Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Author Insides - Rebekah Matthews

Rebekah's short story "Be Careful" was featured in this Autumn's issue of The Battered Suitcase. She's a graduate of Indiana University, where she studied English and Communication. She currently lives in Boston, where she works as an assistant editor in college textbook publishing. She likes talking about her hardships with public transportation, and varies between being proud of and being ashamed of her recent obsession with Star Trek: Voyager. She is presently working on a collection of short stories about lesbian relationships.



When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?

When I was in first grade I wrote a story for class and maybe accidentally copied the plot from Pete’s Dragon. My teacher really liked it and kept telling me I was going to be a writer. Maybe she had never seen Pete’s Dragon, but I believed her.

Why do you write?

A lot of it comes from inappropriate self-absorption, and I’m also pretty dramatic, and writing is the one channel where those mostly negative personality traits can sometimes be liked or respected by other people. So it works out, kind of.

Is being a writer/poet anything like you imagined it would be?

I’m not sure I imagined anything much in particular. When I was in high school I was obsessed with Virgina Woolf’s diaries and had these ridiculous fantasies of other people caring about my diaries. But that was before blogging!

What do you think makes a good story?

Shame! Shame is the best. The things that scare you, the things that you want, the things that both scare you and you want. Anything about sex.

What's your favorite genre to read?

Short fiction, especially anything minimalist and/or lesbian.

Who is your favorite author or poet?

Rebecca Brown.

What books or stories have most influenced you the most as a writer?

Besides Pete’s Dragon, Virgina Woolf’s diaries, and Rebecca Brown? Actually TV has influenced a lot of what I write about, especially science-fiction heroines. I write a lot about limiting idealism and obsession and TV is a great, dysfunctional inspiration for that.

What books or stories have most influenced you as a person?

The Bible! Haha. It’s true though. Also any lesbian fiction, no matter how “bad,” from Rubyfruit Jungle to Curious Wine; when I was a teenager that stuff was pretty much my salvation.

Where/how do you find the most inspiration?

Besides TV, I’m a big fan of drama on the Internet. There’s so much good creative material in social network fighting and blog confessions and drunken Tweets.

What does your family think of your writing?

When I make a Facebook status update with a link to a story I got published online, my sister usually “likes” it.

What is your work schedule like when you're writing?

I work a 9-5 office job; even when I’m writing the most intensely, it’s usually just an hour or two an evening. I’ve been trying to take solo trips to “get away from it all” and focus on my writing for a few days, but even then I write for an hour and then want to go eat ice cream and take a nap.

Do you have any writing quirks or rituals?

I write in my bed.

Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing?

I worry a lot that I write the same story about the same idea over and over and over.

What are your current projects?

For several (too many) years I’ve been working on a collection of short stories about lesbian relationships. I hope to finish by the end of the year and try to publish a book. I’m also always trying to write as much flash fiction as possible.

What are you planning for future projects?

I have no idea. I really want to make a YouTube video that’s a montage of people in Boston showing off their damaged umbrellas.

Do you have any advice for other writers?

For people who want to write but don’t know what to write about, I’d say something like: what’s the last thing that happened to you that made you feel really freaked out? Write a paragraph about the experience, especially your feelings about it, and then write a story about that. You don’t even have to make up that much. Just stick to what happened to you and exaggerate a few things. For people who are already writing, I don’t know if I could tell them anything they don’t already know. Maybe that online publishing is wonderful, and a lot easier and less intimidating than you’d think and really rewarding. Oh, and also, you don’t have to get an MFA. Writing is a good, meaningful hobby, and you can still be serious about it—and be an “artist”—without going to school for it and/or devoting your entire livelihood to it.

Where can we find your work?

I have a website, http://rebekahmatthews.com/, which has links to all of my stuff that has been published online.


C'mon if you think you're hard enough....

“I love criticism just so long as it's unqualified praise.” ~ Noel Coward


When I put my first novel out for review, I learned more about myself than I could have possibly expected, and less about the direction of my writing career than I had hoped...

