Caitlin Hamilton Summie’s short story collection, To Lay to Rest Our Ghosts, was released by Fomite in August. We sat down to talk to her about the writer/promo balance, novels vs. short stories, and the importance of place. Read on!
S85: How do you navigate being both a writer and a promoter?
CH: I have to fit my own writing in to my days, as I always have had to do, whether as a student or a publicist. I make time at night, on weekends, on a lunch hour.
Also, I don’t discuss my writing with my clients, unless they bring it up. Once or twice, I shared an experience I had. But when I’m working, I’m focused on promoting their work, and I keep a division in my mind. That is their time, for their work.
S85: Given your career as a publicist, how does the commercial or critical success of a particular piece impact your personal opinion of the piece and your writing as whole?
CH: Every year, there are beautiful books, small press or big house, which never receive the notice they deserve. It has been that way since the beginning of my career, and it will be that way long after I stop working. There are simply too many books. I am heartened by the wonderful critical reception my own writing has received, and I am glad it has received notice, given the tough fight small press titles have to get any attention. I love my book, and I would love it even if no one had noticed it. I’d have been disappointed in the market and book world if there had been no coverage for it, but I would not have been disappointed in my book.
But having it recognized is wonderful.
S85: In terms of fiction, what would you say are the fundamental differences between a fiction novel and a short story? What makes a great short story?
CH: That’s an interesting question for me because so many of my stories involve decades, whole histories, so for me, short stories don’t have to be a slice of life experience. They can be their own whole worlds. In my writing, it really comes down to length (some of my stories are long) and to finishing the rest of the story. For instance, I write some stories that link, so a novel will allow me to finish these characters’ stories. I am in fact one draft in on a novel-in-stories that includes three stories from my collection.
S85: What encouraged you to delve into writing and compiling your collection of stories To Lay to Rest Our Ghosts; what was the book’s genesis?
CH: The book began 25 years ago, when I was pursuing my MFA. Eight of the ten stories were written back in 1992-1995, then taken out, dusted off, and submitted with some minor edits. The last two stories were started after the program ended but took a long time to write.
Fomite editor Marc Estrin asked in 2015 if I had a collection. I told him thank you but no. It was so cool to be asked, but I didn’t think I had anything. But in June 2016, I submitted a story called SONS that was accepted for publication. After that, I thought, “Why not look?” I pulled out my stories, saw I had ten, and contacted Marc. Ten seemed a solid number of stories to have in a book.
S85: Your stories have a very strong conveyance of location. Do you have any devices or methods for creating that intense rendering of geography and landscape?
CH: Well, I guess the answer is no. I think I am just particularly attuned to weather and landscape, to place, so they become part of how I see things.
S85: Are there books, short story collections in particular, which you are currently reading or have read that inspire you to write?
CH: No, though there are lots of writers in lots of genres I admire. I write because I feel compelled. That is always the way it has been, from when I was very, very little. My mom tells me that I used to bring her scribbles before I knew how to write letters. I would want her to read my stories. So I have been eager to tell stories since the beginning.
S85: Would you say your approach to writing is practical or purely artistic? Under which circumstance do you find your writing most fruitful or closest to your personal vision for your work?
CH: I write when I can, not on a schedule, so I consider myself a Carpe Diem writer. I find a moment or an hour or a few hours, and I go for it. I write whatever I want. Stories, novel, picture book, poems. I recently had a poem published, which was quite exciting. I hadn’t had poetry published since college. But I also give myself time in terms of years. I work, I have kids, I have volunteer responsibilities. It is a delicate balance—pursuing my writing career. I’m not sure when I best achieve my goals, but I believe it is when I trust my instincts and don’t overthink things.
About the Author
Caitlin Hamilton Summie earned an MFA with Distinction from Colorado State University, and her short stories have been published in Beloit Fiction Journal, Wisconsin Review, Puerto del Sol, Mud Season Review, and Long Story, Short. She spent many years in Massachusetts, Minnesota, and Colorado before settling with her family in Knoxville, Tennessee. She co-owns the book marketing firm, Caitlin Hamilton Marketing & Publicity, founded in 2003.
About the Interviewer
Mel Sherrer is a performance poet and teacher living in San Marcos, Texas. She is the Managing Poetry Editor for South 85 Journal.
Featured Image Photo: A crop of the cover of To Lay to Rest Our GhostsRead More »
Associate Director of the Converse College Low-Residency MFA in Creative Writing is a title that sounds far grander than the position it actually entails. The truth is, come residency time my goal is to stay invisible because invisibility means everything is running smoothly. Sometimes clichés stick for a reason, and in this case it holds true. No news is good news.
