Interview with Ed Burke

 

Ed Burke reading Maia’s Call at Write Action gathering, 2019

I’m very pleased to continue my interviews of Running Wild Anthology of Stories 3 colleagues, this time with author and poet Ed Burke. His story, “Maia’s Call,” truly moved me.

Welcome, Ed! Please give us a taste of what your story is about.

Ed: “Maia’s Call” begins with a phone call to the protagonist, Tom from his former lover, Maia, who asks him to come see her because she is dying. Tom travels from San Francisco to Maia’s home in a remote corner of Vermont. There they spend a night sharing the story of their lives over the intervening years and what has brought them to this point.

Gemma: How did you find out about this anthology?

Ed: I was searching for a small independent publisher for my novel, Christine, Released and came across Running Wild Press in Poets & Writers Magazine’s list of publishers. I liked what I read, researched further and appreciated many of the novels, and the short story and novella anthologies because they contained excellent cutting edge work.

Gemma: They truly do – it’s a real strength of Running Wild Press.

Cover of Running Wild Anthology of Stories Vol. 3
Our New Anthology

Gemma: Do you remember when and why you started writing?

Ed: I’ve been creating stories since forever but didn’t start writing until high school as best as I can remember. I’ve always had movies running in my head and I put some of those fictions down on paper. Poetry is a different matter; channeling lyric reality is a gorgeous passion that I am compelled to express.

Gemma: That’s a wonderful description of poetry. And I love the image of movies running in your head! What’s the first piece you wrote that you’re still proud of/happy with?

Ed: It’s hard to say. There is a lot of poetry that I am very proud of that date back a ways. Written fiction was a latecomer. I got a kick out of my school days pieces but barely remember them. When I began the novel Christine, Released I knew immediately I was writing something excellent. That is the first piece of fiction I was and am truly proud of.

Gemma: Tell us a bit of what that novel is about.

Ed: Here’s a short synopsis.
Sixteen year old Christine Bancroft is desperate to escape her depressed Vermont hometown. She runs off with a small-time cocaine dealer and quickly descends into a harsh world with punishing consequences. Taken into state custody, Christine is placed at a foster home in a remote corner of Vermont where she searches for answers that may explain her suffering and her need to return to her imperfect mother. Opposing her return to her mother are the state child protection services and her estranged father who is determined to “save” his daughter. It is during the climactic custody hearing that Christine grasps her past which enables her to seize control of her fate.

Gemma: That really sounds like a gripping novel, especially knowing your skill and your voice in “Maia’s Call.” Do you remember what the seed for Christine, Released was?

Ed: I do. I had a case where the state had taken a 16 year old girl into custody because she was “unmanageable”. Her mother was a single, working mother. The girl’s estranged father hired me. In his mind the whole case was about him. I wondered how difficult it must have been for the mother to deal with a narcissist jerk like my client. The novel came into creation with the sound of a cigarette butt being dropped into a near-empty beer can, the resulting hiss. The camera in my mind’s eye drew back, and there was Christine huddled against the cold in a dank living room in a winter morning’s first light.

Gemma: Wow, that’s is an amazing story behind the story.

Cover art to Christine, Released
Christine, Released

Gemma: I’d like to hear more about your writing history.

Ed: I’ve written a lot of poetry over the years. Some has been published in journals, most recently Ginosko Literary Journal in 2018. By the way, Ginosko is an amazing publication that I encourage folks to submit to.

Winter 2018 Cover Canyon Water by Noelle Phares

Ed: I’ve written a fair number of decent short stories over the past fifteen years. Running Wild Press published my first short story, “Maia’s Call,” in Anthology #3 in September, 2019; my first novel, Christine, Released, in October, 2019, and will be publishing my first novella, Allure, in the novella anthology coming out in the fall of 2020.

Gemma: That’s a very nice run of publications! What are you working on now?

Ed: I am in the throes of writing a novel that is blowing me away, about a remarkable young woman, a nurse, during World War I. And I’m always writing poetry.


Gemma: I must ask you about that photo. Where is that street?

Ed: ee cummings Blvd. is in Old Orchard Beach, ME. I’ve been going there nearly every year for the past 20 years. It makes me smile. I love his poetry!

Gemma: I love ee cummings’ poetry, too! My older sister introduced me to him.

At Old Orchard Beach

Gemm: I’d like to hear a bit about how your writing has changed over time.

Ed: My fiction now rolls out along a clearer narrative arc now, almost effortlessly. That’s how it happens with anything that is good. My poetry is constantly shifting in theme, temperament, form, lyricism.

Gemma: I admire your ease with narrative arc – mine always seem to have some potholes and blind turns in the first draft. And I admire the poetry of yours that I’ve read, too. What’s the biggest challenge for you to write?

Ed: I have a hard time with memoir, with the demand to get the details properly remembered. When I have allowed details to come forward of their own accord, bearing their own significance, I have written much better memoir.

Gemma: What do you like best to write?

Ed: I love poetry, fiction, memoir for its own reasons. Each is rewarding in very different ways.

Gemma: When you get an idea for a story, what comes to mind first, the plot or the characters? Or does it vary from story to story?

Ed: It always starts with an image, then my minds-eye camera pulls back to reveal a scene, a character, and I follow the camera as the character is depicted in more detail, through his or her actions and the reactions of those s/he encounters, and the set of interactions and reflections coalesce into a plot, subplots and divergences.

