Make Believe as Metaphor

This post was originally published on June 1, 2011. It’s being re-shared as part of LPR’s 10th Anniversary.

Vonnie Winslow Crist

Vonnie Winslow Crist

Earlier this month, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention caught flak–and a great deal of attention–for running a disaster-preparedness campaign for the Zombie Apocalypse. If you are ready for Zombies, the CDC suggests, you are ready for anything. Tips for an ordinary disaster-preparedness kit follow. The CDC understands that zombies aren’t a real threat. What appears to be make believe is really metaphor. In this equation Zombies = life-altering disaster.

Writer, illustrator and storyteller Vonnie Winslow Crist understands the relationship between make believe and metaphor. Crist, who recently published a book of fairy tales, poems and sketches, The Greener Forest, has a featured essay, “Fairies, Magic and Monsters,” in LPR’s Make Believe issue, scheduled to launch June 18. The essay looks at current and classic fantasy books and movies such as J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series. Crist traces their popularity back to somber messages safely sent through stories shared by the cooking fire.

Many have complained that the Harry Potter series grew progressively dark with each book. Considering that Rowling explored a subculture living in a state of dictator-enforced paranoia, the darkness makes sense. Lord Voldemort’s tactics are as familiar as the front page, which daily tells us about the cruelties of depots clinging to power. In her essay, Crist points out, “This is fantastical literature’s greatest gift. Through make believe places, races, characters, and creatures, the authors of these tales use metaphor to help us examine the controversial issues of our world.”

Crist is a master of metaphor. In The Greener Forest, her modern fairy tales stand out. These stories use traditional fairy tale tropes, artfully layered with modern concerns. In “Shoreside,” a vacation at the beach forces a wife and mother to reconsider the family life she has chosen. Hiromi watches her husband and children swim in the ocean but avoids the water herself. She is a ningyo (a mermaid of Japanese folklore) and fears that the pull of the water and the adventurous life it represents will break her family ties. When a child nearly drowns in the ocean, Hiromi must test those ties.

“Tootsie’s Swamp Tours & Amusement Park” is set, with an oddball sense of just-the-right detail, at a rundown Southern destination beset by Spriggans. As Jess walks through the park with her uncle and husband, she realizes only she can see the ugly fairy creatures threatening her. Jess, who has recently lost a pregnancy, comes to believe the Spriggans caused her miscarriage. Her depression lifts as she takes control of her situation.

A handful of original fairy tales set in “once upon a time” showcase Crist’s love of the genre. “Blood of the Swan” is a particularly beautiful quest story about a young man who must slay the swan maiden he loves in order to save his village.

The stories in The Greener Forest can be dark. Even tales with a love theme at their center, such as “The Return of Gunnar Kettilson,” would never be optioned by Disney for a feature film. Gunnar Kettilson is, after all, a zombie. Unlike modern zombies, though, Gunnar has a thirst for revenge, not brains, and he still has enough heart left to protect the woman he loves. As Crist says in her LPR essay, “Fairies, magic, and even monsters will continue to be threads running through the human tapestry because they offer us hope and bring order to chaos.”

Vonnie Winslow Crist writes Harford’s Heart magazine’s “Writer’s Block” column, does illustrations for the Vegetarian Journal, co-edits The Gunpowder Review, contributes to Faerie Magazine and publishes the blog Whimsical Words. She has taught creative writing at Harford Community College and for the Maryland State Arts Council Arts in Education Program and regularly leads a writing workshop at Baltimore Science Fiction Society’s Balticon

Her fiction has appeared in publications such as Tales of the Talisman, Macabre Magazine (England), First Word Bulletin (Spain) and Great Writers Great Stories: Writers from Maryland, Virginia, and Washington, D.C. Her poetry has appeared in publications such as Loch Raven Review, Champagne Shivers and EMG-Zine. She is author-illustrator of Leprechaun Cake & Other Tales (children’s book), Essential Fables (poetry) and River of Stars (poetry) and co-editor of Lower Than the Angels: Science Fact, Science Fiction & Fantasy and Through a Glass Darkly: An Anthology of Mystery, Gothic Horror & Dark Fantasy.

She has received a Maryland State Arts Council Individual Artist Award and placed first in the 2007 Maryland National League of American Pen Women poetry contest.

NOTE: If you enjoyed this publication, please check out LPR’s Issue 10: Make Believe https://littlepatuxentreview.org/sales/individual-issues-2/

A Cool, Dark Make Believe World Under Our Grandmothers’ Tables

This post was originally published on June 11, 2013.

