An Interview with Allie Sipe

Allie Sipe is senior in the SOU Honors college. An English major, writer, coffee aficionado. She was the first student ever from outside the University of New Mexico to join its honors journal Scribendi.

EB: Tell us a little bit about your internship at Scribendi.

AS: I attended the University of New Mexico last term semester (Fall 2016) to work as a staff member for the honors literary arts magazine Scribendi.

EB: What sort of things did you do?

AS: During class time and in projects outside of class, I worked on a little bit of everything: staff teambuilding, typography and design practices, fundraising and community outreach, critical assessment of creative works, and copy editing. I’ve designed a flyer calling for submissions to the magazine, created a modern book cover for Kate Chopin’s The Awakening, and read through hundreds of creative works to narrow down what belongs in the magazine. I’ve also gone to Santa Fe to ask local businesses to consider donating items to our magazine’s silent auction and spent hours making sugar skulls to sell as a fundraiser at the Marigold Parade. Some of my favorite time is spent in the office with the other staff members, working on design or copyediting assignments for class and sharing ideas and laughs.

EB: What did you learn?

AS: What’s become most clear to me is that the production of a magazine takes a whole range of skills, ideas, and hard work. Each staff member contributes their unique perspective to what should be in the magazine and how it should look. Every single person is essential – there’s an enormous amount of work and collaboration involved in the production of a magazine. Even when we have different opinions from one another (especially during the debates about which pieces belong in the magazine and which do not), I have learned the value of listening to each individual and respecting their opinions. Scribendi is one of the most tangible examples I’ve ever seen of a diverse range of thoughts and ideas coalescing into one successful creative effort.

EB: How did the work complement or expand on your academic studies?

AS: Almost everything I’ve been doing with Scribendi has complemented my academic studies in English in some way, which is incredibly rewarding. Specifically, I’ve learned tons about critically evaluating literary works. Reading through so much creative nonfiction and articulating to others what is effective has given me the confidence to pursue my own writing. This couldn’t be better timing right before I graduate from Southern Oregon University and hope to pursue graduate school.

EB: What was the most interesting aspect of the internship? Any surprises or revelations?

AS: I honestly didn’t expect to find such a welcoming, accepting community through Scribendi. Coming in, I didn’t know if it would be possible to find a close sense of community at UNM, a school with about 30,000 undergraduates. I’m excited to know that a healthy, inclusive community is achievable in many, if not all, environments and places.

EB: How did you like Albuquerque?

AS: I think Albuquerque itself is one of those places where, if you’re from there, it’s a family member: only you can insult it and no one else can because, deep down, you love it. That being said, I’m not from here, so I think I should keep my mouth shut. I do love the people I’ve met in Albuquerque, and New Mexico is a beautiful state. The green chile is also excellent.

EB: Any advice for other students thinking about internships?

AS: If you’re even considering an internship or study abroad opportunity, find a way to make it happen. Meeting new people and collecting different experiences is invaluable, and it just gets more difficult to take these kinds of opportunities the older you get. Apply, commit, and tell everyone your plan so you can’t back out. I almost talked myself out of this, but I am so glad I didn’t. I’ve made friends and professional connections that will change the course of my life.

EB: Thanks for talking with us. Congratulations on a successful internship.

AS: Thank you for the opportunity to share my experience!

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An Interview with James Anderson

James Anderson grew up in the Pacific Northwest and completed an undergraduate degree in American Studies at Reed College and a Masters Degree in Creative Writing at Pine Manor College in Boston.

In 1974, while still an undergraduate, he founded Breitenbush Books, whose authors included Mary Barnard, Bruce Berger, Clyde Rice, Naomi Shihab Nye, Michael Simms, William Greenway, John Stoltenberg, Sam Hamill, and Gary Miranda. Anderson served as Breitenbush’s publisher and executive editor through 1991.

His poems, short fiction, essays, reviews and interviews have appeared in Northwest Review, New Letters, The Bloomsbury Review, Solstice Magazine and elsewhere.

From 1995 to 2002, Anderson co-produced documentary films, including Tara’s Daughters, which chronicled the plight of Tibetan women refugees as carriers of Tibetan culture in the diaspora. The film won Best Documentary at the New York Film Festival.

An Ashlander for several years, Anderson published his first novel, The Never-Open Desert Diner, released by Crown in 2016 in hard cover and paperback. Marilyn Stasio, writing the New York Times Book Review said that Anderson’s voice, like his terrain is “High, dry and severely beautiful… Anderson is one fine storyteller.”

EB: How did you come up with the idea for The Never-Open Desert Diner?

JA: I recently wrote a piece on process where I suggested that there were essentially two kinds of novelists: architects and gardeners.

When we create, in whatever medium or genre, I believe the impulse can be broken down to either exploring (gardeners) or building (architects.) Both processes produce great novels, but I am firmly in the gardening category—yes, I am answering your question—which, for me, means I walk out into the field and start planting, then cultivate and harvest whatever pops up. Sometimes some very strange and wonderful plants begin to grow. The seeds might be a snip of dialogue, a location, a description or, most often in my case, a central image, however indistinct, that carries within it an emotion, or several. In this sense I do not actually begin with the idea of a story. My novel The Never-Open Desert Diner began with simply imagining a two-thousand foot granite mesa cliff swirling in that beautiful red light of the Utah desert. That was how I began the writing. The novel itself ends with that description. I just plant, water and watch through the process of composing the rough draft; and then, when I have the crop in front of me, and I know what the story is—that is, the story that has been revealed to me—I revise and revise what originally sprouted in situ.

EB: The Utah setting struck me as perfect–a place where people go to get off the grid. Did you consider any other locales? I couldn’t see it in Oregon, for examplen

JA: Well, I was born in Seattle and raised primarily in verdancy of the Willamette Valley, but also on the Oregon coast and a little in Northern California. Most people, even Oregonians, tend to think of Oregon as predominately represented by the Willamette Valley and the coast, when in fact two-thirds of Oregon is the high desert that I love—Bend, Burns, Fossil, Baker City, Dufur, Crane Prairie and so on. The novel could have easily been set in the arid high desert region of southeastern Oregon if high desert was all there was to the setting, except there isn’t the unique quality of the red-tinged Utah light of which my friends and literary heroes Terry Tempest Williams and Bruce Berger write so eloquently. I know that region and how the light suffuses the soul and body there in ways that are magical and terrifying and bathe human time in geological time and rhythms and a kind of spirituality borne of the natural world. Glancing ahead to your fine questions, I see we will touch upon paradox, and for now all I will is say that my novel and the story, and the characters, are very much entwined with paradox, contradictions, living oxymorons.

EB: Ben Jones was an engaging character—a kind of forgotten man who maintains his dignity in the face of adversity. I found myself liking him even though we had little in common. You seemed to build his character through a series of small decisions her makes.

