Briefs Blog

Behind the Words: Heather Durham

Posted by on Mar 11, 2019 in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Behind the Words: Heather Durham

Heather Durham styles herself as a “writer, naturalist, wallflower,” all three of which are beautifully apparent in her non-fiction essays. Heather has held an impressive array of positions across her lifetime, including masseuse and trail maintainer. She currently works as an administrator at the Wilderness Awareness School. Being a writer has transcended all of her previous occupations; she has one finished manuscript, Outside the Skin, to her name and another, Wolf Tree, in progress.

Sarina Bosco: The narrative in In My Hands seems to feature juxtaposition quite a few times; that of a 12-year-old and a parent, ballet and the beginnings of a heavier taste in music. Is this juxtaposition something you did intentionally, or something that came organically from telling this story?

Heather Durham: In this brief memoir, a sort of coming of age story as experienced through my hands, juxtaposition came naturally as a necessary element to show change over time. I hoped to convey not only physical changes but the felt sense of how my hands moved differently through space in these vignettes.

Body plays a huge part here. The movement of it, specifically the hands. Have you always been so aware of your own body? When and why do you think that awareness began?

My body awareness probably began with ballet classes at age five. I developed the deep kinesthetic awareness that comes with learning to perform precise physical movements in time with music and fellow dancers, all of us wearing body-hugging leotards in a brightly lit mirrored room. Ballet also evokes at a young age the more socially constructed body awareness that comes with idealizing a specific body type (that I didn’t have). Moving into adolescence I was additionally subject to the prevalent social and mass media messages keeping me aware of my body in all the ways I did or did not measure up as a young woman. Though I didn’t deal with these deeper issues overtly in this essay, learning to inhabit my hands and by extension, my body, with acceptance and self-love rather than censure was certainly an undercurrent here.

What part do you believe nature plays in healing?

That’s a big question, an idea I’ve been chewing on for two book-length essay collections and still haven’t fully dealt with. In an attempt at brevity, I’ll say that wild nature is where our bodies and minds evolved, in our very wiring as animals, so when we open ourselves up to connection with wild places we experience a sort of homecoming, a profound if subconscious belonging that I don’t believe is possible in the human jungle of concrete, steel, and plastic. For me, becoming nature connected through my various jobs and ecological education has given me a deep grounding and holistic perspective that has not only healed me physically and spiritually, it has literally saved my life.

In your narrative you mention quite a few different places; how big of a role does place play in your writing?

As a nature writer, a student of human psychology, and an environmentally sensitive person, I am always intensely aware of place – how it might affect me and others around me. This is true both for outdoor and indoor environments. But ecopsychology aside, much of my writing relates to place simply because I’ve moved around so often and gotten to experience so many new places. Novelty is wonderful for bringing the uniqueness of different places acutely into awareness.

You’ve obviously tried on many different hats career-wise throughout your life. Has writing, and being a writer, been a constant through all of these changes?

Writing in the form of journaling has been a constant since early adolescence, when I began chronicling my regular existential crises and attempts to figure out what I really want to do with my life. A tower of spiralbound notebooks contain the changeable answers and further questions. It wasn’t until somewhere in my early thirties that one of the answers was to be a writer. Only then did writing become something to practice and refine as a craft, in hopes that some of my words would one day reach others the way so many authors, especially memoirists and personal essayists, have so profoundly reached me. You can learn more about my writing journey at

Behind the Words: Tommy Dean

Posted by on Mar 8, 2019 in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Behind the Words: Tommy Dean

Tommy Dean’s short story “Without Permission” was published in the sixth issue of Spry Literary Journal. Here he takes a moment to catch up with editor Erin Ollila about where the idea for the story came from and other aspects of his writing life.

Erin Ollila: I’m always so interested on what sparks an idea for a story. Where did the spark of inspiration for Without Permission come from?

Tommy Dean: When I’m searching around for a new story, I often page through The Photo Book from Phaidon. The introduction of the book describes it as “bring[ing] together 500 inspiring, moving, and beautiful images of famous events and people…” Some days I page through most of the book and none of the pictures speak to me, but this picture was of a teen girl on the sand with the ocean at her back. The first line of the story came from thinking about the person behind the lens of the camera and why he was taking this picture. 

Is flash the only genre you write in? If so, what do you like/dislike about the form? If you write in other genres, which is your favorite?

I would say that I primarily write flash, but mainly because it’s the form I feel the most comfortable in. Most of my longer form short stories either don’t end up finished or they aren’t as easy to find the right market for. I think they could probably use more revision if I’m being honest with myself. What I love about writing flash is that I love thinking about characters with one true/telling moment in their lives and examining that moment. Writing flash gives the writer a chance to play, to really focus on the language, but to also give characters opportunities to act, to fight back against the world. Every action and reaction counts. What I don’t like about flash is that sometimes it relies too much on white space or the unsaid, that it might ask too much of the reader. It’s that razor wire balance that creates the truest tension between the said and unsaid, a story full of lines you can sink your teeth into.

It’s been a while since Without Permission was first published in Spry, what’s changed in your life since then?

I think this story is at least 3 years old now? I’ve had a son since then, and I’ve had the privilege of watching my daughter and him interact and learn from each other, to see the ways my wife and my parenting have affected children with different personalities. The way that writing, parenting, teaching (I teach middle school Special Education) form my worldview, the way that I’m constantly challenged to see deeper. I truly love this story, one of my first micros that really seemed to work, but I hope that my writing has only gotten better.

How big is your “In-Progress” folder? How many works-in-progress make it to a final draft?

I’ve started two novels, and have 4-5 longer stories in various drafting stages. 8 or more micros or flashes that either didn’t work at the time or that are missing that second story line to help them rise out of the ash heaps. With flash, I prefer to push toward a complete draft within a couple days of starting a story and then revising from there, or a lot of times those stories never make it. I’m often flooded with story ideas or parts of stories, but I would need more time for them all to make it through a complete draft and the several revisions it takes from there.

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

While it’s not perfect, I don’t think I would change much of it. Most writers are never happy with every word choice, but there’s an initial energy seething underneath this story that I’d hate to uncork the bottle. There’s a fear, and I wonder if other writers feel it too?, that if you take things too far that a story could be wrecked. That it couldn’t survive the additions or the cuts? It’s a bit irrational, right? You can always delete or save multiple drafts, but there’s something taxing to constantly fighting perfection.

I’d love to know what happened to the two characters after this moment. Have you ever considered where their lives went after this encounter?

There’s some interest in letting the girl actually talk to the photographer, but wouldn’t that just kill the tension? It’s good to have some questions at the end of reading a story, right? I mean will the photographer finally find his nostalgia? Maybe? Isn’t this a metaphor for writing? Will I ever write a perfect story? The one that let’s me quit forever, finally satisfied? I don’t think so…

Whose work has had the most profound impact on your writing?

I didn’t become a writer until I read Carver. A writerly cliché maybe, but I over-estimated how hard it can be to right with simple, but strong nouns and verbs. His writing gave me permission to try, to move from an admiring reader to using his and other writers work as textbooks. A writer who uses similar diction, but who packs more empathy and poignancy is Lee Martin. Elizabeth Strout and Julie Fierro’s novels along with their encouragement have made me a better writer, a writer that refuses to give up. Writers need these kinds of souls to fight the tide of anxiety, the fear of perfection, the fear of rejection.  I’m constantly inspired by the cohorts I’ve found through literary journals and the writers on Twitter. Any story I’ve read, creates an impact, a chance to learn

Do you ever let anyone read your work while in progress? If so, who? If not, why?

I try to only send complete rough drafts to my beta readers. I think this is the downfall of the workshops at times is that you get feedback to early I the process. Especially when writing longer stories or novels. Encouragement is great, and it can give you the boost you need to keep slugging through a longer work, but too much feedback about what’s not working with only half or less of a draft makes the writer question too much of the work that’s already been done and can make them freeze and never finish the draft. I wouldn’t publish as much or as frequently without beta readers though. Writers need a different perspective on their work. We’re so focused on getting the character into and out of conflict that we can miss the errors or false steps along the way.

How do you decide when a flash piece is complete?

I’ll admit that I often rush a story into submission mode too soon and sometimes you have to face a lot of rejection before my subconscious can work out that the story needs some changes. Beta readers have been invaluable in helping to become more patient, more willing to revise. Generally, I know a work is finished when it feels complete, that I’ve examined this moment in time enough to create a feeling in the reader.

Erin Ollila is an emotional archaeologist who graduated from Fairfield University’s MFA program with a concentration in creative nonfiction. Her writing has been published in FolksLunch Ticket, Revolution House, Paper Tape, (em): A Review of Text and ImageRedFez, and many more places online. Learn more about her here.

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.