Meet Our Contributors: Q&A with Gayla Mills

Formerly a writing professor, Gayla Mills now publishes personal essays and flash fiction. Her essays have appeared in Spry, Prairie Wolf Press, Skirt!, Greenwoman, and more. Her chapbook of personal essays, Finite, won the Red Ochre Lit Chapbook contest. Her book Making Music after 40: Jam, Perform, and Share Music for Life will be published by Dover in the summer of 2019.

Mills’s nonfiction, “‘A Future Imagined,’” appeared in LPR’s Summer Issue 2018 (available for purchase at this link). She read this work at our issue launch in June (video below).

Q: The title of your book next year reminds me of the content of “A Future Imagined.” Was that nonfiction piece part of the process for your whole book (not, of course, that it was necessarily A to B)?

“A Future Imagined” describes a sliver of my experience as a budding musician. In Making Music, I offer information and advice based on my own experiences, but add research and interviews I’ve conducted with scores of music teachers and learners. I originally thought I could use my music essays to introduce my book chapters, and “A Future Imagined” could begin my chapter on music camps. But I quickly realized that I needed to develop a more direct voice, in a feature-writing style, for a how-to book.

In both the essay and the book, as in much of my writing, I use myself as a character. The details I choose should serve some purpose beyond the fact that I experienced them. I’m going to discuss how I switched from guitar to bass only if I’m suggesting to readers what switching instruments can offer them.

Q: On your website you state, “I’ve learned that teaching, writing, and doing go hand-in-hand, each informing the other.” Could you elaborate?

I’ve found the old cliché true, that if you want to learn something, the best way is to teach it. I’ve taught various subjects while learning about them, from feature writing to Medieval history to personal finance. I think that writing a how-to book about music is also a kind of teaching.

In the process of preparing to teach, you learn infinitely more than what you’re passing on. You might read a book or two to create a ninety-minute lecture. You might need to spend a month building a brick walkway in order to write a one-page essay on how to do it. You might need to spend half a lifetime learning about music before you feel it in your bones deeply enough to pass it along to others.

Q: Has songwriting influenced your prose at all?

I’m a real beginner at songwriting, still at that early learning stage. The better question is whether prose has influenced my songwriting, since I’m a more experienced writer than musician. I’ve written some prose poems and essays that I think would make good songs, so I’d like to work them into verse.

Q: How about music more generally?

Getting experience in two fields can help you be creative, because the two sets of experiences and skills collide to give you fresh eyes. The inventor of the stethoscope, René Laennec, was trained as a doctor but was also a flutist. I love writing about my musical experiences, and I think my interest in words affects how I hear lyrics.

Q: What did you think of the other readings at the launch? Maybe you could pick out a favorite?

It was a real pleasure to hear so many different voices, and I got something from each. My favorite, though, was Wallace Lane’s “Groceries.” His depiction of his encounter with his grandfather—“his touch more silent than soft”—was incredibly moving and fresh.

Q: Random question: could you tell me about a dog you loved?

There are too many. Besides my husband, my dearest companions have been Tasha, Dory, Riley, and Zoey. We’ve chosen where to live and when to move based on their needs, shared countless walks and swims, missed every fourth of July to comfort them during the fireworks, shared the good days and the rainy ones, and buried them deep in the earth when their time had come. I hope to live long enough to add a few more to that list. Dogs add goodness to the world.

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Meet Our Contributors: Q&A with JoAnna Wool

JoAnna Wool’s short story “Vacation” appeared in the twentieth-anniversary issue of Lake Affect magazine. Her story “The Babies” will appear in autumn of 2018 in The Boston Review. She studied creative writing at Boston University, has taught writing at several Boston-area colleges and universities, and is currently writing a novel. She lives in Brookline, Massachusetts.

Wool’s short story, “The Other Mia,” appeared in LPR’s Summer Issue 2018 (available for purchase at this link). She read an excerpt at our issue launch in June (video below).

Q: Because of time constraints, you weren’t able to read your whole short story at our launch. Did the excerpts read differently to you as pieces and out loud?

Not being able to read the whole story was less of an issue for me than the fact that I couldn’t read from the beginning. The opening of the story is very quiet, and also just too long, and it wouldn’t have had any impact at all if I hadn’t read the whole section. So, I read a section from the middle, and although I believe it stood on its own, I ended up suspecting that the audience—engaged and attentive as it was—didn’t appreciate the significance of certain developments. That’s probably inevitable because of the type of story it is; it’s only by reading the story that you’d be able to see clearly how the magical realist doppelganger plot of the story relates to and propels its parallel plot, which centers on how Mia feels about her inability to have children.

