New Publications

We are very excited to announce that Sliver of Stone contributor Geraldine Connolly‘s new book of poetry, Aileron, is now available from Terrapin Books.  You can order a copy from Amazon (including a Kindle version).

Geraldine Connolly’s Aileron sensuously evokes the plenty of lifethe “spiky chestnut grenade” of the buckeye tree, the “buttery sweetness” of the Seckel Pearwhile moving through various landscapes, each precisely tuned to “this one small thing that lives along the road of my mind.” Yet, amid these riches, a perspective of loss is ever present in “a landscape/ whose immanence turns / to ashes beneath my gaze.” In poems marked by vivid language of the natural world and mindful of ecological loss, the poet invites the reader “to turn and tilt, to stay aloft.”
Rebecca Seiferle

In Geraldine Connolly’s Aileron an inheritance proves to be a “raft of broken bread,” yet memories of piercing beauty linger. So much of the sensuous world settles into these poems: lizards, starlings, quail, a chestnut “polished as a mahogany piano.” Brilliant images are backlit with emotions that resemble acute homesickness. What’s most loved may vanishbut not without first coming to vivid life in these remarkable, fully realized poems.
Lee Upton

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Sliver of Stone previously published a poem by Chris Abbate titled “Hartford, 1947.” This poem is now included in Chris’s first book of poetry, Talk About God (Main Street Rag, 2017)

“God is the glue for connection and mystery in Chris Abbate’s Talk About God, a masterful debut collection. These poems are about his Catholic childhood, the yearning to break away from convention and the unyielding need for patterns to manage the unforgiving nature of life. Yet, most of all, these poems speak of the connections between fathers and sons, husbands and wives, and friends and neighbors. Abbate explores the chaos of adolescence and many years later, reflects on the breakup of his parents’ over fifty-year marriage through the exacting lens of ritual and geometry with carefully nuanced images that earn every bit of their screen time. Every poem in Talk About God reminds you to feel gratitude for the beauty of the present moment and not to forget how you can create a joyous and meaningful life.”
~ Alice Osborn, author of Heroes without Capes

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Last year, our friend Campbell McGrath selected Darren Demaree‘s manuscript Two Towns Over as the winner of the Louise Bogan Award from Trio House Press, and this year at AWP Trio House will be launching the book.

“It’s really been an incredible experience, and I wanted to share it with you,” Darren wrote to Sliver of Stone.

“Darren is a dangerous dreamer, concocting love poems to his home state, and pastorals to his true love. But there’s always something more beneath the surface: sex and violence, villainy, mutilation, uneasy redemption and troubled ecstasy. These poems are pins pressed deep in the disfigured heart of America. They work a dark magic on the reader — they’re unsettling in necessary ways.”
Christopher Michel

The Extraordinary Ordinary: A Review of Mothers of Sparta and Interview with Dawn Davies

Elizabeth Strout, in a recent interview said, “Every life, if one could see into it enough, will prove to be extraordinary.”  Dawn Davies, in her debut essay collection Mothers of Sparta, A Memoir in Pieces, shows us this is true. Davies slices her life open and invites the reader in. In some ways it’s an ordinary life; a moved-around-too-much misfit child, a somewhat lost young adult, a mother in all its forms—single mom, soccer mom, mom of a child with profound challenges. But when she renders this life on the page, with her visceral prose, hilarious details, and courageous honesty, she leaves the reader with an extraordinary gift.

 Mothers of Sparta is composed of sixteen essays, flashpoints in a life in progress. They probe subjects such as faith and death, parenthood, identity, and survival. Some are traditional first-person accounts, others vary in style and point of view. “FM D&R—1-10.06,” for example, is written as a field manual for divorce and remarriage. “Four Animals,” an essay that addresses an autoimmune disease, blends personal history, informational reporting, and lyric surrealism.

The first essay, “Night Swim,” a time-bending meditation on the lives of her daughters, told as they swim in their backyard pool, gives the reader a taste of the kind of writing to come.

It is a moonless night, dark and rare, and the heat is oppressive, the kind of heat where a
deep breath leaves you unsatisfied, suspicious that there was nothing life-giving at all in
what you’ve inhaled, and you are left hungry, wet at the pits, forehead greasy with sweat,
wishing for the night to be over, for your daughters to exhaust their energy, to cool their
dense, hot centers enough to sleep for one more night in this summer that seems to stretch
into your future like a planetary ring full of debris, circling forever around something it
can’t escape. It is thickly hot and you hate it.

The essay fractures time, flashes back to her children’s babyhood, and forward to their adulthood as Davies realizes every moment in our children’s lives is too slippery to grasp.

Davies can make you laugh and break your heart on the same page, sometimes in the same paragraph. In her essay, “Games I Play,” Davies, very pregnant and already in a precarious marriage, shares the mind tricks she plays to get through a tedious dinner party with another couple. On the drive from Boston to Rhode Island, she imagines “ejecting my husbands Smiths tape from the cassette player and flinging it out the passenger window to be snatched up by a hawk that will unravel it and thread it into a stick nest in the skies.”  Before the reader recovers from that image she imagines having the baby on her own, “because I suspect we do not have the skills to make a marriage work.”  She pictures giving birth on her hosts’ Ethan Allen coffee table, describes her feet as feeling like “mangey seal pups,” and realizes how little she knows her husband. “We are, I realize for the first time, living a lie and I do not know how to be truthful about who I really am because I am afraid he will not like the real me.”

But she is truthful about who she really is with us. She is not afraid to reveal her neuroses, her insecurities, her restlessness, her mistakes, her divorce, and her complicated feelings about parenthood on the page. In “Soccer Mom,” she struggles with what she has possibly given up to parent her three children full time, the loss of her own identity in order to assimilate with the other moms on the soccer field. While she parses it out, we get to go along for the ride.

