Tag Archives: MFA

MFA Application Season! Iowa State University’s Program

This post is dedicated to anyone who is in the process of filling out MFA applications and might wish to consider adding one more program. It’s also for anyone thinking about attending an MFA in the future. I was of on the fence about doing a post about the program I currently attend, thinking it might come across as biased, but then I decided: why not? You love the program and would say these things after graduation as well. It’s a program I believe is truly unique and amazing. It also has an application deadline of January 5th, so there’s still time to apply! I’ve previously talked about some of the details of the program for The MFA Years. But here I’ll go a little more in-depth.

So, onward and upward, I currently attend Iowa State University’s MFA in Creative Writing & Environment. Now, I think a lot of people hesitate when hearing the “& Environment” portion. However, the environmental aspect is broadly interpreted in the program. What professors look for is that a writer has some defining idea of “environment.” This can be tackling environmental causes in your work (Two of our illustrious alumni, Stefanie Trout [graduated] and Taylor Brorby [current student] are eagerly awaiting the release of an anthology they edited about fracking in America). It can also mean being a nature writer. However, it can also mean thinking about human interactions with the spaces around them: be these natural spaces or cultural/ societal ones. It can be having writing with a sense of place or history. For an example, of my own, I often write science-fiction and horror. So the environments might be manufactured, advanced, or not even on this planet. My thesis is a multi-genre work that focuses on folklore and its effects on human interaction and lives.

Speaking of multi-genre, one of the best and most innovative aspects of this program is its focus on multi-genre. Everyone in the program writes in more than one genre (and four are offered: poetry, fiction, creative non-fiction, and play/scriptwriting). You are not only encouraged to explore other genres, but also can play around even within the boundaries of those genres. The wonderful Tegan Swanson, a graduate of the program, has recently won publication and an award for her thesis: a series of “false documents.

And, maybe most importantly, this is a program that supports its writers fully and amazingly. Not only is the program one based on support instead of competition (as Professor KL Cook puts it: “We intentionally strive to make our MFA culture nurturing rather than cutthroat.  We believe that the competition is in the library, not in the classroom. We strive to make this an authentic gift community–intellectually rigorous and emotionally supportive.”) It also supports all admitted writers fully for three whole years with one of the best funding packages around (details here!). It not only includes a full tuition waiver and healthcare, but also is an extremely generous stipend (which with the low cost of living in Ames=actual savings during grad school which is a small miracle).

And, if you don’t want to solely rely on the words of Dear Pints, than here are the words of my fellow third-year, the lovely Erin Schmiel: “Iowa State University has been a whirlwind of experiences, and yes, that’s not just because of the Cyclone paraphernalia. There have been so many opportunities to meet great authors like forager Ava Chin, journalist Elizabeth Kolbert, and poets Natalie Diaz and Ned Balbo. I have been inspired by their visits and work. Another great thing about our program is the Emerging Writer’s series that allows us the opportunity to read and get practice being in front of a crowd of peers. While there are ups and downs of a small program, I appreciate our tight-knit community as well as our tucked away location of Ames, Iowa. There is support, camaraderie and comfort here.”

If you have questions about the program, let me know in the comments or hit me up on Twitter, @PintsNCupcakes

 

For more info on the lovely Erin: Erin Schmiel is a third year MFA Candidate in Creative Writing and the Environment focusing on a creative non-fiction thesis. She has enjoyed being a part of the Everett Casey Nature Reserve as a student coordinator and getting a chance to see the wild places of Iowa, because they do exist!

Or any of our other talented current students, check out this link!

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I made a movie?

Dear Readers, I was digging through old files and came across a film (of sorts) that I made for a class my first year in my MFA program. Because it took ages to put together, I thought why not post it instead of leaving it buried. The images (save for the last photo of the trees, which I shot) are from Google Images. The music is my own (I really hope that my assumption that “You are my sunshine” is public domain is correct). The poem and words on screen are also my own. If you are inclined, you can view the film here

 

 

 

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M. Brett Gaffney: The Interview

Dear Readers, Pints is very lucky in that I have been able to meet and become friends with some amazing artists (especially writers, because, well, I go towards what I love, what can I say?). And, so I like to share the bounty of my good luck with you dear Readers and introduce you to some of these incredibly talented people and so I bring you another EBCP interview!

M. Brett Gaffney writes in a way that hovers between the beautiful and strange, the haunting and real. Her characters are often at the edges of things or states of being. As a writer, Gaffney brings empathy to all that she portrays. I’m lucky to have an interview with her for this latest installment of EBCP (Extremely Brilliant Creative People)!

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1.) When did you begin writing? And why?

