On Stepping in as Fiction Editor and Advice to Our Submitters.

Recently, I have assumed the role of fiction editor of the Blue Mesa Review after being a grad reader for two semesters. Although I now have the final say when it comes to choosing which stories to publish, my responsibilities after the “promotion” haven’t changed that much. Just like before, I spend most of my time reading tons of submissions without any forewarning whether the next one is going to be a masterpiece or a disaster. That can be scary sometimes. What if there aren’t any good stories in the pile? What if there are too many good ones, more than we can publish? Or what if there’s a great piece, but I will never know that because of a few missed commas and a weak opening?

These questions are on my mind a lot, but the number of submissions we receive makes it harder to give each story a chance if it doesn’t pull you in from the first page. Yet, after about a year of reading for the magazine, I noticed there are always some stories that manage to catch my attention, even if it is a thirtieth story I read that day. Whenever that happens, I try to pinpoint what exactly draws me in. To put it simply I would say “freshness:” an unfamiliar subject or approach, a different perspective or a point of view, sometimes even just well-crafted sentences free of clichés and stagnation. “Fresh” to me does not necessarily mean an avant-garde, boundaries-blurring riddle for the reader, but simply something new, unfamiliar in one way or the other. Surprising your reader (not in a literal sense, let’s say by resurrecting a character you killed on the first page) is important and even essential, and when I think about it, every single story or a novel that impressed me showed me something I hadn’t seen before, surprised me.

However, while catching and maintaining reader’s attention are important, those things alone will not get you published. I sometimes encounter wonderfully crafted stories that are a pleasure to read until the very last page where they just end abruptly without any satisfying conclusion, and I am left wondering what was the point of writing the piece at all. Ending a story in a powerful way, or more precisely wrapping it up, making it a story, a piece of fiction that is not necessarily conclusive, but satisfying is very challenging indeed. I believe that asking yourself the question “why did I want to write this story?” helps a lot. If you can’t answer this question or don’t think your piece on its own can that is probably the indication that you still have some work to do. When I read your submission, I want the story to answer this question without any outside help.

And a few last notes: Although you definitely want your submission to stand out, fancy fonts or unconventional cover letters are not the best way to do that. I will not discard a submission simply because of the wrong font, but I do prefer Times New Roman, 12pt, double-spaced. It’s always a good idea to read our guidelines and follow them.

Good luck. I am looking forward to reading your submissions this year!

 

Tatiana Duvanova, Fiction Editor of the Blue Mesa Review.

Handing Over the Helm

This time last year, after taking the helm as Fiction Editor, I wrote what I wanted to do, see, and accomplish with my year navigating The Blue Mesa Review. I was eager, excited, and ready to sail into uncharted literary waters. Now, after the call of land-ho, the gangplank is secured and I’m handing the sextant over to Tanya Duvanova, who I have no doubt will be an excellent helmswoman.

So, as I retire to the seaman’s pub to spend my hard-earned ducats and dream up the next port of call, a pause for reflection feels a worthy purpose. I’ll start with the high seas before describing the balmier days.

Rough Waters:

  • Very few submitters, say less than 10%, read or follow submission instructions. Sixty page novels were submitted. Single spaced, 8-point font dystopian-sci-fi tales of zombies battling vampires for the love of a fair maiden were also found the inbox. Cover letters worthy of tenure-post consideration were submitted. Clichés, typos, horrendous dialogue, and title-less first drafts also flooded the slush pile.
  • There were loads of great stories badly written and bad stories written greatly.
  • There were loads of stories with great beginnings lacking great endings.
  • There were loads of stories. I lost count around 933. But anything with a tight first three pages beat the cull into the second round of reading.
  • University literary magazines are under the majesty of The University and can be looted, re-structured, or simply folded at anytime for no explicable reason or logical explanation. Just look at the national budget and extrapolate.
  • Being an editor is extremely time consuming. I knew that taking the helm and love reading vast amounts, but make sure you have a healthy dose of staff readers to help batten down the hatches.

 

Smooth Sailing:

  • AWP is much better as an editor. People give you more time. People give you more attention. The imposter syndrome evaporates because you are actually an editor. You make the decisions.
  • Interviewing writers rocks. Lori Ostlund, Andrew Bourelle, Natalie Scenters-Zapico, and Erika Sanchez are all fabulous, generous, and talented. It was a pleasure to pick their brains.
  • Writing those acceptance letters and telling the writers why and what you loved about their stories is worth a thousand treasure maps.
  • Continually attempting to understand the readership and how you can serve them and the community can be frustrating, but extremely rewarding.
  • Watching the magazine grow (Yes, we now pay our contributors!) and surviving the growing pains feels like a strong knot wind on your back.
  • Stepping aside when your watch is done, knowing good people are in place to continue the journey, emanates both satisfaction and relief. That little voice in the head saying, I didn’t mess up. I left it better than I took it. I enjoyed it. I’d do it again but better… is what we all need to hear sometimes.

 

Outside of BMR, this has been a hell of a year, personally and politically. Although, I would love to keep the helm for years and years and take the ship around the world and back, it’s time to focus on my own little kayak dodging in the rapidly approaching, rushing Dissertation River. With great gratitude and joy, I step on terra firma knowing much more than when I departed, and knowing The Blue Mesa Review will continue on course.

A Message from the Incoming Editor-in-Chief

By Steven D. Howe

As an MFA affiliated magazine, the Blue Mesa Review editorial staff changes with the academic year. This change is part necessity, due to graduations and new writers joining the program, and part choice to encourage new perspectives and varying aesthetics in the production of the magazine. The tradition at Blue Mesa Review is the outgoing editorial staff selects the incoming editors, and I count as one of my highest honors to have been chosen by my peers to be Editor-in-Chief for the upcoming academic year.

What I hope to bring to the magazine is a compulsion for new and interesting perspectives. It can be argued there are only a handful of things to write about; relationships between one another, relationships between intersecting cultures, the relationship with ourselves as we navigate the tragic and fascinating in our lives. Of course, this is incomplete, but as readers, when picking up an essay, poem, or short story, how often have you felt like you’ve read this story before? With the thousands upon thousands of submissions being presented across the literary magazine spectrum, it’s expected that you’d find multiple versions of the same story. But Blue Mesa Review is not looking for the expected. If you want to write about a common theme, we want to see an uncommon approach. Are you giving the readers a perspective that is underrepresented in the canon? Are we surprised by your choice of language and structure? Are you teaching us anything new? While our stories are often similar, we want you to feel free to break the conventions of your genre.

I feel we have an obligation to our readers to be a boutique in a big box world, and the task is difficult. Literary magazines play a role in curating the culture. We help decide what the world sees, what trends are supported or dismissed, and what voices are heard, and we take that job very seriously. To do this, and do it well, it takes a team of dedicated people willing to volunteer hundreds of hours from lives with precious little time to spare, but they do it for the love of the craft. Joining me in the curation of Issues 36 and 37 will be a wonderful team of talented and generous writers.

• Our new fiction editor is Tatiana Duvanova, a brilliant scholar and writer who will bring an international eye to the magazine.
• Nonfiction is led by Hayley Peterson. Hayley is unafraid of taking on challenging subject matter that breaks conventional boundaries.
• Our poetry editor, Ruben Rodriquez, is well published in the craft and is our connection to the what is most compelling and fresh in modern poetry.

Each of these editors will share their feelings on craft and what moves them within their genre in blog posts throughout the summer, so watch this space.

Helping in the day to day operation of the magazine is Lydia Wassan, who will assume the role of Managing Editor. She will also coordinate the Works In Progress reading series and the BMR blog. Aside from being a gifted essayist, Lydia has a wealth of international work and academic experience that will be invaluable in maintaining a professional culture within the magazine.

Blue Mesa Review has always been fortunate to have accomplished and exceptional faculty advisement to round out our team. Recent advisors include, Justin St. Germain, Emily Rapp Black, Marisa P. Clark, Jack Trujillo, and most recently, Jose Orduña. For the upcoming academic year, the trend of excellence continues. We are thrilled and proud to have as our advisor, Mark Sundeen, who was recently named the Russo Chair of the Creative Writing Program at the University of New Mexico.

Of course, none of what we do is possible without the staff readers who will be named from the incoming class of graduate and undergraduate students at UNM.

With deep gratitude to our past editorial board of Aaron Reader, Jason Thayer, Crystal Zanders, and David O’Connor, the current board thanks you for the trust you’ve placed in us and we are eager to represent the great tradition of Blue Mesa Review in the coming year.

2017 Summer Contest Judges!

Like the passing of the seasons, our spring issue release means it’s time for our summer contest. Beginning June 1, 2017, contest submissions will be open and we couldn’t be more thrilled with this year’s judging line up:

Safiya Sinclair for Poetry, Rigoberto González for Nonfiction, and for the first time, co-judges for Fiction, Anne Raeff and Lori Ostlund. See below for bios.

Contest winners in each genre will receive $500 and publication in Issue 36 later this year. Second place will also be published in the issue.

For more information on the contest and submission guidelines, click here.

 

Bios

Poetry

Safiya Sinclair was born and raised in Montego Bay, Jamaica. She is the author of Cannibal (University of Nebraska Press, 2016), winner of the Prairie Schooner Book Prize in Poetry, the Addison M. Metcalf Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the OCM Bocas Prize for Caribbean Literature in Poetry, longlisted for the PEN Open Book Award, the Dylan Thomas Prize, and named one of the American Library Association’s “Notable Books of the Year.”

