Category Archives: Interviews

Karen Abbott


Curiouser & Curiouser: You go by Abbott instead of Karen. Tell me aaaaaallll about that…

Abbott: A few months ago, a reader sent me an email saying, “Do you know that, according to Google, you died in 2010?” (see attached screenshot). Although I certainly had some memorably bad days in 2010, none of them—as far as I knew—had proven fatal. Google also included in my bibliography a number of books I hadn’t written: A Father for Daisy; Take Hold of Tomorrow; The Farrington Fortune. Clearly there is a romance author named Karen Abbott, and I don’t think she died in 2010, either (although Google yields surprisingly little information about her). Given that I’m contemplating writing a novel, I thought it might be a good idea to come up with a nom de plume. In the meantime, just to facilitate a smooth transition, I’ve been going by “Abbott.” A lot of my old friends call me “Abbott” anyway, and I’ve always preferred it, and I’m actually in the midst of filing the paperwork to make it my legal first name. So, for the nom de plume, I’m thinking Abbott Karlen, perhaps? (“Karlen” would be a combination of Karen and my husband’s last name, Kahler, which no one can pronounce!). But I’m open to suggestions. And I haven’t Googled myself since…

C&C: Who was your first crush?

A: Sandra Denton, aka “Pepa” of Salt-n-Pepa. I was 13 when “Hot, Cool, & Vicious” came out and I loved her immediately and fiercely. Still do. But she faced some stiff competition in 1987, when the Beastie Boys released “Licensed to Ill.” Adam Yauch (MCA) was a god. I went to their concert at Philly’s now-demolished Spectrum wearing a homemade “I ❤ MCA” t-shirt. Public Enemy was the opening act and they pointed Uzis at the crowd; everything about it was fantastic. I brought along my juvenile delinquent boyfriend, and I felt incredibly cool even though my dad had to drive us there.

C&C: There’s an air of extra-awesome about you, as a woman, because you don’t choose to throw away the lipstick because you’re a Serious Female who does Serious Research, and often there’s pressure to conform to certain images. Was that a conscious decision, to not put on a blazer with elbow patches, or just what felt natural to you so you went with the flow?

A: Well, first, thanks for this… and I don’t even think I could pull off a blazer with elbow patches; that requires its own brand of extra-awesomeness. I also love your (astute) observation that publishing is one of few industries in which women—specifically authors of nonfiction—are encouraged to neutralize their appearance. Obviously it’s something that my male author friends never have to debate, either internally or externally; their appearance will never be a factor in how their work is received. This is something I’ve struggled with for years, and I’ve learned the hard way that doing “serious research” doesn’t guarantee being taken seriously.

But with the publication of my latest book, I think I’ve finally stopped worrying about what image I think I should “present” and just present myself as I am at the time. I can’t control people’s reactions to my clothing or appearance, or my shade of lipstick, or—to give you a glimpse of something else I’ve struggled with—the fact that I’m not an academic; I’m a journalist by training and a historian by default. And obviously I can’t control people’s reactions to my work, either, as much as I wish I could. The only thing you can really control in publishing is what you put on the page. After that, it’s a complete shit show and you just hope for the best.

I should send the above paragraph to my therapist just to prove she’s not entirely wasting her time…

C&C: Coffee or tea? Or both?

A: Both! Coffee to wake me up, and green tea for the health benefits. I’m a lifelong insomniac, so I should probably scale back on the caffeine.

C&C: Do you have siblings, and if so, are you close to any of them?

A: I have an older brother and we are close, although I don’t see him as often as I’d like. He has young twin boys and the onus, understandably, is on me to go to him. It was such a surreal moment when I learned his wife was expecting fraternal twins. Both of our parents are twins; mom is identical and dad is fraternal. Twins—and the way their lives can either dovetail perfectly or diverge completely—have always fascinated me. My mother and her twin were “mirror” twins, which only occurs in identical twins, and only in about 23 percent of the identical twin population. They had opposite features: my mom is right-handed and my aunt was left; my mom parts her hair on the left and my aunt parted hers on the right; my mom has a birthmark on her right shoulder, and my aunt had the same precise birthmark on her left. They both became nurses, entered poker tournaments, and chain-smoked since their 18th birthday. My aunt died of cancer in 1998, and I don’t think anyone who’s not an identical twin could understand the magnitude of that loss, and the survivor’s guilt my mother must live with every day. My brother and I always joked about that old wives’ tale that twins skip a generation. Even though it doesn’t have any basis in fact, and his own twins resulted from a fluke of genetics on their mother’s side, it was one of (many) reasons I decided not to have children. I was too superstitious to test it.

C&C: Did you make up fake names for yourself when you were little? I know a lot of girls do – I did. What were some of yours? If you didn’t, what name would you choose for yourself if you could make up a fake name?

A: All the time! I’ve loved Poe ever since I learned to read, and used to pretend I was Annabel Lee or Lenore or, if I was in tomboy mode, Roderick Usher. I was also obsessed with British crime writer Ruth Rendell, and would sometimes call myself Ruth Rendell. And, like every woman who came of age in the 1980s, I devoured everything by Judy Blume; “Deenie” was the coolest name ever. Considering my recent name change, it seems I’ve come full circle.

C&C: What CD/record/playlist/music are you listening to right now?

A: I tend to tailor my playlist according to my research; I don’t want to admit how often I listened to “Dixie” and “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” during the past five years. The novel I’m tinkering with is set in New York, from the Gilded Age to the early 1920s, so I’m listening to much of the same music I listened to for my first book, SIN IN THE SECOND CITY: Scott Joplin, Joseph Lamb, James Scott, Jelly Roll Morton. As I get further into my research and writing, I’ll move on to Sophie Tucker and Al Jolson and Marion Harris. At some point, my protagonists will be in a situation where they won’t have access to music, and I’ll abandon my playlist out of sympathy.

C&C: Do you collect anything? Did you ever, as a child?

A: I’m currently obsessed with Victorian mourning jewelry, especially the intricate pieces made of plaited human hair, which were very common during the Civil War. Whenever I wanted to procrastinate during my research/writing of LIAR, TEMPTRESS, SOLDIER, SPY, I’d look up hair jewelry on ebay. It was such a morbidly elegant custom. If I had a bigger apartment I’d buy a curio case and stuff it full of hair brooches and pins and watch chains. When I was a kid, I didn’t really collect objects, but I memorized large quantities of completely useless information: the Greek alphabet, the state capitals, the “Hail Mary” and the “Our Father” in Spanish; all of the presidents. I can still recite all of the presidents, and in ten seconds! It’s my stupid party trick.

C&C: A wunderkammer! Cabinet of curiosities! That’s one of my favorite words and ideas. Mermaid skeletons and peacock feathers and trinkets. In the spirit of updating customs, I also love the idea of chatelaines (def: a set of short chains attached to a woman’s belt, used for carrying keys or other items). If you had a modern-day chatelaine, as opposed to a purse or wallet, what would be dangling from it?

A: Oh, I LOVE chatelaines, too–I’m buying myself one for Xmas to wear as a necklace. A modern-day one is a very interesting idea. I’d include a miniature flask, a wine bottle opener, a miniature Nook, a tube of lipgloss (I cannot abide dry lips), and, to include one vintage item, a hatpin (I wrote an article for the Smithsonian about how Victorian women used hatpins to protect themselves from unwanted advances): The Hatpin Peril



Karen Abbott

Gayle Towell


Curiouser & Curiouser: When did you start playing drums? Tell me some things about that hobby/your drumming adventures.

Gayle: I started playing drums probably about five years ago. It was one of those things that I had always wanted to do, secretly, but felt like for some reason it wasn’t an option (because drums are loud and I’m supposed to be quiet and inconspicuous). But after marrying my husband I started to feel secure and liberated in my adulthood and realized there was no reason why I couldn’t do whatever the heck I wanted. So I started taking drum lessons from someone at the college where I teach, and then got a set of drums over Christmas that year. Then I took more rigorous lessons from another dude for a while, and after several months of that he suggested I look into joining a band. So I perused craigslist and landed upon a post by Adam Loewen looking for someone to join his band, Stein. He mentioned he was also a writer and he sounded intelligent and interesting, so we emailed back and forth, then got together and made music. Other members came along, and soon I was playing gigs. Which was super awesome. I got to be a rock star. But about a year ago I gave up the band because I had taken on so many things my life was becoming impossibly busy. I still keep in touch with my band friends and hope to drum again sometime when those 50 hour days start happening.

C&C: Kids. Minecraft. Mine loves it, too. What do you think about this video Legoland Minecraft stuff?

G: I think it’s great. It encourages creativity, spatial reasoning, collaboration, and so on. And any time kids can play with a “toy” that doesn’t leave a mess is always a plus. I’ve never played it myself (that whole number of hours in the day thing again), but I love seeing what the kids do with it. My husband is a computer nerd and has this array of computers in the basement and the kids all have their own and can play together. My almost-four-year-old has developed scary coordination with the mouse and keyboard. It’s one of those things where, you didn’t watch your kid pick up the skill, and then you see it in action and it looks like a magic trick. See this video here:

C&C: Did you celebrate Christmas as a kid? What’s your most memorable holiday, either way?

G: Christmas, it just so happens, is my birthday. I come from a Catholic background, though my parents were never super religious and seemed to abandon religion altogether at some point during my childhood. But we always celebrated Christmas, just not really as a religious event. The standard Santa visit, presents, and eating lots of food with relatives, which is the same thing I do with my kids. I’ve always had mixed feelings about my Christmas birthday. You want your birthday to be about you, but on that day pretty much everyone is celebrating something else. That said, if I had a nickel for every time someone saw my license and said the words “Christmas baby,” I could retire.

C&C: What do you have in your pockets?

G: At this very moment, absolutely nothing. But any other time there might be keys, cellphone, hairclips, garbage handed to me by a child, candy I’m secretly eating while trying to not let the kids see, or wadded up pieces of paper with either math or writing on them.

C&C: Do you have any tattoos?

G: No tattoos, and no piercings. I begged to get my ears pierced as a kid. My parents made me wait until I was twelve. Got it done. Decided I didn’t care for it shortly thereafter. I’m not the least bit opposed to body modifications, but just don’t feel the drive to do anything to my skin. Part of it is because I can’t imagine coming up with something I would feel represented me in some permanent way that I’d want it on my body for my entire life. I like to leave room for myself to change completely as a person.

C&C: Do you wear shoes and socks inside the house? Why?

G: Shoes, no. Socks, only if my feet are cold. As a general rule I’m barefoot whenever it is appropriate. Though I did get in the habit of wearing socks and non-sandal-like shoes on a more regular basis when I tore a ligament tripping over one of my kid’s toys, and the doctor suggested keeping my feet super warm to promote healing. Because apparently ligaments take a million years to heal. This is very true, I learned.

C&C: Do you dream regularly, and do you have any recurring or especially vivid ones?

G: I do dream regularly. I can’t think of any recurring dreams off the top of my head, but I do recall it seeming like I visit similar places in some of my dreams. My dreams are really all over the place, often super epic adventures, or post-apocalyptic scenarios. Or they’re about having to pee and never finding a private place to do so. But here is a summary of a recent epic adventure dream:

I was suddenly thrust into this post-apocalyptic world when visiting a nearby town with my daughters. I had separated from the older one because, being 11, I was allowing her new independence, and I was riding a bike with the little one when everything started getting weird. I couldn’t find my way back and suddenly realized I had no way to reunite with my older daughter. As night fell we were warned to get inside somewhere/anywhere. Mutant buffalo and apes apparently roamed free at night, savagely killing people. I somehow ended up in a meadow inside some makeshift houses with some other people, and we only had tarps for doors which wasn’t great protection from the mutant buffalo. There was a lot of running in terror and making sure you were always in a crowd because other people around you created a buffer—the buffalo would eat them and not get to you. Right when a herd was about to trample our makeshift house, a band of warrior people came charging at them with weapons. They killed the animals by skinning them alive. Why that was the method of choice, I have no idea, but the animals would scream horribly during the process and there was always blood everywhere. So I’m roaming around in this world trying to protect my youngest child, all the while not know what might be going on where my husband and son are, and feeling like the world’s worst mother for separating from my oldest child who was very likely dead by now. Right before I woke up, I was attempting to take refuge in the side of a building with a passageway too narrow for me to fit while the band of warriors were skinning a giant mutant ape alive.