JA: Thank you. Dashiell Hammett said that we are not measured by how we deal with success but how we handle adversity. Who a person is at his or her core is not revealed by one grand action, good or bad, but on everyday actions that indicate a pattern. Ben is struggling, as we all do. He makes poor decisions sometimes. Yet he is always trying. This struggle is illuminated through the person point of view, which includes internal monologues of that struggle. As I was shaping Ben Jones as a character I wanted him to be average, not some kind of super hero, or someone with special skills. For me, and this has always been true, the people I admire most are the ones who get up every damn day and do the best they can, often against incredible odds, no parades, no medals of commendation. When my novel was being rejected I was often asked, from thriller and mystery editors and agents, “What’s your protagonist’s super power?” I knew what they were asking and I knew my answer wasn’t going to excite them. Ben Jones is not a former Navy Seal, nor does he have friends in powerful places. His super power is he gets up and does a job for a low wage that few appreciate and he tries to do the right thing—and occasionally fails—and gets up the next day and does it again as well as he can do it. That’s my idea of a hero. It was immensely gratifying that so many readers and reviewers thought so too.

EB: The title is filled with contradiction—a never open dinner. How did you choose that?

JA: Ah, yes, the title—my original title was DESERT CELLO. My publisher didn’t like it, and a number of friends thought it didn’t communicate enough about the story. One of them, my friend and literary agent (not mine) Ann Rittenberg, told me I should change the title. She’s as smart and perceptive a book publishing veteran as one is likely to find. Ann represents James W. Hall , Dennis Lehane and C.J. Box , to name just a few. She told me to read my first chapter and ask myself what image or phrase comes to mind.

In the first chapter the diner, which is really named The Well-Known Desert Diner, is nick-named The Never-Open Desert Diner by locals. Its owner, Walt Butterfield, and his diner, are central to everything in the story. I suggested the title to Ann and she immediately said, “I love it!” I then polled a number of friends, many of whom are writers, and the consensus was that it was a good title. I am of the opinion that the title of a novel is the true first line of the novel; it is the first thing the reader sees. The best titles ask questions, or create questions in the readers mind, if only implied, and should deepen and change throughout the reading of the novel. The title I chose, in my opinion, does exactly that. It conjures the archetypal image of a diner in the desert, provides the setting and sense of place, and asks, “Why is the diner never open?” My title (besides the fact that I love its rather whimsical and lyrical phrasing) does all a good title should do and in the process compels the reader forward.

EB: The supporting characters seemed paradoxical too. How did they arise?

JA: This is a great question, and I am glad to respond, because perhaps this is a quality that appealed to readers. The entire novel is slightly subversive and it achieves this through contradiction and paradox and provides much of the dramatic and comedic tension. When I use the word ‘subversive’ I do not mean it strictly in the sense of undermining a government, but undermining tradition, even genre, by intentionally mining opposites, though in the rough draft this was not consciously done but in subsequent drafts I worked to emphasize it. We have an old itinerant preacher who hauls a life-sized wooden cross up and down an isolates desert highway; a very smart and self-reliant homeless, single, punk pregnant teenager who becomes the heroine of the novel; a diner that is perfectly maintained and yet is never open; a truck driver who has no tattoos, and in a way meditates on and celebrates the natural world; a cello that has no strings and whose music is never actually heard yet provides an imaginary soundtrack to the novel. I cannot tell you how the characters were invented. Ginny, the homeless, punk pregnant teenager started out as just a nightshift clerk in a Walmart and slowly grew to a greater presence in the novel. I like the idea of going against type, against preconception, and in the case of Ginny, since every detective (though Ben is not really a genre detective) there is a kind of sidekick, Gal Friday, who is a pragmatic femme fatal. I turned that on its head by making that person a pregnant, punk teenager. I made Ben Jones, the protagonist truck driver, the ultimate exile orphan, a Jewish Native American. Ben doesn’t know for sure. He was abandoned as a baby on the Warm Springs Reservation in Oregon and was thought to be the baby of a Jewish social worker and a Native American man and as a young boy, Ben was adopted by an older, childless Mormon couple in Utah.

EB: What’s next for you?

JA: The Never-Open Desert Diner is the first of a trilogy, though I prefer to think of it as a triptych, more of a panorama in sections, though related, each is also a stand alone work. The second, Lullaby Road, is at Crown Publishing Group now and should be out in early 2018. Right now I am working on a memoir about being raised by a single, divorced mother in the 1950s—back when America was “Great.” (Insert sardonic smile here.) Also a collection of stories and novellas.

EB: Who are some writers you read? Or who have influenced you?

JA: That’s a long list. Early on, of course, Mark Twain, William Carlos Williams, Conrad Aiken. Sounds uninspired but nonetheless, true. I read books in every discipline and I firmly believe that a writer’s wellspring should draw from diverse sources of inspiration. In contemporary American fiction I am consistently blown away by Michael Chabon , Luis Alberto Urrea and Sherman Alexie. I read a lot of nonfiction, memoirs and biographies, history, geology and natural history, with an emphasis on environmental studies, but particularly physics and neurobiology. Most recently the work of Steven Pinker and Murray Gel-mann and Gary Zukav’s The Dancing Wu Li Masters. For the past few years I have been especially drawn to the concept of Entanglement Theory for its far-reaching implications in every aspect of human existence. Of course, I also read a lot of philosophy, particularly Zen Buddhist, both popular and scholarly, among them (returning again and again) are the works of Shunyru Suzuki’s Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind, D.T. Suzuki, and one of my particular, and these days somewhat obscure favorites, is Nishida Kitaro.

I also read a lot of contemporary poetry (too many to mention) and, for lack of a better word, popular fiction, including C.J. Box and Cormac McCarthy. Then there are the works I read in translation. I am a huge fan of Enrique Vila-Matas, Laura Restrepo, and the late Umberto Eco. Everything I read informs my work in one way or another. In terms of The Never-Open Desert Diner, particularly the works of Bruce Berger and Terry Tempest Williams (who I mentioned earlier) plus, James Crumley, John D. Macdonald and Thomas Merton, especially his translation of the 2nd Century desert ascetics published as Wisdom of the Desert.

EB: Any advice for aspiring fiction writers?

JA: Sit down. Shut-up. Read. Write. Write. Write. Learn all you can all the time from everyone and everything.. And damn it, have fun! And write.

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An Exit Interview with Charlotte Hadella

Charlotte Hadella, Chaco Canyon, NM, in 1985


Originally from Virginia, Charlotte Hadella received a Ph.D. in American Literature from the University of New Mexico and joined the faculty of Southern Oregon University in 1991. She served as SOU site Director of the Oregon Writing Project and (twice) as Department Chair and training and mentoring many area teachers and university colleagues. Among her publications are Of Mice and Men: A Kinship of Powerlessness (Twayne, 1995) and, with Michael Baughman, Warm Springs Millennium: Voices from the Reservation (University of Texas Press, 2010).

In spring of 2016, she was one of the three faculty members receiving the University’s first ever Distinguished Teaching Award. In December of 2016, she retired from teaching at SOU, offering courses on social justice in antebellum US literature and on teaching literature for the last time.

EB: Do you remember what you taught in your first year at SOU?

CH: WR 121 and 122; Intro to Native American Literature; ENG 488/588 Teaching Literature; Graduate Education courses in language arts pedagogy, and supervising student teachers in Middle School and High School English placements.

EB: What else stands out from that year?