Gemma: Just like the movie running in your mind that you described. What authors did you love most growing up? What authors have influenced your writing most?

Ed: Growing up? Fiction, I have madly loved James Joyce (Dubliners! Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man!), Louise Erdrich, Annie Proulx, Edna O’Brien, Ken Kesey, Alice Munro, Arundhati Roy, Baron Wormser (Tom O’Vietnam!), Robin MacArthur. They must have influenced my writing without my intending them to, as I deeply cherish them all (and plenty others).

Gemma: Is there a place that you’ve lived that most influences your writing?

Ed: Vermont, where I have lived, studied, raised a family and practiced law the past forty years.

Gemma: Tell me more about what you’re working on now.

Ed: I am writing the first draft of a novel featuring a nurse during World War I with astounding healing power (a saint?) amidst the carnage. It’s been wild writing this, the reveals.

Gemma: It sounds amazing. What do you plan to work on next?

Ed: Either a crime thriller set in the collapsing world of 2037. Or return to a novel that I broke from to write Christine, about three lives that intersect through one event during the Vietnam War, changing the remainder of each of their lives.

Gemma: Those are very intriguing projects! How can readers connect with you and keep up with your news?

Ed: I have a facebook page Ea/ Ed Burke, focused on literary posts.

Gemma: Thank you so much for joining me on my blog, Ed! I look forward to your future novels.

Adventures at Home: Virtual Travel

Several areas are loosening stay-at-home restrictions, but for many of us, staying home is still the safest thing to do. And traveling far away for fun and adventure may seem a long way off. So how about some virtual journeys? This is just a sampling of sites I’ve encountered which caught my eye. Some feature videos, some still photos, some simply ambient sounds.

For some armchair traveling to unusual and little-known places, try Atlas Obscura.

There are a tremendous number of museums and historical sites generously offering virtual tours.

For history buffs, you can visit:

The Museum of the American Revolution

Valley Forge National Historic Park

The Peabody Museum at Harvard University, among the oldest anthropology museums in the world.

For more ancient history, you can get a taste of the collections of the National Archaeological Museum in Athens.

At The Penn Museum, you can get 3-minute curated views of individual artifacts.

Not exactly a museum, but you can pay a virtual visit to and learn the history of Highclere Castle, known as the place where Downton Abbey was filmed.

For fans of science and nature:

Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History

The Franklin Institute

For something like a virtual safari, Explore.org features live cameras on everything from African watering holes to eagles’ nests to kitten rescues.

You can also virtually visit some lovely gardens:

This country’s oldest garden, the U.S. Botanical Garden

Longwood Gardens

Mt. Cuba Center

Jenkins Arboretum at Home

For some great international museums:

The Smithsonian Institute in Washington, D.C. and New York is temporarily closed, but you can choose a multitude of exhibits to view.

The Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam

The Van Gogh Museum

The Louvre in Paris

The Vatican Museums in Rome

The National Gallery in London

The British Museum

The Metropolitan Museum of Art

For more art museums in the U.S.:

The National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.

Brandywine River Museum of Art, where you can view not only virtual tours and gallery talks, but views of nature

You can view pieces from the Barnes Foundation Collection sorted by color, lines, light, and space.

The Walters Art Museum

San Francisco’s Museum of Modern Art

Also in San Francisco, The Asian Art Museum

The Morgan Library and Museum

Woodmere Art Museum

Would you care for a taste of other worlds? Consider a visit to these:

From the Bodleian Libraries, Tolkien: Maker of Middle Earth

Harry Potter: A History of Magic Exhibit at the British Library

You can also visit a Harry Potter Digital Escape Room

Want to travel through space and time? Try the Tardis Escape Room!

Or try a Star Wars Escape Room.

If you simply want a wordless audio experience, you can hear what it sounds like in the Bodleian Libraries or perhaps what it might sound like in the worlds of Hogwarts or Middle Earth.

 

Many of these sites I found through my local library’s amazing efforts to keep our community connected, informed, and inspired during this time. Don’t forget to check what your local library offers online.

Speaking of libraries, you can tour some of the world’s first-class libraries.

For pages of more links:

https://www.libraryjournal.com/?detailStory=8-blooming-botanical-gardens-to-explore-virtually 

https://artscanvas.org/arts-culture/19-immersive-museum-exhibits-you-can-visit-from-your-couch
https://chescotimes.com/?p=31507

https://stayconnectedwithchescolibraries.wordpress.com/2020/03/31/tour-museums-virtually/

And The Ultimate Guide to Virtual Museum Resources, E-Learning, and Online Collections:
https://mcn.edu/a-guide-to-virtual-museum-resources/

Enjoy your travel adventures!

Interview with VT Dorchester

VT Dorchester Portrait by Scarlet Frost

It’s my great pleasure to continue my series of Running Wild Anthology of Stories  author interviews with VT Dorchester. VT’s story, “Under the Eye of the Crow,” is an unusual and rather haunting Western that left me eager to read more.

Gemma: Welcome, VT! Can you tell us a bit of what your story is about?

VT: “Under the Eye of the Crow” is a historic fiction in part about an outlaw (Gar Weeks) who is robbed and left on the lone prairie to die. He decides he won’t, despite his circumstance and his regrets, and we follow him as he tries to reach…well, I suppose we could call it a kind of salvation.

Gemma: Do you remember what the seed for this story was?

