INTERVIEWS


by Aliza Greenblatt

Jamie Hittman

Jamie Hittman is a soon-to-be-graduate of the Queens College MFA program in Creative Writing. From a young age she was fascinated with both writing and medicine, and she plans to pursue a medical degree at the University of Maryland next year. “The Four Billion Year Birthday” is her second published story.

Aliza Greenblatt: I usually like to start interviews by asking the authors a little about themselves. What made you want to be a writer? Is your focus primarily on short stories? Does your background in psychology often influence your work?

Jamie Hittman: I wanted to be a writer because I loved being a reader. I started writing stories around age eleven, I think. I always had grand aspirations of writing epic horror novels, because that’s what I read day in and day out. I actually wrote two novel-length works while in high school, but they were pretty bad, as you might imagine. I only got into writing short stories relatively recently. I first discovered flash fiction while I was in college, and I loved it for its brevity and immediacy. You can’t mess around too much in flash fiction. Flash fiction is pure story.

I think my background in psychology has influenced my work in a general sense. I love learning about how people think and behave, but then, I think most writers do. One of the best things about fiction is the ability to get inside a character’s head. In film, you’re limited by what the director chooses to show you about a character, but in a novel or story, you can dig so much deeper. The reader is privy to everything: a character’s thoughts, feelings, motivations. And that’s so much fun.

AG: Can you tell me a little about your writing process?

JH: I live and die by word quotas. I try my best to write at least one typewritten page per day, which translates to around 650-700 words, single-spaced. I will often write more, but never less. The key is not to shut down before I reach my minimum. Consistency, I think, is the most important factor in writing anything. As long as you write every day (or even every few days) your story will get done. It doesn’t matter if it’s flash fiction or a novel. If you write consistently, you can’t not finish.

I write by hand in a spiral-bound notebook and then type the words up when I’m finished. I can’t write by computer. There’s something about having a delete key that brings out the worst of my perfectionistic tendencies. I will write sentences and delete them over and over again. For some reason I find writing by hand more forgiving. I can cross out words and scribble notes in the margins. I recommend writing a story by hand at least once, actually. It’s a completely different experience.

AG: Often with short stories, only a fraction of the infrastructure of the story makes it to the page. I think this is particularly true with speculative fiction pieces. How much world building did you do for this story? For example, did you have a cause for the death of Earth and what the new planet will be like when the settlers arrive? (You don’t have to give specifics.)

JH: I’m kind of embarrassed to admit this, but since this story was so short, I didn’t do as much world-building as I normally would have. I had a number of causes for the death of Earth, and I can tell you right now that there were way more survivors than the Paradisus could accommodate. I’m sure some of the passengers were handpicked for the journey, while others bribed their way on. But that’s another story entirely. As for the destination planet, I know that it’s earthlike enough that recolonization would be relatively straightforward. Though I did consider what would happen if the planet were colonized already…

AG: From what I could tell, the people inhabiting the Paradisus are having a collective identity crisis. They are the generations in between the stars. Why isn’t the idea that they are the last of an endangered species enough of a reason to survive? Why do you think being on Earth gives people a sense of self-worth?

JH: I do think that self-worth and personal meaning are easier to find on Earth than on a spaceship like the Paradisus. On Earth, we don’t have to think about how little we mean to the universe at large. We have friends, entertainment, and personal aspirations. We set goals and we achieve them. And these things distract us from the idea that our individual lives, on a grand scale, are nothing special. Being born on a generation ship, knowing that the greatest contribution you will make is totally impersonal (not to mention completely involuntary) throws the reality of personal irrelevance into stark relief. Still, I’d say that most of the people aboard the Paradisus are happy with their mission to preserve the species. It’s people like Marian and Dr. Hauser—people who are searching for some other meaning in their lives—who have the most trouble.

AG: The spaceship where the refugees of humanity live appears to be a utopia, but yet it’s acknowledged by its builders that it’s no place for people to live. Why is that? Is it the lack of obstacles (disease, natural disasters, etc.) that make the Paradisus so uninhabitable?