Q: Do you have any tips or advice for writers who have to give summaries about their work in the context of a reading? I imagine it must be frustrating because you wrote the story as an integrated whole.

My best advice is to read from the beginning! If a summary is absolutely necessary, I think it’s best to focus on your characters and themes at least as much as you do on the plot, so that the audience understands the deeper meaning of the action in the passage that you read. Of course, that only increases the challenge of writing a summary of reasonable length.

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Celebrating Contributor Successes: Q&A with Dorothy Chan

One thing we love at Little Patuxent Review is to celebrate the success of past contributors. Our latest opportunity comes from Dorothy Chan, whose poem, “Animal Discovers Fire, Orders Chinese Takeout with Fries,” we published in our Summer 2016 issue.

Earlier this summer, Spork Press published Dorothy’s first full-length collection, Attack of the Fifty-Foot Centerfold (available for purchase at this link). Dorothy is a PhD candidate in poetry at Florida State University. She is the editor of The Southeast Review. We’re very grateful she’s willing to answer a few questions for us.

Q: The title of your collection, Attack of the Fifty-Foot Centerfold, leads me to read with interest the poem with an almost-identical name, “Attack of the Fifty-Foot Centerfold with the Killer Legs.” But quickly I realize that across your poems, this isn’t the only attack, the only fifty-foot woman, the only centerfold, or the only killer legs. The collection is filled with images and ideas besides these that cycle in and out of the poems in new ways. Here’s just one example, an excerpt from “Jungle Love”:

Our eyes lock for the first moment,
I throw that spear—domesticate him, domesticate you.
I’ll bring that meat home. You can cook it,
Or maybe you want to rescue me from lava,
play the hero as a swarm of killer hornets or killer gorillas
or killer 50-foot women come my way,
you hold me in your arms, fly away—
off into the sunset or into outer space
and I go all vampy Plan 9 on you,
until the director yells “Cut!”

Can you share a bit about how this collection came together? On a craft level, what was it like for you to edit the poems in this collection as a unified whole—after, I imagine, you originally wrote and edited many of the poems as separate pieces?

Thanks for your insightful reading of my poems, Andrew. This collection comes from my childhood. I’m really big on nostalgia. I grew up in the nineties, which was a very interesting decade. I remember Baywatch. I remember Pamela Anderson being everywhere. I remember having a crush on Tara Reid in American Pie—on a side note, her character Vicky goes to Cornell, which is where I ended up going for undergrad—I’m not 100% sure why that’s important, but it feeds into my nostalgia. I remember Hugh Hefner having eight girlfriends. I remember waiting for a table at Denny’s and begging my mom for fifty cents just so I could get the Playboy logo sticker—remember those sticker machines? Of course, my mom said no, and of course I didn’t know what the logo meant at the time. I just thought it was cute. And then I remember sitting at a Volvo dealership, glancing at the TV and seeing this preview of the Attack of the 60 Foot Centerfold: the centerfold character takes up a whole pool, and she’s talking to a man who looks so little in comparison. I thought it was fascinating.

I grew up in Allentown, Pennsylvania, which is no place for an Asian girl like me. I had to create my own worlds. But then on certain weekends my parents and I would drive to Chinatown (either in Philadelphia or NYC) to go grocery shopping. They’d always buy me a big Hello Kitty plush, as well. The images and scenes of my nostalgia are extremely varied. I do miss those Chinatown trips.

On a craft level, this collection comes from separate projects that eventually became one. “Section II. My Chinatown (我 的 中國 城),” a quadruple crown of sonnets, came from a larger manuscript of sonnet crowns. “Section III. Centerfolds, Histories, and Fantasies” came from a larger manuscript of persona poems in the voices of centerfolds. When I was in college, I was asked to pose for a silly calendar. I never did, so I always wonder what would’ve happened if I had. And then “Section I. Snake Daughter” came because I had to fill in the gaps. I think this is why the triptych works so well. Sure, I did individual poem edits, but the triptych structure made me think about the narrative as a whole. I had to inform my own exploration, whether it was an exploration of my family history or my sexuality (or even a combination of both, for instance, “My Father is the Son of a Concubine”).

Q: Diving a bit deeper, can you bring us into the process of writing “Jungle Love”? I do wonder what came first to your imagination—the “domestic” layer, so to speak, or the film layer—and how the creative gears turned in your mind.

Great question. I’m against domesticity, so of course I had to throw in, “domesticate him, domesticate you.” The film layer actually came first. Ed Wood is such a great film. I kept thinking back to the scenes when Johnny Depp’s Wood is filming Plan 9 from Outer Space. Or that scene when he first meets “Vampira.” I thought a lot about Vampira. I thought about Elvira. I thought about the 60 Foot Centerfold movie. I thought about all these B-movies, and then the gears started turning.

