Check In and Check Out - CTS Contributors

We love hearing from past contributors to Crack the Spine as they pursue new avenues and projects of creativity. Here are just a few of the recent updates we've received. Check them out and show them your support! If you'd like to be included on a future Check In & Check Out post, feel free to send us a message via email or social media and let us know what you've been up to.

Former CTS contributor Rich Murphy won the Prize Americana with his stunning and powerful new collection "Americana." 

William Walsh's poem "Outside Winn Dixie in Suburban Plaza" appears in his new collection, published by Kelsay Books.

Jane Rosenberg LaForge recently published an experimental memoir "An Unsuitable Princess," with Jaded Ibis Press. 

Kevin Oaks has released another complex and brilliant collection, "Just in Case."

Christopher DeWan is hosting a one-day intensive workshop in writing horror at a spooky, undisclosed location in the Angeles National Forest on October 25. 

Send your updates to:!

Wordsmith Interview - J. Edward Kruft

J. Edward Kruft
Age: 44
Astoria, NY and Asbury Park, NJ
MFA creative writing, Brooklyn College

The Writer

How long have you been writing? 
When I was in the first grade I got in trouble and was sent to my room by my mother. I spent my confinement writing a story about it on my all CAPS typewriter. In the story, a little boy runs away after being sent to his room. He is eventually found on the church steps by his frantic mother, who offers him ice cream and a complete and tear-filled pardon. I didn’t have the guts to run away myself, but it was fun to live vicariously through that other little boy. I learned early that fantasy is often preferable to reality.  

Do you have a specific writing style? 
Pretty straight-forward realism. 

Do you write full-time? 
In my head? Yes. In practice? No. 

The Work

"Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy" is inspired by the Elton John song of the same name. It’s a piece of flash fiction that explores the brief relationship between two strangers, one of undisclosed (to the reader) gender. It seems a mutually-enjoyable relationship despite ominous beginnings and the presence of internalized “voices” that constantly judge, berate and warn. 

Is there a main theme or message in this piece? 
Not everything is meant to be forever, and that’s OK. In fact, it can be just exactly what’s needed in a life’s given moment. 

How long did it take you to complete "Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy?" 
I wrote the first draft in under an hour. Then it took a week or two to tinker, with about three drafts in all.

Tell us about another project you're working on.
"Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy" is the first of 10 short stories in a collection based on the 10 tracks of the 1975 Elton John album of that name. The title of each track shall be the title of each story; however, that’s not to say that the story will follow the plot contained in the lyrics. Rather, my aim is to use the title and the essence (as I see it) of the song to create an altogether original story and, ultimately, a collection that has a thread running from story to story, just as from song to song on the album. 

Where can we find this collection? 
Alas, you’re seeing the first of this particular project. 

The Methods

How often do you write? 
I think I am always writing in my head. Putting actual pen to paper or fingers to keyboard is another matter. I do my physical writing in spurts, often going weeks in between. 

Where do you write? 
I can write pretty much anywhere. 

How many drafts do you generally go through before you consider a piece to be complete? 
I’ve had things published that took 20 years and endless drafts, and I’ve had things published where it was more or less ready on the first go-around. Admittedly, these are the two extremes and both are rare. Mostly, it falls somewhere in that vast in-between.  

What are your thoughts on writing at a computer vs. writing longhand? 
I do both, although I’ve become more accustomed to the computer over time. I love nice pens and have a small collection, and I love to use them. But the reality is, I can type faster than I can write. Also, when writing longhand I have to enter it into the computer pretty quickly afterward, otherwise I can’t read my own writing. 

What is your usual starting point for a piece?
Sometimes it’s a character, sometimes it’s a title (as with Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirty Cowboy). Sometimes it’s a piece of dialogue heard on the subway or street. I recently published a story that begins with the sounds of sex coming from a third story window and an old woman sitting below on the porch, finally screaming in exasperation: “Maria! Stop having sex!” That was a very real scene I once witnessed and knew I had to use in a story at some point. 

How do you react to editorial rejections of your work? 

How do you react when one of your submissions is accepted for publication? 
I must admit it’s a bit thrilling. And validating, for better or for worse. 

What is your best piece of advice on how to stay sane as a writer? 
Sanity is relative. 

The Madness

What is your favorite word? 
The right one.

Who would play you in the film of your life? 
Meryl Streep, because I truly believe she can play anything. 

What makes you laugh? 
I Love Lucy.

What makes you cry? 
I am Italian on my mother’s side, so I can cry at just about anything. 

What is the most beautiful thing you’ve ever seen? 
I’ve witnessed many beautiful sights, but the one that comes immediately to mind is watching my dog run free on a beach. 

Rain or Sunshine? 
Both, not necessarily in equal measure.

Chocolate or Vanilla? 

Beach or Mountains? 

“No Thanks” or “I’ll have another”? 
I’ll have another.

Cats or Dogs?

Beer or Wine? 

Pen or Pencil? 

The Beatles or The Rolling Stones? 
The Beatles.

Shakespeare or Tennessee Williams? 

Issue 126

He gave up the trumpet a long time ago. He must’ve given it up.  It’d kept him connected to things that mattered to him then.  But eventually he forgot about all that.

- From "The Dead Trumpet" by Phillip Brunetti

Tell us what you think of our latest issue by using the comment form at the bottom of this page!

Contributors: Ellen Black, Julieanna Blackwell, Phil Brunetti, Daniel Davis, Nancy Ford Dugan, Lynn Hoggard, Edward D. Miller, Katherine Minott

Issue 126 Contributors

Phil Brunetti
Phil Brunetti writes innovative short fiction and poetry and much of his work can be found online. Currently he is completing a short-fiction collection entitled "The Bitter Reds" and also working on an 'antinovel.'

Nancy Ford Dugan
Nancy Ford Dugan's work has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize (in 2012 and 2013) and has been published in Blue Lake Review, Cimarron Review, Passages North, The Minnesota Review, The Alembic, Euphony, Lullwater Review, The Battered Suitcase, The MacGuffin, Epiphany, Coe Review, Buffalo Carp, Delmarva Review, Desert Voices, The Dirty Goat, The Doctor T.J. Eckleburg Review, The Hurricane Review, The Old Red Kimono, RiverSedge, Superstition Review, Schuylkill Valley Journal, Words and Images, Tin House’s Open Bar, The Writer’s Post Journal, and Eastern Shore Savvy. She lives in New York City and previously resided in Michigan, Ohio, and Washington, DC. 

Lynn Hoggard
Translator and poet Lynn Hoggard has published five books and hundreds of articles, poems, and reviews. Her most recent book, a memoir entitled "Motherland, Stories and Poems from Louisiana," appeared in May 2014 from Lamar University Press. She lives in Wichita Falls, TX. In her view, poems draw forth meanings already implicit in things. 

Daniel Davis
Daniel Davis is the Nonfiction Editor for The Prompt Literary Magazine. His own work has appeared in various online and print journals. You can find him on Facebook and Twitter, or at

Julieanna Blackwell
Julieanna Blackwell is a short story writer and essayist. Her humorous column, "Skipping Down the Slippery Side of the Slope," appeared in the Naples Daily News. A native Chicagoan, she lives with her family in Bradenton where she is completing her first novel.

Edward D. Miller
Edward D. Miller's poetry appears appears in Counterexample Poetics, Hinchas de Poesia, Wilderness House Literary Journal, The Boston Literary Magazine, and Red Fez. He teaches media and film at the City University of New York. 

Katherine Minott
Katherine Minott, M.A. is an artist whose photographic work reflects the Japanese aesthetic of wabi sabi--the celebration of things imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete. Her work has appeared in Camas: The Nature of the West, New Mexico Magazine, Visual Language Magazine, and the Santa Fe Reporter’s Annual Manual. Please visit her website at

Ellen Black
Ellen's poetry has been published in Crannóg magazine, South Ash Press, Illya’s Honey, The Smoking Poet, and Eclectic Flash. In 2005, she won first prize in the Richardson, TX Public Library's annual poetry contest. In 2009,  Ellen was one of the Pat Conroy “South of Broad” essay contest winners. This contest was sponsored by and the Nan A. Talese/Doubleday company. That same year, published Ellen's first-person narrative, “Heathen Color,” which provides a glimpse into a day of Ellen's life in a religious cult into which she was born, and how her longing for a forbidden item—lipstick—incited her into a tiny moment of crime. Ellen is currently working to publish a memoir she wrote about surviving this cult, entitled "Shake That Cream."

Wordsmith Interview - Holly Thomas

Holly Thomas

Age: No matter how many years go by, I’m always in a state of 19.
Location: Steamboat Springs, CO
B.A. in Journalism, M.A. in Political Science

The Writer

How long have you been writing?
I remember starting my first diary in third grade. I started playing with poetry during puberty when I felt most awkward and boys didn’t make sense to me. I wrote my first creative nonfiction piece at age 19 when I realized the world wasn’t what Disney had led me to believe. And I became a journalist writing local feature stories at age 21. 

What do you consider to be your greatest accomplishment as a writer?
Not throwing myself off a mountain after compiling a shoebox of rejection letters and continuing to write. 

What is your ultimate goal as a writer?
I write about the things no one likes to admit to feeling, thinking, or doing. I’m always wondering if there’s one other person out there feeling the same way. I’m writing to that person.  

The Work

“No Makeup”
I had a quarter-life crisis when I turned 25. I suddenly realized I couldn’t use youth anymore as an excuse for my irresponsibility and lack of direction. My body couldn’t handle the undergrad life style I wanted to hang on to. Aging was (and is still) scary to me. The only way I could I stop an over dramatic panic attack about it was to write how I felt.

Tell us about another project you have published or are currently working on.
“Picking up His Remnants of War” but I’m not in love with that title so I’m thinking of changing it to “Twenty-something Nobodies” It’s the story of a twenty-something college student with depression falling in love with a soldier battling PTSD. It’s about their ups and their downs and how the real world can be bullshit. 

What inspired this work?
My Life.

Where/When can we find this work?
Excerpts can be found on my website It’s currently in the works of finding a home to be published in.

The Methods

Where do you write?
I find myself pulling over on the highway when an idea comes to me or jotting notes down on grocery receipts in parking lots. I write wherever and whenever I can. I have a desk in my house, but I don’t think I’ve ever written in that space designated for writing.  

What are your thoughts on writing at a computer vs. writing longhand? 
I always brainstorm with a pencil and notebook. I don’t actually type until I have an outline and the first paragraph handwritten. There is something that gets my creativity flowing when I’ve got to click an eraser for more lead. 

What is your best piece of advice on how to stay sane as a writer?
Sane people don’t write. 

The Madness

What is your favorite book?
Perks of Being a Wallflower (long before it became a movie)

If you could have dinner with one fictional character, who would it be and why?
Tigger. I like to bounce.

Who would play you in the film of your life?
Dianna Agron

How many of your character have you ended up killing off?
None yet – though I think it may help my anger management if I started to. 

Cats or Dogs? 

Pen or Pencil? 
Mechanical Pencil 

The Beatles or The Rolling Stones? 
The Smiths

Additional Reading on Holly

Personal website/blog:
Facebook profile or page:
Twitter profile: hollsthomas
Amazon Author profile:

Issue 125

You were always so healthy
but things lose their way,
end up in wrong places;
even so simple a thing as water
takes a wrong turn in your throat...

-From "Hospital" by Catherine Gonick

Tell us what you think of our latest issue by using the comment form at the bottom of this page!

Contributors: Keith Buie, Catherine Gonick, Julia Houk, Mark Jones, J. Edward Kruft, Anita Roberts Soupir, Daniel W. Thompson, Charlie Weeks

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