Issue 128 Contributors

John Ballantine
John Ballantine is professor at Brandeis International Business School. He teaches courses in economics, finance and energy and is director of a one year program in finance. John received his bachelor degree in English from Harvard University and master's degree and Ph.D. from University of Chicago and NYU, respectively. He has been writing on the side for many years. Over the past five years, John has been part of weekly "Writing Down the Bones," Natalie Goldberg's writing group in Concord, Ma. where free form writing practices and creativity are encouraged. His recent reflections and memoir vignettes are an outgrowth of the voice that emerged from these writing classes. John continues to make time for writing, reading and discovering our wonderful complex world while teaching full complement of classes at Brandeis.

Melissa Tombro
Melissa Tombro is an Associate Professor at the Fashion Institute of Technology, SUNY, in New York City, where she teaches writing. In addition to teaching, she volunteers for the New York Writers Coalition, where she runs writing workshops for at-risk and underserved populations. She lives in Sunset Park, Brooklyn, with her husband Matt and their dog Lily. Her work has appeared in Eclectica magazine. 

Timothy Schirmer
Timothy Schirmer currently lives in the last lovely little corner Manhattan, a place called Alphabet City, where he's happy to walk down the street with his headphones on. His writing has recently appeared or is forthcoming in RATTLE, FriGG, The Adirondack Review, The Monarch Review, Quiddity, Bluestem, Gertrude, Punchnel's and elsewhere. You can find him online at:

A.J. Huffman
A.J. Huffman has published seven solo chapbooks and one joint chapbook through various small presses. Her eighth solo chapbook, "Drippings from a Painted Mind," won the 2013 Two Wolves Chapbook Contest. She also has a full-length poetry collection scheduled for release in June 2005, titled, "A Few Bullets Short of Home" (mgv2>publishing). She is a Pushcart Prize nominee, and her poetry, fiction, and haiku have appeared in hundreds of national and international journals, including Labletter, The James Dickey Review, Bone Orchard, EgoPHobia, Kritya, and Offerta Speciale, in which her work appeared in both English and Italian translation. She is also the founding editor of Kind of a Hurricane Press

Ron Riekki
Ron Riekki's books include "U.P." (Ghost Road Press) and "The Way North: Collected Upper Peninsula New Works" (Wayne State University Press, chosen by the Library of Michigan as a 2014 Michigan Notable Book). May 2015, Michigan State University Press publishes "Here: Women Writing Michigan's Upper Peninsula." His plays include "All Saints' Day" (Ruckus Theater), "Dandelion Cottage" (Lake Superior Theatre), and "Carol" (equity production, Stageworks/Hudson). 

Melissa Pheterson
Melissa Pheterson received her B.A. from Cornell University and her M.A. in journalism from New York University. Currently, She is a freelance writer of health and lifestyle content for local and national media. For a recurring feature on restaurants, she invites chefs into her home to guide her through the re-creation of a meal featured on their menu, despite her fear of knives and heat. In her spare time, she volunteers at her local synagogue’s museum of Judaica. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in The New York Times, Bacopa Literary Review, decomP, Diverse Voices Quarterly, The Healing Muse, Jelly Bucket,, Jerusalem Post, Louisville Review, Minetta Review, Oklahoma Review, Quiddity, Rubbertop Review, Talking River, Wild Violet, numerous Gannett News Service publications, on the websites and, and in the anthology "Have I Got a Guy For You." She received two honorable mentions for magazine articles from Writer’s Digest and recently received an Award of Excellence from the New York News Publishers Association in feature writing. 

Garrett Hines
Garrett Hines is based out of New Orleans. He has an MFA in Creative Writing from Southeastern Louisiana University. His work has appeared in Southern Road Trips Magazine, and the Literary Journal Gambit. He was also a panelist in the 2009 Tennessee Williams Festival, where he read his short story "Keya".

John Repp
John Repp is a poet, fiction writer, essayist, and book critic. His most recent collections of poetry are "Music Over the Water" (Alice Greene & Co., 2013) and "Fat Jersey Blues" (University of Akron Press, 2014). 

Issue 127

I sought the ideal form,
that structure of symmetry
in which children begin.

- From "For the Love of the Triangle" by Leisha Douglas

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

Contributors: Bruce Bagnell, Phil Brunetti, Daniel Davis, Leisha Douglas, Ken Haas, Patty Somlo, Anita Roberts Soupir

Issue 127 Contributors

Patty Somlo
Patty Somlo has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize three times, was a finalist in the Tom Howard Short Story Contest, and has been nominated for the 2013 storySouth’s Million Writers Award. She is the author of "From Here to There and Other Stories." Her work has appeared in numerous journals, including the Los Angeles Review, the Santa Clara Review, and WomenArts Quarterly, among others, and in twelve anthologies, including "Solace in So Many Words," which won the Next Generation Indie Book Award for Anthology.

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

Anita Roberts Soupir
Anita Roberts Soupir is a freelance writer and is currently polishing her first manuscript, "The Dessert Club Series Book 1 – Don’t Trifle With Me," as she searches for representation. Her work can be seen in: Literary Juice, Thick Jam, Crack the Spine, Mused – the BellaOnline Literary Review Magazine, and Boston Literary Magazine.

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.'

Ken Haas
Ken Haas lives in San Francisco, where he works in healthcare and sponsors a poetry writing program at the UCSF Children's Hospital. His poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Alabama Literary Review, Caesura, The Cape Rock, Cottonwood, Forge, The Coachella Review, Freshwater, Hawai'i Pacific Review, Helix, Moon City Review, Natural Bridge, Pennsylvania English, Pigsah Review, Quiddity, Red Wheelbarrow, Rougarou, Schuylkill Valley Journal Of The Arts, Spoon River Poetry Review, Squaw Valley Review, Stickman Review, Tattoo Highway, and Wild Violet. His work has also been anthologized in "The Place That Inhabits Us" (Sixteen Rivers Press, 2010) and the "Marin Poetry Center Anthology" (2012, 2013).

Leisha Douglas
As a professional psychotherapist and part-time yoga teacher, Leisha feels blessed to have satisfying work and time to write as well. From 2001 to 2010, Leisha codirected the Katonah Poetry Series with former Poet Laureate Billy Collins and currently serves as poetry consultant to the series committee. Her chapbook, "The Season of Drunken Bees," received special mention in The Comstock Review’s Niles 2009 Chapbook Competition. Her poems have appeared in The Alembic, Corium Magazine, The Cortland Review, decomP, Forge, Front Porch, Ghoti, Ginbender Poetry Review, Hakomi Forum, Helix, The Minetta Review, and Sanskrit.

Bruce Bagnell
After he received his bachelor’s in English from Fairleigh Dickinson University, Bruce Bagnell went on to earn his master’s from John F. Kennedy University. Throughout the years he has worked as a cook, mechanic, and college professor; held various management positions; and was a USAF captain in Vietnam. Now retired, Bruce focuses wholeheartedly on his writing and has been published in OmniVerse, The Scribbler, The Round, and several online magazines. He also hosts at Poetry Express Berkeley and the East Bay Writer’s Drop-In workshop. He is a member of the Bay Area Poets Coalition and was awarded honorable mention in their 2013 Maggi H. Meyer Memorial Poetry Contest. 

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

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