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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

978-0-8229-6421-6-frontcover

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.

jans-cover

Issue 14: Behind the Scenes

Do you ever wonder what Sliver of Stone editors are up to, when they’re not feverishly reading, editing, or soliciting work from writers? We invite you behind the scenes of our magazine.

NICHOLAS GARNETT, Nonfiction Editor

Nick Garnett and co-producer Esther Martinez continue their work on Miami’s home-grown true story live reading event, Lip Service, which is now produced by Miami Book Fair. Upcoming events include an open-mic night on April 27 and Lip Service’s next stage show, on May 20 at the Miracle Theater in Coral Gables. The submission period for the May 20 show runs until April 16. For submission guidelines, visit Lipservicestories.com.

FABIENNE JOSAPHAT, Fiction Editor

Fabienne is on a sabbatical this time around, so that she can focus on her next novel.

A French translation of Dancing In the Baron’s Shadow will be released in Europe this summer. The novel is set in Haiti in 1965, during the repressive and brutal regime of François Duvalier, aka Papa Doc, aka Baron Samedi. The Miami Herald describes it as “an ambitious and impressive first novel, a love letter to Haiti and its people, a tale of two brothers who repeatedly manage to find their way back to each other — and to redemption.”

JENNIFER MARITZA MCCAULEY, Fiction Editor

Jennifer is everywhere! Here’s a link to all the literary journals she works with.

Jennifer’s cross-genre poetry collection SCAR ON/SCAR OFF will be published with Stalking Horse Press this fall. More soon!

She’s currently on a sabbatical.

Jennifer

JUSTIN BENDELL, Fiction Editor

Justin is doing it all, and telling it all in this short Q&A:

Q: Justin, Do you have any writing projects outside of Sliver of Stone?

A: As a matter of fact, I do. In New Mexico, where I live, I have started a literary journal called Manzano Mountain Review. The journal is exclusively online, at least for now, and it seeks writing from former and current New Mexico residents. This isn’t a very wide net, I admit, but we are going to see what kind of subs we get for issue 1. If we feel the need to widen the pool, we will do so. 

If you’ve ever lived in New Mexico, please send us your poems, fiction under 3000 words, creative nonfiction, or visual art! 

If not, I encourage you to check us out at manzanomountainreview.com . Our first issue will debut online November 1, 2017.  

Q: Sounds terrific. Anything else?

A: Yes! A friend and I are developing a noir/crime fiction podcast. It is still in the early planning stages, but our goal will be to chat about / analyze  one critically-acclaimed novel or story collection each month. When we get it up and running, I’ll spread the word. 

Q: You’re certainly keeping busy. 

A: Yeah, I also have a black metal e.p. coming out in April, but that’s for another venue.

justin at todds for bfast

Justin at Todd’s for breakfast

MJ FIEVRE, Founding Editor

MJ’s short play, “If You’re an Orange,” will be produced in South Florida this spring, as part of an event organized by Compositum Musicae Novae (CMN) at the Pinecrest Gardens‘s outdoor amphitheater.

“If You’re an Orange…” is a two-character poetic play about chronic depression.

Who’s involved in the production?

Amy Coker is a graduate of the University of Florida, where she studied Literature, Shakespeare, and Modern Drama. She is the Literary & Programs Manager at City Theatre, as well as an actor and director. Amy most recently stage managed and assistant directed for Mad Cat Theatre. She was recently seen directing for the One-Minute Play Festival and various staged readings, and onstage in Sol Theatre’s The Christmas Carol. Next up Amy will be directing and producing two plays at the Ft. Lauderdale Fringe Festival.

Robert Fritz is a graduate of the University of Miami where he received his BFA in Musical Theatre. He is a member of the Miami Children’s Museum’s team of theatre-makers. He was recently seen around South Florida in See Rock City with Evening Star Productions, The Normal Heart with Outre Theatre, and A Christmas Carol with Actor’s Playhouse. Next up Robert will be seen onstage at the Ft. Lauderdale Fringe Festival, and in Rock Odyssey at the Arsht Center.

Gladys Ramirez is professional director and actor in South Florida. Offstage, she is in her third season as the Artistic Director of The Project [theatre], Miami’s only site-specifc and immersive theatre company. Onstage, she has played with Gablestage, City Theatre, Island City Stage, The Stage Door, Mangrove Creative Collective, Promethean Theatre, Fantasy Theatre Factory, and Parade Productions. A Miami native, she received her Bachelor of Fine Arts in Acting from New World School of the Arts.

A note from MJ: “Universe, listen to me, and listen to me good: Writing TV scripts and plays; that’s what makes me happy: That’s what I want to do with the rest of my life: That’s how I want to make a living. You heard me, Universe. Now, make it happen.”

Gladys Ramirez

HOLLY MAYES, Art Editor

Holly is staying busy and healthy.

