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.


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.


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.

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.


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.


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 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

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 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.


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)


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: 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

Candlesticks and Daggers Interview Series: Danielle Davis

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.


Excerpt from Danielle Davis’s story “The Egregia Cum Laude Adventure: A Sherlock Holmes Beginnings Story”

It wasn’t the first time someone had contacted him about a case as he was walking to his 6:00 A.M. Political Studies class, but it was the first time someone had thrown a rock at him to do it.

“OW!” He staggered and rubbed the back of his head. When his probing fingers found a lump already forming just behind his ear—just above the thick wool scarf wound around his neck—he turned with a livid glare to find the culprit. His eyes found a tall young man jogging towards him.

Instinctively, Sherlock Holmes noted several details all at once. The man was still in his pajamas, the kind with white and blue stripes down the button-front shirt and pants. The tousled clumps of his hair stood up in several directions, and he was barefoot despite the thin layer of snow that blanketed the grass. These things Sherlock absorbed without even consciously realizing he was doing so.


Hi Danielle,

You write novels and short stories. Do you do both at the same time, or do you tackle one at a time? Which do you enjoy more?

I do both at the same time, but mostly because short stories have a shorter turnaround for me than the novel does. I can get an idea for one and have a turnaround of a few days or a week, which presses my Immediate Gratification button pretty well 🙂 I think I favor short stories, though, because I short story better than I novel right now. It’s a medium that I am a lot more familiar with and have a lot more practice at, so I think when I get stressed about the novel it’s nice to be able to turn to my comfort zone medium.

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

I did always know. I was writing stories and bad poetry and getting them published in the local newspaper in elementary school. And since my family has always been big readers, it seems like a really natural extension to start making stories of my own.

What do you read for fun?

Young adult, fantasy, science-fiction, horror, and any mix of the above. I just finished Juliet Marillier’s Den of Wolves, which was delightful; I’m currently reading Harry Potter and the Cursed Child; and I’m getting ready to start rereading Maggie Stiefvater’s The Scorpio Races, because the language of it is so amazing and I missed that world.

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


Realize that two things have to happen: you have to believe in your stories, and you have to be willing to revisit the editing process for a story (even after you may think it’s done) if you get a handful of form rejections for it. Sometimes a very good story will get multiple rejections, but as long as you sat down after the first handful and revisited your story with a critical eye and STILL believe that it’s as good as you can get it, then that’s where the believing in your story part comes in. At that point you have to just keep sending it out, because statistically it’s a matter of time before it finds the right home.

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 usually have to listen to music while I write and can’t have any words that I understand and it (or I will start transcribing instead of writing)–I like soundtracks, techno, and Celtic or Russian pop. I also like drinking some kind of tea; it makes me feel writerly.

In the “Egregia Cum Laude Adventure: A Sherlock Holmes Story,” you imagine Holmes as a college student with a passion for sleuthing. Do you know if this has been done before? If not, what gave you the idea?

I don’t know if it is been done before, at least not to the early age that I have Mr. Holmes doing his work. But given how popular the character is, I imagine that’s more my ignorance than the fact that it doesn’t exist. I got the idea a few years ago when I did a September stories project for some of my social media friends that wanted to play, I gave them categories (i.e., a name, and adjective, genre, and a color) and then I wrote a short story a day for the month of September based on their answers. One of the genres I was given was a mystery and I hadn’t ever written one before and was a little worried because I didn’t really read them much. So I went and got a book on How to Deduce like Sherlock Holmes, which looked at all of the Sherlock Holmes novels and broke down the deduction process he used in each and then provided similar games for the reader to test and improve their own deduction process. And as I was reading it, I found myself thinking “Man, I really wish I could come up with a detective as clever and jerk-ish as Sherlock Holmes”…then I realized I didn’t have to. 🙂

You like to play unusual instruments. Do you find that exercising your creativity in different ways helps you to be a better writer?

I don’t think it helps me be a better writer, but I think it helps keep me from being bored. And keeping a creative mind happy is just as important as being creative in your writing. The former feeds the latter, I think.

You mention Stephen King and Maggie Stiefvater, among others, as your greatest influences. What in particular do you admire most about their writing?