CH: I was able to convince the administration to allow me to establish a National Writing Project site here. I submitted a grant to NWP, was granted funding, and began my 20 years of work as the SOU Site Director for the Oregon Writing Project.

EB: How has your teaching evolved over the years?

CH: My preparation and planning for courses gained focus and clarity over the years, and my instructional goals and implementation became more streamlined. I believe I would describe my teaching philosophy as “less is more.” My emphasis is on depth rather than breadth in terms of engaging students and pushing them to become independent, self-motivated learners.

EB: You pioneered scholarly research on women characters in Steinbeck’s fiction. Tell us a bit about that work?

CH: Well, I never thought of my Steinbeck research and publications as “pioneering.” I think I just entered the conversation in the mid-1980s at a lucky moment for women scholars who were writing about Steinbeck. People like Mimi Gladstein had offered commentary on Steinbeck’s women characters, and a number of male scholars had published extensively on all of Steinbeck’s work, but I decided to steadily beat away at the notion that, although Steinbeck created unflattering and often un-empowered female characters, he was writing from an ethnographic stance. He was highlighting the paucity of choices for women’s lives in America. He was motivated by empathy rather than misogyny. I suppose that angle seemed “fresh” at the time, so I had success publishing articles on Steinbeck’s short fiction, and some articles and a book on Of Mice and Men.

EB: Is there anything you still wish you could teach? Or teach again?

CH: Trick question: I really feel that after 45 years as a classroom English teacher, I don’t wish to teach in an academic setting again. I’m retiring from that while I still enjoy it. What I fantasize about is teaching my grandchildren how to plant gardens and pull weeds!

EB: What were some high points of your work at SOU?

CH: I really appreciate that I’ve had an opportunity to work in a variety of arenas at SOU. Each area of focus was a high point for me at the time I was involved in it. Certainly the Oregon Writing Project work and teacher preparation courses dominated my career here for almost two decades. I believe that the work we do at SOU to deliver professional development training in teaching writing addresses an important element of our university’s mission: serving the community. I loved working with area public school teachers and I admire tremendously their work ethic, enthusiasm for teaching, and respect for the needs of their students.

I was thrilled when we were able to hire Margaret Perrow to take over the Writing Project work so that I could move into teaching more courses in American Literature. Interestingly, the “high points” of my teaching career came in the courses that were the most challenging for me to create: Social Justice in Antebellum US Literature, and The Beat Moment—US Literature in the 1950s and ‘60s. Every time I taught one of those courses, I learned something new about the topic, and I was always pleased with students’ responses to material that I think most of them would have never read had they not taken my classes.

And, of course, working with great colleagues in the English Program and across campus has been the highlight of my experiences here as a professor. I have also enjoyed working with a number of great students over the years.

EB: Any other thoughts you’d like to share about the academic life?

CH: Academic life, though it may look leisurely to those people looking in on it from outside, is not for the “faint of heart” (I believe that’s the expression). Teaching demands constant attention to details, to student needs, to program needs, to a variety of professional demands. I never felt that I was done with my work, even during lengthy breaks (winter and summer). I created lesson plans in my sleep. Just last week, I dreamed that I was told I couldn’t retire because I hadn’t passed chemistry yet! I’ve sort of been possessed by teaching for the last 45 years.

EB: What are your plans, post-SOU?

CH: I will finally have time to practice the piano again. I’m excited about doing all the prep work in my garden that needs to be done in winter and spring so that my summer garden is spectacular. Paul and I will be able to make short camping trips to the coast whenever we please, and to visit our daughter in Corvallis more often. Also, I haven’t seen my family in VA for over four years, so I plan to travel there this spring.

Eventually I plan to edit a young adult novel that my daughter, Lucia, wrote in her early teens. That will be more fun than work. If I do any writing myself, I think I’ll write a memoir that focuses on our house, since we’ve remodeled that little cottage from the inside out, several times over in the last 25 years. We call it a recycled house. It’s grown and changed as we have grown and changed as a family.

EB: Thanks for talking with me. We’ll miss having you on campus!

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An Interview with Floyd Skloot

Photo credit: Beverly Hallberg

Floyd Skloot began publishing poetry in 1970, fiction in 1975, and essays in 1990. His work has appeared in major literary journals in the US and internationally and his books have been included in many high school and college curricula. In May, 2006 he received an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree from Franklin & Marshall College, his alma mater.

His works include Approaching Winter (Louisiana State University Press, 2015), Revertigo: An Off-Kilter Memoir (University of Wisconsin Press, 2014), The Wink of the Zenith: The Shaping of a Writer’s Life (University of Nebraska Press, 2008), A World of Light (University of Nebraska Press, 2005), In the Shadow of Memory (University of Nebraska Press, 2003), and Cream of Kohlrabi, Short Stories (Tupelo Press, 2011).

With his daughter Rebecca Skloot, he co-edited The Best American Science Writing 2011 (Ecco, 2011).

An Oregonian since 1984, Floyd moved from Portland to rural Amity when he married Beverly Hallberg in 1993. They lived in a cedar yurt in the middle of twenty acres of woods for 13 years before moving back to Portland.

We talked about his most recent book, The Phantom of Thomas Hardy (University of Wisconsin Press, 2016).

EB: How did you first get introduced to—and hooked on–Thomas Hardy?

FS: In 1968-69, as a college senior, I was led to Thomas Hardy’s novels by a teacher named Robert Russell who had become a beloved mentor, even a second father to me. “I have a feeling for Hardy,” he told me as we discussed possible topics for my honors thesis, “and I think you might too.” He was right, and the ways Hardy and Russell and I are tied together across the ensuing 48 years is an essential strand of my novel.

EB: This book started out as a vacation to visit gardens and writers’ homes in England a few years ago. What happened?

FS: Nothing unusual. My wife Beverly and I had included a two-night stay in Dorset as the final stop in our travels, an opportunity for me to pay homage to Hardy and to Russell, who had died at 86 just as we began planning our trip. While in Dorset visiting Hardy’s birthplace, home, grave, and various landmarks, I had no idea that I’d end up writing a book about it. We met no one connected to Hardy, spoke to no one about him. The visit was moving to me, and seemed like a time of closure in my relationships with Hardy and with Russell. Only once, in downtown Dorchester at the start of our Hardy wanderings, did I feel even the slightest sense of the writer’s presence, accompanied by a passing thought that it would have been sweet to somehow be able to call Russell from where I stood at #10 South Street, beside the heavy wooden door of a Barclays Bank that bore a round blue plaque saying “This house is reputed to have been lived in by the MAYOR OF CASTERBRIDGE in THOMAS HARDY’S story of that name written in 1885.” I felt that Russell would have gotten as big a kick as I did at the thought of an actual building being proclaimed as the home of a fictional character, making it a kind of gateway for our visit. And feeling that way led me to realize that my grief over his death was a big part of this journey. Only later, after we’d gotten home to Portland and I found myself drawn to re-reading various Hardy biographies, did I begin to see that building as a mystical spot linking Hardy’s real and imagined worlds, and to feel it beckoning me.

EB: You mention that Hardy ghostwrote his own biography, published under his wife’s name. Is your fictionalized memoir in a way a response to that?

