petefrommephotoBy Kieslana Wing

In 2008, we featured a piece of fiction called “Concentrate” by Montana writer Pete Fromm in issue one of our third volume. “Concentrate” is the tale of a young, poverty-stricken mother who reconnects with her family in the process of trying to invent a product that will bring them prosperity. Directly after publishing this piece, Silk Road conducted an interview with Pete, which focused on his craft and the stories he was working on at the time.
Five years later, he has a total of six published works available, and has won the Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association’s Book of the Year award four times. Yes, four. In addition to all of that, two of his novels have been converted into films. “Dry Rain” is a short film adapted from the award winning collection Dry Rain Stories. More recently, the movie “As Cool As I Am” was released in June of 2013, starring Claire Danes, James Marsden, and Sarah Bolger. This book/movie is a coming-of-age story for main character Lucy Diamond. Since he seems to have been busy these last few years, we thought we’d check in with him and talk about what it’s like to have one of his stories converted into film, as well as what he’s working on now.

SR: Your book, As Cool As I Am, was recently converted into a film that was released this past June. How involved were you in the creation of the film based on your book?

Pete: Not at all.  Gin Spragg, the wife of the writer Mark Spragg, both friends of mine, asked if she could write a screenplay and try to sell it.  They’d worked together on previous screenplays of his novels, and I said, Sure.  So, she wrote it, let me read it, and I figured that would be that.  But she managed to sell it to a producer, who managed to sell it to a production company with the money, and they managed to attach the director and the actors, and, after several years, much to my surprise, it actually began filming.

SR: Has the adaptation of your book into film changed the way you approach writing at all? If so, how?

Pete: No, not at all.  Having a movie made out of a book is a lot like getting hit by lightning.  It just happens.  As Cool had been out seven or eight years when Gin asked about it.  Ten by the time filming started.  I’ve got a new novel, If Not For This, coming out next year, have worked on several other projects since as cool, am well into another novel right now.  Truthfully, I haven’t thought much about As Cool, book or movie, in a long time.  It’s always on to the next thing.

SR: What did you enjoy about the process of your book becoming a film? What was surprising about seeing your work on the screen? Would you do it again with future works?

Pete: Well, getting paid is always nice.  Always a surprise.  But the best part was Gin setting things up so my two sons, Nolan and Aidan, could be extras in the high school scenes.  I took them down to Albuquerque, where it was filmed, and we could not have been treated better by everyone on the production.  We spent a couple of days as tourists, watching the whole enterprise, then they spent a sixteen hour day being part of the filming.  It was fab.  There was a lot of separation between the book and the movie, so seeing it on screen was not particularly strange, more like watching someone else’s work, which is really what it was by then, first Gin’s take, then Max’s (Max Mayer, the director).  I would do it again, but I’d be interested in taking a shot at the screenplay, which seems like an interesting and difficult form to take on.  I’d like to try it for the challenge.

SR: What advice can you give greenhorn writers who hope to one day have their book made into a film?

Pete: Forget the film.  Just write the best book you can, then spend a few more years making it better.  If someone somehow takes an interest, all the planets align, and it makes it out of the maze and into an actual film, just take it.  Until then, just work.

SR: What projects are you working on right now? Do you have any book tours coming up?

Pete: As I said above, I’m working on a novel now, have another coming out next fall.  I’m sure I’ll be touring then, for If Not For This.  There are stories, a nonfiction book in there as well.  I write every day, whether anyone is buying or not, so the stuff builds up.

SR: Is there anything else you’d like to add?

Pete: Just to say again, don’t be a hopeful writer, hoping to make it to the big screen.  Be a writer, working every day, day after day after day, and see what happens.  For any kind of happiness to come from writing, I think the joy’s got to come from the writing, from watching people come alive in your mind and on the page, not whatever happens to it all afterward.

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By Tabitha Blankenbiller

Silk Road forked into my writing life path two years ago. I was halfway through the MFA program at Pacific University—far more polished and disciplined than I had been coming in, as someone who wrote while mistaking vagueness for intrigue, and couldn’t name off three memoir-writers even if my Nordstrom credit line depended on it. Still, I had two semesters of heart-letting and insomnia-spirals yet to learn from, and I was fluorescent green to the writer “business.” By entering the Pacific community I had a few literary journal names, like Tin House and Ploughshares. I had a fresh new Submishmash account (rest in peace, best web name ever lost!). But I had no idea how these literary journal entities worked, exactly. Who was reading our work? Why the long response times? What did a yes or a no mean, and what did a receipt of either reflect upon my writing?

In the first few months of working alongside editors Tammy Dietz and Hannah Pass in Silk Road nonfiction, I quickly learned that:

  1. Journals get a ton of submissions. On Writer Island, as we are alone in our spare rooms and offices and hall closets combing through Google for possible homes for our work, it feels as if we’re the only ones doing so. I remember thinking with my first round of submissions I sent, there can’t be THAT many people sending stuff to Hayden’s Ferry Review. I have to have a good shot. I didn’t even see most of the submissions that were sent to Silk Road; the fantastic staff of junior editors sifted out the best to be sent up to the editing staff. Only a small fraction of favorites came across my screen, and of those, we may have accepted one out of every ten. For that reason, I began to feel slightly less awful as the form rejections started rolling into my email box. Although the perspective may have worn a bit after the 20th.
  2. A No is rarely a verdict that the writer is terrible. The vast majority of the time we passed on a piece, it was for reasons along the lines of content or style not fitting in with the journal’s vision, or perhaps not working with the other nonfiction pieces we’d curated for the issue already. I read writing from many people whose work left me spellbound, and downright jealous, but ended up passing on for reasons described above. The theory was later proven from the other side, when pieces I had rejected from some journals were enthusiastically snapped up by others. Good writing has a place. It’s just a bear sometimes to find where it is.
  3. I love editing almost as much as I love writing. I’ll never forget the giddy joy I got from pressing Send on the first acceptance letter I wrote. Working to edit and restructure the piece into its final published version filled me with all the pride that drives people to do good work. I helped! It’s addictive.

