Friday, September 22, 2017

ROB REYNOLDS

I grew up in an Air Force family, moving seven times in my first thirteen years. I attended the University of Florida (BS journalism, MA English, MEd education) and taught at Gainesville High for four years before attending a seminary near Boston. I subsequently lost my faith and began writing creatively. My stories have appeared in the Tampa Review, Mad Hatter’s Review, Eunoia Review, flashquake,.Vestal Review, and Kennesaw Review. My novel Wire Mother Monkey Baby comes out in November from outpost19, a small, independent publisher in San Francisco.

From our brief conversation I find a thread of similarity in that as a writer you want attention, but “not too much attention.” This is something I find many writers share in common. Maybe it’s related to the exhibitionist/introvert impulse, a pull both ways that creates creative tension perhaps. Can you speak to this?

Having my work recognized is attention enough for me. It’s too tempting for writers to want the limelight on themselves rather than the work. Our celebrity-oriented culture is all too willing to provide it. The ideas for my novels came to me in dreams, and much of my other work is influenced by things outside of conscious control. It would feel dishonest to take too much credit. I mostly sublimate my exhibitionist leanings into my writing, mostly through humor – though occasionally a manic side sneaks out in real life.

Do you set goals for yourself as a writer? If so, what kinds of goals?

My only goal is try to write every day. I’m not very good at keeping it. Still, I find that if
my writing time has been productive, being away from it for a few days is often productive, too. That deeper place where a story originates has had time to ruminate, and it weighs in. I end up having a better sense of where the story is going, what it’s about, or an answer to a specific problem I didn’t have before.

Is writing for you a solitary process? Again, the writers I know who are also extraverts struggle with the solitary aspect, yet are driven to write, which is by nature, solitary. Are you as comfortable in your writing space as you are reading in public? Do you feel the same person writes who also reads in public? If not, please elaborate on any persona you feel you have had to evolve as a writer.

The act of living feels like a solitary process to me. I’m an introvert, probably even more anti-social and reclusive than most. I don’t work a real job, so I struggle to find meaningful time around people. I go to cafes to write in order not to overdo the isolation. I’ve only read in public a couple of times, but that will change when my novel comes out. I’m hoping to channel my Inner Clown, my more extroverted side, and bring to life some of the humor that comes out in my writing.

Where, if anywhere, do you see the role of spirituality in your writing today? I understand you were religious at one point in your life. How has spiritual progression/transformation affected your work as a writer?

I’m attempting to convey something more spiritual in the novel I’m writing now. There’s a lot of anger in my first novel. It holds a mirror to some disconcerting trends in our society, courtesy of advanced technology and an increasingly unfettered capitalism. My new work reflects my advancing age, and distance from a disillusioning experience at an Evangelical seminary. I try to show an individual who, although flawed and suffering, manages to find purpose and meaning by tapping into something higher. It’s more hopeful.


                                                       
                                                       ROB REYNOLDS

Friday, September 15, 2017

C L BLEDSOE

CL Bledsoe is the author of sixteen books, most recently the poetry collection Trashcans in Love and the flash fiction collection Ray’s Sea World. He’s been published in hundreds of magazines, newspapers, and anthologies and has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize thirteen times, Best of the Net three times, and has had two stories selected as Notable Stories of the year by Story South’s Million Writers award. Originally from rural Arkansas, he currently lives in northern Virginia with his daughter. He blogs at NotAnotherTVDad.com.

Like several of the writers I’ve interviewed you seem to revel in diversity, having written novels, flash, poetry and reviews. If you could only write in one genre, what would it be? Why?

This is a tough question. My knee-jerk reaction is to say poetry, because it’s the genre I started with way back in middle school and the one I think I do best. When I give readings, I usually read poetry unless I’m specifically selling a novel. Then, I usually do a mix. I get excited about novels, flash fiction, memoir, plays, and essays, but I’m most comfortable and most driven by poetry. Novels are my second favorite form. I’m pretty much always writing a novel. Every so often, I’ll take time off from that and focus on poetry for a month or two. I used to write a lot of reviews, but I’ve become much less interested in them lately.