I can be really kitschy as well. I’ve spent hours looking at Halloween costumes on Trashy Lingerie’s website, and I think my love of those costumes mixed with my love of film is where “Jungle Love” came about. I used to wear the most ridiculous things. I remember this Leg Avenue cab driver costume I wore one Halloween during college. And this schoolgirl costume. And all those crop tops with anime characters and Care Bears on them. All these kitschy, sexy costumes represent fantasy. I used to have so much fun with that fashion ridiculousness, and the poetic page allows me to revisit those ideas. I also tend to riff on lines, so I must have heard a variation of “Feel me up, you tiger,” somewhere.

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Staff Pick: Jennifer Clark’s “Not a fast runner…”

Desirée Magney is the publisher of the Little Patuxent Review. In this post, she shares one of her “Staff Picks” from the Summer Issue 2018 (available for purchase at this link).

It seems an oxymoron to say that poet Jennifer Clark beautifully describes the conflict faced by the victim of domestic abuse in, “Not a fast runner, I consider other ways to escape this relationship.” But her scene setting, visual and auditory references, as well as metaphors, are so strong, the reader is drawn into the narrator’s dilemma.

I chose this piece from our June 2018 issue as my “Staff Pick” not only because it is so artfully written but because it also illustrates the difficulty of leaving an abusive or toxic relationship. I saw this dilemma firsthand during a college internship at the U.S. Attorney’s office in D.C. doing intake interviews for victims of domestic violence. I saw it again, many years later working as a Child Advocacy Lawyer for the D.C. Volunteer Lawyers Project.

For ease in writing and reading my comments, I will refer to the narrator or protagonist in the poem as “she” and the antagonist as “he,” fully recognizing that there is no gender distinction between abusers and victims.

In the first line of the poem, the reader learns the narrator has built something of a life with the antagonist when she says she plays “dead, like a ‘possum [i]n the den, we have built…” We see her on the “mossy” couch, playing possum but tense with fear as the antagonist throws a lamp and “darkness crashes.” The den is a metaphor for their relationship—the thing they’ve built that now confines her.

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Please Read: Excerpts from a Memoir I Have Yet to Begin

This guest post comes from Jeremy J. Kamps, who was selected this year as a Fellow for the NYC Center for Fiction. Little Patuxent Review nominated his story, “Locked Out,” one of the stand-out pieces of short fiction we published in 2017, for the Pushcart Prize. 

Now I Lay Me

Perhaps the most sacred ritual growing up was going to bed. Each night, depending on their schedules, I got either my mom or my dad to tuck me in to sleep. This was no simple snuggling of sheets around my body, but an ongoing episodic event.

When Dad put me to bed, we said the customary “Now I Lay Me” prayer and then added a long string of people, places and circumstances for me to bestow my Blessing. We decided who made the Blessing cut based on Newsweek articles from that week and people we knew who were sick or going through something shitty. My dad summarized all the happenings across the globe from Beirut to Bangladesh. We’d discuss the situation and then add that place or the people to the Blessing list. I wish I had written this list down, but I still remember some pieces of it today, and I am guessing it went for a good ten minutes. Each night the prayer was growing to epic proportions and I recited it like it was a spiritual chant.

When my mom put me to bed she told an interactive story about a boy named Jeremy (coincidentally enough) and his flying blue horse. Around the world and cosmos we went from adventure to adventure. She paused at key moments to ask what I thought would happen next. After I would make my predictions she continued the story and you know what? I was right every time. Whether this was by her design or due to her exhaustion of coming up with more storylines than CSI, I don’t know.

Between Newsweek and my flying blue horse I learned Story as a way to travel through and understand the world. I learned Story as prayer and a possibility, as social justice and wonder, as a way to love the world in spite of the hurt and hope for the world to love back and heal. Story is a painful admission of mortality and an audacious architecture of meaning. Story is ringing the bell in the town square, asking the community to come out and see each other, and it is a whisper in the night so that when the time has come, we can rest.

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Meet Our Contributors: Q&A with Wallace Lane

Wallace Lane is a poet, writer, and author from Baltimore, Maryland. He received his MFA in creative writing and publishing arts from the University of Baltimore in May 2017. His poetry has appeared in Little Patuxent Review, The Avenue, Welter and is forthcoming in several literary journals. Jordan Year, his debut collection of poetry, was released in May 2017. Wallace also works as a teacher with Baltimore City Public Schools.

