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What pulses beneath the soil?  What do our roots seek when they dig deep? What sap rises in spring to feed the branches that reach for the stark sky?  Place an ear to the trunk of Arkana to hear the hushed voices at work beneath the bark.

This is Arkana’s blog.

Contributor Spotlights

Contributor Spotlight: Melissa Michal

IMG_1210Melissa Michal talks about her fiction “The Wait” from issue 7 of Arkana.

INTERVIEWED BY LIZ LARSON (FICTION EDITOR).

Liz Larson: What books or stories have influenced you as a writer?

Melissa Michal: Growing up, I was the child carrying tall piles of books out of the library each week. I made my way through most of them in the span of a few weeks. I loved mysteries and teen dramas. My most cherished writer was L.M. Montgomery who created Anne of Green Gables. What was important to me so young was getting lost in the place, a new world to imagine as this one. These books began my love for speculative writing and movies and their words and characters taught me there was no limit to how we might view the world. I also learned that characters had important emotional needs that often were ignored if a female character.

LL: When initially drafting the story, “The Wait,” how did you begin? With a place or locale? Or with character? What is the story’s point of origin?

MM: The Wait began with the drafting the opening paragraph. In essence, I could say it began with a place, since that opening indicates movement from the lake toward the house. However, for me, it began with a tone, something foreboding, something calling a coming of a change, something deeply traumatizing and sad. I could feel that in the language that came forward.

LL: Tell us about your character’s way of telling or experiencing time? The character seems to move about in it differently than other people.

MM: This character is stuck. She hasn’t been alone in life until now. This is her worst nightmare and triggers emotions and mental health issues which shut down her ability to move or think beyond the moment. Time, then, stands still. She represents in this moment how isolation and lack of family or friend connections can be toxic to certain people and certain bodies. Her reaction to that is to develop an attachment to time as only changing with the view.

LL: The same goes for the character’s relationship with spaces. As an author how did you develop this attachment to location? How are she and the setting in relationship?

MM: Similar to my response to the previous question—when we are forced into isolation, whether that be by circumstance or mental health, the one thing we have, and have with a semblance of control, are the spaces around us. The house is the one thing that is familiar and that is hers. That makes the surrounding safe. In the crisis of long-term isolation, a heightened connection and a deep dependence has developed with this home. I tell my students often, we are not in the driver’s seat, our characters are. I didn’t develop this relationship, she held me accountable as a writer to show the deep, ingrained, daily motions she takes with this space.

LL: In your writing, what themes are you most often drawn to explore? What genres do you prefer to write in?

MM: I am typically drawn to characters working through trauma and/or those being resilient within a troubled system. I also prefer to focus on what occurs during daily moments rather than large, life altering moments, although sometimes those are within those daily moments, too. I write in the genres the project calls me to use. I used to believe I was only a poet, and then only a short story writer. But when I learned to let go and give myself to what the project called for, I began to work in all kinds of genres. What I prefer is to have fun with whatever I am working on.

Contributor Spotlights

Contributor Spotlight: Grace Spulak

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Grace Spulak talks about her poem “On Buying Fireworks with Our TANF Money” from issue 7 of Arkana.

INTERVIEWED BY ZHIHUA WANG (MANAGING EDITOR).

Zhihua Wang: The last line of your poem “On Buying Fireworks with Our TANF Money” is really powerful and impressive.  What inspired you to write this poem and what would you like for readers to take away from it?

Grace Spulak: The initial inspiration was an off-hand comment I heard someone make criticizing people in an ostensibly poor community for purchasing (and setting off) fireworks. The poem developed into a reflection on my own frustrations about being judged for choices I made during times when I was poor and choices I made after being a surviver of violence. People who are marginalized are often scrutinized and condemned for the behavior in outsized ways, and I hope this poem highlights that. I wanted to create a narrative that could push back against this scrutiny and judgement.

ZW: What draws you to poetry as an attorney?

GS: I think it was the opposite. Poetry and language drew me to consider being an attorney. For me, being an attorney is another way to use writing and language to challenge the power structures that exist in our society. I decided to go to law school after studying writing as an undergraduate in part because I understood how powerful language is and how using it well could make a substantial difference for my community through legal advocacy as well as writing poetry and fiction. 

