About lisa

I write about books, fashion and all things beauty on my blog, Lit with Lisa www.litwithlisa.com

Author Spotlight: Thomas L. Small

Thomas L. Small earned an MFA in Creative Writing from Rutgers-Newark. His fiction has received an honorable mention in the Waasmode Fiction Competition and was published in Passages North. He has also had work in The Cooweescoowee.thomas l small

Amoskeag: Let’s discuss your essay, Stories. Your grandmother, or Kitty, loves watching soap operas and is entirely immersed in the plot of each. At the time, you don’t quite understand why. As the essay progresses, you seem to build some understanding to the power of the story and its characters. You and Kitty share the same experience. How did Kitty get to that point in her life? Why does she see the world the way she does?

Thomas: I was a boy when I became aware of Kitty’s addiction to afternoon soaps. The quality of the stories, from my perspective, especially in the 1960’s, left something to be desired. As I got older I realized that her attraction to them was because the lives depicted in them were so different from hers. After my grandfather died, her life was circumscribed by participation in church related activities, voter registration drives and her circle of friends, all widowed women. She never learned to drive and so was dependant on those who did. From this perspective, knowing someone who’d had gall bladder surgery was a big deal. The afternoon stories provided her with a glimpse into lives unlike her own. No one in her circle of friends was an adulterer nor an amnesiac. The problems depicted on screen were mesmerizing because of the contrast to her own.

Amoskeag: Your essay begins with a description of your grandmother, and how you loved being left home with her. Why did you begin there?

Thomas: The essay starts with a description of my grandmother and my stays with her because I enjoyed her company and her house was interesting. No matter what I did, she was totally unflappable. Once I was in a little used bedroom on the third floor jumping on the bed when the bed rail broke. The mattress was listing over at a 45 degree angle. Her solution was to have me bring books up from downstairs which we used to prop up the broken bed rail so that the bed looked perfectly normal. When my parents came to get me a day or two later, the bed incident was so ancient history, she never mentioned it to them . I guess if one of the highlights of your week is to spend Saturday afternoon arranging church flowers for Sunday services, having a grandson spend a day or two destroying the furniture might be pretty exciting. So for the reader, it was important to know about the life I observed in that house and her world view.

Amoskeag: You conclude that “Time spent with characters so consuming should be treasured and protected.” What made you realize this?

Thomas: A story that you love and can read over and over again, or a character that you like being with, a work that really speaks to you is something you don’t come across everyday. Why would you spend time raking leaves or washing the car when you could read a good story? I discovered that junior year in high school when I did a paper on Conrad Richter. My teacher that year was a world class imbecile, so I spent the time reading his work and ignoring her.

Amoskeag: Is Kitty’s view of the world reflective of the way you see the world? Or were you surprised by what they saw? How they felt?

Thomas: Kitty’s world view was shaped by her times and environment. She lived the life she was expected to live. She lived in the same city her whole life, she attended the same church for almost sixty years. Occasionally, she traveled. I’ve lived in several different cities, including a brief period in Brittany, so my world view has been shaped by different forces. I’d like to think I’m observant enough to recognize the forces that shape other people’s lives and their choices.

Amoskeag: How did you construct the language of the piece? How did you come to hear and record your feelings?

Thomas: The winter I got sick with the upper respiratory infection, I was cognizant of constructing my day around the reruns of Dawson’s Creek. Immediately, I recalled the time I spent in Kitty’s house and how she had been totally absorbed in the afternoon stories. I was telling my wife about the goings on at Kitty’s house and the story wrote itself. I recalled the stilted language and wooden characters of the afternoon stories and I was listening to the language of the kids at Dawson’s Creek. It’s two parallel stories separated by thirty years.

Amoskeag: “Whether it’s the bond that keeps pages turning or a daily commitment to sit and watch, it’s still a bond and it’s still a story.” Why does this line matter in this piece?

Thomas: That line speaks to the connection between the writer and the reader and the character and the reader. For my grandmother, she cared about the characters in her afternoon stories so much that she wouldn’t think of missing an episode, just as I cared about the kids at Dawson’s Creek. The stories of other people’s lives resonated in our own and the story was important. A well constructed character is engaging, such as Dan Chaon’s Jonah Doyle in You Remind Me of Me or David Hayden in Larry Watson’s Montana 1948. Sometimes it’s the place that engages the reader, like Bakerton, Pennsylvania in Jennifer Haigh’s Baker Towers where a Pennsylvania coal town shapes the lives of those who live there. Could Kent Haruf’s McPheron brothers have lived anywhere other than Holt, Colorado as they do in Plainsong ? In each of these instances a strong connection is established between the reader and the writer, for different reasons, just as it was just as it was for my grandmother and her stories.

Amoskeag:  How do you feel when a piece gets accepted and readers that you don’t know are now going to complete the essay that you worked so hard at to shape?

Thomas: I’m always happy when I get something published. Recently, a play I wrote placed in a play writing competition and was produced by the theater company that sponsored the festival. At the play’s conclusion the director asked me to join the actors on stage. When I did, I felt as though I’d been struck by lightning.

Amoskeag: What’s next for you as a writer?

Thomas: I have one completed novel, one in first draft, another on life support and a couple unfinished short stories. So I have plenty to keep me busy.


Author Spotlight: Max Harris

Max Harris was born in England, received his PhD from the University of Virginia, and now lives in Wisconsin. He is the author of five nonfiction books, including Carnival and Other Christian Festivals (University of Texas Press, 2003) and Sacred Folly: A New History of the Feast of Fools (Cornell University Press, 2011), and several short stories. His work has won the David Bevington Award for the Best New Book in Early Drama Studies and the Wisconsin Academy Review/Harry W. Schwartz Bookshops Short Story Contest.                                                              max harris

Amoskeag: In Men With Yellow Ties, your main character, Doris, is convinced that there are little “fairies” inside of her hand bag that speak to her in sign language and protect her from people who try to harm her, such as the men with the yellow ties. How did they get to that point in their life? Why do they see the world the way they do?

