Martin Amis’s “Oktober”

You may have seen that the writer Martin Amis died last week. I’ve never read any of Amis’s novels, but on hearing the news, I immediately recalled Amis’s short story ”Oktober,” a story that has lingered in my memory because of how much I have admired it ever since the first time I read it 7 or 8 years ago.

I’ve seen this story criticized as “non-fiction-ish” and “lightly fictionalized.” It doesn’t matter to me how much Amis heavily drew from his own experience and observations, as if there’s only a certain amount that’s okay. Rather, this story should be held up as an example of how we can fictionalize our own experiences to find deeper, emotional meaning on the page. Perhaps one reason this story speaks to me is because it’s archetypal in that it portrays a character on a journey, and, as Amis said:

“Even the dullest journey resembles a short story: beginning, middle, end, with the traveler displaced and, we hope, alerted.”

I admire this story for many reasons, most notably because it’s such a well-executed political story. It addresses world events on both the largest and smallest scales. In this case, the story centers on an Englishman in Munich during Oktoberfest, and more importantly, during an influx of Middle Eastern refugee movement. What the narrator witnesses is framed both by literature (Vladimir Nabokov & Thomas Wolfe) and history (Russian refugees in 1917 & German refugees following World War II).

The story’s refugee thread holds continued relevance in light of the migrations being politicized in the United States, centered around the expiration of Title 42.

One of the characters in “Oktober,” Bernhardt, is Iranian-German. He says about the migrants: “You know, they won’t stop coming. They pay large sums of money to risk their lives crossing the sea and then they walk across Europe. They walk across Europe. A few policemen and a stretch of barbed wire can’t keep them out. And there are millions more where they came from. This is going to go on for years. And they won’t stop coming.”

There are also mothers of various types appearing on virtually every page of “Oktober.” And in regard to the mothers that Amis portrays here, I would mention that one thing I admire about this story is how tightly he weaves all the threads of the story. It may not always seem so because the language is conversational, but everything seems to serve a purpose. Everything is connected. Meanwhile, the story is not so economical that it feels austere or lacking. It feels rather sprawling instead.

Amis received criticism during the last several years for some sloppy comments he made about terrorism and extremism. Some of these comments are not so far from those of Geoffrey, a British businessman in “Oktober” who has a less than welcoming attitude towards migrants. Geoffrey is also the character who brings the most shock value to the story. So while he is not a likeable character, he’s incredibly dramatic to follow.

I don’t know if I’ll ever get around to reading any of Amis’s better known works, but it was a pleasure to revisit this story and to remember all of the reasons I admired it in the first place. You can read Martin Amis’s short story, “Oktober,” online at The New Yorker: And I hope you will.


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In case you missed it… check out this month’s list of Submission Calls for Writers, and my conversation with Erika Nichols-Frazer, where we discussed my poetry collection Tamp and her memoir Feed Me, hosted by Birch Bark Editing.

Submission Calls for Writers 5/11/2023

I’ve had a lot of fun this last month as my new collection, Tamp, has found its way into readers’ hands. Thanks to all of you who have ordered the book, and extra thanks to those of you who’ve reached out to let me know what you think about the poems. Just as the days are growing warmer and longer, I’m very aware of how much I hope to accomplish this summer. I have several writing projects that I want to move forward in at least some way. And there also has to be time set aside to submitting our work. To that purpose, I offer this list of one dozen submission opportunities. It’s tempting to pretend most journals are taking the summer off, and maybe we should take it off, too. But neither is exactly true. A lot of great journals, like these 12, are open right now, and would love to read whatever you’ve been writing. Good luck!

Exacting Clam Exacting Clam is an online and in print quarterly journal from Sagging Meniscus Press, publishing short fiction, poetry, book, art and music reviews, essays, interviews, and visual art/illustrations.

Florida Review & Aquifer: The Florida Review Online We are looking for innovative, luxuriant, insightful human stories—and for things that might surprise us. Please submit no more than one piece of fiction, nonfiction, graphic narrative, review, or digital story at a time. Poets and visual artists may submit up to (but no more than) five poems or artworks as a single submission. We charge a $2 or $3 submission fee depending on category.

Pithead Chapel Pithead Chapel electronically publishes art, literary fiction, nonfiction, and prose poetry monthly. At present, we only accept submissions under 4,000 words.

Tipton Poetry Journal The Tipton Poetry Journal is published quarterly both in print and an online archive. The Tipton Poetry Journal publishes about 35 poems each. Poems with the best chance for acceptance are quality free verse which evokes a shared sense of common humanity. The Tipton Poetry Journal is published in Indiana, so themes with a regional focus are encouraged. Submissions are read year-round.

Waxwing We read submissions of poetry, short fiction, and literary essays Sept 1 to May 1; translations of poetry and literary prose are read year-round. Each issue features approximately thirteen poets, six prose writers, and six authors in translation. Poets should send one to five poems, and prose writers one story, essay, novella, or novel chapter (or up to three short-short stories or micro-essays).

Qu Qu is a literary journal, published by the MFA program at Queens University of Charlotte. The Qu editorial staff is comprised of current students. We publish fiction, poetry, essays and script excerpts of outstanding quality. Payment upon publication is $100 per prose piece and $50 per poem. Next reading period opens May 15th, 2023.

The Stinging Fly We publish new, previously unpublished work by Irish and international writers. Each issue of The Stinging Fly includes a mix of poetry, fiction, and non-fiction, alongside our Featured Poets and Comhchealg sections, occasional author interviews and novel extracts. We have a particular interest in promoting new writers, and in promoting the short story form. We plan on being open again for submissions from May 16 until May 31 2023, for Issue 49 Volume Two (November 2023). 

Baltimore Review Summer The Baltimore Review is a quarterly, online literary journal. Submit one short story or creative nonfiction piece, no more than 5,000 words. Submit three poems. Our current submission period runs through May 31, 2023.

2023 New American Fiction Prize The New American Fiction Prize is awarded each year to a full-length fiction manuscript, such as a story collection, novel, novella(s), or something that blends forms, like a novel in verse. The winner receives $1,500 and a book contract, as well as 25 author’s copies and promotional support. Deadline is June 15, 2023. There is a $25 submission fee.

