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Remick and Ray interview Max Everhart

We interviewed Max Everhart in January, 2016.

Max Everhart

Quick facts about Max: Mystery novelist (Camel Press, Seattle); blogger and reviewer of fine writing; writing instructor; lives in South Carolina. Has a sense of humor and an excellent command of the English language.

R&R: Why do you write about baseball?

I grew up playing baseball. I could hit a curveball and turn a double play long before I could read or write, so the sport was bled into me, almost entirely by my dad. I like baseball now, all these years later, for some of the same reasons I like writing: it’s difficult, and time-consuming, and frustrating, but rewarding, too.

R&R: Would you layout your technique for writing a novel?

I write a very generalized summary of the novel’s action first, about a page purely about plot, and that gets the ball rolling. Then I write detailed character sketches of all the major and minor characters. There’s always way more information in these than I will ever use, but I have to do it. Then, I get poster board and write out descriptions of every scene in the book; I number these as if they were going to be shot for a movie. Then comes the important part: I panic. I think, why bother? You’ll never finish this, you suck as a writer, a person, and you deserve to die alone. Then, I pull my head out of my ass and start writing. As you can probably guess, I’m a lot of fun at dinner parties.

R&R: Tell us about your education.

Spotty, is the word I would use to describe my formal education. I earned a tennis scholarship to the University of North Carolina, Asheville, and after two semesters, I had a .03 GPA and my scholarship was revoked. Memory serves, I had a few non-academic university violations on my “record” as well, so the writing was on the wall. . .but I was too stoned, drunk, and angry to notice or care. From there, I tucked my tail between my legs and did several reasonably successful and moderately sober semesters at Asheville-Buncombe Tech, where I took my first creative writing course, which, despite its merits, had zero effect on me. Next, I got into the University of North Carolina, Greensboro, and I discovered reading (no, I didn’t really read much before) and writing (no, I only pretended to write before) and earned an English degree with a pretty good GPA. I started writing short stories around this time, one of which caught the eye of my future wife, and I always say, half-seriously, that I’d most certainly be a bachelor if I couldn’t write well. After UNCG, I was rejected from six or so MFA programs, and they were right to reject me, but the University of Alabama, Birmingham, accepted me on a probationary basis. Working and going to school full-time, I managed to eke out a Master’s in creative writing, but more importantly, Dr. Wharton, my thesis advisor, introduced me to the noir-private eye genre, and the rest is very obscure history.

Quick aside regarding education/being a student: I am a terrible student, and I’ve always disliked school. I have a sometimes destructive disdain for authority and structure. Basically, if I didn’t write the rules I shouldn’t have to follow them. Did I mention I’ve been nominated for the Liz Taylor Emotional Maturity Award?

R&R: Do you write the endings of your books first or do you just let them happen?

I write a general description of the ending of the book as well as everything else that happens, but then I only end up using 20%-30% of what was planned. The fun part is the process, how the story and the characters evolve as you write and revise. You should always allow your writing to surprise you. Don’t be such a control freak. Chances are, your original ideas weren’t that good, anyway. Or maybe I’m projecting. No, strike that. All my ideas are good, nah, great!

R&R: Tell us how you got Eli Sharpe.

That’s easy; I stole him. At least, his various parts.

Sharpe’s five ex fiancées: I stole that from James Crumley’s character C.W. Sugrue, who had two or three exes.

Sharpe’s sarcasm: I stole that from Jim Rockford of the Rockford Files and Fletch from the books and films of the same name. . . and pretty much every noir private eye, like, ever.

Sharpe’s obsession with Nixon and complicated relationship with his father: well, that’s me on both accounts. I collect Nixon memorabilia. I’ve read dozens of books about him, and I think he’s fascinating as a “character.” Too, my old man is a die-hard liberal, and it pisses him off when I wear my Nixon in ’78 T-shirt, so I enjoy that. Fun fact: I wrote a research paper about Nixon for a friend of mine, while I was drinking in a bar. Just a pen, paper, and Jack Daniels. No other resources. Only took me an hour or so. My friend got an A-.

The other aspects of Sharpe’s character are pure wish fulfillment. He’s tall and handsome and women respond to him. He has a cool job and lives in a cool place (Asheville) and travels a lot, and he used to play my favorite sport.

R&R: What are your plans for Eli in the future?

Depends on the response to Ed, Not Eddie (Eli Sharpe #3). If more readers materialize, then I’ll keep writing. Sharpe may or may not team up with a former fiancée, who may or may not be a ball-busting investigative TV reporter. Who knows? Certainly not me. (Note: I’m not being cagey here. I literally don’t know what I’m going to do with Sharpe.)

R&R: What is style?

 A pair of comfy jeans, Wilco T-shirt, seersucker jacket, and cheap sunglasses. If it’s cold out, a knit cap and a pea coat. I loathe cold weather.

R&R: We think of writing in terms of the three S’s: Story, Structure, Style. Would you care to comment on that?

 Sure. I like it. Here are my three B’s of parenting: Broccoli, Baths, Books.

(for more on Story, Structure, Style, check out the pages on this blog. We have nothing to add to Broccoli, Baths, and Books however.)





Mindy Halleck Video Interviews Jack Remick

Just in time for the release of Trio of Lost Souls, book 4 of the California Quartet, this video interview by Mindy Halleck:

Mindy Halleck video interviews Jack Remick on The Timeless Aspects of Our Writing Craft


Remick and Ray Interview Larry Crist

We interviewed Larry Crist in July, 2015


Larry Crist before a reading at Bai Pai

R&R: What is a poetic line?

I don’t know. Is this a trick question?

R&R: All right. If you don’t care to go there, how do you react to poetry that seems to be just broken prose?

Far easier to generalize or determine proper prose from the poetic. When I’m taking liberties with punctuation and breaking up a line, for meaning or aesthetics, I’m more than likely trying to indicate that this is a poem—if any nudge of my intent is not clear. I’ve never had any formal poetics. I am guilty of making up my own rules, and what I most often hear back is that my poems are little stories—sudden fiction with odd or unorthodox punctuation.

R&R: What’s wrong with American poetry now? Is it dying as some say?

Who says? Poetry is absurdly popular. Maybe that’s its problem. Everybody writes it, nobody reads it—well I do, and I know others who claim to.

One thing I’d point out is that I think there are a lot of wannabe writers out there with limited or diminishing publishing opportunities, aside from what maybe one just posts or publishes on their own. In another life (or time period) I would mostly write novels. I have a pal who would make a living as a movie reviewer, another who has aspirations of being a travel writer and several who write plays or seem more like journalists or historians or mystery or children book writers. I started writing (as a child) comic books.

However varied all these types of writing are, the through-line is that these are all people I know through open-mic poetry venues—our weekly church service. I know very few pure poets.—those who only write poems. You needn’t be a real poet to produce good poems. For me poems are often happy accidents and not anything I set out to do. I write to be read out loud and I might not write half what I do were there no place to read it in public. As a former drama geek I love performing and reading out loud. It keeps me social and is the only way, after numerous public readings, I can figure out what’s wrong with a poem.

What I hope is dying is difficult esoteric rhetorical exercises that I personally don’t—after one reading—get, or that makes me feel stupid. 90% of what’s in Poetry Magazine for instance.

I want to be entertaining and entertained. Life is short and there are a billion hours of reading for every one hour you have. I’m not going to make a life study of say, a John Ashbery. If a poem doesn’t grab me or allow me to enter fairly easily I cease to care; I want fun poems I can smoke like crack.

Back to the question—new generated works or poems is the admittance to most open mics; I have several projects always going, but the most consistent over the years is to have new stuff to read for all the old ears that have heard me before, and, I imagine it’s somewhat the same with them, resulting in a lot of good and bad and forgettable poems being churned out all the time.

R&R: What’s right with American poetry now?

Mmmm, I read a nice collection called Satori earlier this year.

R&R: Are all modern poetics personal? Bob has studied Pound and Eliot who freed us from poeticisms. Does that strip-job have any historic residue for modern poets?

Yes on both questions and I’d refer you back to the answer to question #1.

R&R: Before you published Undertow Overtures, you read in a lot of venues. Has putting out UO changed what you read, where you read and how often?

Somewhat. Now instead of lugging around an entire telephone-book sized stack of unruly rewrites, and multiple versions, I have a perfect little bound 140 pages of well-revised—this-is-now-done—stuff. It feels good to flash the cover and not dig through pages with corrections all over it. I feel confident whenever I read from the book whereas anytime I pick up something else I’m constantly making changes to it, or realizing half way through that I grabbed the wrong version. Undertow Overtures is roughly 20 years of collected, mostly published stuff. It’s my first phase or period, and now I’m onto another.

R&R: You mention your background in theatre. Tell us about that.

My mother taught theatre (children’s) as well as exposed me to a lot of theatre (as a child, that was not geared toward children). I was exposed to a lot of Shakespeare, Ibsen, Williams, O’Neill . . .

I began appearing in plays when I was eight. I was very ADD and we moved a lot and I was generally disruptive while strangely introverted. Theatre has always helped get me out of myself.

R&R: How does your theatre background bleed over into your poetry?

I’m geared toward performance. I am always watching a reading and hearing them afterwards. I probably listen and watch readings more like a casting agent, studying presence and poise, how the reader takes stage? their rapport with the crowd? whether they’re comfortable in their own skin? whether they’re a successful communicator? Clarity and musicality of voice, whether they bat or blow-out the mic, their posture . . . all this before I’m able to really listen to what is being said.

You can read a bad piece well and sell it, and more often than not, read something good badly. As with one of the tenants of theatre, “I can stay home and read pretty poems (plays) but if I come to a reading (theatre) I want to hear and see something that rocks; I want performance; I’m not there just to listen, I want to be entertained.

And of course, what I expect as an audience I try for when it is my time on stage.

R&R: In one of our conversations you said that before an event you read aloud a Shakespeare scene to get your voice tuned up. Do you have a particular scene that you use?

No, and usually I read a full act or at least a half hour’s worth of some kind of vocalization to get the cob-webs off my tongue and the mechanism up to speed. I try and reread Shakespeare’s plays every year—always out loud. Hamlet is my favorite, Lear, As You Like it, Mid-summer’s . . . But I wouldn’t read any of them more than once a year, it would lose its pop. It’s only really about warming up. The point is to get the mouth, tongue and breathing working, and loosening up these articulators.

R&R: Why Shakespeare? Why not Byron or Conrad Aiken or Billy Collins?

Formal speech makes greater demands. It’s like waving around a bat with weights before going up to bat with a regular bat. I have my worn-out, dog-eared, easy sized printed Bard folios, but damn, that’s an excellent suggestion about Byron. I need to read him aloud. I’ve never read Aiken but am a fan of Billy Collins. He’s easy, playful, conversational whereas Shakespeare (and Byron) or any formal verse makes greater demands on the voice. There are score-able music and enunciation challenges and breathing demands.

As an actor and someone who grew up with a speech impediment, I feel undressed without warming-up. I grew up without being able to say my R’s or L’s, which with my name, that’s almost half the letters that were unpronounceable. I had an operation, snipping the underside of my tongue, when I was still a teen, as well as a lot of speech therapy. My greatest actor regret or most desired role in life would be to play Henry Higgins.

