Jessica Mehta is the author of three collections of poetry and one novel. Mehta is also the founder of MehtaFor: Writing and Editing, and she serves as a poetry reviewer for Contemporary Literary Review India and Foreword Reviews.
S85: What are you working on currently?
JM: My fourth collection of poetry, Secret-telling Bones, releases in September 2017. I’m gearing up for three summer residencies — one with Hosking Houses Trust in Stratford-Upon-Avon, UK, one in Paris, France, and one in Santa Fe, NM — to put the finishing touches on the upcoming book, as well as complete the manuscript for my fifth collection. I’m also continuing to grow my business, MehtaFor, and taking advanced yoga teacher training courses to complement my karma yoga movement, Get it Ohm!
S85: How does a poem start for you, with an idea, an image, catharsis, how does it begin?
JM: Often it begins with a single line. If I can write that line down, I can usually go back to it and let the poem unfold from that line. Oftentimes, this happens in the middle of the night. When I was training for marathons, it would always come to me during long runs (probably because I ran with no technology and had no means of getting words down).
S85: What is the relationship between your speaking voice and your written voice?
JM: I’m much more articulate when I write, although the “voice” is the same as my genuine speaking voice — of course with a lot less “likes” and “uhms.” A recent poem I wrote, “How to Talk to the Dying,” includes the lines, “I looked up ‘What to say / to the dying’ because words / get stuck in my hands.” That’s the most accurate description.
S85: What are you reading? If you were to convince readers to open one book, which would it be?
JM: At the moment it’s The Vegetarian by Han Kang, but I’m not far enough into it to have an opinion. I lived in Seoul for a year, which is what made me pick it up in the first place. Of course, I absolutely adore books like I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (I have two first editions) and almost everything by Toni Morrison, but some recent books I love include Tampa by Alissa Nutting, Towelhead by Alicia Erian, and In the Skin of a Jihadist by Anna Erelle.
S85: What is the worst advice you’ve heard established writers give aspiring writers?
JM: “Write every day.”
I’ve gone weeks and months without writing creative pieces before, and when I try to force myself the outcome is terrible. Granted, I write in some capacity five days per week because writing is how I make a living. There’s a difference between keeping in practice and forcing yourself to write “just because.” Don’t turn something you love into something you dread daily.
S85: Recently, I was chatting with a friend about many troubling aspects of our current society. After a particularly long rant my friend asked, “What are you doing about it?”
My response, “I would argue that writing about it is doing something about it.”
What would you argue writing is doing, or can do to improve a given social, or political climate?
JM: Writing is absolutely a powerful tool or weapon, depending on who’s yielding it and how. There’s a reason the phrase, “Did you get it in writing?” is so common. The written word can hold much more weight than the verbal, providing a permanence and platform for reflective expression. However, personally, I always tell my clients I’ll write just about anything except about finance or politics. As a Native American writer, I’m often faced with others (Native and not) expecting me to be responsible for representing the pan-Indian experience. I choose not to use my writing to focus on improving social/political climates, though there are certainly writers out there doing a fantastic job of it.
About the Author
Jessica (Tyner) Mehta (Jey Tehya) is a Cherokee poet and novelist. She’s the author of four collections of poetry including Secret-Telling Bones, Orygun, What Makes an Always, and The Last Exotic Petting Zoo as well as the novel The Wrong Kind of Indian. Jessica is the owner of a multi-award winning writing services business, MehtaFor, and is the founder of the Get it Ohm! karmic yoga movement. Visit Jessica’s author site at www.jessicatynermehta.com.
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.Read More »
First Manhattan, Then Berlin: A Look into the Creative Genius Behind Short Story App, Great Jones Street
Prior to his successful app, Kelly Abbott didn’t have experience in the publishing world. In fact, his first venture was a software company that “helped publishers wrangle comments on their sites. Our customers were CNN, ESPN, the Washington Post, and lots of smaller publishers,” Abbott said. “After I sold that company, I took a few years off to charge my batteries and come at building a product as a publisher myself. In a way, I came full circle back to fiction and my roots in stories.”