The Fairy Tale Review Founding Editor Kate Bernheimer will edit the twentieth annual issue of Fairy Tale Review. Vol. 20 will not have a theme. We are looking for your best new work. Writers may submit a single prose piece up to 6,000 words or up to three prose pieces under 1,000 words each. We welcome short fiction, essays, lyric nonfiction, and creative scholarship. Submit up to four poems totaling no more than ten pages. Submissions will be accepted through July 15, 2023.

Poetry South Poetry South is a national journal that considers all kinds of poetry. Though we pay particular attention to writers from the South — born, raised, or living here — all poetry within our covers has a claim to the South because it is published here. The magazine has a tradition of including poets from other regions in the US and other countries. We are looking for a great mix of styles and voices that will appeal to our audience and breathe new life into the poetry of the South. Send 1-4 unpublished poems in Word or RTF format. Our annual submission deadline is July 15.

Masque & Spectacle Masque & Spectacle is a bi-annual arts and literary journal. We publish short fiction of all genres, up to 7,500 words. We are looking for unpublished nonfiction essays, literary analysis pieces, and personal essay/memoirs of up to 7,500 words. We are looking for all forms of poetry, including formal and experimental work. Submit work to be included in our next issue between May 1 and July 31, 2023.

Thanks for reading. Please feel free to share these opportunities with other writers.  If you’re not already receiving these posts directly to your inbox, please subscribe.


In case you missed it… I had a wonderful conversation with J.D. Isip about his newest collection of poems, Kissing the Wound. And I shared a writing exercise based on J.D.’s poem “Leaving Krypton.”

Coming up… Join me Tuesday, May 16, at 7:00 p.m., as I speak with Erica Nichols-Frazer about her book, Feed Me, in Birch Bark Editing’s InConversation series. The event is free but registration is required. I hope to see you there.


The Artist’s Statement Podcast

The Artist’s Statement has only been around for a little over 2 years, but in that time, some amazing writers have been featured there, writers such as Nikki Giovanni, Kathy Fish and Colm Toibin, just to name a few. Somehow, I am fortunate enough to now be included on that list. Huge thanks to my friend Davin Malasarn for inviting me to talk about Tamp, and some of the ideas that Tamp explores such as ancestry, mythology, and our interactions with both the natural and dream worlds.

You can listen to The Artist’s Statement wherever you find podcasts or at The Granum Foundation’s website:

In addition to producing awesome podcasts that talk about writing, The Granum Foundation is also doing wonderful work to support writers and their projects through the Granum Foundation Prize and the Granum Foundation Translation Prize. The Foundation Prize is a $5,000 award for one writer, and up to three finalists are awarded $500 or more. The Translation Prize is an award of $1,500 or more.

Applications for both awards are open now, and you can find out more on The Granum Foundation website:

~ ~

Coming up later this week, I’ll share a new list of submission opportunities for writers. And next week, I’ll be in conversation with Erika Nichols-Frazer about her memoir, Feed Me, sponsored by Birch Bark Editing. The online event is free, but registration is required. Hope to see you there.

Writing Exercise: Leaving Krypton

Writing Exercise 23.1

In my previous post, I had a wonderful conversation with J.D. Isip about his new collection Kissing the Wound. One of the threads in these poems explores the way we are connected to place. One of the places J.D. writes about is The Carmelitos Public Housing Development where he grew up. While reading Kissing the Wound, I admired the way he was able to write about that place and others from multiple views such as from the present and the past, from the inside and the outside. I mentioned to J.D. how place-based writing is always on interest to me, and I asked if he had any advice for writing about place. I’ll share J.D.’s response here:

J.D. Isip: Yes, after reading Tamp, I can definitely see how important place is to you. My time in Carmelitos was from my childhood, over forty years ago. I think that distance in time helped me to be more objective. I like a lot of the ideas of psychogeography, the idea that there is a spiritual imprint on a place that never goes away, that there are times that keep playing over and over just beyond our vision. One might say that I write about Carmelitos from a place of disdain, but I don’t think that’s entirely true. It was a difficult place to exist in, but, going back to the idea of trauma, I think any place can be difficult to exist in depending on what you might be going through. Yes, I lived in the hood at the height of the Crips and the Bloods, but how does that compare to a middle-class woman in a seemingly loving relationship who just can’t find the will to get out of bed, the depression is so bad? So, for me, I try to think back to whatever I was holding onto – maybe it was my mom or my brother, maybe it was the beautiful neighbor boy who was kind to me, maybe it was my white-hot hatred for being poor or hungry. Whatever it was, I think you have to excavate it like an anthropologist (or whatever Indiana Jones was). You have to be willing to look at a past where you weren’t always right, where you made mistakes, where things weren’t always black and white.

My best advice here, and again, after reading your work, I think you might agree, is you have to talk to everyone you can who existed where you existed. Get their stories. See what they verify or contradict. If you can, use their voices. I like having other characters speak in my work. Yes, I am giving them those words, but I feel like there’s a little more ethos there. It’s like, “Oh, I believe everything about Spoon River, cause all these dead folks told me so!” Also, one of my mentors, Frank Gaspar, told me that the more specific you get in the details, the more universal your message can be. So, it’s not just this tree or that flower, it’s the specific kind, the color, the stage they are in growth, etc. For Camelitos, in “Carmelitos Ever After,” I wanted to take the reader through that psychogeographic journey – this is what was, what is, what ever shall be.

DL: One of my favorite poems in Kissing the Wound is “Leaving Krypton”. I quickly knew that I’d love to share this poem on my blog because the conceit is so interesting and makes for a wonderful prompt. Thanks to J.D. for allowing me to share the poem here.

Leaving Krypton
for Anne

It is better you had not stayed long enough to know
what alchemy binds us to a place, how extracting
yourself begins a dissolution, the cloud-capped
towers, the cracked cement slab you’d jump every
day on your way to school, the band you worshipped,
a dog you pet in your sleep, friends, parents, all

melt away before you think to look back, you think
turning around, just a glance, will be too much for you
and you are right, some ancient knowledge forces
your stare forward, drowns out the chain-reacting
atoms, the splitting crust of a world where once you
were essential as its gravity, its rotation, its sun—

But, O! What crests into view? A light you never felt
pulls you closer, a strength you’ve never had takes over,
and you are flying this foreign galaxy, feeling yourself
for the first time yourself, arms outstretched, open
to embrace a brand-new atmosphere, the sweet air,
a woman you kiss to sleep, adopted parents, friends, all

will need your new powers to survive this new adventure:
x-ray vision to see the imposters; piercing heat to bore
deep into layers of tradition, stubbornness, scars; a cold
breath for those who call you a false god; and the wisdom
to keep that shrunken city from this place as a reminder
we never fully lose the past, but what we knew is gone

the instant that we leave it.