Susan Thorrnton Hobby

Susan Thornton Hobby

Under my great-grandma Coley’s ornate dining room table, I made the first make believe world that I can remember.

The table’s four thick legs splayed out from a center pole and ended in wooden lions’ paws clutching wooden balls. Whenever it rained or it was too hot in the Shenandoah Mountains to play outside her tiny house, I would retreat from the murmur of adult conversation into the dim, dusty world under the lace tablecloth. The swirling Persian rug–cut into the thick, rosy quarters of a pie by the table legs–became a house, with one separate room for my Breyer horses, one for the wooden chess pieces she let me play with, one for the ragged Barbies my brother tortured and another for the Kens. The dolls never cohabitated in my chaste make believe world.

I was practicing, I suppose, play acting out a life that I might make come true one day, with rooms and animals and children and gardens. Make believe allows the players to try things out, to escape from the mundane or the horrible, to build a vision. And not just children engage in make believe. Adults indulge. And writers do it every day.

The new issue of the Little Patuxent Review carries through it the theme of make believe in ways both strange and wonderful. The Wright Brothers drink Manhattans in a bar and marvel at modern life (that’s Bruce Sager’s poem, also his tongue-in-cheek critic’s take on that poem). A man adopts a Houdini of an octopus when he’s not quite ready for human companionship (that’s Ann Philips’ microfiction). A dead mouse’s odor slips between a couple and elicits a tiny, poisonous deception (that’s Jenny Keith’s sly story). And a child, unsure of the meaning of “adultery,” decides it means playing an adult and confesses her many sins to a nonplussed priest (that’s Ann Bracken’s sweet, funny poem).

All those writers and more will read their work at the launch event for the Little Patuxent Review’s summer issue, our tenth issue, on Saturday, June 18, 2 to 4 PM, held in partnership with the Columbia Festival of the Arts.

Readers will also include Derrick Weston Brown, Erin Christian, Caryn Coyle, Barbara Westwood Diehl, David Evans, Susan Thornton Hobby (that’s me), Danuta Kosk-Kosicka, Laurie Kovens, Karen Sagstetter and Patricia Jakovich VanAmburg, plus Tara Hart, reading a poem about pretending, forgetting and remembering. Tara will also reprise her poem “Patronized,” which first appeared in last summer’s Spirituality issue and recently was recently awarded a Pushcart Prize.

It’s hot outside, but it’s cool and dark here under our great-grandmother’s tables, playing make believe. Come join us.

NOTE: If you like’d this republished work, check out LPR’s Issue 10: Make Believe https://littlepatuxentreview.org/sales/individual-issues-2/.

An Annotated Tour of the Music Issue

Show LPR Some Love, Ellicott City, MD, February 2013 (Photo: Laura Shovan)

Show LPR Some Love, Ellicott City, MD, February 2013 (Photo: Laura Shovan)

At the Show LPR Some Love event this February, we held our first community discussion. Submissions to our music-themed issue were accumulating, so we gathered together local readers for an hour-long talk about music on a snowy day. The conversation was wide-ranging: spirituals, song sparrows, memory, the aging brain and other aspects that our readers hoped to see in this edition.

The first item on the list that we compiled was the relationship of music to sacred and cultural beliefs. In our featured interview, poet Marie Howe explains how the church hymns and Bible stories that she heard as a child influenced the core of her work. Other pieces bear her out: music is a means of communicating culture, whether in Martinique [i] or Baltimore [ii].

The second item was the relationship of music to language. How do musicians use silence to contribute to a song? Are we singing when we talk [iii]? And what about music that is not constructed by human beings: a bird’s song [iv], a wolf’s call?

The item that resulted from the liveliest part of our conversation concerned the relationship of music to memory. Our associations with music, especially songs from childhood and young adulthood, run deep. Work with Alzheimer’s and dementia patients has shown that even when patients no longer talk, they can still sing old standards.

Several pieces address the connection between music and memory [v]. Knowing a favorite tune word-for-word or note-by-note, listeners feel an intimacy with the performer. When we are lonely, music can provide solace [vi] or feed our sense of isolation [vii]. Famous musicians—rockers Debbie Harry [viii] and Neil Young, blues legend Billie Holliday and jazz great Thelonius Monk [ix]—make cameo appearances in our Music issue. Their songs serve as the backdrop for stories of love, heartbreak and transformation [x].