Max: I have no idea. They were there at the beginning of the story. I don’t know where they came from. Nor do I know why they see things the way they do. Clearly, they’re very protective of Doris. Perhaps because she feeds them.

Amoskeag: Your story begins with a description of all the items contained in Doris’ purse. Why did you begin there?

Max: I suppose I’d been thinking about how much my wife manages to carry around in her purse. And, I’d been wanting to write a fairy story of sorts. The two impulses coalesced, and I discovered the fairies in Doris’s purse (or, since Doris is English, in her handbag). Then I had to decide what to do with them.

Amoskeag: Did you see the ending coming, or did it suddenly surprise you? How did you prepare for it?

Max: Some of my stories are planned in advance; others are not. This was one of the latter kind. The ending snuck up on me gradually, as the story unfolded.

Amoskeag: Is your character’s view of the world reflective of the way you see the world? Or were you surprised by what they saw and how they felt?

Max: Doris is nothing like me, except that we’re both English. I don’t believe in fairies, but I do believe that there is more to the world than we can see. The fact that my imagination often surprises me no longer surprises me.

Amoskeag: Doris and the narrator share a unique relationship. While it is not revealed to the reader as to how they know each other, they have a special bond. When she moves, they continue to keep in touch. The narrator visits her often and even pays her rent. . How did you construct the language of the piece? How did you capture their relationship? How did you come to hear and record the feelings of both the narrator and Doris?

Max: In early drafts, the narrator said at some point toward the end, “After all, she is my mum.” Although I took that out in the final draft, I still think of them as mother and son. Ah, the language! Well, on the one hand, it’s the language of the respectable English working-class, aspiring to middle-class life and values, into which I was born. On the other hand, the story is written throughout in sustained trochaic meter (check it out!), which of course is an entirely artificial construct, but moves the story along rather nicely as long as the reader never becomes conscious of it. I suppose, too, the relationship between Doris and the narrator was influenced by the fact that my wife and I spent a lot of time with my own mother in the last 3-4 years of her life, when she was suffering from dementia (not full-blown Alzheimer’s, but dementia nonetheless.) While Doris and the narrator are very different from my mum and me, their closeness in some way reflects that time of caring for my mum. I was not aware of this connection while writing the story.

Amoskeag: Your narrator makes a final statement at the end of the story. “I suppose she’s safe enough. I worry sometimes, though. What happens if some bugger in a yellow tie decides to ring her doorbell, selling triple glazing or religion?” Why does this line matter in this piece?

Max: It leaves the threat of danger still intact.

Amoskeag: How do you feel when a piece gets accepted and readers that you don’t know are now going to complete the story that you worked so hard at to shape?

Max: Delighted.

Amoskeag: What’s next for you as a writer?

Max: The bulk of my writing time is spent working on scholarly books and articles. My current book project is tentatively called Christ on a Donkey: Palm Sunday, Royal Entries, and Blasphemous Pageants. But it’s still in the early stages, so who knows what it will finally look like? Writing fiction allows me to enjoy an entirely different approach to writing. I get to make stuff up (which scholars aren’t supposed to do), and to care about the aesthetics of writing. Learning to tell a story better also helps me to write more readable scholarship. Since “Men With Yellow Ties” appeared in Amoskeag, I’ve had stories published in A capella Zoo, The Madison Review, The Midnight Diner, and Windhover. Maybe I’ll get a novel published one day.

Photographer Interview: Eleanor Leonne Bennett

Eleanor Leonne Bennett is a 17 year old international award winning photographer and artist who has won first places with National Geographic, The World Photography Organization, Nature’s Best Photography, Papworth Trust, Mencap, The Woodland Trust and Postal Heritage. Her photography has been published in the Telegraph, The Guardian, BBC News Website, and on the cover of books and magazines in the United States and Canada. You can visit her website at http://www.eleanorleonnebennett.com/bioface

Amoskeag: Your photograph is titled “Dilated Eyes.” Why? What does it mean to you? What do you want your viewers to take from it?

Eleanor: At the moment of the image being taken I wanted to capture a sense of shock but also feeling of being erratic and hyper. The flash causing the pupil to look so large is the essence of the image to me. The viewer should feel what distinguishes it from an average portrait are the subtle things. What is the girl looking at? Why is her hair cut to wonky lengths? Why the purposely over exposure so much that you can only tell parts of the face through mere outlines?

Amoskeag: In “Dilated Eyes,” although only one side of the woman’s face is visible, the viewer can sense the emotion and create a story behind the photograph. How do you come to capture that in your photographs?

Eleanor Leonne Bennett's "Dilated Eyes"

Eleanor Leonne Bennett’s “Dilated Eyes”

Eleanor: It was a self-portrait at a time where I was trying to practice with light and backgrounds. Not being able to afford a formal background I used the door of my wardrobe. Of this you can find a line in the image. This is the between space of the wardrobe doors. I was feeling out of sorts and impatient when that frame was captured.

Amoskeag: What are you looking for when you take a photograph? How do you translate an image in your head into what it will become; the final product?

Eleanor: It comes as second nature to translate. The edit, the frame will not stand in the way of my vision. It is instinct to change the photo to become what my minds eye interprets. I’ll sacrifice print quality and even risk interpolation to get to my aim in an image I really want to become me.

Amoskeag: As a photographer, designer, writer, and content creator, do you struggle to keep these worlds apart?

Eleanor: The worlds meld but the first three genres don’t fulfil me enough to commit to only them. There are a lot of ideas and themes I have fluently in my mind that I draw upon but I know I want to curate when I’m older. I want to do large scale projects you can touch and find dimension in easily. I also want to work with audio and filming for the complete creative experience.

Amoskeag: What impact do you hope to leave through your work?

Eleanor: A lot of the thoughts or remnants of memories left are open to critical interpretation. I like to be challenged and to question what makes myself myself. I want to put this forward to more of my audience but whilst I can’t find the frames to do so my already published abstract work displays this. What does the blood tell you, how about those sullen faces? Do the cracks in our built and polished world just allow for the possibility of another form of better?

