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Just Who is Kenneth Weene anyway?

Just who is Kenneth Weene anyway?

Life itches and torments Kenneth Weene like pesky flies. Annoyed, he picks up a pile of paper to slap at the buzzing and often whacks himself on the head. Each whack is another story. At least having half-blinded himself, he has learned to not wave the pencil about. Ken will, however, write on until the last gray cell has retreated and there are no longer these strange ideas demanding his feeble efforts. So many poems, stories, novels; and more to come.

So far Ken has two novels published by All Things That Matter Press and a third will be out soon.

The first is Widow’s Walk, the story of a woman restarting her life and her two adult children. Widow’s Walk is a tale of love, sexuality, religion, and spirit. A box of Kleenex is an essential accessory when reading this emotional and meaningful novel.

Memoirs From the Asylum is set in a state psychiatric hospital. Full of tragedy, humor, and pathos, Memoirs reminds us that there are many forms of asylums and that it is all to easy to give up the most essential human freedom, the freedom to choose who we are. More than anything, Memoirs From the Asylum is a book for people who love words; it is a book that asks to be read aloud.

Coming soon is Tales From the Dew Drop Inne: Because there’s one in every town. The folks who hang out at this neighborhood bar are struggling to know that they too belong. This is a book of intersecting stories that illustrate the humanity of us all and our search for a place in which to belong.

Trained as a psychologist and an ordained minister, Ken knows that the human heart is the most elemental place to begin any story. Having also written a good amount of poetry, he strives to make the language of his books unique. Ken also brings the clear-eyed realism of a born and bred New Englander to his writing. The overall results are books that are especially moving and well-written.

You can learn more about Ken at http://www.authorkenweene.com

A good link for more about Widow’s Walk is:

http://vidego.multicastmedia.com/player.php?p=wbgzb2yk

For Memoirs From the Asylum visit

http://vidego.multicastmedia.com/player.php?p=nqm74a8k

Both Widow’s Walk and Memoirs From the Asylum are available in print as well as Kindle and Nook.

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Just Who Is Dave Hoing, Anyway?

Dave Hoing lives in Waterloo, Iowa, with his wife Joni, a dog named Tree and a cat named Toro.  In real life he’s a Library Associate at the University of Northern Iowa, where he has worked in one capacity or another since 1978.  In his artistic life Dave is primarily a short story writer.  He’s a member of Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, but now he concentrates mostly on literary, historical, and mystery fiction.  His historical novel Hammon Falls, co-written with Roger Hileman, is his first published full-length work, although he has written (or, ahem, started to write) five others.

When not toiling in the library or sitting at the word processor, Dave likes to travel, compose music, collect antiquarian books, and read.  His interests include virtually everything except internal combustion engines, with which he has a hate/hate relationship.

His short story experience came in handy when writing Hammon Falls.  Short fiction deals in nuances and succinctness.  At its best it observes and describes human behavior in few words, finding depth in brevity.  That technique serves well in a novel with short chapters and a large cast of characters.

Dave’s love of history and travelling was also useful for the sections of Hammon Falls set in Paris, Dublin, and Buffalo, because it allowed him to write from experience and memory.  Oddly, though, while he grew up in Iowa, where the bulk of the novel takes place, he’d never cared much about his own hometown’s past until Roger got him involved in the research for Hammon Falls.  Rather like the prophet who is honored everywhere but his own home, Dave was interested in the history of every city but his own.  After having done the research, though, he learned a valuable lesson: if a book has great characters and the story is well told, every place is interesting, be it Paris, Dublin, Buffalo, or, yes, even Waterloo, Iowa.  It’s people who make the history, and the story, and people, wherever they are, are fascinating creatures indeed.

So why should anyone buy Hammon Falls?  Quite simply, it’s got a lot of the stuff readers like—deep characterizations, interesting locations, and universal themes.  It’s got war.  It’s got crime.  It’s got spirituality, betrayal, and redemption.  Above all, it’s got a strong plot with explosive family relationships and a sweet, if tragic, love story.  Add to that an innovative structure, and you have a book that’s both fun and challenging to read.  Finally, it was written by two guys who love to write.  They are not tortured artists. They are not driven to create.  They don’t write as therapy.  They don’t write to exorcise demons.  They write for the sheer joy of it—and it shows.

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

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May is Short Story Month, Part 1

Yes, there is an official “Short Story Month.” Who would’ve thought? As the honorific is designed to do, this writer of short stories (http://www.amazon.com/Halibut-Rodeo-Mark-Lewandowski/dp/0984421939/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1305732251&sr=1-1) has been thinking of the ones I like the most, the stories that become better with multiple readings. So I made a list, roughly in chronological order. In order to narrow down the choices (millions have been published, I suppose) I’ve limited myself to American ones. That’s okay. The short story is probably the most American of the literary genres, though story lovers, obviously, shouldn’t ignore de Maupassant, Chekhov, Joyce, Kafka, etc. I’ve also limited myself to one story per author.

So here goes:

“The Legend of Sleepy Hollow,” Washington Irving. Most people know the premise of the story, even though few have read the original. That’s a shame, because it is a masterpiece of the form. It’s also a great story about food.

“The Birthmark,” Nathaniel Hawthorne. I once got in an argument about the ending of this story with a woman I was dating. I maintained that Georgiana doesn’t really die at the end, but ascends to heaven, just like Mohammed. She didn’t agree. We never went out again.

“Ligeia,” Edgar Allan Poe. Nobody manipulates the first person viewpoint better than Poe. There are typically two versions of a Poe story: the story as reported by the narrator, and the story as it actually happens. If you believe the narrator, “Ligeia” is a horror story. If you don’t, the narrator is a murderer trying desperately to cover his tracks. It’s not a horror story…

“Bartleby, the Scrivener,” Herman Melville. This is probably my all-time favorite story. Many readers miss the point of the closing section. If you believe Bartleby prefers not to do stuff because of his experience working in the dead letter office, you are just as clueless as the befuddled narrator.