So, yes, good speech and a heightened sense of oral-interp is as crucial as making certain your fly’s not open while you’re up there.

R&R: Why do you read?

(This question helped incite a poetic response—see poems at the end.)

Finally, and or/to add—who knows the quantifiable long and short term results of reading, especially classical works from yesteryear. It’s an incredible thing that we have a Shakespeare who wrote in our amazing language that we still speak, and to have it pass through you, digesting it through your eye, voice and ear; it’s a very empowering thing.

R&R: Bob and I have a notion that writers don’t read for story but to see how the story is put together. In other words, readers read for entertainment, writers read to understand structure and style. What’s your reaction to that?

It depends on what it is, when, where and who? If I’m reading Stephen King or Carl Hiaasen I’m reading for entertainment, and hopefully I’m reading it on a beach towel or in a hammock with a beverage by my side. If I’m reading Fitzgerald or Hemingway or PG Wodehouse, I’m more than likely devouring them for style, and paying attention to how they lay down a line, create tension, or crack a joke. Someone like Somerset Maugham (whom I adore) I read for both content and style.

R&R: You read a lot of novels. What do you get from reading novels?

Sometimes a tan—a rest upon a couch with your feet up—a means of falling asleep.

I read far fewer novels than I used to.

Usually I’ll have a non-fiction history type book going, a poetry collection & some kind of fiction. Novels require momentum whereas NF or poetry collections do not Reading, like sleep, often gets short-changed.

I grew up in a house full of books. From the earliest I can remember I wondered what all was in them and that if I read all what was in my father’s bookcase that one day I would equal or surpass him. I learned to read early, before school began, then grew very bored in school to the point where I dropped out of high school and later attended and milked college for as long as I possibly could. I made a conscious effort in my 20s to read all the great works I could so that I wouldn’t have to read ‘em later on.

I am guilty of reading mostly dead white Euro-males; but then someday I will be a dead white male of Euro-ancestry, so I think it okay in my case.

I always like Hemingway’s axiom: You must read everything to see what there is to beat.

And along the way, one discovers powerful influences: Steinbeck and Richard Brautigan were very important to me in my teens, and caused me a fair amount of wanderlust. Reading Henry Miller in my early 20s made me want to write prose, and Bukowski not long after, made me want to write poems.

I enjoy Murakami, I adore the action sea novels of Patrick O’Brian, and this other guy, Jack Remick, for a healthy dose of both style and story.

R&R: Tell us about your relationship with the Jack Straw outfit?

I applied a dozen times for this program. I failed 11 or 12 times (I lost count). My final time, and I hope I don’t get anyone in trouble for saying this, but I didn’t actually apply. I received a call saying that my application for that year had somehow been chucked out in the cyber trash and could I quickly send my materials in again (which were due that day or the next). So, rather than say I had given up, I took my rejected application from the year before, changed the date and turned it in. I was delighted to get an acceptance letter a couple weeks later.

It’s a fun program but is over far too quickly. Loved my 11 classmates. Very eclectic bunch, some of whom I knew beforehand, but have since had the opportunity to get to know them better. Our curator, Stephanie Kallos picked a diverse and wildly talented lot. It all comes down to the curator to select a good group.

You get to attend some nice parties and participate in some readings you might not otherwise attend. It’s a good means for a bunch of mostly like-minded people to get together, bond, and create community—people who have your artistic back . . .

R&R: Have you said all you have to say or do you have more poetry books in your life?

I’m currently working on a long poem about tv—11 pages at present. I may publish it as a little chapbook at the end of the year—I’ve never put out a chapbook before. I’m also gathering another poetry collection, roughly about the same size or longer as Undertow Overtures, of mostly (since) published and newer stuff that I don’t want to wait overly long before some little magazine publishes it first. I am not a fan of on-line poetry journals; poetry belongs in print on the page in hard-copy, and not read from a screen; consequently I try not to submit electronically to things that are only on-line. This does somewhat limit my publishing opportunities.

I like what I’ve heard Thomas Hubbard say, that your first book of poems can be all about you, but thereafter, one ought to find less ego-driven ephemera for one’s second book.

So, yes, unless this reign of humans ends tomorrow, there will likely be another poetry book.

R&R: Do you want to tell us how you wound up in prison?

Hahaha . . . I hate to disappoint but I was never in prison. I was a bad unruly kid and spent about a year, all told, between Juvenile Hall, a boy’s work camp, and perhaps as much as a month in county jail while still a teen, or young adult, over the spread of about three years. I identified as an outlaw, early on, and as I wandered into various and numerous illegal activities, I realized I was always an outlaw, never a criminal; I dislike criminals as much as I dislike cops, they are part and parcel of the same disease,

I did all the same kind of bullshit that got Genet or Jean Val Jean busted. I did a lot of drugs and dealt mostly weed. Dope helped deaden any guilt I might feel. I recall stealing an entire box of popsicles as a child only to throw them away, feeling too guilty afterwards to eat them. I enjoyed the thrill, particularly when stealing from any large corporate entity and the rush of being chased. I believe in karma. All or any nastiness you stir up will return and bite you in the ass later.

R&R: We read your Facebook comment after someone put up a photo of a Billy Collins book that had been blasted with a shotgun. Your note said: “Why Collins? I can see doing this to an Elizabeth Bishop book . . . “ Can you elaborate on that? And tell us what it means to your poetic vision?

I now know why a political career would be a bad thing for me personally.

I plead guilty of trying to be funny, pitting one popular poetry star (I like and am familiar with) versus another, whose name I know but not the work—I could just as easily have said Rod McKuen.

That certain poets are popular is not always a poet’s fault, but anyone popular in this non-business business is likely going to attract resentment.

I genuinely do enjoy BC. I don’t know that he’ll be read a 100 years from now—or anyone for that matter, but I enjoy poems that are funny and not difficult and accessible as his are.

I still re-read Bukowski poems, to name another poet who is still popular, though only maybe 10% of his poems are really good; since his death 20 years ago, another 10-15 books have appeared. So, I don’t blame him for all the many weak poetry collections, only his estate and perhaps his surviving widow’s ensuing vodka habit.

R&R: Your talents are manifold, Larry. We know that you don’t limit your writing to poetry. You’re an actor, a poet, but you also write fiction and memoir. Tell us what you’re working on and why.

Currently I’m working on a novel. It’s roughly my fifth or sixth such effort. I’ve yet to do anything with any of ‘em, but get to the end of a first draft, so, I’m trying to move beyond this and produce a good second draft and then get it into someone’s hands who might publish it.

I still do occasional theatre work—mostly paid workshops. I decided I wouldn’t do theatre for free anymore upon coming to Seattle 23 years ago, but even paid theatre mostly pays badly, and better memories than mine are required. Either writing or acting will eat up all your time, so I’ve had to choose which timesuck I devote myself to.

R&R: How do you start a poem from scratch? From a vision? A word? An image? Can you give us some idea of your writing process?

Oh man, how many hours do we have here?

I wander around and take long walks, sit on trains and park benches and in bars. I stare out windows, study birds, tend plants, shop and study people. I always carry around something to write in. I get swept up by something—A smell, a fine meal, sounds . . . I try and stay open to whatever the muses have to say. I try to find a good first line. Then, providing something comes, try for a good second line, or sometimes I find an ending zinger and work backwards.

I have basically three kinds of poems, or songs (w/o music). There’s the political rant. These are usually bad and either too emotional or not emotional enough—or not funny; Didacticism without humor dies a quick death. There’s the memory poem or reflective anecdote. I have a lot of these story narratives in Undertow Overtures. Then there’s the bio/persona/place or era poem, where I write about something I’m not necessarily a part of and/or is beyond my experience.

Discipline wise, I try and write every morning for 3 to 5 hours, or longer when that luxury is available.

Poems are everywhere. Like butterflies used to be.

R&R: Many writers, among them Paul Valery, (a French poet, early 20th Century) kept notebooks. I have seen your notebooks in which you keep your words but you also have tons of sketches. What do you sketch? What does sketching do for your poetry? Can you give us a couple of examples?

You are most kind and generous, some are indeed sketches, most however are doodles. It is my own form of semi-creative autism. I’ve drawn ever since I could hold a pencil. All through school I doodled. Anytime I could get away with it I would draw, mostly faces. Much of this was superheroes from early comic book addiction. I often


draw at poetry readings, if I get bored. Sometimes I’ll draw the person reading. I also like to draw on holiday or places and things I’m intrigued by. It helps one see better and helps train the eye. I don’t know how helpful it is in generating new poems. I’ve been doing it all my life. I should be a better artist/drawer than I am.

I’ll have to check out Paul Valery’s notebooks.

R&R: Have you been in love more than once?

Uh, yeah. Bunches. I am guilty of some passionate overlap, otherwise known as cheating, though I have been monogamous for quite some time.

Back when I was an actor it was difficult because you’re constantly meeting charming and attractive people and then if you play leading men, as I often did, you will inevitably have a kissing scene, or say fantastical things to one another, AND then there’s all the drama traps that any pair of drama-queens frequently fall into.

I’ve been with the same gal, Chris Clarke for the past three years. She’s a poet and scientist and not an actress. I’m happy she’s not an actress.


R&R: You came of age in Northern California. Will you confess a little what that was like?

Well, as one Californian to another, it’s a big state and where one comes from sculpts who one is. I lived lots of places before I wound up in Humboldt County, or Northern California, the true northern California, not San Francisco. I lived in LA and SF as well and also the wine country interior. My father left early and I lived with my mother, a school teacher, and we moved a lot as teaching is often migratory.

From around the age of 7 when my folks divorced and we moved from a goat farm to San Francisco, to around 12 or 13, when we moved to Humboldt County, after my mother landed a much sought after University professorship at HSU, it seemed like I ran the gambit of growing up between class struggles.

My father was pure bohemian nudist philosopher/scholar and drop-out. His last real job was working with Ken Keasey in the mental ward taking care of shell-shocked Korean Vets, and for a time we lived with Dick Albert AKA: Ramdass. I was only a baby at the time.

Well, my mother got tired of supporting my father, who was forever writing his thesis. We lived in the country, raising goats and were very poor, only it wasn’t always apparent as we were surrounded by itinerant Mexican laborers where we probably appeared well-to-do comparatively. Then I’d visit my mother’s side in LA for the summer. They were devout Christians and very wealthy. And then I’d return to our broken down farm or our slum shit-hole city apartment, where we were the poorest folks on the block, and where It seemed like my mother had invented divorce as everywhere I looked there were kids with two parents living in nice houses.

Later on, we went to live with my grandfather in Mill Valley, where again I felt like Little Orphan Annie landing in the lap of ‘Papa Warbucks’. Then after a couple years there she got her position at HSU and we moved to Humboldt.

Humboldt was then a redneck backwater defunct logging and fishing area. I showed up in seventh grade with long hair, longer than the crew cuts sported by all the other farmer’s kids. Two years later, once we hit high school, I was selling many of these same kids marijuana, but at that time, seventh and eighth grade, I just got into a lot of fights.

I was kicked out of Arcata High. I attended juvenile hall high and later dropped out of continuation high. I attended College of the Redwoods for my AA and later Humboldt State U for my BA before attending grad school at Temple U, Philadelphia, where I earned an MFA in theatre. Until Seattle, Humboldt is where I had lived the longest, although in lots of different towns and residencies. My mother still lives there.

