February – Penned: Interviews with Writers

The other day, my creative writing professor told me that “we were made to tell stories.” That’s the basis of human nature, to share their experiences, to use their voices. Every story is unique — each one has its own distinct voice and purpose.

As writers, we excel at storytelling. It’s in our blood, intertwined into our DNA. We all do it differently; that’s why this month’s interviews focus on individual storytelling techniques.

The February theme: How to begin a story/poem.


Tyler Barton:

Find a voice and follow its energy. I find it almost impossible to start with an idea (for example: irony as a defense mechanism can have serious consequences for human connection) and then try write a story. However, if I sit down to write and listen for the voice of a caustic, sarcastic, washed-up comic, whose loneliness seeps hilariously through her speech, I’m much more likely to get a draft started, maybe even completed. Basically: don’t start with what you want to say, but who you want to watch, know, and hear speak.

Leanne Gregory:

To me, the method that works when beginning a story or poem is to become that story or poem. By that I mean, act it out. Whether out loud, or inside your head, find someplace you can be alone and let yourself meditate on what you want the story to say. What the characters look like, and act like. The sounds, smells, tastes, and feel of your world. Imagine it all. Make sure to have a recorder or notebook nearby to record what you discover as well.

Jamie Yourdon:

Every story teaches the reader how to read it. It begins: “I am happy,” or “I am sad.” I am happy and sad. I am the first, second, or third person. I’m an anecdote. I’m argot. I am not to be trusted. I am in conversation with all the stories that came before me, the ones you read in college or huddled under the covers. I am a new old story and you are your new old self—you, the reader. We are bound by this sentence, and the next, and the next. So let’s begin.

Zane Ross:

Any of my work, my stories or my poems, always start with a single idea. I could be sitting at my desk eating lunch and then a lyric will pop into my head or a vaguely defined premise like “techno wizards from Mars.” Although that example sounds completely awful that’s kind of how it is. Even the worst ideas can turn into great ones. So I will pull out my laptop and start typing up a story based on that small thing, not always intending on it being good. The first thing I write isn’t meant to be read by others, but it is meant to establish my characters and my world for me. When you first start you don’t know either of them. You haven’t been to this world or you haven’t met these characters yet. That short story, just for me, is how I understand what they are about.

Ben Tanzer:

It begins with an idea. Or maybe it starts with a theme, family, small towns, marriage. You muse on that theme. You wait for associations. Incidents from your childhood. A story a friend told you. A dream or fantasy. You make a list of these associations. You have associations with the associations. You write them down. The list gets messy. You stare at the list, certain ideas start to take form and leap from the page. You grab hold of them. You put pen to paper. You’ve begun.


I’d like to thank the writers who shared with us in this month’s Penned! I hope these responses help with putting your pen to some paper. (Don’t forget, Sea Salt submissions are open!)

See ya next month!



Tyler Barton is a cofounder of FEAR NO LIT and an intern for Sundress Publications. His stories have been published in Midwestern Gothic, Split Lip Mag, Hobart, and NANO Fiction. Find him at tsbarton.com. Follow him @goftyler.

Leanne Gregory is a student at the University of the Cumberlands. She has been writing since the sixth grade, and she was a member of her high school’s writing club for three years. She loves to write in the fictional genre of fantasy, specifically medieval settings, but has recently been trying to expand her writings into the realm of science fiction, as well.

Jamie Yourdon, a freelance editor and technical expert, received his MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Arizona. His short fiction has appeared in the Alaska Quarterly Review, Underneath the Juniper Tree, and Chicago Literati, and he has contributed essays and interviews to Booktrib. He lives in Portland, Oregon. Froelich’s Ladder (Forest Avenue, 2016) is his debut novel. He has been writing for 27 years, always and only literary fiction.

Zane Ross is a junior at University of the Cumberlands and an English major with an emphasis in Creative Writing and a minor in Journalism. He started writing when he was young, writing his own Goosebumps-like stories in 5th grade. He played a lot of Dungeons and Dragons in high school, so he contributes a lot of his practice in writing to those nerdtastic years. He is a fiction writer by trade and focuses mainly on the genres of Fantasy, Mystery and Horror. His writing is very focused on entertaining readers. He also write for the UC Patriot, his university’s school newspaper.

Ben Tanzer is the author of the  book Be Cool – a memoir (sort of), among others. He also oversees the lifestyle empire This Blog Will Change Your Life and frequently speaks on the topics of messaging, framing, social media, blogging, fiction, essay writing and independent publishing. He has been writing for 18 years, a mix of fiction and personal essay.


January: Poetry Picks & Prompts

Rebecca Featured

For the new year, I’ve decided to change my focus for this column. I’ve decided to narrow my scope, and delve more deeply into one literary magazine each month; I want to explore the content that these magazines publish, but even more than that I want to talk about what they stand for, their mission, and the contributions they are making as a whole to the world of poetry publishing. Lit mags – and the often unpaid, hardworking editorial staff that keep them running – play a huge role in determining the future of contemporary poetry, and are the loud voices that help keep poetry alive and relevant in America and beyond. I want to pay homage to that effort, in this small way, and to help connect our readership with the vast network of literary magazines around the world.