The way their stories surpass the genre and get to the heart of the characters in the stories. Neither of those authors is afraid of putting their characters in difficult situations and then letting the consequences of their actions take the appropriate toll. They don’t give the characters easy outs. That’s the kind of writing I aspire to, the kind that doesn’t pull its punches.

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

Currently working on a young adult novel where the protagonist is a harpy. #FlightNovel

About Danielle Davis

Danielle Davis is a liar, a cheater of cards, and a misrememberer of song lyrics; only two of these are true. Her work has most recently appeared in Kelly Ann Jacobson’s Candlesticks and Daggers anthology, Tailfins and Sealskins: An anthology of Water Lore, and Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine. Her horror novella, No Room for Valor, is also published in serial format on Jukepop Serials. She hails from Memphis, TN by way of Northern VA. You can find out more about her work at

Candlesticks and Daggers Interview Series: Julia Tagliere

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.

Excerpt from Julia Tagliere’s story “His Last Human Day” 

Trapped, he crouches, contemplating the giant sludge of applesauce oozing between his toes, and tries to remember exactly when everything went wrong. Then he does remember: He no longer has toes. It’s just another mind trick he still hasn’t conquered, like remembering he has an exoskeleton now, not skin. They say karma’s the bitch, but for him, it’s the remembering.


Hi Julia! Can you tell us a little about how you became a writer? How did you begin? Did you always know that you wanted to be a writer?

As I suspect is the case with many writers, I started writing very young and wrote a lot of early garbage, resorting to non-writing employment—in my case, nine years of teaching high school Spanish and French—for survival purposes. Actually, when I began college, I really thought I’d be an interpreter at the UN by now; funny how things work out, isn’t it? After my third consecutive maternity leave, I took up writing again to save my sanity, and started taking graduate writing classes to get better at it. Sixteen years later, I’m still working on that.

What do you read for fun?

Anything by Neil Gaiman (I read Good Omens at least once every year) and Cook’s Illustrated magazine—outstanding writing, detailed research, and a healthy dose of dark fantasy (especially the cooking magazine). I’m also doing the Book Riot Read Harder 2017 Challenge this year, which will have me reading things outside of my comfort zone this year; they may not all be “fun,” but we shall see.

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?

When I’m composing, I burrow into my comfy chair, put my feet up, and work with my laptop propped on a pillow on my legs; I can sit like that for hours without moving. When I’m revising, however, I’m all business—I hunch over my desktop keyboard to work, streaming classical music to help me tune out any distractions. Both approaches are terrible for one’s back; I’m certain later in life I’ll wind up emulating Dalton Trumbo and have to write in my bathtub. Keeping track of my daily word count keeps me honest.

You have a lot of experience with writing programs, having studied at DePaul University and most recently getting your M.A. from Johns Hopkins (Congrats!). What would you say to beginning writers who are trying to decide whether or not to enter a program? Is there anything you’d wished that you’d known before applying?

Dirty little secret time: I don’t believe that, in and of themselves, writing programs make anyone a better writer (except for Ed Perlman’s Sentence Power class—that kicked my butt. Thank you, Ed). In fact, I think that’s a mistake many beginning writers make—believing that if they just complete a program they’ll magically become great writers. What writing programs do, and it’s something I feel both DePaul and Johns Hopkins do quite well, is create opportunities: opportunities, in a (largely) supportive communal setting, to study, to analyze, to reflect, to debate, to connect, to be exposed (and I mean that in dual senses, both to be exposed to other works and viewpoints and such, as well as to be exposed as a writer oneself). Recognizing those opportunities and taking advantage of them with an open mind, a willing spirit, and the tenacity to put in some really hard work—that’s what makes one a better writer. Could you accomplish this growth on your own, outside of a formal writing program? Perhaps, but it’d be far more difficult to recreate such a banquet of opportunities in isolation.

If you could tell beginning writers one thing about the publishing process, what would it be? Any advice for writers trying to crack the anthology market?

We’d all like to think that being published is simply a matter of being talented, but the hard truth is that getting published requires more than just being a good writer. The world is full of good writers. The ones who are published are the ones who put themselves in the right place at the right time, something you do by getting out there and meeting people. I know, we’d all much rather snuggle into our comfy chairs and pretend the world doesn’t exist, but it just doesn’t work that way. Get out there! Attend conferences, seminars, lectures, readings, become active on social media; that is how you make the connections that will get your work seen.