DL: One reason I love “Leaving Krypton” is because it is infused with all of the qualities of place-based writing. Even though a specific place isn’t named, the reader gains a sense of the place based on the place’s specific imagery. The sense of that place is expanded by ideas of what will be left behind as well as what will be gained, as well as the strengths that were gained (and will be exported) as we leave the place we’re from. The title allows us to connect the place with the fictional Krypton even though we retain the sense that a more-realistic setting is being described. I asked J.D. if he could relay the inspiration for this poem, and how he came up with the idea to write it from the angle of what I assumed was Superman.

JI: Thank you for asking about this poem, means a lot. One of my best friends, Anne, whom the poem is dedicated to, had hit a real crossroads in her life. I talk a little about it in Kissing the Wound, specifically the prose piece, “A Wedding at Cana.” She’d been in this long, emotionally abusive relationship, her work situation was getting pretty bad, and she had just, pretty late in life, accepted that she was a lesbian. I mean damn, one of those would put me under! After a lot of me and other friends telling her to leave this place, she finally did. She did it for her and for her son. And it was one of the bravest, scariest things I’d ever seen a person do.

I wanted to write something to say goodbye. Superman is one of my favorite characters, so of course I thought of him. But I actually thought of Kara, Supergirl. But Anne and Kal shared more, so I just followed Kal’s story. And I threw in a couple of nods to things she’d know were me saying goodbye – the “O” for Walt Whitman and the “cloud capped towers” for Shakespeare. I wrote it in one night, and I read it to her as she was driving away. We both cried. My hope was that she would see her move as so much bigger than it was, and that she wasn’t only running away from her past but running toward her future. I’m a cheesy person. It took everything in me not to say somewhere, “The S stands for hope” – but it’s implied.

Prompt: If you’d like to use “Leaving Krypton” as a prompt for your own poem, then you probably need to begin with the title by which I also mean you begin with a fictional place. This should be informed by your own interests and likes. J.D. Isip loves to call himself a nerd because he likes, among other things, comic books and superheroes. Krypton is immediately recognizable to most readers. So begin by selecting a fictional place to draw on that will also be fairly recognizable: Gotham, Neverland, The Emerald City, Mansfield Park, Yoknapatawpha County.

Begin your poem, not with this fictional place but with details from the real place that you are writing about. Or from your life if you’re writing about yourself. Think about J.D.’s “cracked cement slab you’d jump every / day on your way to school.” That could be from anywhere, but it feels meaningful because the reader understands it’s from personal experience.

The important factor about the fictional place you pick is that you must know some strengths about the character related to that place. Because you will want to draw on those strengths as your work through your own poem.

I think this is an exercise that can be applied, not only to poetry, but to creative nonfiction and fiction. Give it a try. And if you are able to write something from this prompt, send it to me. I’d love to see it.

In the meantime, don’t forget to buy Kissing the Wound by J.D. Isip, available from online retailers and your local bookstore. And make sure you never miss a post by subscribing.

Conversation with J.D. Isip

J.D. Isip is originally from Long Beach, California, but has lived the last decade or so in Plano, Texas. He received his MA from California State University, Fullerton, and his PhD from Texas A&M University-Commerce. He is a Professor of English at Collin College in North Texas, and he serves as an editor for The Blue Mountain Review. His poetry, plays, short fiction, and essays have appeared in a variety of journals and magazines. His first full-length collection, Pocketing Feathers, was published by Sadie Girl Press (2015). His new collection, Kissing the Wound, was published earlier this year by Moon Tide Press. In Kissing the Wound, J.D. asks readers to look through a multiversal lens to consider how our lives and our loves, our traumas and our triumphs, fold in on one another. J.D. was kind enough to answer some questions about Kissing the Wound, as well as to offer advice about how to approach writing about trauma, and how to mix forms—including fragments—to inform a larger narrative.

DL: I love the title of your newest collection, Kissing the Wound, and how it speaks to the ways our most traumatic experiences shape us. I’m thinking too of the beautiful opening lines from your poem Tornado Radio, “Nostalgia, defined, is a scar in your mind, / that pulled at or picked, bleeds across time…” Do you have advice for writing about trauma, particularly the difficult task of stepping outside of yourself to craft personal experience into art?

JI: Thank you so much, Denton. The story behind this title, but also behind a lot of things I’ve written and revised over the years is that we (the writers) are sometimes too laser focused on a particular idea. This can be useful, and I personally love many poets who would fall into this category (Victoria Chang, Richie Hofmann, and Patrick Phillips come to mind) of being meticulous almost to the point of obsession. With this book, I had picked the title Number Our Days early on. There’s a lot of Bible in much of what I write, so it seemed a good choice. Plus, the fragmented nature of the book seemed to pair well with this idea of trying to count or recount the days we live, have lived, and will live. Well, very late into the editing process, my publisher calls me and says, “We have a problem, J.D. Neil Hilborn has a book and a poem called Our Numbered Days, and, man, I just don’t feel comfortable doing something that sounds so much like that title.” I kinda panicked, but I had just finished a poem that I moved to the front of the book – “Kissing the Wound.” I suggested it as an alternative, and my publisher, Eric, was like, “Oh man! That’s perfect! It’s better!” That was that.

See, in my mind the book was about recounting, about “memoir-izing” my past in lyric form. But, as you point out, it was much simpler than that. It was about trauma, both individual and collective. What I want to say, the advice I would give here about writing trauma, is maybe not something I always follow, but it is certainly something I strive for. I think it’s important for us to push against two impulses: one, to relive the trauma in some masochistic or voyeuristic way; two, to homilize the trauma to the “all things happen for a reason” point of dishonesty. Instead, I think it’s better to pluck out the particulars, as much as you can remember, and let the scene and/or the action take the lead over whatever “lesson” we are trying to communicate. Also, be gut-wrenchingly honest, or what is the point? I think of student papers where maybe they spend pages talking about a really screwed up relationship with a parent or an abusive love, then the last paragraph is, “But I am happy that happened, or I wouldn’t be who I am today. I don’t even think about it anymore.” Um, Sure, Jan.

