Tuesday, January 26, 2016

JOURNEY TO PLANET WRITE: It’s Always Pouring In My Kingdom

By Anne Elizabeth Weisgerber

I remember one of my childhood nuns, Sister Margaret Mary, as very Irish.  She pronounced laughter LAHWt-rr. She was mean, crabby, quick to knuckle-up with the ruler, but man, I loved how she said that word.  She insisted. 

My favorite teacher as a child was Mme. Pearl Phillippe.  She would let me visit with her after school, and she would teach me French words and phrases.  She made me hand-copy poems into a book and illustrate them.  Not a hugger, she would sometimes touch my hair to move it behind my ear. I still love her for all those things.  

In second grade, I was moved up for being precocious, and soon learned (for self-preservation reasons) to pretend that I could not read.  The third graders didn’t want a baby around, and my old classmates thought, Jersey-style, she thinks who she is.  Publicly, I would stumble over the word ocean: privately, never.  Happily demoted, I read a lot at recess.  My favorite books involved building undersea cities, and Ezra Jack Keats illustrations.  I was glad when my parents transferred my brother, sister, and me to public school for seventh grade. 

Although I was in junior high school with comedienne Janeane Garofalo (a very nice girl from a respectable home on the hill), I got voted class clown.  I remember making Janeane laugh once when, at the lunch table, I wondered aloud who had manhandled my banana.  It was good old LAHWt-rr to the rescue over and over for me.  I wrote a lot of terrible poetry, which I still have in hand-made books with green felt covers.  I still like the drawings my old self did, but not the poetry so much.  

Other things I remember from those years were that one of the teachers in my school was a Playboy centerfold.  Another teacher played pocket pool regularly in his tighty tweeds.  Another teacher dangled a troublemaker outside a second-story window. I had a letter published in the Aerosmith newsletter, Aero Knows.  I continued to write.  When a kind of famous neighbor died, my town paper, The Madison Eagle, published my poetic tribute to him, and I was asked to read it at his memorial service, but I was too shy.  I also remember sentence diagramming fondly.

In high school, I loved the art room.  It was quite the hangout, and it seemed we could help ourselves to any supplies.  India Ink, Speedball linoleum cutters, paper.  I am still friends with Anthony Vitale, art room buddy, who owns a wonderful music school.  We saw Queen and the Police in concert with our thrash-metal friend Eddie Trunk. I tell my sons about high school back then, and they can’t believe it.  

There was a used bookstore in town, The Chatham Bookseller, and when I was thirteen I read my way through the existentialists, 35-cents a pop.  I still have those copies of Huis Clos, Une Saison En Enfer, and Resistance, Rebellion, and Death.  Merci, Mme. Phillippe.  I got an award for creative writing, and was the editor of my school’s literary magazine for my junior and senior year.  Graduated.

In college, I met Yeats, D.H. Lawrence, and the Transcendentalists.  I stayed in touch with just one professor, Bill Doreski (he and I are coincidentally published together this month in Pure Slush FIVE.) I spent most of my creative energy in college DJing at the radio station.  It was a wonderful time for music – Talking Heads, Black Flag, New Order, Grandmaster Flash – and I think I still have the Beastie Boys’ “Cookie Puss” on vinyl somewhere.  I used to draw editorial cartoons for the school newspaper.  I graduated with my degree in English, having written my final paper on King Lear. 

Then, kind of like Matt Potter referenced in his essay for this column, I too distanced myself from writing. I managed creative agencies, ran a telemarketing center, traveled the world, won national sales awards, got an MBA.  My claim to fame was this 1990s thing called the “authorization check.”  I worked for the phone company, and we’d mail these $20 checks to customers who dropped our service for a competitor’s.  When people signed and cashed those checks, it authorized a switch back.  LOL. I was the audacious 1995 sales champ. But it was picking up a palette again, and standing in front of an easel, that reclaimed my creativity. Soon after, I found love. I met my artist husband, Paul (our first date is recounted in “How to Meet Marc Chagall.”) 

My employer offered severance money, so I bought a computer, a printer, and some file cabinets and started freelance writing.  The first feature I wrote won First Prize from the SPJ.  As I look back, I’ve always had a career that touched upon writing.  We have three bright, creative sons.  I gave up work for a few years to be home with the babies.  I continued freelancing, then helped run Ghost Tours in a nearby town.  I’ve interviewed Kissinger.  I won awards. That segued to being a public school teacher, where rereading classics brought me full circle to the path from which I’d strayed. 

