Author Interview – Jemiah Jefferson

What compelled you to tell the story/stories in your most recent book?
I’ve been secretly wanting to write a long-form work of erotica for many years – I always sort of mixed it in with a lot of genre elements because I love to also make up my own fictional reality, but I had these characters so firmly in mind I just wanted to tell their story uncomplicated by the supernatural. I had really been living with and developing those characters for years and I just had to determine a framework for them to exist inside, and the story would tell itself.

What obstacles did you encounter while writing the book?
Lots and lots. The major obstacle is one of the most major in life – I have multiple sclerosis, and though I am doing extremely well compared to others managing the syndrome, my daily life is generally exhausting and painful, and it takes up a lot of time that I’d prefer to spend in other ways. I injured my arm about six months and ten chapters into the writing process and was unable to sit and type for hours as I had been used to doing. Then I found that my usual position, posture, and location for writing was having a very painful negative effect on my left hip! Having to change my physical position for writing was a thousand times harder than I’d ever imagined – I’d been doing it that way for a couple of years at that point, and writing as much as 50 hours a week (for years!). And then my former publisher went under and I had a months-long, drawn-out battle to secure the rights to the material I’d had published with them. Then I had a major surgery and was too wasted on pain meds to be able to write (or think clearly) for several months. Then my self-esteem as a writer, as a producer of content for the world of publishing, took a terrible hit and I didn’t just give up on this particular novel – I gave up as a writer altogether. So I self-published a novel I’d had sitting around for more than ten years just to learn the world of self-publishing. It was great! But it wasn’t the same as actual WRITING. Somehow I managed to write something totally else – once again fan fiction saved the day – and I realized that I’d written at least a novel’s worth of content since “giving up.” So I went back to this story… and then was unable to get feedback on the material. So I gave up again. And THEN, once again, wrote some fanfic, which was very satisfying, and realized that I had a novel ALMOST entirely finished – I thought I might as well finish it, and self-publish it, and just get on with it – determining its quality, or its relevance, was not something that was up to me to determine.

How has writing your most recent book changed or added value to your life?
I honestly don’t know. It changed my life in some ways, in that I haven’t felt so discouraged as a writer for decades. I’ve taken some nasty hits of self-esteem and belief in the years, but this one was pretty major. Fundamentally I’m a writer – I have a certain core identity in addition to that, but writing is what I do – it’s what I love and where I feel my greatest talents lie. It’s not the healthiest perspective, but there it is. I guess the only real answer is “I’m glad I’m finally done with it!” I started writing it more than nine years ago. I’ve never taken nine years to do ANYTHING. I gave up multiple times. But I realized that my self-esteem would be even more destroyed if I just dropped it and conceded defeat.

Did you self-publish or did you go the traditional route? What was that process like?
I self-published Before and After Michael. I don’t have a publisher or an agent or any “official” formal entry into the world of traditional publishing anymore, and to be totally honest I don’t even know how to go about securing any of those things. The fact that it happened in the first place, I tend to regard as a fluke. I was very unprepared for the only agent I’ve ever had to just drop me and vanish off the face of the earth, or for my publisher to literally go out of business. So basically, I don’t understand the process of traditional publishing – but I now have all of the necessary skills to not just write a book, but to edit, proofread, format, obtain visual talent to produce cover images, obtain an ISBN, and publish using online resources. And I love to do it. I always wanted to have some kind of input over book cover images, and also book jacket copy, and things like the interior design of the book – its typeface, its margins, its title treatment, and all that stuff. And now I do. However I have no publicity apparatus, and not very much money for marketing, so my sales will probably not be very good. That, more than anything, is the difference between self-publishing and traditional publishing – companies have publicity and marketing departments with skilled staffers, as well as a budget to make those things happen. It makes a huge difference in terms of visibility and potential sales.

Are you friends with other writers? If so, how do they influence your writing?
I am friends with tons of other writers of all types. I wouldn’t say they really influence my writing very much, actually – I am the only one doing the thing I do, and I do it because nobody else does it – so there’s not really much chance of influence. I do want their feedback to my work, though, but it doesn’t happen very often. It’s interesting to see other people’s paths and how they approach the work, and the subsequent promotion or discussion of the work. It’s always very different from mine.

Do you maintain a regular writing practice? If so, what does it look like?
I used to write hours and hours every day – I’d come home from work and write until I went to sleep, and repeat again the next day. One day – about 6 or 7 years ago, now – I sort of hit a wall, and I haven’t been able to do that anymore since then. Now, I don’t write regularly at all. I only write when I’m not just inspired, but I’m physically comfortable, I’m liable not to be disturbed for a while, and I have enough energy to get the ideas done coherently. That doesn’t happen super often these days. I’ve managed to write three novel-length works of fiction in those six or seven years, which seems pretty great except compared to how I was before, when I wrote a novel every six months to a year – for almost 20 straight years. Writing has become increasingly difficult, though I have no shortage of ideas. I’m just exhausted (and admittedly discouraged) more than anything else.

