Book Reviews, In the Media

“Anthology Delivers Fine Offerings”: A Review of Prairie Gold in the Wapsipinicon Almanac

IMG_0015 2This volume was no doubt a massive undertaking, and the effort has paid off. It will interest anyone who sees who they are as a product of where they are, and will especially appeal to those who sometimes feel that, in the words of Bakopolous, it is “almost too beautiful to bear that rolling countryside without a notebook and pen in hand.”

Pick up a copy of the latest Wapsipinicon Almanac (No. 21) to read more of what Tad Boehmer had to say in his review of Prairie Gold: An Anthology of the American Heartland.

Also in that issue, check out Robert Leonard’s essay, “Iowa: ‘Land of Enchantment’ – A Literary Manifesto,” in which he discusses Iowa’s cultural narratives and how Ice Cube Press “has done more than any in the past couple of decades in publishing books about Iowa, many of them by Iowans.”

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Editing, Fiction, Nonfiction, Poetry, Public Appearances, Readings

New Pubs, Upcoming PG Readings, & More

It’s October now. Leaves are changing, the temperature is cooling, my wind chime is getting noisier. At the same time, there have been developments in my personal and professional life. Here are some updates from the latter:

New Pubs

I’m honored to have had not just one, not even two, but three pieces published in the October 2014 issue of Festival Writer. Check out the issue here and then click on my name to view all three of my contributions. These pieces tend to resist easy genre classification. This is how I would describe them:

“Baconer” is a prose poem (with formatting) about factory farming, from the perspective of a pig in a CAFO. Please note that this poem uses plenty of profanity and unpleasant imagery. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t read it, but I think it’s important to know what you’re getting into.

“First Beard” is a nonfiction vignette about my dad, and “Performance Review” is micro fiction. They are so short, I better not say anything else about them (Spoilers!) except that I hope you enjoy reading them.

Upcoming Prairie Gold Readings

As mentioned in a previous post, our Midwestern book tour of Prairie Gold: An Anthology of the American Heartland will include two October events: one at the Rozz-Tox in Rock Island, Illinois, (Quad Cites area) on October 9 and one at Prairie Lights in Iowa City on October 16. Details:

Thursday, October 9, 2014 – SPECTRA Reading

8:00 pm – Rozz-Tox – Rock Island, Illinois

Our Quad Cities reading will feature fiction by T.C. Jones and Barbara Harroun as well as poetry by Esteban Colon, Salvatore Marici, and Ryan Collins. Part of the Midwest Writing Center’s SPECTRA Reading Series, the event will also include readings by featured poets Lauren Haldeman and Erin Keane. Check out the Facebook event page for more details.

Thursday, October 16, 2014 – Reading

7:00 pm – Prairie Lights – Iowa City, Iowa

Our Iowa City reading will feature nonfiction by Will Jennings and Meghan Brown, fiction by Barbara Harroun, and poetry by Salvatore Marici. Check out the event page for more details.

Video Debut

Since I switched from teaching English 150/250 at Iowa State University to my current position as a communications research assistant at the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture (also at ISU), I have been involved in a lot of cool multimedia projects. My job includes writing news releases and articles, updating the Center’s website, managing our social media, publication design, and video production. That last piece is such new and exciting territory for me, and I’m thrilled to share the final version of “STRIPS the Movie” (not the official title), a 13-minute video on the conservation practice of prairie strips that was four months in the making. It premiered at the 2014 Extension Energy and Environment conference in Ames and was followed by a Q & A with the researchers. Now that the feature documentary is done, we are in the process of using the extra interview footage to make a series of video shorts that will, among other things, help introduce a broader audience to the STRIPS project.

Goodreads

Our Goodreads Giveaway is still going on. Five free copies of Prairie Gold are up for grabs! The contest closes October 31. Details here.

If you already own the book and are on Goodreads, please take a moment to add it to your shelf, which you can do here. It helps us out when, after reading the book, our fans take the time to rate it, review it, and vote for it on relevant lists. (Contributors: Goodreads recommends that authors write a brief note on the inspiration for the piece in lieu of a review.)

Also, as part of having a book out, I’ve converted my personal Goodreads page into an author profile. It’s the same as before but with a few extra features, like the ability to have “fans” in addition to friends. I only have two fans so far! If you are on Goodreads and a fan of my work, please visit my author profile to make it official. (Lance needs more fans too. Here’s his author profile.)


I have lots of other exciting news I’d love to share, but I’m going to keep my beak buttoned for just a little while longer until details are finalized. So that’s all for now. Thanks for reading!

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Interviews

Mini-Interview: Two More Q’s with Tony Quick

Tony QuickLast week, Pints And Cupcakes posted a delightful interview with my good friend, fellow writer, and trusted reader Tony Quick. (Read it here. Go ahead. I’ll wait. Done? Okay, let’s proceed.)

