Caroline Stockford

Caroline Stockford

Interview with Caroline Stockford, whose poem ‘Me and Bob in Barmouth’ is in Issue Two. See her recite it below.

Why do you write and what do you hope to achieve in doing it?

I write poetry, stories and plays because I feel free during the process. It feels as if you can re-write reality and you have a chance to bring issues to people’s attention that they may not normally wish to think about.

What are the major themes found in your work?

Politics, nature, you know . . . global generalisations.

What influences and inspires you most?

Other people who make art every day. Generous people who share their process and are not selfish or precious about their work. People like artist and poet Willem Boshoff and musician Anton Newcombe (from whom I’m quoting the words ‘make art every day’). Both are immensley hard working, visionary and generous about their process. I’m also inspired by Sue Jones-Davies, a local actress (Life of Brian) as she’s a tireless activist in her community. She’s always on the go, always positive and had an inspirational outlook on life.

I also get ideas for poems by going for long walks with my lurcher, Leon.

What not-very-famous writers should we check out?

Rhys Trimble is a good Welsh poet, I like the way his whole life seems to revolve around poetry and he’s not afraid to try all sorts of experiments with sound and visuals.

Check out ALL local poets, writers and artists in your community by going to their spoken words events – that’s the best way. Support the local arts – or start your own event and invite all your local artists and performers.

What book are you currently reading?

I’m reading and translating a novel about the Kurds in Dersim in the 1930s when there was a massacre and all the men and boys were marched into exile in other parts of the country. It’s called Butterfly of the Night by Haydar Karataş and is, quite frankly, the saddest book I’ve ever read. They’re surviving on acorns alone in the chapter I’m currently reading, which makes me quite depressed as you have to inhabit the characters as your translate them. It also makes me value my meals at the moment!

What’s a piece you like in Issue Two?

I like a lot of the content, but particularly like two poems:

‘Small Deaths’ by Heidi Seaborn – I like the humour, a lot. And her line-breaks.
‘Spirits’ by Jim Trainer – This poem is mysterious, sad, concise and just really evocative. There’s space in it for the reader to imagine the story of the people involved and a lot a history is simply told in well-chosen, but few words.

Any background info to your piece in Issue Two?

‘Me and Bob in Barmouth’ is about an imaginary meeting between Bob Dylan and my 13-year-old self in a cafe in my home town. I heard ‘Like a Rolling Stone’ when I was 13 and then went on to borrow all his albums from the people I babysat for and love his lyrics and tunes.

The poem was written in August 2016 (before the Nobel announcement!) on a residential poetry course at Ty Newydd, with tutors Patience Agbabi and Jonathan Edwards. They ran really great workshops and this poem arrived fully formed during a workshop with Jonathan. I think the Ty Newydd and Arvon courses in the UK are brilliant for advancing the craft of writing poetry.

Where else can we find your work?

You can read my translations of Turkish poetry at estoniacordfrock.wordpress.com.

What’s on the horizon for you with your writing?

More of it. I write short stories and ten minute plays too. I am developing a ten minute play into a full length version. It’s about a woman who is an activist and is put under a verbal curfew of 800 words a day for one year. Her daily word count is monitored by an electronic necklace that will give her larynx an electric shock once the maximum is reached.

I translate and perform Turkish poetry and write poems in English whenever they visit.

Got a quote you really like?

I have hundreds of quotes I love. I’m fascinated by ‘Writer’s Advice’ lists. My favourite (and shortest) piece of writing advice is by José Saramago, the Portugese writer, who said,

‘There are two rules to writing:
One: Sit,
Two: Write.’

What song represents your writing process?

Find Caroline on Twitter @cevirimiz.

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Katie Stine

Katie Stine

Interview with Katie Stine, whose short story, ‘Gregarious,’ is in Issue Two. See her recite it below.

Why do you write and what do you hope to achieve in doing it? 

