Tracie Morell


Curiouser and Curiouser: My notes say “boobs” but I know that’s my way of reminding myself to ask about your tattoos…

Tracie Morell: Everyone asks me about my boobs. They are quite lovely and purposeful. I did nurse my children and would whip out a tit anywhere when my little ones were hungry. But I think you aren’t asking about my mammary glands function. The tattoos have a beautiful story, not as beautiful as breast feeding, but close.

Across my chest are two lotus flowers and a Chinese ideogram for “courage.” The ideogram came first and years later I had the lotuses etched into my skin on both sides of the ideogram. When my oldest son was just a little baby (he’s 18 now), I went to Florida to stay with family for a while after a nasty and abusive breakup with the baby daddy. There was this amusement park called “Old Town” not far from my relative’s house which I was staying at, and I would take my son for walks there almost daily. There was this neat little shop there called “The Black Market.” They sold all sorts of unusual things and I enjoyed looking through the trinkets they had. I befriended the woman working the cash stand. She was an unmarried, pregnant Chinese woman. We became friends and we would share our troubles with each other. She was really the only friend I made while I was there. The time came when I was ready to return home, so as a parting gift she wrote a haiku for me titled “Courage.” She wrote it in Chinese, so I had to have her read it to me. I was so moved by the poem that I told her that I would always keep it close to my heart. Later that day, I had the title tattooed on my chest.

Years later, I had the lotus flowers tattooed on either side of the ideogram. The lotus symbolizes the beauty which grows out of dirty stagnant waters. I like the metaphor. Life is hard in Erie, and I felt like I needed to have a constant reminder etched on my chest to make me remember the beauty that emerges from the muck and filth of life.

I have several tattoos and most of them have a literary reference. On my left arm I have a full sleeve which is imagery based on Paradise Lost and Duino Elegies. But my favorite tattoo is the title of David Foster Wallace’s 2005 commencement speech at Kenyon College—“This is Water.” I am a huge DFW fan, and that speech offers such sound advice on how to approach daily life that I felt tattooing it right below my collar bone would force me to remember the key points in that speech. Unfortunately, he didn’t heed his own advice…maybe if he did, we’d still have him today.

C&C: I love Wallace, too. I think the medication fiasco sort of turned his situation and made him unable to see his own way out – but that’s an entirely different conversation for a different day. As far as medications and psychological disorders, fetishization of doctors – what do you think about the current obsession with pharmaceuticals? There’s a pill for everything. Western medicine has it all figured out….

TM: That is a complicated question. In some ways, I think that the pharmaceutical companies are evil and the need to take a pill for everything under the sun is ridiculous. I did peace work in South Africa in my early 20’s, and I could tell you some horror stories as to why big pharm is just evil, but that could be a book. At the same time, I have suffered from severe depression all my life. Well, at least I thought it was severe depression because that’s what the doctors told me I had. Last year, I had a break-down and admitted myself in a crisis residential unit for a week, because I was having chronic panic attacks and couldn’t tolerate them any longer. I was diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder, and began medication just for that. I was skeptical because I had tried a litany of antidepressants over the years and nothing seemed to work or they would cause more problems than anything, so I refused to take anything for years and years, but once I started being treated for the anxiety, my depression disappeared.

I honestly believe if I could live the life I dream of (owning my own yoga studio, spending my days doing yoga and writing, with a garden in the back to grow my own food) I would have no need for medication, but at the moment, that is not a possibility. I have very strong coping skills for these panic attacks that plague me, but it isn’t always possible to drop into a hip opener (all anxiety and emotional pain is stored in the hips, and it is almost impossible to have any anxiety or sadness if your hips are open) every time my heart skips a beat or my breathing becomes labored. Yoga and meditation is the best medicine I have found for all mental health issues. At the moment, I am medicated only for anxiety but I don’t think I will be medicated for the rest of my life, because I know how to self soothe through my yoga practice. I know what I need my life to look like in order to manage my anxiety and panic. I just don’t currently have the means to shape my life into what I need to keep the level of calm I require to avoid triggering my anxiety. But I remain optimistic that I will find a way to get there someday.

