Elisabeth Blair is a poet, editor, and workshop leader with an extensive background in music and the visual arts. She has been artist-in-residence at the Atlantic Center for the Arts, Wildacres, the Kimmel Harding Nelson Center for the Arts, and ACRE. From 2016-19 she hosted and produced the podcast Listening to Ladies. Her publications include forthcoming full-length collection because God loves the wasp (Unsolicited Press, 2022), two chapbooks--We He She/It (Dancing Girl Press, 2016) and without saying (Ethel Press, 2020)—and poems in a variety of journals, including Harpur Palate (forthcoming), Feminist Studies, cream city review, and Juked.
A memoir in verse, Elisabeth Blair’s because God loves the wasp documents two and a half years she spent living in two abusive facilities for “troubled teens” during the late 1990s. The wilderness camp and emotional growth boarding school were modeled on the teachings and tenets of Synanon, a mid-20th-century cult.
Alternating between painful clarity and surreal metaphor, the poems grapple with the shock and disorientation of being taken away in the middle of the night by strangers; the bewilderment of navigating expectations in an environment of institutionalized bullying, shunning, and sleep deprivation; and the gravity of the adulthood that follows.
Writing in the second person, Blair confronts the reader, withholding the potential relief of distance. Ripping through a patchwork of disturbing descriptions—of violent staff, isolated and terrified children, and decades of brutal nightmares—she cradles her fierce testimony in sonorous language and striking imagery.
The book’s tight corralling of traumas takes aim at the notion that inducing fear, despair, and shipwrecked helplessness can rehabilitate a child—the catastrophic doctrine of “tough love.”
Tara Stillions Whitehead is a filmmaker and multi-genre writer living in Central Pennsylvania. Graduate of University of Southern California’s School of Cinema-Television Production and San Diego State University’s Creative Writing MFA Program, her writing and films work to subvert the toxic cultural narratives endorsed by popular media and the institutions that profit from stigmatizing and disadvantaging marginalized and historically oppressed groups. Her writing was included in the 2021 Wigleaf Top 50 and has been nominated for various awards, including Best of the Net, Best Small Fictions, AWP Intro Journal Awards, and the Pushcart Prize. A former DGA assistant director for television, she is currently Assistant Professor of Film, Video, and Digital Media Production at Messiah University, where she serves as production faculty for narrative filmmaking. Her hybrid chapbook/concept album, Blood Histories, was published by Galileo Press in 2021.
Robert Crooke is a journalist, media executive, and author. His poetry has been published in the West Hills Review: A Walt Whitman Journal, and his short fiction has appeared in The Paragon Journal, Literary Orphans Journal, and Linden Avenue Literary Journal. He began his career as a sports reporter and columnist for the Newhouse-owned Long Island Daily Press, and for thirteen years, he served as North American press spokesman for Reuters. Letting the House Go is his fifth novel. He and his wife reside in Bridgewater, CT.
Catch up with him at his website: www.robertcrooke.com
R.E. HENGSTERMAN is a former emergency room nurse. Born in Virginia and raised in New York, he holds masters' degrees from Appalachian State University and the University of North Carolina Wilmington, where he took up short story writing. He currently lives in North Carolina with the family and occasionally wears pants.
Visit www.rehengsterman.com or @robhengsterman for more.
Cedrick Mendoza-Tolentino was a 2014 Emerging Writer's Fellow at the Center for Fiction in New York City. He graduated with honors in the Undergraduate Creative Writing Program at Columbia University. He has had work published in Liars' League New York, Akashic - Mondays are Murder, Gargoyle Magazine, Joyland, Slow Trains and Plain Spoke. His chapbook Alphabetica: The Other Side of Love was published by Corgi Snorkel Press.
Melanie Sevcenko is a poet, radio producer, and recovering bohemian. She moved to Portland, Oregon by way of Berlin, Germany, where she lived for almost a decade and hustled as a film critic and reporter for various outlets. Her poems have appeared in Permafrost Magazine, Poetry Quarterly, Verse Daily, Black Heart Magazine, apt, The Fourth River, and more. She is quite proud of the title of her poetry chapbook, We Slept in Body Bags, Just in Case, which was published in 2013 by Finishing Line Press. She’s also an Irish and Canadian citizen and is probably a distant relative of Ukrainian writer Taras Shevchenko. These days, Melanie works in public radio and podcasting and contributes to NPR, The Guardian, and Marketplace, amongst others. In her off-time, she can be found cooking plant-based meals, lighting bonfires in backyards, or buried under her 16-pound orange tabby.