“A White Heron,” Sarah Orne Jewett. I’m not sure if there is a better short story about a sexual awakening.

“The Story of an Hour,” Kate Chopin. One of the most read short stories in the English language. Short, sweet, and to the point. We now call stories like this “short shorts,’ or “flash fiction.” Surprisingly, not all readers get the irony at the end.

“The Blue Hotel,” Stephen Crane. The author didn’t write much before he died at the age of 29, but oh what a legacy. This story shows that the “Wild West” was romanticized decades before John Wayne started making movies.

“To Build a Fire,” Jack London. These days the author is held in higher regard abroad than he is at home. Funny how that works. Story shows that sometimes dogs are far smarter than men.

“Editha,” William Dean Howells. The author is known more as a critic and novelist than a short story writer, but “Editha” is a classic of anti-war literature. Every person who got caught up in post-9/11 war lust should read it. Apparently, George W didn’t.

“The Beast in the Jungle,” Henry James. Like most of the author’s novels, this story is long and complex, and not much seems to happen. That’s the point. The last page is devastating.

To be continued…

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Interview with author Jen Knox

Interview with Jen Knox

Author of Musical Chairs

Jen Knox writes both fiction and creative nonfiction.  She never writes poetry, not on purpose (she asked me to include this detail), but she enjoys reading it. Jen is a graduate of Bennington’s Writing Seminars and currently works as a Creative Writing professor at San Antonio College and Fiction Editor at Our Stories Literary Journal.  Jen is here today to answer a few questions about her current title, Musical Chairs and her experience as an emerging writer.

Jen, tell us, what compelled you to write a memoir?

Jen: Hello.  I didn’t want to be bothered with plotlines.  I’m kidding!  I wanted to tell my story because it’s a hell of a story, and although it’s a hell of a story, it’s not unique. Teenage girls, especially those who are prone to depression or anxiety, have it tough to begin with. There is a lot of confusion during this time, and when a person is depressed, the desire to ‘escape’ is prevalent. If undiagnosed, however, the dilemma compounds.  It’s common to seek escape. My family wasn’t perfect, no, but I was not abused. Yet, I was sure that my life would be better, if only I got away from my parents. My memoir is about the tumultuous journey that follows this decision.  Honestly, I did not set out to write a memoir. When I began writing, when I returned to college, I wrote fiction. Meanwhile, my personal stories were surfacing in the characters. Once a phenomenal teacher introduced me to the art of essay and memoir, I decided to give it a shot. Memoir is a tough genre, but incredibly rewarding.

In telling your story, has it made life easier or more difficult for you?

Jen: Interesting question. I can’t say my life has become any easier, but I do feel as though the process of memoir writing, if taken seriously, allows more perspective on the past.  I have received quite a few unsolicited diagnoses from readers.  I suppose they might’ve been solicited, in a way, seeing as how I chose to publish, but either way, I had some really interesting responses.  One man accused my father of molesting me, he said it was the sub-text he had read in the book.  This did not happen, and so for my father to read this review was incredibly painful.  Moreover, I have had quite a few people accuse me of being an amoral person, a person who “needs Jesus” or some other sort of saving, and this can be a little tough to take.  The truth is, I’m very happy now, and I wouldn’t trade my decisions for anything.  My memoir was important because it gave voice to my younger self, a girl many other girls may relate to.  And the positive feedback I’ve received, those who’ve told me that they have a similar story but are ashamed to share it; those who tell me that I am a tough girl for having the courage to change my lifestyle; those who have also abused alcohol or drugs, they make up for anything negative others might say.  They are my audience.

What is your favorite color?

Jen: Gray-blue, like the sky just before it storms.

Did you experience writer’s block during the writing process? If so, how did you overcome it?

Jen: No. I wrote the draft in a summer. It took five years to revise and refine. I did have many days in which I didn’t want to revise though, but it’s my feeling that if a writer hires a ghostwriter for a memoir, it shouldn’t be considered a memoir.

What advice can you give to those who suspect that they too could be suffering from some form of mental illness?

Jen: Talk to someone you trust. If you don’t feel comfortable talking to someone, then write it down. Record how you feel and when you are most depressed, and then bring this information to a reputable psychologist. I am not a huge advocate of quick fixes, and I highly suggest that a person who wants a lasting cure pay close attention to how the mind works; study for yourself. The fact is, depression is not a rational thing, and so you cannot fix it with a quick, rational cure. It takes time and support. There are support groups and physical tools that will help, such as regular exercise that helped me immensely

What was the most difficult part of the writing process for Musical Chairs?

Jen: Figuring out which scenes to cut and which to include. It seems that a memoir would be easier to write than fiction, because the story is already there. But life doesn’t follow a clear narrative path, and therefore a writer must impose one–this is no easy thing! The structure of memoir requires a lot of reworking and adjustment in order to maintain integrity and best tell a personal story.

Did you ever feel that by distancing yourself from your family, you might be able to avoid mental illness?

Jen: No. I feel as though distancing myself from my family did give me more appreciation for them, but I was a depressed little kid; it was with me long before I could name it. I strongly believe that mental distress, to a certain degree, is chemical. This doesn’t mean that a person cannot find a personalized cure, and it doesn’t mean I advocate medication as a quick fix, but it does mean that it’s not wholly sociological.

How long did it take you to research, write and have your memoir published?

Jen: Five years, in total. A few months of writing; years of fact-checking and research; more years of revising.

What do you hope that your readers will take away from your book?

Jen: I hope that they will better understand what it is like for a young girl to deal with depression. I hope women will read this book, and chose to tell their own stories (in whatever way) rather than staying silent. Behaviors repeat if we don’t address them, and the dangers that exist for a teenage girl will not go away. Awareness, however, can decrease a girl’s odds of endangering herself.