Why do you suck so badly?  If you are like me, its because you either didn’t read the job description of what parenting would be like before you signed up, or you were not willing to extrapolate “years of extreme sleep depravation and constant chaos” from everything everyone has said since the beginning of time about parenting. It’s as if you got drunk and joined the Marines on a lark and now want out, only there’s no way out without going to prison.

Humor threads its way through all the pieces in this collection, but one essay I found especially hilarious was, “Men I Would Have Slept With,” an essay that lists who Davies would have sex with if she weren’t so happily married, and why. You’re going to have to buy the book (and you most definitely should buy the book) to see who made the cut but I will tell you this:  her choices may surprise you, and having tuberculosis is not a deal breaker.

Perhaps most powerful is the title essay, “Mothers of Sparta,” an essay that braids together the experience of raising a son with autism and conduct disorder, with the ancient parenting practices of the Spartan warrior culture. It’s brilliant and unflinchingly honest. It raises and tries to answer the big questions: what are we as a society to do with children who are atypical, dangerous even, who are not going to grow up to make us proud? The piece explores both Davies pain and fierce love for her son. Davies asks, “What is this child’s purpose? How do I direct him toward a purpose when he has no desire for anything other than feeding his desires?”

You do not have to be a mom to enjoy the essays in Mothers of Sparta. You only need to be a person who enjoys smart writing, who realizes life is messy and hard and funny and frustrating. You will see pieces of yourself floating in and out of the magical essays in this collection, and they will leave you with hope. There is nothing ordinary about that.

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Dawn Davies

Betty Jo Buro:  At AWP I went to a panel on the linked essay collection. They talked about the importance of ordering your essays so that even if your essay could stand alone, it becomes more powerful because of the essays that surround it. What consideration did you give to the order of the essays in Mothers of Sparta?

Dawn Davies:  Yes! Ordering essays is important. I believe essays in a collection become more powerful and behave symbiotically next to certain essays and not others in a collection. I pay a lot of attention to that. It’s like hanging art in a gallery, I think. A piece’s neighbors matter. My editor, Amy Einhorn, and I considered a few broad, logical ideas when arranging Mothers of Sparta, such as not putting two dog essays next to each other, or not placing two terribly depressing essays next to each other. We also did not want to arrange every essay chronologically, though there is a sense of chronology in the collection overall, and the first half of the book is in chronological order. My editor was hands-on, but she trusted me to come up with the final arrangement.

When it came down to it, after considering the topics and themes and tones of each individual essay, and about thinking about not arranging similarly-structured essays together, my final decision had to do with feel. I printed each essay out, stapled it, and shuffled them like a deck of cards. Then I started arranging them on the floor. I tried things on for size by feel, for I knew very well how they felt to me: how they felt while reading them, how they felt when I wrote them. I tried to remember the feelings I had while writing them when I ordered them. I wanted some of those feelings to carry through the essays to the readers.

BJB:  Often your prose sounds like stream-of-consciousness, long sentences that take a thought and spin it out to all possible conclusions. I’m guessing this is how you think, but is this how you write?  Do your thoughts just flow onto the page or is it more tortured than that?

DD:  I think it is probably “more tortured” to know that the stream-of-consciousness voice in Mothers of Sparta is pretty much what it is like to be inside my head most of my waking hours. I am a walking “monkey mind.” It is how I think and how I write. I have so many fleeting images that go with thoughts, and both ideas and images come to me so quickly that when I write, I hope to write fast enough to get the “thought image” onto paper in a way that feels like what I am trying to convey. It only feels tortured when I have something that is there for a moment, and I get excited about it, but it disappears before I have time to get it down on the page.

BJB:  Who are your literary heroes and who do you read to get inspired?

DD:  I love this question. My literary heroes are so heroic to me that I feel like if I could make someone read everything that I have read, that person will truly “get” me. I tried to get my kids to read my favorite writers and so far, I have had no takers, and this feels tragic to me. When I look back at my development as a thinker and a reader, I can remember who I was when I was reading certain writers, so these writers remain important to me. When I was a kid I would copy the style of writers that I liked. I turned in papers written in “The Style of Vonnegut” or “The Style of Irving Stone.” Here are a few of them:

High school: Douglas Adams, Paul Fussell, John Irving, Kurt Vonnegut, Richard Brautigan, James Herriot, Lewis Thomas, Maya Angelou, Poe, Woody Allen, Saul Bellow, and many medical textbooks and journals. I also found a few books in my grandmother’s closet that I read a dozen times each: Betty Smith (A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, though when I re-read that book now, I have problems with the plot structure and pacing), Benedict and Nancy Friedman (Mrs. Mike), Kathleen Winsor (Forever Amber). I read many books, but these are the authors I re-read most often.

College: Toni Morrison, James Baldwin, Evelyn Waugh, Irving Stone, Alice Walker, Jean Auel (Clan of the Cave Bear), Kingsley Amis, and everything Tolstoy, including a few biographies. I went off to college with Anna Karenina and wept my way through severe homesickness by reading that book for ten hours per day until I was finished with both it and the homesickness.

The nineties: Carol Shields, Muriel Spark, Margaret Atwood, Kazuo Ishiguro, Alice Munro, V.S. Naipaul. Plus, anything else in the public library.

Two thousands: many, many biographies. And Tim O’Brien.

When I need inspiration, I will read something that is not in the genre in which I am currently writing. When I am wrestling with an essay, I’ll read big, sweeping epic stories that take me away, like a biography, or a classic novel. I like detective series books, and I like romance novels. Reading books with boilerplate patterns and plot structures are fun. When I am writing fiction, I will usually pull out some old Fussell, or some of the Davids (David Foster Wallace, David Shields, David Anton, David Sedaris, David Rakoff). Sometimes Claudia Rankine or Michael Ondaatje’s Running in the Family. That memoir will fix what ails ya.

BJB:  There is so much humor in your writing—does this come naturally?  Is it hard to render humor on the page?