To that final point of, to paraphrase, moving from “Dear Diary” to something more universal, or at least welcoming to readers – read, read, read. What you are talking about is something that we learn by watching (reading) others do it well. How can I read Audre Lorde or John Keats and feel like I have anything in common with them? But I do. Why? Because I may have never felt romantic love for a woman, but I have felt love… and longing, and all of that. I think when you read widely, your writing starts to feel more like you are in conversation rather than screaming from a soapbox. You’re not under the impression you’re the only one who ever said this or felt this, but your story adds to what has come before. So, yeah, there’s my traditionalist leanings showing!

DL: Kissing the Wound is described as containing “poems and fragments”. I would describe some of these fragments as prose pieces, even as essays. How do poems and nonfiction overlap in terms of their autobiographical qualities? Are there other ways the two forms connect in your mind? Are there challenges to interweaving different genres into one cohesive book?

JI: I love that more and more writers are crossing genre lines or hobbling together so-called “new” genres. Not to get too pedantic, but I think we generationally tend to congratulate ourselves for innovation that has always been there. Take this delineation between poem and play and essay and recipe and whatever else. Alexander Pope, Christine de Pizan, Borges, Eliot, tons of folks were crossing those genre lines decades, centuries before us. But, we forget, and it is always nice when some memory of “permission” stirs in us: Can I do this? Why the hell not?

That preamble is my way of saying, “I know what I am about to say has probably been said before.” Years ago, I had started jotting down “fragments” I thought might be part of something bigger. A book? A memoir? Poems? Maybe. For the most part, I was a little desperate not to lose these moments or images that would pop into my mind. I’ve seen a lot of friends and family die now, and it pains me to see them try to recall something. You see it in their face, in that disappointment: they can’t, it’s gone forever. As writers, we have this unique gift to preserve a little time. That’s how the fragments started.

Because they are more like prose, these pieces definitely lean more into the “lesson” aspect, or homily. Unlike poems, I feel like prose needs to land somewhere for a reader (a poem can just leave you hanging – many times, that’s the point). Donald Murray said that all writing was autobiographical, and I tend to agree. Walt Disney chose Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs as his first feature based almost exclusively on the fact that he remembered reading the story to his daughters. Charlie Brown is basically Charles Schulz. If we accept that whatever we write is going to tell our story, I think it gives us permission to tell bigger stories, stories with more characters, stories where we don’t have to be at the center of the action.

The first prose piece in the book, “How Long Was I Gone,” helped to pull the whole collection together. The night I wrote the first draft, I sent it to my friend Allyson (who wrote my spectacular forward). I was over the moon because all of a sudden I had this idea of how to tie everything I had been working on together. My first book was published in 2015, so it had been years since I had even thought about pulling together another collection. However, just like with that first book, I think when you know you’ve landed on something you have to follow your gut. That’s tricky, because there are many, many writers who will tell you, “My gut tells me every day I should be jotting out a whole collection.” I mean, if that works for you, awesome. Darren Demaree, Nicole Tallman, and Jenn Givhan are my friends who do this—and they just pump out gem after gem. For us mere mortals, it takes a little more time. I think you have to trust your writing to lead you… and you can’t do that if you’re trying to keep up with others. I am a lot happier being able to be truly happy for my friends getting published all over, getting all of the awards – rather than grousing about things being unfair, or “they’re just so much more talented” or “so much more connected” etc. Who cares? Do you. You’ll be okay.

Oh, the interweaving of the prose and poems. One, I saw someone on Twitter griping (shocker, I know) about “people who divide their poetry collections into individual sections”; it’s such a specific and therefore hilarious thing to be miffed about. I have done it with both of my collections, and I am doing it with my third collection. I don’t have any plans to stop. It helps to have those guideposts. It gives you more freedom so your collection can be about one overarching idea but also several smaller ones. Not that a collection has to be about anything, but I tend to like collections that are about something. I feel like the hodgepodge approach is an odd one. If I wanted a grab bag of subject matter, I can just read a poetry journal or magazine. Anyway, the prose pieces in Kissing the Wound started working as these kinds of guideposts, too. I could group them with poems that would, hopefully, emphasize or challenge the point or lesson of the prose piece. I liked that idea of having my cake and eating it too – here’s a lesson, but do I actually buy it? Should you? I had a lot of fun pulling it together, moving things around. I was lucky to have a patient and enthusiastic publisher. And good friends to read over drafts! So important!

DL: I’d like to go back to the idea of the word “fragment” as you use it alongside “poem”. Can you talk about what a poem is or does, for you, in its perfect form? Is it supposed to center on a single moment, an image, an emotion? All of the above or something else?

JI: I did an interview a couple of weeks ago, and I thought of an answer to this question after I said whatever I said during that interview. So, thank you for this chance to redeem myself! For me, poems are questions at their heart. They can sometimes sound like statements, proclamations, edicts, arguments, solutions, and all of that. But not so far behind even the most self-assured poem is a do you think? And I don’t think there is any other genre that has that consistency (except maybe American musical theater). The gift of a poem, then, is that it comes alongside you when “shit doesn’t make sense,” and it says, “Yeah, why is that?” Not, “so let me tell you why that is.”

Prose pieces allow ideas to breathe. That is important. But poems, for me, are in a bit more of a hurry. Prose are the divorced couple in front of the lawyers or the marriage counselor. Poems are the fights before bed, the one liners to poison the kids against the other spouse, the angry sex. You can probably guess which I like reading more. But I make a point to read both and read lots of everything. I think it would be foolish to think prose take longer to write than poems. That was not the case in Kissing the Wound – generally speaking, the poems almost all took longer than the prose pieces. And, because I set up the prose to be fragments – meaning I didn’t have to flesh out each scene, just layered them on top of one another – they were even easier to pull together. Truth be told, we always have a little more fun doing the thing we don’t always do. It was really fun, even freeing to play between genres.

DL:  I often ask writers about the process of submitting their manuscripts for publication. Can you describe the time between writing and publishing these stories? How did you connect with Moon Tide Press?

JI: It took me years to write the manuscript, a solid eight years of plugging away. It’s not because I am meticulous or anything like that. It’s because I work full time as a professor, like most other artists I know. I like to think if I were given some sort of writing fellowship, I’d just crank out book after book, year after year. But that’s not true. I’d probably do what I did with my dissertation and with this book – let it simmer for years, then bang it out when I finally get tired of simmering.

I gave myself $300 to send out manuscripts to contests or editors. That’s honestly not a lot when you consider most contests are $25 or more to enter. There are also editors who will take manuscripts via email, so that costs you nothing (no printing, no postage). Moon Tide Press had been on my radar because it’s pretty big in Southern California, where I grew up. You have Red Hen Press, Write Bloody Publishing, and Moon Tide Press – those were the places I was a fan of in grad school, and the places where I had met or seen most of the writers they published. Eric Morago picked up the press years ago. I didn’t know that—but I had read his first collection a while back, and I watched him do some of his slam stuff. I was a big fan (Eric’s easy on the eyes, he has lots of fans).

Anyway, I wrote to my friend who published my first book, Sarah Thursday with Sadie Girl Press. She’d semi-retired at the time, but she was enthusiastic about me getting another book out. I think that’s important. You need to have a group of folks doing this writing thing who you can turn to who will give you honest feedback. This isn’t your mom saying she likes the pretty things you write (though that is nice if you can get it). It’s the friends who will tell you this is what you were meant to do, and they aren’t bullshitting you. They have no reason to. She told me about Moon Tide being open to unsolicited submissions. That’s worth knowing about. A lot of places, especially big publishers, are not going to look at your work unless they have sought you out (this is rare). It’s often in contests where “unknowns” get picked up by the big presses. That’s good, but the odds are generally stacked against you. Especially if you didn’t go to a specific MFA program, didn’t publish in the big magazines, haven’t gone to AWP.

That’s all to say, yeah, I got a lot of rejections. But not as many as I feared. And, as luck would have it, I got an offer for a chapbook the same week Eric accepted my full manuscript. I felt terrible about having to turn down the chapbook, but the publishers were so excited, and that I learned you shouldn’t feel bad if you have to say no to a publisher. They probably have dozens of folks waiting in the wings and, if they are decent folks, they are gonna cheer for you – after all, they just chose you. It should make sense to them.

My friend R. Flowers Rivera came to do a reading at my alma mater, and when I came up to talk with her afterward, she said, “So, when am I going to see a book from you?” This was maybe 2012, and I told her I had submitted to contests for years, but nothing ever came of it. She said, “If the contests don’t pick you, pick yourself. Send out your manuscript.” It took about a year and some kismet with a friend from high school, Sarah, but I got my first book published a few years later. The point is that if you feel like your work needs to be out in the world, you will find a way. It might take some hustle. It might take years. It sounds cliché, but you just have to keep at it. Also, honestly, and you probably know this well, just be incredibly humble when dealing with publishers. They are almost always doing it as a passion project, and they are almost always getting paid far less than they are worth. Being patient and humble goes a long way.

DL:  Are there any upcoming opportunities for readers to hear you read from Kissing the Wound either via Zoom or in person?

JI: I will be on #SundaySweetChats with Charles K. Carter on Sunday, May 28th on YouTube. I’ll be the featured reader at The Ugly Mug in Orange, California, on Wednesday, May 31st. And I will be on a future episode of Be Well: A Reading Series hosted by Nicole Tallman. I’d love to see folks in California, and I highly recommend folks check out Charlie and Nicole’s shows. Both have several videos already up.

Huge thanks to J.D. Isip for speaking to me about his new book. Don’t forget to order Kissing the Wound now. Stay tuned for my next post where I’ll share the advice J.D. shared with me about writing about the places we come from, as well as a writing exercise from J.D. based on one of his poems. Make sure you never miss a post by subscribing.

Tamp Ranks #4 on Amazon’s New Releases in American Poetry

I can’t say thank you enough to all of you who have ordered a copy of Tamp, as well as for the number of other ways you’ve already shown your support for me and this book! There are hardly words to express how much this book means to me and what a gift it is to know so many of you are reading it.

Tamp’s first week out in the world has been a real whirlwind. It began last week when Marc Jolley, my editor at Mercer University Press, let me know that Tamp had gone into an immediate second printing just before our April 4th publication day.

On Friday, the Southern Review of Books published this thoughtful, generous review of Tamp by Matthew Duffus:

What was an even greater surprise was to see Tamp pop up in Amazon’s rankings. Over the weekend, the book went as high as #4 for new releases in American Poetry! It ranked as high as #27 in American Poetry overall! (See Tamp there at #27 just behind Maya Angelou and Amanda Gorman?)

If you’ve read or are reading Tamp, I’d be so grateful if you could leave a rating or review on Amazon: Everything to do with algorithms is a mystery to me, but Amazon reviews make a huge difference and will help keep Tamp in the eyes of new readers.

You can also help raise awareness of Tamp by posting on social media and tagging me. Send me photos of Tamp with your dogs and cats, with your adorable children and beautiful landscapes in the background.

And if you’d like to hear me read some poems from the book, please come hang out with me this week from the comfort of your living rooms. I’ll be speaking with Damian Dressick and Christina Fisanick on WANA Live!, the reading series for the Writers Association of Northern Appalachia. You can watch live on YouTube or Facebook on Thursday at 8:00 p.m. Eastern.

Again, thank you for all of the ways you’ve already shown support for me and Tamp!

Countdown to Tamp, Arriving April 4th

I’m counting down the days until my new book of poems, Tamp, will be published by Mercer University Press. The magic date is Tuesday, April 4, 2023!

Here are some very generous, advanced words about Tamp from others.

“Denton Loving’s Tamp reminds us that to grieve is to love, a sacred act that aims for clarity, and yet, mourning, too, makes us acutely aware of the profound questions that agitate the living. Loving’s poems, deeply attuned to the richness of a rural sacred order, both honor and attempt to name that complexity with a music that feels movingly restorative.” —Major Jackson, author of The Absurd Man

“Each poem in Tamp is a world in its own right: each a timeless praise song to the earth, to solitude, loss, and love. With bucolic sensitivity shared by few, Loving has crafted the most convincing wake-up call–gentle, surefooted, hypnotic, and insistent. Tamp is a rare trove of honest, measured assurance, a blessed reminder of what matters most.” — Shawna Kay Rodenberg, author of Kin: A Memoir

“In Tamp, his radiant new collection of odes and elegies, Denton Loving represents the works and days of rural Appalachia, and far beyond, with deep knowledge and delicate authenticity. Loving’s poems occupy the ideal cross-section between two of poetry’s oldest poles, the lyric and the narrative. It matters little whether readers greet these poems as stories that sing or lyrics that bind us in their telling, because the scenes and voices we discover will travel with us deep as treasured memories. Galway Kinnell once said that another word for poetry could be ‘tenderness,’ and this is the quality Loving brings most acutely to the loved people and places he offers tribute in Tamp.” — Jesse Graves, author of Merciful Days

It took me years to write these poems and understand how they could work together as a collection. Now, I’m so excited to know the book is near at hand, arriving into the world and into the hands of readers like you.