I’ve had two bustling years of experience with Silk Road journal, lessons I’ve harnessed to propel forward: into my first journal acceptance letter of my own, my graduation, my finished manuscript, and my new job as a full-time editor. And as my latest learning curve, I’m stepping out with fellow Pacific alumni (Tiffany Hauck, Kase Johnstun, Charlotte O’Brien, and Sean Davis) to start a literary journal of our own, Spilt Infinitive. Spilt Infinitive is a journal that strives to represent new and underrepresented writers by publishing gritty, honest, scene-driven work. We crave scenework and substance, and a story above a situation. Pieces that are smart, funny, surprising, bizarre, yet profound are our favorite finds. I’m sad to be exiting Silk Road, but thrilled to pass along the good editing karma I learned here to this brand-new adventure, one I’m helping to carve with my own hands (or at least typing fingers). Our first issue is up on our website, http://www.spiltinfinitive.com, where you can download it directly onto your Kindle. The issue has work by outstanding up-and-coming writers, including Pacific alums Autumn Sharp, Jaydn DeWald, Laura Henley, and Leigh Camacho. We’re also accepting submissions for our second issue, and we welcome your poems, stories, and essays. Our guidelines and submission links are available at http://www.spiltinfinitive.com/submissions. Finally, my secret-delicious Spilt job is Woman Behind the Social Media Curtain, so please come see the Tweets (https://twitter.com/SpiltInfinitive) and Facebook posts (https://www.facebook.com/pages/Spilt-Infinitive) that make me laugh uproariously to myself.

Best of luck to all Silk Road staff and submitters in the coming year! And thank you for all the challenges, questions, and joys you’ve blessed my time with. I’m sure our literary paths will be crossing again shortly.

Interview by Elizabeth Vandermolen

Andrea Scarpino received an MFA in Creative Writing from The Ohio State University, has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize, and published in numerous journals, including The Cincinnati Review, Connecticut Review, Los Angeles Review, PANK, and Prairie Schooner. She is the author of the chapbook The Grove Behind (Finishing Line Press, 2009) and a forthcoming collection from Red Hen Press, and is a weekly contributor for the blog Planet of the Blind. In addition Silk Road Review nominated her poem “Love as Stained Glass” for a 2012 Pushcart Prize.

Read “Love as Stained Glass” and “Overheard in Lincoln, Nebraska.”

The Interview

Elizabeth Vandermolen: You had two poems in the last issue of Silk Road that varied greatly from each other in both form and subject. How would you describe your writing style?

Andrea Scarpino: I definitely tend toward the lyrical in all of my poetry, but I do like to maintain some sort of narrative thread, no matter how fine that thread may be. I also tend toward an involvement in place and the natural world, although that tendency isn’t really on display in the two poems Silk Road published. But I spend a lot of time thinking about how a particular place/scenery/landscape is altering my thinking and writing, my mood, how I understand my place in the world.

EV: Who do you feel has influenced you as an artist?

AS: There are so many people! I grew up reading Dickinson and Plath and loved both of their work for different reasons—attention to fragments and fragmented moments in Dickinson, and the ability to emotionally connect with a poem through Plath’s work. But I also love poets like Adrienne Rich and Carolyn Forche, Muriel Rukeyser and Maxine Kumin—poets who connect with the larger world around them in interesting and surprising ways.

I also have been very influenced by visual art, by the paintings of Pablo Picasso and Frida Kahlo, by stained glass windows in churches, by sculpture and dance. And as I said earlier, by place. When I lived in Los Angeles, I found myself writing poems with fire and drought and desert landscapes. Now that I live in Michigan, I find myself writing poems with snow and water and lush landscapes.

EV: I was very amused by your poem Overheard in Lincoln, Nebraska. My favorite line was, “As far as I can tell, the Russians/ aren’t making licorice.” How often do you find yourself inspired by conversations you overhear?

AS: Honestly, I eavesdrop more than I probably should admit. Sometimes I find myself more engaged in listening to a complete stranger’s conversation than in paying attention to my own conversation—which again is not something I should admit! But I find the language we use in everyday conversations really interesting and evocative, particularly when we come upon another’s conversation in broken fragments, overheard as we’re doing something else entirely.

EV: Writing a good love poem is a daunting task yet you captured the feeling beautifully in your poem Love as Stained Glass. The metaphor works so well in the body of the poem largely because the word “love” is only appears in the title. How important do you find titles in your work and in poetry in general?

AS: Well first, thank you, especially since I really struggle with titles. They feel so final, like they could make or totally ruin a poem, which I know isn’t entirely true. But I find that any one poem may go through multiple title revisions before I actually hit on the one that sticks. And sometimes this tells me that a poem hasn’t yet really found what it wants to say—when I can’t figure out the title, it may be that the body of the poem isn’t really working yet either, which is helpful information for me to have.

In terms of poetry in general, I really like a descriptive title, something that helps me to read the poem that follows it, that helps shape my understanding of what’s coming next. For that reason, untitled poems make me a little bit crazy—I feel like I’m walking into a blind date.

EV: What is the earliest moment you remember where you thought ‘I want to be a writer?’

