Interview: Visiting Writer Christian Winn

Black Rock & Sage had the opportunity to chat with writer Christian Winn, who will be visiting ISU on Thursday, September 21. His reading and signing will be held in the Bengal Cafe at 5:30pm. Please join us!

  1. When did you realize that creative writing was more than simply a hobby?

I guess, in many ways, I never have considered creative writing a hobby, but something that has always been more akin to a part of both my innate personality and my deep belief in self expression. I’ve always really believed in the poems/stories/novels/essays I’ve written. Not to say that these pieces have always been good, or even close to good, but they have always felt essential and important to me. So, I guess the word hobby, doesn’t quite fit how I ever have thought about my writing.

  1. Who are some writers who have influenced your own creative style?

Oh man, this is a tough question, because there have been so many wonderful writers who have influenced my own creative process, both stylistically and in its essence and understanding of the art and craft of writing fiction. I’ll name ten here, but I could probably roll out fifty, or more, who have had an influence in a couple of ways.

Here goes, in no particular order.

  • Denis Johnson – novelist, story writer, poet, playwright, journalist – for his guts and grace.
  • Jennifer Egan – novelist, story writer, journalist – for her fearlessness, and precision.
  • Richard Ford – novelist, story writer – for his earnest understanding of human flaws.
  • Claire Vaye Watkins – novelist, story writer, essayist – for her poetic West.
  • Joan Didion – essayist, memoirist, novelist, journalist – for her stark honesty.
  • Junot Diaz – novelist, story writer – for absolutely taking no shit from any of us.
  • Sherman Alexie – novelist, story writer, poet – for his humor, humanity, and heart.
  • Miranda July – novelist, story writer, endless artist – for her singular artistic sensibility.
  • George Saunders – novelist, story writer – for his kind characters, and his broken worlds.
  • Mona Simpson – novelist, story writer – for, if nothing else, her short story, “Lawns.”
  1. Are there certain themes or question that you find yourself continually returning to in your writing?

I’d have to say, the issue of theme for me doesn’t really come up as I’m writing, or thinking of how to write, or drafting out the stories themselves. I mostly just try to write stories about people, and situations that matter deep down to those people, and to me, and hopefully to the reader. The themes seem to emerge as the stories get written, and then assembled into books. I ultimately feel that figuring out themes are more the job of the reader than the writer. It’s often so tough to know what you’re writing about, until you have written it, and still maybe not even then.

  1. As someone who was born and raised in the West, how has your environment shaped your writing?

As a writer I really only feel comfortable writing stories set in places I know well, and having lived only in the West – Oregon, California, Washington, and Idaho – I like to set my stories in those places. As well, I feel I deeply know the people and landscape of the West – whether in the cities, small towns, open lands, mountains, deserts – in ways that allow me to really (hopefully) understand my characters, and the troubles and triumphs they experience in this Western part of our country.

  1. Is it challenging to balance teaching and writing?

At times it can be a bit difficult to balance time with students, and student writing, simply because sometimes my own creative energy, and writing time, gets eaten up by time spent in the classroom, or figuring out new and interesting ways to teach writing. However, far more often than not the experience of presenting and analyzing published work to young writers, and critiquing my students’ work in progress, is inspiring, enriching, and helps me understand my own process and overall knowledge of craft as a writer.

  1. What are you currently reading?

I am actually rereading, and teaching, A Visit From The Goon Squad, by Jennifer Egan, one of my favorite novels, ever, this semester. Also, Emily Ruskovich’s novel, Idaho. Amazing! As well, I always try to keep up on the newest New Yorker short stories – Lauren Groff, Etgar Keret, Miranda July have had some awesome pieces in there these last couple of months. George Saunders’ Lincoln in the Bardo is next on my list of novels to read, I think, there are so many books on my shelves starting at me each day, saying, “Read me!”

  1. If you could meet any writer (living or dead), who would you like to have a chat with?

It may sound a tad cliché, but I think I’d like to have a drink, or several, with Charles Bukowski down at my favorite bar in Boise – the 10th Street Station – just to see if Bukowski was as much of a lout, an asshole, a poet, a drunk, a charming rambling wonder, as the mythology speaks to. The hangover would be fierce, but worth it, I think.

