This week we are bringing you an interview with poet and Naturalist Jack Phillips. Jack lives in the Missouri River watershed of eastern Nebraska and is the founder of The Naturalist School, a nonprofit organization devoted to poetic wildness and the consilience of creativity and ecology. His poem “Felis Ellipses” appeared in our latest issue.
We asked Jack to tell us some unique or surprising detail about the origin, drafting, and/or final version of his poem. His response was just about as poetic as his poem!
“Friends, poetry is a path, a lens, a raw impulse, and a for me — and for all who seek it — a way to connect with the wildly creative pulse and tissue of the cosmos. The sticky-slip of a tadpole on your skin or the baby-rattle wings of a dragonfly tug at the soul draws us deeply into the planetary body we share. Right here and now. On this day my friends and I slunk a frozen creek right through urban Lincoln and soon realized that we were so close to a bobcat in heat we could smell her. As I read her spoor-poem, her little press and step presently melting the snow, I composed a bit of ephemera of my own.”
We then asked Jack if he has any upcoming projects he’d like to share or promote.
“Yes! Frequently on Sunday mornings, we gather in a native place to saunter, write, make ephemeral art, listen to wild silences. No experience required — only feral desires and good boots. See thenaturalistschool.org.”
Many of Jack’s poems ooze the “Good Life” vibe, so we were especially interested in what he thinks about when he hears the phrase “The Good Life.”
“I have left Nebraska several times, thinking that I would remain in Alaska or Egypt or the Levant, but this is home. Of course, few of us are truly native here. My childhood sloughs and wooded creeks, sandy meanders, pop-up meadows have vanished; the wild Nebraska of my youth has largely disappeared. But a ghost wilderness survives, and it is good. Can you feel it?”
Yes, Jack, we can!
Jack is the author of The Bur Oak Manifesto: Seeking Nature and Planting Trees in the Great Plains and co-editor of Natural Treasures of the Great Plains: an Ecological Perspective (with Paul Johnsgard and Tom Lynch). His poetry has appeared in Wild Roof, Flora Fiction, EcoTheo, The Closed Eye Open, Canary: a Literary Journal of the Environmental Crisis, and THE POET.
Thanks, Jack, for being a part of our winter issue and for participating in this Q & A.
Today we are pleased as punch to bring you the first of several interviews we conducted with authors that contributed their stories, scripts, and poems to our latest issue.
This week’s Author Q&A is with Jessica Mendoza. Jessica is a professional writing tutor born and raised in LA. She’s an avid reader, lover of small animals, and a serious movie musical nerd who spends her days talking about her various interests and story ideas to anyone who will listen. We absolutely love her flash essay, “Nanami in the Blue Dress,” and were excited to learn more about her and her essay.
We asked Jessica to tell us something she learned about herself, craft, or life in general through writing and revising this essay?
Her response: “‘Nanami in the Blue Dress’ was actually a piece that I had in my back pocket for years now. Being queer, Black, and Latina created a whole host of intersecting experiences that I didn’t realize affected me so deeply until I was fully an adult. I didn’t even know I had such intense feelings for this childhood best friend until I was in college and ran into her again. The whole process of meeting “Nanami”, befriending her, falling in adolescent, innocent love with her, then being rejected by her for my ethnicity completely shifted my own self-perception. In writing “Nanami in the Blue Dress”, I found that I keep a piece of my former love for Nanami to remind me of the way the world perceives me, and the way I must – unfortunately – be emotionally prepared for the prejudice of others. This piece taught me that the human experience of love and bigotry gave me wisdom that I would not come to understand for many years.”
Well put! Writing often helps us see experiences as they were and also process them in new ways to help us understand more about ourselves and the world around us. It’s a wondrous process.
We then asked Jessica what she might tell her younger writing self.
Her response: “I was once terrified of having my work published. I felt, somehow, that it would lay all the parts of me bare, and I’d be completely vulnerable. But the COVID-19 pandemic really forced me to prioritize. I had to sit down with my work and really ask myself if I wanted my writing to stay completely mine forever, or if I was brave enough to share it. I realized that I wanted my writing to be seen and that I wanted that vulnerability. I would absolutely encourage my younger self to be bolder and put her writing out there even if she didn’t like what she was working on, especially if she was scared. Waiting for perfection is a losing game, and nothing is gained if you don’t at least try.”
We agree that sharing what you have written and sending it out into the world to be published can be scary. As writers ourselves, we know that taking that risk goes hand in hand with possible rejection and that’s always tough. We’re grateful you took the risk with us and allowed us to publish your essay!
And finally, as it is will all our artists, we asked what she thinks of when she hears the phrase “The Good Life?”
