Briefs Blog

2018 Best of the Net Nominations

Posted by on Sep 19, 2018 in Uncategorized | Comments Off on 2018 Best of the Net Nominations

The editorial and reader team at Spry is happy to announce our nominations for the 2018 Best of the Net Awards. We wish everyone the best of luck.

Creative Nonfiction

Stranger by Mike Nagel
Nine by Mary Lide


The Selkie Wife by Bailey Cunningham
> by John Burgman


At My Son’s Favorite Mexican Restaurant After He Died by Chanel Brenner
The Black Bull’s Bride by Rita Feinstein
breakable bodies by Emma Gammans
Good Girls by Ioanna Opidee
Blues by Laura Mayron
Your Appointment Book is Empty by Rochelle Jewel Shapiro

Behind the Words: Katrina Knebel

Posted by on Sep 14, 2018 in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Behind the Words: Katrina Knebel

Katrina Knebel’s Saturday’s Treaties was published in the fifth issue of Spry Literary Journal. Here she talks with general reader J.G.C. Wise on writing and life. 

J.G.C. Wise: In “Saturday’s Treaties,” you do a tremendous job of detailing what seems a somewhat routine conflict for the protagonist. What was it that drew you to this subject matter?

Katrinia Knebel: Routine was really the thing that I wanted my audience to think about.  Particularly, the conflicting nature of routine—how in some moments we cleave to it and in the next are repelled by it.  (My daily routine of waking up a five AM to go for a run would be case in point here.)  How often we want to break free from the suffocations of routine (I need a vacation) and in the next want to return back to our old ways (I’m ready to go home). How routine has both the capacity to assuage us in our darkest moments or the opposite—prevent us from growing, becoming, and/or breaking out of a cycle of discontent.  It probably comes as no surprise, but at the time I wrote this, I was feeling pretty discontented not only with my marriage but also by the insipidness of routine itself.  So at the risk of sounding cliché, I must confess that this work definitely sprung from my own experience of conflict within a relationship. I was thinking at the time about the difficulty of seeing a relationship objectively when we are in the thick of turmoil.  That is, how hard it is to discern whether or not the habits of the relationship are categorically healthy or unhealthy, since even in a definitively bad relationship, there are these good parts as well, something there that compelled you to love that particular person. Deciding whether or not, then, to stick with a person becomes a rather impossible equation to solve: do the moments of bad plus the good add up to something positive and worth sticking with?  Or rather is it time to subtract your losses, abandon your established routines, and “live in your mother’s basement.” 

What about second person present tense do you feel makes this piece work?

I like the reflective nature of second person, and I think it works in the piece because the protagonist is dealing with an inner turmoil.  Speaking in second person, it’s as if the protagonist is observing as an outsider the actions and ruminating on them, rather than performing them directly herself.  There is a feeling of disembodiment created by the second person.  It’s as if the protagonist is just going through the motions, trying to find distractions in those actions in order to avoid the crux of the conflict.  The second person also ties in to the performance of routine.  We use the word “you” when we speak of ritual, when we speak of an action that gets repeated, when we speak of how something is typically performed.  First, you do this, then you do that.  In that way, I think the second person works.

What is it that draws you to flash fiction? Do you write any other styles?

I love the conciseness of flash and the close attention that it pays to syntax.  As a writer, I work quite methodically, and I think a lot about the micro level of my writing, sometimes too much, sometimes to my detriment.  I have a tendency to get hung up in details, which means that I produce writing rather slowly.  Flash is fun to write because there is immediate gratification, and it just feels more manageable.  And due to its shortness, it creates a freedom that allows you to play and experiment with the language.  You can get in, fumble around as much as you want, and still find your way out.  I have often thought that I should write poetry because of my meticulous nature as a writer and because I am so organizationally challenged—I really struggle at the macro level—but I prefer writing in prose, and I think I have a better ear for it.  Over the past few years, I have constructed quite a complicated body of short works, and right now I am working on a manuscript of short lyrical creative nonfiction essays, which is what I primarily write.  I write a lot of memoir, but I also like to write about subjects that just fascinate me: abandoned mines, otters, zebra mussels, butchering chickens, etc.  Anyway, I am feeling pretty lost in my collection, which I am trying to thread together.  I’m currently stuck in a labyrinth, trying to find the path to the goblin king.  The central thread of my manuscript remains elusive.

What does your writing process look like?

It looks like crap.  I am a divorced mom with two children, high school English teacher, Writing Center director, Writing Club sponsor, Poetry Slam Team coach, and, unfortunately, it seems like I am a writer last.  Nevertheless, I like to work on Sundays.  I need to start early in the morning; otherwise, I’ll never sit my ass down at the desk.  I’ll find a million other things to do instead.  But once I’m in it, I go into hyper-focus mode and can sit for hours.  In fact, I have a hard time stopping, reemerging to meet a friend for dinner (and make it there on time), fold the baskets of laundry on my couch, take a much-needed shower.  As a writer, what I really need is a long period of distraction-free time, so the summer is a good time for me to actually get things accomplished.          

How do you know when you’ve finished a piece?

I feel like I never know, but fortunately literary journals have deadlines and word counts.  These parameters help me to find a stopping point. 

How does being a teacher inform your writing?

I learn a lot working with high school students who can be unforgivably honest, who wear their hearts on their sleeves, who challenge me every day to really pay close attention.  And I have written a few things that speak directly to my experiences as a teacher and the students whom I have had the opportunity to come to know well.  One thing that I learn from my student writers is that it is hard, complicated work, but so rewarding when you get it right.  Another thing about high school writing is that it can be really raw, especially the work of my slam team poets.  And I didn’t really think of “rawness” as an important characteristic in writing until these past few years.  But rawness especially when coupled with gorgeous writing, can, I think, make a work pop (for lack of a better word) where others just blend in amidst the heap of other decent works.  Working with young writers has made me think about this aspect in relation to art.  What is the quality about works like How Should a Person Be by Sheila Heti or Call me Zebra by Azareen Van der Vliet Oloomi or even I Love Dick or Transparent that engage me in a way where other works do not?  It is the raw portrayal of characters who come to feel more real and authentic by its inclusion.  Oftentimes, writers shy away from this aspect in their work from fear of being too crude or coming off too intensely.  (Insanely perhaps?) But sometimes that act of omission (or of fibbing) distances the reader, and it might be the very place where the real meat of the story lies. Of course, there is always the mistake of overkill and I’ve read many a high school story that was way too raw for my taste.  But done well, I think this can be a great quality in a work.

What’s one piece of advice you’d give to a writer just starting out?