The problem with putting your work out for critique is this: You're going to receive some criticism.

And even if you 'meant to do that' - you absolutely cannot please everyone, and that's just a fact. Nor should you try. If you find you're getting feedback from betas and reviewers that solidly shows that you're hitting some universal buttons, then that's a good thing. Take the lesson and move on.

I think everyone has their own internal coping mechanism for dealing with criticism. If not, you'd better find one quick. And if you can't find one that works for you, you probably shouldn't be writing. In fact, you're best off sitting quietly in a dark room while attempting nothing more complicated than normal metabolic processes.

We must read the notes from our betas and editors, but how do you handle reviews from readers and literary reviewers? Do you read them? Do you seethe silently wishing you could respond, even though you know it's a bad idea. Or do you pretend they don't exist?

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Author Insides - Kent Leatham

Kent Leatham's poetry was featured in the Summer 2010 issue of The Battered Suitcase. Two weeks ago, we managed to talk him out of the tree long enough to answer a few questions.


Kent, when did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?


In second or third grade, essentially as soon as I learned to spell. Putting words together was like building doorways: if you joined them well, and hung a solid idea or image on the hinges, you could pass through to infinite worlds. I think my first short story was about a dragon and my first poem was about a cricket. I grew up as an only child in the countryside of central California, with no television or neighborhood friends. Our house was built in the basin of a prehistoric sea, however, and the rocks along the roadside were filled with fossils—crabs, clams, fish, even once the skeleton of a whale. It would have been hard not to let my imagination run away with itself.

Why do you write?

Because otherwise the words get all cramped up in my fingertips, then my hands, then my wrists…. I get terrible tendonitis whenever I stop writing.

To be honest, I don’t actually know why I write. I have no agenda, no currently articulable ars poetica. The poems arrive, by force or fancy. They make me laugh. They make me wonder. What more can one ask?

Is being a writer/poet anything like you imagined it would be?

The only published writer I knew growing up was the poet, novelist, translator, and jazz journalist William Minor (www.bminor.org). Bill speaks five languages, creates visual art in multiple mediums, plays the piano, drums, and guitar, composes music, sings, is happily married and retired, and recently wrote an erotic poem about Q-Tips. In contrast, I speak English, play the clarinet, and find Q-Tips untrustworthy. I’d say my writing life has a long way to go.

What do you think makes a good story?

“Reminds me of that fellow back home that fell off a ten-story building. As he was falling, people on each floor kept hearing him say, ‘So far, so good.’” (Steve McQueen, The Magnificent Seven)

What's your favorite genre to read?

Poetry, which, coupled with the internet, has ruined my attention span for the Russian classics. But I’m an omnivore—novels, short stories, biographies, belles lettres, lit crit, random trivia, whatever I can find the time to consume. Highway signs, horoscopes, emergency warnings in languages I don’t speak. Poorly translated instruction labels for chopsticks.

Who is your favorite author or poet?

Bill Watterson, creator of Calvin & Hobbes. He captured the entirety of the human condition in four small boxes (or a full page on Sundays) every day for ten years, and then retired. Would that I could be half as prolific, brilliant, and wise.

What books or authors have influenced you the most as a writer?

John Steinbeck and Ray Bradbury top the list of writers I most admired and desired to imitate at an early age, though I don’t know how much influence they’ve had on my poetry. More noticeable formative impressions? The Bible for substance. The Fireside Book of Folk Songs for style. Reading-wise, I started out with Rilke, Rumi, and Mary Oliver: ponderance and ecstasy. Graduated to Hass, Levis, Kinnell: meditation and elegy. Lately it’s been Koch and O’Hara: innovation and celebration.

What books or stories have most influenced you as a person?

The Phantom Tollbooth. The Hobbit. Stories of outrageous possibilities waiting just beyond one’s sense of expectation.

