The Shifting Boundaries of Story and Medium: Interview with Matthew Derby

By Sylke Jackson

This weekend, Cuppa Pulp Writers’ Space welcomes Matthew Derby for the River River biannual Lodestar Reading. His recent novel, The Silent History, co-authored with Eli Horowitz, Kevin Moffatt, and Russell Quinn (Farrar Straus and Giroux 2014), was originally conceived as the first major exploratory interactive novel designed for digital platforms.  In this interview, Sylke and Matt discuss reaching beyond the boundaries of print media to tell a rich story about children, language, and the questions addressed in the novel that made him delve into unconsciously held thoughts and feelings about his late sister.

The Guardian called The Silent History “A compelling story about difference, rights and power”; Wired called it “Entirely revolutionary.” Matt’s work has also appeared in The Anchor Book of American Short Stories, Dzanc’sBest of the Web 2009, McSweeney’s, The Believer, Guernica, and elsewhere. He is also a designer for Harmonix, a video game studio in Cambridge, Massachusetts.


SJ: Is there any moment or experience in your childhood that you’d point to that opened the door to the kind of work that you are doing now?

MD: I grew up in a big Catholic family. I had six siblings, most of whom were significantly older than me. By the time I was six, all but two of them were already in college. They left a lot of stuff behind in the house when they went away – mostly books and records – and I pored over these materials like an archaeologist struggling to understand an ancient civilization.

The Beatles were the one thing all of my siblings seemed to have in common, so I spent most of my time listening to their records and reading the many books we had about them. I became fascinated with the ‘Paul is dead’ conspiracy theory, and spent many afternoons scaring myself silly looking for the clues about his death scattered throughout their recordings. One day, I read that, if you played the very end of “A Day in the Life” backwards, you could hear, instead of an orchestra reaching a spastic climax before hitting a single, unforgettable note, the sound of Paul’s car skidding and crashing in the moments before his death. I went straight to the record player and spun the record in reverse, and what I heard sounded astonishingly like a car crash.

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Dead-Shot Writing: An Interview with Diana Goetsch

by Sylke Jackson

JACKSON: Do you feel that creativity, or writing in particular, can help us in the new Trump era? How?

GOETSCH: Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about Atticus Finch, the gifted and unusual father in Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird. Specifically, the scene in the film where a rabid dog is wandering down their street, a vicious creature (oddly named “Tim Johnson”) demon-possessed and no good to itself. The townspeople have gathered their children indoors, as has Atticus. Then the sheriff hands his rifle to Atticus, and Scout, his daughter, is shocked to see him kill the dog expertly with one shot. Everything about him was gentle, nonviolent, amazingly compassionate toward people, even those who’d even mistreated her—ignorant schoolteachers, nasty old ladies. But Scout didn’t know what the sheriff knew: even though he hadn’t picked up a gun in thirty years, Atticus was still the deadliest shot in Maycomb County. What she also didn’t recognize: this facet of her father was every bit as loving as all the others.

Trump’s bullying presidency is a pack of rabid dogs, staggering down a lot of streets, where many children play. Fifteen other candidates in the Republican primary field, many of them accomplished bullies themselves, couldn’t figure out how to stop him. We’re all waiting to see if the courts, the legislature—our checks and balances—will hold, but I suspect there will be moments we will need to toss out the rulebook (as Trump has already done) and practice a kind of love that is unrecognizable in common times. We will need a lot of Atticus Finches.

But Atticus Finch is a fictional character, so we will need a lot of Harper Lee’s. Lord knows we need good journalists doing their jobs courageously (they failed miserably during the last Republican presidency). Still more rare is the courageous artist, who, to use Joyce’s words, “go to encounter for the millionth time the reality of experience and forge in the smithy of my soul the uncreated conscience of my race.” We need the courage of South African novelist Nadine Gordimer, who took on apartheid by writing “as if I were writing from the grave.” It’s easy (and maybe counter-productive) to spout on Facebook, but it takes amazing courage to protect and practice art in a time like this, and give us our Atticus Finches.

And we need all art, not just political or socially oriented art. We need it for maintaining contact with the sacredness of life, and the guidance that flows from that contact. Nietzsche said, “It is only as an aesthetic experience that existence is forever justified.” The week after the election I had a reading at a university and I read a lot of love poems—on purpose—saying, “Let’s please remember what we’re fighting for.” In Denmark, not long after the Berlin Wall came down, folk singer Arlo Guthrie played a song written by the least political artist imaginable—Elvis Presley’s “I Can’t Help Falling in Love with You”—and the crowd knew every word. 30,000 people singing a love song in a foreign language, in unison: it doesn’t get more political than that.