C&C: For awhile you entertained using a pen name, but ultimately decided to go with your own – was there significance behind that decision, or did it just prove easier/more logical to be one person in regards to being connected to your work?

G: A little of both. There were several reasons I was looking into a pen name. One was that it would separate my everyday life from my writing work. I have a lot of conservative extended family, and have often felt unsure if I really want any of them aware of what I write. Another was that I noticed when I wrote that I naturally gravitated towards writing male POV. I thought having a male pen name would be more true to the identity I often felt while writing. I’m not sure when I made the decision not to bother with a pen name. Part of it was because I decided I didn’t need to be influenced by my fear of the opinions of others. No more crouching in fear of judgment. After all, writing for me had become about NOT caring about what other people think and just going all in with reckless abandon. Part of it was a result of coming to a clear picture in my head of what gender identity meant to me internally and externally after a long and awesome conversation with my husband about it on an anniversary weekend getaway. (That sort of boiled down to him completely understanding and recognizing where I am in my head and me feeling validated enough that I didn’t care that I have a female encasing. Now I pretty much consider my gender identity to be a mix of everything. There are ways I can express different parts at different times. But the fact that my brain happens to be in a female body is sort of arbitrary. I go with it out of convenience and ultimately don’t care a whole lot either way, most particularly, I think, because I feel valid as a person in ways I didn’t used to.)

C&C: Do you like to color, or doodle? If so, what?

G: Not really. There was a time when I was younger that I was interested in generating visual art and I took a drawing class as an undergrad to explore that a little. But it’s just not something I invest any time or effort into, nor do I feel any particular drive to at the moment. This may change some day. But at present I don’t feel the tug of it as a needed outlet. That, and my hands and wrists tend to cramp up from holding writing utensils and using them for more than five minutes.

C&C: You read with Chuck Palahniuk. He’s a legit celebrity. Did it awaken any celebrity aspirations in you, or the opposite, or anything in between?

As I like to tell people, the reading was utterly terrifying, but I think it went well. I definitely felt awkward and unsure of how to interact with Mr. Palahniuk, but I brought my A game to my reading and people clapped and said happy things afterward. As for celebrity aspirations, I fully intend on being famous. It’s a work in progress. I feel like I’m sitting on a balloon full of brilliance and am about to explode all over the world. This is the delusion that keeps me pursuing my goals.

C&C: You’re sort of an example of “There’s no excuse” when it comes to getting a freakish amount of things done….

G: I frequently get asked “How do you find time to do it all?” like I’m some magic superhuman. So to address that, as well as how I’m destined for greatness:

This is what I’ve got going on: I’m married, I have three kids and I teach physics full time at a local community college (though with an awesome schedule that only requires me to actually go to campus 2 days a week). My son is on the gymnastics team, which practices 6 hours a week, my youngest takes a gymnastics class once a week, and my oldest is in choir. I write novels and short stories—I can produce a novel in a span of 3 months to a year depending. I edit a weekly Microfiction magazine, I recently cofounded Blue Skirt Productions, which is an artists’ collective that has regular website content, local shows/readings, offers editing and writing services and (soon)classes, and most recently has ventured into indie publishing, which has led me to learning all about book formatting, cover design, and marketing and publicity. I consider life to be an elaborate game of Tetris and multitasking is the only way I survive. Laundry is never really done—just sort of exists in a clean pile and a dirty pile and when the clean pile gets low, we send some dirty pile through the machines. But I clean the kitchen enough that we rarely have an ant problem. I have to watch myself because when I’m in the right mood I seem to get the idea that I can take on more projects and it won’t be a problem. There are so many things I want to do, so I just do as many as I can all the time. Every once in a while I burn out for a few days, and then I’m right back in the thick of it. I’d say it’s all by choice, but a big part of it is obsession. Writing is much less a past time, or a hobby—it’s a complete and utter obsession. I’m addicted. I can’t help it. I can’t make it stop. I have far more ideas for novels than I have time to pen them all. One day when all of the kids grow up, I’m going to be crapping out like a novel a month, because it’s all backed up and pressing on the flood gates. But someday very soon the world is going to recognize my brilliance and the 7 figure book deals will come raining down. My husband will be able to retire and play minecraft with the kids all day every day, and I can write to my heart’s content because we’ll be hiring a maid, who will totally fold the clothes and put them away. It will be amazing.



Microfiction Monday Magazine

Blue Skirt Productions

Heath Lowrance




Curiouser & Curiouser: Who was your first crush?

Heath: I had sort of a triple-whammy when I was about 11 or 12 years old. First, Julie Newmar as Catwoman made me sorta sit up and realize that, hey, there WAS a difference between boys and girls. Diana Rigg as Emma Peel reinforced that. And Carolyn Jones as Morticia Addams set it in stone. Someone told me once that there’s a definite pattern there, but I, of course, have no idea what they’re talking about.

C&C: What’s the story behind the white cowboy hat? What prompted that purchase and who are you when you wear it?

H: I really like that hat and I wish I had more reasons to wear it; here in Lansing, MI, you can’t really walk around town wearing a cowboy hat. I mean, I suppose you COULD, but you’d be asking for trouble. I bought it because I always kinda wanted one, and I like the way it looks. When I’m wearing it, my inner bad-ass comes out, which makes it useful for writing purposes (yes, I sometimes wear it while sitting in front of my computer typing away. Don’t judge).

C&C: Why a WHITE cowboy hat? Not black, brown, but white? Connotations of good as opposed to evil? You just liked it the best? Can we just do the interview about the hat?

H: You can’t really tell from the picture, but the hat is actually OFF-white, which is more appropriate, I reckon. In the parlance of our gamer geek friends, I am Chaotic Good.

And my hat doesn’t do interviews anymore.

C&C: You worked at Sun Records – tell me pretty much ANYTHING you want about that.

H: I did! I won’t lie to you, it was the best job ever. I’ve already told the story of being the only non-essential personnel in the studio when Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis and Scotty Moore were there filming something for the BBC—that was probably the highlight—but really, everyday was pretty cool. I got to meet people from all over the world who’d made the journey to Memphis to see the shabby little place where Elvis, Johnny Cash, Howlin’ Wolf, etc, cut those historic tracks. I got to be a know-it-all, sharing bits of information and playing songs for remarkably enthusiastic audiences. It was a great time, once an hour, every day. I loved it.

C&C: What was the worst job you ever had?

H: The polar opposite of working at Sun was this office gig I had for SEVEN LONG YEARS. It nearly killed me. I was in sales first, then customer service, and I sucked hard at both. Every morning I’d lay in bed and consider cutting off my foot and wondering if that would allow me to not go in that day. It was boring and tedious and stressful and I think I aged twenty years for every shift.

C&C: Do you have any tattoos?

H: Yeah, I have one. I’ve had it since I was 17 and almost never think about it anymore. It’s a cow skull, on my left bicep. I was sorta into the “cowpunk” thing when I was a kid. I know tats are a lot more common now, pretty much everyone has them. I guess I have no strong feelings about them at all, as they don’t indicate anything about the person who has them.

C&C: Do you collect anything? If not, did you ever, say as a kid?

H: I guess I do. I like to acquire old issues of Manhunt from the ‘50’s when I can, although I don’t have many. Also, paperbacks from that same era. I used to collect certain comic books and toys, but the thrill of that wore off as I got older. Sometimes when I get really enthusiastic about a particular writer, I feel the compulsion to buy everything by them. But my various collections of things are really meager compared to some folks I know, which makes me realize I’m not a profound collector of anything.

C&C: What’s your favorite holiday and why?

H: Hmm… Halloween, maybe? That probably won’t come as a shock to anyone. I don’t go to Halloween parties or anything, I don’t dress up in costumes (I liked your Han Solo costume, by the way!) but I dig the whole Halloween vibe. Spooky, spooky.

C&C: What do you have in your pockets?

H: Hang on, lemme see.
35 cents. A couple of stray pistachios. A piece of paper that I have written LUCIFER SADFINGER on; I have no idea what that means. Oh, and look, a crumpled dollar bill that must have gone through the wash. Party time!

C&C: Can you make of three scenarios that “Lucifer Sadfinger” could end up on a piece of paper in your pocket??

H: I figure it’s one of three things.

1) I met someone named Lucien Solfigger and just horribly mangled his name.
2) a very lonely guy with a bizarre name gave me his info and asked me to text him, but he forget to give me the number, which would go a long way toward explaining his loneliness.
3) A cult of Depressed Satanic keyboard players have marked me as their next sacrificial victim.
Whichever one it is, I suspect it’s better not to know.



Heath Lowrance


Leah Rhyne



Curiouser & Curiouser: Tell me everything about the rUNdead you participated in recently!

Leah: Everything? Okay, here goes.

rUNdead came to Charleston three years ago, right as I was getting ready to release the first Undead America book. I signed up for the race, along with my brother, who flew out from Oklahoma to run it with me, and a friend of mine. We talked about using it for some kind of promotional event, but I had no idea how to do that, so finally we just ran it. We died. All three of us. The zombies have to steal your flags (like flag football), and we all had all our flags stolen. I also had my butt and a boob grabbed, but I guess it was all in good fun. We laughed a LOT and had an excellent time.

So when I heard rUNdead was coming back the following year, around the same time I was releasing Book 2 and getting Book 1 in print, I reached out to the guy in charge, and we struck a deal: I blogged for them, and they gave me a vendor table at the event. It was spectacular. My whole family came out (husband, kiddo, parents) as did lots of friends. I only brought about 20 copies of the book, and I sold them all! So it was great!

This year, we struck the same deal. I blog every week in the three months leading up to the race, and I get my own table at the event. This year I was next to an actor named Greg French, who happens to be better known as “Barbed-wire Zombie” from The Walking Dead. He’s actually played something like 20 walkers over two seasons of the show. One of my best friends from college had come down to run, so we all had fun, hanging out, swapping stories and such. I let my daughter dress up as a zombie, and she entered the costume contest. It was super-sweet, even though she lost out to two babies dressed as Little Bo Peep and a sheep. I mean, who can beat that?

But seriously, it’s such a fun event. My friend that ran it this year said she’s never laughed so much in her life. The zombies are fun and crazy, and the people who are in charge of rUNdead have become like family to me. I hope we all get to do it again next year.

C&C: Do you do make-up FX for the RUNdead event or is that
strictly for the Other Team? And do you in general get into F/X, make-up,
blood, costumes, that sort of thing, in general?

L: I’m TERRIBLE at make-up, but I do my daughter’s zombie make-up every year
anyway. At rUNdead they actually bring in cosmetology students from a local
school to handle the course-zombies.

I love the idea of costumes, blood, make-up, but short of red lipstick and
1950s style dresses, I have no flair for it. I feel like I need
lessons…or maybe a budget so I can hire someone…so I can get better at
it. Like, when I see cosplayers at cons, I’m JEALOUS. I want to do that,
but I have no idea how!! It’s just not my skill-set.

C&C: What do you have in your pockets?

L: Right now I’m wearing running shorts and a tank top, so I don’t have any pockets. But earlier I had on a dress and denim jacket, since I went to a press preview for a new exhibition at a local gallery downtown. So at that point, in my jacket pocket, I had my phone, a hair tie, and more than likely a used band-aid or tissue or some other child-themed detritus.

C&C: Do you wear shoes and socks in the house?