The last item concerned the way in which music creates community. An audience shares a live performance [xi]. Even one listener, such as cover artist Robin Rose [xii] painting alone in his studio to favorite jazz pieces, completes the performance. As with our journal, there is no performance without an audience to respond to our compositions.

[i] Martinican poet Suzanne Dracius’s piece “Pointe-des-Nègres” appears as an English translation by Nancy Naomi Carlson and in the original French. It is accompanied by Ann Bracken’s “An Interview with Nancy Naomi Carlson,” where maintaining musicality in poetry translations is addressed.

[ii] In her poem “Locust Sounds,” Clarinda Harriss points out that the sounds of nature can be heard even in a city such as Baltimore. For a different sort of Baltimorean sound, see 2013 Pratt Poetry Contest finalist Steve Leyva’s poem “Highlandtown after the Zappa Statue.”

[iii] Hope Johnson’s musical poem “Sangin’” addresses this issue.

[iv] Lori Powell’s “To the Bird that Wakes Me” won the 2013 Pratt contest.

[v] See Debra Kaufman’s poem “Strays” and David Vardeman’s short story “Known to God.”

[vi] Gregory Luce finds solace in the classic Coltrane album A Love Supreme in his poem “Aspirins and Coffee.”

[vii] In “Close to You,” Missy Roback’s protagonist uses her obsession with music to avoid building relationships with other people.

[viii] Gerry LaFemina’s prose poem “Sunday Girl” imagines a chance encounter with Blondie.

[ix] Tim Hunt’s poem “Thelonius Monk” recreates a performance at the end of Monk’s career.

[x] Essayist Cliffton Price describes pop music’s powerful association with time in “An Otherwise Empty Room.”

[xi] Anne Harding Woodworth’s poem “On Seeing Psycho in a Concert Hall” looks at the community that a performance creates.

[xii] LPR Art Consultant Michael Salcman’s profile of Rose includes a full-color portfolio of the abstract artist’s work.

To read the full text of a poem and a short story appearing in the Music issue, click here. For more on the art, see “The Integration of Art, Music and More: Robin Rose.”

Meet the Neighbors: Columbia Festival of the Arts

A journal such as ours requires a vibrant literary and artistic environment to thrive—and even survive. In appreciation of the various cultural entities around us, we present “Meet the Neighbors,” a series where we provide you with personal introductions to a diverse assortment.

I met the people who put on the Columbia Festival of the Arts over champagne, a good way to start any relationship. We were at the launch of the LPR Audacity issue, the first time that the summer iteration of our biannual event was formally part of the Festival.

MOMIX's Botanica

MOMIX’s Botanica, performed at the 2012 Columbia Festival of the Arts. (Photo: Max Pucciariello)

I then attended an intimate reading by award-winning writer Edith Pearlman, hosted by HoCoPoLitSo and part of the Festival. I was there not only because I admired Pearlman’s short fiction but also because she was featured in our Audacity issue. My final Festival events were to be more pleasure than [literary] business: the performance of Botanica by MOMIX, a company of dancer-illusionists, and a reception celebrating the Festival’s 25th anniversary, where I assumed that more champagne would be consumed.

But the derecho intervened. I was trapped in my historic house, built into the side of a hill on a steep bank overlooking the Patapsco River. No power, no phone or computer connectivity and trees down everywhere. So I sipped bottled water instead of champagne. But a mere seven miles away, Botanica went off without a hitch, as did the reception.

Recalling that, I was determined to give the Festival its due by placing it first in the series of articles that will appear here in preparation for the June 22 launch of the LPR Music issue. And I asked Nichole Hickey, Executive Director and CEO, for the inside scoop.

Here’s how she responded:

When asked to give a first-hand perspective of the Festival, I wasn’t sure where to begin or how to summarize both the Festival and my experience with it. Especially not at this time of the year, just weeks away from the 2013 season and days away from our annual gala, which this year featured Paula Poundstone. But I couldn’t let this article pass. After all, it is a perfect fit for LPR readers: you are our audience.

There are so many people who contribute to the production of Howard County’s premiere arts festival each year. We are fortunate to have a talented, capable, hard-working staff, people who year in and year out help make the season the unofficial start to summer in our area. I am also lucky to work with a supportive Board of Trustees as well as the 200 volunteers who offer their time and support annually. And then there are the sponsors and donors who step up each year, providing financial and in-kind resources. There could not be a Festival without all of them.

