Monday, December 30, 2019

Neil Laurenson : Typical writing day

I would love to have a writing shed like Roald Dahl’s, or a writing hut like Dylan Thomas’. Even more than that, I would love to have a writing routine, as this would mean that writing is my job and I would be ‘a writer’. But I’m not. I’m a dreamer – I have three jobs, two children, a cat, and many, many dreams about writing. Sometimes I manage to do some writing, like this piece I’m writing now. But it’s taken me three cups of coffee and several deep house tracks to get to this stage, and this is very typical preparation for me. YouTube is a fantastic, distracting juke box. Without it, I wouldn’t have discovered gorgeous music by the likes of Ben Böhmer, Marc Brauner, and Nox Vahn & Marsh. If you type in ‘Houseum’ you will be taken to a wonderful library of sound and you will spend hours there, like I have done. I also spend far too much time reading YouTube comments. Very occasionally I will read a comment that is genuinely interesting.

I say I’m ‘a poet’ but I think I’ve written about five poems this year. The last poem I wrote wasn’t at my desk in my house: it was on the train from Worcester Foregate Street to Smethwick Galton Bridge. It was called ‘Last Christmas’ and it was for an anti-slam. I didn’t win the prize and I still don’t know if this was because my poem was dreadful or too good. That said, I’m unusually indifferent about the reaction that night, as I was just grateful to enjoy what would have been an otherwise grim train journey. My attention was taken away from the grey, wet, cold November morning, and instead I was marvelling at my ability to include references to Wham and Fleetwood Mac in a poem about a fart that caused a family breakdown on Christmas Day.

I have got into the habit of telling people that ‘I’m writing a book’, though I wish I had a habit of actually writing the book. For a few weeks, I achieved a level of discipline, whereby I set the alarm for 6am and wrote/procrastinated for about an hour before sorting breakfast out for the kids. Now I just try to grab an hour whenever I can. I started the book in August and I’ve averaged about 10,000 words a month, which is much slower than I would like, but it’s the biggest piece of writing I’ve done since I was 9 years old (I’m almost 38). I used to dismiss the idea that I could sustain the effort needed to write a book. I also like the fact that a poem can be written in a few seconds on a receipt or the back of a hand (preferably your own hand, as experience tells me). But now I can’t dismiss the idea that is constantly rattling around in my mind and which requires approximately 90,000 words to be added to a Word document so that one day I will be able to move on to something else. Possibly another book or another sequence of daft poems or a pop song or a horror sequel.

In the photo of ‘the study’, you can see two sets of headphones, a guitar, and a book about Pink Floyd. These items have not been artfully placed, believe it or not. Nor is the glass of red there to give the impression of decadence. I love writing but music is the supreme art form, and I drink a lot of wine. In another life, I’d be a Belgian DJ with a brilliant pseudonym composing ethereal masterpieces on a laptop in a bedroom. Oh, and whilst completely sober: wine and writing don’t mix. On that note, I’m going to make a fourth cup of coffee…

Neil Laurenson is a poet in Worcester, England. His debut book Exclamation Marx! was published by Silhouette Press. He occasionally shares his poems in sparsely populated venues in exchange for sporadic applause. He used to dress up as Tony Blair in the local high street almost every Saturday for five years, in protest not in tribute. He made a short horror film earlier this year called Teddy Scare, which also involved heavy use of a mask. He likes puns, masks, and large audiences.  @NeilLaurenson

Saturday, December 28, 2019

Maryam Gowralli : my (small press) writing day

The recipe for my typical writing day is usually not a writing day at all. My process is rather an essential and sporadic mix between intensive research through different venues, continual reading and inspiration. There are times when the inspiration is purely through my own hard brain-sweat. Then there are times where I’ve literally woken up to semiconscious lines in my head that I scramble to write down before their inevitable disintegration in waking moments. I now keep a pen and notepad by my nightstand. This pad more often than not ends up in my creative workspace during hours of concoction.

I see humans as inspired creatures. This process in particular humbles me as it allows me to understand that not everything really comes from myself. Sometimes, I see it as whispers from my ancestors. Perhaps there’s a level of madness to it… but it cauterizes my dissected body in some measure.

