SARAH CORTEZ – Award-Winning Author and Law Enforcement Veteran

ATSNStop the ThreatChuck Thompson

Sarah’s latest crime fiction thriller is The Carlucci Betrayal.

Here is a glimpse into Sarah’s award-winning career:

Sarah Cortez, a Councilor of the Texas Institute of Letters, Fellow of the Dallas Institute of Humanities and Culture, and Fellow of the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts. She has poems, essays, book reviews, and short stories anthologized and published in journals, such as Texas Monthly, Rattle, The Sun, Pennsylvania English, Texas Review, Louisiana Literature, The Midwest Quarterly, Southwestern American Literature. Winner of the PEN Texas Literary Award, her debut poetry collection is How to Undress a Cop. Her books have placed as finalists in many contests, such as the Writers’ League of Texas Awards, Los Angeles Book Festival Awards, and the PEN Southwest Poetry Awards Latino Book Awards, Border Region Librarians Association Award, Press Women of Texas Editing Award. She has been both a Houston and Texas finalist for poet laureate; she is a law enforcement veteran of 28 years. Her memoir entitled Tired, Hungry, Standing in One Spot for Twelve Hours: Essential Cop Essays brings the reader into the patrol car as it reveals America’s most dangerous profession.

The Carlucci Betrayal takes readers deep into the Mississippi Delta during Prohibition to witness the founding of a criminal empire, and not since The Godfather has a Mafia family captivated readers the way the Carlucci brothers do in Robert Wilkins’ and Sarah Cortez’s rollicking novel of love, lust, and naked ambition.

Michael Bracken  – Anthony Award-nominated editor of The Eyes of Texas

 Genres in Which I Write: I write in more than one genre, and I love seeing how the interaction of skill and intention translates and doesn’t translate across genres.

I began as a literary fiction writer, then to poetry, then to memoir. At this point, I think I’ve been published in almost all popular and literary genres and subgenres. I love all kinds of writing and edit all genres.

Writing Process: In terms of my writing process, I don’t have much leeway to choose a particular set of locations or circumstances to write. As a full-time professional writer/editor, I write when and where I can. I always seem to have deadlines breathing down my neck, whether for writing or editing. I am also an editor for a large international Catholic online journal of the arts. Those deadlines keep me very busy. www.catholicartstoday

First Publication: My first book came out within less than three years of beginning to write poetry. I now have 14 books—all traditionally published. For quite a few years, I had one or two books published per year. I have been very fortunate to work with publishers who really believed in my book projects.

Characters: In the popular genre of crime fiction, there are usually two strong-willed characters: the criminal and the sleuth. They must be fairly evenly matched in order to have a drawn-out conflict that is sufficiently interesting for a reader to read the entire novel.

The process of creating a 3-D character, particularly a main character is involved and mysterious. Tomes have been written about it. Curiously enough, it is the one critically important step that most fiction writers, particularly beginning fiction writers, don’t spend enough time doing. All the hours of research, imagining, taking notes, thinking through personality and choices, and personal history of the character pay off. Yet, most fiction writers either skip this step or do it quickly—a fatal mistake to both plot and the possibility of writing a book that readers enjoy.

Writing Characters of the Opposite Sex: Due to police work and my corporate career before policing, most of my life has been spent working with men. I do not find it a particular challenge to write from a male’s POV. In fact, most of my literary and popular fiction is written in a male’s POV.

Do You Base Characters on Real People? As a freelance editor who has been privileged to work with many writers, I think that basing a fictional character on a real person is an absolute no-no. Fiction that does this results in erratic character motivation and is often boring. Characters must be free to act according to the psychological and emotional dimensions based on the imagined history and personality that the writer has given them. So, you can see from this line of thought that I never base my characters on real people and certainly never on myself.

How To Raise the Stakes for Characters? Especially in popular fiction, but also to a lesser degree in literary fiction, the author’s “job” is to apply stress on the main character. These stresses of circumstance create conflict, and conflict creates plot. The way the stress is applied to each character will be different since each character has a different personality and history.

Does a Protagonist Ever Disappoint You? As an author, I am not thinking about my reactions to characters in a book. I am always thinking, however, about what the scene needs to be of interest to a reader. Sometimes a protagonist needs to fail, whether that failure is of his choice or imposed on him. If the writer is writing a protagonist that changes throughout the book, the protagonist will make mistakes. Some characters, like James Bond, do not change over the course of a book. But even this type of character does experience failure of action and choices.

vintage Italian mafia gangster in 1930 in New York

What Kind of Research Do You Do? I research what I need to research. Sometimes that involves an entire era with its cultural artifacts of music, dance, clothes, attitudes, disasters, politics, etc. Sometimes research is very specifically related to a particular scene. For instance, in The Carlucci Betrayal, I had to find out how a young male below the age of military service would get to Europe in 1938 to volunteer to fight against Hitler. Since 1938 was before the U.S. declared war, I had to see which avenues were open to this young man. This only affected a couple of sentences in a phone conversation between two main characters, but it had to be historically accurate.

Also, for The Carlucci Betrayal, I had to research Mississippi law regarding homicide and manslaughter in the late 1920s for a courtroom scene and for the lawyer’s arguments to be accurately based on the law.

A Writer You Admire: I greatly admire Megan Abbott, a wonderful noir writer. She successfully combines what’s best about crime fiction with exquisitely styled prose. She is so successful because so few writers write with her precision and energy in such gorgeous prose. My favorite title of hers is Bury Me Deep.