I am in my 11th year working with the Festival. What began in 2002 as a part-time role as deputy director has turned into a full-time, year-round, 24/7 job. I start with a blank slate each year, conferring with my team on what to present over 16 days in June. Our goal is to offer a varied, well-balanced lineup of non-stop events from the international, national, regional and local scenes that serves to celebrate our own community. Budget, performer availability and a host of other factors help to define each season. It’s a great deal of work, but we have a lot of fun along the way, as well.

The desire to produce an arts event of this magnitude isn’t what brought me to the Festival. My husband, Michael Hickey, was a founder of the Festival in 1987, and we have remained supporters ever since. When the Festival needed someone to help re-staff the organization in 2002, they tapped into my human resources background. Before I knew it, I had stepped into the role of deputy director. Late 2004, the Board convinced me to take on the role of executive director when it again became vacant.

I was tenuous during my initial year, being a visual artist who was suddenly running an organization focused on performance arts. Certainly, one of my first priorities was to identify ways to enhance visual arts programming. I succeeded in doing this, but there is plenty of room for improvement. During my tenure, film was also added as a regular feature and more emphasis was placed on literary offerings. This year, attendees will be able to enjoy the unique pairing of poet Patricia Smith and the Sage String Quartet playing a Wynton Marsalis composition. Programming that melds artistic disciplines is something that I try to bring to the Festival each year.

My job is not without challenges. Budgets are tighter, fundraising is more difficult and staff reductions have occurred. These are universal issues, particularly in the arts and for nonprofit organizations. Also universal is question of audience development: how to best secure the next generation of devotees. Faced with the challenges of the past decade, economic and otherwise, we need to work harder than ever to arrive at the correct formula for making our Festival a regularly recurring success.

Each year, we seek a mix of recognizable names and eclectic acts that we hope will appeal to the widest possible audience. This season’s weekend headliners—Rhythmic Circus, Reduced Shakespeare Company, Pilobolus and Preservation Hall Jazz Band—offer a balanced array of high-energy performances. Additions such as award-winning Sundance movie shorts, the return of Baltimore’s Stoop Storytelling, the zany family-friendly AudioBody, a theatrical hair and makeup competition and the Patricia Smith event add the sort of flavor to the Festival that attendees have come to expect.

When asked about my favorite acts over the years, it’s tough to respond. Blood, Sweat & Tears, America and The Neville Brothers were personal indulgences and, fortunately, the performances were well-attended. Household names such as Wynton Marsalis, Judy Collins, Ed Asner and Smothers Brothers also come to mind.

Nichole Hickey

Nichole Hickey (Photo: Nicholas Griner)

I love the fact that we can bring these iconic artists and others to perform in the accessible settings of our local theaters, the Smith and the Rouse. They provide a personal experience that doesn’t exist in the larger venues of the Baltimore-Washington corridor. That’s what we strive to offer at the Festival: a personal, interactive experience between artist and audience. What’s the best part of the job for me? When I stand in the lobby after an amazing performance and feel the energy of audience members as they exit the theatre. That makes all the hard work worthwhile.

I can’t say where I will be ten years from now, but I do hope the Columbia Festival of the Arts is still going strong and has engaged a new generation of arts lovers.

I completely concur with Nichole, having experienced what she describes for myself last year. The Edith Pearlman reading, for example, was held at a lovely Columbia venue, the Historic Oakland manor house. Sitting in the last row, I was still close enough to engage her without a microphone. But others had good questions and comments, so I remained silent. One person observed that what Pearlman had read was not quite what appeared on the printed page. Pearlman smiled, saying that she never stopped revising. We smiled in assent, and the whatever distance remained between audience and author disappeared.

That reading also illustrates the kinds of synergies that can occur among neighboring cultural entities. Three organizations came together around Edith Pearlman: Columbia Festival of the Arts, Howard County Poetry & Literature Society (aka HoCoPoLitSo) and Little Patuxent Review. The first two brought Pearlman here, and the latter, through a print-issue interview conducted by Susan Thornton Hobby (who not incidentally sits on both HoCoPoLitSo and LPR boards), to an audience extending beyond county borders.

I now offer “An Interview with Edith Pearlman” online, giving it international reach since approximately 10 percent of our blog readers reside outside the States. Click and enjoy!