Amoskeag: Whose work has influenced you the most, and what do you think sets them apart from other photographers?

Eleanor: I am very interested in the work of Bill Brant, Cindy Sherman and Alexander Rodchenko but I supplement that with work of painters that unsettle me. Zdzislaw Beksinski is so fascinating and was also born on the 24th of February like myself so I’m obsessive over that work at the moment.

Amoskeag: At a young age, you have already achieved so much. What advice can you give to young aspiring photographers?

Eleanor: Care enough to cherish the opinion of those who have the best intentions for you but don’t care so much as to let every meandering utterance ruin your entire aesthetic.

Amoskeag: What’s next for you as a photographer/artist? Hopefully more awards, I am being continuously exhibited with little effort.

I will be being published at my own rate. In comparison to the amount of work being published when I was 14 in bulk so to speak I’ll probably space the same amount of releases in six year period. I’m making time for myself and my privacy in art and keeping the cards held close to my chest.


Author Spotlight: John DeBon

John DeBon is a self-taught writer, whose works have appeared in The MacGuffin, Hawaii Review, Praxis, The Binnacle, Concho River Review, and others, and has earned a listing as notable in Best American Essays 2013. John attended San Diego State University and for the past decade has been employed by a non-profit organization involved in afforestation.You can visit his website at www.johndebon.com.

John DeBon

Amoskeag: In your story, Sunday Nights, your main character, David, remains motionless as his family falls apart. He listens to his parents’ arguments and his mother’s drunken threats night after night. He even feels “repentant for whatever sin he had committed to have caused such misery.” How did they get to that point in their life? Why do they see the world the way they do?

John: The members of a family in crisis are often in denial, unwilling to address underlying issues, and focus on the resulting “disruptive” behavior as the primary problem in and of itself. Without outside intervention and perspective, their dysfunctional circumstances often dictate the views they develop, which perpetuates their actions. To capture this dynamic in the story, each character’s actions are determined by what will bring them immediate relief or gratification from their individual and shared suffering. David’s mother, tired of sharing her home and husband with her mother-in-law, escapes her frustration and misery by drinking. David’s father, torn between wife and mother, deals with his wife’s drinking by enabling her, and vents his own unhappiness through anger. David’s sister, older than David and disgusted with the constant chaos, has begun to distance herself emotionally from her parents. David’s grandmother, strong-willed and judgmental, retains her hold on her son for a variety of self-serving reasons. These people are David’s world, his protectors, his window on what life is about. As a young child already damaged by his family’s actions, he cannot help but absorb the chaos and suffering, and worry that he is responsible for it. He serves as a symbol of the self-perpetuating nature of addiction.

Amoskeag: Your story starts with David being awoken by the shouts of his mother. Why did you begin there?

John: It felt like the natural point to begin telling the story, because I believe it provides the reader with an immediate opportunity to connect with David. I suppose in its own way, it’s also a bit of a hook. David awakening to his mother’s shouts and then venturing out of his room allows the story to unfold through his point of view; it also capitalizes on the bond between mother and child and sets a tense atmosphere. His caution in approaching the door projects his fear. As a small child listening to his parents fighting, we can imagine he is also experiencing a sense of helplessness.

Amoskeag: Did you see the ending coming, or did it suddenly surprise you? How did you prepare for it?

John: Although I am often surprised by the endings of my stories, that was not the case this time. Based on my research of dysfunctional behavior in domestic settings, in order for the story to ring true, it had to end with the family’s problems remaining unresolved. As for preparing for the ending, I knew the story would end as it began, with David, the most vulnerable member of the family. His character best demonstrates the insidiousness of a dysfunctional family, and how left unaddressed such trauma can resonate through the lives of family members for generations.

Amoskeag: Is your character’s view of the world reflective of the way you see the world? Or were you surprised by what they saw? How they felt?

John: I suppose to some degree this work reflects the way I see the world. I’m a bit jaded and believe all of us are a little more defective than we care to admit. Thus, I was not surprised by how the characters acted and felt. I understand how a cycle of negative behavior can begin and then be allowed to continue, and I think most of us have rationalized something we or someone we know has done, but understanding a person’s actions in a particular situation, especially one that may be foreign to us, is part of what a writer does, and it differs from agreeing with those actions.

Amoskeag: How did you construct the language of the piece? How did you come to hear and record the feelings of your main character?

John: This will sound a little strange, but when I need to capture a specific or unique voice, I assume the character’s persona and act out the part. Once I have the general tone and language I’m looking for, I fine-tune it with subsequent drafts. This usually means rewriting and a lot of cutting. I also find it helpful to base the language, tendencies, and disposition on someone I know or know of who is representative of the character.

Amoskeag: “He turned to his mother, hoping she could see his pain, his fear, his uncertainty, but her eyes were glossy and flat and showed no recognition.” Why does this line matter in this piece?

John: The instinct to seek protection and comfort from our mothers when frightened or in danger is common in many species. With humans this instinct stays with us to some degree beyond childhood, as evidenced by soldiers severely wounded in battle who call out for their mothers. When that line appears in the story, David’s father is about to vent his frustrations on his son. When David looks to his mother for protection, but instead finds her unaware of his predicament and only concerned with having another drink, it’s a betrayal of the mother-child bond, and the reader sees how truly alone he is. Here are the two people he turns to for security and safety, and one is threatening him and the other is not even aware he is there. This is the point when it is made clear how truly grim the situation is for David–he has no choice but to believe he is the cause of all their pain.

Amoskeag: How do you feel when a piece gets accepted and readers that you don’t know are now going to complete the story that you worked so hard at to shape?

John: Acceptance is pure gratification. For one person to see enough value in my work to make it worth putting into print is validation for all the solitary hours of writing that went into the work. As for turning my stories over to readers I don’t know, though most of us do it with trepidation, that’s why writers write. Having people take the time to read my work, giving the story their attention, the characters consideration, is thrilling. Once a story leaves my hands and is taken up by a reader, it belongs to that reader. This is where the reader and I meet, and I’m conscious of that when I’m crafting the work. I enjoy hearing from readers, and with most writers only an email away, I wish more readers would send their comments and insights, positive or negative.

