Wordsmith Interview - Elisabeth Cook

Elisabeth Cook 
Age: 33
Location: Wisconsin
Education: Largely informal, studied with poets Bei Dao and Glen Brown  

The Writer

How long have you been writing? 
16 years, off and on.

Do you have a specific writing style? 
Post-ironic modicumism. It involves avoiding straightforward answers. 

Do you see writing as a career? 
If I'm having a good day, I'll entertain the possibility.

Do you write full-time? 
No, but I would like to at some point just to see what happens to me.  

The Work

Tell us about your work in Crack the Spine.
“Unexpected Religions” is a poem I wrote several years ago that I still like.   

What inspired this work? 
Some damned girl or other.

How long did it take you to complete this piece? 
Probably a day or two, but I age my work in earthenware vessels for six months at a time to achieve maximum tanginess and probiotic benefits.

The Methods

Where do you write? 

What are your thoughts on self-publishing vs. traditional publishing? 
Any publishing is good, and I'm optimistic about its future, because I feel that with new technologies and so forth there's an opportunity for things to shift in a different direction. Many different directions, even. 

How many drafts do you generally go through before you consider a piece to be complete? 
Usually a lot.

How do you react to editorial rejections of your work? 

What is your best piece of advice on how to stay sane as a writer? 
Eat breakfast and don't take any advice too seriously. This includes lists circulating throughout social media with titles like “11 Things You're Doing Wrong with Your Life” or “8 Signs You're on the Wrong Path.”

The Madness

Who is your favorite author? 
Mikhail Zoshchenko.

If you could have dinner with one fictional character, who would it be and why? 
Jay Gatsby, because I assume he'd pick up the tab.

What is the greatest occupational hazard for a writer? 
Bored cats. 

Who would play you in the film of your life? 
Sylvie Testud. The film would be a French musical drained of all realism. 

What’s in that cup on your desk? BEES

Additional Reading on Elisabeth
Personal website/blog
Twitter profile: @CooksChicken

Issue 124

Sarah tries to conceal her tears by dabbing at them with her sleeve. She takes a deep breath and smiles. But it is not genuine, not the smile I fell in love with, not the smile where her nose wrinkles and my heart stops beating.

- From "The Black Sea" by Neil Brown

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Contributors: Neil Brown, Bob Buchanan, Rich Ives, Wulf Losee, Katherine Minott, Elizabeth Mastrangelo, Jason Peck, Holly Thomas

Issue 124 Contributors

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 katherineminott.com.

Jason Peck
Jason's work has appeared in more than two dozen newspapers and magazines across Pennsylvania and Virginia, with fiction either published or forthcoming in Seven Eleven Stories, Third Wednesday and 50-Word Stories. Jason also serves as an editor at After Happy Hour Review, which recently celebrated its inaugural issue. 

Elizabeth Mastrangelo
Elizabeth Mastrangelo has been teaching literature, writing, grammar, and social skills to ninth and eleventh graders for 14 years. She currently attends Emerson College’s MFA program in Creative Writing as a Dean’s Fellow. In the spare moments between these commitments, she works as a freelancer, ghostwriting romance novellas and website copy. She lives north of Boston with her devoted husband, spunky daughter, and sports-obsessed son, who provide her with endless engaging material for her stories. Liz's work has been featured or is forthcoming in the Sheepshead Review, Black Heart Magazine, Burningword Literary Journal, and Extract(s): Daily Dose of Lit. She blogs about teaching, womanhood, and motherhood at her site, www.spurredgirl.com

Neil Brown
Neil Brown graduated from Cardiff University with a MA in Analytic Philosophy in which he learned fantastic ways to procrastinate. He once sneezed an M&M through his nose and caused a horse to faint in Costa Rica.

Holly Thomas
Holly Thomas is a war poet for the 9/11 generation and a lifestyle writer who focuses on the dirty, ugly, and yet sometimes fabulous truth of everyday people and everyday thoughts. She is a story collector and wants to continue writing creative nonfiction to keep those stories alive. She has written numerous newspaper articles, and her writing about the conflict diamond trade was published in Lap Lambert Academic Publishing. Holly’s creative writing has appeared in The Vehicle: A Literary Journal, and her essay “About Him” placed 7th in the 77th Annual Writer’s Digest Short Story Awards. She studied with Tim O’Brien, who, after reading a few of her short stories, encouraged Holly to keep writing and compile a collection. Holly received her BA in journalism and MA in political science. Her expertise is in conflict resource studies. She has presented her political science research at various conferences from 2010–2012, been awarded the Williams Travel Grant three years in a row, and received the Booth Library Excellence in Research & Creativity Award in 2010 and 2011. Holly has also been inducted into the Society of Collegiate Journalists; Kappa Tau Alpha, National Honor Society in Journalism and Mass Communications; and Pi Sigma Alpha, the National Honor Society in Political Science. Currently, she is an advertising consultant. Aside from writing, she loves playing the guitar, being outdoors, and playing with her daughter and dogs. 

