Sunday, November 27, 2011

Author Insides - Larry O. Dean

Larry O. Dean was born and raised in Flint, Michigan. He attended the University of Michigan, where he won three Hopwood Awards, and Murray State University. His most recent chapbooks are About the Author and abbrev. Selected magazine publications include The Berkeley Poetry Review, Passages North, Big Bridge, Keyhole, and OCHO. Also a critically-acclaimed songwriter, Dean has numerous CD releases to his credit, including Fables in Slang (2001) with Post Office, Gentrification Is Theft (2002) with The Me Decade, and Fun with a Purpose (2009) with The Injured Parties.

His microfiction appears in the Autumn 2011 issue of The Battered Suitcase. 

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

I started reading from a very young age, and developed a love of language and narrative early on which came out in short stories and 'novels' I wrote. I was also a precociously talented drawer who read comic books voraciously and wrote and illustrated my own cartoons. I enjoyed listening to popular music on the radio and also started playing the guitar. By high school I was focused more on lyrics and songwriting, and it was around that time that I felt that rather than declaring allegiance to one discipline, calling myself a 'writer' seemed to encompass them all.

Why do you write?

Number one reason is, I write to please something in myself but I realize that such pleasure is hard to pin down and comes only after much agonizing. Let me add, however, that I'm not someone who revises endlessly but rather feels that it's good to get done with something and move on to the next. Nonetheless when I'm in the groove with something it obsesses me until I reach that indescribable moment when I feel it's finished. I also write for an audience but not with a particular one in mind. I like performing my work and part of knowing when something's done is based on audience reaction; sometimes it's laughter, but more so it's ineffable, more of a feeling I get in my gut or from the room itself.

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

I never thought in concrete terms of what it meant to be this thing, a writer. I'm sure when I was younger I saw the great range of personalities and outward modes of dressing or acting and probably romanticized some aspects of the writing life, but after awhile it became apparent that what a writer is has much to do with individual personalities and less with so-called trademarks of ways of behaving.

What do you think makes a good story? 

There are many factors, but I can't boil it down to just plot or characters, because no two stories are alike. If it achieves what it sets out to do – whatever that means – then it's good.

What's your favorite genre to read? 

I really enjoy well-written hardboiled fiction and satire. (There is some crossover there, I think.) By the former I mean writers such as Jim Thompson, David Goodis, James M. Cain, and Charles Willeford; I should also tangentially add the deeply psychological work of Patricia Highsmith. The descriptive bluntness and existential qualities of this genre has always appealed to me, and while it may not be reflected in my own poetry it is a constant reminder of what I define as great fiction. By the latter, such writers as Terry Southern, Charles Portis, John Fante, and Celine spring immediately to mind; I suppose you could also call it black comedy, but satire is much harder to do well than 'comic' or 'funny' fiction.

Who is your favorite author or poet? 

I'll give you one apiece: Albert Camus and David Ignatow. Both were very influential to me at important times in my writing development, and both continue to amaze and inspire me.

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

Offhand, The Cry of the Owl, The Plague, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Winesburg Ohio, Masters of Atlantis, A Hell of a Woman, The Glass Key, Babbitt, South Wind, My Search for Warren Harding, Memoirs of Hecate County. The Great Gatsby, Ask the Dust, The Mind Parasites... Individual stories – that could take a while!

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

You could say any/all of the books, above, but Rilke's Letters to a Young Poet might be more applicable here, as well as Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.

Where/how do you find the most inspiration?

I love urban environments. Not necessarily the well-established pluses of being immersed in or having access to art and culture, but the volatile nature of people in close quarters who have to get along. Others can keep the leafy serenity of the country, or the homogeneity of the suburbs to themselves; they might even find that those environments stimulate or inspire them, and I would likely enjoy reading all about it. But I prefer cities and their unpredictability. This sparks my writing and my ideas.

What does your family think of your writing? 

I am an only child. My father died when I was still in high school, but he never tried to dissuade me from anything I wanted to do. My mother was always a supporter as well of everything I chose to do. I was very lucky to have encouraging and nurturing parents, and my longtime girlfriend – not a writer herself, I should add – has always been incredibly supportive and patient. 

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

I don't have a regimen. I used to do most of my writing late at night, because I worked nine-to-five jobs for many years and after getting home and taking care of whatever it was I needed to do, suddenly the day was done. Now that I teach, my schedule is more flexible (or erratic), and as such I have shifting periods where I'm busier for a few months, and then it lightens. My internal clock seems to be calibrated to moments of availability, but I do write as well (though perhaps not as much output-wise) through more frenetic times too.

