announcements team member spotlight

Introducing Annie Barker

Introducing Annie Barker

March 18, 2023

2023 has been a fast moving train thus far. One minute I was celebrating the new year and then I blinked and somehow it’s mid-March. Part of the reason for that is the sheer number of exciting new endeavors we have going on at TGLR– the launch of Micro Monday, book reviews, a team reading, AWP, contributor interviews and promo, and of course our quarterly issues. With all this, my plan to introduce new and existing team members has waned a bit but I’m excited to pick up where I left off at the turn of the year and shine a spotlight on our editors, their writing lives, and their contributions to our efforts. And today I’m pleased to present highlights of my Q&A with Annie Barker who is not only an editor on our flash nonfiction team but also serves an associate editor.

Annie has been with TGLR since day one and has never wavered in her dedication to our mission and vision. Late in 2022, when I asked the team if anyone wanted to volunteer more time to fill gaps in our processes, Annie was among the first to jump in. She’s now doing all the copy editing for our quarterly issues as well as leading an email campaign to connect to other writing programs in the region. I’m grateful she’s been open to assisting as we learn and grow. 

I’m also grateful she took the time to answer some questions so I could share more about her life and her thoughts on writing. The first question, and one of my favorites, is about when she discovered her love of writing. 

Apparently (and this is so embarrassing) I learned this shortly before I wrote the words “As I must breathe, so must I write” in my childhood journal. I don’t know how old I was when I wrote this because after discovering this passage as an adult I immediately ripped out the page and shredded it.

I then asked what prompted her to get an MFA.

I actually never intended to enter the MFA program. I was just going to enroll in UNO for one MFA Enrichment semester (essentially the same as one semester of the program, but with no commitment to continue). I had it all figured out. I was working on a memoir about my search for my biological father and my plan was to attend one residency to learn some useful things, and then work with a mentor for a few months to whip that book into shape.

I clearly didn’t know what I was getting into. Shortly after arriving at the lodge for my Enrichment residency, I called my husband and told him, “Ah, sweetie, I have some bad news. I want to enter the program,” because at some point during those first two days, I realized that in this motley group of creative, hardworking, and courageous writers, I had found my people.

Even more miraculous, I had also rediscovered a forgotten part of myself, a creative, playful, risk-taking part I had last encountered around the age of – oh, I don’t know – twelve? I knew a good thing when I felt it, so I took the leap.

I also asked Annie some of the same questions we’ve asked our contributing authors over the past year including what the most difficult and satisfying parts of the artistic process are for her. 

Like many writers, I find the blank page a little terrifying. I’m getting better at just diving in wherever (which is the best advice I’ve received on this subject), but if I find myself reorganizing my sock drawer it’s probably because I’m starting something new.

As for something satisfying, I LOVE the revision process. I think this is because I generally, in a lot of areas of my life, like to improve things (my handwriting, my house, my husband).

Well played Mrs. Barker!! I then asked her if there ar any personal writing projects she’s actively working on.

I divide my time between writing CNF essays and poetry and shepherding my long-form memoir (working title is “Searching For Sea Glass,” and it’s about the search for my biological father) toward publication.

And of course I wrapped up the Q&A with our classic Nebraska TGLR question, which is what she thinks of when she hears the phrase “The Good Life.” 

I immediately think of something that’s been hard to for me to achieve–a balanced life. One that offers equal time for serious work, creative writing, rest, quality time with family and friends, and opportunities to play and be silly. This might ultimately be a quixotic goal, but I think Nebraska, with its wide open spaces and laid-back work culture, is a place that encourages a purposeful life, so I plan to stay here for a long time and try to get as close as I can to the ideal.

Annie… Thank you for taking that “leap” with us too and for your thoughtfulness and dedication. We are fortunate to have you on the team and I’m grateful for all the care and consideration you give to each and every piece of writing!!


PS. More about Annie and all of our TGLR editors is available on the Masthead.

book review

Woman with a Fan: On Maria Blanchard by Diane Kendig Review by Anne Whitehouse

Woman with a Fan: On María Blanchard
Poems and Essays by Diane Kendig

Review by Anne Whitehouse

Shanti Arts
Publication: June 2021
6o Pages
ISBN: 978-1-951651-85-5

Woman with a Fan is poet Diane Kendig’s historical inquiry and personal journey into the life and career of turn-of-the-century Spanish painter María Blanchard. Although Blanchard worked in Paris among the modernists, she was little celebrated in her lifetime, nearly forgotten after her death, and only recently rediscovered. Her quintessential Cubist painting,

Woman with a Fan, is now prominently displayed in Madrid’s Reina Sofia Museum, “a floor above Picasso, next to Rivera,/ where we see her work large as theirs for the first time.”