R&R: What about growing up in Northern California made you turn into a poet?

A poet is what others call you. I just try and write. Poems are often happy accidents that occur while trying to do other things. To say I’m a poet feels synonymous to saying ‘I’m broke and earn no money.’ I never liked it when people called me an actor either, because that always sounded like—he’s a liar, and makes no money.

I think having grown up in lots of places gives one greater perspective from which to write. I always was envious of those who always lived in one place and had a stable upbringing, whose parents stayed together and had brothers and sisters, and a dad, who had an actual profession.

But I never had any of that. I always felt like an outsider. Were I raised in a more stable atmosphere I’d be writing vastly different stuff or not writing at all. I think one becomes an artist in an effort to fix something broken, and if that works, you try then try to fix other things too.

R&R: When is your next reading?

The next release party for Clover is in Bellingham, Sep 27 @ Village Books, Zippy’s Dec. 10th. Friend me on Facebook for future postings.

(A pair of ‘reader poems’ —an old one & then a brand new one):

Breeders versus readers

they make babies, i read books

Words, words, words . . . sez Hamlet to Polonius

a breeder

Laertes . . . Ophelia . . .

wouldbe breeders

well-bred if not well-read

Readers are less destructive

Books collect harmoniously

Mein Kampf sits beside Black Like Me

Fitzgerald, Hemingway, Faulkner hunker quietly

without argument, ego, smoke or depleted spirits

Books from different eras

rest in curious combinations

26 letters, 36 dramatic situations

a well established rootage

a flourishing tree of sub-genres

which could use some pruning

Breeders are less circumspect and not limited to breeding

They are capable of anything, everything

You name it—they’ll do it

An eternal crap-shoot of sperm and eggs

a myriad of repercussions where the house seldom wins

spawning infinite potential tragedy and his ne’er-do-well kin

war, disease, nationalism . . .

ill-read and inbred and barely literate

every ism and schism lives beneath this rock

kick it and watch a million self infatuated

entities race for cover

Those who never read between the lines or sees what’s on the shelf

who are just as likely to burn or ban what they can’t understand

stumbling through their own rough hewn narratives

like they were the first to blaze the trail or find the way

cast blame, isolate flaws

revising events, altering the past to fit their myths

vandalizing antiquities to coincide with sharia law

See you in act five, scene two, when everyone dies

when we can die again one last time, alone with all the others

except for that character no one can remember

who has that speech that always gets cut

     Why read?

To feel less alone

To have something

you can never finish

and when you do

start something new

To feel and not to feel

This love affair with words

as they swim by your eyes

To go where i have not been

but someday may

based upon something

i’ve read, and once there

read some more

To learn things

i know nothing about. To

refresh, replenished, rekindled

to burn anew, to rise in wonder

surmount curiosity

Eyes left to right

as pages accrue in the one hand, diminish in the other

Words beside my heart. Words words . . .

To sleep perchance, yes, but to also keep tabs

on my talented friends—typers, tellers of tales

poets, book writers, short storyists, historians

how to-ers, funny frank, expansive folk and

erudite others

word whores all. I celebrate them in daily awe

I want to beat every last one of them

and all those other thems—read ‘em

to beat them—something i heard Hemingway say

To keep the words going and never let the well

run dry—this actively passive pastime

this crapshoot profession, gobbler of and ego enabler

a calling perhaps, doable through practice

to read into others as you

would have them read unto you

To go where many have been

and return there again

into nothing onto everything

into this that can never be said

among that

that inevitably will go unread

To seek out truth or enjoy the lies

From here within to this inside

this perfectly bound book

with that new book smell

where i can go

and vanish again

(brand new & not yet read in public—still subject to changes.)


Larry’s book of poems, Undertow Overtures (cover by Duane Kirby Jensen) contains some exciting work.

You can check out the book in Seattle bookstores or order here


Larry Crist–Poet, Author of Undertow Overtures

Coming soon, an in depth interview with Larry Crist, poet and novelist.

Larry’s book of poems, Undertow Overtures (cover by Duane Kirby Jensen) contains some exciting work.

You can check out the book in Seattle bookstores or order here


Remick and Ray Interview Star Coulbrooke

Star Coulbrooke

Star Coulbrooke

Star Coulbrooke is responsible for Helicon West, a bi-monthly open readings/featured readers series in Logan, Utah. Her poems appear in journals such as Poetry International, Redactions: Poetry and Poetics, and Sugar House Review. Her poetry chapbook, Walking the Bear, published by Outlaw Artists Press, is a tribute to the Bear River. Star directs the Utah State University Writing Center and lives in Smithfield with her artist partner and their two heeler-mix mutts.   She was recently appointed Poet Laureate in Logan, Utah. We interviewed Star in April and May, 2015. Her poem Aerobics by God  is at the end of this interview along with two youtube urls to Star in performance.

R&R: You’re now Poet Laureate at USU. What’s your reward? What are your duties?

What’s my reward as poet laureate of Logan, Utah, and what are my duties. It will take a bit of background to get to the “reward,” in which the duties play a part.

As the first-ever poet laureate of Logan Utah, I’m inside a story I never would have written for myself, not because I didn’t want it (I do), but because it was so unlikely. I’m a farm girl from Idaho who left my family’s culture and religion at eleven (when my dad died and I could stay home from church without getting the butter paddle), and who without walked out of high school the day I turned sixteen.

As with most poets I know, angst and yearning were the spurrings of my early poems. At thirteen, I lived in Montpelier, Idaho, a town of perhaps a thousand people, with a sister who was old enough to be my mother, who kidnapped me because she thought our mother couldn’t handle me (she couldn’t). I wrote my first poem (what I thought was my first poem until recently—more on that later) in speech class. It came out all of a piece, ten minutes start to finish, in rhyming quatrains, a poem about my dead dad. I handed it to the teacher and sat back down. She called me up to her desk and asked where I had gotten the poem. “I wrote it,” I said. Yes, she said, but who wrote it first? “I did.” When I finally convinced her I’d written it on the spot, she made the whole class stay after the bell rang to read my poem to them. Who could not become a poet after something like that?

After my sister returned me to our mother, two years later, I went on to write more poems, mostly love poems for my friends to give to their sweethearts, and emotion-riven poems about being jilted by my own boyfriends (some of whom were men with wives at home). Marriage was the only option for a bored and love-starved farm-girl in 1960s rural Idaho, no matter how their husbands behaved, so when I met a boy from Logan Utah who asked for my hand, I jumped. He was eighteen; I was sixteen. 23 ½ years later, 23 years after he hauled back and slugged for the first and last time, in a drunken moment he regretted but never sufficiently made up for, as he channeled his physical anger into throwing things and employing verbal and emotional abuse, I left him. With three grown kids and only twelve poems to my name, I left the marriage and enrolled at Utah State University.

Going to college became possible through a scholarship I received from my employers at the nursing home where I worked weekends (I was also a waitress and a hardware store clerk). I had taken night courses to pass the high school equivalency exam in 1986, the year my son graduated from high school. When I found an apartment and registered for classes in October 1991, my daughter’s boyfriend told me I should take a poetry writing class with him. I was hesitant: Can a new freshman take a 300-level course? Having been such a rebel in my youth, I was fairly rule-bound by this time, afraid to make a move that might compromise the new life I had carved out for myself. But he convinced me, I took the course, and my poetry writing life began in earnest.

It was actually in the summer of 1991 that my poetry trajectory was launched. I had started hiking every night, taking a notebook along to write out my frustrations and describe the mountain scenery I loved. I had started an additional job at a sandwich shop and the owner told me he knew a poetry professor on campus who would give me some comments on my writing. I was intimidated, but the owner insisted. He gave some of my work to the professor, Dr. Kenneth W. Brewer (who later became poet laureate of Utah). My poems came back three months later with some nice comments and a gentle question or two. Scared the hell out of me and I didn’t dare take a class from him until I was a senior in my last semester.

By that time, my marriage was well behind me and I had a new partner who loved my poems and went to readings with me. I was ready to claim poetry as my lifetime career. I was writing poems regularly, working with peers in a poetry group and taking as many literature and writing classes as I could. I had a supply of poems with which to start Ken Brewer’s advanced poetry writing class. He liked my work enough to let me teach a class for him, and by the time I was in grad school, I was established. I had written my undergraduate Honors thesis in poetry, wrote another sixty pages of poetry for my Master’s thesis, and taught poetry writing classes for the next ten years. I only teach occasionally now because I’m the USU Writing Center director. It’s a full-time job, and though it keeps me in the administrative mindset far too much of the time, taking me away from writing poetry and stealing energy from revising and submitting, it also gives me just enough flexibility to keep connected with the world of poetry.

I still go to weekly poetry group sessions–I’m the leader of Poetry at Three, now more than two decades old, with fifteen annual public readings and thirteen anthologies to our name. I’ve been conducting poetry writing workshops since 1999. I’ve organized Beat Poetry Night events and community river festivals with music and poetry readings. In Fall 2005, I started a featured readers/open readings series, Helicon West, which has won prestigious awards, draws a good crowd, has a big following. We video all the events and publish broadsides which include pieces writers have read for the events, along with artwork by college students and community members. The Logan Library, our venue for the last three years (we grew out of all our downtown café venues), proclaimed us their first-ever official partners in literature. It was for these types of service projects in the literary arts as much as for my publications that I was chosen as poet laureate of Logan.

I’ve had a few dozen of my poems published and have won some finalist awards for my manuscripts. I have two chapbooks which are out of print and three self-published chapbooks (in addition to the self-published Poetry at Three anthologies). I have periodically resisted sending poems and manuscripts out because it takes so much time, money, and energy. When the expenditures start to break me, I step out of the race. I’ve never been competitive, never cared for games and prizes, though I recognize the need to send work out into the world in order to have credibility as a writer. I consider myself a regional poet, and perhaps that is a detriment, but I believe there is enough obscure and inaccessible poetry out there in the wider world that to have poems which speak intimately to a particular audience is a credit to my reputation. Although it is nice to claim publications in national magazines, I like being recognized locally. I would rather be Logan Poet Laureate than State Poet Laureate. I would rather be Logan Poet Laureate than U.S. Poet Laureate.

And my reward for becoming Logan Poet Laureate: I have official permission to write, to spread poetry everywhere I go. The monetary reward is secondary. A thousand dollars at the end of two years. A thousand congratulations from the people I care about at the outset of my term, at the announcement of my being honored—this means more to me than ten times the dollar-amount I will receive. I’ve never had much money. I worked for minimum wage most of my life and am far from being remunerated for the work I do now. I know this will seem like blasphemy, with Utah women the lowest-paid in the nation compared to men, with the literary arts scandalously low in monetary recognition, but until someone else fixes the problem, I’m going to keep doing what I’m doing, for free if I have to.

