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Contributor Conversations: Hillary Leftwich interviews Jan LaPerle

Hillary Leftwich interviews The Conium Review contributor Jan LaPerle. Her work appeared in Vol. 3 and on our Online Compendium.


[Hillary Leftwich]: Your flash story “Murmuration” appears on our online website and “Laden” was just published in the print version of Volume 3 Collector’s Edition. I found both flash stories to have a similar theme about the relationships between mother and child as well as life and death, but in dramatically different ways. Was this similar theme intentional? Which story do you feel has the strongest portrayal of this theme?

Jan LaPerle[Jan LaPerle]: A few minutes ago I was reading over an Artist Statement I wrote last year.  I wrote, “When I write, I write of fear.  Fear like ivy climbing the trunk of the pecan tree that shades our house; it has wrapped itself around me.  Every day I fear losing this little girl – every day when I send her off to school with her backpack and little pink shoes, I feel it; every night when I tuck her in bed I fear she may not wake in the morning.”  The thread that runs between my characters and myself is fear: fear of losing my child, fear of losing my freedom, my life, my control (so many fears and too many to list).  Instead of intentional, I’d say it’s a theme in all my work – something I just try to get at and something I look at from every angle and every distance.

There’s something simpler, cleaner about the fear in “Murmuration.”  The fear of not being able to fulfill a desire, in the story, for both characters is tragic, and most tragic in the living than the dying.  In “Laden,” there are so many complicated fears – fear of becoming a parent, fear of losing a loved one, the fears of the neighbors recognizing their own fears, and the fear of an adult looking at a fearless child.  I believe “Murmuration” travels deeper into one fear and “Laden” is a somewhat messy look at a lot of fears coming together in an image – that strange image at the end of the family frozen in the ice.  So, perhaps the strength here is in the potency, the deeper look, the murmurations.  Though I’m not exactly sure.

[HL]: It has been said that poetry lends itself to flash fiction. As a poet and a fiction writer, do you find this to be true? Are you drawn more towards one or the other in your own writing?

[JLP]: I wrote poetry first.  I completed my MFA in poetry and never once wrote fiction, but when I moved to Oklahoma and began a PhD, I took several classes in fiction.  I felt drawn to write stories, but I was never very good or very drawn to the short story.  In my last fiction class, we all ended with a 5-minute reading (we were to read a short segment of a longer piece).  But, for the reading, I decided to write a complete piece to be read under 5 minutes, and that is when I, rather organically, wrote my first flash fiction piece.  I fell in love with the form.

The crafting of a flash fiction piece is much like crafting a poem, but what I love about writing fiction is the characters, the magic between characters in setting, etc.  Sometimes writing a poem seems a little self-indulgent, and not because poetry is necessarily, but mine is.  I know I need to push my poetry, to find a way to write a new type of poem.  I’ve tried all sorts of things but maybe not hard enough.  I feel right writing flash fiction in a way I haven’t with poetry in a long time.

[HL]: In your flash story “Laden” there is a description that gives me goose bumps: “And then the trees pulled, a response to the pain they found there.  The frozen pond stood suspended in the air, held by the surrounding branches.  The slowing winds rocked the pond like a cradle.”  What is one story or poem you have read where a line or paragraph has stayed with you over the years?

[JLP]: My first love as a writer was Plath, and this line from “Tulips” has never left me: “The nurses pass and pass, they are no trouble/ They pass the way gulls pass inland in their white caps/ Doing things with their hands, one just the same as another/ So it is impossible to tell how many there are.”

Even in that poem, there are better lines, but the image here is frightening and I’ve thought of it often for many years.

[HL]: There is a saying, “If a writer falls in love with you, you will never die.” Have any of the stories or poems you have written held true to this saying? If someone did make it into one of your writings, why did you choose them, even if it was inadvertently?

[JLP]: It is often the faces of strangers that are most haunting to me – they are the ones I write about (though there are pieces of me and the ones I love floating on their surfaces).  For example, when we were living in this little town, Bluff City, I was driving to work early one morning and I met a couple driving in a car – both of them were very tall, skinny, and very pale.  The car windows were large and I could see them well.  I imagined they had been working all night and were on their way home.  They seemed very sad to me, though I knew it wasn’t fair of me to think so.  Or, maybe, there was something about them that reflected my own sadness.  I wrote then a story about them, “Swing Shift,” and in it they find happiness and light.  If I hadn’t written their story, I wouldn’t have remembered their faces, but it’s been years since I saw them on the road, and I can see them as clearly as the tree outside my window.

[HL]: Your poem, “She Rings Like a Bell in the Night” was published in Rattle and also nominated for a Pushcart Prize. The title is also taken from the Stevie Nick’s song “Rhiannon.” If you could pick one song to describe your writing overall, what would be your theme song be?

[JLP]: “After the Storm,” Shovels & Rope.

Interview with Kim Brown, editor of “Minerva Rising”

Kim Brown

Kim Brown

Kim Brown is an editor at Minerva Rising Literary Journal. Her work has appeared in the Chicago Tribune, Today’s Chicago Woman, Contemporary Fashion, National View, Naperville Sun, and Pitkin Review.



[James R. Gapinski]: Many writers and editors have seen the VIDA.org statistics that show low lit journal acceptance rates for women, but few actually do anything about it. What motivated you to take action, creating a women’s-only journal?

[Kim Brown]: I read somewhere that stories written by women were “small” compared to the ones written by men. That troubled me. It seemed to devalue the work of women writers and the overall experience of being a woman. But after receiving a series of rejection letters for own work, I worried that there might be some truth to that statement. I lamented to anyone who would listen that there needed to be a literary journal for women that was interested in publishing the type of stories that women write.  And then I remembered a quote by Toni Morrison, “If there’s a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.”  I knew I had to create the type of journal I wanted to submit to.

 [JRG]: In March 2014, you’ll give the first “Owl of Minerva” award. Can you talk a little bit about the award and the criteria you’ll be looking for in nominees?

[KB]: It has always been Minerva Rising‘s policy to give a portion of our proceeds back to women in need. In the past we have done this by donating to Women for Women International. However, we felt that we wanted to make more of an impact and the Owl Award was born. We wanted to offer one woman writer, who would otherwise not have the financial means to invest in herself as a writer, an opportunity to pursue her creative endeavors. Applicants will be required to write an essay in response to a question posted on our website. We will be looking for both need and desire.   

[JRG]: You say you created the sort of journal you’d want to submit to. Can you expand on that?  What are some of the aesthetic or creative approaches that best fit your style?

[KB]: I tend to write anecdotal tales of ordinary women working through the challenges of daily life. A lot of the journals I submitted to were looking for shock and awe.  And while I appreciate that type of writing, I wanted a place that felt like a community of women supporting one another through the sharing of experiences and stories.

Consequently, when people ask about the aesthetic or creative approaches that best fit my style, I shudder a little. The beauty and meaning I find in writing comes from the writer’s courage and the determination to share her truth. The style or the approach isn’t as important to me. I want to get lost in the story. 

[JRG]: You referenced Toni Morrison earlier.  What other authors have had a major impact on your work as a writer and editor?

[KB]: There have been ten women writers in particular who have guided me throughout my journey as a writer: Natalie Goldberg, Anne Lamott, Anna Quindlen, Kate Chopin, Bebe Moore Campbell, Dorothy West, Judy Blume, Virginia Woolf, Joyce Carol Oates, and Sylvia Path

I’ve learned so much by the way each author writes about the complexity of life as a woman and/or writer. I owe every woman on the list a ton of gratitude.

[JRG]: As a fellow graduate of Goddard’s MFA program, I bet you heard the phrase “trust the process” a lot.  I know this can be a big question, but what’s your process as a writer?

[KB]: Free writing plays a huge part in my process. I like to write long hand for a designated period of time or a set number of pages before I start to work on a specific piece. I use that time to clear my head and set the intention for my day.  Sometimes I use my free writing to work out questions or problems that I have with my current project.  There is something about actually writing on paper that primes the pump for me. Then I move to my computer to write. I prefer to work in two hour blocks. But I’m a procrastinator, so I often have to work longer to get things done when I’m under a deadline.

[JRG]: What about as an editor?  Can you give a little insight into the editorial process at Minerva Rising?

 [KB]: As an editor, I really prefer to read paper.  When we first started Minerva Rising, I would print out every submission and read it. I’d make little notes in the margins, much like an annotation. I taught various writing classes at a small liberal arts college several years ago.  Consequently, I read submissions like I was grading papers.  However, as we started to grow, this became an inefficient use of resources and time. Now I read submissions on a Kindle and take notes in a notebook.  I write down my impressions of the piece and whether or not it works for the current issue.  I like to be specific so that we can offer feedback to the writer. The other editors may have a different process, but we all share our thoughts and notes on the piece after we have voted. This is really helpful because it gives us something to discuss as we make our final decisions.