L: I love love LOVE being barefoot, and one of the benefits of living in the south is that I can usually get away with being barefoot year-round. But on those few cold days, I MUST have socks because otherwise my little toes’ll get froze. And that never goes well. But shoes? In the house? Almost never….unless it’s a Going Out Night and I’m wearing heels, because once I get those suckers on, they do NOT come off. Because once they’re OFF? I refuse to put them back ON.

C&C: Shoes are stupid, some of them are just really pretty,
and also sometimes there’s glass. Glass leads to injuries. This is a
segueway. What’s the most ridiculous way you’ve gotten injured/injury
you’ve had? You can reach back into childhood if you need to…

L: Well, I cracked a rib from coughing during a particularly nasty case of
bronchitis. That’s pretty ridiculous. That was probably six or seven years
ago. Then about two years ago, on a rainy day, was carrying a box of frozen
meat (yes, frozen meat) in my garage while wearing rubber flip-flops.
Apparently the water made the bottom of said flip-flops extra-slick, and
when I took a step, my feet literally slipped up and out. I flew through
the air and landed – hard – on my ass, cracking my tailbone. That HURT!
Plus the frozen meat went everywhere.

See? I don’t need to go too far back in time for ridiculousness. It’s
followed me through life.

C&C: How many readings have you done since this summer in Louisville, and are you less nervous now that you’re an old pro?

L: Me? Read? Honestly, the only “public” reading I’ve done since Louisville happened last week. It was Read All Day Day (yes, there’s some redundancy there) at my daughter’s school. It was also Halloween, and since they apparently don’t like to celebrate pagan holidays in southern public schools (or at least not my daughter’s particular elementary school), they came up with a compromise: children could wear book-themed costumes to school. My child wore soccer clothes because she loves a series of books written by Alex Morgan, a player on the US Women’s National Team.

Anyway….parents were encouraged to drop by and read to the kids on that particular day, so I read a story I wrote for my daughter a couple years back. It’s about a little girl (shocker) who’s afraid of a monster that haunts her dreams. I wasn’t nervous at all while reading it, and the kids were great. They laughed at the right places, and gasped sometimes too. So all-in-all, it was a pretty lovely experience.

Beyond that, though? Nope. NO public readings to speak of. So I’d probably still flip out like I did before Louisville.

I do have an upcoming event called Atomacon here in Charleston. I’ll be sitting on panels for the first time. I’m a little freaked out about that!

C&C: What’s your favorite candy?

L: I’m quite fond of most forms of chocolate, but Cadbury chocolate direct from England is probably my favorite. I’m also a huge fan of Nerds and other fruity candies. And cotton candy. And….well, okay, I just love candy. All of it. Except the vomit flavored beans in Bertie Bott’s Every Flavor Beans.

C&C: What do you dance to in the car when there’s no one around to stop/hinder your full performance?

L: I have a six-year-old little girl…I can do a mean “Love is an Open Door” from Frozen….but only when she’s in the car. I sing the boy part, of course. Kristoff. She’s Ana.

But by myself….the thing that’s really going to get me singing and dancing….has to be….Oh dear God, confession time: Livin’ on a Prayer by Bon Jovi. *gulps* He’s from my hometown. No lie. And all of Jersey still loves him. Once, I was at a diner in northern Jersey at 2 a.m. and Livin’ on a Prayer came on, and pretty much the whole diner started singing. It was impressive.

C&C: Do you have any tattoos?

L: Yes. I have three. A line drawing of a rose bud on the back of my neck, flowers all over the tramp-stamp location on my back, and a star and moon on my hip. The star and moon came on my 18th birthday, done by a guy whose name was (if I remember correctly) Big Brad. The flowers were all done by my brother, who’s a tattoo artist – the one on my neck is fairly recent, but the tramp-stampy one came about when my ex told me not to get any more tattoos. See how that worked out for him?

C&C: Do you think birds are smart or stupid?

L: Ugh. Birds. I’m terrified of birds. They’re smart and savvy and they’re
going to take over the world with their ugly little claw-feet. And living
where I live, there are birds EVERYWHERE!!! Ibises and herons and egrets
and hawks and bald eagles and CANADA GEESE! They’re the worst. I really
think they’re out to get me. And did you know: herons or egrets (I’m not
sure which is which) make some kind of noise that sounds exactly (EXACTLY)
like you’d expect a zombie to sound. So when you’re outside, alone, at
night, and one flies close overhead….it’s like the apocalypse is coming!







Leah Rhyne

Court Merrigan



Curiouser & Curiouser: I sort of indirectly became acquainted with you through guest-editing at Menacing Hedge. I emailed Craig Wallwork and said “I’ve accepted a story by someone named Court. Isn’t that a hell of a name?” or something similar and he ended up knowing who your were and informing me I hadn’t “discovered” you after all. Is there a story behind your name?

Court: My parents wanted a girl. True story. I mean, my first name’s Courtney. What other conclusion is there to draw? My mom denies it but I don’t believe her.

I’ve always had a special affinity for that one JC song:

I wish I could say that, like the song, that name made me tougher, or that me and my dad once had a rumble in the mud and the blood and the beer, but really all I got out of the deal was a somewhat unique nickname.

C&C: Soccer! Tell me about your first experience coaching. I know it’s a trip.

CM: Oh Lord, where to start, other than to acknowledge that you folks out there who teach preschool and kindergarten and run daycares – you people are saints. Trying to get a pack of 3- and 4-year olds to do anything even vaguely in unison is like herding a pack of rabid centipedes. Do you know what the most important thing in a 3-year old’s life is when they step on a soccer field? Snack time.

But it was really great, kids at that age just love everything. They’re miles away from figuring out how to bully one another and making a chorus of them laugh is surely the closest we get to happiness in this life. Three-year olds can have fun watching a loose shoelace flap in the breeze and they aren’t capable of hating anything. Except when it isn’t snacktime.

The Fightin’ Minnows did win one game this season, which was my fault. I never have played or watched soccer, or understood it at all, really. So I thought that when we scored, it was like football, we got to kick off. Our first game we ran up like nine goals before one of the other parent-coaches kind of pulled me aside and asked if they could have a turn kicking the ball from midfield like, you know, the rules stated. Here I thought I was a idiot savant at this soccer-coaching gig, too.

We didn’t win any games after that. But we did have snacks.

C&C: Do you have sports love? Tis the season. I’ve seen you use the word “Royals” a lot and you don’t strike me as a pop music lover. I’ll warn you I’ll fall asleep if this answer involves stats…

Hey, writing the perfect three minute & thirty-second pop song is a feat to be respected. Too bad it hasn’t been done since what, Michael Jackson? I’ll go find my rocking chair now. I think I left my cardigan there.

I really only follow one sport closely – college football. I grew up in Nebraska, and as any good Nebraskan will tell you, the Huskers are our state religion. We even built a Holy of Holys in Lincoln where 90,000 pilgrims appear decked out in corn suits six times a year. I can no more justify my love of the college gridiron than I can explain why bourbon is the proper tipple for a writer-in-training. It just is. GO BIG RED

I grew up listening to the Royals on the radio, way before those interlopers from the National League the Rockies showed up in Denver. I admit my fandom had gone a bit dormant, I only checked the standings every few days or so, before they made their remarkable run to the World Series this year. Maybe you have to be a grownup to really appreciate baseball? Because I sure did enjoy watching it again, and I haven’t in years. Of course it helps when your team is winning.

C&C: Your wife is beautiful. As a faux-journalist it was my responsibility to look at a lot of pictures of her. When did you fall in love?

CM: We met nine years ago when I was working in Thailand. A blind date, done traditional Thai-style. When I showed up to the beach to meet her, she was there, all right. Along with seven members of her extended family. No way were they leaving her alone with me until I’d been thoroughly vetted. Took a couple months, actually. And by then Nok and I didn’t care anymore – we knew we were it for each other.

C&C: What do you have in your pockets?

CM: As I type this, jack & nothing. Some kind of metaphor there?

C&C: What did you do for Halloween?

CM: Followed my kids around for blocks and blocks of sugar-hoarding. This marked the first Halloween where no one whined until they got carried, though, so … progress? Then we came home, the kids watched something on Netflix and I alternated some reading of Joe Clifford’s latest, Lamentation, and an ARC of The Nickronomicon by Nick Mamatas. Nick’s book pays homage to Lovecraft but unfortunately most of the references are lost on me so I’m sure I’m missing the best parts. Halloween-y, though, right?

C&C: What’s your favorite season, and why?

CM: Fall. If you write noir-ish things, what other season could it be?

C&C: You’re absolutely right. Fall is where all the colors and smells are, the rest are a little color-palette-specific. How does this leave you feeling about Christmas?

Tell you what, I fucking love Christmas. The way Tim Minchin loves Christmas, maybe more. That song chokes me up every time.

My family’s far-flung, from New York to Seattle. Don’t get to see them as often as I should. But come Christmastime, we get together.

I think I can trace my love / fascination with genuine country music to Christmas, too (I’m talking real country now, not this plastic bullshit you hear on the radio). I have a distinct memory of sitting in my grandparent’s house at Christmastime. My grandparents had an old wooden cabinet record player. They almost never used the thing. But every once in a while they’d play a record, usually on a winter evening when it was too cold to do any more farm work (for my grandfather, raised on a hardscrabble dirt farm in the Great Depression who came of age storming Guadalcanal and Iwo Jima in the Marine Corps, it had to be pretty damn cold out, Christmas or no Christmas.) On this Christmas, the record was Hank Williams. Us grandkids sitting around the woodburning stove-heated room during a western Nebraska snowstorm, listening to Hank warble. Basking in an intragenerational admiration society with my grandparents.

I can’t say we heard Lovesick Blues, but that’s my favorite Hank song, so I like to think we did.

Pretty much all the other music I’ve ever listened to is just a bonus track to Hank. And all those Christmases, a pale imitation of that one.

C&C: What was your favorite toy as a child, and why?

CM: I don’t know if it’s a toy, exactly, but when I was pretty little I got a BB gun for Christmas (there we go again) and I did as young farmboys do, proceeding to murder whole flocks of perfectly innocent sparrows and pigeons. God, I loved that gun. I’m sorry now for the sparrows although not so much for the pigeons. Flying rats. They did untold damage with their piles of guano to our beautiful barn. Anyway, I shot off whole boxes of BBs until I graduated to a shotgun and then, for one reason or another, sort of lost interest in hunting. I don’t know why, exactly. I own guns and I still love to get out there where the critters are, but I’m just not very motivated to kill them while I’m there. Maybe it’s the fault of that toy?

C&C: Do you “educate” your kids in any specific area of pop culture? Like, movie westerns, classic rock, etc. If you do, how so?

CM: My kids have grown up steeped in country music, beginning and ending with Hank Williams, Sr. They know dozens of Robert Earl Keen and Jerry Jeff Walker and Billy Joe Shaver and Merle Haggard songs by heart, and God knows how many besides. I’m currently educating them on the virtues of Sturgill Simpson, Eilen Jewell, Jason Isbell, and Lucinda Williams.

I do my best to cover the country catalog with them. My daughter used to sing “O.D.’d in Denver” to guests when she was like 3; I always thought it was funny to watch them squirm when she got to the “be damned if I’ll ever do any more cocaine” line.

Sturgill Simpson, by the way, gives me more hope for country as a genre than anyone else going now. Dude’s more Waylon than Waylon, in my opinion, and I named my son Waylon.

I tried to get my daughter to watch Star Wars one time but she wasn’t really into it. A little young, maybe? (I think she was 5.) I also tried to get her to read the Chronicles of Narnia and Little House on the Prairie, which I loved as a kid, but she prefers The Hunger Games and My Little Pony comics. That’s cool. As my kids get older, I’ll try to guide their reading to the good stuff, but not too hard. My parents never guided, instructed, cajoled, or recommended a single book to me – they let me read what I like, for which I’m eternally grateful. I’ll do my best to be as non-domineering as they were. Except for the Disney princess. I fucking hate the Disney princesses.