Do you have any writing quirks or rituals? 

Not really. I'm able to write in pretty much any environment – I don't need absolute silence, or a manual typewriter, or to eat an apple and two avocados in order to write. I know everyone has their own routines and I find other writers' habits fascinating, but sometimes I think those habits or quirks can become crutches and impede rather then feed the process. Better, I think, to try to be open to inspiration under any circumstances, even if one has to re-train themselves in order to reach that beatitudinous state.

Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing?

If you mean critically challenging to readers, perhaps my sense of humor, which is very particular. If you mean challenging as a writer trying to achieve something, perhaps finding and expanding upon an audience.

What are your current projects?

I've just 'finished' a full-length manuscript of poems, called Activities of Daily Living and I'm shopping it around. I single-quoted finished because as I said before, I think it's important to wrap up projects in order to move on to something else, but that doesn't mean I won't tinker with certain aspects if I happen to feel inspired to do so. I'm also working on my third solo album with producer Chris Stamey of The dB's, and embarking on the digitization of music I recorded when I lived in California that has never really gotten a proper release.

What are you planning for future projects?

More digitization and possible remastering of music, as above. I'd also like to explore more possibilities for shorter thematic works. I have come to enjoy the chapbook format as a means of focusing on a group of poems on a given theme. My earliest book-length publications were chapbooks, but they were chaps by necessity, not by design. 

Do you have any advice for other writers?

Find what works for you, whether it's a routine or an approach. It will take trial and error, but when it's right you'll know (and feel) it. Writing for an audience is important, I think, but not catering your work to that audience so much as putting it out there to be absorbed. Anyone who says “I only write for myself” is lying because if that truly was the case, we wouldn't be reading their work. Write to please yourself, to live up to your own standards, and the readers will follow. Everyone isn't likely to appreciate you but that's perfectly fine!

Where can we find your work? 

Recent chapbooks have been published by Mindmade Books and Beard of Bees; Amazon has a few older items that are still available, but a lot of my previous books are out-of-print. I have work forthcoming in online and print journals; Google me and see what transpires!

Friday, November 25, 2011

What is a Copy Editor - Publishing Basics

What is a Copy Editor - with Alexandra Pringle, Editor in Chief, Bloomsbury Publishing.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Query Mistakes

Orignally posted August 3, 2010:

Here's a great list of mistakes that could land your queries or submissions in File 13. Some good advice here:

Some agents and publishers are fuss-budgets, so it never hurts to make your query slick and professional.

It may seem tedious to have to write and rewrite a query letter, but it's time worth investing. The whole point is to make the agent/publisher want to read your manuscript. If they're distracted by misspelled names, irrelevant information, bad grammar, etc., they're not going to want to invest the time it would take to read your work. The same way too much backstory, bad grammar, inconsistent characterizations, etc., will make readers put down your book unfinished.

Friday, November 18, 2011

What is an Editor - Publishing Basics

What is an Editor - with Alexandra Pringle, Editor in Chief, Bloomsbury Publishing.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011


Experienced ~ Rock Music Tales of Fact and Fiction
Edited Roland Goity and John Ottey; illustrations by Kimy Martinez
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Tour Diary (Excerpts)
By Sean Ennis

Day 15

Show’s off, and I’m trying to sleep under the Rattlesnakes’ dining room table. Their lead singer fingers through the Kama Sutra with his girlfriend. Their bass player left his kid’s car seat in the parking lot to make room for more beer. Someone calls for a mirror, and it’s for their eye make-up.

Southern California has been all cold rain and pigeons. No beach, no bikinis, no flamingos; I’m told that’s Florida — the only place we’re not going. Got bronchitis somewhere between DC and Santa Cruz and had no air on stage through Raleigh, Austin, Tempe. My lungs want to go on tour, too, find a better body. They’re sick of the smoke and damp and the party in the living room. Last night, I chipped a tooth on the mic trying to make it work, Clip blew a fuse, Warren’s cords got lost and Milk has broken every drumstick. Our van smells like a zoo, like the dark alley behind a zoo.

“Record sales are down,” Roger, tour manager, says, betting our band’s money away on gin rummy. But my boys are still cheery — the Mexican stuff being cheap here — and look, from under this table, to be walking on the walls.

Late night, the balloon deflates; then it’s just snores and NASA static from the stereo. A cat paws across all our backs, little claws. Clip changes his strings by flashlight, looking like a battlefield medic, eyes insomnia-wide, wire cutters in his mouth, playing the E and the A back and forth, listening close, as if for a heartbeat.


