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 →

Melissa Duclos: “Expats,” an adaptation from the novel Besotted


Love didn’t run around Shanghai at night, searching the faces reflected in plate glass for someone she used to know. Love didn’t let her feet get dusty, couldn’t tolerate the creep of grime up her shins, the slick of puddles on her soles. When Love stood quite still, as she so often did, she could feel the pull of mountains and rivers and half-constructed skyscrapers and eight lane highways and movie theaters and the quiet parks with their untouched grass circling around her bowed head.

I wasn’t scared of Love; we’d just never met. I hadn’t spent the past ten years wondering why Love had shunned me, though; I knew it was my fault. I’d been closed up, balled tight like a fist. Of course, the men I’d fucked over the years probably wouldn’t have described me that way. But wasn’t that the point? They didn’t even know what they weren’t getting. They didn’t know anything.

But something about Liz had forced an opening. It’s not what I expected when her résumé popped up in my inbox, or when I forwarded it along to Principal Wu. Or when she finally arrived and I took her to her first happy hour, offered her my extra room.

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WIPs Conversation: Vic Sizemore on his work in progress

vic sizemoreVic Sizemore’s fiction is published or forthcoming in StoryQuarterly, Southern Humanities Review, The Good Men Project, Connecticut Review, storySouth, Sou’wester, Blue Mesa Review, Real South, Superstition Review, A River & Sound Review, [PANK], and elsewhere. Excerpts from his novel The Calling are published in Connecticut Review, Portland Review, Prick of the Spindle, Burrow Press Review, Pithead Chapel, Letters and elsewhere. Sizemore’s fiction has won the New Millennium Writings Award for Fiction, and been nominated for Best American Nonrequired Reading and a Pushcart Prize. You can find Vic at www.vicsizemore.wordpress.com

Vic, in “A Fisher of Men,” an excerpt from your novel Seekers, Caleb, a preacher’s son, knows that “Satan doesn’t miss an opportunity.” He finds himself sexually attracted to his college roommate, bandmate, and friend John, but pushes his feelings away with the help of the Bible and “prays and thanks God for forgiving his iniquity.” He confronts temptation head-on with Bible verses and plans to proselytize the wayward souls of a neighborhood gay bar. Does his faith and family background preclude deeper forms of soul-searching and acceptance of his own homosexuality, or do aspects of self-realization and self-acceptance take place later in the novel?

Caleb’s torment is born of the tug between his earnest resolve to have victory over his sexual orientation, which he honestly believes to be a sin against God and nature, and his longing to explore this facet of his identity because it feels so natural to him. He does engage in deeper soul-searching later, and even questions the tenets of his childhood faith, but he cannot shrug off an entire life of Fundamentalist teaching–at least not in time to avert tragedy. This leads him to swing between extremes, which is not an uncommon way young people raised in this environment struggle to figure out who they are.

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Vic Sizemore: “A Fisher of Men,” an excerpt from Seekers


Caleb is in his dorm room early in the morning, still feeling the weightless high of having been set free of his besetting sin of homosexuality. He is under his covers, reading his Bible for morning devotions in the yellow spotlight from his bedside lamp. He has decided to read through the whole Bible, not in one year like most people do it, but as fast as he can, letting the Lord use it to speak to him as He sees fit. Caleb is already in Jeremiah 31. Today he reads from verse 27 to the end of the chapter, Jeremiah’s prophecy about the new covenant, one of the heart, not the flesh, the one we know from Hebrews 8 is the very one Jesus initiated.

He goes back and rereads verse 34 several times over, to meditate on it: “And they shall teach no more every man his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, Know the Lord; for they shall all know me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them, saith the Lord; for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.” Caleb rejoices in this promise. He prays and thanks God for forgiving his iniquity, for remembering his sin no more.

If only he could do the same.

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WIPs Conversation: John Guzlowski on His Work in Progress

Digital StillCameraJohn Guzlowski’s writing appears in Garrison Keillor’s Writer’s Almanac, The Ontario Review, Atticus Review, War Literature and the Arts and other journals both here and abroad.  His poems about his parents’ experiences as slave laborers in Nazi Germany appear in his book Lightning and Ashes.  His novel Road of Bones about two German lovers separated by WWII is forthcoming from Cervena Barva Press. Writing of Mr. Guzlowski’s poetry, Nobel Laureate Czeslaw Milosz said, “He has an astonishing ability for grasping reality.”

John, in “Village of Cold Houses,” an excerpt from your forthcoming novel Road of Bones, the Nazi soldier Hans has come to question everything he’s done and seen—and his role in mankind at its worst. “Killing was easy. Any man could kill any other man.  Any man could do it to any woman. Hans had even seen women who could do it. They had done it and gone back to stirring their laundry or breastfeeding their babies.” Since this chapter occurs towards the end of the novel, how previously did Hans’ understanding of war and the depravity of human nature evolve over the course of the narrative?

The chapter takes place late in the novel and late in the war, January of 1944. Hans has been in the war since Sept 1939 and fighting against the Russians on the Eastern Front since 1941. The novel focuses on a one-week period during which Hans realizes his inhumanity, but the story of what he has been like in the war and the depravity he has participated in comes into focus through several flashbacks.

One of the central memories is of a house he and some of his comrades had entered in the first summer of the invasion of Russia. They found an old grandmother and her daughter and her daughter’s baby. Hans and his fellow soldiers killed the grandmother and the baby and raped and killed the baby’s mother.

This is a memory he tries to escape – and can’t. The novel is about his acceptance of what he has done, the acceptance of this memory and the acceptance of his guilt.

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John Guzlowski: “Village of Cold Houses,” an Excerpt from Road of Bones


The German soldier stepped away from the house and toward the wooden fence that surrounded it. The moon was full, and the shadows longer and crisper now. He loosened his ragged muffler. The wind had stopped blowing. It was good not to feel the hard snow tearing at his face.

He placed his gloved hands on the pickets of the fence.

The world was quiet, the sounds frozen in the cold air.

A man could think in a world like this, but did he want to? Thinking was remembering, and there was little that Hans wanted to remember about this village. The skinny man with the moustache that Grass stabbed in the chest with his bayonet? The grandfather Weitz had killed? That old man’s crab-like scurrying across the floor? His gray stubbled throat? His curse about fucking your mother? Did Hans want to remember almost strangling him?

He had known men who looked him in the eye and told him that it was hard to kill another person. They told him about the laws of church and country, about what the priests and teachers talk about, and what his mother and his father taught him about being good when he was a child, a boy. They told him about how God had put something in him that let him know what was good and right, and what was bad and wrong. Man had that knowledge in his blood and his heart and his soul, and he was born to listen to it.

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