Apr 112018
 

…I realize that even children are mortal, and by the time they’re in school, they’re wondering about death. And that’s when we start telling them fairy tales…”

What was the inspiration behind what you’ll be reading at Waterline?

As I get older, I become more and more aware of my body, and mortality and spirituality (I don’t mean “religion”). And with that, in these poems I realize that even children are mortal, and by the time they’re in school, they’re wondering about death. And that’s when we start telling them fairy tales (religious or otherwise). But we all, ultimately ask, Why? The other thing I’m concerned with (also often in the same poem) is our relationship to the physical world, and time, and how they play into our lives.

What are you working on now?

I’m not working on any particular project now, except to become a better writer, and broaden my outlook. As I say that, though, I also have to say I have a little germ in the back of my head, because since my last book, I’ve been finding, feeling that these new poems are related in some way. So I’ll just say that the germ in my head also has a working title: TIMES THAT BIND, TIES THAT REND. But it’ll be a while before anything comes of that because I’m also just concentrating on learning more things. In any case, book or no book, I’m having a good time.

What was the last great thing you read by another author?

I have to expand this to two, one a short novel, the other a collection of poems. First, the novel: A LESSON BEFORE DYING, by Ernest J. Gaines. It’s a powerful, angry and compassionate book about race, (in)justice, relationships between others, and with ourselves. It just blew me away. And the writing is beautiful. The other book is a collection of poems that won the 2014 Walt Whitman Award: THE SAME-DIFFERENT, by Hannah Sanghee Park. Talk about playing with language in all kinds of ways that I’ve never seen before. It’s absolutely fascinating. I keep it next to me, dipping into it again and again. Find a copy, read it, and be prepared to fall over with the power and depth and tragedy and playing that this book provides.

You’re organizing a literary dinner party. Which writer, dead or alive, do you invite?

Flannery O’Connor. A short fiction writer and novelist, her language, imagery and spirit have, in their own way, shaped me. Although her work is fiction, she still deals, with power and twisted wit (I don’t seem to have that in my work), many of the issues that drive me.

Apr 102018
 

What would you do if asked to fulfill someone’s last wishes when those wishes would change your life forever?”

What was the inspiration behind what you’ll be reading at Waterline?

I have had the idea for the novel A WELL-RESPECTED MAN for several years, the theme of end-of-life wishes and modern parenthood. What would you do if asked to fulfill someone’s last wishes when those wishes would change your life forever?

What are you working on now?

I have a memoir that two publishers are vying for. And I’m working on final edits. It’s based on the theme of home—what home means, why we seek it, why it resonates so strongly with who we are.  The memoir is a series of connected essays with the working title THE CONSEQUENCE OF STARS.

What was the last great thing you read by another author?

Oh my. Several things. Karl Ove Knausgaard’s WINTER. David Szalay’s ALL THAT MAN IS. A memoir by Nancy Chadwick entitled UNDER THE BIRCH TREE. And I finished another rmemoir recently that I loved by the great writer John Banville. TIME PIECES: A DUBLIN MEMOIR is about his life in Ireland. The writing is no less than poetic.

You’re organizing a literary dinner party. Which writer, dead or alive, do you invite?

Just one? That’s tough. Modern day—maybe Karl Ove Knausgaard, but I hear he can be rather reserved. Dead—maybe Jack Kerouac, but he may not be able to hold his liquor. The same with Hemingway. Albert Camus would be interesting—all those philosophical questions. Still, he might be a bit intimidating. As I write this now, I think of Gretel Ehrlich, the author of one of my favorite books: THE SOLACE OF OPEN SPACES. But here’s the thing, if you ask me this same question a week from now, I’ll have a completely different list.

Apr 092018
 

…of all the events, and all the human beings that walked planet Earth during the 20th century, it’s impossible to find one more astonishing than the story of Paul Robeson.”

What was the inspiration behind what you’ll be reading at Waterline?

