The Lightning Room with Garrett Crowe


–Interview by Diana Clarke


Garrett Crowe’s furious, tender story “Teachings” demands that you read like your father is a felon, and like you are a human being, empathetic, fallible, and hungry. At least one of those things is certainly true. The other might be. Below, Crowe speaks on uncertainty, the second person, and being from West Tennessee.


1. I loved the tentative atmosphere you create for “Teachings” by using the second person and by beginning the first two paragraphs with possibility: “If your father…,” lending doubt to the narrative that follows, implicating the reader in the experience of having their father sent to prison, making it seem also as though the story could be autobiographical. How did you make that choice?

The point of view was actually discovered sometime after I wrote that first line. Originally, the opening was rhetorical only, thinking I’d somehow transfer to first person. Then it occurred to keep it second because, yeah, I wanted the reader to experience parental felony. I also found second person gave me distance away from the narrative. I could be a bit more technical, long-winded, kind of like a legal document. Continue reading

The Lightning Room with Tommy Pico


–Interview by Diana Clarke


Sing, O Internet, of the poems of Tommy “Teebs” Pico, who wrote “from IRL” and then talked about it on the blog.

1. “from IRL” seems to take as formal inspiration both epic poetry and internet diction. Can you talk about holding those two seemingly disparate influences together?

The idea first came to me after reading “Tape for the Turn of the Year” by A.R. Ammons, a book length poem written originally on one long piece of calculator printing tape. In it’s confines Ammons occasionally employed abbreviations that seemed a sort of proto-texting. I thought, what if I wrote a book length poem that could be sent as one long text message—a poem confined by the frame of the smart phone screen, but open to the shifting grammatical non-rules of texting, internet slang, typos, auto-corrects, etc. I guess holding Epic and Internet together, in my mind, had to do with wholly committing to them both and seeing where they led me.

2. I loved the idea of Muse as “finally giving me / what I want.” The traditional source of inspiration having her own power, deciding when and how much. What is your relationship to inspiration like? Continue reading

The Lightning Room with Elizabeth Evitts Dickinson



–Interview by Diana Clarke


August author (and august author) Elizabeth Evitts Dickinson talks about pregnancy , palimpsests, and her story, “A Modern Girl’s Guide to Childbirth.”


Going by the title of the piece, I expected “A Modern Girl’s Guide to Childbirth” to be a lot snarkier, since most guides titled similarly are so breezy, pragmatic, and of the moment. (Guides to bible study, life, and personal finance were my first three Google hits.) How did you choose instead to place your girl’s modernity in conversation with history—ancient Greece, 17th-century China, 18th-century France, the view of the cemetery?

That juxtaposition between the present and the past came out of a writing prompt. I had the great fortune of being in Lee K. Abbott’s fiction group at the Kenyon Review Writers Workshop back in 2013. The writer EJ Levy was Lee’s fellow that year and she challenged us to write a piece with a point of view that we rarely used. We discussed second person, and read short stories like Junot Diaz’s “How to Date a Brown Girl (Black Girl, White Girl, or Halfie).” Continue reading

The Lightning Room with Franny Choi


This week we asked poet Franny Choi about violence, domesticity, and absurdity, and she encouraged us to try “letting the rabid dog in your brain run around the yard for a little bit.” We published four of her poems in our March issue.


Interview by Diana Clarke


1. In “Warning,” I found the most unsettling and wonderful thing to be your pairing of industrial/disaster imagery (oil spill, oilskinned harpoons, eye of the storm) and domestic objects (tape, fly paper, ceiling fan). This culminates in the final line–“a poised fork, stalking the whites of my eyes.” Do you see some inherent violence in the domestic?

I think to say that violence is inherent in the domestic is a risky claim to make — that verges on normalizing domestic violence. But I do think that the line between violence and pleasure is sometimes frighteningly blurry. I was interested in capturing a bit of the horror of confronting this line, and I think absurd juxtaposition is a major crux of horror. Continue reading

The Lightning Room with John Smolens



Read John Smolens’ “Possession(s)” in our February 2014 issue, and when you can’t get it out of your head, see below:


Interview by Diana Clarke


1. The structure of “Possession(s)”—block text that is both a story and a how-to for surviving personal pain (the death of the narrator’s wife, in this case)—reminded me a lot of Jamaica Kincaid’s story “Girl.” In “Girl,” Kincaid uses the same kind of overwhelming text-block to convey the constraining and contradictory messages her young narrator receives about being a girl and growing into a woman. Do you see yourself writing into (or around, through, etc) cultural messages about mourning (i.e. what’s acceptable, how we should do it) and/or masculinity? How?

“Girl” is a brilliant story.  Of course I can’t speak for Jamaica Kincaid, but I wouldn’t be surprised if that story didn’t just come to her all of a piece.  What’s important is the story feels that way.  That’s how it was for me while writing “Possession(s)”:  it’s as though the story has always been there and you’re just fortunate to be tuned in to the right wave-length to pick it up.  Carolyn Forché’s “The Colonel” has similar attributes.

Mourning is a good word.  It rolls out softly; I even like the way it’s spelled, containing its own urn.  What is mourning?  It’s not just keening; it’s not just visible and audible responses to death.  The great irony of Albert Camus’ The Stranger is that Meursault, when put on trial for murder, is found guilty largely because he did not sufficiently display remorse over his mother’s death.  To not appear to mourn properly can be perceived as a most egregious cultural slight, not just an error in deportment but an insult, because it suggests a lack of respect, not just for the dead, but for those who have felt compelled to mourn in what society considers the proper, acceptable fashion.   Continue reading

The Lightning Room With Will Kaufman


 Read Will Kaufman’s Selling The Fall in our May issue, then join us while we become the perfect human platonically together.

 Interview by DeWitt Brinson


1. How was your childhood? One truth and one lie about it, please.

a) I grew up comfortably middle class in a San Francisco neighborhood with about five million Chinese restaurants and markets. I had a stable childhood, in that my family stuck it out in the same house for twelve years even though my parents probably should have been splitting up when they were getting pregnant.

b) I was a savvy kid, who definitely knew the difference between “Stussy” and Macy’s generic “Stylin'” brand. I watched MTV and My So Called Life and understood my peer’s frame of reference, and so fit in quite well.

2. What would you like to improve about your writing?

Everything. I want to tell stories that engage and enrapture with sentences that challenge and undermine. I want my writing to embody an emotional and ontological ambivalence. Obviously, I’m a long way off. Also, that shit sounds like it would be too irritatingly precious for anyone to ever actually read. Except for Moby Dick. Moby Dick was a nearly Platonic experience for me.

At this particular moment I’m trying to better understand the crafting of plot. I should probably also learn proper grammar and punctuation at some point. And then become a wholly better being so I can potentially produce work that would live up to my expectations. Continue reading