Remembering Carmen Gillespie

It is with great sadness that we here at Stillhouse Press mourn the loss of poet and professor Carmen Gillespie.

Kyle Dargan & Carmen Gillespie celebrating the release of  The Ghosts of Monticello,  Oct. 2017

Kyle Dargan & Carmen Gillespie celebrating the release of The Ghosts of Monticello, Oct. 2017

We are proud to have had the opportunity to publish Carmen’s final collection of poetry, The Ghosts of Monticello: A Recitatif, which was selected for the 2016 Stillhouse Press Prize for Poetry by guest judge, Kyle Dargan. In probing the relationship between the half-sisters, Martha Wayles Jefferson and Sally Hemings, the collection was an example of Carmen’s lifelong dedication to her own craft as a poet, as well as to lifting up the voices of marginalized women, especially those of the African diaspora. Unfortunately, Carmen passed in the same year as one of her own heroes and a subject of much of her scholarship, Toni Morrison. The subtitle, “A Recitatif,” is an allusion to Morrison’s well-known short story of the same title, meant to provide a frame of reference for the intercultural dialogue that The Ghosts of Monticello explores and aims to inspire.

In working closely with Carmen, we found her intense, intelligent, and insistent in all the best ways. She was a passionate writer, teacher and mother. The vision and compassion that she brought to her work and to the world will be sorely missed.

Read Carmen’s obituary here.

Finding inspiration in the literary history of Florence


by Kim Bartenfelder

/by Kim Bartenfelder

/by Kim Bartenfelder

Tucked away in a sweet valley lies a dome of muses patched together as one unit, plucking brilliance from the minds of those who embrace her inspiring encapsulation. Her name is Florence— the pride of Italy.

For a writer, Florence draws out a renewed sense of creative freedom and experimentalism. As a young writer myself, travelling to Florence from early January to late April of 2019 was about colorizing the drab learning styles I had grown accustomed to. All the while, aching to salvage a vestige of creativity to have it blossom abroad.

To understand Florence, there must be recognition that every part of her is intimate. Her strade hold secrets, her architecture holds bellezza, her storia holds purpose. Without them, she is a city without soul.

From Aeroporto to Centro Della Città towards the hills of Fiesole to the east, Scandicci in the west, and the E35 Autostrada to the south, Florence houses artistry. Spanning generations, she fostered the eloquent language of Dante Alighieri, the creativity and unification of Boticelli’s hand and mind, Michelangelo’s craftsmanship, Galileo Galilei’s wit, and the influence of the merchant, later ruling family, Medici, among countless other notable figures.

Jet-streaming into the twenty-first century, writers coming to Florence experience a similar phenomenon: an enlightenment that if cultivated by her embrace will produce work worthy to be shared.

Coming to Florence was about engaging in histories, languages, and inspirations unlike what I had been accustomed to in the United States. A foreigner at first, I found myself on numerous occasions frantically diving into my shoulder bag for my journal and pen to jot down the unique instances I witnessed. Other times, I wasn’t quick enough and I settled for observation.

Imperative to my creative process was journaling. To some degree, writing is learning and in a city with an abundance of history, the plaques engraved in stone city-wide tell you her story. Ironic, but nonetheless true, many of the plaques praise the exiled literary genius, Dante. Despite many figures, including myself, not acquiring this physical display of homage, we are however assured by Florence that her muses never fail artists, specifically writers, with promise.


"To some degree, writing is learning and in a city with an abundance of history, the plaques engraved in stone city-wide tell you her story..."


And so here are a few journal entries of my own that describe the intimacies of Florence that molded my four month stay:

San Niccolò, Firenze

Along the foothills leading from Piazzale Michelangelo to the district of San Niccolò, a coalescence of sun-faded yellow and beige Tuscan homes lined the narrow, sometimes paved, street. Almost as if straight from an American film of Tuscany, an aged Italian couple peered out at me. Surrounded by red and pink flowers filling the balcony, they both made eye contact with me and offered a faint smile. With pleasure, I returned the gesture. They retreated back into the comforts of their home, the interaction proving to them that the foreigner, me, was worthy of the exchange.

/by Kim Bartenfelder

/by Kim Bartenfelder

Piazza Di Santa Croce, Firenze.

