Author Q&A with Matt Mason

Author Q&A with Nebraska State Poet, Matt Mason

by Christine Nessler

September 20, 2023

Matt Mason has run poetry workshops in Botswana, Romania, Nepal, and Belarus for the U.S. State Department and his poetry has appeared in The New York Times. Matt is the Nebraska State Poet and has received a Pushcart Prize as well as fellowships from the Academy of American Poets and the Nebraska Arts Council. His work can be found on NPR’s Morning Edition, in American Life in Poetry, and in several hundred other publications. Mason’s fifth book, Rock Stars, was released by Button Poetry, September, 2023. His website is: 

Mason’s poems, Why We Cry and Poem in Celebration of My Death, are featured in Issue #12 of The Good Life Review.

Tell us about yourself.

I’m out here working to make my living as a poet. There’s no good roadmap for this, so wish me luck.

How did you start teaching poetry workshops? What topics do you cover in your international poetry workshops?

I started when I moved back to Omaha after grad school at a time when there didn’t seem to be many people with advanced degrees in poetry. Places like the Bookworm Bookstore and Omaha Public Libraries took notice of what I was doing in open mics and in events I ran and they brought me in for some events and also recommended me to schools.

The Embassy programs dealt with writing poems using a variety of writing prompts and also with working with the poets on performance, as the programs all ended with either a poetry slam or another kind of public reading. It was great to talk with students about their own experiences with poetry in their countries and I learned about how it’s taught as well as what they wanted from poetry. Some of the programs also had a focus on advocacy and community involvement to help start events and support other writers after the program ended.

What has been the most rewarding part of teaching poetry workshops?

I love seeing what people come up with, how a room of 20 people can write such different poems from the same writing prompt. And seeing when someone comes up with something magic, something inspired, is amazing.

Tell us about the inspiration for Poem in Celebration of My Death?

Poem in Celebration of My Death came from a Zoom workshop I taught during the pandemic. The prompt asked everyone to look around them, and I was in my basement with Frank right outside the window and the poem just spilled from there.

Why We Cry hits close to home for parents with adult children. How has being a parent influenced your writing?

Being a parent has been a huge influence on my writing. I write about the things around me and, when you’re a parent, those kids make up a huge part of what’s around you. My second book, The Baby That Ate Cincinnati, is entirely poems about being a parent and I didn’t stop once that book came together.

How does poetry help you face the most challenging aspects of life? Or help you appreciate the most beautiful?

I write poetry to help me figure out the world. Every day, there’s a lot in my head and a lot in my heart but not a lot of communication between the two. What drew me to poetry and keeps me there is that it creates communication between my head and heart, it helps me figure things out in myself and in the world.

How do you incorporate writing into your daily life?

I make myself start at least one new poem each week, with a Monday night deadline (that started with a class I took over 25 years ago where we had to turn in a poem every Monday). That means I am always looking for something to write about, searching for something that might be a poem.

What is your favorite style of poetry and why?

That’s a hard one. I mostly write in free verse but I love sestinas and villanelles, too. So if you force me to pick one, I probably have to say “free verse” since I’m more likely to explore an idea that way, but I love sestinas and I love when a villanelle comes together.

What words of advice do you offer your workshop students?

When a student wants to be a better poet, I tell them the two best things they can do are:

1. Write a lot.

2. Read a lot.

If you do just these two things, you will get better. Even if you spend months writing bad poems, each bad poem you write is an experiment, a lesson, and you’re a better writer afterward. The only way you don’t improve is if you don’t write and you don’t read other people’s poems.

What is the first thing you think of when you hear the phrase, “The Good Life?”

I think of living with peace in your heart, living a life with integrity and value, truth and beauty.

Thank you, Matt, for participating in this Q&A and for your continued support of our mission and vision. We’re grateful to you for allowing us to share your poems with our readers!

And coming soon!… Another “Amazing” poem in Issue #13!!


Author Q&A with Blake Kinnett

Author Q&A with Blake Kinnett

by Christine Nessler

September 13, 2023

Tell us about yourself.

I was born (and raised, if you can believe it) in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains, on the Kentucky side of the Tennessee-Kentucky border. I’m now working toward a degree at the University of Nebraska – Lincoln. A long way from home. I’m transgender, I’m disabled, some flavor of queer. I’m sorry – I’m not very good at this question. 

What inspired you to write Pretty Women?

My mother has an autoimmune disease, and that inspired some of the symptoms that Avie experiences in the story. During my writing process I was thinking about womanhood – what it means to have access to womanhood, and what it means to be denied womanhood. Access to womanhood, from my perspective, at least, is limited by several factors – race, ability, health, proximity to cisness and straightness, age, to name a few. And I think, too, that no matter what kind of woman you are, eventually, if you live long enough, you will be denied your womanhood, whether that’s because of age or ability or health or any combination thereof. I wanted to write about what it was like to slowly lose access to gender, and, more importantly, what it means to reclaim that gender anyway. In no way does this story explore every aspect of what it means to be a woman, and it wasn’t meant to do that at all. 

Tell us about the contrast between how Avie and Jack of Pretty Women see beauty.

