Candlesticks and Daggers Interview Series: Gregory Luce

This post is part of the Candlesticks and Daggers Interview Series run by contributor Sati Benes Chock. For more about the book, please follow the link here.

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Excerpt Greg Luce’s Poem “Report”

I inverted the crescent moon

for you so it would point

thumbs up to heaven.

You pulled down the shade.

Interview

You recently retired from the National Geographic Society. What did you do there? Did your work there ever provide inspiration for your creative writing? If so, how?

I was a Production Specialist in Pre-press, which involved many different duties: customer service to the magazine and book units, project tracking, and preparation of National Geographic Magazine features for printing. Among many other things, I extracted each story from the InDesign publishing system, converted it into individual page PDFs, and sent them to the printer. I would get occasional inspiration from an NGM story, but the real value of that job for me was that it kept me firmly grounded in the world and allowed me to meet and interact with many different kinds of people doing many different kinds of things. I believe my work reflects this.

Can you tell us a little about how you became a poet?  Did you always know that you wanted to be one? Do you ever write short stories?

I didn’t always know, but I became interested and began to write when I was a child. I’ve told this story in a different context, but it’s relevant here as well: The first poetry I was exposed to other than Mother Goose and the usual nursery rhymes, was A Child’s Garden of Verses, by Robert Louis Stevenson. My grandmother read the poems to me when I was very small. Even before I could read, the world he described seemed very real to me while at the same time, the prosody and language were highly appealing. As soon as I could read I devoured it many times. “The Land of Counterpane” especially spoke to me; though I was not a sickly child as Stevenson was, when I did fall ill, I would lie in bed and play with my toy soldiers. Somehow the fact that this other boy, who grew up, lived, and died long before I was born, engaged in the same sort of play that I did made a powerful impression. I think it must have planted the idea that poetry endures across time and continues to speak over many generations—not that I could have articulated that back then!

I can’t remember when I actually wrote my first poem, but I dabbled in poetry throughout childhood. By the time I got to high school, I considered myself a poet and wrote regularly, terrible poems of course, but in doing so I developed the habit of writing. Further, by then I was reading a lot of poetry, sometimes trying to imitate or write in the styles of the poets I particularly liked. My Senior English teacher introduced me to, among others, T.S. Eliot, the first Modernist I had encountered. When I got to college I prowled the poetry section of the library and read the literary magazines and eventually majored in English with the encouragement of a couple of my professors. I took a Creative Writing class as an undergrad and specialized in writing in grad school. My MA thesis was a collection of poems—still bad, but getting better. I kept writing and workshopping and eventually found my voice, as they say.

I have not written short stories since trying a couple in grad school, but now that I’m retired and have more time, I have several in the works. I’ve been reading a lot of Henry James’ shorter works and it seems to have lit a fire in me.

Who are your favorite poets? What is it about their writing that you admire most?

Walt Whitman. He demonstrates how one can include the entire living world in poetry and he created the first truly American poetry. Also his poetry has a profoundly spiritual—even at times mystical—quality that reaches beyond the literary into a nearly religious dimension. He is the grandfather of all of us American poets.

Rainer Maria Rilke. My remarks about Whitman’s spirituality also apply to Rilke. His poetry is profoundly moving and inspiring. He has not been a direct influence on how I write, but reading him reminds me of how high a calling writing poetry is.

Emily Dickinson. Her intensity and concision have had a profound influence on my writing and her powerful descriptions of her emotional and spiritual struggles give me strength and the courage to write about my own. She is as important to me as Whitman and has had a more direct impact on my poetic style,

W.C. Williams and Robert Creeley. Again, concision and intensity, plus a great command of modern American language. I found my own voice through my reading of Creeley, though I have moved beyond the tiny minimalist poems I first wrote under his influence.

“Report” is a lovely poem, but it is also a mystery. Is this the first time that you’ve combined these two things, or is this something that you’ve done before?