The Florentines have a special bond with their birds, like family. Unmoved by seemingly dark eyes or the fluttering less than sixty centimeters from their face, they welcome the pigeons and sparrows with chunks of bread, cheese, and nuts. I say chunks because they are very generous. The woman next to me on the steps of the Basilica Di Santa Croce, where Machiavelli and Michelangelo’s bodies are kept, she calls her winged brothers and sisters. They nosedive to her and with the most ungraceful landing, immediately go into combat mode. Beaks clinking against one another like small swords all the while the beat of their unharmonized wings bang against my back. Popularized was how Mary Poppins fed the birds in England. I guess she never made it to Florence because the populace here are mini Mary’s in training.

/by Kim Bartenfelder

/by Kim Bartenfelder

Borgo Santo Spirito, Firenze

In Oltrarno, the workshops echo of Italian men humming, artists fleshing out the physical essences of a muse’s implantation, writers occupying the open spaces of a palazzo to fill the open space of their minds. I take my unassigned, assigned spot on a wall that connects to Ponte Santa Trinita, just shy of nightfall. Florence’s beauty prevails, 17:33 p.m. The arno looks like a thick ink made from the muddy greens of the sea. Although it shimmers in the suns last light, I think if I dare to reach in there won’t be any hope of pulling it back out. The mountains in the not so far distance resemble smoke of a sun set ablaze, setting, and forming the curvatures I see now.

In the few months that Florence has intricately woven herself into my own work, she has not fully revealed her aura. She is testing to see if I am worthy of her inspiration.

For this though, she is the epitome of what the arts describe. Indeed a pilgrimage to be had by many writers, it’s a worthy cause comparable to the lifetime of deceivingly remarkable literary adventures we too often than not grow comfortable with.




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.


Eight Guidelines for Writing People of Color

 
Photo courtesy of @ ThoughtCatalog

Photo courtesy of @ThoughtCatalog

 

by Sanjana Raghavan

If you’re a white writer, chances are you’ve wanted to write a character of color but worried about coming off as offensive or unrealistic. Diversity in writing is a good thing, and I’m all for increased representation—when it’s done right. As the daughter of Indian immigrants, I never saw myself in the books I read growing up. Now, that is slowly changing as more writers actively consider representation. So to help you better represent people of color in your writing, here are eight guidelines to keep in mind.

1. Be aware of stereotypes and then don’t use them. Even "good" or “positive” stereotypes — "Asians are smart,” or “Latinas are beautiful” — are harmful. Conversely, don't make us saints or superhumans, because we are also human (and a saint is a pretty boring character to read about, don’t you think?).

2. Do your research. Do not just rely on the one family of color that lived in your neighborhood when you were little, or what you’ve gathered from the media. Go out and read a ton of books by POC, go read Reddit communities by and for POC, etc.

3. Don’t describe our skin as food. I know this is a small one compared to the others, but this comes up often enough that it’s a huge pet peeve of mine. Imagine if I described your skin color as “mashed potatoes” or “whipped cream.” That would be weird, right? Just say their parents are Indian instead of opting for “mocha” or “caramel”.

4. Get POC to read your work, and then really listen to their feedback. This is helpful because they will catch things that you may not have intended, or can point out places which make the character seem like a stereotype. Don’t take their feedback as a personal attack; we all have biases we may not be aware of, and it’s good to listen and learn.

5. No dialect. Don’t try to type out accents. It often comes across as racist or off putting and is not necessary to your story.

6. Avoid making your only POC half white and then describe them with only white features. Mixed people have their own struggles to be sure, but all too often, POC only seem to be acceptable when we appear white.

7. Realize that racism is still an everyday reality. We don’t have the choice to ignore it, so neither will you when you write a POC. Keep in mind different people deal with racism in different ways, and research microaggressions to get a sense of everyday racism and ignorance.

8. There is more to us than “black,” “Asian,” etc. Develop characters who are human, who feel multi-dimensional. Race is an unavoidable part of life for POC, but we are also multifaceted and have varying interests. Black people can be engineers, Indian people can love hip hop and rap.


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Sanjana Raghavan is an undergraduate student at George Mason University. You can find her work at Lunch Ticket and New Flash Fiction Review.

