I have always loved reading and creating, with words, with paint and pencils, from joining a Creative Writing class as a child – as an asthmatic and more than a little uncoordinated, team sports were never my forte – to studying art and then writing at university. Since childhood, when I realised that someone had created the book I held in my hand, I have wanted to write. To create. Perhaps it was reading Little Women and wanting so fiercely for Jo to succeed, to be Jo, or alternatively her sisters and enter the Marsh household. Perhaps it was Alice in Wonderland and wanting to throw myself down that rabbit hole. Books were a perfect escape when I was indoors with another bout of bronchitis. They gave me the world. From those tame beginnings to discovering books could not only captivate and inspire me, but thrill me and scare me, keeping me up at night reading under the blankets with a torch. Books introduced me and immersed me in new worlds.
Looking at art, being captivated by passages of paint, the use of light and shadow, thinking how did the artist do that? Reading novels and admiring the skill, the clever hints and clues, the beautiful play of words, wondering how did the author conceive of that? How did they do that? There have been more than a few false starts, a multitude of drafts, dreadful poems and sketches that will never see anyone else’s eyes but I love the process, being swept away into another space, another moment, when reality (and the day job and all the ordinary, everyday concerns) subside.
Path to the Night Sea started as a short story in a fiction class with Sue Woolfe. Sue had given the class a selection of photographs and objects to spark our creativity and give us a physical stimulus to write a short fragment. I remember a small glass perfume bottle and a photograph caught my attention. The photo featured a woman in profile, seated at a piano, her hands poised to strike the keys. There was a cat sitting on top of the piano, and I wondered if these were the two most important things in her life – music and her pet. I started to write about this woman who would sit and play, not looking out of the curtained window, but indoors with her cat. Her face in profile, her ‘good side’… The perfume bottle that perhaps had belonged to a woman who would never get hold. A bottle that held scented memories… Ideas and elements came together and what is now a lot of Day One in the novel formed the original short story. Sue read the story, said I had written the start of a wonderful novel and she had to know what happened to Ellie. I realised so I wanted to know too.
The story became darker the more I delved into Ellie’s world. Seven days seemed the fitting structure for Ellie to be introduced to the reader and for her to seek her path, tying in with the religious dogma she’d heard from her Grandmother and Father. Listening to music by Nick Cave and Johnny Cash helped me establish the mood at times and gave me the impetus to embrace the flaws and the darkness. When I was writing the first drafts, I was living near the beach and the waves, particularly during storms, formed a natural soundtrack. If I peered out from my desk, I could catch glimpses of the ocean. By the time editing was underway, I had moved to a house that backed onto the bush and had inherited a cat. Listening to the raucous native birds, possums scurrying up trees and across the roof at night, dealing with the odd snake and lizards, plus watching the cat, heightened those natural elements of the story.
I was concerned about and for my characters. I needed to ensure that Arthur in particular had moments, however fleeting, when he was ‘human’, and that Ellie, despite her circumstances, not be passive. I found myself going off in tangents in early drafts with minor characters and subplots but judicious readers and editing brought the focus back to Ellie and Arthur, and the confines of restricted world they inhabit.
I had thought of letting Ellie go one morning years ago when I woke up and heard the news about Elizabeth Fritzl kidnapped and abused by her father. In my drowsy state listening to the radio, the reality of her situation came crashing in and I wanted to put my humble writings aside. What was fictional pain in the face of such devastating reality? Even in 2018, the newsfeed this week is full of children being trapped at home by their parents, the neighbours unaware. Path to the Night Sea is my way of using language to explore familial dysfunction, small town horror, and ultimately, hope.
Alicia Gilmore lives in New South Wales, Australia. Her debut, Path to the Night Sea, is a contemporary gothic novel exploring the dark secrets hidden within an otherwise idyllic coastal setting. Alicia has had short stories published in Phoenix and Cellar Door. In 2012, she was a contributing writer and lead editor of Burbangana. In 2009, Alicia received an Allen & Unwin / Varuna Publishers Fellowship that included a residency at Varuna, the NSW Writers’ Centre.
2752 North Williams Avenue
Visit: 23 May, 2017
(Full videos will be available soon on our imminent Regal House YouTube Channel)
Microcosm Links to Topics Mentioned Above:
I arrived last night, and even though the show was just starting to get set up, I saw some lovely people and got a peek at some tantalizing journals, papers, and pens. Cary Yeager from Fountain Pen Day gave me an official FPD pin and bookmark (I’m already collecting swag!) and we had a nice chat about the generosity of the fountain pen community. And it’s true: I have never met a group so welcoming and willing to share knowledge (and ink and pens) with even the newest of newbies.
The Andersons were getting set up. They are also extraordinarily kind people who, at earlier shows, have patiently answered my questions and helped guide me to the right pen, the right ink, and the proper accessories for caring for my writing instruments.
The Show looks to be very exciting this year. For more information, check out the web site and this blog for more posts!
In Portland, I was able to hit four amazing bookstores. The first was the bijou Broadway Books. Broadway Books is a small indie store, fortuitously located on a busy and popular stretch of the street for which it’s named. (It’s also across from my favourite brunch place, the Cadillac Café, where the food is always excellent and satisfying, the staff pleasant and courteous, and the Cadillac pink and operable.)
The store-front windows of Broadway Books make the shop light and airy, and its well-organized shelves draw customers on to explore the next book, the next topic, the next table. Over the shelves hang poster-sized covers of other volumes for which readers might want to search.
One of our authors, Paula Butterfield, lives in Portland, and she gave me a heads-up that the store was going to be celebrating its twenty-fifth anniversary while I was in town, and I put the party on my calendar. However, I couldn’t help stopping by a couple times before the anniversary fête. Despite its small size, the book selection never feels inadequate. I made four trips into the store, and each time came out with a book or two, cards and postcards, or beautiful wrapping paper. The staff were invariably charming and helpful. I make particular mention of Rose, who was kind and informative both times I encountered her there.
The birthday party on Saturday made it obvious what a community asset the store is. I met a trio of women who had been friends for forty years. Regular customers milled about, chatting, talking books with the owners and staff, having their photos taken at the picture booth set up for the day, and eating cake and drinking champagne. Despite the bustle of the celebration, I saw the staff continuously assisting customers by making recommendations and finding books. One of the owners (alas! I did not discover which one) asked everyone there to please go out and tell the story of their book store, and I am happy to comply with that request here.
Do check out the website for the history of the store and a calendar of events. But the best, most moving tribute to the store can be found on its wall, in the form of a paean by Brian Doyle. It perfectly captures the magic Broadway Books holds for anyone who enters.
Ruth Feiertag is a senior editor at Regal House Publishing. She has an M.A. from the University of Colorado at Boulder. She meandered towards a Ph.D. but arrived in the realm of independent scholarship and NCIS instead. Ruth is the founding editor of PenKnife Editorial Services, and a member of the National Coalition of Independent Scholars.
Pact Press sits down with Steve Gutierrez, who offers thoughtful insight on the writing craft and on the duty of writers in a polarized age. Pact Press is very proud to include Steve’s article “Our President-Elect Causes Chest Pains and an ER Visit on Thanksgiving,” in our inaugural anthology.
I’ve been writing since I was eighteen but there have been long stretches, like years, when I wasn’t writing, not by choice but because of whatever was going on inside my head that made it impossible. The writing has changed in a lot of ways, from the composition of sentences, their feel and texture, to a leap into more hybrid forms. I don’t respect genre boundaries. I could care less what anybody else thinks about it.
3. What appealed to you about being a part of the Pact Press Speak and Speak Again anthology?
I was pretty upset by the election of Donald Trump, feeling a nascent evil in the air that I do not think was imaginary. He gave the green light to many hateful people and groups, at least psychologically, and that mood of vengefulness permeated the atmosphere. I do believe that our inner states manifest themselves in very real changes in the air, again—in the air came a foul odor of fear and terror. Writing against it helped dispel my feeling of powerlessness—the anthology gave me an opportunity to join with others to cleanse the air or at least add another breeze to it.
4. What do you think is the responsibility of the writer in today’s polarized environment?
It is the same as always, to write truthfully and honestly, but more urgently than ever before. The writer must disavow cant of any kind, even at the cost of alienating himself from his or her accustomed political circles, and spill his or her political guts out. Nobody must be demonized. We all wear horns. We all wear angel wings. Except for the avowed hate groups that are warped. We must write with the idea that the other side is not simple but variegated and composed of very intelligent people who can listen to reason and passionately expressed argument. We must be alive on the page in a way that is intelligible to opposing factions. We must be more human than ever, admitting our own prejudices and blindness.
5. What would you say to those who can’t understand why Trump has so many Latino supporters?
The so-called Latino community is much more diverse and split than the media would have it. There is a great divide between people who have been here for generations but in some way identify as Latino and those newly arrived immigrants and their children. It’s real simple. Many Latinos are Americans first and possess the same fears as other Americans about heavy immigration, particularly illegal immigration, and the browning of America. Skin color doesn’t matter much or necessarily mean anything. The question of where you stand has to do with culture. Many Spanish-surname Americans or last-generation true Latinos, you might say, are not comfortable with the rapidity with which society has become más Latino. They don’t even speak Spanish. They like Trump’s idea of a wall because they feel overwhelmed by illegal immigration. They do not like America changing in the direction of a culture that is not properly speaking theirs, or not theirs in any real way.