ZW: Is there a writer whose work has been inspirational or evocative as you develop your own voice and style?

GS: There are probably too many to list. Some of my favorites at the moment are Danez Smith, Ada Limon, Terrance Hayes, Meg Day, Marie Howe, and Natalie Diaz.

Contributor Spotlights

Contributor Spotlight: Benjamin Murray

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Benjamin Murray talks about her poem “Giving a Man a Jump at Work” from issue 7 of Arkana.

INTERVIEWED BY ZHIHUA WANG (MANAGING EDITOR).

Zhihua Wang: Your poem “Giving a Man a Jump at Work” reminds us of the help we often get from others, sometimes strangers. It makes us feel warm.  What inspired you to write it and what would you like for readers to take away from it? 

Benjamin Murray: This was a moment that stuck with me over the years. I used to work in the automotive parts industry, one of the people working the counter, answering questions and pulling parts. Often, that’s how customer viewed me: Employee. And, usually, that’s how I viewed the person on the other side of the counter: Customer. But there were moments like the one I express in my poem that breached the dynamics of customer service, that closed loop, where I was able to connect on a human level. Of all my years working in that industry, the busywork and corporate cadence, there were few moments where that transcendence happened. For me, I want to be a positive force in the world, where those small acts of kindness are not so rare, and how they can act as a reprieve from our daily lives. Everyone, at some point, needs a hand. And so, I was inspired to try and encapsulate what that moment meant for the both of us. For me, writing it out was an act of discovery and a clarification for how I felt. I would hope the reader is warm, yes, but also moved or motivated to go out into the world and be open to helping others. While that interaction between that guy happened, this poem could not have taken shape and form without the help and support of my fellow writers and professors at Eastern Washington University.

ZW: What are your plans for the future? What are your current creative projects or goals?

BM: Right now, I’m working on a polyphonic and mosaic novel set in an amusement park in the Inland Northwest, which was my thesis at Eastern. I put it aside for about a month or two, letting it marinate, and now I feel like I’m ready to jump back in. Also, since I’m out of school, I have had more free time to work on short stories as well. Most of those deal with my previous jobs as a dishwasher, an assistant store manager for a car parts store, a mower, and an office assistant in academia. I like to draw from those experiences and play with them by messing with POV, or injecting some magical, surreal, and/or absurd qualities into the narrative. I’m interested in first-person collective and second-person POV, something that I don’t usually write in. Between all that, writing poetry. I try to keep my mind and writing fresh by moving from fiction to poetry to drawing and painting (I’m a terrible painter, but it relaxes and energizes me). I think it’s important to not limit how your creativity is shaped.  

ZW: What are you currently reading?

BM: I always felt so far behind everyone in my MFA program. People in my class were so well read, knew so many authors and books and how they worked and felt that I was overwhelmed. My goal for this year is two books a month, if not more. So far, I’m on track. Like most writers, reading fuels my own work. I’m reading Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried and Jonathan Johnson’s May Is an Island. I strive to read poetry or nonfiction with a book of fiction. I find that the genres inform each other, and that helps with my own writing. When I’m done reading those, next on my list (there isn’t a written list, instead there’s one in my mind that scrolls along with writers that I’ve heard of or seen) are Sharon Olds and Denis Johnson. Or Jess Walter. Or Stephen Millhauser. Or Danielle Dutton. Or Erin Pringle. I don’t feel overwhelmed as much. In fact, it’s kind of nice; I’ll never run out of books to read.  

Image Credit: Iris Yee

Contributor Spotlights, Uncategorized

Contributor Spotlight: Diana Swartz

IMG_0298Diana Swartz talks about her poem “If You Follow Harper Road” from issue 7 of Arkana.

INTERVIEWED BY ZHIHUA WANG (MANAGING EDITOR).

Zhihua Wang: We particularly loved the tone and pace of “If You Follow Harper Road.” What inspired you to write it and what would you like for readers to take away from it? 

Diana Swartz: I grew up in a rural, conservative community in South Dakota, the daughter of a hired hand, which meant my father, who owned no land himself, was contracted by local farmers and ranchers to perform the duties of making their land fiscally productive, whether it was raising sheep, cutting hay, or planting wheat. So, I always had a sense of my family’s inferior status growing up but it wasn’t until I entered college that I understood the oceanic cultural gap between the working class and middle class. College for me was much less about the academics and much more about learning how to be accepted into this new world, or better, how to be mistaken as a natural-born member.