My wheelhouse is in shaping and writing stories that are based on or inspired by true historical events. Most of these stories have a fascinating human being at their center. And of all the events, and all the human beings that walked planet Earth during the 20th century, it’s impossible to find one more astonishing than the story of Paul Robeson. The range, breadth and depth of his impact and achievements are remarkable. At the height of his influence and fame, his was the most recognized voice on the planet. He excelled in fields as diverse as acting for the stage and film, political activism, concert hall singing, international diplomacy, collegiate and professional athletics, Constitutional law, and civil rights — especially for indigenous, oppressed and/or working class people. His entire adult life was devoted to using his gifts and influence as a performing artist to fight against racism, fascism and colonialism– and for freedom and opportunity for all people of color, so that they could live and work in full human dignity.

What are you working on now?

On April 15th, at Waterline Writers, I’ll be reading a scene from a work-in-progress, full-length stage play. I’m about five drafts in on the rewrite. My goal is to have it ready by mid-summer for development with a local director and theater company. I’ve also recently been hired to write a screenplay for an independent feature film. It, too, is an adaptation of a book inspired by true events.

What was the last great thing you read by another author?

Stolen Air: Selected Poems of Osip Mandelstam, translated by Christian Wiman. Born in Poland and raised in St. Petersburg, Madelstam is the poet who was arrested and thrown in the Soviet gulags during the Purges, in part because of his poem The Stalin Epigram. In it, he compares Stalin’s mustache to a pair of laughing cockroaches.

You’re organizing a literary dinner party. Which writer, dead or alive, do you invite?

Billy Wilder

Mar 162018
 

The inspiration behind Skip Tracer is my mother, who’s 90. A few years ago, she fell for her young garbageman. Because she’s a Polish busia, she’d hand him a plate of pierogis to take on his route.”

What was the inspiration behind what you’ll be reading at Waterline?

This one’s easy! The inspiration behind Skip Tracer is my mother, who’s 90. A few years ago, she fell for her young garbageman. Because she’s a Polish busia, she’d hand him a plate of pierogis to take on his route. She said he was a widower with triplets, but she’s extremely hard of hearing, so I’ll never know for sure. Before I could meet him, his route changed and their “relationship” ended. When I was thinking about the next thing to write, my mind wandered back to him.  What really was the story there? Since I’ll never know, I made one up.

What are you working on now?

I’ve got something different brewing, harder to write and more serious in tone. I have to take a deep breath and dive in; I’m still circling around the edges.

What was the last great thing you read by another author?

I’ll choose LaRose by Louise Erdrich. She has a way of adding a dash of magic to a really hard story, that sticks with me, kind of haunts me. I’ve been a fan of hers forever, since Love Medicine blew the roof off my little brain.

You’re organizing a literary dinner party. Which writer, dead or alive, do you invite?

Because I’d be mute in front of my most beloved authors, I’d need to invite two so they could talk to each other, while I knelt in a corner, head bowed. I think Jane Austen and Jack London would have to work so hard for points in common, that they wouldn’t notice what I’d cooked. That would be good! My results in the kitchen are mixed!

Mar 152018
 

Most of the poems are very personal, sharing expressions about family members and close friends.”

What was the inspiration behind what you’ll be reading at Waterline?

Most of the poems are very personal, sharing expressions about family members and close friends. I also reach back a little to childhood memories.

What are you working on now?

I’m working on a novel based on experiences as a teenager growing up on the south side in the 60’s

What was the last great thing you read by another author?

A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles. I was sorry to finish it.

You’re organizing a literary dinner party. Which writer, dead or alive, do you invite?

I expect Mark Twain would be a lively and entertaining guest.

Mar 142018
 

Dad was an artist who emphasized the importance of craft; Hal [my brother] was a craftsman who emphasized the importance of art.”

How did you discover that you were a writer?

My earliest memory is of my mother reading me stories, so that is my conscious starting point. Also, during my childhood my father was a wordsmith who wrote in genres ranging from short stories to highly intellectual articles for theology journals, and my older brother Hal enjoyed writing nonsense verse and eventually grew into a serious songwriter and musician. Dad was an artist who emphasized the importance of craft; Hal was a craftsman who emphasized the importance of art. Their collective influence was certainly in the neighborhood when I started scribbling little poems at the age of 12 or 13.

Describe your writing process.

For commissioned freelance pieces I generally write at night, with 10 p.m. until 2 a.m. being the sweet-spot. Mornings and afternoons are for research, editing, and revision.