Anxiety is misunderstood by many people. I’m not haunted by nightmares, self-loathing, or chronic depression (well, at least not now that I know what I am dealing with). Anxiety manifests in very real physical reactions to stimuli. It’s not one of those disorders that people say “is all in your head.” It’s in your racing heart, in labored breathing; it’s in tremors through your whole body, until it escalates to a full-blown panic attack, where you literally feel like you are going to die. Sometimes, you can figure out what triggers you and learn how to avoid the triggers as much as possible, but there are other times where a panic attack can hit you while you are sleeping and you wake up ready to call 911 because you think you are having a heart attack. Anxiety is a very physical ailment.

In many ways, I think our culture of “more, more, more” contributes to the vast majority of people suffering from psychological disorders. I’ve learned talk therapy is the best way to cope, but sometimes people just don’t have access to a good therapist or they just don’t know how to find a good fit with a therapist. I’ve been a therapy junky pretty much all of my life. I was sexually abused as a child, and in fifth grade I was hospitalized in a children’s mental health ward, which is where that all came out. That began my lifelong love of talk therapy. Over years and years of therapy, I have learned how to identify my triggers, understand why I react in certain ways to certain stimuli and so on. I guess that I’m lucky in that sense. From all the therapy I’ve done, I understand myself more than the average person, I think.

Living in a culture which is clearly in decline, I think the people who own their mental health issues are at an advantage over the people who seek happiness through material gain, social status, constant need for instant gratification, and/or denial. From what I have observed, every single person I have met struggles with their mental health. I mean, since we live in culture that is so clearly sick, how can people be mentally healthy? If people were able to change their lives through meditation, yogic practices, and connection with the earth, instead of pill popping, our culture would turn around.

C&C: How is the refrigerator project coming along? Do you trick out a lot of the furnishings in your house?

TM: At the moment, the project is at a standstill, because I didn’t make sure I had enough supplies to finish it. I tend to jump into my projects without prior planning, so sometimes I have to collect the supplies to finish. Yes, my husband and I like to make our furnishings our own. We have a lot of “outdated” hand-me-downs, so we like to customize them. He and I are both the creative types, so we like to recreate everything in our home, which is a 100 year old cape cod that needs a ton of TLC. We like to make or refinish all of the furnishings we have in our house. Most of my bookshelves are made from found items that I repurposed. My mother-in-law used to joke that we should take pictures of the stuff we redo and send them into Sharpie because we use Sharpies in all of our projects…except the refrigerator, I haven’t used Sharpies on that project. I also crochet and knit, so my house is loaded with old lady doilies and lacey curtains I’ve made.

C&C: Do you have pets?

TM: If the countless teenagers who are constantly streaming in and out of my house don’t count as pets, we have two cats. Buffy the Mousey Slayer is a muted calico. I’m her human. Being the type of cat who likes to get you comfortable with her so you think she loves you and then she scratches your face off, she is kind of an asshole. We also have a tortie that is the sweetest little kitty, so we call her Little Kitty. She likes to talk and sometimes she will talk and talk and talk for hours. My husband, Rich, is her person, so she always snubs me the second he walks into the room. She the type of cat who freaks out if a tenth of the food is missing from the dish and she will follow you around meowing until you fill it back up.

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

TM: I don’t have pockets. I live in yoga pants.

C&C: Do you remember your dreams?

TM: I have very vivid dreams. Sometimes I can remember them, if I write them down immediately when I wake up, but generally they are lost within the time it takes to make my first cup of coffee. Here’s a dream that I wrote down: Kris Risto, my friend, the surrealist painter who illustrated all of my poems in Matilda’s Battle Waltz kidnapped me and dropped me off somewhere in the middle of Seattle and told me to find my way home. On my journey across the country to get back to Erie, Kris would throw these enormous parties for me, and force me to play the clarinet (I played clarinet for 12 years when I was a child and I was always terrible at it). I don’t remember all of the details, but it was bizarre and surreal.

C&C: You seem to have a lot of pride in the art community and historic significance of Erie – tell me a little about this place from which you come!

TM: Ahh yes, Erie is an amazing town. We’ve recently been dubbed the “Little Detroit” because of our sky-rocketing violent crime rates and gang related homicides. That makes me sad, because all of that is just a symptom of poverty and bad planning on the part of local government. Prior to the onslaught systemic poverty and constant brain-drain, due to the lack of gainful employment in Erie, it was a fantastic place to live and raise a family. My home town is a place with a rich history and defining landscapes. The Battle of Lake Erie was won in our waters during the War of 1812.