It was several years later, after having successfully (and painfully) converted, that I recognized the beauty and value in where I come from. Writing poetry was the practice where my reintegration first emerged. It can be such a lonely place to be surrounded by people who don’t really know who you are, as we all understand in some way, so giving space to my experiences from childhood and beyond feels like a way of validating the world from which I come, validating myself, and validating the shared experience of the struggle in evolving into a more authentic and courageous person. 

I also appreciate the particular fragility that is realized when living in close proximity to the natural world, which in my life has a tendency to get washed out as I go about my daily life insulated by the amenities of modernity. I am drawn to this fragility and enjoy the challenge of trying to make the natural world a focus without diminishing it through romanticization or cliche. I walk a fine line in this poem by making the fenceline the ultimate cause of the herd’s death; they very well may have died huddled down in the draw together. Being allowed to follow one’s instinct matters though, whether one survives or not. 

ZW: You’ve mentioned that you are just now getting back into writing. What led you back, and what has it been like to return? 

DS: I have always written but mostly to make sense of things, and mostly as a private experience. In my early 30s I had my first child, twins actually, and made the choice to step back from my profession as a therapist. The collision of a transforming identity along with feeling absolutely beholden to the rhythms of sustenance, sleep, and play exposed so many of the pretenses that I had theretofore built a life around and I began to discern my deeper voice. At that point writing became not only a curative act, as it always had been, but a deliberate way to stand as myself — more whole, humbled, and unapologetic — in a community of others. It’s been both relief and rush, mostly joy. 

ZW: Do you also write in other genres?  

DS: No, although I think there are some very inspiring writers of children’s books out there, and I’m always drawn to a good collection of essays.  

ZW: What are you currently reading?

DS: I am currently stuck on chapter 12 of The Joy of x: The Guided Tour of Math, from One to Infinity. It’s an enjoyable enough read but, well, it’s February in Wyoming and I want only to be entertained, easily. So I think I’ll move on to a novel, maybe Kingsolver, or maybe the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage story I’ve been eyeing. 

Contributor Spotlights, Uncategorized

Contributor Spotlight: Nadya Frank Bauman

20190302_214328Nadya Frank Bauman talks about her fiction “This Is How We Rise” from issue 7 of Arkana.

INTERVIEWED BY LIZ LARSON (FICTION EDITOR).

Liz Larson: Your use of time-telling and awareness of cycles ground the reader from the beginning of  the story. Was this type of awareness part of your own family traditions?

Nadya Frank Bauman: I don’t think there was much awareness. This short story is an attempt to make sense of time, aging, and the churn of generations, and like my protagonist, I began asking these questions only after I got to live as a separate grown-up person. In a way, traditions are exactly the opposite of awareness. It wasn’t until my first Christmas in the US that I started to wonder why Russians celebrate New Year, not Christmas, as a magical night when a bearded wizard leave presents for kids under the tree. Christmas has always been secondary in Russia. Turns out, it’s the legacy of Bolsheviks who tried to downplay religious holidays, but I would never look it up if I didn’t discuss it with American friends. So many things in our lives are taken on faith, and it takes a whole new generation to start asking why we do things this way but not that. 

LL:  In “This is How We Rise,” you make a choice to write from a second person point of view, which is rare in fiction. (Probably because it is difficult to maintain.) Did you write in second person for a specific reason or to create a certain kind of interaction/response in the reader?

NB: I’ve noticed that two types of stories tend to use second person point of view. First is this subgenre of literary short stories that mimic how-to articles and manuals, and their imperative mood implies a “you”. The second is #OwnVoice-kind of writing, telling about authentic, often marginalized experiences. Lorrie Moore’s How to Become a Writer and Porochista Khakpour’s How to Write Iranian-America are examples off the top of my head. In This Is How We Rise, I wanted to immerse readers into this bizarre Easter experience (tinting eggs with what?!), and using second person POV seemed logical. I tried to rewrite it in the first and third person but neither felt right. Besides, “you” is how I address my past selves in my head, so it felt natural for a story that reflects on different ages of the character. And the imperative mood of the recipe is at odds with the protagonist who discovers there’s no foolproof rules and indisputable authorities in life. 