AS: You know, I’m not sure if I’ve ever thought that! I have memories of speaking poems to my mother before I could write—she would type them on a typewriter for me. But I didn’t really think of myself as writing poems; I was more recording moments or feelings or images that I thought needed to be recorded. In high school, I had a wonderful poetry teacher—a rare thing for a high school student—but even then, I’m not sure I dared to imagine what it would mean to be a writer. Writing was just something I did, something I loved, something incredibly important to me. And I think that’s still the way I think about it.

EV: Okay, final questions. What are you currently reading? Or, if you had to recommend a book to read before the end of the year what would it be?

AS: Everyone should immediately read Terry Tempest Williams’ book When Women Were Birds. I just finished reading it, and it is utterly fantastic—lyrical and magical and just right-on all around. There are sections—the opening chapter for example—that take my breath away and make my heart sink into my chest at the same time. Really, it’s one of those rare books that feels like it has changed something deep inside me. And I love that.

Silk Road  Vol 7.2

Check out our 7.2 issue of Silk Road with cover art by Irish painter, Josie Gray. Along with painting, Gray has also written a collaborative work with Tess Gallagher titled, “Barnacle Soup and Other Stories from the West of Ireland”. Read more about him in this article written by Tess Gallagher.   http://www.cerisepress.com/01/01/the-paintings-of-josie-gray

Issue 7.2 brings together the work of 21 authors.

“Years ago when I realized why I wanted a boyfriend (for warmth), I started viewing men as jackets. In a hug, I tried them on. How does this feel, I asked myself, moving my hands up and down their backs. Sometimes they thought I was trying to steal their wallets, but I didn’t know how to explain myself.” –Meg Thompson

Our first chapters section includes the opening pages from Lesley Heiser’s upcoming novel The Girl in a Tree. In “All you Really Need Is a Light Jacket”, Meg Thompson entwines the lives and habits of animals and humans. The New Millennium Writings prize winner Vic Sizemore depicts characters struggling to teach their children to live a life of non-violence in a violent world in his short story, “Squirrel Gun”.

In our interveiw with author Deborah Reed, the author talks about how balances multiple genres as well as her path to becoming an author.

Read excerpt from a couple of the pieces in this issue at our website. http://silkroad.pacificu.edu/index.html

Silk Road Review is having a contest! Write in a great opening line for a story, leave it as a comment on our blog, Twitter, or Facebook page and we will send you a Silk Road literary magazine. We are limiting the responses to 140 characters (roughly on Facebook and the blog) for all three. But hurry the contest closes at nine am pacific time tomorrow, November 9th. Also if you haven’t already don’t forget to follow us on twitter, like us on Facebook and follow our blog. We look forward to reading some great opening lines!

 


Interview by Elizabeth Vandermolen

Barbara Price is a writer and editor living in Fresno, California. When she’s not writing, editing, hitchhiking, or having religious experiences via social media, she’s chasing her kids or driving them somewhere. Some of her poems have recently appeared in Slant, BorderSenses, and Redactions. Barbara loves to hear from other writers–look her up at http://www.editthis.biz.

Read “Winter 1979” and “I Find God on Facebook.”

The Interview

Elizabeth Vandermolen: Hi! This is Elizabeth and today I am interviewing Barbara Price. First off, thank you for taking the time for this interview. You had two poems in the last edition of the Silk Road Review and both featured an very narrative style. What attracts you to this form over, say, fiction?

Barbara Price: Thank you, Elizabeth!

Yes, some of my poems are very narrative, but of course they’re not tiny prose stories. When you’re writing — and when your goal perhaps is to pack as much meaning into as small a package as possible — poetry gives you more possibilities to make your meaning in a concise way, more ways to present your ideas from as many angles as possible. A poem, even a narrative poem, offers me more possibilities than a corresponding piece of fiction.

For example, I love crafting the rhythm and flow of a piece from beginning to end. If it doesn’t sound right to me all the way through, if the right rhythm isn’t there, it’s not done yet. Certainly there is fiction with beautiful rhythm and flow, but it’s unsustainable — and I think sometimes it gets lost, too, in the bigger context of a prose piece.

In Winter 1979, which appeared in the last edition of Silk Road Review, the somewhat choppy rhythm, along with the repetition, give readers an idea of the speaker’s uncertainty and hesitation, her ambivalence, the fear that seems to be lurking around the edges — maybe she protests too much that “it didn’t feel dangerous” or maybe the adult speaker knows something in hindsight that the hitchhiker doesn’t know.

If I were to convey all that in a short-short piece of fiction — well, I don’t think I could. It would turn out overwrought and melodramatic. In a poem, the rhythm can do that work for you.

And with fiction, too, you miss out on all the fun of line breaks and certain plays on meaning, or even certain parallel meanings. If I Find God on Facebook — the other poem that appeared — were made into a little story, I’d have missed out on the great fun of “the creator / of the Flintstones” or “God is King / of the Spam Status.”

EV: Who would you say are your poetic influences?

BP: This is such a hard question — every poet I’ve ever encountered has been an influence. Every poet I’ve read, every poet in every workshop, every poet who’s asked for or given me feedback, has been an influence. That’s true of everyone, right? And if you ask me to pick certain names, I feel that little twinge of panic that an Oscar-winner must feel, with too many people to thank, not enough time, and the certainty that she’s going to leave out someone absolutely essential. How can you even try to name names?

Even if someone else’s work is not directly visible in your poems, if you’ve read their work, you’ve absorbed it, and you’re influenced in some way. No one would likely recognize the influence of Lucille Clifton in my poems — as much as I might wish it were so — and yet, the way she could pack so much beauty, pain, and power into such short poems has had a huge influence on me. These are qualities I study in her work, qualities I aspire to. Even if you can’t see her, Lucille Clifton is there.