Fifteen years later, I turned 50.  For me, this is my imaginary Annie Proulx line.  She did not start writing till later in life, but she did start writing after 50.  I too am coming to the craft later, and I am not rising from nothing.  The stories are pouring out.  My first publication was nominated for Best Small Fiction.  I’m 45K words into my first novel, and have finally discovered, after fretting about it all these years, that the love of my life, the English language, has waited for me, and blushes for me, and welcomes me with open arms to some kingdom I was sworn existed when I was very small.  I am the king of some rainy country, it seems, where stories pour all day and night.  I’m home.


Look for Anne Elizabeth Weisgerber’s stories in New SouthTahoma Literary Review, The Journal of Compressed Creative Arts, Vignette ReviewRevolution John, andJellyfish Review. She is a freelance fiction editor, and her chapbook reviews appear in Change Seven Magazine; she reads fiction for Pithead Chapel.  She’s studied with Randall Brown, Kathy Fish, and Nancy Stohlman, and loves her writing squads: #fishtankwriters and #storytalk. When not teaching, she’s working on a novel that spans five generations, or looking out the kitchen window at her fascinating goats, Snapdragon and Socrates. Follow her @AEWeisgerber, or visit anneweisgerber.com

Tuesday, January 19, 2016


by Susan Tepper

Due from Pure Slush Books in February
It was never my intention to become a writer.  From a really early age I wanted to be an actress.  At seventeen I went to NYC for drama classes.  They were held in the Carnegie Hall annex building and they were incredible.  This was a method acting school founded by the famous Erwin Piscator.  Marlon Brando had studied there, and other luminaries.  At lunch break our little group of wannabee actors would eat together in some dive coffee shop, then stroll over to Lincoln Center to the film library.  It was bliss.  The school also had a repertory company, and my first role ever was in Kafka’s Warden of the Tomb.  I played the princess.  It was a tiny role, but I was overjoyed.  People came to the rep theatre, watched the plays, applauded!  For a girl raised on Long Island when it was still fairly rural, well, this was just over the top.

From there I went on to study with every good acting teacher I could find in the city. 
Actors always work their craft.  The idea behind it being that you have to keep ‘your instrument’ tuned up at all times.  Your instrument is your body, your mind, your inner life, and your outer self. That meant movement classes in yoga and dance, voice lessons.  Suppose a breakout part is offered and you’ve been hanging out at the beach smoking and drinking.  You wouldn’t be ready to take on the part of, say, Maggie the cat in Cat On a Hot Tin Roof.  So the serious actors study in between roles.  I ran all over auditioning.  Long lines of actors.  I didn’t get many parts but I tried really hard. 

I was also dirt poor.  That meant finding a day job.  I worked as a receptionist for a big corporation.  People were different back then.  The secretaries covered for me when I had an audition.  But it’s hard to be poor in NYC.  One day I saw a Stewardess ad in the Times.  I went to the interview and was hired by TWA.  It was a good time to take a break.  At nineteen and one half (the youngest they would hire you) I got in.  It opened up my life.

A typical flight pattern went like this: JFK to Paris.  Two day layover.  Paris to JFK.  Repeat.  A week off.  Repeat.  That was my month.  Or, London, Madrid, Lisbon, Athens, Rome, Milan, Vietnam.  All on TWA’s dime.  OMG.  The adventure of a lifetime.  The greatest learning experience imaginable.  When I had five years of it, I quit and returned to acting.  Now I was much more worldly and grounded.  More roles opened up.  I still had not a smidge of interest in writing.

Got married.  Started singing with bands, all kinds of music.  I loved it, though my first husband was less than thrilled.  We had a little house that I adored fixing up.  One day I thought about becoming an interior decorator.  So back to school, this time for design.  I completed the course and started working for Sloane’s.  It really wasn’t all that delightful.  The customers were wealthy and demanding and soon the whole thing started to wear me out.  During that time Cable TV was in its infancy.  A producer for a local cable show came into Sloanes.  After I decorated her living room, she offered me a show on interior design, provided I would produce it, star in it, and supply all the furniture each week.  I remember the warehouse guys loading each show into an open pick up, with me stuffed in with the couches and chairs.  I did about a dozen of those shows.  Then I left design forever.

Bitten with the travel bug again, I went to work at a tiny travel agency on the Jersey shore, a block from the ocean.  Oh, and I got divorced.

I took that job strictly for the free travel benefits.  Supplementing my income by singing with the bands (no husband to bug me)!  One blustery day, the door was flung open at the one room travel agency.  At first I thought I was being robbed, but it was two sales managers from an airline paying me a sales call.  After our lengthy chat, they offered me a job with Northwest Airlines in Philly.  Goodbye travel agency!  I still had no thoughts of being a writer.

