It’s one of the oldest idioms in the book world, time-tested and subtly instructive: Don’t take things purely at face value, it says; don’t be ruled by your prejudices; look past first impressions and give second chances. It is perhaps least useful when applied to its literal context.Read More
by Lindley Estes
Get your #SMALLPRESSLOVE on this holiday season by supporting a small press and giving the gift that gives and gives and gives. More than giving the thoughtful present of quality writing, small publishing houses like Stillhouse rely on your purchases to keep the the presses pressing into 2019.
Here are some of our favorite gift ideas for the small press lover in your life:
Graywolf Press is a behemoth in the small publishing world because it consistently publishes fantastic work by visionary writers. Pick up this anthology American Journal: Fifty Poems for Our Time (Sept. 2018), edited by Tracy K. Smith, this holiday. And while you’re at it, pick up Smith’s own Wade in the Water (Graywolf 2018) for yourself. Smith is the Poet Laureate of the United States for a reason and this volume of her poetry shows the lyrical, constantly searching quality that got her there.
The New York Review of Books is having a HUGE holiday sale. Buyers can save up to 40 percent, get free shipping, and a free tote with purchase. Even more exciting is giving a membership in the NYRB Classics Book Club. Your recipient will get a monthly literary surprise throughout the new year or their own book choice each month with a gift card. The classics NYRB puts out aren’t just good reading, they’re elegantly designed and a joy to own.
Looking for simply great books to give? Tupelo Press has you covered with their holiday sale. You can’t go wrong with giving one of their recent releases this holiday season. They’ve been putting out beautiful books since 1999.
You can give back this holiday season, too! If you contribute to Red Hen Press’ Annual Fund by Dec. 31, your contribution will be matched 100 percent by an anonymous donor. This gift will help Red Hen continue to publish new voices, foster new writers and increase diversity in publishing (among the myriad other wonderful things Red Hen does for the literary world).
Of course, we’d love you to support Stillhouse this holiday season, too! New releases Love Songs for a Lost Content, by Anita Felicelli, and Dragonfly Notes: On Distance and Loss, from Anne Panning, make the perfect stocking stuffer for your favorite reader!
Lindley Estes is a second-year fiction student in George Mason University's Master's of Fine Arts program and an editor for Stillhouse's Moonshine Murmurs blog.
by Kim Bartenfelder
Falling for a book is a strange, inevitable phenomenon, but to fall for American literature is an especially enlightening experience. You know these books: “In Cold Blood,” “Of Mice and Men,” and “The Catcher in the Rye.” Time and time again, American literature has had the ability to span generations, making a reader’s experience of the narrative one that supersedes time. Relying on thematic parallels between reality and fiction, readers are intrigued by the hopes, social commentaries, and love stories that keeps them coming back for a second, third, and maybe even fourth read.
You know these books: “In Cold Blood,” “Of Mice and Men,” and “The Catcher in the Rye.”
At the core is truth to past, actuality of the present, and a glimpse into the future. By intertwining narrative and a larger social commentary, the genre functions to serve the American public. That these timeless pieces of literature can be reinterpreted and expanded upon throughout the years, speaks to a vast audience.
More often than not, people reflect on past experiences to guide them through current obstacles in their lives. The same can be true of literature. American literature revolves around the idea of the past and gives readers insights into how best to [not] repeat it. The canon is stimulated and driven by social issues, and diverse enough that the modern day reader can live and learn from the books contained within it.
In one of the most monumental books in American literature, “To Kill a Mockingbird” (1960), author Harper Lee critiques racial injustice, innocence, law, and education with brutal honesty. She asserts throughout the text the mortal sin and logical inconsistency of killing a mockingbird. Contextually, a mockingbird represents innocence, portrayed in characters like Boo Radley, the mysterious figure throughout the novel, and Tom Robinson, the African-American man falsely charged with the rape of a white woman. Lee’s novel confronts the splintered relations between white-normative society and other races in a frank, but literary way.
It’s also worth taking into account the influence of the film adaptation of “To Kill a Mockingbird,” released in December of 1962 and featuring many noteworthy actors. The physical transformation to film enabled viewers to watch the words of the pages play out and draw comparisons to their lives in real time. Lee’s novel is still taught in schools today, used in social rhetoric, and loved by generations of readers, making it a monolith in American literature for examining social frameworks.
The canon is stimulated and driven by social issues, and diverse enough that the modern day reader can live and learn from the books contained within i
Another renowned— yet distinctly different— product of love, secrecy, and immortal hope is F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “The Great Gatsby” (1925), which depicts the American social hierarchy and true love. The characters represent the levels of wealth, a dramatic love triangle allowing readers to place themselves on Team Gatsby or Team Tom in the fight for Daisy’s love and loyalty. Ultimately, the hunger for power and status is all-consuming, and readers are faced with the detriment of social hierarchies and the destruction and pain that love can cause.
Fitzgerald’s novel emphasizes the pure lavishness of living one’s best life. After the 1929 stock market crash and the great depression, however, many Americans were forced to reflect on their spending habits, materialistic lifestyles, and survival. The characters and their stories were no longer relatable, but might have served as an escape from reality and a suggestion to future generations about the perils of wealth and recklessness. Adaptations have also been made of Fitzgerald’s work, including at least six different films, and for reasons no less compelling than Lee’s narrative, the ideas remain personal and applicable to vast audiences.
American classics are not intended for scholars and students to beat to death with analysis. They must be experienced and enjoyed. But they should also be used to detail the social issues that are present in our lives, for they are essential to instructing readers about the past, engaging young minds to think independently, and encouraging cultural metamorphosis.
American classics are not intended for scholars and students to beat to death with analysis. They must be experienced and enjoyed.
Kim Bartenfelder is an undergraduate student at
George Mason University seeking a degree in English.
English spans more than written word but rather generations, history, moral lessons, and nationality.
Kim's two cents is that all literature is good literature.
The ones that leave the biggest impression
are the ones that match your vibe.
by Lindley Estes
It’s Thanksgiving eve. And here at Moonshine Murmur’s we’re taking our feast with a heavy side of reading. Read on to find out your favorite author’s holiday dishes and pick up a few ideas for your own Thanksgiving celebration.
Nora Ephron shared in her novel Heartburn that the ultimate comfort food is mashed potatoes.
She wrote, “Nothing like mashed potatoes when you're feeling blue. Nothing like getting into bed with a bowl of hot mashed potatoes already loaded with butter, and methodically adding a thin cold slice of butter to every forkful. The problem with mashed potatoes, though, is that they require almost as much hard work as crisp potatoes, and when you're feeling blue the last thing you feel like is hard work. Of course, you can always get someone to make the mashed potatoes for you, but let's face it: the reason you're blue is that there isn't anyone to make them for you. As a result, most people do not have nearly enough mashed potatoes in their lives, and when they do, it's almost always at the wrong time.”
She even shares the recipe—and a little melancholy humor—in the book:
“For mashed potatoes: Put 1 large (or 2 small) potatoes in a large pot of salted water and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer for at least 20 minutes, until tender. Drain and place the potatoes back in the pot and shake over low heat to eliminate excess moisture. Peel. Put through a potato ricer and immediately add 1 tablespoon heavy cream and as much melted butter and salt and pepper as you feel like. Eat immediately. Serves one.”
Philip Roth was not known for being concise, and in his Pulitzer-Prize winning American Pastoral he waxes on about that dish at the center of all Thanksgiving tables:
“And it was never but once a year that they were brought together anyway, and that was on the neutral, dereligionized ground of Thanksgiving, when everybody gets to eat the same thing, nobody sneaking off to eat funny stuff—no kugel, no gefilte fish, no bitter herbs, just one colossal turkey for two hundred and fifty million people—one colossal turkey feeds all. A moratorium on funny foods and funny ways and religious exclusivity, a moratorium on the three-thousand-year-old nostalgia of the Jews, a moratorium on Christ and the crucifixion for the Christians, when everyone in New Jersey and elsewhere can be more irrational about their irrationalities than they are the rest of the year. A moratorium on all the grievances and resentments, and not only for the Dwyers and the Levovs but for everyone in America who is suspicious of everyone else. It is the American pastoral par excellence and it lasts twenty-four hours.”
Need a recipe for turkey for 250,000,000? Saveur has you covered here.
Not a fan on turkey? “The Chubby Vegetarian” blog has a whole host of tasty veggie options for your holiday main here.
“…just one colossal turkey for two hundred and fifty million people—one colossal turkey feeds all.”
Pie. Lovely, lovely pie. It’s a favorite of many authors. When asked why New Englanders eat pie for breakfast, Ralph Waldo Emerson once replied: “What [else] is pie for?”Jack Kerouac was known to be partial to apple. Hunter S. Thompson loved key lime.
But in Mark Twain’s A Tramp Abroad, he writers talks about the distinctly American foods the narrator misses outside of the country: “Apple pie. Apple fritters. Apple puffs, Southern style. Peach cobbler, Southern style. Peach pie. American mince pie. Pumpkin pie. Squash pie.”
I’d venture he liked a slice of huckleberry pie, too. Whatever your favorite flavor is, this list from Food & Wine has you covered for last-minute pie-making.
“perfect ambrosia, transparent orange slices combined with freshly ground coconut”
True crime springs to mind with Truman Capote before a holiday catalog of recipes, but in “A Thanksgiving Visitor” he describes a full feast. The short story, a sequel to Capote's “A Christmas Memory,” was originally published in McCall's magazine, and was later published as a book by Random House.
He explains what’s on the table: “perfect ambrosia, transparent orange slices combined with freshly ground coconut… a dish of whipped sweet potatoes and raisins… a delicious array of vegetables canned during the summer… a cold banana pudding—a guarded recipe of the ancient aunt who, despite her longevity, was still domestically energetic.”
We all have that one aunt. And who doesn’t love a good ambrosia? Alton Brown has you covered for that recipe here.
People forget that along with his prescient musings on the fate of the Jazz Age, F. Scott Fitzgerald was very, very funny. In his book of letters and notes The Crack-Up, Fitzgerald spends pages discussing “Turkey Remains And How To Inter Them With Numerous Scarce Recipes.” Here are a few of his [joking] recipes for Thanksgiving leftovers:
Turkey Cocktail: To one large turkey add one gallon of vermouth and a demijohn of angostura bitters. Shake.