I also admire and study poets who use humor not just to be entertaining but in service to another purpose. I resist the idea that anything funny and easily understood should be thrown into the dreaded category of “light verse” or lumped in with “There once was a girl from Nantucket.” Sometimes, if you make readers laugh, they don’t look beyond that — they figure your poem is a throwaway — and you need to work a little harder to show them, “No, I also have something to say here.” So I spend a lot of time reading poets who do the things I hope to do, like Bob Hicok, Aimee Nezhukumatathil, Tony Hoagland, Thomas Lux, David Kirby, Margaret Atwood — and of course I couldn’t help but notice Billy Collins’ influence on I Find God on Facebook.

My poems tend to fall into two categories — funny or dark — and I’m always working hard to bring the two closer together, to synthesize these two halves of my poetic personality. So, certain poets, I revisit them again and again, studying them, asking myself, “How does this poet do what I want to do?” I keep going back to Kim Addonizio’s “The First Line Is the Deepest” again and again, for this reason — it’s so funny and so sad.

EV: I really enjoyed your poem I Find God on Facebook. In particular, it discusses issues of faith through the humorous metaphor of social media. What inspired this idea?

BP: Thank you! Before I wrote this poem, a lot of thoughts had been running through my head. As anyone who writes poetry knows, you’re not necessarily thinking, “Let’s write a poem about these things!” — they’re just things you think about day to day, things you keep coming back to, and eventually they’ll find their way into your work if you let them.

Social media has become a bigger presence in our daily lives — even when you meet people face-to-face, the conversation seems to work its way around to someone’s posts or pictures or news. It’s like we’re all living in the same small town now — and for better or worse, you know people’s business, even people you haven’t seen in years.

Also, Facebook has become something like the “permanent record” that every vice principal warned us about: “This will go down on your permanent record!” There are stories — whether true or apocryphal — of people losing jobs, failing to get jobs, destroying friendships, undermining a romantic relationship, all because of their Facebook activity. And so in recent years, people have put more thought into what they put out there — they work toward sanitizing their image, making it safer: safer for work, for their bosses, for their kids or elderly relatives — because in some sense we all fear judgment. On the other hand, you can’t please everyone, so this is an impossible task, right?

Meanwhile, God or religion crops up fairly regularly in my work, too — it’s another ongoing obsession — so one day when I was thinking all these thoughts about social media, this just popped into my head: “What if God were your Facebook friend?” The idea made me laugh — but it also spoke to these other thoughts and concerns. If God were your Facebook friend, you might have all these concerns about your online presence — but even more so. And so…I went with that, and discovered that my speaker was not only afraid of judgment; she also judged. It turns out that God and his buddies were annoying Facebook friends.

EV: In your poem, I Find God on Facebook, you state “The Internet is forever. Yes,/ the Mardi Gras photo of me/ flashing that redneck in Biloxi/ named BillySam or SammyBill/ will live somewhere for all eternity.” Would you say that burgeoning writers should be careful of what they post? Especially given the importance of social media in today’s publishing world?

BP: In some sense, no, I would say just the opposite. If you have a Facebook account, say, and you avoid posting anything that might be controversial, anything that might make someone squirm or judge you — and these days, some people try to do just that — you’ve got to ask yourself: What’s left? You’re not portraying a real person anymore — you’re portraying some sort of bland dilution of yourself. You’re like a homeopathic remedy: nothing’s left of the original substance. You’ve taken out everything that made you real. You might be safe, but who are you?

So my advice would be the opposite — be exactly who you are, without apology. If you’re the person who flashed that guy in Biloxi, be that person. If you like watching and discussing reality TV, be that person. If you love to post pictures of your twenty-six cats in vintage designer shoes, be that person. Don’t worry so much about your image. Don’t worry about seeming cool enough, or smart enough, or wholesome enough, or whatever it is you’re worried about.

For a while, I struggled with this, with the “image” I was putting out there. I like to post photos of my kids, and very few women artists — take a poll! I’m sure this is true — want to project an image of being “a mom who is crazy about her kids.” We’re afraid it makes us sound dull, or the opposite of glamorous or artistic or intellectual or deep. Fill in the blank. Especially if you’re a woman, there’s a sense that you’re not serious enough about your work — or you’re not interesting enough — if being a parent is also very important to you. Well, screw that. That’s who I am.

Or, take political posts — especially right now before an election, everyone complains about people who bombard their Facebook friends with political posts — and hey, I hate that too — and yet sometimes I feel strongly about an issue and will make a strongly worded, strongly felt political post. So hate me.

At first I was worried about what people would think — about my kids’ pictures, about my political posts, about my swear words or lack of tact, about my silliness or my strong opinions — but if I censored those things out, there wouldn’t be anything left but a safe persona, interchangeable with any other. Anyone who won’t give me a job because of my online image, or anyone who thinks I’m too boring, not serious enough, too political, too tactless, too impulsive, too maternal, whatever — well, I’ve made my peace with that. I don’t need to impress those people.

As artists, that’s all we have — that’s all we can bring: who we really are.

EV: Your second poem, Winter 1979, focuses on a young woman hitchhiking during the last winter Ted Bundy was at large. How often are you inspired by recent historical events such as this?

BP: Fairly often — a sense of time can be as effective as a sense of place. Not every kid was hitchhiking in the slush in New Hampshire in 1979, but every woman of a certain age remembers Ted Bundy, remembers the news coverage, remembers how it made her feel or how it affected her view of the world.