My duties as Logan Poet Laureate? To keep doing what I’m doing. Plus, I get to visit schools, open a few city council meetings, and write a commemorative poem about Logan. I’ll make it a collaborative community commemorative effort, inviting lines from everyone I meet and stitching those lines into a poem (or a few poems) of local voices to present to the city. I’ll do poetry walkabouts, taking groups of students and others on mini-tours of the town, stopping for poetry prompts and spontaneous writing. We’ll visit community gardens, plant the seeds of poetry. We’ll sit on the steps of Old Main Hill and write about the sunset. We’ll gather at cafes and bars, at churches and parks, wherever poems might be lurking. My official swearing-in will be May 19, 2015, at 5:30 PM at the City Council chamber. I hope to have a few walkabouts accomplished before that official date. Another duty I’m tasked with is to help celebrate May Swenson Day, May 28. Swenson is from Logan. She and Ken Brewer are Logan’s claim to literary fame, so I will be ready to honor them in whatever way the City decides. It’s all very exciting.

R&R: How do you get to be a poet?

In the house of my childhood, there were books of Mormon doctrine, the Bible, a dictionary, a set of encyclopedias, and a few books of poetry: Edna St. Vincent Millay, Robert Frost, and a few other of the old dead white guys. Perhaps some Blake, some Tennyson, I don’t remember, but I assume, because of the metrical feet and rhyme scheme that came naturally to me when I wrote that first poem at thirteen. But here’s the next thing about that: November 2, 2013, I got a letter from my brother, with another letter inside, one I had written to him when I was nine years old and he was a Mormon missionary. It contained, in my scrawly cursive handwriting, a poem, all anapestic and iambic, six lines about missing him. So I found that I had started writing “poetry” earlier than I thought. Reading those few books of poetry we had at home, over and over again, and likely reading some some poetry in elementary school, made those rhymey metrical lines stick to me like glue. But I didn’t become a poet until I went to USU, found my mentor, Ken Brewer, and learned free verse, lyrical poetry, narrative poetry. Even then, up until the time I started teaching poetry, I didn’t know enough to claim such a prestigious-seeming title. Now I realize it isn’t the title, it’s the life.

R&R: A very narrow question—What is poetry?

Out of the mouth, straight from the gut, as Wordsworth describes it. A way of expressing the stories I can’t stop myself from re-enunciating in every kind of delicious sound that comes into my mouth. Finding then organizing the sounds to make the breath-moves, the line-lengths, the stanzas that carry emotion into each room of the house of poetry—where did I read that stanzas are like rooms in a house, each one having its own purpose, but all of them fitting the architecture of the whole. Maybe it was Steve Kowitt. Poetry is beauty, emotion, story—and it must be read aloud.

R&R: Do you write in a tradition?

Perhaps lyrical narrative confessional, sort of. I like humor. I like to tell on people who do funny or outrageous things. I like writing about nature, the mountains, the farm, the town, animals. I wish I could write the kind of philosophical people-poems that Stephen Dunn writes. His poetry reading at A Book Store in Logan Utah in 1993 was the first one I ever attended. Ken Brewer had organized it. He was always bringing poets to town. That’s where I got started with the literary readings I’ve organized all these years, I guess. Maybe that’s my tradition, not any sort of “school” or poetry “tradition,” but the perpetuation of community readings, the mix of academics and literary-minded small-town folks. I think I fit both types.

R&R: Would you take a shot at defining “modern poetics”?

No, I won’t take a shot at defining Modern Poetics. The Poetry Foundation has a nice discussion about that in a biography of Robert Frost. Frost was my favorite poet for most of my young life. Now I’m 64, still young, but with too much admiration for too many poets to claim favorites anymore.

R&R: Do you think poetry can be taught?

Certainly the craft can be taught, as long as the poet is already able to write from the gut. That has to happen first. The elements of poetry must be examined, surely, but inspiration is the method that matters. Once it comes from the heart and the tongue and the breath, you can sort out the parts that have meaning, strength, pizazz. You can teach revision up to a point. It takes understatement, respect for the poet’s intent, and a willingness to get out of the way.

R&R: What’s your view on “broken prose masquerading as poetry?”

“Broken prose masquerading as poetry” doesn’t appeal to me. Neither does “google” poetry or “language” poetry. Sometimes I like found poetry or erasure poetry, but usually not. It isn’t often that you can take some lines of prose and form them into emotionally-satisfying poetry. Sure, you can find places where the breath breaks a line, where the music might be composed, where there’s an inherent voice or tone you can pick up on. It can’t be forced. It must be inspired; it must be meaningful. Yes, maybe you googled it, but what does it do for you at the intersection of all that google traffic? It can really turn out to be a cluster-fuck, no beauty: not even ambulances and tow-trucks can help.

R&R: What is a poetic line?

A poetic line? I’m thinking of traffic again. Breaking the line at the wrong place can get everything snarled. If a line of traffic gets held up by a bad driver, a slow tractor, a pedestrian, well, nothing goes right. Inexperience is usually the culprit. Not enough reading, especially reading aloud, slowly. Or not enough revision. Lines usually work themselves out if the breath is right and you don’t rush them.

R&R: Is there something beneath the line the drives it? If you know what it is, can you put it in words?

I need more time to think more deeply about this. I have lots to say about the way my lines are driven—but I really want to answer questions 10-13.

R&R: In your view, thematics aside, is there a “male poetry” and a “female poetry?” However you choose to talk about it, do women write a different kind of poetry than men?  We’re thinking of your poem Aerobics by God. Can you imagine a man’s cut on that? Especially these lines:

They were looking sharp, feeling

like they could conquer the world.

One ran for public office, two divorced.

I burned up a new pair of shoes

every six months, got so tight and sinewy

I stopped my cycle, no more monthly

bleeding, just energy, energy and power.

I could carry six bags of groceries

to the car myself, no cart, no sweat

Yes, the view from the inside can’t help but make them different. I don’t necessarily see different “kinds” of poetry coming from women and men; each era or school of poetry seems broader than gender difference, and includes the many voices of that age and culture (yes, mostly privileged white males, we must concede), though the themes may be varied. I didn’t study contemporary poetry until 1993, but everything I’ve read since that time (and it’s hellaciously hard to catch up with the amount of poetry out there since I started) strikes me differently depending on whether the author is male or female. But I have to back up and think more carefully about this, about why I’m affected that way, because of certain poets who go by initials instead of a first name. I’ve read poems in magazines that seem female when they’re written by a male author, and vice-versa. When I’ve gone to the contributors’ notes, I’ve often been surprised.

Still, I can’t imagine a man’s cut on “Aerobics by God,” although Ken Brewer, my formerly-mentioned mentor and Poet Laureate of Utah, loved reading it to audiences. He had a poem titled “Concession,” which was about the woman inside him, and he liked “Aerobics” for the way the speaker gains power—“energy and power”—and eventually “decks” her husband for complaining. He loved the build-up to that part, and the quieting-down at the end, where the speaker sort of says, “See there, you go to this gentle class for women-only, and see what happens?” My poem acknowledges that women can overpower men, which is what the woman inside Ken always tried to do. In his largely autobiographical poem, he had to make concessions for the “coquettish hand-wave,” the “tears at funerals and movies,” the “constant dieting and undieting.” He gets even, he says, by not letting her do what she wants (Aha! The male perspective) … “no squash blossom jewelry,/no ballet lessons.”

A man wouldn’t brag about the things my “Aerobics” speaker does. He wouldn’t have to. Men already conquered the world eons ago; holding public office and lifting weights—and how could they have any idea how liberating it might be to stop monthly bleeding?

R&R: You do a lot of public reading. How do you prepare? I asked you to re-record Aerobics by God because the youtube recording is a little bit spotty but you told me you had to be standing to do it right. Explain what you mean by that.

To prepare for readings, I stand in front of a mirror and practice. When I teach or present to audiences, I stand up so I can breathe, enunciate clearly, use my hands and arms to emphasize the words and lines I want people to really “get.” In Ken Brewer’s advanced poetry writing classes, students were required to record themselves reading every poem they wrote. It changed my voice from farm-girl drawl and gave me a fair amount of confidence (after the initial revulsion of hearing how I sounded to others).

R&R: When you perform, do you go verbatim? Do you memorize poems? Do you ever change a text on the fly?

When I read my work to an audience, I have it all planned and practiced in advance, even the ad-lib parts in between poems, so that I don‘t embarrass myself with hems and haws or inane remarks. I always bring a spare poem or two to substitute in case the audience isn’t what I pictured as I practiced. Reading the audience is vital. I can feel it when they aren’t engaging with me, and I switch it up, or I try to. I’ve had times where the pizazz just isn’t there. Memorizing a poem? No. I have some memorized, but I have an aversion to test-taking, which is essentially memorization, and which manifests itself in the delivery, prepared or not, so I don’t chance it. I have my script in hand so the stage fright doesn’t set-in and make me seize-up. That happened to me once when I was thirteen, giving a singing performance. I couldn’t even get a squeak out.

R&R: Several poets we work with tell us that they have to read a poem in public a half a dozen times before they get it clear—they mean: see what the poem is and what the poem is about. The question for you is—does the audience shape your delivery? Does the audience help you find a deeper poetics?

So yes, the audience shapes my delivery, to a certain degree. But the reading doesn’t give me what the poem is about. It doesn’t clarify anything for me. That happens in my poetry workshops and presentations, or in the classroom, where students and participants ask questions about my poems and then proceed to tell me what they think about them. They always bring things up that I wouldn’t have imagined in the writing, even after years of reading the poem in public, which illuminate some aspect inside the work. They take it beyond craft, into a deeper meaning, a deeper poetics, as you say.

R&R: Thank you, Star, for taking the time to dig into our questions.

Thank you for these questions. I haven’t taken time away from the teaching and administrative mode to think and write about my poetry for years. I was feeling pretty rusty. This gives me energy—“energy and power, no cart, no sweat.”


It was a class for women-only,

women in the same church

honing their bodies for husbands

who told them God said

it was good to be fit,

and ever since birth control,

women could be.

So every Tuesday morning

they followed a church-approved leader

through ladylike routines

in new leotards and ballet shoes,

embarrassed at the sight of butts

and legs they’d never seen before,

their shapes always having been covered

in Sunday pleats and gathers.

Gradually, as confidence crept in

with dance steps mastered

to such easy routine they could have

walked it in their sleep, their thoughts

began to wander, endorphins

they hadn’t owned since puberty

pushing them into loving their muscles,

liking their new form–such energy!

A few of the ladies quit, went off

to the fitness center in town

and started working out with weights.

They bought cross-training shoes,

aerobics and lifting on alternate days.

Made excuses for not going out with

the family on weekends, went running

on Saturdays, hot-tubbing Sunday.

They were looking sharp, feeling

like they could conquer the world.

One ran for public office, two divorced.

I burned up a new pair of shoes

every six months, got so tight and sinewy

I stopped my cycle, no more monthly

bleeding, just energy, energy and power.

I could carry six bags of groceries

to the car myself, no cart, no sweat.

I could stay up until midnight baking,

doing laundry, cleaning the bathroom.

I’d fall into bed, sleep hard until five,

get up and go like hell. One day,

my man voiced his usual complaints,

and I decked him. All from a  church-ladies

gentle aerobics class, ordered by God.

Star Coulbrooke

Published in Logan Canyon Blend,

Blue Scarab Press, Pocatello, Idaho, 2003 videos





Dennis Must Reading from The World’s Smallest Bible in NYC

Dennis Must reads from The World’s Smallest Bible in New York City.

now on youtube.



Remick and Ray Interview Sherry Decker

We interviewed Sherry Decker in September, 2014. She has just signed a contract for her novel Hypershot.