FS: Yes. Hardy used the memoir form to concoct a self-ghostwritten biography designed to hide many of the deepest truths about himself , to present a dissembled or fictionalized self. In The Phantom of Thomas Hardy I used the memoir form to create a fiction meant to reveal the deepest truths about myself. I believed that, as with the four memoirs I previously published, I was on an essential journey of discovery and had to see and present the fullest truth or else I myself would be transformed into a lie. I didn’t want that to happen. Hardy did.

EB: The uncovering of memory—yours and Hardy’s—raised for me the question of what memories are at all, and the fuzzy border between memoir and biography and fiction. How do you see that literary landscape?

FS: I have always believed that when I wrote memoir, I was making a pact with the reader that said I would not make anything up. Everything in my memoirs would be the fullest truth I was capable of finding. That’s not what’s going on in fiction, even in fiction that presents itself in the form of memoir.

EB: I was struck by the way in which thinking about someone else’s life, makes us think about our own, and how you managed to make your life and Hardy’s illuminate one another. As you combined the two biographies, did you worry that you would trip over one another? Did it take a while to get it just so?

FS: No, I never felt that either Hardy or I would be lost in each other. He was and remains very Other. What did happen, after re-reading the eight Hardy biographies and various studies, some of the novels yet again and many of the poems, and after reading the absurd accounts of Hardy’s presumed secret love life, after going over my travel notes and photos and the materials gathered during our time in Dorset, I found myself feeling as though I understood Hardy more clearly. Understood where he was in terms of love and in terms of his writing about it. Began to see him as a character, as a person rather than as an iconic literary figure or as the clichéd doom-and-gloom-master.

EB: There is quite a bit of research in the book, along with the fiction. What did you learn that you didn’t know before?

FS: It was less a matter of learning things I hadn’t known before than a matter of coming to a fresher understanding. A matter of emphasis.

EB: I’m curious too about the cover and title, which has an interesting artistic effect giving the impression of fraying edges. How was that chosen?

FS: The photo was taken by Beverly as we walked through the woods leading to Hardy’s birth home, the place where he grew up and where he wrote his first four novels, backed up to the landscape that dominated his imagination for life. So the reader enters the book at ground-zero, where Hardy entered the world. The cover design, including the fraying edges, was done by the marvelous design team at the U. of Wisconsin Press. It absolutely floored me–a perfect presentation, I believe. And, as a reader will discover, in absolute harmony with the plot of the novel.

EB: The title also struck me. Phantom seems like the right choice, as opposed to ghost. It presents a sense of something perhaps not really there as opposed to something haunting you. As a poet, did you spend much time thinking about that or settle right away on The Phantom of Thomas Hardy.

FS: The Phantom of Thomas Hardy was there as the book’s title from the get-go. Was the working title all the way through composition and three rounds of revision. At the suggestion of a reader concerned that people might not know or like Hardy, or might think it a scholarly book, I tried on an alternative title but didn’t feel comfortable with anything other than The Phantom of Thomas Hardy. I think that title refers not only to the presence of Hardy in Floyd’s story–a phantom perhaps of Floyd’s neurologically compromised thought process–but also to the various phantoms connected to Hardy himself. As one of the epigraphs–a quote from a Hardy love poem–says, “That her fond phantom lingers there/Is known only to me.”

EB: You’ve written now twenty books and move among poetry, essays, fiction, and memoir. Do you have a favorite form of expression? How do you decide the right genre for a particular topic? It does it decide for you?

FS: I don’t have a favorite genre to work in. But I think of myself as a poet first–that was how I began as a writer in the mid-1960s, and I feel that my prose work is informed by my poetry in terms of its compression, its language, its use of imagery. Eventually, my work in essays/memoir/fiction came to inform the poetry in terms of its use of scene and narrative, of character.

EB: Thanks for talking with us.

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An Interview with Susan DeFrietas

An author, editor, and educator, Susan DeFreitas’s creative work has appeared in The Utne Reader, Story Magazine, Southwestern American Literature, and Weber—The Contemporary West, along with more than twenty other journals and anthologies. She is the author of the novel Hot Season (Harvard Square Editions, 2016) and a contributor at Litreactor.com. She holds an MFA from Pacific University and lives in Portland, Oregon, where she serves as a collaborative editor with Indigo Editing & Publications.

You can learn more at susandefreitas.com

EB: I really enjoyed Hot Season. How did you come up with the idea for this particular story?

SD: In 2009, I moved from Prescott, Arizona, where I’d lived since 1995, to Portland, Oregon. There were a lot of reasons I left—to go back to school for my MFA, to pursue a career as a writer, and to explore life in a city—but in many ways it was a difficult decision. The Southwest, the high country of Arizona in particular, is close to my heart, and in many ways I dealt with the loss of that landscape and community by writing short stories set in Prescott—or, Crest Top, an anagram my friend and fellow author Christian Smith coined.

It didn’t surprise me that these stories wound up being linked, and as the work evolved, it turned into manuscript composed of three linked cycles, all set in my old neighborhood, the barrio. The first of these linked cycles was Hot Season, which I revised into a novel last year, at the behest of my publisher. I now plan to revise the next two sections of the larger manuscript into novels as well, creating a trilogy.

As for the actual content of Hot Season—it, like the next two novels, is based on real events in my life and in the life of my community. (Though it should be noted that none of the characters in the book are based on any one person, and I enjoy pulling from hearsay in my fiction as freely as I do the truth.)

EB: I appreciated the way that the work had several themes—coming of age, the appreciation of place, environmental issues. As a writer, how do you manage to balance those, without one aspect overpowering the others?

SD: Like Stephen King said, “The story is the boss.” As a writer, I’m fond of themes and aesthetics and atmosphere, but readers don’t care about such things unless they relate in a real and critical way to the emotional journey of the protagonist. Whenever I write, I usually start with the stuff most readers consider the window dressing and work down to the emotional substrate, the character arcs (pretty much the opposite of the way we’re taught). I know that I’ve reached what you term balance when all the parts of the story that my beta readers weren’t sure what to make of suddenly start to seem compelling for them. That’s how I know I’ve made that stuff matter to the reader—because they matter to the protagonist.

EB: You’ve got four protagonists: Katie, Jenna, Rell, and Michelle. As a writer, how did you give each one a distinct voice? And is there one that you identify with most strongly?

SD: I love that you consider them equal in terms of their role in this book because, again, these chapters started off as short stories—these people were their own protagonists, and they do all shift and change over the course of the book.

That said, I consider Rell the true protagonist of Hot Season—and though I (like every author) really am all of my characters, she is the one I most identify with. At a time when many young people are just trying to figure out how to cover the cost of keg, she’s trying to figure out the answer to Life, the Universe, and Everything, especially as it applies to the environmental crisis and where she’s going to go in terms of a career. That’s definitely who I was in my early twenties.
As for the voices, I think they come pretty naturally when you really know the characters—another benefit of working from the stuff of real life.

EB: Your character Dyson Lathe is loosely based a real-life activist Bill Rogers. How did you become acquainted with his story?

