Category Archives: Interviews

NOT THAT SPECIAL AFTER ALL: Conversing About Artifice & Authenticity with Frank Portman

I first saw Frank Portman (aka Dr. Frank) perform at a small venue in Santa Cruz in 1993. He was playing, of course, with The Mr. T Experience, an early fixture at 924 Gilman St. and one of the original Lookout! Records bands. It got pretty rowdy, as most shows did back in those days, and at one point while jumping and bashing around up front, I slipped in a beer puddle and took a pretty nasty spill. Even though I was a sprightly 20 years-old and numb from several belts of 100-proof Southern Comfort, I smashed my knee badly enough that I ended up watching most of the set from the back of the room. (It’s safe to say that 80% of shows in the early 90s resulted in some sort of semi-serious injury.) Still, it was a lot of fun. I’d heard plenty of MTX’s music before, at parties and blasting out of dorm rooms up at Porter College, but I wasn’t familiar with many specific songs. I knew the lyrics were smart and funny from the records I’d heard and the occasional title they would announce (“Even Hitler Had a Girlfriend”), but they were hard to make out through the wall of noise. However, when they kicked into a hyped-up punk version of the Brady Bunch’s “It’s Time to Change,” the place went apeshit, myself included. We all bounced around gleefully and shouted along with every word. They hit a giddy nerve and they knew it.

And they knew how to put on a show. I saw them a few more times throughout the 90s and it was always a good time. They had plenty of chops, but they also knew how to keep it loose, and it was clear that they never took themselves too seriously. That stood out back then, in a good way. While irony was definitely a hallmark of 90s rock culture, taking yourself too seriously was even more of one. MTX knew that we were there to have fun, and so were they.

I sort of lost track of them around the turn of the millennium. Then in 2010, while I was living in San Francisco, my girlfriend, a YA writer herself, brought home King Dork, Frank Portman’s novel, which had been recommended to her by a friend. I was intrigued. So that’s what happened to that guy, he became a writer. After MTX had released the album Yesterday Rules in 2004 it became clear to Dr. Frank that the music business had changed enough that it was no longer feasible to make even a modest living writing songs and selling records. He began to cast about for another line of work, and decided to try his hand at writing YA fiction. Starting with the title of one of his songs, “King Dork,” he wrote the story of Tom Henderson, a 14 year-old outcast, obsessed with rocknroll, girls, how terrible Catcher in the Rye is, and solving the mystery of his father’s death. With only his equally unpopular friend Sam by his side, he has to navigate the perilous social waters of his California high school, beset by bullies, cruel teachers, and all of the “psychotic” normal people of the world. Home isn’t much easier, inhabited as it is by his loopy, distracted mother, lovably awkward hippie-dip stepdad “Little Big Tom,” and eternally sullen little sister Amanda. Continue reading


LIGHT AND LINES: A Conversation With Ruth Galm

sslo-scanne16111613030_0001I FIRST MET Ruth Galm about ten years ago in San Francisco. I was sitting at the bar at Cafe Zoetrope, Francis Ford Coppola’s cafe/restaurant in the North Beach flatiron building he owns, right where Columbus and Kearny slope down toward the Transamerica Building and the Financial District. It was a spring day and I was into my second Espresso Nutini (I was an enthusiastic day drinker back then), and she was sitting at a table nearby, with a coffee (no booze) and a stack of papers in front of her. We started talking and it turned out she was a reader for Zoetrope: All Story, Coppola’s excellent short fiction magazine, whose offices were right above us. Both of us being writers, native Californians, and North Beach residents, our conversation quickly took on an easy and familiar tone, and out of it grew a friendship that has lasted over a decade.