He did so through the app, Great Jones Street (GJS). GJS is a platform where short story fans can find quality literature as they wait in line at the bank, for coffee, or in the doctor’s office. Abbott admits in 2015, he was an early and avid adapter to this platform but hated reading longer works, like novels, from his phone. So, he created GJS to fill two needs at once. It made good, short fiction more available to the masses. And, it was convenient to travel with and read anywhere. He eliminated the slush pile and put in place a referral system that is more conducive to discovering quality work and reserving editorial energies. This month, we sat down with Abbott to discuss the inspiration behind the app, what the future holds for “the Netflix of short fiction” as GJS is often called, and the short fiction he’s reading on a daily basis.
S85: Have you always been passionate about short stories?
KA: Actually, yes. I’ve never had much of an attention span. I used to go to my dad’s readings as a kid and knew what a great art short stories were from the beginning. As a student, I was thrilled to be reading short fiction. Since school, I rarely read short fiction simply because it’s so hard to come by. You have to buy collections or subscribe to a lot of journals. When I “retired” those few years, I was actively searching for short fiction to read on my phone, which I found I loved doing. But it was a lot of work. Hence, the idea for Great Jones Street was born. But it’s the culmination of the smart phone and eBooks that really convinced me. There’s been an inflection point technologically and economically which in my mind has driven me to the logic that short fiction will have its day again.
S85: What was the first short story you remember really inspiring you?
KA: Ray Carver, “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love.” It’s probably a cliche but I also read “The Things They Carried” by Tim O’Brien when it first came out because my dad was going bananas about it. I remember Vietnam and Alcohol were big in our house and both stories affected me deeply as a result. The truth is I immediately thought of “As Fate Would Have It” by my dad. It’s my all-time favorite story. It has such a roll and rhythm to it, I can’t ever stop reading it when I start it. It really takes you to another land.
S85: Who are some of your favorite writers of short fiction? Who are some of your favorite writers generally?
KA: Truman Capote. Absolute tops. He wasn’t too prodigious in short fiction. But I love his stories. Every one of them. They’re all perfect. They break like a perfect rack.
I can tell you that I have loved discovering science fiction as a 40-year old. Hugh Howey inspires me. I can read anything he writes. Ted Chiang is brilliant. Ken Liu can do no wrong. In literary fiction, Kyle Minor slays me. His collection “Praying Drunk” is the precipitating collection that made me get off my ass and start Great Jones Street. I recently discovered George Saunders and now I can’t get enough. You can see my tendencies are to read (white) guy fiction. I can’t help it. But as a result of publishing for diversity, my tastes have expanded considerably. I can tell you I love Carmen Maria Machado. Amal El-Mohtar writes genius level stuff. Becky Mandelbaum won the FOC this year and we have three of the stories from that collection. I love her stuff. Molia Dumbelton is funny and has a real story-teller’s charm. Sarah Harris Wallman writes punchy fiction with real grit. Rob Hart is a name you’re gonna want to remember. Great crime fiction. Anthony Neil Smith comes from a place you don’t want to and for that I’m grateful he’s a storyteller. I’ve recently discovered flash length fiction and there are a few callouts there. Bill Cook, Sherrie Flick, Sheldon Lee Compton and Meg Pokrass. We’ve broken some fresh talent too and I’d like to give them a mention. Terri Leker, Scott Laughlin and John Affleck. We were the first to publish each of them and they have bright futures.
S85: What problems have you seen in the publishing industry that Great Jones Street seeks to rectify?
KA: Discovery is broken big time. I’m reading writers now I would never had heard of if it weren’t for their short fiction. This year alone we have 8 Bram Stoker nominees and 11 Nebula Nominees in our app.
S85: One of the recent additions to the app is the use of suggestions. Was that a top priority for you to include? Do you think this feature has helped support existing users?
