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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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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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