Bob Buchanan
Bob Buchanan’s poetry collection, "Beyond The Wall," has been published by Cardinal House Publishing and was listed as a “Best Poetry Book” for May, 2014, by Grace Cavalieri in the Washington Independent. His work has appeared in multiple literary journals, and he is active in the Scottsdale poetry community. He have a new collection of work coming out in 2015. He earned a Ph.D. in electrical engineering from Oklahoma State University, but no longer has need of a pocket protector. 

Wulf Losee
Wulf Losee lives and works in the San Francisco Bay Area. His poems have appeared in Forge, Full Moon, The New Guard, North Coast Literary Review, PoeTalk, and Rio Grande Review. His short fiction has been published in Oak Square. He won First Prize in the 84th and 86th Annual Poets’ Dinner Contest and was a finalist in the 2012 Knightville Poetry Contest. Wulf enjoys traveling to the “edges of the world” and has visited Iceland, Tasmania, Tierra del Fuego, Patagonia, the west coast of Ireland, and the highlands of Scotland. He also collects the art of indigenous peoples, fine art photography, and magic carpets.

Rich Ives
Rich Ives lives on Camano Island in Puget Sound. He has received grants and awards from the National Endowment for the Arts, Artist Trust, Seattle Arts Commission and the Coordinating Council of Literary Magazines for his work in poetry, fiction, editing, publishing, translation and photography. His writing has appeared in Verse, North American Review, Dublin Quarterly, Massachusetts Review, Northwest Review, Quarterly West, Iowa Review, Poetry Northwest, Virginia Quarterly Review, Fiction Daily and many more. He is the 2009 winner of the Francis Locke Memorial Poetry Award from Bitter Oleander. In 2013 he has received nominations for The Pushcart Prize (2), The Best of the Net and Story South. He is the 2012 winner of the Creative Nonfiction Prize from Thin Air magazine. Both "Tunneling to the Moon," which is being serialized with a new story each day on the Silenced Press website for 2014, and "Light from a Small Brown Bird" (poetry––Bitter Oleander Press) are scheduled for paperback release in 2015.

Wordsmith Interview - David Pring-Mill

David Pring-Mill, late twenties, autodidact, presently exploring the West Coast.

The Writer

How long have you been writing? 
When I was in elementary school, I wrote short stories. These stories tended to be fairly popular among my classmates and teachers. So I got that immediate positive feedback from the world.

Do you have a specific writing style? 
Yes. My style is basically wit. When I assess everything that I have written, and try to find the consistent through-line, there is always a kind of deliberate cleverness at play. Even when I’m writing from a position of earnestness, even when I’m writing and tears are flowing from my eyes, a sentence of jest somehow emerges. There seems to be this subconscious insistence upon finding some small point of amusement. It’s both a psychological survival technique for me, and an attempt to elucidate my point of view for people who may otherwise be hostile towards it. It’s me trying to establish some common ground by acknowledging that there’s absurdity in everything.

What do you consider to be your greatest accomplishment as a writer? 
I’m always curious about the types of readers that I’m reaching. Art is a conversation. If my readers are thoughtful, kind, hard-working people, then I feel as if I’m making progress, because the social discussion will constructively extend outwards from there. I feel accomplished when caring people care about what I have to say. That qualifier is necessary. On the internet, a lot of readership response should be completely disregarded.

The Work

Tell us a bit about your work in Crack the Spine. 
My poem “We Are the Ignited” appeared in Issue 122 of Crack the Spine. The poem describes the spirit of youth, as well as a young woman dancing.

Is there a main theme or message in this piece? 
Thematically, “We Are the Ignited” is about the intense, short-lasting, and intuitive nature of youth.

What inspired this work? 
Quite honestly, one of my ex-girlfriends filmed herself stripping to an Avril Lavigne song. And she sent me the video as a birthday present last May. I told her I’d artistically reciprocate by writing a poem about it. So I did.

What other projects are your currently working on? 
My first poetry book “Age of the Appliance” is scheduled for publication at the end of 2014. All of the relevant information will be available on my website.

The Methods

How often do you write? 
Every single day.

How many drafts do you generally go through before you consider a piece to be complete? 
It’s never complete. Even when a piece of writing gets published, I secretly hope for it to be viewed as one part of my larger body of work. And by that definition and widened context, nothing will truly be complete until I tragically die.

Who would play you in the film of your life? 
Jeff Goldblum.