This month, I’m featuring Duende, the literary magazine run by Goddard College’s BFA program. I love lit mags that are run by undergraduate students because the staff is always changing, which allows the magazine to change and make itself new with each turnover of the academic year. The magazine is named after Fredrico Garcia Lorca’s Theory and Play of the Duende – in the essay Lorca argues not for a poetry of angels or muses, but for one that comes from the soles of the feet, from the earth, from mortality and survival and the looming figure of death. The editorial staff describe their preferences in beautiful abstraction: “Duende tastes good on the tongue and caresses the ear. Duende seeks authenticity & soulfulness, earthiness & expressiveness, a chill up the spine. It encompasses darkness and intensity; elicits sorrow and joy; wrests a response from the body.” Duende promises earthy, real, expressive writing and that is precisely what the magazine provides, with both novice and experienced contributors and a submission policy that encourages those often ignored by “literary gatekeepers;” the “true beauty and diversity of the U.S. literary ecosystem … from writers and artists who are queer, of color, differently abled, immigrant, working class, youth, elder…” to put their work up for the editor’s consideration.

Without further ado, two poems from Duende, and a prompt inspired by the magazine’s namesake:

Four Poems from CA Conrad

Veteran experimental poet C.A. Conrad hit me over the head again with his sharp, evocative lines in these poems from his collection Width of a Witch. You can see what I mean most clearly in Pluto.4, which I’ve transcribed below (pardon the poor formatting here — see the poem as Conrad meant it on Duende‘s site):

we win from time to time
abandoned above adaptable positions of the losing
we risk everything in thinking we can navigate maverick of the green carry a
bottle of wine into the
pumpkin patch looking
for a new way to
angle the old songs
sell me a ticket to
your dance please
believe in the strength of
poetry a little stone in the moth
helps balance her on my breath

Two Poems from Caitlin Cundiff

Caitlin Cundiff’s first poem, “A Private Viewing,” struck me from the first stanza. She writes about her grandmother’s body beautifully, with a kind of authenticity and imagination that reads like a daydream, but the kind that bowls you over, that doesn’t pass easily from the brain. The first stanza is below; I hope it leads you, as it did me, into the rest of this beautiful poem.


The flowerbeds by the front door were Ima’s only children.
She crushed up her bones with a mortar and pestle
to put in the soil as if she expected her kneecaps
to bloom again.



Write a poem from the soles of your feet. Write from the center of the earth. In short, write a duende poem. Lorca talks about tango and bull-fighting in his essay about this form of poetics – what is your bullfight? Your tango? Write about a moment charged with energy, fear, lust, the raw feeling of being alive. Then, if you are feeling inspired, try to write the same poem again from Lorca’s other modalities – the muse and the angel.

December – Penned: Interviews with Writers

Our Encounters with Nature issue has finally been released! If you haven’t checked it out yet, you can do so here. Each of the editors has worked hard combing through submissions, perfecting the mechanics of each piece, and stringing together the parts of the whole.

Readers and submitters don’t normally get the chance to hear from the shadowy figures who construct the lit mag. So, this month, I thought it would be nice to give the readers a glimpse of the women behind the mask and to give The Drowning Gull’s own some well-deserved recognition.

The December theme: A writer who inspires you.


I know there will be some serious eye rolls when I say this, but the writer who inspires me more than anyone is Stephen King. I first discovered King when I was 11 and borrowed Misery from the school library. The thing that I love most about Stephen King, is his fearlessness and commitment. He’s written what he knows, which is unquestionably horror, but he has never limited himself to that. Hearts in Atlantis was an artistic masterpiece, his short stories are as satisfying as his novels, and his fantasy was a hit or a major miss depending on who you talk to. No matter what, he will always write the story he believes in and he will sit down every day to do it. Fearless. Committed. Everything a writer should aim to be.


Anyone who follows me on social media would know that my favourite writer would have to be Brenda Shaughnessy, a poet living in Verona, New Jersey. She’s the author of ‘Interior with Sudden Joy,’ ‘Human Dark With Sugar,’ ‘Our Andromeda’, and my favourite of favourites, ‘So Much Synth’. I first came across Brenda when I searched online for poetry books that could begin my collection of poetry. (I was predominantly a fiction reader, back then, but wrote quite a bit of poetry; I wanted to learn what all the popular contemporary poets were up to so I could master it.) “Our Andromeda” popped up on Google, and it piqued my interest, so I got it. That made me fall in love with Brenda’s poetry– and consequently, purchase her earlier collections and watch out for forthcoming ones. I loved– LOVE– the sounds her words create when strung together into eloquent sentences. Some of the sentences in particular became like mantras I memorised for personal use (self-empowerment, etc). Brenda’s poems are empowering, inspiring, enlightening, heartbreaking… All those emotion-related adjectives that, when used by an author’s readers to describe their work, mean the poems did exactly what they were meant to do.


It’s hard to pick one writer that inspires me, but I am struck over and over again by Italo Calvino’s work each time I read him. He has no formula for his novels — each is unique, a world unto its own, and each book reads completely differently. I love that he gives himself so much room to experiment with form and structure, and I hope to emulate that kind of whimsical dedication to experimentation in my own work. I love how he questions and redefines what a novel can be, and I love the magic that is present in each of his stories. He really gives himself room to play.


Mark Z. Danielewski is my idol. One day, I plan to write a novel as trippy and awesome as his House of Leaves. His words mimic his story; physically and emotionally, he captures the essence of the novel in the mere placement of letters. I love how he does not adhere to structural standards (his words spiral and even transcend the page boundary) and, not only does he write outside of the box, he decimates that box completely. There are so many layers and secret messages in his novel. One can dig and dig and dig, always finding a new chunk of gold on which to latch. That’s the beauty of it: his tale is never-ending. In a sense, its layers make it immortal. Danielewski follows his heart, no mater the backlash or the consequence — that’s what I love about him. I want to be his level of fearless.