DD:  I grew up trying to be funny, because my family was funny. My dad has a real gift for telling a funny story, and my maternal grandfather had such a good sense of deadpan humor, with a twist of trickster, that I inspired to be like them. My mom and her sister also played off each other well and were quite funny to be around. I had a lot of early failures, but I actually remember working on material that I would try out on my family. Not a lot of it went over well, so I tried with my friends. By high school, I had figured out that my insight was what was funny to others, and once I figured out timing, I was on to something.

I also read humorists. Paul Fussell is very funny, and even with his serious war essays, there is a wryness in there that is delightful, and sometimes alarming, and I was always on the lookout for it. James Herrriot’s ability to surprise readers with one hilarious line at the end of a paragraph or scene was genius.

Couple all that with the comedy records albums I grew up listening to (Bill Cosby, Eddie Murphy, Robin Williams, The Smothers Brothers, Richard Pryor), and the comedy specials I watched as a kid, I suppose I was steeped in comedy, though I didn’t consider it a special interest at the time.

I have taught humor writing and gone to humor writing conferences, and although I won’t say it is impossible to learn, I think it is harder to learn if you weren’t deeply exposed to it as a child. It’s like learning another language. It’s harder to do as an adult. When I write funny, I don’t try especially hard to write funny. It just comes out that way at this point, though I am aware of timing, word choice, comedic tricks, and what we as a culture find funny. I suspect this is because I had years of practice (even when I wasn’t aware I was “practicing”).

BJB:  It must have taken a great deal of courage to write the essay, “Mothers of Sparta.”  How difficult was that to write and what do you hope the sharing of your story will elicit in readers?

DD:  I first wrote “Mothers of Sparta” the essay as a personal project. It acted like a valve which relieved pressure when I was about to blow when struggling with some of our family issues. Then, during a nonfiction class in graduate school, I wrote a fleshed-out version of it, trusting that the few other students in the class would help keep my dirty little family secret—the fact that I was an imperfect parent with a struggling child whose needs were not being met by any educational, medical, or social entity. After I finished it, I did not want to send it out. I was too afraid to “out my son,” since the essay dealt with sensitive issues that made most people recoil in horror.

I finally sent it out to a few places. I remember choosing Joyland, a journal I loved, largely because it had a big fiction audience and very small nonfiction component, and I thought if they published it, no one would read it. The editor of Joyland got back to me and said something like, “Um, yeah. I’d love to publish this, but I would be doing it a disservice, because we don’t do much nonfiction, and no one will read it. Go bigger.”  So, I entered the Arts & Letters nonfiction contest and won. Still, I almost pulled it after I won, out of fear of repercussions of people reading it.

When Flatiron Books accepted the memoir, I almost tore up the contract and backed out. The only reason I didn’t was the hope that perhaps other people would be helped by reading our story, and it turns out they were. I still receive emails every day about “Mothers of Sparta,” and it turns out we aren’t the only ones going through what we went through as a family. It has helped people, which is a comfort to me. Still, I worry that it will seal my son’s fate in some way. Publishing sensitive memoir material is a two-edged sword anyway but writing about sensitive family matters is stringing that two-edge sword over a canyon and walking across barefoot with sticks of fire in each hand. Pretty scary.

BJB:  What is your next project/what are you working on now?

DD:  My agent is about to start shopping my first novel, which is exciting. I am also working on a second collection of essays, and a three-book detective genre series about a single mother who ends up being a private investigator.

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Dawn Davies is the author of Mothers of Sparta: A Memoir in Pieces. Mothers of Sparta has been an Indies Introduces Title, and was an Indies Next List in February, 2018. Her essays and stories have been Pushcart Special Mentions, and finalists for The Best American Essays. Her work can be found in The Missouri Review, Arts & Letters, Fourth Genre, Ninth Letter, and elsewhere, as well as various anthologies. She also appeared on Megyn Kelly Today. You can find out more about her at dawndaviesbooks.com.

Betty Jo Buro recently graduated from Florida International University’s MFA program with a concentration in creative nonfiction.  Her writing has appeared in Hippocampus Magazine, Cherry Tree, The Lindenwood Review, The Manifest-Station, Sliver of Stone, Compose Journal, and Hunger Mountain. She lives in Stuart, Florida with her husband and two daughters, and is currently working on a collection of essays.

Issue 16

Visual Art by Sandy Commer and Ashley Parker Owens. Nonfiction by Dawn Davies, John Lane, and Monica Restrepo. Poetry by Louisa Howerow, Tricia Knoll, Jen Rouse, John Schneider, Joanna M. Weston, Kimberly White, Martin Willitts, and Marilyn Windau. Fiction by Ben Leib, Denton Loving, and Norman Waksler. Comics with Wes Locher. Interviews with Dawn Davies, John Lane, and Wes Locher. New Publications: Chris Abbate, Geraldine Connolly, and Darren Demaree.

VISUAL ART

INTERVIEWS

NONFICTION

POETRY

FICTION

NEW PUBLICATIONS

Wes Locher: Wacky, Irreverent, and Offbeat Sensibilities

Wes Locher (pronounced “Low-Curr” by non-telemarketers) has written comic books and videogames for myriad publishers and developers across the world. His past clients include Alterna Comics, Titan Comics, Markosia Enterprises, Arcana Studios, FableLabs, Pocket Gems Games, Based on the Play, PulseTense Games, and Nanobit Software. He’ll sleep eventually.

Wes was interviewed by editor Thomas Logan for Sliver of Stone.

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Thomas Logan: You’ve written several fan comic shorts, from TMNT, to Bucky O’Hare, to Battletoads. Why this affinity for the short form?

Wes Locher: In addition to the original comic book miniseries and graphic novels I’ve released with various publishers, I’ve found that short comics are a great way to get your work in front of an audience for free. In a perfect world, readers will check out a free comic, enjoy it, and seek out your other work. For established readers, I think these free comics are a nice way of saying “thank you” for the support.