In a personal letter, Franz Kafka said, “a non-writing writer is a monster courting insanity.” While I might not put the terms so dire in my own personal correspondence, for me writing is a compulsion. I have tried to forget it, put it behind me, as if the act of conjuring up characters was an old flame. I burned its letters, I cut my hair, I changed my wardrobe, moved to a different city. Still, writing dogged me. I am an addict.  They say acceptance is the first step in addiction. Now that I have accepted that I will write regardless of the status of my bank account, my social life, or the well-being of my cat’s litterbox, I hope to write fiction that grasps another human being. A fine turn of phrase is nice, but ultimately hollow if there is no call to connect with the reader.

What are the major themes found in your work?

The major themes in my work are feminism and Otherness. I dislike the idea of female being always in opposition to male: the idea of “like a girl” means weakness, because the opposite “like a boy” somehow would mean strength, even though the simile is still about children.

What book are you currently reading?

I just finished Sarah Waters’ The Night Watch about women in London during and after WWII. She writes about Otherness in very real ways, showing how marginalized women (who often happen to be gay) existed in other time periods. I’ve always enjoyed her work, and this is the first book I’ve read of hers set in the 20th century. As an American, the bombing of London during WWII was something I knew, but did not feel. Through movies and television we’ve imagined being huddled below ground, or having our windows papered over. What The Night Watch showed was how the people left in London (many of whom were women because the men were in the military) still lived, where they ate, what they did to help out each other and the war effort. In particular, one of these women was part of the ambulance service, going to sites of bombings to extract people from the rubble and transport them to the hospital for care. I had never read anything that discussed this side before—a woman’s view of the war that had nothing to do with a husband or children. I found it fascinating.

Any background info to your piece in Issue Two?

My short fiction piece, “Gregarious,” is about a couple trying something new in their marriage. Narrated by the (unnamed) wife, she tells us how different she and her husband are, an unlikely couple. Ultimately, it is the fear of losing him to someone more like himself that causes her to shut the door on broadening her love. I wanted to talk about how even after marriage, the work of staying close is challenging. There are lies that we tell ourselves and our partners for the sake of the marriage itself, not for the sake of the individuals in the marriage.

What’s on the horizon for you with your writing?

I am courting agents right now to represent my novels. I write historical fiction that emphasizes women, minorities, and misfits. We’ve heard the stories from the heroes, so I like to investigate what the average person might have seen and felt during times of upheaval. For instance, one of my novels features a character from a dwindling Native American tribe at the turn of the twentieth century.

 

Find Katie on her website and Twitter.

Arthur Plotnik

Arthur Plotnik

Interview with Arthur Plotnik, whose short story, ‘Blame It On the Sun,’ is in Issue Two.

Why do you write and what do you hope to achieve in doing it? 

Do we ever really know the whys? Everything from hormones to high-end aspirations are in the mix. In my 20s I wrote partly to impress my Beat and hipster peers, and— as the author also of some twenty pseudonymous potboilers— to pay the rent. In my 30s and 40s, creative writing was an escape from day-job doldrums plus some extra dough. By my late 50s, nervously leaving the 9-5 world, I now called myself simply a writer, doing nonfiction books and columns that interested me and again helped pay the bills. Now I’m free to write whatever I feel like— a beautiful privilege—whether for fun or to stave off mind-rot.

What are the major themes found in your work?

My nonfiction works have much to do with expressiveness, which I’ve defined as “an onslaught of stimulation that seizes and engages an audience.” Of course I focus on expressiveness via words, rather than, say, mooning from a car window. Nowadays I try to apply what I advised in those works and write expressive poetry, memoir, fiction, and creative nonfiction, with themes cranked out of experience—seeking love, looking for meaning, overcoming setbacks, delusions, small triumphs, aging, regret—all those eternal goodies.

What influences and inspires you most?

Like many others I get stoked by well-crafted, expressive, literary fiction, usually contemporary, often by non-USA writers. (Good nonfiction engages me, but doesn’t often send me racing to the laptop.) Studying under Philip Roth in the Iowa Writers Workshop gave me a youthful determination to write his kind of witty, fleshy, telling, sassy prose. Not that I ever could, but I could pledge to somehow animate whatever I wrote, whether fiction or nonfiction. I’ve also been influenced by my long friendship with former US Poet Laureate Billy Collins, whose wit and immense talent I’ve cheered over the years. Our association has helped sustain my literary jones—not to compete, but maybe to serve the same gods of expressiveness.