Thank you! I have never written anything quite like “Report” before. I was intrigued by the idea of crossing mystery with other genres, but didn’t really think I had anything to offer. But Kelly told me she really wanted more poems in the book, and she has this way of twisting your arm so that you feel like you’ve had a massage, so I decided to see if I could come up with something. Somehow, the idea of creating a mystery in which one never learns who the perpetrator, victim, or the actual crime are came to me. Once I had that in mind, I felt strangely free to indulge in the semi-surreal language the first speaker uses and to relate odd events and leave out any solution. I like to say it’s the first poem I’ve ever written on commission.

You are an award-winning poet who has published a number of chapbooks. If you could tell beginning writers one thing about the publishing process, what would it be?

First, be very patient and remember that the writing is the important thing. I was 55 when I published my first book, though I had been publishing intermittently in journals for many years. After the first, the others came in relatively quick succession. But it’s absolutely essential not to get fixated on publishing a book. Keep trying but the poems and stories are the real goal. If you are good and persistent, you’ll find an audience.

Do you find that you often return to the same themes in your work? And if so, what are they?

Love, weather, light, birds, the small overlooked phenomena of everyday life. The painter Paul Klee explains one of the functions of art brilliantly: “Art does not reproduce the visible; rather, it makes visible.” I’ve tried to make visible things that are overlooked as people rush about their daily existence. The very first poem in my first book is as close to an ars poetica as I’ve written:

 

Just Look

Sunlight falls indifferently

among grass and leaves

and broken glass and gravel

but the radiance is there

anywhere you care to look,

sparks and dazzles

fly out and upward,

daytime fireflies glancing

off the sidewalk and

the puddles and the windshields

and, yes, your own eyes

when you catch glimpses

of yourself in the shop windows.

 

Recently I’ve had a flood of memories from my Texas childhood and I’ve been trying to get some of them into poems.

 

Some writers have rituals that they feel helps them with the creative process. Do you employ any rituals, or do anything regularly that helps keep you on track with your writing?

I don’t have rituals, but I do carry several notebooks so I can jot down images or phrases (or sometimes just a title). I also do a great deal of writing on buses and Metro trains. I don’t have a car so I use Metro frequently. Somehow the rhythm and maybe the ambient sounds on those conveyances often enhances my poems. I also like to write in cafes (as I’m doing right now!).

Any future projects that you’d like to tell us about?

Aside from the stories I mentioned above, I am attempting a series of short poems in the voice/persona of a character in one of the stories. He’s an older poet, sharing some characteristics with me, though the story is not at all autobiographical. One of his poems is briefly discussed in the piece so I thought I’d better write it. After that, a couple more came; they are different enough from my usual work to be both baffling and inspiring. I think I have a sense of his voice and sensibility, so it’s an interesting challenge to write as him.

About Gregory Luce

Gregory Luce is the author of Signs of Small Grace (Pudding House Publications), Drinking Weather (Finishing Line Press), Memory and Desire (Sweatshoppe Publications), and Tile (Finishing Line). His poems have appeared in numerous print and online journalsand in the anthologies Living in Storms (Eastern Washington University Press), Bigger Than They Appear (Accents Publishing), and Unrequited and Candlesticks and Daggers (ed. Kelly Ann Jacobson). In 2014 he was awarded the Larry Neal Award for adult poetry by the D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities. Recently retired from the National Geographic Society, he lives in Arlington, VA.

Contributor News!

Below are updates from my wonderful anthology contributors about the great work they’ve put out and other successes they’ve had recently!

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Tanya Bryan’s story, “Death: A List,” will be reprinted in the upcoming Funny Horror anthology from UFO Publishing. She also has a poem forthcoming in the Compostela (Tesseracts Twenty) anthology from Tesseract Books (imprint of Hades Publications, Inc) this spring.

Arthur Doweyko’s short story, “Andrew The Last,” won first place as best science fiction short story  in the recently completed 2016 Preditors and Editors Readers Poll. It was previously honored with an Honorable Mention by the L. Ron Hubbard Writers of the Future Competition.

David Haendler recently had a story called ‘The Hero of Magdeburg’ published in World Unknown Review: Volume III.
Anne E. Johnson’s humorous science fiction novel Red Spawn Delivery, third book in the Webrid Chronicles, will be released March 1 by Candlemark & Gleam Publishing.

