Tag Archives: Interview

Damien Angelica Walters



Curiouser and Curiouser: Tell me about your fascination with the painting “Flaming June” by Leighton.

Damien Angelica Walters: I saw her for the first time on a greeting card when I was in my mid-twenties. The card itself was one of those any-occasion blank cards, and the colors, the imagery, captured me and haven’t let go since. I bought the card and kept it on my desk, and then a few months later, I found a larger image on a calendar. I bought it, carefully cut out the page, and framed it. I found a larger print a few months after that, which replaced the smaller calendar image, and later, found one even larger. I paid a stupid amount of money to have her professionally framed and she’s been on my living room wall ever since. Something in her speaks to my heart and soul, that’s all I know.


C&C: Those are the best kinds of connection to art, I think: the visceral, pure and unexplainable kind. Are there any other particular pieces/artists that you’ve been drawn to this way?
DW: John Reinhard Weguelin’s Lesbia is another one. While I don’t have quite the same visceral reaction as I do with Flaming June, I am still drawn to it in an inexplicable way and I’ve a print hanging in my office. With respect to more modern work, I have a print of Galen Dara’s Medusa in my office as well, but that has an emotional resonance for me because she created it to accompany my story “Always, They Whisper” in Lightspeed Magazine.


C&C: What do you have in your pockets? A lucky charm? Do you have a lucky charm?

DW: Alas, my yoga pants have no pockets, and I don’t have a lucky charm, per se, but I do have several xenomorph figures on my desk and a plush facehugger hanging in the doorway to my office.


C&C: How do you feel about musicals?

DW: Pauses to sing. “Memory, all alone in the moonlight, I can smile at the old days. I was beautiful then. I remember a time I knew what happiness was. Let the memory live again.” I’m sorry, what was the question?


C&C: Wow!! That was a quick and definitive answer. Are you a fan of theatre at large?
DW: I’m a fan, but not necessarily a huge fan. I was very fortunate to see Jesus Christ Superstar at the Lyric Opera House in Baltimore in the 90s. Ted Neeley, who originally played the role of Jesus on Broadway in 1971, reprised his role, and it was an amazing show.

My daughter was in the theater program at school and played Cinderella in Into the Woods, and I was able to witness not only the performance, but all the hard work beforehand. It gave me a different sort of appreciation for theater.


C&C: Do you sleep in socks?

DW: Nope, nope, nope. Just the thought makes me uncomfortable. I prefer to sleep unencumbered by fabric.


C&C: Do you have pets?

DW: I have two pit bulls, Kane and Ripley, both rescues. They’re seventy-five and fifty pounds, respectively, and while Ripley is a lap dog, Kane waits until you get up from the sofa, and then he steals your spot.


C&C: Do you like to color?
DW: Not really, but I like to doodle in my notebook when I’m brainstorming a story.


C&C: What do you doodle when brainstorming?

DW: Typically I doodle geometric shapes. Not very exciting, I know.


C&C: Have you broken any bones or ever had stitches?


DW: I’ve never broken a bone, but I’ve had stitches. The first time, I was two and had a tumor removed from the side of my neck. The story goes it took 200 stitches and given the size of the scar, I believe it. The second time, I was sixteen and put my hand/arm through a window (not on purpose!). The largest cut, on my forearm, took seventeen stitches to close, I can’t remember how many stitches the cut on my index finger required, but I had another on my forearm that only took one, notable only because it was done without anesthetic. Why bother with one needle stick when it will only take two to sew it up? And lastly, I had surgery on two toes (I had bits of bone removed) about fifteen years ago and had stitches then, but honestly, that’s a boring story, unless I mention that I was able to watch the surgery, which was neat.



Chris Deal


Curiouser and Curiouser: What’s your favorite animal and why?

Chris Deal: I have a lot of favorite animals, just depends what animal I’m thinking about at any one time. First, dogs. Why? Dogs are great. They love you no matter how you feel about yourself. Take care of a dog and they’ll take care of you. Related, but wolves are just cool. Second, bears, mainly because I want to ride a bear into battle. Also, would you consider bigfoot an animal? I’ve been wanting to write a bigfoot piece for years, and have the basics down in my head, but I just haven’t gotten to it. I guess I should note that I believe in bigfoot unconditionally. There will never be proof it isn’t out there somewhere. There are still a lot of places man has never stepped foot in on this earth, so there will always be room out there for him.

C&C: Bigfoot is awesome. We have a lot of Bigfoot enthusiasts in my area. Do you believe the Yeti is to Bigfoot what polar bears are to say, brown bears or Grizzlies? And what would be your ideal Bigfoot encounter? I know you wouldn’t shoot one.

CD: I think, yeah, it could be a case of two separate species in the same genus, or maybe the same species just in a different landscape. There are a lot of real out there theories about bigfoot, stuff I don’t truck with. Bigfoot being alien drones, trans-dimensional shaman type of stuff. Personally, if I were to encounter one, I’m hoping it to be a situation of where I see it from a bit of a distance. Close enough to really see, but not close enough for it to get my scent and react as a cornered animal.

C&C: Do you believe in astral projection? It’s the only explanation I have for the way you seem to be in all different places all over the world and so accurately write about them.