Sinclair is the recipient of a Whiting Writers’ Award, a Pushcart Prize, a Ruth Lilly and Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Fellowship from the Poetry Foundation, fellowships from Yaddo, the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference and the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, as well as the Amy Clampitt Residency Award. Her poems have appeared in PoetryKenyon Review, Granta, The Nation, New England Review, Boston Review, TriQuarterlyOxford American, and elsewhere.

She received her MFA in poetry at the University of Virginia, and is currently a PhD candidate in literature and creative writing at the University of Southern California. (Source: http://www.safiyasinclair.com)

Nonfiction

Rigoberto González is the author of four books of poetry, most recently Unpeopled Eden, which won the Lambda Literary Award and the Lenore Marshall Prize from the Academy of American Poets. His ten books of prose include two bilingual children’s books, the three young adult novels in the Mariposa Club series, the novel Crossing Vines, the story collection Men Without Bliss, and three books of nonfiction, including Butterfly Boy: Memories of a Chicano Mariposa, which received the American Book Award from the Before Columbus Foundation. The recipient of Guggenheim, NEA and USA Rolón fellowships, a NYFA grant in poetry, the Shelley Memorial Award from the Poetry Society of America, The Poetry Center Book Award, and the Barnes & Noble Writer for Writers Award, he is contributing editor for Poets & Writers Magazine and writes a monthly column for NBC-Latino online. (Source: www.rigobertogonzalez.com)

Currently, he is professor of English at Rutgers-Newark, the State University of New Jersey, and the inaugural Stan Rubin Distinguished Writer-in-Residence at the Rainier Writing Workshop.

Fiction

Anne Raeff’s (left) short story collection, The Jungle Around Us won the 2015 Flannery O’Connor Award for Short Fiction. The collection is also a finalist for the California Book Award and was on The San Francisco Chronicle’s 100 Best Books of 2017 list. Her stories and essays have appeared in New England Review, ZYZZYVA, and Guernica among other places. Her first novel Clara Mondschein’s Melancholia was published in 2002 by MacAdam/Cage. (Source: www.anneraeff.com)

Lori Ostlund’s (right) first collection of stories, The Bigness of the World, received the Flannery O’Connor Award for Short Fiction, the California Book Award for First Fiction, and the Edmund White Debut Fiction Award. It was shortlisted for the William Saroyan International Prize for Writing, was a Lambda finalist, and was named a Notable Book by The Short Story Prize. Her stories have appeared in Best American Short Stories and The PEN/O. Henry Prize Stories, among other publications. (Source: www.simonandschuster.com)

Which Came First: Alcoholism and Mental Illness or Writing?

 

As a writer, but even more so as an indigenous writer, I’ve always been plagued by the pervasive image of the self-destructive, mentally ill, alcoholic writer. Think Hemingway, Faulkner, Edgar Allan Poe. And these are just a few on a list of American writers whose names are synonymous with alcoholism, mental illness, and deterioration. It doesn’t help that I’ve made this a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Anais Nin writes, “Great art was born of great terrors, great loneliness, great inhibitions, instabilities, and it always balances them.”

I’m not the first writer who’s been perplexed by this stereotype of the mentally ill, self-destructive writer. Maria Popova, of brainpickings.org, has explored the complex relationship between mental illness and creativity in her article “The Relationship between Creativity and Mental Illness” (2014). Decades before her, Thomas A. Dardis addressed a similar concern about the apparent connections between alcoholism and the writer in his 1989 book The Thirsty Muse: Alcohol and the American Writer. My questioning is only a more personal investigation of an ongoing, public conversation in the arts.

Simply being a writer who uses alcohol or who has a mental illness, or both, doesn’t necessarily condemn one. The connection is not so simple. Despite this, there is a stereotype that persists of the self-destructive writer: again, think Sylvia Plath, Virginia Woolf, and Anne Sexton. I can only offer you a voyeur’s look into my own experience to deconstruct this perceived connection between mental illness, alcohol use, and self-destructive behaviors.

My family’s legacy, both matrilineal and patrilineal, is alcoholism and self-destruction. I’ve inherited that legacy and continue to contribute to it. I started drinking when I got to college, around 18-years-old, and what initially started as social drinking with friends, quickly developed into drinking as a means of coping. I had chronic depression because of the traumas I’d suffered growing up in a home with intrafamilial violence and alcoholism, not to mention the everyday reality of living on a reservation where alcoholism, poverty, unemployment, early death, all forms of abuse, and drug abuse were, essentially, a contagion.

By age 21, I’d already been briefly hospitalized for a psychiatric stint facilitated by (not caused by) my drinking. I’d ended up cutting my forearm deeper than I’d intended and calling 911 after a brutal end-of-semester bender. My alcohol use has fluctuated over the years: after I married and had a child, it tapered off somewhat. I drank occasionally, but the state of my marriage induced another severe period of depression that lasted several years. I binge drank throughout this period.

Three years ago, I returned to academia to seriously pursue a career as a writer. Writing has ever been the only thing which fulfills me, this capacity to write which has no dependence on an external person or state. It was entirely internal, originating from my Self, and that recognition that I could fulfill my Self, rather than relying on social status, a husband or lover, or even a child, to do so, was poignant. Writing, however, was (and is) evasive in practice.

I couldn’t maintain my writing! I couldn’t force myself to write everyday as my professors told me I needed to in order to be serious about it! The greatest barrier to my writing has been my alcohol use, depression, and anxiety. The first couple of shots may help with breaking down the cognitive barriers (the internal critic) to allow me to write for a couple of hours, but long-term drinking has effected the quality of my writing. My writing doesn’t have the same precision that it does when I’m sober. The cycle is self-perpetuating: I become depressed over my inability to write, and I become anxious that I won’t be able to produce any good writing (much less consistently), which is what I must do if I want to write as a profession.

In spite of my mental illness and alcohol abuse, I’ve been able to write. The relationship between my ability to write and my mental illness and alcohol abuse is complex. My mental illness, or rather the experiences that led to the development of my mental illness and alcoholism, gives me material for writing, while simultaneously the act of writing itself is hampered by these same conditions.

 

 

Heather Johnson (aka Heather Johnson Lapahie) is a writer, teacher, mother, and lifelong student. She is an MFA student at the University of New Mexico and explores issues of marginalization, the individual identity, and voice in her writing.

A Matter of Choice

 

I haven’t seen Manuel in a few months now. I’m glad. I thought he’d gone the first time he left, but no more than a month later he was back. This time I think he’s gone for good. I hope so.

Manuel’s in his mid-fifties. He’s a broad-shouldered, average-sized man, and sturdy, built of aging muscle. His slackening skin’s brown, and the last time I saw him his pepper-grey hair was shaved close to his head at the sides and back, the top of his head bald, and he had a pepper-grey mustache to match. He has big, dry hands, with white cracks that fill the tops of them. He has unfilled, black outlined tattoos on the outsides of his forearms, though of what I can’t recall. They aren’t exactly black, though, but faded to a kind of grey-black.

I first met Manuel early one summer Sunday morning at the wooden, rib-high front desk of the homeless shelter I work at. He wore a white t-shirt, blue jean shorts, and choked white sneakers. A duffel bag’s black strap was slung over his left shoulder. It was his first time at the shelter. I told him he didn’t need anything to get food. I gave him a blue, hand-numbered meal ticket, told him when the meal would be served, and that there was coffee, cream, sugar and plastic cups in the back of the long, narrow, warmly-lit room.

A long line of plastic tables, covered by multi-colored cloths and bordered by black and red imitation leather chairs, runs down the middle of the room.

Manuel came back with a cup of coffee in between his hands. He leaned his left elbow, also dry and cracked, on the desk. “You don’t mind if I stand here?” “No,” I replied. We talked. He told me about his life: a wife and kids in northern New Mexico, a good job, lost, a head swollen “like a balloon” after being hit by a car, drunk, years back, now on the streets of Albuquerque “because of myself,” still able to get back to his life before it broke, if only he could make the quiet daily choices to do so. I told Manuel about my life too, the choices I’d made, and how they’d had an effect on my life up to that morning with him.

The shelter opens at seven-fifteen on Sundays and there’s usually a line of people right outside of the scratched, shoe-kick-imprinted, loose double doors, waiting to get inside for a myriad of reasons.

One morning, as I walked past a line of people toward the 2009 white Chevy Silverado in the middle of the shelter’s gravel lot, which I drove to pick up food donations all around town, Manuel stepped out of the near-back of the line, and stopped me in the sun that’d just risen over the Sandia Mountains. We talked again. “It’s OK if we talk sometimes? Just like this. I like to talk. It helps.” After that, we checked in with each other nearly every morning, or whenever we saw each other around.

Not long after he’d come back, while at a red light on Third and Mountain, headed to pick up food donations from a grocery store, I saw Manuel walking the other way on the sidewalk, the same clothes on. He didn’t see me. His duffel bag’s black strap rested on his left shoulder, and he had a twelve pack of grape soda in his right hand. His neck and back were straight, and his face and eyes were sharp with focus, as though he was determined to reach something ahead.

The other morning, as I headed toward the mountains to a grocery store to pick up food donations, I listened to an audiobook–David Foster Wallace: In His Own Words, a collection of stories, essays, and speeches read by the author. Wallace speaks of how it’s “not automatic, how it’s a matter of choice to be a human being.” The street I was on was fairly empty, so it wasn’t hard to concentrate: “When all the, like, props and stage-settings that let you just go around smugly assuming you’re not a thing are ripped away and broken.”

After I’d pulled into the back of a grocery store in the Northeast Heights, backed up to the loading dock and parked, I rewound that particular section, and listened again: “It’s up to you, you’re the only one that can decide if you’re more.” I sat for a moment and looked at the cloudless blue sky beyond the black asphalt, wooden and metal fences, and the tops of bushes and roofs. I wished Manuel could hear that stuff with me, but then I remembered the last time I saw him on the sidewalk, the straightness of his neck and back, his eyes, the soda. I stopped the audiobook, got out of the truck, locked it, put on my black work gloves, and walked in the back door of the grocery store.

 

George Christopher Moreno lives in Albuquerque, New Mexico. His fiction has appeared in Two Hawks Quarterly and Conceptions Southwest. His theatrical work for HDDT’s The Groundskeepers was called “beautifully moody, elegiac….Beckettian” by Victoria Looseleaf of the LA Times, and his “real-time, first-person story, ‘An Encounter,’ calls to mind a less abstract James Joyce,” said Weekly Alibi’s Geoffrey Plant. He is a Staff Reader for Blue Mesa Review.

 

Andrew Bourelle’s Heavy Hitting Debut Novel

Andrew Bourelle’s debut novel, Heavy Metal is fast and furious. A page-turner, winner of the 2016 Autumn House Fiction Prize, the prose clips like a teenager in a tee-shirt and jean jacket on a bitterly frozen school day, trudging across a wintry corn field with AC/DC in the ear and a .44 Magnum in the pocket. Simple and exact, the themes of suicide, gun-violence, bullying, brotherly-love, teenage-existential-angst, class and work put the reader on that empty orange school bus gunning toward decision-time. 3 O’clock High meets Rumblefish with a touch of A Separate Peace, this intelligent and suspenseful bildungsroman, is as cinematic as literature can get without becoming a predictable script. A sucker-punch from 1980s hard-luck America, Heavy Metal, is the perfect book to approach delicate issues in the classroom or for that moment when you want to block out the world and disappear into a well-told story. Plot-driven, littered with cassettes and Chevy Novas and Taco Bell, Bourelle has struck narrative gold.

BMR: Tell us about how Heavy Metal came to be?

Bourelle: I wrote the first draft in 2011-2012, right before coming to New Mexico. Then, I honestly tinkered with the manuscript for four years, looking for publishers but continuing to make revisions. It was kind of an experiment to see if I could write a novel. I was teaching a lot of classes. I just said, I’m going to forego writing short stories for a while, and write like a page a day, 4-5 days a week and just go.

BMR: Are you a structure guy? Did you plan much? Map it out?

Bourelle: I didn’t. I had an idea where it would end up. I knew it would take place over a week and a weekend. No outline.

BMR: Were there themes you wanted to approach? Say gun-violence or bullying?

Bourelle: I don’t do this very often, but I think I had the title first. Just this idea of the figurative and literal weight of the gun. And I wanted to explore motifs. Keep metal as this continual motif. Muscle cars, a roll of quarters, things like that…

BMR: And the music…

Bourelle: Yes, but really the gun is the weight.

BMR: Right, it begins and ends with the gun.

Bourelle: No spoilers please!

BMR: Were you aware you were writing a page-turner? I mean I dare someone to put this book down halfway through…

Bourelle: I did want to write something that people would want to know what would happen next. But it’s more of a character study really. When people say that, it’s a page-turner, I feel good. I mean a week in the life of a teenager doesn’t seem full of plot twists and suspense, but I appreciate the compliment.

BMR: Stylistically, did you have any rules in mind, you know short sentences or whatever…

Bourelle: Maybe it’s just my style, but first person present tense was deliberate. Having it try to seem like teenage-narration was the goal. I played with rhythm a lot.

BMR: Did you know the themes were coming? You know, hard teenage drinking, rural life, broken families…

Bourelle: Not really. It started as a story. The first chapter is kinda a version of a story that was published previously, in Jaberwock Review, long before I was think of a novel. Then when I decided to write a novel, I looked back at my stories and asked if there were any that could keep going and this one, well… I could tell more about that character.

BMR: Was the original story a chapter? Or did you just go in and enlarge?

Bourelle: More or less chapter one. And I decided I’ll have Danny, the main character, get out of bed the next morning and see where it goes from there.

BMR: You never mention Ohio, where you’re from…

Bourelle: That’s intentional. I wanted to keep it general, rural and flat. I picture it as mid-west. I mean Ohio has bleak winters, but my adult life has been out West. I’ve gotten used to warmer winters, but as a kid, I didn’t know. I thought this is how winter was, so the descriptions, no hat, just a thin jean jacket, that’s how it was. But now when I go back to visit, I’m like man, bundle up.