Advice for New Writers: I’ll pass along some wise advice from a professional saxophone musician: don’t choose anything but your horn. In other words, writing demands a serious commitment to practice and learning. When the others meet their friends to go bowling or drink at the bars, you must be reading, learning, revising, drafting, studying, etc. If you’re going to be a good (highly skilled) writer, then writing isn’t a hobby. It is your job.

Anything Else You’d Like to Mention: Getting to work on The Carlucci Betrayal was tremendously hard work and also tremendous fun! I’ve always wanted to write Mafia-era fiction. This gave me an opportunity to research plus create three-dimensional characters that acted according to a different era’s pressures in a society that was both more constricted and more free-wheeling than today’s.

I also relished my research into Mafia fashion. Not only for the men but for the women. Holsters, spare magazines, stilettos, razors, cigarette lighters, etc. Types and calibers of guns. Several PWSA members helped me out with these questions. For me, becoming conversant with places of concealment, fashions for men and women, mobsters on different coasts, and what they wore—fascinating! It was a delicious peek into the psychology and practicality of why the mobsters and their ladies wore what they wore.

Readers can contact me at: cortez.sarah@gmail.com or at carluccibetrayal@gmail.com

Our website,  carluccibetrayal.com – Search Results | Facebook, also has a “Contact Me” button.

Phone: 713-331-9342

I am available for virtual book readings and presentations on Mafia Fashion.

Follow us on Facebook at   The Carlucci Betrayal | Facebook

 

 

17 Comments

  1. Joseph Bryce HAGGERTY Sr

    Sarah, great post, your Advice to New Writers should be the Pre-amble to any book about writing. I am totally intrigued with The Carlucci’s Betrayal and will add it to my reading list.

    Reply
  2. Madeline Gornell

    Sorry I’m late to the party, Sarah, but what an interesting post. Very impressed by your accomplishments and inspired! Especially awed by your writing in so many genres. Continued success!

    Reply
  3. Ana Manwaring

    What concept–Mafia Fashion! Thanks so much for your interview. Thank you too, George!

    Reply
  4. sarah cortez

    Thank you, John Bluck, for your positive comment. I appreciate it!
    Sarah

    Reply
  5. sarah cortez

    Hello, Michael,
    It is good to remember how you gentlemen (and ladies) of the listserve helped me with research.

    We all need to stay strong . . . you are so right.
    Bless you,
    Sarah

    Reply
  6. sarah cortez

    Oh, Holli,
    I’ve thought of you during the years since Gabe and I attended you and your husband’s opening in NOLA. Email me sometime and let me know how and what you’re doing these days!!

    Reply
  7. sarah cortez

    Oh, Marilyn,
    It always makes me happy to see your name! I have an entire “Marilyn Meredith” section in my bookcases.

    I hope to make it to another conference soon.

    Reply
  8. sarah cortez

    Thank you, John, for your comment. You’ve always been so great to me.
    Sarah

    Reply
  9. Lynn Hesse

    I found another author’s work with law enforcement experience I want to read. Thanks, Lynn

    Reply
  10. John Schembra

    Great post Sarah. Interesting to
    Learn other author’s writing process, and how they plan/organize their characters and plots. Best of luck with your new book!

    Reply
  11. Darlene Record

    Congratulations on your new book. Just purchased it and look forward to reading it. Really enjoy your work.
    Thanks for your helpful advice on writing.
    Darlene Record

    Reply
  12. John G. Bluck

    I like your comments about building strong characters. I look forward to reading your books!

    Reply
  13. Marilyn Meredith

    Great post, Sarah, with so many valuable tips. I was so glad to see at the recent PSWA conference and catch up with you some. Hope you’ll come again soon.

    Reply
  14. Holli Castillo

    Sarah, loved learning about your writing process. I find it more difficult to write from the male perspective so I envy your ability to do it so easily. I also find the idea of mafia fashion fascinating. Your thorough research is evident in your work as it always rings authentic.

    Reply
  15. Michael A. Black

    Hi, Sarah. Great advice about writing and the dedication to learning one’s craft. I loved the saxophone allusion. Your new one sounds interesting. I’ll have to check it out. I remember when you were researching the holsters and such. Good luck and stay strong.

    Reply

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ROSE OWENS – Author and Professional Storyteller

Rose Owens writes middle-grade fiction, short story, essay, and memoir.

As a professional storyteller, she often tells stories that she has written. The name of her blog site is Rose the Storylady: Making a Difference through Storytelling and Writing http://www.rose-the-storylady.com. That title explains her motivation for blogging. She is a past vice-president for the Tri-Valley Branch of California Writers. She currently serves as the Newsletter Editor. She edits the Toolbox column in that newsletter, which provides other members a place to ask questions and share information. Rose has become somewhat of an amateur Zoom expert. She hosts storytelling, family chats, a cooking club and art club for her family, and online meetings. Zoom links for her two storytelling programs (Storytelling for All Ages and an Interactive Storytelling Program for preschool and lower elementary students) are posted on her website. Http://www.rosethestorylady.net

Rose is the author of the Maryalise Trilogy (middle-grade fantasy novels) that are available on Amazon. She has also authored a picture book: Who Was There: A Nativity Story for Children. She has been published in the Las Positas and Tri-Valley Writers’ Anthologies. Rose’s essay, “We Live in a Mobile Home,” contains family stories about the process of recovering from a fire that destroyed the interior of her home. It was published in the BYU Alumni Magazine. A BYU Family Recovers from a House Fire with Humor and Help 

The Poemsmiths of the Mojave High Desert branch of California Writers have selected two of Rose’s poems, “How Far to Bethlehem” and “They Pity Me in the Village,” for inclusion in the anthology, From Silence to Speech: Women of the Bible Speak Out. Rose recently attended the online Surrey International Writing Conference, where she participated in an Author Showcase and had the opportunity to talk about her books.