Jackson Bliss is the winner of the 2020 Noemi Press Award in Prose and the mixed-race/hapa author of Counterfactual Love Stories & Other Experiments (Noemi Press, 2021), Amnesia of June Bugs (7.13 Books, 2022), and the speculative fiction hypertext, Dukkha, My Love (2017). His writing has appeared in The New York Times, Tin House, Ploughshares, Guernica, Antioch Review, ZYZZYVA, Longreads, TriQuarterly, Columbia Journal, Kenyon Review, Vol. 1 Brooklyn, Witness, Fiction, Santa Monica Review, Boston Review, Juked, Quarterly West, Arts & Letters, Joyland, Huffington Post UK, The Daily Dot, and Multiethnic Literature in the US, among others. He is the Distinguished Visiting Writer at Bowling Green State University and lives in LA with his wife and their two fashionably dressed dogs. Follow him on Twitter and IG: @jacksonbliss.
Interview with Jackson Bliss
If you could cook dinner for any author, dead or alive, who would it be? What would you make?
I’d cook for Haruki Murakami, Zadie Smith, Joan Didion, Tommy Orange, Karen Tei Yamashita, or Sandra Cisneros. I’d probably make oko toast with avocado, homemade ramen, or kimchi jjigae because those things are hard to fuck up if you know what you’re doing and they also make you look more talented than you actually are in the kitchen. We all need shortcuts to greatness. Also, those foods can be so deeply satisfying on an emotional level and I’d want my fave author to experience joy so they know how I feel when I read their books.
What scares you the most about the writing process? How do you combat your fears?
Not being able to write anything, or anything that feels good to me when I read it again later on. I’m also afraid of people using my vulnerability in my writing against me. People can be such assholes when they’re trying to flex their moral education on you. When I’m afraid of something, I head right towards it because I know it’s not going to get easier by avoiding it, even though negative reinforcement is the most understandable defense mechanism there is. I guess I’d rather try and fail then not try at all. I don’t want to have regrets in my life. Also, I feel like we can always learn from our failures, but we can’t learn from the failures we didn’t make (because we were too afraid to make them). Fucking up is part of our agency I think.
Who is your biggest literary crush, author or character?
I have language crushes on Junot Diaz, Zadie Smith, Milan Kundera, Lydia Davis, Toni Morrison, Carole Maso, Sandra Cisneros, JM Coetzee, Kali Fajardo-Anstine, and WG Sebald. I have idea crushes on Haruki Murakami, Karen Tei Yamashita, Jorge Luis Borges, Ted Chiang, Octavia Butler, David Mitchell, Aimee Bender, Natsuo Kirino, and Italo Calvino. And I have story crushes on Yiyun Li, Adrian Tomine, Dostoevsky, JD Salinger, Alison Bechdel, Jhumpa Lahiri, and Tayeb Salih.
What books are on your nightstand?
Right now, I’ve just got Bryan Washington’s Lot on my nightstand because I’m a monogamous reader.
Favorite punctuation mark? Why?
It’s a toss up between a period and a colon. I like the openness of the colon, the way it opens up the sentence but also insists on a forced pause. I admire the closure and the definiteness of the period. I fucking detest the semicolon, though. If a pushy editor tries to replace my punctuation with a semicolon, I do a search and destroy mission immediately.
What book were you supposed to read in college, but never did?
James Joyce Ulysses. I still feel guilty about it to this day.
What inanimate object would you thank in your acknowledgements?
The sun for feeding the world, for always coming after leaving us in the dark, for its endless energy, devotion, and circularity.
If you could write an inspirational quote on the mirrors of aspiring writers, what would you write?
Get out while you can!
Does writing energize or exhaust you?
Both. In the initial creation phase, so unbelievably energizing I can barely sleep sometimes. But in the subsequent revision and editing stage, which is the other 80% of the writing process for me that usually takes years and years to finish, it starts to wear you down. It can feel futile, monotonous, repetitive, and unrewarding at times.