What not-very-famous writers and artists should we check out?

Less-than-world-famous author Atticus Lish, whose Preparation for the Next Life (2014) may be the novel of the century. Also, painter Mary H. Phelan at maryphelanart.com if you’d like to see into the soul of urban settings. (Plus works from her Irish period.)

What book are you currently reading?

Just read two novels by Colombian Juan Gabriel Vásquez in English translation (The Sound of Things Falling, and Reputations). He reaches deep for historical truths and existential meanings, paints vivid characters and settings, and spins a good story. But he gets verbose and repetitive in the process, and his male protagonists can seem old-fashioned in their attitudes toward women. Still, he’s an intensely intelligent and impassioned writer, with deep insight into Colombia’s tragic recent history.

What’s a piece you really like in Issue Two?

The short story “Gregarious” by Katie Stine, about marrieds trying a foursome with another married couple, had a nice tension to it: the gregarious husband’s comfort with the idea versus the wife’s initial ambivalence and later conflicting emotions. The narrative is well shaped, expressive, the dialogue credible and revealing. Stine hits the touchpoints that many long-married or restless-married readers will recognize.

Any background info to your piece in Issue Two?

A lonely bicycle trek I took decades ago along the northwest coast of France inspired my story “Blame It on the Sun.” As with the protagonist, my first marriage was breaking up, and I used a month’s work vacation to go adventuring and brooding. The trek began and art-biking-in-franceended in Paris, where I did actually sunbathe by that surreal pool floating on the Seine, as described in the tale. The rest—creative storytelling, with a true detail here and there. I wrote the story only recently, after long seeking a way to give it impact for a general reader, to extend the mood and mystery of my own experience. The solution: An aspiring, deluded writer and rejected husband who lays dying with a story in his head. What could be more fun?

Where else can we find your work?

For my books: Amazon and other online bookstores. Most libraries or library systems have one title or another. My website (see below) includes a selected bibliography from 2007 on, including these items you can click your way to:

  • “Trump—A (Superlative) Legend in His Own Mind,” essay, The Morton Report, May 17, 2011, online
  • “Surviving the Unabomber: A Memoir,” Airplane Reading 11/27/11; Featured piece of the week online, anthologized.
  • “How to write a superbissimo thank you note for a mirific, magnanimous gift,” Opinion Page essay, Christian Science Monitor, 1/13/2012. online.
  • “Say it ain’t so, Phil,” op-ed, Christian Science Monitor Book Section, 11/30/12, online
  • “My Mother’s Mattress,” memoir, Narrative Magazine, fall 2012, online
  • “Securing the Fortress: Notes of a Neighborhood Watcher,” essay and memoir, The Milo Review, fall 2013  Print and online.
  • “Monica Before Bolivia,” short story, Split Lip Magazine, Nov-Dec 2013.  online.
  • “Composed Upon a Jet Bridge,” sonnet, Off the Coast,” Fall 2013. Print and online.
  • “Precocious,” flash fiction, Microfiction Monday, Nov. 3, 2014, online.
  • “Flat Feet,” “Lazy Eye,” “On Being Arthur Plotnik,” three poems Brickplight, Nov. 2014, online.
  • “Guest Interview,” short story, 2015 Albert Camus Prize runner-up, Red Savinia Review, March 2015, online.
  • “Sap Rising: A Natural History of Neighborhood.” Creative nonfiction. Mud Season Review #16, January 2016. Online.
  • “Two Out of Three” (short story).  A Lonely Riot Magazine, September 2016. Online.
  • “Bacalhao portugues” (poem).  3elementsreview,  no. 12, fall 2016.  Online.

What’s on the horizon for you with your writing?

I’m working on a young-adult novel without having a clue as to what the trends or conventions in YA literature are these days. But it’s memory-based, and I’m having a ball putting my 12-year-old self, contemporaries, and childhood settings into a story. Will I send it to my agent for a try at publication? I don’t know. See next question.

Got a quote you really like?