My creative writing process is hit-and-run. Initially I put words down without any structural concerns; if it calls me back, I bring tools to shore up the structure. For poetry the return call may come after a few minutes, a few days, or a few years—if at all. If the writing leans toward prose, eventually it will likely be finished off within the “10-to-2/edit in the morning” frame.

At present all of my writing takes place in my poorly lit basement office. It’s a beautiful spot.

What was the inspiration behind what you’ll be reading at Waterline?

I’ll be reading two pieces from Winter Sun: A Memoir of Love and Hospice; the inspiration is contained within the title.

What are you working on now?

Currently I am editing and designing Priests Without People, a novel by Nicholas P. Cafardi scheduled to be published by The Ross House Press in April.

The Ross House Press is an imprint of Canopic Publishing that has been established as an alternative for authors who want control of the production and distribution of their work but don’t have the expertise for self-publishing (RossHousePress.com).

What was the last great thing you read by another author?

“Letter to Miss McClurg,” a poem by Gene Kimmet that won’t let go.

You’re organizing a literary dinner party. Which writer, dead or alive, do you invite?

Jonathan Swift. To awkwardly borrow a baseball metaphor he wouldn’t understand, his work demonstrates the ability to master any literary position. Probably good at keeping the conversation going, too.

Mar 132018
 

Stories should be like disobedient pets, always ready to defy, always challenging and frustrating, but sometimes, for reasons entirely unknown, delighting.”

How did you discover that you were a writer?

Mostly from my G.I. Joe guys.  Once I realized I was more interested in my toys than what was happening on the TV show, I knew there was something weird about me.

Describe your writing process.

If try to write every day.  If I can’t write, I read.  If I can’t read, I watch Altered States. That usually does the trick.

What was the inspiration behind what you’ll be reading at Waterline?

I am reading a story called “The Unified Conspiracy Theory.”  I am fascinated by conspiracy theories and what they tell us about ourselves.  It can be a way to look at what we are afraid of and what we have a hard time admitting to ourselves.  The more inaccurate the theory, the more it tells us about the world we live in and the more interesting it becomes.

What are you working on now?

I have a short story called “The Parts of a Shadow” appearing in Bourbon Penn later this year.  The story is about the lost boys of Barrie’s Neverland being discovered and becoming wards of the state.  I’m also working on a novel (but then again, who isn’t?).

What was the last great thing you read by another author?

I just discovered a writer named Cole Bucciaglia Nagamatsu whose work, especially the prose poem “Flightless Creatures” in the lit mag West Branch, is strange and compelling and beautiful.  I have been telling anyone who will listen about Suzanne Burns’ short fiction.  Her first book Misfits & Other Heroes is maybe the most underrated book of the 21st Century.

A story I just read called “The Men” by Lydia Millet in The Baffler still has me unsettled.  It is a beautiful inversion of the Snow White story.  It doesn’t do what you expect it to do.  I love when that happens.  No story should do what you expect it to do.  Stories should be like disobedient pets, always ready to defy, always challenging and frustrating, but sometimes, for reasons entirely unknown, delighting.

I also love to read the work of my friends and people I know.  People like Dan Leach, Ray Ziemer, James Charlesworth, Noah Kucij, Debbie Urbanski, and Blake Kimzey have taught me so much with their work.  Looking at peers and seeing how they produce their own work is a very important process for a writer.

You’re organizing a literary dinner party. Which writer, dead or alive, do you invite?

I’ve heard John Crow Ransom, Franz Kafka, George Plimpton, and Truman Capote were all amazing at dinner parties, but as I age I am less interested in arguing with charming raconteurs and more interested in having a nice time.  So, since Junot Diaz gushing over Toni Morrison is one of the sweetest things on the internet (https://youtu.be/J5kytPjYjSQ) and since they are two of the greatest writers in history and also happen to have gentle and beautiful spirits, my impulse is to invite them.

Mar 122018
 

I have a few stories in the works at the same time, and as one of characters in my short story ‘Roommates’ says: if I talk about them I can’t write them.”

What was the inspiration behind what you’ll be reading at Waterline?