Do you have any new books planned for publication in the next few years?

Jen: I plan to release a collection of short stories in early 2011 with All Things That Matter Press.  It’s entitled To Begin Again.  I am currently working on a novel entitled Absurd Hunger. I hope to release this one in 2012, but I’m not sure this is realistic.  We’ll see.

Thank you, Jen, for your time.  Musical Chairs can be purchased at Amazon.com at: http://amzn.com/0984259422

Check out Jen Knox’s website and blog:

http://www.jenknox.com

http://jenknox.blogspot.com/2010/08/personality-punctuation.html

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Interview with author Harris Tobias

Why should I read your book?

For entertainment. If you’re looking for deep meaning, The Greer Agency probably isn’t for you.

Are you a cat or a dog person?

We have always had both dogs and cats in our home, but if I had to choose, I’d go with dogs.

What do you like about writing?

I enjoy the inner world of my imagination. I often think I am telling myself a story while another part of me is trying its best to get it down on paper. I feel that the story is out there in its pure form by the time it has passed through my mind and fingers it is a poor imitation of what it was.

How do you reach your muse?

Whatever that inner voice is that tells the stories I call it my muse. I love when she is present and talking. Then I could write all day. When she’s absent I turn to other genres, write letters or read. I often sit with a notebook on my lap and let my mind wander. I find writing with a pen freer and easier then trying to force a story on the computer.

What does your muse look like?

I have absolutely no idea, but she has been kind and generous. I expect she is beautiful and voluptuous.

Do you listen to music while you write, or do you require total and utter silence?

Silence always. Music distracts me.

Why did you choose to write in your particular field or genre?  If you write more than one, how do you balance them?

I write in several genres: science fiction, detective/crime, children’s stories, song lyrics. I like to give myself assignments like Let’s see if I can write five little stories involving aliens or ten animal fables. That’s how I wrote my novel The Greer Agency. I assigned myself the task of writing 15 connected stories.

What other books have you written?

The Greer Agency is my second novel. My first A Felony of Birds is available from Amazon.

Anything in the works?

I’m going to collect some of my short stories into two short story collections—one for sci-fi and one for crime fiction. Also I’m collaborating with a couple of illustrators to bring two books of fairy tales to market. I’m also working with a talented composer on a musical called Gumshoe based on the characters in The Greer Agency. This is all very exciting for me personally. I love collaborations.

How long have you been writing?

I have always written but there was never any time to do it seriously. Five years ago I retired and found the time to write every day. I think I’m getting better at it.

What cultural value do you see in writing/reading/storytelling/etc.?

Storytelling is as old as language itself. I am pleased to be a part of so basic a human tradition.

Do you write more by logic or intuition, or some combination of the two? Summarize your writing process.

Intuition entirely. I rarely know how a story will turn out when I begin. I love it when a story reveals itself to me. It’s a very mystical thing. It’s almost spooky how a small clue or description in the beginning of a story suddenly becomes crucial toward the end. Where did that come from. It’s amazing to me.

Do you count time or words to your daily regimen?

Words. I like to write a thousand words a day.

Who’s your publisher?

I have been extremely fortunate to have been picked up by All Things That Matter Press (ATTMP). Phil and Deb Harris have been a pleasure to work with. They are caring and sympathetic professionals who are willing to give previously unknown and unpublished authors a chance.

How can we find out more about you and your work?

I have a blog and I publish stories on Scribd also you can email me directly at

harristob@gmail.com .

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Interview with author Robert Rubenstein

ATTMP AUTHOR INTERVIEW: Robert Rubenstein    GHOST RUNNERS

How did you become involved with the subject or theme of your book?

When I was in my teens, I met a girl whom I loved. In her house, at night, I discovered some of the secrets of a kiss. I also heard the sounds of her father moaning loudly in his sleep. Laughing, my girlfriend told me it was just the war and the camps and the memories of death. So, as a teenager, I was introduced to Nazis. Almost thirty years ago, I learned of the story of two American Jewish Olympic runners who were not allowed to compete in the Berlin Olympics of 1936. Had it been German anti-Semitism, it would have been understandable. But it was Americans, not Germans, who took their only Jewish Olympians off the team. The questions plagued me: Why? Could history have been changed, the ensuing Holocaust halted even for one day if these Americans ran? What happened to that twenty-one year old runner who seemed to just disappear?

So slowly did truth emerge: the complicity of American corporations: IBM, Chase, GE-the lists kept growing. Whom had they been serving? After all the years, I saw the vehicle that could answer those questions. The theme that had escaped me had reappeared like a ghostrunner.

Why did you choose to write in your particular field or genre?

I have a tendency to imagine too strongly and to follow an extraneous thought to distraction. If left to my own, I would write fantastic gibberish. But Historical Fiction sets the measured tones I need to stay on track. It allows me to write within a timed and known setting. I also love the possibilities of history, to wonder about the ‘Butterfly Effect,’ to see if I could blow my breath into the known and change, by the winds or celestial flows, the way things were to the way things might have been.

Where did your love of books/storytelling/reading/writing/etc. come from?

When I was younger, I didn’t have many toys. I was a prolific reader. Like other kids, I liked to read whole series of books. I had intimate encounters with Tarzan in the jungle. I tried cases with Perry Mason. I was smitten with the Hardy boys. But even earlier, I loved when my father came home with the newspaper. The written word, for me, has always reminded me of a happy home.

How does your book relate to your spiritual practice or other life path?

No matter the path, the spirit cannot avoid suffering. How two young men deal with misfortune is a lesson for us all. It is not the sorrow but the existential choice to give that woe a greater meaning, a far reaching implication. In my story, Joshua Sellers is transformed by the process of his separation from an American dream betrayed by his own countrymen. He finds redemption in the alien surroundings of our indigenous natives and in the joy he has in passing on the gifts he had, but could not use, to disabled children.