“The book gives you the gift as you write it.” –E. L. Doctorow, lecture, Chicago, 1985. For me, especially at this late stage in my career, book publication is secondary (and often an extended pain in the ass not worth what it takes from you). If the writing of a creative work isn’t its own gift, and there’s no guarantee of income, why write it? But if it gives you the pleasures and pride of invention, language, memory, organization, completion, expression, you’re a winner before you’ve written the first strained word of a publishing proposal.

 

Find Arthur on his website, Facebook and Twitter.

Paul Brownsey

Paul Brownsey

Interview with Paul Brownsey, whose short story ‘Always and Endless’ is in Issue Two.

Why do you write and what do you hope to achieve in doing it?

I don’t know and I think there is good reason why I don’t know.  The things that matter most to you are often—perhaps even necessarily—things you can’t say why you pursue them.  No-one tries to explain why they want to be happy.  No-one tries to explain why they want good health or why they want to be in  a relationship with someone they love.  And similarly, I can’t say why I write.

There are some things I can rule out.  I don’t do it to make money.  I don’t do it as a means to resolving my problems or sorting out my feelings—that is, I don’t do it as ‘therapy’.  I don’t do it for the sake of wish-fulfillment.

Some people who claim to know about the human soul might say we write to impose meaning on events in a meaningless universe.  Or we’re scared of the oblivion of death and are trying to create something that will survive our death.  Or that, from a biological perspective, it’s like a dog urinating to let others know it’s there or to stake a claim to territory.

Who knows?

What not-very-famous writers should we check out?

  1. Barbara Pym, who can reveal the whole of the human condition in a wee exchange about who will do the altar flowers in church.
  1. Moira Forsyth, a contemporary Scottish writer, whose novels very cunningly give the impression of presenting ordinary life raw, without authorial invention or perspective or ‘treatment’.
  1. Jocelyn Brooke, magical on the connections between oneself as adult, oneself as child, and the landscape of home.
  1. Rose Macauley was famous in her day as a writer of clever but rather middlebrow novels.  Towards the end of her life (she died in 1958) it’s as if she decided to go for broke and produced a wonderful novel about love, faith, morals and guilt that’s in a higher league from anything else she wrote: The Towers of Trebizond.  Its quirky plot concerns a missionary expedition to Turkey in which a group of Anglican eccentrics hoping to convert Muslim women to Anglican Christianity.  It has the best opening line of any novel ever–“‘Take my camel, dear,’ said my Aunt Dot, as she climbed down from this animal on her return from High Mass.”

What song represents your writing process?

I’m not going to mention a song but my answer is still a musical one.

I once read that Elgar composed his music by writing short sequences that he later ordered and reordered until, in their agglomeration and connectedness, they satisfied him as a complete work.  I recognise something like that in the way I write.  When I write a short story, the incidents and exchanges that appear in the first draft can easily be turned on their heads and given an entirely different place or role in the final narrative.  I might decide that the line I open with works better as the line to end with; or that the incident that was originally envisaged as setting the story going functions better as the climax.  I might decide that the last paragraph should be reworked to become, instead, the first paragraph.

What are the major themes found in your work?

I didn’t set out to write short stories to explore this theme, but I find myself coming back again and again to the many, many ways in which someone’s interpretations of others’ behaviour or of their own behaviour can go awry.  Time and again, re-reading a story of mine, I realise I’ve been, for instance, standing back from my narrator’s account of his own motives or wishes so as to let a doubt seep in, not only about *his* transparency to himself but about *anyone’s* capacity to fathom themselves or others.  “There I go again,” I think, as I read myself.  Relatedly, I find myself trying to undermine our reliance on stock conceptions of human nature, standard images of what people are like and what they want.  One way of doing this is to imagine a story where the stock version is turned on its head.  For instance, you hear people say things like, “Oh, a relationship has a natural life-span and it reaches the end of that span, the thing to do is to end it and move on.”  I imagined a story based on the idea that that was not true.  That story became my story in Into the Void.

What have you learned in the course of writing short stories?