Holly Mayes

BETTY JO BURO, Nonfiction Editor

Betty Jo Buro talks about her first AWP Conference:

Q: What took you so long to get to AWP?

A: It’s usually in February, somewhere cold, and I prefer not to go places where heavy outerwear is required. Layers make me sad. Plus, I always assumed AWP would overwhelm me. This year, my arm was twisted, I was promised the hotel connected to the convention center, giving me the option to stay completely indoors, and I caved.

Q: So, was it overwhelming?

A: Well, walking the aisles of the Book Fair and recognizing all the literary magazines and journals that have sent me rejections was a little overwhelming. But, I did get to meet some editors who had published my work, and that was cool.

Q: What surprised you?

A: With all the talk of books disappearing in the digital age, you can’t help but leave AWP feeling the opposite, feeling optimistic. Books were everywhere. Books are being published. The book, I’m relieved to report, is alive and well.

Q: What were the highlights for you?

A: I enjoyed the panels, but for me, it was the smaller moments–making new friends with writers in the Starbuck’s line, a Roxane Gay sighting in the lobby bar, a Dim Sum lunch I’m still thinking about, a spontaneous anti-travel ban protest on the book fair floor, hanging with old MFA friends, and witnessing people I love sign their books. The very best part? Being asked by the awesome folks at Cherry Tree magazine to read from one of my essays at Bus Boys and Poets. That night I layered up and ventured out. That night was magical.

Betty Jo

JUBI ARRIOLA-HEADLEY, Copyeditor Extraordinaire

Jubi has been focusing on his poetry, taking two online poetry classes at the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, MA. He’s become a reader for By and By Poetry (www.byandbylit.org), for one.  AND he’s been accepted into the poetry workshop at the Lambda Literary Writers Retreat for Emerging LGBTQ Voices this summer in Los Angeles! We’re very excited for him.

Jubi

THOMAS LOGAN, Comics Editor

Thomas is off the grid, devoting himself to his upcoming video games podcast with geek-world experts AJ and Richard. More soon!

Thomas

YADDYRA PERALTA, Poetry Editor

From Yaddyra: “Throughout the year, I work as Assistant Director of Palm Beach Poetry Festival which is going into its 14th year in 2018. While we offer community outreach programs throughout the year, the main event takes place on the week of Martin Luther King Jr Day at Old School Square in Delray Beach. This year, we offered daily poetry workshops in the morning, craft talks in the afternoon and evening poetry readings with poets David Baker, Laure-Anne Bosselaar, Tina Chang, Lynn Emanuel, Daisy Fried, Terrance Hayes, Dorianne Laux, Carl Phillips, and Martha Rhodes. Putting together this many events and making sure all the parts fit is a lot of work, but as a poet, it’s a pleasure to witness Terrance Hayes reading new and unpublished poems; to realize I’ve lived this long without reading David Baker’s muscular and compassionate poetry; to hear Lynn Emmanuel discuss the structure of a book via Langston Hughes’s Selected Poems. We already have the lineup for 2018. Keep an eye on our website palmbeachpoetryfestival.org in the next few weeks for news!”

Photo credit: Old School Square in Delray Beach by Owen McGoldrick.

HECTOR DUARTE JR., IN-TRANSLATOR EDITOR

From Hector:

“I’m glad to be finally graduating this spring from Florida International University’s Creative Writing MFA program. For a second there, I thought it would never happen. Then again, a lot of things happened this past year–globally and otherwise–that I thought never would.

Joe Clifford and Tom Pitts, former flash fiction editors at The Flash Fiction Offensive, were kind enough to ask me to take over as editor there while they buggered off to write their epic novels.

Why, of all people, they picked me, I still can’t figure out. I’m forever grateful, though, and having a blast doing it.

My co-editor is Rob Pierce, a mean mutha out of NorCal.

We’d like to entice–or strong-arm–you to submit a story. Here’s the link: https://outofthegutteronline.submittable.com/submit.

Do it now!”

Hector

Marci Calabretta Cancio-Bello: Hour of the Ox

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.

Miami poet Marci Calabretta at her home in Coral Gables.
By Scott McIntyre

Without giving away too many secrets, can you talk about Hour of the Ox as a book project? You have created a world that seems all at once imagined, mythical and palpably real. How did this book begin to take shape?

A lot of research went into this book. It started with a few seed poems that dictated the loose narrative of the collection, and as I wrote more poems toward the manuscript, I began to see patterns and holes in the narrative where a poem idea could fit. I like to throw everything into my work to see what juxtapositions come out, so research included reading historical narratives and news articles about the inhabitants of Jeju, Korean folklore, watching Youtube videos of the pearl divers singing, and eating a lot of tangerines. A lot of these poems exist in liminal spaces between the real and imagined.