Despite my tendency for sporadicity, as a creative writer and poet with an inclination towards competence, I do believe it necessary to have structure and I tend to juggle between two main projects at a time. As of right now, I’m currently editing my poetry collection manuscript, Citizenship in Water and philosophizing two potential chapbooks. One titled, a conversation with mad tiger and another as of yet untitled. Reality tends to keep me tethered to other obligations such as work, social life and family. I’ve found the general goal of crafting one poem per week to be realistic. This allows each poem room to simmer in the ingredients of mutability. Consuming marinated words can be quite delightful.

As a multigenerational mixed-race person of Trinidadian-Indian/Indonesian heritage, my work is influenced by tracking and linking my lived experiences, shared tribal/spiritual/religious traditions, and familial stories to ethnographic discourse, political activism and topographical landscapes in the Caribbean, Asia and North America. It’s a rigorous exercise which includes research that spans: conversing with family, reading scientific and historical research, discerning photos and records, studying linguistics and regional literary practices, reading authors of those literary histories, and tracing the changing borders of nations and movement of bodies through different time periods.

Such deep dives are simultaneously exhilarating yet draining. And I find the more I go on, the more books and materials I find piled high on my desk. The newest addition being Harvey Neptune’s Caliban and the Yankees: Trinidad and the United States Occupation. Some research takes weeks at a time although I’m not quite sure if some of my inquiries ever really leave my workspace at all.

Lately, I’ve been looking at national archives of British voyage maps which chart Nourse Line ships sailing from the Indian Empire to the West Indies. These travels would consist of stopping by ports in Africa and would be around four months long. High cases of mortality rates and diseases like cholera, typhoid, dysentery and measles were quite common.

It’s unnerving. Thinking of my great-grandfather in such conditions…

In many ways my writing is as much for myself, as it is for my readers. As Dionne Brand once said, “To live at the Door of No Return is to live self-consciously. To be aware of your presence as a presence outside yourself. And to have ‘others’ constantly remark on your presence as outside of itself. If to think is to exist, then we exist doubly. An ordinary conversation is never an ordinary conversation.”

There seems to be a suggestion that with the active inclusion of diverse voices that literary magazines are suddenly devoid of meritocracy. I try to ignore such claims as I continue my line of research and writing. I know for a fact the amount of effort it takes to write the type of stories I want to write and that’s enough for me.  

When I do in fact start my writing, I find I am most productive in the early hours of the morning or really late hours of the night when there is no one to distract me. A cup of coffee in tow.

Sometimes the bustle of my autistic brother, Deen pulls me away from my work. Occasionally he’ll sit with me in the quiet. He’s non-vocal insofar as the only noises he can produce are vowel sounds such as aaaa, oooo, or his favorite eeee.

I often wonder what his voice would sound like if he could produce sentences. Or how he feels about having a sister who loves words so much. Perhaps it’s just me, but there’s a gentle glimmer in his eyes whenever I talk to him while I write. From time to time he’ll use sign language to signify a thank you after giving him a cup of coffee and that in itself reminds me that he too has his own voice, however small his sign vocabulary. Hello, thank you, more, and I love you. Such an interesting cache of words to comprehend.

Language it truly all around me. Alphanumeric, visual or otherwise.

Words blur together in my career as well, which includes technical writing and communications. I try to keep both sides (creative and technical) distinct from one another. I’ve been rather successful, though I know the fact remains impossible. One cannot simply be a writer and turn off that switch.

And so my inspiration for writing continues. You’d think that I’d be sick of it.

Maryam Gowralli holds a degree in English Literature with Distinction from the University of Calgary. She was an editor for The Quill Magazine and NōD Magazine, and is currently a blog content writer for Augur Magazine. Her poetry collection Citizenship in Water is forthcoming with That Painted Horse Press in 2021.

Thursday, December 26, 2019


I come into my office each morning with one goal—to calm the chaos in my head. I don’t sleep well these days, probably my body telling me I need fewer hours in the sack—and what I’m working on tends to make its way into my dreams and woozy waking moments.

I always have several projects going at once. This lets me jump off a stalled page into one that might be more active and responsive to my persistent nudge.

There’s a novel. The current one is set in the late 1940’s in Cambridge, MA. The husband is pursuing his doctorate at Harvard; the wife is deciding if she wants to stay married. I’ll be honest. This draws from the story of my parents, in that same time and place. They’re both gone now, and I’m free to render them as I like, without fear of offense or condemnation.

There’s a story. The new one is about an older woman who decides to cut her hair, after wearing it long all her life. Of course, there’s a lot more to it than that. You’ll have to wait until I finish it and find a publisher to know the rest.