I tend not to write about the “biggest” events — I haven’t written a 9/11 poem, for example. It’s hard for me to stake my claim there — so many other writers have already covered it so thoroughly and so well. But I’ve written about the era that followed 9/11 — about a wedding in Afghanistan that was bombed, or about a soldier with a head injury, or about Jenna Bush’s wedding. So…I don’t necessarily choose the biggest headlines, but I choose events that might speak to a reader and invite her own thoughts or reactions, or invite her in to a conversation.

EV: All right, last questions. What are you currently reading? Or name one book you insist goes on our readers’ bucket lists.

BP: Right now I’m re-reading everything by Robert Frost and Louise Bogan. Their work changed and evolved so much — it fascinates me to look at how much, and in what ways, their work changed.

And for the bucket list: One book I find myself zealously pushing on every poet I meet is “The Door” by Margaret Atwood. It’s one of those books that shifted the way I look at poetry. She blends the serious and the funny in such a genuine, graceful, powerful way. She’s so highly regarded as a fiction writer that her poems don’t always get the love and attention they deserve.

IMG_64Interview: Deborah Reed
by Sharon Harrigan

Deborah Reed is the author of Carry Yourself Back to Me, published originally by Amazon Encore in September 2011, then reissued by Houghton Mifflin in January 2012. She also writes suspense novels under the pen name Audrey Braun. A Small Fortune was released by Amazon
Encore in July 2011, became an immediate bestseller, and was reissued by Houghton Mifflin in February 2012. Its sequel, Fortune’s Deadly Descent, will appear in September 2012. Carry Yourself Back to Me was a Best Book of 2011 Amazon Editors’ Pick as well as a bestseller, and
Publisher’s Weekly called it “a triumph.” The Library Journal called Reed “a writer to watch,” whose “lovely, lyrical prose” is “as rare as snowfall in Florida.”

Reed and I were graduate students together in Pacific University’s low residence MFA Program in Creative Writing. We have workshopped with literary legends David Long, Mary-Helen Stefaniak, Tayari Jones, Jack Driscoll, Mike Magnuson, Bonnie Jo Campbell, and Ben Percy, learning to give our verbs more muscle, our stories more heart and speed, and to line edit as if our lives depended on it. Reed’s work is distinctive for its lush settings, musical cadences, and tightly woven plots that manage to be credible yet surprising, moving yet unsentimental. Her literary work is suspenseful, fast-paced, and tightly plotted; while her suspense work is literary, with rich characters and complex family relationships. She is a rare hybrid. We discussed her unusual path to publication, her double identity working in two genres, and the journeys her characters take, across Europe, Mexico, and the United States.

Silk Road: Many writers consider publication the ultimate goal of an MFA. Since you already had book contracts while you started your MFA, what was your goal? How did the program help you reach it?

Deborah Reed: I entered Pacific University as a self-taught writer with a lot of discipline and determination but no formal education in creative writing. My undergrad degree was in Anthropology and German, so I came to writing in a patchwork way, which included a smattering of conferences and workshops and a local writing group. I could see my skills improving over the years (slowly), but there were gaps in my understanding of the craft. I couldn’t fully articulate why something did or didn’t work on the page. Gaining a critical voice has not only helped me zero in on my own failings and strengths, but also allowed me to help others. And the solutions come faster. What may have taken months of staring at a passage, knowing instinctively that something was wrong, now happens more quickly.

It’s important to note that the low residency model allowed me to work as a writer while getting my degree, unlike a traditional MFA. With low residency, you learn how to juggle a writing life against the backdrop of work and family. Another difference is working one-on-one with a mentor each semester, which is an intense and focused way to learn.

SR: Your path to publication was a bit unorthodox. I think writers worried about the state of the publishing industry can take heart from your story.

Deborah: I began through the traditional channels with an agent who was shopping around Carry Yourself Back To Me. This was in 2009, when the publishing industry was imploding and no one was willing to take on a new author. We were coming to the end of publishing house submissions after a line of very nice rejections letters and I could see that my novel was about to get put into a drawer and forgotten. I decided to secretly enter it into Amazon’s Breakthrough Novel Award Contest, while at the same time I wrote A Small Fortune in a nervous frenzy, as I waited to hear back from my agent. I then went on to self-publish A Small Fortune and within weeks it became an ebook bestseller on Amazon, climbing as high as #3 in the entire Kindle store. It was madness. At the same time behind the scenes, an editor from the newly developed publishing house owned by Amazon, called simply Amazon Publishing, pulled my manuscript out of the contest slush pile because he liked the title.

He started reading it and things got crazy from there. Amazon Publishing had also noticed A Small Fortune by Audrey Braun was selling like crazy and they were about to get in touch with her for a book deal. The editor finished Carry Yourself Back To Me in two days and called me, Deborah Reed, to offer me a book deal. He had no idea I was also Audrey Braun. Hilarity ensued. By the end of the phone call I was offered a three-book deal, one that included the thriller follow up to A Small Fortune, called Fortune’s Deadly Descent, which will be released in
September 2012. Not long after my first two books were published, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt approached Amazon Publishing and bought the paperback rights to them. I now have two publishers and couldn’t be happier.

SR: Your books take us on intense, sometimes exotic, voyages to landscapes that are so rich they are almost characters. In Carry Yourself Back to Me, you use the lush setting of Florida tangelo groves threatened by freakish snow to heighten emotional landscape. In A Small Fortune, you take us to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, with its seductive glassy water and pristine beaches that hide danger below the surface, and then you lead us into jungles no tourist brochure ever warned against. In Fortune’s Deadly Descent, you begin in picture-postcard Switzerland, then lead us to St. Corbenay, France, a quaint Provencal village whose castles and saturated colors inspired the French Impressionists. Why did you choose these settings, and how do they inform your writing?