She had recently moved back from New York, after getting her MFA at Columbia, and had a novel-in-progress that she let me read. A few things about her writing struck me right away. One was just pure relief that it was actually good. If you have any friends who are writers, you’ll know what an awful experience it is to read their work and find out that it’s not very good, and what a challenge it is to find enough to say about it that is both genuine and positive. (I’m pretty sure she had this experience with me a few times, but I can live with that, as there has never been any question who is the better writer.) From the very beginning, it was clear she had a knack for the sound and shape of words, and could make a sentence do exactly what she wanted it to do, even if what she wanted was to be surprised. She could create bright, burning images that lingered for weeks and months. She could render suspense and drama out of the smallest situations, and you could tell she was mining deep experience and desire to create this world on the page. I was also struck that from someone so outwardly modest and sweet could come writing so fierce and dangerous, so charged with dread and erotic heat. But that, of course, is where writers live – in that space between the inner and outer worlds, summoning the darkest forces at their disposal to give life to the gnawing, terrible mystery that can’t be silenced.

When I moved to Portland from San Francisco in 2012, much to my surprise, a few months later, she moved there too, ready to start her own new chapter. Though we didn’t see each other as much we should have, it was good to have her nearby, another familiar comrade in an unfamiliar city. However, less than a year later, she decided to move back to the Bay Area. Despite all the cultural and economic changes that had happened to our home state, despite it being less and less hospitable to those of us that had grown up there, something deep and necessary called her back there. Something unfinished, some part of her she couldn’t shake. I understood that. I have it in me too, the memory-pull of those endless brown hills and twisting cypress, the searing heat of the valley, all that golden light, crisp fog curling over ancient redwoods, the “fruit hang[ing] heavy on the vine,” to quote Kate Wolf. The blaze at the edge of the world, the very furthest tip of the American Dream, in all its blown-out, illusory, sun-beached glory.

When I read her debut novel, Into the Valley, which came out in August of 2015 on Soho Press, I finally understood fully what she had been after in going back home, and in her writing. It is a California novel to the core. The story of a young San Francisco woman in the 1960s (known to us only  as B.), struck with a kind of existential malady she describes as “carsickness,” and the most effective way she finds to ease the profound discomfort of this condition is to drop everything and drive aimlessly through the Central Valley, cashing bad checks and encountering other adrift souls, as she hurtles toward a dark and uncertain fate. It is gorgeously written, lush in its language, unsettling, mysterious, and the ostensible aimlessness of the narrative has its own woozy, disorienting effect on the reader. One can’t help but sympathize with this young woman, but part of you wants to avert your eyes, knowing that the weight of her situation may be too much, and that she may be, despite all efforts, doomed. Continue reading

Six Questions With Mallory Smart (Maudlin House)

We’re back with another SixQuestionSaturday! In this episode, contributing editor & Choir member William James sits down with Maudlin House founder Mallory Smart.


WJ: First things first, let’s talk about the history of Maudlin House. How did you get started, and what did the early days of the journal look like? Was it always staffed by multiple editors, or did you start out as a solo operation? What was it that made you decide to start another literary journal, and what do you think Maudlin House brings to the table – now, or even in the beginning – that was missing from the literary community beforehand?

MS: Maudlin House started with me and my MacBook at Starbucks. I was just at the beginning of my trying to be writer. In fact, when I started the site I think I had only been published once, and after some time I actually had that publisher take it down because I was shy, dorky, and embarrassed about the poetry I had written. I had absolutely no credibility or mandate to create Maudlin House. All I remember is going through the grind and submitting to literary magazines and being really annoyed with the chaotic sites and ridiculous response times.
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Six Questions With Jeremiah Walton (Nostrovia! Press)

It’s time for another #SixQuestionSaturday. In this episode, contributing editor & Choir member William James sits down with Nostrovia! Press founder Jeremiah Walton, to discuss youthful vigor, road weariness, a semi-nomadic kinda life, and the persistence-in-the-face-of-all-odds that is Nostrovia!


WJ: For starters, let’s go with the basics; what’s the story behind Nostrovia! Press? How’d it all get started? What are some of the challenges you ran into early on, and how did you manage to overcome them? And what did you think, starting out, you had to bring to the table that wasn’t being addressed by the literary community already?

JW: N! kicked off in the narcissisystem. I was 16, in New Hampshire, and “wanted to be a poet.” For some reason, I catered to a definition of beyond actually writing. Delusions of grandeur & all that.

So N! began. It highlighted my work with a guest blog for folks to submit to. That was it.

The process I was welding myself to felt empty. After a couple months of digging & screwing around, I cleared my shit from the site, & started nibbling with l’il zines & other projects starting with a, “alright, sounds cool, why not?” Then a lot of scrambling & fucking up & learning & fucking up.

Heh, I didn’t know what I was bringing to the table, trying to bring to the table, or where the table was. I just kinda wandered around the outskirts of the table with a cocky swagger & confused smile. I didn’t carry much intent beyond “let’s put this & that together & see what happens.”
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Six Questions With Tom McAllister (Barrelhouse)

After a too-long hiatus, SixQuestionSaturday returns. In this episode, contributing editor & Choir member William James sits down with Barrelhouse non-fiction editor Tom McAllister to talk shop, and learn how your favorite home for ‘pop flotsam & cultural jetsam’ brings readers some of the best in literature today.


So, Barrelhouse has been going at it for over a decade now – what do you think is the secret to that kind of staying power? What have you figured out over the last eleven years that makes things easier now than they were in 2004?

TM: I think the biggest thing for us is that it’s been a priority from the start to not take ourselves too seriously. I don’t know if that’s a great answer, and I don’t want to downplay all the work we put into it, but from the start, it’s been really important for Barrelhouse to produce good work while maintaining a sense of humor. Sometimes what this means is we get together for editorial meetings and probably have too many drinks and make important decisions about the future of the journal at last call. Sometimes it means feeling free to email the others with subject lines like “a dumb weird idea I had” and knowing that even if the idea is dumb and weird, they’ll all at least think about it. And maybe if it’s dumb and weird enough, we’ll run with it (e.g., our Ghosts of Christmas Future series from 2014 in which we ran a bunch of weird fanfic pieces about characters in holiday Christmas specials). Sometimes it’s bringing on new editors, adding new life to the whole project and watching as this thing evolves from whatever it was when it started. In the past year, we’ve added Erin Fitzgerald as our Online Editor and Killian Czuba as our art director. Before that, we added several extremely overqualified people like Katherine Hill and Sarah Strickley as assistant editors. Before that, it was making me the NF editor. And there were a bunch of other lineup changes and direction changes and everything else over the years.

All of which is to say: I think we’ve done a good job of maintaining our core aesthetic while still embracing change. Plus, we have a lot of fun. As soon as this thing stops being fun, that’s probably when we shut it down.

WJ: Riffing off of that first question; what were some of the growing pains that Barrelhouse experienced in the beginning? Is there anything that you would do differently if you had the opportunity to go back and start all over?

TM: I wasn’t one of the founders (they were: Dave Housley, Joe Killiany, Aaron Pease, and Mike Ingram), but I’ve been around long enough that I think I can still give a decent answer. The answer is this: money. Barrelhouse almost went broke a couple times. Or did go broke, depending how you define that. There was credit card debt. There was at least one editorial meeting during which some editors were trying to figure out how to tell their wives they’d blown a ton of money on this literary magazine. Money is still always a concern– as it is with any journal– but we’ve stabilized and come up with a few reliable ways to make sure we’re covering costs, paying writers, and everything else.

The other struggle– again, a familiar one– was just getting people to know we exist. I still don’t know how that works, except maybe somehow by using Vine?
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ConverseχInverse featuring Ian Macks

ConverseχInverse is the result of Adam Tedesco attempting to interview people he admires, entirely in verse.




Ian Macks is 22 years young. Troy, New York by way of Bronx,  New York. Been writing since 8 years old. His first Chap, A Loss and Gain of Comfort,  came out last December on Bottlecap Press. Enjoys listening to Music,  yelling about Sporting events,  and reading emotional novels.

Twitter : @I_Macks
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Six Questions With Emily O’Neill (Wyvern Lit)

A semi-regular series in which contributing editor William James sits down (metaphorically speaking) with the editors from some really dope indie lit journal, who – not unlike ourselves – are hard at work trying to bring the baddest-ass of literature for your eyes to feast upon. In this installment, we talk shop with Emily O’Neill, who is not only a Choir member, but also the poetry editor for Wyvern Lit.


WJ: Wyvern was already established for short fiction and prose before adding a poetry section. What (if any) challenges did you find in the process of adding a new element to an already existing journal?

EO: My main concern was that people wouldn’t know we were suddenly going to be accepting poems and that the pool of submissions would be shallow. Luckily, I was pleasantly surprised there. I spend a fair amount of time on Twitter crowing about all kind of things and I think having a strong online presence personally, and in addition to Wyvern’s Twitter reach, that really helped to get a strong crop of poems to choose from for our first issue featuring poetry. I’m so proud to have been able to publish the writers I did in that first issue, and I don’t think that could’ve happened without Twitter.

WJ: As of this interview, the only poetry issue that has dropped has been the Spring 2015 issue (Summer 2015 forthcoming at this time) – have you found your aesthetic vision for Wyvern Poetry yet, or is that still a work in progress? Do you have any particular goal for Wyvern, beyond simply offering another home for poetry to exist in?

EO: My aesthetic for the poetry side of Wyvern isn’t quite established yet, but I can say with confidence that I’m really dedicated to publishing poems in conversation with each other. The thing that makes Wyvern special is our focus on storytelling across the board. The prose we’ve published has been phenomenal and I feel really strongly about maintaining that dedication to story with the poems we publish to. The work that I’m most excited to publish isn’t necessarily narrative, but it does have this driving forward motion and consistent internal logic that makes it difficult to stop mid-poem to consider what you’re absorbing. Continue reading

Six Questions With Davis Land (Alien Mouth)

A semi-regular series in which contributing editor William James sits down (metaphorically speaking) with the editors from some really dope indie lit journal, who – not unlike ourselves – are hard at work trying to bring the baddest-ass of literature for your eyes to feast upon. In this installment, we talk shop with Davis Land, co-editor of Alien Mouth.


WJ: So, it seems that Alien Mouth is a bit of a restart/rebrand of the zine that you previously published (in the end pretty much everything is mostly water) – what prompted that reboot, and how did the process go? 

DL: mostly water was largely focused on Bryan, Texas. We distributed the zine there for free, we tried to seek out submissions from Bryan artists and writers. We were able to publish people that hadn’t been published before or hadn’t even thought to submit stuff before. When the summer hit I moved to Massachusetts for an internship and James Leaf, the managing editor, went to study abroad in Germany, so it was no longer really feasible to do something that was Bryan based. We put mostly water on hold at the time.

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Six Questions With Jordan Rizzieri

A semi-regular series in which contributing editor William James sits down (metaphorically speaking) with the editors from some really dope indie lit journal, who – not unlike ourselves – are hard at work trying to bring the baddest-ass of literature for your eyes to feast upon. In this installment, we talk shop with Jordan Rizzieri, editor in chief at the Rain, Party, & Disaster Society.


WJ: Let’s start with the standard, get-to-know you type stuff: How did RPDS get started, and can you talk a little bit about those early beginnings?

JR: The Rain, Party, & Disaster Society got its start in the summer of 2013. I was my mother’s primary caregiver at the time and wrote an essay that was published online alongside some incendiary click-bait. Needless to say I was not pleased that a piece I took so much time with, and that was so emotionally draining for me to create, would be published along with what is basically nonsense. I started exploring the online litmag community in search of a place where people were talking about things that are considered taboo, or too personal. I wanted a place where you could come and say “this happened/is happening to me and it’s ugly and messy” and it would be safe. I approached my friend/poet Bee Walsh to help edit poetry, my friend/advocate Kay Kerimian to edit fiction, and was introduced by mutual friend to Jen Lombardo who has tackled non-fiction. Since then we have had two other fiction editors, including our current editor Adam Robinson who came to us first as a poetry contributor. As the magazine grew, we had to grow as well. We brought on regular contributor Kaity Davie as our Social Media Mistress, and now Bee has an assistant, Wilson Josephson (whom you may know from Literary Starbucks).