I went to Perry Elementary as a child and that is what really instilled my pride in local history. Perry Elementary is named after Commodore Oliver Hazzard Perry who commanded the naval fleet who took down the British which ultimately lead to us winning the war. Since my grade school was named after Perry, the students had the rare opportunity to participate in several events for the city and the Flagship Niagara (which incidentally was not Perry’s ship rather it was under Jessie Elliot’s command, but when Perry’s ship the Lawrence was severely damaged Perry as Commodore took over the command of the Niagara…I didn’t know that until I was an adult and found it interesting that the whole city celebrates Perry as commander of the Niagara when he really was not, but I guess that is kind of typical for Erie to do that sort of thing).

I do have love/hate relationship with Erie. It has this unbelievably beautiful landscape with these morbid names like Misery Bay, Graveyard Pond, Axe Murder Hollow, and so on. I really do think landscape defines the people in this town. We have severe weather patterns with exceptionally long brutal winters. There are however five seasons in this region not four. Like everywhere else we have winter, spring, summer, and fall, but we also have the season of snow and mud. The fifth is the most important to everyone who loves pancakes because the season of snow and mud is the only time of year that maple syrup is made, and the majority of maple syrup is produced in the Great Lakes region.

There’s a children’s novel Miracle on Maple Hill written by Virginia Sorensen about one of the local maple farms Hurry Hill Maple Farm. The novel won a Newbury Award, so the maple farm was turned into part museum and farm. It’s really a cool place. The arts are vibrant in Erie. I think it most has to do with the fact that for six months of the year we are buried under layers of snow and ice and the short time we aren’t buried our landscape it incredibly beautiful with a good mix of urban amenities and natural beauty. There is nothing more beautiful than a Lake Erie sunset (any time of year), and the beaches here roll on for miles.

It seems as though Erites have a thirst to create beautiful things paying homage to the beauty around us. We have everything you could imagine a larger city would have when it comes to arts and history. I’ve often referred to Erie as the Mecca of the Arts because artists are drawn to Erie. Not to mention we are smack in the middle of three prominent metropolitan areas: Buffalo, Cleveland, and Pittsburgh. It really is astounding how much art is created here from theatre to visual arts to poetry. I’m proud to live here and do my part to help preserve the heritage of my home town. I think the arts will indeed save Erie from the blight the politicians have allowed to happen here.

C&C: What’s the best job you ever had? Or the most memorable?

TM: I’m sort of a chameleon. I have has so many jobs in so many different fields. I guess the best paying job was being in Health Care Administration for a nursing home. I was paid more money than I knew how to spend, but I hated every second of it, so when I went on maternity leave, I just never went back. Being a mother is the best job I ever had, and I love every second of parenthood, but I think you want to know about employment.

My favorite place of employment has to be this garage I worked at as a grease monkey for a couple years. I loved it. You’d think being the only woman working with a bunch of mechanics would be uncomfortable at times, but it was like being the only female in a family (which I am very familiar with seeing that I have two sons and my husband at home). There was an ongoing joke among the guys that I was “the manliest man there.” I loved it there and would have stayed forever, but there was “corporate restructuring” and the bigwigs decided to give the axe to all the vaginas and brown people. I’m still a little bitter about it, but that’s the way corporate anything goes…I loathe Corporate America.

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

TM: I really don’t know. We were pretty poor when I was a kid. My dad split when I was like 4, and we never really had much. I had toys, but I was more interested in climbing trees and playing in the mud. I was a real tomboy. My favorite things were my books and journals. Ironically, the man who abused me gave me my first diary. I’ve kept every diary and journal I’ve written, but I don’t ever look at them. Maybe someday I will dig out the box from the basement to read my old journals and diaries, but I haven’t felt the need to do that. Growing up was tough, so I just kind of like keeping them safely boxed up in the basement.

C&C: Do you remember writing your first poem? Or one of your first?