VT: I had written a first draft of a literary western novella in which Gar Weeks plays a significant role a few years before writing this short. When, as part of a local flash fiction group, I was assigned the prompt “torture your character,” I immediately thought of torturing Weeks! Much of his character was already established, including that he had taken part in a disaster of some kind during his service as a Union soldier.

I wrote a first few drafts of what became “Under the Eyes…” with almost the entire focus on this character dying of thirst. The story didn’t feel complete, and it sat rather unsatisfactorily for a while. After a time, I thought to specify the event during the U.S. Civil War which haunted the character and story. Doing a little research, I discovered the tragic historic incident at Ebenezer Creek, Georgia. I encourage anyone interested to search for information about The Abandonment at Ebenezer Creek. I knew immediately that I wanted to refer to that incident in this fiction.

It took several more revisions to get my story “right” enough for sending it out for possible publication, and then, when Running Wild accepted the story, I wrangled a bit, I hope politely, with the editor (Cecile Sarruf) until we finally agreed on the story as it now stands! I am glad it worked out eventually.

Gemma: And it worked out very well. Readers who want to know more about The Abandonment at Ebenezer Creek could start with Wikipedia. How did you find out about this anthology?

Cover of Running Wild Anthology of Stories Vol. 3
Our New Anthology

VT: I don’t remember. It is quite difficult to find venues which actively seek western stories, and as a result I tend to cast out my western short stories rather wildly. I’ll send them out to pretty much any publication which doesn’t specifically say “no westerns.” (I write and have published other literary and different genre stories under another name.)

Gemma: Westerns have such a long, venerable history I hadn’t thought how hard it might be to find places to publish them. I’m glad you found Running Wild Press! Do you remember when and why you started writing?

VT: The first story I remember writing “seriously” was a story about a stray cat. It was grey. I was in elementary school. I’ve played around a bit with writing ever since, but it is only in the past five years or so that I have become “serious” about writing fiction again. I don’t remember why, exactly, I decided to start writing about a cat, except that I must have felt I had an entertaining story to tell. I still feel that I have entertaining stories to tell, although I understand others may not agree.

Gemma: I most definitely do agree! (And I think one of my first stories featured a cat, too; apparently a good genre for budding writers.) What’s the first piece you wrote that you’re still proud of/happy with?

VT: While I have one other western short story published, “Under the Eye of the Crow” is definitely the one with greater depth. The other also includes (a far more laid back) Gar Weeks in its cast, but focuses on a different character. It’s a Christmas story about a bank robbery. Plus hot cocoa. No one dies.

Gemma: That sounds intriguing! Can you tell me a bit more about it?

VT: It was “The Story of Willow Henry Mcglone,” published in the 2018 “Rise” edition of Havikthe Las Positas College Journal of Arts and Literature.

Havik 2018 Cover by Lori Stoneman ed. by Kayla Sabella Weaver

Gemma: How has your writing changed over time?

VT: The first stories I wrote when I returned to fiction five years ago were pretty rough and I had trouble incorporating ideas or themes. I feel I still struggle to translate what I ‘see’ or ‘hear’ in my mind on to the page, but I’m getting better at it. I feel that my ability to edit my work has also increased greatly, as has my confidence in my work.

Gemma: For what it’s worth, I struggle with those same issues, and I know we’re not alone. But getting more proficient at editing is an excellent thing, as it can overcome a lot of those problems. What’s the biggest challenge for you to write?

VT: The End. I have trouble completing writing projects. My best example is the novella I mentioned earlier. I would like to revise, edit and work towards having it published, but instead it’s been sitting for half a decade now as I work on shorter, easier to finish projects.

Gemma: I sympathize – I have a stack of unfinished projects, too. But working on finishable projects is a very worthwhile thing. Still, I hope you finish that novella, because I really want to read it some day! What do you like best to write?

VT: While it is not evident from “Under the Eye,” I am quite happy when a reader smiles or even laughs at something intentionally funny in my stories. I also like incorporating some science, history, or a sense of location.

Gemma: “Under the Eye” did an admirable job with its sense of place and history. I can still feel the grit and thirst from reading it. When you get an idea for a story, what comes to mind first, setting, plot or character? Or does it vary from story to story?

VT: It’s often a “scene” – a particular image or series of images I can see in my mind, usually with a character present. Other times, I can “hear” a character talking to me or with another character. I have lengthy, animated conversations, sometimes in public, with my characters.

Gemma: Oh, that’s excellent! I’ve had some conversations with characters while out on walks, and been kind of mortified when someone comes up from behind me and I wonder if they’ve overheard. On another subject, what authors have influenced your writing most?

VT: My western genre writing is most influenced by classic Hollywood western films. These were generally less concerned with historical truth and more concerned with characters, place and moral codes. And horses, songs, weird shirts and big hats.

Gemma: So true! I sense “Under the Eye” has more historical truth in it than some of those classic western movies, though it shares with them a strong sense of place.

VT: Thank you. While I do not pretend to have a great deal of historical knowledge, I did conduct more research for this story than I have for many others.

I believe there will always be room for new quasi-mythic western stories in the tradition of classic westerns, but there is also a demand from modern audiences for a greater incorporation of historical truth. Westerns have always, to a greater or lesser degree, reflected the concerns and demands of society contemporary to their creation. Today, a certain degree of “realism” is in demand. It is easier than ever for writers to research, and it’s easier than ever for readers to research, too. In the case of ‘Under the Eye’ I felt a particular need to take care and research due to it’s incorporation of historical tragedy. But first and foremost, when I write, I’m trying to tell a story. A fiction story. If I get some facts right along the way, I’m glad, but the facts aren’t the most important thing to a fiction story, if they were, the story would be creative non-fiction, or a non-fiction essay, instead.