BMR: The story is set late 80s. How much did you research or was it all memory?

Bourelle: Mostly memory. I had the time period. But when I put in musical references, I did fact check to make sure. Specifically, I don’t give a date, but I didn’t want people thinking, “That’s impossible, that song didn’t come out till ’91.”

BMR: Kathy Ireland in Sports illustrated? And the car, the Fiore? Toyota Cressida? And the music, wow, blast from the past…

Bourelle: Yeah, you’re my age, you get it. But I was thinking, okay, this is my first novel and I didn’t want to take on something like feudal Japan or a 19th century mining town. I needed to do something where the setting and time period was easy for me.

BMR: Do you think about your audience when you write?
Bourelle:
I didn’t. I finished it and then thought, “Who is gonna read it?” It was mostly an attempt to finish. I thought, even if it’s not published, I got one out of the way. The next one will be easier. You hear writers say, my first novel was terrible; my second was the one I published. I didn’t put a lot of pressure on myself about marketing or publishing. In retrospect, maybe I should have.

BMR: I mean some might market it as YA?

Bourelle: Some early readers said that, and I did a little research. It could be but this feels a little different. In terms of audience, I did think I wanted younger folks to like it. I didn’t want to limit the story to someone who grew up in the 80s. I wanted it to be accessible and to cross generations.

BMR: Would you consider it a coming-of-age novel?

Bourelle: Yep.

BMR: I really liked this part… about the gun… the machinations of…

Bourelle: Don’t give anything away!

BMR: … okay. The part about grappling with destiny…

Bourelle: I mean Danny does struggle with it all being inevitable. He doesn’t believe in God, but fate, you know… existential thoughts…

BMR: It makes him very teenage. A real 3D character. But I won’t give anything else away. How was the publishing process?

Bourelle: Well, my wife and brother are my first readers. They aren’t creative writers but they are great readers. I submitted and queried agents. More friends read it over the years, which was all really helpful. The earlier drafts were never quite right. And Autumn House helped a lot. Starting with large edits all the way down to proof-reading. Christine Stroud was a great help.

BMR: Did you submit to a lot of contests?

Bourelle: No, just a few. I’ve been submitting collections for years, often a finalist, but have never broke through and I had this book just sitting there. What’s it going to hurt to submit and it happened right away! I always felt like agents didn’t read it. One even said a coming-of-age-story about a male doesn’t sell. I thought, if I could just get someone to read it, they’d publish it. I’m thrilled with Autumn House.

BMR: Since winning, are agents knocking on the door?

Bourelle: Not yet.

BMR: How do you set up your writing day?

Bourelle: I try to write everyday but I have two young children so that doesn’t happen as much now. So I write in spurts, carve out a whole day. Shoot for 9 hours or something. What you find is you have to make the time, the universe doesn’t give you free time, noone hands you two free hours in the morning.

BMR: What are you working on now?

Bourelle: A new novel. I’m trying to write a real page-turner.

BMR: You already have, I don’t think you’ll have to try too hard…

Bourelle: Ha, thanks. But more a mystery/thriller, set in Nevada. I don’t write autobiographically, but I tend to set them in places I have live.

BMR: How do you choose what project to work on next?

Bourelle: I try and set goals for myself. One year I said I was going to write two short stories a month. 24 in a year, and I did it. Goals and challenges. In the case of Heavy Metal, it was x number of words per week ‘til I finished. When I don’t have a goal, I find myself floundering.

BMR: Do you feel happier in the middle of a project or between?

Bourelle: I’m happiest when I am writing.

Heavy Metal will be released on Feb 1st. (purchase here)

Andrew Bourelle will be reading at the Autumn House Press table at AWP, Friday Feb. 10, from 10 to 10:30 a.m.

He’s also reading in Albuquerque:

Bookworks– 3 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 12

UNM bookstore–2 p.m. Wednesday, March 1

UNM English Department–7 p.m. Thursday, March 30

 

 

My Trump Moment

A couple of months ago I had a bar conversation with a bunch of Americans about the upcoming elections. None of my newly found friends were happy about their next president. To them, it was obvious that Hillary would win. They were Bernie Sander supporters and hadn’t quite gotten over his defeat. Trump was out of the question, of course. “No one will vote for Trump.” With glasses of beer in their hands, they were confident, unafraid.

I haven’t seen them since the election, and I can only imagine how they felt. Shocked, confused, disoriented. Like they woke up in the middle of a dystopian novel.