JACKSON: Wow, that’s an amazing image. So many people, connecting across language and culture, through a simple (and beautiful!) love song. So, cultivating our writing practices, or any form of art that brings us to our love and truth, will deepen us and sharpen our shooting for the fight ahead? (As a Quaker I balk a bit at using the shooting metaphor for my own experience, but I’m going with it…)

GOETSCH: I want to say yes, that art functions precisely in this manner—though right away a voice in my head says, what about Ezra Pound’s anti-Semitism, Yeats joining the Fascist Party, or Woody Allen’s “involvement” with his children? Still, art is often a transformative experience, one that puts us in contact with the sacred and makes us want to protect it. Writing practice in particular helps cultivate what Buddhists call right speech. Writers are people who continually ask, What needs saying?—versus What doesn’t need to be said?—in order to discern what’s finally real about a situation.

Conversely, we’ve seen all kinds of activism that, however righteous, is aggressive in its approach: militant canvassers, manipulative fundraising tactics, charities led by Napoleonic hotheads. This is bad art, sloppy activism that risks throwing the baby out with the bathwater, and very different from Atticus Finch shooting that rifle. Atticus is no militant, he’s simply responding to a situation by doing what’s called for, regardless of how he may appear to others—maybe even regardless of his own personal beliefs. (I’d even venture to call him a good Quaker.)

JACKSON; So hopefully, in writing, we transform ourselves and tap truth. That can give us the insight to cut through abuses and transform the world. And maybe setting aside the chaos of the current political apocalypse for a moment and giving ourselves a safe place to write is also a healing, nurturing process.

GOETSCH: I agree. Practicing art requires a setting aside of something—a lot of things—in order to create space for something else. I recently re-read Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own, where Woolf keeps emphasizing the necessity of having such a place in order to have any shot at writing that’s going to matter. Elizabeth Bishop’s great poem “The Fish” also comes to mind: an old woman, alone in a rowboat, achieves this magnificent insight of what it is to be a warrior. Such moments of clarity, and the poems that give rise to them—and even the space in which we read them—require nurturing and protection.

But there’s something else Woolf points out: even if we do have a room of our own, our writing can still be polluted by things extraneous to a piece of art—usually in the form of unaddressed trauma, creeping onto the page. So there’s an inner place as well that requires healing and nurturing.

JACKSON: Healing the inner place sounds good. Is that something to approach through writing or other artistic avenues?

GOETSCH: I think so. Art isn’t therapy (and Art Therapy isn’t art) but what art and therapy both do is promote body/mind synchronicity, and that heals us. Each art form does this in its own way, re-integrating the troubled or isolated mind with the sanity and wisdom of the body. This embodiment is easy to see if we’re talking about African drumming or dance, but it’s also the case with writing. I’ve seen this in workshops; a certain quality of engagement comes over people while working on a piece of writing, a kind of spell is cast, and when they come out of that experience their whole state of being is transformed. I usually notice it before the participants do, but then they read back what they wrote, and they’re stunned and surprised by what came out of their pens. It’s transformative.

Among the arts, writing is especially good at helping us externalize what was previously unknown about ourselves or our world. Even if we don’t at first understand what we’ve written, there is—if we’ve written well—a visceral sense of integration. Toward the end of a workshop I watch people become hopeful in a good way—not that they will become famous authors, but the hope that they can keep doing this on their own, returning to this zone of creativity and empowerment. That’s healing, though it’s much more: it’s being fully alive. (And of course, some may become famous authors.)

JACKSON: I love what you said about people voicing something they didn’t even realize that they knew and surprising themselves in their writing. And the resulting inexplicable feeling of visceral integration. A while ago, I was explaining to a friend that I was having trouble writing. In an email to her I meant to write, “I am afraid of the void,” but by Freudian slip wrote “I am afraid of the voice”! I like the idea that in writing we integrate voices that may be powerful but are unconscious and unclaimed. And we open a connection to an untapped source of power that could help with the whole rabid dog thing.

GOETSCH: I think you said it better than me.

This next class I’ll be teaching, the fifth installment of the Free-Writing Intensive, will focus on voice—though you’re right to use the plural “voices.” We’ve all got a lot of voices in us, most of which are unclaimed, and startling in their sudden appropriateness. From a certain standpoint, all the page ever asks of us is the right voice. Maybe our times are asking for this too.

Dionysian revels

Anthony Lo Pinto
Chef Anthony uncorks another.

Imagine swirling a spoon that is smothered with hardened 65 percent cacao chocolate in a steaming cup of java. Suck or lick the slightly melted outer layer of chocolate off and chase it with a sip of sumptuous fine tawny porto (Taylor Fladgate). Repeat until the chocolate is gone or you have swooned into a state of ecstatic, sensual bliss.

This is what we do at CILK119 on Sundays. Well, actually just the Sundays that Anthony LoPinto teaches.

The above chocolate encounter was the final moment of what turned out to be a near bacchanalian feast that Anthony offered to participants of his class. Fennel salad with grapefruit and toasted sunflower seeds, Cinderella pumpkin soup, orecchiette with braised turkey and root vegetables, and roasted turkey with cranberry and sweet potato were served alongside complementary wines. We considered the gustatory relationship between the wine and food. Astute party goers chimed in. “I taste anise.” “I’m getting a touch of cherry.” “It’s like dirt.” “Do you smell rose?” “Peppery, bright, even slightly effervescent, yet big enough to stand up to the pasta, dark meat, and root veggies, which pleasantly ground the brightness of the wine.” (That’s Donna, showing off.) Anthony encouraged us to note our experiences of each wine and to rank the wines in terms of appearance, aroma, and flavor.

A full house enjoyed delicious wine and food.
A full house at CILK119.

People had favorites, of course. A Yamhill Valley pinot noir was a big hit with almost everyone. Some of the discerning pallets liked the Christophe Pacalet Beaujolais. The Leyda Sauvignon Blanc was particularly well matched with the fennel salad, as was the Gewurztraminer with the pumpkin soup. And you heard about the porto.

There’s already a pack of us signed up for when Anthony comes back in December. He will serve wines from around the world, food will be in tune with the season and cooked with the wines we drink, and recipes will be provided upon request. If you need some ideas about wine to serve over the holidays or your taste buds crave pampering come join us.

Witches, murderers, and aliens!

Saturday October 25th, 4-6pm
Book signing and panel discussion on electronic and self-publishing

Right in time for Halloween, authors of crime, paranormal, and science fiction genres share their know-how in the fields of electronic and self publishing. M.A. Marino (Witch Way, Glyph, Birthrite), C.E. Grundler (No Wake Zone, Last Exit in New Jersey), and Richard Herr (Tales from the StarBoard Café, Dog and Pony: Volume 1, Invasion from Fred) will elucidate the pros and cons of electronic and self publishing.

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Panel discussion facilitated by Donna Miele, Cuppa Pulp founder, who managed editing and publication of Born Minus: From Shoeshine Boy to News Publisher, An Italian-American Journey, an autobiography of Armand Miele, publisher of the Rockland County Times.

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M. A. Marino, author of Witch Way

M.A. Marino grew up just outside of New York City, spending most of her formative years outdoors creating wild ghost hunts with neighborhood kids, setting booby-traps to capture unwitting family members, and building clubhouses on top of ten-foot walls. Marino has a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing. Marino primarily writes sci-fi/fantasy, paranormal romance, and young adult stories. Go to goodreads for a chance to win a free copy of her book at the CILK119 event.

richardherr
Richard Herr, author of Invasion from Fred, Dog and Pony, and Tales from the StarBoard Cafe.

Richard Herr has three books out so far: Invasion From Fred, Dog and Pony, and Tales from the StarBoard Cafe. His books are humorous science fiction or fantasy. Fred is sci-fi and targeted to middle school young people on up to adult. Dog and Pony is urban fantasy that mostly takes place in NYC, so it’s got adult language. StarBoard is sci-fi and is a mosaic novel, a collection of short stories that have a plot running through them.

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C. E. Grundler, author of Last Exit in New Jersey and No Wake Zone

C.E. Grundler describes herself: I’m a diesel-driving double-clutching Jersey girl who spends too much time fixing boats and trucks, motoring, sailing, writing, and not behaving according to expectations. I live in northeast New Jersey with my husband, two dogs and assorted cats. Growing up aboard boats, I’ve sailed the region’s waters single-handed since childhood, and done a little of everything from boat restorations and repairs to managing a boatyard and working in commercial marine transportation. My work has been published in Boating on the HudsonOffshore Magazine and DIY Boat Owner Magazine. I divide my time between working on Annabel Lee, my 32-foot trawler, and writing. My novels, Last Exit In New Jersey and No Wake Zone, are proof of that. I’m currently at work on the third book in the series:  Evacuation Route.