Rose lives in Livermore, California. She arrived fifty-five years ago and has settled in nicely. She is the mother of seven children and the grandmother of twenty-five. She finds inspiration for her writing as she crafts, cooks, gardens, walks, and participates in other activities.

Tell us about your recent release and other books. Maryalise and the Snatched Fairy (published 2020) is the third book of my Maryalise trilogy. Maryalise is a fairy child hidden in the mortal world with no memory of her previous life. In Maryalise and the Singing Flowers (2019), she discovers her identity, learns to use magic, and ultimately goes down into an underground cavern without magic to rescue her father, who the evil fairy, Villiana, has imprisoned. In Maryalise and the Stolen Years (2019), she must discover how Villiana has stolen years of magic from the people who are buried in an old forgotten cemetery. William (another fairy) and Cuthelburt (a ghost) help her in this quest. In Maryalise and the Snatched Fairy (2020), she goes into the Fairytale Dimension to rescue William, who has been stolen by Villiana. She interacts with the Cheshire Cat, Snow White’s stepmother, the Hansel and Gretel Witch, the Chicken House, and Baba Yaga. Blackie (who is actually a dragon in disguise) helps her. All three books have been self-published on Amazon. She has also published a picture book: Who Was There: A Nativity Story for Children, available on Amazon.

What brought you to writing? I have always enjoyed writing. As an elementary school student, I wrote poetry and an impossible fairytale story. When I was in junior high school, I wrote very mushy, sentimental love stories. Fortunately, none of these early writings have survived. I wrote poetry and essays during my child-rearing years. In 2007 I registered for a creative writing class. Since that time, I have written essays, poetry, stories, and novels. The idea for my Maryalise trilogy happened because my teacher gave her students a prompt to write on in class. Maryalise emerged from my imagination, and her adventures have been chronicled in three books.

Tell us about your writing process I have learned that when I get an idea, I should write it down—even if I don’t have time to develop it fully. Otherwise, that idea disappears into the void. The Idea for Maryalise and the Snatched Fairy came in a dream. The sensation of being snatched and carried away into the void woke me in the middle of the night. I wrote the details down and went back to sleep. When I looked at my notes in the morning, I realized that I had the idea for my third Maryalise book. When I am working on a book, I start my writing time by reviewing the previous chapter and making minor edits. Then, I am ready to begin the next chapter. After I finish writing, I think about what needs to come next. I process that information during the day and before I go to sleep at night. When I am writing shorter pieces, I usually wait several days before I edit them.

What are you currently working on? I am writing a non-fiction piece about the Bank of Vernal. The 80,000 bricks for this bank were mailed from Salt Lake City, Utah, to Vernal, Utah via the US Postal System. I am using the same research to write The Outlaw Trail, a middle-grade historical fiction novel about the son of William Coltharp (the man who built the Bank of Vernal). Butch Cassidy and Josie Bassett are two of the historical characters who appear in this novel.

There have been a lot of versions of The Three Little Pigs published. But one day, I thought, What About Mama? I am working on telling her story.

How long did it take you to write your first book? It was about three years from the time I created the character of Maryalise until I finished the book. However, it took about ten years to write the Maryalise trilogy. I waited until I had finished all three books before I published them. This turned out to be a good decision because I was able to make minor changes in the first books based on what happened in the third book in the trilogy.

Do you have any advice for new writers?

  • Keep a notebook or computer file of ideas.
  • Write regularly.
  • Edit and edit again.
  • Save the pieces that don’t fit into your current project. They may be useful later.
  • Find a compatible critique group, listen to the other members. But don’t change your work just because someone else has a different idea.
  • Organize your computer files. (I’m still working on this)
  • Save backups of your work in 2-3 different places. Save a hard copy. Email a copy to yourself.
  • Don’t be afraid to try a new genre.
  • Search with your planned title on Amazon or Google it. You want to know what other books have similar titles.

Where do you write? Distractions? I usually write on my computer. Sometimes I am sequestered in my storytelling room, and sometimes I write in the family room. I’m able to tune out the distraction of the television noise and just write. Having a regular schedule for writing keeps me from procrastinating my writing to a time later in the day that never seems to arrive.

How do your readers contact you?

My readers can contact me through my blog http://www.rose-the-storylady.com.

Book links on Amazon:

Maryalise and the Singing Flowers Maryalise and the Singing Flowers (Maryalise Trilogy Book 1) – Kindle edition by Owens, Rose. Children Kindle eBooks @ Amazon.com.

Maryalise and the Stolen Years Maryalise and the Stolen Years (Maryalise Trilogy Book 2) – Kindle edition by Owens, Rose. Children Kindle eBooks @ Amazon.com.

Maryalise and the Snatched Fairy Maryalise and the Snatched Fairy (Maryalise Trilogy Book 3) – Kindle edition by Owens, Rose. Children Kindle eBooks @ Amazon.com.

Who Was There: A Nativity Story for Children Who Was There?: A Nativity Story for Children – Kindle edition by Owens, Rose. Religion & Spirituality Kindle eBooks @ Amazon.com.

8 Comments

  1. Peggy Schimmelman

    I’ve long admired Rose’s writing and storytelling, as well as her work ethic. The above tips for writers are worth noting. Thank you for sharing.

    Reply
  2. Larry Pope

    If anyone is considering becoming an author of any type of book, this information would be helpful as a guide. One must be genuine in their interactions with others, particularly with children, and Rose does this very well. Her voice changes can be very subtle, but catching.

    I have followed Rose’s storytelling for many years and sincerely believe that she gets better as time goes on.

