Thank you so much for sharing your book with me and agreeing to do a Q&A for my readers.
Thank you! I always appreciate it when someone is willing to take the time to read my work. I hope you enjoyed it. I’m delighted to be introduced to your blog readers.
Tell us what we can expect to find in Space, Collisons, your very first micro-chapbook!
Space, Collisions focuses on characters who overcome the space between, resulting in collisions of many kinds. The spaces can be physical or mental, political or personal. As the characters connect or attempt to connect, the three stories explore the consequences of these changes.
The micro-chapbook contains three stories. In “When Continents Collide,” a man waits on the shores of the Outer Banks for the collision of the North American and African continents. “Trace” focuses on the intimate secrets shared between one pining woman and her self-destructing lover. “Spacefall” features two scientists who take a break from work to drive to the countryside and bask in their friendship. Overall, the stories emphasize the common longing to overcome the space that divides.
While this is your first micro-chapbook, you’ve had a number of other works of fiction and poetry published in journals. Was there any challenges you found in putting together this micro-chapbook as opposed to your usual work?
I admit, putting together a micro-chapbook made me a bit nervous at first. I consulted any chapbook manuscript guidelines I could find on the internet. Fortunately, Ghost City Press gives their writers and poets a great deal of freedom when it comes to putting together the micro-chapbooks. The editors, of course, make some minor adjustments to fit it to the press’s personal style, but otherwise most of the decisions are up to the author.
In comparison to the individual stories that I’m submitting, I’d say the micro-chapbook was easier to complete. I almost always have to adjust my individual story manuscripts when submitting to literary journals and magazines to fit their specific guidelines: contact information, fonts, page margains, etc. It can be tedious and time consuming. In addition, I’ll often revise my stories—if they are rejected—based on an editor’s feedback. With a collection of stories, I don’t often have to make so many major adjustments.
On your blog, A Vase of Wildflowers, you highlight what you’ve been reading. How important do you think it is for writers to read avidly, as well as write?
I think reading can only help you as a writer. Reading work by other writers has been described to me before as a conversation and I wholeheartedly agree with that idea. When in conversation with other writers, you can explore their particular techniques and consider why you find them successful or unsuccessful. You might even try some of these techniques yourself to gauge their difficulty or to further understand a writer’s purpose. It can help you find what you want to do or don’t want to do in your own writing.
In today’s increasingly connected world, the myth of the solitary writer is evaporating. I’d argue it’s a good thing to be exposed to other voices. Learning from one another makes us wiser, stretches us, makes us better craftspeople, and opens our mind to potential new material and ideas. There is a reason so many writers talk about being part of the literary community—instead of, say, the literary business or literary industry.
The title and cover of this book are so incredibly memorable. What inspired them?
Thank you! For the title, I tried to focus on the core elements of the stories. I added the comma to emphasize the space between the two words. I thought it would make the word “collisions” feel more impactful as well. Hopefully it worked!
All the credit for the cover must go to the lovely Jennifer M. Potter. When we were tasked with coming up with coverart for our micro-chapbooks, I immediately thought of Jennifer. I deeply admired the beautiful art style of her webcomic Echo's Rift. I was thrilled when she agreed to take on my coverart project. I asked her to use key images from my stories and she came up with the genius idea that is now my cover. Her hard work and attention to detail impressed me, especially since I gave her a somewhat tight deadline. She also helped me with the print version’s back cover as well. She proved to be an extremely talented and professional cover artist and I’m grateful she helped me with Space, Collisions.
How long did it take you to get this book published, from its initial conception to the release date?
Ghost City Press posted a notice on Twitter about their micro-chapbook series ealier this year, inviting poets and writers to submit their manuscripts. I was familiar with the series and decided to submit my own work to Kevin Bertolero and Jack Bachmann, the 2018 series editors, in early March. In early May, Kevin sent me the acceptance letter. I was beside myself with joy. Through the rest of the month of May the manuscript was formatted, the cover was submitted, and other important details were worked out. The micro-chapbook order was decided at random—names drawn out of a hat—and so my chapbook was #39 in the series and was published on July 19. So the whole process took a little more than four months.