CD: I believe in a lot of weird things, but astral projection was never really one of them. I think the idea is possible, as in an infinite universe most things are, but I’ve never had an experience with astral projection or NDEs or psychic anything. I guess, when it comes to writing from all over the world, there is a lot of research involved, the foods, the lingo, the places, the history. I won’t write about a place I am not interested in.

C&C: Since moving to Chicago from North Carolina, what are some of the dialect differences you’ve observed? I, for example, do not believe “toque” is an actual word.

CD: They call soda “pop”. That’s weird. It’s either soda or Coke, even if we’re talking Sprite or Pepsi, it’s a Coke.

C&C: This interview has been waiting to happen for like three years. Between your lack of pushiness and my lack of follow-through, we’ve got a lot of information to get through. What’s different now than in 2012, if I’d have interviewed you then?

CD: I’ve been working the day job a lot since 2012, and my writing has slowed down, but I’ve taken that time to be more focused, to plot and push myself to be better. I focus on individual sentences a lot more, trying to get them perfect before I go to the next. That might be a bad approach, and sometimes I try and just push everything out in one sitting. I’m always working on something or another, though, mainly this novel that I think I am afraid of. It’ll sit for weeks and I’ll come back and tweak it, add a little more. I know where it’s going, but getting there, being true to these characters, that’s been a bit like pulling teeth. Part of me thinks I need to shelve it for and dive into another idea, but I want to see if I can get it done. Confidence is a big hurdle when it comes to writing for me, trying to do the best I possibly can, but I’m my biggest critic. Since 2012 I have published Incarnations with Broken River Books, which is run the highly awesome J. David Osborne. That put me on a label that has published heroes of mine, guys I respect endlessly. I still feel like a pretender at this, but I’m striving to kill that feeling. We’ll see if that ever happens. Incarnations, though, was a sort of greatest hits, the best stories I wrote, those I am proud of. Mostly longer pieces for me, a few real short ones. I’ve been trying to break away from flash fiction, but a few pieces still get written.

C&C: I think Nicholas Sparks is maybe the only writer who doesn’t feel like a pretender sometimes, so not always having full-on confidence in yourself is a good thing. But pretending is how we get there, right? This is a clumsy segueway, but what were your favorite pretend-games to play as a kid?

CD: Honestly, I pretended a lot. Still do. I would pretend like I was in the X-Men or X-Files and come up with stories. In elementary school when they first gave us access to computers, I’d get in trouble for using the word processor too much as opposed to the math games or Oregon Trail. I even would come up with scenarios and have my mom type them out for me an this amazing typewriter she had. I loved that thing, it was the most amazing piece of technology to me when I was a kid.

C&C: How did you meet your wife?

CD: We lived around a mile apart at one point but never met, it was only through friends I made that I later met her. She had moved it Illinois and was visiting her sister back in North Carolina, and that’s how we met. I was infatuated with her at first sight.

C&C: Do you collect anything?

CD: I used to collect coins. I don’t actively look for them any more, or invest in them any longer, but I keep my collection close at hand. Nothing too valuable, I just looked for pieces from interesting countries or times. I have several Soviet era pieces, pre-Castro Cuban, a few dirty slabs of metal from the Roman times you could get in batches off Ebay that you can just barely make out the faces of long dead kings. Several great Mexican pesos. Years back I worked in a coffee shop, and one of my regulars was a great old Navy vet, and he took to bringing in coins he had duplicates of, which included a Nazi nickel, not sure the right name, but it’s interesting just for the morbidity of it. For a while I had a decent series of Silver Eagles going, but hard times called and they had to go.

C&C: Can you shoot? Let’s talk about guns and stuff.

CD: Guns are great if you know enough to respect them. Trigger discipline, knowing well enough not to point a gun at anything unless you’re going to point the trigger, check, check, and recheck if it’s loaded. Even if you just unloaded it, check again. Because of Illinois laws, I can’t go shooting until I get a FOID card, which I’m patiently waiting for. Guns were always a part of my family, mainly just to shoot and practice with, protection. We never hunted. My dad saw no need for it. We fished all the time though. It was just something we were expected to know, how to shoot. My dad had a few friends with land we could go out on and set up targets, try out pistols or rifles. I always was getting my dad to take me to the gun shows, up until I noticed the weird stuff that was there. KKK coins, racist books, people asking if we were okay with how the country is going. I couldn’t go back to one after that, it just lost all the fun. Still, once that FOID card comes in I’m thinking of getting a shotgun or a maybe a Glock to practice with. Turns out you can’t even by ammo up here without one of them cards.

C&C: Gun shows ARE bizarre. It’s just rows of white dudes at folding tables wearing camo in the heat of some warehouse, selling laser sights and weird bullets and talking about End Days. Do you think we’re coming to the end of our Apocalypse fetish? It’s been awhile since Y2K didn’t take us all out, and zombies have peaked in pop culture, do you think people are giving up on the pulled-plug and moving on to other fantasy scenarios?