    I wish her the very best.

    Reply
  3. Ruby Regnier

    It’s been very rewarding following Rose’s development as a professional storyteller and writer.

    I’ve known Rose all my life and she has shown amazing dedication in all her research in the quest to be authentic.

    Not mentioned in the interview is her ability to do healing storytelling to help students process their thoughts after a traumatic public occurrence.

    Onward ho, Rose!

    Reply
  4. David

    This is Rose’s son, I have heard my mom tell many stories on zoom. Some she has adapted and some she tells with permission. She has told me a good story needs a teller and a listener for the experience to be complete. I remember in schools she would sometimes get permission to come into my classes and tell stories. She had a skirt with bunches of pockets and in each pocket would be something which would mean something to a story. She would let us kids pick a pocket and she would tell the story. It was fun. I did not choose much, but my class mates did (And I still got to listen 🙂 ) My class mates had a good time listening to the stories that were told. I think this is enough for now.

    Reply
  5. Sharlett Durfee

    We love all of Rose,s stories
    And her talent of telling stories to the public

    Reply
  6. Julie Orvis

    Great article about Rose. My grandkids love her storytelling, but are still too young to read her books. I know they’ll love them when they are old enough to read them. I’m glad you included her advice for writers (good advice for all writers, not just new ones). Thanks for the article.

    Reply
  7. Sandra Tayler

    So fun to see you featured!

    Reply
  8. Michael A. Black

    Wow, Ms. Owens, your story and your work ethic are enviable. I particularly liked the advice you listed for new writers. Those comments were excellent. Best of luck to you on your new book.

    Reply

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JOSEPH HAGGERTY – Hero – Vice Detective – Child Rescuer – Author – Poet – Friend

Joseph B. Haggerty Sr. Author of the novels: Shame: The Story of a Pimp and An Ocean in the Desert Contributor to the PSWA anthology: Felons, Flames and Ambulance Rides Award-winning poet, writer, and lecturer on the sexual exploitation of women and children in prostitution and pornography.

I’m Joseph B. Haggerty Sr. a retired vice detective and academy instructor from the Metropolitan Police Department in Washington, D.C. (35 yrs).  I was a Senior Special Agent in Investigations with the Office of the Inspector General for Amtrak (6 yrs).  In 2009, I received an award, Heroes of the Heart, from the organization Children of the Nights in California and was recognized as one of the top ten law enforcement officers in the country for rescuing children from the street.  I was President of the Writers League of Washington for nine years.  I have been a member of the Public Safety Writers Association since 2010. I have a self-published novel, Shame: The Story of a Pimp, which I wrote based on my experiences investigating child predators in prostitution. I was honored to have 3 short stories and 2 poems published in the PSWA anthology, Felons, Flames and Ambulance Rides. I also have another book from Oak Tree Press, titled, An Ocean in the Desert. A number of my poems have been published in my FOP lodge newspaper and Tears on the Walls was recorded on a CD titled Heroes Unsung.  I am married with six children, eleven grandchildren, and eight great-grandchildren.

The first book I wrote was because of the way, and movies and television portray prostitution. They make it look glamorous, safe, and profitable. Most serial killers either start out killing prostitutes or easily convert to killing them. For one good reason, they are easy targets. Pimps are the real problem on the street. They are the real criminals. Prostitutes are the pawns used to make the pimps money and are sacrificed just as easily. I wanted to write about what the street is really like. As a vice detective specializing in going after the pimps in Washington, D.C.( excluding Congress), I learned a great deal about how the pimps do their business and how they get their victims and hold them. My book, Shame, The Story of a Pimp, is just that. It’s a story of a pimp from birth to death, how he learned about pimping and became a pimp. It’s a story of sex and violence because that’s the story of prostitution. It’s a story of the sexual exploitation of children by pimps. It’s a story of the pimp world and pimp law. I interviewed over 5000 prostitutes who worked the D.C. streets in my over twenty-seven years on the street and also interviewed hundreds of pimps. Some of my cases are intertwined in the book. I changed names and locations, but the events are the same.

I’ve also written a book, An Ocean in the Desert, where two private investigators specialize in finding missing children. If they find the child has been a victim of a sexual predator, they offer the child’s family an additional service to guarantee their child will never return to that predator.

I’m in the process of writing a third book, tentatively named Craig’s Follies, which is about a male prostitute who became a professional informant for several police departments across the country as well as Washington, D.C.

A publisher has agreed to publish a book of my short stories about the street and my life as an investigator.

As a Public Safety Writers Association(PSWA) member, I have learned a great deal about writing and other aspects of law enforcement, medical situations, and firefighting. Through the list/serv and our conferences, I have had numerous questions, answers, and ideas for handling plots, characters, setting, point of view, and numerous ways to kill people. PSWA has given me confidence and encouragement for the submissions I have made to the various writing contests for which I have won many awards. I would recommend PSWA to anyone thinking about writing or who has been fortunate enough to have a book, short story, or poetry published.

I wrote my first book in less than a year, finishing it in 1987. I wrote it longhand on a legal pad. It took another couple of years to have it put on a computer disc. After finally having it on my computer and another couple of years of editing, I took it to a literary agent. The agent turned me down, saying the book needed too much editing. I went to another literary agent and got the same answer. I did more editing. I couldn’t afford a real editor as the book was over 500 pages. I went to a third agent, who said I had a snowball’s chance in hell of getting published as an unknown writer. In 1999, I joined a writers group, The Writers’ League of Washington. Through their encouragement and confidence-building, I decided to go the route of self-publishing, and my book, Shame, The Story of a Pimp, was published in 2008.