  1. What is something people are surprised to learn about you?

I was a very serious break dancer in the early/mid 1980’s. We had a crew and everything. I could head spin! Also, around that breakdancing time, I was a 1-handicap golfer, which is I suppose, an interesting juxtaposition. And, I once, many years ago, was issued a lewd conduct citation – it’s a good story, but I can’t tell it here.

  1. What is the best writing advice you have ever been given?

It’s a (probably paraphrased) quote delivered by Gertrude Stein to Ernest Hemmingway after she read a number of early stories. She turned to him, and said as she handed the manuscript back to young Earnest, “Start over … And concentrate this time.”

  1. What words of wisdom do you have to share with aspiring writers?

See above. Also, keep looking at the world in new ways, and be both humble, and confident in your art.

 

May Staff Picks

A few members of the Black Rock & Sage staff have some great reading & viewing recommendations for the month of May. Check them out below!


Jeff Howard, Editor-in-Chief:
Arrow
I think I am going to take a different route this month and select a piece of media that I can’t get enough of right now: Arrow. I am currently blitzing through Season 2, and I am thoroughly hooked. In the first season, Stephen Amell’s acting was a bit stiff, but it didn’t matter because his action sequences were amazing. Now his acting has improved and has become a nice complement to his parkour/martial arts/arrow-shooting skill set. Team Arrow has grown by a couple more people in this season, and the dynamic is addictive. Felicity Smoak is probably my favorite member of the team. Even though she doesn’t throw punches and kicks or kill bad guys, her awkward nerdiness is totally lovable. I am going to stop writing this review now because I have to get back to binge-watching.

Anelise Farris, Poetry Editor: 

Over spring breBaitak I received Bait: Off-Color Stories for You to Color by Chuck Palahniuk, and it has taken me an embarrassingly long time to finish it. I am happy to report that I finished it this weekend, and the time it took me to get through it is simply due to the fact that it is both a coloring book and a short story anthology. I am a fan of the adult coloring book trend, but Palahniuk’s book takes this to a whole new level, not only in terms of the label adult (as anyone familiar with Palahniuk’s work should expect) but also in the sense that this is actually a book of short stories. I thoroughly enjoyed each of the short stories, though some are certainly better than others, and I have to say that coloring Palahniuk’s stories added a whole new level to experiencing his skill as a storyteller. If you are a fan of Palahniuk and coloring, Bait is a must!

BR&S Showcase: “The Wake” (2016)

The following is an excerpt from “The Wake,” a prose piece written by Chris Swensen.


Nora Daly walked alone on the gray shore. Her dog, Boatswain II, or “Boaty,” had pranced off after the scent of a crab. She was headed as always to the lighthouse and back on that gray noon, when she saw in the distance a dark form on the pale sands. Boaty was already sniff-snuffing about its great mass. When the little girl got close she saw the whale sideways, puffing dryly. Its fins fanned the air, its tail stroked the earth.

She reached out timid-like. Nervous pale fingers met the blubber skin. The beast wheezed and groaned. She could see herself in the well of its eye, alone against the bright sky. She felt pulled by its gravity; she leaned against its breathing mass. She could feel its moaning, could feel it in even in her bones.

*          *          *

Soon the entire village had converged. This was the second time a whale made such an appearance. Her aunt Evelyn, the newspaper man, the restless mischief boys, and all the familial lingering faces of roundabout grownups arrived to look at it. She even met a “local expert,” a tweedy and mutton-chopped man, whose spectacled face explained: “Sometimes they get lost, or maybe even sick.” She watched as the generous folk bathed its lumbered form with cool water from buckets. Boys tried to climb it; creative scoldings were flung quickly. Eventually compelled by something that could not be explained, they all gathered to return the form to the waves. The whole town gave great shoves and curses alike. The wave-returned whale puffed away haughty. The town boys groaned with disappointments. They had heard tales of “Dynamite Removal” and blubber raining from the heavens with humorous thuds. The lighthouse keeper was with the newspaper man. Pipe-faced he smiled, “Seems a waste, could’ve had fillets.” For some reason after hearing this, Nora grew red-faced.

“You shut your Goddamn mouth!” Everybody laughed. Evelyn made sure Nora tasted soap for three days.

*          *          *

It was a was and used to be kind of village there along the shore. There was a humming and lunch-whistling cannery. There used to be a filled dock, the fisherman’s cages bristling with crab legs or bulged with fish. It was mostly that once-hated Hibernian race that clung to that shore and cliff side even now as times got worse. Nora lived here all life long, now with her aunt Evelyn, a kind and soft-spoken widow who had a fading beauty about her, and was far too kind to everyone. Nora was beginning to hate her for reasons she did not understand.

It was a leafy suburb with old houses creaking in the wind. She lived still within sight of her old home, wearing its white paint that was coming off in flakes. She would remember always how in the afternoon she would walk along the beach with Boaty to the old lighthouse and back.

After that whale business she was out again, yellow rain coated against the gray noon.  There was a sound in the distance. A mischievous bellowing. It was Timmy and his toadies. He was throwing eggs at the face of a large sea turtle. The creature made a face and retreated within its shell. “Ha ha! Got you with your own babies!” he triumphed about before tipping the shell-withdrawn creature onto its back. “Ha!” Nora strutted towards the boys. She had hoped for Boaty’s support, but he was nipping at seagulls in the distance.

“Leave it be Timmy!” The toadies balked. Timmy strutted towards her face and stood right in front of her in his little suspenders. The toadies were all snicker-faced and goady.”I don’t do what girls tell me.” The toadies watched eagerly.

“You think just because your Ma and Da beat you, you’re tough, but you’re not.” Toadie disbelief washed over the gaggle of boys. Timmy was scowl-mouthed. “At least I have a fucking Ma and Da!” He kicked her in the shin and made a hasty retreat, toadies trailing laughter and mockeries. One of these days, she thought. So help me God.

*          *          *


 

Want more? This piece was published in Black Rock & Sage Issue 15 (2016). Purchase a copy today!

The Life and Times of a Literate Sasquatch: The Guide To Outdoor Cuisine

In my many years of kicking it back in the boonies of the Northern Rockies, the foothills of Pocatello, and more recently, the backside of Pebble Creek, I have become quite a connoisseur of outdoor cuisine. Not just your average pinecone in a bush, but foods likely to satiate your growling stomach (which hikers often mistake as myself growling), especially when they tease the palette.

I have outreached to just a few others about my aesthetic tastes. Over the years I have corresponded with my wonderful cousin in the snowy Himalayas, and my short companion in the deserts of Mexico. They, too, like to hear of my extravagant diet of flattened squirrels sprinkled with a pinch of sagebrush, clear Scout Mountain spring water with its sweet, soft texture, and the occasional abandoned ham sandwiches left behind by some startled campers (not my fault, they ran before I could say hello).

They too, have shared their favorite dishes, (my cousin from the Himalayas enjoys lichen and wild boar soup), but recently I have had the desire to spread my contact with others regarding my outdoor preferences. I have overheard from hiking junkies that they love posting their food online. And, as I lack a camera but have honed my writing skills to a superb apex, I will instead inform you of my most tasty dishes through this blog.

The first is the sticky pine crepe avec juniper berries. It is composed of tender pine-tree sticks, succulent toadstool, and juniper berries, all drizzled in sage sap and sprinkled with the flakes of thin bug wings. It is one of my favorites, and quite frankly, I know no one else who makes a meaner sticky crepe than me. 4.3 stars.

The next dish is tough to make mainly because its ingredients must all be fresh for the most optimal oomph: Ratasouille. Never will you ever slurp on something as fine and as spiced as freshly-snipped rat tails, minced ticks and earwigs with their saucy insides, and grated moss all stirred in a thick gravy of freshly-squashed road kill. Tough, but has its unadulterated savor. There’s a reason why we sasquatches smell the way we do, but we wouldn’t give up this wallop of a dish for anything. 4.1 stars.

Lastly, I must confess I lose control when it comes to this dish. It is subtle in its zest, but once you get a clot of it, you can’t stop. It is the crayssant du eau de source—a mellow casserole of spring water crayfish meat and creamy lizard eggs. This dish is best served if you are starved and there are no nearby campers’ food bins to raid through, since it will keep you stuffed for days afterwards. 4.5 stars.

And there you have it. The most-favored dishes that an outdoor cuisine connoisseur can offer. My only advice now is the next time you are hiking Scout Mountain, Gibson Jack, or sometimes even Red Hill, if you see me on the horizon, say hello, I am more than happy to share more recipes or even cook up a meal with you.

And I promise: I won’t eat you.

Your friend,

The Squatch

 

BR&S Spotlight: Meet Corinna Barrett Percy

Introducing Corinna Barrett Percy!Corinna Percy

Corinna was poetry editor for BR&S just last year (2015-2016). Corinna found it to be a great experience, as she learned more about how literary magazines are run and how to write and talk about poetry. She is currently a Ph.D student in English here at ISU and in the quagmire of reading/studying for her comprehensive exams, which she will take (and hopefully pass) in May. After the exams, she’ll start writing her dissertation, which focuses on soldiers of color in World War II literature and masculinity. She likes to dance, shop for vintage clothes, bug her husband about all the vintage cars he should be buying and restoring for her, and cook dinner (but not wash dishes!).

This month we had the opportunity to ask Corinna about her favorite places, books, and hobbies–as well as really important subjects, like the genius of Elvis Presley. Corinna also offers some great, practical advice for aspiring artists and literary magazine editors.

  1. What three traits define you? According to my husband: brilliant, colorful, faithful. According to me: goofy, sarcastic, loyal.
  1. What’s one thing you couldn’t live without? Chocolate
  1. What is your greatest fear? Heights, which is ironic because I’m 6’0” tall.
  1. Where is your favorite place to be? Either at home in my bed or out on a nature walk on a perfect sunny day. I’m contradictory that way.
  1. What is your favorite thing to do? Dance (any kind really, but ballroom more specifically).
  1. Where is the best place you have ever visited? Why? Probably Florence, Italy. Great architecture, beautiful art (hello David!), and amazing gelato.
  1. What would be your ideal career? Well, I guess a college English professor because that is the goal I’m aiming for at the moment. But if I wasn’t that, I’d totally be a Broadway musical star.
  1. What is your favorite book, movie, and band? Ugh, such hard questions. There are so many great books, but one that has sentimental value for me is Summer of My German Soldier by Bette Green. I read it 7th grade and loved it; it made me bawl. It would probably still make me cry. And interestingly, I now study WWII literature. Connections all over the place. One of my favorite movies is Singin’ in the Rain, and one of my favorite bands is The Kin, but really I’m obsessed with Elvis Presley, who isn’t a band, but I just like to share my obsession any chance I get.
  1. What is something that might surprise us about you? I like to sing, and a lot of things people say remind me of songs, which I then proceed to sing. But this is probably not surprising after I revealed I want to be a Broadway musical star. Also, I speak Russian.
  1. What is your favorite quote? I like the quote, “Life is tough, but it’s tougher if you’re stupid,” which is often attributed to John Wayne, but I can’t find any proof that he actually said it. It sounds kind of harsh, but I like to think of it as saying, be thoughtful and don’t make dumb decisions. On a more uplifting note, I like this quote from Gandhi: “Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever.”
  1. If you could have a dinner party with ANY three people (dead or alive), who would they be and why? Elvis Presley (obviously) because I’m obsessed with him. Winston Churchill because he seems like a fascinating lad and also because it would be interesting to talk to him about England during WWII. And my grandpa; he died when I was 17 and I didn’t have the chance to talk to him enough. Also, he was a POW during WWII, so I’d ask him to share stories, even though he probably wouldn’t want to talk about it. (I think there is a trend emerging…).
  1. If you had to eat one meal every day for the rest of your life, what would it be? Pad Thai
  2. If Hollywood made a movie about your life, who would you like to see cast as you? Emma Stone – she’s cute and quirky. Also, she pulls off being a redhead.
  1. If you were an animal what would you be? A cheetah. I’d like to be able to run much faster than I can right now.
  2. If you were stuck on an island, what three things would you bring? This is probably cheating, but: a boat, my husband (he would know how to drive the boat, even though I would be able to figure it out, but really, who wants to waste precious time when you’re stranded on an island), and a cell phone if said boat did not work.
  1. If you could have a superpower, what would it be? Teleportation, or the ability to create portals to go anywhere I want. Or being able to read by osmosis.
  1. What kinds of hobbies and interests do you have outside of work? Dancing, painting, playing basketball, and watching movies.
  1. Where do you see yourself in 5 years? Hopefully finished with my dissertation and working at a college or university.
  2. Do you have any favorite literary magazines/publications that you’d like to give a shout out to? Well, one that I read when I was the poetry editor of BR&S was Consequence. I thought it was good – it’s about war (surprise, surprise).
  1. Do you have any advice for aspiring artists and literary magazine editors? Be open to aesthetics that are different from your own, but also trust your own opinion.

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For new spotlight posts, please visit our blog the second week of every month (but, of course, do come back more often than that!).