I am by training an academic, and spent 37 years lecturing in philosophy at Glasgow University.  In academic discourse (or so I thought, at any rate) the aim is to have everything spelled out on the surface.  You explicitly declare you are going to offer three arguments for the Whatsit Theory or raise four questions about the Thingy Theory; and then you try to say what you aim to say in words that make everything clear in themselves, without needing to call on the power of resonance, of suggestion, of innuendo.  In writing short stories the thing I have learned is that, by contrast, you need to exploit the gaps between the words, to allow what the words don’t spell out to come through.  Though perhaps it could be fun to attempt a short story in the manner of an academic article.

Whatever I have learned, I didn’t learn it in a creative writing class, for I have never attended one.  And when I get rejections that deploy some of the fashionable nostrums of the industry I’m always apt to question them, at least in my head.  Why this emphasis on ‘Show, not tell?’—That rules out the expository manner of most fairy tales.  Why this fetish for ‘shorter sentences?—are Proust and Philip Roth bad writers?

I have an occasional fancy to use a pre-used title so that some resonances from the original can bounce off my story.  I’ve had stories published called Death and the Maiden, Doctor in the House, Getting to Know You, A Hero of our Time, Time Regained, The Kreutzer Sonata, The Possibility of Altruism, Pictures at an Exhibition, A Midsummer Night’s Dream

Where else can we find your work?

I’ve had stories in lots of literary magazines and was a runner-up in the Fish Competition in 2008, appearing in its anthology for that year.  The most accessible source of other stuff by me is a book, His Steadfast Love and Other Stories, published by Lethe Press, New Jersey, USA.  How it came into being is something of an aspiring writer’s fairy tale.  I got a short story in an American collection.  Subsequently, through the editors, I was contacted by a writer in Texas (he writes gay pornography under the name Gavin Atlas, though my story wasn’t porn) to say he loved my story, had connections with Lethe Press in New Jersey, was urging them to publish me, and would help me make the approach.  I couldn’t see what I had to lose, but at the same time I feared this was all too good to be true—I mean, the gods of book publishing don’t just swoop down like that and take you up, do they?  I wondered if I was being lured into a vanity scam and that I should be told my book would be a certain best-seller but that I needed to make a contribution of, say, $5000 dollars towards publication.  I grew to be ashamed of my suspicions, everything was above board, and the book duly appeared. On top of that, it was nominated for the Lambda Gay Literary Awards in the USA, and though I didn’t win they seemed to be modelling the Awards on the Oscars and I was sent advice on how to make my acceptance speech if I won. An audiobook version is currently being recorded. According to legend, the film star Lana Turner was discovered as she sat sipping cola—or was it a milk shake?—in a Hollywood café.  I feel a bit like that.

Julie Irigaray

Julie Irigaray

Interview with Julie Irigaray, whose poem ‘Treasuring Trieste’ is in Issue Two.

What are the major themes found in your work?

My writing mirrors my concerns about place and cultural differences. I am deeply passionate about languages and I lived in France, Ireland, England and Italy within the past three years. It definitely shows through, all the more since I wrote the great majority of my poems during my gap year in Italy while doing the “Grand Tour” to broaden my experiences. I also have a strong interest in the past, probably because of my background in studying History. These would be the two strongest components of my work, among others.

What influences you and inspires you the most?

Places I visited, especially across Italy where masterpieces and impressive landscapes flourish. My partner. History. Visual arts and the five poets I worship like gods: Rimbaud, Garcia Lorca, Shakespeare, Keats and Plath. The people overall: I like to think of my poems as snapshots capturing a particular moment or intriguing strangers I will never see again. I also tend to write about the various nuances of human suffering.

What not-very-famous writers should we check out?

I found that Shirley McClure’s second poetry collection Stone Dress deserves much more recognition as it is well-crafted and wonderfully witty and tender despite dealing with a heavy subject like cancer. I follow some writers like Paul Stephenson or Geraldine Clarkson whose popularity is growing as she is preparing her first poetry collection.

What’s a piece you really like in Issue Two?

David Hathwell’s “I’ll Be a Vessel” caught my attention straight away: the rhythm reminds me of Plath’s most famous Ariel poems. It stays with you for a while and it has a “voice”, or duende as Lorca called it.

What book are you currently reading?