But hell, this was my favorite book as a kid (I paid way too much money to get my own original 1986 paperback copy as an adult, after the original went lost):

​What kind of parents let their 10-year old read this R-rated trash? Damn good ones, in my opinion.



Kelly Boyker


Curiouser & Curiouser:​ What’s the master plan to get Craig Wallwork to come to the U.S. and have lunch with us? So far he seems mainly scared. Is there a way to do this without causing him a psychological breakdown?

Kelly: ​First we set up a crowd funding sight to raise funds to bring Craig to the states. Of course, we do this without Craig’s knowledge. Once we have met our funding goal, oh say $10,000.00, we hire a minor celebrity. The minor celebrity along with a bevy of excited strangers and a camera crew will go to Craig’s house and ring his doorbell. Craig will answer the door and the extras will all cheer en masse and the minor celebrity will excitedly inform Craig that he has won a special sweepstakes and hand him a giant cardboard check for an all expense paid vacation to the USA. Of course, there will also be confetti and people tooting kazoos plus the camera crew recording everything. The camera crew is key because those that donated to the fund will have the reward of getting to see the moment when Craig’s face lights up with delight.

There will be no need for Craig to pack because we will have bought him an entire new wardrobe for his trip. We will have to pre-arrange all of this with his wife, of course, and also get his clothing and shoe size from her. Come to think of it, we will also have to pre-arrange with his employer. Next thing Craig knows he traveling to the airport in high style in a white stretch limousine, sipping champagne and joyfully sniffing the dozen red-roses strewn artfully about the limo. He will ask about his destination but that shall be shrouded in mystery and terribly hush-hush.

He will be driven to the nearest airport, placed on a private jet and flown directly to the Port Columbus International Airport- Columbus, OH. I will have arrived at your house in Jackson ahead of time and assisted in the lunchtime preparations. Lunch will have an ancient Roman/George RR Martin theme because, why not? The menu will consist of Columella Salad (which has mint, coriander, parsley, leaks and cheese), Soft Boiled Eggs in Pine Nut Sauce, Lentils with Coriander, Roast Wild Boar with honey drippings, Ostrich Ragout with candied dates, mint and honey, Roast Tuna with anchovy paste, shallots and mint, Fried Veal Escalope with Raisins, and for dessert, a Nut Tart made with pistachios, pine nuts almonds, honey and goat’s milk. Of course, we shall have tea and absinthe. The table will be fancy and set outside under some shade trees (I am hoping that you have shade trees on your farm). At any rate, Craig shall be driven to your house in a black stretch Hummer and we will greet him with wide smiles and all of his fears and psychosis will subside and he will have an enjoyable picnic with us with rich conversation and laughter. After that, it’s anybody’s guess.

C&C:​ That sounds perfect! And totally plausible! We should hang a sheet on the clothesline and project movies onto it in the evening. Do you have any Special Favorite Horror films?

K: ​Horror is my favorite movie genre. Most beloved directors and movies include Dario Argento (Suspiria and Phenomena — staring a very young Jennifer Connelly), George R. Romero (all the Living Dead series), Kiyoshi Kurosawa (Pulse and The Cure), Toby Hooper (Texas Chainsaw Massacre) everything by Guillermo Del Toro, everything by David Cronenberg, Jen and Sylvia Soska (American Mary), Jennifer Chambers Lynch (Boxing Helena), Robert Rodriguez (Planet Terror) and Tomas Alfredson (Let the Right One In). We’d need to pow-wow about what movies to play on the sheet because I know we’re all horror fans. I am always looking for tips to horror movies I have not seen.

C&C:​ Tell me about your babies!

​K: I previously had a Rhodesian Ridgeback named Tiki whom I loved to no end. She had a heart attack before her time, was rushed to the vet and died. I will never forget her silky ears, steadfast demeanor and outright love. After she died, I did not think I would have another dog for a very long time. But it turned out that my husband (Gio) and I were super lucky to buy a wonderful house with a huge yard (for Seattle) that is bordered on three sides by a vast green belt. Thus, it made sense to get a dog. We researched breeds extensively; I knew I could not handle another hound dog so soon, so we decided on a Belgian Shepherd. I need to add at this point that we have four rescue cats, two that are now elderly with special medical needs. So, rather than adopt a rescue dog, we wanted to find a breed that could grow up with our cats, respect them, and provide protection so a Belgian Shepherd seemed perfect. We first found Sagan (after Carl Sagan) who is a Belgian Tervuren and also a total butt-head. We were so taken with Belgian Shepherds that my husband Gio drove all the way to Minnesota to get Sabine, also a Belgian Shepherd, but she is a Groenendael (all black). They are both super sweet, although Sagan is now able to leap up and catch birds mid-flight, which is a bit distressing. Belgian Shepherds are all about their teeth, so they are constantly bearing them in play also in big dog smiles.

C&C:​ What are your plans for Halloween?

K: ​Nothing fancy party-wise or anything. However, we are competitive candy-hander-outers. We give out full-sized candy, meaning our house is very popular in our neighborhood. We might do dry ice this year for an extra spooky effect. It’s a great way to meet your neighbors and see all the cute costumes.

C&C: ​Did you trick-or-treat as a kid? What was your favorite childhood Halloween costume?

K: ​Yes, I trick-or-treated and then would try to make my candy last for months, which of course, resulted in stale candy. Favorite costumes as a kid that I remember are going as the Raven from Edgar Allen Poe’s The Raven, going as Wednesday from The Addams Family and just going as a generic bloody dead little girl. I really cannot remember a time in my life when I was not attracted to the morbid. I was fascinated by the idea of death. My favorite costume as an adult was going as Samara, the girl from the well in The Ring.

C&C:​ Do you have any tattoos?

K: ​I have a half sleeve tattoo of an adaptation of a Margaret Keane big-eyed girl. She is wearing a Tutu, holding a flower and surrounded by bizarre other worldly flowers. This tattoo goes all around my upper arm and shoulder including into my armpits, which hurt so much! I initially went to the tattoo artist with a few ideas for tattoos and he was like “what, are you going to get a bunch of sticker tattoos?” He basically made the sticker tattoo people seem like wimps and not wanting to be a wimp, I went for the half sleeve. Fun fact: I once had a lady in a grocery store ask me if the tattoo was of my daughter, I said yes and told her my daughter died tragically by drinking lye. The lady was horrified and I am certain Edward Gorey chuckled a bit in his urn.


C&C: Who was your first hardcore crush?

​K: In eighth grade, a new guy came to our very small private school and all the girls wanted him, including me. He was my boyfriend, briefly, though we never even went to second base. He “dumped” me for my best friend because she had boobs (which he explicitly informed me). Before the dumping, I wrote him a three-page love poem which I dropped in our neighborhood mailbox and then immediately regretted it. I waited at the mailbox and begged the mailman to give me my letter back. He told me that would be a federal crime and would not give me my letter. Thus, the poem was mailed and I was mortified. Said crush told everyone at school and I nearly died of embarrassment. Fairly recently, that poem managed to reach through the years and freshly re-horrify me. A couple of years ago we were searching for said first hardcore crush for a school reunion and I managed to locate his mother. When I called and said I was “Kelly Boyker”, she said, “oh my, you wrote that poem which we all read at the kitchen table one morning, it was very sweet”. Complete re-mortification.

​My ultimate boyfriend would be the hitman, Anton Chigurh, from No Country for Old Men played by the delicious Javier Bardem. The attraction is not based on his hotness; the attraction is based on his pure clinical lack of emotion in carrying out his kills. I don’t really know how the mechanics would work about actually having a cold-hearted hitman as your boyfriend, but a girl can dream.

C&C:​ I am much more horrified by your re-mortification than by your hitman crush. I hope this ex’s mother went on to tell you that he was dead, tragically killed in a domesticated bird attack, which was his greatest fear all through life. Are you afraid of any animals?

K:​I am not afraid of any animals but I have a ridiculous fear of spiders, even the shape of a spider. I have only one slightly interesting anecdotal story about a bats although I am not afraid of them. When I was a little girl I had super long, slightly curly hair and most of my friends were boys because that was who lived in our neighborhood. I was swinging on a rope swing attached to a giant chestnut tree when a roosting bat fell down into my hair and became tangled. The boys I was with dragged me down to the street, put my head over the curb and proceeded to whack the bat with a baseball bat while it was entangled in my hair. Needless to say I had pieces of mangled bat and bat blood caught in my hair and it was very difficult to pick the pieces out. I was never scared but felt sad about the bat and furious with my boy pals.

C&C:​ What do you have in your pockets?

K: ​Because I am in the habit of wearing super skinny jeans, I rarely have anything in my pockets. Coat pockets usually contain chap stick and one mitten (I am a chronic mitten loser) and tons of those single serving salt and pepper packages, because you never know when you are going to need salt and pepper.

C&C:​ Since this is our Halloween interview, let’s keep this morbid. Is there such thing as a romantic death, and what death would you choose, if you believe so? Say, Ophelia, or Juliet (blah), or splat off a building, or have yourself baked into a pie for your unknowing loved ones….

K: ​When I was a kid, I was highly influenced by Robert Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land, so of course wanted to have my body reduced to a broth that all my friends could sip while sitting at the same table and “Grok my essence”. I still believe there is something powerful in ritualistic cannibalism. I once ate a small piece of Tyrannosaurus Rex when was I was in archeological field school. I have always thought it would be wonderful to eat a small part of an asteroid also. I like your idea of being baked in a pie, but I’d want the diners to know that they are dining on me. As far as death goes, I think it would be very interesting to die via guillotine. Especially those few precious moments when your head is severed from your body, but you still have just enough oxygen in your brain to be conscious. Those last moments would be spectacular. While I do believe that scientifically there may be other dimensions, I do not believe that there is a god or that we have a life after death. I figure getting to be alive just once is heaven or hell enough, no afterlife is necessary.



Menacing Hedge

Brien Piechos


Curiouser & Curiouser: Who was the first girl you kissed?

Brien: I have no clue. And suddenly that’s really bothering me. I don’t recall or experience memories in the traditional way others do, to the best of my knowledge. A few years back I suffered a couple of brain strokes as a result of stress, and while I can’t be sure that was the catalyst for my poor memory I think it stands to reason. At the time I was driving the shortbus, yeah the shortbus, something like 11 hours a day. My boss had drawn up these impossible routes from Google maps that no human could actually complete in the time Google maps determined. But I had been out of work for 17 months during the recession and was so afraid of losing the job I just forced myself to manage. I was banging back like 3 large coffees, 2 Rockstars, a preload for the gym, and sometimes even a Redbull at night on a daily basis. Add the kids and their awful parents and let’s just say I’m lucky to be alive. My doctor couldn’t believe it. They said no one my age and in my health should have been in there. I work out like 2 hours a day and have forever, and he just said I should find a new job and he’d prescribe marijuana if it were legal here. My life was absolute hell during the recession, I had just graduated with a useless BA, was 29 with a spotty work history and significant criminal history, and applied to well over two-thousand jobs in the first year only getting three interviews. Anyhow, it’s not like I suffer a vast amnesia, I can recall pieces of my life in fact but fact only, no substance. For instance I can tell you what schools I attended and perhaps the names of my closest friends but I remember very, very few actual anecdotes to share and these days I forget people all the time. Probably because people bore the shit out of me. I do know the first girl who let me suck on her tits was named Ferguson, and we were both wearing Guns N’ Roses shirts, and it happened in the basement of the drummer from my middle school death metal band who later developed severe schizophrenia. So I have been thinking about her a bit more during the unrest is Missouri. Last I saw her she was a single mother working in a 711 in Indiana and looked sad. She didn’t recognize me and I didn’t say anything to her. I boxed for a long time as well, so that could account for some of the memory loss, but I was always tricky and didn’t take a ton of damage. I’m skeptical. It could also have something to do with the fact that I was a hard drinker from like 1996 on. I’ve calmed down a lot recently but I still put a lot of tequila away.

