AUTHOR INTERVIEWS

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Mandy Brown

What does literary success look like to you?

 

I learned a long time ago that giving myself a goal post that requires a lot of other people’s acceptance can create self-rejection, so for me, literary success is remembering that writing is a journey I’m always on. Poetry is a practice in mindfulness, witnessing each moment for all it is without asking it to be something else. Literary success is honoring the art. (I say all of this fully realizing I have the privilege of not having to live off my words.)  

 

What is your ideal writing space? 

 

I write in my office, often when my family is asleep, away, or locked out. A distraction-free space is the most important element for me. Sometimes I go on retreats to the desert. Lots of writing happens there.

 

What is one piece of advice you would give an aspiring author?

 

Accept the seasons of your writing. You’re going to hear a lot of “should” advice from writers, even writers you admire, but YOU are the only writer who knows what works best for you. Don’t waste time guilt-tripping yourself over all the “shoulds” you’ve been told. Accept yourself, your needs, and your seasons.

 

Do you have any writing habits?  

 

My season of writing and submitting tends to be June – December, probably because the Spring semester tends to be the busiest for me as a teacher. I tend to make a goal out of how many rejection letters I can receive because then I send out more work, which also gets more acceptances than not submitting work. When I get my 100th rejection, I open a bottle of wine.

 

What was an experience where you learned knowledge has power? 

I picked my daughter from PreK/daycare to find her teachers trying (and failing) to hold back tears. They’d just been told about a new policy that would cut their income in half starting in the Spring semester. They were told the school board would laugh at them and didn’t know what to do. But I did and presented to the school board anyway, and they overturned the policy before it could go into effect.  Knowledge has power, but knowledge without action is just privilege. We have to be willing to act for the real power to flow. 

 

What are some of your favorite writing tropes that could be considered cliché? 

I still go school-girl, wide-eyed for vampires and witches. I had an English professor who called popular fiction the literary pool boy, but honestly, if you love it, why not have a pool party? 

 

What do you want to be remembered for? 

Kindness. I want people to remember my laughter long after I’m gone. As for my writing, I’d like to be remembered for my unblinking vulnerability.

 

What are you currently working on? 

I’m currently working on a collection of poems that hold the narrative arc of my marriage, its almost-divorce, and the reconciliation that followed. The poem in this publication is one of the hardest poems I’ve had to write for it thus far. 

Mandy Brown (she/her) is a queer Central Texas poet, a 2019 Poetry Half-Marathon winner, and the 2013 recipient of A Room of Her Own Foundation's Tillie Olsen Fellowship. Her work has been published or forthcoming in Lunch Ticket, Writing in a Woman's Voice, Eunoia Review, and more. Mandy currently teaches at an alternative school for high-risk students and loves it! Read more at mandyalyssbrown.weebly.com.

 
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Jann Everard

What does literary success look like to you?

 

I try to set myself constantly shifting goals rather than holding on to potentially unachievable ones. I was thrilled when my very first piece was published in a newspaper. I continue to be thrilled as I receive acceptances to journals I’ve long admired or new international markets (recently New Zealand and Australia). Any time I receive a note from a stranger who connects with a story, it feels like success.

 

What is your ideal writing space?

 

For me, it’s less about space than uninterrupted time. I’ve written in tents in the Rocky Mountains, home offices, coffee shops, and cars (as a passenger!). It’s all good.

 

What is one piece of advice you would give to an aspiring author?

 

Understand why you write and set your goals accordingly. 

 

Do you have any writing habits?

 

I always take a small notebook when I travel. I use it less to record story ideas than to take note of sensory details that may animate a story later: the caw-like sound of a cross-country ski pole removed from ice, the honey scent of frangipani, the bright orange surprise of a Northern Flicker’s under feathers.

 

What was an experience where you learned knowledge has power?

 

Something about this question makes me a little uncomfortable. I don’t think in terms of obtaining or maintaining power for myself. But knowledge does, in my opinion, make a better leader, and a good leader or influencer knows their own limitations and that their strength as a leader derives from listening attentively to others. With an eye to these pandemic times, it strikes me that leaders worldwide who deferred early to scientists and health care administrators with expertise are those who have done best by their constituents and earned their respect.

 

What are some of your favorite writing tropes that could be considered cliché? 

 

Looking into the eyes of a dying pet or wild animal and having insight. Wild nature as salve.

 

What do you want to be remembered for?

 

Joie de vivre. And never compromising on the quality of dark chocolate. ☺ 

 

What are you currently working on?

 

I’m learning how to videotape myself reading my work for an upcoming virtual magazine launch—so different from reading to a live audience! And I’m inching forward on the first draft of a novel, partly set in Italy in the mid-seventies. The research is fun: drinking wine, armchair travel to Rome, eating pizza… 

Jann Everard’s fiction has been published in Canada, the U.S., and New Zealand in journals including The New Quarterly, Geometry, The Examined Life, and Grain. Jann was the winner of The Malahat Review’s 2018 Open Season Award for Fiction and the 2019 Scugog Council for the Arts Literary Contest. She divides her time between Toronto and Vancouver Island, Canada. 

 
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Syd Kennedy

What does literary success look like to you?

 

I think mostly because I’m young and haven’t experienced it yet, the fantasy of holding a physical novel with my name on the spine still seems like the epitome of success. I’m envisioning it exactly how it’s shown at the end of the 2019 Little Women movie, where Saoirse Ronan (as Jo) watches a printer finish constructing a copy of her new book, and she gets to hold it in her hands for the first time, and clearly she’s having a lovely moment. That’s my personal Platonic ideal of literary success: holding a physical copy of a book that I wrote, and also, Saoirse Ronan is there.

 

What is your ideal writing space?

 

I live in a small apartment with roommates and don’t have the space for a desk at the moment, so any setup with a desk and a chair sounds pretty appealing. A little higher on my hierarchy of needs is houseplants, and beyond that is probably a good window for people-watching.

 

What is one piece of advice you would give an aspiring author?

 

I’m just parroting something countless more qualified writers have said, but reading every sentence aloud while editing has saved a story on more occasions than I can count. I can’t recommend it enough, and I also can admit that I need to do it more often.

 

Do you have any writing habits?

 

Only bad ones.

 

What was an experience where you learned knowledge has power?


I’m a lesbian, but I didn’t know that being gay was a possibility until I was a teenager because it’s still such a taboo topic, especially to discuss with kids. So when I finally found books about people who felt the same way that I did, and discovered words to describe my identity? Talk about a paradigm shift. That was my first personal experience seeing how information and the media that share it are used to uphold systems of oppression. 

 

What are some of your favorite writing tropes that could be considered cliche?

 

As a reader I’m easily entertained by twist endings, even when they’re overused to the point of cliche. As a writer, I’m definitely guilty of beating a few specific extended metaphors to death, if that counts as a trope. A few months ago I somehow got really stuck on water imagery in almost everything I was writing. I wrote-- and didn’t realize until a month after the fact-- three stories in a row that all involved some type of transformative near-drowning incident. Geez! I need to get another schtick. 

What do you want to be remembered for?

I think being an urban legend would be pretty cool, so whatever that entails.

 

What are you currently working on?

I’m slowly trudging through the messy first draft of a novel right now. It’s about a college radio host who knows she was involved in a death on campus but can’t quite remember her role. I’ve been wanting to write this one for a while and I can confidently say that one of my biggest weaknesses as a writer is focus, so I’m making myself finally buckle down and work on it. 

Syd Kennedy is a recent graduate of American University who now works in sports journalism. She lives in Washington, D.C. with two roommates and one ghost. You can find her hiking around local parks, watching hockey, or tweeting as @sydneykz12.  

 
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Julia Leef

What does literary success look like to you?

Literary success to me is being able to share the stories you love to write with others, in whatever form that may take. Bonus points if you can actually make a living off of it.

 

What is your ideal writing space?

 

I often daydream about having a small writing office tucked into the turret of a three-story Victorian house that is only accessible through a secret passageway hidden behind a bookcase in my absurdly large personal library. In reality, I’m happy with any space that is quiet and has a chair with good back support!

What is one piece of advice you would give an aspiring author? 

 

Write to get the words out, revise to publish. Never worry about how “good” the first draft is—it is designed to first and foremost get the words on the paper. All the fancy stuff—themes, allegories, that perfect bit of symbolism that you’ve been trying to figure out to really tie everything together—that all comes later. As Jodi Picoult said: “You can always edit a bad page. You can’t edit a blank page.”

 

Do you have any writing habits?

 

I write every day, but I keep my word count small—about 500 words. That way when I inevitably put it off until late in the evening, I can still knock it out in less than an hour. If I’m feeling particularly into it, I’ll keep writing, but this at least ensures that I am always progressing forward and don’t fall into any long writing gaps that kill my drive to keep going.

 

What was an experience where you learned knowledge has power? 

 

Not sure if this is quite what you meant but what comes to mind is the first time I read the Artemis Fowl series. The main character is not physically strong but instead uses information he has gathered on his opponents in order to gain the upper hand. It taught me that the more prepared you are for a situation, the better chance you have of succeeding (nowadays it mostly just comes in handy for trivia!). 

 

What are some of your favorite writing tropes that could be considered cliché? 

 

I am always a sucker for the good guys teaming up with their usual bad guys in order to defeat a greater foe. And give me enemies to friends to lovers any day.

 

What do you want to be remembered for? 

 

Wow, big question. I supposed I’d most like to be remembered for my characters—whether because they resonated with readers on a personal level or because they just enjoyed reading about them. It’s certainly the one thing I always remember about a story above all else. I think it’s wonderful that readers can draw strength and inspiration from fictional characters, and it speaks to the impact stories can have on people of all ages and in all stages of life.

 

What are you currently working on?

 

I am currently about 60K words into my first novel, which is very exciting. I also have a handful of short stories that are in various stages of being written/revised/polished/etc. There’s always something to work on, which might sound overwhelming but I enjoy the variety, especially if one piece starts to feel stale—I can work on something else and come back to it when I’m feeling more refreshed.

Julia Leef received her MFA in Creative Writing from Lesley University in 2018. She is an emerging writer currently employed at Macmillan Learning in Boston. “The Well” draws on a variety of childhood memories and family stories, including a passage from her great-grandmother’s diary.

 
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Kathryn Stinson

What does literary success look like to you?

 

The authors I love are the ones whose work changed me, or named something important that I could not yet name for myself. I would love to create work that can do that. I consider that success. 

 

What is your ideal writing space?

 

I don’t know that I have just one. I like to move around a bit, be outdoors, in a coffee shop, in my office alone. Something about changing things up seems to work well for me. 

 

What is one piece of advice you would give an aspiring author?

 

Read poetry. It doesn’t matter if you don’t want to write poetry. Read it anyway. Nothing else will give you as much appreciation for the subtlety and importance of language, or for just how much one word, or even one comma, can do. Most of us are not getting enough poetry in our diet. 

 

Do you have any writing habits? 

 

I have a habit of getting lost in the rest of my life and not writing, then realizing I’ve not been writing, and deciding it I really need to be writing.  

 

What was an experience where you learned knowledge has power?

 

One of my favorite books on psychotherapy contains a long list of things you can do with a problem besides “fight” the problem. Most of them rely on knowledge borrowed from other disciplines. You can eclipse a problem (concept from astronomy), you can go on strike against a problem (concept from civil disobedience), you can dispute a problem’s claim about your identity (legal concept). I love this list because it says so much about how knowledge from one sphere can ripple into everything else. 

 

What are some of your favorite writing tropes that could be considered cliché. 

 

I have always loved and will always love a good ugly duckling story. There is medicine in stories, and maybe more in this one than in most.  Mystics and depth psychologists say that a person’s gifts are in their wounds. These stories bring that knowledge home to us again and again. 

 

What do you want to be remembered for?

 

I think I would like to be remembered for asking good questions, and for talking (or writing) about things most people don’t talk (or write) about. 

 

What are you currently working on?

 

At the moment, I am working on being a psychotherapist in the midst of a pandemic and trying not to get too overwhelmed by the realities of what we are all dealing with. Writing has taken a back seat (see also my comments on writing habits). I do think it will be interesting to see, many months from now, what ideas might come of having a front row seat to the collective psychological processing of current events.

Kathryn Stinson is a writer and psychotherapist who is privileged to work with people on navigating responses to collective and intergenerational trauma. Her work has been published in Beloit Fiction Journal and River Teeth's "Beautiful Things." She hails from Nashville, TN, studied writing at Knox College, and currently lives in St. Louis, MO.

 
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Yurina Yoshikawa

What does literary success look like to you?

 

I believe that writing and publishing are two separate things. Some people might consider publishing, or selling many copies of your books, to mean literary success. But having worked in the book publishing industry, I know that so much of it has to do with connections and luck. I also know published writers who now have the most difficult time getting back into the habit of writing. For me, I like to think of literary success as the ability to write and work on your craft on a consistent basis. 

 

What is your ideal writing space?

 

Any quiet space where I can easily grab a good cup of coffee, even if it means typing on top of the washing machine (which I’ve done)!

 

What is one piece of advice you would give an aspiring author?

 

There’s no need to follow other writers’ advice. Find and trust whatever works for you!

 

Do you have any writing habits?

 

With two young children at home during a pandemic, I’m afraid I don’t have the luxury of maintaining any habits. But that’s okay! I’ve managed to write on my smartphone while nursing a baby, and have also gone weeks without writing a word—but at the end of the day, I know that doesn’t make me any less of a writer. 

 

What was an experience where you learned knowledge has power?

 

I have a feeling that all of us are going to have the same answer to this right now, but living through this pandemic alone has taught me that knowledge has power, particularly when it comes to the knowledge of medical experts. 

 

What are some of your favorite writing tropes that could be considered cliche?

 

I’m going to steal this one from George Saunders, but it really is my favorite: Write what excites you, not what you think you should be writing. 

 

What do you want to be remembered for?

 

In a post-COVID-19 world, I would be lucky to be remembered for anything other than making it through. I suppose it would be nice to be remembered for my writing or teaching. 

 

What are you currently working on?

 

I have two novels-in-progress, both in early stages, and I go back and forth depending on whichever one I feel like working on that day. It helps that they’re very different in nature—one is in first-person taking place in Nashville, whereas the other one has multiple POVs that takes place in three or four locations around the world.

Yurina Yoshikawa holds an M.F.A. from Columbia University and teaches fiction and non-fiction writing at The Porch Writers’ Collective. Her writing has appeared in The New Inquiry, Hyphen Magazine, Chapter 16, and elsewhere. She is a 2019-2020 OZ Art Wire Fellow and the winner of the 2020 Tennessee True Stories Contest. She lives in Nashville, Tennessee. 

 

Jarrett Ziemer

What does literary success look like to you?

 

Literary success looks like this. Being able to write and read- to share work and share in the work.

 

What is your ideal writing space?

 

My ideal writing space is wherever I can. In my bed, on a walk, at the table… going to the bathroom. Wherever I can find the time and the words. I think always being open to the moment is important.

 

What is one piece of advice you would give an aspiring author?

 

Just write everything. All the time. Sometimes it won’t be good, maybe most of the time, but write it anyways. And read.

 

Do you have any writing habits?

 

My writing habits are more lifestyle habits, I think. I go for walks, take time to appreciate whatever it is I do. I think when I’m doing the little things and letting my mind relax a little, the big writing thing comes easier.

 

What was an experience where you learned knowledge has power?

 

I don’t know if I’ve learned that yet. Sometimes I feel like I have knowledge and I feel helpless. Maybe more helpless than before I had it.

 

What are some of your favorite writing tropes that could be considered cliche?

 

I love, love, love, reading and writing about love. I was once told by an editor he liked my piece and that it would be published somewhere else for sure, but that it was too sentimental for him. I didn’t know what sentimental meant at the time. There are boundaries for sure, but love is inside the boundary for me.

 

What do you want to be remembered for?

 

My good penmanship... But I have terrible penmanship, really. Is it too late to work on that?

 

What are you currently working on?

 

I’ve been writing a ton of poetry and am currently pursuing a cross genre chapbook painting publication with a wonderful painter by the name of Lara Wallace.

Jarrett Ziemer is currently a student in the undergraduate writing program at CWU. His work has been published in the Manastash Literary Journal.