Last year, Jessica Knauss’s paranormal urban fantasy Awash in Talent was published by Kindle Press after winning a contract though the Kindle Scout program. Her epic of medieval Spain, Seven Noble Knights, was published by Bagwyn Books in ebook in December and in paperback in January. She will be giving a reading from Seven Noble Knights at the Harvard Book Store on May 3. She has also earned a residency at the women writers’ retreat Hypatia-in-the-Woods.

Gabrielle Lee’s frst novel, COMFORTS WE DESPISE, will be released later this year from Zoozil Media. COMFORTS WE DESPISE is a choose-your-own-adventure, historical-fiction novel focused on the life of Cleopatra VII, and Zoozil Media is an educational publisher targeting reluctant readers. Her illustrated, serialized novella, JENNY & THE LABYRINTH, will be released later this year from Monthly Fiction. She has a poem appearing in DRYLAND this spring–“After Bruce Conner’s SEÑORITA.” This spring, she will be working on writing a music album in collaboration with Los Angeles-area producer and composer Ethan Castro, aiming for release this fall.
Bryanna Licciardi has been nominated for a Pushcart  by Inklette Magazine, a poetry project published and discussed on Fourth & Sycamore‘s website, and a collection of poems forthcoming this week on Peacock Journal. 
Greg Luce’s poem “April Haiku” was chosen for Moving Words in Arlington. It will appear on ART buses this spring and summer.  He will be reading in the Deaf Poets Society event at the Writers Center on Sunday 2/26, 2-4 pm. On April 28 he‘ll be reading in a resistance themed Hear at Martha’s.
Jason Steinhauer has been appointed the full-time director of Villanova University’s new Albert Lepage Center for History in the Public Interest.
Katie Manning’s first full-length poetry book, Tasty Other, was published in November as the 2016 winner of the Main Street Rag Poetry Book Award.
Jim Norman’s screenplay, The Case of the Tattooed Redhead, took the Grand Prize in the TV Pilot category at the Mountain Film Festival.  Another TV Pilot of his, Deli Takeout, set in 1925 Brooklyn, N.Y., took 3rd place in the same category.
Juliana Rew has a fantasy story, “The Twelfth Witch,” out in the new “Arcane Arts” anthology edited by Kai Herbertz. She’s excited that there are plans to translate the anthology into a German edition. It’s available on Amazon in ebook and paperback (shortly) at http://www.amazon.com/dp/B01NAZ5LO5
Julia Rocchi’s first published short story just appeared in Issue 6 of Mulberry Fork Review! (Hot off the presses as of yesterday.)
Some of Karen Rockwell’s most recent publications include the following: Poem “Dad” was Ontario Poetry Month feature for Morel South&West online at Morelmag.ca; “Curious Connections,” her flash fiction chapbook, was published by Urban Farmhouse Press in April 2016; three poems in Latchkey Lyricality, an anthology of The Ontario Poetry Society (TOPS); her poem “Silencing Intimate Voices” was featured in Scattered Ecstasies, a collaborative arts project by Sho Art Spirit Performance; two haiku were published in “Haiku to F*ck To” an anthology by Spark the Word Press.
Alina Stefanescu’s new publications include the following: “About the Author”Menacing Hedge, Winter/17; “Holding“, Mulberry Fork Review, Issue 6, 2/17; “Pop-Ups“, New Orleans Review Online, 2/17; “All Those Love Notes Swarm Like Insects”Pif Magazine, Issue 237, 2/17; “Between One Refugee and Another”Spilled Milk, Issue 5; “When You Send an Email Asking for Money to Support That Mission Bringing Jesus to Romania“, Writers Resist, January 2017. She also has a new poetry micro chapbook, Ipokimen, out from Anchor & Plume.
Judy Swann has two new pieces:  “Talking Elizabeth Cady Stanton” in NY Votes for Women: A Suffrage Centennial Anthology and “Fool”  in The Mom Egg Review, MER 15. Forthcoming, April, 2017.
Sarena Ulibarri took over as Editor-in-Chief of World Weaver Press in March 2016. (They’re currently open to submissions.) Her surreal science fiction story “Astra, the Falling Star” was published by KasmaSF Magazine in February 2017, and her solarpunk story “Riding in Place” will be in the Biketopia anthology from Microcosm Publishing, which is Kickstarting now.
Tim Wendel’s 13th book, The Cancer Crossings, will be out early next year from Cornell Press.
Gary Wosk’s essay “Tom, Oscar and Jimmy” was just published by Dime Show Review in the anthology Dime Show Review, Volume 2, Issue 1, 2017. His work represents modern-day truth: beauty, pain, curiosity, and humor. The essay recalls his days as a teenager and early adult playing basketball along with his friends at the local community gymnasium against three much older men during three on three basketball.