LL:  What stories influenced you as a child and young adult? How do they manifest in your writing?

NB: The funny thing about my childhood reads is that I start to realize these books are weird only now when I read them to my daughter. Imagine Dr. Seuss-like rhymes about a crocodile who finds out animals are kept captive in St. Petersburg zoo, so he gives inspiring speeches about freedom and starts a rebellion, and the animals who follow him swallow people alive and kidnap a girl. That’s Crocodile by Korney Chukovsky, the most renowned children writer. Many books in my childhood had this awkward political overtone.

Some stories were Soviet adaptations of Western books, like Dr. Aibolit (Dr. Dolittle), Buratino (Pinoccio), and The Wizard of the Emerald City (The Wonderful Wizard of Oz). The originals were already available in Russia in my time but my parents and me never considered reading them—the inertia of traditions, again. 

There was a fair number of great female leads in books like Kingdom of Crooked Mirrors and a cult middle grade sci-fi series about Alisa Selezneva, but the “grown-up” speculative fiction of Strugatsky brothers that I started in high school featured thoughtful men and naïve boys as protagonists. My own first short stories were a blatant imitation of the Strugatskys and I couldn’t imagine serious fiction with a female lead. 

From the school reading list, I loved magical realism of Gogol and Bulgakov. I read a lot of SFF: Ray Bradbury, Lois McMaster Bujold, David Weber, Terry Pratchett, all in translation. Stanisław Lem and Andrzej Sapkowski were delightful reads, perhaps because Polish-Russian translation allows to preserve the rhythm of prose, which is often lost when translating from English. 

LL: You create rich descriptive moments throughout your story. Tell us about your character, Granny, and the development of her through description. She is such a vivid character!

NB: As I said, this story is autobiographical, and Granny is rendered from my Grandmother who passed away several years ago. While I fictionalized some details of my experience, all Granny’s lines and biography details are real. She indeed grew up in Belarus (I ignorantly call it “Belorussia” in the story; it’s an outdated, Russia-centric name). During WW2, she lived on an occupied territory and they used the potato trick to keep German soldiers away. She was used to the Soviet shortage of pretty much everything and regarded our consumer habits wasteful. 

In this short story, I tried to understand how Granny’s worldview was shaped by her history, and how we should be grateful to the previous generations of women whose hard work made our lives a bit easier. 

LL: Eggs and onion skins are at the core of “This is How We Rise.” How could the reader view them symbolically that is apart from their down-to-earth physicality in your story?

NB: I didn’t plan to load the story with symbols, but like it often happens with writing, the additional meaning eventually crystallized. An egg is a symbol of fertility, and while the protagonist defies the Easter traditions of her family, she might be questioning her reproductive role as well. Also “an egg” is a term related to women’s reproductive system, and a red egg might stand for menstruation, a natural and necessary process which, according to the Orthodox church, makes a woman “dirty.” Isn’t it hypocritical to ascribe women with a task of childbearing while demonizing a healthy part of the reproductive cycle? As a writer and an agnostic, I wanted to throw this taboo topic into a story about a religious holiday. 

Onions don’t have symbolic meaning to me. Onions are just onions. 

Contributor Spotlights, Uncategorized

Contributor Spotlight: Erin Rae Threlkeld

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Erin Rae Threlkeld talks about her 3 poems from issue 7 of Arkana.

INTERVIEWED BY ZHIHUA WANG (MANAGING EDITOR).

Zhihua Wang: In many ways, “Manifest,” “Across the Tides,” and “Skinwalkers” speak to each other. What would you like readers to take away most from these three poems?

ET: I would like the readers to ultimately consider Black bodies and their journey from ancestral motherland to current sites of the African Diaspora. The Black identity is an ever evolving thing as a group of people are left with the personal task of defining themselves with a sense of self-respect and regality.

ZW: As an MFA student, your focus is fiction, yet here you’ve written poetry. What draws you to each genre?

ET: What I love about poetry is that depending on it’s form, it often serves as a snap shot of images and the artistry of words. Fiction, on the other hand, allows a narrative the space to be a winding road with characters that act as the sojourners.

ZW: What does it mean for you to receive the Editor’s Choice Award?