I think Avie sees beauty as a part of her femininity that she feels like she’s losing, and Jack sees beauty as something that she’ll never have access to. And beauty standards are ever changing, even as they revolve around things like whiteness, wealth, and thinness. I remember when I was growing up, I was considered ugly by my classmates because I had larger lips and thick, dark eyebrows. Then when I went to college, everyone was overdrawing their lips and coloring in their brows, and that was the moment where I was like “Oh. This is all some bull piss.” When you’re trans and/or chronically ill/disabled, you sometimes must create your own sense of beauty, because you’ll find yourself very quickly defined out of it in a lot of cases. And I think when it comes to beauty in the story, I was thinking about ways to define your own beauty on your own terms. 

Where do you find beauty in the world around you?

This is going to sound incredibly morbid but hear me out – ancient bodies are beautiful. Really, ancient humans are beautiful, bodies or not. Have you heard of Shanidar 1? He’s a Neanderthal found in Iraq, and he lived to be about thirty-five to forty-five. Our best estimations are, of course, only estimations, but he’s thought to have experienced a blow to the head that might have blinded him in one eye, and his right arm and leg were thought to have been impacted by the blow, too, leading to paralysis. But he lived for a very long time, for a Neanderthal, and these injuries did not kill him. His people took care of him. They loved him. I studied history in undergraduate, and my favorite classes were always with the professor who specialized in ancient history, Dr. Aaron Irvin at Murray State University. We tend to think of the ancient world as being a very brutal time for humans, and in some cases, it was. But it was also a time of incredible compassion and care, across civilizations. And there’s proof of that — in the bones. Isn’t it beautiful that we get to look at the remnants of people who lived thousands upon thousands of years ago and see ourselves looking back? 

What hurdle does each character have to overcome in order to be made new?

I think there’s a level of acceptance you have achieved at some point in your life, whether you’re trans or disabled. I don’t like to say that I ‘became’ disabled so much as I learned about it one day, mostly because I don’t really know how long I lived with it before I was diagnosed. And after I was diagnosed, I went through a period where I was like “not me.” Something like 0.3% of people have my diagnosis, so how could this happen to me? And because I’d been living with it for so long, I had no idea how bad it really was. So that was what I was thinking about when it came to Avie’s character – reaching for the moment where you’re able to accept that this is your life now, and it can still be a beautiful one. I think I was really doing that thing where you try to write it into existence, because I still haven’t entirely reached that place for myself yet. And I think that assuming because the story ends means that Avie has reached that place for herself is probably wishful thinking. It’s been my experience that acceptance and grief are part of the same cycle, and I’ve been moving through that cycle since my own diagnosis in 2019. 

For Jack’s character, I think it’s about faith. Some trans people are afraid of transition because they think they’ll be ugly, or they’re worried they won’t like the results, or they can’t imagine themselves as their desired gender. The latter being most of Jack’s issue. Transition is a leap of faith, and some people take it, and others don’t or aren’t ready, and either way, it’s your journey and it’s beautiful and special. For Jack, I don’t think she was able to take that leap until someone else believed in her – until someone else saw the woman that she was. It is so helpful as a transgender person to have a community, or even just one person, who believes in you, and sees you for who you are. This is especially true if you’re transgender in a rural community, like Jack, and you don’t really have access to a queer or transgender community of your own. 

What message do you hope your readers take away from this piece?

You know, I’m kind of over trauma porn. I know that’s a crass way of phrasing it. It seemed to me that stories about sick and/or disabled people and stories about trans people tend to have one awful thing in common, and that’s the idea that we’re “overcoming” something. Being transgender, being disabled, these aren’t things that you have to overcome, they’re just states of being. And I’m not going to act like we don’t have it rough, especially these days. But I think that means that now more than ever, we need stories of transgender joy. And I especially wanted to challenge the idea that pre-transition is just crying in front of a mirror because “I’ll never be a real man/woman.” There can be joy in discovery. There can be joy in the becoming. 

How does your work in creative writing allow you to positively affect the world around you?

I don’t know. Isn’t that the question that we all have? I think – or would like to hope – that all writers ask themselves this question, and hope that their work puts some good out into the world. For me, personally, I think writing keeps me gentle. My instincts tend toward the vicious. I am a deeply cynical person. My heart is a necrotic, curdled organ, pumping ichor into my veins. And I get worse the longer I go without art. My goal with every piece I write, and the thing I want out of every story or novel I read, is to find a voice that makes me love again. I think it makes me a better, more understanding person. And we could probably do with a few more understanding people in this world.

How does writing keep you inspired?

I like writing that I can dance to, the kind of writing that makes you get up and pace back and forth because the language is so electric that it travels from the page to your brain. I won’t claim to know why other people write, but I think part of the reason I write is to be understood – to scoop out some vital part of myself and present it on the page, hoping that someone else will point at it and say, “Yes, that’s me. I do that too. I am that too.” That connection that you make when you read a book that speaks to you, and hoping to have that connection as a writer writing about things that you hope speaks to other people — I think I would say that inspires me. 

What advice can you give to other aspiring writers?