Wallace’s poem, “Groceries,” appeared in LPR’s Summer Issue 2018 (available for purchase at this link). He read “Groceries” and two other poems at our issue launch in June (video below).

Q: You majored in criminal justice, then went for an MFA and now work as a teacher. Just from reading your bio, there seems to be a consistent social justice theme, but one that’s taken you in a few different directions. Could you share a little about your path?

Honestly about three years ago I would have cringed at that question, just based off the distance between a criminal justice degree and an MFA. But now it’s now one of the questions I’m most anxious to answer. As a first generation college student, I had no clue of what to major in at college. I knew it had to be something where I would profit financial gain but also something I would enjoy during the pursuit. And quite honestly, nothing at all stood out to me, not even criminal justice (I knew I would never proudly wear a law enforcement uniform, no offense to anyone). But the aspect of mentoring youth and juveniles stood out to me and that’s mainly why I chose to major in criminal justice my junior year of undergrad. From there I went to work in several juvenile center detention centers and schools. And I must say it’s the hardest work I ever done. I witnessed first-hand how kids were profited off of in a corrupt criminal justice system and how it was, in many ways, preparing them for a life designed for them to depend on some corrupt system of some sort. I was 23 years old at that time. I saw enough death and pain growing up. I knew I could do more to help the youth somehow so I started to create an exit plan. I STARTED TO WRITE POETRY. I always loved poetry. I start writing poems in middle school and I had a dozen composition notebooks of poems in high school. I even took creative writing classes while pursuing a criminal justice degree. Somehow my falling in love with poetry all over again led me to pursuing my MFA degree. The rest is history. It’s a lot of twist and turns in my journey but I love it. It inspires a lot of people and encourages the youth and even adults to pursue their passion and never be afraid to try new things. I’m grateful for that.

Q: When on your website you describe Jordan Year as about “what it means to live and survive in Baltimore City,” I remembered Ta-Nehisi Coates, who writes about his own childhood in Baltimore in Between the World and Me. I don’t think Coates does any poetry, but has he influenced your writing in any way?

I’m rooting for black excellence. I’m rooting for anyone from Baltimore. Anyone who is attempting to bring light and hope to a city like ours. Especially artist and writers who love this city. We are the pillars of culture here. But as far as Between the World and Me, it was definitely a narrative I drew inspiration from when I began drafting my manuscript. I enjoyed how Coates presented a harsh reality to his son while intimately taking him and us (readers) on a journey through his life. That was my goal when writing Jordan Year–to tell two stories in one, my journey of growing up in Baltimore City but also the reality of people in my community who often get overlooked. I didn’t want to sugarcoat anything or leave anything out, you know? And that’s why I can appreciate books like Between the World and Me and so many others because of the transparency in the narrative.

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Meet Our Contributors: Q&A with Natalie Illum

Natalie Illum is a poet, disability activist, and singer living in Washington, DC. She is a 2017 Jenna McKean Moore Poetry Fellow, recipient of a 2017 Artists Grant from the DC Arts Commission, and nonfiction editor for The Deaf Poets Society literary journal. She was a founding board member of mothertongue, a women’s open mic that lasted fifteen years. She used to compete on the National Poetry Slam circuit and was the 2013 Beltway Grand Slam Champion. Her work has appeared in various publications and on NPR’s Snap Judgment. Natalie has an MFA in creative writing from American University and teaches workshops across the country. You can find her on Instagram and Twitter as @poetryrox, on her website natalieillum.net, and as one half of All Her Muses, her music project. Natalie also enjoys Joni Mitchell, whisky, and giraffes.

Natalie’s poem, “Reset,” appeared in LPR’s Summer Issue 2018 (available for purchase at this link). She read this and two other pieces at our issue launch in June (video below).

Q: Thank you for coming to the launch earlier this month. Before we get into your work, can I ask if there was one reading that struck you in particular?

I really liked Tracy’s piece and the form of the work she was reading. Several of the readers had a theme of clothing that felt really vibrant and necessary to me. And in some way I think we all touched on family as a theme.

Q: You have a lot of experience reading in front of others. How do—if they do—audience and setting change the poems for you as you read them? Did anything like that happen in Columbia?

I definitely tailor my sets based on my audience, especially if I know it is a more family-friendly event. Because I knew the poem you were publishing, I tried to base my selection on that tone. I also really wanted to try out the shark series of poems that I’m currently working on. So when I have readings of late, I bring those to see how the audience receives them. I got a lot of positive feedback from the audience in Columbia, both on the poem in the journal and a particular poem called “Predatory Logic.” So I’m very happy about that—when poems stick with people, especially in a larger featured reading.

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