ET: I am very honored to have won the Editor’s Choice Award.  Receiving it is a testimonial to striving for something despite obstacles and setbacks. It felt like reaping the benefits of trying out poetry that struck me even when others didn’t choose it.

ZW: Could you share with us your favorite writer or work? 

ET: Currently my favorite writer would have to be Nnedi Okorafor. I like how she allows the reality of Rural Africa and Afro-futurism to coexist. Her work makes aspects of the Black identity something supernatural and fantastic. 

Contributor Spotlights

Contributor Spotlight: Nazli Karabiyikoglu

Nazli Karabiyikoglu talks about her piece “Safe Haven” from issue 7 of Arkana.

INTERVIEWED BY LIZ LARSON (FICTION EDITOR).

Liz Larson: Your style of storytelling seems similar in construction to myths or legends. Can you tell us your influences and how you developed this style of writing?

Nazli Karabiyikoglu: The first scripts of humankind emerged from the lands that I’m from, Anatolia, Caucasia, and Mesopotamia. I’m not writing as a Turk; I am writing as a Greek, as an Armenian, as a Persian, as a Georgian, Hititian, Lydian, Ionian, Phrygian, and Sumerian. I grew up with fairy tales and stories forged in Anatolia. When I began to search for my heritage, I was not aware of the collective consciousness coming from old Caucasian culture. Years and years of searching, studying, and reading, I believe that I became a part of this collective consciousness. Also, I am not writing from Istanbul; I’m writing from Tbilisi, Paris, London, Basra, and Aqaba. Locally and globally, I am trying to touch the core of humanitarian tales. My guide is Anatolia and Anatolia is female, I am just trying to reach her roots with reconstruction.

LL: Within “Safe Haven”, body autonomy and self-care are often mentioned. Do you bring these themes into your writing intentionally or do they appear organically during character development?

NK: Well, I am a queer feminist and activist and every single day there is another hot topic in Turkey that I must shout for. These topics are mostly about women’s rights or LGBTQ+ rights. So, it is like I am coded by body politics. While writing, these themes are occurring organically as I do not plan to do it.

LL: What books currently fascinate you?

NK: For the last year, I could not have been finding the chance to read fiction at all due to my master thesis research phase. I am working on masculinity and performativity so, everything available about these topics fascinates me. But to be specific, I enjoy reading Judith Butler as I read fiction.

LL: One of the strongest elements in the story is your use of place-based writing. With “Safe Haven,” you locate the characters in their settings in a layered way that invites the reader into a place that might be unknown to them. As a writer, do you often write place-based stories or nonfiction? What are some of the ways you approach setting in your work?

NK: Yes, poetics of place as Bachelard states, fascinates me and my writing style nourishes from the places I live or travel so much. Between 2010-2016, I decided to conduct a nonfiction series which was called “The encounters” in a Turkish art magazine. In this series, I was traveling all around Europe (plus Great Britain and Russia), visiting writer’s houses and writing personal essays about the writers I visited. Now my translator is working on the translation of that work. I can tell you every single street in Paris or Amsterdam. And I can tell you the same about Jakarta or Melbourne even though I have never been to these cities at all.

LL: Tell us more about Hurrem Sultan or Roxelana. She is a fascinating historical figure that is mentioned in your story. What did you incorporate from her history, and what did you have to leave out that you wished you could have shared in “Safe Haven?”

NK: Hurrem Sultan was a kidnapped girl, once sold in the slave market, and found her way through the main palace, Topkapi Sarayi. She was a slave, a sex worker, a handmaid. Transcripts say that Sultan Suleiman fell in love with her so badly and she did so. But did she have another chance not to fall in love with a conquerer at that time? Of course, no. She was the first slave woman, called “cariye”, an odalisque, to get officially married to an Ottoman Sultan. You can imagine how much does this means to women in general. I’d like to write her life story if there would not be too many books which had already done that. I shaped my protagonist’s mind with the image of Hurrem that when she walked through the same corridor in the palace, she was thrilled to know that Hurrem’s feet were touching the same stones before her. 

I have a strong will to write about one of the biggest taboos of Turkey: homosexuality and immorality in the Ottoman Empire. Even though there are so many documents in the archives about this issue, none of the recent historians have had the courage to highlight it. As a living memory of my country, I must have the courage to tell these to future generations.

Image Credit:  Nazli Yildirim