When releasing fan comics, I tend to zero in on properties that influenced me in some way to be a storyteller. A property like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is well-known and beloved to many people, so the comic, drawn by Ed Jimenez, provided me a way to play with those characters in my own voice—characters I may never get the chance to write in an official capacity. Bucky O’Hare, while sort of obscure, let me put my spin on a television series I really enjoyed when I was younger with the help of artist Loch Ness, and the Battletoads short allowed me a window to vent some frustrations I had with the 1991 Nintendo videogame of the same name.

Short comics are a great way to get in and get out of a story while still leaving the reader wanting more. In a perfect world, they’d be intrigued by how I might approach the characters if I had a full issue or miniseries to work with. It’s a good teaser.

TL: Tell us about the comic books that inspired you as a child. What made you want to become a writer?

WL: As the son of an English teacher mother and a journalist father, writing wasn’t something I could escape. Growing up, the house was full of Shakespeare plays and my father was regularly writing nonfiction books on local history. I gravitated toward comics because the visual element was just as interesting to me as what the characters were saying. After 20-plus years of reading a specific medium, I naturally started to take it apart in my head and understand how the rhythm and pacing worked, and five years ago when I went to try my hand at scripting my own comic, it came naturally.

As far as the comics that inspired me, it was a heavy diet of Marvel characters like Spider-Man and Daredevil that pulled me in, but the owners of the comic shop I frequented growing up also turned me onto lots of obscure, black and white indie comics like Ben Edlund’s The Tick, and Rob Shraab’s Scud: The Disposable Assassin.

When I look at my current body of work, I see less of the Marvel/DC flavor and more of that independent spirit coming through the comics I published. I don’t want to just regurgitate what I’ve seen other comics writers do, but instead, I make it a point to write something only I could produce. The readers who can respond to those wacky, irreverent, and offbeat sensibilities are the ones I want in my corner.

TL: Is there a particular comic franchise you would love to write for? Have you submitted anything to Marvel or DC comics?

WL: Honestly, I’d love to take a swing at The Tick, especially now that new writers and voices have been brought into that universe over the past few years. I think that’s a character that fits right into my zany wheelhouse. That might sound like I’m setting the bar low for myself, but here’s how I see it: even though I adore Peter Parker and Spider-Man as a character, I don’t have a Spider-Man story I’m itching to tell. It’s possible I just enjoy being a reader. If someone let me write the character, I’d probably just mess him up and get lots of hate mail. It sounds like a lot of pressure to me.

Since Marvel and DC don’t accept unsolicited submissions, I haven’t sent anything to them. The path to get recognized by those editors is to put out consistent, quality work, and by building enough buzz, they find you. Maybe they’ll find me one day. Maybe not. It doesn’t keep me up at night.

TL: You’ve published a novel and several comics, but you’ve also written for mobile games. What was the first video game you worked on? How did you come to follow this path? Was it all you thought it would be? What game series would you like to write for and why?

WL: When I was embarking on my writing career, I was laser-focused on writing comics and maybe the occasional novel. I sort of had blinders on when it came to anything else. But then, two things happened… I was successful in forming relationships with a few editors at bigger publishing houses, but they were never able to offer me any paying work. While they were kind enough to take time out of their day to read the comics I was sending them, and occasionally offer feedback, I could just never get my foot in the door.

The second thing that happened, just in the past five years or so, is that video games have evolved to become more cinematic and story-focused. I started to see writing jobs pop up online with game developers seeking writers who had a background in episodic content such as comic books or television. I sent in my stuff and was quickly hired for several freelance gigs.

So on one hand, I had all these comic book editors telling me “No,” on a bi-weekly basis, but then I had these game companies who were saying, “Come over here and party with us! We’d love to have you!” Okay, those weren’t their exact words, but you get the gist. If people are passionate about working with you, why in the world would you say no?

The first game I worked on was called “Future: Uncertain,” which was an interactive “Choose-Your-Own-Adventure” style game for San Francisco developer Pocket Gems Games. The game, released on the company’s iOS/Android app, called “Episode,” featured basic animated graphics and allowed players to make choices that would ultimately affect the outcome of the entire story. I wrote 25 chapters, each serialized weekly, so it was a bit like writing a TV show. It was read more than 700,000 times by users and from there I was given additional projects, each a bit bigger in scope. I ended up working with Pocket Gems for three years before venturing out to write games for similar upstart apps as well as games for the PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One.

If I had to pick a videogame series to write, it’d probably be Gearbox’s Borderlands series. Like the comics I find myself drawn to, the Borderlands series is humorous, over-the-top, and completely irreverent. Perfect.

TL: When writing a comic book and a mobile game, what are some surprising differences and/or similarities between the two processes?

WL: The unifying characteristic between the mediums of comics and games is that they both share a strong visual element. If you’ve done your job as a writer, the visuals should be able to convey a large chunk of the story without needing a single line of dialogue.

When I first started working in the games industry, I naively thought the words that appeared on the screen were what made me the “writer.” Now, several years later, my approach is to have as little dialogue as possible, letting the tone of the game, its setting, and look of the characters say as much as possible.

Where comics and games have a stark difference is that games are, more often than not, full motion, whereas comics are static images strung together sequentially. Comic readers fill in the gaps between panels with their imagination, creating their own moving pictures in their minds, whereas in games, you’re showing almost everything to the player and leaving less to the imagination.

TL: What is your dream project? Are there any plans you have in the works that you would like to let us know about?

WL: So far in my career, I’ve been fortunate to accomplish most of my dream projects. If there’s a comic I want to write, I write it and if there’s a story idea I have for a game, I pitch it to the company that may want to produce it, and if the story idea isn’t suited for comics or games, I can write it as a novel.