Where/how do you find the most inspiration?

From reading. Foraging, hunting/gathering. An author may repeat the same word twice in a sentence, quite unintentionally, and suddenly I’m thinking about that word, turning it upside-down, pulling it inside-out, holding it up to my own mind to see if it catches any reflections or sheds any light. I’m like a raccoon that’s been let loose in a jewelry store. When someone says we “share” a language, I take it literally. The same with ideas. Writers talk about swiping and stealing, but that implies original ownership. As long as a word or image takes you somewhere new, it’s public domain. (And god, I’ll probably regret saying that ten minutes from now.)

What does your family think of your writing?

“It’s a shame he didn’t become a musician.”

What is your work schedule like when you're writing?

I don’t have any regularized routines or procedures for writing—it just happens when it happens—so my work schedule is largely irrelevant. And, at the moment, largely nonexistent. I write more when unemployed; I eat more when employed. I prefer love and fame, but usually end up with light and air.

Do you have any writing quirks or rituals?

Recently the letter “P” popped off the keyboard on my geriatric laptop, so it’s been interesting trying to write poems that don’t require it. Otherwise, no, no deliberate quirks or rituals. I write a lot, but never on command. If the well dries up someday, then so be it. I am “only quite a little fellow in a wide world after all.”

Do you have any advice for other writers?

“If it ain’t broke, break it.” (Meat Loaf)
“There is a crack in everything; that’s how the light gets in.” (Leonard Cohen)

Where can we find your work?

Floating in the ether of the World Wide Web, hoping someday to settle between the real pages of a real book.


Monday, October 11, 2010

Author Insides

Next up, Justin Carmickle from the Autumn 2010 issue of The Battered Suitcase:

Justin, when did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?
I first began writing film scripts as a teen. Then, once I began studying English and Creative Writing at Indiana University-Bloomington, I realized my true passion to be fiction (I also enjoy poetry).

Why do you write?
Writing, for me, has become habit. Even with essays, homework, and exams, I still find myself drawn to the computer where I'll work on a piece. I find it liberating not only to write, but also to edit my own work, as well as others.

Is being a writer/poet anything like you imagined it would be?
At 21, it may be too soon to answer this question. Ask me again in 5 years?

What do you think makes a good story?
Though many will disagree, for me the main element that leads to a good story is sentence level writing. A good sentence keeps the reader in the story no matter the plot.

What's your favorite genre to read?
For the most part I tend to read realism. I go from reading novels to short stories.

Who is your favorite author or poet?
My favorite fiction writers are Andre Dubus (the father) and Flannery O'Connor. I enjoy the poems of Elizabeth Bishop.

What books or stories have most influenced you the most as a writer?
Definitely Flannery O'Connor's complete stories. Also, the collections of Andre Dubus, such as Separate Flights, Adultery & Other Choices, and The Times Are Never So Bad.

What books or stories have most influenced you as a person?
Again, I have to go with the Dubus collections. Their pages hold not only some wonderfully complicated characters, but some of the most powerful sentences any writer/reader can hope to encounter. He really is a marvelous writer.

Where/how do you find the most inspiration?
I find my most inspiration through single images. A piece I recently published was inspired by a family member who was telling me a story about how one harvests honey.

What does your family think of your writing?
My family supports my writing. However, only my grandmother is a reader, and she is always excited when I've finished a new piece.

What is your work schedule like when you're writing?
Mostly I write for 2-3 hour blocks. I tend to think of my fiction while walking to and from class. My process is very slow.

Do you have any writing quirks or rituals?
I listen to music when writing. Conor Oberst, The Kinks, Miles Davis.

Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing?
Mainly, I tend to involve too much conflict in my pieces. I need to stop trying to jam multiple stories into one.

What are your current projects?
At the moment I am working on a short story and revising two others to submit for publication.

What are you planning for future projects?
I plan to continue writing fiction and dabbling in poetry for...life?