I started writing sometime in middle school. My first love was drawing and it wasn’t until I started drawing Pokémon that I wanted to make stories for them. So really, my first explorations were in fan-fiction (a practice I still advocate to writers today). This led to poetry when I tried to understand my victimization from bullying and subsequent depression through writing. Pretty dark soul broken heart type stuff, but it opened doors so a belated thanks to Pokémon and bullies.

2.) Describe how you approach an idea for something to write.

I either get an image in my head (out of the ether or influenced by art), in which case I chase the imagery of it before the story. Or, I have a concept, an idea, or story first. Like my poem, “Zombie Girl,” started out as an idea, a want to write about body image and eating disorders through the lens of a zombie. Lately I’ve been very driven by music. I tackled a poem the other day about my time as a haunted house actor, but it mostly came about because I was listening to some fierce female vocals from rock band In This Moment.

3.) One of the things I’ve been very drawn to in your writing is that you have a great grasp of the line that can be toed between the eerie and beautiful. What draws you to this? And, how do you accomplish this tone?

First, thank you! That’s exactly what I strive for in my poetry. I write along that line because it’s honestly how I see the world. Most of my favorite artists’ work (music, film, writing, sculpture, etc.) is fairly disturbing in content but that’s what makes it beautiful. I’m bored by fields of flowers, but add a dark figure lurking by the tree in that field and then you have something that holds me there. The hidden menace. Underlying fear. And I believe fear is so inherently tied to love as emotions go, so really the eerie and beautiful combo makes sense. The ghost is both terrifying and beautiful because we fear death, and we fear death, because we love life (I had a sort of epiphany about this while re-watching Poltergeist at an airport in New Orleans).

Also I just find a lot of gross stuff interesting. And I want my readers to like it too. If they do, win, if they don’t, still win, because I probably freaked them out and then hopefully they’ll ask themselves why. I think I accomplish this tone largely through word choice, mixing up an ugly image with a lovely simile so that it’s this whole new thing.

4.) You’ve worked on a series of poems about Waverly Hills Sanitarium. What at first made you go towards this subject? Can you tell me about the writing process of these poems?

I first learned about Waverly Hills on a double feature Sy-Fy channel program, Ghost Hunters and Spooked, the Ghosts of Waverly Hills Sanatorium. I love these paranormal shows but that night something about the history of Waverly really pulled me in. Initially terrified me. Tales of a tunnel used to cart dead bodies to waiting hearses, painful treatments to cure tuberculosis, which at that time was still a mysterious disease, and of course the idea that spirits may still haunt the old hospital. Though the history is tragic, it’s not simple, and that more than anything is what made me start writing. In Kentucky, Waverly was a beacon of hope for so many TB sufferers and when the doors closed in 1961, many patients were reluctant to leave, as they had spent much of their life here, formed a family with other patients and staff (who mostly lived on the grounds). Programs like Spooked painted Waverly as a hopeless and terrifying place, and while I do believe it was for many (the body count well into the thousands), I also know that the stories of the people there are more rich and complicated than a cheap horror tale. And I want to give them a voice.

Writing the poems has been and continues to be a challenge. There are so many aspects of Waverly that I want to address and yet I don’t want to just regurgitate history. I’ve relied heavily on C.C. Thomas’ book With Their Last Dying Breath as a guide to the actual events of the Sanatorium, and from there fill in the blanks with images and memories. My grandmother suffered illness for many years and so I pull from those experiences as well to try and understand what it must have been like, not only to be a patient at Waverly, but to visit loved ones there, tend as a nurse, etc. Half of the poems are rooted in history while the other half involve the ghosts (literal and metaphorical) and hauntings of the building. I’ve been to three different tours on location and I intend to visit Louisville many more times while writing these poems. It’s a project I’m still working on and I would very much like to turn it into a full-length collection.

5.) Could you describe what you consider your overall style?

Still trying to figure this one out. But I try to write what I know I like to read. Narrative. Imagistic. Weird.

6.) I know that you’re a fellow horror fan. In what ways has horror influenced your writing style (if it has)? What are some of your favorite works of horror?

I used to be terrified of horror. I remember Michael Jackson’s music video Thriller gave me nightmares for weeks. My grandmother had books on unexplained mysteries (in the bathroom of all places) and reading about phenomena like the Bermuda triangle really freaked me out. And yet I kept going back to these things, even though they scared me, because they were also fascinating. Until I watched Poltergeist in seventh grade (at a Catholic school Halloween party mind you). That movie scarred me for years. I avoided everything horror until late in high school when I picked up the Vampire Chronicles by Anne Rice. Then I was back in the game, and asking myself why Carol Anne and her abduction frightened me so much. In college I started binging all the horror movies I’d missed out on growing up. And now I’m pretty much obsessed.

Horror (film and literature) has taught me a great deal about how to use fear to get at the heart of certain subjects, how to use monsters as metaphor, among many other invaluable lessons. When I watch horror movies with friends that are not fans of the genre, I like to ask them why they react the way they do. Why does this or that scene gross you out? What about the monster made you leave your light on that night? I think fear is one of our most powerful emotions and goes a long way to characterize each of us.