The fact that you already read, follow and subscribe to this blog is a great support to my writing, and I’m so grateful. If you’re inclined to support me again, I’d be grateful for you to pre-order Tamp, and there are a lot of simple ways to do so.

You can order directly from Mercer University Press.  You can support your favorite indie book store by ordering from  If you don’t have a favorite indie book store, you can order from one of mine, City Lights in Sylva, North Carolina.  It’s also available for pre-order at the usual online sellers such as Amazon.

For Tamp to find its way to readers, there’s a ton of work for me still to do, and I’m sure I’ll be back here soon, begging for reviews and announcing readings, etc. Until then, thank you!

Submission Calls for Writers 1/19/2023

Since it’s still January, it feels acceptable to still wish you a happy new year. In yet another attempt to get the year off to a good start, I spent much of yesterday sorting through these calls and submitting my own work. I was reminded both of how much time and effort it takes, and how important it is. Submitting is vastly different than the work of writing. We can be steadfast writers, dedicated to our craft, but the act of submitting our work forces us to evaluate our words in new ways. Which of my poems work together? Which of my essays is the most ready for others to read? Which of my stories is a good fit for this journal? Sometimes we’re lucky and our work is accepted. But even rejection can prompt us to see our pieces under new eyes. If we’re very fortunate, a kind editor takes time to offer a word of encouragement or advice. So yeah, I believe submitting is an important part of our job as a writer. Toward that end, I offer this list of one dozen submission opportunities. Good luck!

Glass: A Journal of Poetry Glass is back and now actively accepting submissions. We’ll be publishing weekly, a single poem every Wednesday, starting in July and we’d love to see your work. We’ll never charge reading fees and we’ll read year-round (except in March when we’ll be reading chapbook submissions). Past contributors have included Rane Arroyo, Saeed Jones, Lisa Fay Coutley, Adam Tavel, Sandy Longhorn, and Xochitl-Julisa Bermejo, among many many others. Past work has been included in Sundress Publication’s Best of the Net and on Verse Daily. Submit 3-5 poems, any style, any length.  

Café Review Submit up to three unpublished poems in one file. The Café Review welcomes both new and established voices and has no limitations or preferences as to form or style. We publish the most exciting, impressive, and affecting poems that come to us.

Prelude Prelude is a journal of poetry and criticism based in New York. We publish online quarterly. Send us up to 8 pages of poetry. Send us a draft or a description of an essay. It could be a critical essay, an experimental essay, a personal essay relating to poetry, etc.

Hawai`i Pacific Review  HPC is Hawai`i Pacific University’s award-winning online literary magazine. While we often publish work about Hawai`i and the Pacific, we accept great work from all regions and on all subjects. Submit no more than 3 poems at a time. Fiction and Creative Nonfiction submissions should be less than 4000 words. We also accept flash fiction and flash nonfiction up to 750 words. Deadline: February 4, 2023.

Orange Blossom Review OBR publishes innovative poetry, short fiction, creative nonfiction, and visual art. Submit short fiction and creative nonfiction up to 5,000 words. Submit up to three poems. We accept unsolicited general submissions through February 15, 2023.

Swing  Swing is home for the emerging writer to the renowned, the discovered to the too-long neglected. We are creating a magazine with the energy and verve of its home city, Nashville, a town of vagabonds and roots, where new influences course through the old. Swing wants the poetry, fiction (auto-, hybrid, very short, or regular but extraordinary), nonfiction (creative, travel, personal, hybrid, surely there are other variations), and comics that could only have been written by you. Submit up to 5 poems or up to 8,000 words of prose. Deadline: February 16, 2023.

Dunes Review  The Dunes Review is published in northern lower Michigan, a place of exquisite natural beauty and hardy local culture. Place is really important to us. Not only physical place, but the place created in a piece of writing. The feeling of being rooted in any somewhere grounds our work. If your work expresses or includes a significant tie to a significant somewhere, we are bound to love it. You and your work do not necessarily need a tie to a Michigan location, but we do appreciate work that fits Michigan-like themes or motifs. We consider short fiction or creative nonfiction up to 3,000 words, or up to 4 poems. Deadline: March 1, 2023, or when we have received 300 submissions, whichever comes first.

Gulf Coast  Stories and essays should be no more than 7,000 words. Send up to 5 poems per submission. Gulf Coast typically commissions book reviews, but unsolicited reviews are accepted and occasionally published. We are particularly interested in reviews of first or second books. Interviews should not exceed twelve pages. Deadline: March 1, 2023.

Barrow Street BS is a nonprofit literary arts organization that was started in Greenwich Village, NYC in 1994. Submit up to five manuscript pages. Response time is one week to four months. Deadline: March 31, 2023.

Raleigh Review General submissions are open from January through March for Poetry. Send up to 5 poems. Deadline: March 31, 2023. 

Salamander Published biannually, Salamander features poetry, fiction, and nonfiction. Submit no more than five poems at a time, OR one story or memoir at a time, OR up to three flash pieces in either fiction or nonfiction. Deadline: April 1, 2023.

Asheville Poetry Review  APR is an annual literary journal that publishes 180–220 pages of poems, interviews, translations, essays, historical perspectives, and book reviews. Send 3–6 poems of any length or style. We are open for regular submissions from January 15 through July 15, 2023.

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Writing Exercise 22.7

In my previous post, I had a wonderful conversation with Erica Plouffe Lazure about her new linked-story collection Proof of Me. Today, Erica is sharing a very short story from her collection. Originally published in Swink, Erica’s story, “Re: Division Unification,” is a mere six paragraph structured in the form of an inter-office memo. I appreciate interesting narrative structures such as in this one. Another story in Proof of Me, “Azimuth and Altitude,” is told through a series of phone messages. These kinds of structure lend towards a monological confession. In other words, it’s a great way to let a character loose to better reveal their voice and their particular narrative. Read Erica’s story below, and afterwards, I’ll share Erica’s advice about how to use interesting structures in your own work regardless of genre.

RE: Division Unification

Golden Poultry Processing Plant
To: All Golden Poultry Division Employees
From: Kitty Ingram Lanford
RE: Division Unification

As you know, Boss Karpinski likes to say that we here at Golden Poultry should all aim for division unification. Better workers, he says, produce better teams; better teams make for better projects; better projects create a better office atmosphere, which brings better leadership, all of which contributes to a better, more unified division, which, in turn, makes our company succeed. The company is considered successful when it makes more money. And it is the division’s office’s leader’s team’s project’s members—each of us—who are charged with making that happen.

To motivate us into further unifying our division, Karpinski tells us to get our “ducks in a row,” to “think outside the box,” and to always leave “room on our plate.” Achieving these three goals, he says, will no doubt put “a feather in our cap.”

More than once, he has noted that members of our division’s team must “wear many hats” in order to succeed. This in particular caught my attention because I have yet to see anyone in our division, save for myself, wear a single hat, let alone several. I did a good stretch of knitting a few years back, after my father died and before my daughter joined the Marching Tigers, and those of you who work on my team in our division’s office know that I actually own and wear an extensive collection of woolen hats—although not at the same time. I’d like to know why Boss Karpinski suggests that we all wear hats, then, when in fact I am the division’s sole multiple hat wearer. I can imagine he’ll read this memo and say, “there’s no ‘I’ in ‘team,’ Kitty Ingram.” But there’s no ‘we” in team, either. Only “me,” mixed up. And wearing all the hats. And while I see boxes of chocolates and boxed pens doled to my colleagues as quarterly rewards, I—the lone multi-hat wearer of our division—have yet to see a reward, let alone a single feather, for my cap—or caps, as it were—come my way.

Perhaps the source of these elusive feathers is the ducks which Mr. Karpinski is so fond of aligning. Every time he urges us to get our “ducks in a row,” I can’t help but think we are getting bad advice. My father was a prize duck hunter out at Mattamuskeet each year, Mallard Class, and I know that, unless they are stuffed and mounted on your mantle, ducks do not readily get in rows, nor do they like to. As everyone knows, ducks in flight make v-shaped formations, which is not a row but rather an elegant, egalitarian arc. And anyone who’s ever watched ducks in a marsh could tell you they aren’t about to line up for you when they’re sitting in the water. That’s why they make buckshot. Yet Mr. Karpinski seems to believe that there is some relationship between row-friendly ducks and our mission of division unification. But to put them in rows is contrary not only to the natural tendencies of ducks, but also to the true aim of the statement, by which I assume he means: get organized.

But in order to get organized, he wants us to think outside the very object that would help us, logistically, to achieve it. It has been nearly three decades since I have been able to maneuver my body to fit inside a box, let alone think inside of one. And, unless you are compelled to place a box over your head as inspiration to get the neurons firing, thinking outside of a box is a natural, if not logical, thing to do. It begs the question why a box would even need to be present in order for thought to occur. My experience suggests that thinking happens—and should happen—when no box is present. So it makes one wonder: why the emphasis on the box? If, perhaps, the word “box” is meant to suggest my rather boxlike “cubicle,” then I heartily agree. And, since boxes tend to stay where you put them—except if that box happens to be in the supply room closet filled with staples and designer pushpins and the four-dollars-a-pop fountain pens and deluxe desk calendar—it seems a far simpler and more logical task to put your boxes in a row, and to let the ducks outside where they belong.

By solving the dilemmas of box placement and duck-alignment, it frees us, then, to consider Mr. Karpinski’s third piece of advice to achieve division unification. When I first heard him say, “don’t tell me your plate is full; always leave a little room,” I thought he was talking about the holiday all-you-can-eat chicken buffet the division pays for down in the break room. It’s advice I get from my dietician, too. And my therapist. But I always want to know, and no one ever tells me: what are we leaving room on our plates for? Ducks? In boxes? But then I realized that leaving room on a plate simply means that there is more to life than ducks and boxes and Golden Poultry, for that matter, and that you need to be ready for it. Leaving room on your plate is, in essence, making room for change, something that would mix up and rehash stale leftovers, be it food or phrase. Maybe it’s something that might inspire you to leave the division’s office for a while, even for just an hour, to take a walk in the woods to experience box-free thinking. And maybe you’d find in the woods a lake, where, if you are lucky enough, you may come across a family of ducks and observe them. You would know how unwilling they’d be to get in rows for you, how easily they spook if you rush at them, scare them a little into taking flight. I used to do this when I was a girl, on those Saturday mornings duck hunting with my dad. I’d rush at the ducks and when they flew away, a feather sometimes would fall from their fold, and land, miraculously, at my feet.


Erica Plouffe Lazure: When I wrote RE: Division Unification, I was working in an office at a university, and often had to edit the somewhat formalized and (at times abstruse) language of professional communication. And my brain is always looking for something to be entertained by—I’m a terrible punster—and so I thought it would be fun to see what would happen if one of my characters were to co-opt some of the hackneyed phrases we always hear in corporate settings, and use them to address a topic that is personal in nature while maintaining a somewhat formal tone.

I think stories that steal from other formats (with essays they’re called “hermit crabs”) can work, due to the sense of urgency (that “confessional” feel) and the familiarity of the format itself. Something that I always think about when I compose stories (no matter what format they take) is what circumstance would motivate, or even force, my character to ACT? What would push them into divulging something that they might not otherwise? Something I would caution against is using unusual forms gratuitously—there’s a fine line between coopting an unusual format to bring the writer (and character) closer to the truth of a situation, and using it as a gimmick.

As far as Kitty Ingram Lanford, we are introduced to her in the story “Marchers,” but we don’t know precisely what motivates her until she has a chance to speak on her own behalf via the memo in “RE: Division Unification.” Here we see a woman who is probably unseen and ignored at work, who dedicates a lot of time to causes she cares for, who is likely still grieving the death of her father, and who is sick of having people steal office supplies from the closet. To refer back to our earlier conversation about how I shaped my story collection, “RE: Division Unification” is a good example of how I’d reworked the names and some of the minor points of the original story (published in the now-defunct Swink journal) and found a space and voice for her in Proof of Me as Kitty Ingram Lanford.

Prompt: Start by making a list of unique structures along the lines of an office memo/email, or a voicemail. Pick one that allows a character to tell their story. Be sure to allow your character to confess something to their audience. Include a memory from the character’s past.