November: Poetry Picks & Prompts

Rebecca FeaturedA weekly column featuring our favorite poems from recently published lit mags & a related prompt to inspire your writing.

This month I’ve selected 3 poems by women, all of them with both a hint of magic and a hint of darkness. I got into a mystical, spectral sort of mood with my reading in October for the Halloween season, and it seems I’m riding that wave well into November. This time around, I hope you read and enjoy poems by Caitlin Scarano, Sue William Silverman, and Breauna L. Roach, from two literary magazines who I often fall back on when I’m jonesing for lyricism with a surreal flair.

Pick 1: For the Occasion by Caitlin Scarano (Bellingham Review, Issue 72)

“I can’t name the master.
I cannot recognize
this room for a house.

Girls with chandelier
vacant faces. Is there a bone
that most resembles you?”

Caitlin Scarano published two poems in this issue from Bellingham Review, but I selected “For the Occasion” because it sits uncomfortably in its own imagery. This poem is an unsettling one – at one point the narrator even says, “You refuse to / imagine, so I will.” But within that discomfort is a challenge, the opportunity for a deeper, more visceral connection. This is a poem about grief which does not shy away from grief. It’s staccato lines are direct, and it sits in this surreal, macabre series of images which unsettle with intention, like a ghost story when you know the ghost is real.

Pick 2: If the Girl Receives a Caress From a Man Without Hands by Sue William Silverman (Bellingham Review, Issue 73)

“In air scented by olive trees,
the girl dreams of hands severed
by bayonets – the man entering
her chamber dripping blood –
a kind of tenderness
like cancer curling up
snug inside bones…”

This poem from Sue William Silverman, also published in November in Bellingham Review, has this gorey, cringe-inducing (in a good way) imagery that stuck with me long after I’d finished reading. It comes in a series of three poems, but there’s a magic in this poem in particular that reminds me Sarah Shun-lien Bynum’s novel Madeleine is Sleeping, in which the grotesque nature of a wound becomes something to touch, to marvel over, to heal. Though a bloody poem, I left this piece feeling hopeful – it makes room for absence in a way that I found quite beautiful, and though dark in so many ways, the last stanza is a ray of light.

Pick 3: Life of a Black Woman as Furious Flower by Breauna L. Roach (Winter Tangerine, “Love Letters to Spooks”)

“This is a longtime Southern tradition. How do you know when’s the right time to beat the lemon tree? How often should you switch the okra? Many species can be induced to flower by responding to stress factors. They flower under long days of labor or in response to the onus of poor nutrition or low exposure to fortuity or blinding light past what can be healthily absorbed. The seeds germinate, but do the progeny of the strained plants develop normally?”

This beautiful essay poem by Breauna L. Roach was a slap in the face when I first read it. Here we are, talking about flowers, and then suddenly we are not talking about flowers anymore. This is a mournful, matter of fact poem about race and the history of slavery that sneaks up on you, lays itself down with the force of a well-researched allegory, snags you with it’s lyricism as it elucidates a difficult truth. This poem is beautiful and it is political. It has a unique, almost academic voice, which adds to the chill of the last few lines, when the reality of the poem hits you full on and you realize how relevant Roach’s words are to America’s current historical moment.


Recently, I’ve fallen in love with a sporadic email newsletter of short essay-poems by Rhiannon Admidas Conley called Smol Talks. Breauna L. Roach’s essay-poem reminded me of the power of transforming fact into metaphor, and vice versa, and so this month’s prompt is to write a short essay-poem of your own, using random tidbits of information from the world around you. I highly recommend exploring the depths of Wikipedia for your tidbits – you may be surprised what you can find on the most inconsequential of pages.

November – Penned: Interviews with Writers

In anticipation for the release of our second issue in December, for this month’s Penned, I interviewed a handful of well-known, established authors. Each of these authors have sold and written numerous novels, each of them using their talent to create an unforgettable and awe-filled atmosphere.

The question this month corroborates with the second issue’s theme, Encounters with Nature. This is what I asked these talented writers: “The Drowning Gull’s forthcoming issue strongly correlates with a writer’s or artist’s sense of place. How important is this sense of place to you in your own writing?”


Allan Frewin Jones:

On the page, I endlessly return to places I know – midsummer beaches – streets of childhood games – mountains seen on holiday – a park where the dog ran unleashed – a stone knife in a museum – an old house on a hill – a leaf-heavy Autumn tree – a window overlooking a garden – textures – smells – curves and lines and colours – these keep drawing me back and infiltrating my writing. Sometimes I am asked or inspired to create other worlds – but those beaches, those mountains, those windows, those gardens always come creeping in.

Ruth Ware:

Sense of place is enormously important to me in writing, and the initial seed of a book often comes from a place I’ve visited, or a sense of atmosphere stored away from long ago. People often talk about books being character led, but setting is to me almost as important – characters react very differently to the same events taking place in a sunny meadow or snowy midnight woods, and a book without a vivid setting is for me like a play taking place on an empty stage – it can still be wonderful, but we’re left wondering how much more wonderful might it have been with a memorable backdrop?

Pippa Goodhart:

When I wrote my first novel, A Dog Called Flow, over twenty years ago I knew the house and valley that the story was set in very well.  They are real.  That particular landscape plays its part in the story.  But so, even more so, does the almost Arctic mountain and river landscape in Finding Fortune.  In that story, Ida travels from Britain to Canada, across Canada, and then the perilous and dramatic journey into inhospitable wilderness of the Klondike as they search for gold.  And yet I’ve never done a step of that journey in real life; only in my imagination.  Different again are picture books such as forthcoming My Very Own Space where the story happens on a blank canvas, so with no landscape at all.  Every story has its own needs.