In Shame, I have several subplots. There are three main subplots. Shame’s mother gets involved with a gambling pimp who rips off the mob. I had one of Same’s women kidnapped by another pimp, and a rescue attempt is made. The third is a policewoman who goes undercover as a prostitute to discover the truth about a murdered friend. One other thing, I’m not sure you could call them subplots, but I didn’t want to just concentrate on Shame’s women. A number of other women worked the street, and the reader will read about them. I wanted the reader to know how they got to where they were. I wanted the reader to see the whole street.

With my first two books, I wrote as a pantser, but with Craig’s Follies, I am outlining. I am also writing a book with another member of PSWA, and we’re outlining with that book.

I have to say that my favorite books are the ones that inspired me to write. The first is The Stand, by Stephen King. I’m not a big Stephen King fan, but the characters he created in The Stand are extraordinary. I am a slow reader, and The Stand is a big book, which was a challenge to me. Still, the characters he created were the driving motivation to read the book in its entirety. The second book that inspired me was Cathedral by Nelson Demille. This book was about Irish terrorists that take over St. Patrick’s cathedral in New York. This was one of those books you can’t put down. The action was non-stop, with great characters and a great story.

You can reach me at: gudgerray@aol.com

 

7 Comments

  1. Michael A. Black

    I echo the praise put forth in these other comments. Joe is a true hero who has worked his entire life to protect the innocents and bring the predators to justice. He is an example of the finest among us, and I am proud that he considers me a friend. His books are gritty and real, but they’re well worth reading. Stay strong, Joe.

    Reply
  2. Wanda Dean

    Joseph, first of all, Thank You for what you have done to save Children from the streets. And congratulations for following your passion of writing and publishing your own book! Keep up your work of reaching out to those less fortunate .

    Reply
  3. Joseph Bryce HAGGERTY Sr

    I truly appreciate and I am humbled by these wonderful comments. It was easy to see what the real problem was in prostitution, the sexual exploitation of women and children by pimps at different levels. I saw these victims as victims not criminals and although I had a very hard time getting the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the District of Columbia to prosecute these predator cases, I continued to do my job. Thankfully, today many more prosecutions are occurring and many states are recognizing these women and children as victims. I do not consider myself as a hero, just a cop who recognized a problem and decided to do something about it. The real heroes are people like Dr. Lois Lee who founded Children of the Night. Look up her organization and what they have done. They not only rescue children they empower them, educate them and provide shelter for them and they appreciate any support they can get.

    Reply
  4. Mar Preston

    I am glad there are investigators like you, Joe.

    Reply
  5. Marilyn Meredith

    I’ve read both of Joe’s books–real and eye-opening. Joe is one of my favorite friends from PSWA. A great guy with a heart of gold, an inspirational career, and a great sense of humor.
    Great article.

    Reply
  6. Madeline Gornell

    Great interview, Joe. And my respect and admiration for all you’ve done and continue to do! You’re one of the best of us humans.

    Reply
  7. Nanci Rathbun

    Thank you for your life of service to the vulnerable ones, Joseph, and to your continued efforts to make us aware of the reality of sexual violence and exploitation. It can’t have been easy to do that kind of work. You are a true hero.
    Nanci

    Reply

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JON DAVIS – Educator – Mentor – Poet Laureate

I met Jon when I inquired about the low-rez MFA program at the Institute of American Indian Arts (IAIA). Five days later, he had me admitted. During the program he wasn’t just the director, he was a mentor and friend to every student. When I had a serious medical issue that prevented my attendance one semester, he created a remote program that allowed me to complete my requirements and graduate with my cohort.

Jon, I can never thank you enough for your compassion and friendship. Yôotva  – Thank You, George

My name is Jon Davis. I was born in New Haven, Connecticut, and grew up in the nearby town of Orange. After graduating high school, I worked for eight years, primarily as a mason and a warehouse manager, before attending the University of Bridgeport. I went on to earn my MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Montana. I taught for 30 years, 28 of them at the Institute of American Indian Arts. In 2013, I founded the IAIA low residency MFA in Creative Writing, which I directed until my retirement in 2018. From 2012-2014, I served as the City of Santa Fe’s fourth Poet Laureate. I have published seven books of poetry, one book of poetry in translation, and six chapbooks of poetry.

My new book of poetry, Above the Bejeweled City, will be available from Grid Books on September 15. Here’s the official book description:

In his seventh poetry collection, Jon Davis exhibits the range and mastery that is the result of fifty years of study, teaching, and practice. Above the Bejeweled City opens and closes with homages to Federico Garcia Lorca’s dream-struck ballad “Romance Sonámbulo.” In between, he inhabits what the philosopher Maurice Merleau-Ponty calls the “inexplicable existence” that marks our passage here on Earth.

Part absurdist, part satirist, part tender correspondent, Davis writes in the slipstream of writers like Joyce, Beckett, Parra, and Plath. In an age that calls out for hopeful verse, Above the Bejeweled City offers, instead, a treatise on defeat and despair—and on how letting go is a way of holding on.

I think of it is as the third book in a tryptich with my previous two books, Improbable Creatures and An Amiable Reception for the Acrobat. All three books were written more or less simultaneously.

Do you write in more than one genre? I write in many genres—poetry and short fiction primarily, but I’ve also written screenplays, plays, creative nonfiction, literary criticism, satire, and songs. My first published writings were record reviews, and for a while, I was the music critic for a weekly newspaper in New Haven, Connecticut. I also write poetry and perform as Chuck Calabreze, an alter-ego of sorts that I developed in the 90s.

What brought you to writing? I was always an avid reader, and, for some reason, when I was in third grade, I suddenly wrote a 23 page story, the hero of which was a young Navajo man who had stumbled across a bag of money—I think some thieves had stashed it. The story followed him as he was pursued by both the authorities and the original thieves. I didn’t know any Navajo names (I was an eight year old living in Orange, Connecticut), so I borrowed an exotic-sounding name I’d seen in the newspapers for my hero: Tse (borrowed from Mao Tse Tung!). Four years later, I began writing imitations of Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau. (I read both when I was 11 years old.) I’d wander the woods with a journal (I mean, the notebook actually said “Journal” on the cover!), and I’d scribble down my romanticized observations of nature. I still have one of those journals. Trust me, nobody is going to see it.

But I didn’t think of writing as something one devotes oneself to until my 7th grade English teacher talked about James Joyce and his notion of the literary “epiphany. ” I think she defined it as the writer “seeing into the heart of things.” I remember thinking, “I want to do that!” The same teacher also made me stay inside during recess when I didn’t complete my assignments on time (which was most of the time). As “punishment,” she’d make me memorize poems. I remember being given John Donne’s “No Man is an Island.” I thought it was the best punishment ever.

It took a while before I came to poetry myself, though. What finally brought me to writing poetry was a dirt bike accident when I was 18. I was riding alone on a tight dirt track I’d carved out of the woods. It was the first cold morning in November, 16 degrees. I slid hard into the berm on the first turn, but instead of sliding around the turn, the tires bounced off the frozen berm. The bike stopped dead and fell on my calf muscle. I pulled the bike upright, got back on, and rode home. I figured I’d torn my calf muscle (two weeks later, I went to the doctor, and he confirmed my diagnosis), so I hopped up the stairs, sat at my desk, thought, What am I going to do now?—and started writing poems.

I taught myself by reading the generation ahead of mine, so Richard Hugo, Norman Dubie, and others were my teachers at first. In 1977, I wrote a letter and sent some poems to a poet named Dick Allen, whose book I’d found in the mall book store and who taught nearby, at the University of Bridgeport. Dick loved what I’d sent him and invited me to take any course I wanted. The one that fit into my schedule was a 300 level creative writing class. At the first full class, four of my poems appeared at the end of the mimeographed handout. After he’d led lively discussions of the other work on the handout, my poems came up for discussion. Nobody raised a hand, nobody spoke. Dick let the silence continue. He passed the time fiddling with his glasses, poking through papers in his briefcase. Meanwhile, I was thinking, I’m in the wrong class, I need to give up this crazy idea of writing poems, etc. Finally, he stood up and addressed the dumbfounded class. “These poems,” he said, “are instantly publishable in any journal in America.” He went on to tell the class what he knew about me—I was a construction worker, I’d taught myself to write these poems—and the various virtues he saw in my poems, then class ended. I talked to him briefly after class, then drove the twenty minutes home in my battered 68 Buick, sobbing all the way.

Where do you write? What, if any, distractions do you allow? I write wherever I am and write longhand, on a computer, or on my iPhone. Sometimes I record on my iPhone. When I’m writing as Chuck Calabreze, I shout and growl lines and either record them or scribble them down immediately after growling them. I often drive with a notebook beside me and scribble poems (mostly without looking) across the pages. I keep a notebook beside my bed for those times I wake up having dreamt part of a poem. I can write poems no matter what’s happening around me. I’ve written poems in emails and group chats, on Facebook messenger, and in text messages.

Tell us about your writing process. As you might surmise from my previous answer, I don’t have a writing process. In fact, I don’t believe in the idea of a “creative process”; experience tells me poems and stories happen in thousands of different ways. So my approach is to stay open and alert and attentive to the wild world and to my own wildly associative brain. I write notes everywhere, let every glimpse or whimsy, every hurt or big idea, every cluster of words or silly thought, every fleeting buzz or bing into my awareness. I’m apt to drop everything and start writing. Or at the very least, text myself a title, a line, a part of a poem or story or song. I have this idea that the composition / revision divide (process?) is an artificial distinction that was produced by writing workshops. For me, it’s all composition—one fluid (okay, sometimes not so fluid) movement. I suspect that relying on a process will get you processed poems, not quite real poems the way processed “cheese food” isn’t quite cheese.

What are you currently working on? Even before I’d completed Above the Bejeweled City, I was deep into the next collection—by deep, I mean deep for a poet: I have about 30 pages. Some of these poems will appear in State of the Union, a chapbook coming from Finishing Line Press in 2022.

Who’s currently your favorite author? I am currently reading The Glass Constellation by one of my favorite poets, Arthur Sze, whose innovations, developed over fifty years of poetic practice, reveal an entire worldview.

Do you have any advice for new writers? For poets: Imagine what the perfect poem looks like for you, then spend your life trying to write it. Ignore fashion. Ignore equally failure and success.

How do our readers contact you?

My web site: jondavispoet.com
My email: jdavissimo@me.com
Chuck Calabreze’s blog: voydofcourse.blogspot.com
Grid Books:https://www.grid-books.org/shop/above-the-bejeweled-city
Copper Canyon Press: https://www.coppercanyonpress.org/books/preliminary-report-by-jon-davis/

4 Comments

  1. Madeline Gornell

    Love your cover. And so agree, “ignore fashion!” Good to meet you, Jon!

    Reply
  2. Joseph Bryce HAGGERTY Sr

    I too am a poet, certainly not on the your prestigious level, but it would seem to me based on this interview that most of your poems are prose rather than rhyme. Do you believe writing prose is more likely to be published than rhyme poetry. Mine is primarily rhyme and I am looking to find a publisher. As a retired cop, I’ve written most of my poems about the street and police work or the sexual exploitation of women and children in prostitution. I would be very interested in your opinion of my work and if you would allow me, I could send some of it to you. Thank you for sharing your story and thank you George for providing an opportunity for him to share his story.