How do you react to editorial rejections of your work? 
I don’t react. This response is only 85% true. Let me rephrase: I aspire to not have a reaction.

What is your best piece of advice on how to stay sane as a writer? 
Writers stay sane by writing. In fact, if you are able to stay sane while not writing, and you have to muster up motivation to write, then stop. Run for the hills and be happy there. I write because I have no choice; it’s a compulsion. My ideas don’t stop, and they can’t truly be suppressed, because on some subconscious level, the thoughts will accumulate and cause clutter. That’s what I believe.

I don’t think that the tortured artist is merely a stock character. When artists create art, we are literally stepping out of the realm of ordinary coherence. The only way to adequately express ourselves is to wildly recombine existing things and create a new coherence, in a subjectively altered and expressive form. Why bend reality in that fashion unless you are bothered by reality, unless you think you can beautify it, unless your view is already warped? You can call it inspiration or compulsion, but one way or the other, you’re originating from a skewed perspective, and you’re communicating through art because you feel unheard. It’s all a quest for understanding. Art is more of a question than a statement.

So yeah, basically what I’m saying is: “Writers have a lot of issues and stuff.”

The Madness

What is your favorite book?
My favorite book is “Nine Stories,” by J.D. Salinger. I also thoroughly appreciate the various collections of Mark Twain’s essays.

What is the greatest occupational hazard for a writer? 
Him or herself.

What is the most beautiful thing you’ve ever seen? 
When I was a teenager, I went through a vagabond phase. I got off a bus in San Francisco, and a homeless man asked me for spare change. I said I didn’t have any, and he knew I was telling the truth. He offered me a place to sleep under the nearby overpass, which he said was safe. This wasn’t a scam. I saw his soul and he meant it. When kindness somehow finds a way to sprout up out of bleak reality, it brings tears to my eyes. Every time. No other beauty surpasses that.

Additional Reading on David

Wordsmith Interview - Jennifer Van Alstyne

Jennifer van Alstyne

Age: 24
Boulder, CO
MFA Candidate in Writing & Poetics

The Writer

How long have you been writing?
I’ve been writing in various forms for the past 10 years or so, but didn’t start writing poetry until a few years ago.

Do you have a specific writing style?
I tend to write poems from a place between research and the personal.

What is your greatest challenge as a writer?
Balancing writing, work, and life.

The Work

“The Ear” is about Glenn Gould, a 20th century pianist, recording artist, and composer, who saw and heard the world through a lens I can only dream of.

Anything else you’d like to share about your work in Crack the Spine?
This poem was part of a larger collection about Gould, called Scansioned Music.

What else are you working on right now?
Right now, I’m working on a collection about Hurricane Sandy and the LGBT community of the New Jersey coastline called Sandblast.

What inspired this work?
Asbury Park, NJ is located about 60 minutes south of New York City on the shore of Central New Jersey. Its notable residents include an amalgam of entertainers such as Wendy Williams, actors like Danny DeVito, business entrepreneurs, and even Pulitzer Prize-winning poet, Margaret Widdemer. Founded in 1871 as a residential resort, the city of Asbury Park, with its boardwalk and venues such as The Stone Pony, has since become a beach-town destination. The Asbury Park LGBT community has grown since its initial rise in the 1950’s which led to the rejuvenation of the city. And, in 1999, DJ Shep Pettibone opened The Empress Hotel, home to Paradise Nightclub and the culmination of Sand Blast Weekend, the biggest gay road trip on the east coast. In October of 2012, Hurricane Sandy hit the east coast and New Jersey was devastated. During this time, I was living about 10 minutes north of Asbury Park, only 5 blocks from the ocean, and we were under a mandatory evacuation notice. This collection of poetry outlines my whirlwind journey through the city landscape, the Jersey Shore, and the hurricane.

The Methods

How often do you write?
When I’m inspired. 

What time of day or night makes you most productive as a writer?
I’m most productive and inspired at night.

What are your thoughts on writing at a computer vs. writing longhand? 
I always write with a computer - I can type faster than I can write by hand.

The Madness

What is your favorite book?
Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier

Who is your favorite author?
Mary Gaitskill

What is your favorite word?

Additional Reading on Jennifer

Issue 123

When I was younger I’d spend entire days kissing a troubled boy. We’d sit in his cramped bedroom, in between piles of graying laundry, and shoot billows of white smoke into each other’s mouths – clouds collecting around our heads.

- From "Fighting Over the Best Flavor in Neopolitan Ice Cream" by Jane-Rebecca Cannarella

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

Contributors: Bruce Alford, Jessica Bastear, Jane-Rebecca Cannarella, Elisabeth Cook, Matthew Liebowitz, Valya Dudycz Lupescu, Ed Nichols, Alyssa D. Ross

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