Meet the Staff: Q&A with New Online Editor Holly Bowers

Holly Bowers is the incoming online editor for the Little Patuxent Review. She is currently a student in the MA in Writing Program at Johns Hopkins University, where she is focusing on creative nonfiction. Holly also works as the copy and content editor at DuckerFrontier, a global research and consulting firm located in Washington, DC. Her prior experience includes roles in marketing, research, and editing. Holly’s love of the literary life was honed at Dickinson College, where she graduated with a degree in English in 2012. She has lived in Northern Virginia since then. Holly loves to travel, and collects books from independent bookstores in every city she visits.

We’re very grateful to have Holly joining our team as online editor. She will be responsible for all the content that appears on our website. In this post, she answers a few questions as an introduction.

Q: How did you first learn about LPR and what made you interested in becoming online editor?

An instructor in the writing program at Johns Hopkins University first introduced me to LPR. The more I read, the more I fell in love with LPR’s mission and dedication to the local artistic community. Honestly, it was the website columns “Concerning Craft” and “Meet the Neighbors” that really pulled me in! Getting involved in the local writing community has been one of my favorite aspects of my graduate program, and joining the team at LPR seemed like a way to take that further.

Q: Who are some of your favorite writers?

I always struggle to answer this question, because it can change based on what I’ve read recently. Jane Austen is a constant. My other current favorites include David Grann, Rebecca Traister, Roxane Gay, Carmen Maria Machado, and Mary Oliver.

Q: When and how did you decide to pursue writing seriously?

I think I’m still very much in the process of giving myself permission to say that I am pursuing writing seriously—that I am a writer. But to the extent that I have gotten there, it is because I’ve carried a germ of biography with me for several years, and I’m committed to telling that story. That was my big motivator for taking the plunge and enrolling in the MA in Writing Program at Hopkins. I knew that that program could give me the tools and the time that I hadn’t been carving out on my own.

Q: You are now in the MA in Writing Program at Johns Hopkins University. How is that going?

It’s wonderful! I love being a student, and I feel like being in classes with other writers, studying craft and critiquing each other’s work, has really electrified my thinking about my own writing. The opportunity to study with great writers and to just spend time talking about literature and process is such a privilege, and I’m trying to make the most of it. The program has also helped me realize that I have more in me than just this biography.

Q: Any writing projects or plans for this summer?

Yes! I’m taking a summer intensive on narratives of the American West. It’s going to be a week of reading, discussions, workshopping, and author talks in Missoula, Montana, and I am very excited. When it comes to my own work, I’ll be using the summer to do secondary research and transcribe newspaper articles. I’m writing about a war correspondent in the First World War, and all of her articles are on pretty poor-quality scans from microfilm. One of my big projects is transcribing each article so that I have a clean digital copy—it’s much easier on the eyes than 1918 newsprint! I’m really enjoying that process so far. It’s giving me a chance to really sink into her writing voice, and I feel like an archaeologist pulling these lost words out of the dark corners of the archives. It’s giving her a voice back, in a way. Apart from that, I’m hoping to apply for a few grants so that I can do more archival research.

Q: What might be some other passions or activities that are important in your life?

Being part of LPR is allowing me to indulge my passion for literature, so I feel very lucky in that sense. But when I’m not working, doing homework, or writing for myself, I’m an advocate for reproductive rights and a (recovering) runner. And I love to travel. I’m taking a few days after my class this summer to go to Glacier National Park, which will move me one park closer to visiting all of the national parks!

LPR available at Books With A Past in Historic Savage Mill

Back issues of the LPR are now available at “Books with a Past” in Historic Savage Mill: 8600 Foundry Street, Savage, MD 20763. Store hours and other information are available at this link.

Back issues are also available for order at this link or by clicking the journal covers on the right-hand sidebar.

Thank you for reading and supporting LPR!

Summer 2019 Issue Launch on Sunday, June 2 in Columbia

LPR-Summer2019-Cover.jpg

Little Patuxent Review is launching its Summer 2019 issue on Sunday, June 2nd from 2:00-4:00 p.m., at Oliver’s Carriage House, 5410 Leaf Treader Way, Columbia, MD.

This issue is stunning mix of fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and art. The launch event reading will include many of the writers published in the issue and a chance to mingle and meet them, as well as the editors and staff of LPR, at the reception afterwards.

Issues are available for pre-order at this link.