But before we get to the residency and all the work that goes on behind the scenes, we need to answer questions from prospective students. Lots and lots of questions. And that’s good. We always have a smart group of applicants who ask intelligent and necessary questions to make sure that our program is right for them (which, of course, it totally is).
In the past, we’ve had information sessions on campus for prospective applicants to check out the place, meet some faculty, alumni, current students, and just generally get a feel for the program. Unfortunately, this limited our info sessions to locals and people within driving distance. So this year, we’re thinking bigger. We hope you will join us.
Saturday, September 16, at 11 am, we will be holding our very first Facebook Live Event. Part information session, part AMA, this is your chance to hear about the program and ask any questions you may have, no matter how big or small. Our event will be hosted by me, Sarah Gray (Associate Director and a fiction alumna), Rick Mulkey (Director of the program), and Travis Burnham (fiction alumnus). So if you’re doing the math, that’s two fiction writers and a poet. We want to represent everyone that might be watching, so we can answer YA and nonfiction inquiries as well.
During this session, we also plan to discuss the amazing online literary journal that is affiliated with our program, South 85 Journal. Prospective students are always asking about writing and publication opportunities within the program, and South 85 is our shining star in that department. Students who work on the journal learn editing, publishing, and marketing skills. There are even possibilities for those who have interest/experience in graphic design. And best of all, Editor-in-Chief Debby DeRosa is a joy to work with and is passionate about the journal and its high standards.
If you’re still reading, go right now and “Like” our Facebook page. Once you do, you’ll automatically get notified on your smart device when we go live. Get your questions ready, and maybe set up a drinking game for every time I say “Um.” On second thought, don’t do that. You’ll be too drunk to make it through the session. Either way, tune in to our Facebook Live on Saturday, September 16, at 11 am. We can’t wait to meet you.
Sarah Gray graduated from Converse with a BFA in Creative and Professional Writing in 2009 through the Converse II program and stayed around to earn her MFA in Creative Writing (Fiction) at Converse as a member of the program’s very first graduating class in 2011. She founded the MFA program’s literary journal, South 85, directed the Converse Young Writers’ Workshop for two years, and served as an adjunct for three years before stepping into her current position as Associate Director of the MFA in Creative Writing program.Read More »
M. M. Adjarian
People who glamorize the writing life should be hanged, drawn and quartered for their demon-spawned lies. Writing is unsexy dog work, a ceaseless plodding of word after blasted word. And it’s unforgiving. Progress for most comes in stingy half-inches rather than expansive miles. Joyce Carole Oates and Stephen King are among a tiny handful of individuals as famous for their prolific output as they are for the hypergraphia — a kind of verbal OCD —that drives them to the literary excesses behind their fame.
I’m still quite not sure why I do it; maybe I’m an undiagnosed masochist. Or maybe it has to do with an addiction to the writing process itself. When I try to describe that addiction to friends, they smile, as if to humor an idiot child or a woman too far gone to listen to reason. No person in her right mind would hunker down alone in her apartment to sit in front of a computer for 10 to 12 hours at a stretch; or just to get neck cricks and cause more damage to half-blind eyes that have made a mockery of five different bifocal prescriptions in less than 10 years.
But what do they know? Sitting in my black IKEA recliner, laptop perched atop my thighs and locked into focus mode, I can stare at the screen and let my gaze turn inward rather than react to the endless stream of fuss and noise around me. My heart rate slows, beating in time to the slow-pulsing cursor on my screen. I go into a kind of trance where the only way I can tell the time of day is by noting the changing pattern of light and shadow outside my window. For a short time, I know a rare commodity: peace.
Psychologists would characterize this relaxed alertness as the alpha wave state associated with waking dreams and meditation. Synapses fire in the synchronic harmony of identifiable patterns; the alpha state is just one of them. What I actually experience is a corporeal forgetfulness where eating, breathing and even excreting don’t seem to matter. Those body parts engaged in the writing act — eyes, arms, fingers —become appendages of a consciousness seeking expression through the medium of language. I am blissfully, gloriously, canceled out into temporary non-existence.
The best part of the process is what Robert Olen Butler calls “dream-storming.” That happens at the beginning of almost everything I write, when I just let images, voices and/or memories, however faint or fragmentary, rise up from the primordial stew of my unconscious. Listening to instrumental music like jazz — which I’ve always loved for its improvisational nature — helps. What I eventually manage to set down often make no sense, even to me. But dream-storming is the best way I know to access material that my snippy inner critic might otherwise sniff at because it’s just not good enough…or is just too weird for anyone else to see.
The hard part is actually trying to make sense of that surrealistic tangle. The first thing I typically do is to take that material and distill it into a brief opening sentence/paragraph that offers insight into a narrator, character or situation associated with whatever it is — an essay or story — that I’ve decided to write. After that, I let my imagination take over and use dream-stormed material to structure the narrative. Because my notes are so fractured, it sometimes it feels like I’m using broken crutches and a lunatic map to hobble along into oblivion. But it’s a method that has yet to fail me.