KA: One of the problems with places like Amazon and Goodreads is that recommendations form clusters that are really hard to break into and out of. Let me give you an example. If I tell Goodreads I like Hugh Howey, it will recommend Ready Player One by Ernest Cline (a great book) and The Martian by Andy Weid (another great book). All three are best-sellers. Why? Because they’re clustered. What they don’t tell you is Ted Chiang and Ken Liu are ready to blow your mind too. With Great Jones Street, we can expose readers to the referral network only we have access to. Which is to say, if you like Ken Liu, well guess what? We can recommend you his favorite writer because he’s the one who curated that selection here. It breaks away from best-seller land and gives writers a chance to really expose readers to their influences.
S85: What advice would you give writers in MFA programs that are struggling to publish at the moment?
KA: Send me your stories. We’re the community for you. We’re going to open up the platform for students specifically and help them make connections with our writers.
S85: What’s in the near future for GJS?
KA: We’re in growth mode. We’re going to start accepting more titles from fresh writers and from A Listers. We’re going to develop features that make the app more social. And, we have a really fun plan for audio books that has the writers reading their stories directly into the app itself from their phones.
S85: What’s in the distant future for GJS?
KA: First we take Manhattan. Then we take Berlin.
About the Publisher
Kelly Abbott is a veteran entrepreneur in publishing. He lives in San Diego. He is the grandson of the founder of the Roswell UFO Museum.
About the Interviewer
Katie Sherman is a freelance journalist in Charlotte, NC. She is currently pursing an MFA degree at Converse College. She has an affinity for Southern Gothic literature, cider beer, Chicago, and morning snuggles with her girls — Ella and Addie.Read More »
Louie Crew Clay
Isolated in rural South Carolina in 1971, I fumbled around the cheese table as we celebrated poet Patricia Henley’s new chapbook of poems. She came over. We had not met; we were both new to Claflin College in Orangeburg, SC, which had just hired her husband and me to teach English. Most of the guests were old-timers on the faculty.
“I’m Louie, a poet too,” I sloshed tentatively, through a mouthful of chianti and cheddar.
“Good,” Pat said. “What have you published?”
“Oh, only two poems back in graduate school. Mainly I write just for myself,” I spoke more soberly.
“Louie, would you call yourself a chef if you cooked only for yourself?”
Praise all Goddesses for psychic Draino®.
When smart had turned to smart, I visited her. She lived in the large rickety old house at the head of the lot. I lived in a small servants’ house in the pecan orchard that was her backyard. Her husband and I were renters.
Pat showed me how she posted manuscripts; introduced me to a new bible, the International Directory of Little Magazines and Small Press Books, then in its 4th or 5th edition; taught me about crisp stationery, SSAEs…; and braced me to expect rejection as routine.
Pat and I soon moved to distant parts. I have not seen her in 45 years, but we reconnected through Facebook two years ago. She is still writing and publishing, now more fiction than poetry. I love her work, especially her novel In the River Sweet. I am enormously grateful to her for the prompt to get serious, to clean out the dresser drawer where I used to stash literary dabbles, and more important, write, write, write, write….
On Valentine’s Day, 2017, my computer reported: “Editors have published 2,691 of Louie Clay’s manuscripts. The last 4,798 editors took an average of 38 days to decide. The last 1,883 editors who have accepted his work have averaged of 15.5 months from acceptance to publication.” Pat, see what you prompted!
I taught the computer to track circulations so that I had more time to ‘get a life.’ In the 1980’s I wrote a computer program. My Agent, and shared it with hundreds of others to free up time for them, and from 1996-2016 I maintained a website to list “Poetry Publishers Willing to Receive Submissions Electronically.” Only a few publishers were willing to be listed at the beginning, but 20 years later, over 1,000 seized the opportunity. Writers and publishers alike continue to thank me for connecting them, but the real pleasure was mine. We can strengthen the vitality of writers’ community by simple acts of hospitality.
Shoals of Change
When Bell invented the telephone,
someone asked him what he might do with it.
“Call ahead to say ‘Your telegram is on the way.'”
Twain used one of the earliest “computers”
but hid the fact lest some think
the typewriter did his thinking for him.