Philly was terrific.  I got a sales territory (3 states) and lots of spare time because I mostly didn’t make the sales calls.  Instead I went on acting auditions and landed some meaty roles.  The airline thought I was doing such a stupendous job, they offered me a transfer to NYC.  Goodbye Philly. 

NYC with Northwest Airlines was even better.  My sales territory was the West Side.  I could visit the allotted 8 daily accounts all in one building.  That took up about 2 hours.  Then straight over to Actors Studio to study with Shelley Winters and sit in on the Wednesday ‘sessions’.  A miraculous experience.   Unfortunately, during the job with Northwest, there was a terrible plane crash in Detroit.  All we sales managers sent there to work as a rescue team.  I’ll never forget the time spent in Detroit with the families of the victims, and what we went through as a team to help the doctors and dentists identify the bodies.  There was only one survivor.  A little girl.

I had been dating a really great guy, and we married a year after the crash.  One day I sat down and wrote a very long story.  Just out of the blue.  I went to NYU, then New School, and studied writing.  I haven’t stopped writing since.  The last play I acted in was over a decade ago.  If someone asks me to sit in on a set, do some vocals, it’s always a thrill. There were a few more jobs but these are the highlights.  Now I’m a writer.


Susan Tepper is the author of five published books of fiction and a chapbook of poetry.  Her newest title dear Petrov from Pure Slush Books is a linked-flash collection set in 19th Century Russia during a time of war to be released in early February 2016.  You can find a review of her new book at Change Seven. Tepper is an award winning writer with multiple Pushcart nominations, and one for the Pulitzer Prize in fiction.  She writes the column ‘Let’s Talk’ at Black Heart Magazine where she also conducts author/book interviews.  FIZZ her reading series at KGB Bar, NYC, is ongoing these past eight years. Also from Susan Tepper, The Merrill Diaries (Pure Slush Books, 2013).

Shown with her dog, Otis.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016


by Matt PotterIt would come as no surprise to those who know me and/or have worked with me (in any capacity, but in this venue, as a writer/editor/publisher) … but I am an intensely creative person. Not creating makes me sick.

For a few years, in my thirties, I turned my back on being creative for creativity’s sake and focussed on my paid job. I was a site manager in the community services sector, and managed three programmes aimed at keeping older people in their homes. Two programmes provided care in the home, and the third was a therapy service, providing podiatry, physiotherapy, nutrition education, and gentle exercise programs.

I had a staff of 50 and a budget of about $1.5 million and I loved the leadership part of the job, taking programmes in new directions, winning people over to new ways of thinking and doing and being. (I was lucky in that the 4 staff who reported to me directly were great managers … I was a great leader, and they were great managers, so basically, it worked well.)

And I thought my job was worthwhile.

But ultimately, I realised that my job was to support other staff inventing and developing and guiding new initiatives … not the actual doing of those things. (Which can be very creative.)

And not being creative was actually making me, mentally, quite ill (aka I was, ultimately, very depressed).

So I left that job, took a pay cut and started a much more creative job, in sexual health. I was involved in local and national safe sex campaigns, working in communications and writing text for leaflets and brochures and resources and websites and designing flyers and posters and print ads and the problem was it was too creative! I wanted to be more creative and get back to writing and creative stuff for me but who wants to go home and do that when you do that in your day job five days a week?!

So what I’m saying is, there is always a tension in my life about being creative. I can’t NOT make things … to NOT make things makes me ill. But I also want to make things that are worthwhile and I want to do so when I feel like doing it, not because I have to. And I admit to giving a value to most things. I’m the kind of person who says, “That’s really a job?” and “You’re happy earning money doing that?” and “How fulfilling can that be?”

(I feel the same way about certain genres of literature … I can’t take them seriously.)

I also have a need to be funny, to make people laugh, which I think is seriously undervalued in western culture. (My humour also makes people think too.)
Growing up, my mother often seemed to be in a bad mood. But I think it was about her finding fulfilment in life, and I share that with her: there’s a constant question, is this worthwhile? Am I fulfilled by this?

Making my mother laugh also broke the tension. It was also something I realised, at a very young age, that I was good at.

So much of my writing is funny.

Sometimes writing and editing and publishing can be fulfilling for me, and sometimes, I think it’s a waste of my time.

I love it, but I also like to keep a distance from it. It doesn’t just define me.
You know those people whose idea of heaven is being able to take themselves away and spend their time writing? Not me. Full-time writer? No. Never. (It’s too limiting!)

I like to cook (in a big way, not a coming-home-from-work-and-cooking way) and if I ever ventured into clothes design, it would have to be women’s summer frocks and probably kids’ clothes. (This is a serious option for me, in a small scale fun and boutique way.) Walking into a fabric shop is breath-taking for me … the bolts and bolts of fabric present endless possibilities. I was a film and TV student once, making short films (my writing is quite cinematic) and I loved editing as well as storyboarding.

I’ve lost count of the items of clothing I’ve dyed. It would be hundreds and hundreds. (Ask to see the devilled ham t-shirt I dyed!) I love colour and I love creating welcoming environments, whether through design or through attitude or through being a version of me.

I love projects! I love the beginning, the middle and the end, and then I like to see the reaction.

That’s what writing is for me. I started “writing” when I was twelve, and while clearly I have got better at it, it’s still the same: think, do, finish, get the reaction. And hopefully, others think it’s worthwhile, and I do too.


Matt Potter has travelled widely, read a lot, and plans to do more of both in the future. He lives in Adelaide, Australia, and is the founding editor and publisher of Pure Slush and Pure Slush BooksMatt's latest book is a travel memoir, Hamburgers and Berliners and other courses in between (Cervena Barva Press), also available through Amazon.com and Small Press Distribution.

(Photo at left by Paul Beckman)

Wednesday, January 06, 2016

JOURNEY TO PLANET WRITE: From Film to Flash and Points In Between

by Jayne Martin

Starting in 1977, and for nearly 30 years thereafter, I worked as a writer of two-hour movies for television. “Two hours” is a misnomer as the actual screen time of the movie itself is, in fact, only 93 minutes. A writer has a lot to pack into a very small package and it is the discipline required to do so that has aided me in my transition to flash.

The script is structured in seven acts to accommodate six commercial breaks. Each act averages about 13 pages, more for Act One (15 to 18), less for Act Seven (8 to 9), and must end on an escalating dramatic moment to bring the audience back after the commercials. The end of Act Three needs to be a whopper because that’s your one-hour break; the time an audience is most likely to change the channel. The end of Act Six is the big reveal; i.e. we know who “did it,” and in Act Seven you wrap things up and get the hell out of Dodge. Sounds like an algebra equation, doesn’t it? But here’s where the tie-in to flash comes, at least for me.

Within each act of a TV movie can be any number of scenes, but few run longer than three pages, with most a page to a page-and-a-half. Tiny self-contained stories, they are the building blocks of the movie and, just as in flash, each must address character development, pacing, a dramatic arc, and a resolution that leaves the viewer yearning for more.

I wrote my last TV-movie in 2004. With the increase of reality shows nudging out the genre there were more writers vying for fewer jobs and, frankly, I was a bit fried by then. Between 2004 and 2009, I wrote nothing, nada, zip. Having never written anything but scripts, I was at a loss as to what to do next. Then I fell and broke my neck. Lucky me! Something to write about! And so my blog, injaynesworld-where nothing is sacred, was born.

Fast forward. After a couple of years of dipping my digital quill into the writing of prose, mostly in the form of humor essays, I came across a website called “Five Sentence Fiction.” A one-word prompt was posted each week and you had only five sentences to complete your story. This was long before I had ever heard the term “flash fiction.” My first attempt was in response to the prompt “shirt.” That became my story “Gone,” which would turn out to also become my first published piece when it was accepted by Boston Literary Magazine several years later for their fall 2014 issue.

By then I had written maybe 40 of these tiny tales and realized why I had such an affinity for them. Many of the same disciplines I learned from writing TV movie scenes also apply to flash:
  • Enter the story at the latest possible moment
  • Use action (either internal or external) to move the story forward
  • Cut any extraneous bullshit
  • Leave them wanting more

This is a fairly simplistic list, but the correlation for me could not have been clearer.

Today I write primarily micro-flash. Rarely will you read a story of mine that is over 300 words, with most well below the 200-word mark. The writing of flash fiction seeks to create its own fully-realized world within the confines of limited space and, for me, the tinier I can make that space, the happier I am.
Poster Boy

A shiny, new tricycle on the sidewalk, abandoned.
A single blue sneaker just inches from the curb.
From the house, a mother calls: “Tommy, supper!”

Jayne Martin’s work has appeared or is forthcoming in Boston Literary Magazine, Pure Slush, Midwestern Gothic, Blink Ink, Literary Orphans and Hippocampus Magazine. Her book of humor essays, Suitable forGiving: A Collection of Wit with a Side of Wry, is available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble.  Previously a writer of movies-for-television, her credits include Big Spender, for Animal Planet and A Child Too Many for Lifetime. She lives in a rural valley near Santa Barbara, California, where she indulges her passion for horses and fine wines, and can be found on the web at http://injaynesworld.blogspot.com.

Purchase Big Spender written by Jayne Martin at Amazon