I’ll be reading the short story, “Until There’s Not,” from my latest collection, A Woman Walked into the Bar.  The story was inspired by a man with a band-aid on his hand who boarded a Metra train I was riding.  He carried a cup of coffee and a worn briefcase, and I watched as he tried to maneuver without spilling his drink.  His movements were so interesting I started writing them in the notebook I always carry, and before long his story began to emerge from my imagination.  The story was first published in Crannog magazine in Ireland.

What are you working on now?

I have a few stories in the works at the same time, and as one of characters in my short story “Roommates” says: if I talk about them I can’t write them.  I just finished a piece of flash fiction titled, “Open House,” which I’m sending to magazines now. I’m also revising a stage play.

One of the fun things I’m doing is visiting with book clubs that have chosen my book, answering questions and reading a little from my stories.

What was the last great thing you read by another author? 

Most recently Lincoln at the Bardo by George Saunders.  I put off reading this because Saunders was one of the few successful writers who considered himself a short story writer and was an inspiration because he didn’t need the “validation” of writing novels.  However, I read an interview with Saunders who said he didn’t set out to write a novel, the story just grew beyond its bounds. The novel was fascinating.

You’re organizing a literary dinner party.  Which writer, dead or alive, do you invite?

Only one?  Flannery O’Connor.

Feb 162018
 

… for some people, the past continues to gnaw at and disturb the present, and maybe this seemingly simple sentence is at root behind everything I’ve ever felt compelled to write.”

How did you discover that you were a writer?

In adolescence when it was the only way I could sort out the chaos that life seemed to be; it then became the only way for me to understand, to be able to put my emotions or experiences into a form and then look at them from more of a distance. And then, (or therefore?) I really wasn’t suited for any other line of work.

Describe your writing process.

By now, I’m not so much spewing raw emotion in order to control, examine and understand it. Working on a current project is discipline, but without any mandatory “words per day.” I do not stress over long dry periods because I know my brain is working behind-the-scenes and eventually I’ll know where to go. All through the day (and night) if I get an idea for anything from a piece of dialogue to a detail that has to change, I write it on a scrap of paper and those scraps end up on my desk to be attended to (expanded or remembered) in word docs of notes and lists. Research is very important and at times might be more than 50% of writing time. So I have two monitors with the internet on one and my word doc on the other. Research is everything from idioms and popular culture of a certain time period to how the legal system works for particular offenses or when a baby might be starting to talk or walk (since I don’t have children).

What was the inspiration behind what you’ll be reading at Waterline?

My selected stories were just published, so these pieces are from some of the far-flung corners of my career, all with different origins.  If there’s something in common, it’s how, for some people, the past continues to gnaw at and disturb the present, and maybe this seemingly simple sentence is at root behind everything I’ve ever felt compelled to write.

What are you working on now?

My current novel concerns a man who tried to escape the disappointment of not spending life with the person he loves, so he creates a substitute life just so he won’t be alone, and that relationship verges on abusive (with the man not the abuser).

What was the last great thing you read by another author?

Probably an Edith Wharton, Willa Cather, or Alice Munroe.

You’re organizing a literary dinner party. Which writer, dead or alive, do you invite?

See above! Plus at least one who can cook.

Feb 152018
 

The last great thing I’ve read is a book of short stories by a surrealist artist, Leonora Carrington. They are creepy, imagistic and full of death.”

What was the inspiration behind what you’ll be reading at Waterline?

There are too many things to mention! Each poem comes from a different place.

What are you working on now?

I have a chapbook with illustrations by Angel Perez coming out this year. I’ll be raising money in April writing a poem every day and emailing them to sponsors. I haven’t decided on a charity yet. I’m also thinking about another full-length collection while my second manuscript is finding a home. It’s a busy year!

What was the last great thing you read by another author?

The last great thing I’ve read is a book of short stories by a surrealist artist, Leonora Carrington. They are creepy, imagistic and full of death. The last great authors I’ve heard read were Kaveh Akbar and Tarfia Faizullah at the Poetry Pop Up from the Poetry Foundation. Amazing Muslim activist poets. 

You’re organizing a literary dinner party. Which writer, dead or alive, do you invite?

I think I’d invite Denise Levertov. I’ve been researching her poetry for years and am making plans to visit her personal collection of papers at Stanford, but talking to her would be so much better!