SD: Bill was a friend of mine. Most of my friends in Prescott knew him. Of course, we didn’t know he was one of the FBI’s Most Wanted—until the little community center he’d founded got raided. That event and his subsequent suicide in federal custody shook our community of activists and artists in a deep way. The shouts and rumors about the US government pursuing environmental activists under the antiterrorism laws established after 9/11 suddenly seemed a whole lot more real.

EB: Where do you see environmental literature as heading in the future?

SD: I think we’ll see “environmental literature” become less of a thing, along with another genre my book has found itself in, “political fiction.” In the years to come, I think any literature that seems truly relevant and current will incorporate environmental and political themes, even if it’s ostensibly about purely personal matters. It’s becoming more and more clear how these issues impact our lives at every level—and will impact the lives of the generations to come.

EB: The book opens with a bit of literal juggling, and I understand that you worked with a circus for a time. Tell us about that.

SD: I toured with something that called itself a circus—but was more along the lines of vaudeville—in my late teens and early twenties. There were many such roving bands of underground performers touring the country in those years (late Nineties and early Aughts), working in a range of styles. For instance, Circus Discordia was an anarchist crust punk fire and burlesque show that toured with a library housed in a giant green army tent; the Living Tarot put on New Age ritual performances in which performers embodied the Major Arcana, with an emphasis on improv (no two shows were the same).

There was a upswelling of really interesting, very grassroots performance art at that time, which I think was best documented by the book Freaks & Fire: The Underground Reinvention of Circus by Joe Hill.

As for my group, the Living Folklore Medicine Show, we were inspired by the early 20th century idea of the chautauqua, a traveling show that brought entertainment and culture to rural US communities, with speakers, teachers, musicians, entertainers, preachers and specialists of the day. My group was concerned about the environmental crisis, and we carried stories told to us by Native American elders in the Southwest and Southeast. There was an emphasis on storytelling, but also on the musical heritage of the US (we traveled with a pretty hot swing band) and on clowning, which served to bring levity to some heavy subject matter. I was both a storyteller and a clown; I occasionally played the banjo as well.

EB: What’s your life like now as a writer in Portland. I know you work as an editor and teacher and also write in various genres. You must be very busy.

SD: I am busy, it’s true. But I love not just writing but being a literary citizen, and editing and teaching are essential to that endeavor. It’s a real privilege to be part of an engaged, supportive literary community, which embodies the independent spirit of the Northwest.

EB: What are you currently working on?

SD: I’m working on a collection of speculative short stories entitled Dream Studies, one of which was recently published in Forest Avenue Press’s City of Weird anthology. In the New Year, I’ll also turn my attention to revising the next book in the Greene River trilogy, World’s Smallest Parade.

EB: Thanks for talking with us. Good luck with Hot Season.

SD: Thanks, Ed.

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An Interview with Alisa Bowman

Professional writer Alisa Bowman has written for a variety of national publications and has appeared on the TODAY Show, Discovery Health, FOX’s Ask Dr. Manny, Better TV, and many others. As a writer/book collaborator, Bowman’s work has been featured seven times on the NY Times bestseller list and have sold millions of copies.

Her most recent book is Raising the Transgender Child: A Complete Guide for Parents, Families, and Caregivers written with Dr. Michele Angelo.

EB: Tell us about your new book with Michele Angello, Raising the Transgender Child: A Complete Guide for Parents, Families, and Caregivers.

AB: This book began one day as I had coffee with a literary agent who was interested in representing me for my book collaboration work. During coffee, I casually mentioned that my son was transgender. At the time, Caitlyn Jenner had just come out, and the literary agent leaned toward me and fired off dozens of questions. She was genuinely curious and wanted to learn. I was genuinely generous and offered as many answers as I could.

On my way out of the coffee house, a young man tapped me on the shoulder and said, “I couldn’t help but overhear…” I thought he was about to lecture me and tell me I was raising my child wrong. Instead he said, “I’m trans. I think you are a wonderful mother.” Then he handed me his business card and said, “If you ever need ANYTHING, please reach out.”

The lit agent and I marveled at how small this world can be. Then we parted ways.

Several weeks later, the agent emailed, saying she thought the world needed a guide for parents like me. She wanted me to write it, along with a gender therapist.

Just the idea of it made my stomach turn. At the time, my son was in the closet. He looked like any normal boy. Most people had no idea that he had ovaries and a vagina.

I told the agent that, though I could see the need for it, I could not pen a book like this. It was just too dangerous.

But she persisted.

Soon a publisher was interested. I talked the publisher into allowing me to use a pen name.

And then I spent most of a year writing the book that I would have wanted to read at the very beginning of my parenting journey, back when I suspected that my son was a bit more masculine than what people usually label a “Tom Boy.”
Raising the Transgender Child is that book.

About two months before our pub date, a high school girl in our school district went before our school board and complained about transgender children in the locker rooms. She admitted that she had never met a transgender person (to her knowledge), but she didn’t want to use the locker room if transgender students would also be allowed inside. It created an uproar. Soon people were commenting on Facebook and on local news sites about transgender kids being perverts, misfits, mentally ill, and pedophiles. I knew my son was none of those words. I also knew that those words didn’t describe any of the dozens of transgender people I’d met over the course of working on the book.

I also knew that, if we did nothing, the hate would take over.

So I asked my son if he would be okay with me addressing the school board.

Here’s the thing about school boards. When you address one, you have to use your real name, and you have to give your address, too. For someone from a victimized group, this can be terrifying.

My son looked at me and said, “I want to say something, too.”

Thus was the coming out of our family.

So many people attended the meeting that they had to bring in extra chairs. Person after person offered statements in support of transgender students, but it was my son’s speech that went viral. Soon he was mentioned everywhere from the Washington Post to Howard Stern. Overnight, he and I become professional activists.

That’s when I called the publisher and said, “You might as well use my real name on the book.”

EB: What sorts of issues do you cover in the book?

AB: It includes everything a parent, caregiver, ally or friend of trans youth would want or need to know in order to affirm, protect, raise and champion these children. Some of the chapters include:

    • 7 signs a child might be transgender
    • The growing body of science that shows that transgender children are not “just going through a phase,” pretending, confused or mentally ill
    • An explanation of gender terms such as “gender dysphoria” and LGBTQI and much more.
    • How to socially transition over to using new pronouns, names and bathrooms
    • How to make schools safer, more welcoming places for gender diverse kids
    • An explanation of medical treatments, the pros and cons, and how to gain insurance coverage for them
    • How to fight for a child in the courts

I’m most proud of the chapter about myths. I included dozens of studies, helping to show that most of what people think they know about transgender youth actually isn’t true at all.

EB: What was the research process like for the two of you? Was it difficult to translate the research into a format useful to families?

AB: It wasn’t for me. I’ve written about health and science for most of my career, so translating it and simplifying it comes naturally for me at this point. If anything, this book was easier than most of the books I work on because I could imagine myself as the reader.

EB: You discuss some of the many myths and misconceptions that are out there. How do these arise?

AB: Some of the misconceptions fall into the “world is flat” category. People used to think the world was flat because, when they looked out onto the horizon, it appeared that way to them.

But they were wrong, and it took years and years for scientists to find a way to prove to people that their senses were playing tricks on them, causing a round world to appear flat.

