Hello, Carlisle!

Goodbye snow, hello spring! Well, almost spring 🙂 As we await blue skies and warmer weather, we’re also saying hello to a new addition to the Blue Cactus Press team: Carlisle Huntington. Please join us in welcoming Carlisle to the literary fold as a much-appreciated publishing intern! Carlisle is a student at University of Puget Sound, and she’s studying English and Creative Writing. Over the next few months, she’ll assist with all sorts of pesky editorial, marketing and distribution tasks here at Blue Cactus Press.

But before Carlisle’s work begins, we think it’s important to give you – our friends and readers – a sense of who she is and what she stands for. We held a quick Q&A session with Carlisle to do just that. Here goes!

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Q&A with Carlisle Huntington

 

Q: What draws you to literary arts?

Carlisle: I’ve always been a voracious reader – ever since I was a little kid. There’s a great Shel Silverstein poem, “Magic,” which I think really sums things up for me:

“Read this to yourself. Read it silently.
Don’t move your lips. 
Don’t make a sound?
Listen to yourself. 
Listen without hearing anything.
What a wonderfully weird thing, huh? 

Reading is just a wonderfully weird thing! I’ve always been fascinated by the sheer magic of it all- that you could take a bunch of arbitrary squiggles and shapes on a page and create this beautiful internal experience. It feels like a super power.

 

Q: What interests you about publishing, in particular?

C: Publishers act as gatekeepers in a lot of ways, and when you read a lot, you notice which stories – which voices – are privileged over others. Despite the growth of digital media and online platforms, and that anyone can publish their work nowadays, a lot of people’s work isn’t necessarily being seen. I want to do my part to change that. I want to help worthy and deserving artists be seen and different stories being told. I want to change the narrative and (hopefully) change the world along with it.

 

Q: Do you create art? If so, tell us about it!

I used to write a lot of poetry when I was younger. I even competed in my hometown’s  first high school poetry slam competition. But lately, I identify more as a fiction writer. Even when I was writing poetry, it was very narrative-based. I also crochet, embroider and dabble in water color painting every now and then. I’m really big on the DIY scene, in general. I just love being able to make something where there wasn’t anything before.

 

Q: What inspires you creatively?

The obvious answer is other writers. Nothing makes me want to write more than reading good fiction – the kind that makes you stop and reconsider the world for a little while. I’m also a big film fan, so movies can be a big source of inspiration – especially animated films. There’s so much craft and care in each frame and the world-building is astounding! Particularly, I’m a fan of the director Hayao Miyazaki … He really takes his time to tell a story … pausing the action to meditate on a single image like preparing ramen or watching grass move in the wind.

 

Q: What do you enjoy reading?

I love romantic poetry. I’m a big Wordsworth and William Blake Fan. I also love my ladies of modernism, like Djuna Barnes, Gertrude Stein, or Marianne Moore. They’re just so wonderfully bizarre … Lately, I’ve been reading a lot of short stories. I love magical realism. Karen Tai Yamashita is a new favorite of mine right now … I also just finished Her Body and other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado and it absolutely slew me! There’s something so engaging about folklore on a real primal level, and it’s such a ripe landscape for deconstructing our gender and sexuality.

 

Q: How are you involved in your local community?

I’m very much involved in my campus community at University of Puget Sound. I do a lot of work with the English Department to plan literary events on campus. A big goal of ours is to draw-in students from across all disciplines and show them literature is for everyone. One way we do that is with the campus book club, which is open to all majors and minors. Every semester we have a different theme. This semester, the theme is metafiction – or writing about writing. We’re starting with Pale Fire by Vladimir Nabokov. It’s been incredible to see people who’ve never taken an English class get so excited by literature.

 

Q: What changes would you like to see in our community?

One of my favorite things about writing for Puget Sound Trail is that I get to interact with the literary community off campus and serve as a liaison between UPS and the greater Tacoma community. There’s such a great artistic community in Tacoma that is growing more and more each day, and I love finding more ways to get other students involved with it.