JH: That’s absolutely a part of it. NASA actually put together a report back in 1977 called “Space Settlements: A Design Study.” And it’s this incredibly involved treatise on everything that a space settlement needs for its inhabitants to be happy. According to the authors, engineers have to take care to avoid turning the settlement into a dreamlike environment where “every wish can be fulfilled by a push-button.” Otherwise, the inhabitants could enter a state of mind where they believe nothing is real but themselves. I don’t know if that’s true, but it’s definitely food for thought.

AG: What other projects are you working on now? Are there other stories of yours, either upcoming or published, that you can point readers to?

JH: I only started submitting work recently, so I don’t have much out there yet! My first short story, “Forces of Gravity,” was published in the online journal Bird’s Thumb back in January, so you can check that out if you’re interested. I’ve also just completed my master’s thesis, which is the beginning of a novel. The story is nowhere near done, though, so finishing that up is my next major project.

AG: Thank you very much for taking the time to chat with us. Best of luck with all your writing endeavors.

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Aliza profile-pic-2

Aliza T. Greenblatt works in a firmly non-writing field when the sun is up and writes under a desk lamp at night.   Fueled by a sheer love of books and a tyrannical imagination, she writes the stories that appear over her morning coffee and won’t leave her alone until they are put down on paper.   She writes, raves, and blogs at http://atgreenblatt.com and on Twitter @AtGreenblatt.

by Gay Degani

Caroline Hall, Winner of String-of-Ten 6Caroline Hall, this year’s String-of-Ten Six First Place Winner with her story, “Snowman Suicide,” was raised by English majors during the Nintendo generation. Now a teacher-on-hiatus, she has attended ten schools and worked at seven. She is a compulsive hiker and a New Englander who says “wicked awesome” and used the same window fan until it caught fire.  She writes short stories and flash fiction.

[NOTE: The story appears today at Every Day Fiction.]

Gay Degani: I’d love to know what your first reaction was to the list of words: LITTER-ENTRANCE-SAFE-SPIRITUAL -SPOTLIGHT-BOOKMARK-CATASTROPHE-RAZOR-FAULTY-ULTIMATE and the aphorism: “I prefer the errors of enthusiasm to the indifference of wisdom,” from Anatole France.  How did you approach the prompt?

Caroline Hall: My immediate response was that a number of the words on the list–razor, faulty, ultimate, and catastrophe—seemed to cluster together naturally.  To my mind, they grew organically from the concepts of depression and suicide.  I also knew I wanted to use the word “spiritual” because I love it!

When I looked at the list, the word “razor” practically glowed. A few years ago, I had surgery for a bizarre and not-so-threatening cancer.  After I was declared “fine,” I got strangely depressed.  I spent a lot of time in doctors’ and therapists’ waiting rooms that year.  I wrote a poem about waiting rooms and the endless string of medical appointments.  In the poem, I described patients with eyes like pills and mouths like razor blades.  Forty or fifty drafts later, the poem still didn’t work.  But when I saw the word “razor” on the list of words for the String-of-10 competition, I knew the setting and mood of “Snowman Suicide” instantly.  I was glad to get the chance to resuscitate the image and pleased that the story was much better than the original poem.

For me, writing “Snowman Suicide” was about balancing passive and active.  As a patient, you spend a great deal of time passively waiting, and I wanted to capture that feeling.  But I’ve also met a lot of people who fight back against their illnesses and circumstances with spunk and humor.  I wanted to make sure that some of their creativity, intelligence, and strength appeared in the story.

GD: You mentioned your goals for this story included balancing passive and active, so what other elements do you keep in mind when you are working on a piece of writing?  Characters you’ve touched on, what about structure and theme?  What do you handle these?

CH: My successful stories usually begin with an object—in this case, a snowman.  Characters start out being me and evolve as they interact with the object.  They develop slowly, which makes for some embarrassing drafts.  But getting to know and—sometimes— slowly fall in love with my characters is a joy.  Sometimes, it surprises me which characters I fall in love with and how big an impact they have on my life. Workshops and readers are helpful for clarifying the conflict in stories, for finding spots that don’t make sense or feel true.

I studied English and am a closet Classics geek, and my tendency was—and still is—to write Latinate or Victorian-style prose.  My first stories were designed to be analyzed rather than read. Finally, I realized that I could have a vital message, but that didn’t matter if readers needed a pot of coffee to survive the first paragraph.