Sunday, November 13, 2011

Author Insides - April Sopkin

April Sopkin lives in New York, but not for much longer. Her fiction has also appeared in issue #4 of Makeout Creek. Her short story, "James Goes Out" appeared in the Autumn 2011 The Battered Suitcase

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

Not entirely sure. As a little kid, I sat at the dining room table with a notebook for hours. I was too young for self-awareness. I was just doing it.  

Why do you write? 

Again, not entirely sure. As I get older and write more and finish more pieces, I discover more about the process and have a certain faith in it. I’d say that keeps me going.

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

Of course not.

What do you think makes a good story? 


What's your favorite genre to read? 

Right now, short stories in the speculative vein.

Who is your favorite author or poet?

I’m sure I’ll regret saying this, but I don’t have a favorite. I’ve never read one particular writer exclusively for any period of time.

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

Geek Love by Katherine Dunn. White Teeth by Zadie Smith.

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

Stop-Time by Frank Conroy. Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg.

Where/how do you find the most inspiration?

Reading a lot and in a wide variety. Watching and listening to others, asking questions of their behavior. Hindsight.

What does your family think of your writing? 

Proud and easily excitable. But they probably wonder where it’s all leading and when it’ll finally get there.

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

It varies every couple months. Any routine held too long will eventually lead to some boredom and eventual procrastination. Sometimes I’m at the desk at 6am. Sometimes I’m in a coffee shop phase.

Do you have any writing quirks or rituals? 

If I’m struggling with a story, I’ll switch to longhand for a while. And I wear headphones but don’t listen to music.

Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing?

The first sentence. And deciding between first and third when I have a preconceived idea for a story.

What are your current projects?

Short stories.

What are you planning for future projects?

I set aside this year to specifically work on building an inventory of short stories – finishing them and submitting them. To help me do this, I applied to eight artist residencies and was accepted into four. My last one will be a month spent at the Jentel cattle ranch this winter. That’s as far into the future as I have planned.

Do you have any advice for other writers?

If you ride public transportation every day, write during your commute. Or write on your lunch break. Or get up an hour earlier and write then. Find the time that already exists in your life and start from there.

Where can we find your work? 

I have a short piece published in issue #4 of Makeout Creek, which can be purchased at

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Excerpt - Birch Hills at World's End

Birch Hills at World’s End
Geoff Hyatt
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I’d never thought Kenzie was a psychopath. An accident waiting to happen, sure, but not a time bomb. Now, watching him and a French drug dealer drag a tarp-wrapped body out of a pickup, I wondered how I could have been so wrong.

“This little man,” René said with a laugh, “he is somewhat heavy.”

“Dead weight,” Kenzie grunted as he struggled to keep his end of the load up. “We need to go to the door around the other side, before the little high schoolers see this. They’ll freak—whoa!” Kenzie burst into jackal-like laughter and said, “His arm, dude!”

I could see it, hanging out from under the tarp, its stiff fingers dragging in the snow. I swallowed the scream quaking in my throat. I had no idea what these guys would do if they discovered me but was positive I didn’t want to find out.

“This is—errrmmmmm—morbid,” René grumbled. “I am not needing this.”

Snowflakes flitted in the moonlit air, like glitter on glass. Kenzie and René, rendered in a palate of grey and blue, lugged their dark cargo around the corner of the pole barn. The door creaked open then slammed shut, loud as a shotgun in the winter stillness. The December wind sliced through me.

I’d fled a dead dog only to encounter a dead man. I only came to this awful party because of Lindsay, who Erik was probably fingering in a coat closet by now. A sour taste washed into my mouth. Hyperventilating and dizzy, I staggered out of the bushes.

“Josh, don’t worry. He’s not dead,” said a girl-voice behind me.

“What?” I shouted as I spun around.

Lindsay stood there in her cloak, smoking a black cigarette from a long, brass holder. She looked like a thrift-store version of a thirties crime dame, afflicted with vampirism. A big army-surplus ammunition bag hung on her hip, on which she’d stenciled the words “KILL YOURSELF, NOW.” I appreciated her use of a comma. She wore one of those furry hats, the kind that usually make people look like puppy dogs, but it worked on her. The smoke she exhaled smelled like my mom’s Easter ham.

“The dog that Jason hit with the beer can,” she said. “He got up and ran off. I think he was just knocked out for a bit. No big deal.”

“It’s still mean,” I said, shuffling in place. I made a tiny white wall between my feet.

Lindsay laughed, lovely and quiet. “Everybody’s mean,” she said. “C’mon. I got to get inside or Amanda’s going to get drunk and take off her shirt or something.”