    Reply
  3. Thonie Hevron

    I had no intention of reading this interview. After all, I don’t get most poetry. But George’s recommendation and the support you gave him when he needed it convinced me. Your words made me a believer. I particularly like your answer about your “writing process.” I’ll be looking for your work. Thank you for sharing this, George!

    Reply
  4. Michael A. Black

    Yours is an inspiring story indeed. Your passion for writing is admirable and I have no doubt that one day you will write that perfect poem. Good luck.

    Reply

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Angela (Angie) C. Trudell Vasquez Poet Laureate of Madison, Wisconsin – Performer – Activist

I am a poet.

I began seriously writing when I was seven years old. I remember making my first few lines in the diary. I convinced my paternal grandmother to buy it when we went uptown one day. This was during summer break when we, my sister and I, would stay with her for our annual visit. Beans and tortillas were all we ate, running in and out of the kitchen all day long and back outside, gulping a spoonful each time we passed the stove.
Wanting to write was a conscious choice for me at a young age. The book, Frederick the Mouse by Leo Leonni, was my early inspiration. I learned the power of words to make one whole, feel well-fed, and warm through that acclaimed children’s book. Frederick being a mouse poet, helped his family get through the coldest part of winter with his poems when their stores ran out.

Today I am the City of Madison Poet Laureate and the first Latina in this role. I served one-year as of January 2021. I have published three of my own collections of poetry and have a new one coming out soon. I have edited and co-edited books, journals, and zines, including the Spring 2019 edition of the Yellow Medicine Review. I went back in 2015, in my late forties, to get my MFA in poetry from the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe, New Mexico. I graduated in May 2017.

I also serve as the vice-chair on the Wisconsin Poet Laureate Commission and help pick the state’s poet laureate biennially. I consider myself a literary ambassador in my role as poet laureate. Balancing my volunteerism, writing, appearances, and readings with my full-time job takes some organizing. It helps to have a partner who is an artist as well. We recently made Sundays full art days in our house.

Do you write in more than one genre? I do write in other genres, earning two Pushcart nominations, one for an essay and another for a poem. I write short stories, sci-fi and am working on a memoir right now. I took a class with IAIA alum David Tromblay in Fall 2019 and got a good start on my memoir. Poems are my favorite, though.

Tell us about your writing process: Everything for me starts in longhand. I edit on my computer. When I get stuck, I move it back to the page and write it out in longhand to figure out what went wrong in the editing process. I write in my body: hand to wrist to arm to core to heart to brain and back. I write fast on the page and have long practiced automatic writing. My pen always ahead of my brain, my conscious self. I am often surprised by what comes out on the page. The pen admits what I have been avoiding. That’s when writing gets exciting when you are a conduit of sorts and along for the ride. Sometimes lines come to me at night when I am dreaming. I do edit my poems voraciously and enjoy the rigorous process. I think this is where the real writing is now, in the editing. I find inspiration easy, but then I need to work with what I have created and sculpt it on the page until I am satisfied with form, white space, and sound. Poems take you where they want to go and are not done until you have read them in public. I read my poems aloud as I edit, but they sound different in my study than they do at a venue with actual people present. I do not consider a poem done until it has been shared orally with others. When I was a younger poet, I tried out poems at open mics to test them. Now I can record them and listen back, but it is still worthwhile to share them with others for final edits, in my opinion. Poems sound different when you read them to a live audience that one word makes a difference.I also think it is important to read other poets’ work, old and new. I like the idea of poets in conversation with each other across time and space and genre. Some of my poems are in direct response to another poet’s poem I heard them perform or something I read in print or online. I learned in graduate school that I love theory and continue to study. Listening to poets and writers read their work is a real pleasure for me. How you hear the words in your head versus when it is a public performance is enlightening. I listen to poetry readings, lectures, or conversations with writers when I cook these days or travel to visit my family in Chicago or Milwaukee.

What are you currently working on? I just received my contract from Finishing Line Press for my newest collection, My People Redux. This is the 2nd half of my master’s thesis. In Light, Always Light, also published by FLP in May 2019, was the first half. I graduated in May 2017 and spent a long year re-working my poems. In Light, Always Light, accepted in August 2018, was a finalist for their New Women’s Voices Award.

Concurrently, I am working on another collection of poetry that focuses on the history of us humans. This involves research. I am enjoying the process and taking my time. Some of these poems are published, and some are still being edited. I need to continue to push them out into the world. I was also working on my memoir in fits and starts.

In my role as the poet laureate for the City of Madison, I will be judging the annual Bus Line Poetry contest soon. I have many upcoming scheduled readings for a book I just published under my small press Art Night Books in November 2019 called, Through This Door – Wisconsin in Poems. This is a collaboration with the most recent state poet laureate, Margaret Rozga. The book took us over a year to put out and is the second time we have published a collection together. I served as co-editor for this collection in addition to being the publisher, and we have had a good response. Twice we have been on the radio, NPR stations, and I have logged many hours at the post office mailing books out across the state and country. We had to go back to the printer three times now.

I consider myself a literary ambassador as a poet laureate and this has opened up many doors for me. I want to continue to do that for other writers. We need community and support. I would not be where I am today without the networks I found all along the way. Nor, without people sharing opportunities with me and freely offering up what they know, and being generous. I believe in the power of art to heal, connect and create community. It is a record of our lives and our history. I am so happy to be on this journey at this moment in time.