Reader Response: Written in Silence, Inspired by Sound

We love getting your reactions to the material that we post. If your message contains new information or images, we may even publish it as a separate piece. Here’s how I came upon–and combined–what two of our readers, one a member of the LPR staff, the other a contributor working on a post for our blog, sent me in response to my LPR Loves…Acoustic Art.”

Jen Grow

Jen Grow (Photo: Bill Hughes)

I started my short piece on acoustic art by saying that when I sit down to write, I first turn on my computer, then turn on my music. I assumed that most creative types were similar in that respect to me and artist Jennie C. Jones, the subject of the piece. Turns out that I was wrong.

In the comments section of the posted piece, LPR Fiction Editor Jen Grow, a pleasant person who frequently has the good sense to agree with me, wrote the following paragraph (italics mine):

I never listen to music while I’m writing. However, I tend to obsess about music in a way that makes me listen to the same song or cd a million times successively. Something about the mood of the music allows me to access certain memories or emotions. That’s how I came to write a story in response to on a Patti Smith song…

That someone good writes in silence was interesting enough. But I had scheduled a piece by Lorraine Whittlesey about Smith for the middle of May, so I needed to know more.

First, I listened to Smith’s song “Don’t Say Nothing,” which Jen subsequently said had served as the inspiration for her story. It’s pretty good, so you might want to do so, too.

Then I read the story, “Fixed.” It is unpublished as yet but will be part of a collection that Jen hopes to put out next year. You can read it here right now by clicking on the link.

I might have been foolish enough to attempt to explain how the song relates to the story had Karen Garthe not saved me. Karen, you see, was slated to prepare a piece for the blog on how music drives the type of poetry that she pens. Instead, she sent me a work in progress that “demonstrates rather than analyzes” the role of music of her poetry.

Karen Garthe

Karen Garthe (Photo: Lisa Khan-Kapadia)

“I LOVE being surprised,” I replied. Then, to buy time while I figured out how on Earth to reproduce the poem’s complex formatting with the meager tools that this blog afforded, I sought her response to that acoustic art piece, expecting that she would describe the playlist that she used while working. Instead, she offered the following (italics mine):

…Curiously, I cannot imagine trying to write to any music but silence. The search for silence, peace and quiet…why I am practically a pilgrim of. If there is music on I will listen to it, it will take the foreground even if it is intended as background. It’s impossible for me to do anything but completely listen to music if it’s on, which is how come I’ll turn off the radio in a car if a conversation is being had, and why I become wildly distressed, even unhinged sometimes, by unwanted music/sounds, which includes (especially on the subway) other people whose earbuds are shrieking whatever awfulness. Never anything good, usually.

That said, nothing is more important to me than music and I couldn’t live without it. Music and Silence are my ideals…I’m a terrible autocrat here. It’s one or the other.

So I had another Jen on my hands. “Fine,” I said to myself. “I’ll present Smith’s song and Jen’s story while silencing my own analytic mind. And, as a matter of respect, I’ll do the same for Karen’s set. With no further comment from me.” Or some words to that effect.

So, listen to Karen’s inspiration, a section of pianist Glenn Gould’s radio documentary The Idea of North, part of his Solitude Trilogy. There’s a voice pileup at the beginning, a method that he has called “contrapuntal radio,” then Jean Sibelius’s Symphony No. 5.

And here’s “Hey Now,” Karen’s contrapuntal poem. But you’ll have to click on the link to read it as she sent it. I never managed to come up with a way to transfer the formatting.

I should end without another word. But I must add that more than poetry connects Karen to music. In the Sixties, she moved from Baltimore to New York City to attend the American Ballet Theater school and later studied with Merce Cunningham. And in the Seventies, she worked for The Wartoke Concern, managing Patti Smith, among others.

Meet the Neighbors: Free State Review

A journal such as ours requires a vibrant literary and artistic environment to thrive—and even survive. In appreciation of the various cultural entities around us, we present “Meet the Neighbors,” a series where we provide you with personal introductions to a diverse assortment.

Barrett Warner with bean truck

Barrett Warner with bean truck (Photo: Bruce Leopold)

The Free State Review website caught my eye with an elegant layout and excellent photography. And kept my interest with statements that revealed a strong sense of identity. There was a focus on “place and experience.” On “authors who live the poem—story—essay before they write it” and provide “some glimpse of a genuine moment in this high concept world, reflected pieces of the real.” And exhibit “engagement and grace.”