What are common traps for aspiring writers?
Undervaluing your work ethic and overestimating your talent. Not knowing how to revise a draft a million times until it sparkles. Forcing your workshop to clean up the shit in your draft. Not knowing how to critically and objectively evaluate your own manuscript (and then fix the issues you discovered along the way). Comparing yourself to other writers, many of them with completely different circumstances. Believing that the only way to “make it” is to get an agent, a six-figure advance from a Big-5 press, and a story published in the New Yorker. By all means, fight for that shit, but just remember that there are so many different streets that lead to Midtown (and some of them are closed for construction).
What is your writing Kryptonite?
Work & love for totally different reasons. At least love inspires me to write better and harder whereas work just makes me daydream about taking a bath, listening to Lana Del Rey, and playing Mass Effect on my PS4 in my bathrobe as I sip guava kombucha and snack on midnight nachos.
Have you ever gotten reader’s block?
Yeah and I try as hard as I can not to feel bad about it (especially during this goddamn pandemic). There are times I just don’t want to read at all, whether it’s my writing or someone else’s. Most of the time, though, I’m only adverse to reading when I’m hella absorbed about the manuscript I’m working on at that moment. Also, sometimes I get scared about the possibility of idea leakage between another book I’m reading and my own draft. Sometimes, I just don’t have the head space to cohabitate two different literary worlds at the same time.
Do you think someone could be a writer if they don’t feel emotions strongly?
Yes, unfortunately. There are some amazing writers who don’t seem to feel a damn thing but technically, they’re fantastic writers. I’m not hating, I’m just saying. Writers are allowed to write their books however they want and I don’t have to agree or understand either. But I will say this: most of my favorite writers seem to feel very deeply, which is probably why I love their writing so much (& also, I’d imagine, why they feel called to write out their lives in some way).
What other authors are you friends with, and how do they help you become a better writer?
I have friends who are writers and then I have writer friends (most of whom I’ve never met IRL) and then there’s everyone in between. I’ve been writing for a while, so I’m friends with a lot of writers, both completely unknown ones with insane talent and literary rockstars, but there’s too many to list here without doing someone a major disservice. Also, I know that I’ll obsess about who to (not) include, so I’m gonna peace out of this question before I overthink it!
Do you want each book to stand on its own, or are you trying to build a body of work with connections between each book?
Both. I’m not aiming for thematic, stylistic, or generic continuity in my body of work, I just want each book I write to stand tall and glimmer on its own because I’m vain, industrious, perfectionistic, and crazy ambitious like that. At the same time, I hope there is overlap in content, in voice, in imagination, and in stylization. My hope is that despite the huge differences between my books, readers will be able to open up to a random page and then say, “That shit’s Blissian!” or whatever.
How did publishing your first book change your process of writing?
Well, Counterfactual Love Stories & Other Experiments came out about two and half months ago and the longer it’s out there, the more I think about a conversation I had with my friend and mentor, Aimee Bender, who said that just knowing your work is OUT THERE for the world to read changes everything in a small but profound way, and I think she’s absolutely right. Until you publish a book, all your creative work is atomized into occasional literary journal publications at best and hiding in your hard drive at worst. But when your book is out there for readers to consider, read, and engage with, it kinda makes you feel like your art is finally real in a material sense. It feels legit, like your work can now speak for itself.
What was the best money you ever spent as a writer?
You mean money I got from my writing, specifically, or the best money I spent in my writing life? I did a reading last month from my short story collection and when they paid me, I bought a pair of dope kicks that I probably couldn’t have afforded otherwise. That felt good, not gonna lie!
What authors did you dislike at first but grew into?
At first, I wasn’t really into Toni Morrison, at least not Song of Solomon. In retrospect, I kinda hijacked my reading by putting the book down over and over again, forgetting the plot structure, then rereading the parts I’d forgotten, only to put the book down again. But by the time I got to Beloved and The Bluest Eye, I was completely sold. Not only are those better novels in my opinion, but I was more patient as a reader and just in a better place, emotionally speaking, to approach the novels on their own terms. Now, I’m a huge Toni Morrison fan.
What was an early experience where you learned that language had power?
There’s an essay in Dream Pop Origami that answers this question way better than I’m going to RN called “When Words Make You Free.” It’s about the time I translated for a Mauritanian refugee at his asylum interview with INS. Shit was intense!
What’s your favorite under-appreciated novel?
Banana Yoshimoto’s Kitchen is a quiet masterpiece, but for some reason, people always forget about it.
As a writer, what would you choose as your mascot/avatar/spirit animal?
My wifi network is “LanaDelReyIsMySpiritAnimal,” which is all you need to know, I think.
What do you owe the real people upon whom you base your characters?
Well, every person I write about in Dream Pop Origami is real since it’s a memoir, so I guess I owe them a lot of gratitude for their authenticity, individuality, struggle, and hard work to exist in this cruel world and never give up. I’m indebted to them for giving me so much to write about.
How many unpublished and half-finished books do you have?
Okay, I’m triggered! Seriously, though, I have two completed books that I’m trying to sell RN: a racial bildungsroman called Ninjas of My Greater Self about a mixed-race protagonist who falls in love with a suicidal movie star and later discovers that’s he part of an ancient ninja clan and a second short story collection called All the Places We Were Broken about mixed-race/hapa protagonists who get their hearts broken (and sometimes mended) all over the world that’s been longlisted at YesYes Books. I also have two early drafts of several other novels I won’t even think about touching until after Dream Pop Origami comes out in July 2022: an untitled novel about a family of mixed-race/hapa prodigies from Chicago and a second novel called We Ate Stars for Brunch that intersects with Ninjas as a counterfactual narrative exploring what happens if the protagonist makes a different major life decision.
What does literary success look like to you?
For me, the definition of literary success HAS to change at every stage in my writing career, otherwise I’d plateau. In the beginning, success meant publishing a piece in a literary journal. Then it meant publishing pieces in my fave literary journals like Fiction, ZYZZYVA, Guernica, Triquarterly, Boston Review, Longreads, etc., etc. Later it meant getting something in The New York Times. After that, success for me meant selling a book with a press. I was never picky about whether it was a Big-5 press or a small press, I only asked that the editors publish my book because of who I was as a writer, not despite it. In that regard, I’ve been hella lucky. Now, my new definition of success is selling my second short story collection with a readership that is already familiar with my writing, finding the perfect agent who is passionate about advocating for and selling books by BIPOC writers & getting them the kind of advance they deserve, and lastly, selling a bunch of screenplays that deal with mixed-race love, identity, and experimental forms of storytelling that center non-white characters.
What’s the best way to market your books?
If you can afford it, hire a freelance publicist! My other advice since I couldn't afford to hire a publicist for my first two books is this: You gotta bust the move to promote your own work because no one else is gonna do that work for you but you if you publish with a small press. No matter how good your book is, your book is not going to speak for itself if no one knows it exists and no one knows where to buy it. Those are just facts. I remember sending out hundreds of emails to literary journals, newspapers, editors, writing conferences, and bookstores just to get a couple interviews and several remote readings for Counterfactual Love Stories. It was a long slog, but what else can I do except try?
What’s the most difficult thing about writing characters from the opposite sex?
I don’t know what this says about my gender identity (and to be honest, I don’t care how people read my gender since it’s never been completely stable or static anyway), but almost all of my fave characters in my fiction are female characters. I’ve been told by quite a few women readers that I write female characters well, maybe because I can relate with them or because I care about them so much or because many of the most important people in my life are women. Either way, I feel like if you’re devoted to creating and developing characters that are complex, multidimensional, nuanced, surprising, defiant, and profoundly human and if you give those characters agency, backstory, and vocalization, more times than not, they should be pretty damn good and fairly complex. My trick is to give characters the freedom to act in ways I don’t always understand.
What did you edit out of this book?
Other travel essays, other personal essays, other lists that repeated many of the same things I’d already written about in this memoir. Also, I sometimes scaled down certain essays in Dream Pop Origami since their length really affected the overall pacing and narrative flow when read collectively even if separately, the length of that particular piece was fine.
If you didn’t write, what would you do for work?