Her response: “I think of taking the scenic route. The phrase “The Good Life” inspires us to see the beauty in everyday life, and to see our very existence on this Earth as a miracle. The Good Life inspires warmth, friendliness, a cold drink on a balcony with the sun warming my face. It pairs well with the wonderful artwork and imaginative pieces published in The Good Life Review!”
Thanks for that Jessica! And thank you so much for taking the time to answer our questions, share a little bit more about yourself, and for being a part of our winter issue!
Today is the day! Our winter issue is now live!! We’ve been eager to celebrate the writers and artists who have shared the fruits of their labor with us and are enthusiastic about presenting their work. There is much to admire about the pieces in this issue and we could not be more pleased with how it turned out.
The poems in this issue are vulnerable, complex, and take risks. Ellen June Wright grabs us with these opening lines: “They carried everything one can bring | when one can bring nothing.” And the poem does not let go even after the last line. Jack Phillips’ poem, Felis Ellipses, makes us contemplate humanity and our place in the natural world, and Christina Legarda’s poem, Imelda, provides an eerie and evocative character profile.
The absurdist and magical realist flash fiction by Jiahui Wu is sure to entertain and Joe Capello’s play, Sell Bots, is a fast paced piece that will leave you with a sense of outrage by the unfair and often ugly nature of politics in corporate America.
In Cassie Burkheart’s nonfiction essay she writes “… art is born when opposing feelings collide, rub up against each other, start a dialogue. Loneliness can be celebrated, or at least renamed “solitude,” which sounds more romantic. Anger is really fear and my worst fear is losing myself.”
We feel that and we believe that her struggle to exist and create despite all the “triggers” around us is a common one. This is one of the reasons why we are committed to reading all the pieces that come to us with care and attention and strive to provide a beautiful platform to share them.
Issue #6 is available from our home page or you can download the full copy here. We hope you enjoy reading it as much as we do!
Hello and welcome to February. Today we are rounding out our first series of author interviews with a Q&A from novelist and teacher Betty J. Cotter. Betty lives in Rhode Island and holds an MFA in writing from the Vermont College of Fine Arts. Her essay “The Smock” appeared in Issue #5 ~ Autumn 2021.
We asked Betty to tell us some unique or surprising detail about the origin, drafting, and/or final version of her story. Her response was as follows:
“The Smock,” like many of my essays, started out in my journal. I had read a review of “All That She Carried” by Tiya Miles, about a cotton sack passed down by an enslaved woman to her female descendants. I wondered, What textiles will survive from the 20th century? I began riffing on aprons (“They are rich ‘sacks’ containing stories – pockets full of stories”) when I suddenly wrote, “My mother’s maternity top. She was wearing it when she slapped Andi. When she was carrying me. Why would she slap Andi? Dreadful! Yet I once slapped Perry – feel equally dreadful about that.” So I pretty quickly knew what the piece would be about, but I spent a few days exploring the issue – “thinking about pregnancy as confinement,” my mother’s anger, the contrast with the “gaudy, happy print” of the smock itself. Then, as I began to write the piece, I put the smock on. Wearing it gave me a feeling of creativity, closeness to my mother, even forgiveness toward myself. But by the time the essay was done, I felt depleted, writing, “these memoir pieces like ‘The Smock’ take a lot of juice out of me.”
One of our questions (and a common conundrum for many writers) is how to know when a piece is finished. We asked Betty how she decides a piece has found its final version.
Her response: “Most of these short nonfiction pieces that I write are in revision until they get published. I wrote “The Smock” over five days in June, sent it to two places, revised it again in August, and sent it out three more times. I have a piece that I wrote in 2018 that has been revised many, many times, rejected by a dozen publications, and finally received a “maybe” this summer after I cut it substantially. There is a feeling in my gut that I get when I think the piece is as good as I can make it. I spent seven years working on my novel Sisters in Exile, and during that time I changed the point of view from third person to first to third again and the verb tenses from past to present. I also realized I had started at the wrong point and wrote an entirely new Chapter 1. The key is not to lose interest. As long as I am invested in the work, I can spend years on it.”
We also asked Betty how the pandemic has affected her writing. Her response is as follows:
“This may sound callous, but the quarantine turned out to be a fruitful time for me. I know the pandemic has been horrible and many people struggled with social isolation, but when I lost my summer class (I’m an adjunct at two colleges), it opened up my writing time. I began a concentrated period of re-reading some of my favorite authors, including Anne Morrow Lindbergh, May Sarton, and Virginia Woolf. I had more time to compose, revise, and just think. Because I missed my favorite coffee shop, my husband set up a table for me in the backyard we call the “Meadow Cafe.” I rotated from the meadow to our patio to my upstairs office, and these options gave me a renewed sense of inspiration during the quarantine.