Our readers will include:

  • Tom Large
  • Jalynn Hariss
  • Karolina Wilk
  • Ellery Beck
  • Jenny Binckes Lee
  • Benjamin Inks
  • Mirande Bissell
  • Lisa Poff

Meet Our Contributors: Q&A with Chelsea Lemon Fetzer

Chelsea Lemon Fetzer holds an MFA in fiction from Syracuse University. Her fiction and poetry have also appeared in journals such as Callaloo, Tin House, Mississippi Review, and Minnesota Review. Fetzer lives in Baltimore, where she is mothering, teaching, working on a novel, and serving on the board of CityLit project.

Chelsea’s poem, “Sponge,” appeared in LPR’s Winter Issue 2019 (available for purchase at this link).

We’re very grateful she’s willing to answer a few questions for us.

Q: Thank you so much for being part of our January launch. Do you have a favorite piece from the current issue?

I don’t think I could pick a favorite; this issue as a whole is stunning, but I’m going to shout out “Tamarind” by Sheila Black.

We broke our nails scratching off the brittle
brown skin and then we had to suck-

She captures the experience of eating this intense fruit so well, while we witness the narrator awakening to her own body and the mysteries possible within it. The poem ends with an idea for a necklace strung of the seeds. That image took me from a girl-child to a goddess. Beyond fertility, at least in my mind, the poem lands on the power women hold in all senses, her to decide when and how to wield it.

Q: We just did a post with Nicole Hylton. Her poem in the current issue, “the missing recipe,” begins with the narrator “standing before the stove.” Your opening line is, “Kitchen sink collects the morning light.” I don’t want to make too much of these similarities, or to ask you to speak about Nicole’s poem, but do you think there’s something about kitchens and food and mornings that suits poetry?

Yes, Nicole’s piece resonated with me–that solitude, a sensuous longing. I see the similarities. There is something about kitchens and food and mornings–the quiet routines that call to mind other imprints of ourselves, allow space to remember and imagine. It’s probably impossible for a writer not to reference kitchens at some point–but I think the influence here goes beyond what is referenced in any given piece. What happens if we reframe your question from what suits poetry to what spaces and times ignite us?

We know as writers we have to show up to the empty page, the writing room, or cafe. But the question of where to show up for the sparks, clicks, and oh damns!–that can be more elusive. Personal, changeable.

Real quick, here’s my working definition of “sparks, clicks, and oh damns!”: 1) a brand new idea catching you like the flu; 2) knowing the fix, all at once, the remedy for that line or chapter that had you stumped; 3) finally tuning into the big question your piece has been asking all along; and 4) other things/everything/ whatever that mysterious co-traveler, always knowing the way forward, turns the flashlight on for you to see.

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Concerning Craft: In Defense of the Multi-Genre Writer

Nicole Hylton is a writer-of-all-trades from southern Maryland. She writes poetry, short stories, and nonfiction essays and has completed two novellas, Internet Official and Dropping Her Gloves. Her work has appeared in The Doctor TJ Eckleburg Review (where she is a regular contributor), Aethlon, and SlackWater. She holds a BA in English from St. Mary’s College of Maryland, with minors in sociology and women, gender, and sexuality studies.

Nicole’s poetry, “the missing recipe,” appeared in LPR’s Winter Issue 2019 (available for purchase through this link). She read this and another poem at our issue launch in January (video below). This guest post is part of our regular “Concerning Craft” series.

“So, what do you write?”

It’s perhaps one of the most common questions I’m asked at conferences and readings. It’s an innocuous question, an easy icebreaker writers ask other writers to start off the conversation, but I have struggled to find an easy answer to it.

I enjoy writing fiction, nonfiction, and poetry, all in different ways but in about equal measure. I do not have a default genre as I believe many other writers do. I go through cycles, of course, of writing a lot of one genre and less of the other two, but usually the genre comes to me at the same time the story does. The story often suggests the genre when it comes to me. I’ll think of an idea for a story I want to tell, and the story will say, “Hey, I think I would look really good as a poem.” For example, let’s say I watch the movie Wonder Woman for the first time and feel empowered by the way the titular character is written, given how female superheroes have been portrayed in past films. In about the same instant, I’ll think, “There’s a poem in here somewhere,” or “I could write an essay about this.” (For those playing along at home, I wrote an essay, and you can read it here at The Eckleburg Review.)

In general, though, when it comes to genre, there aren’t any black and white rules for me. In fact, I would argue there is a substantial amount of carryover between genres. And I’m not talking about cross-genre work (although I am particularly fond of prose poems). I mean that there is writing advice that applies regardless of genre that all writers can use. Here are some that I find myself using nearly every day.

Every sentence must serve a purpose. I’ve heard this advice from multiple sources and in a variety of ways, but the gist has always been that every piece of the written work (be it a sentence in a short story or a stanza in a sonnet) must serve some purpose. According to Kurt Vonnegut, “Every sentence must do one of two things—reveal character or advance the action.” I don’t know how much I believe that exact claim, but I do believe that every piece of your narrative must be serving some kind of purpose: it must provide something new that has not already been said. Everything in there should be in there for a reason. Clutter is not useful.

The first line is a powerful thing. Not only should the first line of a work be attention-grabbing and put your reader’s butt in their chair, so to speak, but it should intrigue in other ways. The best first lines will disorient your reader, drawing them in to further understand. Most importantly, your first line (and the first couple of paragraphs of longer works) will teach your reader how to read the rest of the work. The first line is the entry point for the reader, the looking glass through which the rest of the work can be seen.

“The most important part of the story is the one you don’t hear.” This quote comes from the main character of Barbara Kingsolver’s novel The Lacuna, a closeted gay man persecuted in the 1950s by the American government for his sexuality and relationships with communists Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera. What isn’t said and why is just as important (and often more interesting) than what is. What are characters holding back and why? What do they not feel at liberty to express out loud? What isn’t said can often reveal just as much about a character or speaker as what they do say.

There are a number of other writing recommendations I’ve received that could probably be added to this list, but these should give you something to start with. See if you can apply some of your own writing advice to other genres, and try writing in a genre you haven’t in the past.

So, what do I write? Well, I write a little bit of everything.

Interview with Ned Tillman, Author of The Big Melt

This post comes from contributing editor Ann Bracken.

Columbia resident, author, and environmental activist Ned Tillman has been unusually busy spreading the word about climate change to audiences all over Maryland. I caught up with him one morning at a local coffee shop where we talked about his new young adult novel, The Big Melt. After having a great turnout for his book launch, Ned went on to be a featured speaker at the National Science Teachers Association where 40 teachers volunteered to evaluate the book and work on getting it adopted into the local curriculum. In addition to articles about Ned and The Big Melt in numerous local papers, here’s what Publisher’s Weekly/Booklife Prize Review had to say about the book: “Ned Tillman’s The Big Melt is a fast-paced novel for young readers that advocates taking care of the environment and illustrates the possible negative impacts that might occur if humans should neglect this responsibility. Tillman’s novel is certainly inspiring and unique, melding together a firm call to action for young people to consider the environment and a young protagonist’s decision to protect his town.”

I loved the book for its powerful story, dynamic characters, and cleverly embedded humor. Thank you, Ned, for this inspiring call-to-action.

Ann Bracken (AB): After writing two successful nonfiction books that delve into the topics related to climate change and community action, what made you decide to write a novel for young adults?

Ned Tillman (NT): A number of my readers asked me to write a book for young adults. I think we all can agree that they will need to get involved as soon as they can in understanding climate change and taking action before it is too late. I think many people, teenagers and adults alike, prefer reading fiction. It is often easier to get a visceral sense of a big problem through a fictional story.

AB: When I heard the title, I thought the book was going to involve a story about rising sea levels. What inspired your idea to use extreme temperatures and melting asphalt?

NT: I wanted to come at this challenge with something fresh—not just talk about the standard icons like polar bears and floods. I wanted stories that everyone could relate to, be surprised by, and get excited about. I wanted the reader to eagerly turn the next page to see what else might happen that they had not thought about.

AB: How would you describe the main character, Marley, whom we meet just as he’s about to graduate from high school and go on to college?

NT: I think everyone can relate to Marley. Like so many young people, he wants to get on with his life, but really does not know what he wants to do. We can then follow him through one climate-change challenge after another and see how he responds. He tries to seek out creative solutions, and he works with others to help save his town. He becomes this mythic kid that wants to fix things, make them right. I hope all my readers will be engaged by his actions.

AB: What have young readers told you about the effect that the book has on them?

NT: It is really interesting to see the responses the book gets. Readers have decided to pursue careers in science, politics, teaching—all sorts of things related to preventing and adapting to climate change. They have told me that they can’t stop thinking about the characters in the book.

AB: It’s clear from reading the book that you’ve done lots of research on the causes of climate change as well as the increased pace of change we’re all experiencing now. How did you decide on what information to include?

NT: I tried to include things the reader might not have thought about, everyday things that might disrupt their lives. Most of us are numbed by watching things happen to other people all around the world. I thought the readers needed something they could relate to better.

AB: Which part of the creative process came first—the story itself or the facts and ideas that you wanted to explore?