The Complete Guide to "What the Heck Should I Do at #AWP19?"

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Every year it’s the same struggle: three days, hundreds of panels, SO many amazing booths at the bookfair, and a whole host of offsite readings. Quick! Someone print the schedule and grab a highlighter… except who really has the time for that?

Do you love small press publishing? Or, our amazingly talented GMU alumni and extended network of writers? Or, are you just trying to chart the perfect path down the myriad of aisles at the bookfair?

Worry not, we’ve got just the line-up to ensure your #AWP19 success.


Wednesday

Reading: Tupelo Quarterly & Fordham University Press: A Reading & Party
Featuring professor Peter Streckfus
Wednesday, March 27, 7-9 p.m.

Taborspace, 5441 SE Belmont Street, Portland, OR
A celebration of Tupelo Quarterly’s contributors and Fordham University Press’s most recent authors, featuring original poetry and prose by Victoria Chang, Kara Candito, Mary Biddinger, Rebecca Hazelton, Karyna McGlynn, Jennifer S. Cheng, and others.

Thursday

EVENTS

** Stillhouse Press Reading & Reception **
4:00 - 6:00 pm
Rose City Book Pub

In honor of five amazing years of publishing Stillhouse Press will host a reading and reception, featuring authors Anne Panning (Dragonfly Notes: One Distance and Loss) and Anita Felicelli (Love Songs for a Lost Continent).

In Memory of Robert Bausch: A Reception & Celebration
6:30 - 8:00pm
Broadway Room, Portland DoubleTree, Level 1

Join George Mason University in paying tribute to the life and work of Robert Bausch, a three-time Mason alum, award winning novelist, and beloved teacher.

PANELS

** Cheating on Poetry: On Writing Nonfiction, Too **
9:00 - 10:15 am
C123, Oregon Convention Center, Level 1

Join Stillhouse author Anna Leahy (Generation Space: A Love Story) and fellow poets for a conversation on what it means to adopt a second (and very different) genre: nonfiction. Discussion includes craft, form, syntax, literary influences, MFA limitations, and what exactly led these poets to creative nonfiction.

A Woman’s Rites of Passage
9:00 - 10:15 am
E141-142,  Oregon Convention Center, Level 1

Led by Mason alums Emily Heiden (MFA ‘15), Rajpreet Heir (MFA ‘14), Jessica Szalay (MFA ‘15), and nonfiction professor, Kyoko Mori, this panel seeks to acknowledge and highlight key topics in women’s writing which are often ignored, such as periods, bras, babies, and more.

Creating Discrimination & Harassment Policies in the Era of #MeToo
9:00 - 10:15 am

Portland Ballroom 252, Oregon Convention Center, Level 1

The leaders of several literary centers, including Mason Creative Writing director and professor, Gregg Wilhelm, come together to discuss their own policies, how they were created and implemented, and how we can all strive to create safer literary spaces for women.

Behind the Curtain: The Editors Speak
10:30 - 11:45 am
Portland Ballroom 253-254, Oregon Convention Center, Level 2

As writers know too well, getting past the submission stage can be incredibly frustrating, difficult, and confusing—especially when it results in a pile of rejection letters.What went wrong? You wonder. And, How can I make it better? Join Emily Nemens, editor of the Paris Review, and five of the top literary magazine editors in the country to get those questions answered and learn more about the submissions process.

How Literary Magazines Cultivate Meaningful Inclusivity
3:00 - 4:15 pm
B116, Oregon Convention Center, Level 1

If you’re wondering how to go about welcoming and publishing a more diverse array of literary voices, this panel of editors will discuss how best to adjust your branding, staffing, opportunities and editorial choices to actively support and attract authors of color.

A Reading of Free Verse Edition Poets
Featuring Tracy Zeman, MFA ’05, and professors Jennifer Atkinson and Eric Pankey.
5:30-7 p.m.
The Lab @ The Jupiter Hotel, 800 E. Burnside Street, Portland, OR

Free Verse Editions is proud to sponsor a reading by an exciting array of talent: Jennifer Atkinson, Matthew Cooperman, Elizabeth Jacobson, Ger Killeen, L.S. Klatt, Peter Kline, Chris Kondrich, Eric Pankey, Brittany Perham, Ethel Rackin, Siobhan Scary, Cole Swensen, Jon Thompson, and Tracy Zeman.