C&C: So it’s like you’re in Memento but with different tattoos and random memories of boobs? And what do you remember about your death metal band in middle school? And speaking of tattoos do you remember when/where you got your first one, and if there was a ‘why’? That’s more than one question but you get it….

B:I walked down to Grumpy’s for a few drinks before answering this and realized that they are almost the same question. What I remember about the band is essentially the core of why I started getting tattooed. This is pre-internet, mind you. I was born at the tail end of the 70’s and informed as an 80’s-90’s kid who identified more with the late 80’s-early 90’s aesthetics. Nirvana never meant anything to me. I was never really in touch with my generation. The Smashing Pumpkins, Radiohead, even Green Day, I don’t care about it at all. My middle school death metal band was called Militia. We sucked. Actually, I sucked. I still do. The aforementioned drummer was a true virtuoso, which is common in people that later develop Schizophrenia. He was phenomenal, just playing along to entire Slayer albums beat for beat in sixth grade Anyway, I liked the Exploited and Misfits and Slayer and G N’ R and had only a fake interest in alternative rock. I think other kids could tell, I lacked their dissatisfaction and ennui. I was flat out angry. Still am. Pantera basically closed the book on metal in my opinion and there has been no legit rock since G N’ R. For metal, everything that came after was either too abstract, too theatric or too mired in sub-genre. Or too campy, and continues to be. For rock, everything that came after was flat out fake. I’m open to suggestions because I haven’t done a terrible amount of digging but if I see enough T-shirts I’ll check something out and I’m invariably disappointed. Sorry, went on a tangent there. But at the heart of that is there was a certain inaccessibility in both attaining and creating before technology was cheap, and it served as a filter so only the best stuff made it to market, from the most ambitious bands who really, really believed in what they were doing and were going to see it through no matter what, and by the time they did the songs had been worked and the entire presentation congealed into something cohesive and cool. Sure, there was some crap, but not like today. Today EVERYTHING is crap, and in 1995 if the cover had a bunch of demons or eviscerated corpses there was a good chance the album ruled. Now nothing even attempts to take itself seriously, and I think metal should take itself seriously, otherwise how can you be making that style of sound and writing those style of lyrics? Evil doesn’t have a sense of humor. If I want a parody I’ll listen to Weird Al. Or any modern “rap.” Before I go off the rails again here’s the second part of the tangent: Tattooing, at the time I made a deep personal choice to be absolutely covered in ink, it represented a wholehearted rejection of society. It meant you weren’t going to hold a normal job or live a normal life. Your parents didn’t escort you and sign a waiver. It meant something profound and distancing from everyone else’s dreams and ambitions. It was a serious middle finger. There would be none of this tattoo acceptance in the workplace nonsense, none of these idiotic television programs where milquetoast folks get their grandparent’s portraits on their soft skin, and no fucking sports team tattoos, that’s for damn sure. As an American you were promised two things in that era: going to college would guarantee a comfortable middle class life and a tattoo would prohibit that. Unfortunately both proved false. Now you’ve got stock brokers with sleeves and guys with neck tattoos who’ve never been in a street fight. Worse, they’d call the cops. As a bouncer, I’ve seen those guys often sue over a broken nose suffered in a fight they picked. I know this. So tattoo culture is sham now. You have all these emasculated pussies dressing up like tough guys, getting on social media to cry about stereotyping “us” as “bad people” when they ran out and got the mark of a “bad person” stereotype. They don’t represent me. That really, really pisses me off. From where I am standing this is MY stereotype, and if you are out there rallying to change that, to convince society that we are nice normal folks, you are stealing something from me. Something I sacrificed a lot for, and I don’t mean money or skin space. These fucking ladyboys fighting for their tattoo rights, trying to change public perception of what it’s about like it started with them and it’s theirs to redefine. Those people are idiots, plain and simple. If you’re not an outlaw biker, a gangster, a fighter, a punker, a felon, a rocker or a vet I don’t think you have any business getting a tattoo. This isn’t your thing to trample and fuck up. Fuck your lotus flower and your family portraits. And coi fish, seriously, you are not a samurai. And arguing that it is symbolic is also a sham, the only thing Japanese imagery on a Caucasian symbolizes is “stupid round eye.” No matter what you think, they don’t actually “mean” anything. And especially fuck your Bible verses and crosses. This is indicative of that oblivious, misguided typical American sense of entitlement. That pisses me off the most. The way people just appropriate and annex elements of cultures that are relevant to people they are not part of and do not understand, that in all likelihood have rejected and would reject them, and adopt them with no respect to the people who they are stealing from or posing as. The absolute worst are the “only god can judge me” scripts that have become pervasive as UGG boots and spray on tans in the Midwest. Not only is it bogus, but it’s false. I am judging you, constantly. And the result isn’t good. So, you ask why? I never, ever, ever fit in. When I tried I failed. I even tried going straight as an adult and obtained degrees and all that jazz, the haircut, everything, and still the normal world had zero interest in absorbing me. I couldn’t even get a job moving furniture. But I was always a talented and creative delinquent. The freaks and, yes, the geeks, were more my people. But I always straddled a social line between the outcasts and the world of kids who were socially better off. I still do. But I knew I would never be the dickhead attorney golfing with the judge. On the other hand I wasn’t going to live in a trailer, work in a factory and knock up some tramp named Tonya either. I saw those guys, the Hells Angels and scary gangsters at the pool hall as something I understood at a very young age as a place in society I could fit. They were clever and bold, and refused to be intimidated by life, or by the fact that society outnumbered them. I was prepared to make those sacrifices for that reward. I could play that role all in. These identities aren’t the results of marking one’s self, but in the world I lived you earned your right to begin getting marked. And I did. Holden Caulfield said it best, I hate phonies. So, yes, I remember where I got my first tattoo. And it wasn’t some hospital-clean shop that catered to me with bottled water and required a bunch of forms and a photocopied ID. And why? Because I only have two speeds, chill and kill. If the wreck I have made of my skin doesn’t communicate that to you, evolution sent you to me for a reason.

C&C: SO THEN, WHAT WAS THE FIRST TATTOO? And where, both shop/garage and body location. Jesus you can ramble but you forgot to answer the question.

B: No, you just asked if I remembered when/where and if there was a why. Next topic.

C&C: Yeah I’m following up. That’s my point. Answer the fucking question.

B:I am choosing to move the conversation forward per my agent’s advice.

C&C: It was a crappy tattoo and you don’t want to tell me about it?

B: If you don’t have any crappy tattoos you’re a poser. Unless you have no tattoos, then you’re not subject to that judgment. I don’t trust a tattooed man without at least one shitty basement job, it means he’s always been a spoiled princess and waited to do things the “right way,” which, again, I feel is antithetic to the entire spirit of being an American outlaw. I’ve been tattooed in a basement, a kitchen, a band rehearsal space, a trailer in rural Wisconsin, and a living room at 8 a.m. after being up all night on… Redbull.

C&C: Much better. Now we can move on. Do you wear glasses? And how do you map stories if your memory is all messed up?

B: I got Lasik. It was the best money I ever spent. I didn’t drive much for a few years and my vision sort of slipped without me noticing. Then one night I was borrowing a friend’s car and realized I couldn’t read shit. I think I was 25. I had always loathed the feeling of contacts lenses, especially during allergy season, it prevented me from doing so many things I wanted to do, even motorcycle related stuff and especially any trips requiring lengthy stays away from home. I was just miserable. Then a few years ago I got into a brawl with some tourist bros from the university at a bondage bar and had someone hold my glasses. I got maced by security, the whole thing turned into a bloody circus and she took off with them. Little did I know she felt I owed her money over some squabble and refused to return them, so I learned a lesson. Well, several. The first is never trust a bitch. The second is take care of your body first and foremost because it isn’t merely your vehicle through life, it is your tool and your weapon. To answer your second part, I don’t necessarily map plot. I don’t really focus too much on plot. I usually start off with a setting or some philosophical statement I want to present and devise a method to present that statement in metaphor through character interaction with each other or a setting. I realize that sounds like the essence of plot, but I mostly work in short form, and while I’m not aping Raymond Carver I think my better work tends to lack plot in the way his did. Plus, I can’t get anything with a real plot in with under 10,000 words. For example I am working on a piece right now that is a single scene set in a museum at a dinosaur exhibit. My characters are on a first date. They are following an elementary school class who are on a field trip. One of the kids has an allergic reaction to their snack, and if you can’t see the parallels I am working with already you should probably go back to reading Hunger Games.

C&C: I don’t believe any of that bullshit you said about the two speeds, Chill and Kill. That sounds like an image thing. Where’s the in-between space, like photos of seen of you actually smiling, that’s not relaxing and that’s not anger? What do you call that setting?

B: No bullshit. Are you familiar with the film Melancholia? Lars von Trier’s thesis is people who suffer from depression are better suited to handle extreme crisis. As a result of miring in worst case scenarios day in and day out, when the world around them falls apart and normal, well-adjusted people crumble, this is another ordinary day for a clinically depressed person and they are better equipped to manage. Although I am not currently depressed I have been for many, many years. Deeply. And that, teamed with anxiety and generalized rage (I think all people of high intelligence experiencing low levels of accomplishment suffer generalized rage) is what led to my health condition. I am MUCH better now and the whole heart thing is a non-issue. My brother was so angry he lost his hair. No joke. He flies off the handle about all sorts of little shit, but you’ll see later in my response that it’s not actually little shit, it’s the combined force of EVERYTHING. Then he found a way to chill out, started smoking weed, and it grew back, but not until he got cancer. He was so mad he got cancer. I was so mad I had two strokes. But I digress. I’m only equipped to deal with chill and kill. I thrive in high stakes situations. I have done some stuff I cannot disclose for fear of serious time, but trust me, I do insane shit. My balls are bounce-castle sized. When my memoir is complete and the legal amount of time has passed to protect me from retroactive prosecution you’ll read about some of this. I’m totally zen about a building collapsing around me or having to fight several guys at once. No sweat. I have zero concern for human life and laugh when I see people hit by a bus. When people have family members pass or children die I have absolutely no internal reaction, I do not know what to say because I feel absolutely nothing. But I can’t cope with the daily grind of a shitty boss breathing down my neck, traffic, being denied a glass of water at carry-out food joint because they are nickle and diming you to death on bottled water, or even when people hold the door for you when you’re an inappropriate amount of steps behind them and basically force a “thank you,” which drives me nuts. I’m drunk in those photos or simply going through the motions of smiling. I am not smiling on the inside. Or perhaps I just flung at lit match in some annoying bitch’s hair or tagged some dufus with an ashtray for wearing an idiotic slouchy beanie in 80 degree weather. These simple daily annoyances, forcing verbal interaction with me when I enter the gym or even someone not using their turn signal BEFORE they begin to brake, makes my blood boil. I have tightness in my chest and trouble breathing because someone nearby in the gym is wearing a personal fragrance, not only because it stinks, but because it is inconsiderate. And that’s the funny part, I am ultra considerate. A paragon of civic virtue. My driving is impeccable. I follow every rule that keeps society moving smoothly and try to be a low-impact presence. That will be the death of me, simple daily interaction with humanity. But if the apocalypse hits I am going to be sitting pretty, personally fulfilled while grinding my enemy’s bones into the sand, subjugating their women and eating their children.

C&C: Your resignation to your own anger and pessimism is very comforting in a sick way. But you go out, you have friends, where does this fall on the chill/kill spectrum, and how you feel about human interaction?