What were your goals and intentions in this book, and how well do you feel you achieved them?

In GHOSTRUNNERS I wanted to address a wrong that does not go away. It has stayed in the public debate without modern challenge. The complicity of American corporations and certain names whose lineage is well known has still not been brought to American justice. I wanted to create controversy and bring the deplorable adoration by many Americans to Adolf Hitler under the light of dialogue and public scrutiny.

I also wanted to give body to an American hero, Sam Stoller. Sometimes, it is not the successful that should be remembered, but the ones who had the promise, but were not ever given the chance for glory.

What was the hardest part of writing this book?

Good, good question. Even fictionalizing with good intentions, people who have lived and died, the author owes a great debt to their memories and must be cautious before attaching one extraneous word. In GHOSTRUNNERS I could never be certain how to portray brave, decent men like Frank Wycoff or Foy Draper, Jesse Owens or even Charles Lindbergh. When I thought about their descendants, I did not want to trespass even lightly on a memory. One of the two protagonists was a beloved figure in sports, Marty Glickman. I would have wanted to contact his family for permission. I hope I portrayed his likeness with humility and love. Lastly, Sam Stoller was the forgotten Olympian, his life’s journey still unknown. I hope I put some flesh around him. I hope my words may find his descendants well.

Are there underrepresented groups or ideas featured if your book?

My book is about the possibilities of what diversity could have done in sports to vanquish Hitler and his ideas of racial supremacy during the infancy of the evil of Nazism. Blacks and Jews and Native Americans: no master race could subjugate them for too long.

What projects are you working on at the present?

Presently, I am working on a story of thwarted desires amid the beauty and violent history of New Mexico. Can one truly find happiness in a land of unsettled accounts? When the harmony of the mountains is disturbed, a secret group of Natives must extend their old influence on young, wayward braves. OUR LOVE IS HERE TO STAY is just that: a love story of the permanence of forgotten events or shallow passions, shifting with the sands of unremorseful times.

What’s your most memorable childhood memory?

Ducking for cover under my desk to escape nuclear war in a fifth grade fire drill. I was not going to let the Russians get me. I held my head and did as I was told: I didn’t talk to my neighbor. I didn’t look at the glass windows. And I was saved.

What do you do for fun?

I love to visit the National Parks and the southwest. I love to swim in the ocean.

What did your character do that totally shocked and surprised you and caused you to revisit your book?

When Joshua Sellers walked over to the Fuhrer’s Loge and raised his fist to deck Hitler out, I was as shocked as anyone. But I bought Joshua’s explanation. He really didn’t want to hit Hitler. He just wanted to give him a love tap from the Jewish nation.

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King Salmon

In the 1980’s Raymond Carver was the scourge of creative writing professors.  It’s not that they necessarily had anything against the short story master; it’s just that too many of their students tried to imitate him.  Early in his career Carver was labeled a “minimalist.”  His style is sparse and deceptively simple.  He uses few figures of speech, and very little description.  Many of his stories are “dialogue heavy.”  Critics threw him into the same camp as Hemingway, the other end of the spectrum from Lessing or Pynchon.  Writing students ate him up.  He just seemed so easy. Carver never embraced the term “minimalist.”  He wasn’t into that “tip of the iceberg thing” Hemingway went on about.  He maintained that his “simple” style was an attempt to recreate the limited viewpoint of an alcoholic.  Like their creator, many early Carver protagonists struggled with substance abuse.  They wouldn’t bother to “see” a setting, or specific details.  Their minds are too preoccupied with the daily battle with the bottle.

Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on how you look at it), the typical protagonist showing his junk in a creative writing workshop wasn’t an alcoholic.  Students attempted to emulate Carver’s style for no other reason than it seemed easy.  But like modern painting, it’s not as simple as it looks.  MFA programs started churning out “cookie cutter” stories, composed by “cookie cutter” writers.  In 1989, C. Michael Curtis, then fiction editor for The Atlantic Monthly, visited my fiction workshop at Wichita State and implored us not to follow suit.  (MFA programs are still accused of producing an endless stream of writers that all sound the same.)

I like to think I took Curtis’s advice to heart.  Still, I love Carver, and there are glimpses of my admiration of him in Halibut Rodeo. Stylistically, “A Man Loves His Cat” comes closest to a Carveresque story.  But I pay most conscious homage to him in “King Salmon.”  This story within a story recounts one man’s relationship with the Slime-Line Queen.  Like many of Carver’s protagonists he is a recovering alcoholic.  At the beginning, he invites his sponsor over for a meal of King Salmon.  While they’re eating, I adopt the tone Carver uses in the dinner scene in “Cathedral,” justifiably his most famous story.  After the two men devour the fish, the protagonist relates his attempt to win back the Slime-Line Queen by driving from North Dakota to Homer, Alaska, diamond ring in tow.  Like so many of Carver’s anti-heroes, he doesn’t achieve his goal.   True understanding is often just out of reach for Carver’s characters.  The Slime Line Queen becomes an almost mystical character in the book, despite her harsh past.  For many readers of the book she is a favorite character, even though she never appears as protagonist.  Maybe even for me, her creator, she’s beyond full comprehension.

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Interview with author Salvatore Buttaci

Some Things That Matter to Salvatore Buttaci:

An Interview

What does your muse look like?

When I was a teen-ager I wrote a short story called “Man with Wheels” that told my version of the literary muse who visits writers and presents them with ideas for poems and stories.  He had wheels for legs and feet, and you knew he was there because the spinning sound of his wheels matched the sound of ideas spinning in my head, trying so hard to escape to pen and notebook.  He wore a dark-blue sharkskin suit, his eyes were lunar yellow, and in his arms he carried a flower basket filled with words that obediently, at his command, assembled themselves into sentences or lines, then paragraphs or stanzas until…eureka!  before the writer’s eyes, without need of editing or revising, lay the finished story or poem.  Then the man with wheels would roll out of sight until once more he’d be needed to break through the haze of writer’s block.