TM: I don’t remember writing my first poem. I know I started writing poetry in second grade, when I got my first diary. It’s strange to think about, but the man who abused me when I was little would write “Roses are Red” poems to me, and that was where I first learned about poetry. I wrote a personal essay about that which instead of sending out for publication, I just posted on Facebook. In high school, I had some of my horrible, angst filled, poetry published in the school’s literary journal. I did have a flare for the drama and wrote some funny pieces too. My favorite bad high school poem is “Ode to Green Jello.”

image     Matilda’s Battle Waltz by Tracie Morell

Sheldon Lee Compton


Curiouser and Curiouser: I was really excited about asking you questions, but when I sat down to make the list I sort of blanked at first, and couldn’t help but flash to that Eddie Izzard Dress to Kill bit when he’s trying to talk to a girl: “Do you like bread? I’ve got knees.” So I’m going to just go with my instincts on the bread thing. DO you like bread? Is gluten a myth, like unicorns?

Sheldon Lee Compton: I love bread. I tried a no-carb diet last month and went about a week without bread while cooking at this restaurant that served these buttery hoagie buns with their sandwiches and it nearly killed me. I’ve cut back on it, though. Carbs are no good for me, personally. As for gluten, I have no idea about what the dangers or benefits or even what it really is well enough to like or dislike it. I like the idea of it being a myth like unicorns, though. I much prefer myth to reality. In fact, I’ve told a lot of my friends they should build their own myths up as large as they can. Tell stories about things they’ve done, true or not, to everyone they can. In fifty years, no one is going to know the difference, and you get to stand out on the family tree, give ancestry researchers a little something to get excited about.

C&C: I very much agree about personal myth. The truth is really inconsequential when compared to good family legend to pass along. Are you cooking up any special myths about yourself that you want to stick, to be told long after you’re gone?

SC: I’ve told a few different versions of things to a few different people, sure. And did so with myth in mind. If I wanted one to stick, it’s that I was one hell of a fighter when I was a young man. The truth is, I fought a lot, but didn’t win very much. Or did I? Well, I fought, anyways. Maybe. Maybe not. It’s slippery. I have scars I attribute to those fights, old breaks in a lot of bones. I have proof. Of scars and old breaks, at least.

C&C: Do you like to go to the movies?

SC: I used to love going to the movies. I mean I was in love with it. Nowadays I go less. It started because I’ve had two back surgeries and just couldn’t handle sitting that long without being able to pause the movie and, well, I wasn’t going to miss a single second, you know? But beyond that, most of the movies that come out at my local theater are just shit. It’s tragic. Remakes of movies and those done poorly. There is no reason to ever remake Poltergeist, you know what I’m saying? None. It was perfect. There’s nothing that a remake can possibly add to that film other than introducing it to another generation in a diluted form. Let these kids watch the original. Don’t fuck them over. It’s just sad. I watch Netflix and Hulu now, and less movies and more television shows. Shows like Dexter and Breaking Bad and Fringe and True Detective. These shows are where you can find actual storytelling talent on-screen today.

C&C: What TV show would you work on, if that turned out to be your fate?

SC:  I’d want to work on either the comeback seasons of either Deadwood or Carnivale. Not sure how much you know about these two shows, but one was a western historical about the town of Deadwood when it still an unincorporated mining community and not much law to go around. Great characters all around. I would like to put words in their mouths, write about that time when the west was still in formation. Carnivale revolved around a traveling freak show. Starred Michael Anderson and a bunch of other great actors. It was set during the dustbowl era and is a story of the fight between good and evil. The ultimate fight, like Stephen King’s The Stand fight between good and evil. But they turn everything on its head, and I would love to write for a show that’s willing to take that risk. Taking risks is what makes writing enjoyable for me. If there was no risk in it, I have no doubt I would have stopped a long, long time ago.

C&C: We come from pretty much the same area, I might be a little north of you, but we share a lot of culture. The culture and people as a whole get a lot of flak, from church to food to language – but little by little I do think we’re making some headway. In your opinion, what’s one of the most misrepresented customs in Appalachia?

SC: I’m honestly not sure. I spend so little time closely dealing with people outside of Eastern Kentucky that I couldn’t rightly say. I guess a lot of our funeral customs are misrepresented, though. The sitting up with the dead, the huge amounts of food that always line the tables, that sense of a jovial gathering of family during services, taking photographs of the dead. These are things I’m sure people not from here look at and must see as possibly disrespectful or, in the case of sitting up with the dead, a further indictment of our perceived lack of intelligence. Oh, they stay up all night at the funeral because of age-old superstitions. See, I told you these people were crazy. I could see people saying that about us, about these traditions. But they’re not looking closely enough and surely never getting to know the very people they are wrongly assuming things about.

C&C: I think one of the best things about funerals that’s still stuck around here is how all other cars still pull over to let the procession pass, and in the opposite lane edge over and stop, out of respect.

SC:  I like that show of respect, the pulling over or slowing down. It can be tricky on the four-lane (what we always call any section of Route 23 where I’m from) because of higher speeds and more traffic, but I like it. I like it because of the show of respect, and how it is mostly an anonymous gesture. I mean, the procession can’t really see you inside your car and, let’s face it, they have their mind on more important things. People will act respectful when facing another person, that’s not much of a stretch. But to take the time to show respect when you really can’t be seen or have anyone really acknowledge it, to me that is a different level of courtesy and humanness.

C&C: Do you have any tattoos?

SC: I surely do. I have six. One on my ring finger of the letter “H” for my great love Heather, one on my right forearm of a phoenix, one is a band of trilobites around my left forearm, one of a four-leaf clover with my son’s name on my left upper arm, one of Raphael’s cherub with my daughter’s name on my right upper arm, and one in memorial for my brother with his name on a license plate on the back of my right upper arm. None of them are color, so I get that good street cred come summertime.

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

SC: I have two cell phones. An old iPhone and a less older iPhone 4. On the one I can only make calls. On the other I can only text and get online if I’m around a place that has wi-fi. Why two? It’s a long story, but it has to do with changing phone plans and losing service on one and not being able to let it go. Unusual for me, not accepting change. So, two phones. One in my back pocket and the other in my front pocket.

C&C: Have you ever been punched in the face?

SC: I’ve been punched in the face several times, by several different types of people – women, men, best friends, enemies, strangers, a preacher once, a cousin once by my own request. Okay, I’ll tell a little more about the cousin one. Of all the times I’d been punched in the face I couldn’t remember sporting a nice, deep black eye. I saw a picture once of me with my brother and I had a big shiner in photograph, but I couldn’t remember the details of it, couldn’t remember getting to sport that prize around. So I asked my cousin to punch me directly on my lower eye socket once. This was about five years ago. He’s a legitimate third-degree black belt and he belted me. I wanted an Irish eye patch, one I could remember. What can I say?

C&C: What’s your favorite holiday?

SC: I like Thanksgiving a lot. It’s like Christmas without all the anxiety and traveling. Or at least less expectations. The general goal is to eat. And the food is amazing and there’s lots of it. I will say I’ve grown to like Father’s Day about as much though. It means I can make all the usual mistakes I make throughout the day without getting jumped on as much. I play the hubby and dad card on that day all the way. Also, I usually get some great gifts. I suddenly sound selfish and gluttonous. I suppose I am a little, then.


Sheldon Lee Compton

Revolution John

Jessica Leonard


Curiouser and Curiouser: Do you want to move in as my neighbor? And we could have coffee, and sit around the firepit in the evening and watch the kids chase lightning bugs and stuff? I have great plans, with the house next door reserved for Craig, across the road for my sister, and two friends I want to put cabins in the woods at the back of our property. But the other side is totally open.

Jessica Leonard: YES!!! In fact, I didn’t realize it before now, but I think that’s what I’ve always wanted. Every summer night can be heavy with friends and family enjoying life and being together. And when the winter is at its worst, there will be people readily available to share quilts and complain about the bleakness and watch bad movies with. Have you ever heard that Joni Mitchell song Sisotowbell Lane? That’s how I imagine it.

C&C: Exactly! Just like in Sisotowbell Lane. All the good neighbors and sense of community without the noise and suffocation of urban life. You grew up in the country, yes? And our grandfathers were both tobacco farmers. Tell me about your grandparents.

JL: Yes. I lived on a tobacco farm, which was pretty magical. I had a lot of freedom and space to grow and adventure. My grandparents were very hard workers. I think it comes from growing up during the Great Depression. You just had to work hard. There was no other alternative.

My grandmother was sort of stern. She kept me and my uncle in line. She’s a worrier and sensible and very strong. My grandfather was a dreamer. He was the one who wanted to spend all their savings on traveling. He was very funny and personable – everyone liked him. He passed away when I was a sophomore in high school.