The first poem in the book is “Anti-Elegy” which reads almost as a catalog of losses and gratitudes. If the anti-elegy were a form, how would you define it?

That’s a great question. I’m not sure such a form would be the perfect opposite to an elegy. I love the idea of a catalog of losses and gratitudes, which in “Anti-Elegy” are the same. I’m very interested in things that appear to be opposites but are more like slant-binaries, if you will. For example, cows and horses, milk and orange juice, love and violence. All of those things might be classed in the same categories or as opposites, depending on context. I would like to think a poetry form like the anti-elegy would capture those pairings in such a catalog. I also think that the list of objective images would create some sort of powerful emotional landscape that adds up to something much deeper than mere grieving. To me, this particular poem serves as a twin for “Songs of Thirst: Six Sijo” and is much like the memory orbs in Pixar’s Inside Out, where a memory is made more complex by the multitude of emotions one can simultaneously feel. I prefer my poems to create an emotional atmosphere through concrete imagery, and while “Anti-Elegy” functions as epigraph, catalog, and cast list for the rest of the manuscript, it also requires real engagement from the reader to know what sort of emotional response they are supposed to have.

One thing that you captured here is the sense of a culture–not just the culture of a nation or ethnicity but also the culture of a family and/or a place–and, in this case, a matriarchal culture. The women in the book figure prominently, while the men move almost like shadows. A lot of this book, I gather, is inspired by the pearl divers of Jeju Island. What about the haenyeo inspired you to write poems?

When I started writing these poems, I was interested in exploring an aspect of Korean history that I had never before had access to as a Korean American adoptee. But then I stumbled upon a New York Times article about the South Korean “sea women” who became the breadwinners and shifted the economic balance on the island. I was enamored of these women in their fifties and sixties who had become such public pillars of the island’s culture by taking the most demeaning jobs. They are also physically powerful. I certainly can’t hold my breath for three minutes while freediving. Pearl-diving is a dying art, too, as the younger generations move on to other careers and these women grow older. The intersectionality of personal family obligations and culture duties within a collectivist society always fascinates me, and I wanted these poems to be able to simultaneously explore both this slice of Korean history and the idea of personal and national duty. The great poet Marilyn Chin once said, “The personal is political.” Within a single family’s experience can resonate many facets of both the history and spirituality of a whole culture.

An interesting aspect of a lot of these poems are the macro-details. The poem “All the Sheep Have Scattered” includes images such as “your hair’s whorl” and “the light sewn into your skin” (which echoes the mother sewing “pearls into my skin” in “Old Country, New Country). I wondered how much of this had to do with influence, not just of your favorite poets or even teachers, but perhaps particular works you were reading while putting together the manuscript.

If I were to create a family tree of all the books that influenced this manuscript, I would certainly include Ai’s Collected Poems; Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities; Louise Glück’s The Wild Iris; everything by Robert Hass; Jane Hirshfield’s Come, Thief; everything by John Keats; Suji Kwock Kim’s Notes from the Divided Country; everything by Li-Young Lee; Osip Mandelstam’s Stolen Air: Selected Poems; everything by Sylvia Plath; Brynn Saito’s The Palace of Contemplating Departure; Richard Siken’s Crush; Tracy K. Smith’s The Body’s Question; Franz Wright’s The Beforelife; and Tina May Hall’s The Physics of Imaginary Objects. From each of these books I saw something different that I wanted to learn, whether it was etherealizing line breaks, emotional landscapes, pinning an abstraction to a concrete image, or stringing a lyric sequence into a loose narrative. During these years, of course, I read too many books to name here, but I treated each text as a textbook, and each poem that came out of it as a kind of exam.

I remember you saying that you like book projects, which I gather to mean collections bound by a strong thematic or narrative thread. Any new book projects on the horizon?

Everything is still in the early stages at this point, but I have a few different projects in the works. I think I’ll forever be a project-based writer. I’ve been writing a series of lyric essays on Korean food, pop culture, and adoption; and always more poems about Korea.

***

Marci serves as a program coordinator for Miami Book Fair and producer for The Working Poet Radio Show. www.marcicalabretta.com.

Kevin Perkins: Acrylic on Paper

Kevin Perkins is a painter living and working in Dallas, Texas. He received his BFA in Communication Design from Louisiana Tech University.

Cossatot (2016), Acrylic on Paper, 13″x9″

Perkins works with synthetic polymer paint on canvas, cotton and paper. Ever enthralled by the natural world, Perkins work conjures up traditional landscape paintings that tend to veer into abstraction.

Greybeard (2016), Acrylic on Paper, 13.5″ x 22″

Perkins’ work intends to evoke a dialogue with the natural landscape with an attentiveness to the present moment without being tied to the particularity of place.

Blue Light Special (2016), Acrylic on Paper, 11.5″ x 8.25″

Check out his website at www.kevinperkins.us.