 

 

Candlesticks and Daggers Interview Series: K.T. Katzmann

This post is part of the Candlesticks and Daggers Interview Series run by contributor Sati Benes Chock. For more about the book, please follow the link here.

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Excerpt from K.T. Katzmann’s story “Death’s Pale Blossom”

On the night he’d chosen to murder his girlfriend, Xander brought twelve cloves of garlic, a wooden stake, and a meticulously selected bouquet of flowers. After all, if it was going to be her last night on Earth, Xander resolved to make it a perfect one.

Emily was (he was already thinking of her in the past tense, he noticed) always very particular about her flowers. He slipped her apartment doorman the usual twenty to guarantee his absence from the man’s memory and walked past, wondering about those plants of hers. It seemed odd for a dead girl to be so concerned about growing things.

He pushed it out of his mind. After tonight, it was an academic question in any case.

Interview

Hi K.T.!

Can you tell us a little about how you became a writer?  Did you always know that you wanted to be one?

I always loved story-telling, and looked up to creators, adoring all of the behind-the-scenes information on the nitty-gritty of content production. In elementary school, I wrote and drew my own comics. I started a science fiction story in late elementary school, but gave up the craft entirely after my mother read the back cover blurb I’d prepared over the phone. The embarrassment kept my inner writer hiding inside, surfacing only for plotting elaborate role-playing games and high school journalism.

Then, years later, I hit an incredibly boring session of a Star Wars role-playing game. Rather than follow Luke Skywalker around to run his targeting computer, I opened Word and spontaneously dashed off the first chapter of a fan fiction I’d been considering. The resulting niche fame from the following ten stories made me realize people liked my style.

I was finally sitting in an IHOP, planning a story, when I realized something. “Wait,” I thought. “I’m writing a fan fiction story about two side characters that I’ll have to completely create new backgrounds and personalities for. Why don’t I just create my own characters so I can actually own them?”

You have a wonderful sense of humor.

Thank you! In Jewish culture, that’s usually only said as a condolence by your mother after you’ve failed to get a date.

Have you ever done comedy?

Once, terrified, at the teacher talent show.

Stand-up terrifies me because it’s an immediate audience reaction. It’s the equivalent to writing fan fiction and having your readers able to administer electric shocks after every sentence. Also, I need to be on the same wavelength as the listeners, and I worry about getting too niche. I’ll never forget the day I made a “First rule of Fight Club” joke in a professional meeting and had someone call it an obscure reference.

Just listening to Chris Hardwick on Nerdist talk about the difficulties and struggles of stand-up makes me queasy.

But I did it, full of fear inside, and I made a cafeteria full of seventh graders laugh while their parents laughed or blushed knowingly at the jokes their kids didn’t get. My vice-principal admits he goes to those things to see how far I’ll push the envelope. Once, I did a bit involving shooting marshmallows into kids’ mouths with a catapult. The instructions I gave them were, “Stay still, close your eyes, open your mouth, and if anyone else ever tells you to do this, find a police officer right away.”

Having confirmed that I could do stand-up on some incredibly basic level, I was free (following teacher talent shows) to go back to my staples of Minecraft parody karaoke and doing Joker monologues from “The Killing Joke.”