Of course, the story was meant to be humorous.  To me it was as absurd as Erato, that muse lady in blue gown, from whom writers expect some inspiration.  I find the whole idea of a muse hilarious.  I rate it up there with the Tooth Fairy, the Easter Bunny, and Santa Claus.

Sometimes writers find it difficult to admit that the writing craft is a gift, something to be developed and improved over time.  They will attribute their work to a sudden burst of inspiration that, once down on paper, becomes sacrosanct and unchangeable.  I saw this often when I taught writing on the college level.  Students would write a story or nonfiction article, and despite my red-penciled suggestions, my proofreading signs, they would prefer taking the low C than aim for an A by making the work better.  It was almost as though they felt guilty about tampering with that inspired first draft.

Ding dong, the muse is dead.  She was never born.  She does not exist.  The blue gown, the diadem in her long blond hair, her svelte beauty…all of it an artist’s rendition of what literary inspiration might look like if personified.

When I think “Muse,” I remember that story of my younger days.  The man is out there someplace spinning his wheels.  In his arms he balances his word basket and waits for me to raise my hand and beckon him towards my writing space, but I leave him stranded out there, all revved up and nowhere to go.

I believe inspiration comes more easily when one is committed to writing.  It is hardly enough to write occasionally.  In fact, the more often a person writes, the more easily the writing flows.  Daily writing comes highly recommended by those bestselling authors who ply their craft hours a day, including weekends.

While there exists no writer-friendly muse, with or without wheels for feet, there are words locked inside our minds that beg for release.  I imagine they are all packed like treasures in huge wooden chests, waiting to be opened, to be set free, to fly from the castle hall in which they have been imprisoned.  Freedom via the open window or the heavy wooden castle door is attained by daily writing, the reading of books about the craft of writing, building a vocabulary, and the books of successful writers.

Why did you choose to write in your particular field or genre?  If you write more than one, how do you balance them?

We often gravitate towards what we ourselves enjoy.  Writing has always been a passion of mine…fiction, nonfiction, drama, and poetry, each for different reasons.  But brevity has always been my objective.  I keep poems to a maximum length of 40 lines.  Rarely have I exceeded that length.  As for fiction, while it is true that I have written two novels, full-length plays, and short stories between 5,000 and 10,000 words, my favorite kind of writing is fiction under 1,000 words.  This is not to say flash fiction is the easiest to write because of its brevity, just as saying as much about the haiku would not be quite true.  As

I see it, the job of the flasher (pardon me, the flash-story writer) and the haikuist becomes more difficult because their goal is to fit a world of a story or emotion or imagery into a confined space of either 1,000 words or less, or 17 syllables or less.  The flash and the haiku demand that certain criteria be achieved.  Certain elements that define them must be written into them or they fail within the context of their limited space.

Flash fiction appeals to me because of the challenge it presents.  I must tell a story with a hook of a beginning, enough of an enticingly descriptive middle, and a satisfying conclusion.  Editing becomes paramount as the writer strives to reach the final draft.  All unnecessary words, sentences, and paragraphs need to be given the literary boot because what does not add to the flash detracts from it.  A flash is not simply words no longer than 1,000.  It is a story with the same requirements as its taller brother, the short story, and giant brother, the novel.  The flash is the iceball packed solid and hard.  The short story and the novel are snowballs, but none of the three can fall apart once the thrower sets it sailing.

In my collection of 164 short-short stories, Flashing My Shorts, I tried hard to vary the stories so that readers would encounter different characters with different motives, different situations and settings, within different genres.  My intent was to be true to myself and provide precisely the kind of book I love reading, one filled with humor, horror, crime, love, science fiction, time travel, alternate history, post-cataclysmic.  I wanted them to run the gamut so each flash would stand apart from the next one.

The same holds true for my poetry.  When I wrote A Dusting of Star Fall: Love Poems

India: Cyber-wit Publications, 2006), I included those poems I felt that readers could and would relate to.  Over the years of our marriage, I’ve written and given Sharon a small book of my love poems to commemorate her birthday, St. Valentine’s Day, and our wedding anniversary.  One day I asked if she’d mind if I shared the best of those poems in a book others as well could read.  She said yes and so did Cyber-wit Publications.

What motivates the kind of book I’ve written has been, “What would I enjoy reading?”   I can’t even conceive of writing a book I myself would not bother to read.

You ask how I balance writing poetry and writing fiction, my two main kinds of writing.  That’s a good question.  I think each involves a different mode of thinking.  With fiction I first imagine in my head…set the scene, so to speak…of what the story is about.  I see the characters, the problem to be resolved, the time and place of the action, some dialogue, and finally the resolution in what might be something you’d see in a minute YouTube video.  Next, I dream up the strongest hook I can to start the flash ball rolling.  Then in a conservation of words, I tell the story with an equal balance of narration, description, exposition, and dialogue.  Lastly, I dream up the strongest possible ending.

With poetry it’s entirely different.  I sit at the computer keyboard and screen and type out the first line or two that pop into my head from wherever the poem stuff is stored!  For example, I’ll type, “four fingertips gripped the eaves/she held on for not-so-dear life.”

And then I continue to type until the first draft is done.  I have no clue where I am heading.  It’s like a train ride into dark night. I won’t know where I am going until I get there.  Sometimes I am not happy with what I find and I highlight, then delete, the entire poem.  Sometimes I save the best line or more.  And there are those times when the poem’s first draft satisfies me enough that I don’t mess with it.

Usually I write two or three poems daily, as well as one or two flash stories.  I carry a pocket notepad where I jot down any ideas that come to me or new vocabulary I read or dialogue I hear.  In this way I keep myself stocked with the raw materials to write more and more poems and stories.

How long have you been writing?