How many other books or stories do you have in progress right now?
No actual novels have been started in the last ten years, unless you count fan fiction, and I don’t, because despite their finished lengths being in the 90,000 word range, they are written and constructed as linked long short stories or novellas that average about 10-12,000 words each. A whole novel seems really intimidating to me now. But I’ve got a few vague ideas that I’ve been kicking around for years that, if the right spark happens, I will be noveling again! In the meantime, I have two fan fiction series that need a final installment, so I’m mostly trying to get my head in the game to finish those. One of them’s been waiting for four years for me to get back to it!

Do you view writing as a spiritual practice?
Only in the sense that it’s what I feel I truly do, and it’s what makes my life matter. I mean, sure, I have a job and all that, and I have a pet, but that’s pretty much it. When I am writing I feel amazing. It’s the best fun ever and I love it and it makes me feel like a genius. It’s a drag that I’m too tired and/or depressed, most of the time, to actually feel like doing it. I have to keep my job and that’s all I have the energy to do.

What would your life look like if you didn’t write?
It’s bleak. I’ve been there. I haven’t got almost anything else to live for – just being a good person is worthy, but I really want and need more out of life. But I also have to do without those things I need and want (because there are plenty of other things I need and want, but I can’t just have them for the asking – or even the working towards it), and that’s just reality. Yeah, I’m a grim soul.

Why do you write?
I don’t know, but I have to. I have been doing it all my life – when I was a little kid I called it “stories” and I’d just make up narratives for play. Once in a while I’d have a friend and they would share in the narrative and it was great, but most of the time I didn’t have even one friend I could share that with – and that’s when I started writing the narratives down so that I could re-read them myself. It’s a literal compulsion. I have to do it or I lose my mind, quite literally – I have too many ideas and I have to delineate and narrate at least some of them so I can get to sleep at night, and have a reason to get up in the morning. Also, I completely live on praise, and when I have to do without that for too long, I really fall apart.


Jemiah Jefferson is the author of the vampire novels Voice of the Blood, Wounds, Fiend, and A Drop of Scarlet, as well as the dark comedy, Mixtape for the Apocalypse and erotic literary fiction, Before and After Michael, her latest novel. She lives in the Pacific Northwest with a tuxedo cat, blackout curtains, and a collection of books and graphic novels that has grown completely out of control.

Author Interview – Kristin Oakley

What compelled you to tell the story/stories in your most recent book?
Strange as it sounds, my protagonist, Leo Townsend, compelled me. I didn’t know that I’d be writing a series until I’d written the last line of my first book, Carpe Diem, Illinois, and once I did, I knew Leo had more stories to tell. In the second book, God on Mayhem Street, which is my most recently published book, Leo is forced to deal with his estranged father and learns things about his family he never knew – I never knew, until I wrote them. The book also explores the idea of a front-running presidential candidate who is openly gay and who is likely to win. How will the country deal with that?

What obstacles did you encounter while writing the book?
Most of God on Mayhem Street takes place on Leo’s family farm outside my fictional town of Endeavor, Wisconsin. I’m a city girl and have been on a farm maybe six times in my life, so I didn’t have a clue about the farming life. I was lucky enough to meet fellow writer Dr. Bill Stork, a Wisconsin veterinarian, at the Southwest Wisconsin Book Festival a few years ago which was run by our mutual publisher, Kristin Mitchell of Little Creek Press. Bill helped me with the terminology, the farming culture, and the best way to poison cows.

The other obstacle I had was my protagonist, Jacob Landry. I knew he wanted the Townsend farm but he was reluctant to let me know why. He gave me a lot of headaches. I figured there was something valuable about the land, oil maybe? In Wisconsin – no way. After many hours of research, I did find out something interesting and unique about Wisconsin that made sense to the storyline and led me to Jacob’s secret.

How has writing your most recent book changed or added value to your life?Strange as it might sound, I finally felt like a novelist. I guess it’s because there are many writers who only produce one book and then move on to something else for whatever reason. While publishing my debut novel was a huge accomplishment, creating more than one book meant I’ve turned my writing into a career. In some ways, it’s made me take my writing all that more seriously.

Did you self-publish or did you go the traditional route? What was that process like?
I took the hybrid route of self-publishing by hiring Little Creek Press. I had pitched my first book to agents and got some interest, but nothing came of it. I knew Carpe Diem, Illinois was good, ready for an audience, and I didn’t want to wait years for it to be published. I decided to hire Kristin Mitchell of Little Creek Press because she’s first and foremost a graphic artist and her book covers are beautiful. Since I’d spent years of my life crafting my books, I wanted beautiful covers for them as well. I also didn’t want to spend a lot of my time figuring out the publishing and distribution processes. I just wanted to write.