CD: There will always be a part of society that is interested, if not obsessed, with the idea of end times. It’s a major factor in religion, and at the same time it lets those who are tired of the day to day grind to think about what they would do if they had the total freedom that the end of things, were they to survive of course. We’ll always have books and movies about the end of things, it’s one of the most popular video game genres as well, what with Fallout 4 finally hitting the shelves just a couple months after the Mad Max game. Hell, I’m currently neck deep in Dying Light, a post-apocalypse game with zombies. Post-apocalyptic themes seem perfect for video games, in that it is a bit more direct in the fantasy fulfillment. Zombies themselves may move to the back of the horror pack, but there are so many holes in the living dead for us to insert our fears that they will never go away. I really think, if anything, we’re going to have more post-apocalypse fiction than less of it, but there will be some other idea, more likely old than new, that will come around and capture our imaginations for a while. All I know is I want to see a lot more bigfoot fiction. Next chance you get, ask Stephen Graham Jones to write some.


Gabino Iglesias


Curiouser and Curiouser: You posted online recently about “tiny masterpieces.” Tell me what you were thinking of. Have you thought much of Victorian eye portraits? That’s immediately what I assumed you meant.

Gabino Iglesias: Victorian eye portraits are wonderfully creepy. I wasn’t thinking about them then, but I’m definitely thinking about them now. Anyway, I was thinking about really small things that are masterpieces and we tend to more or less ignore because of their size/duration/apparent insignificance in some contexts: a superb guitar solo, a 55-word story that leaves you breathless, a piece of quartz, a really good brownie, tiny plastic dinosaurs, etc. The Big Picture is important, but if we forget to stop and be marveled by the colors and strange appendages on a bug once in a while, then we lose context and balance. Yeah, tiny masterpieces are cool.


C&C: Do you keep and collect tiny things? Do you have tiny boxes filled with tiny stones or hands from watches or human hair?

GI: The only thing I really collect is books, but I’ve also been known to pick up and bring home weird small things. Shiny rocks, dry insect carcasses, marbles, old keys, etc. I used to have a lot of random stuff and parting ways with my treasures was hard, but then I moved to the US with an old laptop, my guitar, and a few shirts and leaving stuff behind became easier. Now I pick things up and bring them home, but then get rid of it when I need space for more books.


C&C: Do you take photographs as much as you write?

GI: For a few years, I photographed much more than I wrote. I’ve worked as a photojournalist a few times and my photographic work received a prize by the Instituto de Cultura Puertorriquena many years ago and was represented by Art Connectors in Austin for a while. Now I do it for fun once in a while and write more than I shoot. I’ve been riding the bus for 7 years now, and one day it just clicked: I can share some of the stuff I see with the world using just my phone. Since then, I give folks things like awesome piles of garbage, broken things, and nature.


C&C: How do you feel about graffiti?

GI: A few years ago I thought of graffiti as either artistic expression or ugly attempts at it (depending on the quality of the work). Then I worked at a tattoo shop and the main artist was also a painter and graffiti artists. He brought books to the shop and I ended up reading about the history of graffiti in New York and things like he evolution of lettering and tagging wars. Now I always try to read graffiti as well as enjoy it. I also somewhat dislike cities or parts of cities where there is no street art.

C&C: Who was your first crush?

GI: She had no name. It was a brunette gymnast (model?) in a sportsy folder I got for school. She was perfect.


C&C: Are you afraid of any animals? Why or why not?

GI: I have a healthy respect for some animals. I’ve been too close to a shark and have seen what some snake bites can do, so I respect and don’t mess with the space between us. Every time I see a video of some idiot getting thrown into the air by a buffalo because he got too close or losing a limb to a crocodile because he or she thought they could be faster and put up a show, I giggle because stupidity should always be painful.


C&C: What exactly does that mean – “too close to a shark”?

GI: I was spearfishing near some rocks in a place called Icacos. There was a very tall reef wall. I was going around it and suddenly spotted what I’m almost sure was a blue shark. It was probably somewhere between 8 and 9 feet, but it looked more like a 20 feet monster to me. Not gonna try to guess how close we came to touch, but it was way too close for comfort. He turned right and moved away. I remember staying put as it swam away and hearing my heart pounding in my ears. I wasn’t really in the mood for more fishing that day.


C&C: Can you play any musical instruments?

GI: Literature and music are the only two constants in my life. That’s good because they’re also two of the things I care most about. I’ve been playing guitar since I was 15 or so. I love to play bongos and can do a decent job on congas. I’d love to play the piano, but that requires the kind of time I don’t have.

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

GI: A pen, random pieces of paper, and my eye drops. Oh, and secrets.


C&C: Cake or pie? And why?

GI: Cake. Cake and a glass of milk. Folks are too damn fond of putting fruits and other assorted crap in pies. Give me fresh fruit and then cake. Keep your pie, especially your pumpkin pie. I have a thing about pumpkin-everything culture. I won’t get into that because then angry sorority girls who love their PSLs will come for my head, but yeah, cake all the way. Cake is soft and moist and you can put stuff inside and top of it. You can also cut it without crap falling out and then having to chase your dessert all over the plate. Plus, frosting. Cake wins.

Thanks for letting me talk about cake!




Gabino Iglesias

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

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.