This micro-chapbook is part of a series through Ghost City Press. Can you tell us a little bit about how you found them and what it was like working with a small press?
I was familiar with Ghost City Press, some of the poets that published with them, and the overall micro-chapbook series before I submitted. I’d been following them on Twitter for some time as well. So it was no accident I saw their call for submissions.
Working with the press was wonderful. Kevin tried to make the process as painless as possible, sending us few but informative emails. He made sure to give us thorough insructions about what was needed to reach our collective goal of publication. He also tried to help us by promoting the series often and widely. Being part of the 2018 series and working to support the other poets and writers left me with a new appreciation for the publishing process and for the uniqueness of Ghost City.
What was the biggest hurdle you had to overcome in completing Space, Collisons?
Like I mentioned before, it was a fairly painless process, thanks to the hard working crew at Ghost City Press and Jennifer Potter’s efficiency. The largest hurdles honestly came after publication. Marketing is tough and finding people who want to review micro-chapbooks is a challenge on its own. Though it’s still an uphill battle, the people who were willing to help made all the difference and I’m grateful to them. After all, I write as part of the larger conversation. I want to engage with readers. It’s more fun that way.
What other books and authors inspire you?
Oh my goodness, that is a long list! I’ll inevitably miss some, but I’ll give it a go.
If I had to pick books that were near perfect, I’d hand you Melanie Finn’s The Gloaming and Hanif Abdurraqib’s They Can't Kill Us Until They Kill Us. Finn plays with structure in The Gloaming in a way that I find both bold and enticing. It’s also worth mentioning the precision of her prose—whether it be description, action, narration, etc.—belongs to a class all its own. In They Can't Kill Us Until They Kill Us, Abdurraqib writes with a wisdom that is simultaneously empathetic and convicting. He’s also excellent at crafting sentences and experimenting with sentence structure. Both The Gloaming and They Can't Kill Us Until They Kill Us are Two Dollar Radio titles and I’ve greatly enjoyed many of the books the press has published.
I happened upon Finn and Abdurraqib recently, but my longstanding devotions belong to Toni Morrison, Haruki Murakami, Margaret Atwood, and Neil Gaiman. I read the majority of Morrison’s novels in college and her work significantly broadened my worldview. She taught me to think, really think, about the characters I’m putting on the page. Murakami captured my interest with 1Q84. The weirdness of the novel is something I aspire to with my own fiction. I keep hoping his odd stories and transparent love of cats will win him a Nobel Prize (or, you know, The New Prize in Literature). Atwood had me with A Handmaid’s Tale, which I read in high school, and Gaiman won my readership with Neverwhere. Both novels left me with a strong appreciation of speculative ficiton.
There are oodles of other poets and writers I admire: Octavia Butler, Celeste Ng, Han Kang, Min Jin Lee, Jeff VanderMeer, Adam Johnson, Vaddey Ratner, Xhenet Aliu, Kathy Fish, Sue Burke, Nella Larsen, Katherine Arden, Zora Neale Hurston, Aleksandar Hemon, Jennifer Niven, Joan Didion, Jo Ann Beard, Cat Winters, Laura Ruby, Sandra Cisneros, Philip Caputo, Barbara Kingsolver, Natsuki Takaya, Aldous Huxley, Suzanne Collins, Aimee Nezhukumatathil, Ann Pancake, Claudia Rankine, Dalia Sofer, Cinda Williams Chima, Jeannette Walls, and many, many others. And that doesn’t even include my talented friends who write. It also fails to highlight the television, film, and video game writers I appreciate so much.
The truth is I can probably never come up with a comphrehensive list. I have encountered countless creators whose work I appreciate. It’s an exciting time to be a reader (and writer)!
What is your next writing project?