NT: I did not start writing until a rough idea of the story came into my mind. I met a teenager one day named Marley, and he was perfect for the lead role. He may not recognize himself in the character, because I did not know him that well, but my mind just took off. The ideas just flowed as the characters appeared. Some of the characters do things that I might do, many are named or fashioned after other people that I know. The facts were the easy part. Since I am fascinated by some of the stories I included, I had a hunch that readers might also enjoy hearing about them.

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Meet Our Contributors: Q&A with Sheila Black

Sheila Black is the author of four collections of poetry, most recently Iron, Ardent (Educe Press, 2017). Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Poetry, Puerto del Sol, the New York Times, and the Nation. She is a coeditor of Beauty Is a Verb: The New Poetry of Disability and The Right Way to Be Crippled and Naked: The Fiction of Disability. She currently splits her time between Washington, D.C., and San Antonio, Texas.

Sheila’s poem, “Tamarind,” appeared in LPR’s Winter Issue 2019 (available for purchase at this link).

We’re very grateful she’s willing to answer a few questions for us.

Q: You told me you’re feeling “craft insecure” at the moment (hopefully I’m not betraying confidence in asking about that!). I thought maybe you could pick one craft element then that you use in “Tamarind,” and explain if briefly for us. I think you’ll find there’s a ton to choose from.

Andrew—you are not betraying a confidence at all. I think most poets feel “craft insecure” fairly often. I don’t know if it is so much insecurity about the craft or form itself as the tension the critic Charles Altieri describes as the struggle in a poem between “craft” and “sincerity.” You want a poem to feel “sincere”—a truth or an observation that teaches the reader something; at the same time, a poem depends on form to distinguish itself, to catch on fire. I often—make that usually—write my poems in a headlong rush, one big block of text—and the revision process for me is often about finding form. Putting “Tamarind” into couplets sort of snapped the poem into shape. I think because it allowed the white space between each couplet to do some of the work of the poem. The speaker is talking about sexuality, coming of age, and within a particularly fraught Caribbean (I spent a good part of my childhood in Nassau, Bahamas) historical context. The couplet form, and the space it gave for a kind of breathing in the poem, I hope creates a kind of outline or ghostly sense of that pressure—the things the speaker apprehends, but not entirely. I care a lot about sound in my poems so the poem also moves forward with a lot of internal rhyming—slant rhymes, sometimes full rhymes, buried within the lines (she/seed/tree). The poem also uses repetition of words—again she/seed/tree, etc.—to tell its story. I love how in a poem you can shift the sense of a word through a poem simply by repeating it or how even the act of repeating a word gives it a kind of double presence—the sound and what it signifies somehow playing off one another.

Q: You’ve described yourself as “attracted to the unruly and confrontational elements of the confessional.” What does “confessional” mean to you? And would you describe “Tamarind” in this way?

I tend to think of the confessional in much the terms Cate Marvin has written about it—as a dramatic form, where what is dramatized is not merely trauma itself, but the speaker’s relationship to that trauma and the act of speaking that trauma. I think in what we consider the first generation of confessional poets—Plath, Sexton, Berryman, et al.—the speaker’s voice, the dramatic wrestling of finding a voice with which to speak, is often foregrounded; what was innovative in this “confessional poetry” was the way the poem encompassed their speakers’ stuttering, difficulty, self-mythologizing, etc., as they sought to deal with or reveal charged material or content.

A friend of mine—a very great poet—once took me to task for calling myself confessional; he said I didn’t really have the right kind of history or psychological make-up—no drunken father or absent mother, no real primal trauma I was attempting to exorcise. He also said that I did not seem to be a sufficiently unreliable or untrustworthy enough narrator to call myself confessional, which always amused me a little. I think what he meant was that in the classic confessional poem, part of the drama of arises from the ways in which the reader must interpret what the narrator or speaker really feels about the traumatic situation described. Think for example, of how Plath’s “Daddy,” ostensibly a furious repudiation of her father, is also in some sense a love poem. He said—my friend—that I was more a poet of unease. I’ve thought about that a lot, and I think it is true. I came of age in the Watergate years and something of that sense of profound lack of certainty or trust really infuses my work. I think my speakers are often grappling with a feeling that they are born into a world that is unreliable where various truths are always buried or concealed. That might also be a result of growing up in many countries as the child of a foreign service officer—I had a sense of being somewhat outside, in exile, not sure where I belonged or what I was supposed to represent. I think that is reflected in “Tamarind” when you look at the uncertainty of the speaker versus the more declarative stance of her friend.

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