Your protagonist, Mildred, in “Death’s Pale Blossom,” also has a fantastic sense of humor. And she is brilliant, too. But she is an unusual detective–a Jewish vampire. What gave you the idea to make a female Jewish vampire detective? And did you find it hard at all to slip into that persona while writing, or does it come naturally to you? 😉

Playing her for weeks in a role-playing game first didn’t hurt. Except my throat, when I had to shout in character. Which I had to do occasionally, because, y’know, I was Mildred Heavewater.

The Jewishness made her more accessible to me. I started making her Jewish in the creation process as soon as I chose New York for a setting. I’m a child of New York Jews living in a part of Florida described as the Sixth Borough; Judaism and New Yorkers goes hand in hand to me. A lot of her Jewish experience is based directly on my life.

As a bonus, both Judaism and vampirism are about rules, and I wanted to see how those intersected. Can a vampire Jew keep kosher?

The vampire part wasn’t that hard once I got the mindset down. In a world with government blood dispensaries, I viewed vampirism as being like those serious diseases that you can live with (at least for a while) but still completely changes your life. Mentally, I considered the word “vampirism” to always be followed by “sufferer” or “survivor.”

Also, I really wanted to write a vampire so I could have them changed as a teenager. I love the idea of a woman who has looked like a high school student since the Nixon administration. The inspiration for that probably came from an episode of Buffy where a centuries-old demon looks too young to buy a beer without an ID.

Truthfully, it was the female part that was hard.

Over the years, I’ve heard from women about how aggravating it can be to have a female protagonist written by a guy who just doesn’t care about accurate representation. I wanted to avoid making Mildred an insulting caricature of womanhood, so I consulted female friends.

And then, after listening, I apologized on behalf of my gender and sat in the dark awhile, worrying for my daughter.

One of the things I faced writing Mildred stories and novels is the sexism a professional, outspoken woman would face in modern-day Manhattan. What I learned is that I could make up the most over-the-top, cartoonish, Captain-Planet-villain levels of misogyny and harassment I could think of.

Then I’d throw it at my female friends and they’d say, “Oh, yeah. That’s happened. They also tend to do this while they’re doing it.”

Still, despite all that, I identify with Mildred on a fundamental level because we both worry that we never really grew up and fear that everybody else will realize it. Also, we both love Columbo.

Have you ever encountered real-life monsters? If so, please tell us about them!

I stopped believing in ghosts after I saw one.

I devoured ghost and monster books in elementary school, reading so much Daniel Cohen that the librarian begged me to read fiction. I’d just finished “Ghosts” by Seymour Simon (which I blog about at http://iwritemonsters.com/i-write-monsters/2016/10/18/a-childs-first-cosmic-horror-berkeley-square-number-50) when I saw a ghost in my room.

It was a flickering, static, man-sized image across the room from me, and I would have been terrified if it hadn’t been Batman.

Not just any Batman, mind you. It was the exact image used in the title screen in the NES Batman game, a common publicity shot of Keaton standing stiff as a board. I remembered some ghost book (The Simon one or World of the Unknown by Osborne) mentioning that spirits might just be images played back by our brain. Okay, I thought. There’s one puzzled solved. I never believed in ghosts an iota more after that day.

I still love reading and writing about them, though.

You’ve listed Terry Pratchett, H.P. Lovecraft, and Douglas Adams as favorite authors. What is it about their writing that you admire so much?

Terry Pratchett, as a fantasy writer, wrote the most realistic people I know. They’re not the Good-aligned or Evil-aligned cutouts from the cheap fantasy books I inhaled by the dozen as a teen. They’re full-fledged people that act like people.

From him and Douglas Adams, I learned that you can go for funny and sad at the same time. That’s the reason why, out of all of Adams’ work, my favorite is his travelogue about finding endangered animals, Last Chance to See.

I love Lovecraft because I adore his science fiction monsters. I got a real kick out of fleshing out shoggoth society in my upcoming second book.

As a final note, I love Roger Zelazny for, if nothing else, teaching me in the introduction to “Unicorn Variations” how selling a short story actually works.