As a result, I work hard at paring stories down to their cores.  I started writing flash fiction by accident; flash fit the funny clumps of time I squirreled away for writing better than longer stories did.   It was a happy accident.  Forcing myself to adhere to strict word limits has made my sentences stronger and leaner.

GD: You mention “paring down.”  I’m wondering what you look for when you edit your work.  What are your go-to moves?

CH: I spent a few years writing terrible poetry, so my main rule is “if it sounds the way your poetry sounded, it needs to go!” I love alliteration and repetition, but I have to make sure they don’t hijack the story or become distracting.  I’ll turn clauses into phrases.  In early drafts, I tend to stack adjectives and details.  I’ll have three or four when I need one.  In the first paragraph, my snowman initially went through five different diagnoses; three was enough.

GD: As I said in my interview with Jim Harrington, what drew me to this story, was a lot of things: “The title, the first line, the humor, the surprise, its clarity. ‘Snowman Suicide,’ who wouldn’t want to read that story?”  All this makes me want to read more of your work.  Can you tell me where to find other stories of yours and what you are working on now?

CH: “Snowman Suicide” is my first published work.  I wouldn’t have it any other way.  Earlier, I mentioned that my friends from the mental health community—if you can call it that—inspire me constantly with their intelligence, wit, candor, and kindness.  I am proud, grateful, and honored to know them and to have a chance to represent them in this story.  I hope I’ve done them justice.

 

gay 2Gay Degani has published fiction on-line and in print including her short collection, Pomegranate Stories. She is founder of EDF’s Flash Fiction Chronicles, a staff editor at Smokelong Quarterly, and blogs at Words in Place. She’s had three stories nominated for Pushcart consideration and won the 11th Annual Glass Woman Prize. Her linked-story novella is part of Pure Slush’s 2014- A Year in Stories anthology and her her serialized novel, What Came Before, is currently online at Every Day Novels.

by Andreé Robinson-Neal

To be “taken to school,” a phrase that is perfect for March Madness basketball fans. It evokes images of one team or player being trounced by the other. In a less athletic context, to be “taken to school” suggests a new level of learning or insight gained through an unexpected opportunity.

Readers of The Fatherlands will know that Michael Trocchia has not only taken them to school but has guided them through a graduate-level study of emotions and relationships. He is kind enough to provide a few guideposts—notes about certain inspirations—but not until after the last page. Fatherlands offers 33 glimpses into 33 rooms and each is its own diorama of relationship, conflict, love, pain, confusion, joy, and life.

The man and then she turned to the two in the corner, finding one lifeless body on the floor, the string of his kite tight round his neck, and the other body waiting there, humming a tune that all but strangles the room. (“XII”)

Trocchia offers lessons about the relationships that revolve around the man, who is sometimes friend, sometimes husband, and always father.

He’d want to believe in the color of his daughter’s eyes the way he believed in hers. (“XIX”)

He is an uneven man, his speech is uneven. His walk is uneven, he leans out of windows on Sunday. He smokes a few cigarettes a week. He keeps things, such as this, from his wife. He arrives home from work in the dark part of the day and he squints to see the faces of his children. (“XXVII”)

Each piece is a snippet of life, an exhale or held breath that captures the raw and unsullied life as it orbits the father, rotates about the fatherless, and dreams of futures past.

Readers will feel wiser and older when they reach the author page at the end of The Fatherlands and will anxiously await the next opportunity to be “schooled” by Michael Trocchia. Find out more at monkeypuzzlepress.com.

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Andree Robinson-Neal Andreé Robinson-Neal got bit by the writing bug back in the late 1970s while watching Rod Serling and reading Ray Bradbury–both of whom are everyday inspirations; although she has worked in education for more than a quarter-century, she has never been cured of her penchant for speculative fiction. Find some of her flash fiction at starvingartist.com. She writes under the name AR Neal, who will hopefully one day be identified as a famous NaNoWriMo participant.

by Aliza Greenblatt

Audrey Kalman

Audrey Kalman has been writing and editing professionally for more than 30 years. She has published short stories, poetry, and flash fiction, as well as the literary novel Dance of Souls. She currently serves as editor of the Fault Zone anthology published by the Peninsula branch of the California Writers Club. Her blog about writing appears at http://audreykalman.wordpress.com. She lives northern California with her husband, two children, and two cats.