Amoskeag: What’s next for you as a writer?

John: Like all writers, I would like more time to devote to my writing, so I’m currently working on a way to go without sleep. Aside from that, I like to work on more than one project at a time, and at the moment I am working on the final draft (that sounded so optimistic) of a suspense novel, finishing the first draft of another novel (historical fiction), and completing three short stories at various stages of development. I also increased my commitment to my writer’s workshops.

Photographer Interview: Charlie Lemay

Charlie Lemay is a photographer, graphic designer, and digital artist. He is also a full-time Associate Faculty at St. Paul’s School in Concord, New Hampshire, where he teaches Photography, Computer Graphics, and Fine Arts Foundations. His fine art digital and black and white images can be viewed at www.charlielemay.net.

Charlie's photograph, titled Fear of Flight. A black and white version appeared in Amoskeag's 2013 issue.

Charlies photograph, titled “Fear of Flight”. A black and white version appeared in Amoskeag’s 2013 issue.

Amoskeag: Your photo is titled “Fear of Flight.” Why? What does it mean to you? What do you want your viewers to take from it?

Charlie: This image was made during a week-long workshop with photographer, Keith Cater, at the Maine Media Workshops in 2010. The woman in the photograph was a fellow photographer who happened to have been a trained ballerina. The class was taken to a place called Elmer’s barn that was full of old rusty metal and antique stuff which provided many opportunities for image making. At one point, the ballerina began to dance and called to the other photographers to make photographs of her dancing. The original image was in color and captured digitally, so the black and white reproduction in Amoskeag is not how it is meant to appear. Shadows in color photographs always appear bluish unless filtered to be neutral the way the eye sees. I knew that the shadow of the trees behind the dancer would give the appearance of a blue sky with fluffy clouds. It was clear from the siding, that this was a backdrop and not an actual sky, and with her head down and crouching as though wanting to take off, I saw it as a doomed attempt to take flight. Fear seemed a plausible reason for not being able to fly. I faded to color toward the bottom, which becomes strictly black and white, to emphasize her being grounded..

Amoskeag: In “Fear of Flight,” the woman’s arms are spread out with her feet planted firmly on the ground. Even though her face is covered by her hair, the creation of story and emotion is still vivid. How do you come to capture that in your photos?

Charlie: Not being able to see the woman’s face, means the head down implies a kind of sadness. The outstretched arms imply an attempt to fly. Her flat feet on the ground imply it is not going to happen. A moment later, of course , she stood straight up and danced away. The moment captured allows us to create an alternative narrative, which is really based on our own assumptions. I made a second photo that day a few minutes before this one. I call it Buzcut. This happened when the model danced away. I was just getting into position on the ground to emphasize the large saw blades in the background and because of the shutter lag time of the digital camera I was using, she was nearly out of the frame when this image was made. All we see are her legs and the edge of her dress in motion juxtaposed with the ominous saw blades. I also faded the color at the bottom on this one and the result again is a sort of grounding that allows the colored top to come to life out of the lifeless black and white bottom. Although there were several other photographers photographing this same scene, none of their images looked at all like these.

Charlie Lemay's photograph, titled "Buzcut"

Charlie’s photograph, titled “Buzcut”.


Amoskeag: As a commercial photographer and graphic designer, and as an innovator in digital photography, do you struggle to keep these worlds apart?

Charlie: I think commercial work was my alternative to graduate school. When I graduated from Bowdoin College in 1972, I really could not afford to continue my education, so I found a way, to get other people to pay me to keep learning. Everything I have learned in the commercial arena has given me skills and experience I was able to bring to art making. La t summer. I officially retired from commercial design and photography for others and will totally focus on my own projects going forward.


Amoskeag: Your body of artistic work consists of myth and allegory, nature and detail, how do these different ways of seeing fit together?

Charlie: I’m the connection. The Digital Theatre series, which eventually culminated in my Digital Tarot, is totally inspired work. That is, I see each image in my mind before I begin. It may take me years between having the vision for a piece and its completion, so it may change, but the core idea is there from the beginning. I don’t always know what the piece is about me, I only know that I must make it. As I make the piece and live with it over the years, it will reveal itself in some way that teaches me about myself and the world. I have no doubt that I have changed in response to this work in ways that allow me to see the world differently and to make images I would never have made without that incoming experience. When I work in traditional black and white photography, I am using those new eyes to see the everyday world in a new way. So this is me outgoing, recording what I notice with those new eyes. I like to think that the traditional black and white images are my passion and the digital collages my mission. The former my haiku and the later my epic poetry.

Amoskeag: What do you hope to achieve through your work?

Charlie: The job of the artist is to wake themselves up, then to wake up others. That’s what I want to achieve.

Amoskeag: As a teacher, what is the best advice you can give to your students or other aspiring photographers?

Charlie: Learn to see light rather than things.

Eliminate the unnecessary.

Find the extraordinary within the ordinary.

Shed your preconceptions.

Don’t make the images we’ve all seen before. Make the images that if you don’t make them, no one else will ever get to see.

Another one of Charlie's photographs, titled "Ouroboros".

Another one of Charlie’s photographs, titled “Ouroboros”.

Amoskeag: Whose work has most influenced you, and what do you think sets them apart from others?

Charlie: Illustrators such as Aubrey Beardley and Maxfield Parrish, who made me see the power of myth and mystery. Painter Pablo Picasso, who showed me the power of personal vision and design. Photographers such as  Joseph Koudelka and Ralph Gibson who showed me the power of metaphor. And lastly, my mentor, photographer Connie Imboden, who made the connection for me of being in the moment to art making.

Amoskeag: What’s next for you as an artist/photographer?