Jolina Petersheim:

When I was fourteen, our family was forced to leave our home my father had built, along with 365 acres, and I mourned that land more than the dwelling. This predilection permeates every aspect of my writing, and I believe a sense of place is a character, which sets the tone for the story and scenes. Every one of my novels has a rural setting, and I cannot imagine ever setting a story in a city, for it is the land that speaks to me: hardwood trees, freshwater springs, and rolling hills. Such beauty–and peace–is found here.

Jadie Jones:

A sense of place is one of the most important elements of a story, especially in regard to how characters relates to their surroundings. I see setting as the focusing lens of the story. Setting should impact a scene in a 360 degree sense. Example: if a character is sharing or receiving personal news in a crowded, noisy bar, how would he/she speak? What would make him/her hesitate or break up the conversation? If they were to receive/give the same news in a quiet, private setting, how would the feel of it change? The setting acts as a “silent” character.

Ernest Hebert:

I live in two places, the material world and a spirit realm in my head and heart. When they are in sync my life feels complete, and I am happy, which is why I choose to reside in the Monadnock Region of New Hampshire. I’ve collected images and stories of my region and its people in my mind and created the fictional town of Darby. Maybe its divine inspiration, or maybe only shit luck, but somehow Darby images transubstantiated into seven novels. I am grateful.

George Ella Lyon:


I been placed

I been displaced



& misplaced.


I been overplaced



& outplaced.


I been otherplaced







the-letters-and-the-sound placed.


from depraved place

to you’ve-got-it-made place


from it’s-not-your-place-to

shout-in-my-face too


laced & maced

graced & disgraced




I been mapped



& crap-zapped


I been first-placed


inner looped

& outer-spaced


How come I’m still                                                                                                     missing?


Thank you for reading this month’s Penned. Be sure to check out some of the great novels written by the interviewees. The deadline for this themed issue is the end of this month, I hope to see your work! Happy writing!




Allan Frewin Jones was born in London on the 30th April 1954 : Walpurgisnacht – “the most evil night of the year!!” When a teacher read Alan Garner’s THE WIERDSTONE OF BRISINGAMEN to his primary school class, he was inspired to write – and hasn’t stopped since. Considered to be “good” at art. Also enjoys listening to and making music. Various clerical jobs followed school, to support writing, amateur music-making and other artistic habits. Wrote several fantasy books when they weren’t in favour with publishers. Went to Middlesex Poly for a Diploma of Higher Education, majoring in Fine Art. Started sending books off to publishers/literary agents. Was taken up by an Agent. Listened to advice and criticism. Re-wrote books. Re-presented books. Got his first book published in 1987. Went freelance as a writer November 1992. About 100 books published to date under several different names. Lives in Bexleyheath, KENT, England, with his wife, Claudia (German) and a cat called Lulu (English).

Ruth Ware grew up in Lewes, in Sussex and studied at Manchester University, before settling in North London. She has worked as a waitress, a bookseller, a teacher of English as a foreign language and a press officer. Her début thriller In a Dark, Dark Wood and the follow-up The Woman in Cabin 10 were both Sunday Times top ten bestsellers in the UK, and New York Times top ten bestsellers in the US.  She is currently working hard on book three. Follow her on twitter at @ruthwarewriterFind her on facebook as Ruth Ware Writer.

Pippa Goodhart has been writing children’s books for twenty-five years, with over a hundred books published.  Those books include prize-winning picture book You Choose, and the Winnie the Witch story books which she writes under the name of Laura Owen.  She lives near Cambridge, and divides work time between writing, working with children in schools, and teaching and critiquing those wanting to write for children.

Jolina Petersheim is the bestselling author of The Alliance, The Midwife and The Outcast, which Library Journal called “outstanding . . . fresh and inspirational” in a starred review and named one of the best books of 2013. Her writing has been featured in venues as varied as radio programs, nonfiction books, and numerous online and print publications such as Reader’s Digest, Writer’s Digest, and Today’s Christian Woman. Jolina and her husband share the same unique Amish and Mennonite heritage that originated in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, but now live in the mountains of Tennessee with their young daughters.

Georgia native Jadie Jones first began working for a horse farm at twelve years old, her love of horses matched only by her love of books. She went on to acquire a B.A. in equine business management, and worked for competitive horse farms along the east coast. The need to write followed wherever she went. She now lives with her family in Oregon’s Rogue River Valley. When she’s not working on a new project, she is either in the saddle or exploring the great outdoors with her children.

Ernest Hebert is  the author of eleven novels, and is best known for the Darby series, seven novels written between 1979 and 2014, about modern life in a fictional New Hampshire town as it transitions from relative rural poverty to being more upscale. Hebert attended Keene State College and is now a Professor of English and Creative Writing at Dartmouth College. He is the recipient of three journalism awards from United Press International, the Hemingway Foundation cited his novel Dogs of March for excellence, and he has received the Sarah Josepha Hale Award for lifetime achievement by a New England author. “I have two identities as a writer. Part of me is a realist. I want my novels to be truthful to the real world as I have experienced it. But I’m also a dreamer. I believe in the life of the imagination.”

George Ella Lyon’s most recent books include Many-Storied House: Poems and Voices from the March on Washington, a collection of poetry for young adults, co-written with J. Patrick Lewis. A native of Harlan County, Kentucky, Lyon makes her living as a freelance writer and teacher based in Lexington. She currently serves as the state’s Poet Laureate (2015-2016).