Maybe it’s just the need to see something — anything — on paper and realize that all those voices, images and memories in my head don’t necessarily mean I’m crazy. Or as crazy as I thought. When I’m not busy climbing the walls at the start of a project, it’s actually kind of exciting not knowing where I’m going. Ray Bradbury never knew where any of the narratives he started would end up. And he did just fine.
Of course, when the process of deciphering, reorganizing and revising goes too slowly, I want to rip out my eyeballs by the roots and throw my computer out the window like a titanium Frisbee. Instead I go into my kitchen and bake bread. Pounding dough can be quite therapeutic and far less expensive than paying therapist or making Apple even richer than it already is.
When I have to leave my trance to take care of the tedious business of living, the mood shifts and not for the better. Like a she-bear roused prematurely from hibernation, I can become sullen and cantankerous. No matter how few kinks I’ve managed to unbend in my writing or how much hair I’ve yanked out in frustration, I have no wish to emerge from my alpha wave cocoon.
Writing is a tortured nirvana. But it’s one I wouldn’t give up for anything in the world.
M. M. Adjarian has published her creative work in such magazines as the Baltimore Review, Verdad, South 85 Journal, Eunoia Review, The Missing Slate, Serving House Journal, Crack the Spine, Vine Leaves, and Poetry Quarterly, Grub Street and Pif. When not blogging at her website, austinwritinglife.net, she engages with Twitterdom under the name @palabrist.
Featured image photo credit: Photo by Dingzeyu Li on UnsplashRead More »
South 85 Journal‘s staff is gearing up for our next issue, Fall / Winter 2017, which we will release on December 15, 2017. Usually, we open our reading period for the Fall / Winter issue on September 1, but we are trying an earlier schedule this time. We are accepting submissions starting today! As our journal grows in popularity,the number of submissions grows, and we feel a modified schedule will allow us to give each submission the attention it deserves.
Go to our Submittable page to submit today through November 1.
Since our reading period is now open, we would like to announce who will be working on the upcoming issue.
Returning to Staff
Thank you to the following staff members for continuing their involvement with South 85 Journal:
● Melissa Sherrer (Managing Poetry Editor)
● Anthony Reese (Managing Prose Editor)
● Aaron Dargis, Russell Jackson, Reed McFarlin, and Chris Menezes (Poetry Editors)
● Shianna Whitner (Fiction Editor)
● Courtney McQueen (Artistic Director and Poetry Editor)
● Jonathan Burgess and Samantha Moe (Non-Fiction Editors)
● John Newlin (Review Editor)
● Stephen Gray (Webmaster)
Joining Our Staff
We are always excited to welcome new staff to the journal because this means new ideas and fresh perspectives. We would like to welcome:
● Zoraida Pastor (Poetry Editor)
● Ashley Sfeir (Fiction Editor)
● Sarah Gray (Contributing Editor)
Of course, Sarah Gray isn’t really a new staff member. She is the founding Editor-in-Chief of South 85 Journal! With Rick Mulkey on sabbatical, she is serving as the Associate Director of Converse College’s Low-Residency MFA Program and our Contributing Editor. You can read more about her position in a past blog post. We are excited to have her back, and we look forward to her fresh ideas as well as her wisdom and experience.
We’d like to wish those staff members who aren’t returning the best in their future endeavors. I am sure they will be successful in whatever they do.
● Monica Torres (Non-Fiction Editor in 2015 and Poetry Editor since 2016)
● Gwen Holt (Fiction Editor since 2016)
● Susanne Parker (Fiction Editor for the Spring / Summer 2017 issue)
Now that you have all the updates, thank you for continuing to support our journal – by reading, submitting, and telling others about it. We look forward to bringing you the next issue. In the meantime, write like mad, and if it’s good, we want to see it!
South 85 Journal
Featured Image Credit: Photo by Mari Helin-Tuominen on UnsplashRead More »
Michael Lee Johnson
I edit my life.
Clothesline pins and clips
hang to dry
I turn poetic hedonistic
in my early 70’s,
reviewing the joys
and the sorrows
of my journey.
I find myself wanting
a new review, a new product,
a new time machine,
a new internet space,
a new planet where
we small, wee creative
creatures can grow.
Michael Lee Johnson lived ten years in Canada during the Vietnam era. Today he is a poet, freelance writer, editor, publisher, and photographer who experiments with poetography (blending poetry with photography). He has been published in more than 935 small press magazines in 33 countries. For more info, visit http://poetryman.mysite.com/.
Featured Image Credit: Photo by Bruno Nascimento on UnsplashRead More »