Your story, “His Last Human Day,” was a ton of fun. Without giving away too much of the story, I’d like to talk about it a bit. This is a tale about transformation, on a number of levels. What touched me most about it was how well you humanize a character that is a species most find abhorrent.  Was that difficult to do, or did it just sort of happen organically?

One of the things I found so difficult about reading Kafka’s Metamorphosis (and this piece is obviously an homage) was that Samsa was just so gross (I can’t watch the Jeff Goldblum version of The Fly, either). For me, personally, as a reader, the grossness got in the way of the story; I knew that, if I was going to be able to say what I wanted to say with this piece, I would have to tone down the gross-out factor quite a bit, perhaps even incorporate some humor. Once I made that decision, the actual humanization came about rather organically.

How did you come up with the idea for this story, I mean…were you just standing there in the shower, thinking dark thoughts while pondering Kafka….and…suddenly, you weren’t alone? In other words, any basis in real life, or was this just one of those fantasies that evolved out of “what if’s”?

This piece came about in two ways: First, the house we’d just moved into had a huge infestation of stink bugs; those little fuckers were everywhere. As I was showering one morning, I noticed a stink bug on the door; it was just sitting there, swinging its antennae back and forth, looking for all the world like it was actively watching me shower— that left a very disturbing impression. Then, in one of my classes later that week, we did a first-line swap: We each wrote an original first line on the chalkboard and then chose someone else’s line to start a new piece. I chose one about someone standing in a bowl of applesauce and wondering where everything went wrong, but when I began working on the assignment, using a normal-sized human protagonist just didn’t work; for my purposes, the character had to be someone (or something) very small. Of course, I thought immediately of my stinkbug stalker, but I worried about being perceived as ripping off Kafka. After much deliberation, I tackled the problem head-on by making the character an actual cockroach (a common misconception of Samsa’s character) and having the cockroach itself address Kafka’s work directly in the piece. It turned out to be one of the most fun pieces of writing I’ve done to date.

You wrote a novel, Widow Woman, in 2012. One theme of that work was forgiveness, which is also touched upon in “His Last Human Day.” Do you find that this is a recurring theme for your writing? 

Yes, it is a recurring theme. I suspect it’s because I have a hard time with cynicism. Perhaps that makes me a Pollyanna or a naïve chump, but I always want to believe the best of others, no matter how abhorrent. Enough evil exists and dark things happen every day in real life; in my fiction, I can let the more optimistic, hopeful side of my imagination take over and create those opportunities for redemption. It’s not always granted, of course—wouldn’t that be dull? But the opportunities are definitely there.

Any future projects (or anything else) you want to tell us about?

I have a few short pieces already in the pipeline, along with an upper middle-grade adventure I’ve finished and am hoping to get out in 2017. As far as new writing, I’ll be working on completing my third novel, The Day the Music Didn’t Die, a fun work of magic realism for adult readers I’m excited to get back to now that I’m done with my classes; I also blog about “stuff” at

About Julia Tagliere

Julia Tagliere is a freelance writer and editor and studied in the M.A. in Creative Writing program at DePaul University in Illinois. Her work has appeared in magazines such as The Writer and Hay & Forage Grower and in numerous online publications. Julia’s debut novel, Widow Woman, was published in 2012. In 2014, Open to Interpretation, the juried photography and prose series, selected Julia’s short story, “The Navigator,” for publication in Love + Lust, its fourth and final installment. Another of her recent stories, “Te Absolvo,” won Best Short Story in the 2015 William Faulkner Literary Competition. This December, her personal essay, “Stars I Will Find,” appears in a collection of stories about the challenges of simultaneously caring for growing children and aging parents, Here In The Middle: Stories Of Love, Loss, And Connection From The Ones Sandwiched In Between. An active blogger and past finalist in Minneapolis’ Loft Literary Center’s Mentor Series Competition, Julia resides in Maryland with her family, where she recently completed her M.A. in Fiction Writing at Johns Hopkins University.