Right now I’m working on a novella. Well, I call it a novella, but we’ll see how long it is when I’m finished. Either way, it’s the strongest and most compelling idea I’ve had in a long time. I’m excited about it. I keep trying to plow through my other work so I can get back to writing it. I’m a little obssessd, to be honest. It’s too early to tell, but I think I’ve finally hit a book-length project that won’t utterly fail.
What is it about? That’s a secret for now. We’ll see how I feel about it when I’m finished with the first draft. Maybe then I’ll be more talkative.
I was really lucky to get to work with you when we were both in the creative writing program at Salem College. How do you feel like your undergraduate and graduate degrees have helped your writing career?
I was lucky to work with you! We had a great group of writers at Salem College and I remember those writing classes fondly. I gained important knowledge in those years. Most of the lessons I learned were hard but needed. Like, for example, I learned that procrastinating and not polishing the draft of a story did a major disservice to me and to my classmates. It also forced me to follow through on things such as editing another classmate’s work. It made me grow up, essentially, and forced me to confront what a professional writer looked like. Most of the professors who were responsible for putting my nose to the grindstone were also the people who somehow shaped my career as a writer: Aimee Mepham, Amy Knox Brown, Joseph Mills, Jo Dulan, Edyta Oczkowicz, and even one of my history professors, Tekla Johnson. During those four years my worldview also broadened. I was exposed to many non-Western, nonwhite, and non male writers in that four year time period. It was a huge help to me to be exposed to so many different perspectives.
Creighton University’s MFA program was a completely different experiene. So we’re talking a more homogeneous student population and a less diverse set of published writers to study. Here is where I learned more about the cannon of writers that U.S. academics seem so reliant upon: Raymond Carver, Flannery O’Connor, Vladimir Nabokov, J. D. Salinger, Denis Johnson, Bret Easton Ellis, etc. The circulum was overwhelmingly white and male, with a few exceptions (i.e. Charles Johnson, Kazuo Ishiguro, Jhumpa Lahiri). If anything, it worked as a balancing act to Salem’s courses. I learned a great deal about how I didn’t want to write and—believe it or not—I found this valuable too. And I wrote a lot. I started several ambitious projects and had a book-length collection of stories by the time I finished the program. I also met many talented and hard working writers in the program and made lasting connections there.
My mentor, Mary Helen Stefaniak, taught me a great deal in the two years that I studied under her. She was the one that paid most attention to my work and was also the one that was most tolerant of me as a student. And I had a tendency to be a difficult student. My health was poor during those two years, so I had to miss classes more often than I liked. I was also always thinking out loud, my anxiety making me annoyingly talkative. She was the one that had the patience to deal with my persistence and drive and I was grateful for her, as well as for the wisdom she chose to impart.
What advice do you have for aspiring writers looking to start a career?
To give meaningful writing advice is a difficult thing and I would argue that it becomes more difficult—not less—the longer one practices their craft. Here is what I find to be consistently true in my own pursuit of the craft: writing is hard work. At times it may be enjoyable, at times it may be miserable, but it is rarely easy. And writing is an art but publishing is a business. Aspiring writers should be careful not to get the two confused and think they are the same thing.
What is the first book that made you cry?
The first one? I’m not sure I can remember with absolutely certainty. I want to say it was a Fruits Basket manga, back when I was a broody teenager, but I can’t remember for sure. The first one that I can remember well is The Hunger Games. The book came to me at a critical time in my life. I read it in undergraduate school when I was dealing with some personal trauma. I needed a story about a girl who survived against odds that were not in her favor.
What is your writing Kryptonite?
So, what prevents me from writing? A lot of things can slow me down: the internet, the news, my self-doubt, reasearch rabbit holes, and definitely any good books that I want to read. At this point in my career I’m trying hard to focus hard and eliminate distractions that may disrupt my focus.
What is your favorite book to recommend to others?
That’s easy: The Gloaming and They Can't Kill Us Until They Kill Us.