Do you have any advice for other writers?
Read and revise. Through revision comes real writing.

Where can we find your work?
I have a short story forthcoming in Louisiana Literature. I'm very excited about this publication. This is a wonderful journal that has published Pulitzer Prize winner Robert Olen Butler, so I'm blessed to be included in the journal's pages.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

The Future of Publishing

At the last minute, I decided to drop everything and drop into the "Brainstorming The Future of Publishing" conference in St. Pete this last Thursday. The main reason I decided to do so was because I'd read that J.A. Konrath was attending and I was very interested in hearing what he had to say.

The conference is held by Novelists Inc, which is a group for traditionally and multi-published authors. Membership to which, I'm not currently qualified, being only published digitally. However, they were holding an open conference day to which anyone with $75 could attend and I was right interested in what was to be said.

It was extremely interesting and quite frankly, I'm only beginning to come to my final conclusions regarding the information presented.

The panels were mainly made of agents and traditional publishers. There were a few ePub people there, but not very many and to my thinking, not suitably passionate about defending their venue. This could be because the attendees by definition had to be published in print. I cannot say. Everyone was interested in hearing about ePublishing, but most of them seemed skeptical. Particularly the authors and particular the big pub reps that don't make that much of an investment in digital.

But my main conclusion is this; even at this moment in time, despite what we have learned from Apple and Google and Amazon, and the very important lessons of their successes is this: the traditional publishers are selling books. They are not selling content. They are not selling experiences. They are not selling stories. They are not selling information. They are STILL selling physical books, objects, things of paper and glue.

And I'm normally pretty quiet about my Cassandra moments, but I dare say that this is going to bite them in the ass and bite them in the ass big time. In fact, I believe one of the agents stated that when he considered what publishing would look like in five years, he imagined that at least one of the big 6 would be owned by Amazon or Google.

My guess is that it will happen because they're still selling things - rather than content. Even though Google and Amazon and Apple have become exceedingly rich and powerful by selling content. And even though most of us have discovered fantastic new stories; movies, books, songs, bands, friends, lovers, husbands and wives, jobs, vacations, tv shows, homes, cars and collectible beanie babies through the collective consciousness of the internet - they are still selling books. Despite the fact that during an economic downturn people want to pay a low price for an escapist or pleasant experience, as temporary as it may be, rather than invest in objects and things that can't be easily carried from a foreclosed home. As a digital publisher, I find this very... comforting.

Digital-firsts apparently aren't a threat to them at all. Despite the fact that most of us digitals realize that what our artists have to offer is what people want - an experience: content. A physical copy can be obtained, if desired, but what people really want - and the whole reason they have ever read or purchased books - is an experience, information, stories, worlds, ideas, concepts. Owning a book is nice, but without a compelling story, a world to immerse yourself into, fresh ideas, new perspectives, ideas, concepts and characters to become emotionally attached to, a book is nothing but a piece of dead tree.

I enjoyed this "Future of Publishing" conference day. I enjoyed it quite a bit, thank you.

More about what JA Konrath had to say later...

Friday, October 8, 2010

Author Insides - Laura Eppinger

Next in our series of "Author Insides" interviews with our wonderful contributors, Laura Eppinger.


Laura's touching "Forgotten Language" appears in the Autumn 2010 issue of The Battered Suitcase

Laura Eppinger graduated from Marquette University in Milwaukee, WI in 2008 with a degree in Journalism, and has been seriously writing fiction ever since. She recently finished serving her second AmeriCorps*VISTA term in Madison, WI, remains in that city to take full advantage of the book stores, libraries, universities, and writers' circles. Her poem, "Brain Drain," appears in the 2010 edition of Bacopa Literary Review. "Forgotten Language" is her first published work of fiction.




When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?

Both of my mom’s parents are journalists, and in 5th grade I interviewed my grandfather about his career at the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. I liked what he had to say, so I decided to become a writer from that day forward.