“The mail also became my connection to the world; I began an intense correspondence with two friends. With Tara, a friend from graduate school, I exchanged letters about reading, writing, and feminism, and we even read some of the same new books. Arline, a former newspaper colleague, shares some of my cultural experiences and memories, having grown up in a working-class household, and we exchanged stories about our past as well as present days.
“I also decided to subscribe to more magazines, literary and commercial; between the letters and the magazines, I always have something to look forward to in the mailbox. The result of all this reading, writing, and corresponding? I’ve had more publications in the last year and a half than I had in the previous decade. I’ve vowed I will never teach in the summer again. I’m also cutting back the number of classes I teach during the year. I feel like I’m finally having the writing life I always dreamed of.”
That sounds like a positive outcome and leads nicely to our final question. We asked her what she thinks of when she hears the phrase “The Good Life?”
Her response: “The title of the magazine really drew me. Americans think of ‘the good life’ as material, but to me it’s contemplative. The ability to reflect on our experiences and respond to art, nature, and other people in deeper ways is what makes us human.”
Betty is the author of the novels Roberta’s Woods (Five Star, 2008) and The Winters (which earned her a Fiction Fellowship from the R.I. State Council on the Arts). The first chapter of her novel Moonshine Swamp was selected for the premiere issue of Novel Slices (2020) and nominated for a Pushcart Prize.
Thanks, Betty, for being a part of our autumn issue and for participating in this Q & A! Cheers, ~The Good Life Review Team
This week we are bringing you a bonus interview with scientist and writer, John Rudoy. John is interested in migration, tradition, and assimilation and what these broad concepts really mean for the individuals who go through them. His writing has appeared in Science Magazine and the Maine Underground Writer’s Anthology. His story “Winter Generation” appeared in Issue #5 ~ Autumn 2021.
We asked John to tell us some unique or surprising detail about the origin, drafting, and/or final version of his story. His response was as follows:
“The story is purely fiction, but it is inspired by events in my family’s history that I learned of when I discovered some old writing by my great grandfather. He wrote largely in Yiddish, but I was able to decipher it because years before my now wife and I took German classes together when we were dating (Yiddish is written in the Hebrew script but its vocabulary and grammar are largely drawn from German). She fled Sri Lanka during the civil war there and ended up on an island in the Caribbean where nearly everyone was multilingual, so learning random new languages was her idea of a good time. It feels appropriate that a member of one, relatively new diaspora ended up helping a member of another, much older one, discover his origins.”
John also elected to give a little more insight into something he discovered through writing this story.
“I am always interested in the setting a writer chooses for their stories. A setting is often a place you have lived in yourself, that you then choose to live in again, figuratively, while you write your story. What drives writers to choose the settings they do? I’m still not sure, but I surprised myself by settling on two places, Chicago in the winter, and the New England coast in the summer, that have both made very deep and very differently shaped impressions on me. I am not sure this is something I learned about myself so much as further questions I have about myself, but I’ll say that counts.”
We agree that setting is a key component in most, if not all, writing because it provides so much context. Turning a magnifying glass inward, we can learn a great deal about ourselves from the places we gravitate toward using in our stories and poems. We also agree that this introspection often leads to more questions than answers.
When we asked John what he thinks of when he hears the phrase “The Good Life,” his response was both astute and spot-on.
“The Good Life” raises the specter of ostentatiousness: champagne and yachts and shiny tuxedos. But “a good life” suggests a quotidian calm. A life that has worn tracks into the hardwood and the thresholds, and that knows, and is happy knowing, where its next step will fall. And to think some languages make do without articles! Don’t know how they do it.”
It is an important distinction indeed! That second sentiment is quite lovely and we can all aspire to feel that in our lives. Thanks for sharing, John, and thanks again for being a part of our 5th issue.
This week’s Author Q&A is with Michael Wesner. Michael holds a BA from Eckerd College, where he studied Creative Writing with a particular emphasis on the use of humor in literature. His story “The Shapiros,” appeared in Issue #5 ~ Autumn 2021.