I don’t wait for someone to give me “permission” to work on a story. If an idea keeps me up at night putting the pieces into the puzzle, and breaking the story, I know I have the tools to bring it life one way or another. Now, there are a lot of comic artists I’d love to work with—some of them completely out of my league, while others are my peers—so sometimes I look at the art they post on social media and try to come up with an idea that really plays to their strengths that I believe only they could draw. Perhaps that’s the long-term goal right now.

I have a ton of cool stuff on the horizon right now… my sci-fi/comedy graphic novel Unit 44—about inept Area 51 employees who forget to pay the rent of the facility’s off-site storage unit, leaving the secret contents to be sold at public auction—is still available for sale at comic shops and online. It was published at the end of 2017 by Alterna Comics and drawn by the amazing Ed Jimenez. People should totally buy it and laugh until their faces hurt.

The action/RPG video game, Re*Sequenced, which I wrote for developer Based on the Play, will hit the PC, PS4, and Xbox in a few months, and I have two comic book miniseries poised to hit shelves in late 2018/early 2019. The first is called Bug Slugger, with artist Loch Ness, and the second is titled Awry, drawn by Graeham Jarvis. They’re both ridiculous and guaranteed to be a ton of fun.

For the latest and greatest on those projects, visit www.weslocher.com.

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Thomas Logan is an Irish-American hardcore gamer and professional artist who lives in Miami. His artwork has been widely displayed in South Florida. His hobbies include watching WWE and TNA wrestling, playing Magic: The Gathering and Yu-Gi-Oh, and getting new tattoos. He’s a comic book collector with a degree in Computer Art and Animation. He was the co-founder and creative director of the now defunct PaperVoxels.com, a gaming website and podcast. “We were big in Russia,” he says.

Reaching Back to the Past: A Conversation with John Lane

If you like your literature ferociously earnest, your earth fiercely protected, and your authors unscripted, spirited, rascally and down-to-earth, then John Lane is about as likeable as they come. He is one of those exceedingly rare grown-ups who somehow managed to smuggle into adulthood all the imagination and inquisitiveness of childhood. Along with his wife, Betsy Teter, John is co-founder of the Hub City Writers Project in Spartanburg, South Carolina – one of the integral forces behind the civic revival that has swept through the former textile mill community.

Author of a dozen books, John is Professor of English and environmental studies at Wofford College and director of the college’s Goodall Environmental Studies Center. Among his way-too-many-to-list achievements is a recent induction into the South Carolina Academy of Authors. A few weeks ago, editor Timothy Laurence reached out to John via email to talk a little about his experimental essay, “The Father Box,” published in this issue of Sliver of Stone.

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Timothy Laurence: The Father Box is a project that draws beautifully from a range of complicated memories and musings – heartache, loss, angst, fondness, confusion. It’s a hard decision to let this kind of stuff hit the page. Would you talk about how this piece came together and what it was like writing (and recalling) these stories?

Jonh Lane: One of my early poetic mentors was Gregory Orr and his explorations of personal trauma through the lyric are heroic (he shot his brother in a hunting accident) and so what was I to do but continue to return to the complexities of my own father’s loss to suicide when I was five in 1959? My first published poem, when I was a junior in college back in 1976, was about my father’s death, and over 20 years later I probed those same wounds again when I published the collection called The Dead Father Poems. In that collection my father’s ghost keeps returning to me, around the year that I reach the age he was when he died—44.

Timothy Laurence: You mentioned that this project started out as a group of poems in the late 90s. What persuaded you to shape these reflections into an essay, or nonfiction, rather than verse?

Jonh Lane: In environmental studies (where I teach, not in an English department) there was a huge movement a few years ago to look closely at “materiality” in a literary way—our material culture—and environmental history scholars started writing entire collections around things like the 12 ingredients in Coca-cola including the bottle itself—where do the these ingredients come from? What is exploited to make them or acquire them? So I wasn’t that interested in the theory of materiality but it did start me thinking about what material objects I have of my father and what I might learn by looking at them carefully in the light of my art. What sort of memory or imagination or both might be activated? So I decided to widen my literary probe to anything material I still possessed related to my father, who died when I was five, in 1959. And I put everything in a material thing—a real box, one of those cardboard Banker’s Boxes. What was in the Father Box? Letters, wills, photos, maps, deeds, a paper cap, legal papers. photos, war souvenirs, inherited furniture (though that doesn’t fit in the box!) Once I had gathered the material stuff together I just started reaching in and pulling stuff out, or looking at a rocking chair, and it just so happened I started this in January 2015, my father’s centenary birth month. The Dead Father Poems came out of my literary imagination and memory. But I have always wanted to write something based actually on the material legacy left from my father. I also wanted to stretch it out, to see what the reflections on the material would feel like when given more space, so this loose lyric prose ended up being great for that.

Timothy Laurence: For this project you collaborated with photographer Rob McDonald, whose seriously evocative work was also featured in Hub City Press’s Carolina Writers at Home. How did that collaboration come about?

Jonh Lane: Rob is a genius of photographing things. His photos of rural bird houses in a collection published by horse & buggy press in 2007, is one of the most evocative collections of photos I have ever seen. And he also has photographed Thomas Jefferson’s summer home POPLAR FOREST. I knew these pieces needed to have photographic reinterpretation of “the things them-self” and so I knew from my admiration of his work that Rob was the one to do it. He is a busy man, but he has thrown himself into it! He has captured a whole different side of these objects. I hope they remind folks a little of the way photos work in the prose of WG Sebald, something like Rings of Saturn.

Timothy Laurence: What’s going on now? What’s the next big project for you?

Jonh Lane: Two prose projects under contract–

An 80-page essay-bio of Phil Wilkinson, a legendary alligator researcher in the Santee Delta of the South Carolina coast, to accompany 150 photos of Phil’s in a coffee table book to be published by Evening Post Books in fall ’18. An almanac based on a year following red-shouldered hawks in our neighborhood, out in Spring ’19 from the University of Georgia Press.