 R&R: Congratulations on your Hypershot deal.

Decker: Thank you. I’m very happy about this. It happened the way I always assumed it would, by total surprise.

 R&R: When did you start writing Hypershot?

Decker: In the late eighties, about three months before I met you at Louisa’s, (Tio’s Bakery back then wasn’t it)? I wanted to apply to your fiction writing class at the U.W. and that required sending you a minimum number of pages. I had just written the first thirty pages of Hypershot, so that’s what I submitted. Thinking back to that early manuscript, I’m amazed you accepted me into your class.

R&R: When did you finish?

 Decker: The first time? It’s been rewritten and revised so many times that question is difficult to answer. I thought it was done when I sent it to Richard Curtis, my agent in New York. Especially after he read it and liked it, and decided to represent me. That was August 15, 2011.

R&R:  We like to cluster questions. So here are a few: What genre is Hypershot? Is it science fiction? Urban fantasy? Dystopian?

Decker: I like what Ray Bradbury said about his Martian Chronicles: “I don’t write science fiction,” he said. “Science fiction is a depiction of the real. Fantasy is a depiction of the unreal. So Martian Chronicles is not science fiction, it’s fantasy. It couldn’t happen, you see?” Therefore, even though my book might be offered as science fiction by bookstores or online, it’s really a futuristic adventure about a dystopian, subterranean city and a woman who is (of course) its reluctant savior, especially when you consider the green-skinned mushroom growers and the blind, aggressive, albino fish.

 R&R: Can you give us a quick synopsis of Hypershot?

 Decker: Krea-D is thirty years old and clawing her way through the patriarchal military ranks of Undercity in 2210 CE, three miles beneath Mt. Mesquite in the New Mexico desert. Krea craves the solitude and security a high rank can deliver in such a harsh, post-apocalyptic world.

      Entering a combat-weapons contest using the Hypercon, Undercity’s experimental, high-tech weapon, Krea wins but ends up sharing the title, Hypershot with her long-time nemesis, Makk-A.

      Makk, with the connivance of Undercity’s highest-ranking officer, Jacquard Crop, takes possession of the sought-after trophy, leaving Krea with only the promise of the actual weapon ‘once it’s perfected.’ Beneath her apparent calm, Krea revolts against the chicanery but her actions uncover secrets hidden by Undercity’s most powerful Elite, someone who left her as a newborn in Undercity’s orphanage.

      Krea’s astonishing achievements have attracted the attention of Jacquard Crop. Crop is on the hunt for a new wife, because to become Premier he must father a healthy heir in a world with a high enfant mortality rate. Crop forces Krea into marriage. Soon pregnant, Krea sees her goals unraveling. She regrets entering the contest and losing her independence.

      Crop’s power-hungry sister, Lona Tors uses her brother’s high rank to control people, but her efforts to control Krea backfire. When Lona discovers Krea has stolen her boy-toy artist lover, she has Krea sent to hunt down Jero-K, a notorious rebel AWOL from the military and Krea’s best friend. Krea and Jero make a run for the surface. Their very survival depends on Krea’s warrior talents in a final, no-rules battle for freedom.

 R&R: When is it due out?

Decker: I thought it would be out by the end of the year, or very early next year. Now I suspect it will be mid-2015.

R&R: Who is the publisher?

 Decker: Eldritch Press. The editor/publisher, Michael Randolph seems very pleasant to work with. He always gets right back to me with answers to my questions and says he wants to involve me in the publishing process.

 R&R: What formats? hard cover? soft cover? e-book? other?

 Decker: Michael Randolph said, “…paperback, e-book, audiobook and possibly hardcover. I want most of our novels to be available in hardcover. I am setting up auditions with different audiobook recorders to start (that) process.” I am also pleased that Michael Randolph wants my input on the cover art. That’s rare, from what I’ve always heard about the publishing and marketing process. Authors seldom have a say in cover art.

 R&R: You sold the book yourself, but you went through a long agent search. Tell us about that. How did it work? How long? Do you think having an agent is necessary in this time of independent presses and self-publication?

 Decker: It wasn’t such a long search, since I struck gold with the fifth agent I contacted. I thought signing with an agent like Richard Curtis guaranteed landing a major publisher. He sent the manuscript out and the waiting was both exciting and dreadful. One by one, they replied and Richard forwarded their comments. They were all complimentary but, ultimately they rejected it. Three of them said, “Send us her next book!” That was encouraging, and Richard wanted me to jump straight into a sequel for Hypershot, and I did write 22,000 words on a prequel, but I reached a point where I was so weary of Undercity, its cruel government, all the societal hierarchy and the desperate characters, I didn’t care enough to keep writing about them. I set it aside and started working on something that had been on my mind for years – a horror story that takes place on an Olympic Peninsula farm. I submitted it as a short story to five or six publishers at that time, and one of them was kind enough to explain that she felt there was far too much story there for short fiction. It took me about fourteen months to write it as a novel, and then I sent it to Richard Curtis, who during our initial emails had asked what else I had to work on after Hypershot – and I had mentioned the horror story and he asked to read it, so Richard had already read this tale as a short story. Afterward, he advised me to write the sequel to Hypershot instead. When he received this horror novel instead of the sequel, he said he didn’t care for it and didn’t want to represent it. Naturally, I was disappointed. And yes, a bit angry. Other people might be able to write to spec, but I must write what is pestering my thoughts in the middle of the night, with characters who whisper things that make me think . . . what?! That horror novel is languishing in a drawer. I’ll get back to it. Now I’ve started work on a futuristic, off-world story. It’s different from and yet similar to Hypershot. After a year of non-communication with Richard Curtis, I doubted that he wanted to represent me anymore. It didn’t feel like he did, so I asked him outright. He seemed surprised. “Certainly,” he said. “I want to represent you. I loved Hypershot and was disappointed when I failed to find a publisher for it.” So, we’ve agreed to keep trying. I’m not a fast writer, so I told him it would be at least a year, maybe more before I sent him the next novel. He said, “Okay.” I don’t think everyone needs an agent, but I like having Richard Curtis’s name at the top of my credits. Not sure what that says about me, but I’ll admit to it. I decided to submit Hypershot around myself, and soon spotted Eldritch Press. I submitted Hypershot and ended up with a contract. To answer your question about how long this process took: from the initial dream, the writing (many scenes were written at Louisa’s or in one of your classes) the revising, the marketing, the start-overs, the years of doing things other than working on the manuscript or marketing it, more revisions, to the acceptance . . . twenty-plus years. I guess that means I’m persistent. Admittedly, it’s an odd story, so I understand why some publishers felt it didn’t fit any specific genre.

 R&R: Here is another clump. Feel free to answer the ones you want. What made you write Hypershot? What is the world like in Hypershot? You’re a student of science fiction and horror. What writers helped you do the work? Who do you owe? Do you work with a group or alone?

Decker: Hypershot came from a dream. Under most circumstances I would consider the dream a nightmare, but since I was a spectator in this dream, it was intriguing. It plagued me. More dreams followed, about a month apart, with the same character in the same subterranean world. When I wasn’t dreaming about it, I was writing bits of dialogue that came to me in the middle of the night, or the middle of the day while I was supposed to be doing something else. Writers who influenced me were Edgar Allen Poe, Bram Stoker, Hemingway, Ray Bradbury, Stephen King, Joyce Carol Oates and Margaret Atwood, in about that order. The world in Hypershot is dark, depressing, deadly, and dystopian. Lots of D words there. I belong to a three-member writers group along with Kerri Hakoda and Becky Warden-White. We meet about every three months. They read everything I write before I submit it. I owe them a great deal. I owe Jack Remick too much to measure. Without Jack, Hypershot would never have been finished. It would have been choked with adverbs and other grievous mistakes. Without Jack I doubt my short story, Hicklebickle Rock would have been accepted by Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine, or my novelette, Hook House accepted by Cemetery Dance Magazine. I work alone, but I’m always thinking about my next writers group meeting with Becky and Kerri. I love the way we work together. We do timed writings, read-aloud-critiquing of our scenes, and we do a ton of brainstorming. I love those two women. We met in Jack and Bob’s class in the nineties. We’ve been together as a group for – I’ve lost count – maybe twenty years.

 R&R: You published a magazine—Indigenous Fiction—for years. It seems that there are now hundreds of niches in speculative fiction. Can you pinpoint some of the differences—say between Science Fiction and Horror. Where do you put writing about zombies and vampires in your hierarchy?

Decker: Indigenous Fiction – born in September 1997 and closed down in June 2001. Good memories. This project interrupted Hypershot for five straight years, but I don’t regret it. The differences between science fiction and horror are unimportant to me, other than to label something for a bookstore shelf. Alien remains one of my favorite science fiction movies. Yet it must also appear in the horror category. Alien scared me. I watched a good portion of that flick through my fingers while holding my breath. 2001 A Space Odyssey has terrifying moments. The Silence of the Lambs. Wow. Zombies or vampires – I’ve read one zombie novel, ever. It’s not my favorite genre, but I have nothing against it either. Bram Stoker’s, Dracula is a great book. I read it in junior high school and loved it. Same with Frankenstein. The stories made me pause and think. They made me want to write. I’ve written one zombie story, titled, Apocalypse Station, published by James B. Baker in 1998. My one and only vampire tale is, The Clan. It appeared in Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine. It was illustrated on the cover for their Halloween issue, 1999. Very proud of that. I’m not a literary snob.

 R&R: When you were writing Hypershot, what techniques helped you the most?

Decker: I had my favorite techniques: rewriting a scene and ‘getting closer.’ Writing it again and getting even closer. Again. Closer. Again. That was how I wrote the infamous scene with the cooking barrel. The cooking barrel scene was illuminating. It explained something important about my protagonist’s background and also her motives. Another favorite technique: Chaining. [Note from Jack and Bob: Chaining is a rhetorical device often used in conjunction with anaphora and epistrophe. We’re very happy that Sherry uses these devices.]For me, chaining feels like chanting or marching, like connecting metal links, all the while approaching something unseen, something unexpected up ahead, something eye-opening. There are many other helpful techniques, like the very act of timed writings. Together, the techniques kept me writing.

 R&R: What’s the target audience for Hypershot?

 Decker: Anyone who enjoyed The Time Machine, The Thing, Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, Journey To the Center of the Earth, The Handmaid’s Tale, Alien (the movie, not the book), Silence of the Lambs, In Cold Blood, The Shining, Salem’s Lot, The Stand. I’ve described Hypershot’s storyline as The Handmaid’s Tales meets Journey to the Center of the Earth.

R&R: Now that you’re a pro, tell our readers something about your writing process. Early morning? Late night? Longhand draft going to computer? Do you compose on the computer? How much do you write before you start to rewrite?