That was what I’d tried to achieve in my own work. I would’ve been happy to submit a story had the 3000 word limit not stopped me short. Undaunted, I decided to do the next best thing. I contacted the editors—there seemed to be four—to ask, “So, what is your story?” One of them, writer and reviewer Barrett Warner, was pleased to oblige. Here’s how he responded:

We never had a sign that said, Right now, start a new literary review. There weren’t any voices in the winds. No beautiful angels flying into our minds, nesting on our sternums, singing in our ears. We just found each other.

Editor Hal Burdett found himself when he retired. It took him 81 years, 60 of those spent writing columns in The Baltimore Sun, The Washington Times and other Metro newspapers. Raphaela Cassandra found Hal. The May-December pair next found poet J. Wesley Clark. It wasn’t hard to spot Jim. His familiar beard has grown through ten US presidents. He has published 11 poems a year for over 50 years in well over 300 literary magazines. His books include Daughter of the South County, Asleep With Whippoorwills: New & Selected Poems 1970-1995 and I Am Paraguay.

Jim found me. I’d been dodging success as a poet for 30 years and begun focusing on book reviews and essays. I’d written 35 in the previous year, enough to see a lot of new writers and styles and exciting presses. I was thrilled and jealous, especially when writing reflected experience that was “street” but had a polished sense of craft.

All of us had a feeling that writers in the region shared a dream about life. We also knew that elastic forms existed all over the planet. Creating Free State Review was a way to combine them—writers who smelled of seawater, writers who had metal parts and others scented by chlorine or mud. The language seduces us. When words are set beside vigorously lived moments, the experiences dazzle and the art moves us deeply.

We knew that we needed a website, whatever that was, but we had no idea how to advertise that we were accepting submissions except by word of mouth. We wagged our chin-choppers for three months before anything appeared in our box. The first parcel we considered included poems by Chris Toll, Edgar Gabriel Silex, Barbara DeCesare and Jessica Lynn Dotson. The first three were veterans, having eight books between them, but Jessica was a new arrival. She wrote about auto mechanics and had only had one poem posted—and that on a site since abandoned.

Others slowly handed over some poems or an essay or a short. Some such as Rachel Adams and Scott King were strangers who came to us the way that editors sometimes have of sensing other editors. Some such as Beth Spires and James Robison were friends who wanted to go on the journey. There was only one rejection for that first issue. Our raft was a big one, and the Argo could make a sailor out of any cowboy.

The first issue

The first issue, Winter 2013

The press given about our first issue, its growing distribution (Hal, like all good newspaper reporters, is a fanatic about distribution), our crazy launch at Ram’s Head in Annapolis and the rising murmurs about our next issue were impossible to predict, especially given the small number of submissions.

I’d been courting Bethany Shultz Hurst for almost a year, following her work in literary journals across the country, anticipating a book that I wanted to review. After we accepted her poems, she became a finalist in the Yale Series of Younger Poets Competition, as did the local author Katherine Cottle, who had some great titles with Apprentice House. Similarly, our new poet Jessica subsequently had poems accepted by five other journals and was nominated for a Pushcart Prize.

We’ve since come to pride ourselves on seeking and finding authors on the rise, at times weeks, at times months shy of a break-out year. In the next issue, there are two authors, Kevin Lavey and Dan Ferrara, who would make me shake.

I found Kevin’s story in a pile of rejections for a fiction contest run by the Maryland Writers’ Association. It was the only one that I liked. Kevin and I met for coffee at Artifact and talked it through three or four revisions before we accepted it. A month later, he received a Maryland State Arts Council Individual Artist Award for Fiction. Dan Ferrara—who knows where this cat’s going to prowl in six months? Mostly the demons chase us, but every so often a certain writer turns and chases those demons right back. Ferrara’s got a purr that would scare any hungry coyote.

A reporter asked last month if there was a particular writer that I hoped to get into our journal. Yes, I answered, but the perfect writer has no name, no zip code. We’re searching, turning over stones, hoping that he or she will find us. Perfection isn’t a state, it’s just a single moment in a changing, stirred-up world. Here’s the dope: we’re trying to meet those moments and connect and put them into print.

It’s partly beginner’s luck that we found so many talented authors, but the fact is that we’re not beginners. Hal had came up at The Sun under HL Mencken, and that wizard’s two literary journals had sparked an early interest for the enlightened conversation that the arts bring to our day-to-day. Jim was a foreign correspondent in Mexico and Cuba. We’re an older Sunshine Club of hard-knocking dreamers.