October: What Our Editors Are Reading

It’s that time again! And it has indeed been an eventful month in the area of books.

I’ve been scanning through as many articles as I possibly can on the Publisher’s Weekly website, because I’m quite the book article addict (especially the book deals). It’s probably my favourite publishing-related resource. Most notably of all, I’ve read that:

While all these authors are ruling the world, we editors are staking our own claim in the publishing biz by reading more precious, precious books!



I haven’t really been reading much of anything as of late, but I’ve slowly been progressing through Sarah Lindsay’s Debt to the Bone-Eating Snotflower, published by Copper Canyon press. I absolutely adore Copper Canyon’s poets and collections, and this poetry collection in particular is no exception.

I’m currently up to a poem called Milk-Stone, which originally appeared in issue two of Cave Wall. Sarah Linday’s mastery of language is simplistic yet very elegant, honest yet secretive; qualities that I love. Here’s an excerpt of Milk-Stone:


The space our town fills is a thin one

between the haunted hill and the sea.

We climb the slope when we must, especially

women seeking help with our bodies’

tides of too much, too little.

Under thornbushes, beside tilted rocks,

we scratch the uneven dirt, where

scraps of scratched pottery work their way out

like splinters of bone from a broken arm,

and sometimes we find ourselves milk-stones…


Just judging by this poem, I’ll definitely be finishing Debt to the Bone-Eating Snotflower soon– whether it be curled up in bed, or on a twenty-minute bus ride. Each line is a treasure chest waiting to be opened; for its meaning and purpose to be discovered.

If you’re new to poetry, this honest and raw book is for you.


This month I’m reading a few books at the same time, because I’ve been trying to cram as many young adult books into my repertoire as possible.


The first is Jackaby, the first book in William Ritter’s series about a paranormal investigator and his assistant in a fictional New England town in 1892. Jackaby- a Sherlockian detective with the ability to see supernatural beings- and his discerning and courageous assistant, Abigail Rook, solve complicated mysteries that span realms real and ghostly.


I’ve also been listening to the audio book of Trenton Lee Stewart’s Mysterious Benedict Society during my commute in the morning, which has been a wonderful, quirky adventure into a magical world of absurd characters and plucky children. The book follows four children who are uncommonly clever and have a yearning toward truth, who take on evil villain Ledroptha Curtain and his henchman in their plot to take control of the populace with subliminal messaging technology. I’ve loved listening to this book because Stewart has created an incredible world for his characters, and because his writing is full of the kind of light-hearted whimsy that makes authors like Roald Dahl eternally appealing to both children and adults.

Someday I’ll actually write about poetry for this column, but until then I highly recommend reading both of these young adult series if you’re looking to be transported away from dreary autumn weather into worlds with a bit more magic in them.



In my Women in Literature class, we are reading Nobel Prize winner Toni Morrison’s Beloved. Morrison’s novel serves as a commentary on the drastic and traumatic effects of slavery in America, citing its broken families, lost hope, and broken humanity. The novel follows one family as they confront the pain and sorrow of their broken pasts, while balancing their fear of remembering with their life in the present. Throughout the story, the reader ponders whether the Beloved is a tale of a haunting, or a haunting tale that mimics that un-selfed nature of slavery.

Beloved twists and tumbles, circling in on itself like a hedged maze until the reader reaches the centre, finally finding rhyme and reason and a conclusion to the heart-wrenching clues and tragedies Morrison has cleverly sprinkled throughout the novel. This book is a must-read; not only is it accurate historically, but Toni Morrison crafts her writing so beautifully and so strategically, there is power and beauty in her words.

October – Penned: Interviews with Writers

Writing eliminates the mask that an artist holds pressed to their skin. Writing frees a voice hidden within that reaches out through an artist’s hand – a hand holding a pen. That pen is a channel. Its inky words drip from a writer’s soul, blotting in heartbeats on a wrinkled page. That’s how a writer survives.

In case you missed last month’s Penned, various writers, emerging and established, respond to a themed question about their writing process. These writers showcase their passion, their determination, and their love for the written word – not just already on the page, but words they themselves have lovingly penned. Penned seeks to inspire writers, current and future, to unleash the capacity of shared experiences in this tumultuous wordy lifestyle, turning them into the lyrical.

The October theme: Why you first sent out for publication.


Steven Shields:

Like many writers, I first sent work out as a kind of gut-check, way back in 1976.  If somebody besides Mom liked it, I reasoned, maybe I was onto something.  And then I got my one and only acceptance for “Your Cats Look Like Taxi-Cabs to Me” from the now-defunct New Infinity Review.  It was another 25 years before I found the nerve to try again.

Chelsea Dingman:

Honestly, a friend of mine told me to. That’s the simple answer. He is a well-published poet and he believed that I’d have a better time applying to MFA programs if I had some knowledge as to how the publishing industry worked. He also believed my work was ready. Which is huge. We had taken a grad-level poetry workshop together and he has great editorial instincts. I know that those first poems that went out were terrible. But I learned to expect and appreciate rejection and how to push through it and not take it personally. I was surprised when I got my first acceptances, but in the way that poetry surprises me with its possibilities. When I send out, I’m reminded by a line of poetry by Gretchen Marquette from her poem, “Want:” I was satisfied, so long as it wasn’t impossible.

Stephanie Heit:

Because I was a dancer and performer. Charged by the moment of performance with audience as witness when air particles accelerated. Desire to shift the breath patterns of those watching. As a college freshman dance major, I didn’t hesitate to send off a poem to a submission call from the Movement Research Journal. I don’t remember the details of the piece I sent but do remember receiving a rejection.

Jessica Walsh:

I was a teenager in rural Michigan in the pre-internet era–I was lonely. Sending out my poetry was my flag, my message in a bottle, my sos. I wasn’t even sure the poetry world actually existed, but I knew I needed to find other seekers. I made a special order for Poet’s Market through the local newsstand/bookstore and began firing poetry flares.

Angela Mitchell:

As a child, I wrote letters. It was the age of pen pals and I had one in Canada, another in Australia. Later, I wrote to a woman living in a nursing home in Kansas. My grandfather found a balloon in a pasture, its string stuck in manure, and inside it was the woman’s address. I, a stranger, wrote to her, and she wrote back. Publication is the same, words sent out to strangers, words waiting for a response.


I’d like to thank all of this month’s participants! I hope you, writers, have enjoyed this month’s Penned. Be on the lookout for next month’s special edition of Penned, which will include well-known authors responding to a question relating to The Drowning Gull‘s Encounters with Nature issue!


Steven Shields has written poems since a high school lit teacher offered extra credit for writing a sonnet cycle (which he wrote over a weekend, not knowing good ones take months or even years).  A move to Atlanta in 2001 led to steady publication and a book, “Daimonion Sonata,” along the way in 2005.  His day job is teaching communication coursework at the University of North Georgia. His poetry veers between formal and open forms; his prose includes prose poems, micro-fictions and lyric essays.

Chelsea Dingman has been writing off and on since she wrote a book of poetry for her fifth grade teacher. The last two years, she has been pursuing her MFA at the University of South Florida. Her first book won the National Poetry Series and is forthcoming from the University of Georgia Press (2017).  Visit her website: chelseadingman.com.

Stephanie Heit is a poet and dancer who has written and moved interchangeably since childhood. She lives with bipolar disorder and is a member of the Olimpias, an international disability performance collective. Her debut poetry collection, The Color She Gave Gravity, was a Nightboat Poetry Prize finalist and is forthcoming from The Operating System in 2017. Her work most recently appeared in Midwestern Gothic, Typo, Streetnotes, Nerve Lantern, QDA: A Queer Disability Anthology, and Spoon Knife Anthology.  https://independent.academia.edu/StephanieHeit.

Jessica L. Walsh has been writing poetry for over 20 years, but really kicked into high gear in the last decade. She has a PhD in English Literature from University of Iowa and teaches at Harper College. Her first book, How to Break My Neck, was recently published by ELJ. Her work can also be seen in journals like Midwestern Gothic, Tinderbox, The Fem, Whale Road, Ninth Letter online, and more. Visit her website at jessicalwalsh.com.

Angela Mitchell‘s stories have appeared in lColorado Review, New South, Carve, Midwestern Gothic, and others. Her story, “Animal Lovers,” was the winner of the 2009 Nelligan Prize from Colorado Review; it was given special mention in The Pushcart Prize XXXV, and listed as one of thirty “Distinguished Stories” in the inaugural issue of New Stories from the Midwest. She recently attended the Sewanee Writers’ Conference as a Tennessee Williams Scholar. At work on her first novel and a collection of short stories, Mitchell is the director of the St. Louis Writers Workshop.


September: What Our Editors Are Reading

Continuing the meme tradition from last month, here’s another gem (which I hope people think today):

Our editors have picked up vastly different types of literature this month. From fiction to philosophy to opinionated pieces, it’s all there. Since we’re spread out around the world, there’s a lot of different tastes in the mix. I hope you all enjoy and pick up one of these fabulous reads!


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As I picked up a few books for my brother for his upcoming birthday, I also purchased this book: “Leave Me,” by Gayle Forman. You may be familiar with her other young adult books, “If I Stay” (which has been adapted into a movie), and its sequel, “Where She Went.”

This is apparently Gayle’s first adult fiction book, and it’s been a good read, judging by what I’ve read so far. The main character, Maribeth Klein, is a hard-worker with twin children and not much time on her hands. If the blurb gives any insight, it says that “Leave Me” is for any mother who has considered not going home to her many commitments. I’m expecting a compelling read.


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It’s been more than a year since I first discovered the Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s adaptation of the Phryne Fisher murder mystery series, but I picked up one of the original novels by Kerry Greenwood for the first time at the library last week. I’ve been reading Raisins and Almonds – Greenwood’s book about Zionism in Melbourne in the 1920s – and while at first I was worried that Miss Fisher on paper couldn’t live up to Essie Davis’ performance of the character, I quickly realized that the wit and liveliness of the show was pulled directly from Greenwood’s writing style. I highly recommend this book for mystery lovers, period-piece devotees, social justice warriors, and those who yearn for the Roarin’ Twenties. If you don’t fall into any of those categories, you may find that once you pick up one of Greenwood’s novels, you’ll end up a convert.



In my English Literature class, we are currently covering Victorian Literature. Never having heard of this piece, or even author before, I set out on an adventure of reading excerpts from Thomas Carlyle’s “Sartor Resartus”. Immediately blown away by the calibre of philosophical content, I was far from deterred by its archaic language and historic references.

“Sartor Resartus” Is Carlyle’s pseudo-biographical manifesto of his journey with faith, during a time of extreme tumult – the Industrial Revolution. During this time, every ideal held close became decimated. “How can the ‘Son of Time,’ in any case,” he observes, “stand still?” With the technological progress came the inevitability of societal change. Life transformed into a monotony of ‘cogs in a machine’ and the overarching strength of an unquestioned Christianity was destroyed. Carlyle examines this shattering in his piece, using his own experience of Unbelief as the medium of exploration.