My wife tells me, “Please don’t tell them again how you started writing!  I’m dreaming it in my sleep!”  But the truth shall set us free, so here goes.  I was nine and it was a day before Mother’s Day.  I had no money to buy my mother a gift.  I had money, but I’d spent it on green grapes and a strawberry malted, all of which cost me back in 1950 only about 40 cents.  If I hadn’t been so selfish, I could have bought her a napkin holder from Schramm’s Hardware for 30 cents and had enough left over to buy another malted.

I took a sheet of school loose-leaf paper, folded it like a greeting card, drew a heart on the front and wrote HAPPY MOTHER’S DAY, MA.  On the inside left page I wrote a quick poem called “To My Mother.”  On the right side, I wrote, “Love, your son Sal.”

Of course, my sisters gave me the evil eye because, unlike them, I had no gift, only a greeting card, one I didn’t even buy.  But when Mama opened my card and read my poem, she started to cry.

“Ma, what’s wrong?”  one of us kids asked.

“It’s beautiful!”

“The card?” asked Joanie, hardly believing Mama would love it more than the kerchief she bought her.

“This poem your brother wrote.”

Then Joanie and Anna read it, but it didn’t impress them much.  Anna was in the 8th grade and read so much better in school.  Joanie was in the first grade where “Roses are red, violets are blue” type poems probably outshone my attempt at poetry.

When Papa heard Mama crying, he came into the kitchen, wanting to know “What’s going on?”

“It’s beautiful!” my mother repeated, then handed the poem to him.

Papa read it aloud.  Honestly, the poem was, pardon the oxymoron, “pure crap.”  But he had tears in his eyes too.  What gives? I wondered.

My father, who had studied in the seminary back in Sicily, was well versed in the works of Dante in their original tongue.  He held the poem high in the air and waved it like a flag.  “This is better than Dante!” he said.  “Your poem is beautiful.”  I thought to myself, one more beautiful and I will eat my poem and throw up.  “Would you write a Father’s Day poem for me?”

I smiled.  “Pa, we got a whole month.”

“Go write it now,” he said.  “I can’t wait that long.”

My parents encouraged my writing from that day on.  If they caught me doing nothing, they’d ask, “You did all your homework?  You studied for that test?” And when I said yes to both, one or the other would say, “Then go write a poem or a story.  We want to hear it.”

There were times I would rather have relinquished my title back to Dante, but they kept after me.  “Got a poem?  Got a story?”  They never said, “I’m too busy to read or hear what you wrote.  Ask me later.”  My parents would actually stop what they were doing, sit down and either read my work or ask me to read it to them.

Because of their praise and belief in me, I tried to learn more and more about good writing.  On Saturdays I’d go to the library and read books of poetry or how-to-write books.  I’d keep a notebook of what writing tips I’d find and incorporate them into my own writing.  I’d keep a special notebook where I would jot down new words and their definitions.  I’d arrange them in alphabetical order.  Then I’d memorize them and use them in my story.

In high school I wrote for the school newspaper and was elected editor-in-chief of the yearbook.  At 16 I got my first essay published in the Sunday New York News.  That same year a very short poem called “Charlatan” was published in Bardic Echoes.  It went like this:

You promised to mend my broken heart.

Instead, I was treated and released.

So writing became part of me.  I wrote to please my parents and my teachers, and to assuage whatever sorrows came in my life.  When my father died in 1987, I filled three notebooks with memories of him.  I suppose it was weird of me to think somehow I could keep him alive that way, but published stories of him do bring him back to me and I get to share him with readers who never had the pleasure of his company. [For example, see “Papa’s Gold Coin” in Cup of Comfort for Fathers, published in April 2010.]

How long have I been writing?  Sixty wonderful years!

What projects are you working on at the present?

I’ve nearly completed the editing of my follow-up collection of short-short stories, which I will submit to Deb Harris for consideration.  I have a feeling she is going to love this one too!

Next I will be editing two novels, one of them called Carmelu the Sicilian; the other is called Denver-under-Dome.  The first tells the story of a Sicilian-born American movie actor and the other is an alternate-history time travel scifi.

What are some day jobs that you have held?  If any of them impacted your writing, share an example.

In 2007, I retired from nearly 30 years teaching on all levels of education.  Prior to that, I was a marketing exec for a New York City mailing list company.  In my younger days I worked in an airplane factory as a power, sensitive, and radial driller of aeronautical pistons.  I was also a questioned document examiner for a time, and part owner of a janitorial maintenance firm.

They have all impacted on my writing because I have found material in my workplace experiences to fill several books!

Who are some of your favorite authors that you feel were influential in your work?  What impact have they had on your writing?

As a boy I read the poems of Rosa Zagnoni Marinoni, poet laureate of Arkansas, back in the 1950s.  She more than any poet hooked me into writing poetry.  Later in life, in addition to a myriad list of international poets, I favored Leonard Cohen of Canada, Caesar Vallejo, Pablo Neruda, Salvatore Quasimodo, and the old bard from Strafford-on-Avon!

As for novelists, I favored Hemingway, Dos Passos, Goldman, and Mickey Spillane.  Now some interviewers wonder why Spillane.  I tell them few could write with the ease of Spillane who told a story as though I were his only reader.  I also like Follett and Folsom.

What’s the last thing you think of before you fall asleep at night? First thing in the morning?

After kissing my love goodnight, I say my night prayers, asking God to make me a better person in the morning and to heal all those in need of His mercy.  The first thing that comes to mind in the morning is a quickly fading dream I quickly jot down in my notepad by the bed.

Who’s your best/worst critic?

My wife Sharon is my best critic.  She can hear me recite a poem or story and know exactly what’s either missing or needs to go the way of the garbage bag.  My worst critic is myself because sometimes I can’t let go of the story or poem and say to myself, “Enough already!  The damn thing’s done!”

List, in one sentence, the three questions you’d ask your favorite author over lunch.
In one sentence, answer them.