I’ve tried not writing so many times and I just don’t know how to do it. That’s the goddamn truth. So, not writing isn’t an option for me since like many poets I know, I identify with my own language and I can’t survive without it. OTOH, if someone devised a cruel neurosurgery tool that could erase the part of my brain that needs to write, that knows how to write, and that seeks companionship in language while still leaving all the other parts of my brain intact, I suppose I would probably make a living traveling and taking pictures and writing music. I think it might actually be time to start my second post-rock/downtempo EP.
Liz Kellebrew writes poetry, short fiction, and essays from the Pacific Northwest. She wrote her debut poetry book, Water Signs (Unsolicited Press), while riding the ferry between Seattle and Bainbridge Island. Her poems have appeared in public art installations and literary journals such as About Place, Room, and Writers Resist. She received The Miracle Monocle Award for Innovative Writing, and her fiction has been shortlisted for the Calvino Prize. It also appears in various anthologies and journals, including The Conium Review, The Coachella Review, and Unreal Magazine. A member of the Academy of American Poets, she holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Goddard College. Learn more at lizkellebrew.com.
Toby LeBlanc is a mental health therapist in Austin, TX. Writing is a way his own tales can have life alongside the countless stories of courage and strength of his clients. While he and his family sleep under the Texas stars, he will always say he's from Louisiana. He enjoys wearing period-specific pirate costumes and fishing. His dream is to one day do both at the same time.
Andy Smart earned his MFA in Creative Nonfiction from the Solstice Creative Writing Program at Lasell University, where he was a Michael Steinberg Fellow. Andy’s essays have appeared in Salamander, Sleet Magazine, and Moon City Review as well the anthologies Show Me All Your Scars (In Fact Books) and Come Shining: Essays and Poems on Writing in a Dark Time (Kelson Books). His poetry has appeared in Lily Poetry Review, The American Journal of Poetry, and elsewhere. Andy was a 2019 Pushcart Prize nominee. His first chapbook of hybrid poetry, Blue Horse Suite, is available from Kattywompus Press. This is his first book. Andy lives in Missouri and online at www.AndySmartWrites.com.
Sarah Rau Peterson is a first-generation Montanan. She lives with her husband and two children near Miles City, where she divides her time between the family’s cattle ranch, her middle school history classroom, and her children’s activities. She publishes occasionally in The Montana Quarterly.
Lisa Badner Lisa Badner is the author of the forthcoming book of poems, FRUITCAKE. Lisa’s writing has appeared in Rattle, the New Ohio Review, TriQuarterly, Mudlark, The Satirist, PANK, Fourteen Hills, the Mom Egg Review, Ping Pong, New World Writing, Mohave River Review, #TheSideshow and others. She received a Pushcart (2018) Special Mention. She is a graduate of the University of Wisconsin and Brooklyn Law School and coordinates the tutorial program at the Writers Studio. She lives in Brooklyn with her teenager and her chihuahua.
Jason Fisk lives and writes in the suburbs of Chicago. He has worked in a psychiatric unit, labored in a cabinet factory, and mixed cement for a bricklayer. He currently teaches language arts to eighth graders. He was born in Ohio, raised in Minnesota, and has spent the last few decades in the Chicago area. He recently had a collection of poetry published by Kelsay Books: Sub Urbane. He also had a number of books and chapbooks published: Sadly Beautiful, essays, poems, and short stories published by Leaf Garden Press; Salt Creek Anthology, a collection of micro-fiction published by Chicago Center for Literature and Photography; the fierce crackle of fragile wings, a collection of poetry published by Six Gallery Press; and two poetry chapbooks: The Sagging: Spirits and Skin, and Decay, both published by Propaganda Press.
Francis Daulerio is a poet and teacher from Blue Bell, Pennsylvania. He received his MFA in Creative Writing from Arcadia University in 2014 before releasing If & When We Wake (Unsolicited Press 2015) and Please Plant This Book (The Head & The Hand Press 2018), both with illustrations by Scottish artist, Scott Hutchison. Francis has also released All Is Not Lost, a collaborative vinyl EP of poetry-infused music to benefit the Tiny Changes charity organization, and With a Difference (Trident Boulder 2020), a split book of ‘covers’ with Philadelphia author Nick Gregorio. His newest collection, Joy, comes out this summer through Unsolicited Press.
Francis is a mental health awareness advocate, and has performed across the United States and abroad to raise money for suicide prevention.
He lives in the woods with his wife and children. He finds a good bit of joy there.
Matthew Cole Levine is an author, film critic, and screenwriter based in St. Paul, Minnesota. He was born in Cedar Rapids, Iowa and grew up near Milwaukee, making him well-versed in a particular brand of Midwestern horror. He has written for the British Film Institute, Walker Art Center, and other publications, and continues to serve as Assistant Editor and Contributing Writer for the Barcelona-based Found Footage Magazine. Hollow is his first novel.
Author of two chapbooks--Resonance of Kin (PuddingHouse 2013) and Between Worlds (Foothills 2013)—Bill Neumire’s first full-length book, Estrus, was a semi-finalist for the 42 Miles Press Award. He regularly reviews books of contemporary poetry for Vallum, and for Verdad where he works as poetry editor.
Rowe Carenen is a graduate of Salem College and the University of Southern Mississippi. When asked, she'd say that poetry has been her passion ever since she realized that words could convey more than just the facts. Her poems have appeared in various literary journals and magazines, including The Revenant Culture, GERM, Terrible Orange Review, the Running with Water anthology, and her first collection, In the Meantime, was published by Neverland Publishing in 2014. She lives in Greenville, South Carolina, with her cat Minerva Jane and dog Neville Jameson.
Maureen Sherbondy’s poems have appeared in Prelude, Calyx, European Judaism, The Oakland Review, and other journals. She has won the Hart Crane Memorial Poetry Contest, the North Carolina Poet Laureate prize, and many other awards. Her most recent poetry books are Dancing with Dali, The Art of Departure, and Eulogy for an Imperfect Man. Sherbondy teaches English at Alamance Community College in Graham, North Carolina.
Stephen G. Eoannou holds an MFA from Queens University of Charlotte and an MA from Miami University. His short story collection, Muscle Cars, was published by the Santa Fe Writers Project. He has been awarded an Honor Certificate from The Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators, and won the Best Short Screenplay Award at the 36th Starz Denver Film Festival. He lives and writes in his hometown of Buffalo, New York, the setting and inspiration for much of his work. Rook is his first novel.
Emily Paige Wilson is the author of Jalubí (Unsolicited Press, 2022) and two chapbooks: Hypochondria, Least Powerful of the Greek Gods (Glass Poetry Press, 2020) and I'll Build Us a Home (Finishing Line Press, 2018). Her work has been nominated for Best New Poets, Best of the Net, and the Pushcart Prize.
Learn more at emilypaigewilson.com.
Originally from Cleveland, Ohio, Kadzi Mutizwa now lives in New York City. Living of Natural Causes is her first book.
Kristine Snodgrass is the author most recently of American Apparell from AlienBuddha Press, Rather, from Contagion Press (2020) and the chapbook, These Burning Fields (Hysterical Books 2019). Kristine’s asemic and vispo work has been published in Utsanga (Italy), Slow Forward, Brave New Word, and Talking About Strawberries. Kristine has collaborated with many poets and artists and is always looking for new projects. Most recent collaborations with Collin J. Rae, BEAST, can be found at kristinesnodgrass.com.
Gary M. Almeter grew up on a small dairy farm in Western New York, about 300 child-sized steps from his Grandpa’s house, where ice cream - usually Maple Walnut or Butter Pecan - was always available. He is now an attorney whose short stories, essays and humor pieces have appeared in McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, 1966, Splitsider, Verdad, and Writer’s Bone. In addition to winning his 8th grade spelling bee, he has been awarded numerous awards for his non-fiction, including the Maryland Writers Association’s Best Essay award in 2015. Gary has a B.A. in English from Le Moyne College; an M.Ed. in Secondary Education from Boston College; and a J.D. from the University of Maryland. He currently lives in Baltimore, MD, about 300 adult-sized steps from the best ice cream shop in Baltimore, with his wife, three children, beagle and numerous deferred domestic projects.