Is being a writer/poet anything like you imagined it would be?
Well, the poverty aspect of the fantasy certainly came true. It’s just not as romantic.

What do you think makes a good story?
Believable dialogue, interesting characters, compelling tension, and a lack of clich├ęs.

What's your favorite genre to read?
Literary fiction.

Who is your favorite author or poet?
Barbara Kingsolver. I am still moved by my memories of reading “The Poisonwood Bible” for the first time.

What books or stories have most influenced you the most as a writer?
I don’t write anything like David Foster Wallace, and I don’t try to. But “Brief Interviews with Hideous Men” inspired me to use unusual formats for a story, and not get stuck in third-person narration by the omniscient narrator. I couldn’t believe how just a scrap of dialogue, or a monologue about something seemingly mundane, could be so powerful when DFW wrote it.

What books or stories have most influenced you as a person?
Children’s books, my first love. “The Missing Piece” and “The Giving Tree” by Shel Silverstein are my all-time favorites.

Where/how do you find the most inspiration?
By getting out of the house! People-watching at the public library and attending free lectures on college campuses are my favorite ways to do this, and I also need to live in a city with art museums, movie theatres, parks and cafes.

What does your family think of your writing?
I am the oldest of four children, and my younger siblings are my best friends. They’re incredibly supportive. My parents encourage me to write, but when what I write makes them uncomfortable, they just don’t bring it up. Have I mentioned we’re Catholic?

What is your work schedule like when you're writing?
I will be paying off my journalism degree for the rest of my life—though that doesn’t inspire me to use it. I need to work at least 40 hours every week to stay alive. That could mean cleaning houses or changing diapers, it could mean sitting behind a desk filling in Excel spreadsheets. I write before 9 a.m. and after 5 p.m. to remind myself why it’s worth it to stay alive.

Do you have any writing quirks or rituals?
Not really. But when my first, last and only laptop crashed in spring 2010 after a seven-year life, I began composing and editing longhand, then typing up and submitting work on public library computers. I get the impression that what I’m doing is pretty unusual for other writers—and other library patrons.

Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing?
I often get little snippets of scenes or dialogue, but I don’t know what it is or where it’s supposed to go. So I sit on it and don’t put it down until I have more context. …Unless I forget a snippet, and then it’s lost forever.

What are your current projects?
I’ve been sitting on a young adult novel of historical fiction for the last six months. I’m proud of it, it’s called “Settler’s Myths,” but agents and indie presses aren’t biting. So I’m working on short fiction and poetry, because there seems to be a market I can understand for short pieces.

What are you planning for future projects?
I have an idea I love for another YA novel. But I’m not ready to make an attempt just yet.

Do you have any advice for other writers?
Don’t let anything stop you from writing! Keep pads of paper and pens on you at all times. Know where the public computers are. No idea is stupid, so write it down and work on it. NOW.

Where else can we find your work?
In October 2010 I was published online at Danse Macabre!
http://dansemacabre.art.officelive.com/FinalDraft.aspx

Monday, October 4, 2010

Author Insides

We work with some fascinating authors from across the globe here at The Battered Suitcase, but because we're a periodical, and because there are deadlines, we often don't get as much time to get to know them as we'd like to. They come from all walks of life, from the age of 16 to 76, all bringing us beautifully framed snapshots of their worlds, and we're grateful. But I often wonder, who are these people that bring us these wonderful stories? What factors molded the lens and how does that impact its focus.

Simple enough - I've asked them to share a bit of themselves here on our blog.

First, but never least, is poet Sergio Ortiz.

Sergio Ortiz has a BA in English literature from Inter-American University and a MA in philosophy from World University. His poems have been recently published or are forthcoming in foam:e, Right Hand Pointing and Poui: Cave Hill Journal of Creative Writing. Flutter Press published his chapbook At the Tail End of Dusk (2009).

Sergio's work has been featured in The Battered Suitcase twice, the first time in August of 2008 and again in the current issue Autumn 2010

Sergio, when did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?

I realized I wanted to be a writer after reading Oscar Wilde’s De Profundis. I started writing at the age of fourteen because my therapist asked me to keep a journal. I decided to keep it in poetry. I guess it was because my ninth grade teacher had read a few poems to me that resounded in my mind. As a child, I was a voracious reader and I guess writing came naturally by my teen years.

Why do you write?

I write because I would be unable to live without writing. It is a force I do not understand that moves my imagination to use words to create art.

Is being a poet anything like you imagined it would be?

Actually, no. It is hard work and a lot of discipline and focusing and, oh why not say it, heartbreak, when I can’t find a way to express the image in my mind. And more, the constant fear of repeating myself. But what can I say? It is my drug of choice.

What do you think makes a good story?

Honesty, simplicity, careful choice of words and a lot of editing. Then there is the element of surprise and the development, almost cinematic development, of characters and events.

What's your favorite genre to read?

I love movie scripts, short stories, and novels from the surrealist writers. But right now, my mind is geared to reading poetry and as much as I try to focus on one or the other of the genres I mentioned, I become frustrated at the time it takes to finish reading a psychological short story, or novel. I buy the complete works of a poet every month and study him/her for however long I want. I have spent 5 months on Sylvia Plath. I am ready to buy Saramago, but I am not ready to put down Sylvia. These are my favorite poets. And I have discovered a group of young writers from Puerto Rico that are quite the sensation right now. I am part of that group.

Who is your favorite author or poet?

I must say it is Neruda but I can’t leave out Sylvia Plath.

What books or stories have most influenced you the most as a writer?

I think that there have been many: Garcia Marques, Julio Cortazar, Hemmingway, WCW, Plath, Wilde, Jose Donoso, Saramago, Carlos Fuentes, James Joyce, Charles Dickens, Hesse. They are just too many to enumerate.

What books or stories have most influenced you as a person?

I think Ulysses by Joyce has had a tremendous influence in me as a person, but Oscar Wilde taught me the importance of being honest.

Where/how do you find the most inspiration?

In living, in other people lives, but most of all in nature.

What does your family think of your writing?

I have my MFA, but my mother insisted I get a teaching certificate. She wanted to make sure I did not starve to death. But the truth is, both my parents hated that I was a writer. The rest of my family is finally accepting the fact and are very proud of the small amount of recognition I have managed to acquire as a writer recently.

What is your work schedule like when you're writing?

I wake up at 4:30 am every day and I read for a couple of hours. Then I edit poems I have put down for a couple of years. Then I search for five words and a poetry prompt and write for another two or three hours. Most days I spend close to 11 hours reading and writing. Then I relax at night by doing something very visual, I go take photos, paint or visit a theatre. Poetry readings are every Tuesday’s and the third Thursday of each month.

Do you have any writing quirks or rituals?

Well, other than what I just mentioned no, except coffee. Coffee is a must.

Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing?

Everything is challenging, English is not my mother tongue, yet that is the language I have chosen to write in.

What are your current projects?

I am trying to find a publisher for my first collection of poems in Spanish and for my fourth chapbook (I might decide to turn this into my first full collection of poems in English, I am still giving it some thought). I am moving back to the mainland USA. I need to live in a dry climate. So I am also looking for a good artist's community. Wish I could live in the UK, but it is much too expensive.

What are you planning for future projects?

I am planning to rewrite a movie script I had already written and if Cuba accepts me at their school of cinematography, I would love to take a couple of summer courses in script writing at San Antonio de los Lagos.

Do you have any advice for other writers?

Yes, make sure you are ready for the torture, hahaha, of not being able to put down that pen or that book.

Where else can we find your work?

Well I have a blog, Adobo Criollo, but you can also find a couple of my chapbooks at Flutter Press. The photography on my blog is mostly mine, and there are a few paintings and drawings.

 
Thanks for your time, Sergio, and thanks for joining us for Author Insides.