So we’re different from other new magazines started by much younger types with lots of energy and visions of changing the world or maybe doing something with their MFAs. We’ve seen so many movements and presses and writers come and go, even actual revolution. You develop an instinct for sensing when you’re glimpsing a real modern-day Icarus and when it’s only a wad of feathers passing overhead. Jim says, “The first step in writing from the gut is to have plenty of guts.”

Ours isn’t the coolest, hippest journal out there. We’re no Fence, Coconut, Dzanc or Mud Luscious. We’re no Adam Robinson. And we don’t know all those stars making life-changing one-shot films or posting about zeroism or “the new severity.” We’re too old school for that. We still enjoy reading without having to plug in something, all the more so if we’re snuggled under a quilt. And we believe in public readings, in the live poetry scene, in bringing words to people’s ears and not just their eyes.

Raphaela is helping us with this, setting up readings at The Writer’s Center in Bethesda, East End Book Exchange in Pittsburgh, Minás Gallery in Baltimore and Mystery Loves Company in Easton. Her take is that life is too messy without literature. Raphaela designs robots at the Naval Academy and helped attract St. John’s College astrophysicist and poet Jim Beall to the Review. His “Odysseus” includes images such as “axe murderer” and a boat run aground in the mountains “wrestling with legacies” as he speculates about the poet and dreamer in each of us.

Hal could talk the leg off a dead mule, but it’s not all a sales pitch and I believe him when he talks about empathy. He says,

In the modernist world, the heroes are all lonely creatures. They deal with their mortality all alone. There’s not much tension in that, but these Free State Review authors focus on moments of separation and slipping away, the husband taking a job somewhere else, the father endlessly repairing his car in a late night garage but driving nowhere or a brother’s suicide. Empathy is the perfect countermeasure for 21st Century isolation.

This is why Free State Review is not just a journal. It’s a love affair. Maybe we saw something for a moment and suddenly knew that our lives would be different. Knew this in spite of our eyes being bloody from staring at nothing so long. We saw it and knew that we wanted this love, this flash of hope, this electric profile that was there for an instant, then was gone. So, this time we decided to follow it, to see where it led and—chanting some and jigging some—disappear into its miracle of words.

As someone who is new to the world of literary publishing but not the world at large, I wish Barrett and his band of seasoned beginners all the best. And remind them that small literary journals like ours have a cultural influence that is disproportionate to their size.

Note: See the Council of Literary Magazines and Presses piece “Independent Presses and ‘Little’ Magazines in American Culture: A Forty-Year Retrospective.”

First and Foremost: Elizabeth Evitts Dickinson

At LPR online, emerging and lesser-known writers and artists have always received precedence. But—first and foremost—we love showcasing those whose debut literary and artistic works have appeared on our pages. Which is why we started work on such a list, posted on this site, and the “First and Foremost” series, where our “firsts” can speak for themselves.

To get things going, here’s Elizabeth Evitts Dickinson, whose first published short fiction piece appeared in our Winter 2013 Doubt issue.

Elizabeth Evitts Dickinson

Elizabeth Evitts Dickinson

One day, I started hearing voices. I had been warned that this might happen, but it still came as a shock when they arrived.

The first to speak was Isabelle. I was driving home late one evening from a friend’s house when I passed a furniture store that I had passed many times before. The business is in a renovated warehouse fronted by a plate glass window that offers a full view of the interior. It’s the kind of design-not-within-reach store that sells contemporary wares displayed in perfectly conceived groupings as though the sophisticated homeowners are about to walk in, sit at that Le Corbusier dining table and enjoy a good Bordeaux.

It was late. The store was closed, but the security lights warmed the window display and the glow hit my peripheral vision. I turned to look for that split second that it took to drive by, and that’s when Isabelle appeared. I can’t remember exactly what she told me that night, but I do remember this: she was on the outside of that store looking in and was desperate to climb inside and pretend that the clean, orderly space belonged to her. She also wanted to take a nap.

Then came this sentence: “Isabelle wondered how long it would take for the police to arrive.” That became the first sentence of my short story “Danish Modern,” which appears in the Winter 2013 Doubt issue of Little Patuxent Review. “Danish Modern”  is the first piece of fiction that I have completed and the first that has been published.