Tar River Poetry's 40th Anniversary/Iris Press Reading Featuring Mason alum Lana K.W. Austin
6:15 p.m.

Celebrate Tar River Poetry's 40th anniversary and Iris Press's continued publishing success at a reading featuring featuring Luke Whisnant, Tina Barr, Michael Spence, Susan O'Dell Underwood, Amy Wright, Karen Head, Dan Veach, and Lana K. W. Austin.

#AWP19 Keynote Address by Colson Whitehead
8:30 - 10:00pm
Oregon Ballroom, Oregon Convention Center, Level 1

Listen to the annual AWP Keynote Address by the #1 New York Times Bestselling author of The Underground Railroad and winner of the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize, Colson Whitehead.


The #AWP19 Book fair, complete with some of our favorites highlighted!

The #AWP19 Book fair, complete with some of our favorites highlighted!

Friday

PANELS

** Going Long: Editors & Writers of Longform Nonfiction in Conversation **
9:00 - 10:15 am
E146, Oregon Convention Center, Level 1

A panel of editors and writers, including Stillhouse’s Anne Leahy (Generation Space: A Love Story), discuss concerns and possibilities when editing, publishing and selling the longform nonfiction genre in a time of quick reads and short attention spans.

** Dystopias and Utopias in Contemporary Asian American Literature **
9:00 - 10:15 am
B116, Oregon Convention Center, Level 1

Four female writers, including Stillhouse’s Anita Felicelli (Love Songs from a Lost Continent), combine brief readings, a Q&A, and an audience writing exercise to draw attention to the overlooked sub-genre of dystopian and utopian visions in Asian American works.

Writing Outside the Big 5: Practical Tips for Authors Working with Indie Presses
10:30 - 11:45 am
B117-119, Oregon Convention Center

With the benefits of working with an intimate indie press, there are also challenges. This panel of writers provides insight and advice to authors working with the resources of publishing houses with limited staffs and budgets.

She/He Said: Resisting, Dealing with and Benefiting from Editor’s Suggestions
12:00 - 1:15 pm
D131-132, Oregon Convention Center, Level 1

Sometimes it feels as though the editor knows best; other times, it feels like the editor they don’t understand your piece at all. This panel of book and journal editors as well as writers of diverse genres discuss how to find a balance. If you’ve experienced working with an editor, you are encouraged to speak up and share what you’ve learned and discovered.

**Felicelli and Panning Book Signings 1:00 p.m. - 3:00 p.m. Stillhouse Booth 2051, Oregon Convention Center, Level 1

Meet Stillhouse author Anita Felicelli at 1 p.m. as she signs copies of her book “Love Songs for a Lost Continent.”

Then, meet Anne Panning who will sign her incredible “Dragonfly Notes” at 2 p.m.

New Poetic Visions of the West
1:30 - 2:45 pm
E143-144, Oregon Convention Center, Level 1

What role can perspective play in re-envisioning the romanticized vision of the west in poetry, as it’s been featured for the past 200 years? A panel of poets, including Mason alums Alyse Knorr (MFA ‘12) and Kate Partridge (MFA ‘13), discuss how they explore themes of identity, immigration, language and intimacy in their work.

Elements of Small Press Success
3:00 - 4:15 pm
E141-142, Oregon Convention Center, Level 1

For small emerging presses, there several pieces to achieving success in the wider publishing sphere. A diverse group of publishers and editors discuss some of these pieces, from submissions and editing to production and marketing of works. They will also discuss building a brand, the role of social media, and acquiring staff, volunteers, and interns.

AWP Open Mic & Old School Slam
10:00 pm - 12:00 am
B113, Oregon Convention Center, Level 1

Are you looking to share a piece of poetry or prose? Read your original pieces (three minutes or less, no props) at the Slam. Sign up at the Wilkes University/Etruscan Press booth either on Thursday, March 28, or Friday, March 29.


Saturday

EVENTS

** Offsite Reading Feat. Stillhouse Poet Christina Olson **
5:00 - 7:00 pm
Beech Street Parlor

Kat Fallon, Christina Olson, Kate Gaskin, Caitlin Horrocks & Adam Schuitema will read poetry & prose. Featuring MC Ben Drevlow. There's a drink minimum, so come thirsty.

PANELS

Yoga for Writers
9:00 - 10:00 am
D129, Oregon Convention Center, Level 1

It’s been a busy weekend. Start the last day of AWP with a gentle yoga session, focusing on mindfulness and stretching for writers.

Mining the Everyday: Using Real Life Experiences as Creative Research
9:00-10:15 am
A107-109, Oregon Convention Center, Level 1

Essays, memoirs, and stories are often inspired by everyday, some time mundane, experiences. GMU alums Emily Heiden (MFA ‘15) and Rajpreet Heir (MFA ‘16) consider how to mine one’s life for stories, recalling their own experiences and work, and discussing how to strike a balance between research and narrative, when considering the quotidian micro-moments.

Virtual Pathways: Publishing, Editing, and Writing Millennial Fiction & Poetics
10:30 - 11:45 am
Portland Ballroom 252, Oregon Convention Center, Level 2

The publishing industry is constantly changing—ever more so in the last decade, with the influence of technology and social media. This panel, comprised of publishers, editors, and emerging writers, investigate the “new wave of contemporary literature” and its many forms, and how the internet plays a role in current publishing practices.

Publishing Queer: What Was, What Is, and What Just May Be
12:00 - 1:15 pm
E143-144, Oregon Convention Center, Level 1

In this panel about the development of queer publishing, a literary agent who represents diverse voices, and three published writers of LGBTQ lit share their personal experiences with publishing houses and agents.

** Different Strokes for Different Folks: Small Press Publishing Demystified **
1:30 - 2:45 pm
D131-132, Oregon Convention Center, Level 1

Join one of Stillhouse Press’ founding editors and current director of media and market, Meghan McNamara, along with recently Stillhouse author, Anne Panning, and three small press editors to discuss the benefits of small press publishing, and how to creatively conquer and resolve the limitations.  

Beyond Publicity: Getting Your Book Out There in the Changing Media Landscape
4:30 - 5:45 pm
E141-142, Oregon Convention Center, Level 1

With the influence of social media, there are infinite avenues one can take to cultivate an audience—and it can be daunting. This discussion provides comfort, advice, and encouragement in navigating these waters post-publication, from traditional practices to internet marketing and knowing your audience.

Sleepless in Portland: A Reading
Featuring Robbie Maakestad, MFA ’17
7-9 p.m.
Rontoms, 600 E. Burnside Street, Portland, OR

Two lit mags and two presses—Boulevard, Cloudbank Books, Willow Springs Books, and Willow Springs Magazine—will bring a wide range of talented authors to read their work. The reading will feature Robert Long Foreman, Heikki Huotari, Amorak Huey, Holly Karapetkova, Laura Kasischke, Robbie Maakestad, Dennis Nurkse, Laura Reed, Dennis Schmitz, Dariel Suarez, and more.

** Of special Stillhouse interest.

Last minute gift ideas from small presses we adore


by Lindley Estes

American Journal: Fifty Poems for Our Time  was edited by Tracy K. Smith and released in September from Graywolf Press.

American Journal: Fifty Poems for Our Time was edited by Tracy K. Smith and released in September from Graywolf Press.

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 holiday sale is happening now.

The New York Review of Books holiday sale is happening now.

  • 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.

Giving never felt so good as supporting a small publisher.

Giving never felt so good as supporting a small publisher.

  • 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).


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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.


Falling for the Great American Novel... Time and Time Again


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.

“To Kill a Mockingbird” confronts race relations in a frank, but literary way.

“To Kill a Mockingbird” confronts race relations in a frank, but literary way.

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.

“The Great Gatsby” remains relevant to a vast audience.

“The Great Gatsby” remains relevant to a vast audience.

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.


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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.

A Moonshine Murmurs Guide to reading- and eating- this Thanksgiving


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.

Get Ephron’s wit and recipes  here .

Get Ephron’s wit and recipes here.

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:

Turkey. Pie. Sides. It really is the best time of year for readers and eaters.