It’s funny because I still consider myself an aspiring writer – this is my first publication, so I don’t remotely feel qualified to answer this question. I’ll try. Read and write, obviously. I can’t tell you how many writers I know or have known in the past who spend more time talking about reading and writing than they do reading and writing. But aside from that, the best advice I can honestly think of is DON’T TWEET. Never tweet. You see a Bad Art Friend or a Cat Person discourse or any other literary twitter drama, resist that devil. I know that twitter is good for engagement and promoting your work and all, but you’ll be so much happier reading about the drama or discourse than you will be participating in it, and the people who follow you to hear your hot takes about the latest Main Character on Twitter are probably not the audience you want to cultivate – they’re not gonna buy your books. Post your promotional stuff, Retweet other writers’ successes, hype your people up. Don’t discourse. 

What do you think of when you hear the term, “The Good Life?”

I was thinking the other day – my cat has no idea where his food comes from. He knows it’s under the sink and he knows that he gets one scoop in the morning and one at night, but he doesn’t know that I have to go to the Russ’s Supermarket down the street and pick out his bag of Tender Selects Blend and haul it back home so he gets his daily and nightly scoops of salmon. He trusts that I will feed him. He has faith that the bag will always be under the sink. I think that kind of security must be a pretty good life. 

Blake’s Fiction piece “Pretty Women” is available in issue #12 ~ Our Summer Honeybee Prize issue.

Thank you, Blake, for allowing us to share your story with our readers and for the honest, straightforward, and impactful answers to our questions. We wish you the best!


Author Q&A with Rachel Sussman

Author Q&A with Rachel Sussman

by Christine Nessler

September 6, 2023

Rachel Sussman’s work has appeared in Into the Void, Months to Years, My Chronic Brain, and is forthcoming in The Pinch. You can read her movie and television reviews, which have been called “snarky and piercing,” on She is also on Twitter and Instagram @RachelXSussman.

Rachel’s flash nonfiction piece, Selfishly, I Planted Flowers, is featured in Issue #12 and was the winner of the 2023 HoneyBee Prize in Nonfiction.

Tell us about yourself.

Phew. With the exception of “tell us about your hobbies,” nothing instills more immediate panic in me than this gentle, well-intentioned prompt. My mind goes blank, and I instantly forget everything about myself.

I grew up bouncing back and forth between suburban Maryland and rural Vermont. I’ve spent the past decade and half living in centrally-isolated Pennsylvania with my two kids, husband, and two cats—with breaks to spend a handful of years living in South and Central America. In addition, while I’ve lived with Chronic Migraine for most of my life, over the past decade it has become much more severe and disabling, which has wholly reshaped the contours of my and my family’s life.

When did you start writing?

Writing and words have always been an important part of my life, but it’s really been in the past six years that I’ve committed to formalizing the practice and trying to get more pieces published.

How has writing impacted your life?

Especially in the past several years—as my disease has gotten more severe—writing has saved me. Symptoms like pain, brain fog, and confusion often leave me feeling like any kind of communication or human interaction is impossible. Putting words together into sentences and paragraphs and entire essays gives me a sense of freedom, creativity, and connection that I just don’t find elsewhere.

Selfishly, I Planted Flowers is such a beautiful story about grief. How did writing this story help you with your own grief?

The process of writing and re-writing the piece really forced me to unpack my memories of my friend and examine them closely, which was so painful, but has helped me face the reality of her being gone and understand what that means. Like planting the flowers themselves, writing the piece was very cathartic. It gave order to my chaotic thoughts and emotions, and allowed me a space where it felt right that her memory was always so alive. That said, nothing quite prepared me for the moment when the story was published and she was the first person I wanted to share the news with.

How did it pay tribute to your lost friend?

As I was writing it I kept wondering if it really was paying tribute to her, or if it was an entirely selfish act. She was an amazing and self-effacing person, who also brought dignity, respect, and joy into everything she did, and I hope it pays tribute to her by highlighting some of her mundane acts of greatness. Also, I hope that by allowing other people to see themselves and their friendships reflected in the words, it honors her memory and her gift for making people feel welcomed and respected. 

The way you write is very poetic, do you primarily write creative non-fiction or do you dabble in other forms of art?

I always seem to come back to creative nonfiction (or the movie and television reviews I write). I really enjoy working within the confines of prose and facts, while playing with the cadence, imagery, and other aspects of language to create a strong emotional connection.

How do you take time to care for your own well-being?

I take walks. Spend time with my family. Watch loads of TV and movies when my body is uncooperative. Listen to audiobooks. Snuggle my cats. Exchange snarky texts with friends.

Do you have a writing routine? If so, what does it involve? If not, why not?

I have a writing routine that allows the space and grace for my chronic illness to regularly upend it. I used to set up these hard and fast goals for writing at this particular time, in this particular place, and for this particular length of time. When my body didn’t allow for that to happen I felt like a failure, and often just gave up on the entire endeavor. Now, I’m careful to acknowledge all the pre-writing parts of the routine as well—the thinking, mulling, and musing that goes on in the background—which I’m often doing even while I may not feel well enough to actually write. I tend to write best in the morning, and then I find pockets of time and energy throughout the rest of the day to plug away at it more—trying to stop before I get frustrated or exhausted. I meet with someone weekly to trade drafts of what we’re working on, which gives me a fixed deadline to work toward, and it’s immensely helpful.

What do you think of when you hear the phrase, “The Good Life?”

First, I think of The Good Life Review. Then, I guess I think of things like watching the sunrise on a day you wake up without pain; laughing with friends until your sides ache; the feeling when a small child slips their hand into yours; the first sip of hot coffee in the morning; the first crisp day of fall; the green shoots of spring; or slipping into clean sheets after you’ve showered.