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John Lane is the author of a dozen books of poetry and prose, including six from the University of Georgia Press. His latest book of poems, Anthropocene Blues, was released in 2017. His recognitions include the Phillip D. Reed Award for Outstanding Writing on the Southern Environment and the Glenna Luschei Prairie Schooner Award. In 2012, his book Abandoned Quarry was named the Southeastern Independent Booksellers Alliance (SIBA) Poetry Book of the Year. His first novel Fate Moreland’s Widow was published by Story River books in early 2015.

Timothy Laurence is a Research Assistant at the Tuck Business School at Dartmouth College. He is the author of the forthcoming essay collection, How to Make White People Happy, and has written essays and stories for numerous publications including The New Welsh ReviewCatapultFourth RiverNinth Letter and Grist. He holds a PhD in Creative Writing from Aberystwyth University Wales.

Rob McDonald is a photographer who has been living a double life as an English professor and Associate Dean of the Faculty at Virginia Military Institute for a number of years. He was a nominee for the Vienna PhotoBook Prize and won a fellowship in the visual arts from the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts. His work, which is held in many private and museum collections, has appeared in several monographs, including Cy’s Rollei (with Sally Mann, Nazraeli Press), and Carolina Writers at Home (Hub City Press).

Jena Schwartz: The Space Between Lives

“Wisdom is the ability to distinguish between things; to make sense out of confusion.”


I met my wife in the space between lives. Both of our marriages to men had ended. In the name of sovereignty, we’d also severed the transitional relationships with other women that had respectively followed classic trajectories from headlong to toxic. In fact, we’d supported each other in making healthy and self-respecting decisions via a secret online group, where for months we’d shared words and photos from the front lines of our hearts and daily lives, along with a dozen or so other women from around the country. What we didn’t know is that we’d wind up together.

We met in the space between, with no suspicion that our meeting was in fact a kind of reaching for the other side of a chasm. On the one side was a heterosexual marriage going into its eleventh year, homeownership—a sweet house on a cul-de-sac, no less—and the apparent ease that is borne of fitting into social norms. Across that canyon stretched the unknown, where to be true to myself meant walking away from life as I knew it. The decision to leave my marriage felt a lot like jumping out of a plane, naked, without a parachute. After I realized I was gay, I spent three months gazing over the edge, feeling like I was going to throw up. I lost 15 pounds and had an affair with the woman who had drawn my genie out of her bottle, never to be stifled back inside. It was exhilarating and shattering, all at the same time.

The woman who would become my wife was in a similar period of loss and reclamation; she, too, had left her husband and suffered the consequences, facing an ugly divorce. And she, too, had moved into and then beyond a passionate but short-lived relationship. I suppose you could say we’d chosen these outcomes, but it would be true only in the sense of the things that choose us when we surrender to the rapids instead of the fighting the current of our lives. Sometimes diving into the waves is the best way not to drown. We’d done just that, and were now emerging. Little did we know, life was leading us to each other.

Meeting in person for the first time was like feeling feet on solid ground again after so much disorientation and reorientation. I remember having this profound realization—at least it felt profound at the time, though in hindsight I wonder if it’s obvious—that “sexual orientation” really does have everything to do with how we see and face the world. In coming out, my entire worldview, my perception and experience of friendships, my neighborhood, even my own body moving through space, had changed in ways that felt impossible to describe and equally impossible to overlook. It was not dissimilar to how I felt after giving birth to each of my two children. The air was different. My cells were different. My knowing of myself was wider and deeper, both more anchored and more expansive than before, while at the same time massively reconfigured.

By the time we met that January day when she picked me up at the Phoenix airport with a carful of women—she later told me she’d insisted on driving, practically fought a friend for dibs, but couldn’t pinpoint why she’d been so stubborn about it—we were both ready for a new kind of love: Love that would not make demands, would not hold us hostage, and would not manipulate or coerce or demean. In other words, we were ready for one-night stands with no strings attached. Ready for ease.

That was nearly six years ago. We just celebrated our third anniversary.

*

This morning, in the space between sleeping and waking, I shimmied my backside up against her, my ass against her belly. The other night I said something about spooning and she quipped, “Put your peaches in my spoon,” then we both cracked up. “Did you just make that up?!” I asked her. She had. Her brain makes me as happy as her body.

She is the spoon to my peach, the dark to my light, the light to my new moon when I cry, when I can’t see where I am. “You are right here,” she tells me, and every time, I choose to believe her. When she tells me everything is ok, I choose to believe her. I begin to believe this without asking, though it’s always nice to hear.

*

They didn’t believe me at first. “How can you be sure?” an in-law asked. “It’s a trend these days,” said one acquaintance. “It’s because you live in Vermont.” “Sexuality is fluid.” “It might just be a phase.” “You’re having a mid-life crisis.” “Don’t throw away your marriage.” “You’ve never even kissed a woman.” While there was no shortage of opinions, some were more encouraging: “Do you want to have a near-life experience?” asked a friend, twenty years my senior, from her unique vantage point as a self-described “seasoned old dyke.”

Even before my lips had touched another woman’s, my 36-year-old body had revealed to me its lifelong secret, and denying it evoked an inner fury I didn’t know I possessed. I tried to keep my life from unraveling by avoiding physical contact with the woman I’d fallen for; I attempted to dance around the truth six ways to Sunday, but it kept waiting for me on Monday morning. Once I knew what I knew, I cried every time my husband and I had sex. Both of us were devastated. And while my parents implored me to stay—“for the kids” and to “keep the family unit intact”—I knew with every fiber of my being that coming out was ultimately for them as much as it was for me. Years of being good fell around me like a house of cards.
Staying meant leaving.

All of this said, it’s important that you understand this: I didn’t know until I knew. My innocence had taken many forms: Domestic goddess, breast-feeding mama, dinner-maker, serial seeker always looking to belong. I felt like I found my people when I went to my first coaching training in my late twenties.  I felt it again at a Hillel conference, dancing in a circle with hundreds of Jews. I felt it among women, always among women, and yet never once stopped to think, “Huh.”