I am more attracted to philosophy those days and I have just finished a book I had wanted to read for years: Thomas More’s Utopia. It contained many interesting points which are still relevant nowadays. I love reading early modern documents, especially sixteenth-century English texts.

Any background info to your piece in Issue Two?

“Treasuring Trieste” is actually one of my earliest poems, so I am quite delighted it found a home! I wrote it while travelling to Trieste with my partner who admires James Joyce. I was struck by the intensity of the Adriatic Sea’s shade of blue and the contrast with the town’s blank colours. I guess it is also a reflection on how someone’s love can challenge you, boost your self-confidence and enable you to make necessary changes in your life or about yourself.

Where else can we find your work?

I have been published in Tears in the Fence and Envoi this year, but my work accessible online can be found in the latest Three Drops from a Cauldron Anthology, Molly Bloom and Southword.

What’s on the horizon for your writing?

I have recently slowed down writing poetry because I have too much professional work to do and stress doesn’t make me write anything of quality! So for the moment I’ve switched to newspaper articles, which is a good stylistic exercise. I’d like to move on to drama at some stage, and I’m also wondering whether I should come back to writing in French. I wish I had Samuel Beckett’s genius to be able to write masterpieces in two languages!

What are the benefits and limits of writing in your second language?

My appreciation of the English language and its poetic tradition obviously differs from a native speaker’s, but I want to believe it is an asset more than a weakness. I bring my own background and literary references with me and it might give me a touch of originality sometimes. Writing in English is also a way to be “anonymous,” in other words to talk about subjects which matter to me without having my nuclear and extended family analysing everything I publish!

Madilyn de Leon

Madilyn de Leon

Interview with Madilyn de Leon, whose poem, ‘Love and Suffering,’ is in Issue Two.

Why do you write and what do you hope to achieve in doing it?

I have always been fascinated with literature at a very young age. Words transform to mean something more and become not just letters stringed together when I read poetry. The sensation it gave me was magical. I loved reading them and the way it made me feel. I did not start writing until about three years ago. Writing three lines in an app started it all for me. First it was to release emotions I don’t normally share with people but then it became like a self discovery for me. I knew deep down I always wanted to write, like those poets I so admired when I was younger. So I guess I have discovered my passion. That is why I write. Then someday maybe I shall see my name as an author of a poetry book.

What are the major themes found in your work?

My work is mostly micro poetry and short prose. Common themes would be love, heartache, nature, inspirations, motivations. Words that will touch and stir. I hope.

What influences and inspires you most?

Inspiration comes to me at random times. I would be taking a shower and then something just comes to mind and I start writing about it. Strong emotions fuel much of my writings too. It could be from joy or sadness. A memory, a song I just heard, something I read or watched. I also get inspired by the beauty of nature around me. I could never get enough of fall and falling leaves. You’ll notice that a lot in my poetry.

What book are you currently reading?

The most recent book that I have read was Mary Oliver’s A Thousand Mornings. I love how she captures so vividly the beauty of nature through her poems and connects it to human nature. I find this book to be a celebration of life. It is inspirational and humbling. A seemingly simple choice of words but definitely profound in their meanings.

What’s a piece you really like in Issue Two?

It is hard to choose just one but I particularly liked ‘Larae’ by C.C. Russell. (We share the same page ha!) I love brevity in poetry. A few choice words if perfectly placed and used in a poem create so much depth. And this is a perfect example. I say great micro poetry invokes all the senses and stirs the soul.

Any background info to your piece in Issue Two?

Who here among us has loved and not suffered in one way or another for it? Suffering and love are conjoined twins. One will not exist without the other. How can you say you love when you have not known how it is to ache while in love and or for love?

Where else can we find your work?

Prose has been my home for at least 8 months now. So if you would like to read and know more about Soulhearts, you will find me there.

What’s on the horizon for you with your writing/art?

Prose recently launched a bookstore and I will be putting up a collection of my poetry there. It was never my intention to get published when I started writing. It was more of a release from the rigors and mundane happenings of life. It became so rewarding after. I’ve met a lot of talented and encouraging writers/artists along the way and for people to say they are touched and inspired by my writings encouraged me. It made me believe in myself and realized that I can do this! I can write and touch souls along the way. Then this seemingly mundane writing thing I do had a greater purpose after all. Who knows? Maybe a book in print in the future could be seen if the stars align and the universe conspires.