Gender is very similar. We’ve been told that there are only two genders. We’ve been told this so often that we just believe it without questioning it.

But then, when you tell people about these babies in the Dominican Republic who look just like girls at birth, but who go on to develop penises during puberty, it starts to shatter the idea of there only being two genders. When you go on to show them dozens of other examples, it shatters this view even more. People who are willing to look at gender with an open mind are forced to come to the conclusion that gender is diverse – just as sexuality is. Transgender kids are just one aspect of gender diversity. Within the gender diversity spectrum, they are absolutely normal.

Other misconceptions are a bit more sinister, though, and are generally spread by hate groups who are attempting to use transgender people as scapegoats. These are the hate groups that have attempted to convince the world that transgender people are perverts and that allowing them to use the bathroom will somehow make bathrooms less safe and less private.

EB: What was the most challenging aspect of writing Raising the Transgender Child?

AB: Probably the chapter about legal issues, because I hadn’t covered the law before. Thankfully a wonderful lawyer from the National Center for Lesbian Rights generously spent a ton of time with me, helping me to get that chapter just right.

EB: And what was most rewarding about working the book?

AB: Knowing that I might not only be helping these beautiful children and their families, but possibly saving lives. Rarely has a project I’ve worked on posed so many tangible benefits.

EB: You got a chapter on language in the book. Why is that an important aspect of navigating the experience of supporting a transgender child?

AB: It’s my belief that one of the things stopping people from advocating for transgender people is this: they don’t know the language. They hear people like me tossing around words and phrases like “dead naming” and “transphobia” and “misgendering” and “gender queer” and they immediately start to feel over the heads. They are afraid to speak up, because they don’t want to accidentally offend someone by using the wrong terminology. It’s my hope that this chapter helps people to find the words they need to be more effective advocates for everyone in the LGBT community.

EB: What’s the most important piece of information you offer to families?

AB: Can I give you the two most important pieces of information?

EB: Of course!

AB: First, it’s that there is love in the world. So many parents are so scared of what other people might think or do. I want them to know that, while hate certainly exists in the world, so does a great deal of love. Yes, some families do lose friends, but they also tend to make hundreds of new ones.

Second, is that grief is normal. Just about all parents grieve the loss of the child they thought they were raising. It hurts to say good-bye to your daughter in order to make room for your son, and vice versa, and that pain can linger for a really long time. It can linger even as parents are doing everything right: using the right pronouns, taking the right legal and medical steps, and outwardly supporting their child in every way. Support groups are so important, because these are the places where parents can cry, and other parents can hug them and tell them that they know and understand their pain.

EB: Thanks for talking with us.

AB: It was a pleasure. Thanks for spreading the word.

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An Interview with Vinnie Kinsella

Portland-based Vinnie Kinsella is an author and publications consultant with a long history of making books. It all began for him in the second grade, when he worked with his fellow students to write and illustrate a story about the adventures of an ice-cream-loving giraffe. Since then he has worked as a writer, editor, book designer, publisher, workshop presenter, and college instructor. He currently uses his broad knowledge of the publishing industry to assist and educate self-published authors and small presses. He is the author of A Little Bit of Advice for Self-Publishers.

His latest book, Fashionably Late: Gay, Bi, and Trans Men Who Came Out Later in Life, is an anthology offering an insightful look into the triumphs and struggles of coming out as gay, bi, or trans after years of living with a straight or cisgender identity.

EB: Welcome. Vinnie. Tell us about Fashionably Late.

VK: Thanks for having me! Fashionably Late is a nonfiction anthology that examines the lives of gay, bisexual, and transgender men who came out well into adulthood. It offers an honest look at both the triumphs and struggles men face when they choose to come out after decades of hiding their true sexual and gender identities. The stories in this collection explore a wide range of topics, including dating members of the same sex for the first time, conversion therapy, divorce, coming out to aging parents, and transitioning from female to male during middle age.

EB: What prompted you to take on this project?

VK: This book is rooted in my experience as a gay man who came out at thirty-four. At the time, I thought I was an anomaly, as most of my peers came out in their late teens or early twenties. After starting a social-support group for others like me, I discovered that I wasn’t as much of an anomaly as I thought I was. Since starting the group, I’ve met hundreds of men who came out well into adulthood, some even as late as their seventies. I was always on the lookout for resources for these men. As someone who takes comfort in books, I found it frustrating how few there were that spoke to the experiences of men like me and the ones in my group. I wanted to create a book that offers these men a chorus of voices to let them know they aren’t alone and to offer them affirmation. Essentially, I decided to create the book I wanted to read when I came out.

EB: What did you learn in the course of compiling and editing the material? What stood out for you?

VK: What stood out to me was how universal the emotional journey of coming out is. No matter what the circumstances are that lead a man to come out, and no matter what he is coming out as, it always boils down to him rejecting a narrative that says his otherness is something to be ashamed of. What I found fascinating in each story was learning what it was that brought the author to that point. No two men get to that point the same way, and an anthology underscores that reality more than a solo memoir does. It shows that there is no right way to come out—there’s just your way.

Another thing this anthology did for me was challenge my own concept of what in means to be out of the closet. Like most people, I saw it as an event. I had this idea that once I came out to everyone on my list of people I wanted to come out to, I was officially out. But it’s not that cut and dry. You can be out to family but not to coworkers, or out to friends and not to family. I also didn’t consider that you can come out of one type of closet and enter into another type of closet. This is addressed in some of the trans stories, where a trans man who is seen and treated as male now questions whether or not to disclose he was raised female. Through examining the concept of coming out from so many angles, I have concluded that coming out is a lifestyle, not an event. Every new person I meet, every new social group I become a part of, I am given the choice to come out or to keep my identity as a gay man hidden.

EB: How did you select the contributors?

VK: I did two rounds of submission calls. The first round was broad and resulted in a good base for the anthology. For the second round, I specified what topics I was looking for. There were topics I knew needed to be covered in the anthology that didn’t get covered in the first round, such as stories about men who found a way to remain friends with their wives after coming out. In addition to the two submission rounds, I also solicited a few stories directly from the authors.

EB: Fashionably Late is about men’s coming out stories? Do you have a sequel planned on women’s stories?

VK: Yes! It has been my intention from the start to approach this as a series. However, I won’t start work on a women’s edition until I find the right editor to work with, and that editor must be a woman. To do the book justice, I feel it’s important for me to take a behind-the-scenes role as series editor and let a woman step in as the volume’s editor.

EB: As an editor and book designer yourself, how did you like the process of putting the book together. Were that any issue that stood out for you?

VK: I always enjoy the process of making a book. If I didn’t, I would be in a lot of trouble career-wise! The editing and design processes didn’t differ all that much for me as when I work on someone else’s book. Since I try to approach each book I work on with the same care as I would my own, I didn’t really do anything different from what I normally do. That said, this was the most emotionally challenging book I’ve ever had to edit because I was so close to the content. There were several times I had to take a break from editing because an author’s experience resonated so deeply with my own that I had to just stop and process my feelings before I could move on. There was a bit of therapy through editing going on.

The part of the process that challenged me most was working to promote the book. I’m used to just handing a finished book off to the author or publisher and letting them do their own promotional work. Having to spend so much time coming up with strategies to promote the book and then doing the actual work of making the book visible pushed me out of my comfort zone. Like most authors, I would prefer to skip the promotional work and just hope the book will magically find its way to readers. But I know from years of working in the industry that it never happens that way. When it got to be too much for me, I would just step back and say, “Somewhere out there is a man who needs this book. He can’t find it if he’s never heard of it. I have to do all I can to make sure he hears about it.” When I could flip the switch from thinking of promotion as something that is self-centered (“Hey, look at me and my book!”) to something that is audience-centered (“Hey, here’s the book you are looking for!”), that put me in the right headspace to keep doing the work I needed to do.

EB: Were all of the contributors writers?

VK: Most of them were. And if you look at their bios, they have pretty impressive credentials. There was only one contributor who doesn’t call himself a writer, but he’s still a great storyteller. His was one of the stories I solicited. I heard him share it at two separate LGBTQ storytelling events, and I wanted it. I worked with him to take what he had written as a spoken story and tweak it for print.

EB: What was your role as an editor?

VK: My role as the editor was to first shape the anthology itself. I had to review every submission and decide which ones fit and which ones didn’t. After that, I went through each accepted story and performed a standard line edit, cleaning up any issues with the language and flagging areas where some added clarity from the author would be helpful. This was mostly asking authors to add a line or two that would define for readers a lesser-known term he used or to clarify his connection to another character in the story. After that, I passed the collection on to the proofreaders.

One editorial decision I made that was a bit different was to intentionally work with proofreaders who didn’t share any of the authors’ gender or sexual identities. I worked with straight, cisgender women whom I knew to be LGBTQ allies. In particular, I asked the lead proofreader to act as a stand-in for the book’s secondary audience: straight and cisgender friends and family of men coming out later in life. I gave her freedom to ask any questions she might have about the content as she worked. This is a bit abnormal, as proofreaders generally don’t focus on content. But I figured if she didn’t know what the content was saying, than it was a safe bet that others in my secondary audience wouldn’t either. Fortunately, she didn’t have many questions, but it was helpful to find out where things could be clarified a bit more for the sake of readers seeking to better understand a group of people they aren’t a part of. It was important for me from the onset that this book also serve as an educational tool for people wanting to be allies to their loved ones, so I took care to keep that audience in mind during the editing process.

EB: I know you recently had a launch. What has been the reaction to the book?

VK: The response has been amazing! I’ve already begun to receive emails and Facebook messages from recently out older men who discovered the book and wanted to share with me the impact it has had on them. I’ve also been thanked by straight readers who found it helpful for building empathy for these men. And as weird as it sounds to consider this as praise, I’ve had people tell me they had to stop reading the book in public because the content was moving them to tears. I understand that those tears are coming from a place of finding their own struggles reflected on the page, but it’s still a bit odd to have someone say, “This book made me cry,” and know it’s a complement. However, the feedback that has meant the most to me has been people saying that the book offers hope. That’s what I wanted it to do from the start.

EB: Thanks for talking with us. Good luck with Fashionably Late.

VK: Thanks for having me! I hope your readers who choose the pick up the book enjoy it!

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An Interview with L L Templar, author of Rafer Thorne

L L Templar is the author of fantasy novels. She is a manga artist, a teacher and a master’s degree student, who lives in the northern California.

EB: Tell us about your collaboration on Rafer Thorne.

LT: There were a lot of us that merged our skills together to create Rafer. Eight of us were on the main team, but there many other students, parents and professionals that were involved. Our goal was to create the ultimate YA fantasy novel. So Young adults needed to be part of its creation. It also meant that it needed great illustrations and lots of them.

I was the main writer and artist, but the crafting of the story and additional art all came out of various imaginations, including high school kids. It was amazing how the illustrations and story grew with the different perspectives and talents.

Eliah, my co-author, was a graphic illustrator in the corporate world and added professional polish to the art, and she also used her zany imagination to write back stories, poetry and sequences to the manuscript. Some sections of the story we wrote together, sitting at the computer side by side. My husband, Gary, also an art student at SOU, illustrated creepy things like Blahtchuuk the Netherworld Imp, and imaginary animals like the enchanted mice, Eek and Tisk. Seventeen-year-old Victoria did the cover illustration and Fifteen-year-old Emily created a Manga, graphic novel sequence showing Kiyah the Elf’s battle with Gluuk the Goblin.

With all of us imagining the story and art together there was no limit to the depth of our story world. For example, we had long discussions on goblin insults. We wanted gross and morbid and brainstormed ideas together. The one I especially liked was, “Moldy pile of ogre vomit!” We created flying ships based on real engineering principles, and we dug into ancient Celtic mythology and dredged up Nahg the shapeshifter. Together we created imaginary beings, gnomes, goblins wizards, dryads and naiads, but also a very real world of teens struggling to survive as foster kids in a big city.

EB: How did the project get started?

LT: I began writing the story when I was a teenager, because I loved the fantasy genre. Years later when I was a language arts teacher for the Beaverton school district, my students motivated me to keep working on it. As part of a creative writing project, I asked my students, who were 13 and 14, what their ideal novel would be like. This is what they told me:

1. They liked Goblins, Elves. Dragons, wizards and magic. 2. But they also liked to have someone in the story that was a teenager that they could relate to, somebody like themselves so that they could imagine themselves in the story. 3. They liked an epic adventure— super heroes saving the world from dire evil. 4. They also liked pictures, lots of pictures. They especially loved Manga. (Manga is a style of illustration originating from Japan)

I could not find any one book like what they described, so I thought, “I can do this.”

EB: It’s a sci-fi fantasy set in 1976 San Francisco. Is that period interesting to young adult readers?

LT: What I found in talking to my students is that currently there is the same nostalgic fascination with the 1960s and 70s as there was in my generation with the 50s, which created the popularity of “Back to the Future” and “Happy Days.” The “Hippy era” is rich with culture – the flower children, the mingling of ethnic groups, the birth of rock ‘n roll, and the revival of a belief in magic. It was also a world in which teens were beginning to face the same issues that they are facing today; gangs, drugs, dysfunctional families and abandonment. It was the perfect setting for a magical adventure, but it was also where I grew up. I have been told by great writers, “write what you know.”

EB: What was the most challenging aspect of the project? And the most rewarding?

LT: The most challenging aspect was integrating the talents of various individuals, including teens. Being able to work together in a cohesive group and merge our abilities, while keeping conflict to a minimum was not easy.
However, the most rewarding aspect was the exact same thing. We did it! We accomplished something greater than any one of us could individually. Cooperative learning worked! A collaborative project model worked! The feeling of accomplishment for all of us when the first printed copy of the book arrived from the publisher was so exciting it’s hard to describe. I’ll never forget the reaction of 15-year-old Emily when she saw her art in print in a real book. She danced around the living room saying, “I’m a real artist!”

EB: What’s next in the series?

LT: Next is the second book in the series, Rafer Thorne II, The Staggering World, in which a group of teenage Halflings (half Fey and half human) including our hero Rafer travel through a porthole into the fairy world of Kynmahnduu. In this otherworld they continual the battle against the forces of the Void and their nemesis Sharh the Dragon Queen, who is seeking to invade Earth with her army of Goblins, Dragons and netherworld beings. We are also working on a series of extended edition e-books that are fully illustrated, in color, with interactive maps and animations.

EB: Tell us about some of your influences as a writer.

LT: My greatest influence was my dad, Tom Albright. He was a best-selling author and art critic for the San Francisco Chronicle. Because of him I was immersed in both creative writing and art from my earliest memories. I also spent a lot of time in the studio of his best friend, Bill Snyder a professor of art at UC Berkeley and a Disney artist. Consequently, I fell in love with the art of Disney. I started college in graphic design when I was just 14. Which meant I was only 17 when I got my first job as a graphic illustrator. I also published my first creative writing piece at that time. A gothic horror serial called The Chains of Evil.

Then I switched gears and went back to school to become a teacher. Here I would have to say that my greatest influences were my students. But it’s when I teamed up with Eliah Brave, a mom to three of my best and brightest students that I really begin to fly. She was a graphic illustrator and a book producer. We merged our talents to create a cooperative project that also included the talents of her teenaged kids, and Rafer Thorne was born. Since then other teens and students from the University have joined the team, like Zach Pearson who is an animator at SOU, and my husband Gary.

EB: Rafer is a 15-year-old boy. How did you go about capturing that voice?

LT: I began writing the book when I was a teen and although Rafer is the main character, the story is actually told by Grace, who was me when I was seventeen. I was very close to my brother Greg growing up and there is a lot of Greg in Rafer. That’s the main story line, however we also have a student author, Steven Trujillo, a Hispanic young adult, who is writing Rafer’s Journal. Excerpts from the Journal are scattered throughout the novel in Rafer’s voice. Steven approached me one day with a Rafer’s Journal page that he had written and said, “I am Rafer.” When I read what he had written and it so brilliantly fit the character, I said, “Wow, you really are!”

EB: What’s been the response to the book so far?

LT: Great. We have five stars on Amazon, we have book signings in local bookstores coming up, we’ve been on local TV, and we’ll be on a creative arts radio show in San Francisco. A major book store chain has also expressed an interest, which I’m working on right now. Getting seen by more people and in the bookstores is the next step in the process.

EB: Thanks for talking with us.

LT: Thanks for having me on your blog.

You can see more of Rafer Thorne the authors’ blog here or website templarbrave.com on the Rafer Thorne Facebook page on Twitter (@LLTemplar1) and Instagram (Rafer Thorne). Bookstore can order copies wholesale by emailing leenah144@outlook.com.

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An interview with Dante Fumagalli

Dante Fumagalli is a senior at Southern Oregon University studying English and Art History. He is passionate about education, the arts, and accessibility.

EB: Tell us a little bit about your internship at MoMA.

DF: I interned with the education department at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City from June 8 to August 12. My time was specifically split between Community and Access Programs; School and Teacher Programs; and Interpretation, Research, and Digital Learning.

EB: What sort of things did you do?

DF: Being split between three different departments, I ended up doing a lot of varying tasks. With Community and Access, I mostly helped facilitate programs. MoMA offers a wide variety of programs for people with disabilities and it was great to see the extent of how MoMA serves these populations. I also got to attend and help facilitate a professional development conference for teachers called Connecting Collections which is hosted by MoMA, The Met, and The Guggenheim. It was amazing being able to meet people from all of these different museums, in addition to teachers from around the world who came to New York to learn more about arts education. I got to develop a lesson plan for a gallery session centered on the essential question: How did artists in the 1960s make use of everyday objects to explore political, personal, and conceptual themes?

EB: What did you learn?

DF: I learned a lot about best practices in museum pedagogy. At Southern Oregon University, I’m a staff member and a docent at the Schneider Museum of Art. My general teaching style when leading groups through the museum was friendly, but also primarily didactic. At MoMA, they stress the importance of inquiry-based teaching strategies. Watching professional museum educators and going through the many training resources that the museum offers really has changed the way that I approach teaching in these spaces.

EB: How did the work complement or expand on your academic studies?

DF: When I was working on my lesson plan, I made use of a lot of the theory that I’ve learned in both my art history and literature classes. One piece in particular that I used was Black Girl’s Window by Betye Saar. I first was exposed to Saar’s work in a class I took called Race, Gender, and Ethnicity in Art with SOU professor Jennifer Longshore. We discussed how her assemblage piece, The Liberation of Aunt Jemima used found objects to compose a comment on racist imagery in the United States. This was a great foundation for my work with Black Girl’s Window, which similarly uses found objects.

EB: What was the most interesting aspect of the internship? Any surprises or revelations?

DF: For me, the most interesting part was helping out with the program Meet Me at MoMA. It’s designed for people with Alzheimer’s and their caretakers. The framework for the program is hugely influential in Museum access worldwide, so it was incredible to see the program happen. Educators at MoMA are very patient and for this program they really extend their inquiry-based methods and bring out discussion amongst participants. At one point during the program, we visited a Roy Lichtenstein painting and one man who had been mostly silent the whole time became visibly excited and told us a story of how he had gone to school with Lichtenstein. It was really moving.

EB: How did you like New York?

DF: I loved New York, though it was very overwhelming at first. The day I arrived, after I picked up my bag, I just remember stepping outside of the terminal at La Guardia and trying to make sense of all the chaos that was going on ahead of me. And that was only in Queens! I lived in Belmont, a neighborhood in the Bronx right across from Fordham University which was nice but also meant that I had quite a commute. If anything, though, that commute motivated me to go out and see the city much more than I probably would have otherwise. I made a concerted effort to go see all sorts of sights after work. My MoMA ID also allowed me to attend other New York cultural institutions for free so I definitely tried to make the best of that. During my time I visited The Met, The Met Breur, The Studio Museum at Harlem, The Bronx Museum of Art, The Guggenheim, The Brooklyn Museum, and MoMA PS1. It’s crazy to me that with all of that, I still missed out on so many other things in such a crazy city.

I definitely want to come back after I graduate. I’ve been doing research on year-long museum education positions in the city and I’ve found that The Met, MoMA and The Brooklyn Museum all offer paid 12-month internships I’m going to be applying for. I found that once you get used to getting around this city, it’s easy to become attached. So many of the other interns I met shared this feeling with me; it definitely brought us closer.

EB: Any advice for other students thinking about internships?

DF: Don’t sell yourself short. You don’t have to be at a school like Harvard, Yale, or Columbia to get one a coveted internship in the professional world. While I was filling out my application, I nearly talked myself out of it. I thought there was no way that they were going to accept me, a student from a small school in Oregon who isn’t even an art history major, at one of the most well-known museums in the world. Even my first day, I still could hardly believe it. It didn’t help that the first person I met was working on his PhD in art history and here I was still in school. But I was able to contextualize the experiences I have had and relate them to the mission of MoMA in my application and in my interview. And I think that’s the most important thing when applying for jobs. You have to give yourself credit for what you have already done and see how that fits in where you’re applying.

EB: Thanks for talking with us.

DF: Thank you! I appreciate getting the chance to reflect on and talk about my experience.

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Coming in October

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