Throughout Carlyle’s work, he pens deeply inquisitive statements, such as the following: “How then could I believe in my Strength, when there was yet no mirror to see it in.” Through this, he comments on the importance of one’s accomplishments as a mirror of one’s self. He asserts that accomplishments give man dignity, make man humane. Carlyle sees this in himself, but also England as a whole. 

Carlyle’s piece journeys through trials and temptations given the new nature of society, echoing cries for a Christian morality, both society’s and his own, being overshadowed. “Sartor Resartus” is filled with wonderful snippets of wisdom, still applicable almost 200 years later. If you’re looking for a deep commentary on the use of faith, Thomas Carlyle is definitely one to check out.



I recently have been reading a few articles on why millennials are choosing to not have children. I find it a really interesting topic because the responses are really varied and thought out, and many have reasonable concerns about procreating. There are many articles which take a really serious approach to the topic, listing the various impending ecological disasters or just the general shitty state of the world, and others that take a more satiric approach. I absolutely loved this article by Isabelle Kohn, ‘9 Brutally Real Reasons Why Millennials Refuse to Have Kids’. What I love most about this particular article is how the author just doesn’t hold back at all and raises valid points that I have either thought of before or that I really relate to as someone of that age group who doesn’t want children. No matter what side of the fence you sit on in regards to children and having them, I think everyone will be able to appreciate the brutal hilarious honesty in this particular article.


Penned: Interviews with Writers

As one of my favorite professors always says: “Most people want to have written, not to write.” I’m here to challenge this notion by interviewing a handful of writers currently on a writing and publishing excursion. These writers showcase their passion, their determination, and their love for the written word – not just words already on the page, but words they themselves have lovingly penned.

Each month, various writers will respond to a themed question about their writing process, whether it covers their love of writing or their responses to writer’s block, and anything else in between. Penned aims to inspire writers, established and emerging, by bringing forth experiences from this tumultuous wordy lifestyle, and turning them into the lyrical.

The September theme: Why you love to write.


Chelsea Dingman:

Since I was young, I’ve found writing to be a way to unlock the world around me. Whatever mysteries or conflicts I’m compelled to respond to, large or small, writing is a way to hold those moments like snow globes in my head and turn them until I see something unexpected. It’s the unexpected that ends up on the page. I love to be surprised. With poetry, it’s often the language that surprises more than anything else and I find that thrilling. The way language can be twisted and wrought in a way that I’ve never seen before is why I read poetry. The thrill of pushing the boundaries of language in poetry is why I write it.

Sarah Rainous:

I write to reclaim Imagination that Reality has hidden. I write to fight – for relationships, courage, love, logic, and surrender – and to calm things when the fight gets too stormy. I write because I’m no good at art, yet my hands itch to create. I write because life is both horrible and beautiful, but most people only see one or the other.

That is why I write. But why do I love it?

I choose to.

Martha West:

Writing allows me to express myself in a way that I could not otherwise. Writing dares me to dream beyond my wildest imagination, to do more than I could ever accomplish in the real world. Writing tells me to be the one to slay the dragon, to be the heroine that the world needs. Writing challenges me to look deep inside myself, to discover who I really am. And if somehow through my own words I can encourage just one child to have faith and stand up while humankind simply looks on, then I have given the greatest gift that anyone can offer.

Andee Schuck:

If stranded on a deserted island and could only bring three things with me, I’d choose a notebook, an ink pen, and a copy of Don Quixote. I’ve always had a love for writing. It seems cliché to say, but for as long as I can remember I have been more or less scribbling words on paper. I didn’t always know what I was doing, of course, I didn’t know I was translating the world around me into my own language. I just liked how the words looked and made me feel, and the passion has never left me.

Jessica Walsh:

Writing is another dimension, a parallel universe from which I can gaze, impossibly, on what constitutes this thing known as me. I become a theoretical physicist observing the unobservable, positing ideas that can never be objectively tested because they exist outside any tests available. Writing stops time but helps me survive what happens when the clock starts again.

Steven Shields:

I spent many years working as an all-night radio announcer and so I often think of poetry as being on a sort of “frequency” or “channel” that whispers away through the static and roar of our individual preoccupations.  It’s there if we can only tune in to hear it.  For me, the love comes when the message bursts suddenly through loud and clear, chanting, chanting. And it’s never what I was expecting.


I’d like to thank all of this month’s participants! I hope you, writers, have enjoyed this month’s Penned. I look forward to engaging in the lyrical next month!



Chelsea Dingman has been writing off and on since she wrote a book of poetry for her fifth grade teacher. The last two years, she has been pursuing her MFA at the University of South Florida. Her first book won the National Poetry Series and is forthcoming from the University of Georgia Press (2017).  Visit her website: chelseadingman.com.

Sarah Rainous spent every morning as a child drawing and/or writing at her family’s “Little Red Table” before toddling into the kitchen for breakfast. She has tried her hand at writing novellas, short stories, poetry, and songs. Sarah will (ecstatically) receive her degree in English this May from a small, sweet tea-drinking, fried food-eating, Jesus-loving university in Kentucky. The university’s literary journal, Pensworth, published one of Sarah’s short nonfiction pieces, “Make Believe,” in 2015.

Martha West has been writing since she had penned her first story about a young girl befriending a lonely ghost at the age of ten. She has since then written many other stories, and is now pursuing an English Degree at a liberal arts college. Her favorite stories to compose and share are creative fiction, dealing with outsiders struggling to find their place in their world.