In 1983, I sold great-grandmother’s
calendar clock, with the snuff box
always on it to buy my first computer
a portable, 24 pounds, encased
like a sewing machine.
I sneaked it into China,
“It’s a spy machine!”
“No, it’s a Hollywood typewriter.”
B.C. (before the Computer),
whenever someone showed up
at the door asking for me,
my husband would say, “Just a minute.
He’s working in the study.”
After the computer, he said, “Just a minute.
He’s in the study playing with the computer.”
What magic to transform work into play.
I have plenty of old books
in which to press flowers,
and I love them,
as I love Mother’s Victorian dining room set.
After my first computer, I kept an IBM Selectrix
for several years only to address envelopes.
When I chaired Rutgers University senate,
a dean complained that he had not received
a copy of the document we were discussing.
“But we sent it to you by email.”
“I don’t read email,” he huffed.
“Rutgers has spent thousands of dollars
so that we can communicate electronically.
If you prefer to ride to work on your horse,
that is entirely your right,
but do not expect Rutgers to provide
either a groom or a hitching post.
You might ask your secretary to read your email.”
Writers and publishers did not invent these changes, and I had no illusions that I invented them either. In addition to the time computers save, and the many ways computers make it easier to create, revise, and share manuscripts, computers save money.
Economics nudged reluctant writers and publishers to move from typewriter to computer.
I sometimes feel guilty for knowing more about the business part of writing than is seemly. I work hard at writing, and I work hard at placing my manuscripts to reach audiences. These skills are separate and distinct, and I choose to keep them that way. When I am in the throes of writing, I don’t go near my data regarding circulations and publications. There is fallow time aplenty for that important work. When I am in fallow period, I am more efficient at organizing the busy work.
Nor am I daunted by rejection. Disappointed at times, of course, but never daunted. Before I ever send out a manuscript, I identify one or more additional publishers to approach if the current one rejects it. Usually I can recirculate the material within a day, often with revisions I have already made since the last submission.
I would not dare seek validation as a writer by the decision any editor or publisher makes regarding one of my manuscripts. Nor would any editor with good sense presume to speak for all others.
I know many who write better than I do but are daunted by rejection. Some stop circulating a manuscript for months before trying again. Any day that I sit on a rejected manuscript, is another day that the manuscript is not sitting in the next editor’s queue.
Through the internet writers have excellent, up-to-date ways to inform themselves about what is expected, yet editors report that many who submit have obviously not read the publication and have no idea about its stated priorities.
The best-known publications are likely the ones most overloaded with submissions. Given their status, some of those prefer to solicit manuscripts from established writers rather than wait for them to arrive over the transom. Submit to these anyway? Why not, so long as we don’t measure our worth by their decision. As Eleanor Roosevelt famously said, “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.”
A classmate in graduate school had the opposite problem. Very early in his writing life, The New Yorker published one of his poems. To hold that reputation, from then on he submitted only to The New Yorker and a handful of others he thought prestigious enough. Quite soon the only audience he commanded were others at his favorite bars. He died a distraught alcoholic in an alley of The City That Care Forgot.
I write because I write, just as I eat and sleep because I eat and sleep. I write for any audience I can get, and when I can’t get someone, I’ve been known to get on a bus and natter to no one in particular. People listen, and some respond. A couple of times fellow travelers put up such an echo that others mutter as they leave, “Bunch of loonies taking over the world.” These too speak to nobody in particular.
Louie Crew Clay, 80, is Professor Emeritus at Rutgers University. He and Ernest Clay, his husband for 43 years, live in East Orange, NJ.
Clay has been a fellow at the Ragdale Foundation (1988) and at the Helene Wurlitzer Foundation (1963). He directed Rutgers University’s New Jersey High School Poetry Contest from 1990-1999.
See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Louie_Crew#Queer_Poet_and_Writer. The University of Michigan collects Clay’s papers.
Author Photo Credit: Louie Crew Clay. ©2016 by Cynthia L. Black. Used with her permission.