Here’s a story I want to tell about my grandfather. They settled for a good amount of time in California – in San Diego county -while their daughters were growing up. And then it was time to move back to Kentucky. They both had parents that were getting older and needed them and my grandfather had the idea to be a farmer. He wanted to build his own house (and he was good with this sort of thing, it wasn’t crazy for him to want to build a house) on a big chunk of land and farm it and live there forever. And one day the family was at the beach. My grandpa went out and drew his dream house in the sand. He drew out the entire house plan right there. And that’s what he later built. That’s the sort of person he was. He was the type of person to draw his house plan in the sand. And even though the house wasn’t what my grandmother had pictured, she had no choice but to say yes because of the look in his eyes as he showed her this plan for them. That’s who they were. He dreamed and she planned and together it made a good life.

C&C: Tell me about Frances Stein.

JL: It’s a movie! In my town, we have a local horror movie production company called Big Biting Pig and Frances Stein will be their 9th full length movie. It’s the story of a mad scientist, Frances Stein. I can’t give much away, but there is talk of reanimating human bodies and sucking the memories out of people’s heads – mad scientist stuff! And while I said they do horror movies, I’d call this one something more along the lines of a thriller.

My character is Jayne Ellis. She’s a brilliant young scientist who will do anything to get what she wants – and that thing usually involves some heavy flirting, sex, and manipulation. She is not a role model. Bad things happen to her. And I have to say, the bad things have been my favorite part of filming. There is a good chunk of time when I am tied up in a basement. I’m trapped in a chair – like, for real. Tied down, wrists zip tied, the whole shebang. And the set is built in this big garage – what used to be a bike shop – and there was no air conditioning and it was about a zillion degrees and I was physically miserable a lot of the time. But it was FUN! It is the closest I feel like I will ever get to being a Final Girl. Being terrified on film has been the best experience. I’m in there sweating like a whore in church and screaming through duct tape and it’s like a horror fan’s dream come true! I feel like Sally Hardesty crossed with Jess Bradford. I love the physical parts, the terror.


C&C: I know you’re planning for Halloween. What’s on the schedule so far? Is it your family’s Big Holiday of the year?

YAY HALLOWEEN! I do a big production for Thanksgiving and Christmas as well, but Halloween is the most fun. We decorate the inside of the house and the outside. Jonathan wants to do a full-fledged haunted house in there, but I keep telling him that’s not entirely realistic. Maybe one day.

Jonathan is very up in the air right now. He changes his mind on costumes every other day, so I have to wait until much closer to the date before doing anything for him. Last year he was a zombie. That was easy and I mostly just had to learn how to make convincing zombie makeup, I was pretty proud of it – that’s just toilet paper and a facial mask (and face paint, of course). The year before he was Perry the Platypus from Phineas and Ferb, which was a lot of fun to make. And lots of people recognized him. He loved that.

Sean is the first partner I’ve had that will dress up with me, so that’s thrilling. Last year we did Ash and Mia from The Evil Dead and the remake -respectively. I was really proud of that idea. Everyone knew who he was, I think people didn’t get mine. This year we’ve settled on an Inglourious Basterds theme. He’s going to be Lt Aldo Raines and I’m going to be Shosanna. I get to buy a blonde wig and Sean has promised to shave his moustache accordingly. I haven’t gotten a wig in forever. I’m excited about that.

C&C: Do you believe in ghosts?

JL: Yeah, I do. And I could go on for hours. Firstly because I’ve got it in my head now that it’s scientific. Because energy can’t just disappear, it has to go somewhere. So when you die what happens to the energy of you? I don’t know, but something. So I believe honestly in these ghosts that are like impressions. Like, if you see a ghost of a woman walking from one room to the next over and over like on a loop. That’s not a conscious being, but it’s an impression left by a person’s energy, doing what that person always did. That’s what I most honestly believe.

But then there is the time I saw a ghost. It was at a friend’s slumber party. We were playing hide and seek in the dark – about five of use – and I won’t bore you with the layout of the house and all that, but the gist is this big green glowing light came from one room and moved at varying speeds from one girl to the next. It was about beach ball sized. And the pattern it moved in was very random. Sharp angles and curved lines. No one believed us, of course, but every one of us saw the same thing.

