Archive | December, 2012

WIPs Conversation: Heather Luby on Her Work in Progress

Heather Luby is really nothing more than a girl from the Ozark Mountains that grew up with dreams of writing stories. Her work has appeared in Word Riot, LITnIMAGE, Bartleby Snopes, Halfway Down the Stairs, Travel by the Books,  and Annotation Nation. She is the Managing Editor of The Citron Review and a Creative Writing Instructor with St. Louis Community College. Heather has an MFA from Antioch University Los Angeles and her novel Laws of Motion is represented by Bill Contardi of Brandt and Hochman Literary Agents. When not conversing with the characters of her imagination, she can found wrangling two willful and beautiful daughters around the suburbs of St. Louis, MO.


Heather, the beginning chapters of Laws in Motion really set the stage for Tom’s hitherto unknown discoveries later in the novel. While the novel is a literary one, it includes plot elements of a mystery thriller. During your work on the book, did you turn to any novels of genre for guidance? If so, were any influential in affecting your writing style?  

I always turn to other writers and works that I admire for guidance when I ‘m writing. One of my mentors in graduate school, the writer Leonard Chang, gave me a piece of advice that has been the cornerstone of this novel and that was to “always read work that informs your writing.” In my case, there were a handful of highly influential books. Reservation Road and Northwest Corner, both by John Burhnam Swartz. The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion, I Know This Much is True by Wally Lamb and The Sportswriter by Richard Ford. None of these books have a real mystery or thriller component, but each one contributed in the development of my novel in some specific way. The works by Schwartz are probably the closest in that they deal with violent death and some criminal actions. However, I mostly read to inform myself on grief and the male experience, assuming that if I could get into Tom’s head, and write him authentically, the rest would take care of itself.

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Heather Luby: Excerpt from Laws of Motion (a Novel in Progress)

  Chapter One

 This is how I used to imagine it happening. On Monday, January 4, 2010, at approximately 10:00 p.m., Lora pulled onto the shoulder of Interstate 44, rolled down her window and asked a hitchhiker if she could give him a ride. He is an older guy, someone she would have called “Sir,” the kind of older man that walks with that defeated kind of stoop in his stature. Of course Lora knew better than to pick up strangers. She wasn’t stupid or careless. But she had been coming home from a meeting at church and it was dangerously cold. I’m sure she would have contemplated her decision. She would have had some inner dialogue about how risky it is to pick up strangers. She might have even thought about my disapproval. She knew if I had been in the car I would have insisted she keep driving. But Lora was alone. I’m sure that this man, this hitchhiker, wasn’t wearing a suitable coat. He probably wore just a jacket, maybe even less. She would have thought about driving anyway, once he turned and she saw his face, but then she would have thought about the word cruelty and unlocked her doors anyway.

Once inside her Toyota Sienna, this older gentleman, not so old now that he was close up and out of the cold, would have said something reassuring to her. Lora would have smiled at him; maybe even gave him a polite laugh. But then, after she had turned up the heat a little, but before she could put the car in drive, he stabs her six times in her neck, chest and stomach. He pulls her body to the back of the van and takes the driver’s seat for the next 200 miles. He is a serial killer, probably, and Lora just another unsuspecting victim. This is what I used to imagine.

This is what I know. Her killer left her in the back of our van, parked at a Love’s Truck Stop, where they found her body two days after she had left our house for a meeting at church. The police couldn’t return her wedding ring to me, or her wallet. The killer took her license plates, her cash, even the little diamond earrings she always wore, which he would have had to take the time to remove, unscrewing the backs with his thick fingers. Her killer took everything.