Rachel’s Flash Nonfiction piece “Selfishly, I Planted Flowers” is available in issue #12 ~ Our Summer Honeybee Prize issue.

Thank you, Rachel, for trusting us with this story and allowing us to share it with our readers. We appreciate you and your willingness to spend extra time with us on this Q&A.


Author Q&A with Hemmy So

Author Q&A with Hemmy So

by Christine Nessler

August 30, 2023

Hemmy So is a Korean American fiction writer from Houston, Texas. Her debut short story appeared this spring in Redivider, and she reads prose for Chestnut Review. In her former life, she worked as a news reporter, tech, and sports attorney. She currently lives in Alameda, California with her husband, two young sons, and an affectionate terrier. Hemmy is working on her debut novel.

Her flash fiction piece, The Language of Family, featured in Issue #12 is the runner-up of this year’s HoneyBee Prize in Fiction as selected by Roxane Gay.

Tell us about yourself. 

I’m an Enneagram 9 living in Alameda, California, which is an island in the Bay Area. I live here with my husband, two sons ages 5 and 7, and our affectionate terrier Mr. Puff. There’s a lot of male energy in this house! My side hustle is working as a sports lawyer. And when I’m not working, I handcraft greeting cards or see live music.

What made you want to leave your previous careers to become a writer?

A close relative of ours passed away during the pandemic, and her death brought me face-to-face with mortality. I couldn’t bear the thought of dying — and at that time, many of us worried we’d die sooner than we thought — without really putting in the effort to do something I had always loved.

How does writing bring value to your life?

I love exploring ideas through stories, and doing that is a real challenge. I also love learning, and I’m constantly learning from other writers, teachers, and readers.

What inspired you to write The Language of Family?

I’d been studying the Korean language for a couple years when someone asked me why. Many people assumed it was so I could better connect with my relatives, but funnily enough the real reason was so that I could watch BTS content without relying on subtitles. But the thought of reconnection led me to think about how families interact. I used language as the entry point for this exploration.

What is Miri’s greater challenge in The Language of Family – the language barrier between Miri and her family or Miri’s feeling that she owes her cousin for saving her life? 

Miri thinks it will be the language barrier, perhaps a naive thought. But she discovers the real challenge is the complexity of familial obligation. And in Korean families, that obligation can sometimes be overwhelming.

Although there is a language barrier, there are many nonverbal cues from her relatives that add to Miri’s unease. As a writer, do you find yourself studying human behavior? Where have you found the best place to observe human behavior and why?

I believe writers are always studying human behavior — how else to make our stories rich with characters? I don’t have one place that’s best for observing human behavior, but I’m often paying attention to people no matter the setting — especially how they talk about things.

How have your previous careers helped you as a writer? 

My training as a reporter has helped me immensely when it comes to identifying good stories, crafting tight language, and editing, though I’m always trying to improve. My legal career taught me repeatedly that you can’t make assumptions. And that’s also where I often find compelling stories – within upturned assumptions.

Do you have any words of advice for anyone who is working full-time and trying to dabble in writing or thinking about making a career shift to writing full-time?

You do you. I heard a lot of advice about how to manage my time, what kind of job to get to allow me to write more, what kind of writing I should pursue, how to stay accountable. But in the end, advice only works if it suits your personality and lifestyle. There’s lots of ways to do things, and that is OK. And it’s also OK to experiment.

What do you think of when you hear the phrase, “The Good Life?” 

Good people, good home, good food, good art.

Thank you, Hemmy, for taking the time to participate in this Q&A and for sharing a small slice of your work with us.

Hemmy’s Flash Fiction “The Language of Family” can be found in issue #12 of The Good Life Review.


Author Q&A with Oak Morse

Author Q&A with Oak Morse

by Christine Nessler

August 23, 2023

This week’s Author Q&A is with Oak Morse. Oak lives in Houston, Texas, where he teaches creative writing and theatre and leads a youth poetry troop, the Phoenix Fire-Spitters. He was the winner of the 2017 Magpie Award for Poetry in Pulp Literature and a Finalist for the 2020 Witness Literary Award. Currently a Warren Wilson MFA candidate, Oak has received Pushcart Prize nominations, fellowships from Brooklyn Poets, Twelve Literary Arts, Cave Canem’s Starshine and Clay as well as a Stars in the Classroom honor from the Houston Texans.

His work appears in Black Warrior Review, Obsidian, Tupelo, Beltway Poetry Quarterly, Nimrod,, and Solstice, among others.
Morse’s poem, Ras Tafari Ghazal, was the runner up in this year’s HoneyBee Poetry Prize and is featured in Issue #12.

Tell us about yourself.

In all honesty, I am one who does not believe in adequate sleep, always thinking of the next poem to write or project to tackle. Sure, I unusually operate, but on my normal side, I teach theatre and creative writing at a Fine Art School in Houston. I also lead a youth poetry troop, the Phoenix Fire-Spitters. I am also a junkie for hip-hop and R&B music from 2006 and back. You will often find me overdosing on Anita Baker, Outkast, The Isley Brothers, Miguel, Maxwell, Musiq Soulchild, Alicia Keys and Kendrick Lamar. Funny, I cannot write an effective poem without playing some of them.