I’d ask him how much of the book was his own writing, not the editor, did having an agent help him to become successful, and how much of what you write comes from his own life.

The book had several more characters and one or two other subplots, which the editor found too cumbersome and deleted them.

After two of my books started earning money, I hired an agent to save myself the grief of promoting my work, which gave me more time to write.

Quite a bit of what I write is based on personal experiences, and that’s why I advise writers to be observant, to notice everything, record them and internalize them into their writings.

What’s your most memorable (not necessarily your favorite) childhood memory?

It was the day my father asked us if we knew how much he loved our mother.  “I’d give up my right arm for her,” he said to us.  The image of Papa with one bloody arm shook us up a little, but then he added, “because that mother of yours would give both her arms for me!”

Or now here is a really weird, but fun one…what trash item did you see that inspired you to write a story. In one of my stories I found a whole character when I saw a manikin head on a dumpster.

In my childhood the little girl next door passed away from pneumonia.  One night shortly after I saw her mother come out to the garbage can, lift the lid, and toss into it two or three dolls.  I didn’t write the story until recently and put it into my upcoming flash collection about a woman of the streets who never has time to buy her little daughter a doll.  She spends all her money on expensive perfume.  When the child develops pneumonia, she leaves the doctor with her child, and runs out to buy her that doll.  She brings it home but her daughter dies in the interim.

Are you a full-time or part-time writer?  How does that affect your writing?

Now that I am retired, I write about four hours in the morning and two at night.

I’d write more hours, but I love my wife and need to spend time with her.  If I lock myself up at the computer, she’ll forget who I am and I’ll spend the rest of my days alone.

Salvatore Buttaci can be reached by e-mail at sambpoet@yahoo.com or you can check out his blog: http://salbuttaci.blogspot.com or http://salvatorebuttaci.wordpress.com

or you can go to amazon.com, click on BOOKS and type in “Flashing My Shorts” and read the reviews.

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Interview with author Michelle Kaye Malsbury

SOME THINGS THAT MATTER TO AUTHOR Michelle Kaye Malsbury: Author of The Swindler, ISBN 978-0-9844219-4-7.

I read a book, or when I’m thinking of reading a book, I find that I would love to know more about the author.  What do they think about? Why should I care about what they have written? What insights can they give me about their process, characters, and reasons for even putting their words on paper and sharing with others? Here are some questions I have asked some of my favorite authors. I hope you enjoy their responses as much as I have.

ATTMP: Are you a cat or a dog person?

MM: I have always been an animal person. I love all animals. Ever since I can remember I was drawn to animals especially the strays that had no love or warm place to sleep. (I grew up in IL and the winters there are brutal) I love the spirit of animals. The unconditional love they provide for their favorite humans is second to none. My dog and cat are part of me and intertwined in my genetic make-up. They are part of what makes me tick. I don’t have children so they are not only my pets, but for all intents and purposes my children too. I could never favor one over the other.
ATTMP: What do you like about writing?

MM: Writing is the greatest form of self expression I can reach. It allows me to connect with my inner self and explain that to the world, hopefully in terms they can understand and identify with. If I do not write I feel like something huge is missing from my life.
ATTMP: How do you reach your muse?

MM:  My muse, this is a toughie. I have topics and ideas that resonate with me and serve as a guide to some of the things I write about, especially those that inspire action or passion on behalf of the reader. I love the environment, politics, animals, education, business, and peace. These serve as templates for much of my non-fiction writing as I am passionate about them and hope to pass that passion on to others. For fiction I look every where and at all of the people and scenarios I come into contact with as potential muses. I have a very active imagination and I think that helps too!
ATTMP:  Do you listen to music while you write, or do you require total and utter silence?

MM: When I write seriously I require silence or only instrumentals. I want to only hear my words because I want to accurately describe actions and characters in my head while translating them to the keyboard. At those times music with words can be a distraction to me. Instrumentals however do not add words to my already wordy brain and can sometimes serve to spur me on in my writing, especially if the music is something I really really like. I am partial to piano solos of a classical or modern nature. I also love Latin music for its beat. There are other instruments like the pan flute, sax, or sitar that can be so primal that I am inspired to write and write and write.

ATTMP: How did you become involved with the subject or theme of your book?

MM: I try to begin my books based on something I am familiar with and then move into unfamiliar territory that requires some additional research in order to get the story right. I love learning new things and research helps to keep my mind engaged in things I have not previously been familiar with or participated in. For instance, in the end of The Swindler there is a lengthy courtroom drama that is played out very publicly. I am not schooled in legalese and have not spent time in an actual courtroom. Therefore, I had to do some serious homework in order to get the pace and semantics and entire court stuff to read like I knew what I was talking about. I reviewed many documents from previous trials, especially those from the Bernie Madoff trial as those most closely mirrored my books theme and character dilemma. I hope it was at least close!

ATTMP: What inspires you?

MM: Life inspires me! I love reading and reviewing books. I love research and watching the political news on television. Topics that are fresh and timely are an inspiration to me to write about because they resonate with today. For my websites I write a lot about politics or government, occasionally entertainers or sports personalities. Health care was an important issue for the people of America and those watching us around the world. Therefore, I championed why it should pass and concentrated on the benefits that would be derived from passage. This was a topic that was near and dear to my heart. I was glad to see it finally come to pass. Human and animal rights violations tick me off and I’ve tried to include them in my articles for American Chronicle. Education and illiteracy are two topics that I cannot say enough about. My list of inspirations goes on and on, but these topics can give you a glimpse into what makes me tick.

ATTMP: What are some day jobs that you have held?  If any of them impacted your writing, share an example.

MM: I’ve been a bartender, stewardess (flight attendant), realtor, commodities broker, and more. All of those jobs have helped me to write accurately about those positions in my books. They have also shaped who I am now and how I perceive people in those industries at this time.