Charlie: I just completed my first book, “Seeing, Insights + Images,” which will be out in a couple of months. It is a series of 40 black and white images alon side something I have said about my experience in the world. Having the two side by side makes for some interesting contrasts and connections. The first edition of my Digital Tarot will come out and be available by summer. I expect these two projects will take up most of my time over the next few months. Meanwhile, I continue to make black and white images every week. I am also working on a black and white installation piece, which I hope to complete over the next two years, but it is too early to talk about the details of that one. People who follow my website, will be the first to know when that project is nearing completion.

Author Spotlight: John Duncan Talbird

John Duncan Talbird is an English professor at Queensborough Community College and is on the editorial board of Green Hills Literary Lantern and a frequent contributor to Quarterly Review of Film and Video. His fiction has appeared in Ploughshares, South Carolina Review, New Walk, Grain, REAL, and more.John's headshot

Amoskeag: In All as Stationary as the Stars in the Sky, your main character, Freddie, has a set routine. He waits in the park for people to hand him spare change, collects his earnings, and walks over to the McDonald’s. How did he get to that point in his life? Why does he see the world the way he does?

John: Good question. I run in a different park here in Brooklyn, Prospect Park, and for a couple months, I kept passing the same guy. He wasn’t panhandling, but he was sitting on a bench and huffing something out of a paper bag. I’ve always thought of huffers–people who sniff paint, glue, etc.–as teenagers, but this guy was older, maybe forties, though the street is hard on people and many homeless seem to come unstuck from their true biological age. I thought about this guy sitting there day after day and I naturally wondered why he was there, what brought him to that moment. The story arose out of my curiosity and, I admit, a little sadness when he disappeared.

Amoskeag: The story begins with a woman in a “Park Avenue fur coat” who drops a bill into his cup. As she walks away, a falcon picks up her dog and begins to fly away. The woman is screaming, but Freddie just stands there, watching and doing nothing. Why did you begin “there”? What is the significance of this scene?

John: The scene is like a catalyst for the whole story. I’ve seen these gigantic birds–falcons–in both Prospect and Central Parks and I’ve seen them while out hiking in Upstate NY, New Jersey and elsewhere. Somehow, seeing them in an urban environment is more awe-inspiring. They seem so out-of-place here that it’s hard not to stare even when they’re just perched on a branch doing nothing. It was important for me that the bird do something fantastical and that Freddie not be shocked by it. People can become desensitized to the fantastic, to the sublime–by drugs, but also by addiction to anything: mass media, work, their smart phones. But none of us are born that way. I wanted to follow the thread of that desensitization backward. It’s risky to say that anyone ends up anywhere or as any type of person because of this or that factor. I just wanted to follow his life backward and see where he came from.

Amoskeag: Did you see the ending coming, or did it suddenly surprise you? How did you prepare for it?

John: I did know that I would come back to that moment in the park; I knew it would be a framing device. But I was surprised that his mother died, that he was there to see her die. That was a bit of a shock to me, but once that moment arrived, it felt right.

Amoskeag: Is your character’s view of the world reflective of the way you see the world? Or were you surprised by what he saw? How he felt?

John: I think it’s entirely natural to want to escape pain. That’s why painkillers exist, why they’ve always existed in one form or another. We all have to figure out how to cope with whatever it is that troubles us, whatever hurts us. In addition, I think it’s also natural, for young people, at least, to experiment. The problem arises, I think, when that experimentation becomes a way of life.

Amoskeag: As Freddie reflects upon the loss of his mother, the reader starts to understand how it has affected him and shaped the man he has become. How did you construct the language of the piece? How did you come to hear and record the feelings of your narrator?

John: I’m not sure if Freddie DOES reflect. Or if he does, I can’t say that I’m aware of it. Readers may draw their own conclusions based on what the 3rd person narrator tells them, but I meant the narrative voice to be a “cool” one, one which reports, but doesn’t have a lot invested in the protagonist. I leave it up to the reader to decide how effective or not I was at that.

Amoskeag: “Sometimes, when one spends months and months in a hospital with a broken pelvis and a snapped spine, when one needs a clear drip of warm liquid in one’s veins to make it sanely to this moment to that, one emerges allergic to pain.” Why does this line matter in this piece?

John: I was thinking about that great Morphine song, “Cure for Pain”: “Someday there’ll be a cure for pain / That’s the day I’ll throw my drugs away.” All types of people get hurt in myriad ways and there are myriad ways of coping with that pain. But like the song says, there’s no cure. You can cover it up, move it off to the side, think of something else, but it’s still there.

Amoskeag: How do you feel when a piece gets accepted and readers that you don’t know are now going to read the story that you worked so hard to shape?

John: I feel great. It’s the entire reason I write: to be read, to connect with readers who might like the same kind of fiction I do.

Amoskeag: What’s next for you as a writer?

John: I’m always working on something. This story is part of a collection I’m working to finish, Fancies, Games, and Random Documents, all sudden/flash fictions (stories under 2000 words). I’m also working to finish a novel about lighthouses, insane asylums, and the CIA. And I’ve just begun writing a series of essays about aesthetics.

Author Spotlight: Donna Pucciani

Donna Pucciani ‘s poetry has been published in the U.S., Europe, Australia, and Asia in International Poetry Review, The Pedestal, Spoon River Poetry, Journey of the American Medical Association, and Christianity and Literature. She is a four-time Pushcart nominee and has published books such as The Other Side of Thunder, Jumping off the Train, and Chasing the Saints.

Amoskeag: In ConjectureDonPhoto, your narrator is inquisitive and wishful of the world around him/her, placing various “What If” scenarios into the mind of the reader. He/she seems to be dreaming of a better future free of all worry and pain. How did they get to that point in their life? Why do they see the world the way they do?

Donna: The speaker of the poem represents most of the people I know: working families putting in sixty or seventy-hour weeks, both spouses working, squeaking by on child care from relatives, barely able to manage the shopping, laundry, cleaning and cooking on the weekends, driving kids to sports events or band practice, baking for children’s class parties at midnight. Frequently these same folks are taking care of elderly parents, often at great expense, because the social “safety nets” available in other civilized countries (whether prosperous or bankrupt) are unavailable here. That haunting picture of what America has become in just one generation, and the huge, growing gap between the rich and the rest of us, inspired this poem.