Deborah: Foreign places exhilarate me. I love the challenge of figuring out how to get around in a country I’ve never been to, maneuvering through a language I don’t speak, meeting people different from myself, and being surrounded by an aesthetic that inspires me. When it comes to writing, it’s a pleasure to infuse my novels with places where I’ve spent time, allowing me to go along for the ride just like the reader. With thriller writing in particular, foreign settings throw my protagonist off balance. She’s already in dire circumstances, so setting her in a place she’s never been, surrounded by a language she doesn’t speak, compromises her capabilities further, which gives the story another layer of tension. It becomes an adventure as well as a mystery.

SR: Both your literary novels (the one that published and the one in progress) are set in Florida, where you lived as a teenager. Do you think of your characters and books as Southern?

Deborah: I definitely think of my literary characters as Southern. My family on both sides comes from the South and they are great oral storytellers and musicians and have impeccable timing, which makes them funny as hell.
There is a rhythm to their speech, a lyrical cadence that I find comforting, and there is also a restraint in the content of what they say, or don’t say, and all of this is so beautiful to me, an art form really.

SR: One thing that distinguishes your suspense novels from your literary novels is setting. The former are in Florida, the latter outside America. Is this one way you keep your writing identities separate?

Deborah: It is. And I’d even go so far as to say that they make up the two sides of me. I lived in Germany for many years and love to travel. This is a large part of who I am and I take a lot of pleasure in bringing that to the page with my thriller novels. The other part of me is deeply rooted in The States, as I mentioned, my family is from the South and have been there for centuries. I grew up mostly in the Midwest but was surrounded by an enclave of Southerners, and they too are very much a part of who I am.

SR: You’ve lived in Michigan, Florida, Germany, and Oregon. How do these distinctly different locales inform your writing?

Deborah: I’ve yet to set a novel in Michigan but I’ve begun planning one in my head, so stay tuned. I feel as if I’ve lived many lives. This makes for good stories.

SR: You’ve said one of your biggest influences is Per Petterson, and especially his novel Out Stealing Horses. What is it about this book that feels so feel so at home, even though it is translated from Norwegian and set in Norway?

Deborah: I’ve read this novel about six times. I finally understood that the rhythms in particular are what I’m drawn to. I read an interview with Per Petterson where he talks about rhythm being the most important quality he is trying to bring to his writing. He felt one should be able to tap a foot to the whole novel. It hit me then that this was the quality I was so drawn to in this novel. A musical cadence close to my heart. The characters are subtle, showing a lot of restraint, especially the men, and I drew the men in Annie’s family in Carry Yourself Back To Me the same way.

SR: The Sun Post Weekly says: “It isn’t very difficult to imagine Patsy Cline or June Carter Cash voicing the sentiments” in Carry Yourself Back to Me. How did music influence the plot of this book and its style? And can you elaborate on the title and epigraph?

Deborah: The Sun Post Weekly’s comments were so flattering, the best compliment I could have hoped for, and yet it’s somehow frightening, too. I idolize those women, so for someone to suggest my writing was in line with something they might sing, left me, well, I guess I felt an awful lot like Annie in the novel when she gets compared to some of the greats: “The comparisons flattered her for the first few minutes but after that and ever since she’s done nothing but worry about measuring up.”

The title of the novel is taken from Bob Dylan’s song, “Boots of Spanish Leather”:
There’s nothing you can send me my own true love, There’s nothing I wish to be ownin’ .
Just carry yourself back to me unspoiled, From across that great big ocean.

After I’d finished the novel and was trying to name it, I happened to hear this song, which I’ve heard hundreds of times over the years, but suddenly I heard it in a way that made me realize the narrative arc of my novel matched that of the song. I immediately looked at the lyrics and the instant I came across the “carry yourself back to me” line, I knew that was it.

SR: Book List magazine calls Carry Yourself Back to Me “Part whodunit, part romance, part family drama, and part childhood remembrance.” I think that’s good way to summarize the ambition and scope of the book. Did you conceive of this book as weaving those four different strands?

Deborah: This is exactly what I did. I can be a pretty melancholy person and I wanted to capture that by writing a novel about yearning, nostalgia, missed opportunities, regrets and mistakes. Romantic love and familial love embody all the categories Book List mentions, and all the themes I was going for. I structured the novel so two story lines are running nearly parallel with one another. The backstory is meant to illuminate what is happening in the present so structurally the novel weaves back and forth between past and present. The past by itself is a coming of age tale of Annie and her brother Calder. The present day follows the two over the course of two weeks. By the end of the novel past meets present and brings everything full circle.

SR: Your work is full of sensory details. What struck me the most is the way it is infused with smells, which are known for evoking emotional memory. I can’t think of any book that does this quite the way you do. Why is smell so important in your work?

Deborah: You hit it exactly: smell evokes emotional memory. This is precisely why I used it. I live in the Northwest now, but when I go back to Florida the first thing I’m struck by are the smells, whether it be from my mother’s cooking or the grass, trees, and flowers, or hot sun on the concrete after a rain. Memories come flooding through me every time.

SR: Dialogue is very tricky, and I admire the way you use it to express the subtext, or what lies below surface and is too difficult for characters to express directly.

Deborah: I find dialogue most interesting when people are saying one thing and meaning another. There is a messiness there that reveals human emotion so much more poignantly than pointing to it. The woman angry with her husband for not paying enough attention to her doesn’t say, “I’m angry at you,” she says “I’m sick of seeing your toothpaste in the sink.” When the reader knows something that perhaps the characters themselves aren’t even quite aware of yet themselves, a connection takes place between the reader and the story, a kind of insider knowledge that pulls the reader closer in.