So how, at age 39, did I start hearing voices and writing fiction? Annie Dillard stated in The Writing Life, “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.” I walked out of a good museum job at the age of 25 because I realized that I wanted to be a writer. Specifically, a nonfiction writer. I wanted to tell true stories.

Writing has always been the lens through which I have seen the world. It is how I have harnessed my curiosity and made sense of things. Journalism became the conduit that allowed me to invite myself to places that I knew nothing about and learn. I liked talking to people, understanding different points of view and distilling complex ideas to their essence so that readers could enjoy the result.

I was happy in that work for many years. Telling true stories was enough. And then one day it wasn’t. There were many reasons for this shift—rounding 40, my father’s untimely death, the birth of my daughter—but the gist is that I no longer felt content with the limits of nonfiction and journalism. I wanted to explore questions without easy answers and work those questions out on the page.

At first, timid to stray too far from nonfiction, I delved into the personal essay form. I re-read Didion, Dillard and White. I remembered the power of personal essays such as White’s “Once More to the Lake,” with its chilling ending and insights on aging, to transform everyday experience. But it was re-reading White’s short fiction work “The Second Tree From the Corner” that stirred something in me. There was his lean and powerful prose, of course, but also the recognition that he had allowed himself to venture where his mind took him—essay, personal essay, poetry, fiction, children’s literature.

I still have the desire to unpack the human experience, examine it and report back. I simply want more outlets for that process. The power of fiction is its ability to synthesize and convey the inner terrain of the human experience. Fiction offers its own truth.

I’ve since turned my journalism training inward to make my thinking the subject. The result is an epistemological tool that chips away at everything. I am more curious, more alert than ever. I no longer edit questions beyond the pale because they deviate from fact or the interests of a magazine editor. I allow my mind to wander and to see the stories that exist within the connective tissue of my thinking. I allow myself to hear the voices.

I’m still figuring out my creative metabolism for fiction. I know journalism well. I’ve written hundreds of articles, and the process is ingrained. Fiction is awkward, mysterious and clumsy. But it’s also reinvigorating. In making this leap, I had to get over the anxiety of being a beginner and ask for help. Here are a few things that I learned along the way:

  • Participate in the community that you hope to join. Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote in “On the American Scholar,” “First we eat, then we beget. First we read, then we write.” You must be an active reader to be a writer. In his column “Ask The Paris Review,” Editor Lorin Stein tells new writers, “Here’s the thing: no matter how many classes you take, no matter how much time you spend at the keyboard, you cannot write seriously unless you read.”
  • Don’t be afraid to be an outsider. So many of us pretend that we know more than we do for fear of looking naive. Journalism has taught me the value of being the outsider who gets to ask the questions. I am still learning the ins and outs of pitching literary magazines, applying for grants and writing retreats and reading in front of audiences (as I did for the first time at the launch of the Doubt issue). In each of these situations, I sought out someone who knew the ropes and could offer guidance.
  • Seek people who are smarter than you. The adage about picking a tennis partner who is better than you because it improves your game also applies to writing.
  • Workshop in a healthy, productive environment. Danish Modern” benefited from the thoughtful feedback of two writing workshop partners. Both offered different insights, but, most importantly, both treated the work with respect. They had to suffer through some terrible writing, but because of their considerate and fruitful comments, I learned, I improved and I moved on.
  • Get into the habit of writing things down. I thought that “Danish Modern” came out of nowhere. In rereading my journal, I realized that the idea had been percolating for some time. You never know what might be grist for the creative mill. (And once you start working those ideas out on the page, you can edit out overused expressions such as “grist for the mill.”)

And never forget that everyone was once a beginner. “Meek young men grow up in libraries believing it their duty to accept the views which Cicero, which Locke, which Bacon have given,” Emerson wrote in “On the American Scholar,” “forgetful that Cicero, Locke, and Bacon were only young men in libraries when they wrote those books.”

Elizabeth Evitts Dickinson is a journalist, author and editor whose pieces have appeared in The New York Times Magazine, Slate, The Baltimore Sun, Urbanite and Little Patuxent Review. She is a contributing editor at Architect and Architectural Lighting and the home and design editor for Style Magazine in Baltimore.

Recently, we were delighted to learn that Elizabeth had received a 2013 Maryland State Arts Council Individual Artist Award for Fiction. Then doubly delighted when we realized that another contributor, Susan Muaddi Darraj, received one as well. Given Elizabeth’s advice, you might want to read “Concerning Craft: Susan Muaddi Darraj.”