Andee Schuck is a redhead from northern Iowa but studies English and history at a small liberal arts college in the southern United States. As her writing has matured, her favorite pieces to write are satire and poems, some of which appear in her university’s literary journal, Pensworth.

Jessica L. Walsh has been writing poetry for over 20 years, but really kicked into high gear in the last decade. She has a PhD in English Literature from University of Iowa and teaches at Harper College. Her first book, How to Break My Neck, was recently published by ELJ. Her work can also be seen in journals like Midwestern Gothic, Tinderbox, The Fem, Whale Road, Ninth Letter online, and more. Visit her website at jessicalwalsh.com.

Steven Shields has written poems since a high school lit teacher offered extra credit for writing a sonnet cycle (which he wrote over a weekend, not knowing good ones take months or even years).  A move to Atlanta in 2001 led to steady publication and a book, “Daimonion Sonata,” along the way in 2005.  His day job is teaching communication coursework at the University of North Georgia. His poetry veers between formal and open forms; his prose includes prose poems, micro-fictions and lyric essays.

An Interview with JT Lachausse: Matador Review

JT Lachausse, the Editor-in-chief of Matador Review, agreed to engage in a chat about the alternative literary magazine he co-founded. Here’s our conversation.

Tiegan Dakin: So here’s my first question– how exactly did you come up with the idea to start a literary magazine like Matador Review?

JT: The idea for The Matador Review first came around last November (2015) when I had been submitting to some literary magazines. My friends and I made an off-handed joke about which magazine is the “evil twin” of The Paris Review, and since we couldn’t think of one, we decided to make one. We wanted to find a way to channel all of our fondness for museums and magazines into a creative enterprise, and an online magazine made perfect sense to us. It still makes perfect sense for us.

TD: How exactly did you arrive at The Matador Review as the name for a literary magazine? It’s quite a strange name compared to the other ones out there.

JT: Magazines and journals are often named for what they represent; for The Paris Review, it was named after where it was established; for The Adirondack Review, it was named after the founding editor’s relationship with the Adirondack Mountains; and with magazines such as The American Poetry Review, they are named for the content they tend to publish. Our rationale behind the Matador name is a bit more complicated, however, though I feel that it is similarly justified.

The art of bullfighting was once reserved for the nobles, who would stride in on horseback with their lances and their cloaks of embroidered gold. At the time, these performances didn’t create as much controversy as it does nowadays; it was an honour sport of great spectacle; a chance to prove an individual’s deftness and power against a wrathful beast. Commoners on foot would accompany these maestros in their grand production, often assisting the torero (bullfighter) to succeed in the challenge. Eventually, however, these commoners began to gain enough importance to become the main act. Men and women began to leap from the audience – illegally, I might add – to challenge the beast on their own. This became a way for those that were poor to gain fame and fortune, by proving that they are truly a maestro, a matador de toros (killer of bulls).

The evolution of the matador is what we embody; not the animal abuse, not the frenzied celebration of blood-sport, but rather, the idea that this art belongs to no one, and anyone can join the fight. We look at humankind’s obsession with the man vs. beast conflict – from Mithra’s vanquishing of a bull to Theseus’s slaying of the Minotaur – and strive to embody a similar spirit of spectacle and controversy. This title, The Matador Review, it represents all of what we want to put within our magazine: the thought-provoking and the unconventional. And, of course, it sounds nice.

TD: As it seems your magazine supports the unconventional- as it says on the Matador Review website, and so your eccentric history suggests- what are your thoughts on the Antioch Review controversy that happened recently (assuming you’re familiar with it)? Has it in any way shaped the sort of work you’ve accepted since?

Perhaps Antioch Review, in wanting to publish something unconventional themselves, shot themselves in the foot.

JT: Good question. I was recently asked about this same controversy, so I’ve got some ammunition on this one.

The fallout that came of that publication decision was, in my opinion, befitting for the offense, and I believe that despite whatever academic purposes that Antioch College found in featuring the essay, it is not worth the pain that it serves, nor the peculiar perspective it offers. That may be perceived as a slight against academic freedom, or an attack on free speech, or whichever, but the case remains: a good publication must select work that is mindful of the human spirit. We want the radical, and we want the bizarre, but we aren’t interested in work that escapes a creative enterprise to hoist up a scandalous persuasion. Yes — bring on the questionable, and bring on the counterculture, but do it in a way that is charged by an artistic or informative purpose, rather than intolerance.

As for our editorial decisions, I think that we will receive a lot of positivity, and I think that we will receive negativity. Just a few weeks ago, we received an email that read, “Your Satan worshipping garbage is completely disgusting. Try Jesus!” And although I can’t fathom what brought that on, aside from our red logo, I’ve decided to find the humour in it. There will be good reasons for criticism and there will be bad reasons, and we will just have to face them as sincerely as we can, because sometimes, as I’ve mentioned, the criticism is well-deserved.

TD: Every literary magazine does, of course, receive its fair share of criticism from the sensitive writers and artists they reject.

After starting Matador Review, have you gained a better understanding of the difficult decisions which editors have to make?

It must have prompted you to make a different approach to lit mags when submitting to them yourself.

JT: We have grown a lot, and we’ve learned that most of our decision-making is rooted in listening and learning from others. We like to work with our writers and readers, rather than tugging them toward our own desires.

As far as submitting goes, we haven’t been doing as much. We’ve taken a step back to work on longer work, especially between Shayne (acting as illustrator) and I. However, we’ve narrowed the field of interest when it comes to where we want to submit; this is especially because we’ve become more familiar with the community.