Aliza Greenblatt: Your blog says you’ve been writing professionally for over thirty years, but have only recently started fiction writing. What inspired you to start? Did you begin by writing novels or short stories?

Audrey Kalman: I guess I’d better edit my blog… I’ve actually been writing fiction since I was seven, when I wrote my first “novel”—a complete rip-off of My Friend Flicka by Mary O’Hara. I was a creative writing major in college and wrote a novella as part of my thesis. Then I took up writing professionally after getting a journalism degree. Fiction became my hobby and I switched to short stories for a while. Dance of Souls, which I published in 2011, was my fourth novel. The other three are in a desk drawer where they belong.

As for inspiration, writing is a bit of a nervous compulsion for me—I can’t not do it. I began all those years ago out of a desire to both inhabit other worlds and understand my own world better, and that’s still my motivation.

AG: Can you tell me a little about your writing process?

AK: Do you know the Longfellow poem “There Was a Little Girl?” The end goes:

When she was good,
She was very good indeed,
But when she was bad she was horrid.

That’s kind of how I am with my writing process: sometimes very disciplined and sometimes not at all. To finish my last novel, I made a writing date with myself every weekday morning from 8 a.m. to 9 a.m. Sometimes I’d go longer, but I always forced myself to write for at least an hour. It worked magically. Since then, my commitment has been more sporadic but I’ve still managed to complete six short stories. Also, in terms of process, I’m very much a “panster.” I don’t outline. I let the unfolding process of writing guide me. It feels a bit like sculpting—feeling my way toward the work hidden inside the stone.

AG: What were some of your favorite parts to write in Now You Are a Public Nuisance?  What were some of the more challenging?

AK: My favorite part to write was the end, when the narrator “comes into her power,” as they say in the self-actualization circles. It felt thrilling to step outside the rigid boundaries of the suburban sidewalk with her and do something subversive. The most challenging part was getting the voice right. I don’t usually write in second person. I started writing the story that way, then rewrote the whole thing in first person before deciding that second person suited it better.

AG: There is a running theme in the story of appearances versus reality. In some ways, the wildness of the narrator’s garden was the only public thing of hers that wasn’t trim and neat. Do you think the narrator was waiting to rebel, but didn’t quite know it? Do you think she will keep on rebelling in the future?

AK: To me, the story is very much about the conflict between acceptable social constructs—conformity—and the assertion of individuality. Where and why do we draw those boundaries, and who keeps us inside them? I think the narrator knew she was not like others in her tidy neighborhood but never dreamed that she could do something so renegade. In her world, thinking outside the box is acceptable, but acting outside the box is in a different league altogether. I think her rebellion definitely surprised her.

I hadn’t thought about whether her act of defiance with the hedge trimmer was the first of many. Perhaps it will be her first step down the road toward becoming a criminal—or a social activist!

AG: The narrator seems to be looking for happiness and yet she stresses the disappointments in her life, like she stresses the words that mislabel her. Why do you think the narrator chose the wrong things and why do you think she changed?

AK: I don’t believe her choices seemed wrong to her at the time. Conformity and comfort have much to recommend them and she couldn’t quite imagine living a different kind of life. Only in retrospect does she realize those choices led her to a place she doesn’t feel comfortable inhabiting. Although we don’t know her exact age, she is somewhere near mid-life. That’s a time when engaging in retrospection is common, and regrets—no matter what choices you’ve made—are inevitable. Her act of defiance at the end is an act of hope. It’s never too late to reclaim a lost part of yourself.

AG: What other projects are you working on now? Are there other stories of yours, either upcoming or published, that you can point readers to?

AK: My novel Dance of Souls is available on Amazon. I have finished another novel that I’m shopping around to agents and small presses (alert: agents and editors, please feel free to contact me). And I’m putting together a collection of short fiction. EDF has been good to me, having published two pieces in the last couple of years. I’ve also had a short story, Tiny Shoes Dancing, published in The Sand Hill Review, and flash fiction in Punchnel’s: Forget Me, Forget Me Not.

AG: Thank you very much for taking the time to chat with us. Best of luck with all your writing endeavors.

AK: Thank you.

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Aliza profile-pic-2

Aliza T. Greenblatt works in a firmly non-writing field when the sun is up and writes under a desk lamp at night.   Fueled by a sheer love of books and a tyrannical imagination, she writes the stories that appear over her morning coffee and won’t leave her alone until they are put down on paper.   She writes, raves, and blogs at http://atgreenblatt.com. and on Twitter  @AtGreenblatt

by Bonnie ZoBell 

Mike Young

Mike Young is the author of Look! Look! Feathers (stories), We Are All Good If They Try Hard Enough (poems), Sprezzatura (poems), and Who Can Make It (chapbook of poems). He edits NOÖ Journal, runs Magic Helicopter Press, and writes for HTMLGIANT. He lives in Northampton, MA.

Bonnie ZoBell:  Hey, Mike. Thanks for agreeing to give our readers some information about fiction chapbooks. Love what you say on your site about how your “paper books are collectible art items, not unlike Dale Earnhardt commemorative plates. Our ebooks are not paper books melted onto the screen but books aware of their digital space.” I’d love to hear you talk a little more about that. How are your paper books collectible art items? How are your ebooks aware of their digital space?

Mike Young: Thanks for asking me to give some info! The paper books being collectible art items is actually half tongue-in-cheek. As someone who is not a crafty person at all, someone who appreciates really messy fried potatoes way more than lime tarts, I have always felt a little skeptical about the preciousness of book art as a reaction to the evaporation of the paper book as a mass market commodity. But I respect it. Sewn bindings, hot metal plates. Our paper books aren’t really commemorative plates, but they do—I hope—look good. I just don’t want to forget that everything is transient, that the china is always one elbow away from losing its spot and cracking up.

The ebooks thing is more serious. I like thinking about how we move around in digital spaces. It’s different than paper. Our eyes even, the F-shaped text scans. Richard Chiem and Ana C’s oh no everything is wet now is maybe our most successful stab at this so far. I really want to publish something like this, though: http://www.secrettechnology.com/madethis/enemy6.html.

BZ: Do you make all your paper fiction chapbooks into ebooks? Or are they two separate animals?

MY: Separate! So far, I haven’t got my act together on the regular ebook train. When I think of ebooks, I think of something far weirder than just what you can read on your Kindle/Nook. But I don’t have anything against those things. I just like not forgetting that materials are strange, all screens are strange, whether they’re plastic or dead tree bark.

BZ: Does Magic Helicopter Press have a philosophy?

MY: I have two philosophies maybe. One about how I think the whole thing works, then a list of how to make it work.

The first is something I told my friend Pete Jurmu when he asked me a similar question a while back: “I wanted to start a press probably for the same reason I reacted to my favorite computer games as a kid by saying: cool, how do I make one? That itch-to-make plus the impulse to share, to say “hey, you gotta read this” to my friends. An invisible friendship model is how I think of writing/reading and definitely publishing. Our earliest projects were Mary Miller’s chapbook Less Shiny and Benjamin Buchholz’s chapbook Thirteen Stares, both of which I thought were doing startling things within their chosen forms, and both of which made me think of very specific potential readers.”

The second is a list I thought of when Melissa Burton asked me if I had any tips for starting a press: “Give a lot of stuff away, but don’t give everything away. Ask for help and use help wisely. Talk to everybody and then talk to more people. Do the best job possible for the fewest projects, not a Swiss cheese job for a lot of projects. Remember that it’s sometimes about the tenderness of the hands you get things into and other times it’s about getting as many hands as possible and usually it’s both, which is fine and not a paradox. Be transparent and forthright and honest about everything and ask the same of others. Find the good stuff people like Roxane Gay and Reb Livingston have written about presses. Have an aesthetic philosophy, but have it work like sculpture—you know, that whole the-statue-is-under-the-clay shit. It’s about working toward. Make sure you have kickass design. Don’t pay too much for printing. Realize the handful of things you’re really good at and gear the whole kitten toward those; creatively minimize your need for the shit you’re bad at. Don’t be a codger or a stooge or a blowhard. Try to sleep as little as humanly possible.”

BZ: What would you say your press is looking for in the way of fiction chapbook submissions?