As for me, I was upset, but I cannot say that the Trump victory came out of nowhere. I had my “Trump moment” back in 2013. I was in Russia, my home country, walking from a class with a couple of my university friends. We were stopped by four people, two females and two males, and asked whether we would sign a petition against a homophobic bill which would soon be labeled by the government as the “gay propaganda law,” or something like this. I signed the petition, of course, but I felt like those four were wasting their time. In our time, such a bill would never pass.

Later, I don’t know how much later, weeks or months, while I was browsing the internet, I saw that the “gay propaganda” bill was now the law. I was stupefied. I couldn’t comprehend how someone living in the same country, at the very same time as I, could support something like this.

I read more about the law. It claimed to protect children from harmful influences. It equated being gay with being a pedophile. It stated that it’s against the law to tell minors that “homosexual lifestyle” is not inferior to the “traditional family values,” technically making it illegal to say to a struggling gay teenager that there is nothing wrong with him or her. The very name of the law was ridiculous. Homosexuality, unlike homophobia, cannot be propagandized. I thought about those four people on the street with a poster and heart-shaped sticky notes of assorted colors. I really hadn’t seen that coming.

The only consolation is that at least the penalty for breaking this law is a small fine, about $60, so the freedom of speech is still affordable. In any case, that was a moment of awakening. I realized that legislated homophobia was not only confined to the borders of my country, that, for instance, a similar law existed in the UK until as recently as 2003, that comparable laws are still active in several US states. In my “before” world, homophobia belonged to the past, and maybe to a handful of far, far away countries. In my present, I no longer have the luxury of ignorance.

This summer when the Brexit was announced, I thought I knew exactly how a lot of people in the UK felt, those who didn’t vote because they had something more important to do that day and were sure that the majority would vote “in” anyway. So why bother? Leaving the European union probably seemed inconceivable to them. It turned out to be a perfectly desirable outcome for a significant part of the country.

It’s always easy to dismiss the opposing side, call them a bunch of crazies, but assigning labels doesn’t help.  If anything, it just makes the impenetrable walls between us higher, more resistant. Sometimes, I wonder whether I would have been a liberal, if I wasn’t myself, if I had been born to a different family, in a different country. I want to think that I still would have, but there’s no way to know really. What is clear to me is that the world around me is divided, filled with people with contradicting beliefs, and even though it might be tempting to hide in a bubble of like-minded individuals and dismiss anything distressing as impossible, sooner or later everyone is bound to have their “Trump moment.”

 

Tatiana Duvanova is a Russian born emerging writer. She is presently located in Albuquerque, NM, where she is pursuing her MFA in fiction, teaches college writing at the University of New Mexico, and reads for the Blue Mesa Review.

4 Ways a Writer Avoids Writing and the Benefits

1. Make yourself something to eat. Not a sandwich or platter of assorted chips, nuts and various sweets hiding in the pantry, but an honest to goodness meal—a crockpot meal, some Procrastination Stew. Head to the grocery store, peruse the produce section for an orange bell pepper, Russian fingerling potatoes, carrots, gold pearl onions, a couple husks of corn, some summer squash, parsley and a quart of vegetable stock. Get to your kitchen and chop that shit up. Thicken up with rice and in six hours you’ll forget all about the nagging issues of narrative trajectory as you ladle a hearty portion of Mother Nature into your bowl.

 Benefit: A scrumptious smelling home, multiple meals that will open up writing time, and an excuse to get up every 20 minutes to look in on the crock pot.

2. Treat yo’self. Take a trip to your favorite thrift shop. Find a jacket for your next reading, something that says, I’m a serious artist, but more importantly, I’m a badass. Give the bookshelves the once over. They’ll be crowded with romance and mystery, but at least some aspect of your life should be. And who knows, maybe you can snatch up a hardbound copy of Stephen King’s On Writing or a stack of Didion paperbacks some idiot gave up. Let me suggest a slow foot and sharp eye among the rows of knick-knacks. Inspiration has a funny way of sharing company with ceramic clowns and coffee-stained mugs.

Benefit: The Lee, butterfly collar, denim jacket you’ll be sporting at the coffee shop, The Stories of John Cheever—it’s orange, you won’t miss it—and the plasticized piranha you’ll gift to a friend who is sure to look over your manuscript, offering marginals no doubt!

3. Go to the library. Don’t roll your eyes. I’m not suggesting you pick up the collected works of Dostoyevsky, so you can watch it gather dust and late fees on a side table. Instead, spend some time with the magazines. Find a comfy seat and read up on emerging economic trends in South East Asia or the reemergence of CD culture amongst post-millennials. Maybe look over the top edge of those silky pages with their crisp digital images and do some old fashion people watching. Hunt the racks for the latest Best American Short Stories, Non-Fiction, Poetry, whatever, and use the honorable mentions index to comprise a list of magazines that you will send your current project to when it is realized and polished.

Benefit: Remembering you’re not the center of the universe, a new character who’s hovering above an oversized art book with a magnifying glass, and an all important catalogue of dreams and goals.

4. Commune. Call a friend and demand they meet you in 30 minutes at the coffee shop where they do all those fancy tricks with the foam, though you’ll both get the house blend as per usual. Decompress a bit. Gripe about the factors that are keeping you down, and resolve to make the change you seek. Talk about your latest troubles with love. Explain ad nauseam your current project until you realize that what you’re writing about is not the complications of class but the complications within yourself. Maybe get one of those pinwheel cookies that are so perfect with coffee but too crunchy to be considered a cookie at any other time.

Benefit: A real live person who will listen to you unlike that damn blank page, maybe you’ll stumble upon the reason the creative pipes are clogged, and there’s the cookie.

 

 

Writer’s Guide to Self-Care

For the last few months, I have been dealing with depression. It feels like someone is randomly shooting arrows at me. I dodge as many of them as I can, but some have lodged themselves in my flesh. It hurts to move, and the wounds are slowly oozing blood. Removing the arrows is more painful than them going in and every time I succeed with one, I have to dodge a new volley from my invisible attacker. But, as for most things in life the only way out is through, and I am working my way through. Here is my plan, which I am sharing with you. (Note: I am not a health care expert, which is why I encourage you to see your own. )

1. Give the vampires some blood.
One of the first steps in self-care is taking yourself to the doctor. They are going to want some blood; give it to them. There are a variety of physiological situations that can cause symptoms of depression. Something as simple as low iron can make you feel like crap for months. Also, if you are on medications, they can also cause or contribute to depression. Your doctor will be able to figure out or at least rule out some of the physical part of the body-mind connection. They may refer you to a counselor. Go.

2. Eat real food.
One of my medications has a side effect of suppressing appetite. When I realized it, I did a celebratory cabbage-patch. Finally, here is a side-effect that might improve my life! I wasn’t hungry, so I only ate when I needed a hit of my drug of choice, sugar. I would have a couple brownies for breakfast, an ice cream bar for lunch, and some cheese fries for dinner. The problem with eating junk food all day is that whether you feel hungry or not, your body needs food. Plus, all that sugar concentrated at specific parts of the day can cause mood swings. Sugar swings are great at the top, but the bottom sucks. Eating real food makes a noticeable difference in my day.

3. Exercise.
I hate to exercise. I can think of nothing more tedious than standing in a room full of mirrors lifting pieces of metal and putting them back down again. There are lots of ways to exercise; find one that you don’t despise and make it a priority. I went back to Zumba because that works for me. There have been several studies that say that exercise is just as or more effective at treating depression than medication.

4. Read happy stuff.
I am not sure if you can tell by the title, but I am a little bit in love with Junot Diaz. Not in love in the sense that I want to have his babies because I’ve never met him, but in love in the sense that I want to crawl into his stories and revel in the real-ness of his fiction. And Toni Morrison! I could spend the next year teasing out different interpretations of Sula without ever getting bored. But I can’t, not right now. No matter how satisfying it is, I can’t choose to immerse myself in more darkness. Be selective about what you read, what you watch, what kind of music you listen to.

5. Write joyfully.
I spent a semester writing about some of the most horrible times in my life, then subjecting the fruit of that labor to the microscope that is workshop. I spent all my considerable writing time perfecting these essays and immersed in darkness. This summer, I told myself I would work on an essay I had begun during that semester, so I sent it to one of my professors. He told me that he felt like the essay was about me coming to terms with my self-loathing and that I needed to devote a lot more time to the polishing of the essay. I made a decision. I don’t want to come to terms with my self-loathing. And I wasn’t in a place mentally where that would have been a healthy decision. So, I started writing children’s books. All children’s books have happy endings, and I needed to create that for myself, even if it is fiction. I need to live in that world, if just for a little while.

If writing darkness makes you feel better, then write that. If it makes you feel worse, then consider placing that piece on hold. Sometimes you can write the right essay at the wrong time. Stories don’t expire. People do. Depression is a disease which when untreated can be fatal. Don’t put your life at risk for the sake of a good story.

I would be remiss if I didn’t include the following:

If you or someone you know is having suicidal thoughts or actions, there are a variety of resources you can access
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline- 1-800-273-8255 (open 24-7)
Crisis Text Line- Text START to 741741 from anywhere in the USA, anytime, about any type of crisis.
The Trevor Project (for the LGBTQ community)- 1-866-488-7386

Use them. You have a unique, beautiful, haunting, inspiring story to tell, but you have to live to tell it.
I wish you love and peace and health throughout this new year.

Crystal J. Zanders is a writer, teacher, and pug owner who lives in Albuquerque, New Mexico. She is the current poetry editor of Blue Mesa Review and a second- year MFA student at the University of New Mexico.