If you are writing nonfiction, try to recall a job you once held, and write about a time when you wanted to express something to a co-worker or boss, but didn’t. Use a memo, email, or voicemail format to recall that moment to your former colleague, and why it still stays with you.

If you are writing poetry, make a list of the objects of a workspace that is familiar to you. Then make a list of words you associate with that profession (feel free to look them up). Mix and match the words to see what story or throughline surfaces. Or, find a format within the workspace (an admission ticket or order form, for example) that you might borrow to “contain” the poem.

If this prompt helps you, I’d love to see the final product. In the meantime, please check out Erica Plouffe Lazure’s website, and don’t forget to buy her collection, Proof of Me, available from online retailers and your local bookstore.

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Conversation with Erica Plouffe Lazure

Erica Plouffe Lazure is quick to explain that she is not a Southerner nor a Southern writer. But what exactly is a Southerner or a Southern writer today? Are such distinctions based on the accident of birth? On the range of time and experience? How do perspective, talent and empathy work into the equations? I’ve heard every side of these arguments over the years. All I know for certain is that regardless of the way she self-identifies, the stories in Erica Plouffe Lazure’s linked-story collection Proof of Me authentically center on a small square of land called Mewborn, North Carolina, a place born out of Erica’s lived experience as much as from her imagination. Erica was kind enough to answer some of my questions about putting these stories together, about her submission process, and about winning the prestigious New American Press Fiction Prize.

DL: How long did it take you to write the stories in Proof of Me? Can you talk about how some of these stories link together and how those links impacted the shaping of the collection?

EPL: The stories in Proof of Me go back from when I first started pursuing creative writing—as early as 2005. Some were completed and published right away; others sat as drafts that I’d revisit and revise from time to time. I always keep a folder of stories that are “workable” but as of yet incomplete, and as I set out to help round out the stories and voices in this collection, they were integral.

I enjoy the editing process, and believe that, especially when you’re feeling stuck with a particular story, setting it aside for a while and returning to it can help shake loose its arc, and get it into publishable shape. Combing through each story one by one can help you to see how they might all fit together. Initially, I had not set out to link the stories (geographically or otherwise) in earlier configurations of the collection, but in the early days of the pandemic, I decided to dust off the collection, print it out, and see how I might more consciously connect each story to the other. I’d already written several pieces about some of the characters (like the Weaver sisters, or Cassidy Penelope), and so those stories became natural anchors for the larger collection. From there, I reworked some of the other pieces to connect more organically to other characters in the collection, or found ways to tie back stories that were set outside of Mewborn to the town itself. If I hadn’t allowed myself the flexibility to change certain aspects of the stories as I’d initially envisioned them, I’m not sure the collection would have been as strong.

DL: These stories are set in a range of locations such as Nashville and Boston and as far away as India, but each story is centered emotionally around Mewborn, North Carolina. Was it helpful in your writing process to create your own Yoknapatawpha County?

EPL: Mewborn the town is very much an imagined community, a bit of a hybrid of the small city of Greenville, in Pitt County (where I’d lived for about eight years), certain parts of Eastern Carolina, and my own hometown in Massachusetts. The name Mewborn is taken from a small crossing close to Kinston, but I chose it because I liked the sound of the name, and did not want (like Faulkner, I would guess) to have to adhere to the actual historical particulars of Pitt County while crafting a fictional work. And yet, a strong sense of place—about a small town, about how families and neighbors live and function alongside each other, about how even those who leave their hometown are still tethered to it—is what I hope surfaces in this collection. And as I mentioned earlier, I hadn’t intended the stories to be linked when I first set out to write them, but the revision process enabled me to see how I was, in fact, writing of, or about, the same place all along. And I should note that, for the record, I am not from the South, nor do I claim to be a Southerner, but I am very much a student of its literature, and I had never written a word of fiction until I moved to North Carolina.

DL: Can you describe the time between writing and publishing these stories? How did you connect with New American Press? Were there many rejections along the way?

EPL: Since about 2009, I had submitted various versions of Proof of Me to book prize contests offered by smaller presses. I like to joke how I almost renamed the collection The Bridesmaid, because it had been a finalist or runner-up in at least a half-dozen or so competitions (including New American Press, which eventually took it). But I think my effort to substantially rework the collection to make it more directly linked, geographically and thematically, worked in my favor. Rejection is part and parcel of the publishing game, and at some point, you understand that it’s not because the work isn’t any good; it’s more of what fits with the vision of the press, and the aesthetic tastes of the contest judge (or editor). I haven’t really gone the agent route—the agents I’ve had conversations with were always asking about my novel (! Don’t ask !) and were not interested in story collections. I’ve found there is certainly an interest and demand for short stories, but I guess we story writers have more work to do in making a convincing case to big publishers.

DL: Do you have advice for writers who hope to publish story collections?

EPL: This is rather technical advice, but something that helped me to envision my collection AS a collection was printing it all out (1.5 spacing, double-sided) and then read it aloud and edit with a pen in hand. I would make notes of key objects, characters or themes in a notebook, and then look for spots where those objects (sewing machines, dice, cars) might show up in another story. In some cases, I realized that, with a name change and a shift in a few key details, a story that might not have been part of the collection could be transformed into another piece of the Mewborn puzzle.

As far as submitting your work, I suggest that you research the publisher first to make sure it will be a good fit. Some publishers will want you to chip in for paying for a publicist (and there goes your advance), others might not do much in terms of promotion, or expect you to do much of that work yourself. I suggest researching a few past winners of story collections prizes of publishers that you’re interested in, and see how their books fared (via reviews, or press interest, or readings). Smaller presses tend not to have big budgets for book launches, so be aware of that.

DL: What are you working on now?

EPL: I’ve been working on a collection of flash stories under the thematic title Desire Path. It’s a term often used by city planners and landscapers to describe a “footpath made through foliage or grass by repeated traffic, rather than laid out by design.” I plan to take this literal definition in a metaphorical direction, where each of my characters will aspire for something guided by their desires, instincts and travels, and endeavor to carve a path of their own making to attain it. It is slow-going, but I’m enjoying discovering how each story might bend toward (or even challenge!) the established theme.

Huge thanks to Erica Plouffe Lazure for speaking to me about her new book. Don’t forget to order Proof of Me now. Stay tuned for my next post where I’ll share a writing exercise from Erica based on one of her short stories. Make sure you never miss a post by subscribing here: