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WIPs Conversation: Raymond Cothern on his work in progress

Raymond CothernRaymond Cothern studied writing with Walker Percy and Vance Bourjaily. Winner of the Deep South Writers Conference and the St. Tammany National One-Act Play Festival, his plays have been produced in New York City. Nominated for a Pushcart Prize, his fiction, poetry, and essays have been published in North American Review, Manchac, Intro 8, Two Thirds North, American Antheneum, and in the book Meanwhile Back at the Café Du Monde.

Raymond, in “Motherless Child,” Sarah reflects on her unusual upbringing after her mother Lacey’s suicide. At times, the roles of mother and daughter had seemingly reversed, and Sarah finds herself “admitting again she became a psychiatric social worker with dim hopes of saving her mother, or failing that, saving herself.” Perhaps she failed to save her mother, but, as the narrative slowly reveals more about Sarah’s own personal struggles, it seems to offer hope for her by the end. Although largely focused on Lacey, do you consider “Motherless Child” an indirect route to Sarah’s own story?

Oh, absolutely. It is as much Sarah’s story as it is her mother’s. Some may be left to the reader’s imagination how much Lacey’s actions may have affected her daughter. The thought of a mother sharing intimate details of a sexual nature with a daughter might make the skin crawl, for a daughter as well perhaps for a reader. Having repeated plenty of parental patterns of my own, and especially seeing how much I passed on to my two daughters, I have always been fascinated at how much less desirable attributes—whether genetically or environmentally—get pushed on.

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WIPs Conversation: Gabriela Denise Frank on her work in progress

Gabriela_FrankGabriela Denise Frank is the author of CivitaVeritas: An Italian Fellowship Journey, a collection of essays and prose poetry. In 2014, her Pushcart Prize-nominated story, “Pas de Deux,” was published in Behind the Yellow Wallpaper: New Tales of Madness. Her work is supported by the Northwest Institute for Architecture and Urban Studies in Italy (NIAUSI), 4Culture and Jack Straw.

Gabriela, in “Into the Light,” a story from your collection in the works, Lou can’t shake past memories of her abusive father. It’s holding her back in her relationship with Sam, an all-around good guy and self-defense instructor who’s taught her how to fight back against attackers, men like her father. What she’s learned becomes invaluable when things come of a boil with her neighbor, Nils. Would you say the story’s climactic encounter is a figurative and nearly literal representation of Lou coming to grips with her closeted past?

It’s both figurative and literal, and also karmic. As humans, we get caught in traps of our own making, oftentimes the very snares that we were hoping to avoid. I think that’s because we’re attracted to patterns. Patterns can keep us alive –we learn to identify and avoid dangerous situations like dark alleys, for instance– but certain relationship dynamics can become so inborn that they inhibit our growth, if we’re not very evolved. When we are unaware as to how patterns play out in our lives, or even that they are there at all, we live at their mercy.

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WIPs Conversation: Jamie Duclos-Yourdon on his work in progress

Jamie Duclos-YourdonJamie Duclos-Yourdon, a freelance editor and technical expert, received his MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Arizona. His short fiction has appeared in the Alaska Quarterly Review, Underneath the Juniper Tree, and Chicago Literati, and he has contributed essays and interviews to Booktrib. His debut novel, Froelich’s Ladder, will be released by Forest Avenue Press as part of its 2016/2017 catalog. He lives in Portland, Oregon, with his wife and two children.

Jamie, this excerpt from Poor Henry finds the protagonist juggling new-father and house-husband responsibilities, which on this day include a “secret mission” to retrieve a family portrait. However, the normal excitement of his daily life is suddenly jolted by the appearance of a stranger outside his living room window, seeking safety. What was the genesis of the school shooting plot twist as you pieced things together?

School shootings have become so depressingly common in the United States, it didn’t seem far-fetched to imagine one occurring in Vancouver, Washington. For the purposes of Poor Henry’s narrative structure. I needed a definitive action to take place at the midway point. While the shooting itself doesn’t represent that action, it does create an environment in which the characters can meet, and their worst attributes can be brought to the fore.

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WIPs Conversation: NancyKay Shapiro on her work in progress

NKShapiroNancyKay Shapiro is the author of a previous novel, What Love Means To You People. She lives in New York City.