In the beginning, we made a lot of mistakes. How long should our reading period be? How do we get the word out that we exist? How do you utilize social media? What are the right works for RPD? How do we keep from choosing writers who are exactly like us? None of us were html wizards, either, so there were a lot of technical issues with the magazine in terms of how it should look and what our audience should have access to. We never wanted our contributors to feel like they could be attacked, so there is no commenting allowed at RPD. It is the direct online representation of a physical litmag. If you picked up a copy of Poets & Writers, you wouldn’t be able to anonymously harass anyone who was published in it directly on their work. You’d really have to go out of your way. The same is true of RPD. But we also try to protect our audience. We will never bombard an RPD reader with salacious nonsense just to set people off. Promise.

WJ: It seems like there’s a handful of new journals popping up every single day; your archives date back to December 2013, so you’ve been around a little while. What do you think has contributed to that staying power?

JR: We at RPD are proud of our workshop-based style. We try to work with each contributor on their piece before we accept it for the site. In the past Bee has not been as able as she’d like to do this (she’s averaging 100 – 150 poems a month now in submissions) but now that she has Wilson to work with her and move more quickly through the submissions, hopefully we will see more of this in poetry. Adam and Jen have both taken to this style like fish to water. I’m very proud of how nurturing they both have been with their contributors. This has built a real family for RPD – we see a lot of the same contributors coming back to us. We can’t always guarantee a home for returning contributors work, as we hope to continue to grow the RPD community. But when the work is good, it’s hard to say no. And a lot of it is better than just good. Also, when an artist finds a home, they want everyone to know, so I think a lot of our contributors are very enthusiastic about sharing their publications with their friends and family and we get a lot of people who say “oh, so-and-so was published in the January issue and thought this might be a good place for my flash fiction!” We live on word of mouth. Continue reading

Building Impossible Houses: A Conversation With Traci Brimhall

Brimhall Side 14


I first encountered Traci Brimhall’s work when I stumbled across the poem “The Sunken Gospel” in the Kenyon Review. I was immediately swept into its strange and mysterious world, mesmerized by its “blue zodiac hymns” and “green valentines,” the fierce, sensuous physicality of the language and the mercilessness of the life and death it portrayed, the pain that pulsed through it, the steady hum of longing, and the emotional and spiritual heft as massive as the creature at the center of it. I finished it and immediately read it again, and then again. It was like a song you put on repeat, trying to immerse yourself in it. Then I went searching for more poems like it. Often when you search an artist’s catalogue for more songs like the one you love, you come up empty-handed– but not so in the case of Traci Brimhall’s poetry. I found legions more, spread out through various publications and two books, Rookery and Our Lady of the Ruins– all with the same power, mystery, virtuosity, and unflinching vision of that first one.

With each new poem, after the initial enjoyment and sense of awe, I often found myself asking “How does she do that?! I mean… how in the hell is she doing that?” The sleight of hand is seamless. The wires do not show. The cracks, the doubt, the pain, they seep through many of the voices in her poems, but they only strengthen the spell. Reading one of her books is like eating really rich, delicious food– I want to scarf it all down at once, but after two or three in a row, I find myself having to pause for breath and gather my senses.

I have given her books as gifts on numerous occasions. The last person I gave Our Lady of the Ruins to, I knew for sure that she would love it and it would knock her on her ass. Sure enough, she texted me a few days later: “TRACI FUCKING BRIMHALL! Holy crap!” When I told Traci this story, she thanked me for putting her work in the hands of people who know her real middle name.

The following conversation took place by email. Traci is a gracious and thoughtful correspondent, and I am grateful and honored that she was willing to give me even a faint glimpse of those wires.


Todd Gleason: What you are up to these days?  Do you have a new manuscript in the works? How is that going?

Traci Brimhall: I had a draft of the new manuscript about two years ago. I knew it wasn’t set in stone, but it sat in that order and structure for two years and kind of congealed. Recently, a couple of conversations led me to rethink the book and how it was operating, and I realized I’VE BEEN ASKING THE WRONG QUESTION! I had to ease everything apart, like breaking rigor mortis that’s set into a body. The previous question had been a distraction, but it had gotten me writing. The previous question had to do with the town in Brazil my mom is from and helped me create a fictional history for that place. What I realized after my mother died was that the book wanted to know both who and where I come from. 

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