Some (emphasis on ‘some’) of my favorite horror authors are: Stephen King, Shirley Jackson, Emily Carroll, Anne Rice, Rick Yancey, Toby Barlow, Charlaine Harris, Joe R. Lansdale, and Henry James (because Turn of the Screw still gives me chills).

Some (again with the emphasis) of my favorite horror films are: Poltergeist, The Shining, REC, Grave Encounters, Cabin in the Woods, Shaun of the Dead, Let the Right One In, Evil Dead franchise, Absentia, The Exorcist, The Exorcist III, High Tension, Rosemary’s Baby, Hellraiser franchise, Yellowbrickroad, The Devil’s Backbone, The Innocents (again, damn you Henry James), The Haunting in Connecticut, Shutter (2004), The Wicker Man (1973), Paranormal Activity franchise, The Descent, Last House on the Left (1972 version which I can’t watch again), The Hills Have Eyes (1977), Phantasm franchise, It Follows, The Blair Witch Project, American Horror Story (Season 1), The People Under the Stairs, Black Swan, Exorcism of Emily Rose, Them (Ils), Martyrs, and I suppose I have to stop somewhere.

7.) What is one thing you think every writer should know?

Write what YOU want to write. Be open to criticism and growth, but don’t change for others. The publishing market will always evolve, popular styles and subjects will come and go, but you are the only you. Write you.

8.) Writer or writers you’d most like to meet

Patricia Smith, Mark Doty, Stewart O’Nan, Stephen King, Anne Rice, Toby Barlow, Suzanne Collins, Kouta Hirano, and so many more.

9.) Thing you are most proud of in your writing?

I love freaking people out. Recently I read some poems at a literary reading and out of all the people I talked to afterwards, a writer friend told me she would have a hard time sleeping that night because my stuff bothered her (in a good way I think). I’m pretty proud when my work frightens people because that means I’ve hit a nerve somewhere, made a connection.

Also, another friend told me she would write fan-fiction about my characters. That might be the most flattering comment I’ve ever received.

10.) You also act as an editor at Gingerbread House Literary Magazine. What do you most love about doing that kind of work? In what ways does editing, shape your own writing?

Being a part of Gingerbread House has been, and continues to be, the most rewarding experience. Somewhere around the third issue or so, I also fell into the role of Art Director as well as Editor, soliciting artists for work to match up with our poems and short stories. I love finding the right image for our publications, and it’s such a great feeling when it all fits.

I love seeing it come together the week before the release of a new issue. Our staff is made up of some truly remarkable and talented people, and we’re all very proud of our publication, our contributors, writers and artists both.

Reading through submissions, proofing the issues, I’m continually reminded of why I myself write, why I submit to journals. As an editor, I’m so excited to show others what we publish, for them to share in what we think is the essence of magic and story. It’s a daily inspiration to work on this magazine.

11.) The most difficult thing you find about writing in ten words or less.

Revision.

12.) What is up next in the world of M. Brett Gaffney?

Pizza. My boyfriend (and fellow writer), Dan Paul, just ordered us some Mio’s, so I’m pretty excited about that.

M. Brett Gaffney, born in Houston, Texas, holds a BA in English from Stephen F. Austin University and an MFA in poetry from Southern Illinois University Carbondale. She is an associate editor / art director of Gingerbread House literary magazine, and her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Stone Highway Review, Slipstream, Wind, Penduline, Cactus Heart, Exit 7, REAL, Still: the Journal, Licking River Review, Permafrost, Scapegoat Review, Zone 3, and Rogue Agent among others.

And don’t forget to check out Gingerbread House Magazine or her poem “Zombie Girl” (links above), check out more of her work such as these great poems ,or to follow her on Twitter @MBrettGaffney

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Brontë Wieland: The Interview

Hello Dearest Reader! Pints is back with a new EBCP (Extremely Brilliant Creative Person) interview. This time, I’m talking with writer Brontë Wieland.

I first met Brontë when I was working on the planning committee for UW-Madison’s very first literary festival (Madison Lit Fest). Brontë was only a freshman but was already getting involved on campus (maybe this is only surprising to the me, the queen of not getting involved). I remember being struck with how motivated he was as well as by the excellent ideas he brought to the planning table.

Because of this, I remained curious to see where Brontë ended up. He was writing, so I encouraged him to send me some of his stuff. He sent me a play at one point which I still think about years later. There was an originality and skill that I almost couldn’t believe. Later, I also read some of his short stories and was equally impressed. His writing was polished, engaging, and utterly original.

Since first meeting him, I’ve expected big things to come from him. And, I think, after reading this interview, you Dearest Reader will as well!