Quit your job and marry for money.  Really I’m not sure.  It’s really not something I would recommend for others just as I wouldn’t recommend that one go into teaching right now.  It’s brutal.  I guess finding my people, a community of writers, was key to me in becoming a writer.  I didn’t really start thinking of myself as writer until I took a few Creative Writing classes and actually had a real audience.  From there, I started sending out work to editors who became my new audience.  (My very first piece of writing was published in Spry, and I will always remember that.)  I also became good buddies with one of my former writing professors along with some other local writers, and I realized that I need these people so much as a writer.  They check in on me and keep me writing by having the expectation that I am writing.  They make the work not feel utterly meaningless because many times I question why I even do this. 

J.G.C. Wise is a writer and bartender with an MFA in creative writing from Fairfield University. His work has appeared in The Curator, Baeble Music, Surrounded by the Sound, and Spry Literary Journal, among others. His essay, “End Stage Renal Delay” was a runner up in Welcome Table Press’s Essaying the Body Electric and the manuscript for his as-yet unpublished memoir, Fall Risk, received the Top of the Mountain Book Award through the Northern Colorado Writer’s Conference. He lives in Brooklyn, NY with his dog, Percy.

Behind the Words: Michelle Lee

Posted by on Sep 13, 2018 in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Behind the Words: Michelle Lee

Michelle Lee’s short story, When Something’s Broken Near Water, is a meditation on how life changes after a divorce, the things kept and the things given away. Lee kindly agreed to answer a few questions about her work.

Olivia Lowenberg: When Something’s Broken Near Water, your piece featured in Spry, pulls readers in much like the tide on a beach. What inspired you to write this story?

Michelle Lee: First, thank you for the lovely compliment: like the tide on a beach – I may have to put that on the wall above my desk.  Second, my husband gave me the seed for “Something’s Broken.”  He came home from working out at the Y one evening and told me that an older woman got stuck in a chair above the pool: no one, even the lifeguard, really knew what to do.  So the woman, this woman with her fragile feet dangling above the chlorine, just sat there in my head for days, calling to be rescued.  Then the through-line was born.

What is your writing process like?

Well, ideas come from everywhere: people I know and don’t know; song lyrics by some obscure ’90s band; something my eight-year old might say; an online article on the Hubble; a walk across the college campus where I work … Then I hunt for a scrap of paper (yes, I should reach for my phone, but something feels wrong about that) and jot the nugget down.  In terms of the actual writing?  I meet with some friends once a week to write at a local coffee shop for a few hours (accountability!), but also write whenever I have a free minute.  My day job is English Professor, so it’s challenging to find time to develop my own projects in between grading their assignments.  I’m a slow writer, too: I edit as I go, mostly, so I don’t produce oodles of words on a daily basis. I’m definitely an obsessive wordsmith/over-thinker. And I’m not an outliner or a plotter: I scribble notes a few steps ahead and usually have the “big picture” in mind, but not every scene or reaction.  I’d say it takes me about 8-12 months to produce a solid, get-out-there novel manuscript, because, like all of us, I have to dodge life! Writing short stories and poems was much easier and faster.  I could do those in about a week or two.

What writing advice do you give your students?

Hmmm. It’s so hard to give other writers advice, and students are especially delicate.  But ….

  • Find the small, interesting thing to write about.  Make it mean something. 
  • Plot should grow naturally from the character.
  • Think of your reader: how can you use the genre, the form, to help them connect with your story, your characters?
  • Don’t wait until something is perfect to get it out into the world: perfect will never come.
  • Read what inspires you, read what’s out there in the genre you love.  Soak it in.
  • You don’t need an academic degree to write a strong, wonderful story, but you need to be mindful of craft.
  • Always be professional in your format and correspondence.  Follow editor/agent guidelines.  Be kind to them.
  • Don’t overwrite: even in “experimental writing,” be creative and clear.  Be sure to ground your reader in something real.

What are you working on next?

I’m finishing my second novel, a hybrid of verse and prose. Lately I’ve been writing for a middle-grade audience.  These are readers who still have one foot in the magical world of childhood, where so much is possible – and one foot pointed toward adulthood, where they have to think about grown-up issues. These readers, these characters, have baggage, but it doesn’t weigh them down with so much angst. They have the keen ability to believe in a birthday wish in the same moment they are challenging the “facts” of the world.  And they’re still wide open in their definitions and ideas about love, even when they get horribly hurt.

You have published both poetry and fiction. For you, in what ways does writing one inform the other?

My first novel (which is traveling between editorial desks right now) is a novel-in-verse.  I find the style and genre energizing: the line breaks, the ability to play with white space, form.

I love how the purposeful construction of poetry has this marvelous ability to bring out a character’s emotions, as well as showcase movement of the plot.  When I write prose, the lyricism and liveliness of poetry informs the way I break paragraphs, the way I write dialogue or tag dialogue. I think that’s why I gravitated toward flash fiction and shorter fiction for a while. The brevity of poetry helped make my prose more concise.  Poetry helps me think about how to create beauty and music with an economy of words.

Earlier this year, when I began my second novel, it was clear to me that one character’s voice should be poetry and the other in prose.  The rhythm, the line lengths, the different pacing in genres sparked their personalities.

One of my favorite writers is Kwame Alexander.  The man uses poetry to build such vivid, fast-paced, emotionally compelling novels.

Olivia Lowenberg is a current master’s student at MF Norwegian School of Theology in Oslo, Norway. Her short fiction has previously appeared in Argot Magazine, Cat on a Leash Review, and The Zodiac Review, and was just published in Spry Literary Journal.

Behind the Words: Daryl Muranaka

Posted by on Sep 12, 2018 in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Behind the Words: Daryl Muranaka

Daryl Muranaka is a poet and a martial artist who has, in his words, “lived as a minority, as part of a majority, and also as a foreigner.”  His poem “Auntie’s Laugh” appeared in Spry’s issue 06. We sat down to talk about surprise, how his martial arts and poetry practices influence each other, and how difference can challenge and inspire. 

Kristy Harding: One of the things I really appreciate about “Auntie’s Laugh,” the poem you published in Spry, is the way you play with surprise–the surprise of her laugh but also the surprise of finding exuberant life in herself when her husband “wears decrepitude/like a badge of honor.” I’ve noticed that there’s a theme in your work of life appearing in scenes of decrepitude and visa versa, usually in a startling way. Is this a reflection of beliefs of yours, or do you find yourself surprised when that happens in a poem?