What are your main concerns? What role does magic play in your work?

My father used to say that sometimes, you have to laugh to keep from crying. Humor is a tool to expose great, often difficult truths in a more palatable way. I don’t always write humorous things, but I do focus on that turn of surprise, the joie de vivre that hopefully draws us out of the doldrums of everyday problems to re-examine our lives and reactions to the world. (For me, this is magic, although I do also sometimes write about literal magic.) I use myself and my own experiences as a template for this exploration, because I am forever forgetting my way to the house of enlightenment. My work isn’t meant to lecture on ethical principles, but it is deeply ethical in its attempts to figure out how to navigate the complexities of modern American society while being a decent human being, juggling questions of race, privilege, class, and personal accountability with the idea of maintaining joie de vivre. I explore these themes through poetry, novels, short fiction, plays, and essays.

Arkansas, where you grew up, is the subject of your poetry collection, Riceland. What roles do place, tradition, and your working class origins play in your writing?

I grew up on a rice and catfish farm in eastern Arkansas. We were not well off, but considering that the Mississippi River Delta, where I’m from, is one of the poorest places in America, we did better than many. But it wasn’t an easy life. I’ve lived in a few different places and had a lot of jobs over the years. When I was younger, I hid my origins. I wouldn’t write about where I grew up. I even got rid of my accent because I didn’t want to be perceived as a hick. At the same time, I’ve maintained a healthy skepticism of people and organizations that kick down because I’ve seen something of what it is to be on the bottom.

There were many things about my childhood that I’m glad to have left behind. Racism, poverty, religious extremism. When I was about five, my mother became sick with Huntington’s disease, which attacks the nervous system and the brain. Because of this and the fallout from it, my childhood wasn’t easy. Riceland chronicles some of this. So, for me, Arkansas is tainted by these experiences.

But at the same time, there was something magical about my childhood. We lived on a ridge overlooking a big stock pond, surrounded by pasture land. My sister had a vivid imagination, and we inhabited the valleys and woods with spirits and mythology.     

As a writer, how do you view the future? Who do you write for, meaning who do you think of as your audience when you write?

It’s hard not to fear the future. Maybe it has always been like that. I’m sure that people feared the future during and after all the major wars we’ve had, during the Depression, during the Civil Rights Movement when people were being assassinated left and right. I am too pragmatic to think that the future will be very different from the past.

I haven’t written a ton of speculative “near future” fiction, but I have written some. To be honest, it’s pretty bleak, playing out scenarios I see starting today. There are a handful of flash fiction pieces in my collection Ray’s Sea World about this. Back in my hometown in Arkansas, and in many cities across the country, factory work has dried up because of technological advances and outsourcing. A person used to be able to support a family on a factory wage. Those jobs are harder to find. Many of them have been replaced with retail and customer service-type jobs, but a person can’t support themselves, much less a family, working at McDonald’s or Wal Mart. So quality of life has suffered. What’s even worse is that these jobs are also being replaced with technology. McDonald’s is putting order-taking robots in their restaurants. Wal Mart put in self-checking lanes a long time ago. Plenty of other jobs are on the chopping block in the near future. So, the future looks bleak for the poor.

I’m an educated, middle-class white guy, so I suppose I write for people like me. But I also have a deep mistrust of anything that smacks of elitism. So who does that leave? I would like to think I write for people who work too much and still don’t make enough money to get ahead, who would rather laugh than complain, who like cheesy movies and pizza.

What’s your main peeve/issue about the publishing process? 

The pay and the waiting.

                                                        CL BLEDSOE

Friday, September 8, 2017

WOLFGANG CARSTENS

Wolfgang Carstens is the author of numerous poetry collections, publisher at Epic Rites Press, and organizer and host of Poets Underground, a poetry show that celebrates and showcases the best and brightest authors currently working the marrow of contemporary poetry. He lives in Canada with his wife, five kids, grandson, dog, mortgage, and death.  His poetry is printed on the backs of unpaid bills.  More information at www.wolfgangcarstens.com.