But that’s not the whole truth, and this is where innocence gets a little murky. “Not in this lifetime,” I told myself, and I did count myself blessed. I had two amazing healthy kids and a supportive marriage. We wanted the best for each other—but I also lamented that I wouldn’t get to see what it was like, that mysterious wistful thing called “being with another woman.” I was not in the closet; I didn’t even know there was a closet. The thought that I was sexually curious was so confined, so compartmentalized, so totally cut off from felt experience. In my imagination, maybe it could be a one-time thing, something to get out of my system. I came to see later that it existed somewhere outside of my body—in a small, airtight box off to the far right of my consciousness.

When I got tired of being chronically depressed and unsatisfied by what by all rights looked like a perfectly lovely life, I went back to therapy. “I feel like I’m sitting on a landmine,” I told the therapist. “And I want to know what it is.” Several months after embarking on this search for what I did not yet know but was determined to discover, I sat on another woman’s couch reading Yeats, our feet touching lightly, out way past my bedtime while my husband lay in our bed, wondering where I was. The next day, listening to a mixed CD she’d made for me, the landmine exploded. I was alone in our blue RAV4 on my way to pick up our four- and seven-year-old children. And I just knew. I punched the steering wheel and sobbed as Bon Iver’s “Blood Bank” played over and over. My whole life made sense to me in a matter of seconds.

*

When your body tells you something, believe her.

“Everything is okay,” she reminds me, when doubt rolls in like so much fog some mornings.

I choose to believe her. I choose to believe myself. I no longer feel the need to explain.

*

I lie in bed in the morning, listening to summer rain on the bedroom skylight, drifting in and out of sleep. I like it when she tells me I reach for her in the night. I like knowing that my love is real and not something I’ve invented, not a waking lie I have to convince myself of.

The sleeping body doesn’t lie.

In the space between lives, I had to come to learn—and unlearn—all the ways I’d practiced lying to myself and others. It’s subtle and sneaky—an orientation, if you will, and one I’d mastered not because of any special skill but as a result of years of repetition. Two things can happen when you do a lot of something for many years: One is that you get really good at it. The other is that you can cause injury, to yourself and others. For me, both were true.

I didn’t mean to lie. I meant to be good: A good wife to my husband. A good mama to my small children. A good friend. I smoked cloves behind buildings. I started a blog. I started writing a book, but couldn’t figure out what it was about. I “went out” a lot, usually with my journal and a hidden pack of smokes. I loved my life—but I was missing in action, searching myself out in ways something deep within me knew would require leaving.

*

I have two lifelines on my left palm. My ex-husband does, too. For years, I’d study them, musing about this odd mark we seemed to share and wondering what would happen. Something had to break but I found myself unable to imagine its form. Illness? Death?

*

Not two years into our life together, my wife got so sick we didn’t know if she’d survive. An anaphylactic reaction to a piece of baklava nearly killed her, and months later finally resulted in a diagnosis of Mast Cell Activation Disorder, sometimes called an “orphan disease” due its rarity, followed by a severe neuropathy in her feet that kept her housebound and bedridden for months. Not six months after our wedding day, she was barely able to walk from the bed to the bathroom, much less work or enjoy our new marriage. Some days, I cried out of sheer fear and exhaustion. What if this was it? Her illness brought us both to our knees in prayer, if in different forms, and taught us how to stay—in the body, in relationship with each other as spouses and partners and lovers, and in life. Roles neither of us would have volunteered for became opportunities to root down, not fight or flee reality.

Now she is healing and in some ways, we are beginning again, newly aware of how everything can change, can be taken away in an instant. Now the between space we wake to each day is one where we inhabit life unfolding, where love is really love and the notion of unconditional presence has been tested and strengthened by the fire of our first years together.

*

A footnote in a prayer book tells us that the light and the dark are not separate realms, and that the Hebrew word for “between” has its roots in “understanding.” Whatever it is that governs our deepest knowing stitches day and night together. The seams are invisible, requiring no explanation. Hers is the last face I see before we turn out the lights, and the first when I open my eyes each morning. And my heart, too, has stitched itself up.

There will always be a break between my life lines, reminding me that stepping into the space between things is a necessary and unavoidable part of any creative act. And by taking action, by surrendering to the body’s knowing along with whatever life is asking of me, confusion will clear and clear seeing will follow. It’s only a matter of time.

***

Jena Schwartz is a poet, promptress, and author of creative nonfiction who creates and facilitates online and in-person spaces that offer fierce encouragement for writing practice and the creative process. She lives in Amherst, Massachusetts with her wife and two children. Visit her blog and website at www.jenaschwartz.com.

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Issue 15: Behind the Scenes

For Issue 15, Sliver of Stone welcomes four new editors!

POETRY – Born and raised in Colombia, Stella Hastie now lives in Charlotte, North Carolina. She writes in many genres and her work reflects her experiences as a Colombian-American who observes, explores, and questions the world from a variety of perspectives. Stella holds a BA and an MA in English Literature from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.  Her poetry has appeared in Southern Poetry Review, Sanskrit, Listen Listen, Huellas, and she’s had several articles published in local newspapers and magazines.

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NONFICTION – Timothy Laurence is a Research Assistant at the Tuck Business School at Dartmouth College. He is the author of the forthcoming essay collection, How to Make White People Happy, and has written essays and stories for numerous publications including The New Welsh Review, Catapult, Fourth River, Ninth Letter and Grist. He holds a PhD in Creative Writing from Aberystwyth University Wales.

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Timothy Laurence

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FICTION – Tanya Perkins is assistant professor of English and coordinator of creative writing at Indiana University East, where she teaches fiction, composition, professional/technical writing.  An MFA from Murray State University, her work has appeared or is forthcoming in numerous journals, including The Woven Tale PressFiction Southeast, The Raleigh Review, Big Muddy, Wilderness House Literary Review, The Forge,  and others. She lives in eastern Indiana with her husband, daughter and assorted four-legged critters.