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1.) When did you begin writing? And why?

Tough question.

Romantic version: I always had the heart of a writer and reader inside me and began writing short fiction in childhood. I had the insatiable urge to send a message and show the world my voice.

Real version: The first story I ever wrote was plunked out in all caps when I was ~9. A ship sailing through the Bermuda Triangle was wrecked on an island inhabited by fairies who saved the travelers and who many of the travelers eventually fell in love with. My second story was maybe a year or so later, written when I pulled a Pokémon book called Go West, Young Ash from my bookshelf and began copying it word for word, changing some words for their opposites so it wasn’t plagiarism. I stopped after about half a page. I was bored. The novel was called Go East, Young Klash. Luckily, it was never published. Then I didn’t write again until sixth grade when there was a short story competition my teacher forced us to participate in. I wrote about an average earthworm who always wanted to grow an afro. One day, he did grow an afro and eventually sacrificed himself to save life on Earth from a supervolcano. Mrs. Schroeder thought it was shit. Everyone’s a critic…

I didn’t start writing seriously until just before college. I’d always loved books, but that summer I read A Moveable Feast and learned to appreciate prose. I wanted to make something beautiful like that.

Why? Let’s go story by story.

Story 1: I had a tale to tell and it needed telling.

Story 2: I wanted to write something great.

Story 3: I wanted to have fun and do something that had never been done.

I think that accurate summarizes the motivations that keep my pen moving still.

2.) Describe how you approach an idea for something to write.

Every story is a little bit different. Sometimes I see a scene, an image, or a character. Sometimes I sense a story, a plot, an arc. Or maybe I feel an emotion. The first step has always been to let it ruminate. Gestation period varies. Sometimes months, but occasionally just hours.

My second step is usually to scrawl endlessly in a notebook in a script I can barely read. I get clips and blips of words and phrases and I jot them all down. Later is when I reorganize and then sit in front of my computer to agonizingly hammer it out at 1wpm over the next couple weeks.

I think that’s the most common, but there’s a lot of variance. On occasion I do just sit down and type until there’s nothing left to say.

3.) You write a lot towards the speculative and fabulist realms of fiction, what draws you to those kind of story elements? What do you think is the most important aspect to get “right” in this kind of writing?

I do, don’t I?

To me, these types of stories have always been the most real, the most Ur. Storytelling, from its infancy, has often been fantastic, grander than life, stretching the boundaries of existence. What I’m trying to do is tell the truest story possible. Real life has never been necessary to do that.

I feel like there’s something special, reverent, and liberating to tell stories in a way reflective of how they may have been told 10,000 years ago or 100,000 years ago. It feels like connecting with the minds that came before me, joining the ranks of hundreds of previous generations and thousands of previous storytellers. We’re all cut from the same cloth. We’re all telling the same stories starring the same people. It’s magic.

Or maybe I’m just scared my depictions of real life won’t be sufficient.

4.) You also write drama, did you come to one genre before the other? What sort of differences do you find in your writing process for these two forms? Do you prefer one over the other?

Fiction came first by far. I don’t remember reading or seeing a play before high school. I didn’t write a play until college.

As it turns out, my process is exactly the same. The main differences is I don’t usually write plays in LibreOffice.

They’re both beautiful arts and, you know, I can’t decide. I’m trying to think of moments I’ve had writing each that would sway my decision and keep finding examples for both and flip-flopping. That said, I think playwriting has informed my fiction more than fiction has influenced my playwriting. Stage constraints that I faced in playwriting changed my perspective of fiction completely. I had to learn how to make magic with just bodies, I couldn’t do any prosaic handwaving and neither could I weigh myself down with overexplanation. And I learned.

5.) Could you describe what you consider your overall style?

I don’t think I’ve found that yet. I’ve been experimenting and I have a lot of experimenting to go. The best I can do is say that I usually write in 1st person and I think a lot about culture, identity, and change.

6.) In your story “Empty Head, Flat Nose” (which can be read HERE), you write a science-fiction story that seems both absolutely futuristic and, yet, somehow still rooted in today—it’s one of the most brilliant aspects of the piece, I think. How did you achieve that balance? What sort of world-building went into this story?

My dad is a real down-to-earth guy. He sees things like they are, no illusions, and in a lot of ways has always kept me rooted while encouraging me to push forward. My mom tells me ridiculous things constantly and she always believes really wholeheartedly in what she says. One time my mom told me she heard about a guy walking home on New Year’s Eve. So, this guy, he was just minding his own business when a stray bullet fired celebratorily across town smashed through his noggin and got stuck in his brain. The guy survived. He was otherwise unharmed. No permanent damage. Obviously, sitting in the airport, listening to my mom tell me that is where and when “Flat Nose, Empty Head” was born.

I wondered what the chances were of surviving something like that and figured, they’re a lot higher if you don’t have a brain.

Anyway, I feel like the present day, real aspects of the story are my dad. The strange, futuristic ones are my mom. In terms of how I went about creating and maintaining a balance between these forces, I knew instinctively that this story needed to be as close to the present as possible or it wouldn’t work. There’s nothing special about a mechanical brain in a future that’s infinitely advanced. If this were in 1000 years, people would be rockin’ empty heads all the time and our skulls would be more a fashion statement than a body part. I kept that in mind constantly. I put as much of 2011 into the story as possible and only let the future seep through slowly. Another important chore was to make sure Sunny and especially Matt (since it’s his voice we’re hearing) felt completely comfortable in their world except for Sunny’s surgery which was a shocking innovation. Anything can feel like the present if the people you’re listening to believe it’s the present.

Part of all of this, of course, was the world building. Because I needed to feel comfortable in this near-future too. To gather the rhythm of the world, I wrote about the doctors who performed the surgery and their marriages and vices. I wrote about the company who financed the research and their intentions. I wrote about the lab techs’ hating their jobs. I wrote a bit about Matt’s parents. There was also an accompanying story about the time Sunny killed Matt’s cat when they were toddlers.

7.) What is one thing you think every writer should know?

We should all know what Junot Díaz said to an Atlantic reporter about gender and representation.

“I think that unless you are actively, consciously working against the gravitational pull of the culture, you will predictably, thematically, create these sort of fucked-up representations. Without fail. The only way not to do them is to admit to yourself [that] you’re fucked up, admit to yourself that you’re not good at this shit, and to be conscious in the way that you create these characters. It’s so funny what people call inspiration. I have so many young writers who’re like, “Well I was inspired. This was my story.” And I’m like, “OK. Sir, your inspiration for your stories is like every other male’s inspiration for their stories: that the female is only in there to provide sexual service.” There comes a time when this mythical inspiration is exposed for doing exactly what it’s truthfully doing: to underscore and reinforce cultural structures, or I’d say, cultural asymmetry.”

What we should do with that knowledge is realize how broadly it applies and constantly question our cultural structures.

8.) Things you’d most like people to get out of your writing:

An elevated heart rate. Because they liked it, because it made them think, because anything. If my work makes someone question their assumptions, I’ve succeeded. If I ever found out someone felt a  sense of wonder at my writing, I’d probably cry.

9.) In many of your pieces that I’ve read, you incorporate folkloric ideas, along with ideas about the nature of storytelling. What draws you to these themes? What are some of your favorite folklore tropes or stories?

The nature of storytelling is something I’m obsessed with. I always love finding a new story or a story told in a new way. Like I mentioned above, I’m fascinated with how folklore and storytelling link us to the past and how they create a connection between cultures and peoples. The only thing more astounding than the Aarne-Thompson classification system is that we, over thousands of years, developed a storytelling framework robust enough to support it. The similarities, the differences, they’re impossibly complex. It says to me that storytelling has been foundational in our development as a species.

In my writing, I’m often trying to learn more about these traditions and do my part to extend and continue them.

Favorites are so hard. I think in general, my favorites are always stories about deception. Either being deceived or deceiving others. I also like talking animals.

10.) Writer or writers you’d most like to meet:

China Miéville, Haruki Murakami, Ursula K. LeGuin, Angélica Gorodischer, Junot Díaz

Sad fact: Could’ve met Miéville at Socialism 2012 in Chicago but I ended up not going. Terrible idea.

Then, there’s a list of writers that, because I follow on Twitter and occasionally interact with, I feel are people that could in some alternate reality be my peers. They’re doing the type of fantastic work I like to pretend I’ll be doing some day. I’d love to meet some of them.

They are: Sofia Samatar, Aliette de Bodard, Usman T. Malik, Alyssa Wong, Ken Liu

11.) Thing you are most proud of in your writing?

Two things.

  1. That I’ve stuck with it.
  2. That other people have enjoyed it.

12.) Question you wish I would have asked?

Favorite thing I’ve read this year and favorite thing I’ve written this year.

Read: definitely Mondays on the Dark Night of the Moon by Kirin Narayan, which I reviewed on my blog. It’s outstanding.

Written: a story that you and about three others have read so far called “Bilingual Cooking Night #1, Banana Bread.” I will optimistically say, be on the lookout for this one in the next year!

13.) The most difficult thing you find about writing in ten words or less.

Editing. Forcing myself to write. Not using the internet.

14.) What is up next in the world of Brontë Wieland?

A lot less writing than usual, actually. From now until June, I’m trying to live as much in the moment as possible. In June I’m leaving Spain, so I want to take in everything I can until then. In June I’m flying to Singapore, then Tokyo, then Manila, then Melbourne. So I’ll be trading writing time for experiences until August when I fly back to Chicago and work my way down to Iowa, where I’m starting in the Creative Writing and Environment program at ISU. From there, who knows? Hopefully fame, fortune, and glory.

To find out more about Brontë , visit his website here or follow him on Twitter @BeezyAl

Brontë Christopher Wieland is a graduate of the University of Wisconsin–Madison. Raised in Wisconsin, he’s living in Spain until August when he begins the Creative Writing and Environment MFA at Iowa State University. 

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Kristin Gulotta: The Interview

I met Kristin Gulotta in a poetry workshop. I remember reading a poem of hers for the first time and being stunned. Her use of imagery was vivid and she had a certain something in her poems that I can’t quite put into words. Since that first poem, she has become one of my dear friends and this has given me the chance to continue to get to read her amazing poetry, playwriting, and fiction. Kristin is the real deal—a wonderful writer and a wonderful person. I am delighted to have interviewed her as my third EBCP (Extremely Brilliant Creative Person, if you’re new to Pints and Cupcakes). So, enjoy dear reader, and check out a link to one of Ms. Gulotta’s fabulous poems!

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1.)        When did you begin writing? And why?

When I was nine. My fourth grade reading teacher was this really cool, fun, hippie chick, who was always telling us to use our imaginations and having us write stories and poems. At the end of the school year, she told me that she really liked my writing and that I should keep doing it–and then she handed me this little green journal with gold-lined pages to fill up. So, I did. I still have it, and there’s some beautifully horrible work in there, the poem “Living in a Bottle of Toothpaste” (“Living in a bottle of toothpaste / isn’t much fun; /  Your [sic] very weak, since you don’t get any sun”), and a horror story called “The House on the Bluff,” in which a man moves into his dream home, only to realize that all of his neighbors are (da-da-duh) dead.  Anyway, writing’s just felt like something I needed to do ever since.

2.)    Describe how you approach an idea for something you’re going to write

Hmm. . .  I don’t really feel like I approach the ideas. I feel like they approach me, or at least, I prefer to think of it that way, that there’s something a little special and magical about it, and a kind of falling in love happens.

Just let me have my dream.

3.)    What is your “aha” moment when it comes to thinking of poems to write—do you start with something you want to write about? Or do you just start writing?

I’ve written both ways. In workshops, as you know, you’re sometimes given exercises and just have to write, hoping something will come. But, I’ve never felt comfortable with that approach on my own. I can’t journal either.  So, I write when I get struck by some idea or image or song or person. A “fell swoops” kind of thing. I guess in lieu of journaling or any other writing routine, I’m diligent about finding or looking at or learning about new things, so I have opportunities for a spark to happen.

4.) I remember hearing you read a poem about fracking…Are environmental issues something important to your writing? How did that poem come about?

I actually have two fracking poems now. (fracking poems. heh.). Like anything I write, those poems started with an idea that became overwhelmingly important once it appeared to me. So, fracking was (is) important, and I was also feeling really affected by so many horrible things I’d learned about, not just fracking but factory farms, GMOs, the disappearing honey bees. So, that all ended up in my work. I have another poem about Mitt Romney’s “binders full of women,” because that struck me pretty significantly after the debate. But, I wouldn’t say I make a point of dealing with environmental (or political) issues, especially because that seems like it’d get sort of preachy and annoying. And, you know, sometimes beds or chocolates are really important too.

5.)    Do you mostly want to work within poetry? I know you also write short stories, how does that process differ for you? Do you have a preference between the two? What makes you turn one idea into a poem and one into a story—is that a conscious decision?

 

I think I do feel most at home working in poetry, but I don’t want to limit myself to that. I’ve had to specify for my thesis (and for applying to MFA programs), and I was really torn between choosing fiction of poetry. Well, and playwriting, but mostly fiction and poetry.  So, I took a fiction workshop to help me decide–and that settled me on poetry. I just like how quickly I can get an idea out in a poem so that, within a couple of days, I’m working on revisions. Fiction takes so much longer, and by the time the ideas are all out, I don’t always have the patience to start whittling and polishing. Though, I have been playing around with prose poetry some, and that’s kind of a nice compromise between the two.   As for choosing which ideas might end up as stories or poems, I don’t know if it’s conscious. It sort of just feels like I see some ideas as more . . . cinematic, I guess, or as just needing more words and details than a poem would usually allow. So, those are stories.

6.)    I’ve had the pleasure of reading a good deal of your writing (though never as much as I’d like since I want to read EVERYTHING by you), but could you describe your style/ types of writing you do:

The feeling is mutual! I love all your work. But describing mine. . . based on what I’m doing now, which is what I feel I’ll be continuing with for a while, I suppose narrative, formal. Historical. It’s sometimes humorous, occasionally a little sentimental, but almost always telling a story. I really love making characters and writing from their perspectives. But some of my work is lyrical or a little confessional, too. So, that’s my poetry. My stories tend toward horror or suspense.

7.)    You’re currently working on a creative writing thesis…Can you tell me what that’s about? How has that kind of concentrated process been for you?

I’m doing a project book, a collection of poems on my current obsession: dime museums, which were popular in the 19th century and were amazing buildings stuffed with wonders: freak shows, theatre, fortune tellers, phrenologists, musicians, magic lantern shows, art, historical artifacts, faked artifacts, wax works, etc. P.T. Barnum got his start with them. So, my work is from the points of view of different “exhibits” or spectators, trying to give an idea of the excitement and awe you’d have visiting a dime museum, but also looking at some of the troubling parts, especially concerning “human anomalies” and how they were treated or viewed. And I’m thinking about how we’re all sort of little dime museums – a jumble of the wonderful and creepy, real and fake.

I’m really enjoying working on this. It’s been fantastic to have an excuse to spend lots of my time writing – and to do research just because I need to know more (or everything) about this. I’ve read a bunch of books, and I recently went to the Chicago History Museum to research the Libby Prison War Museum, a dime museum Charles Gunther opened in 1898. I actually got to read – and hold in my own hands – bunches of his personal letters related to the museum. It was thrilling!

8.)    Dream projects you’d like to work on:

Well, this will probably seem out of left field, but tucked in the back of my heart is this longing to write about Scopitone films. They were popular from the late ‘50s until the ‘70s and were sort of the precursor to music videos. So, musicians had to make these little films to promote their songs, and they’d play on Scopitone machines that worked like jukeboxes. These films are the best, most campiest things ever. They’re full of scantily clad, gyrating women (or men) and crazy costumes and sets. I seriously love them all. So, I want to write a book about them and make a documentary. Really, I’d just love to be able to interview anyone involved with them who’s still around – and I need to see (and own) a Scopitone machine.

 

9.)    What is your revision process like? Is that hard for you? How do you decide when a piece of writing is finished?

I’ve gotten much better at doing the work of revising, mainly because I’m working in forms. In my own writing, I feel that I’ve sometimes used free verse as an excuse to be sloppy and let myself get away with thinking, “It’s okay if the ideas are vague or abstract. That’s how poetry is.” But, in most forms, there just isn’t room to be sloppy or complacent. To say what I want and also conform to the restrictions of forms (rhyme scheme, meter), I have to keep working at it. And yes, it’s hard. I just finished writing a crown of sonnets. Well, it’s not finished, because I’m still revising. But all seven sonnets are there. It’s been torture. Maybe with forms it’s a bit easier in some ways to know if something is or isn’t done: a sonnet has 14 lines, so at 14 lines, you’re technically finished. But, it take a lot of reading and re-reading and playing around to get the words to say what I want before it’s really be finished. I’m also lucky to have the inimitable Ron Wallace as my thesis advisor – and he’s been great about telling me where the ideas get tripped up. Usually, I already know these are the rough spots, but it’s good to hear from someone outside my own head that they are – and it’s motivating.

10.) You’re an insanely fabulous reader of your own work, having made appearances at such places as the Wisconsin Book Festival. How do you prepare for readings?

 

Aw, shucks. Thanks. I’ve done a fair amount of theater, so I feel pretty comfortable in front of a crowd – at least when I have something that I can lose myself in. Even though some of my work is personal/confessional, the writing is removed enough that I can think of it like a character and sort of trick myself into thinking I’m taking on a role. I also spend a little time rehearsing before a reading, mainly thinking about where I’ll need to take breaths. Sometimes, I’ll even re-format the work I’ll be reading, break it up by where my breaths need to come, to keep the reading smooth.

11.) Thing you think every writer should know:

Keep reading and learning and putting ideas in your head.

12.) Thing you’d most like people to get out of your work:

To feel it’s true or real–and maybe to feel they’ve discovered something new.

13.)  Writer you’d most like to meet:

Honestly, I don’t know how to choose.

14.) Thing you are most proud of in your writing:

When I capture something true.

15.) Who are some of the writers and artists who have most inspired your work?

Well, here are some that come to mind.

For their mastery of forms: Christina Rossetti, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Ron Wallace, Mark Jarman

For being wonderfully creepy, horrifying, and/or surprising:  Alfred Hitchcock, Orson Welles, Edgar Allen Poe, Charles Baudelaire, Katherine Dunn, Samuel Beckett

For the ways they make my heart catch, or break it: E.E. Cummings, Pablo Neruda, Shel Silverstein, Charlotte Bronte, Paul Simon, Victor Jara, Albert Camus, Werner Herzog, Susan Mitchell

For their humor and wit: Allison Burnett, David Sedaris, Shel Silverstein

16.) What is coming up next for the world of Kristin Gulotta?

A flurry of MFA applications. But right at this moment, a pumpkin cheesecake.

17.)  The most difficult thing you find about writing in ten words or less:

Knowing I need to fix something but not knowing how.

Thank you, Kristin, for such an engaging interview! Dear Readers, if you’d like to check out one of Kristin’s gorgeous works of poetry, please follow this link to an issue of Goblin Fruit

Bio: Kristin Gulotta is a creative writing major at UW-Madison where she’s also on staff with the Madison Review (and, formerly, with REDzine).

To contact: Kristin.gulotta@gmail.com

 

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10 things-October 2013 edition

I haven’t done one of these in a while. But here are 10 things that are currently keeping me sane (which is a heavy task between writing a novel, taking my MFA classes, teaching college composition, and maintaining the high levels of self-AWESOME that everyone is accustomed to from me).

1.)    Donna Tartt has a new novel out (and I’ve ordered it). Ms. Tartt is basically a flat out badass. The Secret History, her first novel, is often cited as being her best. And it is amazingly brilliant. But, her second novel The Little Friend, is one of my favorite novels of all time. In the years since it was first published, I have read it five or six times. It is exquisite and sublime and if her new novel The Goldfinch comes anywhere near to its wonderfulness than I am going to be one happy clam. Here’s a conversation between her and her editor that was up on Slate.

2.)    Daniel Alarcon has a new novel coming out this month, too! Like, what? It is a bountiful month indeed. Alarcon’s first collection, War by Candlelight, was filled with gorgeous stories including one of my top 100 “A Strong Dead Man.” His novel, Lost City Radio, is on my list of best first novels. So basically all I have for this one is ridiculously high expectations. Here’s some more info from Alarcon’s website.

3.)    The Pinocchio lizard, believed extinct, was recently spotted. Gorgeous, no? Here is an article up on National Geographic!

4.)    I have been getting back to baking. I was thrown off by starting school up, but, now I am into pumpkin scones and deliciousness full speed ahead. This weekend will be chocolate-stout cupcakes!

5.)    I am hard at work on the novel. Stage magicians are in this. STAGE MAGICIANS. That should just make everyone happy.

6.)    I have a prose poem coming out soon from Cease, Cows and one of my favorite ghost stories that I’ve written will be in the winter issue of Supernatural Tales. These are both wonderfully fantastic publications. So, I’m doing the happy dance of writerly acceptances.

7.)    I started a new interviewy project of Extremely Brilliant Creative People and so far have had the chance to interview the fabulous Dan Pankratz and the amazing ean weslynn. Next month, there will be a pretty awesome poet being interviewed too, so stay TUNED.

8.)    I have found out that the town I’m now living in not only has a shop with a pretty kickass puppet collection but that there is also a store that carries treacle. Treacle tarts will be made. I have wanted to make them since I first read Harry Potter and I could never find proper treacle. Until now. Sound the freaking trumpets!

9.)    Squashes are out. And squash season means one thing: ravioli. From scratch.

10.) My people continue to be amazing and as always a moment of thanks for having them in my life. Plus, then I have someone to make food for. It is win-win.

So, not all is bad in the world of Pints and Cupcakes. This seems a good time to remind all you, Dear Readers, that if you want more daily updates and rantings than consider following me on Twitter @PintsNCupcakes

 

Happy October!

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A November list!

Maybe it’s that time of year…The air is getting too cold for much else other than needless pondering and list-making….And so, I’m stepping away from the free-writes for a second (momentary, I promise/threaten) to discuss the top ten things that November has going for/against it. Some of these fall into the category that I’m not sure if they’re for or against.

1.)    The autumn issue of REDzine has already hit stands and looks ridiculously beautiful. I’d suggest getting a copy as soon as you can. Like now, seriously!

2.)    It’s NaNoWriMo time. I will be writing and writing and writing til I just can’t write no more.!

3.)     I’m starting to put out grad school applications. The many, many grad school applications.

4.)    The awesome that is the REDzine staff is already hard at work on the Winter issue. It’s chock full of amazing interviews with Kelly Cherry, Valerie Laken, Patrick Rothfuss, and (one of my personal gods and amazing interviewee) Nathan Englander.

5.)    The REDzine release party in December is currently being planned and plans to be epic. So far we have booked the supremely amazing, sublimely wonderful band Hewn. Check out their music here: http://www.reverbnation.com/hewn They are seriously AWESOME! So come out to the release party and hear them live!

6.)    Homemade stout ice cream….It is as good as it sounds and making root beer flouts with it= the best thing of all time.

7.)    Honey crisp apples.

8.)    The new Pedro Almodovar film will soon be coming to a theatre near me and this makes me very pleased.

9.)    Grad school applications. Yes, they are on my mind enough to be mentioned twice on this list. Oh, MFA how I want you, but I hate the application process for you so much!

10.)                        The return of my favorite fellow pint thief!!!!

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