 

You can find @Soulhearts on Prose, Twitter and Instagram.

Mark Brazaitis

Mark Brazaitis

Why do you write?

Ever since I learned to read, I’ve found writing to be magical. To transform abstractions (letters, words, sentences, paragraphs, pages) into something vivid—something tangible and palpable—in a reader’s mind is a beautiful trick. I wanted to learn it.

What do you hope to achieve in your writing?

I hope to introduce readers to places and situations and emotions they haven’t experienced or, if they have, I hope they find in them a kind companionship—a reason to feel less alone.

What are major themes found in your work?

I like to write stories about underdog characters who hope to achieve something in a world hostile to their ambitions, such as in “A Detective’s Story” from my first book, The River of Lost Voices: Stories from Guatemala, and in “Pistachio” in my latest book, Truth Poker. The former is the story of a man whose success in solving a crime involving an American diplomat puts his life in danger; the latter is the story of a talentless actor who decides to pursue an acting career anyway—from his seat in the audience.

Because I lived in Guatemala for three-and-a-half years, I like to write stories about characters whose perceptions of their cultures—and of themselves—change as a result of their relationships with people of different cultures. For example, in “Coming Home,” from my collection An American Affair, a woman returns to the States with her Guatemalan husband but, after the troubling reception she receives from her family, wonders whether, in leaving Guatemala, she hasn’t left her true home.

I like to write stories about ostracized characters who know all too well how the world (mis)perceives them and use the prejudice they face to their advantage—if they can. For example, in “José del Río,” also from The River of Lost Voices, the mute title character is deemed an imbecile because he was “born dead.” But he’s more intelligent—and more successful in staying alive during his country’s era of violence—than any of the people he knows.

And I am not above riffing on themes made famous by other authors—Shakespeare, for instance—as I do in my novel Julia & Rodrigo, which is a Romeo-and-Juliet story set during the latter part of Guatemala’s thirty-six-year-long civil war (or la violencia, as it is sometimes called).

The stories in my collection The Incurables center on characters who struggle with mental illness. In the title story, a male porn star, impotent and plagued with herpes and guilt, quits the business and returns to his hometown. Unable to shake his depression, he decides to leap from a bridge. Intercepted by the town’s sheriff, he checks into the psychiatric unit of the local hospital, where he meets a bipolar woman who changes his life. I spoke about The Incurables, and my own struggles with mental illness, on the Diane Rehm radio show.

What influences and inspires you most?

I am a former Peace Corps volunteer, and I am inspired by people who strive to make the world a better, more just, and more inhabitable place: by my colleague Katy Ryan, who founded the Appalachian Prison Book Project, which sends books (18,000 of them thus far) free of charge to women and men imprisoned in six states in Appalachia; by Mike Tidwell, who founded the Chesapeake Climate Action Network, which is engaged in tireless and courageous work on issues of climate change; by Bernie Sanders, whose recent presidential campaign highlighted the need to protect our environment and to find long-lasting solutions to the democracy-endangering inequalities between the United States’ rich and poor.

What not-very-famous poet, fiction writer or artist should we check out?

Poets: Faith Shearin, Kim Addonizio, David Hassler, Erin Murphy, George Looney, James Harms, Shara McCallum, Geffrey Davis, Stephen Crane (yes, he isn’t only the author of The Red Badge of Courage—his poems are incredible).

Fiction writers: the list would be too long (and I would forget someone)!

Musicians: Brooke Annibale (an amazing singer-songwriter from Pittsburgh); essence (an amazing singer-songwriter from San Francisco whose first album, Mariposa, deserved much, much wider play); Silvia Gers (an amazing singer-songwriter from Buenos Aires).

Where else can we find your work?

One of the benefits of having the last name Brazaitis? It’s easy to find me (and my work published online) with a Google search. And there’s always online (and brick-and-mortar) bookstores.

 

Find Mark at his website and Facebook.