Daryl Muranaka: I had to think about the idea of decrepitude in my work. It’s was never a conscious decision, but a natural emergence. This theme comes from two places: one is from a long-time admiration of the Japanese wabi/sabi aesthetic, and the other is now that I’m firmly middle-aged, I feel comfortable with that aesthetic. Often, I think, we believe we should fear or loathe aging. There is something important to keeping a young mindset, but also to be able to appreciate the journey you have to embrace that passage of time. I started the martial arts when I was 11. My body has changed many times, sometimes it’s gotten stronger, sometimes weaker. There are things I can’t do anymore and that’s something I’ve not just had to adapt to and accept, but also value. As I’ve done that, I’ve found many things around me to be both enlightening and startling. I try to bring those things into my poems.

In a post on your blog, you talked about the “surprise at arrival” that comes of finishing a poem that starts with words and imagery and is finished when you know what the poem has to tell you. You contrast this with what you w “poems of the will,” which begin with the knowledge of what you have to say. What kind of poem was “Auntie’s Laugh” for you? What was the process of writing it like?

Auntie’s Laugh was definitely a poem of inspiration and was the kind of poem that surprises when it arrives. The poem began when I heard my Auntie laughing at my parents’ anniversary party. She had said that my uncle, who was quite a bit older than her, was slowing down a lot, but managed to still get himself into town for his haircuts. It was both an expression of affection while chiding my uncle (in absentia) for his little bit of masculine vanity. In both of them, they had this surprising flare of energy that I wanted to memorialize. This poem was the kind that almost seemed to write itself. When I got the last part, when she covers her mouth, which I suppose was a reflexive action on her part, the idea of “catching the life that was leaping from her” felt like a throwaway bit but turned out to be the image the communicates that flare of life the best.

You’re a longtime practitioner of martial arts. How do your martial arts practice and your writing practice speak to (or spar with) each other?

My various practices are surprisingly symbiotic. They are all, in their own ways, physical and sensual, but rather than competing, they meld and inform each other. Weird, I know, and very hard to explain. Writing is physically taxing as well as mentally and emotionally challenging. It’s about translating experience from physical to imagistic and then back to physical again. Tai Chi Chuan is all about balance, not just physical, but also mental and emotional balance, being grounded in your here-and-now experience. And aikido while doing the same thing, is also about spontaneous expressions of creativity at the advanced levels. My martial arts are also surprising in that both arts are about using and strengthening your joints, not your muscles, and depend on suppleness and flexibility to generate power and stability. They are about pushing (moving forward) more so than pulling (moving backwards). In this way, they are exactly like poetry and writing. I find the practices to be really invigorating for my writing, supplying me with a lot of fresh energy and a constant source of physical sensations.

I’m curious about creativity in the context of Aikido. What is your experience of that? 

Aikido is an interesting experience. It has relatively few basic techniques but then opens up into freeform exercises that require a lot of physical improvisation. In many ways, it’s like a martial arts version of jazz. Some martial artists don’t necessarily like this idea of a martial art as “the art of expressing the human body,” but there is something to it. Aikido can, when done correctly, provide a way of expressing oneself that is both practical and deeply emotional. One of my main sensei, Dick Stroud, was an artist, a painter. He had a very powerful, vigorous approach to Aikido and painting. He was also a great lover of jazz. I learned a lot about the martial and the artistic from him. For both of us, I think, Aikido was a co-medium of expression for us. Another sensei, Sioux Hall, was a close friend to Stroud-sensei. Stroud-sensei always said she was a terrific artist too. Her approach was less forceful, but equally strong and was always pushing the limits of human movement.

As a former Bostonian, I may have cheered aloud at the end of “Haibun: Morning Commute” when you mentioned subway surfing. You’ve lived a lot of places–California, Hawaii, Japan, Boston. How have these diverse places touched your process and work? 

Thank you, I had fun with that one! Moving around is at the core of a lot of my work. These different places have definitely changed how I perceive life and work. I’ve lived as a minority, as part of a majority, and also as a foreigner. Those experiences changed how I see myself in the world but also how I view our country. I see where we are more clearly and the potential of what we can become if we have the will to do so. Those experiences have changed how I see the trajectory of my new works as I write them.

I’m not sure that travel has changed my process. I think those changes would have happened regardless of where I ended up. I suppose travel has changed how I read though. I had a roommate once who said that the world is too big and so he didn’t feel the need to expand into areas of literature and cinema that he couldn’t really get into. That’s not a concept that I believe in. Exposure is where we push out our limits. Even if we can’t master what we’re seeing, we can still appreciate them and move our imaginations into new spaces.

Can you give an example of something you’ve read that pushed out your limits?

What’s an example of something I’ve read that’s pushed my limits? 

That’s a tough one. A couple of years ago, I read a “The Shape of the Journey” by Jim Harrison. I had tried a few times to read it, but it never really clicked, but then a couple of years ago it really did. I’m not really sure what about the book pushed me, but it did. Not in the content, but something about the style, his use of length, the solidity of his poems challenged me. It’s strange because the way it pushed me was eventually to make my poems smaller, my lines thinner, and my images more and more compact. I’ve always like Jim Harrison’s writing and his writing has always pushed me, but when I think about, I don’t write like him at all nor am I interested in doing it. Isn’t that odd?

I just saw your Twitter, and I have one more question that I just have to ask: You say in your bio that you’re looking for the American warrior poet. Just in case the American warrior poet is reading this interview and doesn’t know their secret identity, what do you expect the American warrior poet to be like?

When I wrote that bio, the American warrior poet was more of an aspirational thing, kind of like the idea of a “Renaissance Man.” There was a notion of being able to do divergent things like martial arts and some sort of art well at the same time. I’m not sure I’m there. I’ve had some success in both. Some who specialize in one or the other are more successful than me, but that’s fine. Things happen slowly for me, and that’s a good thing.

Kristy Harding has an MFA from Goddard College and writes fiction, poetry, and essays. Her work has most recently appeared in White Noise and Ouija Boards: An Anthology of Ghosts and Hauntings from Three Drops Press (as Mara Colleen Banks). She is a native of New England currently living in the Pacific Northwest. Her blog and more conversations with interesting people can be found here.

Behind the Words: Alyssa Jewell

Posted by on Sep 11, 2018 in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Behind the Words: Alyssa Jewell

Alyssa Jewell was  published in the eighth issue of Spry and was kind enough to take some time to talk with another member of the Spry family, Donna Vorreyer, who was published in the third issue, about her poem The Stranger, the Sojourner Passes By. Here is their interview.

Donna Vorreyer: One of my initial responses to the poem was how its references to visual acuity (or lack of it) parallel the ways that a stranger in a place is simultaneously focused and blurry –trying to hone in on the details of a new place but standing out as not being a part of the usual landscape. Was this a consideration in your choices?

Alyssa Jewell: I think this interpretation of the poem is fair. I don’t know that I had those exact thoughts in mind when I wrote the poem, but I’m sure those associations were present in my consciousness somewhere. I’m always interested in travel poems and writing about how people engage or disengage with new environments.

Why do you think the astronomer & space figure so prominently in the poem? It that the one space where we would all be strangers?

Space, for some reason, shows up a lot in my first collection of poems. I find cosmic imagery and scientific discoveries about outer space fascinating, and these interests became a bit of an obsession in my poetry for a while. I had actually seen Saturn from a telescope during an astronomy festival in Bryce Canyon, and I was struck by its almost cartoon-like, flat appearance. While it did not measure up to the close-up images of the planet I had in my mind, it was still amazing to see that tiny figure, just barely discernible as Saturn. My vision through the telescope versus my perception of Saturn seemed to fit with my other feelings and thoughts running throughout the poem. I was so glad to be able to include that incredible experience in my writing in a way that just seemed to fall into place.

As the narrative elements in this poem fell into place here, there were choices to be made about which pronouns you would use in the poem. In the fifth line, (Tomorrow you won’t remember any of this...) the poem introduces a you which comes back again toward the end. (There is also a “we.”) Are these pronouns meant to be universal? Or are they referencing a specific you? There seems to be evidence for both from a reader’s perspective, and the two ways of reading change the poem considerably. I love that it reads in different ways, but wonder if you share your intent or if you’d prefer to let the reader make a choice.

The “you” and the “we” pronouns are more universal, for me, while the “I” is personal, though I am open to interpretations. The title is a general reference to anyone who is a stranger or a sojourner passing by someone’s line of vision. This poem came out of a conversation I was having with a longtime friend who is studying cognitive science. She mentioned that our brains naturally filter out information about our surroundings without us being aware of this process. If our consciousnesses were to take in everything around us at all times, we would be overwhelmed and could not function. I was also thinking about ways and times that we knowingly look the other way and the relationship between both processes.

Sound seems important to you throughout this poem. I especially love the lines – the hard vowels of “fat planet” and “junk spin” juxtaposed with all the soft c and s sounds.

“Tonight, you couldn’t see

the fat planet churning in all its brilliance,

in all its loneliness

of moon junk spin and dusky glow…”

Is sound a major component in your work? And does it factor heavily into your revision process?

I think sound and musicality of language is something I’m always considering carefully, but in the drafting process I just write whatever comes to mind at first. Sometimes repeated sounds show up on the page because those associations have naturally taken place while writing. I do think use of sound is a great way to create small surprises for the reader and helps the mind to stay focused. Sound can propel a reader through a poem.

I feel as if the ending is a lovely turn that makes me reconsider everything else I’ve read previously. In a poem that seems to rely heavily on science, the turn to the religious/spiritual at the end is surprising and tender. Could you perhaps shed some light on this choice?

The ending surprised me as well, which is probably a good sign when writing a poem. (I always think of Frost’s famous advice: “No surprise in the writer, no surprise in the reader.”) While working through this poem, I heard another person reference that Biblical moment, and it just seemed to fit in its own way. Since I was thinking about all the ways that our vision and consciousness can be clouded and/ or restored in this poem, adding an element of spirituality seemed natural. It’s also such a strange and tender story that I thought it should be referenced in a poem.

Donna Vorreyer is the author of two full-length collections of poetry: Every Love Story is an Apocalypse Story (Sundress Publications, 2016) and A House of Many Windows (Sundress Publications, 2013), as well as eight chapbooks: The Girl (2017,Porkbelly Press), Tinder, Smolder, Bones and Snow (2016, dancing girl press), Encantado, Illustrated by Matt Kish (Red Bird Chapbooks, 2015), We Build Houses of Our Bodies (dancing girl press, 2013), The Imagined Life of A Pioneer Wife (Red Bird Chapbooks, 2013), Ordering the Hours (Maverick Duck Press, 2012), Come Out, Virginia (Naked Mannequin Press, 2011), and Womb/Seed/Fruit (Finishing Line Press, 2010).

She currently serves as reviews editor for the journal Stirring: A Literary Collection. Her poetry, fiction, and book reviews have appeared or are forthcoming in such journals as Sugar House Review, Rhino, Oyez Review, Sou’wester, The Labletter, Stirring, Menacing Hedge, and Hobart, and anthologies such as A Face to Meet the Faces (2013) and New Poetry from the Midwest (2015). Although she does not have an MFA, she gets an education daily in her life as a middle school English teacher.

Behind the Words: Beate Sigriddaughter

Posted by on Sep 10, 2018 in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Behind the Words: Beate Sigriddaughter

Beate Siggridaughter’s poem Red Fox was published in the fifth issue of Spry Literary Journal. Here she talks with Spry’s general reader Allie Marini about the process and other writing-related thoughts. Here is their interview.

Allie Marini: The restraint & brevity of “Red Fox” is admirable—you convey so much meaning using just 24 words—sort of a “flash poem” or “micro-poem”, if you will. How was the writing process for this piece? Was it difficult to keep it this short, or did you have to fight the desire to say more? Is your usual style this short, or is this piece unique in its length?

Beate Sigriddaughter: It’s the magic of writing that sometimes you can tell a whole story behind a few words. Foxes tend to be shy and mysterious, so I thought, what a beautiful image to hide behind. No, it wasn’t difficult to keep it short. I sometimes like to write short pieces. I call them cameos. I also write very long ones. I go with my gut when deciding on length and form.

What’s the story behind this piece—how did you get started? How did this particular detail of the red fox end up as the central core of the poem?

I happened to read somewhere how red foxes mate for life and I already loved red foxes in the first place. At the same time the familiar fear: will my mate remain faithful? One does read that it appears to be very difficult for human males to be faithful to their mates. Also, love is a big theme in my life—but of course we can’t just go and say “I want to be loved forever” and call that a poem (though maybe we should).

How many times was this piece rejected before it found a home with Spry? Was placing a poem this short difficult, and if so, how? What challenges does a short form have for the author?

It was rejected once before I submitted it to Spry. So, it wasn’t very difficult to place. Nowadays short poems, as well as flash fiction and everything else short, seem to actually often be easier to place than longer work. The challenge of writing a short piece is that every word has to count without being too obvious about wielding craft.

How big is your “In-Progress” folder? How many works-in-progress make it to a final draft? On average, how long does it take for you to turn a note or poetic stub into a finished piece?

Oh, my! My “In-Progress” folder(s) are monumental. Computers make it so easy to hold on to stuff that doesn’t make to it final, just in case one day it might. It’s also lovely to go back on rare occasion, and just for personal delight, to see what was going on a long time ago. Currently I happen to review some notes from 2003. It all eventually becomes part of the next wealth of invisible substance “behind the words,” even if a particular note doesn’t make it into a final work. By the way, I love the expression “behind the words!”

In terms of timeline: I have finalized a poem in as little as a day or a week, and I have two finished novels, one self-published, one published by a small press, that took an average of 30 years from the first words I put down to the finished product. How many works-in-progress make it to a final draft? Depends on how I define work-in-progress: if I define it as something that I have definitely committed to, I would say about 70 or 80 percent. However, if I define work-in-progress as just-in-case notes I jot down, it’s way below 1 percent.

How has your writing changed since the publication of this piece? (Or, alternately, how has it stayed the same?) Has your style undergone any substantial changes since the debut of “Red Fox”?

I don’t think my writing has changed much—perhaps my style has gotten a tad more sure of itself. I’ve also last year been named poet laureate of Silver City, NM (Land of Enchantment!), which helps with the self-confidence. I tend to write personal, passionate things. Somebody has called my writing “naked.” I can see what she meant. But even naked, I’m still contained in the same skin, whether it’s sunburnt or winter-pale, or anything in between. One thing I have done recently is to write a series of poems, quite personal, but in third person about a character name Emily—perhaps to gain a bit more distance from all that nakedness.

Where might we read some more of your work?

FutureCycle Press published my full-length collection Xanthippe and Her Friends earlier this year. It’s available on Individual poems and stories, including several of the Emily poems mentioned above, are available in various online literary magazines. My website has a complete bibliography of what’s available where.

If you could go back and re-edit this piece, would you? Why or why not, and what, (if anything) would you change?

No, I would not go back and change anything. Once I have a poem published or accepted, I usually let it go. I have so much other material waiting to get in line for quality attention.

Whose work has had the most profound impact on your particular writing style? What contemporary authors do you like to read, or would you suggest to readers who saw an echo of their own style in your work?

My original poetry mentor, the late Roland Flint, then at Georgetown University, was instrumental in showing me that it’s okay to cull poetry out of personal feelings. His own writing was very personal and often quite elegantly simple, with a lot of depth of experience behind it.

Contemporary authors I will go out of my way to read are Mary Oliver, Susan Griffin, Elizabeth George, David Chorlton, Marguerite Guzmán Bouvard, Alexis Rhone Fancher, Foster Trecost, Susan Tepper, and Jen Knox. The late Ursula K. Le Guin and Doris Lessing probably still count as contemporary too. And there are so many more.

Who is your writing community, and where did you find them?

My home town, Silver City, NM, despite its small size (ca. 10,000 people), has a very active literary and arts community. As poet laureate I am quite visibly involved, for example through putting on a monthly reading featuring a variety of writers and open mic, among other things. My main community though is the cyber community. Some years ago I got involved with Fictionaut, where I made many long-lasting writing friends, though at the moment Fictionaut itself has dwindled from what it used to be, and Facebook has taken over as my personal writing community. Finally, my largest community project is a blog I have called Writing In A Woman’s Voice where I publish other women’s writing (and a few men’s writing so long as they credibly and respectfully write in a woman’s voice) almost daily. I even have a modest monthly prize of $91 for one piece posted from one full moon to the next.

What question didn’t I ask that you wish I did? What would your answer be?

Question: Do you have a personal motto?

Answer: Yes. Currently my motto is: “What is the truth I owe this world?”

Allie Marini is a cross-genre writer holding degrees from both Antioch University of Los Angeles & New College of Florida. She was a 2018 Shitty Women in Literature nominee, and has been a finalist for Best of the Net and nominated for the Pushcart Prize. Her masthead credits include Lunch Ticket, Spry Literary Journal & Mojave River Review. She has published a number of chapbooks, including Pictures from the Center of The Universe (Paper Nautilus, winner of the Vella Prize) and Southern Cryptozoology: A Field Guide to Beasts of the Southern Wild (Hyacinth Girl Press, finalist for the SFPA’s Elgin Award) In addition to her work on the page, Allie was a member of Oakland’s 2017 National Slam Team. A native Floridian now freezing to death in the Bay Area, Allie writes poetry, fiction, and essays. Find her online.

Behind the Words: Chella Courington

Posted by on Sep 9, 2018 in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Behind the Words: Chella Courington

Chella Courington was published twice in Spry Literary Journal, and is now a member of our general reader pool for issue 11. Here she talks with fellow reader Allie Marini on both pieces of flash that we’ve published.

Allie Marini: Both The Eleven O’Clock News and The Long Walk have a surreal, almost dreamlike quality to them. You manage to pack a lot of emotion, tension, and longing into a small amount of words—every word is deliberate & serves a purpose, yet still manages to retain a poetic sensibility, as well—they’re almost prose-poems, but structurally meet the criteria for micro/flash fiction. What do you call your work? How did these stories get their start? How long did it take you to know that they were “done”? (What does done mean to you, as a writer?)

Chella Courington: I feel as if these works are poetic flashes. I’m attracted to both prose poetry and flash fiction and often think the two overlap. “The Eleven O’Clock News” emerged from watching too many news clips of our war in Afghanistan. Since Vietnam, I’ve been an observer of deadly and often senseless conflict like a kid playing a video game. Unfortunately, we sometimes become numb to war as if it were white noise lulling us to sleep. “The Long Walk” appeared in my memories of being frightened of clowns on stilts when I was a kid.  My folks loved the circus and assumed I would, always thinking they were treating me to a fantastic experience. For me the circus was strange and bizarre. Not only did the clowns freak me but also the high wire and trapeze acts. That fear sparked the fear of being abandoned. About knowing when the pieces are done, I continue to play with them until they feel finished. But I really don’t feel anything is ever complete. I keep revising even after they’re published. 

How big are your “Ideas/In-Progress” folders? How many notes or stubs of ideas do you think will eventually turn into finished work? How long (on average) does it take for an idea stub/note to become a working draft? (Follow-up: tell us about either the fastest or the longest one—or both!)

I jot down words, images, and phrases in my four by five-inch notebook or on my phone. When I write, I frequently draw on my stash for a prompt. Not sure how many of these turn into a finished product. Maybe 60-70%. My first draft is a focused freewrite that I do quickly, letting my fingers take me wherever they want. Often new ideas emerge in this process. When the writing stops, I lay it aside and return to it in a few hours or the next day, depending on available time. That first response is the working draft. Shaping it into a work that satisfies me is a longer, more deliberate process.

How many times was this piece declined before it found a home at Spry? Tell us about how you deal with discouragement, or how you celebrate your successes.

I think Spry was the first place I sent “The Eleven O’Clock News,” but “The Long Walk” was declined three times before Spry. When I have something “rejected,” I quickly send it out again. I don’t start rethinking a piece until five rejections. Acceptances always make my day and spur me to write something new.

How has your writing changed since you published this piece? Where can a reader find some of your newer work?

In 2014 I started a flash novella that I published in 2015. This work was more realistic, based in part on my life. So for that period my writing tended to be more down-to-earth, reflected in a couple of the following pieces. While I’ve returned to works of a surreal bent, I swing between surrealism and realism. “The Gift of Pomace” “Nothing Belongs to Me” < “Twenty-Year Game“. 

What is the last book you read that disappointed you (or that you hated)? What made it frustrating to read, from either a reader POV or from the perspective of a writer examining craft?

I’m fairly careful about which books I choose to read, reading reviews and talking to other writers I admire about what they’re reading. I can’t think of a recently frustrating book. I can think of many good books: Fierce Attachments, Vivian Gornick: Giovanni’s Room, James Baldwin; Transit, Rachel Cusk; call me by your name, Andre Aciman; Lighthead, Terrance Hayes; Magic City, Yusef Komunyakaa; and slight faith, Risa Denenberg.

Who is your writing community, and how/where did you find them?

Largely, my partner who is a writer. Also, I exchange pieces on occasion with scattered friends who are writers.

Dorothy Parker once famously said, “I hate writing, but I love having written.” Do you like writing, or do you prefer having written?

I like the process of writing as well as the process of revision. Mentioned earlier, I begin with freewrites and often have a rough working draft after the first write. I keep honing the work until it feels ready. Revision is perhaps as much fun as creating because I love playing with individual words, looking for just the right one.    

What is your writer’s fuel (or what are your writer’s vices?)

Other demands like grading a stack of student essays and any kind of cleaning trigger my desire to write. Writing is always a guilty pleasure just as reading was when a kid. I’d hide in the closet with a flashlight until I finished the book. Similar to my writing now after midnight when the house is dark and all I hear is the cat’s purring.

Whose voice do you want to lift up—who’s an unsung writer that you want Spry readers to go find right now?

Ted Chiles. A fiction writer whose flash is smart and subtle. Google him.

What question do you wish I’d asked, & what’s your answer to it?

Which writers have influenced you and why? Virginia Woolf for her poetic prose, advocacy for women writers, and her stream of consciousness. Lucille Clifton for writing about women and issues of race in poetry that is clear and metaphoric. Jamaica Kincaid for telling a short short story in one sentence of poetic prose called “Girl.” James Dickey for his first book of poetry and seeming comfortable in his Southern voice (to name a few of many influences).

Allie Marini is a cross-genre writer holding degrees from both Antioch University of Los Angeles & New College of Florida. She was a 2018 Shitty Women in Literature nominee, and has been a finalist for Best of the Net and nominated for the Pushcart Prize. Her masthead credits include Lunch Ticket, Spry Literary Journal & Mojave River Review. She has published a number of chapbooks, including Pictures from the Center of The Universe (Paper Nautilus, winner of the Vella Prize) and Southern Cryptozoology: A Field Guide to Beasts of the Southern Wild (Hyacinth Girl Press, finalist for the SFPA’s Elgin Award) In addition to her work on the page, Allie was a member of Oakland’s 2017 National Slam Team. A native Floridian now freezing to death in the Bay Area, Allie writes poetry, fiction, and essays. Find her online.

Behind the Words: Joscelyn Willett

Posted by on Sep 8, 2018 in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Behind the Words: Joscelyn Willett

Joscelyn Willett is a writer whose work can be found in various journals, including Sun Dog Lit, Hoot and Cease, Cows. Here, we discuss her Issue Four story, “What About the Moon.

Cathy Ulrich: So much of this story hinges on this conversation between Alice and Jeremy about the passage of time. It’s a deeply important moment for Alice, and sort of frames how she views Jeremy throughout the story. Then, at the end, we find Jeremy has changed his stance, or, even worse, might not even remember the conversation. How do you think this realization changes Alice?

Joscelyn Willett: I think when you are young, and especially young and in love, you idolize people in a way that maybe you wouldn’t as an experienced adult. You put people on a pedestal, and people you fall in love with tend to become your entire world. You hang on every word. For Alice, Jeremy’s philosophies, though immature, represented something deep, connected, and meaningful. When Jeremy ultimately contradicts his own words, that connection breaks instantly; it is then that Alice realizes both of them are growing up…and away from one another.

At one point, Alice goes to bed with a boy at college to forget about Jeremy. It clearly doesn’t work, but she says it does. It’s a neat moment, really highlighting the lies people tell themselves. Did you ever consider having her admit it didn’t work?

Sometimes I feel like truth is more clearly seen in a lie.

The relationship between Alice and Jeremy is somewhat physical, but mostly metaphysical. Alice seems to be most attracted to the way he can get into her head. Or can he get into her head because of her feelings for him?

For Alice, the attraction goes deeper than the physical, though this goes back to being young, when hormones, inexperience, and idolization can create a perfect storm of emotional and physical attraction that feel like the same thing. Young love is powerful, and I wanted readers to connect with that and hopefully relate.

A few phrases get repeated once by each character, like they’re reflections of one another. Do you think Jeremy sees the influence Alice has on him the way she sees his influence on her, or is it more of a one-way street?

I don’t think Jeremy will understand Alice’s importance in his life until much later in life. Alice is a confidence booster for Jeremy: she hangs on his every word, shares his bed, and caters to him — even going so far as to help him fill out college applications. The two go very different routes after high school, and the chasm becomes too large to meet each other in the middle.

That phrase, “what about the moon” is deeply important to Alice and to the story. Was it always the title?

I chose this title after I wrote the story. In the story, the moon represents something both very small (careless words spoken by Jeremy) and very big (Alice’s fixation with Jeremy and his words), and that’s what the moon is — so small yet so very enormous. I think the metaphor could also be applied to love in itself. What we often see as something simple and pure is rather large and complicated.

There isn’t much physical description of the characters, except for the reference to Jeremy’s blue eyes. Is this intentional?

In a sense I suppose I wanted every reader to see a part of himself/herself in the characters. Avoiding physical descriptions just made sense to me.

Many writers revisit characters and scenarios. Have Alice and Jeremy shown up in any of your other stories?

So far, no, but I do believe both Jeremy and Alice have much more to show us.

Cathy Ulrich is a writer from Montana. Her work can be found in a variety of journals, including Wigleaf, Jellyfish Review, Former Cactus, and Spry.

Behind the Words: Rachel Warecki

Posted by on Jul 6, 2018 in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Behind the Words: Rachel Warecki

Rachael Warecki received her MFA in Fiction from Antioch University Los Angeles. She is also an alumna of Scripps College, Loyola Marymount University, and the 2008 Teach for America Los Angeles corps. In addition to winning the 2017 Tiferet Prize for Fiction, her work has appeared in The Masters Review, Midwestern Gothic, The Los Angeles Review, and elsewhere. Here, we discuss her flash story from Issue 4, “The Language of Little Things”:

Cathy Ulrich: Right off the bat, a technical question: How hard is it, getting everything set just so, punctuation and syntax and all, for a one-sentence story like this?

Rachael Warecki: Honestly, for me, it wasn’t that difficult. I’ve always had a tendency toward what’s charitably been called “Dickensian writing” — my undergraduate thesis advisor once suggested that not every sentence needed to have a semicolon, an em-dash, and a parenthetical aside. My thoughts tend to come in huge, paragraphical rushes, so a one-sentence story felt very natural to me. I guess you could say I think in run-on sentences.

The allusions to Gone With the Wind are very powerful for the narrator, even though she admits she might be getting the scene wrong. Why Gone With the Wind?

You know, it’s kind of funny: I’ve never liked Gone With the Wind. I’ve only seen it once, when my mom took me to see one of the big-screen anniversary re-releases, and I remember my twelve-year-old self finding it long and irritating. But despite all the ways in which that movie perpetuates many, many toxic ideas, Scarlett O’Hara and Rhett Butler have been held up as a grand romantic couple for decades; even before I’d seen the movie, there were certain scenes, mostly revolving around their relationship, of which I had some consciousness. They’ve achieved cultural osmosis.

Re-reading “The Language of Little Things,” I think I was trying, on some level, to explore how certain concepts or societal standards of romance can still permeate someone’s thinking, even as she’s realizing that she actually rejects those standards. For most of college, I dated someone who was very into the grand romantic gesture, and over the course of the relationship, I realized that I was very much not. And he’d get angry with me when I didn’t show what he thought was the proper amount of appreciation for these gifts and gestures that felt not only very intense and impractical, but also weirdly impersonal — like he’d thought what would a woman in a movie like as opposed to what would Rachael like. It was an additionally weird situation to navigate because everything and everyone around me was telling me that I should love these gestures. Partly, I think, because of how these romantic standards permeate our film and television, and partly because no one had explicitly told us that it didn’t have to be that way. (This same ex once told me he modeled his relationship behavior on the trio of men in Friends, to really emphasize the point.)

To demonstrate how deep this goes, look at how the protagonist chooses to tell John about Michael: even as the narrator’s rejecting John and his over-the-top gestures, she’s doing it in a very cinematic way! Maybe she chooses that moment — making out in the rain — precisely because it’s cinematic, and she knows that’s the language John speaks, that maybe he won’t understand otherwise. Or maybe that’s an aspect of that osmosis that she hasn’t been able to shake yet.

All of which is to say, I chose Gone With the Wind because it seemed like the ne plus ultra of a movie relationship that’s constantly romanticized, but shouldn’t be — the perfect reference point for a protagonist who’s beginning to figure out what romance looks like for her, personally.

This is a story about a relationship that’s not working, the narrator overwhelmed by John’s grand romantic gestures. Do you suppose she sought out Michael because of this, or is it because of Michael that she realizes things aren’t working?

I think it’s because of Michael she realizes that things aren’t working. She likely recognized, prior to Michael, that her relationship with John wasn’t working, and she probably even had an inkling why: as you say, she feels overwhelmed by these grand romantic gestures. But it takes Michael to show her what she does want, which are smaller, intimate moments that arise out of the things she actually likes, as opposed to the things society tells her she should like.

I love the comparison of the two kisses, the epic early-days MGM feel of John’s passionate lip lock in the car against the quiet em-dashes of Michael’s calmer kiss. You give so much power to these two (relatively) small moments. Did you consider, at any point, making both moments more than a kiss?

Not really. This may open up a broader discussion, but I don’t think about sex. It was something I got criticized for as a younger writer. I was in this series of online novel classes when I was first out of college, and we were far enough in the course series that we were all reading the entirety of each other’s novels, and the feedback I got was: I don’t believe in your characters because they don’t think about sex, and normal people in their early twenties think about sex all the time. And I thought, but didn’t respond: Well, I’m in my early twenties and I don’t think about it at all. And then I thought: Well, sex sells, so maybe I should add some. I trunked that novel, but sexual desire is something I consciously included in the novel on which I’m currently working, because there’s always that idea lurking in the back of my head, no matter the genre: Sex sells, sexual desire is relatable to 99% of readers. ***

I don’t know how much of that I was actively processing when I was writing this story — I think I mostly wanted to keep the piece as condensed and focused as possible — but looking back, I like that the story sticks to those small moments of the two kisses.

That last line is so potent, that image of Vivian Leigh as Scarlett O’Hara saying she would never go hungry again, choosing security over love. That doesn’t seem to be what’s happening here, more a trading of one kind of passion for another. What do you think?

Oh, gosh! I’ll admit you caught me off-guard with this one, haha. Every so often, I write some line or phrase that readers really like to examine in a careful, textual way. And I love when readers do that! I love doing that myself! I was a literature major in college! But sometimes I wonder if any of the authors I’ve studied would drop into an English class and think (with apologies to Freud), “Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.”

It’s been more than four years since I wrote this story, so I don’t remember whether I was trying to consciously set up a passion vs. security parallel, but I like that you’ve picked up on it. And I hear what you’re saying about this being a story about swapping one passion for another rather than swapping passion for security, but I think Michael does offer a potential security, in the sense that the protagonist feels emotionally safer with Michael than she does with John. Maybe she’ll run into other problems with Michael down the line, but right now she doesn’t have to brace herself, wondering what grand romantic gesture Michael’s going to spring on her next and whether she’ll be able to sufficiently police her emotional reaction to suit his mood. Notice the first reference to Gone With the Wind: it’s not a romantic one; it’s a scene where Scarlett is scared and uncomfortable. That’s how the narrator feels about John.

“The Language of Little Things” is such a great title and a great phrase. The narrator has clearly made a choice, here, of the little things over the larger. Do you think she’ll be satisfied with her decision?