Ghost stories are the horror movies that actually scare me. I don’t know why, but they do. They scare the crap out of me. I love it. And I love the cheesy ghost hunting shows and all of that. Because it’s just more fun. I don’t know what goes on after you die. But whatever it is, I hope it’s fun. So yeah, ghosts.

C&C: When you were little, did you want to be anything when you grew up?

JL: Yeah, the first thing I remember really wanting to be was a dog walker. I’ve always loved dogs and it seemed like the best possible idea. My mom squashed that dream pretty quickly, explaining I wouldn’t make any money. But when I got older – probably around 8th grade – I thought about it some more and did a little math and realized it isn’t as crazy as it sounds. In about 5th grade I decided I was going to be a writer and in 6th grade I wrote my first “book” in the vein of the RL Stein Fear Street books I was reading at the time. I don’t still have it but I remember the basic idea was about a girl with a split personality. And of course the other personality had Carrie-like powers of the mind. And the main character was named Hope. And I titled it Hopes Gone. Which is the best title I’ve ever come up with.

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

JL: Probably my Princess of Power toys – aka She-Ra. I was a different character from She-Ra for 3 straight years on Halloween. For my birthday one year my mom bought me She-Ra’s horse, Swift Wind. And that very night I left it out in the family room and our dog ate it. Just ate it completely. And of course those kinds of things re expensive, so there was no replacing it. It was my biggest regret in life for a long time. I relived that in my head quite a bit.

C&C: I remember Swift Wind, I was a drooling fan of She-Ra and the toys, too. Especially the horses and their awesome shininess and removable saddle/wing accessories. How long has it been since you’ve seen the She-Ra cartoon? What was your favorite cartoon?

JL: I can’t remember the last time I watched She-Ra. Although maybe that isn’t true. Maybe a year ago I saw that they had a lot of the episodes on Youtube and I watched one then. I should do that again. I remember watching Smurfs and Scooby Doo and Fraggle Rock. Those were all good. I didn’t like the old Looney Tunes stuff. I always thought that was boring. Just different ways to kill a toon.

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

JL: A scrap bit of paper that says: thick crust, red onion, green peppers, garlic.

C&C: What was the first book you read that made a huge blazing imprint on you?

Okay, when I was in the first grade there was this book called The Golden Name Day by Jennie D. Lindquist. It was in our school library and all my friends had checked it out and read it. It was a chapter book. And reading it was almost a status thing, I think because it was so long and we were so young. I was a really bad reader then. My mom read me books and I loved stories, but I personally couldn’t read very well. Words didn’t work for me then. So I was very apprehensive about this, because according to all the other girls, they read this big book themselves. Now, I wonder if that’s true. But it doesn’t matter because at the time I believed it. And I was very susceptible to peer pressure I guess, so I checked the book out. And I didn’t read it all myself. I read some of it and my mom would read me some of it at night before bed. But I got through it and I thought it was wonderful. It was just fantastic.

About seven or eight years ago I thought about that book and decided it’d be nice to have. So I searched the internet and found out the book is no longer in print and getting a copy meant spending a minimum of about fifty dollars. It was a collectible. But when I get an idea to have something or do something I can get a little obsessive. So I kept looking and finally I found an old library copy online for maybe fifteen dollars and I bought it immediately. I read it over again and it was still pretty magical. If you can find it, I recommend it.


Don’t Call It a Comeback

image   The time has come – I’ve connected with some new writers, and have learned more about writers I already know, and can no longer satisfy my curiosity through natural Internet conversatin, Google, and reading their written works.

Thus, Curiouser and Curiouser returns for Round Three! Interview postings will resume on Tuesday July 7th.

Below is a list of confirmed authors to take us through Summer and into the beginning of Fall. Of course there will be a few late announcements and a wild card or two, but this should be enough to help you refill your goodreads to-read list and close any gaps in your reading schedule.

In no particular order, Curiouser and Curiouser’s Round 3:

Tracie Morell

Damien Angelica Walters

Sheldon Lee Compton

Usman Tanveer Malik

Gabino Iglesias

Jessica Leonard

Michael David Wilson

Ellie Ann Sodrestrom

W.P/Bill Johnson

Rebecca Jones-Howe

Rob Hart

It’s good to be back! -Alice

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