We asked Michael to tell us some unique or surprising detail about the origin, drafting, and/or final version of his story. His response was as follows:
“The Shapiros” is a Frankenstein’s monster of several half-baked story premises I’d had, all inspired after I moved to Florida. Some ideas came from reading local “Florida Man” news articles, like a Sheriff who arrested a man for assaulting his partner with a burrito, or a middle school girl who called in a fake bomb threat to get out of class. Others were scenes I’d observed in passing, like a local church that was converted from a Chinese buffet or a former neighbor who dragged a construction ladder into a bay to swim near dolphins, then screamed loudly at her kids about her ex-husband one Independence Day. I wanted to explore these stories through fiction, but I struggled to unify them into a cohesive narrative. The breakthrough came when I asked myself, “What if all of these weird stories came back to one person?” The story came to me quickly after that, as I tried to weave all those wacky, almost unbelievable premises into one character. The burrito might not have made the final cut, but I was left with what I think is a pretty colorful character study on the State of Florida.
Following through on that, we asked Michael what he learned (about himself, craft, or life in general) as he worked to merge all the different stories and characters together in one piece.
His response: “I learned a lot about empathy while writing this story. A friend of mine who critiqued an early draft summed my feelings up perfectly when they said, “I’m certain that I would hate Sherry Shapiro in real life, but I can’t help but love her while reading this.” The details in the story might be funny circumstances, but weaving them together forced me to reconsider the humor behind them. Sherry Shapiro might be the funniest character I’ve ever written, but she’s also a contender for the saddest. Fiction forces you to emphasize with those who you might otherwise ignore.
We also asked Michael if he has any projects or upcoming events he would like to promote?
I’ve recently started a newsletter/blog in an attempt to force myself to write more often. It’s easy for me to get tunnel vision and only think about fiction pieces, many of which never see the light of day, so this project is my attempt to write about more mundane topics just for the sake of writing about them. I cover concerts I’ve enjoyed, my favorite Lyft drivers, and every now and then I include a photo of my dog. If you’re at all interested, it’s called “Elephant Graveyard,” and you can find it on Substack: https://elephantgraveyard.substack.com/
The GLR has verified and certified this newsletter as top-notch. It’s lighthearted, entertaining, and quite insightful! We hope you keep at it, Michael.
Finally, we asked, as we do, what he thinks of when he hears the phrase “The Good Life”.
His response: “The phrase reminds me of the way a preacher might describe Heaven, or a retiree might refer to their retirement. Essentially, “The Good Life” sounds like satisfaction after years of hard work. I suppose that makes it an apt name for such a quality literary journal, where writers can read and appreciate one another’s work and recognize the dedicated labor that went into their art behind the scenes.”
Awww shucks. Way to butter us up! Our team first met while attending the University of Nebraska learning to fly and land that MFA plane, so we very much appreciate the time and effort that goes into each and every piece of writing. Thanks for sharing!
And thanks for being a part of our autumn issue and for participating in this Q & A!
Today we are honored to present a new collection of wonderful work from a truly stellar line-up of authors and artists in our 5th issue.
This issue features the ten-minute stage play, The Farewell Burn, by Kara Davidson, selected as the winner for our inaugural Honey Bee Prize in the Stage & Screen category by judge Michael Oatman.
We’re also pleased as punch to present a poem by the Emperor of Ice Cream himself, Todd Robinson, alongside a stellar line-up of other talented writers and artists. Michael Wesner’s story “The Shapiros” will make you laugh and Soo Yeon Chun’s poem “Oath of Assimilation” will roll through you like a heavy freight train. And we would be remiss if we failed to mention the artwork included in the pages of this issue; these pieces are incredible.
Dive into the issue or download the full copy here.
Announcing the 2021 Honey Bee Prize Winner in Stage & Screen
November 2, 2021
In just a few short weeks our Autumn issue will be released into the wild world. In this issue we are honored to showcase the fourth and final Honey Bee Prize winner Kara Davidson!! Kara’s script, “The Farewell Burn” was chosen as the winner of our Stage & Screen category by the one and only Michael Oatman.
The other finalists in the contest included:
Suburbanaut by Alexander Jones
Parallax by LN Lewis
Self Flagellating Lily by Claire Natale
We are grateful to all who submitted to our 2021 contest and want to express a big thanks again to the four individuals, Kate Gale, Marco Wilkinson, Douglas Manuel, and Michael Oatman who not only judged the contest, but also helped with guidance and feedback along the way.
Although we’ve only been on the publication scene for a year, we did not want to miss the opportunity to nominate some amazing pieces by some very talented writers for the 2021 Best of the Net prize.
Best of the Net is an annual contest by Sundress Publications designed to grant a platform to a diverse and growing collection of writers and publishers who are building an online literary landscape. More about the contest can be found here.
This year editors of online journals were allowed to nominate two fiction stories, two creative nonfiction essays, and up to six poems. Pieces published between July 1, 2020 and June 30, 2021 were eligible which for us meant work from our first three issues. We’re thrilled to announce the following nominations: