An Interview with Octavio Solis

Octavio Solis is a playwright and director. His works include Mother Road, Quixote Nuevo, Hole in the Sky, Alicia’s Miracle, Se Llama Cristina, John Steinbeck’s The Pastures of Heaven, The 7 Visions of Encarnación, El Paso Blue, Santos & Santos, and La Posada Mágica. His plays have been mounted in many theaters across the United States including Mark Taper Forum, Yale Repertory Theatre, the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, the Denver Center for the Performing Arts, the Dallas Theater Center, the Magic Theatre, Latino Chicago Theatre Company, the New York Summer Play Festival, and El Teatro Campesino. Solis has been the recipient of numerous awards: an NEA 1995-97 Playwriting Fellowship, the National Latino Playwriting Award for 2003, the United States Artists Fellowship for 2011, and the 2014 Pen Center USA Award for Drama. Solis is a Thornton Wilder Fellow for the MacDowell Colony, New Dramatists alum and member of the Dramatists Guild. He is working on commissions for the Arena Stage, SF Playhouse and South Coast Repertory Theatre. Solis lives on a small farm in Southern Oregon.

Alma Rosa Alvarez is a professor of English at Southern Oregon University where she has taught for twenty two years. Her teaching focus is on ethnic literatures in the U.S.

Alma Rosa Alvarez: You have a considerable production of plays: over twenty. You are generally categorized as a Latino playwright, yet in 2018, your collection of short stories, Retablos: Stories from a Life Lived Along the Border was published by City Lights Books. Congratulations! Is there a different creative process you have to engage in to write short fiction than the process you engage in when you write plays?

Octavio Solis: The process I employed was very different in writing Retablos. There was no emphasis on dialogue; I made an effort to eschew dialogue in favor of descriptive action. I could allow myself long imagistic stretches and major shifts in time and place, foreshortening these in order to tell the story in a concise and lyric manner. Some of the “retablos” were hardly more than a character sketch, but that felt right at times. A play is very different, leaning more on dramatic action than on descriptive passages.

But I also used an approach that served me well in theatre. I determined that these stories had to be written in the first-person pronoun and in the present tense, because then I could think of them as extended monologues and the present tense allowed the stories to be relived in that zone that falls between memory and dream. And almost all of my “retablos” eventually landed on a single event where all the elements gravitated toward. That focal event felt like a scene in a play or movie, even if it lasted no more than a few paragraphs.

ARA: In your introduction to Retablos, you tell the reader that retablos are “… a kind of flash-fiction account of an electrifying life-altering event.” Can you explain what other qualities of the retablo you are connecting to your fiction?

OS: The principal feature of the retablos I have seen and collected is the picture, the diorama, if you will, of someone’s earthly crisis, at which the divine is also present in the figure of a particular saint or Holy Virgin. This simple crudely drawn and painted image is wrought with drama, depicting a moment of powerful tension, pain, and transcendence. I took my cues from these images, and determined to use them as the motif for the moments in my life that defined me. So I crafted my personal stories so they would feel as terse and vivid and magical as these painted images on tin.

ARA: Your short story, “The Mexican I Needed” really resonated with me. My parents also had Herb Alpert’s Whipped Cream and Other Delights. You close that story with “One day, thirty years later, someone tells me Herb Alpert is actually of Ukrainian and Romanian extraction…To me, he’ll always be the Mexican I needed for dreaming.” Can you speak to the way you are conceptualizing Mexican identity in this story? Can you speak to how you conceptualize Mexican identity in general?

OS: For someone born in the US but whose parents hail from Mexico, there is always a disconnect that happens between the present culture and the one before. Sometimes, it is a flimsy synapse, and sometimes the disconnect can be a chasm. My mother and grandmother had a record collection that ranged wildly from Trio Los Panchos and Agustin Lara to Petula Clark and Diana Ross and the Supremes, an amalgam of distinctly Mexican and wholly American (yes, we thought Petula was American) musical styles and genres. Landing right in the middle of these was Herb Alpert, who played his horn and dressed like he was a pop star from Mexico. He appropriated my parents’ culture and adopted it as his own, and made a career for himself using their music. I didn’t know this as a kid growing up in El Paso, where already the cultures were so thoroughly blended and Chicano bands were playing their own Latin-infused versions of Beatles tunes and Santana was about to appear in Woodstock. I saw Alpert’s dark skin, his charrostyle outfits and heard that distinctly Latin sound and that said to me “I am Mexico.” So I appropriated him in turn, and now that he claims his Jewishness and Eastern European roots; I claim them as my own too. Because there are Mexicans, I have since learned, who are also Jewish of Eastern European extraction. His music awoke that part of me that ached for Mexico in ways that even more authentic music could not because, generally speaking, even as the music had that Latin beat and summoned images of rural Mexico, the titles and credits on the album covers were all in English. These albums were the bridge between my Dad’s Mexico and my America.

Of course, I gave them up once I found more genuine Mexican music, but there was something special that lingered in my mind about these silly albums, because they made me grasp a clearer sense of my self-image as someone who straddles two cultures without even thinking about it.

ARA: In the Introduction of Retablos you tell your reader that the stories have a basis in memory. You also mention, though, the various ways those memories necessarily get fictionalized when they are set in written form. How important is that overlay of fiction for you, particularly in stories that involve your family members? I am thinking about “Wild Kingdom,” for example, that begins with “He fired his gun at us but not ’cause he wants us dead. How could he? He is our dad.”

OS: In reading a lot of fiction over the years, I’ve learned that much of it comes from actual experience, but as a rule, writers don’t make that connection for their readers. I flatly declare that they are based on moments in my life, and I add that I made things up when memory failed. Obligation to story is paramount for me. But what I learned, however, is that whatever I made up in the service of these stories, it still had to be the truth. Wild Kingdom is a real memory; the only thing I made up is what the little boy wishes he could tell the cop about his dad. But it’s the truth. And yet once I wrote that down, it all became fiction. Because I am telling a skewed story about a real event, purposefully or accidentally misremembered, from a single point of view. Mine.

ARA: The Chicano Movement was heavily influenced by the Mexican Revolution idea that “the land belongs to those that work it.” Early Chicano writers used this idea to create a sense of belonging for their exploited farm worker characters. If they work land in the United States, then they are of the United States, despite discrimination and marginalization. Did any of these ideas on land influence you as you wrote your play Mother Road?  

OS: Yes, they do. The idea of belonging cannot be merely expressed through a piece of paper, a document. It is expressed through labor and commitment to the land. Citizenship is an ideal, or should be, that is manifested in real effort to build community and contribute to the culture we share. American citizenship can’t be defined by what it’s not and who’s not, but by the positive values that transcend borders and race and religion and language. I refer to the great writer Cherrie Moraga who says that we must disabuse ourselves of this national amnesia and wake up to the fact that “we”, ie. the descendants of our native forbears, can’t be aliens in a land we have always lived on. For millennia. We’re a migratory species like the buffalo and the butterfly and the birds, but we have always been here. So easy, once we consider this, to rise from picker to patron, from campesino to captain. This will to be what we were fully born to be is what defines American to me.

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The Syntax and History of the Appalachian English Dialect, a guest post by Cole Barnes

Cole Barnes is 2019 graduate of Southern Oregon University, with an English major, as well as minors in Psychology and Rhetoric and Reason. He has been fortunate to call many places throughout Oregon home, including Ashland for at least a few years now. He likes to write poetry, collect records, play guitar, travel, read books, listen to music, and take the occasional hike. Cole is excited to see what the future holds.

Appalachia is a mountainous region ranging from northern Alabama and Georgia, stretching northward as far as southern New York. The dialect native to this sub-region which spans several southern and eastern states is referred to as Appalachian English. This “mountain talk” has been commonly associated with Inland South, Midland, and even Ozark dialects. However, it is a unique dialect with its own lexicon and syntax, and has gained a certain level of legitimacy and recognition in recent years regardless of the stereotypes that have historically affected the tongue’s reputation. Primarily, this analysis will consider how Appalachian English operates, and the differences in usage that exist between this speech and other forms of English. Research on the historical origins and evolution of Appalachian syntactical patterns will also be included. This dialect shares many similarities with its standardized counterpart and contains many distinctive linguistic qualities worth investigating.

The heartland of the Appalachian region is typically classified by states such as West Virginia, Tennessee, Virginia, Kentucky, and the Carolinas. From around 1730 to the 1830’s, this region became gradually populated by European settlers through a “widening corridor from central Pennsylvania’s Cumberland Valley westward to Pittsburgh and the Ohio Valley and southwestward into Virginia” (Montgomery 26). A sizable portion of the current inhabitants of these regions hold claim to English, Scottish, Irish, or even German ancestry, as these were some of the first non-indigenous inhabitants in this area. Some of the first colonizers of the Appalachian region included land speculators, many of which were soldiers from the Revolutionary War. Others included families who had pushed westward across the Blue Ridge Mountains, many of which were immigrants (Hall 10). Generations of Appalachian settlers had begun to spread across these mountains; most white settlements had been fully established by 1810 (10).

Appalachian English has been misleadingly considered to be a dialect by which linguistic development is entirely reliant upon geography and regional features (Montgomery 27). Several hypotheses attempt to explain the prevalence of the Appalachian dialect, such as the notion that settlers of this area brought Elizabethan, Scottish, and Irish English with them to the communities of Appalachia, which led to the emergence of a unique dialect significantly influenced by the speech of the British Isles (32-33). Some claim that Appalachian speech is a uniform dialect preserved in time because of a purported geographic and cultural isolation, but such a separation of localities “should logically produce increasing differences in speech rather than uniformity” (28). Appalachian English is more conservative than it is isolated, and still changes just like any other dialect or language. Even though the original settlers strongly influenced the evolution of Appalachian English, this variant developed independently as a distinct dialect, and is not simply a remnant or a hold-over from a different time. The following sections will attempt to highlight the dynamic structure of this “mountain talk” by outlining a few of the unique usages and syntactical features of this dialect.

For speakers of Appalachian English, nouns of measure and weight typically lack an -s when used to mark plurality, precede a number, or express quantity. For instance, “They had to drive twenty mile to work,” or “I am nearly twelve year older than my sister.” Many of the mass nouns that do not require a plural -s are construed as count nouns: “Gravels are hard on the feet,” or “A beef is bigger than a sheep.” Count nouns can also be understood as mass nouns. Nouns that end in an s sound may also be taken for a plural meaning: “Give me a slice of them cheese,” or “A fox is more of a dog specie.” Plural animal names either omit or add an -s ending, contrary to the customary usage in standard English. This can be demonstrated in the following examples: “There are plenty bobcat here” or “I caught a few trouts today.” Double plurals may also be employed, as in folkses or oxen (Grammar and Syntax).

Pronouns are also an area of grammatical complexity in Appalachian speech. The commonly used nominative singular pronouns include I, me, you, ye, he, him, she, her, hit, and it. We, we’uns, you, you’un, you’all, y’all, you all, ye, and they are nominative plural pronouns. You, ye, her, him, hit, and it are used as objective singular pronouns. Us, you, you’uns, you’uns all, y’all, you all, ye, and them are all objective plural pronouns (Grammar and Syntax).

Adverbial phrases can be moved to the front of a sentence as in the following instances: “We’d all the time get in fights,” or “We’s all the way talkin’.” Adverbs of frequency can also be placed within or outside of a verb phrase: “That was the brightest light that ever I seen.” The adverb ever may be combined with pronoun forms like what. In the place of whatever, Appalachian English speakers often construct phrases that employ everwhat. This extends to cases in which speakers also say everwho in the place of whoever. Ever is also widely used as an abbreviation for every: “And ever time …” (Wolfram 99). Many of the adverbs that utilize -ly endings are left as their root form: “I’m frightful scared of spiders” (105).

These speakers also engage in the process of “a-verb-ing.” For example, “You just look at him and he starts a-bustin’ out laughing at you” (71). While speakers of other varieties of American English do this as well, it is a form most frequent in Appalachian English. The most common cases of this usage “occur with progressives, which includes past tense, non-past tense, and be + ing forms where the tense is found elsewhere in the main verb phrase” (70).

This dialect also employs the double modal. Appalachian constructions may have close “translations,” but in some cases, there are no real equivalents. “Might be able to” may be substituted with “might could,” but with some such as “might should,” there is no real modal translation that would sustain the same semantic meaning. The following is an example of a double modal in use: “I might could make up one, but I don’t know” (90). Other widely used double modals such as liketa, are most accurately translated as “almost” or “nearly.” Another common double modal, supposeta, is closely related to “supposed to” (92).

The perfective done is not widely used by speakers currently, as it is very much a stigmatized feature. It is more commonly employed among middle-aged and elderly speakers of the dialect. This construction deals with aspect, which can either be neutral, progressive, or perfect. Perfect aspect refers to a situation or action that has already occurred, and the perfective done signals completeness (Hazen, et al. 59). The following examples display how speakers familiar with this dialect may use this feature: “I done lost my wallet,” or “she done went to the store.”

Another relatively stigmatized feature is the for-to infinitive, which typically only appears in speakers born before 1947. This infinitive uses for and to in coordination with unconjugated verbs. This could be used in two ways: “Because the teacher was glad for us to come in playing music now and then” (57), or “I had to pick up chestnuts for to buy what we had to wear” (60).

Demonstrative determiners modify nouns and give information about quantity or proximity. For instance, “you may have these or those” infers distance between the speaker and the aforementioned objects. In Appalachian English, speakers utilize them as a demonstrative: “We bought them shoes” (60-61). This is a usage characteristic of the Appalachian dialect, but is also widely used among other English speakers, despite its perceived informality.

The leveled was is also a key feature of Appalachian usage. While more common among older speakers, it is a widely distributed characteristic. This leveled was essentially replaces were: “They was like any other parents” (62). Leveling verbs like was into single forms helps to resolve the asymmetrical patterns of subject-verb agreement.

The grammatical features of Appalachian English demonstrate how this dialect is not arbitrary. Speakers of this dialect have an intuitive understanding of the syntactic structures of their spoken language. Regardless of the negative perceptions that some individuals hold of “mountain talk,” being a speaker of this dialect has nothing to do with a person’s intelligence. Being able to use the various grammatical rules of this dialect appears most of all to be a marker of linguistic competence. This speech has always been evolving, never existing as a static tongue. It has changed and adapted too much and too often to have been preserved in time by any type of geographic or cultural isolation. Appalachian English is not an indicator of laziness or a lack of education, but rather of a rich cultural history, tradition, and identity. The very nature of language is ever-changing and fluid; no language or dialect could ever become an artifact unless it stopped being spoken. While major grammatical differences exist between standard English and the Appalachian dialect, both share a common historical origin. Logical and systematic structural features help to comprise every language. This speech is no exception, surviving for hundreds of years in the face of staunch opposition and radical change. Appalachian English is a legitimate and valid dialect that is being further developed and refined every day that it is spoken.

Works Cited

“Grammar and Syntax of Smoky Mountain English (SME).” Appalachian English, University of South Carolina, artsandsciences.sc.edu/appalachianenglish/node/796.

Hall, Joseph Sargent. “The Phonetics of Great Smoky Mountain Speech.” American Speech, vol. 17, no. 2, 1942, pp. 1–12. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/487132.

Hazen, Kirk, et al. “The Appalachian Range: The Limits of Language Variation in West Virginia.” Talking Appalachian: Voice, Identity, and Community, edited by Amy D. Clark and Nancy M. Hayward, University Press of Kentucky, 2013, pp. 54–69.

Montgomery, Michael. “The Historical Background and Nature of the Englishes of Appalachia.” Talking Appalachian: Voice, Identity, and Community, edited by Amy D. Clark and Nancy M. Hayward, University Press of Kentucky, 2013, pp. 25–53.

Wolfram, Walt, and Donna Christian. Appalachian Speech. Center for Applied Linguistics, 1976.

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An Interview with Michael Niemann, author of No Right Way

Michael Niemann grew up in a small town in western Germany before moving to the United States. He received a PhD in International Studies from the University of Denver.

For over three decades, Michael has been a teacher of international studies focusing on the ways in which ordinary people’s lives and global processes intersect. In addition to teaching and academic writing, Michael has pursued these interests through fiction writing in his series of thrillers featuring UN investigator Valentin Vermeulen, published by Coffeetown Press.

Legitimate Business and Illicit Trade were published in 2017. Illegal Holdings came out in March 2018. The fourth Vermeulen thriller No Right Way has just been released. His short stories have appeared in Vengeance, the 2012 Mystery Writers of America anthology edited by Lee Child and as Kindle singles.

Ed Battistella: I really enjoyed reading No Right Way. Can you tell folks a bit about Valentin Vermeulen’s latest adventure?

Michael Niemann: People had been fleeing the Syrian civil war that started in 2011 all along, but after the rise of ISIS (or Daesh as it’s called in Arabic), the fighting became so widespread that the flow turned into tidal wave in 2015. That wave of refugees caught the world unawares. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the Turkish government had to scramble to deliver even a modicum of aid. They appealed for support from around the world, both in financial form and in asking places to resettle the refugees. In such desperate situation, money is often spend quickly to address the mounting needs. That means the usual safeguards, like competitive bids for services, etc., are often ignored because the need is to great. Unfortunately, human suffering and the efforts to ameliorate it also attracts all kinds of crooks hoping to cash in. So that’s the basic premise of the novel. Vermeulen is there to make sure no fraud is happening, but, of course, he finds it.

EB: How did you come up with or find the idea of the cash card and van rental scams? Are these based in real criminal activity?

MN: The smuggling of gasoline from ISIS controlled refineries to Turkey was know at the time. That’s how ISIS financed its weapons. The normal smuggling MO was shuttling jerry cans, stacked in vans across the border between Turkey and Syria. That border was rather porous, so it was easy to drive across. After NATO and others complained about the overt smuggling, ISIS even buried pipes under the border so that the vans didn’t have to leave Turkey. It didn’t take much research to tell that story.

The cash card scam was a little more complex. One of the developments in the aid sector is to move away from delivering food to refugee camps and use pre-paid cash or ATM cards instead. The logic is sound, it give refugees agency in choosing what to eat, rather than having to eat, say, surplus cheese from the EU or the US. It also supports local economies. Dumping a lot of free food in an area causes havoc with the local economy. Local shops and farmers are put out of business. So in most cases, giving refugees cash cards is a really good strategy. That doesn’t work well in very poor countries that don’t have the technical infrastructure for cashless payments, but Turkey has it.

However, issuing the cards involves multiple contractors and banks, and I asked myself, “What if one of those contractors was a front for the mafia?” Most crime writers ask themselves such “what if” questions to come up with a plot.

EB: The title is a departure for you—from the Legitimate Business, Illicit Trade, Illegal Holdings group. I understand that this one is based on a Turkish proverb: there’s no right way to do a wrong thing. Can you elaborate?

MN: I’m very bad with titles. I avoid finding one as long as I can. I usually get to the end of the novel and still don’t have a title. I then comb the manuscript for a pithy phrase that I could use. Yes, the first three novels had two-word titles. But that was getting a little worn. Since I had an old mafia boss, I did research on Turkish proverbs. That was my strategy to make him a little more relatable. He did use the one you cite as he complains about how his niece has run an operation. I just thought the first part had a good ring to it.

EB: What’s the most difficult aspect of writing a thriller? Pace, characterization, plot? I was really impressed with the way No Right Way kept things moving.

MN: Well, the pat answer is, “All of the above.” I think pace is important. To paraphrase Ian Fleming, you got to get the reader to turn the page. Pace is one way to achieve that. But pace alone gets boring. There was a funny cartoon in the paper where the editor tells the author (a dog), “Sure, it’s exciting, but you can’t have a chase scene on every page.”

The plot has to be plausible. I think that’s key. The reader has to believe that it could have happened. That’s where a lot of my research happens. One of the side effects has been that I know a lot about money laundering.

In the end, though, it’s the characters that make the reader care. They have to be as three dimensional as possible. I’ve gotten better at that. A good rule of thumb is Kurt Vonnegut’s maxim that every character has to want something, “even if it’s only a glass of water.”

EB: Vermeulen is a wonderful character. Tough and competent, but no James Bond or Jack Reacher. You’ve got some interesting female characters in the novel—aside from, I thought and of course Vermeulen’s daughter. Is writing strong female characters something you’ve worked on? I notice this in your last Vermeulen book as well.

MN: Yes, I’ve consciously worked on that. There’s a bad tradition in crime fiction that relegates women to be either the “dead girl,” the prostitute, rough but with a heart of gold, the mousy secretary who secretly loves the hero, and so on. I couldn’t write such characters. The women in Illegal Holdings, for example, were inspired by all the women who ran human rights organizations in southern Africa. I met them doing academic research in the region. Vermeulen’s daughter (about which we learn a lot more in the fifth novel) is still young but very competent in her job at a logistics company. She’s always part of Vermeulen’s team, as is his partner/lover Tessa. In No Right Way I chose to create a female character who’s just as strong willed, but on the other side of the law. Yesim Yaser wants to represent a new generation of leadership in the Turkish mafia. It was fun creating her.

EB: I was intrigued by the Inspector Demirel character. Can you talk more about him?

MN: He began as an afterthought, I needed a police officer of higher rank. Demirel just emerged without a lot of planning. One of the problems of setting stories in foreign places is the language barrier. Vermeulen speaks Dutch, French, English and bits of other western European languages. He doesn’t speak Turkish. To overcome this and avoid the tedious translating, I had Demirel study at Boston University. To make him more three-dimensional I also gave him a Kurdish background which makes him somewhat of an outsider. At the same time, he resents outsider know-it-alls. So he’s got a bit of national pride that is tempered by his one ambivalent status. He and Vermeulen spend a great night drinking Raki.

EB: I know you are a fan of noir. Would you consider your Vermeulen series noir?

MN: No, it’s not noir. If we use Tim Wohlforth’s definition of noir—things start out bad and only get worse—my novels don’t qualify. For one, Vermeulen isn’t some tragic character. Yes, he’s had his ups and downs, but he doesn’t drown his sorrows in whisky. My endings also aren’t worse than where the novel started. They aren’t necessarily happy endings. I think I distinguish between personal and systemic endings. On the personal level issues do get resolved, but on the system level they aren’t necessarily. So that might me more gris then noir.

EB: What else are you working on? A fifth Vermeulen thriller, I hope.

MN: Yes, I’ve finished the manuscript for the fifth Vermeulen thriller. For once, it doesn’t involve the UN or far away places. Vermeulen is called back to Antwerp where he learns that the past indeed isn’t dead and not past either. The story weaves together two mysteries, one in 2002 and one in the present.

My publisher didn’t like some of the things I’d tried to do, but fixing them turned out easier than I thought at first. I’m about to send it off again and hope that I’ve addressed those concerns.

EB: Thanks for talking with me. Good luck with the book.

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Commencement BINGO

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An Interview with John Yunker, author of Where the Oceans Hide Their Dead

John Yunker is a writer of plays, short stories and novels focused on human/animal relationships. He is author of the novels The Tourist Trail and the sequel Where Oceans Hide Their Dead. He is also editor of the anthologies Writing for Animals and Among Animals.

His full-length play Meat the Parents was a finalist at the Centre Stage New Play Festival (South Carolina) and semi-finalist in the AACT new play contest. Species of Least Concern was a finalist in the 2016 Mountain Playhouse Comedy Festival. His short play, Little Red House, was published in the literary journal Mason’s Road, and produced by the Studio Players Theatre in Lexington, Kentucky.

His short stories have been published by literary journals such as Phoebe, Qu, Flyway, and Antennae.

Yunker is also the co-founder of Ashland Creek Press, a publisher devoted to environmental and animal rights literature. He also has a passion for languages and for helping organizations develop better multilingual websites. You can find more of his work at JohnYunker.com

Ed Battistella: I enjoyed Where the Oceans Hide Their Dead. What prompted you to revisit the characters from The Tourist Trail.

John Yunker: I had a sense while writing The Tourist Trail that there was a bigger story to be told. And I too wanted to know what happened to Robert when he stepped off the plane in Namibia.

EB: One of the things that impressed me was the characterization and dialogue. You seemed to do a lot with a small ensemble of well-developed characters. I’m wondering how your work as a playwright influences your characterizations and your novelistic writing generally.

JY: I find that a character is “working” when you can hear him or her in your head and you become, in effect, the stenographer. This applies to playwriting as well. Of course, the trouble with having these characters talking inside your head is that they don’t always keep their mouths shut, which is another reason why there is a book two.

EB: The structure of the book, following three characters in different situations, was an interesting choice but it also required a sharp eye for details. How did you research the many convincing details, about seal hunting, espionage, chicken farming and more?

JY: Great question. Research, research and more research. Which includes everything from Wikipedia to Google Maps to following specific animal activists and court cases, as well as scientific journals and random news articles. I’d say the first few years of this book were more research and reading than writing. I’ve studied a number of well-documented cases of the FBI and animal activists, as well as trials. And I’ve gotten to know a few of the people who were imprisoned along the way; a few are still in prison as I write this.

EB: Are animal right groups routinely targeted as terrorist or tracked by private security? Where the Oceans Hide Their Dead painted a complex, fraught picture of activism.

JY: The FBI has targeted animal rights groups for decades now, but the risks for activists have become acute over the past decade. In 2006, the government passed the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act, which effectively allowed the government to label anyone who simply disrupted the activities of a slaughterhouse or animal testing laboratory as a terrorist. In addition, many states now have “ag-gag” laws that have made it a crime to take photographs or videos within slaughterhouses or on ranches or farms – even if you’re taking a photograph from the side of the road. In addition to the FBI, corporations hire private firms to monitor and (in some cases) infiltrate these groups. And it’s not just animal rights but the health of the planet that is at stake. Being from St. Louis, I grew up not very far from Monsanto (which inspired a portion of the book). Most people don’t know that Monsanto once founded its own private town along the banks of the Mississippi specifically so it could avoid all regulation and freely do whatever it wanted with its chemical waste. The town is now called Sauget, and it includes a superfund site. But growing up there, I didn’t know any of this. I knew only that Monsanto was a very large company and that it had very tight security. I now know a great deal more about the company, as do a growing number of Americans.

EB: Have you got plans for a third book featuring Robert Porter and company?

JY: I do. Hopefully book three won’t take as long as book two, though I make no predictions.

EB: I was pleased to see Ashland and even SOU mentioned. Do you have connections with some of the other places you wrote about in the book?

JY: It’s difficult to keep my real life from seeping into my fictional life, so, yes, many of the locations are places I have a connection with. But not all. For instance, I’ve never been to Namibia and can only hope I did a decent job of portraying that region of the world; I hope to get there one day. Sadly, the seal slaughter along the shores of Namibia is all too true and still happening today. I did get to know, virtually, a man who rescued the stray seals who washed ashore in South Africa. The thing about people who devote their lives to rescuing animals – it can be such a heartbreaking and lonely life. This book, as well as the first, is my attempt to tell their stories.

EB: Thanks for talking with us!

JY: Thank you, Ed, for including me!

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An Interview with Abbigail N. Rosewood, author of If I Had Two Lives

Abbigail N. Rosewood was born in Vietnam, where she lived until the age of twelve. In 2012, she was the recipient of the Michael Baughman Fiction Award and the Outstanding Graduating Student in Creative Writing Award from Southern Oregon University. Her works have published in such literary journals as The Adirondack Review, Columbia Journal, Green Hills Literary Lantern, and The Missing Slate.

Abbigail Rosewood has a Master of Fine Arts in Fiction from Columbia University and an excerpt from her first novel, If I Had Two Lives, was awarded First Place in the Writers’ Workshop of Asheville Literary Fiction contest. If I Had Two Lives was released by Europa Editions this April.

James Cañón, author of Tales from the Town of Widows, calls If I Had Two Lives “the perfect novel of dislocation.” Gary Shteyngart, author of Super Sad True Love Story and Little Failure says it is “A harrowing, wondrously constructed story of childhood and a brilliant meditation on how life is lived today.”

Abbigail Rosewood currently lives and writes in New York. You can follow her at abbigailrosewood.com

Ed Battistella: Congratulations on the publication of If I Had Two Lives, which I really enjoyed. It’s a great read and a great accomplishment.

Abbigail N. Rosewood: Thank you for reading! It has been a pleasant surprise to receive so much support from friends and strangers, but it means a lot coming from you who taught me at SOU. I don’t know what it feels like for you reading your student’s work, but for me it is absolutely thrilling to be read by my professor—the ultimate A plus.

EB: It felt to me to be a novel about longing and wanting people to be what we needed them to be. Is that part of the immigrant experience do you think?

AR: Loneliness is a universal human condition and for those who migrate, it is both the prerequisite and outcome. It is impossible to be ripped off from your roots and not feel intensely isolated. Within an isolation chamber, memories resound much louder and manifest themselves again and again as the immigrant attempts to digest the pain of being psychically fractured—being between cultures, languages, memories, and between truths as well.

Yet I don’t think this is unique to the immigrant experience. All the time people gravitate towards familiarity, echoes of their childhood. Familiarity becomes a guiding post on who to love, what to eat, and unfairly who to hate and fear as well. In my novel, the narrator’s longing is so profound that she superimposes her memories onto people that are perhaps not genuinely anything like those from her childhood. Parts of her evolution is coming to the realization that she has failed to really see the person she claims to love for who they are.

EB: Can you tell us about the title? There is a nice reveal at the end but all through the book I was playing with different understandings of that. I wondered if you were intentionally giving the readers different ways to see that in some of the pairings of the characters.

AR: I’m curious to hear what you make of the title! I do hope for readers to get a multilayered understanding of the title. When someone says, “If I had two lives, I would…,” it sounds like the beginning of a wish, yet juggling two lives is a reality for many people. It is a gift to be both and neither, but it comes at an enormous cost.

Looking back, it is hard to pin point my intentions, but when writing I’m always asking questions. Narrative gives me the opportunity to create situations that are nuanced, emotionally and morally ambiguous, which can be demanding of readers. Art doesn’t offer neat conclusions: it can move, irritate, and even anger. It is my hope that readers can juggle the questions and hold all these contradictions in mind.

EB: If I Had Two Lives is story-driven, but from time to time you allow the protagonist some room to philosophize and reflect. What’s the key to adding that sort of depth without taking away from the narrative. Were you conscious of the moments when you had the main character meditate on life or did those moments just happen? Was she taking over?

AR: There are many successful literary works I admire that is only telling or showing. I try to balance both. In If I Had Two Lives, the protagonist’s way of expressing her feelings is often understated, which is essential to her character. Subtlety doesn’t work for everyone—I encountered a good amount of resistance from editors when my agent was trying to sell the book. Still, it is my firm belief that nothing can ever be subtle enough. Occasionally, however, it is useful to be exact, to give readers emotional anchors or affirmations of what they already know.

EB: I enjoyed the writing and pace, and these was one matter of craft I especially wanted to ask you about: in the first part of the book you make a point of not using names—there is “the little girl,” “my mother,” and “my soldier,” and even the protagonist is nameless throughout. Can you talk about the namelessness?

AR: As soon as something is named it loses ambiguity, which to me is a great loss. It feels honest that my central characters should not be easily pinned down or defined, especially the protagonist because she suffers profoundly from the psychic ruptures of being in-between. I myself have a complicated relationship with names. I would love to live namelessly or go by a name that is cleansed of all assumptions like iLP78&R, but it is simply impractical. I suppose this might be one difference between life and fiction, the novel can afford some impracticalities in service of a higher truth.

EB: Was one of the lives easier to tell than the other? I liked the way you brought the lives together at the end.

AR: Thank you. It is hard to give any life the intricacies that it deserves. In that sense I am aware that like most novels, this one too is a failure. I started writing it when I was twenty-five, finished it at twenty-six, and published it at twenty-nine. A month before publication, I had one last chance to edit minor details. Because it has been a few year since I read it, I had enough distance to see how flawed it was, how full of naiveties. At some point, in order to publish, all writers have to contend with this reality—their ego—the arrogant idea that a work could be perfected. I think, art, if it were to really live, it must do so with errors, loose ends.

EB: What was the process of writing the novel like for you? Did much change from the earliest versions?

AR: It was the absolute best part of the whole thing. There is nothing more sublime than to surrender to the work to be congruent with aesthetic values, which I’m afraid to say, I put above all others. There are eight “drafts,” of the novel, although the original writing from the first draft has not changed, only shifted. Moments are expanded so that the work grows in volume. The novel happens to be my chosen medium so there are certain requirements to fulfill, one of which is length, but the emotional core can be expressed with a song, a brushstroke, a knife fight. I have great respect for poets for this reason, their ability to move worlds with a few syllables.

EB: Perhaps this is an unfair question but how much of the story is autobiographical? Or is the novel all fiction?

AR: A visual artist I know incorporates in her mixed-media paintings objects from her personal life like a piece of her son’s blanket from when he was a baby. My work is autobiographical in the sense that it is blanketed with emotional truths and emblemed with personal “objects”. My writing will always be honest in this way and autobiographical even if I were writing about dragons.

EB: What other current writing projects have you got happening?

AR: I have a second novel, which is still looking for a home.

EB: Thanks for talking with us. Good luck with If I Had Two Lives.

AR: Thank you so much, Ed, for the enlightening questions.

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An Interview with poet and translator Martha Darr

Martha Darr at the Panama Canal

Martha Darr is a poet and literary translator with advanced degrees in the Humanities. Her educational focus on African Diaspora Studies garnered funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities and Fulbright Hays faculty grants. She has taught courses in Oral Literature, Language and Identity, and African/Latin American Studies. Some of her work has appeared in FIYAH, Exterminating Angel Press, Journal of American Folklore, and the bilingual anthology Knocking On The Door of The White House: Latina and Latino Poets in Washington, D.C.

Ed Battistella: Tell our readers a little bit about your work as a translator and poet?

Martha Darr: I am a poet and a literary translator- Spanish to English currently – I may try my hand at working with another language in the near future.

My own writing thus far has been described as “speculative” (fantasy, sci-fi ). One review I read recently said a poem of mine was “the best piece in the collection –dark strange … stayed with me for days” I floated around the house a bit after that. Appreciation is fuel, keeps me going.

EB: What does it mean to you to be a poet? Why do you think poetry matters?

MD: With a poem you can express feelings economically, concisely in a way that moves readers, helps them think beyond the everyday. It is a wonderful and challenging practice.

It has been noted that in a dictatorship, intellectuals and artists are especially among the targeted. A regime is aware of this ability to arouse strong feelings in others, which is considered dangerous. Poets have certainly been among the victims. There is real power in the skillful use of the pen.

EB: You are also a linguist, so how has that affected your ideas about poetry?

MD: Examining the structure of languages unlike my own has been helpful. You are provided with other ways to view communication and a larger set of inventory to play with when appropriate.

EB: When did you first begin writing? Have you always been a writer?

MD: I began writing creatively years ago when I was young: jingles, poems, lyrics to religious hymn, even a very short (flash) story written in a creole for a class assignment, but gave this all up when I entered college. I then tried to write “serious, scholarly” work but never felt at home, found it tedious, labored. In a desperate move to get back to creative literary writing, I kicked myself out of academia years later, praying I would not fall into a black hole of oblivion.