Turkey. Pie. Sides. It really is the best time of year for readers and eaters.

“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”


There’s never too much ambrosia.

There’s never too much ambrosia.

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.

How we all lovingly gaze at leftovers.

How we all lovingly gaze at leftovers.

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!


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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.


The Galley and The Goal: An inside look at small press publishing & promotion

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.”

Photo by  rawpixel  on  Unsplash

Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

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.

Image Courtesy of S.K. Dunstall

Image Courtesy of S.K. Dunstall

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.”

Photo by  rawpixel  on  Unsplash

Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

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.”


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Stefan Lopez has an internship with Stillhouse Press,
a Bachelor’s Degree in English from
George Mason University,
and a head full of empty.

Anita Felicelli & the Development of the Short Story


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.

Love Songs for a Lost Continent  by Anita Felicelli

Love Songs for a Lost Continent by Anita Felicelli

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.”


Anita Felicelli (Photo By Amy Perl).

Anita Felicelli (Photo By Amy Perl).

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.”


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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.

A Conversation With Anne Panning


by Sean van der Heijden 

Anne Panning (Photo By Michele Ashlee)

Anne Panning (Photo By Michele Ashlee)

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. 

"Dragonfly Notes" is available now from Stillhouse Press.

"Dragonfly Notes" is available now from Stillhouse Press.

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?  

Panning and Stillhouse Director of Media & Marketing, Meghan McNamara at AWP 2017 in Tampa, FL.

Panning and Stillhouse Director of Media & Marketing, Meghan McNamara at AWP 2017 in Tampa, FL.

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. 


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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.

Small Presses FTW: Immigrant Identity In Modern Literature


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.

"Meditations on the Mother Tongue ,"  An Tran ( C&R Press , 2017)

"Meditations on the Mother Tongue," An Tran (C&R Press, 2017)

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. 


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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. 

[King]Solver to Our Problems  


by Kim Bartenfelder

Barbara Kingsolver/ Photo by David Wood

Barbara Kingsolver/ Photo by David Wood

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.  


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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. 

So you have a manuscript...

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."


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Stefan Lopez has an internship with Stillhouse Press,
a Bachelor’s Degree in English from George Mason University,
and a head full of empty.

Tiny Books: Triptychs IN MINIATURE


By Meghan McNamara 

"Superman on the Roof."

"Superman on the Roof."

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. 

An excerpt from “The Death of Your Son: A Flowchart."

An excerpt from “The Death of Your Son: A Flowchart."

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. 

 
Poem "Indiana" from "Tourist."

Poem "Indiana" from "Tourist."

 

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
even when
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. 


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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. 

Hope, Grit, and Resilience: The Inspiration Behind Dan Tomasulos' American Snake Pit

By Tyrell Jordan

"American Snake Pit" will be released May 1 by Stillhouse Press. 

"American Snake Pit" will be released May 1 by Stillhouse Press. 

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. 

Tomasulo, reading from his collection in early March at The Association of Writers and Writing Programs Conference in Tampa, Fl.

Tomasulo, reading from his collection in early March at The Association of Writers and Writing Programs Conference in Tampa, Fl.

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. 


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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.

Maybe We Can't Live Without Amazon

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.

Source: Twitter,  @kellyforsythe_

Source: Twitter, @kellyforsythe_

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.

Source: Swenson Book Development

Source: Swenson Book Development

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."

Amazon's "Buy Button," now available to the highest bidder.

Amazon's "Buy Button," now available to the highest bidder.

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.

It’s that time again…

#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.  


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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. 

THURSDAY 

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! 

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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.


FRIDAY 

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.


SATURDAY

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

Meet Lindley Estes, Moonshine's New Blog Editor!


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. 


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Lindley Estes is a first-year
fiction student in
George Mason University's Master's
of Fine Arts
program and an editor
for Stillhouse's
Moonshine Murmurs blog.

A Bookworm's Guide to Washington, D.C.


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.

The cafe at the Museum of the American Indian.

The cafe at the Museum of the American Indian.

Smithsonian Museums
 

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 Gallery of Art.

The National Gallery of Art.

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.

Coffee and reading at Politics and Prose.

Coffee and reading at Politics and Prose.



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.


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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.