If you could tell beginning writers one thing about the publishing process–or monsters–what would it be?

One thing about publishing: if you self-publish, you’re also going to self-market. Learn from others what to do. Get on the Kindle Writer’s Café boards! No one will discover your book if you don’t make a path to it.

About monsters: Keep some sesame seeds and silver handy, wear your pants inside out, and resist the urge to eat human flesh. That should keep you safe in most situations, barring certain parts of Miami I grew up near.

Do you find that you often return to the same themes in your work? And if so, what are they?

Jewish mythology is one. I once ran a role-playing game for my friends where I learned they were keeping some kind of betting pool. After the game, it turned out everyone was betting on how many sessions it would take me to have a proper Jewish golem show up in 1890s New York.

No one won. I was making an effort to try new things, and had already realized I used golems too much.

Bullying comes up a bunch, because I’m a teacher who fights bullying who listens to bullied kids at my Gay Straight Alliance club and went through bullying myself.

Also, the drama of functional relationships. I’m a comic book lover, and a married friend and I often discuss how the moment a superhero gets married, the writers break the couple up somehow. One writer once said in an interview that marriage takes away the drama. He had no idea how much fascinating drama and (how many) conflicts you get even in a stable, happy relationship.

Also, monsters. Every good monster is a metaphor I want to unwrap.

Some writers have rituals that they feel helps them with the creative process. Do you employ any rituals, or do anything regularly that helps keep you on track with your writing?

Ozric Tentacles. Writing sessions involve me blotting out the world with instrumental prog rock. I’m listening to them right now.

Any future projects that you’d like to tell us about?

The second Mildred Heavewater novel drops this year, so I’m excited about that. In no particular order, I also have on the backburner a story about infernal foster care, a fantasy novel set during Babylonian times, and a humorous biographical look at Lovecraft’s Abdul Al-Hazred. You can find updates and craziness at @iwritemonsters andwww.iwritemonsters.com.

Also, I’m always working on future Mildred books. I have to. Neither she nor I are happy when I stop.

About K.T. Katzmann

K.T. Katzmann wrote a book about a Jewish vampire and a Bigfoot who fall in love while working for the NYPD. Despite all this, he is somehow still allowed to teach children. Florida’s like that. K.T. discovered mysteries from Howliday Inn and became hooked on monsters from the first hit of Godzilla. His favorite authors are Terry Pratchett, H.P. Lovecraft, and Douglas Adams, and he thanks years of boring public school classes for giving him the time to read them all. He lives in the lap of sunshine and insanity surrounded by Cthulhu idols, his ever-patient wife, and two toddlers who can already name all the Universal Monsters. He can be found at @iwritemonsters on Twitter or at www.iwritemonsters.com. Mildred the Jewish vampire girl detective’s further adventures can be found in the novel Murder with Monsters.

Candlesticks and Daggers Interview Series: Jacquelyn Bengfort

This post is part of the Candlesticks and Daggers Interview Series run by contributor Sati Benes Chock. For more about the book, please follow the link here.

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Excerpt from Jacquelyn Bengfort’s story “A Spell for Salvation”

I brought her shoes and lustrous frock;

She called me good

(I knew she would)

Born with long, fair hair. The midwife called it ominous. She washed it, dried it, sheared it, leaving the child with the expected cap of curls suitable to a baby. About the talking, the midwife could do nothing. The little one spilled words from the hour of her birth. They slipped from her toothless mouth even as she worked at her mother’s breast.

I told her, “Home by twelve o’clock.”

She said, “Divine.”

(Her soul was mine)

Interview

Hi Jaci!


You are a talented writer and poet who also does theater work, and you are a naval veteran and former Oxford Rhodes Scholar. You’ve accomplished so much so far! Can you tell us a little about how you became a writer?  Did you always know that you wanted to be one?

Thank you–that’s very kind! I grew up in North Dakota and spent a lot of time reading, so “author” was what I told people I wanted to be when I was young. But then, that seemed very impractical, so I went off and joined the Navy. I began studying craft and writing seriously in those years at sea. When I resigned from the service, I decided to work as a freelance writer to give me flexibility while I started a family, and I’ve continued to pursue creative projects in whatever moments of time I can find between full-time childcare and part-time freelancing.