 Decker: “Pro?” –funny. I always hope to get into my office early in the day, but sometimes life gets in the way and I don’t ever make it. That doesn’t mean I didn’t write. Sometimes I write on the kitchen grocery pad, or on a tablet in the car, sometimes on a legal pad in the downstairs office where this computer sits. (My writing computer, upstairs, is not connected to the internet.) My process is to plunk myself down, pick up a ballpoint pen and release the dragon, even if it’s from the middle of a conversation. There are always ideas trying to escape my psyche. The other day, a television commercial sparked an idea. My stories include a fair amount of dialogue. So much can be accomplished with dialogue. To me, the narrative is simply connecting one place or character to another so that there can be more dialogue. I love character-based stories. Characters talk. Sometimes they think, but that’s not as interesting as what flies out of their mouths. I type much faster than I write, but the deepest and best ideas come from handwriting. I don’t know why. Jack always said it was Zen. Okay. I believe our innate desires come from someplace we cannot tap into without allowing some daydreaming and for some reason, writing with a pen taps that vein. Sometimes I’m lucky and it comes from my keyboard. I love it when I’m typing super fast and something lands on the screen that astonishes me. This happens during revisions, and usually leads to another key scene. I revise or rewrite as soon as I go back and read what I’ve written, and then again weeks or even months later. There is no such thing as leaving it as-is. Every time I read my work, I change something. A word, a phrase. Something. That’s just me. Picky. My husband describes it as,chink-chink-chink, like some obsessive-compulsive artist chipping away at a marble statue from day-into-night. I’m both flattered and annoyed by that description.

 R&R: Another clumpy set of questions. How do you create your main characters? Body-type first? Job/Profession first? Do you make-up character profiles? How much backstory do you devote to each main character? How soon do you give them dialogue lines? When do you drop them into a scene?

 Decker: My protagonist is usually, at least partly, me. Bumbling, naïve, but lucky. Of course she does things I’d never really do. That’s what’s great about fiction. I can live the life of anyone I choose, heroine or killer. Mother, daughter, crone. I love the idea that as writers, we stand back and lob tribulations on our protagonists, like rocks pelting their heads. It’s how we force them to take the direction we want. Sooner or later I’m in the head of every character I write, and they’re in mine. I start with a situation. A bad situation for my protagonist usually gets me started. Even though she resists for good reason, she is prodded and forced to do something she doesn’t want to do. Sometimes she ignores the prodding and does what she wants but that gets her into more trouble. Luck (or the helper) gives her another chance. Her innate physical or mental strength helps her arrive at a place where she can regroup and try again. I don’t do character profiles for short fiction. I did have them for Hypershot. For my current work-in-progress, I haven’t gotten around to character profiles yet, but will. For the first third of the book, I’m just flying by the seat of my pants to discover where I crash. Right now I’m having fun discovering things. I often start scenes with dialogue and edit later for variety. Dialogue reveals so much about a character. Sometimes it’s one character listening in on a conversation. To what he/she eavesdrops on, reveals something about him/her. Where a character first appears depends on the natural flow of a story. If they’re a hard-nosed bully, they might arrive in a gentle manner, opposite of their nature. A gentle character might arrive while involved in a brawl. It depends on how I feel when the discovery scene begins.

 R&R: Do you use the same process for writing novels and short stories?

 Decker: No. There is a sense of urgency when writing short fiction, a sense of timing that I don’t feel with a novel. Some novel scenes have urgency, but the novel itself allows time for development. Novels allow the time for sub-plots, secondary characters and side adventures that lead the reader into (for lack of a better term) red herring territory. Not everything must lead to a conclusion. Sometimes, these side adventures are meant to confuse and disappoint the protagonist and I like that. Short fiction was a good way to learn how to write. It proved to me that I could start, develop and finish something. And sell it! Short stories dictate their own length. I suppose novels do also, but that feels more acute with short fiction. Right now I am enjoying the freedom from that sense of urgency while writing novels.

 R&R: Back to Indigenous Fiction–What kind of stories did you publish? How many pages in an average issue? Was it print? E-Book? Both? Why did you start the magazine? How much help did you have? How much editing did you do? What criteria did you use to sort submissions? How did being an editor make you feel? Who was your target audience? Why did you stop publishing I.F.?

 Decker: I looked for weird fiction, something odd in the plot or the character. I had precise guidelines that stated what I wanted and what I didn’t want. Some people read those guidelines and some people, it seems, didn’t. Indigenous Fiction was a print magazine, and every issue contained at least one story that ended up reprinted in a Year’s Best anthology, or earned Honorable Mention in one of the Best Of Year collections. I.F. had about 150 reliable subscribers. The publication came out every four months and had, on average, between 75-85 pages. We always included some interior black and white art and poetry in addition to approximately eight stories. I did all the editing. One friend-volunteer, Evelyn, read things when I wanted a second opinion. Another volunteer, David Otteni, did all the work putting I.F. on a disk for the printer. All correspondence, I handled myself, and that took seven days a week and at least eight hours a day. I didn’t sort the submissions. I logged everything in by hand into a ledger by the date received. I never allowed more than a week to pass without reading all the submissions. I usually knew within the first page or two, if I’d accept something. Being an editor and publisher made me feel responsible and obligated. As an editor you have promised something to your readers and contributors, even to those people who are neither, but who have submitted material for your magazine. You owe them your time. You owe them a reply. You owe them respect. My target audience was people who liked a touch of the bizarre. Indigenous Fiction ~ wondrously weird and offbeat was our full title.

 R&R: How are you promoting Hypershot? Public appearances? Blog tours?

Decker: Promoting Hypershot is going to be a learning experience for me. I am willing to make public appearances. I’ll do readings, signings, classroom visits, whatever. I mention as much as I can on Facebook, but there is a limit to how much one can post there. Some people become obnoxious with their non-stop book promotions on Facebook. I’ll talk to my publisher and do what he recommends. I’m even willing to travel. I will eventually come up with a blog. Blogs seem to be necessary these days.

 R&R: What are you writing now? Is there a sequel to Hypershot?

 Decker: If I ever write about Undercity again, it would be to tell the story of Wren, the mother of Krea (Hypershot’s protagonist). Wren’s story is even more in the fantasy realm than Hypershot. More of Wren’s story takes place on the surface. There is a supernatural element to Wren’s story. There is time travel. If there is ever a sequel to Hypershot, I might kill everyone off because I. Am. Sick. Of. Undercity. I’ve already mentioned my work-in-progress. The working title is, Salvage. My protagonist, Layla works for a salvage company that, on occasion, sends salvage crews into dangerous and illegal territory, such as to a man-made penal colony satellite.

 R&R: You have several other books in print. Can you tell us about them and where to find them?

Decker: My short fiction collection, Hook House and Other Horrors was originally published by Silver Lake Publishing, but within five months that publisher stopped answering emails, phone calls or sending checks. In 2011 she sent a brief apology, a full written release and a check. Relieved, I submitted the collection to Damnation Books and it found a new home. It is currently being recorded for an audio edition in addition to the trade- back and e-book. I’m having a blast listening, as every story is recorded by professional recording artist, Becky Parker Geist. She gives every character a unique and recognizable voice and has contacted me several times to double-check on correct pronunciation.

Rusty the Robot’s Holiday Adventures was first published by Sam’s Dot Publishing. I could expound volumes about that disappointing experience, but let’s not go there. After it was finally released, my co-author Michael McCarty began a search for a new publisher. He discovered a publisher he was excited about, and long story short, it’s now available through Pie Plate Publishing, both in print and as an e-book. I love the cover art.

 A final thought: More than once I’ve relived the night of Jack’s first class at the U.W. Another student drove and I remember heading west over the 520-bridge toward a blood-red sunset. Clouds like shredded rags. A sense of the calm before the storm. I was excited beyond description because something told me my life was going to change. Finally, someone who knew the ins and outs of excellent writing was going to teach me. My brain was a dry sponge and my heart was open. I don’t think the woman with whom I traveled that night, understood my enthusiasm. Somehow, she thought it had to do with the U.W. campus. It wasn’t that. It was the teacher, the opportunity, the moment. Thank you, Jack.

R&R: Thank you, Sherry. We love the way you work and we’re very happy that  you and Eldritch connected. We think it’s a fine book and a great find for Eldritch.

You can find Sherry’s work on Amazon. When Eldritch Press releases Hypershot, we’ll pass along the info.


Remick and Ray Interview Zack Hoffman

Remick and Ray Interviewed Zack Hoffman between May 1 and June 15th, 2014

 R&R—Thanks for agreeing to sit down with us for this interview, Zack.  Let’s get right to it—you’ve been onstage, in film, and on TV. How did you get started acting?

ZH: I’ve always wanted to be anyone but me and I thought acting was going to give me that opportunity. Of course I was wrong. At first it was an attempt to get attention and then after years it became a craft. I took some classes in High School and then in College but it never really clicked for me. I found my way to the Speech department in college, then radio and then back to acting after I left school. One night friends took me to see “The Committee” at the Tiffany theatre on Sunset Blvd in Hollywood. It was the first improv troupe I had ever seen. I fell in love with acting style and within a year I was taking classes and performing with Kent Skov and the LA Connection.

 R&R—Of all your roles which one strikes closest to home?

ZH: There has to be part of you in every character you play. If I really have to choose I would have to say it’s the one I wrote. That would be lounge singer Nick Sands in “Tuxedo Man”.   I get to take the audience and myself for an emotional ride. There are other characters I really loved playing. Early as an actor I got the opportunity to play the character of Humphrey Bogart in Woody Allen’s “Play it Again Sam”. I’d been doing impressions since the age of nine, so to be able to flesh one out and make him a character instead of just a vocal impression was fun and challenging. Bogie is usually short so I got the role because they went against type. Things I loved about the character in the play are that he is a mentor, a friend and always rooting for the underdog. Those are qualities I strive to have even though I may fall short at times.

R&R– You say that the character you played is a mentor. Who were your mentors?

ZH:  I have been lucky to have had some amazing teachers come into my life. I think that a mentor is different. One name stands out for me. Marty Taras. I went to LA Valley College and he was the head of the Speech department. I was taking a class called “Oral Interpretation of Literature” and Marty came to my final and recruited me for the Forensic Team. I was a member of the debate team, did three individual events, won a number of awards and went to the National Championships twice. Marty saw the raw talent in me and he was the one person who said to me, “Yes you can.” He always gave me good advice. I didn’t always take it but he gave me room to make my own mistakes. Our friendship lasted long after college. I left LA and went to Israel for a year, when I got back to Los Angeles I was floundering, it was Marty who cast me in a play and got me back on track again. The reason I turned pro and was able to make a living at this crazy wonderful creative craft of ours was that I got the support and wisdom of Marty. I will always be grateful for his presence in my life.

R&R—You practice timed writing with the group at Louisa’s Café. How long have you been doing that?

ZH:  I think I have been coming about 8 years. Not always consistently but I try to get there twice a week and write with my fellow writers. I like writing with purpose but will come empty and pour that on to the pages. As the pen moves something usually turns up.

 R&R—Before you got into the groove at Louisa’s where you write by hand under the clock, how did you get the words down?

ZH:  I have always written long hand. Something about pen to paper. Maybe the noise of the typing keys distracted me. And something mind freeing when you are flowing ink. My first venture into writing was poetry. I wanted to be Leonard Cohen. Eventually being Zack made the poetry better. Then I branched out to comedy writing.   I read the newspaper every day. I would seek out the stories worthy of satire or that I saw humor in. I was working with the LA Connection at the time.   I would write a sketch based on what was current. I would bring it to my improv group and go from there. Sometimes I would get the thumbs up and sometimes it just wouldn’t work out. But it was great practice. In the early nineties I read Natalie Goldberg’s “Writing Down the Bones” and it helped me. There is a certain freedom to be able to write the “compost” and then go back and perhaps find some gems in the re-write. I was working with Douglas Gray on “Tony and Tina’s Wedding” and we talked about writing one evening. I mentioned Natalie Goldberg’s work and he smiled and told me about Bob and Jack at Louisa’s and how their writing practice was based on her work. I showed up and it’s been a real gift.