Your poetry seeks meaning in the commonplace and everyday. It’s earthy, simple and profound. One stanza in “The Abyss Gazes Also” is:

“as my son runs back outside to play
this question of nothingness
surfaces like an ugly, unseen monster
and i think:
​if only it were that simple”

Do you see yourself as existentialist? What I’ve read of your poetry leans in that direction. If not, what, if any, would be the philosophy you live by?

The human situation amounts to searching for meaning in an essentially meaningless world. There is neither internal nor external value to human life. The only value my life has is the value I place upon it—and this value does not apply to other human lives. Value is a personal struggle—it (in my estimation) involves living to one’s highest potential—and therefore is in a constant state of jeopardy. If I value my life because I am a writer, for example, and a stroke prevents me from performing this activity, I must begin searching for new ways to value my life. To further the point, I add that although writing is an important activity in my life, the act itself is essentially meaningless. Why botherto leave written words for others to find? Who cares? My words won’t save me, you, or anybody else. So really—what are we talking about here if not beautiful ways to escape the bullets, bombs, and boredom?

Humans are funny animals—yes, we are animals—part of the animal kingdom—subject to the same deterministic laws that govern all animals. We like to believe that we are better than animals—smarter—more advanced—with some divine purpose—but that’s only a fiction. There’s no God, Heaven, equality, or free will. Democracy is—and likely always will be—one of the worst forms of government.  Our most cherished beliefs are illusions. We are creatures who have built an entire system of beliefs upon a foundation of illusion. Even written language, which sets us apart from other animals, and the one thing that gives my life purpose, is utterly and completely pointless. Now look—how easily I argue myself out of existence.

we

are born.

we
suffer.

we
die.

life
is essentially
meaningless.

birthdays
and funerals

are
inconsequential.

what
is in between
should be
celebrated.

—from Enjoy Oblivion

After saying all of this, I should add that I love living. I am (to quote Kerouac) “mad to live.” I surround myself with others who are mad to live—who live each day ferociously. I have neither patience nor time for negative people. I loathe complainers. “I am in so much pain,” they say. “Yeah,” I answer, “when you’re dead you won’t feel anything.” “I am so old,” they say. “Yeah,” I answer, “at least you’re not under the ground.” Life is a gift—the search for meaning is a gift—it is yours to embrace or squander as you see fit. The only piece of advice I can offer is to live today because tomorrow never comes.

it’s not rocket science.

all you have to do
is make every day
count

so when death comes
to take you,

you have no unfinished business,
your loved ones know exactly
how you feel,
and your bucket list
is empty.

no regrets.

the end will arrive
soon enough.

—from Bulletproof

Did you choose poetry? Or did it choose you?

Poetry chose me. I started writing poetry when I was eight years old. When all the other kids were drawing cars and robots, I was trying to string two words together. I don’t know why it happened. Language and communication have always played an important role in my life. Writing poetry is an activity I have been trying to perfect for almost forty years.

A poetry magnet of mine was recently released through the infamous  e.s.h. Poetry Project. The poem warrants reprinting here:

how to write poetry

sink the pencil
into the marrow
of your bones;

extract
the good stuff;

leave
a bit of your life
on the page.

—from Factory Reject

Anybody who wants one of these magnets can contact me through www.wolfgangcarstens.com and I will send you one. The point and purpose of the poetry project is to bring poetry to new and strange places through free distribution.

What led you to publishing? And why do you think Epic Rites Press is so highly regarded and respected, even by mainstream poets and writers?

I had been reading poetry online by Rob Plath. I contacted Plath through social media and ordered every one of his books. When they arrived, I devoured them. His most recent book at the time was Tapping Ashes in the Dark (Lummox Press, 2008)—the poetry painted a picture of Plath as a dying man. Now, here was a writer who was clearly a genius, whom I believed was a dying man, and yet every one of his books were no longer than 25 pages. They were mere pamphlets. It didn’t sit right with me. One night, after a few too many shots of Tequila, I contacted Plath and said “Let’s put out a real book of your poetry—a monster book.” Plath responded immediately. Nine months later, the monster 300 page volume, A Bellyful of Anarchy, was released through Epic Rites Press. Since then, I have been fortunate enough to release books by some of the best writers currently working the marrow of contemporary poetry: John Yamrus, William Taylor Jr., Bill Gainer, Todd Cirillo, Matt Borczon, Brenton Booth, to name only a few.