Turkey Mousse: Seed a large prone turkey, being careful to remove the bones, flesh, fins, gravy, etc. Blow up with a bicycle pump. Mount in becoming style and hang in the front hall.
Turkey and Water: Take one turkey and one pan of water. Heat the latter to the boiling point and then put in the refrigerator. When it has jelled, drown the turkey in it. Eat. In preparing this recipe it is best to have a few ham sandwiches around in case things go wrong.
Stolen Turkey: Walk quickly from the market, and, if accosted, remark with a laugh that it had just flown into your arms and you hadn’t noticed it. Then drop the turkey with the white of one egg—well, anyhow, beat it.
Turkey Hash: This is the delight of all connoisseurs of the holiday beast, but few understand how really to prepare it. Like a lobster, it must be plunged alive into boiling water, until it becomes bright red or purple or something, and then before the color fades, placed quickly in a washing machine and allowed to stew in its own gore as it is whirled around. Only then is it ready for hash. To hash, take a large sharp tool like a nail-file or, if none is handy, a bayonet will serve the purpose—and then get at it! Hash it well! Bind the remains with dental floss and serve.
Have a favorite dish or holiday-related passage? Comment and join the discussion below!
Lindley Estes is a second-year fiction student in George Mason University's Master's of Fine Arts program and an editor for Stillhouse's Moonshine Murmurs blog.
by Stefan Lopez
So, your manuscript has been selected for publication. You’ve done it! You sold your book! At first, this might seem like the most difficult part of the process. In reality, though, acquisition is only the beginning of a much longer—often time more arduous—path to publication.
At any press, preparing a manuscript for publication and getting in front of prospective readers takes a lot of effort on behalf of both the author and the publisher. From submissions to acquisition, development to release—a year-long process, at least—is an all-hands-on-deck endeavor. So, what should a debut author expect from their publication experience? I sat down with Stillhouse Press director of media & marketing, Meghan McNamara to find out.
“There are writers who just want to put their heads down and write, and leave everything else to others, and we just don’t live in a world where that’s possible,” McNamara says, especially as it relates to small press publishing.
“Since we only publish two to three books a year, we have more of a chance to work closely with the author and really refine their work.”
Perhaps the first thing to know about small press publishing is that it’s not uncommon for members of the press to take on multiple roles, especially when they are first starting out. Unlike the big houses—Hachette, HarperCollins, Macmillan, Penguin Random House and Simon & Schuster—who have a whole host of people dedicated to the many different tasks involved in publication, small presses rely on the resources of a few dedicated individuals.
“My roles have changed so much over time, from book promotion to distribution and wholesale orders, and running the website. It’s kind of a mix of all things administrative and promotional,” McNamara says. For the first year, she said, “during the off season, Marcos [Martínez] and I were often the only ones in the building.”
Though there are positives and negatives to this, the small team size often leads to a greater intimacy with a project, as everyone has a hand in developing and promoting it. What small presses might lack in reach and manpower, the staff makes up for in time and care.
“Our press has more of a craft focus,” she says. “Since we only publish two to three books a year, we have more of a chance to work closely with the author and really refine their work.”
Central to the development and promotional process is the galley (also known as an ARC, or advanced reading copy)—essentially the first draft of the final book.
“First you have the manuscript that goes through the editorial process. Once everyone—author and editors—has signed off on it, we send that draft to the printer and it becomes the galley.”
Just like McNamara herself, the galley serves several functions. On the editorial side, it is the last chance for edits to be made, both internally and externally. Editorial interns use it to make their final edits, scanning for grammar or content inconsistencies that might have been missed in the final manuscript edit.
On the marketing and media side of things, the galley also functions as a first glimpse for prospective media, including advance interviewers and reviewers. Media responses both generate buzz for the book and give the publisher a sense of what a general audience response might be.
Galley covers were once a plain and simple endeavor—often plain brown and printed with the title and author’s name—though small presses like Stillhouse now use the galley as a debut cover run of sorts.
“When Stillhouse was first starting out, someone once told me that it takes a person upwards of three times to see a book before they are intrigued enough to buy it,” McNamara says. “It just made sense we should take advantage of this brand opportunity.”
Thus, the galley cover is, in many ways, the perfect opportunity to start conveying the book’s brand.
“Personal appeal is almost always the best way to find support for your book.”
The author is also on the front lines of promotion. Though this networking might seem daunting to many authors, it’s an integral part of the success of a small press title. Through public readings and interviews, author profiles and social media interaction, an author becomes the face of their book. Behind the scenes, they network with fellow literary contacts and acquaintances to shore up support. If there are blurbs — as the industry folk call a book’s cover quotes — they often come from writers or editors the author has worked with or has reached out to personally.
“A personal appeal is almost always the best way to find support for your book,” McNamara says.
And the support cuts both ways, she adds, noting that the books which find the most support are those written by authors who interact with and advocate for their literary peers.
“People want to engage with you if you’re interesting and active, but if you just start a Twitter account to only promote your book, you won’t get a great following.”
While they wear very different hats within the realm of Stillhouse, McNamara’s advice certainly mirrors that of fellow founding editor, Marcos Martínez.
“It’s important to build a community of readers,” Martínez told me during an interview a few months prior. “People will support you if you support them.”
In other words: the best way to become a successful writer is to develop a community.
“Every author has a following, even if it’s just friends of the writer or people who casually follow their work online,” he says.
The world of small press publishing is exactly that: small. Support others so that when it’s your turn, they will support you.
“The world of small press publishing is exactly that: small. Support others so that when it’s your turn, they will support you.”
Stefan Lopez has an internship with Stillhouse Press,
a Bachelor’s Degree in English from
George Mason University,
and a head full of empty.
by Sarah Luria
Anita Felicelli’s debut short story collection, Love Songs for a Lost Continent hit shelves Oct. 1, 2018, marking the third short story collection from Stillhouse Press and Felicelli’s first foray into full-length adult fiction (she is also the author of the young adult novel Spark Off You, a collection of poetry, and a children’s book). Recently, I spoke with her about how she constructed this wild narrative — replete with elements of the fantastic and recurring characters — and where she draws her inspiration from.
SARAH LURIA: You chose to feature some characters in several different stories throughout this collection, creating a powerful connective tissue that runs throughout the collection. Did you plan for the characters to reappear and change when you set out to write this book, or did that come later? What effect do you think this has on the overall narrative?
ANITA FELICELLI: I didn't have a plan for characters to reappear and change because I wrote a number of these short stories over a period of years without knowing whether they would coalesce into a collection. Every once in a while, I'd realize I wanted to write about a character that had already appeared in another story. For example, “The Logic of Someday” was a story I wrote much earlier than some of the other stories. The protagonist of that story saw her boyfriend's mother, Maisie, in a very specific, negative light. But a few years later, I had questions about Maisie. Until I imagined myself into her life and perspective, I don't think I'd fully thought through how years of poverty might harden a person. That imagining led to “The Art of Losing.” And later I realized that a minor reference in Wild Things was actually to Susannah's son, Jude. I hope that looking at the same characters from different perspectives and at different times allows the collection to feel kaleidoscopic, intuitive, and surprising. I didn't want to create the linear experience that you get from many novels in stories like “A Girl's Guide to Hunting and Fishing,” as enjoyable as I've found such experiences. Rather, I wanted the collection to have an echo of the pleasurable wildness that I often feel in real life, encountering someone from our past who exercises his or her agency, and turns out to be completely differently than what we might have expected.
“I hope that looking at the same characters from different perspectives and at different times allows the collection to feel kaleidoscopic, intuitive, and surprising.”
SL: Obviously, as an author, you draw inspiration from your own life experiences, but are any of these stories loosely autobiographical, or inspired by actual events?
AF: None of the stories can be described as loosely autobiographical. However, many grew out of an autobiographical seed or actual events I heard about that sparked my imagination. It will probably sound like a weird coincidence, but I've known more than one mother of a son like Drew in “The Logic of Someday” and “The Art of Losing” and what it's like to parent a child with severe ADHD and conduct disorder who deals drugs. Although I'm a mother now, I've also experienced infertility like the narrator in “Rampion.” I've done many, many different kinds of day jobs, including criminal defense work and writing for a hedge fund, and my close encounters in these lines of work color the plots of “The Logic of Someday,” “Once Upon the Great Red Island,” and “Swans and Other Lies.’”
SL: Many of these characters oscillate between extremely hopeful and extremely cynical world-views. What was it like to move back and forth from the darker moments in this collection, and those which feel more uplifting?
AF: I think the radical shifts you notice follow my own train of thought, and my own experience of the world as a place of infinite variety and range—somehow both absurdly wonderful and deeply horrible at the same time.
SL: Several of your stories, like “Deception” and “Rampion” ring with a sort of mythical, adult retelling of a childhood fantasy story. What fantasy stories were most influential to you as a child, and did any of them serve as inspiration for the stories in this book? How did you come to embrace the magical or fantastic in your writing?
AF: I was a voracious reader of fantasy and magical stories as a child—it's cool you picked up on that. I loved Madeleine L'Engle's time series: A Wrinkle in Time, A Wind in the Door, and A Swiftly Tilting Planet. Other early favorites were The Chronicles of Narnia, the Andrew Lang fairytale books, Zilpha Keatley Snyder's books that toggled between realistic stories about make-believe and full-on fantasy, Lloyd Alexander's The Chronicles of Prydain, and the Amar Chitra Katha comic books that retold Hindu epics and myths. “Rampion” is a retelling of Rapunzel from the witch's point of view. “Deception,” about a young woman who marries a tiger, is partly based on a folktale similar to Beauty and the Beast that appears in multiple regions of India in different forms. “Once Upon the Great Red Island” is partly based on Malagasy folklore.
I'd written in a barebones minimalist style about subtly strange events or characters as far back as high school. A lot of the American writers I was reading back then were influenced by Raymond Carver and John Cheever and so I thought you had to carve the writing down for it to be “good.” As an English major, I'd focused on British literature, however—Shakespearean plays, Tristam Shandy, Wuthering Heights, The Mill on the Floss, Vanity Fair, Bleak House, and Sense and Sensibility. I always assumed that was the kind of fully realized fiction weighted towards the real, but playing with form or coincidence, that I might one day write. I came to embrace the fantastic again after becoming a recluse due to a devastating, disabling event in my late twenties. I didn't think I would ever recover from what had happened to me. Outside of my day job, I barely interacted with other humans, and instead for almost six years, I spent my free time hanging out with my two corgis and reading from the read-lists that my now-spouse Steven emailed to me from afar. These were lists populated with authors like Adolfo Bioy Casares, Silvina O'Campo, Victor Pelevin, Italo Calvino, Franz Kafka, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, and Bohumil Hrabal. I later discovered Helen Oyeyemi's and Kelly Link's fiction. Reading these masterful magic realist authors from all over the world made me realize that writing further into the realm of the fantastic didn't have to satisfy an escapist impulse, but was more like digging into a deeper reality.
“Reading these masterful magic realist authors from all over the world made me realize that writing further into the realm of the fantastic didn't have to satisfy an escapist impulse, but was more like digging into a deeper reality.”
SL: Your stories offer many different characters, with varying points of view. What kind of audience do you think this collection might most appeal to?
AF: My hope is to appeal to open-minded readers who genuinely value pluralism and the full possibilities of the imagination. Hopefully that doesn't sound ridiculous.
SL: One of my favorite lines from this book is: “Something about the hungry way he was looking at her from under his long lashes made her feel like he was drinking her down.” You write passion so well. What advice do you have for aspiring writer looking to write compelling, realistic romance stories/scenes?
AF: I try to come at passion a little slant. Whenever something is erotic, I find that there are a lot of other complicating feelings there, too. Often those are feelings that might challenge a cohesive sense of self. So, I try to reveal vulnerability or humor or even the slightly dangerous feeling of an erotic encounter rather than present a conventional wine-and-roses romance. When I do hit more in the wine-and-roses register, I try to subvert that energy through later plot points.
SL: Your last book, Sparks Off You, was a YA novel—obviously quite different from this collection in both tone and structure. What were some of the major differences in language, story development, and character that you see between writing YA and adult fiction?
AF: There's a quote by Madeleine L'Engle: “You have to write the book that wants to be written. And if the book will be too difficult for grown-ups, then you write it for children.” I'd originally planned Sparks Off You to be an adult novel about teenage characters, in the vein of Ian McEwan's The Cement Garden or J.D. Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye, but many drafts later I realized it was YA-like, possibly because I was 24 when I first believed I'd completed it, and my teenage years weren't very far behind me. The prose in Sparks was poetic, sometimes purple, but over the years, I trained that out of my prose voice because I came to believe it distracted from the story. My dear college roommate is a commercial YA author, and I think the bigger difference between our approaches is not the YA-adult audience divide, but that she is very focused on story and plot, and I'm focused on language.
As for character, although there are gigantic differences between my life and the artist protagonist in Sparks (my mother is alive, for instance), I gave that protagonist my personality and perceptions. In contrast, I've never written a character in adult literary fiction who is consciously based on me. The older I get, the more I believe that other people are much more interesting than I am.
SL: Lastly, your book deals a lot with the tangled relationship between identity and the lives we live. Looking back on yourself as an early writer, what writing advice might you give to a younger Anita Felicelli?
AF: Oh, this is a difficult one. I was just at my parent's house and stumbled across a middle school literary magazine for which I served as fiction editor, and read three of my poems in it. I was an extremely sensitive teenager with a dark mind, but the one thing that got me through adolescence was that I had been absolutely certain from the age of five that I could be a fiction writer as an adult. So, I wouldn't want to disrupt that huge, early confidence in my identity as a writer. I think it would have shocked me to know how long and how hard I would work as a fiction writer over the next decades. I didn't understand that a creative path is much, much harder to achieve anything in than a law job or corporate job is, perhaps especially for people of color who have an unusual perception of the mainstream culture and are actively trying to make a space for their perceptions that doesn't exist already. One story I wrote in a college workshop, “Wild Things” didn't find a home in the '90s, but a few years ago, a revised version found a home with a journal that didn't even exist when I'd written the first draft. So, I think my advice to young Anita Mohan would be to hold onto that confidence in your work—believing that your fiction is important when nobody else does is what allows you to persist through the weird looks, the lack of interest, and the pitying or discouraging remarks from those who are on more straightforward paths. I was raised in a home where external validation was very important. I used to feel really deflated by rejection letters even if they were handwritten and included praise and it would take me a little while to recover and steel myself up to submit again in spite of my cocky, outsize belief in myself... I'd advise Anita Mohan to place less value on external validation and submit more frequently. With very frequent rejection, a thicker skin naturally grows and your odds of being accepted increase.
“With very frequent rejection, a thicker skin naturally grows and your odds of being accepted increase.”
Sarah Luria is a sophomore at George Mason University. She is majoring in English, with concentrations in Linguistics and Writing and Rhetoric. She likes to write screenplays and the occasional poem, and is most inspired by writers like David Foster Wallace, E.E. Cummings, and Anne Sexton. Hoping to pursue a career in book editing, she is inspired by an editor's ability to shape a book into something amazing.
by Sean van der Heijden
Anne Panning is the author of a bold and brilliant memoir out today from Stillhouse Press. Dragonfly Notes: On Distance and Loss dives deep into the sudden loss of her mother, becoming a moving portrait of loss, love, and what it means to be a family. I sat down with Anne to talk about her writing process, what dragonflies mean to her, and more.
SEAN VAN DER HEIJDEN: There are so many signs throughout the book that seem to be from your mother. It built a wonderful tension between the idea that “everything happens for a reason,” and this terrible tragedy that is difficult to fit into that mantra. I would love to hear your thoughts on this duality. Which side do you tend to lean towards now? How did the loss of your mother challenge your belief that there is a reason behind everything?
ANNE PANNING: I am, at heart, a hardcore realist. I’m normally quite skeptical and leery of anything that cannot be proven. But grief has softened me a lot, made me open to things far beyond me, and for that I’m glad. When I found an old-fashioned sewing book right in the middle of the sidewalk after my mom died, I knew it was a sign. And after things like that kept happening, I began to accept these signs as gifts. I think they happen a lot right after someone dies. They’ve slowed down over the years, but they still happen for me randomly. This past year on Mother’s Day, a book my mom had given me fell right off the shelf in front of me. How could that not be a sign? The other parts of the memoir, though—the medical parts—are where I kept to hard facts and science, so I like to think there’s a balance there.
SV: It’s common for memoirs to not use dialogue as much as novels. The same is true here, and yet your dialogue is so realistic that it puts us right in the scene with you. When and how did you decide to use dialogue over prose?
AP: I think my background and training as a fiction writer has made me especially fond of dialogue. Dialogue makes things clip along in a dynamic way that straight narration cannot. Also, so much of being Minnesotan involves not really saying what you want to say but hoping other people will understand anyway, so dialogue is particularly compelling to me when I write scenes set in Minnesota. It’s all about intensely nuanced, subtle subtext. Also, I consider dialogue as part of setting in that it helps give readers the true flavor of a place.
SV: There is a lot of wry humor in here. For example: the “skeptical” rooster that you find and put on display. How did you choose to balance the humor with some of the more serious topics in the book?
AP: I’m so glad you said that because one of my main goals when writing this memoir was to plunge into a lot of the dark humor my family is prone to. So many grief memoirs I read after my mom died were wonderful and beautiful but never hit on the dark underside of humor that rides beneath most tragedy. My family is funny. They’re quirky, sarcastic, no-bullshit people who can find the weird humor in almost anything. The grave-digging scene was something I worried might be too dark, but I included it because it really illustrates how our family faces hardship.
SV: I was fascinated by the format of your book. It seems both a collection of essays and a continuous memoir at the same time. Each chapter could stand wonderfully on its own, and yet together they weave a beautiful tapestry of everything that you and your family went through. I would love to hear your thoughts on how you formatted and structured everything.
AP: Putting this book together, structurally, was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done as a writer. I can’t tell you how many times I spread the sections all over the floor of my study, trying to find patterns that made sense while also creating suspense and tension about my mom’s health issues. Whether it’s fiction or nonfiction, you have to give readers a reason to turn pages or they’ll simply stop reading. In the book, you know right away that my mom died, but what I tried to do was pull readers along to find out how she died, how everything went so wrong so many times over. Eventually I started to see three strands of a braid emerging: 1) my mom’s health issues and eventual death; 2) the many surprising things I learned about my mom after she died via her mementoes, letters, and journals; and 3) my own life and landscape as a parent negotiating my way through grief, from afar. At first I had the sections numbered, like chapters, but during final revisions, I gave each section/chapter a title, which I think makes it feel, as you said, like both an essay collection and a memoir.
SV: A lot of the imagery here is based in the past—photos, letters, memories, etc. While this is common after a loss, often so many flashbacks are difficult to pull off in literature. How did you choose to balance the past and the present?
AP: I think grief, in and of itself, is one big giant flashback. All the things you miss, all the memories of the good and bad times, the way the person laughed or teased or talked. In this book, though, a big part of the story was discovering who my mother really was, not just as a parent, but as a young woman, a student, a daughter, a friend, a newlywed. I felt like all the boxes of memorabilia she left behind became a puzzle that I tried to piece together. There are admittedly pieces missing, and I can’t tell you how many times I wanted to pick up the phone and ask her questions while I was writing this book. That’s part of what I love about creative nonfiction: the opportunity to imagine into the past, present and future by using “maybe,” “I wonder,” or “perhaps.”
"Most of a dragonfly’s life is spent as an underwater nymph, small and drab, hidden from all the beauty above water. That hit me hard. I suppose if you really break it down, dragonflies symbolize the fleeting nature of our lives, how temporary yet beautiful our time is here on earth."
SV: Dragonflies are obviously an important symbol in your book. Could you speak a little bit more about how you started associating them with your mother? What other importance do they hold to you?
AP: Years ago, when my Aunt Sandy died, my mom’s sister, there were a lot of dragonfly connections surrounding her death. It became part of our collective family story, and so when my mom died, the same thing began happening. I ended up doing voluminous research on dragonflies, to help me contextualize this symbol in the book. One of the most surprising things I learned is that when you see a dragonfly in all its full, colorful, splendid glory, it’s at the very end of its life cycle and facing death within a week or two. Most of a dragonfly’s life is spent as an underwater nymph, small and drab, hidden from all the beauty above water. That hit me hard. I suppose if you really break it down, dragonflies symbolize the fleeting nature of our lives, how temporary yet beautiful our time is here on earth.
SV: The subtitle of your memoir is “On Distance and Loss.” Could you expand more on how the physical and emotional distance between you and your mother evolved following her passing?
AP: As soon as I graduated from high school at age seventeen, I left my hometown and never lived there again. After that, I moved to places not just far away, but sometimes oceans and continents away: The Philippines, Vietnam, Hawaii. I had never traveled as a child, and felt I had so much time to make up for. But after a while, I started to understand there was a great cost to that kind of distance. I missed a lot of important, key moments in my family’s lives. I became a separate entity from them, a satellite orbiting around them but not with them. Now that I’m a parent, I can see how hard this must’ve been for my mom. She was a homebody who was happiest when we were all around. I always figured I’d have more time to spend with her later, trips I might squeeze in when I wasn’t so busy, when the kids were older, when things were calmer. It’s painful to think that I was living all the way in Vietnam during the months right before her death—all that time lost that I could’ve spent with her, if only I had known.
SV: On a similar note, what would you say to people who are experiencing a similar loss to that of your own?
AP: Know that people, even people who love you dearly, will forget about your loss pretty quickly. It’s just the nature of life, especially for those who haven’t lost someone near and dear to them. Try not to be hurt by this, even though it can feel lonely. I think people are a little afraid of someone who’s experienced great loss. They want to support you but they really don’t know what to do or say. Grief, therefore, becomes a private affair. Let yourself suffer and cry and do as little as possible for as long as you need. After my mom died, there were days when I would lie rolled up in the quilt she made me for my wedding and just stare out the window for hours.
SV: Location plays an important role in your book, aside from just separating you from a lot of your family. You’ve spent a lot of time in both the Midwest and Upstate New York. How have these locations shaped you as a person and a writer?
AP: I’ve always considered Minnesota my true home. Even though I haven’t lived there for decades, Minnesota lives in me on an emotional, visceral level—the buttery light, the creamy hotdishes and pan-fried sunfish, the utter no-nonsense quality of the people. There’s a humility and kindness to the Midwest I haven’t found elsewhere. Even though I’ve lived in Upstate New York for twenty-one years, it still doesn’t hit me on a deep-down writing level very often. I think that’s always going to be Minnesota for me.
SV: A lot of your chapters, including the very first one, end in mini cliffhangers of sorts. In just one line, you can take such a sharp turn and startle with your subtle, emotional impact. A lot of writers find ending chapters and books to be the most difficult part. How do more impactful endings factor into your book and your writing process? How did you decide on what would be the last lines?
AP: I think part of that “mini cliffhanger” technique you mentioned comes from writing a lot of flash nonfiction for magazines like Brevity and River Teeth, which are both in the 750-word range. I love the challenge of that much compression and story in so little space. I think writing in flash form helped me write endings that are short and concise but that in a larger manuscript can serve as springboards to the next section while still providing closure to the previous one.
"My hope is that after reading my book, people might become more cautious about trying new ‘amazing’ medical procedures right after they come on the market. Wait. Research. Proceed slowly. Get second opinions."
SV: Your memoir raises awareness of the dangers of the surgery that your mother went through. Do you know if it is still being performed today? What else would you like people to know about it?
AP: Shortly after my mom’s death, the mesh product used in her surgery was taken off the market. At this point, there are class-action lawsuits popping up all over the place about it. One of the things I learned during this whole, horrible ordeal was that medical devices don’t have the same stringent, long-term testing requirements that medications do. There are loopholes for getting a product fast-tracked with little to no studies done. If I let myself think about this too much, I still get very angry, so I try to let it go. My hope is that after reading my book, people might become more cautious about trying new “amazing” medical procedures right after they come on the market. Wait. Research. Proceed slowly. Get second opinions.
SV: Last one! Stillhouse is honored to add your memoir to our collection of intimate, daring books by fantastic authors! What made you go with a small, independent press?
AP: All my books have been published by small presses, and I couldn’t be happier about that. Being published by a small press is like gaining a lifelong friendship. I love the intimate, personal way I’m treated, and how small presses welcome writers’ input at every step of the process. In the short time I’ve worked with Stillhouse Press, I’ve gotten to know a wonderful web of writers, editors, artists and students who have made me feel welcome and valued. Also, small presses champion all their books because their lists aren’t so overwhelmingly long; they also keep your books in print long after any commercial press would. Because they aren’t driven and pressured by the need to make huge corporate profits, they often take on books that don’t fall easily in the mainstream, whether it be content or form. For me, it’s absolutely been the way to go.
Sean van der Heijden is pursuing his MFA in Creative Writing at George Mason University, where he focuses on short stories and is currently working on a novel.
When he’s not reading or writing, he likes to watch movies, travel to as many places as possible, and obsessively stop to take photos of nature.
by Danielle Maddox
Diversity is something I crave when reading, which is why I often turn to small presses—a hotbed for up and coming new authors—when scouting for new books. Recently, I found "Meditations on the Mother Tongue" (C&R Press, 2017) by An Tran, a competitive powerlifter and strength & conditioning coach based in Washington, DC. Tran’s debut collection of short stories relate culture and identity, with each story building upon the last to create one grand narrative about the immigrant identity.
In the title story of the collection, the main character, Bao uses the language and history of his Vietnamese heritage and his love for Parkour—an increasingly popular adventure sport, which has its origins in Vietnam—to connect with his dying mother. Using the Vietnamese he has learned, Bao shows his mother video clips of people skillfully traversing different terrains as “she lies on the couch, the television on, and he kneels on the ground like a knight, holding his laptop atop one knee.”
Though not conventionally Vietnamese, through Parkour Bao has found a way, despite his limited grasp of the Vietnamese culture, to connect with his mother in the final days of her life. In this scene, his mother lovingly corrects his pronunciation, as Bao finds a way to communicate his need to be closer to the cultural identity he and his mother share. The story ends with Bao and his mother in a hospital. As he steps into the room to greet her, he performs a veneration ritual to signify he is ready for her to leave, telling her: “Your child is right here” in Vietnamese, suggesting that both of their journeys are complete.
Though not a long book, "Meditations on the Mother Tongue" does make for a complex read. While the stories are grounded in reality, there are also moments that feel mystical or fantastic. Another story in the collection, “The Dharma’s Hand,” follows two brothers, Phong and Thanh, as they hike and camp in the Vietnamese mountains with their conjurer father, who has agreed to be their guide, per their mother’s request. Their mother is concerned about a curse that has been placed on Vietnamese American men who travel to Vietnam.
The story oscillates between the camping trip and Thanh’s failing marriage back home in the States. In his quest to try and achieve “the traditional American family,” Thanh has unwittingly created a rift between himself and his wife, distancing his current identity from the Vietnamese culture he grew up with. This clash comes to a head in the midst of the trip, when Thanh becomes sick from touching a poisonous flower, causing his entire body to become wracked with pain. To heal him, Thanh’s father cuts lines into his skin, asking him, “How long ago were you poisoned?” He places a firm hand on his son’s stomach and Thanh focuses on the sensations flowing through his body, feeling “[his] father’s magic flowing into [him] and out of [him].” It’s an epiphanic moment for Thanh, who finally answers, “I was always poisoned,” accepting his fate—whatever that might be—while also admitting the life he has created in America is not his own.
Tran’s ability to write familial relationships from the perspective of the second generation is a compelling glimpse into the dual identity of immigrant identity and it’s moments like these that harken back to the central thesis of the book: that we can always find ourselves in our culture, language, and loved ones. Each character in Tran’s collection is on a unique journey, guiding the reader through their struggles to find the thing that keeps them tethered to their heritage and to their own personal truths.
Danielle is an undergraduate at
George Mason University
working towards degrees in
English and African American studies.
She is currently knee deep in unfinished stories.
by Kim Bartenfelder
Fifty years, before the advent of the twenty-four hour news cycle and social media, before we had anything remotely reminiscent of modern media, we had books. Literature was the most direct way to inform the public and draw attention to the environmental concerns of our time. But as modern media has continued to grow and morph into a behemoth of instant gratification, it’s really contemporary writers like Barbara Kingsolver, who have worked to shift the focus back to the details.
Whether in-person or in her writing, Kingsolver uses her mastery of her own understanding of the world around her—specifically her home of Appalachia—to inform the public about what she sees as the pressing environmental concerns of our time. Kingsolver’s writing recalls one of the pivotal moments for the environment and literature: the publication of Rachel Carson’s “Silent Spring” in 1962, which helped launch an environmental movement around pesticide use and allowed the public a deeper glimpse at the environmental stakes associated with the use of DDT, setting the tone for literature to function as an informed advocate for the public.
Like Carson, Kingsolver’s admiration for the natural world is ever-present in her writing, from the imagery of Appalachia’s bountiful forests to the unforgiving mountainous terrain, to utilizing details about animal and plant diversity to create balance between poetic justice and scientific fact.
Whether in-person or in her writing, Kingsolver uses her mastery of her own understanding of the world around her—specifically her home of Appalachia—to inform the public about what she sees as the pressing environmental concerns of our time.
To do this, she draws inspiration from her predecessors, namely David Thoreau. “[His] gifts as a writer, [have] transcended his contributions to natural science. [He] dismissed the notion that poetry and science are incompatible, and captured for his readers the simple wonder we hastily leave behind in the age of reason,” she notes in her 1995 collection of short essays, “Hide Tide in Tucson” (HarperCollins, 1995).
Kingsolver channels this same energy in her fiction, from her earlier works like “Prodigal Summer," released in 2000, to her more contemporary “Flight Behavior” (Harper, 2012). To inspire readers who are passionate, who have a desire to become passionate, or are native to Appalachia, Kingsolver uses fictional stories to emphasize the true nature of how the environment functions in a world of human influence (and sometimes destruction).
In her “Prodigal Summer,” a novel told in three short narratives, the focus is on the environment as a safe haven. In the first story, her character Deanna initially finds peace in the solitude nature of the forest, which enables her to conduct research for the government while allowing her to reflect. The three stories intertwine through their connection of the characters’ love for the environment and their love for others. And yet, despite nature’s natural comfort, its isolation also serves as a realistic fear for her characters. In the second story, the narrator Lusa struggles with her identity in the context of her new environment: “Now she felt like a frontier mail-order bride, hardly past her wedding and already wondering how she could have left her city and beloved career for the narrow place a rural county holds open for a farmer’s wife.”
Kingsolver’s novel, “Flight Behavior,” examines a more critical side to the environment. After carrying on an affair with a younger man, the main character Dellarobia, wanders into a field behind her house and notices it is covered with monarch butterflies, too many to count. The culprit for this phenomenon is global warming and climate change, which has disrupted the monarch’s traditional migration patterns, leaving them in grave danger of dying off come winter in Appalachia — a stark, dually-faceted warning about the nature of human behavior.
Rather, while lyric in its approach — and an absolute joy to read — Kingsolver’s writing is also a call to action.
But while Kingsolver often utilizes the power of fiction as a platform to call out the injustices humans have enacted on the planet, the consequences of the events in her books are hardly fictional. Rather, while lyric in its approach — and an absolute joy to read — Kingsolver’s writing is also a call to action. She has reinvigorated the function of literature in our modern context, pushing readers to look past their electronic screens and uncover the real news, the real talk, the real beauty, and the real power they have to change and control the human influences on the environment. In this way, she not only serves as the catalyst for environmental change in literature, but she is enlightening readers and future writers to continue to champion nature.
Kim Bartenfelder is an undergraduate student at
George Mason University seeking a degree in English.
English spans more than written word but rather
generations, history, moral lessons, and two sense.
Kim's two sense is that all literature is good literature.
The ones that leave the biggest impression are the ones
that match your vibe.
by Stefan Lopez
What does Stillhouse Press look for in a manuscript? What’s the common thread running through space age romance, paternal combustion, plantation poetry, and disability care reform?
“We want something unpredictable, bringing a new experience to the table.”
In celebration of four productive years of publishing, we’re releasing a series of interviews with members of Stillhouse Press, from submissions and acquisition, from cover design to release, all to shine a light on the publication process.
Aryelle Young is Stillhouse Press’ current submissions editor, and one of the first to have a say about what gets published. She works with all the submissions, assigning them to teams of readers, reading through reader reviews, going back to the manuscripts themselves, and sending promising pieces up the editorial ladder.
Marcos L. Martínez is the next link in the manuscript chain. An alumnus of George Mason University’s MFA Creative Writing program, Martínez is one of the founding members of Stillhouse Press, and serves as the acquisitions editor.
Choosing a manuscript is a daunting task. Even small publishers get a sizeable amount of submissions. “We had contest submissions open for a couple hours, and we got five manuscripts in that time alone. I haven’t been here that long but I’d guess that we get well over a hundred manuscripts a year,” says Young.
It’s an especially formidable number, when considering that Stillhouse publishes an average of two titles annually. The judging process must therefore be thorough.
“A lot of what I’m doing right now is outreach at things like conferences and readings, to keep an eye on authors we are interested in. I also work with our other editors on manuscripts that we think have potential,” Martínez says of his role.
Each manuscript sees multiple rounds of vetting from teams of volunteer readers—largely sources from George Mason’s MFA , BFA, and English programs—who read the manuscripts on a deadline, give each one an individual score, and then discuss the assigned manuscripts together, comparing reactions.
For prose, Stillhouse asks its readers to look for the classic staples of good writing, such as dynamic characters, interesting subject matter, and powerful language. The factor they most heavily weigh is the author’s competence and voice: “We look for strength of writing and a good clear voice,” Young says. “A few mistakes aren’t a big deal as long as we can see a writer’s vision coming through in the manuscript.”
“Strong voice can mean a variety of things,” says Martínez. “Think of it as having a distinct personality and a unique sense of writing. A narrative that’s distinct or unique, or a unique type of storytelling, like hybrid works.”
He uses Mark Polanzak’s POP! as an example: “What really fascinated us was that it was a memoir that included moments that were obviously fiction. The opening was really eye-catching. Polanzak’s father disappears in a literal puff of smoke.”
As for Poetry, Stillhouse wants something that can’t be easily fit into a simple stylistic label.
“We’re looking for something that pushes the envelope, not just transcendentalism or romanticism or love poetry," Young says. At the same time, it can’t be completely divorced from developments in the wider world of poetry. Quite the opposite: “We want something that’s part of the contemporary conversation.”
“Our most recent poetry publication, [Carmen Gillespie's] The Ghosts of Monticello was actually submitted in our nonfiction contest,” says Martínez.
Once Aryelle and her team find a prospective manuscript, it is then opened up for discussion by all of Stillhouse’s editors.
“Generally, we all get together at a big table. We talk about what we think are the manuscript’s pros and cons. Does it fit our vision? What kind of marketability does it have? What are some of the challenges does it present? The decision to publish has always been unanimous,” says Young.
Even after the unanimous vote is received, the process is not over. A proposal is sent to board members.
"If they give the okay, we talk to the author and see if they’re willing to work with us."
It’s a complex process, which takes plenty of time and effort, and according to Martínez, “in the best circumstances, the timeframe from submission to acquisition takes six to 12 months. From acquisition to publishing it takes, at the very least, a year.”
So what should prospective authors aim for?
Aside from writing well, don’t put too much in the cover letter. “It isn’t a make or break factor.” Young says, “The shorter and more concise it is, the more likely it’ll make an impact. Don’t take the mystery out of reading your manuscript. We want it to grab us as we read, not have it laid out before we even start.“
Martínez suggests expanding your efforts outside of your writing. “It’s really important for authors to engage with their community, and find a base with other authors and peers… Often we write in isolation, and that’s an important process, but you need to build a network of people already interested in your work.”
In the end, they both suggest patience and perseverance. “The publishing process normally takes a long time. Just because you didn’t get a response, or got rejected, doesn’t necessarily mean that your work is bad. Keep writing, and keep submitting.”
"Keep writing, and keep submitting."
Stefan Lopez has an internship with Stillhouse Press,
a Bachelor’s Degree in English from George Mason University,
and a head full of empty.
By Meghan McNamara
Last night I read a whole book in one sitting. It took me 45 minutes. When I was done, I couldn’t stop thinking about the family—the father’s cruelty towards his children, the mother’s complicity, how little resolution I was left with in the end. I thought about the author, and how the dedication suggested that at least some of this book is based on his life, on the death of his own sibling, perhaps.
Lex Williford’s novella-in-flash, "Superman on the Roof" (Rose Metal Press, 2017), is a single narrative, told in ten self-contained stories, nearly every chapter the same line repeated—“after our kid brother Jesse died”—and another memory. Related from the perspective of the eldest sibling, Travis, "Superman on the Roof" is a captivating glimpse into one family’s loss of their youngest member, Jesse, from a rare blood disease.
Amidst the backdrop of 1960s Texas, the language is stoic, and at times stilted, the tenor decidedly southern gothic. Travis describes his brother’s body in technical detail—“spotted with yellow-blue bruises on his chicken-bone knees and elbows and shins, his belly white and round and thumping hard as a honeydew melon”—a kind of affection seeping between the lines: “Hearing him laugh, Maddie and Nate and I joined him, still warm from our beds,” he says. “Maddie punching us hard whenever we bumped or splashed him, three rowdy kids and one sick kid all crowded into a three-tubed vinyl pool from FedMart.”
Unsentimental and poignant in the same stroke, Williford explores the wicked side of grief, how poverty colors loss, and the way death needles its way into the human identity, forever reshaping the lives it influences. The characters are evocative, their collective loss the provocateur for their own cruelty, towards one another and themselves. “It was only right and fair that my father should turn against me,” Travis says. “And all I could do—my father’s eldest son, the one who’d killed his youngest—was to stand silent over the years as my mother and father’s grief and rage twisted itself like tanged thorns into switches, belts and boards.”
Less linear, but no less ambitious, Alex McElroy’s "Daddy Issues" (The Cupboard Pamphlet, Vol. 30, 2017) is a five-story collection that distorts the boundaries of voice, character, and form. The first story, “The Death of Your Son: A Flowchart,” is conveyed exactly as the name suggests—in flowchart form—a brilliant vehicle by which, in the space of just 16 pages, the narrator covers the accidental death of his son at his brother’s careless hand, his long concealed infidelity, and the guilt that weaves its way through both these truths.
Akin to Jennifer Egan’s chapter in PowerPoint (featured in her 2011 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, "A Visit from the Goon Squad"), the flowchart allows for—and in many ways creates—levity, permitting readers to navigate the complex landscape of a father’s mourning and still come out the other end laughing at the dark comedy contained within it.
McElroy’s stories vary in both form and approach, veering towards the downright experimental, as is the case with the title story in the book. Told through a series of choppy, vignette-like paragraphs, “Daddy Issues” serves as a sort of thesis for the collection, reflecting on the relationships between fathers and their children, on the intricacies and sometimes the banalities of being a parent, and also just of life.
“Anthony Henson’s son screamed in the night. He did not know how to raise his son by himself—but to whom, he wondered at night, lying in bed beside his son and massaging his neck and chest, to whom should he apologize?” reads one paragraph.
“Jorge Menendez sprays poison on rocks for nine hours every day,” reads another.
A week later, and several pages into my next enterprise, I am still considering these strangle little graphs, still reflecting on what I should think McElroy is attempting to convey.
I’d be remiss to discuss tiny books without the context of their modern origins: the poetry chapbook. Bryan Borland’s latest collection, "Tourist" (Sibling Rivalry Press, 2018) is easily one of the most timely I’ve read in recent months.
Penned during the book tour for his second full-length poetry collection, "DIG" (Stillhouse Press, 2016), "Tourist" is a haunting snapshot in time, and Borland, the cultural observer. Capturing both urban and rural portraits of the United States during the 2016 election cycle, the poetry in this collection is largely inspired by his experiences on the road, and his need to write so palpable; it’s as though the words can’t leave him fast enough.
Borland wrote “Indiana” after his reading was moved off campus for promoting “gay poetry.” Breathtakingly spare, yet ripe with the painful irony of too little progress, the source text for this erasure is one of Borland’s own, “Flawed Families in Biblical Times,” which first appeared in his collection, "My Life As Adam" (Sibling Rivalry Press, 2010). It was one of the poems he selected to read that evening.
His contemporary poetry—as it has in the past, for his relationships—examines the United States’ flagrant intolerance, largely embodied by the likes of candidate Donald Trump and the “Make America Great Again” movement, and explores the fragility of human life. “Chelsea Bomb,” the poem Borland wrote after the a pressure cooker bomb exploded in a New York City dumpster just blocks from him, is one of the most chilling in the collection, the final lines an evocative reminder of the very real, very tangible fears of our time.
you will worry
through the night
even when I call you
from a speeding car
you know I’m safe
you are full of fear
my backpack is full of books
— excerpted from "Chelsea Bomb," Tourist
Taken together, these three small books comprise fewer pages than most full-length prose titles. They are spare in their language, yet dynamic in their undertaking. They steal my breath and my heart. They are only a small slice of the beauty contained in the world of modern literature, and yet, in the landscape of economy—which, in the era of instant gratification, we seem so often to be moving deeper into—they demand so little and give so much in return. Do your brain a favor and pick up a tiny book. I promise, you won’t only finish it—you’ll be rushing back for more.
Meghan McNamara a graduate of George Mason University's Creative Writing MFA program. She serves as the Director of Media and Communications for Stillhouse Press.
By Tyrell Jordan
Daniel Tomasulo is a man of many degrees, from his MFA in creative writing—which helped him write his way through his forthcoming memoir, American Snake Pit —to his work in the field of positive psychology.
But while his knowledge and experiece are captivating, it’s the stories of his patients that show the true value of his work.
I was nervous at the start of our phone call, but the tone of Tomasulo’s voice is friendly and warm, and my feeling quickly changed. He is, after all, a psychologist by trade. His job involves setting people at ease.
American Snake Pit is the story of the disregarded souls who ended up in his care after Staten Island's Willowbrook State School for people with intellectual disabilities closed its doors for good in 1987. The book details his struggle to give voices to those who could not advocate for themselves.
Tomasulo’s voice is friendly and warm... He is, after all, a psychologist by trade. His job involves setting people at ease.
I was curious about who he would like to meet with again, if he had the chance.
"Jake," he answered easily.
Jake was an austistic savant, who Tomasulo worked with during his time at Walden House, an experimental, community-based home for the intellectually and mentally handicapped that he helped established in the 1980s, and one of the first of its kind. Jake's ability to memorize information systems—most notably the Manhattan phone book—and recall it from memory at will made his intellectual disabilities difficult for the state to classify.
“He was fascinating person," Tomasulo told me. "He had many abilities, as well as disabilities."
The way he described Jake made it seem like his disabilities, while handicaps, were also the underlying foundation for his remarkable abilities.
Tomasulo’s purpose for writing this book is something I haven’t encountered with other authors: “I’d like [people] to have more compassion for [those] with disabilities… and to have more hope in their own lives,” he said. “I’d want people to realize that despite the situation, the people of Willowbrook have lived meaningful lives. They are exemplars of hope—and inspiration for us all.”
This compassion and understanding is the driving force behind his work—giving a voice to those who otherwise did not have the ability to tell their stories.
“Unlike the Women's Liberation Movement, or the Vietnam War, or the Civil Rights Movement, this group didn’t have an author," he said. "This became my mission—to help tell their story.”
Unlike the Women's Liberation Movement, or the Vietnam War, or the Civil Rights Movement, this group didn’t have an author. This became my mission —
to help tell their story.
But Tomasulo couldn’t tell his patients’ stories without first telling his own. While Walden House helped save many living with severe handicaps from a life of institutionalization, in many ways, it also saved Tomasulo, giving his early life as a psychologist its focus.
As a writer myself, I have chapters of my novel that I enjoyed writing, and those that were difficult for me to write. This was true for Tomasulo, as well.
“The chapter on my moving into the boarding house was difficult because it was the end of my relationship and I had run out of money—a very low spot in my life,” he said. “But maybe because of the difficulty, it was also the chapter that had the most humor.”
It took him the better part of ten years to write his reflection on his time at Walden House, but while some of it was painful, much of his writing is infused with humor. “The chapter back with Jake was really fun to write because I was able to recall all of his antics,” Tomasulo said.
He acknowledges that helping people communicate beyond their disabilities takes a certain resilience of spirit, and he hopes that’s something more people will understand by reading his memoir.
“I’d like [people] to have more compassion for people with disabilities—especially with intellectual and psychological disabilities,” he told me.
Thirty years after the closure of Willowbrook State School, there is still much the general public doesn’t understand about the treatment of those with severe intellectual disabilities, but Tomasulo’s American Snake Pit is a step in the right direction.
Tyrell Jordan is a freshman at George Mason University,
seeking his BFA in Creative Writing. He has written a novel and is currently at work on its sequel, both of which he hopes to have published.
By Meghan McNamara
I say it a lot these days: Amazon is taking over the world.
We buy our gadgets from Amazon, our groceries—some might even say our news, if you count the fact that Amazon's president and CEO, Jeff Bezos, also owns the nationally syndicated Washington Post. Soon, we may even buy our healthcare from this behemoth online retailer. Often, our dollars support Amazon in ways we aren't even cognizant of.
Amazon's influence isn't hyperbolic; this company is redefining the way we purchase and pay for almost everything these days.
What started out as an online book retailer has quickly, in the span of just twenty years, spiraled into a nationwide dealer of goods and services. And there’s plenty about that which might give government regulators cause for concern. But what most of the Amazon-consuming public likely isn’t privy to, is the complete lack of regard (or seeming disdain) that the company continues to show the publishing community.
It’s no small secret that independent publishers get short shrift with big box stores, but these days, Amazon is extending their indifference as far as big publishing houses, distributors, and authors.
For Stillhouse Press, this is hardly surprising. In 2017, we had two titles listed as “Unavailable” on their publication date, despite showing up for presale for months leading up to their release. What’s more, warehouses showed the titles as "in stock," but after several hours on the phone with out-of-country call centers, Amazon unapologetically told us there had been a “glitch in the system,” and we needed to be patient while it worked itself out.
In the end, our distributor couldn’t force Amazon's hand on the matter any more than we could and the books continued to show up as unavailable for the better part of the week that followed. As a result, we ended up returning to Ingram’s distribution arm, for little reason except that they had more pull with Amazon than the smaller distributor we had been using.
Stories like this are a dime a dozen—and hardly the only thing Amazon is doing to undermine small presses. Last November, Goodreads.com—one of the many businesses owned by Amazon—took their previously free book “Giveaway” option to market. What had once functioned as a grassroots marketing tool for indie publishers and self-published authors is now a $119/book marketing investment.*
Why offer something for free when you have the power and visibility to charge for it? seems to be the modus operandi here. And sure, it seems like an excellent way to pull in even more in profit, but some are dubious about whether or not the program will stick around. As an indie press or self-published author, often times the funds just simply aren’t available.
Perhaps one of the most palpable areas where publishers are starting to feel the impact of Amazon’s capitalist ways, however, is with the company’s [in]famous "buy button."
With the exception of books, Amazon has historically offered their buy buttons to the highest bidder—the party that could offer a new good at the best (read: cheapest) price, regardless of who had brick and mortar rights to distribute the product. The emphasis on new is important here, because with booksellers, it should—in theory—be the publisher who holds the only new copies of a just-published or forthcoming book.
Not only does allowing third parties the right to a book's buy button undercut publishers, distributors, and authors (who see no dividends from books sold by third parties), but it ultimately begs the question: Where are these third parties sourcing their "new" books from? Some publishers have attempted to stand up to Amazon, but it doesn’t look like the company has any intention of changing its policy.
So... where do we go from here?
If my bookshelf and the recent Association of Writing and Writing Professionals conference (AWP) are any indication, the independent literary community is as ebullient and self-supportive as ever. But, if it is to continuing flourishing while the most popular platform for sales continues to re-write the rules, we in the book-buying community have to adapt our habits.
I get it : it's simply easier to buy your books from Amazon. It's faster, often even slightly cheaper. But lately I've thinking about how important ease really is in the book buying process.
Last week, while surfing the web and drinking my morning coffee, I came across a book that gave me that "I have to have this" feeling. I get it often, sometimes twice a week (to my partner's dismay). I navigated easily to the Amazon site. As a Prime customer, it could be on my doorstep in two days.
But I didn't end up adding the book to my cart. Instead, I called my local bookstore, One More Page, and spoke to a human (terrifying, I know). It took five minutes. I chatted with the woman on the other end of the line, exchanged pleasantries, told her I'd see her in a week. It will take about five days for my book to reach the store. But that's fine. I can wait. In fact, I am already looking forward to the trip, to the inky goodness of freshly-printed pages and colorful rows of un-cracked spines.
Maybe we can’t live without Amazon — where would I buy my fancy French sea salt, or those perfectly sized tension rods at a moments notice?— but we can change what we depend on it for, and I would argue that books should not be one. #BuyBetter
* As of press time.
#AWP18 (or, the Association of Writers and Writing Programs) is upon us! And just in time for some much needed sun, no less. But how do you tackle a daunting schedule and make sure you’re checking all the boxes? Fret not. At least as far as Stillhouse Press and its friends are concerned, we’ve got a few suggestions to ensure this year’s conference is an engaging, networking, and inspiration success.
Can't afford AWP? Don't buy into the hype? Happen to be stumbling around Tampa? Check out Whale Prom, the anti-AWP , where you can find our very own Bryan Borland, author of DIG and fellow small press publisher for Sibling Rivalry Press.
Whale prom is free and open to all AND, if that’s not enticement enough, you can get your hands on an early release of Bryan’s forthcoming collection, Tourist, inspired by his book tour for Stillhouse Press’ 2016 poetry title, DIG.
Catch Bryan and his partner in crime, Seth Pennington, at the Sibling Rivalry happy hour and have him sign your book!
Happy Everything Hour, Sponsored by Sibling Rivalry Press
Red Star Rock Bar
Thursday, March 8, 2018
5:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m.
Beyond Queues and Fees: Poetry Books Outside the Contest Model
Are you a poet looking to get your collection published? Then this panel’s for you. Join former Stillhouse poetry editor and current art director, Douglas Luman, and several other talented editors for a fascinating discussion on how to circumvent the classic contest submissions model (and associated fees!), in favor of a more sustainable and inclusive approach.
Grand Salon B, Marriott Waterside, Second Floor
Thursday, March 8, 2018
9:00 a.m. to 10:15 a.m.
Writing Resistance: LGBTQ Writing as a Platform for Change
With the safety and lives of LGBTQ individuals at stake now more than ever, the call for politically driven writing is even more urgent. Hear friend of Stillhouse, Seth Fischer and fellow LGBTQ writers discuss the importance of using their writing as a platform for activism and change.
Grand Salon D, Marriott Waterside, Second Floor
Thursday, March 8, 2018
10:30 a.m. to 11:45 a.m.
Sound and Fury: Understanding Voice in Fiction
As a press in search of voice-driven works, we’re especially excited for this panel, which considers where voice comes from, and how to use it to play with narration, point of view, and style.
Grand Salon C, Marriott Waterside, Second Floor
Thursday, March 8, 2018
12:00 p.m. to 1:15 p.m.
Superconductors: Poets & Essayists Channeling Science
Catch Generation Space co-author, Anna Leahy’s panel on the connections between science and the literary arts. This panel discussion explores how key historical moments in science have helped shape the literary landscape of these writers’ lives. BONUS: Pick up a copy of Generation Space at the book fair and have Anna sign it!
Room 24, Tampa Convention Center, First Floor
Thursday, March 8, 2018
3:00 p.m. to 4:15 p.m.
GMU Creative Writing Programs & Stillhouse Press Host AWP 2018
Join Stillhouse Press and George Mason’s Creative Writing Programs for drinks and light bites, and catch our very own Dan Tomasulo, author of the forthcoming memoir, American Snake Pit, read from his new book!
Bernini of Ybor
Thursday, March 8, 2018
5:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m.
#AWP18 Keynote Address by George Saunders
Love George Saunders? Yeah, that’s a dumb question. Who doesn’t? Hear him read and discuss his work in this keynote address.
Ballroom A & B, Tampa Convention Center, First Floor
Thursday, March 8, 2018
8:30 p.m. to 10:00 p.m.
Strong Medicine: The Poetry of Addiction
The “milk of paradise” can lead to masterworks, while addiction deserts ambition and destroys lives. In this panel, five award-winning poets—including a few of our absolute favorites—explore the swerve from inspiration to ruination from different perspectives and diverse writing styles.
Ballroom A, Tampa Convention Center, First Floor
Friday, March 9, 2018
10:30 a.m. to 11:45 a.m.
Yoga for Writers
GET LOOSE! Stretch those limbs, clear out those toxins, and take a few [much needed & very deep] breaths with a mid-conference yogi sesh. We’ll see you there.
Room 10, Tampa Convention Center, First Floor
Friday, March 9, 2018
9:00 a.m. to 10:00 a.m.
Challenges and Triumphs: Underrepresented Voices in Publishing
Diversity is key. At Stillhouse Press, we feel that it’s the work of small presses to represent ALL voices, all sexual orientations and identities, genders, and races. Come here these agents, editors, and authors discuss the challenges they face as part of communities underrepresented within the publishing industry, their approaches to overcoming these obstacles, and what we can do to foster diversity and inclusivity among both readers and publishing professionals.
Grand Salon C, Marriott Waterside, Second Floor
Friday, March 9, 2018
1:30 p.m. to 2:45 p.m.
This Is Scary and Here We Go: Fear in the Driver’s Seat
For many in the literary community, these are terrifying times. But when fear strikes, we must write through it. Catch one of our favorite writers—and former Stillhouse fiction contest judge, whose 2016 pick debuts this fall!—Porochista Khakpour and a panel of epic women discuss how fear both holds them back and drives them forward, despite and sometimes because of it.
Room 5 & 6, Tampa Convention Center, First Floor
Saturday, March 10, 2018
12:00 p.m. to 1:15 p.m.
Writing the Pain: Memoirists on Tackling Stories of Trauma
Writing about traumatic experiences does not repair them. However, re-entering those memories, pulling them apart, and putting them back together can transform them into something meaningful, perhaps even beautiful, for both writer and reader. Hear George Mason’s very own Kyoko Mori and others discuss loss, illness, grief, or family dysfunction in poetry and prose.
Ballroom A, Tampa Convention Center, First Floor
Saturday, March 10, 2018
1:30 p.m. to 2:45 p.m.
Passing Into Pages: A Tribute to James Salter
If there’s one thing the last George Mason Professor Alan Cheuse instilled in his students (and there were many), it was a fervent love for James Salter. “Life,” Salter wrote, “passes into pages if it passes into anything.” Celebrate the brilliant short story and novel writer’s life at this panel, which includes George Mason’s very own, Tim Denevi.
Florida Salon 1, 2, & 3, Marriott Waterside, Second Floor
Saturday, March 10, 2018
4:30 pm to 5:45 pm
Welcome to Moonshine Murmurs in 2018
I wanted to take the first blog of the year as an opportunity to introduce myself. I’m Lindley Estes, a first-year MFA student at George Mason University focusing on fiction, and this corner of the internet's newest editor.
I’m a longtime daily news reporter who went back to school to focus on the craft of fiction, which I didn’t get to write often enough before.
Right now I’m reading "How Should A Person Be" by Sheila Heti (it’s for class, but it’s still great), and re-reading E.M. Forster’s "Howards End" (which I was also once assigned and adore).
I’m also a believer in the small, independent press. It is exciting to be a small part of Stillhouse Press, which releases writing that different and bolsters new voices.
This semester you can expect content on this blog that goes behind the scenes of our small press, features on our staff writers and our interests, and interviews with the authors Stillhouse Press is bringing to your bookshelves.
Want to read something in particular? Want to have a conversation? That’s what the comments are for, leave me one.
Lindley Estes is a first-year
fiction student in
George Mason University's Master's
of Fine Arts
program and an editor
Moonshine Murmurs blog.
By Hannah Vandegrift
"Quiet and relaxing" and Washington D.C. seem a juxtaposition to most, but there are plenty of quiet corners around the city that provide a welcoming environment for the wandering reader. Here are some of our favorite spots to relax with a cup of coffee (or tea) and a good book.
Of course, places like the bustling Air and Space Museum, are not good places to relax, but there are a few that can be safe havens from the bustling crowds.
MUSEUM OF THE AMERICAN INDIAN
My personal favorite, this museum is four floors of fascinating exhibits, as well as a restaurant and café on the bottom level. The café is a great place to charge your phone and sit down with authentic Native American cuisine or a simple cup of coffee.
THE SMITHSONIAN CASTLE CAFÉ and GARDEN
One of the lesser-visited of the Smithsonians, this beautiful castle provides a welcome sanctuary. If it is warm enough, the castle’s garden area (which includes the African and Asian Art museums) is a beautiful escape from the city's busy city streets.
NATIONAL GALLERY of ART, RENWICK GALLERY, HIRSHORN GALLERY,
and the NATIONAL PORTRAIT GALLERY
It might seem obvious, but art museums and galleries are a great source for quiet spaces. Wander through the halls of each museum before finding a bench or corner to settle in. Some of the galleries even offer food and beverage options, if you need to refresh.
The National Mall
During the warmer months, spreading out on a blanket in the grass underneath the Washington Monument or on a bench by the Reflecting Pool can be better than the beach. It's great for people-watching or lying on your back
with that great new novel.
Our Favorite D.C.. Bookstores
Throw and stone and you’ll hit a coffee shop or bookstore in Washington D.C. Some of the best-known ones, tucked in several locations around the city, are Busboys and Poets and Politics and Prose. Inside, you can shop for a new book, enjoy a meal, or even attend an author signing and reading at Politics and Prose. And with several locations to choose from, Busboys and Poets makes for an easy trip!
Library of Congress
While this famous library is known as a popular tourist destination, it is also a great resource for researchers and readers. And, most importantly, it’s free. Become a "Registered Reader" and gain access to the library's vast collection of books and research, as well as use the Main Reading Room. And don’t worry about being inundated by tourists; most
simply view the reading room from above. Visit the website for more information.
U.S. Botanic Gardens
If it’s warm, snatch a seat among the local and exotic plants in D.C.’s outdoor botanical gardens. There are plenty of places to sit and read in the shade or sun. Too cold? Step inside and warm up! The humidity is kept as high as your average steamy jungle all year round.
There's always something going on in the city, but sometimes the best escape from finals or the holiday frenzy is a well-lit place and a good book. Don't worry about transportation. For the vehicle-less, almost any destination in Washington D.C. is accessible by bus or metro. And, for those wanting to avoid the traffic, all metro parking is free on weekends, bypassing backups on I-66 or I-495.
Have a suggestion? Let us know in the comments section if we missed any of your favorite areas.
Hannah Vandegrift is an intern for Stillhouse Press.
She is a sophomore preparing to graduate in May 2020 with a BA in English and a minor in Sociology. She currently works at Diversity, Inclusion, and Multicultural Education as a Research Student for Research and Assessment. She loves stories of all kinds, whether they are from books, poetry, film, or TV.
THE HOLIDAY SEASON IS UPON US!
As 2018 steadily approaches, we've go a few drink recommendations
to pair with your favorite Stillhouse Press selections.
Carmen Gillespie’s latest collection interrupts the everyday to bring us the spiritual visitations of Sally Hemings, her half-sister Martha Wayles Jefferson, and other famed and forgotten residents of the Monticello plantation. These poems reach into the distant past to unearth songs of pain and longing, weighty with the long history of American silence that continues to circumscribe our lives today.
Monticello Spiced Rum Punch
History is a tough pill to swallow. For this, we'll need plenty of rum. Adapted from this Bon Appétit recipe, this rum punchis made to satiate partygoers and historical ghosts alike.
1 cup George Bowman rum
1 cup fresh grapefruit juice
1 cup meyer lemon juice
1/3 cup Luxardo maraschino liqueur
1/4 cup simple syrup, 2 teaspoons bitters (Angostura works well)
1 cup sliced mangoes
1 cup of assorted citrus fruits, sliced into rounds
Add all ingredients to bowl. Mix well.
Serve with ice.
Maybe mermaids and robots are lonely. Maybe stargazing dinosaurs escape extinction, and ‘80s icons share their secrets and scams. A boardwalk Elvis impersonator declines in a Graceland of his own, Bigfoot works as a temp, families fall apart and come back together.
The Elvis Peach
Rumor has it, Elvis once reportedly drank so much peach brandy it nearly killed him. Adapted from Food & Wine, this brandy-based brew will take you from fabulist faraway worlds to Great Recession realism in a single sip.
Add the rum, peach brandy, black tea, simple syrup and lemon juice to a large pitcher.
Stir, add the water and stir again.
Refrigerate until cold.
Serve in collins glasses with citrus garnish.
When Mark Polanzak was seventeen, his father spontaneously combusted on the tennis court, vanishing forever. It is also entirely possible that he died of a heart attack.
The Gin Fiz Wallop
Like Polanzak's hybrid memoir, each slurp of this fizzy little number is scarcely what you might expect.
Combine 2 ounces Catoctin Creek Watershed Gin
Juice from 1/2 a lemon
2 teaspoons of simple syrup
1/2 package of Pop Rocks
Pinch of granulated sugar
On a small plate, combine Pop Rocks and sugar
Wet rim of highball glass with a slice of lemon
Add gin, simple syrup, and lemon juice to cocktail shaker and shake well.
Strain into glass, careful not to disrupt the rim.
Top with club soda and serve.
Bryan Borland’s third poetry collection examines what it means to dig—to undertake the intense labor of unearthing the personal/political/artistic self and embracing the consequences of that knowledge.
The "DIG This" Manhattan
We're craving bourbon for this sexy love story, the way readers crave
their next Stillhouse fix. Adapted from this Ted Allen cocktail, you need this Manhattan like you need blood in the throat.
Add ingredients to cocktail shaker.
Rub an orange pee along the rim of your martini glass.
Strain drink into glass.
Garnish with one (or two!) cherries.
For poet Anna Leahy and scientist Douglas R. Dechow, quintessential children of the Space Age, love for each other and love of space are inseparable. The moon landings, the shuttle program, the prospect of manned travel to Mars: each stop in humanity’s journey to space has marked a step in their ongoing love affair with each other and the cosmos.
[Generation] Space Punch
Adapted from the Belle Isle Craft Sprits recipe, this spacey brew will have you reaching for your dearest... or maybe just another mug of this stellar concoction.
Combine ingredients in punch bowl.
Garnish with rosemary and serve immediately.
1 bottle Belle Isle Ruby Red Grapefruit
2 bottle sparkling wine (try Virginia's Horton Sparkling Viognier)
5 ounces St. Germain elderflower liquer
5 ounces white grapefruit juice
3 ounces lemon juice
Lindley Estes is a first-year fiction student in
George Mason University's Master's of Fine Arts program
and an editor for the Moonshine Murmurs blog.
She's partial to bourbon.
By Caitlin Herron
Carmen Gillespie gladly finds time to discuss the importance of questions and [re]creation of historical figures. These ideas are central to the evolution of her latest poetry collection, "The Ghosts of Monticello: A Recitatif" (October 2017), winner of Stillhouse Press' 2016 Poetry Contest.
Despite a busy week taking care of her 10-year-old and the close of George Mason's annual Fall for the Book festival, Gillespie found some time to speak with me about her inspiration for her new book and what brought her to this moment in her writing career.
Although she has always written poetry, and can’t imagine her life without it, Gillespie says her love of the form has been deeply intertwined with her academic pursuits over the last 15 years. “In academics, I tend to focus on black female writers. There is so much that is still covered that needs to be excavated,” says Gillespie, English professor and director of the Griot Institute of Africana Studies at Bucknell University and the author of several books of poetry and critical works.
Part of what motivates her work in both poetry and Africana studies are questions, she says. “Sometimes poetry and academics have the same questions but not the same answers, and sometimes poetry is more effective at answering them.”
This was certainly the case while attempting to answer some of the central inquiries about the life of Sally Hemings, Thomas Jefferson, Martha Jefferson, and others featured in her collection. Primarily, Gillespie wanted to explore the idea of whether or not Hemings had any agency in her story, especially in her relationship with Jefferson, the third president of the United States, with whom Hemings was thought to have had six children. “I can’t believe that every encounter she had with Jefferson was about violence. My understanding of human beings is much more complicated than that, so that is what I wanted to explore,” Gillespie explains.
But she did not stop with Jefferson. Gillespie also wanted to expand upon what Hemings' relationships might have been like with others on the plantation, given her position as both a slave and the lover of such a powerful character. “So many people have said so much about Jefferson, but it was interesting to me to focus on her other relationships with her mother, Martha Jefferson, and her half sister, and how that dynamic would work if they were to have a conversation,” says Gillespie.
She sees her collection as a dynamic story, and one which she hopes “makes the link between our contemporary situation and the paradoxes of the past.”
Interestingly, this questioning of the past in Gillespie's collection is formed by language that was originally written to be sung on-stage. "The Ghosts of Monticello" got its beginning as a libretto for an opera performed at Bucknell University, where Gillespie enjoyed engaging with the actors and musicians. “I am inspired, energized, and sustained by theater, dance, and music performances,” she says, noting that when composing something for people to sing versus developing the structure of a collection, the writing can be quite different.
For those thinking about writing fictionally or poetically about history, Gillespie offers some choice advice. First, she says, research is critical. “If you are going to write about something that actually happened, it is really important to know your subject well... People are often afraid to do that research, and think it will inhibit the imaginative experience, but I don't find that to be the case.” Second, she emphasizes how important it is to be “an observer of human experience and understand how people interact.” Says Gillespie, “Ask the questions: what does it mean to experience grief or lose a child? Once you start thinking about these things, the characters speak to you rather than you having to create them.”
Caitlin Herron is the events intern for Stillhouse Press.
She will graduate with a BA in Writing and Rhetoric in December 2017. She also works part time in Parks and Recreation for Fairfax County.
We're offering free shipping on all of our titles for the indefinite future, when you buy our books directly from www.stillhousepress.org. Allow us to explain why.
These are tumultuous times for small indie publishers. Like most small presses, Stillhouse has spent the past few months attempting to adjust to a set of sudden policy changes at Amazon, which have dramatically affected all publishers, but especially very small presses, like Stillhouse. Here are links to a few good explanations and discussions of this change:
When Stillhouse Press published its first book, Wendi Kaufman's wonderful Helen on 86th Street and Other Stories, in the fall of 2014, Amazon stocked the book regularly and made it available on the usual shipping schedules. Our next five books were also listed this way. But starting in January of this year, that reliability came to an end. If a book wasn't "temporarily out of stock," it was listed as available in "1-4 weeks," or even "1-2 months."
This is patently false. Both Stillhouse Press and its distributor, Ingram, have an ample stock of books.
If you visit Amazon to purchase one of our books and they are telling you it will take more than a day or two to ship, or that it is "temporarily out of stock," please consider purchasing from Stillhouse directly. Or, if you are lucky enough to have an independent bookseller nearby, consider ordering our books from them. It may take a few days, but you'll be supporting a local business that provides jobs to your neighbors, and helps to strengthen your local economy.
And, as always, from all of us at Stillhouse Press, we thank you for your support!
By Evan Roberts
“Hers, mine, and ours,” says Douglas R. Dechow, co-author of Stillhouse Press’ "Generation Space," a memoir that follows the beginning and end of NASA’s space shuttle program. These are three distinct writing methods that exist between Dechow and his co-author and poet, Anna Leahy. Both together and apart, the couple has a long and prolific history of space exploration coverage and authorship, including Leahy’s book "Constituents of Matter" (Kent State University Press 2007) and Dechow’s "SQUEAK: A Quick Trip to Objectland" (Addison-Wesley Professional 2001).
“Anna writes to learn and her writing process is overtly one of discovery,” Dechow says. “I could contrast that with my own process, which is more an attempt to codify something that I already know or believe, to see what I know or to test what I believe.” But together they are greater than the sum of their parts, explains Dechow. In the process of their joint authorship, a “deep intermingling” of their writing methods occurs and produces new, collaborative writing intentions.
But apart, the writers are just as different as their methods. "Generation Space" alternates between their disparate perspectives: Leahy has the mind and experience of a poet, and Dechow of a scientist. But Leahy claims their perspectives are not irrevocably different. “Our differences emphasize each other’s strengths, which may be why we were attracted to each other in the first place. As a scientist, Doug keeps a lot of detail organized in his head. For instance, he recognizes technological objects—aircraft, rockets—at a glance and often can rattle off the historical or engineering contexts of artifacts. Over the years, I’ve let myself off the hook a bit for doing that sort of work, knowing that I could count on Doug.”
Much like their shared passion for space exploration, their passion for writing provides a firm foundation for the couple’s personal lives. “We disagree regularly and sometimes irritate each other, but we rarely argue—writing together has strengthened our ability to disagree and keep moving forward. Being able to revise a sentence together—to treat something external to ourselves as the most important task—probably helps us keep the rest of our relationship in perspective," Dechow says.
There’s a certain proof of compatibility that can be found in the co-authoring process, he explains. “We have grown to know each other’s voices so well that there are undoubtedly sentences that I suggested to Anna that wound up in her chapters and vice versa. Of course, every so often, I would catch a sentence and say, ‘I can’t believe you wrote that. But, it’s your chapter, so you can say it the way you want.”’
“Our first conversations, when we were getting to know each other, were about writing,” says Leahy, who admits that the writing process can sometimes be strenuous on a relationship. “If we had tried writing together early on in our relationship... I think we would have botched both the writing and the relationship. For us, the relationship had become strong before we became co-authors.”
Regarding future space exploration, particularly commercial space’s part in that future, Leahy says their interest has always been predominantly with the government-funded NASA. "In a competition between NASA and capitalist ventures, our hearts were with NASA, its rich history, and the importance of its programs to science. In Generation Space, we talk about our initial resentment of commercial space and a conversation with Garrett Reisman, a former Shuttle astronaut who now directs crew operations for SpaceX."
But commercial ventures certainly have their place, Leahy says. "As we looked more deeply into commercial space, we understood its potential to pick up the technology that NASA had developed and run with it — NASA had taken the risks, and NASA’s work belongs to all of us. Commercial space is set to complement NASA’s ongoing efforts.”
From the dawn of human civilization, we have always had our eyes set on the constellations. The cause of our enduring fascination with the stars, according to Leahy, “Humans are a curious bunch, in both senses of the word curious. We want to know the unknown. We want to understand what’s out there. When we explore what surrounds us—the universe—we push our thinking to its limits... In Generation Space, we grapple with what that really means—with what it means to be here because there exists an out there of space.”
Anna Leahy and Douglas R. Dechow work and teach at Chapman University in Orange, California. Anna's first book, "Constituents of Matter" (Kent State University Press, 2007) won the Wick Poetry Prize. They have written the Lofty Ambitions blog together since 2010. Anna is the author of the chapbook, "Sharp Miracles" (Blue Lyra Press, 2016), and her nonfiction book Tumor is forthcoming from Bloomsbury in 2017. Doug is the co-author of "SQEAK: A Quick Trip to Objectland" (Addison-Wesley Professional, 2001) and "Intertwingled: The Work and Influence of Ted Nelson" (Springer, 2015).
Evan Roberts is the former editor of Moonshine Murmurs and has worked as an editorial assistant, reader, and media contributor for Stillhouse Press. He graduated from George Mason in the fall of 2016 with his Bachelors of Art in English.