The Swindler is based on a true story of a place where I actually worked. Much of the story is fictionalized, but the places written about and some scenes actually took place. The man I worked for, who was a smaller version of Bernie Madoff, financially speaking, is now behind bars. I did not know immediately that we were operating illegally or unethically. I worked for this man for nearly five years before I finally quit. I saw the business from the inside out. That was one of the most fun and fast paced jobs that I’ve ever held. I learned a lot working there and that has, in turn, shaped my opinions of what Wall Street gets away with today and what direction we, as a country, need to take to curtail those excesses and greed.

ATTMP: How do you feel about ebooks vs. print books and alternative vs. conventional publishing?

MM: I am accustomed to ebooks from pursuit of many of my educational endeavors. According to many educational facilities this ebook format saves them oodles of money. I think ebooks are easy to download and you can highlight sections and write notes: both good things when you need access to instant recall of a certain topic. I think they are a bit impersonal, but ecologically a big paper saver!

I like the feel of a real book in my hands too! I review books for Bookpleasures and we do not review ebooks at this time. Has that caused us to miss out on some good reads? Maybe. One of my all time favorite things to do is to wander around in book stores. I love looking at the various book covers, seeing who is new in the marketplace, and reading the synopsis’.

I personally hope we never give real books up entirely: how would I stock my shelves in my library?

ATTMP: What do you like to read in your free time?

MM: My entire free time is taken up with reading and writing reviews. I love it! I read a lot of business books because that is my educational background and they keep me abreast of all of the new techniques coming down the pike. I love spy novels, legal thrillers, and murder/mysteries. I like to read about politics and political figures, as well as, policies we have adopted and how they have panned out. I try to mix things up a bit, as far as topics I read, so I am well rounded and more conversant in a variety of topics.

ATTMP: Who’s your best/worst critic?

MM: Marvin Wilson, my editor, is my best and worst critic. He was a godsend when I needed some serious polishing for The Swindler. Thank you Deb and Phil for leading me to him! Marvin knows how to get me (and perhaps all writers) to produce work that shines. He took my story, which was a emerald in the rough, and created a sparkling gemstone that I am proud to place my name atop of. He is a master of knowing what things really really needed changing to make the story flow better. I’ve had other people read and suggest things for my books or articles, but Marvin is by far the best! He comes at his criticism from an editorial perspective, but also as an author himself. Over the course of his editing process he becomes intimately involved with the characters, their dialogue, and the story flow of the books he reworks. I’d say Marvin is equal part magician and muse! Thank you Marvin!
ATTMP: Red or pink?

MM: I actually like both colors, but am partial to pink. I always wear some version of pink toenail polish. Jackie Onassis was fond of pink for fingernails and toenails and I admired her quite a bit because she was classic and timeless in her choice of garments, accessories, and jewels.

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The Art of Squeezing Herring

I’m one-half Polish, so herring is supposed to be in my blood. Does not every respectable Pole eat herring at New Year’s in order to ensure good luck for the following 12 months? My father does so every year. But when I was a kid, there were only two acceptable forms of fish: the kind in a can, and the kind in the form of a stick. Yes, my grandmother prepared a breaded form on Christmas Eve, but I took only one or two polite bites in order to save room for the real reason for the season: peirogi. The herring my father would eat a week later came in a jar (of all things) and was buried in what looked like creamy-milky goodness. Goodness, that is, until you took a bite and discovered an evil smelling, raw tasting fish. Disgusting.

My relationship with herring wasn’t helped by my first visit to Sweden. Hans decided to have a crawfish party for myself and Phil Deal, a friend of mine from grad school. Since crawfish (like everything else in Sweden) is ridiculously expensive, Hans augmented the feast with sour herring. He handed me the innocuous looking can and asked me to open it. I whipped out my Swiss Army knife and applied the can opener. Soon as I punctured the top I was sprayed by a substance that can only be described as Satan’s Body Wash. Sour herring is essentially fermented fish. Yeast is dumped into it before it’s canned. Nasty juices boil and bubble under the lid for years, just waiting for an idiot American to unleash hell with a $15 pocket knife. While I wiped the results of the herring shower from my hair and face, Hans doubled over in laughter. “Har, har” I said, always the good sport. I even vowed to eat the wretched stuff, only to be instructed that you should bury the fish in a mound of mashed potatoes and two pieces of really strong rye bread, anything to mask the taste that rivaled the smell in vileness. Swedes eat this voluntarily? With plenty of vodka, one Swede told me. You need something in your belly for the herring to swim in.

Many Japanese people eat herring roe, which is even worse than sour herring. In my book Halibut Rodeo I mention the Herring Line, but it’s not a job I describe in detail. It was actually the first job I did at Sew-Fish in Homer. Once the herring are caught, they are left to rot on the docks for two weeks. It’s not the flesh itself that’s prized, but the egg sacs that are sold as aphrodisiacs in Japan. Once the fish have rotted some, their bellies begin to split. This is when they’re trucked into the fish processing plant and dumped on a conveyor line. Fools like me swaddle up to the line in rain gear and Wellingtons and proceed to squeeze the bellies until one of two things happen: if it’s a female, the egg sacks, which look like a segment of yellow grapefruit, pop out of the tearing belly. These you gingerly place on an interior conveyor belt. They will eventually find themselves in the Japanese-supervised egg room. If it’s a male herring, a substance like gelatinous mayo explodes out of the belly, with bits of the repugnant goo lodging themselves in your eyes and nose. The smell? Suffice it to say that if even one drop of herring juice found its way between glove and rain coat and just gently kissed the sleeve of your flannel shirt, burning said shirt was the only viable option. If sour herring juice is Satan’s Body Wash than this shit was his highly concentrated perfume. Then why squeeze the males? Can’t you tell the difference? No, you can’t. Big Boss Man told us to squeeze every one, so that’s what we did.

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