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WIPs Conversation: Rosalind Palermo Stevenson on Her Work in Progress

Rosalind Palermo Stevenson is the author of the novella “Insect Dreams” published by Rain Mountain Press. “Insect Dreams” has also been published in the anthologies:  Poe’s Children (Random House/Doubleday, edited by Peter Straub); and, Trampoline (Small Beer Press, edited by Kelly Link). Her short fiction has been anthologized in Wild Dreams: The Best of Italian Americana (Fordham University Press), and has appeared in literary journals including: Web Conjunctions, Drunken Boat, First Intensity, Spinning Jenny, Skidrow Penthouse, Italian Americana, River City, Quick Fiction, Washington Square, No Roses Review, and others. Dramatic readings of her story “The Guest” have been presented for Share Our Strength and at the Italian American Writers Association (IAWA). The Guest was also the winner of the IAWA annual fiction prize and named story of the year by the cultural journal Italian Americana. Her work has received several Pushcart nominations, and her short story Kafka at Rudolf Steiner’s is forthcoming as a chapbook from Rain Mountain Press. Rosalind lives in New York City where she is currently finishing a novel.


Rosalind, I really enjoyed reading about the land and people you describe in this excerpt from The Absent. Westward expansion and the idea of manifest destiny made for an exciting period in American history, one of discovery and promise, but also challenge and tribulation, depravity and brutality. What sparked your interest and made you choose to write about this period?

For me a work begins more with an impulse than an idea. An originating impetus. It’s more in the body than in the mind. The thing that sparks the work for me is not really and idea or anything intellectualized. For “the Absent” the spark was a voice and a rhythm, and then a particular sentence that had come into my mind–though that sentence did not make it in the final draft. In any case the sentence was: Here is the way it was when I was taken, the murder of my father on the lower Red River. The voice, the rhythm, and that sentence became for me something that Bruno Schulz would call the ‘…ultimate raw material… the atmosphere, indicating a specific kind of content that grows out of it and is layered upon it.’

Of course this raw material of necessity must come from and be comprised of ‘something.’ For me that ‘something’ grew out of a combination of things that had been on my mind at the time, or that had impressed me or moved me in different ways. For example I had recently gone to an exhibit called “Spirit Capture” at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian, and a certain creative impulse was sparked by seeing it. I’ve always been drawn to the spiritual path of the Native Americans, particularly the Navajo and their view of life as effort toward achieving an inner state that is in alignment with the greater state of being of the cosmos. Around the time I began the book I had also stumbled on a very brief account of a young boy who had been abducted by Indians, who were shortly afterwards forced by the army to return him to his mother. And I had been excited by Michael Ondaatje’s “The Collected Works of Billy the Kid” and Cormac McCarthy’s “Blood Meridian,” and the treatment they had each given to subject matter similar to that which had been bubbling up in me.

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Rosalind Palermo Stevenson: Excerpt from The Absent (a Novel-in-progress)


The early morning air is still cool. Traces of the night are more absent than present. Suddenly, as though out of nowhere, the Indian returns from the ruins; he starts giving water to the animals and appears to be the same as when I left him. All the equipment is packed and the Indian loads it onto the mules. I feel the temperature rising. Soon it’s scorching. When we arrive back at the base camp it’s like reaching home.


Mr. W_____ hands me something that looks like bread, a dark substance, made from the supply of flour that remains. Before night falls we examine the negatives of the ruins. I can see he’s pleased. I point to the place on the negative where the two rope lines show black against the cliff wall and explain that we used them to climb to the upper ruins. I remind him that the ropes will show white when they are printed. The dwellings will also show white. It was a settlement, I say. The cliff wall rises another 1000 feet above the niche that holds the dwellings. Ladders used to be let down to the base of the cliff so that those who lived there could climb up. It’s eight or nine hundred years since they’ve been abandoned. It’s something to think about, Mr. W_____ says. And then he moves the subject of the conversation to the composition of the rock face and the geometric planes; to measurements of distances and altitudes, and to the camera’s inability to measure. I talk about compensating efforts and point to a negative showing the Indian guide looking like an insect on the face of the rock. And here in this one the same view without a human figure. I mention the ability of photography to deliver different states of time. He finds the idea worthy, but not of primary interest. He picks up the plate and examines it. It looks docile enough now, he says. I’m not certain it’s docile, I reply—oh, it’s true the Indians in the region have become quiet because we have treated it as war. In any case it’s a kind of ghost delivered on the photograph.

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