I worked hard preparing for this interview with Joy Castro, who is serving as the judge for our inaugural Creative Nonfiction Award at CRAFT. I'm so thrilled to see it up on our site today! I love all of her work, which includes essays, memoir, fiction, popular novels, and have pretty much read everything she's written. Putting together questions was a lot like the interview I did with Dorothy Allison ages ago for ARROYO, also an act of love (and I got to spend several hours in her sun-filled kitchen in Marin taping her answers). Even though this interview was via email, Joy came up with beautifully rich and detailed answers.
There's so much that's quotable in the interview, but here's what she says about what she looks for in creative nonfiction:
I’ll be looking for intensity, urgency, necessity: something that surprises yet feels organic—not contrived, not forced, not striving to shock or sensationalize or impress but just genuinely unique due to the lived conditions from which it arises. Something vulnerable, something risky, something that doesn’t waste time.
I dearly love to see a mind in motion, the voice of a questing, vulnerable subject with a lot at stake, and I love to see formal experimentation when that’s melded to content and purpose in a meaningful way.
Prince Prospero has been deposed, but the parties go on. “Prospero’s Last Party”—my fictional takeoff on Poe's "The Masque of the Red Death"--came out in YELLOW MAMA today. Big thanks to Cindy Rosmus for soliciting work from me after we "met" at an FBomb Flash Zoom reading in July.
I wrote this last summer, added Christmas references when Cindy said it would be in a Christmas issue, and I wondered whether it would be out of date by the time it came out. But there are actually enormous Christmas parties going on at the White House, despite prohibitions about size, though masks, it turns out, are optional. And the pandemic deaths continue to mount, though Prospero hasn’t said a word about the national tragedy, much less about the role he’s played. The number of deaths today was a national record. Biden can't be inaugurated soon enough to begin to get this under control.
YELLOW MAMA is a crazy horror zine with often lurid art (see this issue’s cover). Cindy knows a lot of people and familiar names always pop up. Paul Beckman in the last issue. Gay Degani in this issue.
I was in a great reading tonight, co-sponsored by THE SAN FRANCISCAN (a new glossy print magazine where they're going to publish a profile of me by Jayne Martin) and THE RACKET (a SF-based reading series and small weekly zine). Eight readers, fifty audience members.
My birthday tomorrow. We're getting takeout from the Burmese restaurant in Dublin that I love. Planning to attend a Zoom reading in Ireland to hear Nuala O'Connor read from BIRDIE in the afternoon. (She sent BIRDIE to me in the mail, a wonderful gift.) I feel connected to so many writers and old friends all over the world right now. But also so disconnected with the restrictions on travel and even leaving the house becoming so much more stringent, the surge of Covid cases getting so scary.
Probably my most oddball piece this year, and one I'm inordinately fond of despite rejections (which have been affecting me far too much), has been nominated for a Pushcart by Kevin Brennan at THE DISAPPOINTED HOUSEWIFE. It was the perfect magazine for my nonfiction flash "Two Guys Carrying a Toilet into Taco Bell." My 13th Pushcart nom, and the one least likely to make it into the Pushcart anthology. I'm guessing the reaction from most readers to my whimsy is "Wut?"
So excited that my nonfiction flash “Often During the Pandemic” is up at LOVE IN THE TIME OF COVID with one by my Dutch friend Claire Polders (whose experience of the pandemic in Vietnam has been very different from mine in California) and one by the Irish writer Aileen Hunt, who we published in CRAFT and just nominated for a Pushcart. I don’t think I’ve ever published a third-person memoir flash before, but then a lot about the pandemic experience has been unprecedented.
I was having a silly exchange on twitter with Wilson Koewing, a reader at CRAFT , about his desire to get into just one journal with River in the title (I've been in one), and I was talking about Mountains (I've been in one), and Plains (I've been in one) and Valleys (I haven't been in one) and he suggested SCHUYLKILL VALLEY JOURNAL, so I sent them a flash and got an acceptance within 24 hours. It's a flash I've sent out a million times, and revised maybe half a million times. This was the first place I sent it after the latest pretty big revision. It comes out in January.
I also had a tiny micro from the pov of Nippers, one of Bartleby’s coworkers, accepted by Alternating Current Press for their anthology, THE TERTIARY LODGERS, “an anthology of fiction from the first-person points-of-view of secondary, tertiary, or other random bit-part characters from classic and contemporary-classic public-domain literary works.”
Sometimes I wonder whether I’m an essayist or a flash writer; sometimes it’s clear that I’m not only both, but that my two identities combine in flash nonfiction. So thrilled that my flash nonfiction “The Madwoman on BART” was recognized with a PUSHCART nomination from MATCHBOOK this year. This was a hard one to write, and it’s also part of a work-in-progress that I’ve been struggling with. Heartfelt gratitude to Brian Mihok and R.B. Pillay, who had such riches to choose from at their stellar magazine (truly one of my very favorites, and I was already so happy that they published "The Madwoman on BART"). Congratulations to the other nominees, who are all wonderful and whose work I've been following for ages.
This happens to be my second Pushcart nomination related to BART. My eerily prescient flash fiction “Waking Up Late” was nominated for a Pushcart by ELLIPSIS last year. I wish the pandemic was over and it was safe to ride BART again. Clearly the BART commute to San Francisco from the East Bay is inspiring.
Today happens to be my AA birthday, the 30th anniversary of my sobriety. Steve also had a PUSHCART nomination, for a story that's coming out in CHICAGO QUARTERLY. So there's lots in our household to celebrate. But outside of our household, things are getting scary in California, with Covid cases soaring, and predictions that they will be out of hospital beds some time this month.
I figure I've wanted to publish in FOURTH GENRE for about ten years; I checked and my trusty card file tells me that this was the eighth essay I sent them over that time period (three that they rejected were later Notable Essays in BEST AMERICAN ESSAYS). (I know, I should be using an Excel spread sheet like everyone else., but well-thumbed card files are so tactile and nice.) "On Being Told That Her First Husband" went through a lot of revisions, at least a couple of years worth, before the version they accepted. This is such a big achievement for me. I was so excited when my contributors' copies arrived in the mail yesterday.
I was in the middle of an essay about Lizzie Halliday when I saw a call from the Australian publisher PURE SLUSH BOOKS for poems and flash for an upcoming anthology to be called 100 LIVES. Of course I couldn't resist a fictionalized monologue of the first woman to be sentenced to the electric chair in the U.S., an Irish-American arsonist and serial killer who instead lived out her days at the Matteawan State Hospital for the Criminally Insane. I'd forgotten all about it until my virtual copy arrived today.
Here's a taste: “There are those who say I’ll burn in hellfire for my sins, but I set my own fires, thank you.”
Sometimes a flash starts with a character’s voice, like “Gall,” which came out of nowhere but was inspired by a prompt at Kathy Fish’s Fast Flash Reunion. Thanks to Scott Neuffer at TRAMPSET for publishing “Gall,” and thanks, Kathy Fish and fellow Fast Flashers!