How would you describe your writing style? Do you typically choose ghazal poetry as your artistic vessel? Why or why not?

My writing style can be classified as charismatic, vulnerable and musical while it explores myth-making, resistance, and intimacy. During my final semester of my MFA program at Warren Wilson, my professor Connie Voisine encouraged me to practice using form, which I was slightly opposed to due to all the lyrical constraints.  But I was sold when she said that would help me make language tighter in my work. So this is my first Ghazal.

What inspired you to write Ras Tafari Ghazal?

After years of teaching spoken word, theatre and writing my students’ performances, I kept telling myself I would write a reggae inspired performance one day. So finally, when the Black History Month program rolled around, I thought my fifth grade class would be good for it. Here is the video:

After writing the poem for them, I had so much left out material that I did not want to abandon, so I figured I would use some of it as a ghazal since I was studying form. I say, I killed two big birds with one stone. 

How has Rastafari, a figure known as a symbol of a proud and independent Africa, influenced your life?

When it came to “Rastafari” it was an opportunity to finally learn about the ideology. One of the great things about being a teacher is that you have to master the information that you teach, therefore it required a lot of research. This led to me having a fonder appreciation for religious and social movements.

What is the significance of the convergence of sound and earth in Ras Tafari Ghazal?

In this poem, I wanted it to not only reflect the influence of Rasta Fari but provide a full totality of the culture and how it transcends beyond the mere tangible but into the spiritual and emotional.

What message do you hope your readers take away from Ras Tafari Ghazal?

The message I want readers to leave with is do not let your culture drift away. Keep those tight rituals, those fruitful customs, because these things bring connection. 

Tell us about the Phoenix Fire-Spitters.

The Phoenix Fire Spitters is a spoken word troop, with four to five of my students I hand-picked from seventh and eighth. I coach them on spoken word performances on how to have an impact on audiences. We have been invited several times to perform for the school district at the biggest school’s convention. We also have performed at the Houston Zoo, as well as in the school. The great thing about this group is that it creates a sense of unity and belonging for students’ toughest time of their adolescence. One result of this is that in 2020, I was honored with the Houston Texans Stars in the Classroom Award for having a positive impact on one of my troop members’ social and emotional growth.

How does your work with young poets inspire you and your own writing?

Sometimes when I see them get all the praise and glory after they do a fantastic job on stage, it inspires me to want to get back out there and perform spoken word. On another note, I get a huge kick out of being their ghost-writer, knowing that they are bringing my words to life through a dynamic performance.

What words of advice do you share with the poets, the Phoenix Fire-Spitters?

The advice I give is “show how excellent you are, that’s what people want to see, nothing less.”

What do you think of when you hear the term, “The Good Life?”

When I think of “the Good Life” I think of something as sweet as freedom when everything around feels like music, a cool breeze, and relaxation, much like in the poem, Ras Tafari Ghazal.

Oak’s Poem, “Ras Tafari Ghazal” can be found in issue #12 of The Good Life Review.


Author Q&A with Tiffany Promise

Author Q&A with Tiffany Promise

by Christine Nessler

August 18, 2023

Tiffany Promise (she/her) is a writer, poet, chronic migraineur, and the mother of two wildlings. She holds an MFA from CalArts and has participated in the Tin House and American Short Fiction workshops. Her work has appeared in Narrative Magazine, Brevity, Creative Nonfiction, Okay Donkey, Jarnal, Francesca Lia Block’s new literary magazine, Lit Angels, and elsewhere. Tiffany lives in Austin, Texas and her flash fiction, Bird of Prey, won this year’s Honeybee Literature prize in fiction and is featured in Issue #12.

Tell us about yourself.

My name is Tiffany Promise. I live in Austin, Texas, with a four-year-old Scorpio and a six-year-old Gemini. I’m a writer, poet, chronic migraineur and an old school punk rock riot grrrl. At six, I started penning funny little poems (about unfair bedtimes and pink underwear) and I never stopped. Writing poetry was the only way I knew how to make sense of life, to make meaning out of things that seemed meaningless. My high school journals are full of headaches and heartache, the broken promises of bad boyfriends and bad dads. I found Sylvia Plath when I was thirteen and ballpoint-penned stanzas from Lady Lazarus onto the soles of my favorite shoes. I didn’t try my hand at fiction until I was forced to choose a secondary genre for my undergraduate degree. I thought I could get away with disguising prose poems as stories—but I fell fast in love with the accouterments of story-making—plot! dialogue! scene!—and I haven’t stopped writing them since.

The first story I ever wrote was called Vanishing Act and was published in my fiction mentor, Lynda Schor’s, now-defunct online lit mag, The Salt River Review. That story, like Birds of Prey, took place entirely inside of a car. I find it interesting to give myself limits—in setting, word count, form, sometimes even sentence length—and find ways to maximize really small spaces. While a few of my pieces have been long- and short-listed, the Honeybee Prize for Literature is my first first place. 

How would you describe your writing style?

I would describe my writing style as language-driven and southern gothic-inspired. Some of my favorite books are We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson, Cruddy by Lynda Barry and Eileen by Ottessa Moshfegh and I often think of my work as being in conversation with them. I am still interested in blurring the lines between poetry and prose, allowing language to be its most ferocious and unforgiving self. No matter how long or short a piece, every word has weight, and when I read my work aloud, I want to hear and feel its movement and breath.

What inspired you to write Birds of Prey?

I started Birds of Prey thirteen years ago as part of my MFA thesis. Even short-short stories sometimes take me decades to write; I’ll keep going back over and over until some kind of silence finally rises from the page. I often write stories based on images that come to me randomly. For this piece, the image was of a girl holding a ziplock baggie full of cremains. Sprinkling these ashes into her morning coffee, she was attempting to imbibe her lost love, to hold onto him forever. Though this image has long been cut from the story, I think Nightingale’s abandonment-anxiety is palpable throughout. 

When I went back to this story (seven years after having started it) I had a wildly new close-to-home perspective. At thirty-nine weeks pregnant with my first child, my younger brother passed away unexpectedly. I was terrified of drowning my fetus in tears, of deforming her with my dark thoughts. The pregnant body is an alien surface on which every version of every story can be written. Nightingale’s unborn baby is the perfect blank slate for all of her nightmares to come to fruition.

The way Birds of Prey was written allows the reader to empathize with both characters. Was it your intention to make this a two-sided tragedy? Why or why not?

It was not necessarily my intention to make Birds of Prey a two-sided tragedy, I just happen to write about humans that I can imagine moving through the world. Because real people are multidimensional, Nightingale and Dusty both contain multitudes. In this story, they are both victims of circumstance.

What made you want to choose birds of prey as the allegorical theme of a piece about an unplanned pregnancy?

Birds cross thresholds and fly between worlds, they are small and light, but have resounding folkloric import. I think of them as creatures that are strange and wild enough to express inexpressible things. In this story, the narrator’s name is Nightingale, but she is called “Birdie” by Dusty. I have other bird-named characters in other stories: Robin, Raven, even Magpie. (IRL, my baby’s name is Sparrow!) At the end of this story, the “birdie”—the thing that seemed frail and frozen, just a slip-up—becomes an all-powerful bringer of death. 

What message do you hope your readers take away from Birds of Prey?

I like to investigate underbellies, to shine a light on things that other people shy away from. For whatever reason—and to my family’s dismay—I feel like it’s my job to write the totally honest and totally terrifying stuff, unashamedly. As products of our environments, how we tell and retell our stories shapes us. While I’m not necessarily concerned with relaying messages, I want people to read my work and feel something: understanding, heartache, joy. Maybe even just goosebumps.

How do you think storytelling is therapeutic for both writer and reader?

I write to make sense of the world around me, to make meaning out of the terrible and the mundane. As a mother, I am interested in exploring mother-child dynamics and the feminization of madness. I spend a lot of time investigating themes from my bloodline and attempting to unravel them. By writing about my family’s generational trauma, my goal is to rewrite our future.

What advice can you give to other aspiring writers or writers in general?

The best advice I can give to an aspiring writer is the same advice I give myself every day: Keep writing and keep submitting. Birds of Prey was rejected from at least five literary magazines before it won the Honeybee Prize; it’s all about finding the right readers for your work. I completed a novel a few years ago and I’m still querying agents and small presses. Daily, I send out poems and stories; I’ve submitted my poetry chapbook to ten contests so far. Life can get really complicated and it’s easy to let your writing fall to the back-burner, but just keep doing it and keep putting it out there—even if most of the time it feels like you’re screaming into the void. 

What do you think of when you hear the term, “The Good Life?”

When I think of “The Good Life” I think of mason jars filled with lemonade, fireflies in oak trees, the smell of rain disintegrating on hot concrete. Even though I lived in big cities for many years (mostly Los Angeles) most of my stories are set in the south, and even though these stories are filled with dirty aching things (glue strips stuck with dead flies, stillborn babies, runs in pantyhose set right by clear nail polish) they are also filled to the brim with truth, which makes them—somehow—“good.”

Tiffany’s Flash Fiction, “Birds of Prey” can be found in issue #12 of The Good Life Review.


Interview with Lauren Dennis

Feature Interview with Author and Actress Lauren Dennis

by Christine Nessler

July 25, 2023

As both an actress and a writer, Lauren Dennis has a contrasting approach to creating a human connection, but as you’ll find in her micro fiction pieces of Two Micro Stories for Issue #11 of The Good Life Review, she has a talent for engaging the emotions of her audience.

“I am so happy I have both of these vehicles,” Dennis said. “One that I think connects to the human experience where I am building a bridge between myself and another character and another that hopefully connects directly from my internal experience to an unseen audience. I see them as the inverse to each other.”

From the time she was young, Dennis had an interest in both writing and acting. The passion of acting led her to New York where she studied at NYU. Expressing herself as an actress was overt, but her writing was done in secret.

“I was an ‘under-the-bed’ writer. Just writing and writing and writing and literally putting things under my bed,” Dennis said. “I got out of that habit about five years ago and started formalizing and taking classes. That is really much more useful for yourself and the world than just tucking your writing away.”

During these classes, she discovered micro fiction, a form of storytelling that limits word count to just 50 to 300 words. She appreciated the style of writing because although concise and even terse, it can also be very emotional. 

“Packing a lot of emotional punch within very few words is something I am really proud about,” Dennis said. “I have to get the reader’s buy-in quickly and then have them follow me on this journey that is very fast, but also hopefully gives some sort of experience of something changing or shifting.”

Although Dennis said she hated her class on self-scripting at NYU, she now finds writing her own story writing as a tool for reflection and emotional healing. 

“Your Dulcimer’s Too Loud” and “Baggage” are included in Two Micro Stories, which are a part of a larger manuscript Dennis is working on that follows the inciting incident of what she calls a cataclysmic divorce. 

“If the divorce is the inciting incident, how do I reveal these things in little bits and pieces that are really the emotional healing journey as opposed to the actual events that happened?” reflected Dennis. In her manuscript, Dennis examines how a person goes from broken to whole, maybe not realizing that they were broken in the first place. 
After having a bit of distance from the actual incident of her ex husband coming over to borrow luggage for a trip to Mexico, Dennis was able to examine the situation with a bit of creative license in “Baggage.”   

The story reflects what she was feeling in that environment and frames the way she took in that experience. It was the literal baggage of her ex needing suitcases, but also the emotional baggage and its weight that makes her story resonate. As Dennis points out, anyone who has been through a divorce or has shared custody potentially can understand the connection to objects and the transferring of goods from one household to another. 

In writing “Your Dulcimer’s Too Loud,” Dennis was able to understand the emotional journey she went on when deciding to learn to play the mountain dulcimer, a special instrument not many people play. For her it was not just about doing something unique, but also about reclaiming some part of herself she never knew existed.

As an actress, Dennis can gauge an audiences’ reaction while on the stage. While these micro stories are healing for Dennis, she hopes to have them resonate with her unseen literary audience as well. 

“In the case of these particular stories, to have people read them and find resonance for themselves I think is really gratifying,” Dennis said. “We write in solitude and then put it out into the world. If people connect with it, it feels like less of a lonely experience.”

She hopes her readers will bear witness to what happened, but also understand the brevity of it all. To know that the hard times will pass.
Dennis is blessed with various forms of expression. While acting is an escape from reality, writing is her reflection on it and she uses those contrasting tools as forms of human connection.

“I have always seen my life from the outside in as if an audience is watching me,” Dennis said.  Having that lens has influenced her distinction between moving more inward. “The process of writing for me feels more like the process I go through when I am preparing for a character rather than the actual character you might see. It is kind of like getting inside a person’s head that you don’t necessarily know. I think it’s interesting because the characters in all my stories are me.”

Lauren’s two micro fiction stories, “Your Dulcimer’s Too Loud” and “Baggage” can be found in issue #11 of The Good Life Review.


Author Q & A with Tania Runyan

Author Q & A with Tania Runyan

by Christine Nessler

July 7, 2023

This week’s Author Q & A is with Tania Runyan. Runyan is the author of the poetry collections What Will Soon Take Place, Second Sky, A Thousand Vessels, Simple Weight, and Delicious Air. Her guides How to Read a Poem, How to Write a Poem, and How to Write a Form Poem are used in classrooms across the country. Her poems have appeared in many publications, including Poetry, Image, Indiana Review, Atlanta Review, and The Christian Century. Tania was awarded an NEA Literature Fellowship in 2011.

Runyan’s poem, Mass in Quarantine, is featured in Issue #11 of The Good Life Review.

Tell us about yourself.

I’m a California native who has spent most of my adult life in the Midwest, sharing a home with my husband, three kids, and three dogs. Having taught both independently and in the public schools, freelancing as an editor and content writer, and doing the best I can to make time for my own writing (poetry, poetry instruction, creative nonfiction, and the beginnings of a novel), I’ve collected a variety of literary experiences over the years! I also enjoy playing Celtic fiddle and violin, gardening, reading, and walking in the woods.

What inspired you to write Mass in Quarantine?

During the later phase of lockdown, I took monthly trips to nearby Airbnb’s for a bit of weekend solitude and writing time. I distinctly remember holing up in an attic-type of a bedroom a couple of weeks before Christmas, writing poems inspired by articles exploring how people were coping with the pandemic in creative ways. The image of those parishioner photos attached to the pews grabbed me right away; the seemingly unending dailiness of the pandemic called out for the repeated rhyme and refrains of a villanelle. 

What message do you hope reaches your audience through Mass in Quarantine?

I would love for my audience to be responsive to whatever message they need to find in those lines. I suspect these messages will differ by reader!

How have your life experiences impacted the way you write? How does religion impact your writing?

My faith influences my writing because it is at the heart of how I live and relate to the world. I look for moments of grace and humanity in the hardest of circumstances, recognizing that hope can’t be found without some pain.

How has poetry shaped your life or helped you make sense of the world around you?

Poetry is a form of processing for me, a way I deal with feelings, events, or even people I don’t fully understand. I’ve written quite a bit of poetry informed by Scripture, although I’ve used writing more as a way to grapple with the Bible myself–faith, doubt, anger, humor, all of it–than teach others any sort of doctrine. That said, others who have struggled with their own bouts of doubt and spiritual struggle have expressed that they feel a connection to my work.

Tell us about work you have done or are doing that makes you most proud.

I’m proud of my book Making Peace With Paradise, my first book of creative nonfiction. It just came out last fall, around the time I had started a new teaching job. Not great timing for getting my book “out there!” My whole life, I’ve had a fraught relationship with my native Southern California. This book is another form of artistic processing, exploring some difficult (and hopeful) life experiences against the backdrop of freeways, earthquakes, suburbs, Hollywood, and music.

How do you stay inspired as a poet?

I have to consciously make time for inspiration, whether that looks like reading, walking, playing music, or spending time with other writers. Inspiration, really, comes from the chance to think, reflect, and slow down the world so I can be receptive to the words out there patiently waiting for me.

What style of poetry helps you to best express yourself and why?

These days, I’ve been writing in a lot of forms: villanelles, pantoums, sonnets, sestinas. ghazals. Forms give me some kind of structure to hold onto, a playground for discovery. Picture kids on those big playground structures at school. The equipment gives them a means for exploration, but how they explore is up to their mood, their friends, the weather, whatever. In those times of exploration, they may discover new games, physical moves, imaginary situations, or relationships they may have never considered before. That’s me in a playground of rhyme, refrains, or end words. I love the freedom that comes with structure.

What do you think when you hear the phrase, “The Good Life?”

I think of lying on the couch covered in dogs, a cup of coffee in one hand, a book in the other.

Thank you, Tania, for participating in this Q&A. We wish you the best in life and all your writing endeavors.


Author Q & A with Eric Lochridge

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Author Q & A with Christi Krug

Author Q & A with Christi Krug

by Christine Nessler

June 20, 2023

This week’s Author Q & A is with Christi Krug. Christi’s fiction and nonfiction have appeared in dozens of journals, zines, and anthologies, most recently in Backchannels Journal, The Saturday Evening Post, and GRIFFEL. Krug is a 2022 Emerging Writer for Centrum and a 2019 creative resident for North Cascades Institute. She is a presenter, a Pushcart nominee for poetry, and the author of Burn Wild: A Writer’s Guide to Creative Breakthrough, inspiring audiences across the United States. Krug serves as a writing coach, teaches for community education programs in Oregon and Washington, and leads nature/yoga/writing experiences at the Oregon Coast where she makes her home. You can find our more about Krug at

Christi’s first appearance in TGLR was in Autumn of 2021 (our 5th issue) which included her flash essay, The Coats in Summer People and we are pleased to have her back with a new non-fiction piece, Nocturnal Lagophthalmos, featured in Issue #11.

Tell us about yourself.

I’m someone who likes joining elements in new ways. As in Nocturnal Lagophthalmos, I like to rearrange memories into something new. I’m a writing coach, yoga teacher, and hiker, and in my writing classes and retreats I bring in modalities of breath and nature; likewise, when leading a nature or spiritual experience, I’ll often bring in writing. 

Nocturnal Lagophthalmos tells the story of a young girl who is protecting the fragile nature of her finally happy life. What inspired you to tell this non-fiction story?

A secret usually makes a pretty good story. All my life I never told my foster mom, who is my Mom now, what I’d prayed that night: that my birth mother wouldn’t be healed.

What do you hope your readers gain from reading Nocturnal Lagophthalmos?

I hope that readers can enter into the mindset of a pre-teen and open up to stories and emotions and experiences of their own.

You have a wide range of writing experience from children’s novels to horror stories and self-help to fiction. What is your favorite writing style?

My favorite writing is something that brings the reader into immediacy—whether in a nonfiction account, a fairy tale,  or a literary story. I love being caught up in another world, another time. I just finished The Buried Giant, by Kazuo Ishiguro, an author I love for the overarching reality he creates in each novel. I admire his ability to write in so many different voices.

How do you help others ignite their creativity? How does that differ from igniting your own creativity?

It’s not very different to ignite others’ creativity than it is my own. Some of my most successful teaching and coaching experiences have brought me the best story ideas—right in the moment. Whether teaching or writing, I seek to create a generative dream state, a relaxed and excited space. The tricky part is that when teaching, I have to toggle on and off, in order to give instructions and enable the process for others. Once that’s in place, I can share in the act of writing alongside.

How is ignition different from inspiration when it comes to creativity and writing?

I have so much to say about this! My book, Burn Wild: A Writer’s Guide to Creative Breakthrough, is intended to get you inspired, which is gentle and affirming—but also to ignite action, making a commitment to your creative process.

What makes you most proud?

I’m most proud when a reader says, “Wow, you really took me there. I understood how that character could feel that. It’s something I’ve felt, too.”

What is more rewarding, writing your own work or helping others to believe in themselves as writers? Why?

Both teaching/coaching and writing are integral to sharing my gifts. For years, I prioritized helping others, and then I realized I was missing something huge by putting my own work on a lower rung. Coaching is the day job. But I offer so much more when I lead by example. My residency at Centrum last year was an amazing turnaround for me, reminding me that I’m a writer who coaches, not a coach who writes.

What is one piece of advice you can give to aspiring writers?

Make writing part of your lifestyle. Don’t wait for someone to affirm you. If you love it, give it a huge place in your life and allow others’ reactions a moderate to small place, merely to help grow your skills. Find those who have encouragement as their superpower.

What do you think of when you hear the words, “The Good Life?”

I can relax and be myself. Ah, this is it, no more striving to get anywhere, just allowing what is.

Thank you, Christi, for sharing another of your stories with us and for taking extra time to participate in this Q&A. We wish you the best with writing, coaching, and finding a satisfying balance where you can relax and enjoy all you have accomplished.