Tony said some brilliant things in that interview, right? (Especially that part where he calls me “a remarkable writer who [he’s] convinced will become a future favorite to scores of readers when she makes her debut”–that was especially insightful, no?)

Having worked with Tony on Flyway: Journal of Writing and Environment, presented on an AWP panel titled “Writing About Nature in an Unnatural World” with him, and exchanged countless pages back and forth with Mr. Quick, I figured that he would have a lot more to say about how the environment factors into his writing if I asked, and I was right!

So here’s a mini-interview for you. I call it “Two More Q’s with Tony Quick.”

1. How does sense of place factor into your writing?

Beyond its role in establishing a backdrop for the story’s setting, place plays an integral part in my fiction because it inevitably feeds into character development. With all due respect to the idea of the self-made man (or woman), much of who we become as people happens to be influenced by where we’re from. So many factors: our values and assumptions, our careers, our hobbies, how we approach challenges, and so many other aspects of our personality are impacted by our reaction against or adherence to the standards of our surroundings. 

Here’s an extreme example that almost borders the absurd but happens to illustrate the point pretty well. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings and the Christopher Nolan movie Inception are both reverse-heist stories where the characters have to sneak into a fortified space and plant an object rather than steal it. Frodo, as a character raised in the leisurely shire and naïve to the nuance of Middle Earth, has an entirely different approach to his mission than Dom Cobb, a man who lives and works in a world of corporate espionage, mistrust, and various stages of unreality.

Their missions are different, of course, but they have similar end goals and the choices Frodo makes on the way to Mordor (This Gollum guy seems trustworthy) are different from those that Cobb makes during his journey into Fischer’s mind (You think I should tell my teammates my subconscious might try to kill them? Psh). That’s due in large part to how they’ve been colored by the fictional worlds they inhabit.

Another example that comes to mind is the difference between Michael Corleone from Mario Puzo’s novel The Godfather and Luke Skywalker of Star Wars. Both stories concern the legacy that sons inherit from their fathers. Michael Corleone initially reacts against the criminal world of violence and vendettas his father Vito inhabits but he’s a man raised in an post-WWII Italian enclave taught to put family above all else. When the call comes, he takes on his father’s role as patriarch. Luke, on the other hand, wants nothing more than to follow in his father’s footsteps and become a great Jedi. That original goal is supplanted when he realizes his father is the Sith lord, Darth Vader, a high-ranking member of the empire that Luke has been raised to loathe and fear.

When I craft my own characters, I do my best to contemplate how their environment might color their perceptions and influence their course of action as they move through worlds I’ve created. More often than not, those details will never be explicitly mentioned in the text but actively thinking through those particulars before and during the writing process helps impact my understanding of how my characters operate and who these people actually are.

2. You grew up in the Baltimore area, which is also the primary setting of your novel-in-progress, Scarecrow and Locust. Besides the fact that it’s where you’re from, what is it about Baltimore that inspires you to explore the city through fiction?

Urban landscapes feature prominently in my fiction because they offer so many opportunities to bring diverse people into the same arena to clash and cooperate. Cities create crucibles where characters from various cultural, ethnic, and economic backdrops can rub elbows. People who might never interact otherwise are drawn into conversations and conflicts by virtue of inhabiting the same space and that’s an exciting prospect to me.

Baltimore was really the only place Scarecrow and Locust could have taken place. The Patapsco River’s presence for various plot reasons that I won’t delve into here and the proximity to the nation’s capital provided an important reason to have a private military corporation installed there but beyond all that, Baltimore’s economic situation lends itself towards the theme I was going for in the novel.

So many areas in Baltimore appear downright post-apocalyptic and much of that has to do with neglect. Just recently, there have been reports of “food deserts” in the city where grocery stores have moved to more lucrative locations, leaving those without vehicles and the elderly without access to food. That’s not science fiction.

Scarecrow and Locust required a great deal of research and I learned a great deal about the famines in Ireland, Bengal, and Ethiopia. I was surprised most at the part government corruption, outright malice, or inaction played in worsening the impact of starvation on these populations. That’s not science fiction, either. 

I’ve always been adamant that my fiction shouldn’t serve as a makeshift soapbox but when I’m writing I do consider how the arrangement of certain elements will impact the reader. The choice to write about Baltimore is an attempt to shine a slight light on real problems that exist in our world through a speculative filter. Maybe if I’m fortunate, my readers will lend a bit more thought to the people who often end up forgotten in the margins.


 

So there you have it, folks. Aren’t you glad I asked?

Make sure to visit Tony’s website at tonyquick.com, where you can read his bio and check out all the other cool things Tony’s been up to. Also, if you were following instructions, you would have already checked out Pints And Cupcakes, but if you haven’t yet, now is the time to make it right.

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