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.

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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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 Caroline Bock

Caroline Bock’s debut short story collection, Carry Her Home, is the winner of the 2018 Washington Writers’ Publishing House Fiction Prize and will be published this October. She is the author of the young adult novels Lie and Before My Eyes from St. Martin’s Press. Her creative nonfiction, “Buttons,” was a runner-up in the Bethesda Magazine 2018 essay contest. Her short stories have been published or are forthcoming in Akashic Books, Delmarva Review, Fiction Southeast, Gargoyle, 100 Word Story, and Vestal Review and appear in several anthologies. Currently a lecturer in the English Department at Marymount University in Arlington, Virginia, she is at work on a new novel set in 2099. She lives in Maryland. More at www.carolinebock.com.

Bock’s nonfiction, “A Life of Close Critique,” appeared in LPR’s Summer Issue 2018 (available for purchase at this link).

Q: “A Life of Close Critique” takes us through a writing workshop into a paragraph packed with memories of the “fog gathering at two in the morning,” obscuring what’s sex and what’s love. So that readers can read for themselves, I’ll ask you instead about writing as part of a critique group. How does your current group operate?

I’m actually part of two critique groups. The one that I refer to in this flash fiction is my “long” critique group. I know it’s a bit ironical that I write short nonfiction about this fiction group. About five years ago, when I first moved to Maryland from Long Island, New York, I enrolled in a short story class at the Writer’s Center in Bethesda and met the core group of my critique group. We meet every four to five weeks in the evening at one of our homes, after circulating pages a week or so beforehand. We share a light dinner. We drink wine. Not too much. We are friends, but even more so, we are writers on this journey together. We often ask ourselves: Will I ever finish this story? This novel? In addition, once every four to five weeks, I meet with my flash fiction group, at lunchtime, no wine. We write up to 1,000 words, usually based on a prompt. I find that the more you write, the more you write; so, I love being part of these two groups. I completed most of the 47 short stories in my debut collection, Carry Her Home, while being part of these critique groups.

Q: That there’s at least some sort of age gap in your group seems from “A Life of Close Critique” like a strength to your group. Maybe diversity in other ways helps as well. Do you agree?

Right now we are all women in my “long” fiction critique group with an almost thirty year age gap from the youngest to the oldest. For a long time, we did have a guy in our group, and having a male point of view was invaluable. I’ve written another story about this group, “The Critique Group,” which is in my new collection, about how the pheromones in the room changed when he entered the room. Now, I understand that this is the slimmest idea of diversity. But it takes effort and luck to bring different voices together. My flash fiction group includes more diversity in terms of the race, ethnicity, and backgrounds—and I will often share the same work in both groups and see the different responses, which is extremely helpful in my revision process. I believe a literary magazine like Little Patuxtent Review does an enormous service to bring diverse voices together. As a writer, I find that one of the most important things I can do is to challenge myself to read diverse voices—and to read widely. I mean diverse authors writing in varying literary genres in order to be in touch with what is happening in the in the literary world—and in the world­—now.

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Meet Our Contributors: Q&A with Seth Tucker

Seth Brady Tucker’s fiction has recently appeared in December, Iowa Review, Shenandoah, and elsewhere, and his poetry and fiction have won awards over the years. He runs the Longleaf Writers Conference in Florida and teaches creative writing to engineers at the top-ranked Colorado School of Mines.

Tucker’s short story, “The Court of Tar and Oil,” appeared in LPR’s Winter Issue 2018 (available for purchase at this link).

Q: I notice you’re from Wyoming. Have you ever been to Worland? My mother’s maiden name is Worland and apparently, we have some sort of family connection to the place.

What I know about Worland: there was a fight nearly every time we played them in basketball. Tough team from a tough town—all elbows and inner-city play way out there in the flat expanse of the desert plains. Their basketball court ended at a wall with a thin pad on it, and you knew you were going to get driven into it at some point in the game.

Q: The image in my mind that I have of Wyoming I got from Gretel Ehrlich’s The Solace of Open Spaces. Have you read that book? How does it correspond to your own experience?