The first thing I had to do was find a good editor. At the Southwest Wisconsin Book Festival I mentioned earlier, I met one of Kristin’s editors, Karyn Saemann, and we clicked immediately. After the book was edited, I sent the final manuscript to Kristin and she did the rest—acquiring the ISBN, formatting the book for both paperback and Kindle, getting it in various distribution sources, and advertising it on her website. I liked the results, so hired Kristin and Karyn to help me with God on Mayhem Street.

Are you friends with other writers? If so, how do they influence your writing?Definitely. The majority of my friends are writers. They give me valuable feedback on my pages, brainstorm ideas, help me set up and meet deadlines, pass along resources such as contests or book signing opportunities, and give me encouragement and support. I can’t imagine writing without them.

I have a critique group I meet with every two weeks or so for valuable writing time and feedback, a couple of friends who I retreat with twice a year, and several other writer friends who’ll I’ll periodically meet at coffee shops. I’m also on the board of the Chicago Writers Association (CWA) where I’m managing editor of our online magazine, The Write City Review, and our debut anthology, The Write City Review. I’ve made some wonderful connections through CWA and even won their 2014 Book of the Year Award for Non-traditionally published fiction for Carpe Diem, Illinois which opened a lot of doors for me.

Do you maintain a regular writing practice? If so, what does it look like?
Sort of. I’m in editing mode right now, editing the second draft of the second book in my Devil Particle Trilogy (which I hope to release next year) so I try to edit about 30-50 pages each week. I shoot for editing every day because then the story stays fresh in my mind, but at least I manage to set aside three to four 2-hour or more blocks of time each week to devote to my work-in-progress. What works best for me is to establish deadlines because I’m really good at meeting them. I plan on finishing this round of edits on the second book by September 1st and then working on the first draft of the third book, which I hope to have completed by the end of this year.

How many other books or stories do you have in progress right now?
Four books – or more. As I mentioned, I’m currently working on The Devil Particle Trilogy – a young adult dystopian series. I also have 30,000 words of the third book in the Leo Townsend series written and can’t wait to get back to it. Leo’s mad at me for neglecting him! And I have ideas for two more Leo Townsend novels bouncing around in my head. Oh, and ideas for a woman’s fiction and another futuristic/dystopian book. I guess that makes 8!

Do you view writing as a spiritual practice?
I guess it depends upon your definition of spiritual. Writing definitely fulfills me and brings joy to my life, especially when a reader tells me they’ve been moved by my writing.

What would your life look like if you didn’t write?
It would be very different—it’s hard to imagine. I would probably concentrate on my art – oil painting and photography. Right now, those are somewhat neglected hobbies.

Why do you write?
For the money – lol! Oh, don’t get me wrong, the money would be nice, but it’s not realistic to think I’ll get rich from my writing. And even if I do, that would be wonderful, but it wouldn’t be the reason why I write. I write because of the thrill of creating whole worlds, strange and interesting people, and surprising situations. I like tackling the big issues of our time through the lives of intriguing characters. For instance, what would life be like if children never attended school? Or why should it matter to anyone else that two people of the same sex love each other? I love developing characters that are intriguing, and words fascinate me – how just one word can inspire or incite. Plus, like all writers, I get a definite high when the words flow. Good writing is definitely addicting.


Kristin A. Oakley’s debut novel, Carpe Diem, Illinois, won the 2014 Chicago Writers
Association Book of the Year Award for non-traditionally published fiction, was a
finalist in the Independent Author Network 2015 Book of the Year, and a runner-up in
the 2016 Shelf Unbound Best Indie Book Competition. Its sequel, God on Mayhem
Street, was released in 2016. Kristin is a Chicago Writers Association board member, the
managing editor of The Write City Magazine and The Write City Review, and a UW-
Madison Division of Continuing Studies adjunct writing instructor where she critiques
manuscripts and offers a variety of workshops.

 

Author Interview – Arwen Spicer

 

What compelled you to tell the story/stories in your most recent book?
Lately, a lot my energies have gone into developing a concept I call workable utopias, the idea of imagining societies that function very well but are plausible, not perfect. My interest in this mode of science fiction grows directly out of Ursula K. Le Guin’s idea of the “ambiguous utopia,” the subtitle of her 1974 novel, The Dispossessed, about an anarchist society. An ambiguous utopian work explores a society that is “ideal” in many ways but it also acknowledges that negatives are inherent in any system. For me, workable utopias is much the same concept but, to my mind, more directly focused on how the human race and much of Earth-based life can survive—because we’re in a moment now, in the real world, where it’s far from certain we will. That’s my underlying compulsion.

As to how my books reflect it, my most recent release is a new edition of my first novel, Perdita, trimmed down and tightened up. Perdita recounts a planet’s struggle over how (or if) to use a dangerous space travel technology introduced into their midst. A long-term conflict between pro-tech and anti-tech factions explodes in ugly political and interpersonal strife as they attempt to solve this question. Utopian? Well, I conceived of Perdita a long time before the concept of workable utopias coalesced in my mind. That said, yes. Yes, it actually is on the utopian spectrum.

You see, though the Perditans grapple with social and ecological problems, every single problem—every one—is less bad than what we face every day on Earth. Food shortage? Yes, but no one starves. War? There’s guerrilla war, but no drones or nuclear weapons or civilians routinely killed by terrorist attacks. Ecological breakdown? That’s the central problem of Perdita, that they might wreck their biosphere with this new tech. But even if they do, Perdita is just one planet out of hundreds that sustain Earth-based life. Earth-based life, humanity: these aren’t in jeopardy at all.

That’s a good illustration of the utopian heart of my science fiction universe, the Continuation. It’s often not pretty. My second novel, The Hour before Morning, is dark as heck, concerning three people from a brutally colonized society about to be executed. But all these problems are passing. They exist within the underlying stability that comes from a distributed human race living across several nations on many planets, most with populations well within ecological carrying capacity. They have room to absorb the shocks. On Earth today, our margin for shock absorption is rapidly running out. I want to present a future in which resilience is unassailable. And I think all my Continuation works do that one way or another.

What obstacles did you encounter while writing the book?
I’ve encountered twenty-five years of obstacles with Perdita! Reimagining work I began as a teenager, my own verbosity (the single thing I’ve revised most in the new edition), money.

Speaking of my Continuation works more broadly, however, the reality is that far-future cultural exploration is not much in demand now in traditional science fiction publishing. It’s not YA; it’s not near future; it’s not zany, it’s not based heavily on a specific present-day human culture… I could name a lot of agent and publisher desires that it’s not.

But it’s what I do. I think most writers write because our hearts compel us. And whether my mode of expression is currently popular or not, I absolutely believe the project of utopian writing, in general, is vital to our world’s ability to navigate an increasingly treacherous future. We cannot forget how to imagine hope. In that vein, I’m heartened to see an increasing number of calls for stories that imagine our vibrant survival of climate change. We need those ideas if we’re going to achieve anything like the reality.

 How has writing your most recent book changed or added value to your life?
Here I have to move away from Perdita. Though it is my most recent release, it’s been a long time since I fundamentally wrote it. Of my more recent manuscripts, those currently under revision, the most personally impactful has been Mercy, a Continuation novel in which the mysterious abduction of various famous people becomes a forum for grappling with conscience and the consequences.

I wrote most of this novel in 2015-16 as a therapeutic tool for grieving the abrupt and traumatic end of an important friendship. Now, personal therapy does not necessarily make the best novels, and I make no claims about its quality. But help my life it certainly did. It gave me an outlet for a torrent of thoughts and pain. Looking back over it from the perspective of 2018, I can see very clearly how far my grieving process has progressed. And I remain very glad I have that record of my feelings.

Did you self-publish or did you go the traditional route? What was that process like?
I have self-published Perdita and The Hour before Morning. The process is infinitely simpler than it used to be and, thankfully, more socially acceptable. That’s the good part. The bad part is twofold. It’s expensive to do it well, including professional editing, a good cover design, etc. It’s also difficult—and more expensive—to get away from having the sales and distribution of your work controlled by large corporate players. I have yet to solve this, but my preferred course of action thus far is to buy my own inventory and sell it face to face. Readers can also buy directly from my website http://www.arwenspicer.com/ through PayPal, skip Amazon, maximize my earnings per book, and get an autographed copy with my sincere thanks for supporting indie authors. I have recently discontinued my books on Kindle as part of an effort to minimize ties with Amazon, but I will release new ebook versions in the future.

Are you friends with other writers? If so, how do they influence your writing?
I’ve been in several writers groups over the years and love them! At present, I regularly participate in write-ins through 9 Bridges here in Portland, which has been a great way to get to know other local writers, from acclaimed to just starting out. These folks routinely share their insights about both the business and craft of writing. Lately, I’ve been learning a lot about the business.

I miss being in a more craft-oriented writers group, however. I have learned the craft from other writers. One example of a permanent change in my style: my friend Nye Joell Hardy, sadly taken from us far too young by leukemia, taught me long ago about the one line paragraph: that rare punchy line that just deserves to be by itself. That’s become a standard tool in my toolbox. I cannot imagine writing without sharing work with and learning from other writers.

Do you maintain a regular writing practice? If so, what does it look like?
In the past couple of years, the weekly 9 Bridges write-ins have kept me going, even when life, work, and parenthood strip away other writing time. That means I get a minimum of a couple of hours of writing a week. When time allows, especially in summers when I’m not teaching, I like to write in the morning before breakfast when the house is quiet and kids are asleep. I write in bed. It’s lovely.

How many other books or stories do you have in progress right now?
(Long chuckle…) Let’s only count ones that I’m actively working on or are complete manuscripts. My novel Mercy is complete but happens to be book 4 in a series of which Perdita is book 1, so it won’t see the light of day until I’ve written books 2 and 3. I’m preparing another Continuation novel, The Swallow in Flight, to go out on submission soon. It’s my most properly utopian novel to date, a work about two very different cultures trying to coexist with a natural disaster flings them together. I am also on the first draft of a fun new Continuation novel, The Soldier and the Warden, which is a male/male love story set against a backdrop ecological hardships leading to war. After a few years of revising drafts, I’m loving the free play and fresh energy of a brand new story.

Do you view writing as a spiritual practice?
The concept of “spirituality” has never spoken to me personally. I can use the word but it doesn’t resonate. So I guess I’d say, no, I don’t view my writing as spiritual. But I do view it as essential. And lately, I’m happy to say, it’s giving me joy again after quite some time in the doldrums. It’s a natural drive that will always be part of me.

What would your life look like if you didn’t write?
A friend of mine who’s a doctor once described the chaotic days of his residency as like having much of his mind switched off. His love of history, reading, hiking, traveling, all had to be shut down so that he could eat, sleep, and go to work. That’s what my life has been like in stretches where I’ve been too busy to write. I can get through the day, but a piece of me is absent. I am not my full self. I am not living my life. I strive these days to maintain at least a small place for writing every week. I cannot imagine my life without ever writing again. It would be like being locked away and never seeing the sky.

Why do you write?
I write to express the giant piece of myself that lives in the worlds inside my head. I write to tell stories that need to be told. (This is especially true in fan fiction, which I don’t write much these days but profoundly love and respect.) I write to put forward non-dominant ways of thinking about our world, our future, and human relationships. I write to make my readers happy. I write because it’s fun.


Arwen Spicer is a science fiction writer and educator born in the San Francisco Bay Area, and Northern California will hold her heart forever, even if it turns into a desert. She wrote her doctoral dissertation on ecology in utopian science fiction and offers workshops and services on the concept of workable utopias, a methodology for artists, activists, and visionaries to imagine radically hopeful futures.

Learn more about Arwen and her work:
arwenspicer.com
https://www.facebook.com/ArwenSpicerScienceFiction/

Author Interview – Ulrick Casimir

What compelled you to tell the story/stories in your most recent book?
This is a great question, but it has like ten different answers, since each piece compelled me in different ways, and at times those ways overlapped.  Sometimes—like with “Stars of Gold,” “Phantom Power,” “I Love You, Joe,” “Marvin’s Dilemma,” and “Urania’s Mirror”—what compelled me most was the exploration of perspectives that are dramatically different from my own, which is something that I tend to value greatly in my fiction writing.  At other times, like with “Children of the Night” and “Phantom Power,” it was my long-running interest in exploring the potentialities of literary noir that truly compelled me to develop and flesh out those stories the way that I did … and the same goes for the collection’s closing story, “Urania’s Mirror,” which is about as much “sci-fi” as it is “tech noir.”  “Many Happy Returns” was compelling to write mostly because it’s such a large noir-ish sweep of a story, and it’s so much about interior and exterior landscapes, that the thing really opened up like a large flower, letting me dance with some of the well-established conventions of the short-story genre in a single piece. But one major thing that often compels me to tell specific stories (and that certainly girds the stories in this collection) is an overriding concern with a sense of “place,” which often expresses itself in terms of “belonging”:  Some of the pieces in the collection (e.g., “Just Like Me” and “Urania’s Mirror”) are deliberately vague in terms of setting, while others (such as “Many Happy Returns,” “Phantom Power,” and “I Love You, Joe”) are far more specific about setting … but almost all of these pieces show characters struggling, in some way, with community and belonging.  So perhaps it’s the difficulties that come with “being where we are” that most compelled me to write the pieces in this collection.

What obstacles did you encounter while writing the book?
I think for most writers the most significant obstacle to their writing is time and space.  I’m deeply fortunate to have friends and family who are generous enough to allow me the time and space it takes to draft and render, to revise and proofread—and since the collection’s publication, I’ve been busy reconnecting with my friends and family, in a concerted effort to show them just how much I’ve appreciated their patience with me.  I learned, long ago, that writing can feel like a disappearing act to those around you, which can be a major obstacle if you’re a (semi) social person who’s neck-deep in drafting and revising and proofreading.  Work, too, that thing you do to keep bread on the table, can make things difficult … though I thank my lucky stars, every day, that teaching college and university classes offers a tremendous amount of flexibility to my schedule.

How has writing your most recent book changed or added value to your life?
One really rewarding aspect of drafting this book was how it raised my level of confidence and command in storytelling.  MFA’ers are taught in a way that leads us to focus intensely on one story at a time, but with this collection, precisely because I wanted a sort of thematic unity with the stories that it contains, I had to revise and proofread them all simultaneously.  It was a bit like holding several conversations in your head all at the same time, and it was the wildest, most freeing and pleasantly dislocating experience of my creative life.  Honestly, I cannot wait to feel it again.

Did you self-publish or did you go the traditional route? What was that process like?
Corpus Callosum is the publisher of this collection—so no, I did not self-publish.  I guess the publication of this collection would qualify as “the traditional route” … though to be honest, since this is my first book, I don’t really have another route to compare it to.  One of the most exciting aspects of this process is that Corpus Callosum is a new literary press that launched with my book:  My publisher and editor, Eric Tucker, who is also the editor of Plainsongs literary magazine, is someone I’ve known for quite a while, and he is very familiar with my fiction writing (in fact, he picked “Stars of Gold” to move Plainsongs, which had a long-standing reputation as a poetry magazine, into the inclusion of short fiction pieces).  Trust and a critical eye are two things that I deeply value in an editor … and I lucked out, frankly, with Eric.  Lots of ins and outs of the publication process, and he has been there to patiently help me through it all.

Are you friends with other writers? If so, how do they influence your writing?
I am indeed friends with other writers.  Sometimes their work influences me, while at other times, they help me as critical-yet-encouraging readers of my work, and in those instances, it is their editorial commentary that truly influences me.  Some writers, like the fine young poets Terry Kennedy and Julie Funderburk, I’m influenced by them from afar even though I’ve known them since my MFA days.  There are few things like seeing great writers who you went to school with find success; this can be powerful motivation on those dark days when writing is hardest.  There are some more local writers who influence me as readers—and I’m afraid that they are quite literally my secret weapon, so I won’t be naming them anytime soon.  🙂  I should note, though, that there are many writers who I’m not friends with but whose writing influences me deeply—Donald Pollock, Megan Abbott, and Wells Tower are among them.

Do you maintain a regular writing practice? If so, what does it look like?
I do maintain a regular writing practice, but I’ve learned over the years that writing can take on many different forms, which is to say that what’s regular for me might seem quite … irregular to someone else.  For me, it’s all about figuring out ways to “hack” my life in order to include writing most firmly within it, and in as many ways as possible.  A good example would be “Phantom Power”:  That story came to me late at night and very quickly, in a burst that I captured as quickly as possible in a notes app on my phone—and this happened while I was in the middle of revising an earlier draft of “Many Happy Returns.”  Capturing stories like this, jotting them down before I start plotting them out, lets me sift through story ideas later on, when I’m looking for something promising in order to start the next stage:  loose planning, which is especially vital for me later on while drafting and rendering.  Without that loose plotting/planning, drafting and rendering slow down to a painful crawl for me, becoming more mechanical and less artful, like building skin and then trying to slip the bones underneath.  Normally, I try to draft and render one piece at a time.  Depending on what I’m working on, I can revise and proof one piece or many pieces at the same time.  Now, if you atomize that process, you start to get a sense of my writing practice.  For me, life as a fiction writer is all about being productive.  I focus a lot less on a specific number of hours, or pages, per day than on fully integrating my writing practice(s) into my life and lifestyle—this lets me work gradually while staying productive.  I’m not sure if that way of writing work for everyone, but I can tell you that this personalized practice of mine places much less stress on me as a writer.

How many other books or stories do you have in progress right now?
So I literally have hundreds of stories jotted down (!!), but if you’re asking about work that’s more realized, I have a couple of stories in progress at the moment, one of which will appear in this summer’s volume of Plainsongs magazine.  As far as the next book … this is a funny story (at least it’s funny to me!!) but one of the most frustrating/pleasant things that happened while I was writing Children of the Night:  Stories was the discovery that two stories that I was frantically revising to include in the collection simply weren’t “fitting” with what I had envisioned thematically for the volume.  It wasn’t until after I cast them aside that I realized both would benefit from elongation … and the two were speaking not only to one another but also speaking to another piece whose story I’d already jotted down (but I had yet to plot out or start drafting).  All of this basically meant that right as I was proofreading my first book, I suddenly discovered I’d started working on the next one.  With any luck, I’ll have that next one drafted by mid- to late 2019.

Do you view writing as a spiritual practice?
This is a great question—I don’t know about “spiritual,” but I do think of writing as an intensely psychological practice, in that it helps the writer make sense of the world, which automatically gives writing a kind of sociological dimension or “thrust” as well.  For me, the purpose of reading is to place yourself in someone else’s perspective, which is one major reason that I see fiction writing as a game of perspectives—if you as an author aren’t inside of your character, if you aren’t sympathizing with them and seeing the world as they do, then you’ve lost the game as well as your reader.  If there is a global spirit, then I figure it must exist not within but between us—and in that way, yes, I do think fiction writing takes on a spiritual dimension.

What would your life look like if you didn’t write?
Honestly, I’m not even sure how to imagine my life without writing.  To me, writing isn’t something that you do—being a writer isn’t a choice, it’s just who you are.  Take away my laptop, stick me on a desert island with nothing but the clothes on my back, and watch how quickly I find a fallen palm frond and start scratching out passages on the beach.  If you’re an artist, then you paint because you must; if you’re a writer, then you write because you have to.  I literally can’t imagine my life without writing.  Hell, I don’t even want to.

Why do you write?
Great question—I write to make sense of the world; I write because I have to.

Ulrick Casimir lives, writes, and teaches in the Pacific Northwest.  He earned a B.A. from North Carolina State University and an M.F.A. in Creative Writing from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro; he also holds an M.A. and a Ph.D., both in English, from the University of Oregon, where he teaches. Ulrick‘s scholarly writing has appeared in the film journal Jump Cut, and his short stories have frequently appeared in Plainsongs literary magazine.  Published by Corpus Callosum Press, Ulrick‘s debut short-story collection, Children of the Night:  Stories, appeared this spring.

Author Interview – Jeff Stookey

What compelled you to tell the story/stories in your most recent book?

“Compelled” is an interesting word. Its roots mean “to drive together.” For me the word “urge” feels more accurate in describing how I began.

I have long loved word origins. It has always struck me that the English word “poet” derives from a Greek work for “maker.” Merriam-Webster adds that it is akin to a Sanskrit word for “he gathers, heaps up.” Again, “to drive together.” And the English word “art” derives from Latin “art-” and “ars” and is related to “armen” meaning arms, weapons, tools; akin to Latin ars (art, skill, craft, power), Greek harmos joint, arariskein to fit. Hence our word “articulate” or join together. Art joins things together.

As a child, I became captivated by anything to do with art. My grandmother had a lot of art books with images of old paintings that fascinated me, and I liked drawing pictures. Later in school when I learned to read and we were assigned to write stories for class, I was intrigued by making up narratives and by the way you could make characters talk on the page by putting quotation marks around their words. Movies and television, of course, entranced me and aroused my interest in, not so much storytelling, as creating feelings and moods. I loved the scary, the creepy, the mysterious, and The Twilight Zone, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, and Thriller were favorite shows. Later I grew interested in works that evoked tears, pathos, sympathy, longing, compassion.

I became obsessed with movies and filmmaking for many years, and I did make a few short films. But the process of making films was too cumbersome. Then in the 1980s I read The Color Purple, which I loved, but the movie was a tremendous disappointment. This turned me in the direction of books and writing. It seemed to me that one could do much more and go much deeper in a book than in a movie.

When I turned 50 in 1998, I still wanted to do some kind of creative work (the urge), and I had it in my head that I had survived long enough to have something to say in writing about this life and this world we live in. I sat down to write about my father and about my friend, Steven “Jesse” Bernstein, a Seattle writer who committed suicide in 1991.

But this image came into my mind: two men necking in a 1920s automobile in a rural setting. The image haunted me and I began examining it and wondering who these two fellows were, what their background was, how did they meet, what was their relationship, what happened to them? The more I delved into these questions, and the more I wrote, the more curious I became. As the story unfolded I was driven on by the opportunity to use this story to portray the pain of growing up gay and the struggle to come to terms with that reality in a sexually repressive society dominated by heterosexuality. As I learned more and more about gay history, the history of Portland and Oregon, the history of the Ku Klux Klan, the eugenics movement, etc., I felt compelled to share this history with readers. This led to the three novels that make up my Medicine for the Blues trilogy. And with the rise of Donald Trump, I felt that it was important to publish and get this story out to the public with hopes of encouraging compassion and understanding for those who are different.

What obstacles did you encounter while writing the book?

I saw that I had to better understand history, in particular, what it was like to be gay in the 1920s. This was a major obstacle. First I ran across John Loughery’s book The Other Side of Silence, men’s lives and gay identities: a twentieth-century history. Eventually, I encountered the writings of Jonathan Ned Katz, and others: George Chauncey, Peter Boag, George Painter, and many more. The deeper I dug, the more I found and the more that came out in publication after I started writing. This created another obstacle, which was trying to keep up with all the literature on gay history and theory that was becoming available.

How has writing your most recent book changed or added value to your life?

All this reading in LGBT history opened up a whole new world for me. It was not just Socrates, the Greeks, Michelangelo, Walt Whitman, and Oscar Wilde, who were examples of what it meant to be gay, but there were many men, known and unknown, who over the years had experimented with, experienced, and thought about making gay lives for themselves and others like them. There were legions of people validating and supporting my identity as a gay man.

Did you self-publish or did you go the traditional route? What was that process like?

I am a self-published author. I pitched my book to several agents at the Willamette Writers Conference. A number of them expressed interest but told me that my book was too long to be published as one book. Yet none of them followed up after I sent them samples of my work.

I decided that I had put too much work into this project to let it languish in a drawer, only to be found after I died—like the memoirs of my main character, Carl Holman. I asked around about editors and a friend told me about Jill Kelly, PhD. I contacted her and after some preliminary interactions, we began working on my manuscript. Jill had self-published some nonfiction and a few novels of her own, and she guided me through the process of dealing with Amazon’s Createspace and Kindle Direct Publishing. She knew the ropes.

Are you friends with other writers? If so, how do they influence your writing?

I am an introvert and like to stay home most of the time, so I can’t say I know a lot of writers. I have some old, old friends that I see from time to time, who have kept writing over the years. I was in a writing group several years ago and I’ve reconnected with one of those folks recently. Since I published, I’ve met a few other local writers at various readings and other literary events, and those encounters have grown into developing friendships. Plus, I have been involved with a new writing group over the past six months and those writers, besides becoming friends, have been teaching me a great deal, not only by the example of their writing, but by pointing out some of my bad writing habits.

Do you maintain a regular writing practice? If so, what does it look like?

When I was first writing Medicine for the Blues trilogy, I was still employed and I would get up at 3 or 4 in the morning and write for an hour before I went to work. Now that I am retired, I write when I don’t have other obligations, so my writing is not so regimented. I do like the weeks and days when I don’t have other things to attend to and I can plan to spend the whole day writing. Lately, I’ve been working on revisions to Book 3 of the trilogy and I find that revisions require a lot of concentration over a period of time, because there are so many things to juggle. I sometimes spend 8 to 10 hours a day writing. Other days I can’t find any time to write.

I’ve been going to a Monday morning writing group at the Q Center where we get prompts and write whatever comes to mind over 10 to 15 minutes, then we share what we’ve come up with. It’s not only great fun but a powerful stimulant to the imagination and a laboratory for experimentation. From this experience, I’ve got lots of new material that I hope to develop in the future.

The other aspect of my writing practice is my formal writing group which meets every two weeks. That gives us all a deadline and an impetus to get something ready for the others to read before we meet. Then we gather and share our thoughts on what the others have written.

While I am writing, I like to do a lot of research, and that always stimulates my imagination for filling in scenes and scenarios and gives me ideas about how to accurately describe historical times and details. I use the dictionary and thesaurus a lot to find just the right word or the right shade of meaning. In every paragraph, I probably look up 2 to 3 words, or more.

How many other books or stories do you have in progress right now?

I have a couple of ideas that are on the back burner of my mind right now, not things I have actually written down. Besides those, there is the material from the Q Center writing group. I look forward to mining that treasure trove for further development, once the third book of the trilogy is finished. I guess I prefer to tackle one project at a time.

Do you view writing as a spiritual practice?

Yes, to some extent. Writing is a voyage of discovery. The imagination is a conduit for the universe to work through us, and the intuitions and coincidences that happen in the process of writing can be quite awe-inspiring. But there is a Buddhist scripture which refers to “the dharma of thusness” by saying, “Just to portray it in literary form is to stain it with defilement.” Much of the spiritual world is beyond words. On the other hand, Gertrude Stein once said that the only things worth doing are impossible things. Spirituality is an unfolding. Maybe writing can help it along. Compassion is certainly a spiritual practice, and putting ourselves in the shoes of others, characters different from ourselves, helps us develop understanding and sympathetic feelings.

What would your life look like if you didn’t write?

I have always felt an uneasy relationship with writing. Although I wrote when I was younger, I had lots of self-doubts restarting at 50. I felt intimidated, I wondered what gave me the right to think I was a writer. Then once I was immersed in this trilogy, I came to understand what George Orwell meant when he wrote, “Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle like a long bout with some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven on by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand.” (The antidote for this viewpoint is Elizabeth Gilbert’s book Big Magic.) And now that my book is in print, I am plagued by the whole endeavor of publishing and marketing.

My life would be a lot simpler if I didn’t write. But then I would still feel that urge to create something, and digital words or marks on paper, are a lot more manageable physically than drawings and paintings—another creative outlet I sometimes contemplate pursuing.

I look forward to spending more time gardening, once I complete this trilogy. Then I hope to have more breathing room to entertain thoughts of plunging into another big project.

Why do you write?

See Question #1.


Growing up in a small town in rural Washington State, Jeff Stookey enjoyed writing stories. He studied literature, history, and cinema at Occidental College, and then got a BFA in Theater from Fort Wright College. In his 40s he retrained in the medical field and worked for many years with pathologists, trauma surgeons, and emergency room reports.

Jeff lives in Portland, Oregon, with his longtime partner, Ken, and their unruly garden. Acquaintance is his first novel. Contact Jeff at medicinefortheblues.com.