Gemma: Good points and well put, VT. Is there a place that you’ve lived or visited that especially influences your writing?

VT: I live in a small valley town in British Columbia where I am mere minutes away from hiking trails. I am also lucky enough to travel with some regularity. I regularly feel inspired by new scenery or walks in closer-to-natural settings, and my stories often involve weather events and nature.

Gemma: What stories are you working on now?

VT: While I’m not working on writing a western story right now, I am seeking publication for a short story I completed earlier this year, about a modern state trooper in eastern Oregon who has an encounter with super-natural beings during a blizzard.

Gemma: That sounds enticing! I hope that gets published because you’ve hooked me with that description.

VT: I am also looking forward to the publication of a western flavoured re-telling of the stone soup folk tale late this year with Frontier Tales.

Gemma: I can’t wait to read that – I love folk tales, and that’s actually a childhood favorite of mine. How can I and other readers keep up to date on when that comes out, and otherwise connect with you?

VT: I have a Twitter account @VTDorch, and a wordpress blog, vtdorch.wordpress.com. Thank you for the interview!

Gemma: My pleasure, VT. I look forward to reading more of your stories!

Readers, VT’s blog includes reviews of movies and books and other interesting things like a feature about Old Time Radio Shows. I hope you’ll give it a look!

Adventures at Home: Literature and the Lively Arts

*Update for April 23rd, celebrating Shakespeare’s Birthday:

*Stratford, Ontario’s Stratford Festival is starting StratFest at Home, a series of twelve Shakespeare plays to watch at home for free. It starts on the Bard’s Birthday, April 23rd, with King Lear, and continues a week at a time with Coriolanus and Macbeth, with more to follow.

This deeply generous offering is joined by the UK’s National Theater. They have been streaming performances a week at a time starting April 2nd. I watched both Jane Eyre (now over) and Treasure Island  which ran until this afternoon (2 pm EDT, if my conversion is right). Both were excellent, with great filming and powerful performances. Jane Eyre was the great drama you would expect; Treasure Island was a wonderful adventure. And I’m particularly looking forward to Twelfth Night, streaming 4/23 til 4/30. More will follow. Do keep in mind the difference between UK time and your local time.

If you’re a fan of Shakespeare like me, see below.

There’s a wealth of more plays highlighted on Playbill. The plays stream on a variety of platforms, some on more than one.

For drama of a different sort, try out some Old Time Radio productions. I have very fond memories of listening to some rebroadcasts as a kid with my family. VT Dorchester has made an excellent post featuring ten golden-age radio shows. Personally, I can’t wait to listen.

For a different sort of audio storytelling, Audible is offering free stories, “for as long as schools are closed.” There are different age levels from very young to adult, fiction and nonfiction, from classic to very modern – e.g. Pooh through Harry Potter to Pride and Prejudice.

A neat thing about both of the above is once you get started, they’re screen-free. But there’s something special about seeing the reader when you’re being read to. Of course, you can read aloud at home. And for youngsters, Barnes & Noble is hosting online storytimes. Also check your local library and even indie bookstores for story times.

Levar Burton is also reading aloud, for kids, teens, and adults. See his twitter
and his podcast.

For reading aloud of a different sort, and for fans of Shakespeare,  Patrick Stewart is reading a Sonnet a Day.

I’m going to switch gears from literary classics to music now. To hear and see some great world music recorded especially for these times, visit Yo-Yo Ma’s Silk Road Sessions, and also Silk Road’s facebook.

Viking TV (not about Vikings, actually) is hosting “Arts and Music Wednesdays,” along with all kinds of cultural offerings on different days.

That’s all for now. Great thanks to all the artists and institutions making these uplifting and mind-expanding opportunities available to all of us, and to the friends who alerted me to these wonderful offerings.

Check back soon for an interview with VT Dorchester.

Adventures at Home: Off-screen (Mostly)

People have been sending me cool ideas of things to do at home, and I’ve been collecting them to share. Maybe you’ll enjoy some of them, too!

There are so many, I plan to divide them into multiple posts. First up: things to do off-screen.

Here’s one of my favorites: reading.

Have any books you have around the house you’ve been meaning to read? This may be the perfect time. Pull some off the shelf, and start with any that calls to you.

Need a new book? This is the perfect time to buy anything from my publisher, Running Wild Press. They have put all their published catalog on sale for pennies above cost for paperback and 99 cents for eBooks* through May 1, 2020. You can find contemporary and historical fiction, memoir and other nonfiction, and eclectic collections of all kinds of short fiction. Here’s their list and details.

 

If you want a book — ANY book — paperbound, try your local bookstore — a lot of them can ship from online orders! You can search for an independent bookstore on Indiebound. Or try Barnes & Noble, especially for e-books*. Support real bookstores! (Amazon will probably weather this storm all right; bookstores are struggling.) And support booksellers, authors and publishers – they all need it.

If you don’t want to buy a new book, check out your nearest library’s website. Many libraries have e-books, audio books, and even magazines available online. And yes, checking out e-books from libraries does support authors and publishers! And it supports the libraries, too, by showing the Powers That Be how vital they are to our communities, especially in a time like this.

For the young and young at heart, Audible is offering free audiobooks for now.

If you have some spare time, review books you like on Goodreads or Amazon. Help out authors to get through these hard times!

My Copy, Reviewed on Goodreads

Here’s something that uses a totally different part of the brain: jigsaw puzzles!

Again, you can try your local bookstore to see if they deliver. We stumbled upon a favorite of ours in Wellington Square Bookshop, a wonderful bookstore I look forward to making the journey to when bookstores can open their doors again. Scroll down a bit to see results when you do a search on Wellington’s website.

Or try Barnes & Noble for puzzles — they seem to have a good number right now.

Another hands-on pursuit: coloring, for kids and adults as well. Coloring is another cool pursuit that uses other parts of our brains, and I find it fun and calming, both.

A library reached out to Schiffer Publishing, Ltd., who very kindly shared their Kids’ Resource Hub – coloring, puzzles, and more.

The Winchester Mystery house is offering their kids’ coloring book and crosswords puzzle.

An astounding array of museums are offering coloring pages from their collections – plenty to appeal to adults and older kids.

I plan on another post soon about more adventures at home on computer – including touring some amazing places, and seeing world-class performances. Check back!

*OK, yes, e-books are on screens. But I find reading a book a different experience than browsing the web, streaming a show, etc. And sometimes e-books are the best choice.

Adventures at Home: Mystery House Tour

Have you ever wanted to tour a haunted house? Now’s your chance for a virtual tour, but it won’t last long – it expires tomorrow April 7th!

The Winchester House is a huge, sprawling labyrinth of a place. It was the home and vision of Sarah Winchester, widow and heiress of William Wirt Winchester. Find out more about it here. The place sounds fascinating, and they’d like you to visit in person so much that they’re offering discount vouchers for when they re-open.

But for today, you can tour it virtually.

I hope to take a tour myself!

I’m working on a blog of more fun things at home, but I wanted to post this today since it’s such an ephemeral offer. Check back soon for more adventures at home.

Guest Blog by Amelia Kibbie

Amelia Kibbie, Author of Fantasy, LBGT & Historical fiction

It’s my pleasure to welcome back my Running Wild Press colleague Amelia Kibbie, this time for a guest blog. This is a very opportune time for more than one reason. First: Running Wild Press is offering all of their published catalog at pennies above cost for paperback and 99 cents for eBooks from today, March 27, 2020 through May 1, 2020. Full details and recommended purchasing locations are here.

 Even more importantly, Amelia’s book Legendary is a story where kindness, love, and courage shine light through a time of fear and uncertainty. I loved it, and it’s a good book to read in these uncertain times.

 I first encountered Amelia’s writing in Running Wild Anthology of Stories Vol. 2, where I met and fell in love with her characters James and Arthur; their story continues in Legendary. Amelia tells how this story came to be.

Welcome, Amelia!

Legendary by Amelia Kibbie

 

“Legendary” is a book that almost didn’t happen.

It took a series of unexpected events to bring this novel to life. This is the story of my story.

I love to cruise writing websites to look for contests and calls for submissions, as many of us probably do. I saw a call for submissions for an LGBT romance anthology called Heart of Steel. The submission guidelines requested an LGBT romance featuring knights. As a lover of fantasy and someone who understands the importance of representation, I was ecstatic to write something for the anthology, and read the stories others had written.

I wanted to write something different, something unexpected. How could I include a knight without setting my story in medieval Europe or some kind of Lord of the Rings rip-off fantasy setting? The idea came to me that a character in the story might not be a literal knight, but could have a heart of steel regardless. What if someone in modern times found a suit of armor and put it on?

I thought about the kind of story that I needed to read as a young person. A story with LGBT protagonists who were realistic, not stereotypes. A story with a same-sex romance that ended happily. So happily it was cheesy, like a fairy tale. A legendary ending. Because LGBT characters deserve the chance to have such an ending, and readers need it in their minds and hearts as well, especially those struggling with their sexuality and how their families and society might react.

So, I wrote a story about two outcasts who find each other, and the legendary love that blossoms. James and Arthur are bullied by their peers for different reasons, and this cruelty increases tenfold when they are sent out of London with their classmates to avoid the Nazi Blitz. Arthur, empowered by the legends of King Arthur Pendragon, finds the courage to don the armor and stand up for James.

Authors often love the things they write, their darlings, I suppose — but there was something about this story that gripped me and wouldn’t let go. I rarely cry, but I cried as I wrote the ending, and simply talking about the story would get me emotional. Imagine how I felt when the story was rejected by the anthology.

I continued to submit it, even though it was an awkward length and a niche genre. Rejection, rejection, rejection. Then, I heard about Running Wild Press’s anthology of stories. Expecting a rejection, I sent them my story “Idylls of the King.” When it was accepted, I cried again. At last, James and Arthur’s story could reach readers.

I thought my heart would explode right out of my chest when, one day, I got an email from Lisa Kaestner, editor of Running Wild. She said, simply, that she’d like to see a novel based on the characters I created in “Idylls of the King.” I worked closely with her to develop an outline that she felt would produce a book that Running Wild would be interested in publishing. I brought readers forward in time to James and Arthur as young men in 1950s London as they struggled with prejudice and rough patches in their relationship as they travel cross country to solve the mystery of a close friend’s dying words. I included the original short story as a flashback. Three drafts and two beta readers later, I had a manuscript for Running Wild’s Benjamin White to edit. Long story short, my book was published in November of 2019.

I wanted to share my journey for a couple of reasons. First, if you are a writer, don’t give up after a few rejections. Often, you’ll hear stories about famous writers being rejected multiple times until finding success. Yet, there’s always some part of me when I read those stories that doesn’t believe them. But I’m here to tell you as a real person that you shouldn’t give up. Keep submitting! Keep querying!

Secondly, if you truly believe in representation in fiction for a marginalized community, it’s your duty to keep submitting until someone says yes. We need these stories in the hands of readers who come from these groups, especially young readers. Write the book that you needed in the past. You never know what kind of impact you may have on someone’s life.

 

Thank you so much for sharing Legendary’s journey, Amelia. Readers, you can contact your local bookstore to order this wonderful book for delivery. (Amelia recommends M&M bookstore if you’re near Cedar Rapids.) You can also order it through Indiebound, Barnes & Noble, and Amazon. And you can connect with Amelia on her website, www.ameliakibbie.com, at her blog akibbie.wordpress.com, and through Twitter @ameliakibbie, Instagram @hollycat83 and facebook https://www.facebook.com/ameliakibbie.

Gathering Calm for Uncharted Times

News about Covid-19 is everywhere. It spans from the global to the local. Even if we are fortunate enough not to be sick with it in the present, worry about it can seem to be everywhere we look.

As a counterbalance to this worry, I have been gathering wisdom from several sources – some sent to me by kind friends and family. A good friend connected me with an article written March 17th by Lori Gottlieb, a psychotherapist and contributor to The Atlantic. This resonated with me:

“Of course, it’s normal to feel anxiety right now, and while we need to allow ourselves the space to feel these feelings, we also need to give ourselves the space to let them go.”

I found an echo of this from one of my favorite writers: Maggie Stiefvater. Her modern fantasies are lyrical, and her Twitter and blog are often wryly funny while making trenchant observations. She’s been frank about having OCD and how she deals with it, for instance. On March 12th, she wrote about dealing with the news about Cov-d-19, and though her audience has lots of teens, I find a lot of wisdom for myself in her words:

Maggie Stiefvater @mstiefvater ·Mar 12 

I know a lot of my readers are Freaking the Hell Out™ today, so some internet advice from this OCD author: 

  • set a time for WHEN you allow yourself to read news (i.e. every 6 hours)
  • set a time limit for HOW LONG to read (i.e. 15 minutes)
  • be mindful of negative coping behaviors that feel logical, but are not
  • remember that perceived disaster doesn’t give you permission to perform negative behaviors
  • remind yourself of specific times, if necessary, that giving in to them have made the situation worse overall
  • set up a daily goal unrelated to the news: i.e., finishing that novel you were reading, cleaning your closet
  • set up hopeful long-term plans for much later in the year and when anxious, focus on that minutia instead
  • do all that you can to help the situation personally, and then allow yourself to step out of the information loop until your next scheduled time
  • if necessary, completely opt out and recruit a friend to disseminate necessary news to you
  • sometimes this means putting your phone someplace you cannot get it, or sitting outside with the cat looking wistfully over all the land that will one day be Simba’s

Finally: This list isn’t just relevant to this week; it’s relevant to our entire high-paced, high stakes news cycle. Be informed as you need. Be able to step away for perspective and health.

Establish psychological protocols for yourself now and you’ll use them again later.

P.S. teens, I know it’s especially psychologically difficult because you’re shifting from an understanding that adults are supposed to be informed & want to take care of you.

The news, as a complete animal, doesn’t want to take care of you. It just wants you to engage.

And here is more from Lori Gottlieb: “In being confined to our homes as much as possible, whether alone or together, we have an opportunity to embrace the ordinary—to play board games, cook meals, watch entire TV seasons, read books, take walks, do puzzles, get those art supplies out of the back of the closet, catch up with people we “meant to call” weeks or months ago and make one another laugh—precisely because our busy routines have been disrupted.”

Her article is full of wisdom; I encourage you to read it in full.

This lovely graphic was sent to me by a dear friend, Danila Székely, who is also a life-coach:

Source: Greater Good Science Center; photo & design: Danila Székely

 

Another good friend just today told me about Yo-Yo Ma’s mission to share Songs of Comfort — beautiful music from him and other musicians shared from their homes to ours. Among other places, you can find out more about this on Silkroad Home Sessions. This is a wonderful way to spend some time freed up by moving away from the news.

If you live in the northern hemisphere in a temperate zone, Spring is here. This is true even if you’re in the middle of a blizzard (which I hope you’re not). Where I grew up, March snow is common, and so was the sight of crocuses blooming in the snow, bravely and beautifully. They not only blossomed – they survived. We can be like the crocuses – or at least we can see and be heartened by their beautiful resilience.

Spring is every bit a real and true as Covid-19. And Spring is the triumph of Earth and Life over an adversary far more ancient than this virus. That is worth being mindful of, and worth celebrating.

Wishing you all light and comfort in these uncharted times.

Interview with Jenn Powers

photo of Jenn Powers
Jenn Powers, Writer and Visual Artist

I’m very pleased to continue my series of Running Wild Anthology of Stories author interviews with Jenn Powers. Her story, “A Friend’s Text,” captured my senses with its vivid imagery and my emotions with the plight of the main character.

Welcome, Jenn!

Gemma: Please give us a taste of what your story is about.
Jenn: My short story, “A Friend’s Text,” is about a woman who has an epiphany that helps lead her out of an unhealthy love affair with a married millionaire.

Gemma: Do you remember what the seed for this story was?
Jenn: Yes, I do. I fictionalized a similar relationship I had fallen into myself. During that relationship, I always felt like I was betraying my true self—the core of who I am. Once I decided to do the right thing and end the relationship, it was completely life-altering and empowering, even though the pain was immense. I think this scenario is, unfortunately, too common. I hope my story will inspire others to find it within themselves to do the right thing if they’re in an unhealthy relationship, which comes in many forms.

Gemma: That is truly a powerful mission, and I can see your story being a positive catalyst. Can you tell us a little about your writing history?
Jenn: I started journaling when I was 15 years old. It was a way for me to soothe my emotions since I was quite lonely and I didn’t have many people I could trust or open up to. Journaling turned into a survival mechanism. Being able to spill out my troubles onto the blank page became (and still is) very therapeutic.

Gemma: Writing can be such a healing process, and to be able to share that is a gift.  I found out from your website that you’re an artist as well as a writer. Does art have a therapeutic effect for you like writing does?

Jenn: Absolutely. Whenever I’m being creative or out in nature, I lose myself. It’s very in-the-moment mindfulness. I’ve always struggled with anxiety, even as a child, and so, early on I found ways to tend to that. I figured out how to self-soothe with art and nature. I journaled throughout my teens and the writing sort of bloomed in different directions from there. I can say the same thing regarding art. Painting, drawing, photography. One feeds the other. And both feed me. It’s symbiotic.

Eventually, I played around with creative writing, such as flash fiction and short stories. By my 30s, I started to pursue it seriously and I got my first short story publication in 2012.

Gemma: I’d like to hear more about that.
Jenn: My first publication was in The MacGuffin in 2012, a short story about domestic violence. It’s titled “Some of Us.” I’m proud of this piece because it’s important to keep violence against women (and men) at the forefront.

Gemma: That’s truly something to be proud of, and a vital message. Can you tell a little more about your writing history?

Jenn: I kept at the craft, sporadically, while living life and working a multitude of jobs. Around 30 to 33 years old, I took writing more seriously. I wrote several days per week, and now, about eight years later, I have around 70 publications in literary journals. (Half art, half writing.)

Stonecoast Review Winter 2017 - Cover by Jenn Powers
Stonecoast Review Winter 2017 -Cover by Jenn Powers

Jenn: I earned an MFA in 2014 and I plan on applying to PhD programs this year.

Gemma: That’s impressive and exciting! What are some of your recent publications?

Jenn: My most recently published short stories are available online. “Pinned Butterflies” was published in Lunch Ticket, Winter/Spring 2020.

“1975” Charcoal, pencil, and pen by Famous Unobuarie

Image Courtesy of Lunch Ticket Literary & Art Journal Issue 16

“December, 1993” was published in Witness Magazine, Dark Holidays Zine 2019. And, in March/April 2020, my story “Window Light” will be published in Gemini.

Witness cover photo by Rob Allen
Witness Dark Holidays photo by Rob Allen

Gemma: Very cool to have so many stories published in so short a period! How has your writing changed over time?

Jenn: I’m continuously growing as a writer. It’s a constant learning process, and, for me, there’s no end point. I improve every year. And, like anything, the more you work at something, the better you get at it.

Gemma: What do you like best to write?

Jenn: Drama, thriller, mystery.

Gemma: What’s the biggest challenge for you to write?

Jenn: I tried writing in other genres, like romance. But it doesn’t work for me. I write about the dark stuff. I’ve experienced some crazy situations. I’ve been a victim many times over, but I’d rather call myself a survivor. As a survivor, I empower myself through writing, and I believe my past experiences have molded my style and preferences.

Gemma: And good stories, like “A Friend’s Text,” can empower readers in turn. When you get an idea for a story, what comes to mind first, the plot or the characters? Or does it vary from story to story?

Jenn: It varies from story to story. It might even be a feeling, a song, a landscape or place that makes me feel something. When I sense that dip of inspiration, I stop to explore where it’s coming from. Does it remind me of something or someone? Does it reconnect me with a lost emotion? My ideas come from the strangest places and my inspiration is super-fickle. I’ll sit there frustrated for hours, take a break and go for a walk or run, and an idea will hit me. Boom! Just like that. Easy-peasy. Taking the pressure off can stimulate creativity. And creativity needs to be organic, natural, flowing.

Gemma: I often get some of my best ideas walking, too. If nothing else, it can open up the channel and let the creativity flow, as you say. I read on your website that you have a fondness for botany and geology as well as music. I have a love of biology and botany that’s stuck with me since junior high, so that resonates with me! Do you have stories that particularly reflect botany, geology, or music?

Jenn: A driving force in my life is exploring nature, whether that comes in the form of hiking up Mt. Washington, driving solo cross country, or studying a birch tree throughout the seasons. Inevitably, this passion and interest has infused my life and work as a writer and visual artist.

Jenn climbing Mt Washington
Jenn Climbing Mt Washington

Jenn: Growing up as an only child without too many close friends, I always found solace in nature. Early on, I’d collect pinecones and chips of Mica and bluets. I’d explore the forests and swamps near my neighborhood. I’d be outdoors as much as possible. I’d also draw, paint, and write since I was alone a lot. In school, ecology and biology classes felt very natural to study. It came easy, even though I majored in English and creative writing in college.

About seven years ago, I started studying botany. I love exploring the woods with a field guide to identify the plants, flowers, and trees. Mostly the New England area, and specifically, Connecticut. I like to observe how nature changes throughout the seasons. It’s like getting to know a friend. I focus on the anatomy, ecology, and taxonomy. It’s fun to nail down genus and species. It’s this entire plant kingdom that’s keeping us alive, and vice versa. A true symbiotic relationship. It amazes me how every little thing is connected. I just started getting into geology too—rocks and minerals of a particular location and the geological history of that location. For example, the plethora of rock walls crisscrossing New England.

So, as you see, this passion I have for the outdoors has formed a large part of who I am today as an adult, and, inevitably, it shows up in my work. I’ve used nature (or setting) as a character itself in many of my short stories. It’s a tool used to set the tone or mood. It can be used symbolically, metaphorically. It can literally be an extension of the protagonist or antagonist, or even a minor character. Mix that up with being a fan of nature writers, like Emerson, Thoreau, Muir, Dillard, Ackerman, and certain literary periods and movements, like the Romantics, Gothic, the Transcendentalists, the Beat Poets, and contemporary mysteries and thrillers, and that’s my writer-artist brain on fire. It’s nostalgia, melancholy, and the darker side of nature rolled into one.

Since I started writing a mystery-thriller in 2016, I’ve infused my novel with a lot of botany, and I believe it adds something truly special. I believe people want to feel that connection to earth, which is so easily lost in today’s fast-paced, superficial, materialistic society. They want real. They want to feel something that’s good for their soul. I also believe the more you know about a specific region, the better. You may not use all of that collected information but knowledge is never a waste.

Gemma: I totally agree – knowledge has worth for its own sake, and you never know what connections that will spark in your brain. You mentioned several authors before – what authors did you love most growing up? And what other authors have influenced your writing?

Jenn: Ironically, I didn’t read a lot as a kid. I loved being read to in school. I remember falling in love with the work by Shel Silverstein and Dr. Seuss. I liked the Sweet Valley High series too. I liked The Catcher in the Rye, The Outsiders, and Poe and Bram Stoker. But it wasn’t until college that my obsession with books began. As an adult, I’ve been most influenced by legends like Joyce Carol Oates, Flannery O’Connor, Truman Capote, John Cheever, Joan Didion, and Mark Twain. As for more recent authors, I read Gillian Flynn, Shari Lapena, Jennifer McMahon, Delia Owens, Janet Fitch, Karin Slaughter, A.J. Finn. I could go on and on.

Gemma: It’s a wonderful thing to have so many authors to love, and it makes it hard to name just a few! What are you reading right now?
Jenn: I’m reading several books right now. For fiction, I’m reading Burntown by Jennifer McMahon and Paint It Black by Janet Fitch. For nonfiction, I’m reading Kaufman’s Field Guide to Nature of New England, and, National Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Wildflowers (Eastern).

Gemma: I love reading field guides, too, and I actually use them sometimes even though I write fantasy! They really can help ground you in a place by learning about the other living things around you. Is there a place that you’ve lived that most influences your writing?

Jenn: Old New England. The snowy, gray winters. The green hills and rock walls. The homesteads and chimney smoke.

Gemma: Where I live in Pennsylvania has a lot in common, and the green hills, rock walls and centuries-old buildings are inspiring to me, too. Tell us a bit about what you are working on now.

Jenn: I’m writing a mystery thriller around 80-90K words. I’m in the rewriting phase. I should be done by spring and will be searching for agent representation. I’m also working on a collection of paintings/drawings based on the hometown in my novel. Here’s an example of where my passions overlap each other. Science meets art. Left brain meets right. I’m in love with nature, but I’m also in love with art. The fictional hometown in my novel is named Rockwall Springs, which is loosely based off Tolland, Connecticut, my own hometown.

Gemma: That is so cool! Will your artwork about the town be viewable by your readers?

Jenn: Yes, these photos and paintings will be available for anyone interested. I’ve had several photos of Rockwall Springs published in various literary journals. For example, three photographs were published in The Sandy River Review (September 2018) and one photo was published in Blue Mesa Review (Issue 39, 2019).

Gemma: What do you plan to work in next?

Jenn: As soon as I begin the querying process for this book, I will begin another mystery thriller. I would like to write them in succession. I’m also working on short prose, poetry, and art.
Gemma: It’s very impressive that you work on multiple projects at once. Will the next mystery-thriller be a sequel to the one you’re working on now, or are they stand-alones?
Jenn: That’s a good question. I’m open to either option. As of right now, it’s a stand-alone novel. But, I could definitely create more novels using the same characters and settings. If not, I’d like to write a mystery-thriller every two years or so. Once I find an agent and get a book deal, that’s my goal. I want to stay productive.

Gemma: How did you find out about this anthology?

Jenn: Honestly, I don’t remember. I am a subscriber to several outlets offering opportunities for creative writers. It might’ve been via Submittable. I am thrilled to have found this west coast press.

Cover of Running Wild Anthology of Stories Vol. 3
Our New Anthology

Gemma: How can readers connect with you and find out more about your work?

Jenn: I have a professional website at www.jennpowers.com . You can use the contact form to reach me. You can also follow me on Facebook @CTwriter and Twitter @livinglife1107.

Gemma: Thanks so much for joining me on my blog, Jenn! Readers, I hope you will follow the links and check out her online stories.

Check back in a couple of weeks for a special guest blog.

Blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