MY: Anyone who has submitted to NOÖ can submit a manuscript to Magic Helicopter, so I guess I’m looking for a longer form version of anything in there. Anybody who’s in NOÖ, I can pretty much imagine poking their work and seeing it unfurl into a larger manuscript.

BZ: Name a few writers whose fiction chapbooks Magic Helicopter Press has published and tell us a few words about them.

MY: Well, it’s interesting, because we have published maybe three chapbooks I’d say are strictly fiction: Less Shiny by Mary Miller,  Back Tuck by Jen Gann, and Range of Motion by Meagan Cass, which is our newest! And it’s the second in the Gobble Editions, which is to reflect the fact that Tyler Gobble is actually my go-to guy for editing most of the chapbooks now, as I have started focusing more on the books. But I still design the chapbooks, exterior and interior for the most part.

Less Shiny was our first, and I learned a lot from it. Like not to do paste-on covers. It’s still maybe our most popular release, right up there with The Drunk Sonnets by Daniel Bailey. I’m proud of the fact I was the first person to ask Mary to do a chapbook (I think), way back in 2007, and now she’s got a novel out with Norton. Her stories are unlike anybody else’s. They stare at you until you stop bullshitting.

Back Tuck by Jen Gann is like if Joy Williams wrote fairy tales while relaxing in a YMCA shower room all by herself at an abandoned YMCA in a rice field. They know which clouds are listening and why.

Range of Motion is interesting to me because usually when we think of magic we think of certain moods to go along with it, but Range of Motion does this really rare thing where the magic bits of its stories make an amber light; they make the real sad realer instead of whimsical. Plus there’s foosball and Soloflex machines and greyhounds and table tennis. It’s like you don’t even need to do push-ups!

So back to what I said earlier: other chapbooks that are prose but not maybe strictly fiction are Typewriter by Jimmy Chen, We Were Eternal and Gigantic by Evelyn Hampton (a mixture of prose and poems!) and Thirteen Stares by Benjamin Buchholz, which I guess is kind of prose poems. The thing I’m saying is that the only genre I believe in is breakfast, and I could eat that all night.

BZ: Talk a little about the production of Magic Helicopter Press’s fiction chapbooks. What size are they? How are they made? Perfect bound, stapled, or? How much color do you use? What is the page range of most of them?

MY: Our chapbooks tend to be printed at a local place humbly called Paradise Copies. They are saddle stitched (AKA stapled) with full color covers, nice thick 60# interior stock, and colored endpapers. I have gone through love/hate phases with Paradise Copies, but currently I am very fond of them. There’s a curly-headed dude there who seems like a funny stoner from a 90s movie (I wrote 70s, then I wrote 80s, before finally settling on 90s), and there is a chill baseball cap wearer who reminds me of my quietly creative college friends. There used to be a great person named Candace who worked there, but I think she became a farmer and then a world traveler, which seems like the right trajectory for a great person.

BZ: Is Magic Helicopter Press interested in fiction chapbooks from new writers who haven’t had books or chapbooks published before?

MY: Sure, definitely! Anyone who has published in NOÖ! So if you’re interested in having a chapbook or book through us, send me something for NOÖ when it’s open.

BZ: How many stories in the chapbooks submitted to you do you like to see already published?

MY: It really doesn’t matter to me at all. I like compendiums, sort of best-ofs from people who have published a lot, and I also like putting a totally new thing into the world.

BZ: Is there anything you’d like to say to fiction chapbook writers that I haven’t asked you here?

MY: Fiction readers and writers should embrace the chapbook as a form the way poets have. A fiction chapbook might not be the world’s best curated candy box the way a poetry chapbook is, but it’s something like one of those mini-hamburger appetizers. And we’re always eating boxes of those, so why not boxes of fiction chapbooks?

BZ: Thanks so much for all this, Mike. Did anyone ever tell you you’re a good writer?

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BZoBell

Bonnie ZoBell’s new connected collection with Press 53, What Happened Here, is on pre-order here, where it will then go on regular sale. Her fiction chapbook, The Whack-Job Girls, was published by Monkey Puzzle Press in March 2013. She’s received an NEA fellowship, the Capricorn Novel Award, and others and is currently working on a novel. Visit her at www.bonniezobell.com.

 

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