 


More about Carlisle:

Carlisle Huntington is a junior at the University of Puget Sound, majoring in English and creative writing. Originally from Orange County California, she’ll deny ever having lived there. She’s had a passion for reading and literary arts for as long as she could hold a pencil and turn a page. Though poetry and fiction were her first loves, she also has experience with journalism. She writes for University of Puget Sound newspaper Puget Sound Trail. When she’s not writing, she’s planning the next creative event for her local campus community. She’s the head of the UPS English Department Event Planning Committee and she oversees the UPS English Film Series, Holiday Book Swap, and Campus Book Club. Her Other hobbies include crochet, embroidery, and boiling her entire identity into a pithy paragraph.

Author Q&A with Samuel Snoek-Brown

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If you’ve been wondered what was rolling around in author Samuel Snoek-Brown’s head as he wrote his new short story collection, There Is No Other Way to Worship Them, today’s the day to find out! We sat down with the Tacoma-based author to chat about how his new collection came to be, the narratives inside, and some of the secrets hidden within its stories. Enjoy!

 

Q: We heard through the grapevine you like to hide secrets or slip riddles into your stories … is that true?

A: I’m a big fan of literary puzzles and Easter eggs! So yeah, I hide all sorts of nerdy things in my stories. The main thing I hope every reader keeps an eye out for are the hidden connections between my stories, not just in this book but in all the stories I write. (Example: There’s a connection between the story “Jarabe” and my Civil War novel Hagridden, but I’ll let readers find it on their own.) But there are also other little games I play while I’m developing stories, and I don’t know if anyone else will spot them or if they’re just for me, but I like that they’re in there. A lot of my stories come from songs, for example, as did the title of this collection. But I won’t spoil the game of figuring out which songs. And those Easter eggs aren’t as important as the stories themselves, anyway.

Q: Many of the stories in the collection have Mexican or Mexican-American protagonists or are immigrants to the U.S. Why write from these perspectives?

A: I tend to write about the things I most want to know. I learn through stories, both the reading and the telling. Besides, I don’t think anyone can honestly write about Texas, or the parts of Texas I lived in, without writing about Mexicans and Mexican-Americans. All the whitewashing of the “old West” and “cowboys” aside, the essential nature of Texas is its own mixed heritage, and over the years, as I wrote my stories about Texas, I realized that by writing only from my own limited perspective, I was only telling a small part of the truth that is Texas. I’m not a sociopath, but one of the characters is a sociopathic killer. I’m not a libertarian or a street preacher, but both those men inhabit my stories. I’m not a veteran of any war, but war veterans survive my stories. I write from other perspectives not just to round out the reality of my fiction and tell truer, more inclusive stories, but also to learn from other perspectives, to consider the world from more than I own point of view. Or, I try to, anyway.

Q: What would you say to those who feel you’re appropriating others’ experiences for the sake of fiction?

A: I’m really sensitive to this critique. It’s one I continue to think about—and it’s something I raise with my literature and creative writing students as well. Whose stories are we telling, and who has the right to tell them? There’s been a lot of attention the past few years to the science of empathy and how reading fiction about diverse characters and experiences helps us develop into more thoughtful, compassionate people. I think the same can be true of writing diverse characters with a range of experiences, but I also know that the line between respectful storytelling and thoughtless appropriation is thin and always in motion. And I don’t know that it’s my place to determine whether I’ve crossed that line. I hope that readers will have that conversation. My role as the writer is to write with as much respect and compassion as I can, and that was certainly my intention here. I spent a lot of time running these stories by a range of people who might feel represented in them, to make sure I was honoring the people I’m writing about. So far everyone has signed off on them, but I hope that’s not the end of the conversation—I hope that conversation carries on, about my fiction and everyone else’s.

Q: When you wrote these stories, did you have border issues like violence, immigration, or shifting identity in mind, or did those issues and themes arise organically? 

A: At the time I was writing these stories, those issues weren’t always at the forefront of my thought process. But growing up with friends who routinely crossed a whole range of borders and boundaries—national, cultural, sexual, religious—and struggled with identity, I was always aware that’s what these stories, in general, are about. Personally, I’ve always been fascinated by these things. I am a devout pacifist who’s as fascinated by violence as I am appalled by it. I am a white guy born in the States but I’m descended from immigrant relatives I knew in my lifetime. And I’ve lived overseas, so even though we tend to call white folks “expats” wherever we live, I knew in that country that I was an immigrant and a minority. In my own hometown—which really isn’t my hometown but it’s the town where I graduated high school so I claim it—there has always been debate about who’s a “local” and who’s just passing through. My parents have lived there the past 30 years and they’re still considered “newcomers” by some folks, even as the town has grown into a city and practically everyone is a newcomer and my “hometown” barely resembles the place I write about in my fiction anymore. What is “home” and when does it become a home? What is our identity, and who decides it? So in a way, these themes are always in the back of my mind.

Q: How long was this collection “in the making?”

A: Some of the stories took decades to sort out, and some of the stories only appeared in the past year or so. But the collection as a whole only revealed itself to me fairly recently. I’d been working with a few of the stories as a chapbook, but it never quite worked on its own. I finally realized that I need another story or two to tie the narratives together. But as I started pulling in more stories, I began to see how they overlapped with still more characters and events and themes, so I kept pulling in more stories, until I finally saw the wholeness of this collection. That process felt so organic that I can’t recall exactly how long that took. Sometimes it feels like it happened in the space of an evening; other times, I know it took me months to really wrap my head around it. Putting together this collection felt a bit like falling in love, I suppose. I could put a date on the moment it happened just for the sake of claiming an anniversary, but the actual process was a lengthy evolution, a slow dawn in the heart.

Q: Did you make any cuts from the collection and if so, why?

A: In Guadalupe’s story, “It Was the Only Way,” there’s a background character that we never quite meet, the boarding-house owner Consuela. Years before I wrote that story, I wrote a piece of flash fiction about Consuela, which is how she wound up in Guadalupe’s story—she was already there, waiting for me to bring her back into fiction. I thought about including her tiny story, “Consuela Throws Her TV Away,” but it always felt a bit out of place. So I didn’t so much cut it as I couldn’t work it in to begin with. It’s out there, though, in the online magazine Fiction Southeast, if anyone wants to find out more about Consuela.

Q: Which story in the collection was the hardest to write?

A: Every story is the hardest to write. It’s true what they say, that every time you sit down to write, you have to learn all over again. In many ways, I think the Miguel stories (including the one with his mother, Guadalupe) were the hardest, because I wanted to make sure I was getting the characters right, that I was honoring their experiences. I leaned heavily on some of my friends from high school and college for cultural and linguistic details there, and I hope I’ve done those characters justice.

The story that took the longest to write was “The Penitent Go to Texas.” The kernel of that story began as an assignment in undergrad, back in 1994, and while the basic narrative (a one-night stand) stayed the same, I was never happy with the characters or the ending, so I kept reworking it over and over, trying new people in each draft and seeing how they changed their story. A decade later, in grad school, I was studying medieval hagiographies and fell in love with the lives of the married saints, and once I started trying to imagine their stories in a contemporary setting, I realized what was missing from that old one-night stand story, so I put the two together. But it still took a few more years of revision to finally make that story work, so that one story took me more than 20 years to get right.

Q: Who are some of your biggest inspirations as an author?

A: My go-to answer is always, first and foremost, Tom Franklin, who has not only been an inspiration but also a mentor and a friend. I want to be him when I grow up. I’m also a huge fan of Dan Chaon, whose “frayed edges” in his fiction taught me a lot about how to not tie up a story, and of Debra Monroe, whose sense of place and inner conflict with home was an education in how I’ve always wanted to write about my own home. But I think the inspiration that might surprise folks is Jane Austen. My wife turned me onto Jane early in our relationship, and now I’m a lifelong member of JASNA. Few writers have ever done character or dialogue better than Jane, but also, her precision and insight when describing a culture, a society, relationships between human beings, is practically unparalleled in Western literature. Maybe Alice Munro approaches her, but not many others.

Q: Do you have any writing rituals?

A: I’m not a terribly disciplined writer. I work hard at my fiction, but I’ve never been one of those “write every day” types, let alone writing at the same time of day or in the same environment, etc. I’ve valued the consistency of that kind of habitual writing when I’ve had the luxury of doing it, but mostly, I’ve trained myself to write anywhere, in any circumstances, during any time I can set aside. But one thing I do as often as I can is write to music. Sometimes it’s just background mood-setting music, and sometimes it’s not even music—I have a couple of websites of atmospheric sound effects I sometimes listen to. But for larger projects like books, I often put together particular playlists—music from certain time periods, or songs with lyrics I reference, or music with the same energy I want in the fiction. I do write in silence sometimes, or in the din of public life, but when I can, I write to music.

Q: What is the most difficult part of your artistic process?

A: Waiting. I am terrifically impatient, and while the sexy part of writing is the writing—I even love revision, hard work though it is—but in the longer view of things, most of writing is about waiting. Ideas, submission responses, the publication process—these things happen at a pace I have little control over, and it drives me up the wall sometimes. It’s one reason I always have a handful of projects going at any one time, so I’ve always got some story or other to distract me from my own impatience.

Q: What do you hope readers take away from this collection?

A: As a reader, I know that one of the most valuable parts of any reading experience is discovering the text, in revealing what you see in the text. And that’s mostly about the reader—who you are, what you bring the to page, what’s going on in your world when you take up a text. And I feel like talking about what I want readers to take away is a bit like spoiling that experience for the readers. It’s why I never write in books myself, never annotate or highlight on the pages of books—any book I read, I hope will outlast me, and if I mark up the text, I’m telling future readers how to read that text, and I would feel like I’d be robbing them of their own experience with the book. Which is my own hangup, and I don’t apply it universally—I love book reviews, for example, and what are reviews but explications of how one reader engaged with a text and how other readers might read it in the future? But I know from my teaching how often people want to talk about “what the author intended” as though it’s some sort of standard against which we should measure our own approaches to a story, and I don’t like being party to someone else’s “intentional fallacy.” Once these stories are out there, in your hands, in your mind, they become partly your stories, and I’m much more interested in finding out how other people receive them.

If all of that sounds like a cop-out, I’ll say this instead: I hope readers see the humanity in these characters, even the jerks. I hope readers can relate to these characters’ longings, their love and their anger, their pathetic failures and their heroic failures. I hope, after reading these stories, people might walk through their own neighborhoods or sit in their own coffee shops or attend their own churches, and they’ll see a stranger, some random person they don’t know and might never see again, and they’ll think, even from a distance, even for just a moment, “I wonder what that person’s story is.”

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Author Interview: Midge Raymond of My Last Continent

Cover of My Last ContinentA few weeks ago, I gleefully unwrapped My Last Continent, by Midge Raymond, at a “blind date with a book” fundraiser in Tacoma. For those of you who don’t know what a “blind date with a book” is, allow me to explain:

Books are chosen and excavated from dusty piles in the dungeons of a neighborhood bookstore, then wrapped in soft, plain paper so readers can’t see the author, title, or cover. After that, unseen bookstore gnomes scribble out a short blurb about the content, hoping to snag readers with only the power of their synopsis and the strength of the book’s plot line. A small donation and a lot of bibliophile anxiety later, readers leave with a book in hand…off on a blind date.

Now! As I was saying, I was lucky enough to unwrap My Last Continent and it turned out to be one of the best fiction books I’ve read all year! I absolutely loved the plot line (the life of a female biologist working off an Antarctic-bound vessel is irreversibly changed by a shipwreck) and the hauntingly sparse narrative. I enjoyed the book so much, in fact, that I mustered up enough courage to ask the author, Midge Raymond, to chat in an author interview. And if you can believe it, folks, she graciously said yes!

So here you go, a genuine Q & A session with the award-winning author and co-founder of the boutique publisher Ashland Creek Press, Midge Raymond: 

Midge Raymond

Will you tell readers a little about yourself, maybe something readers don’t already know?

MR: I’m a complete introvert. This isn’t evident to most, since I do enjoy being with people and I appear to be outgoing, but I always need some serious downtime after being social for a while.

What brought you to this neck of the woods (the Pacific Northwest)?

MR: The New England winters initially brought me back west; I grew up in Southern California and never quite got used to the cold (and the multiple feet of snow) of the Northeast. My husband and I lived in California for a few years, and then in Seattle, and while we didn’t miss the extremes of Northeast winters, we did miss having four seasons. So when we had the opportunity to move to the mountains in Southern Oregon, we pounced, and we’ve loved living here.

Where did your love of storytelling/reading/writing come from?

MR: I grew up surrounded by books and stories—my mom has always been an avid reader, and my dad is a great storyteller. I loved the escape of getting into a good book, and since my parents were both strict about television, this was my main source of entertainment.

Do you feel that there’s a cultural value in writing and storytelling?

MR: Stories are everything—and of course this includes every medium, from television to film to radio to theater. Stories are essential for allowing us to examine history, imagine the future, and figure out our present. I love writing for the same reasons.

When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?

MR: I was very young when I began writing stories and poetry. I then gravitated toward journalism because I was interested in telling other people’s stories, which I still basically do in fiction, albeit in a very different way. I began writing fiction right after graduate school, while living in New York, and I wrote short stories for years before attempting a novel.

What would you say is your most interesting writing quirk?

MR: This probably isn’t interesting or quirky among writers my age, but I still write in longhand. I just don’t feel creative at a computer screen, so I write in notebooks, and I often print out drafts when I need to revise. I also find that, because I work at home, I need to escape to be able to focus on my own writing. Sometimes I’ll go to the university library, or a café or a park, or even the kitchen table or a different room in the house.

What do you enjoy doing when you’re not writing?

MR: I volunteer at an animal shelter, which entails both working with the animals as well as taking photos and videos to help them find homes. I’ll also spend whatever time I can reading or hiking—I’m fortunate to live within a few minutes’ walk of a national forest. When it’s too rainy or cold to be outside, a glass of wine and a book make me very happy.

Do you have any suggestions to help emerging authors become better writers?

MR: I advise aspiring authors to read as much as they can, write as often as they can, and to learn everything there is to know about the publishing industry.

What books or authors have most influenced your life?

MR: There have been so many over the years, and most recently I’ve been drawn to writers who focus on environmental and animal-protection themes—how to take better care of our planet and its wildlife has become such a big concern of mine lately. I’ve been especially taken with Karen Joy Fowler’s We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves, a brilliant book that examines our treatment of non-human animals, and Ann Pancake’s Strange As This Weather Has Been, which portrays devastating effects of the coal industry.

How did you become involved with the subject or theme of My Last Continent? What inspired you?

MR: I visited the Antarctic peninsula in 2004, on a small ship much like the Cormorant, and this inspired a short story, “The Ecstatic Cry,” which I wrote shortly after returning. The idea for the story came to me when I saw a passenger fall on the ice near a penguin colony. He was fine, fortunately, but seeing this happen reinforced the notion that, at the bottom of the world, you are at the mercy of the conditions and of the people who are with you. “The Ecstatic Cry” is the story in which the character of Deb was born, and in the following years, both she and Antarctica stuck with me — as well as the concerns I’d heard while I was there about the larger tourist ships venturing farther and farther south. After returning north and hearing about several ships getting into trouble in Antarctica, including one that sank in 2007, I realized this was a story that needed to be told. And the setting is so otherworldly — Antarctica is unlike any other place on earth, and it was both fun and challenging to write about.

What was the hardest part of writing this book?

MR: How to tell the story was the biggest challenge for me. I wanted the shipwreck to be the main narrative, but there was so much backstory to convey, so I decided to alternate the chronological timeline with Deb’s backstory. It was like putting puzzle pieces together; sometimes, a piece didn’t fit, and I’d have to start over—I’d realize that I’d revealed something too soon, or that I hadn’t offered enough context. So there was a lot of revision involved as I put it all together…but for me, that’s part of the fun.

What did you enjoy most about writing this book?

MR: I love getting to the revision stage, when I have a lot to work with on the page. Bringing what’s there to the next level is the most fun and rewarding part of the process for me.

The main character in My Last Continent is a tough, intelligent woman who researches penguins in Antarctica. Who was your inspiration for this character?

MR: Deb is an entirely fictional character, but having the privilege of meeting strong women who work in Antarctica and who study penguins helped me get a feel for who Deb could be.

Any upcoming projects that you’re working on at the present? 

MR: After finishing My Last Continent, I went back to writing short stories for a while — I was eager to finish a project in a matter of months rather than years for a change! Now I’m working on a new novel that is in such early stages I can’t yet speak intelligently about it—but already I’m enjoying it and looking forward to having some serious time to work on it.

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I am incredibly grateful to Midge Raymond for her time and generosity in answering these questions! For more info about Midge Raymond and her work, visit MidgeRaymond.com.

Happy Reading, my friends!