There’s an essay—this one, in fact. Its immediate predecessor was a piece I wrote about the television show Perry Mason. Did you know its executive producer was a woman? I found that fascinating. You can read the piece here.

There’s poetry. This is a relatively new passion for me. I’ve published twenty poems in the last two years, and am really thinking about putting a chapbook together. I’m having trouble arranging the poems, though. While I’m used to arranging stories in a collection, poems feel a little different, as if their sequence needs more care. I’m willing to admit that I might be overthinking this. All the poems have to do is talk to each other in a way that makes sense. I’ll keep working on it.

If I’m not writing, I’m promoting. And let me be honest—I don’t like it much. I know it’s necessary. My last novel just came out on October 1st, and I’m still tweeting about it. My publisher is  running a sale on Smashwords, and I’m tweeting about that, too. I try to stay on top of my newsletter, and get it out once a month. I’m in the process of redesigning it, or my graphic design person is, or will be, after the first of the year.

Every writing day will have one or more of these elements, in some combination. When it all stalls, which it does more often than I like to admit, there’s always computer solitaire. Really, I’m a whiz with those cards.

Lastly, I listen to the rain. I live in Western Washington, surrounded by huge evergreen trees. There’s something about another two inches of rain falling through their branches that I have come to love, probably out of necessity. Contemplating nature frees the mind, and pretty soon I feel creative again.

Then, I get back at it.

Thank you so much for spending time with me today. You can visit me on my website, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram. Also Facebook, if you’re still into Facebook these days.

Anne Leigh Parrish's fifth novel, A Winter Night, will be published in March 2021 by Unsolicited Press.  Previous titles are: Maggie’s Ruse, a novel, (Unsolicited Press, 2019); The Amendment, a novel, (Unsolicited Press, 2018); Women Within, a novel (Black Rose Writing, 2017); By the Wayside, stories (Unsolicited Press, 2017); What Is Found, What Is Lost, a novel, (She Writes Press, 2014); Our Love Could Light The World, stories (She Writes Press, 2013); and All The Roads That Lead From Home, stories, (Press 53, 2011). Her short fiction has recently appeared in New Pop Lit, The Slag Review, and O:JA&L. Recent poems have appeared in Mocking Heart Review, Crow Literary Review, S/tick, Wilde Boy, Feminine Collective, 34thParallel Magazine, and Q/A Poetry.  She lives among the evergreen trees in the South Sound region of Washington State.


Tuesday, December 24, 2019

Sheldon Lee Compton : Repose In a Tattered Recliner Adorned with Knitted Sweater Vest and Jogging Pants

Briefly, How I Got Here In the First Place

When I started writing, back in 1987, I used my grandmother’s Singer sewing machine as a desk. The next year I asked for a typewriter and retired the pencils and spiral notebooks, affixing the Brother machine atop the Singer machine. I exclusively read Stephen King when I wasn’t writing. Work continued in earnest. 

Today I don’t use a desk. I sit in my recliner with the laptop. At my job I do write at my desk when I find time to write at all. So there’s these two places I write. Here are recent random days from each.

Repose In a Tattered Recliner Adorned with Knitted Sweater Vest and Jogging Pants

Saturday morning. I should be cleaning the living room, doing something with the dishes before they come alive and trot out of the room into some storybook town where they are the collective monster in the woods. I should be getting ready for our Christmas tomorrow, a little early to accommodate schedules. Instead I have my sweater and jogging pants on, house shoes. Instead I’m in my recliner, the blue room with holes in the back and part of the armrest torn away. I’m side-watching a crime documentary on Amazon Prime, stealing a glance here and there when I get stuck on a particular sentence or thought. My laptop glows expectant in front of me.

The house is quiet. Heather is still asleep and a #2 sausage platter with a side of bacon from Tudor’s Biscuit World is heavy on my mind. But there’s Sister Hall to consider, the main character in my recent short story. And this morning General Hall, her dad, is on stage, too. I add to my stories by section. Each story is nearly always divided into sections and worked on separately in this way. When I’ve finished one part I hit the Cap Lock and type MORE HERE and then move to another section. Today I’m moving away from General Hall creating his oracle on Abner Mountain and revisiting a section less involved. My brain is slowing down, making way for my stomach.

To stave off hunger and maybe finish up another part I put on coffee by the cup, the new Keurig allowing for one cup at a time, which is good or I’d stand in the kitchen and drink one after another so as to procrastinate, to avoid the possibility of writing a bad section due to distraction.