B: That’s chill. And I rarely go out and I honestly don’t have many friends. Most of them have turned into different people, got married, or like football, which I simply cannot abide. FUCK THE NFL. The NFL needs its own social media platform because I have unfollowed every single person that posts “da bears” or “skol vikes.” That shit is the worst. I live in MN but am not a native Minnesotan, and unless you know what that means I cannot explain it to you. But I don’t think they do either, because the culture of Minneapolis has fully lived up to this relatively new idea of it’s identity over the last 5 years, which consists of being out of shape, riding a two-thousand dollar bicycle in the middle of the city street with no mirrors (even in winter), local craft beer that usually tastes like a liquefied heap of goat excrement, wearing a ridiculous slouchy cap that looks like a reservoir tip condom on your head even in eighty degree weather, beards in place of a personality, somehow affording a “cabin up north” that is actually a legitimate mansion on a lake, and boooooooring baseball. Now in their 30’s, many of my friends have kids and are reverting to their Minnesotan roots, families, etc., which I have zero interest in even if the option were there. Point being, I am the odd man out. Now, If you think I can handle being packed into a crowded bar with a bunch of rude idiots you’re misinterpreting the photos you you see. I cannot even stand live music anymore. Every time I go out on a limb and see an event I regret it, unless it is at a certain event center I shouldn’t mention by name where my old roommate has pull so we get exclusive VIP balcony suite. I can cope with that. Put it this way, I don’t go out on weekends. I sit home, eat well, drink tequila and watch UFC. I play a little fantasy MMA game on If it weren’t for weekly UFC events I don’t know what I would do with my weekend time. Maybe ride, but that’s dangerous as fuck around here nowadays because of the massive influx of unlicensed Somalian drivers who use their minivans to turn the streets into a fucking gauntlet. Basically every rider I know has been hit by a Somali in the last 4 years. So I am a hermit.

C&C: What about sex?

B: We’re not getting into that.

C&C: Why? It’s the natural progression of the conversation.

B: Because anything I say here is just going to give me a headache down the road. Can’t we talk about writing, authors I am currently into, the state of the world, something else?

C&C: The whole point of these interviews is to not focus on writing. Have you read any of the interviews?

B: I don’t remember.

C&C: You sort of get the luxury of saying that since you had strokes and your memory is all messed up, I guess? How convenient! Is that the same deal with sex? You can just pull the brain injury card?

B: No seriously dude this is off the record. We are not discussing women at all or my private life thereof. OK? Information age, people google you, and then everything becomes about them, they internalize every comment and create clues of flippant remarks, and I have run into a LOT of trouble with my mouth online and future women. This is a NO ZONE. Next question.

C&C:I sort of like how this went from an interview to you basically refusing to answer questions. It’s interesting. If you agree to let me keep this stuff in I’ll give you some final questions.

B: Whatever.

C&C: Don’t be pissed! This is a good interview.

B: Of course it is. I am interesting.

C&C: And uncooperative.

B: I have like 30 more minutes to burn. Send me something to respond to.

C&C: How do you respond to rejection?

B: Is this still about sex? I do not get rejected.

C&C: Literary rejection, Casanova.

B: Let’s be real about rejection. Every successful writer tells other writers that it is just part of the process and the only productive outlook is to accept the feedback that your work needs improvement. But that’s bullshit. That’s like saying it’s always the guy’s fault he can’t get a boner. Sometimes a woman simply isn’t getting him revved up. Reviewers can be morons with a chip on their shoulder that reject you because half of the draw for them is having that power and turning their jealousy into something tangible. And you know when that is the case. You do. You know when you submitted something good, refined and worthwhile that fits a market’s criteria. Unfortunately the vast majority of rejection slips are impersonal and give you no indication. There are the rare ones that include a few reasons, and in those cases you have a better gauge of the selector’s aptitude and whether you want to take their advice to heart. I recently got a rejection on a very, very good piece and they provided excerpts from the feedback of 5 readers. Yeah, 5. All 5 said the same thing. You might think, well Piechos, then they were right. You should listen to them. NO! That’s like saying zombie fiction is worthwhile because millions of mouth breathers spring a chub over it. That’s the classic jump off a cliff scenario. Fucking garbage movies get 5 starts all the time, and people actually like the Walking Dead and that show is unwatchably stale. They were WRONG, and were inundated by a very strict idea of what story is. They all said the same thing because they had all attended the same classes and were knocking me based on this same sad, limited notion of story. Story isn’t necessarily plot. The change and journey can be within the character, or how the characters relate to one another, or even the change in the setting can represent the change necessary to communicate story. There are higher concepts beyond the plot that qualify as story. Story can be communicated in many ways. So, yes, I learned something. I learned I was creating something that deserved a market with higher literary merit and there are in fact people who won’t “get” what you are doing because they’re dim and limited. Don’t knock yourself over that. Writing is nothing if not masochism, but you can’t take every flogging as if it is a lesson from a greater mind. Move on. Move UP. Find the place you belong. Pandering to lesser people will only get you writing for some utter tripe like Family Guy and miserable, knowing you are capable of something more, something personally fulfilling. Ultimately my point is we are living in an era where every one of society’s pillars have been torn down or are crumbling, so a blind deference to authority in this arena is equally as silly. If anyone really knew what they were doing readership would still be at an all time low thanks to infotech, but new and interesting things would still be breaking through despite this and there would be more than one young new literary hero every ten years. At the same time we live in an age of great social and professional impotency. We know our politicians are corrupt garbage and our country isn’t even a democracy anymore and we are essentially living in a police state, are well-kept slaves, but for the most part we just accept our inability to escape the two party paradigm or wrest control away from scum in charge. We realize that cops are completely insane and have far too much power in the USA, and all we do is repost memes about it, at the very best. And as legal weed goes through more and more the industry is being legislated as the exclusive domain of the rich, allowing only multimillionaire’s to grow and sell, so the new boss is the same as the old boss. What I am saying is all authority should be questioned if not outright rejected. And if you really want to make a difference, subvert it. Lately I have been reading through crates of old Playboys trying to get a feel for what they accept in terms of fiction. Sam Lipsyte had a story in 2004 (I think) that stood out to me for two reasons. The first is that it didn’t resemble anything else I have read in Playboy. The second is I am already a fan, and I am confident that Mr. Lipsyte’s approach to first person narration, building them within character confines and how their limited world view molds the language (especially similes) and story are very similar to my own theories and practices. He’s awesome and reading his work fills me with confidence. And he made it into Playboy with a completely whacked out piece unlike anything else I have found in a decade of Playboy (so far). That’s my goal for 2015, to at least query and get Playboy to consider my work. I want to tackle some relevant contemporary issues and find like-minded readers to share my rage. And that one totally biased and wrong rejection bolstered my confidence and resolve by showing me I was BETTER than the people rejecting me, I don’t need to write flowery prose about some profound hunting trip with my father where I learned the value of all life or whatever and get it published in Ploughshares (No, I never did that but it seems to be the norm), and to move onwards and upwards and shoot for the moon.

C&C: So, ideally, where is all this writing going to get you? What do you want? Money, fame, respect, to be left alone, what? If you could outline your results, after all the time and brainspace you’ve devoted….where would it put you?

B: I think this has parallels to my entire complaint of the “right reasons.” One of the big reasons I can’t handle other people is while we may be enthusiastic about the same thing it is rarely for the same reasons. I went to see Jenny Lewis recently at First Avenue and the crowd were awful. They were all there for the stupid pop songs the Current have on rotate from the shitty new album, not the wonderful stuff she did on her prior albums, when these people had never heard of her. Most had never even been to First Avenue before and I overheard them discussing it. First Ave is basically the heart and soul of Minneapolis music, and these were suburban tourists just cramming their polo shirt wearing pleated khaki cargo shorts asses into the place for an artist they didn’t know dick about that the trendy local radio station sold them on. These were Pedal Pub people. Awful, entitled suburban white folk with no soul who do whatever the Current (aforementioned awful radio station) tells them to. And their overwhelming presence ruined it for me. The other day I was sitting in a massage chair at the gym watching Futurama. The guy next to me laughed at all the points I felt were pedantic and the material I found funny did nothing for him. Granted, I thought Fry and Leela throwing bricks at a hippie was funny along with everything the crotchety professor says, but this guy laughed about the vegetarian lion being emaciated. It was a concept easy to grasp for him. Or maybe the schadenfreude in me is too strong to be objective, and besides, I like animals. When it comes to writing nothing you mentioned is my real, ultimate goal. Sure, I want fame, recognition, success, but with mass appeal comes a hard truth that what you are producing at least 50% sucks. And you have to live with that, like Palahniuk does when he fields idiotic questions at his readings that make me cringe. You have to think, “I have failed. If this person read that into my message, I have failed.” And workshopping with other writers I respect helps me with that. When I get comments that someone likes parts I felt were weak I have to edit them out. I am not writing to that audience. But me, I love the process. I love molding an idea into something I can be proud of. I enjoy building, exploring my ideas and making this art. I guess I’d like to get some fanmail that appreciated the pieces of my work I am proud of. Gus Moreno always “gets it.” I workshop with him all the time and he sees the stuff I want to communicate, so I want readers like Gus. He should review more often for the public. I would like to find myself invited into a world of like minded writers I can trade work with and build friendships. I’d like Sam Lipsyte to read my stuff and trade some short stories. I would like to know Jonathan Franzen and bitch about hipsters with him over lunch. I would like to somehow get Gordon Lish to edit just one of my stories, and like it. I would like to do something that reaches a level of popularity high enough that the City Pages (MPL’s version of the Village Voice) interviews me so I can shit all over the gentrification and phony identify my city has developed. I would like to come up with enough fresh ideas and create from them a novel that is exciting and engrossing to write, for the rest of my life. And, of course, I don’t want to have to deal with being rejected by a ton of markets that I don’t even like that much, which I have to submit to just to get my name out there because there is no real home for the type of fiction I write.


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Brien Piechos Author Page

Letitia Trent




Curiouser & Curiouser: I read a thing you did about Deadly Women. If you could actually be on the show as one of those re-enactors, what would be your ideal role? Killer, victim, nosy neighbor witness, etc. Be as specific as possible. I always wanted to be on Unsolved Mysteries, to get my start there, like Matthew *McCougheny*...

Letitia: I would definitely be a murderer. I am not even slightly murderous or violent in real life, so it would be therapeutic to play one on television. I’d like to be a jealous girlfriend or lover. Also out of character.

C&C: Sort of related to True Crime stuff, do you think the focus of most of that Other generalization, the “Look at the Broken People” emphasis is related to the way we treat fictional crime/criminals/monsters? Movie examples: in the Swedish version ‘Let the Right One In’ the little girl vampire stays the same when she kills/mutilates, but in the American version, she mutates into a monster first. Do we have an inability to entertain the idea that ‘bad’ is a part of us regular people, or could be?

L: Oh man, I like this question. I think horror/crime fiction (and in film) we get to both try on the point of view of the “evil” or “monster,” but also to make it clear that it is other. So in slasher films, we get the murderer’s POV, but by the end, we get to be the virgin who kills the murderer (until the sequel). In horror, often the monster is something outside that comes in and “infects” us. It’s not really us. Though contemporary horror and crime writers, of course, play with this a lot and complicate it. I think a big goal for me, and something I hope to do more often in future novels, is work on synthesis instead of separation. How can horror be about acknowledging and accepting that evil as part of us and still be horror? I think John Carpenter made this great distinction between types of horror: a conservative horror, which is about the threat “out there” and horror that is about the threat within. I’ve always preferred the second one.

C&C: Do you have any pets? Why or why not?

L: I have three black cats — Cheeto, Nina Simone, and Doombot. I love cats. I grew up with lots of cats and dogs, so I always expected to have pets, though my mom is now an animal hoarder and it makes me hesitant to ever have more than three: I’m afraid it might get out of control. I love dogs, too, but they feel like a lot of work. I can hardly get myself a bath or walk, I can’t imagine having to also manage those things for a dog.

C&C: Who was your first best friend?

L: My first best friend was probably a girl named Jessi, who I met in fifth grade when I lived in Bennington, Vermont. I think we were both kind of weird little outsiders, bookish and artsy. I remember we would sit on a stoop outside a storage shed during recess and write and illustrate a story about Junebugs instead of playing on the playground. I generally had only one friend at a time anyway (I wasn’t a popular kid, to say the least), so my best friends were by default. Since Elementary school, though, I haven’t had a best friend. That makes me kind of sad.

C&C: Where did you get Roscoe’s name?

L: There is this famous folk banjo and guitar player named Roscoe Holcomb: he introduced the “high lonesome sound” of Appalachian music to a wider audience. Here’s a youtube clip:


When I was freshly pregnant and not even thinking about names, we watched a video of Roscoe Holcomb and I said “Maybe we should name the baby Roscoe.” My husband Zach agreed. We decided right then and there. We figured it was a good way to honor Zach’s Arkansas/Oklahoma heritage. When I told my mother I was going to name the baby Roscoe, she said “Roscoe? Like my dog Roscoe?” But she has about fifty dogs, so I bet one of them was bound to be named Roscoe.

C&C: Cookies or pie? And which kind and why?

L: Just these words are making me sad because I’m currently avoiding sugar, but cookies, so many cookies. God, I love cookies. Chocolate chip. Sugar cookies. Those crunchy butter cookies with jelly in the middle. Snickerdoodles. Molasses cookies. Gingerbread. There’s just something about the texture of a perfectly-baked cookie that gets me. Pies are great too, though. I really have to stop typing about pies and cookies now.

C&C: What do you have in your pockets?

L: Nothing! I currently have no pockets because I’m wearing a sundress and a tank top. Which is my post-baby wardrobe because jeans no longer work and I don’t have the patience for buttons.

C&C: Did you read a lot when you were a kid?

L: I read a ton when I was a kid, which was weird, because I did not come from a family of readers (though I guess that my grandmother’s copious collections of magazines and trashy tabloids could be considered reading). I started with kids books, but when I was seven or eight started reading young adult novels. I loved problem novels about social issues, abuse, poverty, and orphans–orphans were really big in the 80’s. When I was 8 I started reading Baby Sitters Club books in addition to all of my grim problem novels. Oh, and I remember reading Hatchet, which made me fantasize about living outdoors. That winter, I tried to make acorn pancakes, which did not work. Shortly after that, I started reading adult novels–Stephen King, the Bronte sisters, etc. I also read most of my stepfather’s fantasy and sci fi novels,though I never could get into sci fi that was heavy on the science part. When I turned thirteen, I started to focus specifically on the poetry sections of the big school anthologies we read from every year. I ended up taking then all home with my over one summer (I went to a small school and nobody missed them)–I took the Brit Lit, American Lit, and World Lit and just read them straight through. I can still remember reading Sylvia Plath’s poem Blackberrying and thinking “Oh man, this is what I like.”

C&C:You went to Ohio State University? There’s a teacher there in the English dept that I had a crush on for like all of highschool. Like when I was 14, he was 16 and he carried a skateboard everywhere, smoked cigarettes, and was the bee’s knees (name omitted). Did you have him, and what sort of teacher was he? And in general, what was your best experience with a teacher? Conversely, what was your worst?

L: I went to Ohio State for my MFA, so I only experienced the grad faculty–none of my teachers had a skateboard 😦 😦 I have had some good experiences with teachers, though I’ve always been a little timid and hesitant in school settings. I have this idea that I’m bothering teachers if I ask them to look at my work, have a personal conversation, etc. I guess I still feel slightly out of place in a school setting, even if being a student is probably the one thing I’m really good at. So, I was too scared of most of my teachers or professors to really get to know them. I did have some really good ones, though, like my fifth grade teacher who encouraged my writing. Or Dr. Hall in undergrad who told me via e-mail that I should have won a school poetry contest and Dr. Cole, who helped introduce me to Feminism, and many others–I had an excellent undergrad experience, weirdly, despite going to a Southern Baptist college. I also had many encouraging grad profs like Kathy Fagan and Michelle Herman. Currently, I’m a psychology grad program and I’ve had some great professors here, but my worst school experience has actually been within the last year, when I had this group therapy class that went terribly, terribly wrong for reasons I still don’t fully understand. I didn’t think that at 32 I’d have another incredibly awkward school experience, but I guess life is full of surprises. Oh, and I did have a pretty bad experience with a semi-famous (more so at the time) visiting writer in grad school who was completely baffled by a short story I turned in, but not baffled in a good way. She didn’t like how I used the word “fuck” a lot and asked me if my story was just “about being a crazy person.”

C&C: Do you have any tattoos?

L: I have several tattoos. This is probably a boring list, but here goes! The first was a Tik Nhat Hahn quote: “Thanks to Impermanence everything is possible.” I got this in Brattleboro, Vermont, just after I started meditating, and it was wildly painful but I was immediately hooked on tattoos after that. The pain was somehow meditative, too. I started the tattoo game late–I think I was 28 when I got my first one. I didn’t think about it much and follow the impromptu tattoo policy. My second was a High Priestess image from a 70’s tarot deck. I started learning tarot when I lived in Vermont and loved it so much that I wanted to get those images on my body permanently, as reminders of things I wanted to better understand. Next were morning glories, wrapped around my High Priestess. My mother grew morning glories on the side of our trailer. I thought they were magical, how they closed and opened. I don’t have many positive childhood memories, so I wanted something to remind me of the good things about my past. The phases of the moon run down the back of my neck and back. I have an enormous, enormous open pomegranate tattoo that I got in Israel that is so amazing, but I hardly ever get to see it because it’s on my lower back (it’s kinda a monster ‘tramp stamp,’ a terrible phrase, but that’s the location). I have a sun card tarot image on my forearm, which is a matching tat with my husband. I always wanted to get a mutual tat, but we didn’t do it until just a few years ago, after being together over ten years. We figured that would help us to avoid the whole “get a tattoo then break up” thing that happens. Last, I have a Celtic moth on my back–I like the moth as a symbol. A night butterfly.

Sometimes I joke that I’ll get a really bad tattoo of my son on my bicep or something, which would be hilarious, but I will never, never do that. Still, I’m kind of impressed by bad but ambitious tattoos. To me, tattoos say “fuck you” to death, in a way–like, I’ll do whatever I want to my body because it’s impermanent, ultimately, and I’ll celebrate that by getting it all inked up.

C&C:What are your plans for Halloween?

L: I usually have major Halloween plans, but now I have a baby, so it’s hard for me to imagine how my usual Halloween parties or movies and alcohol are going to happen. I just want to get away to a dark theater and watch something terrible happening on a screen for a couple of hours. I hope that will happen.


Benjamin Whitmer


Curiouser & Curiouser: We’re from the same hometown, which makes me think we’re already best friends, which makes you my newest Internet crush – strange, considering I usually stick to crushes named Craig. What’re the chances of us getting married?

Benjamin Whitmer: Well, back ‘atcha. Though I would say the odds are low on marriage, but it’s certainly not personal. I have done marriage, and have come to think of it the way I think of a new Wally Lamb book. Meaning, I’m very happy that it makes so many other people happy, but I can’t figure out any of the characters, and if you come too near me with it I’ll run away and hide under a bucket.

But I love that we’re from that same town. It’s one of those places that you never expect to meet anybody from. I actually lived in town, Jackson, for the first year or two of my life, and then my mother and I moved with some other folks onto a farm in the hills. On top of a hill actually, which I remember distinctly, because there were a lot of nights we had to park our broke-down car at the bottom and walk the dirt driveway up it. We had forty acres with a barn, a cabin, and a little white house down in a gully. My mother and I lived in all three at one point or another. I liked the little white house the best, I think, because it had a black snake in the walls that would eat the mice and you could hear it moving around.

There was no electricity and no running water, but we had lots of freedom and books. And my mother, bless her soul, kept me out of school until third grade. That was very important to my development, being kept out of school. It’s the one thing I wish I could give my children. I think the kids of this country would be better off with a lot less school.

C&C: I agree with you about school. There’s a lot of paperwork going on, but not exactly a lot of learning… How do you think starting late in school, and being a little wild as a young one, set you up for parenting? I mean, a lot of parents with any kind colorful pasts are just as likely to go full-on opposite “I will not let my children repeat my mistakes, they shall succeed,” as they are “It’s just school. They get more state and federal money if you fill in the right circles, just join the circus or something, there’s a lot of life out there.” This question is kind of all over the place. But, kids. And dreaming and the circus and success…

B: I’m a little of both, I guess. I don’t care about grades, and I’m of the opinion school has a lot more to do with teaching them how to be productive members of society – meaning, preparing them for a lifetime of keeping their ass in a seat and doing stupid, repetitive work – than it has to do with education. And I’m always furious about the amount of useless busywork they come home with. And all the nonsense testing. There’s no way I’d have survived if I had to do it in this day and age, and I’m not real good at hiding my opinion from them.

But at the same time, I dropped out of high school, and it made life a lot harder. So they know that too. My philosophy on it is, yeah, most of it may be junk, but it can make your life a lot easier if you can put up with it. I’m probably not gonna win any father-of-the-year awards with that attitude, but I have trouble coming up with another. To the colorful past thing, mainly it’s just important for me that they know there are no mistakes they can make that I haven’t already made. Whatever they’re struggling with, I’ve probably screwed it up royally in my life. That’s the one parenting lesson that I hope really sticks with them. Not as an excuse for them to do every dumbass thing I did, but so they can talk to me about anything. (Sorry to be corny.)

C&C: What are your plans for Halloween?

B: I think my kids are with their mother this Halloween, so probably not much. I’m pretty fucking lame on that holiday, to be honest. There’s usually an invitation to some party that I ignore because I’m too lazy to figure out a costume. When I have the kids, I always have big plans for costumes, but we never get ‘em done, because at the end of the day the kids want to be in something storebought. Which I don’t blame them for. Besides which, I’m not the most crafty individual on earth. I’ve been boycotting Hobby Lobby long before it was cool. My entire life, in fact.

There’s a zombie walk here in Denver and last year I wanted to buy gas masks and go as those creepy kids from “The Empty Child” episode of Doctor Who. But I think the kids realized I really just wanted an excuse to buy us all gas masks, so they nixed it. And then I thought it would be fun to dress my son up as Maxwell Silverhammer and I could go as the judge with my brains hanging out. Also nixed, for a cool ninja costume. And then one year I thought it would be cool for all of us to go as Black Bloc anarchists, and I even told them they could smash all the Starbucks’ windows they wanted – not for any political reasons, just that Moby Dick is my favorite book – but they started complaining about getting arrested and etc.

C&C: Can you make a bump key, or could you at any point, and realistically is that even a useful skill anymore considering the way security systems and locks are set up, now?

B: Oh, hell no. When I was a kid I thought I was pretty good at breaking and entering, but it was more just the side window or the unlocked garage door. It was just that I lived in a small town in southern Ohio where there was a private university. It was a target rich environment. Lots of folks with lots of good alcohol and drugs, and, as a townie, I didn’t have any good alcohol or drugs. So I felt within my rights to liberate some of theirs. It was the kind of stupid teenage shit which’d probably get you shot or put in jail for life these days.

Now I kind of want to learn how to file down a bump key, though. You may have solved my Halloween plans.

C&C: Who was the first person you ever showed a story you’d written?

B: I think it was a young lady named Laurie. I was stone in love with her. She was one of the coolest people I’d ever met, and she was always blowing me away when she talked about books. It was a small town and I wasn’t much of a fighter, or smart in school, or any kind of good looking, so I figured I’d better pick up something artistic to impress young women. And since I couldn’t draw and had no musical ability, I chose writing. Everybody’s impressed with writers, right? And it’s easy – it’s just words, after all.

Jesus, did I miscalculate that one. From every single angle.

I still count Laurie as one of my best friends, though. And she seemed to like the story well enough. Enough that I wrote another. And another. And then decided, fuck it, I’ll do this for life, whether or not it ever impresses women. So I’m happy with the results.

C&C:Did you celebrate Christmas as a kid?