With our staff assignments in place for the next issue, we are currently reading for our Spring / Summer 2017 issue, which will come out June 15, 2017. We are seeking fiction, creative nonfiction, poetry, and visual art. We are especially interested in work that conveys a sense of place, presents a strong voice, or provides a unique point of view. We are also accepting blog posts about writing and literary topics on an on-going basis.Read More »
If you’re looking for a day after Valentine’s treat, visit Hub City Tap House for the Converse MFA mic take-over. The event will take place on Wednesday, February 15 at 8 p.m. and is open to everyone. Readers will include a mix of poets, fiction, and nonfiction writers reading original content. Several of South 85 Journal‘s staff members will be featured in the showcase. Readers for this event include third semester poet Russell Jackson, second semester Young Adult fiction writer Josh Springs, third semester fiction student Linda Meredith, graduate poet Kathleen Nalley, third semester fiction author Mackinley Greenlaw, third semester fiction student Katie Sherman, and third semester non-fiction author Jonathan Burgess. The take-over, hosted by Pints & Poets, is one in a series of readings that takes place every third Wednesday during the Spring and Fall months. Continue below for reader bios:
Russell Jackson holds a BA from The Evergreen State College and is a current poetry student in the MFA Creative Writing program at Converse College in Spartanburg, SC. He serves as a poetry editor at South 85 Journal and his poetry was recently published in the Summer 2016 issue of The Donut Factory Literary Magazine. His academic interests are concentrated in LGBTQ literary and cultural studies. Literary heroes include Flannery O’Connor, Harper Lee, Eudora Welty, Paul Monette, Edmund White, Richard Blanco, and Nickole Brown. He currently writes and resides in Hendersonville, NC.
Josh Springs is a South Carolina native and has worked for multiple literary magazines, including the Mountain Laurel and South 85 Journal. Josh is a second semester, young adult fiction writer in the Converse College Low Residency MFA program. His favorite authors are Adi Alsaid, Patrick Ness, Flannery O’Connor, Edgar Allen Poe, and Laurie Halse Anderson.
Linda Meredith is a current fiction student in the MFA Creative Writing Program. She is also the editorial contractor for Great Jones Street Press. In her fiction, you will often meet a darker, troubled character in a seemingly normal world. Her literary inspirations include David Foster Wallace, Ernest Hemingway, George Saunders, Raymond Carver, and Grace Paley. She currently writes in Spartanburg, SC where she lives with her husband and their English Coonhound, Memphis.
Kathleen Nalley is the author of the poetry chapbooks Nesting Doll and American Sycamore, and the upcoming full-length collection, Gutterflower (Red Paint Hill Press). Recently, her poetry has appeared in concis, Fall Lines, New Flash Fiction Review, and Slipstream, and in the violence against women anthology from Sable Books, Red Sky. She holds an MFA from Converse College, teaches literature and writing at Clemson University, and finds books their forever homes at M. Judson Booksellers.
Mackinley Greenlaw is a rank amateur currently sussing out his cultural value in Greenville, SC. His fiction is appalling, both literally and morally, and is best suited for a captive audience
Katie Sherman is a freelance journalist who covers fine food and parenting in Charlotte, NC. As an undergraduate, she was mentored by Pulitzer prize nominee George Esper at West Virginia University. Katie is currently pursuing an MFA degree at Converse College. She has an affinity for Southern Gothic literature, cider beer, Chicago, and morning snuggles with her family — Ben, Ella and Addie. Katie is the new Blog Editor for South 85 Journal. She’s currently working on a short story collection about social taboos afflicting women.
Jonathan Burgess is a South Carolina native and a Marine combat veteran of the war in Afghanistan. He holds a BA in English Language and Literature and currently studies creative nonfiction writing in Converse College’s MFA program. His work has appeared in O Dark Thirty; Blood & Thunder; The St Austin Review; The Journal of War, Literature, and the Arts; and Catholic Exchange. He lives in upstate South Carolina with his wife and four children.Read More »