Here are comments about my work by two poets I admire:

The poems of In Light, Always Light afford space for the lyric to clarify and delineate the self “… through the ravine to the seam / the V peak of the hills / where dappled light spills / between rocks and discarded beer cans.” Here Angela Vasquez presents poems that struggle to contend with family history, a history of diaspora and relation, of assertion and insistence that the reader and the poet must bring to bear the imperative of “yes, yes fight back.” The poems travel, as we do, to observe the poet in the eternal dimension where one must write, and read — “Let me sit in sadness for a spell. / I need to write this out.”

–Joan Naviyuk Kane, 2018 Guggenheim Fellow

The poems in Angie Trudell Vasquez’s In Light, Always Light honor the illuminating power of poetry, but they also speak eloquently of racial injustice and the dark “inherited grief” that is its offspring. These are poems of history, endurance, and remembrance. They vividly story the strength and survival of migrant ancestors “who built railroads / with broken backs” or shared “mole recipes on parchment.” In those relatives “passed. . .to vases of bone and ash,” Vasquez recognizes the fleeting quality of human reality. Like our forebears, we are mere “half blinks of history,” “we are magic dying.” But in this volume, Vasquez offers her ancestors colorful and enduring literary lives. “Poets,” she writes, “resist the death of a people” and “beyond death, art speaks.”

Kimberly Blaeser, author of Apprenticed to Justice, Wisconsin Poet Laureate 2015-2016

If people want to connect with me, the best way is email: angiectvasquez@gmail.com
My website is www.angietrudellvasquez.com, and my small press website is http://www.artnightbooks.com

 

 

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Beatrice Szymkowiak – French-American writer – IAIA – MFA-Poetry and  Ph.D. Candidate at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

We have Beatrice Szymkowiak here to tell us about poetry.

Beatrice and I are alumni of the Institue of America Arts. We graduated with MFAs in 2017. Hers in poetry, mine in fiction writing.

My research includes environmental literature, Indigenous contemporary poetry, and translingual literature. I am also particularly interested in Caribbean literature.

I am currently working on my creative dissertation, entitled B/RDS, a poetry collection that questions the Western heuristic approach to nature, and that has for a starting point, the iconic Birds of America by John James Audubon.

 

Book title and blurb and any comments about any other of your books:

Red Zone (Finishing Line Press, 2018) explores the WWI environmentally ravaged landscapes of my childhood.

Praise for Red Zone;

“Before the shrapnel, before the night in hell on the way to hell, and after that night, too, we were: ‘naming the woods.’ RED ZONE does a lot of things, but it also draws our eyes to the risk of our own departure. Description, sure. Timing, of course. But cognition and argument also? Szymkowiak makes me want to read more.” Joan Naviyuk Kane

Joan Naviyuk Kane is the author of several poetry collections: Milk Black CarbonThe Straits, The Cormorant Hunter’s Wife, Hyperboreal, Milk Black Carbon, and forthcoming Dark Traffic.  She is the recipient of multiple awards, fellowships, and prizes, including a Whiting Writer’s Award, the Donald Hall Prize in Poetry, a Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship, and an American Book Award.

“In a complex meditation on the destructiveness of war and the persistence of nature, poet Beatrice Szymkowiak explores France’s Zone Rouge, the area so devastated by war that people are still forbidden to enter, where things still blossom and explode. Where “crows burst” above the land of “unexploded explosives.” Where “slow soil & / shrapnel” yield to “a murmuration of starlings.” In the long poem “Fleury-Devant-Douaumont,” the page itself becomes the zone, mined & grenaded & shrapnelled by words, words that begin to merge, becoming neologisms of compost—”betweenroots,” “shrapnelspades,” “inboots.” In the end, despite human interventions, “yellow-bellied toads frogs salamanders / crested newts thrive” and “corpses tuber / into russets.” Szymkowiak has written a crucial book, especially critical as the entire globe quickly becomes a Red Zone.” Jon Davis

Jon Davis is the author of several poetry collections, including Improbable CreaturesPreliminary Report, Scrimmage of Appetite, and Dangerous Amusements. He is the recipient of a Lannan Literary Award in Poetry and the Peter I.B. Lavan Prize from the Academy of American Poets.

Do you write in more than one genre? I do write poetry and non-fiction

Tell us about your writing process: My writing process varies following the projects. However, I often start a poem with a list of words, images, and an idea or a conceptual arch. Once I have a first draft, I revise until I feel that the poem does or evokes what I wanted it to do. Then I let it aside for a while and go back to it for additional revisions. This pause between two revision processes is necessary, as it creates a new perspective on the poem.

What is the most challenging part of your writing process? The very first word of a poem!

What kind of research do you do? As my poetry work often incorporates non-fiction, I do extensive research: reading essays, articles, historical documents, watching documentary films, etc.

Looking to the future, what’s in store for you? I am interested in writing more non-fiction, and I have recently developed an interest in epic poems. But you never know what might come up!

How do our readers contact you?
My website: https://szymkow9.wixsite.com/bszymkowiak
Twitter account: @OhOldOcean

Buy your book?
https://www.finishinglinepress.com/product/red-zone-by-beatrice-szymkowiak/
https://www.amazon.com/RED-ZONE-Beatrice-Szymkowiak/dp/1635347505

 

3 Comments

  1. ana

    George, thank you for this introduction. I’m off to buy Red Zone now. Keep the interviews coming! Especially with the poets.

    Reply
  2. Michael A. Black

    Poets are never fully appreciated, especially in today’s market. I’ve always found poetry a great way to enhance one’s writing ability, especially as far as developing imagery. It sounds like you have a very good grasp on the craft of writing. Good luck for your new book.

    Reply

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