“Yeah.” I took another deep breath. “Yeah, okay.”

As we began to walk, I considered telling her about the crime I’d just witnessed but thought it might be a bad idea. After all, maybe it was just a passed-out friend they were playing a prank on. Maybe.


Thursday, November 3, 2011

Author Insides - Sara Elizabeth Grossman

Sara Elizabeth Grossman has an MFA from The New School and works as a freelance copywriter and social media manager. She has work published in or forthcoming from The New York Press, Untreed Reads Publishing, The Nashville Review, and Narrative Magazine.  Her story “11 Stops” was also chosen as a top 25 finalist for Glimmer Train’s New Writers Award and was published in the Autumn 2011 issue of The Battered Suitcase. 

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

In ninth grade, I began to write really awful poetry.  At that point, I thought I was a writer.  Now I know better.

Why do you write? 

The reason has evolved over the years.  I remember saying “revenge” when I was 19 or 20.  Now I write because I absolutely need to get the words out. I love telling stories.

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

It’s not as romantic or glamorous.  And people are always asking me what I do with an MFA in creative writing, as if the answer isn’t obvious? I tell them I’m going to be a unicorn trainer one day.

What do you think makes a good story?  

A compelling voice and an interesting plot are most important to me.

What's your favorite genre to read?  

Not sure of a genre. I like anything that keeps me interested.  I’m more of a comedy than a tragedy type of gal.

Who is your favorite author or poet? 

I really like Jodi Picoult, even though she stole my thunder and produced a commercially sold book about lesbians.  I also really enjoy Lorrie Moore, Mary Gaitskill, Susan Shapiro, Lydia Davis, David Levithan, Jennifer Weiner, and Chuck Klosterman.

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

The Giving Tree.  Since I was young, that book has made me cry every time I read it.  I want to be able to do that to people.

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

Probably all the books I read as a child, honestly.  It’s so important for parents to make sure kids read.

Where/how do you find the most inspiration?  

I write nonfiction, so real life.

What does your family think of your writing? 

It’s a mixed bag because of the topics.  I think at the end of the day, they’re very proud of my accomplishments.

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

I don’t have a schedule.  I know a lot of people do, but I can’t do that.  When it comes to me, I sit down and bang out a bunch of pages at a time.  Sometimes, though, I go months without writing a thing.  It’s difficult because I write for a living – I do social media and copywriting for a few different companies.  It’s tiring trying to write my own stuff at the end of the day.

Do you have any writing quirks or rituals? 

No, but I wish I did.

Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing? 

Doing it, period. Also, making sure characters are whole.  Since the people I write about are people I actually know, it is tricky to convey them to other people sometimes.

What are your current projects?  

I’m actually trying to write a children’s book right now.

What are you planning for future projects?  

Well I’m planning on moving out of New York.  That in of itself is a project.  As far as writing goes, I’d like to expand the memoir I wrote for my thesis into a full-length thing.

Do you have any advice for other writers?  

Keep on submitting.  I’ve submitted to over 100 places and have gotten 6 acceptances.  You have to take the rejections with a big grain of salt and move on.

Where else can we find your work?  

I have two short stories published through Untreed Reads.  You can get them anywhere ebooks are sold.  I also have two personal essays in the New York Press.  I am part of the world’s largest exquisite corpse in The Nashville Review.  And a chapter from my memoir is in Narrative Magazine as of July.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Excerpt - An Animal's Guide to Earthly Salvation

An Animal’s Guide to Earthly Salvation
  Jack R. Johnson

Chapter One

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On the evening before I heard the news, I was worrying about the number of dead dogs in my cages. They were accumulating. If rigor mortis set in, we had to break their legs to get them out.
When I first tried to break one, it was dreadful. I sort of leaned against the leg, hoping by sheer force to make it snap. When Vicki, the other vet assistant, caught me at it, she laughed. Vicki’s a waif, small and studious with a thin, pale, college-student face, burdened with large, pink-rimmed glasses, pale blue eyes and even paler blonde hair.
“Jeff, what are you doing?” She had that concerned look librarians get when they feel a desperate need to intercede in your aimless wanderings through the stacks.
“I can’t get him out. See? His legs are too stiff.” I pinched the toe of the dead Doberman and wiggled his leg to demonstrate. “See?”
“Don’t be stupid. Use something heavy.”
She picked up a fire extinguisher, and with her thin arms, slammed it into the dog’s leg. There was a shocking snap, and the leg caved in on itself.
I thought I was going to be sick.
She pushed up her pink-rimmed glasses thoughtfully. “That’s the way you have to do it.”