If Epic Rites Press has achieved cult-like status in mainstream and underground publishing, it’s because readers have come to trust and expect something raw, pure, and primal from these books. That trust between reader and publisher is paramount. I have been publishing for 10 years—the only reason I have been fortunate enough to continue is because my readers trust my decisions. They open up their wallets and purchase new books by authors they’ve never read before because they know I am not going to disappoint them. A couple of stories here:

I have been approached three times by famous people who have wanted me to publish their books. All three instances came with hefty monetary compensation. One instance, in fact, came with a blank check where I was invited to fill in the amount. I never published any of the books because I didn’t believe in the material. It’s not even that the material was bad (although some of it was) but rather it didn’t fit the energy or direction of the press. The analogy I often use involves the poetry of William Blake. I love the poetry of William Blake—but I wouldn’t publish it because the work would alienate my core readership. It would put that relationship I have worked so hard to build in jeopardy. That’s not something I am willing to do.

Neither, of course, is selling out the readers who have trusted and supported me for a decade just to make some quick, easy cash. Ironically enough, I have a friend who made a deal like this once. After spending years building up his press, he sold out for a large sum of money and published a book by a semi-famous person. It was one of the worst books of poetry I have ever read. It had no business seeing the light of day. It completely destroyed the integrity of his press, alienated his readership, and it wasn’t long after that he shut it down completely. It all boils down to integrity. I am not willing to sell mine—at any cost.

What kind of literature grabs you?

The kind of literature that grabs me is the kind of literature released through Epic Rites Press: literature written in honest, everyday language. The kind of writing that never sacrifices the best word in favor of the best sounding word; that treats writing poetry (to borrow a line from John Yamrus) like “a bloodsport” and not a literary game; that is uncompromising; that fearlessly confronts and explores real emotions and isn’t afraid to speak directly and honestly—regardless of who may be offended; by raw, primal language devoid of bullshit or pretense. I have no patience for “literary games” or “literary posing” and the minute something strikes me as in-authentic, I will literally tear a book into shreds and dump it in the trashcan. You only get one chance with me. Don’t fuck it up.

  
poetry

is
a
bloodsport
practiced
to
keep
the
wolves
from
the
door
and
the
ghosts
from
the
mirror

—John Yamrus
from Alchemy
Epic Rites Press, 2014

If it sounds like I’m pushing Epic Rites Press hard here, it’s because I am. The authors I publish are, in my opinion, at the top of their game. They demand our attention.
  
What’s your literary vision of the future?

My most recent books Bulletproof (Grey Borders Books, 2017) and Raising the Dead (Svensk Apache Press, 2017) are available now through my publishers. I have three books coming out: Hell and High Water; From Dusk to Sandra Dawn; and Becoming the Dead. Keep your eye on my website for details and release dates. Epic Rites Press began 2017 with the release of Burning the Evidence by Todd Cirillo, Battle Lines by Matt Borczon, and As Real As Rain by John Yamrus and Janne Karlsson. All three books are available now on Amazon. In the next few months, Epic Rites Press will release Swallowtude, a novel by Rob Plath, which features an illustrated appendix by Pablo Vision—and, of course, the 2017 Punk Chapbook Series, which features manuscripts by Brenton Booth, Matt Borczon, Victor Clevenger, Ryan Quinn Flanagan, Bill Gainer, Karl Koweski, Ben John Smith, Sean Thomas Dougherty, Frank Reardon, Ben Newell, Ron Lucas and Wayne F. Burke. As always, these will ship as one package. Swallowtude and the 2017 Punk Chapbook Series are available for pre-order now at www.epicrites.org. Beyond that, I try not to think too far ahead—because, as mentioned previously, tomorrow is never guaranteed.


                                           WOLFGANG CARSTENS