Local Creative Professionals Bring Their All To CILK119’s Launch!

It’s happening!

CILK119 is officially open and we are celebrating our launch on Wednesday, October 15, with an action-packed day, thanks to the awesome contributions of local creative professionals.

Classroom

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Yoga Synthesis founder Raji Thron starts the day at 11am, with an all-levels yoga class. At 1pm, A. Anupama of Seranam Literary Arts will bring poetry from the members of Nyack Lit Meetup. At 4pm, we’ll have live music with local musicians Studio 7.

Maker Space

Velleman

Our new sponsor, Velleman, Inc., will feature soldering clinics and 3D printer demos all day long. Velleman makes all sorts of neat electronics kits that allow you, with a little help from a soldering gun, to whip up radios, electronic crickets, metal detectors, and computers. We’ll continue to sell Velleman kits to the public, as well as CILK119 members.

All classroom and maker space activities from 10-5 are free!

Evening Panel: Branding, Web Presence, and Success

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Following a 6pm reception, local professionals will present a panel focusing on small business branding, web presence, and success. Stephanie Adwar, founding partner of Furgang & Adwar LLP and an expert in trademark and entertainment law, will bring legal insight to the question of how to choose and build your brand. Greg Podunovich, creative technology expert, will focus on helping you to bring your business and brand online in effective and practical ways. Part designer, part storyteller, and 100% problem-solver, Greg brings editorial experience in film and television to his web technology solutions. Finally, Lisa deVogelear, founder of The Soap and Paper Factory, will share one of Rockland’s favorite success stories. From daydreaming about all-natural soaps in Lisa’s Nyack kitchen, to shipping crates of product out of her garage, to recently delivering 20 pallets of skin care products and fragrance to Anthopologie, Soap and Paper Factory’s story is a roller coaster ride that continues to amaze! Suggested donation $10.

For directions and more info on our Launch schedule, check out our Calendar.

For a limited time, drop in to CILK119 all day for $10.

Call or email us with questions or for more info: (845) 671-8244, CILK119@cuppapulp.com.

 

 

Joanna Clapps Herman primes the pump at CILK119

A budding community of writers listened to Joanna Clapps Herman's words of wisdom.
A budding community of writers listened to Joanna Clapps Herman’s words of wisdom.

Thursday night we threw open our doors for a craft talk with Joanna Clapps Herman, author of the recently released collection of short stories, No Longer and Not Yet. The sneak preview of our beautiful space drew a crowd of new and veteran authors who gleaned insights and contributed to a lively discussion about the art and practicalities of writing.

“Where do you start? How do you find the conviction to create? What if your idea is really big? How do you protect yourself and others when you write about real experience?” Herman addressed these queries and counseled participants in strengthening their relationship to their craft.

An inspiring and vivacious speaker, Herman spoke movingly about her craft.
An inspiring and vivacious speaker, Herman spoke movingly about her craft.

“You have to dig a tunnel for yourself,” Herman said “Create a structure that you believe in, for no good reason… where you say ‘I am in this and nothing is going to stop me.’

“Go to the microcosm, the glimmer of thought, the half sentence. Don’t undervalue your tiniest idea.”

A Manhattanville College MFA professor, Herman also read from “Questa È La Vita (This Is the Life),” one of the stories in No Longer and Not Yet. Her writing, as Pam Katz says,”discovers the human connections that warm the asphalt and brick of New York, delivering benediction along with a healthy dose of humor.” Herman stressed the importance of building an artistic community and applauded Donna and Ken for founding CILK119. The sense of excitement was palpable and we can see that CILK119 is going to be fertile ground for growing great ideas and fruitful relationships.

Herman has published both fiction and nonfiction, creatively exploring the day-to-day lives of families and communities.
Check out her website at:  http://joannaclappsherman.com

Sneak Preview Event: Craft Talk with Joanna Clapps Herman

Even before the CILK119 space officially opens, we are holding this amazing “sneak preview” special event for writers:

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JOANNA CLAPPS HERMAN — THURSDAY SEPTEMBER 18

“How Fact Becomes Fiction”
Craft Talk, 7:00-9:00pm

$25 includes 1 copy of No Longer and Not Yet

Author and Manhattanville College MFA professor Joanna Clapps Herman presents a special talk for writers. Ms. Herman has published both fiction and nonfiction creatively exploring the day-to-day lives of families and communities.

Refreshments will be served.