April Staff Picks

A few members of the Black Rock & Sage staff have some great book recommendations for the month of April. Check them out below!

Jeff Howard, Editor-in-Chief:

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Winter Count by Barry Lopez is a masterful collection of short fiction that deals with themes of wilderness and environmental history, and is quite possibly one of the best books I’ve read this year. Lopez’s searing imagery inscribes itself on the mind, leaving a series of indelible and painful impressions that will not leave you alone. His short story “Buffalo” is about as haunting a story as I can remember reading. Reading his book took me back to an opportunity I had in Logan, UT, to hear Lopez read. In his closing remarks he said that one thing we need to be doing is taking care of each other, and that push for increased emotional proximity and connection between ourselves, as well as between ourselves and the environment, I feel, is a guiding principle in Lopez’s writing. A beautiful book.

Cover

Susan Goslee, Faculty Advisor: 

House of Lords and Commons by Ishion Hutchinson. Tremendous!

 

 

 

 

 

Anelise Farris, Poetry Editor: cover ec

The Girls by Emma Cline is a beautifully written book about the group of young girls that amassed around Charles Manson in the 1960s. The chapters alternate between the present day life of one of the girls and the past as she is remembering it. This is a book I could not put down, and it made for perfect spring break reading. If you are looking for a quick read that is also poetically written and brutally honest, I definitely recommend reading The Girls.

 

Christopher Swensen, Prose Editor:
Cover
Salman Rushdie’s The Enchantress of Florence is a fantastic historical narrative combining Renaissance Europe with the history of India and the Mogul empire. Its a Scheherazade narrative that includes everything from Niccolo Machiavelli as a main character to a cameo from Dracula himself as the historical Vlad the Impaler. This is a great read for lovers of history and imaginative fabulist storytelling.

The Life and Times of a Literate Sasquatch: Sasquatch Talks Art

People are surprised when they find out I’m interested in art. I don’t tell them that I’ve become something of an art aficionado amongst my colleagues in the LMDOES (Living Myths Defending Our Existence Society).

My interest in art began when I heard some overenthusiastic travelers talking about some things they’d seen before heading out west. Initially, I got a little offended that they were so preoccupied with manmade art that they hardly said a thing about my mountains. But, I finally got around to looking up some of the stuff they’d mentioned and I had to stop grumbling. There’s something to be said for attempting to make beauty, not just relying on nature for aesthetic pleasure.

My own first work of art was inspired by the hikers discussing some monks in Rome who use bones from their dead predecessors to decorate their tombs. I had a small pile of bones from my pre-vegan days in a corner I hadn’t cleaned out yet, so I arranged them on the back wall of my cave, around the family portraits. It’s not great, but, for my first work of art, I’m pleased.

Then I got into the 20th century stuff. The combination of the aesthetic, emotive, and intellectual really gets to me, as well as the drive to push boundaries, of course.

I tried my hand at Jackson Pollock. I think he’d appreciate that I went the food route instead of paint, since sauces were easier to get at the nearby grocery store. By using sauces, I employed taste and smell as well as feeling and sight. I’m particularly proud of a nice mix of mayo and guacamole I got to contrast with the mustard.

After I posted a picture of this work on social media, others in the LMDOES got into art. I’m trying to convince Hydra to try out Picasso. I think he could really capture the whole “all perspectives in one painting” thing. A few of his heads have some self-esteem issues, so we’ll see.

My best friend Nessie tried out Duchamp’s readymade and assisted readymade style with rocks and seaweed. It looks great from the photos. She said her favorite Duchamp is “The Fountain.” No idea why. I prefer “Bicycle Wheel.” If it were here instead of in New York City (of all noisy places?!), I would spend hours spinning the wheel. I’m easily entertained. You have to be when you live in the mountains and your neighbors don’t think you exist.

Apparently things didn’t go so well when Kong decided to perform John Cage’s 4’33”. No one realized there was a performance going on and it really hurt his feelings that no one clapped. I told him to try composing something like Cage’s prepared pieces. Yesterday, he posted an announcement for a concert this coming tourist season, debuting a work titled “Splash.” I’ll have to wait for the video recording since I don’t do well in crowds.

In the morning, I am going to gather some feathers and an abandoned nest I saw the other day. I’m planning on channeling Rauschenberg in my next piece with these, some red twine, and a few black and white postcards.

Stop by sometime to see it. Or not. My Pollock imitation is starting to smell.