Connect with Gary M. Almeter
Goodreads: Gary Almeter
Books By Gary M. Almeter
Growing up on a small dairy farm in upstate New York, Gary lived a few hundred steps from his paternal grandparents. His grandfather (hereafter “Grandpa”) was a perpetually happy man and Gary wondered, in light of the nature of farm work, in light of some of the hardships Grandpa endured, in light of the pace of the town, in light of the way he was chronically frugal, how this could be so. After college, Gary moved to the city and reveled in the cadence and sophistication of the city. And began to see how places came to shape the people who lived in those places. How the way we defy and indulge in a place; how the way we yearn for the notion of somewhere else; how the cadence and influence of a place affects a person.
In The Emperor of Ice-Cream, Gary recounts all the little moments - moments he never thought could or would be important - he had with Grandpa to try to understand who Grandpa was. He - with an astonishing blend of his signature humor and a reverence that only comes from a boy who loves his grandfather - then examines how his understanding of those moments has evolved after moving to the big cities for which he had always yearned. Does changing from denim overalls to a Brooks Brothers suit change a person? Should it? Is cow piss really that different from the piss with which the sidewalks of New York City are often soaked?
Not surprisingly, Gary discovers that where we are and where we are from has a big effect on who we are. But often not for the reasons we expect. The Emperor of Ice-Cream is an incredible and artfully told story of what we do to find happiness, what memorial means, what it means to be family, and what we do to be authentic in places where authenticity can be a challenge. It’s about the complexities of triumphantly leaving home and then spending decades befuddled by a perpetual and indomitable force luring you back.
There is a sad irony about grandparents. When you get to be at the age you want to know about the real people they were, you’re also likely near the age when your grandparents are no longer there. And you are also at the age when you are wondering who you are too. It takes a while – a couple decades really - to realize that your grandparents are people too. When you take your thumbnail, and scratch a little beneath the surface – beneath the myth that surrounds a child’s understanding of his or her grandparents and takes hold of a family – you see that grandparents are people: complex, mercurial, whimsical, authentic people. And that you likely have some of that whimsy and complexity in you.
In this moving, sophisticated, and often humorous novel, Gary M. Almeter artfully crafts a group portrait of several families using the finest of details in seemingly mundane encounters and everyday events.
It’s 1982 and Gloria Winegar, a Brown University librarian, discovers that there aren’t many drawbacks to having an affair with JFK, Jr., a Brown senior. When she learns she’s pregnant with his baby, she tells no one but her best friend who shepherds through childbirth. They leave the baby, a son, on the steps of a convent. The novel chronicles the next few decades of both Gloria and her son, who gets adopted by the most normal family in Massachusetts. How he learns who he is; how he discovers his mother; and what they each should or must do with their new knowledge is masterfully and beautifully written in a story that is a little bit espionage novel; a little bit bildungsroman; and a little bit historical fiction; all culminating in a beautiful literary sketch of a family. The book imagines the pre-public life of JFK Jr. and examines how much we know about him, and people in general, is illusory.
It is the story of identity, pedigree, blue collar versus Ivy League sensibilities, celebrity, authenticity, family, and self-care. It’s about how small things evolve into big things. It is a novel about nature versus nurture. It is a modern telling story of Arthurian legend and the mythic doomed (and triumphant) heroes who populate our world.
Brent Terry is in lockdown in the forests of southern New England, where he recites poems and performs interpretive dances for tiny woodland creatures. His stories, essays, reviews and poems have appeared in dozens of journals, and he is the author of Four collections of poetry. The Body Electric, a novel, was published in 2020 by Unsolicited Press. Terry has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize, Best of the Net, a PEN Faulkner Award for Fiction, and the Connecticut Book Award for Poetry. He was the 2017 winner of the Connecticut Poetry Prize. He is an accomplished spoken word artist and has collaborated on work with visual artists, musicians and dancers. He teaches at Eastern Connecticut State University, but yearns to rescue a border collie and return to his ancestral homeland of the Rocky Mountain West.
Phillip Hurst is the author of a novel, Regent's of Paris, as well as a book of nonfiction, Whiskey Boys: And Other Meditations from the Abyss at the End of Youth, winner of the 2021 Monadnock Essay Collection Prize. His writing has appeared in literary journals such as The Missouri Review, The Gettysburg Review, River Teeth, Cimarron Review, and Post Road Magazine. He currently lives and writes in the Pacific Northwest.