. Check out our interview with him below.

What is your first memory of writing for fun?

I was about seven, and I recall writing a story about exploring under the Earth, meeting monsters and other creatures.  I don’t remember for sure if I drew pictures to go along with the story.  Where I found the idea for it, I don’t know, unless maybe comic books or a show on TV.  But I do believe it was around the time when I first became interested in books and libraries.

How many drafts = done?

It varies.  A lot of poems are finished after one or two revisions, sometimes only cosmetic changes.  I write a lot, and I always hope lightning strikes that way.  Some poems, though, require me to workshop them or find help from a good editor, along with further revisions on my side.  I’m don’t think there is any hard or fast rule.

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

My favorite book-of-the-moment is Wallace Stevens’ “Collected Poems.”  I can open it to any page and find something interesting and often bizarre.  It feeds my writing, even if I don’t have any idea what Stevens is talking about.  Sometimes that’s the same with Ashbery, though less often.

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

I like fooling around with words.  When I get a phrase or line that sounds right/musical, that’s a big joy, especially when it results in a twist ending or ending that clicks just right.

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

I think I use the word “want” a lot in my poems, along with “sky.”  “Want” appeals because I like “desire,” which keeps every human life going.  “Sky” is omnipresent in our lives and is where the moon is located.  Why wouldn’t any poet not be interested?

Bonus question: who inspires you the most, living or dead, real or fictional?

Rilke inspires me.  It’s impossible to reach his standard, but I guess I can use him as my patron saint of poetry.  Probably that is true of a lot of people.

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Donald Illich has published a poetry collection, “Chance Bodies,” and a chapbook, “The Art of Dissolving.”  His work has appeared in “The Iowa Review,” “Fourteen Hills,” “Poet Lore,” “Map Literary,” and “Nimrod,” along with several other journals.  He lives in Rockville, Maryland, where he works as a technical writer for the government.

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5 Burning Questions with Erika Franz

Erika Franz is one of our featured writers at our February 11th reading. Check out our interview with hers below.

What is your first memory of writing for fun?

I definitely did some David Eddings inspired fantasy stuff in junior high that I remember—not the sort of text I am proud to be inspired by, but that’s as an adult looking back. I found some much older Sci-Fi stuff when my mom sent me a bunch of my old files a few years ago. It included a rather sweet story about humans returning to Earth with new alien friends they picked up along the way. I’m afraid I didn’t stick with it long enough to get to a rising incident, though, so not sure where the conflict was going to come from. In AP English Comp, I first learned to enjoy challenge particular of writing non-fiction.

How many drafts = done?

Oh boy. If I figure that out, I will let you know. It doesn’t equal a specific number for me, though. Fewer drafts go into a flash piece, in general, because I generally have already figured out what I am writing. Longer pieces necessitate more drafts, though really long pieces get a lot of work along the way.

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

I am still pretty high of Confessions of the Fox by Jordy Rosenberg. Probably my favorite read of the last decade or two. I don’t read in one genre exclusively, but I like books that can use historical materials well, and accurately allow that Queer people of every stripe existed before we had all of the modern terminology for our respective identities. People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks does that really well, too.

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

I’m fascinated by narrative power. Especially in a country where we have collectively built an identify that is largely based false narratives we have mythologized, I think the diversity in our narratives is so important in legitimately healing this country and pulling us back from the precipice we’re living on right now. At least, I hope that we can still achieve that. Maybe that isn’t what excites me, but what compels me or gives me purpose.

 

What excites me is probably seeing a through-line emerge in historical research where a what-if can be inserted that makes us think about what we know about history and how we know it can be at odds with each other. Trained historians know this, obviously, but a lot of mainstream historical knowledge is either mythologized or antiquated or written for political control of a population and without any reference to what the diversity of primary sources reveal about the past. I like getting to suggest those conflicts, playing with how history gets disseminated or how things actually were in contrast to the myths and assumptions. And it isn’t always historical material, but a through line from one piece of an idea that connects to another piece of an idea that, ultimately, becomes a story.

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

Ooh. This is hard. I like words for different reasons. Some I like specifically because of how they sound when I say them: gazebo. Some I like because they have an onomatopoeic sound aligns with their meaning: defenestrate. Some I like because they have so many meanings attached to them—this isn’t the best example, but it is the best one I can come up with for the moment: sure. (Have you ever received sure in a text, divorced from facial expressions, and tried to deduce how it is being used?) Some I like because of the word’s history: augur.

Bonus question: who inspires you the most, living or dead, real or fictional?

I love Alexander Chee. I do my best to model myself as a literary citizen on him and his graciousness with others and with both the literary community and the LGBTQ+ community (to say nothing of the Korean-American and extended immigrant community).

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Erika Franz (s/he, hi/hers) is a queer author living in Baltimore with an amazing wife and fluffy pets. Erika’s fiction has been published in the The First Line, Queen Mob’s Teahouse, and X-R-A-Y Literary Magazine. Find Erika on the internet at www.erikafranz.com or on Twitter and Instagram at @ETFranz.

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5 Burning Questions with Mathangi Subramanian

Mathangi Subramanian is one of our featured writers at our February 11th reading. Check out our interview with her below.

What is your first memory of writing for fun?

When I was five, maybe six years old, my mother went back-to-school shopping at Sam’s Club in Madison Wisconsin and got a huge, shrink-wrapped pack of spiral notebooks. She gave me one to “play with” and I started writing stories. Most of my characters back then were White – I didn’t realize you could write stories about people of color, because I hadn’t read any.

How many drafts = done?

Done? What does done mean?

I’ve never counted, but really, even after I turn in copyedits, I think of a million things I could have done differently. I consider something done when the changes I’m making are small, nit-picky things, like word choice and comma placement, rather than adding or deleting scenes. But I’m not sure if I ever really feel done.

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

Abandon Me by Melissa Febos for memoir, and Perla by Carolina deRobertis for fiction. (These are my books of the moment. I don’t know if I could ever choose a favorite!)

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

I love writing and reading books that allow characters to be their full, layered selves. Representation is so important to changing what is wrong with our culture, and allowing everyone to live and breathe in all of their identities is essential. I like creating stories that do that, that give us all a little more space to fearlessly be ourselves.

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

My daughter is four so I read a lot of picture books. Lately, I’ve been really into onomatopoeia just because it’s so much fun: nothing livens up a story like a good “kachunk” or “splat.” Thanks to preschool science, I’ve also gotten into cloud names – cumulus, cirrus, status, they’re all so poetic and so perfectly correct for the cloud they describe. My daughter is also really into inventing words – she’ll say something and then asks me if the word exists, and if it doesn’t, I’ll tell her to make up the definition. It’s my new favorite game.

Bonus Question: who inspires you the most, living or dead, real or fictional?

My friends in India who are out in the streets right now protesting the Citizenship Amendment Act in India. It’s a terrible, Islamophobic, casteist law, and some of my dearest ones are writing and marching and risking their lives and safety to protest. I admire them, and I wish I was there with them.

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Mathangi Subramanian is an award winning Indian American writer based in San Jose. Her novel A People’s History of Heaven was longlisted for the Center for Fiction First Novel Award and named a Skipping Stones Honor Book. Her middle grades book Dear Mrs. Naidu won the South Asia Book Award and was shortlisted for the Hindu-Goodbooks prize. Her essays and op-eds have appeared in The Washington Post, Al Jazeera America, Ms. Magazine, and Zora Magazine, among others. A former Fulbright Scholar, public school teacher, and senior policy analyst at the New York City Council, she holds a doctorate in communication and education from Columbia University Teachers College.