NancyKay, your novel Céline Varens gives resounding voice to a minor character in Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre. In the excerpt we find Céline in Paris discovering that the woman whom she left her young daughter Adele with years before has already turned the girl over to Adele’s father, Rochester. Céline tells M. Carmichael that Rochester only took the girl “To punish me. To punish me. To punish me.” What intrigued you about Céline that inspired you to write a novel in which she becomes the protagonist? Do you feel she was overlooked in Jane Eyre?

Not overlooked. In Jane Eyre Céline’s not a character—she’s a necessary object, part of the plot function, referred to in dialogue but not otherwise seen by the reader, who has to take Mr Rochester’s word for her. Céline is a key figure in Rochester’s past, which he’s got to confess and live down in order to be worthy of Jane in the end. She helps make the story wheel turn, by representing for him the venality of women in general, and birthing the little girl whose presence requires Rochester to need a governess.

But to step back from the immediate question, I’d like to describe a little about where the idea to write a novel in conversation with another novel came from.

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WIPs Conversation: Vincent Panella on his work in progress

vincent panellaVincent Panella grew up in Queens and now lives in Vermont. His stories have appeared in recent issues of The MacGuffin and The Paterson Review. Two others will soon be published in Voices in Italian Americana and Carbon Culture Review. Three of his books are The Other Side, a memoir subtitled Growing up Italian in America, Cutter’s Island, a novel about Julius Caesar which won a ForeWord prize in 2000, and Lost Hearts, a story collection published in 2010. After graduating from the Iowa Writer’s Workshop he worked as reporter for the Dubuque Telegraph-Herald, then as a writing teacher at Vermont Law School. He can be reached at

Vincent, in “Canada,” Bobby finds himself up in Vermont in limbo, his car with a blown head gasket, spoiling his plans. He’s used to trouble, of course, and is careful in what he reveals to the inquiring Rebecca. She’s known plenty of trouble and pain herself, what with her cancer and a restraining order on her combustive ex. As JB realizes, they will inevitably connect. For Bobby, Rebecca’s care and affection are restorative. Should the reader expect Bobby to shelve car repairs for the foreseeable future?

Bobby is ready for the next step. I held that out in the end when he reluctantly accepts the most painful parts of his experience with the first and only male lover in his life. Canada ends in hope, not despair – it can’t be any other way. Rebecca is the angel who shows Bobby how to laugh at the naiveté that once shamed him. I tried to render that ending without being gamey or ambiguous and in a way that gives the reader something to think about. This is one of the pleasures of fiction that I aim for in my writing.

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WIPs Conversation: Melissa Duclos on her work in progress

Photo Credit: Ed Yourdon

Photo Credit: Ed Yourdon

Melissa Duclos was awarded the Guston Fellowship from Columbia University, where she received her MFA in fiction. Her short fiction has appeared in Pound of Flash, Blue Skirt Productions, Scéal, and Bodega Magazine. She is the founder of The Clovers Project, which provides mentoring for writers at various stages of their careers, and a regular contributor to the online magazines BookTrib, Bustle, and Mommyish. Her non-fiction has also appeared in Salon, Electric Literature, Fiction Advocate, Cleaver Magazine, Full Grown People, and English Kills Review, and has been discussed on Oregon Public Broadcasting’s popular “Think Out Loud” program. She lives in Portland, Oregon, where she runs a successful freelance editing business, working primarily with authors of fiction. 

Melissa, in “Expats,” adapted from your novel Besotted, Sasha recounts her experience in Shanghai when she met Liz and “Love” came along. While it tells the story of their evolving relationship from co-workers to roommates to lovers, a broader theme centers on expats like themselves who “willingly settle in a place where they will always be viewed as outsiders?” How does this fact affect their relationship? What role does it play with regards to each woman’s relationship with Dorian?

A place where you are always seen as an outsider is a place that’s very easy to leave. Expat lives, then, are temporary ones. In the novel, Dorian fights against this by trying to buy an apartment, though it’s not easy for a foreigner to do. Sasha fights against it by trying to build a stable relationship with Liz. But Liz, who is new to Shanghai, doesn’t really understand Dorian’s and Sasha’s urges to create something permanent for themselves. It’s too easy for her to mistake her life in Shanghai for a game, and to treat others as though her actions have no consequences. This ultimately leads to her betrayal of Sasha, which Dorian helps set into motion. Continue Reading →