The beauty of Wyoming is wild and terrific in the literal meaning of the word terrific; it is wide open, wind-swept, frightful, but also remarkable for some of the most rugged and lovely terrain on the planet. I was lucky to grow up in the little hamlet town of Lander, next to the Wind River Range, and most of my youth was spent working our ranch or working the mountains with my father, who was a hunting guide in the Winds for many years (and who knows about as much about those mountains as anyone alive). It made being a child tough, but I also have some rare and cherished memories of winding our way up those mountains on horseback. I haven’t read Ehrlich’s work, but Annie Prouix is a transplant to Wyoming and does a fairly good job of writing about life up there, but I have to assume that Ehrlich likely writes about how big and bright the sky is, how far one can see into the distance, the shadows of mountains always just on the horizon, the slow progression of the highways as you make your way to them; it is what I love about Wyoming–this hint of the unknown and wild and dangerous.

Q: I realize the Longleaf Writers Conference is just a week away. What’s the origin story of this conference?

This is our fifth year, and for three of those years Matt Bondurant and I have funded scholarships and fellowships for emerging poets and writers. We started with just Matt and I as faculty, then slowly started to build, bringing in writers like Andre Dubus III, Elizabeth Stuckey-French, Antonya Nelson, Rebecca Makkai, David James Poissant, Chris Offutt, Jen Percy, Anton DiSclafani, and many other authors who were awarded financial aid. We are proud of the support we give our attendees, and have helped a number of them go on to publish books. We partner with Ole Miss for a couple scholarships as well, and this year we are bringing Beth Anne Fennelly and Tom Franklin and Jill McCorkle, with the help of our other partner, the Cultural Arts Alliance of South Walton. We built this conference to be small and intimate in a way that the big conferences can be overwhelming and isolating; we want beginners to feel as comfortable there as those with long histories in the workshop or academia; we bring the best writers we can who also happen to be generous and enthusiastic teachers and writers; to sum up: we write hard and beach hard. You should come next year!

Q: Are writers’ conferences something that should be on my radar as a young writer? Should I be going to things like this?

Absolutely—this is the networking of the job of being a writer—the sooner you start, the sooner you get that big break everyone wants and needs. My only regret is not going to these conferences while in grad school.

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Meet Our Contributors: Q&A with J. A. Bernstein

J. A. Bernstein’s forthcoming novel, Rachel’s Tomb (New Issues 2019), won the AWP Award Series, Hackney, and Knut House Prizes, and his forthcoming story collection, Stick-Light (Eyewear 2019), was a finalist for the Robert C. Jones and Beverly Prizes. His work has appeared in Shenandoah, Boston Review, Kenyon Review Online, Tampa Review, Tin House (web), Chicago Quarterly Review, and other journals, and won Crab Orchard Review’s John Gunyon Prize in Nonfiction. A Chicago-native, he is the fiction editor of Tikkun and, starting this August, an assistant professor in the Center for Writers at the University of Southern Mississippi.

Bernstein’s nonfiction piece, “The Works,” was published in LPR’s Winter Issue 2018 (available for purchase at this link).

Q: You told me that, “like a lot of writers,” you’d prefer not to discuss your own writing. Can you elaborate on what you mean by this?

My sense is that a piece of creative writing should be able to stand on its own. That doesn’t mean context or intention are unimportant, or that criticism shouldn’t exist (well, it depends on who’s writing it). I’m also not averse to discussing craft. But my instinct is that if an author needs to start explaining her work, or clarifying it for readers, then the work itself probably needs revisiting.

Q: What happens when somebody “doesn’t get” something you’ve written?

In an ideal world, I’d have them shipped to Siberia.

Q: What do you see as the relationship between literature and advocacy?

This is a great question—and please excuse my pert response to the last one. This is also a question that I’m sure I, and virtually any writer who’s alive today, ponder continually. Let me simply say this: when I was in graduate school, I remember a literature professor I admired, Terrence Whalen, telling a group of students that Melville’s politics were inscrutable. “Let that be a lesson to all you creative writers,” he joked. And I think there was truth in that. The best works of art, regardless of their commitment, seem to evade scrutiny or any quick encapsulation.

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Winter Issue 2018: Introducing Daien Guo

Daien Guo is a writer based in Washington, DC. Little Patuxent Review is delighted to present her first published piece of fiction, “A Bathroom Renovation,” in our Winter 2018 issue (available for purchase at this link).

In a recent blog post for LPR, Alan King writes, “It’s exciting when the list of contributors for a publication I’m in is a reunion of sorts.” We expect the literary world will be reading more of Guo’s fiction in the future and look forward to more of the reunions King describes.

Guo will read her work at LPR’s annual reading at The Writer’s Center on Saturday, March 17 from 2:00 – 4:00 PM. More information about the annual reading, which will feature multiple artists from our Winter 2018 issue, is available at this link.