Your “A Spell for Salvation” revisits the story of Cinderella in a fresh and innovative way. Do you often write reimagined fairy tales? If so, what tales or themes most appeal to you, and why?

I employ the fairy-tale tone quite often in my short fiction–that sort of flat, matter-of-fact, unadorned style. And occasionally I try to extend a tale forward (as I did in “The Queen’s Child” here: http://fictionaut.com/stories/jacquelyn-bengfort/brief-studies-of-doomed-females) or imagine the backstory, like I did in “A Spell for Salvation.” Giving minor characters their own story is quite fun. I actually wrote the verse parts in an Eckleburg workshop taught by Brenda Mann Hammack back in 2014–I was trying to meet a deadline, and I rushed and threw together this very weird set of tercets–and the workshop response was not particularly good, but I believed in the premise, and eventually wrote the story of the spell’s speaker. That’s when the whole thing really came together.
What do you read for fun?

I recently started reading Tana French’s mystery novels–the first one was excellent, and I’m looking forward to the next. A lot of my other reading is determined by the two excellent book clubs I’m a part of–one for parents in my neighborhood, and the other for area writers. I also read several poetry collections a year and I’ve recently been giving audiobooks a try–I really enjoyed listening to Carrie Fisher and Billie Lourd reading The Princess Diarist.

Some writers have rituals that they feel helps them with the creative process. Do you employ any rituals, or do anything regularly that helps keep you on track with your writing?

I’m pulled in a lot of directions right now, so, not really–my days are really inconsistent, and my progress slow. I take several workshops a year to make sure I keep writing new work and improving my skills, and I host a writing group a couple of times a month. If I have an idea, I’ve learned that I absolutely need to get it recorded in the moment, so I have a waterproof notepad in the shower and often text myself things or make voice recordings on my smartphone. There are scraps of paper everywhere. Perhaps someday I’ll be more organized. I did do a big start-of-2017 reorganization and tidy-up of my writing space. We’ll see if it sticks.

You were recently a finalist for SmokeLong Quarterly’s prestigious Kathy Fish Fellowship (Congrats!). What are your thoughts on applying for fellowships or residencies? Any tips?

Hmmm…keep trying? This was my second year applying for the KFF; the first year I made the first cut, and this year I was a finalist. And try to find a good fit. I enter lots of contests and apply for fellowships aimed at veterans–I know, right away, that there’s a smaller applicant pool and that improves my chances. I’m also pretty picky about paying fees. I look for applications that have no fee or a small voluntary fee (which I will happily pay if the organization is upfront about what the money does). All that being said, I’ve yet to win a fellowship or residency, so that should probably temper any advice I give!

If you could tell beginning writers one thing about the publishing process, what would it be? 

It’s hardly novel to say this: you will get rejected a lot. I have tried lots of different submissions strategies in the last five years, and I’ve gotten better at targeting submissions, and that has helped, but I still get rejections, and I always will so long as I’m trying to get my work into the world. Don’t wish for a thick skin, necessarily–I think a thin skin is actually an advantage for a writer who wants to write things that make their readers, in turn, feel things–but just steel yourself to getting told “no” a lot.

Any future projects that you’d like to tell us about?

I am working on a book about my time in the Navy, and planning to make significant progress on it this year–a complete draft by this time in 2018. It’s like a memoir but with all the boring bits stripped out. At least, that’s the idea. It’s part poetry collection, part the sea stories I’ll get to telling if you ask me about my service. I’m having fun working on it at any rate, so I hope that’s a good sign!

AboutJacquelyn Bengfort

Jacquelyn Bengfort was born in North Dakota, educated at the U.S. Naval Academy and Oxford University, and now resides in Washington, DC. Her work has appeared in Midwestern Gothic, Gargoyle, Storm Cellar, District Lines, and the anthologies Magical, Unrequited, and Dear Robot, among other places. Find her online at www.JaciB.com.