As one of the participating authors (and organizers), I am proud to present:
Chambres d’Amis Litteraire – Boulevard Rotterdam on Sunday 21 May, 2017, IETY café, 13.00 – 18.00 hrs
(In remembrance of Jan Hoet, curator in Ghent (1936-2014), who invented the concept.)
People need more art: without empathy and our imaginative faculties we are doomed to lose touch with our inexorable differences in the complex world of 2050. Says the Dutch Social and Cultural Planning Bureau.
CALL010 (010 being the Rotterdam area code) anticipates a future that’s artistic and grounded in physical space: In 2017, on May 21st, writers, musicians, and visual artists will perform in private homes now briefly open to the public, located in the Boulevard area.
During the afternoon, art aficionados push doorbells they never touched, enter, and then, after a welcome…a poet might take the floor, a saxophonist, or both. Half an hour has passed in the blink of an eye; then back on your feet again, moving on. Another doorbell. Different drinks, hosts, and artists, immersing you in a whole new universe. A singer-songwriter, a poet trying her hand at a short story, a visual artist, a fellow soul. Meet people you have never met before!
Poetry posters are on display behind various windows on ground floors.
A book (50 pages) will be for sale (at IETY café, the start & finish of the festival; price €10) containing authors’ texts, artist’s images, and a well-researched historical take on the Boulevard area––built in the 1900’s to keep industrial tycoons from moving out of town. Upon purchase, a Polaroid will be shot: you with your favourite author, stuck in the back of the book!
Pim Wiersinga and fellow novelist Bianca Boer will perform at Heemraadssingel 329, in the port of Rotterdam.
Wiersinga wrote several novels, including historical fiction. In 2017, he made his debut in English with a high profile ‘thriller-in-letters’, The Pavilion of Forgotten Concubines, set in late 18th century China.
Most writers have day jobs and frequently have difficulty finding writing time. How do you manage it?
For me, it isn’t a matter of managing it. Writing is as essential to me as eating, so I must find time to write each day. I’ve discovered, amidst teaching writing part time at the University of San Francisco (USF) and other colleges , helping to raise two stepchildren, serving as vice president of USF’s part-time faculty union, and other responsibilities, that if I write a minimum of one hour a day, I can accomplish a lot!
How long have you been writing and do you perceive your writing to have evolved in any particular way that you would like to share?
I took on writing seriously in my late twenties. I started out focusing on poetry, and it still forms the foundation for my work. But I also am interested in short and long fiction, having written four+ novels and numerous short stories. I also love writing essays, from travel writing to book reviews, to critical essay
What appealed to you about being a part of the Pact Press Speak and Speak Again anthology?
Having grown up in Canada, a country that embraces social justice, I moved to America in 1963 eager to support the Civil Rights Movement, as well as the feminists who were addressing all the inequalities women and others had suffered for centuries. Participating in this anthology seems a natural outcome of my life-long interest in pushing for a just society.
What do you think is the responsibility of the writer in today’s polarized environment?
When I write, I don’t think about the polarized environment I live in. In fact, I never think about audience. As a writer, I try to dive below the social surface and capture some truth about what it means to be human. I don’t write for a particular audience or movement or particular ideology. I write to generate poetry, fiction, etc., that originates deep within myself and resonates with readers no matter what their backgrounds may be.
Do you think that self-revelation is part of the writing process?
I don’t think we can be serious writers without undressing completely, externally and internally, in our works. How else can we explore the vastness of life and its many dimensions? While we may be inventing characters and situations, fragments of our selves can’t help but be embedded in our work. Some writers are more autobiographical than others and therefore more revealing in that sense. But even in my novel Curva Peligrosa, to be released in 2017, which is not at all autobiographical, I reveal myself in the ideas I explore there. I am not at all like the amoral main character, Curva Peligrosa, but I do share some of her attitudes and beliefs. So the autobiographical gets intertwined with the fiction, and a writer can’t avoid being revealed in the process.
Lily Iona MacKenzie, a Bay Area resident who currently teaches memoir writing to older adults at the University of San Francisco’s Fromm Institute, has published poetry, short fiction, and essays in over 150 Canadian and American publications. Her poetry collection All This was published in October 2011. Novels: Fling! was published in July 2015. Curva Peligrosa will be published in 2017. Freefall: A Divine Comedy will be released in 2018.
Connect with Lily:
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