Amoskeag: Your poem begins with “What if sun and moon were to collide in space, spawning sparks of gold and silver, little gods and goddesses falling to earth to make everything right? Why did you begin “there”?
Donna: The ancients looked to the sky for answers. The Zodiac reflects their mythology of the relationships between gods and humans. We, too, often look to heaven or a God of sorts for answers, though science has inevitably discovered that what seems so peaceful on a starry night is really fraught with explosions, black holes, and a cruel randomness the ancients perhaps imagined in a different way.

Amoskeag: The end of the poem reflects upon the concept of life and death, and how the narrator wishes death would cause “surprise, not grief.” Did you see the ending coming, or did it suddenly surprise you? How did you prepare for it?

Donna: Being in the last one-quarter of my life gives me a totally new consciousness of the world. The desire to prepare for death and to see it as a natural part of existence very much informs the poem. That awareness is the basis of many of my poems right now, though I cannot say that I consciously wrote the poem with that particular ending in mind.

Amoskeag: Is your character’s view of the world reflective of the way you see the world? Or were you surprised by what they saw? How they felt?

Donna: “Conjecture” is very much based on my own particular world-view at present, but it also incorporates other strands of thought in which people around me seem to fluctuate between hope and hopelessness. The fact that some of my friends have “given up” on the political system, controlled by the greed and wealth of a few at the expense of the many, troubles me greatly. My own faith in democracy has certainly been weakened, though I continually struggle to believe in the goodness of the world, even as Anne Frank did in her diary a generation or two ago.

Amoskeag: The narrator is hopeful but also dissatisfied with many aspects of life and society. How did you construct the language of the piece? How did you come to hear and record the feelings of your narrator?

Donna: I really don’t know how I constructed the poem or made its particular “voice.” I wish I knew more about my own creative processes, but I don’t. I certainly don’t wait for “inspiration,” but instead confront the blank piece of paper and force myself somehow to find the words to express my thoughts.

Amoskeag: “What if their broken children could be sewn up like dolls, resurrected clean and desert-pink, arms and legs where God put them” Why does this line matter in this piece?

Donna: The image of broken children has emerged from the tragic killing of civilians in the Middle East for the past decade or so. While there has been a news blackout of photographs of dead or injured American soldiers and Iraqi and Afghan civilians, the information is out there for those who are determined to look. The American Friends Service Committee and other pacifist groups have supported my need to know about the horrors of each new war, my need to address my own conscience about how I have contributed to this situation and what, if anything, I can do about it.

Amoskeag: How do you feel when a piece gets accepted and readers that you don’t know are now going to complete the poem that you worked so hard at to shape?

Donna: I have a deep conviction that readers complete the poem, and that gives me great joy. I don’t often write poems that are as didactic as this one, but I do believe that words should and DO have meaning, that language is not just a word-game but should somehow reach into the core of what it means to be fully human. I write to evoke feelings in the reader, to spark something in his or her own experience, but not to tell the reader what to feel.

Amoskeag: What’s next for you as a poet?

Donna: As a poet, I probably need to become more involved in the online community of language. I still prefer the feel of paper and books in my hands, but am well aware of their effects on the environment. I have recently set up a blog of sorts, donnapuccianipoet.worpress.com, in which I post a weekly excerpt of one of my poems. Another blog, shutterverse2.wordpress.com, is a collaborative effort between an old teaching colleague and myself. X Woods and I taught together decades ago at a small college in Ohio, and have recently reconnected through the internet with her photography and my poetry in response. Woods resides in Boston and Berlin, I in Chicago and Manchester (U.K.), so the opportunity to connect over vast reaches of space is indeed a wonderful thing.

I’m also sending out a manuscript that I have been working on for many years, on my family in Italy and my discovery of them through my genealogical research. The poems have already appeared individually in journals, but I’d love to see them all in one collection. With each rejection, I work on it some more, and send it out again. After publishing five books of poetry, my advice to fledgling poets is to keep trying, even in the current rather difficult environment for the arts.

Author Spotlight: Adam Middleton-Watts

1203130847aAdam Middleton-Watts has had work published in Art Times, Illuminations, The Laughing Dog, con, Into the Teeth of the Wind, Iconoclast, and Rambuctious Review.

Amoskeag: In Boy, your main character, Glen is annoyed but passive with Beth. Even though he is not the father of Beth’s son, he still sends her money each month for the boy. Beth continues to believe he is the father. How did they get to that point in their life? Why do they see the world the way they do?

Adam: I believe what still connects these characters during the brief time of the story is similar to the destructive force that initially drove them apart. It is as simple and as complex as no longer seeing things in quite the same way, but yet, they are unable to fully distant themselves from one another, which would clearly be the healthy thing to do. For Glen, the connection is purely one of guilt. The boy represents for Glen the inability to “fix” things, to change things. It is a blatantly obvious difference (the boy is black, the adults he views as his parents are white) that cannot be successfully dealt with. The boy is not Glen’s son (it is not even certain that he’s Beth’s child either), but he represents a chance for Glen to correct the transgressions of his past. If he can help the boy survive the dysfunction of his childhood living with Beth, then Glen can possibly see this as redemption (no matter who the boy is, or where he comes from, a fact that likely prevents Glen from fighting for custody of the boy). Beth is a liar and she has a hold on Glen that transcends all other things, no matter how obviously incorrect some of those things may be. They have poisoned themselves with themselves, and the boy represents the dizzying depths of their blind dysfunction.

Amoskeag: The story begins with the little boy sitting on the steps outside of his work. The boy remains expressionless and silent as Glen decides what to do with him. What made you begin here?

Adam: I wanted the boy to simply be present in another area of the world that is not his, namely his “father’s” place of work. His appearance there is wrong on two main counts: his “mother” merely dumped him there alone, without first speaking to Glen, and the environment itself could be construed as hazardous to a child; a world of dangerous tools and strange men.

Amoskeag: Did you see the ending coming, or did it suddenly surprise you? How did you prepare for it?

Adam: Once I realized the boy represented all that Glen could not repair or control, I knew then that something more concrete needed to happen, something as simple as taking Glen’s emotional turmoil into the realm of the physical, yet another place where he is not in full control.

Amoskeag: Is your character’s view of the world reflective of the way you see the world? Or were you surprised by what they saw? How they felt?

Adam: I relate to Glen’s need to simplify things, to make them more concrete (regardless of how they became unstable in the first place), I think he’s aware that he cannot necessarily fix them, but he’ll do what he can for the time being. I see the pull of such a POV. I don’t think it’s particular constructive or healthy, but I can relate to the confusing struggles that go hand-in-hand with toting around a dumbbell of guilt.

Amoskeag: At the end of the story, an event occurs which shifts Glen’s perspective. He is no longer the angry, annoyed man he was when the story began. He develops true care for this little boy, and in that moment, nothing else matters except the boys safety. How did you construct the language of the piece? How did you come to hear and record the feelings of your narrator?

Adam: I tried to increase the level of threat in the story in an obviously concrete way. Here Glen is trying to do right in a situation many people may view to be hopeless and binding; doing right by a child that is not even his own son, paying monies to a woman he has long stopped loving and should have no further ties to. The boy is the pawn of the piece. He exists between two equally troubled worlds: the man who shows him he is not his son, and the irrational and unhealthy woman. The boy is alone in perpetuity, and in that instant when he is once again “physically alone,” he suffers terribly, and Glen is yet again unable to make it right. The color of the boy’s skin merely exacerbated the paternal struggle for Glen, he loves him regardless. But to others, the boy’s color becomes the catalyst for instant violence. Glen’s voice was clear to me throughout this piece, as was the environment. The “blue-collar” ambiance is something I experience to this day, and because of that I had a sense of the “voice” that would guide this story, hopefully one without judgment, merely a recorder of events.

Amoskeag: “This word, a word said close to his small cut ear, said over and over again, gaining repetition, like something large and wild moving toward him through a dark and peaceful valley, this boy hearing this word, over and over again, hearing,sorry.” Why does this line matter in this piece?

Adam: Because they only have each other, Glen and the boy, and Glen is as sorry for that fact as he is for all that the boy has suffered so far, and will no doubt suffer again. Beth is not destined to play a significant part in the lives of these two characters.

Amoskeag: How do you feel when a piece gets accepted and readers that you don’t know are now going to complete the story that you worked so hard at to shape?

Adam: It’s a wonderful feeling, of course. You put something together and send it out and what happens next is totally out of your control. But to have a reader connect with your work (a “reader” you’ll likely never get to meet) is a magical experience, it makes the void a little less lonesome.

Amoskeag: What’s next for you as a writer?

Adam: Well, I’ve amassed about a thousand poems or so, some of which are not too shabby, I think it’s time to find some of them a home. I’ve also many more stories to share.

Author Spotlight: Beth Colburn-Orozco

Beth Colburn-Orozco earned her MFA in fiction from Southern New Hampshire University in 2013. She lives in Southeast Arizona and teaches writing at the University of Arizona and composition at Cochise College.picture for Amoskeag

Amoskeag: In your story, Stolen Grief, your main character, June copes with the death of her husband by stealing sentimental objects from each of her friends. As upset as they for losing these things, June continues to steal from her and never confesses. How did she get to that point in their life? Why does she see the world the way she does?

Beth: I wanted to explore grief. How does someone fill the void after losing their spouse? I don’t think June sees herself as a theif, rather she finds solace in taking things. The items calm and ground her. As the story progresses we learn that she is stealing these things for Edward. It keeps him alive in a way that may not make sense to the rest of us.

Amoskeag: Your story starts with a description of the teardrop ruby earrings. What is their significance and what made you start here?

Beth: Beginning in a scene was important to me. Watching June navigate her first night out after her husband passes away seemed like a good place to start. She is with friends at a dinner party. It is something she has done a hundred times, yet without her husband, she is lost. The brilliant red of both the ruby earrings and the strawberries appear bold against such an ordinary setting. If she is caught with the ruby earring there is no denying what she did.

Amoskeag: Did you see the ending coming, or did it suddenly surprise you? How did you prepare for it?

Beth: I rarely see the endings to my stories. The characters guide me through. In an earlier draft, June comes clean and gives back the things she has stolen. I had envisioned that ending before I began writing the story, but June wasn’t ready to that. Sometimes our stories, like our lives, are not tied up in a nice bow. I was surprised to see that June had not reconciled with her grief. I still wonder if the ending works.

Amoskeag: Is your character’s view of the world reflective of the way you see the world? Or were you surprised by what they saw? How they felt?

Beth: I grew up in the suburbs outside of Milwaukee where people belonged to tennis clubs and country clubs and where families vacationed in Florida in the winters and “up north” in the summers. I always felt on the periphery of that kind of lifestyle. I think people looking in thought we all had it together. But that wasn’t the truth at all. My best friend’s father committed suicide. Another friend’s mother embezzled money from a school district and they had to move. A friend of mine was killed in a car wreck, another on a motorcycle. I had boyfriends who did a lot of drugs and drank themselves silly and girlfriends who got hit by the boys they loved and went into the city for abortions. June is in there somewhere. A woman with a seemingly perfect life until it isn’t perfect anymore. The question is, what do you do then?

Amoskeag: June has a lot of built up frustration and nobody quite understands her. “Please Melissa, I wanted to say. Leave me alone. This isn’t something a stranger or pills can fix. I miss your father. That is all.” How did you construct the language of the piece? How did you come to hear and record the feelings of your narrator?

Beth: The language for this story was fun to immerse myself in. This is how the people I grew up with spoke and how they spoke was a reflection of who they were. Like everyone else, their beliefs and ideas about the world were closely tied to language. Earlier I mentioned that people went “up north” for the summer. These two words might not have much meaning at all for someone who did not grow up where I did. Or, depending on where they are from, may have an entirely different meaning. For us, going “up north” meant you would be staying in either some huge mansion your family had on a lake in places like Door County, Rhinelander or Hayward or spending two weeks at a resort where kids had free rein. Language and feelings are intertwined. Using this same example, if someone less fortunate said they were going up north, we pitied them. This meant they would be camping in a tent and eating out of a cooler.
June’s frustration comes from the fact that her life fit the mold. She had it all, but then her husband dies. The people in her circle don’t want things to change so the pressure for her to act “normal” is too great and she finds an outlet. Instead of screaming, “I can’t handle this!” she quietly implodes and steals from her friends.

Amoskeag: June reflects on the relationship Rose has with her husband and the photographs taken from their Hawaii trip. She says, “I need to go to Hawaii where I would never look at a sexy younger man to fulfill my desires because my husband did that. Edward did that.” Why does this line matter in this piece?

Beth: We learn so much about June in these lines. She loved her husband dearly. But we also see the fissure of her grief begin to expand. “Edward did that” is finite. Edward took care of her. He would have never done anything to disappoint her and she’s angry because he’s gone. What she is really thinking about Rose is, “You have everything and you’re screwing it up.”

Amoskeag: How do you feel when a piece gets accepted and readers that you don’t know are now going to complete the story that you worked so hard at to shape?

Beth: I think it’s wonderful. I want people to bring their own “up north” to my stories. I so appreciate when a reader writes and tells me they were surprised at an ending or want to know what happens next. My characters remain alive and vibrant if readers are wondering about them and are caring about them.

Amoskeag: What’s next for you as a writer?

Beth: Right now I am finishing the final draft of my novel, “At River’ Edge” which I hope to find a home for. I am also working on a collection of memoir stories about living in Latin America and a few short stories that are in various stages of revision. My big project is organizing the Cochise Creative Writing Celebration that takes place here in Arizona at the end of March. I’m meeting incredible writers and learning so much about putting together this event, I seem to have little time for anything else. It’s the journey, not the destination, I imagine.

Author Spotlight: Izzy Case

Isadore Case lives in Lawrence, Kansas and works as a contract theology and philosophy teacher. Kill & Eat is his first published story.

??????????Amoskeag: In Kill and Eat, famine strikes, and the three main characters Tony Pranz, John Franklin, and Tye Collins do what they can to make sure their family is fed. Tony, for example, automatically enters survival mode and kills Father Bradley. He then makes John promise not to tell anyone-otherwise he will kill him. He acts much like a savage in order to save himself. How did Tony get to that point in his life? Why does he see the world the way he does?

Izzy: I don’t think Tony’s much like a savage in the important sense that a savage, even in times of duress, still has a fear of and hope in the supernatural. Tony obviously doesn’t, and to him it’s an intolerable injustice that the claims of the transcendent should be preferred to the concrete food needs of his kids. I don’t know how Tony got to the point of making biology the supreme value. I’m a little ashamed to admit, though, that I have this crude image of Tony as having some connection to the mafia in his background, but I don’t remember if the image came from his name or his name came from that image.

Amoskeag: You story opens with a visual description of the priest. “He seemed a walking allegory of starvation”. What made you begin there and why?

Izzy: I think the stock-image most of us have of priests involves someone who’s a little overweight, so it just seemed like the most vivid way to show the effects of the famine would be to describe someone who started out more corpulent than the average member of the community.

Amoskeag: Did you see the ending coming, or did it suddenly surprise you? How did you prepare for it?

Izzy: No, this is a story I wrote backward. The starting image was of a man feeding his kids with his flesh – the rest was trying to figure out a way to lead up to it.

Amoskeag: Each character has a different way of handling their situation. Some of their actions may seem inhumane or selfish, while others, such as Tye Collins, are completely selfless. Are any of your characters’ views of the world reflective of the way you see the world? Or were you surprised by what they saw? How they felt?

Izzy: Oh, well, isn’t the point that you can see yourself in all of them? I guess the ones I really feel furthest from are Tony and Tye – I have a hard time believing I’d have Tony’s guts or Tye’s courage.

Amoskeag: How did you construct the language of the piece? How did you come to hear and record the feelings of your characters?

Izzy: Tye doesn’t say a lot, so he was easy. Tony is the choleric, the steam-roller, so he doesn’t waste words except for his characteristic idiom, “I need you to…” Jolie was easy too, pretty stereotypical shrew. I think probably the hardest of all was Fr. Bradley since he’s got to take a firm and brutal stand about something he isn’t sure of himself. That took some work before I felt I’d got it across.

Amoskeag: Why does the setting matter in this piece?

Izzy: The setting was by far the hardest part – I needed a famine but I didn’t want to tackle a third-world scenario or a different language. Fortunately I’d been to a former mining town in Alaska when I was a kid that seemed to do the job since the community there had no legal structure, no firearms (I think), and a car could only get to or from the town when the river was frozen. So I made the town an island and widened the river enough to get some decent rapids and the rest fell into place.

Amoskeag: How do you feel when a piece gets accepted and readers that you don’t know are now going to complete the story that you worked so hard at to shape?

Izzy: You know since it’s my story I actually know how it ends so for me there’s all kinds of closure. I do feel bad, a bit, for people who never get to find out for sure whether the sacrifices in the story delayed death for just one meal or for longer. Delaying death one meal’s worth is significant in itself, of course, but I’m the only one to know who survived the famine, and how. The perks of authorship.

Amoskeag: What’s next for you as a writer?

Izzy: As far as I can tell more of the same. I like writing stories, I like sending them to the few friends I have who actually enjoy reading them, and then I like sending them out to see if anyone wants to publish them. I particularly like the challenge of trying to make something my wife will enjoy (she doesn’t have a lot of interest in literature) that can still measure up to the standards of serious journals. So it’s fun, I can’t see why I wouldn’t keep doing it.