EB: How do you write? What is your writing life like?

MD: A large part of the process for me is simply generating ideas, letting the messiness appear then getting out of my own way to allow the real stuff to surface.

I try to focus on writing daily, usually in the a.m., but avoid stressing about the time element–I wish I could say I put in X solid hours, every day, but the truth is that I am simply happy to have tamed the resistance bug and done some writing on a regular basis. This can take anywhere from an hour and half to four hours a day.

EB: Who are your poetic influences? Or your writing influences generally?

MD: I now realize it is a gift to have been raised reading the Bible from an early age. The Book of Psalms, for example, is full of beauty and meaning. A background in fantasy and oral tradition have also been very helpful.

EB: What are you working on currently?

MD: I am continuing to submit individual pieces and pulling a group of poems together for a manuscript I hope to complete by fall. My challenge will be to arrange them within a unified theme. So many ideas, so little time.

EB: Thanks for talking with us.

MD: El gusto es todo mío–My pleasure.

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An Interview with Tim Applegate

Tim Applegate is the author of three poetry collections–At the End of Day (Traprock Books), Drydock (Blue Cubicle Press), and Blueprints (Turnstone Books of Oregon).

Born in Georgia and raised in Indiana, ​ Tim has lived in Boston, Sarasota, Florida, and for the last twenty-four years on two acres in the foothills of the coastal range of western Oregon where he owned and operated a commercial contracting business specializing in furniture and wood restoration for the hotel and cruise ship industries.

He is the author of the novels Fever Tree (Amberjack Publishing) and the recently released Flamingo Lane (Amberjack Publishing).

You can visit his website at timapplegate.net.

Ed Battistella: Tell us about your recently released novel Flamingo Lane and your series The Yucatan Quartet.

Tim Applegate: In my new novel Flamingo Lane, to pay off an exorbitant gambling debt to the ruthless Mexican drug lord Pablo Mestival, an expat named Chance agrees to locate – and possibly eliminate – Mestival’s former lover Faye Lindstrom, who has fled Mexico and returned to her hometown. Like the other books in the Yucatan Quartet, Flamingo Lane is a standalone novel that explores the classic noir themes of greed, betrayal, and revenge.

EB: You are a writer of Southern noir? How is Southern noir different from other noir styles?

TA: Southern noir novels, exemplified by writers like Ron Rash in North Carolina and Tom Franklin in Mississippi, are often set in rural or small-town locales, and tend to feature poor or working-class characters. That said, the major elements of traditional noir – a money trail, a femme (or in many cases these days) a male fatale, a dupe – remain firmly in place.

EB: When did you first begin writing? Have you always been a writer?

TA: I began writing poetry and short fiction in high school and never really stopped. It’s been a long and sometimes difficult journey, but I can’t imagine what else I would have done with my time.

EB: What is your writing day like?

TA: I’m usually planted in front of my keyboard by 7 a.m. And I generally write/edit/revise for the next three or four hours. Of course when you’re working on a novel the story stays with you 24 hours a day, so sometimes in the afternoons I go back to the keyboard to add notes, ideas, descriptions. It’s a bit obsessive really, but there are far worse obsessions than writing books about crimes. Like committing those crimes!

EB: It’s poetry month and you have also published several collections on poetry. What does poetry mean to you?

TA: That’s an interesting question. For me, writing poetry is a way to slow the world down and focus in on something specific, a canoe trip with one of my daughters or the funeral of a friend or a memory of how cornfields looked on summer mornings in Indiana when I was a boy. It’s a way to slow down, take a deep breath, and rediscover what counts.

EB: Who are some of your poetic influences?

TA: I could name a hundred influences. But to keep the list short: Frost, Robert Lowell, Anne Sexton and Sylvia Plath. Robert Bly, Kenneth Rexroth, the Oregon poet Clem Starck. Issa, Basho, Charles Goodrich, Carolyn Forche…

EB: Can you tell us a little bit about the rest of The Yucatan Quartet?

TA: The Yucatan Quartet chronicles the lives of a group of expats who meet in a village in the Yucatan in the 1970s. Over the years, their lives continue to intersect because of certain unfortunate incidents that took place back in Mexico. Like all noir, the books go to some dark places. But there are glimmers of hope and redemption too, a faint light at the end of a long, scary tunnel.

EB: Good luck with you new book, Flamingo Lane. Thanks for talking with us.

TA: Thanks, Ed.

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The History of The Mid-Atlantic Accent and the Golden Age of Hollywood, a guest post by Riley Hamilton

Riley Hamilton is an English major and an Honors College student at Southern Oregon University.

Language is a cornerstone of culture. The language a group of people speaks is a way of expressing their cultural beliefs, customs, and values. Similarly, dialects and accents define culture as well. The way in which people speak is a method of unification and expression. Languages, dialects, and accents evolve and shift over time, revealing certain aspects of society. The varieties of speech favored by a society are reflective of social stratification and the standard for language, and these ideas can often be seen portrayed in media. The Mid-Atlantic accent, a non-rhotic style of speech found in New England and along the East Coast, has a rich history. After its rise in popularity after the elocution movement in the 18th century, it took to the big screen and ultimately became a defining factor of the film industry during the Golden Age of Hollywood. Analyzing the Mid-Atlantic accent and its history through the lens of the film industry reveals its role in reflecting the ever-changing class relations within society.

In November of 1620, the Pilgrims arrived at Plymouth Rock in New England. These religious separatists fled England in order to practice their religion and worship God freely, and their arrival in New England can be regarded as the epicenter of what would become American English. As more and more Europeans began infiltrating America, the English language was being used and taught along over a thousand miles of the eastern coast by the end of the 17th century. Rather than adopting Native American languages, the English retained the “proper”, aristocratic speech influenced by the King James Bible and the works of Shakespeare. There are fewer than a dozen borrowed Native American words found in the writings of the Founding Fathers. Though there was a mixing of dialects due to people immigrating from various European countries and British regions, the colonists were content to use English rather than learn the Native tongues. Historians speculate that Native languages were too difficult for the English, and that they simply preferred their own words. Massachusetts, Virginia, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New Hampshire, North and South Carolina, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania were all colonized and each given-other than Massachusetts and Connecticut - English names rather than Native American ones. English took the west by storm, and a myriad of dialects began developing in the various colonies. In 1664, the Dutch colony New Amsterdam was taken by the British and became New York (Bragg 147-153). And the British occupation of America’s east coast, especially New York, resulted in the development of the Mid-Atlantic accent that has characterized the region since.

The Mid-Atlantic accent, sometimes referred to as the Transatlantic accent, is a byproduct of the blending of American and British accents. More specifically, prestigious British speech influenced early American English, thus creating this hybrid of distinguished talk. In the Mid-Atlantic accent, vowels are more thoroughly expressed. For example, in the cot-caught and Don-dawn distinctions, each of the vowels are distinguished. In other American dialects, cot-caught and Don-dawn are merged with no audible distinction between words. Additionally, the Mid-Atlantic accent also makes a distinction between the words wine and whine. Whine, and other words beginning with wh are pronounced with a “hw” sound. The accent also retains the yod, which is the “ew” sound found in words such as news and music. The Mid-Atlantic accent’s use of these distinct pronunciations is reflective of its British roots. Another defining feature, and perhaps the most notable, of the Mid-Atlantic accent is its lack of rhoticity. Accents and dialects are considered rhotic when the letter r is pronounced at the end of words and before a consonant. Many British accents typically drop the pronunciation of r sounds at the end of words. For example, the word card often sounds like cahd when said with a British or New England accent. This non-rhotic speech shaped American English during the colonization of New England. Non-rhotic speech became “associated with upper-class whites” as speech standards of the British aristocracy bled into America (Wells 542). In contrast, rhotic speech was initially seen as characteristic of poverty and the lower-class. The high social standing associated with non-rhotic speech sparked a major emphasis on elocution in America.

In the 18th century, the United States experienced an elocution movement in which the rhetorical skills of pronunciation and articulation were heavily valued. An elocution movement had already been established in the United Kingdom, and the United States followed suit. Elocution was a core principle of classical Western rhetoric, and the desire to increase one’s elocutionary skills became increasingly popular. Elocution classes, which taught students how to properly speak, give oral presentations, and read aloud became customary. These lessons were modeled after the elocution standards found in the United Kingdom, which resulted in the Mid-Atlantic accent maintaining its status as proper speech. These elocution lessons were integrated into public school systems in hopes of teaching children to speak elegantly and properly (Moran 1994). Oratory abilities were thus associated with suitability, which further perpetuated the social stratification surrounding the Mid-Atlantic accent. During this time, many
books were published on the topic of elocution. An actor named Thomas Sheridan wrote Lectures on Elocution in 1762, and another actor named John Walker wrote Elements of Elocution in 1781. These works instructed readers how to use gestures, control their voices, and emphasize words. Society’s emphasis on elocution remained relevant through the mid 20th century, and began to play a major role in media.

The signature non-rhotic sound of the accent was very prominent in the arts and high caliber careers. This style of speech was used on the radio, by politicians and lawyers, and was heavily featured in the film industry. The Golden Age of Hollywood, which followed the silent film era, is notorious for its use of the Mid-Atlantic accent in films during the late 1920’s to 1960. Iconic actresses such as Katharine Hepburn, Audrey Hepburn, Grace Kelly, and Vivien Leigh all mastered the accent for their films, and its unique British-esque sound became a defining feature of films made during this time. Golden Age actors and actresses were trained in the art of elocution and speech delivery. In 1942, vocal coach Edith Skinner wrote Speak with Distinction. Skinner was a consultant to actors, and she used her text and methods to train them in the Mid-Atlantic accent, which she referred to as “Good Speech.” Skinner’s coinage of the term Good Speech was very prescriptivist, and most modern linguists reject the idea that certain types of speech are better than others. Nevertheless, Skinner’s guide to the Mid-Atlantic accent became the standard for actors both on the screen and the stage. Speak with Distinction, a quite dense text, contains instructions for the proper pronunciation of thousands of words. Good Speech has a multitude of rules, the most recognizable being the dropping of the r at the end of words, the clear expression of all vowels, and the pronunciation of t in words such as water and night (Skinner 1942). The transition from silent film to sound film allowed for the new dimension “of speech to register more subtle differences in social class, ethnicity, and educational or geographical background” (Beach 2). The start of sound film coincided “almost exactly with the beginnings of the Great Depression,” and amidst the rising class struggle, social structure became a common theme in the expanding film industry. The Mid-Atlantic accent was used by actors to portray upper-class characters and societies. Over the decades, however, the association between non-rhotic speech and the upper-class has shifted.

Non-rhotic speech is characteristic of the famous New York City accent, but the dropping of the r that defined upper-class New Yorkers for decades has lost its high standing. Over the course of the 21st century, American English has begun to favor “rhoticity in all positions, gradually displacing the New York City pronunciations” (Mather 2). While non-rhotic speech used to be indicative of the upper-class, rhoticity is now the preferred manner of professional speech. Linguists have tracked the societal shift regarding rhoticity, and in 1962 linguist William Labov conducted his New York department store study, in which he investigated whether or not New Yorkers pronounce their r’s depends on what social class environment the speakers are in. He analyzed the language of the employees in three different department stores: Saks (upper middle class), Macy’s (lower-middle class), and S. Klein (working class). Labov found the employees “from Saks used rhotic r most, showing that the overt prestige form in New York City favored rhoticity. Those from Klein’s used it least, likely because they identified more with their working-class clientele, and because it reflected their own frequency of use in their local communities,” and employees from Macy’s used a constricted form of r (Mather 2). Labov concluded that “the pronunciation of r increased both socially and stylistically toward greater rhoticity…and the more careful the speech, the more likely the r was to be pronounced” (Mather 2). This study has been recreated twice in New York City, and the results have been consistent. Rhoticity has usurped the long, prestigious reign of non-rhoticity. The non-rhotic New York City accent is still depicted in film and television, but it’s portrayal has shifted. For example, characters such as New York City lawyers are often presented with formal, rhotic speech, whereas New York City police officers are typically portrayed with a non-rhotic accent. Lawyers are shown using a more “proper and professional” sort of speech, and the police officers represent the everyday New York City speech they hear and use in the streets. The Mid-Atlantic accent, particularly its use in media, has had a long history reflective of constantly evolving class relations.

The English language has experienced many modification as it has developed in America over the centuries. A multitude of accents can be heard throughout the country, some of the most notable hailing from New England. The Mid-Atlantic accent has defined the region for decades, and representations of it are often used as a stereotype for New Yorkers and Bostonians. Before the Mid-Atlantic accent evolved to what it is today, it was a reflection of the upper-class, wealth, and intelligence. The elocution movement transformed the accent into a desirable achievement; the golden standard for proper speech and delivery. The Golden Age of Hollywood perpetuated the accent’s association with high social standing, but in the last century its prestige has all but disappeared. Though the implications of the Mid-Atlantic accent have shifted, its relevance and usage has not. The accent is still alive and well in New England, and will continue to evolve as it has been since the 15th century.

Works Cited

Beach, Christopher. Class, Language, and American Film Comedy. Cambridge University Press, 2004.

Bragg, Melvyn. The Adventure of English: the Biography of a Language. Sceptre, 2016. Mather, Patrick-Andre. “The Social Stratification of /r/ in New York City.” Journal of English
Linguistics, 40(4): 338-356, 2012, pp. 1-19.

Modiano, Marko. “The Americanization of Euro-English.” World Englishes, vol. 15, no. 2, 1996, pp. 207–215.

Moran, Michael G. Eighteenth-Century British and American Rhetorics and Rhetoricians: Critical Studies and Sources. Greenwood Press, 1994.

Skinner, Edith, et al. Speak with Distinction: the Classic Skinner Method to Speech on the Stage.Applause Theatre Book Publishers, 1990.

Wells, J.C. Accents of English: Volume 3: Beyond the British Isles. Cambridge University Press, 1982.

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An Interview with Young Adult and Romance Blogger Shelee Juarez

A 2019 graduate of Southern Oregon University, Shelee Juarez is a Young Adult and Romance book blogger. You can follow her blog and Facebook pages at Book Reader Chronicles and on Instagram & twitter at @brcbookblog

Ed Battistella: Tell our readers a little about your blog Book Reader Chronicles?

Shelee Juarez: My blog features book reviews and cover reveals for books in both the Romance and Young Adult genres, and will hopefully soon include a master list of books I recommend in every genre—that last part is a goal of mine now that I’ll be done with school shortly and can devote more time to creating that aspect on my website. I generally only feature positive reviews on my public forum—anything with a star rating of 3.5 and above—and books that I can positively recommend to my followers. My reviewing style is more of a ‘deep-diver’ as I like to flesh out my thoughts in more of a professional capacity than one more focused on my feelings. I like to delve into the characters, the writing, the relationships, and the overall arc of the plot before I touch on my feelings. And, of course, I try very hard to keep all of mine spoiler-free.

EB: You’ve been blogging since 2014. How did you get started?

SJ: It was happenstance, really. The owner of the blog put out a post on Facebook around end of Summer in 2014 asking if anyone was interested in blogging. When I reached out to the her, she told me she was interested in selling her entire website, social media channels, and books to get out of the blogging industry to pursue a new career in the publishing industry. It happened to be around the same time I had quit work to go back to college, so my husband and I decided to take the leap—both financially and creatively—to buy her out. I had always wanted to get into blogging prior to that, but was overwhelmed with the entire idea of starting everything from scratch, so thankfully I had the great benefit of gaining an already established fanbase and product. But it was a crash course of teaching myself how to use WordPress, to learn coding, and my reviewing process in the month she worked with me before leaving completely.

EB: Book Reader Chronicles specializes in Romance and Young Adult genres. What does that include?

SJ: I read sort of all over the place in those two genres as each have many subgenres. In Romance I read anything from romantic suspense to historical romance to new adult to contemporary and fantasy. With Young Adult I read anywhere from fantasy to sci-fi to contemporary books. If it has good writing and plot, I don’t much care where it falls under, but those two genres are where I read from ninety-five percent of the time. I love a good love story and both tend to always have one somewhere in it.

EB: Do romance and YA share some things in common in your view?

SJ: Absolutely. The only real difference between the two is the age of the characters and the overall heat of the romance. But the characters generally have the same wants and needs, just at different points in their lives. And some YA is quite explicit, it’s just author and publisher preference.

EB: How many books do you read or review in a month?

SJ: Depending on my workload outside of reading, I generally read around ten to fifteen books a month. Most of those are to be published that same month or early in the next, but sometimes I’m able to get ahead of my schedule and read a book that isn’t out for a few months. It’s often that I am reading a book two weeks ahead of its release, though I wish I wasn’t that close to publication so I could drum up interest for the title sooner. Without school taking up so much time, I’m hoping to get ahead and stay there.

EB: How do you manage to fit in all the reading? I know you’ve got a busy life.

SJ: It’s been a delicate and stressful process to find a balance between classes, schoolwork, reading, reviewing, promoting, and being a mother and homeowner, but I’ve managed to find some harmony in it—some months being harder than others. I know that I have put a lot of unnecessary stress on myself over the past four and a half years because I couldn’t make myself turn down any book I was interested in, and that left me overbooked on that side while also having a full-time schedule’s worth of schoolwork on the other. There were plenty of days I was up late doing one or the other. One element of my life that became easier was when my son started kindergarten in 2016 and freed up a lot of my time. Depending on my class schedule, I’d take him to school and then read a bit. Then I’d find spaces to read before my husband brought him home on his way home from work, and then staying up late to read before bed. Being a night owl helped keep that going for as long as it did, but it was always an internal battle of being responsible in choosing which actually needed done first—and not choosing the book simply because I wanted to read it. And, yeah, deciding how much sleep I wanted that night to function for the next day. When I first started blogging I was reading and reviewing 200 books a year, but as schoolwork became more involved I’ve gone down to around 130-150, which is still more than most people.

EB: How do you decide what to review?

SJ: Over the years I’ve gotten really picky with what books I request or have sent to me for review. I used to be able to read a book’s synopsis and know that I’ll enjoy it, but with the market in the indie romance industry being oversaturated with writers, I’m less able to predict if I’ll actually like the writing of the author or their storytelling. That’s not an attack to that market at all, but with so many writers all vying to stay relevant, you find a lot of books written too quickly and the quality suffers because of it. Now I try to stick with what my gut says when reading the synopsis—it’s still wrong sometimes—and try to stay with authors who I’ve read and loved before. Almost all of what I review on the YA side is traditionally published, so I have a better chance at reading a well-written, well-edited book since they’ve gone through the rigorous process of a publisher buying and working on them, but there are still duds. In either genre it’s all about the synopsis pulling at me as well as the cover—you can tell a lot about a book with those two things.

EB: What do you look for in a book?

SJ: I look for elements that haven’t been done before, or fascinating decisions the main character must make. I look for different dynamics in couple relationships that present a particular problem I either haven’t read before or is part of a trope I love. I’m a cover snob, too, so sometimes I won’t even look at the synopsis of a book if the cover doesn’t grab me. I basically need to feel that excitement in my chest when I read a synopsis to want anything to do with it because it’s a lot of hours to invest in that author’s imagination.

EB: What sort of authors are easiest to work with. I’m asking for a friend.

SJ: (laughs) Ones who truly appreciate everyone in the book industry—from us bloggers to the paying readers and all of those paid to promote or create the book in some way. If an author truly appreciates those who buy or promote their work, they’re good people. Those that do will appreciate the time you’ve spent reading and reviewing by commenting on your review or sharing it to their followers—all of which make my day every time it happens, even years into it.

EB: I notice there are some pretty specific blog polices too. What do those involve?

SJ: Most of my policies are pretty standard in that there may be sensitive content within my posts, not to reproduce any of my reviews unless express consent and credit is given, that giveaway winners are given a specific amount of time to respond before a new winner is chosen, and, because I prefer an open policy, that any purchase on a link on my website to a title on Amazon will earn me a very small percentage from Amazon as an affiliate of theirs. Much of this is to protect me as a business, but thankfully I haven’t run across an issue where I needed to refer to one of them.

EB: What do you enjoy most about book blogging?

SJ: The books are what I enjoy the most. I enjoy the storytelling, the transportive world-building, and the love stories they create—either with friendship, family, or a romantic partner. None of the effort of spending hours to read a book, hours to write one review, the time spent promoting it in the blackhole that is social media now, or the effort spent reaching out to publicists—sometimes having to prove your worth as deserving of an early copy—would be anywhere near worth it if my passion wasn’t in books themselves. I originally fell back into reading in 2012 as a form of escapism with my PTSD and panic disorder, but they quickly became more than a lifeline and are now my way of life. It’s why I always carry my kindle or a physical book with me. Also knowing I’m helping an author succeed, in some small way, makes my heart happy.

EB: Will you be reading more now that you’ve finished your college experience?

SJ: I truly hope so. Once the constant of “I have schoolwork to do” falls away, I’m really hoping it’ll level out to the same number of books read as before now that all of my free time can be spent with just books. But working full time presents its own challenges and I’m hoping to be able to find a balance with that quickly because I have many books to read.

EB: Thanks for talking with us. Good luck with your work.

SJ: Thank you so much!

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