It is at times such as this that the glamour of being a writer is stripped away. Don’t picture me in the midst of some impassioned moment of muse-infused glory, Shakespearean in my genius, awash in my perfect syntax and poise, sunlight beaming through on to my Victorian era writing desk, perhaps the scent of rotting apples wafting up from my desk drawer to conjure memory into fiction. Don’t do this; that’s a mistake in logical thinking.

I scratch the rat’s nest that makes up my right-sided, receding hair line. There no point putting it off any longer. I change into some more acceptable clothes, grab my Atlanta Braves cap, and head out.

After having breakfast, I return home. During that entire time away from the laptop I’m working on the story, though. It’s time that matters in the process. When I get back I start in pretty fast. I finish the day’s writing session with some background noise. The choice for the past few weeks has been a show called How the Universe Works. It’s perfect when I need those brief breaks to let my mind reset my imagination.

From this point the session winds down. I stop when it feels natural. I don’t push it, and I accept incompletion if that’s what’s called for at that moment. A lot of writing is acceptance and patience.

At the Job In Bursts Between Drug-Addicted Patients

—5:43 a.m.

It’s a bad morning. All of it, everything is bad. Life, writing, life. All terrible. I decide to do nothing on my job today. Instead I bring up the show Hannibal on my phone and settle in. From the time I woke this morning I’ve not thought once about writing.

—8:22 a.m.

I’ve let my guard down and had a thought of writing, of anything other than the horror that is my life this morning. Besides, I’m on the series finale of Hannibal and then there’s nothing left to distract me. So I write.

Short stories. Short stories. That’s where my heart rests. But I do have three or four books going. Novels, as it were. Projects that collapsed into some form other than a short story and which I couldn’t give up on. This is the part where I choose what I’m going to give my effort to today, since it assuredly will not be my job as a substance abuse counselor.

—8:51 a.m.

Still no idea what I’m writing on today, but I have floated around and researched a little on the Delphi Oracle for this current story. Research for me, for my writing, is ongoing. Truly, I research every waking minute. I never know what might come up in my filter while writing that would fit or make a story spin into a strange direction I hadn’t thought of or even anticipated. In a very real way, it’s the reverse of “garbage in, garbage out” for dreaming. It’s more “random details and facts in, important and interesting details and facts out.” That’s if I’m doing it right. To do it right I have to let go of trying. I let my mind wander where it will. It’s a trust exercise I’ve been fully engaged in for the past 34 years.

—10:04 a.m.

Lunch time. Early because we start earlier than most. The early start is due to having a lot of coal miners who are addicted to opioids following accidents that left them disabled and in chronic pain. But early, yes. So the lunch is early, too.

Like a lot of days, I skip lunch, but use the time reading. Today it’s Glenn Gould. No idea how I got to his Wikipedia, or the links that followed, but I did. And so I spent a couple hours on Glenn. I have no particular interest in classical music, but Gould’s eccentricities lure me his way. Difficult, genius, prodigy, mentally ill. It’s an interesting draw. Here’s what I know: I won’t write about Gould or anything to do with him today, but I will absolutely do so later. It could be months or years, but I will, and I will have researched today in preparation.

—12:46 p.m.

Wrote four or five pages on a book I’m working on called Evergreen. It’s structure is very loose and open and so when I’m lagging the option is always there. I used to call it my dumping novel, the place where I went to write when I couldn’t write. But it’s taking shape. Still, I feel my short stories are suffering neglect. Also in the back of my mind is the manuscript I sent to West Virginia University Press on November 1. Even though Derek Krissoff, the director there, told me it could be a bit before I received word back on this draft, I feel incomplete in some ways. I know there will be more drafting on that book and yet it feels like it was finished forever a month and a half ago. Sometimes books become ghosts in that way.

—2:01 p.m.

The benefit of coming in early to the job is that you also leave a little earlier than most. It’s quitting time. My next stop (an hour drive home) will be my recliner and the laptop again. Though it’s not very exciting, these are samples of my days, the two different kinds that I make fiction, poetry, and nonfiction in. And I don’t worry about that; masterpieces were made in the same spirit and circumstance.

Sheldon Lee Compton is a short story writer and novelist from Kentucky. He is the author of six books, most recently the novel Dysphoria (Cowboy Jamboree Press, 2019) and his third short story collection Absolute Invention (Secret History Books, 2019). He also believes baseball is our purest form of truth.