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Tanya Perkins

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POETRY – Lis Sanchez has fiction and poetry in Nimrod, Prairie Schooner, The Greensboro Review, New Orleans Review, Puerto del Sol, Southern Poetry Review, and elsewhere.  She is a recipient of a Writer’s Fellowship from the North Carolina Arts Council, the Greensboro Review Award for Fiction, the Eyster Prize for Fiction, the Lullwater Review Prize for Poetry and the Prairie Schooner Virginia Faulkner Award for Excellence in Writing.  Lis holds a Ph.D. in English from the University of Georgia, including specialties in Creative Writing and Contemporary Latino Literature in the U.S.

Sliver of Stone: Issue 15

Visual Art by Henry Hu and Fabrice Poussin. Nonfiction by Rachel Richardson and Jena Schwartz. Poetry by Jennifer A. Reimer, Robert Beveridge, CL Bledsoe, Susan J. Erickson, Karen L. George, Barbara Laiolo-March (here and here), and January Pearson. Fiction by Leah Browning, Elise Glassman, Ken Poyner, and Mika Yamamoto. New Publication: Jennifer McCauley and Susanna Lang. Behind the Scenes with Sliver of Stone editors.

VISUAL ART

NONFICTION

POETRY

FICTION

NEW PUBLICATIONS

Issue 15: New Publications

Congratulations to Jennifer McCauley, Sliver of Stone‘s fiction editor, for the publication of her poetry-prose collection SCAR ON / SCAR OFF (Stalking Horse Press).

The final cover is done and the book is available to order on the press website and at all major bookstores online.

 

 

Jennifer Maritza McCauley’s SCAR ON / SCAR OFF runs the borderlands of mestiza consciousness, by turns neon-lit and beating, defiant and clashing, searching and struggling, in fistfuls of recognition, in constant pursuit of intersections and dualities. Drawing on Audre Lorde, Gloria Anzaldua, Toni Morrison, Claudia Rankine, and the inspirations of her late friend Monica A. Hand, through polyglossia and hybrid text, McCauley evokes vividly the relationships between psyche and city, identity and language. In the rhythm and snap of these poems and fragmentary stories, we find echoes of Sarah Webster Fabio, Beyonce, flamenco, Nikki Giovanni, street slang, danger and hope. This is a profound collection, a rebel language.

Jennifer Maritza McCauley is a teacher, writer, and editor living in Columbia, Missouri. She holds or has previously held editorial positions at The Missouri Review, Origins Journal, and The Florida Book Review, amongst other outlets, and has received fellowships from Kimbilio, CantoMundo, the Knight Foundation, and Sundress Academy of the Arts. She is the recipient of an Academy of American Poets University Award and has appeared in Passages North, Puerto del Sol, Split this Rock: Poem of the Week, The Los Angeles Review, Jabberwock Review, and elsewhere. Her collection SCAR ON/SCAR OFF will be published by Stalking Horse Press in fall 2017.

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We’re also very proud of Sliver of Stone contributor, Susanna Lang, whose poetry collection, Travel Notes from the River Styx, is now available from Terrapin Books.

“In the earnest and beautiful Travel Notes from the River Styx, Susanna Lang peers into the tiny mirrors of a river’s current, the mirror her father cannot see himself in, the rearview mirror in which she spies sandhill cranes on an afternoon drive as she interrogates the natural and, at times, unnatural world. The result is a collection of double images: the moon a “copper coin with the sheen worn off,” “the flag [that] slips down the pole,” the country where her grandmother was born once called Russia, now Ukraine. As clear in its language as it is rich in argument, there’s something for everyone in Travel Notes, for travelers are exactly what this poet proclaims we are. It’s impossible to read this collection without wondering what doubles wait/lurk/reside beneath the skin of our bodies and of our world.”

–Andrew McFadyen-Ketchum

Susanna Lang is the author of Tracing the Lines (Brick Road Poetry Press, 2013) and Even Now (The Backwaters Press, 2008). She has also published two collections of her translations of poems by Yves Bonnefoy, Words in Stone (University of Massachusetts Press, 1976) and The Origin of Language (George Nama, 1979). A two-time Hambidge Fellow and recipient of the Emerging Writer Fellowship from the Bethesda Writer’s Center, she has published her poems and essays in such journals as New Letters, Prairie Schooner, Green Mountains Review, and Poetry East. She lives in Chicago, where she teaches in the Chicago Public Schools.

One of the poems was featured recently on Verse Daily and another will be featured on American Life in Poetry next summer.

Issue 14 Interviews

Marci Calabretta Cancio-Bello is the author of Hour of the Ox (University of Pittsburgh, 2016), which won the 2015 AWP Donald Hall Prize for Poetry and the 2016 Florida Book Award bronze medal for poetry. She has received poetry fellowships from Kundiman and the Knight Foundation, and her work has appeared in The Adroit Journal, Best New Poets 2015, The Georgia Review, Los Angeles Review of Books, Narrative Magazine, and more.

Marci was interviewed by Yaddyra Peralta for Sliver of Stone.

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Jan Becker is from a small coal mining town in Pennsylvania. She didn’t stay there very long. She grew up in a Marine Corps family, on military bases all over the United States, and wandered the US for many years before settling in South Florida. She is currently an MFA candidate at Florida International University, and has taught courses there in composition, technical writing, creative writing and poetry. Her work has appeared in Jai-Alai Magazine, Colorado Review, Emerge, Brevity Poetry Review, Sliver of Stone, and the Florida Book Review. She was the winner of the 2015 AWP Intro Journals Award in Nonfiction. Her first book, The Sunshine Chronicles was published by Jitney Books in 2016.

Jan was interviewed for Sliver of Stone Magazine.

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