B: Absolutely. I’m a sucker for Christmas. When I was a kid we never had any money, so it was never about gifts, but the adults always did these amazing things. I remember one year we came down and the entire Christmas tree was lit up with candles, each of which they’d placed into a bird’s nest and clothespinned to a branch. It was beautiful. Other times I remember going out in a real sleigh, with bells and everything, singing Christmas carols on our way to cut down our own tree.

I’m still goofy for it with my kids. We have a little more money, so there are more gifts, probably, but I try to keep everything aimed at the corny stuff. They make it easy by being great kids.

C&C: What do you have in your pockets right now? Or another way people like to approach this one if I catch them in their pajamas is to list their “every day carry.”

B: Well, besides keys, I have my Phat Bob folding knife. It’s the best knife I’ve ever had. It’s tough and big, and easy to open one-handed. You can use it to pop Mexican cokes, peel an apple or baton kindling. I’ll be heartbroken when it breaks, because I think they’re discontinued. I also have a brass Zippo. I quit smoking cigarettes, but I keep it because, y’know, fire. And my stupid cellphone. Which, for my purposes, is only really an e-reader. (Right now loaded up with PERFIDIA.) And my Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Pizza Time wallet that my son gave me for father’s day. And if I’m carrying, there will also be a 3” limited edition Ruger .357 revolver and an extra speedloader of ammunition. I don’t carry so much anymore, though.

C&C: If I went to the vehicle you’re driving and turned on the radio, what would come out? What do you listen to when driving?

B: I usually listen to audio books. Any way that I can sneak a little extra book time, I’ll take. I’m pretty boring on that front. I try to keep the radio off for the same reason I don’t have cable and never hooked an antenna up to my television. I’m inundated with enough shit from the internet, I don’t need any more. My brain functions better when I know exactly what’s going into it, and I don’t end up being surprised by any unforeseen celebrity news.

C&C: Can you swim?

B: Nope. I could probably keep from drowning for twenty minutes. Maybe. And sometimes I can move in the direction I’m trying to for a few feet, but that’s about it. Luckily I live in Colorado, where it’s not exactly a necessary skill.

C&C: Do you have any irrational fears or phobias? Like not logical “I think I have bad breath” or “I heard a chainsaw, there’s probably a chainsaw out there” fears, but more like, well, cockatoos can steal your soul and Jack-in-the-boxes are evil. Those last two things are true, by the way. Anything get to you like that?

B: Chickens! I loathe and fear chickens. We had them growing up and they were the only thing we killed that bothered me. The way they keep flopping around headless, evil fuckers. Pigs don’t do that. You stun a pig by shooting it in the head and then cut its throat, and it doesn’t jump up and start trying to chase you. That’s chicken behavior. Anything that can do that is pure malevolence. And they’re disgusting. Bonedeep stupid, filthy animals. I have recurring nightmares about being caged in with them.

I eat chicken out of spite. I hate-eat the motherfuckers.


Order ‘Cry Father’

Heather Foster


Curiouser & Curiouser: Is your maiden name Hayes? My maiden name is Hayes. Are we related?

Heather: Yes, my maiden name IS Hayes. I’d say we’re sisters, since I’ve always wanted one and even tried to buy one with my allowance once, but you’re so wonderfully tiny, I doubt it’s possible. Cousins maybe? Totally believable. I have like eleven thousand cousins. I come from southern farmers on both sides. Kids = free labor.

C&C: You said somewhere that ideally you’d have six husbands. PLEASE tell me who all your husbands would be and why.

H: Oh Lord. I KNEW you’d ask this. Haha. Ok here goes:

First, I’d keep my current husband, David Foster, because he is awesome to me and awesome to the three beautiful badass kids we made together. There is no shame between us, and no end to our devotion. Plus, he would let me have the other five husbands, which immediately qualifies him for sainthood. Look it up.

Second, William Gay. Listen, I realize he’s dead, but that was recent and I think he’d be into the fact that I rate his corpse/ghost higher on my list than most live men. It’s his prose, okay? It’s just. When I read I Hate to See That Evening Sun Go Down, I feel possessed. And I’ve absolutely no desire to call Father Merrin.

Third, Richard Thomas. You knew this was coming! He is going to kill me for this. He and I went to grad school together in Kentucky, and we’ve remained good friends ever since. There are a lot of great things about Richard, but I’d marry him mostly because he is super, SUPER goodlooking. It’s pretty stupid, really, for one person to be so tall and so attractive and have so much wavy salt and peppery hair. Plus we’ve had a lot of really good conversations about literature, which is a turn on for me in any potential future Mr. Heather Foster. So yeah. Him.

Fourth, Patrick Dempsey, circa 2007. But ONLY if he stayed in character as Derek Shepherd the whole time. I know I said I’m not interested in persona. I totally LIED. Dempsey is so hot as Shepherd that I would let him do brain surgery on me even though he is definitely not a real doctor. I’d probably insist that the sex happen beforehand though, just in case I either died or came out of surgery with a permanent drooling problem or a conscience or something.

Fifth, Simon Baker, in suspenders or a vest. It’s a fetish. Get past it. Also, he’s one of the only blondes I’ve ever found attractive.

Sixth, Dwight Yoakam, of course. He’s incredibly smart and interesting (I wonder what kind of soap he uses! Ahhh!). He’s a terrific songwriter. His VOICE is just…well, it’s heaven. There is that lonesome catch in the back of his throat that just slays me every time. I’ve had the pleasure of seeing him live (once from the front row at Billy Bob’s in Fort Worth, Texas–amazing!) and he’s got charisma for days. I’ve seen how he handles his guitar. It doesn’t take much imagination to see how things with him would go. Plus, he looks really really good in tight britches.

C&C: Tell me how you feel about Elvis.

H: I would dig him up and make him my seventh husband. The pelvis, the smooth voice, black velvet, all that. I used to live in Memphis, in fact, and my favorite cousin met her husband while they were both working at Graceland, which I’ve visited many times.

So, Elvis. I find him irresistible, especially offstage. I sometimes get fascinated with people who happen to be famous (Dwight Yoakam, Marilyn Monroe, many writers, a few of my would-be husbands and concubines), but it isn’t that glamorous public persona which interests me. In fact, I detest celebrities who seem to have nothing more to offer.

I grew up with parents who really shared very little of themselves with me. My mother, for example, gave up almost all of her own time and interests in order to dedicate herself to her children. She wanted to do that, and she was (and still is) a terrific mother. However, I don’t remember knowing anything about her as an individual person (separate from her role as wife and mother) until I was an adult. And my father was even more mysterious. I thought all people were basically the same, I guess. When I began to really know people deeply, probably when I was in my late teens, I became obsessed with the little strange details that make people different. I still have a bizarre, almost starving hunger to KNOW people. I like to know everything I can about someone who interests me–what books could he read over and over? What’s on her iPod? What did he eat on the best day of his life? What kind of shampoo does she use? I want to know all the things. I realize that makes me sound very much like a stalker and/or serial killer. Maybe it will come to that one day. Whatever.

C&C: I understand exactly what you mean about wanting to KNOW people – all the little things. That’s the entire pretense for this interview series. I smiled when I read your iPod question, because in another interview I asked an author what they currently listened to in the car.
Do you think people are inherently suspicious of genuine, no-ulterior-motive curiosity? As a general defense mechanism or childhood training, or something?

H: YES. Or at least I’m afraid that they are. I worked my way through grad school as a night manager at a grocery store. I dealt with a lot of customers, people of all sorts. I mostly dealt with accounting stuff or problems at the service desk, but occasionally, if we were really busy or a cashier needed a potty break, I got to work the checkstand. I loved that part of the job. I loved seeing all the stuff people bought and imagining the kind of lives they led. Occasionally, I would comment or ask about something they were buying and most often, that seemed to offend them. They seemed to feel like I had invaded their privacy, like I was supposed to be moving things with my hands, scanning things without noticing what they were. That was frustrating, but then there were those customers who let me in without me even needing to ask–once, a lady came to my register carrying three rotisserie chickens. She set them down and burst into tears, barely able to catch her breath, stammering about how her sister just died and she didn’t know what else to do besides buy some chickens. I’ll never forget that.

It’s kind of strange that people are suspicious of nosiness, since so much of our culture now is narcissistic–Facebook, twitter, blogs, etc. We’re constantly talking about ourselves, often to people whom we’ve never even met in person.
P.S. Today, I listened to Lana Del Rey on my way to work. “Ride” over and over and over.

C&C: Tell me about Halloween.

H: Halloween is tied for Christmas as my favorite holiday. When I was a kid, my mom loaded up as many kids as she could fit in our van and took us to the best neighborhoods to go trick-or-treating. We always ended up with obscene amounts of candy. We lived on an island in Florida, and there were a lot of families with children there, so most people participated in Halloween stuff. Now, I live in a tiny rural town in Tennessee. We don’t usually get a SINGLE trick-or-treater. It’s devastating. So, we deck the house out in all kinds of wonderfully gory decorations at the beginning of October. I make scary snacks for the kids. Hubby #1 and I watch horror films together every night of the month. On Halloween night, I dress the kids up (hubby and I get dressed up, too) and drive them 3 towns over to do some proper candy fetching. Then I steal my favorites from their stash the next day. No shame.

C&C: Do you wear a watch? Why or why not?

H: This answer is gonna be boring. I don’t wear a watch because I have gigantic man sized wrists. I’ve longed for a women’s leather-strap watch all my life, though. I secretly jealous punch women in the face in my head when I see them wearing watches like that.

C&C: What do you have in your pockets?

H: The answer to this is always the same: absolutely nothing. I can’t stand the feeling of having stuff in my pockets. My purse is another story. It’s completely full of crap. There’s the usual–wallet, phone, keys, sunglasses. But I’ve also got hand sanitizer, granola bars, birth control pills, Hot Wheels, a pacifier, a strip club discount card, a dry erase marker, white out, ear buds, and about a thousand receipts in there.

C&C: What was your favorite toy as a child, and why?

H: Definitely my Barbies. Yeah, that’s right. I’m a feminist who played with Barbies. I STILL play with Barbies. My sons join me now.

I remember being 7 or 8 years old, inventing very complicated scenarios for my Barbies to act out, inspired by the soap operas my mom sometimes let play when she worked in the kitchen: “Victor, I’m pregnant!” or “I saw you at the mall with Trinity. Do you love her?” I also posed them in life scenes or cheerleading pyramids and wasted entire rolls of film shooting them with my parents’ slidefront Olympus.

C&C: How many hours are you averaging, sleep-wise, per night right now?

H: During the week, 6 if I’m lucky, 3 or 4 if I’m not. The weekends are better. But the baby’s no longer to blame. She’s sleeping 10 hours a night now. It’s the students, more specifically, the essays I’m constantly grading. I’m pretty much mainlining coffee these days. Red Diamond Hazelnut. Cream. No Sugar.

C&C: Do you like amphibians? I’ve found people are very “YES! A TOAD!” Or “Get that slimy thing away from me,” not much in between. In general are you fascinated by any particular animal/bug/creature? Why?

I like frogs as long as they stay away from me. If I get up to my door, ready to go into my house, and there’s a frog on the screen, it’s game over. Because I just know it will jump on me. I always make my husband or one of my kids catch it and move it out of my way. My brother used to put frogs down the back of my swimsuit in front of his cute friends so I’m maybe a little scarred by that. Toads are kind of charming, and we have several living in our flowerbeds. Lizards can kiss my ass. There’s something about them that’s just not right. They’ll lie there still forever and suddenly just make a break for it and you NEVER KNOW WHICH WAY THEY’LL GO, which I think is the worst part.
I love cats. The bitchier, the better. We have three: Sylvia, Keats, and Hugo. Sylvia’s bitchiness is EPIC. She destroys things that belong to me and then waits for me to find them and yell, so she can go coo in my husband’s ear and advance her plan to give me a stroke so he will belong to her alone. She’s taking me out first, then the kids. I’m certain of it.