SR: One of the things I loved about A Small Fortune is the spot-on characterization of a prickly relationship between Celia and her teenage son Oliver. Since I have a teenage son myself, I was sure you were reading my mind. How has your experience as a parent informed your writing?

Deborah: In this particular incidence, greatly. Celia’s struggles with Oliver are not unlike my own with my teenager. Those moments of pulling away are hard on everyone, done under the guise of disdain and humiliation on the teenager’s part, but really it is the natural course of bonds needing to break apart and reconfigure. And what a paradox. They hate us but they need us. I came across a book on raising teenagers called, Get Out of My Life, but First Could You Drive Me & Cheryl to the Mall. I didn’t read it but I think I could have written it.

SR: How do you balance working in two genres–literary and suspense? Do you work in only one genre at a time? How do you prep yourself to become your pseudonym?

Deborah: The past couple of years I’ve been switching back and forth between the two genres simultaneously. I prefer not to do that but I was on a deadline and had no choice. I like to focus on one at a time for the pure reason that each genre requires something different of me. When writing literary work, I only read literary novels, and the same goes with thrillers. I’m very sensitive to influence and it’s important for me to feel in line and inspired by the work I’m reading.

I’m also far more meticulous and slow when writing literary fiction. I self-edit, perhaps too much, and I’m far more critical of myself. When I switch to Audrey Braun I write quickly and with more confidence. I discovered this about myself by accident when, as a fluke, I tried my hand at writing a thriller. I never assumed anyone would ever read it so I wrote with complete abandon and the entire first novel flushed out of me in four months, compared to the six years it took to write Carry Yourself Back To Me.

SR: How do you keep your aesthetics and persona separate for each genre? How do you deal with credibility issues for writers who stretch beyond one genre? Are there still people who don’t take “genre” work seriously?

Deborah: This is a great question. While there are still people who question the credibility of genre fiction, the lines between genres have all but disappeared these days. So many articles have been written about this lately. How, for example, does one categorize someone like Dennis Lehane? Is he a crime writer or a literary writer? What about the great Patricia Highsmith? Is The Talented Mr. Ripley a mystery or literary novel? And then there are novels like The Tiger’s Wife or The Night Circus that infuse folklore, fantasy, and magic into what are otherwise categorized as literary novels. A writer friend of mine from Russia once told me how baffled she was by all the categories we Americans put our novels in. She said in Russia they don’t have all of this.

They only good books and bad books. I love that. I can think of so many novels that could potentially fall into so many genres. Ultimately, the decision comes down to the publishers and how they want to market a book. Mystery and thriller sell much better than literary. So there’s that.

SR: Why did you decide to use a pen name?

Deborah: Initially it was because I’d never written a thriller so I decided to self publish A Small Fortune just to see what would happen. I figured if it turned out to be a flop no one would ever know it was me. It succeeded beyond my wildest dreams. I’ve since kept the pen name as a way to distinguish between my literary writing and what has now become my thriller series. The fact that I’m both Deborah Reed and Audrey Braun isn’t a secret. It just helps my readers know what they’re getting when I have a book released.

SR: Who are some other writers, besides John Banville, who write both literary and genre fiction?

Deborah: I think what is more interesting are what are being referred to as the hybrids. Many people are surprised by the fact that Tom Perrotta wrote The Leftovers, a tale of the apocalypse. Colson Whitehead wrote Zone One, a post-apocalyptic novel about zombies. Stephen King, of course, writes everything under the sun, including his most recent historic thriller, 11/22/63. As for history and horror, how about Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter by Seth Grahme-Smith? The lines have crossed and there’s no turning back.

SR: Who are some of your biggest influences? For literary fiction and for suspense fiction?

Deborah: For literary: Per Petterson, Raymond Carver, Kent Haruf, Annie Proulx, Marilynne Robinson, Flannery O’ Connor, William Gay, Tom Franklin, and Barry Hannah. For thrillers: John Banville, Kate Atkinson, Harlan Coben, Lisa Unger, Patricia Highsmith, and Laura Lippman.

SR: Who are some of the literary finds you’re excited about now? Anybody you’re reading at the moment?

Deborah: Books I’ve recently read and loved are Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter by Tom Franklin, We The Animals by Justin Torres, The Cove by Ron Rash, and Florida by Christine Schutt. All filled with lush original prose and masterful storytelling.

SR: I heard a rumor that your dog helps write your books.

Deborah: It’s true. My Springer Spaniel is a wonder. She lays at my feet while I write and gets emotionally involved by whatever cues I’m somehow emitting to her. When I realize I’ve hit a sweet spot in the writing she gets up and puts her face in my lap. She is so tuned in to me it’s scary.

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Imagine that’s your desk. That’s your manuscript. And you are sending it to the incredible editors at Silk Road.

Accepting in all genres–fiction, poetry, nonfiction and first chapters–twelve months of the year now.

No more summer vacation for writers or the editors who love them.  

Get writing.  Send us your work.  

Imagine that is your desk and the manuscript a blazingly good submission for Silk Road.

http://silkroad.pacificu.edu/Submit.html

 

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Recent Sitka writer-in-residence and winner of the Sixth Annual Tartts First Fiction Award, Josie Sigler will read from her new book, The Galaxie and Other Rides

Silk Road Review was the first home to several of the stories in this powerful collection. Two of the pieces are included in Silk Road’s newly released issue 7.1.