 R&R—How has your Jewish background influenced your writing?

ZH:  It’s my DNA. I believe Judaism is more than a religion. It’s cultural, even tribal. I struggle with my religion. At times I am deeply connected to the words and rituals, and then I seek other ideas, other spiritual nourishment. But no matter what I do or where I go I will always be Jewish, and have a Jewish identity. It’s like the joke that Groucho Marx told about two writers, Stan and Phil walking down 42nd street in New York City. One of the writers, Stan, was a hunchback. They passed a synagogue and Phil turned to Stan and said, “You know I used to be a Jew.” To which Stan replied, “I used to be a hunchback.”

 R&R—Okay. So you have a role or a character in your head. Do you ever improvise on the spot when you’re in character—if you do, where does the newness spring from?

ZH: I am not sure if I can explain it but the words should be in your head and the character should be in your body. One of the people who really helped me develop as an actor is Gary Austin. When he was coaching he would always be saying “breathe…breathe” so you can connect with the character inside of you. Once the lights come up and you walk out on stage it should all be about breathing and being. The words should flow out. Good nights for me are when the final blackout is cued, the lights come up and I think to myself “what happened?” I was immersed and that’s where the newness comes from.

R&R—We’re supposed to learn from our mistakes. If you’re in a role and you make a “mistake” are you aware of it? How do you feel about that and the next time you perform the role how much of your “mistake” remains? Is the improv ever better than the original? If so how?

ZH:  I make mistakes all the time. You just have to keep going. The audience doesn’t know you have made a mistake and I intend to keep it that way. There is no stopping live theatre for a “do over”. If I go up on my lines I just move and breathe and trust that a line will come to me. I love the analogy of Chinese characters. In Chinese writing letter is drawn, but there is a small flaw in each one. No two characters are ever exactly the same. No two performances are ever the same. Cues are missed. Lines are dropped. Props are misplaced. Sets are stuck and don’t move into place. Audience members are sometimes disruptive. Welcome to live theatre. In the moment the improv works great but the goal is always to paint the complete characater. Say all the lines just as the writer had intended.

 R&R—Do you ever think about archetypes when you’re preparing a role or writing for a character in your novel or your one man plays?

ZH: Yes, archetypes are very important. I read a great book by Carolyn Myss called “Sacred Contracts”. The book lists a number of archetypes. Talks about how certain archetypes dominate the personality. What I found most interesting is her philosophy that all of us share four archetypes which are: the victim, the child, the prostitute and the saboteur. Which to me says that all of my characters are not one thing, but multifaceted. It helps me to remember to write in three dimensions.

 R&R—Of the forms of writing—one man play or novel—which is challenging you the most?

ZH: Since I am writing a novel right now, the form of the novel is the most challenging. I was writing an interactive play a year ago and if you would have asked me then it certainly would have been most challenging. I write slow, so reaching the finish line on any project is a big deal.

 R&R—What is a script? Why not just improvise the hell out of things and let it go at that?

ZH: Trust me, if I could I would. I remember struggling with “Tuxedo Man” trying to find its soul. One day I asked for help. My question was “Where is the Arc?” Arcs are not improvised, they are built. Humor has to be set up. In “Tuxedo Man” I tell a story early in act one which gets a couple of laughs, but the payoff comes in act three when I callback the punchline. Boom. It kills. That had to be written, that had to be honoring the journey that not only my character is taking but the journey the audience is taking with me.

 R&R—What does a script mean to you as an actor?

ZH: As an actor I have been given a script to bring life to the writer’s vision. The writer and the director have the vision. They can duke it out over what works and what doesn’t. I am there to walk up on stage and present their vision.

 R&R—What do you believe when you are in a role—your own emotions or the emotions the writer wants you to pull out of the character?

ZH: You need to find something to hook on to so they match up.   I can only be the Zack version of whatever character I’m doing. Look at how many different people have done Hamlet or Willie Loman from Death of a Salesman or Scrooge. They bring the emotional “them” to the role.

 R&R—One time you wrote with us at Louisa’s and you told a story about going to synagogue after a long absence because you wanted to reconnect with those wise old men you remembered finding there. But then you realized that you are now the wise old guy at synagogue. How does that insight shape your writing now?

ZH: To be honest I am not sure I used the word “wise”. I walked into a synagogue one night and looked around at all the families. A whole new generation of young Jewish people looking for a connection to God and to their heritage. I said to myself, “Where are all the old Jews?” Then I saw some balding guys in Birkenstock sandals and hippie women with long grey hair and flowing dresses. It was then I realized it was me! I was the old Jew in the temple. Yet another awakening. Some of the aspects of Judaism challenge me. At times a great struggle. I asked my Rabbi one time, “Why if it’s so hard do I keep coming back?” and he said “Because it’s Tribal.”

I like being part of that tribe.

R&R—Thanks, Zack. This has been a lot of fun.




Remick and Ray Interview Janet Yoder

We interviewed Janet Yoder in March & April 2014

 R&R: You write in three forms: essays, creative non-fiction, and short stories.
What is the difference between “essay” and “creative non-fiction?”  
Is a short story different from “creative non-fiction?”
JY:     To me, essays and creative nonfiction are essentially the same. Some publications use one term and some the other. I divide my essays into two categories: 1) personal essays inspired by my 30-year friendship with Skagit tribal teacher Vi Hilbert and 2) all other essays. My short stories are definitely fiction. I wrote a novel set in Indian Country but tucked it away in a drawer and I sometimes work on a new novel set in eastern Washington in between work on essays and short fiction.

R&R: What are the techniques of fiction that you use in essay and creative nonfiction—if any?
 JY:     I try to develop any real person I write about as I would a fictional character, trying to understand what makes that person tick. Lately I am concentrating on the idea of place in both essay and fiction. Looking at geology, mythology, plants, animals, weather, and the cultures of a place.

 R&R: When do you decide on the form? Do you start writing and watch the words morph into something? Or do you know the form before you start writing?
JY:     I wish I decided on a form before I started writing. That would be so logical and efficient. In fact I usually write a huge amount before I arrive at a form. While studying with Priscilla Long, I examined forms that other writers utilize and then considered whether I have any material that might work with that form. For example, we studied “Son of Mister Green Jeans: An Essay on Fatherhood, Alphabetically Arranged” by Dinty Moore. That superb essay uses the abecedarian or ABC form. At the time I thought the abecedarian was interesting but not a form I would ever use. Now I have written three essays in abecedarian form, one about the accumulation of stuff, one about espresso, and one about the Post-It Note. Other forms I have used are two-part or three-part braid, collage, frame, numbered theme, and classification (I used the parts of dinner). While writing the “Healing Heart Symphony” about Vi Hilbert commissioning a symphony based on two traditional tribal songs, the form of the essay became the form of the symphony, each part named for its movement: 1) Prepare, 2) Thunder Spirit Power Song, 3) Healing Song, and 4) The Journey Forward. When I arrive at a form that meshes with my material, it is a Hallelujah moment.

 R&R: Tell us how you begin an essay. In other words—how do you get hold of the topic or the idea and how do you run with it?
JY:     My essays inspired by Vi Hilbert begin with a topic, usually one of the topics that came up in our interviews, like baskets, blankets, traditional names, canoes, the bone game, salmon, and ritual burnings. I review the transcript of our interview on that topic, do research, and start writing lots. All at the same time. Then, I begin seeking a form that will match the material. Getting hold of a topic for other works is a more meandering process. I happen into something in writing practice that might or might not lead to a piece. I play around with it and see where it goes. Even when it just goes into a file, it is not time wasted. I may go back to it.

 R&R: You are a disciplined writer. We really want to know how you developed your discipline.
JY:     I am disciplined when taking a writing class and when working on what I consider to be my “assignments” from Vi Hilbert. At other times, the discipline dwindles and I wander under a cloud. Then I remind myself of you two disciplined writers who show up at the table ready to go, and I get myself up and head to writing practice at Louisa’s or with my Sunday Ink group, or I just sit down, set the timer, and keep the pen moving. Something will break through.
I used to play clarinet in a woodwind quintet and in a polka band. I also used to play hand percussion in a Brazilian folkloric group. For me, the discipline that music requires carries over to writing. I know how much practice goes into learning to play any instrument decently. So I get that writing requires just as much of us. I also get that writing the same material over and over will yield something different each time. Repetition is not really repetition. It is exploring and deepening.

 R&R: Has your dedication to the discipline changed over time?
JY:     As I age, I now consider what work I have left to do. That adds a layer of discipline.

R&R: You’ve worked with Natalie Goldberg in Taos. How has her timed writing practice influenced your writing?
JY:     I studied with Natalie Goldberg twice in Taos. The first time (with Robert Ray) I was fairly new to writing practice. I was nervous about being there, nervous about writing with people I didn’t know, nervous about reading aloud, nervous about my boring writing. Summer heat was on and I was assigned the solarium, a greenhouse room that sat atop the Mabel Dodge Lujan House. The room baked during the day and held its heat for hours into the night. The lights of Taos and the moon and stars lit the room. I spent seven nights in that room but probably slept fewer than 20 hours the whole week. The room made me feel exposed, writing made me feel exposed, even meditation made me feel exposed. And the heat made me prickly. I wrote with a small group before breakfast in Kit Carson Park (with Robert Ray), then gathered with Natalie after breakfast to meditate and write. More small group writing after lunch, then large group meditating and writing with Natalie, then small group writing after dinner. Then up to my glass oven to bake. Then do it all again on Day 2 and again on Day 3. Somewhere between Days 3 and 4, things shifted. I was too cracked open and exhausted by then to bother worrying about whether my writing was good or whether I had wasted my money to be there. I dropped to a deeper level with writing practice (and probably meditation too). My writing got looser, loopier, unlocked. I noticed how deeply I breathed while meditating and also while writing, noticed how fast my pen moved across the page. All I could do was grab hold of writing practice and see where it took me. I was hooked.
I went back a number of years later to study with Natalie again. Her idea this time was not to take writing practice to infinity but to find a channel for our writing practice to flow through. The group was smaller. Natalie seemed smaller, as if her practice had distilled her down to essence. Natalie invited us to bring in copies of something we had written before the workshop. Each writer read the piece aloud and Natalie used her samurai mind to cut to the heart of the piece or expose the missing heart. She took over-the-top, baroque writing and she cut it the way you would cut a diamond out of rough. I loved the cleanly-cut work, loved seeing where the writing practice would go for each writer after the samurai session. For me, writing practice is where everything is born. Thank you, Natalie.

R&R: What are the drawbacks to timed writing? Are there any?
JY:     I don’t know any drawbacks to writing practice, except that it may be addictive.

 R&R: Do you write longhand and then edit on the computer? Tell us something about your writing process. Do you edit more than once? Are you ever surprised by what comes out of the writing?
JY:     I always write longhand with a Pilot Precise rolling ball pen (warning: these pens leak on flights) on a Bienfang notebook. I read aloud if I’m with a group and sometimes even on my own. I input into my computer—often this comes much later—then print it, and put it into a file. When a file thickens, then I research the material and begin looking for a form, a shape for the piece. I work on it, print it, read it aloud, work on it more, read it aloud, edit, read, edit, read, (and so forth) until it’s done. Surprising myself by what comes out of the writing is a pleasure.

 R&R: You work with a group of writers—the Sunday Ink writers. What goes on there? Is it writing practice only? Is there critique? Do you need outside feedback on your work? How do you handle critique in a group?
JY:     The Sunday Ink group does writing practice and because we know each other so well, there is a comfort that allows the writing to go deep. Though we are not a critique group, we sometimes offer a comment or note a connection between the material and a possible form. I do need outside feedback and have gotten that through studying with Priscilla Long. Now that she has decided to teach less, I will need to find another way to receive feedback. I handle critique by just listening. It feels akin to a spiritual practice where I am receiving a gift, something to meditate on over time. I won’t know until later the value of this gift.

 R&R: One of your essays, “Sensing Radiation” was a Pushcart Nominee. How do you handle success?
JY:     My success is pretty limited so it’s not too hard to handle. I love reading aloud so I never say no to an opportunity to read. However, I am not good at marketing and am only now forcing myself to create a web site.

 R&R: Jack’s granddaughter told him he was kinda crazy. (She was referring to the way his writing brain works.) Are you kinda crazy?
JY:     Well, Jack definitely has that kinda crazy mind that cooks up stories from intense, spicy ingredients that play off each other in unexpected ways. The closest I get to kinda crazy is when my writing practice takes a sharp turn in a direction I never anticipated. All I can do is hold on for the ride.

 R&R: Tell us about your relationship with Vi Hilbert. Who is Vi Hilbert and why is she important to you as a writer?
 JY:     In the fall of 1978, I walked into a classroom on the second floor of Denny Hall and met Vi Hilbert, member of the Upper Skagit Tribe. Vi was teaching her language—Lushootseed—at the University of Washington. Lushootseed is the language of Puget Sound. Lushootseed is the language Chief Seattle spoke here 150 years ago. Lushootseed is the language his ancestors spoke here for hundreds of years. Though people have spoken Lushootseed longer than people have spoken English, Lushootseed nearly died and was saved largely by the work of Vi Hilbert.

Vi’s wake-up call came when linguist Thom Hess asked for her help. He was working with an elder named Louise George who told him Vi might remember Lushootseed because her folks spoke it. Vi told Thom she did not remember it, but he asked her to come to his work session anyway. Vi came, heard the old recordings of her ancestors, and found she did indeed remember Lushootseed. She spent the rest of her life researching, preserving, teaching, and sharing the Lushootseed language, stories, and culture. So Vi found her right work, work that came to her like a gift.

My wake-up call came when I met this extraordinary woman who taught me how to live in this place where the words and culture of the First People are always present. With Vi I witnessed the winter spirit dance in the longhouse and ritual burnings for the departed. With Vi I traveled to the story places, where North Wind battled South Wind to determine how our weather would be and to where the sisters climbed down a cedar bough ladder from the Sky World to a place in the Snoqualmie Valley. With Vi I stood at Shilshole in 1989 to watch 11 cedar dugout canoes come ashore to complete the first modern canoe journey.
I interviewed Vi on various topics, transcribed recordings of those interviews, and began considering essays. I have written ten essays inspired by my friendship with Vi. I want to write a few more and then pull them together into a collection. Though Vi is gone now, this work is my assignment from her; it is also a gift.

 R&R: Do you have a style? What are some of the techniques you practiced to develop that style?
JY:     I learned craft techniques through years of studying with master writer and writing teacher Priscilla Long. She wrote The Writer’s Portable Mentor: A Guide to Art, Craft, and the Writing Life, the most useful book on writing that I have come across. I turn to it often when I am at the point of revision and want to make the writing sing. Specific techniques I use are working lexicon before writing, varying sentence lengths, choosing very short sentences, fragments, list sentences, long sentences with a repeated pattern, matching language to meaning, working sound, metaphor, simile.

 R&R: What do you want from the writing? What do you get from it?
JY:     Not fame and fortune! I write because I want to delve into something I don’t yet know or don’t yet understand. I form a question and then write—and research—my way toward an answer to the question, even if that answer brings another question. For example, I might ask the question: What is the significance of canoes in the culture of the first people of Puget Sound? Then I spend time paddling around that material, reviewing my interview with Vi about canoes. By writing, I gain a deeper sense of canoes in the past, canoes in the present, canoes traveling into the future, the metaphor of canoes. At the end of it all, I add to my picture of who Vi Hilbert was and to understanding why she chose to share her culture with the world. I also write on other topics. But always an underlying question drives the writing.

 R&R: How long have you been writing? How has writing changed your life?
JY:     A long time. Maybe 25 years. What I get from writing is that rush of adrenaline that comes from writing practice, from exploring the recesses of my mind, the world at large, or a world I am making up. Then there is the satisfaction of pulling a piece together. When I am in a slump, I slog through writing practice until something sparks. That spark will draw me to the next write where the spark may ignite. Writing gives me a way to know my world, to know my mind. And it gives me the loveliest friends.

 R&R: Are you a self-starter? What do you need to get started?
JY:     Sometimes I am a self-starter, when a project is especially close to my heart. Other times I need to push myself. Luckily, I live in Seattle and can just roll down the street to Louisa’s on a Tuesday or Friday afternoon. Or I can take a class at Hugo House. Or attend a reading that might crack open the world. Seattle is a stimulating place for writers.

 R&R: How do you know when a piece is finished?
JY:     It is always hard to know when a piece of writing is finished, especially since I am not currently taking a class and am not in a critique group. When a piece is getting close, I read it aloud and listen for stumbles or for anything that feels off. Then I tweak the piece and read it again. If—after many rounds of tweaking and reading—the work flows and if it says what I want to say, then I will pronounce it finished.

 R&R: You have a treasure-trove of published work. When you start a piece are you thinking about a market, a target publication? What’s the process of getting into print? Do you target editors before you write? As you are writing? When you are done? (Janet’s modesty is impressive, but her list of publications is more so. See below for her work.)
JY:     When I start a piece, I have no idea if I will finish it, much less submit it for publication. I am never thinking of a market or an editor. Doing so would stop me cold. I have trained myself to finish a piece, let it sit a while, and then take that next step of submitting the work. When I was a baby writer, I never submitted work at all. At some point, I knew that I needed to push something out the door. Before the days of Duotrope (, I used The Writer’s Market, a doorstop of a book that listed and described publications. Slowly I began to submit. Duotrope has made all that easier. Plus writer friends share publications they are submitting to or accepted by. Over time, I have developed a list that matches up with my work. But editors move on and publications change. Then it’s back to Duotrope or New Pages ( to see what’s out there. Now with on-line submissions, it’s easy (relatively) and affordable to submit to 15 or 20 publications at once. Of course the rejections can come back fast, like in less than 24 hours. Rejections are part of submitting and I have done my best to get used to them. Eventually an acceptance comes.

Having work out in the world is important for me. It helps me turn once again to a new page in the notebook, pick up the pen and say, “Today I’m writing about. . .”

Essays and Creative Nonfiction

“Singing Up the Ladder” Assisi.
“The Posterity Tapes” Apalachee Review, Vol. 63 (2013), p. 16
“Do This for Your Friend” Phoebe, Issue 42 (Spring, 2013) p. 89-91
“Ten Things I Learned from Vi Hilbert” Writer’s Workshop Review,, Issue 7 (Fall 2012)
“Dinner Platter” apt: Aforementioned Productions (March 19, 2012)
“Getting to Misha” Forge,,  Vol. 5, Issue 4 (Spring 2012), p. 258-269 and Soundings East, Vol. 34, No. 1 (Fall 2012), p. 49-57
“Carrying a Name” Ellipsis… Literature & Art, Vol. 48 (2012) p. 62-67
“Stuff: An Alphabetical Account of Accumulation” The Texas Review, Vol. 32, No. 3 & 4 (Fall/Winter 2011), p. 94-106
“I Give You My Heart” Tusculum Review, Vol. 7 (2011) p. 224-230
“Coffee is a Blessing: An Alphabet of Espresso” Passages North, Vol. 32, No. 1 (Winter/Spring 2011) p.132-139
“Healing Heart Symphony” Sunday Ink (Tasseomancy Press, 2010), p. 123-132
“The Post-It Note” American Literary Review Vol. XX, No. 1 (Spring 2009), p. 91-97
“Eight Days with Dave” Chautauqua Literary Journal, Issue 6 (2009) p. 142-160
“Bridge Club” Signs of Life (2009), p. 18
“Janet’s Story” Dancing with Migraine: Women’s Stories, Johnsen Press, 2009, p. 10-12
“Sensing Radiation” River Teeth, Vol. 9, No. 2 (Spring 2008), p. 77-82 and Phantasmagoria, Vol. 7, No. 2 (2008), p.37-44
“Burning at Nooksak” The Massachusetts Review, Vol. XLVIII, No. 4 (2007), p. 594-602
“Basket Song” The Evansville Review, Vol. XVI, (2006), p. 98-103 and Porcupine Vol. 10, Issue 1 (2006), p.128-136
“Vi’s Lucid Years” North Dakota Quarterly, Vol. 72, No. 3 (Summer 2005), p. 133-145 and Palo Alto Review, Vol. XV, No. 2 (Fall 2006) p. 3-12
“Where the Language Lives” Left Curve, No. 29 (2005) p. 137-138
“Vi Hilbert (1918-2008)”,, Essay 7130 (2004)
“George Rufus Yoder,” Enchanted Companions: Stories of Dolls in Our Lives, ed. Carolyn Michael. (Andrews McMeel, 2003) p. 31-40.
“River Talk with Vi Hilbert,” The Raven Chronicles, Vol. 2, No. 1 (Summer/Fall 1992), p. 7
“Confessions of a Java Junkie,” PCC Sound Consumer, Seattle, WA, (1991), p. 11
“The Art is in the Mail,” The Seattle Times, June 28, 1990

Short Stories

“The Helmet” Sunday Ink, Tasseomancy Press (2010), p. 98-105
“Judgment of Insects” The Baltimore Review, Vol. XII, No. 1 (Winter/Spring 2008), p. 16-17
“Made of Clay” Passager, Issue 43 (Winter 2007) p. 56-64
“Earth is our First Teacher” Rio Grande Review, Vol. 28 (Fall 2006), p. 60-61, The Binnacle (Fall 2006), p. 71-74, and The Griffon (2008) p. 77-78
“Four Hands” Crucible, Vol. 42 (Fall 2006), p. 27-37
“Muse” The MacGuffin, Vol. XXII, No. 2 (2006), p. 90-94
“Junie May’s Rapture” Pilgrimage, Vol. 30, Issue 3 (2005), p. 63-74
“The Disorder,” StringTown, Issue 7 (2004), p. 67-71, Bayou, Issue 43 (2004), p. 66-71 and Sunday Ink (Tasseomancy Press, 2010), p. 55-65

2006 Crucible Literary Contest, First Prize for Fiction for the story “Four Hands”
2008 Pushcart Prize Nomination for essay “Sensing Radiation”
Residency: Hedgebrook, 1993


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