I do think she’ll be satisfied! Mostly because this was an intensely personal story for me to write in some ways (as I’m sure you’ve guessed from my previous answers), and it’s a choice I’ve had to make in my own relationships, and I’ve been satisfied with that choice. But this is also a protagonist who’s always paid attention to little things, as evidenced by her reaction to rain and water droplets. So I think choosing little things over larger gestures is consistent with someone who’s always appreciated minutiae, and that choice won’t let her down.

Cathy Ulrich is a writer from Montana. Her work can be found in a variety of journals, including Wigleaf, Jellyfish Review, Former Cactus, and Spry.

Behind the Words: Allie Marini

Posted by on Jul 2, 2018 in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Behind the Words: Allie Marini

Allie Marini is a cross-genre writer holding degrees from both Antioch University of Los Angeles & New College of Florida. She has been a finalist for Best of the Net and nominated for the Pushcart Prize. She has published a number of chapbooks, including Pictures from the Center of The Universe (Paper Nautilus, winner of the Vella Prize) and Southern Cryptozoology: A Field Guide to Beasts of the Southern Wild (Hyacinth Girl Press, finalist for the SFPA’s Elgin Award). Here, we discuss her flash piece in Issue 1, “The Wake.”

This is a really personal, beautiful piece. The pills, the lady who died, they all seem so real. Did you have someone in mind when you wrote this?

I’m really glad you asked that. The person is real, my best friend from undergrad, Muriel Avellaneda. This piece is one of the cornerstones of my collection of flash prose about losing her, Pictures from the Center of the Universe (Paper Nautilus Press, 2014 Vella Prize Winner). This was one of the first pieces I wrote & at the time, it was just a way for me to work through some of the emotions of losing someone you love to suicide. So yes, she was (is) real, as is her absence. That part is accurate.

There’s some great language in this flash: “the bipolar colors,” “the anxious shapes,” describing both the appearance of the pills and what they were meant to treat. Every word seems so deliberately chosen. You’re a poet too — are you very particular with your word choices? Or do you just let the music of the language take you over?

I firmly believe that everyone who writes prose has something they can take away from studying poetry. Flash fiction allows a poet to tell a bigger story than the structure of a poem generally allows, & it also lets a flash writer have more freedom to be poetic than fiction generally allows. I personally am a big fan of how the publication Cease, Cows describes this kind of work: “proems”, because that’s what they feel like to write (at least, that’s what they feel like to me.) The descriptions/functions were intentionally written to mirror each other, especially here, since the last year of Muriel’s life was such a mystery to everyone who loved her—all that we really knew for sure were the labels on the pill bottles, what they were supposed to do, what they failed to do, & what she wouldn’t let them do.

This line, “The worst of the storm is always on the other side of stillness” is my favorite. It’s so powerful and evocative. Did you always have this image of a storm and false calm in mind for this piece?

That line actually came from a memory that I mined to place in the piece—when I was in high school, I lived in South Florida when Hurricane Andrew hit. During the eye of the storm, I went out into the yard with my father. I couldn’t believe that the storm wasn’t over; everything was still, but you knew something was wrong because there were no birds chirping or any other of the sounds of nature that you usually hear. It was eerily quiet. Then we went back in & the eye passed & the storm came back in force, more powerful & terrifying than it had been when it started to make landfall. More destructive, violent. When I think of how bipolar disorder plays out, especially in people with suicidal ideation, it’s like that. The quiet just means that whatever is on its way is worse—the storm hasn’t passed. It hasn’t even gotten started.

The “she” and “we” of this piece are never identified. I think of them as a mother and her children. Was that your intent? More importantly, does it matter?

I don’t think the decision to leave these people unnamed was conscious on my part; though while I was working on my MFA a number of mentors & peers commented on that being something I do in a lot of my work. Looking back, I think that as I was myself grieving when I wrote this, & I wasn’t even sure anyone besides me & possibly Muriel’s family might read this, that there wasn’t a need to identify the “she” or the “we” of it. This many years later, I think that the open-endedness works because it could be anyone grieving—just about anyone can insert themselves into this piece & feel like it’s theirs, or like I wrote it for them. Because without knowing that was what I was doing, I think that’s exactly what I did. And I honestly believe that’s something Muriel would have wanted, too. For her life to have had some impact that stays, even if she herself couldn’t.

At the end, the medicine cabinet is opened to reveal the bottles are already empty. The reader is told “we already knew” this would be the case. Here is where the storm returns, the winds pick up. Were the narrators still hoping, you think, even though they knew otherwise, for some pills to be left behind?

I think anyone who’s ever moved through this kind of loss understands this hopeful resignation—you know what the answer is, but you just can’t stop yourself from asking the question anyway. Even this many years later, I will find myself daydreaming that it’s all been a prank, that it’s not real, that somewhere out there she’s still alive, even though I know what I’ll fin when I open the medicine cabinet.

That last image is such a powerful one, the silhouette riding a pony into the surf, calling back to the tales of ponies too tough to die you mentioned earlier. Those ponies made it back safely, but at the end, this one disappears beneath the undertow. Do you think, though, there is still some hope? Even though the woman has died?

Banker ponies are something that I find fascinating—they were literally too tough to die. But toughness doesn’t always equate to survival. Sometimes it just means dictating your own terms. Not every Mustang that leapt into the surf from a shipwreck made it—but they still jumped because if they didn’t, drowning was a certainty. The act of jumping is really what mattered more, because it meant that they didn’t resign themselves to their fate. And because of that, I do think there’s hope. Suicide isn’t an act of weakness or resignation. It’s a desperate gesture that some people take, hoping that they’ll survive & have the strength to swim ashore, & not everyone can push past the undertow. Here, I think the hope is not necessarily on the part of the “she” in the story—the hope is for the “we”. It’s the hope that we can make something meaningful out of the most terrible kind of loss, that we will be stronger the next time we see a sinking ship, & the hope that somewhere, she has finally found her freedom.

“The Wake” is such a great title for this piece, with its multiple meanings: a vigil after a death, the opposite of sleep, disturbed water. Was this always the title?

I honestly can’t remember — I’m pretty sure that it was always called The Wake, intended with all three meanings, though mostly on the obvious, the wake held after a funeral. The secondary meaning was always the wake, as in disturbed water, since hurricanes & Banker ponies are the motifs threading the work together, & the smallest amount was meant to hint back to the cyclical insomnia that tends to plague people with bipolar disorder, causing them to “spin” and then “spiral.”

Cathy Ulrich is a writer from Montana. Her work can be found in a variety of journals, including Wigleaf, Jellyfish Review, Former Cactus, and Spry.