These stories portray the struggle for survival and the resurgence of wilderness in the post-industrial heartland: a young man fears the worst when his best friend is deployed to Iraq; a woman resists a nuclear plant’s attempts to force her off her property; and a man who believes that Van Gogh’s The Starry Night is a painting of the smokestacks in his hometown loses his job at General Motors. Despite their losses, these characters maintain a porch-light-left-on love for each other that defies the odds. Indeed, love is their salvation amid the ruins.

T.C. Boyle has called The Galaxie and Other Rides “a smashing debut” and Ann Pancake writes “with language at times lyric and lush, at others raw and spare, Sigler has created a unique poetry of poverty and proves that beauty can outlast brutality.”

Saturday, June 2, the event begins with mingling and light snacks at 4:30 pm followed by a reading at 5:00 pm and a book signing at 6:00 pm. 

If you’ve never been to the Sitka Center, this is a great chance to see what it is all about in a friendly and festive atmosphere. For a complete list of summer events and driving directions, head to the Sitka Center’s website at http://www.sitkacenter.org or call our office at 541.994.5485.

Committed to expanding the relationships between art, nature and humanity, the Sitka Center for Art and Ecology is well known for its workshop and residency programs. Located on Cascade Head, with views of the Pacific Ocean and Salmon River, Sitka Center offers a place where artists, writers, scientists, and musicians of all abilities and backgrounds go to nourish and inspire their creativity which ripples out into the world, making it a brighter place for all. Go to http://www.sitkacenter.org or call 541.994.5485 to learn more.

 

Interview by Gina Warren

R.H. Sheldon

R.H. SHELDON is a Northwest writer whose works include the novel Dancing the River Lightly as well as numerous news and feature articles for online and print publications such as Seattle Magazine and E – The Environmental Magazine. He’s also written restaurant reviews, marketing copy, legal summaries, training material, and anything else necessary to keep the creditors at bay. Sometimes it works. Sometimes not. These days he often writes while traveling in his VW camper, which he blogs about at rhsheldon.com. His piece, “Birds of Paradise,” appeared in Volume 6, Number 2 of Silk Road.

Read “Birds of Paradise” here.

The Interview

Gina Warren: How did you begin writing Birds of Paradise? Was there an initial catalyst that sparked the idea?

R.H. Sheldon: I’d been traveling around the country for the better part of the year and landed in the South, which is when I started the story. In one town after the next, I saw closed-up business, abandoned buildings, and boarded up windows. The economy had hit these places hard, yet the aftermath had given the towns a timeless, almost fantastical quality, as though they could have belonged to any number of depressed eras. For many who lived in these places, there was no choice but to leave and head to wherever they could find work or a better life. For others, leaving wasn’t that easy. And even in towns that had not been as decimated, at least not apparently, there still seemed a sense of desperation and resignation among many of the people who lived there, feelings no doubt complicated by such issues as obesity, poverty, drug abuse, and teen pregnancy, issues all too common to much of rural America. So my story was born out of the desperation I sensed in these places. And I sensed too, that beneath the desperation, there simmered desires and passions that could never be fully realized, all of which pointed to the complex undercurrents that define much of rural life in this country, including the South, and overturns any simplistic stereotypes of the people in these regions. That said, there was never one inciting incident that prompted the narrative itself. Only the feelings I was left with after having visited there.

GW: There is some ambiguity in this story, questions it raises without fully answering: such as why Tulip left so rapidly for New Orleans, why Fletcher’s daddy told Tulip not to visit the garage anymore, and what started the fire that killed Fletcher’s father. How do you balance the tension between keeping the reader in suspense and telling a good story, especially in a piece this short?

RHS: I’m a big fan of ambiguity in fiction, perhaps because it seems to better approximate real life. The trick, I think, is to provide enough ambiguity to leave readers with something to consider after finishing the story, but not leave them so befuddled they revolt in frustration and anger and want to rip your story to shreds. When used effectively, ambiguity makes readers take a second look at what they’ve just read and challenges them to rethink their conclusions, perhaps to the point they want to reread the story to discover what they might have missed or to figure out a new way to assemble the pieces. At times, however, I think I tend to go too far overboard with the ambiguous. For example, originally, I had not provided any dates in the story because I was going for a certain timeless quality and felt that placing the characters in a particular era might pigeonhole them too much, but persistent editors insisted otherwise, so I succumbed. Balance is the key, I suppose. Without it, you end up with Hollywood-type writing on one end of the scale and a Naked Lunch sort of thing on the other end, in which the pieces never quite fit together. For such a story, you better be damn sure of your audience and what you’re trying to achieve.

GW: The diction of Birds of Paradise conveys a strong sense of the narrator; how did you chose this voice?

RHS: I think this ties to my response to the first question and my travels around the county. I had passed through a lot of new places and was exposed to a lot of different people. During that time, I was experimenting a great deal with different aspects of my writing, particular those aspects related to narrator and voice. In fact, playing around with narrator and voice is one of the best parts of writing fiction, at least for me. However, it can be difficult to do that if I limit myself to a small subset of people and places. I think that one of the most challenging aspects of writing that we, as a writing community, have to face is how to make time to write but not shut ourselves away from the world. So when I have the opportunity to get out there and experience what’s going on, I like to use the things I see and feel and hear and taste and smell in ways that let me occupy other voices and narrators and let me experiment with different perspectives of the world.

GW: Do you begin writing stories with an ending in mind, or do you tend to see where the narrative takes you? What about pieces that are as compact as Birds of Paradise?

RHS: Rarely do I know where a story is going when I start it. Writing works best for me when I share with the reader the process of discovery. If I’m not interested in where a story is heading, chances are, no one else will care. I write, in fact, to find out what’s going to happen. The unfolding of a story is an evolutionary process, one in which the process of writing itself holds the key.

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