In the sixteen poems and three essays that comprise Woman with a Fan: On María Blanchard, Kendig meditates on Blanchard’s art, life, and character and explores other points of connection between herself and her subject. In Blanchard’s short lifetime (1881-1932), marked by poverty and ill health, she produced representational and abstract works of great poignancy. She was born in Santander, Spain, in the same year as Picasso, and she suffered from a congenital birth deformity: “a kyphosis, which is to say, a double deviation of the vertebral column with posterior and lateral curvature…with a prominent humpback.” Like her New England contemporary, the great neglected writer Katharine Butler Hathaway, who had a similar deformity, she developed a hypersensitive awareness of others. Like Hathaway, too, she was rejected romantically because of her appearance, and, like her, she channeled her unfulfilled yearnings into her powerful art. Blanchard’s painting, “The Ice Cream Cart,” features a debonair young man, walking away from the gaily decorated cart with his ice cream prize, while a tiny girl, appearing almost as a baby, strains in vain on tiptoe to reach the cart, her dress billowing over her back and her cane discarded on the ground, forever condemned to frustration.

In Kendig’s poem commemorating the painting, “The Ice Cream Cart,” she relates how, at first glance, she missed the figure of the straining girl, focusing instead on the satisfied boy. Not until her “friend, a nurse, said, ‘Look at the girl behind the cart,’” did she notice Blanchard’s depiction of herself as a child, “barely able to stretch/to hold the ledge of the cart.” Short in stature herself, Kendig identified with Blanchard’s physical frustrations:

                      …I remember that reach
                      to the shelf that held suckers at the bank,
                      to the bookshelf where the librarian waved for me
                      to get books for myself though I was not tall enough to.

Kendig also identifies with Blanchard’s attachment to her only sister. “In the depths of her penury, she bought back her painting Two Sister from a collector because she felt the collector could not appreciate what it meant to her, sister of two sisters as she was.”

There are poems about Blanchard’s individual paintings and her complicated connections to Picasso and Diego Rivera. Both notorious womanizers, Picasso and Rivera rejected Blanchard as a sexual partner because of her hunchback, yet Picasso admired her enough to attend her funeral, and Rivera, though he shared a studio in Paris with her, was unable to pressure her to wait on him, like Lupe, Frida, and the other women in his life.

In her poem, “The Communicant,” Kendig places Blanchard’s self-portrait as an adult wearing a girl’s first communion dress within the genre of First Communion portraits and the historical context of Spanish art, comparing it to Velázquez’s seminal painting Las Meninas.Blanchard painted

The Communicant, Kendig tells us, after her grant money ran out, and she “had to leave Paris/and settle with her mother on Goya Street in Madrid.”

Blanchard’s relationship with her mother was troubled. Now we know that “fetal injuries are rare in cases of falls…[and] her deformity appears to be more suggestive of osteogenesis imperfecta, or brittle bone disease.” Yet Blanchard’s mother was blamed for her daughter’s congenital deformity: “María’s disability came from her mother’s fall from a horse.” As a result, her mother was “cold and distant…María’s mother felt the shame and guilt of creating an imperfect child…caus[ing] an insurmountable rift.” It must have been unpleasant for both women when Blanchard was forced by poverty to return to her mother’s house, yet in “The Communicant,” the subject’s expression is enigmatic.

In “Lorca’s Elegy,” Part One of her multi-section poem, “Speaking of María Blanchard,” Kendig offers a new translation of Lorca’s elegy of Blanchard. In her essay, “Afterword: Speaking of María Blanchard,” she relates how Lorca’s elegy introduced her to Blanchard and explains some of the creative decisions she made in her translation. For Kendig, Blanchard’s life offers an inspiring example of perseverance despite difficulty: “Perhaps just by being María Blanchard, she is giving…a lesson in getting the work done, despite disability and pain, despite poverty, despite gender and the lack of critical acclaim. Despite all that, an artist finally is not necessarily the one with wealth or health or fame: she is the one who creates art.”

Insights like these might seem self-evident, yet we constantly need to be reminded of them. Kendig’s Woman with a Fan: On María Blanchard is a poignant introduction to the artist and her life, as well as a living testimonial to the influence that one artist can exert on another, despite living in different eras, speaking different languages, and working in different genres.

Lady with a Fan is available now from Shanit Arts.

About the reviewer:

Anne Whitehouse’s most recent poetry collection is OUTSIDE FROM THE INSIDE (Dos Madres Press, 2020), and her most recent chapbook is ESCAPING LEE MILLER (Ethel Zine and Micro Press, 2021). She is also the author of a novel, FALL LOVE. Her chapbook, FRIDA, about Frida Kahlo, is forthcoming from Ethel Zine and Micro Press.


Issue #10 ~ Winter 2023!

Issue #10 ~ Winter 2023!

February 24, 2023

Cover Art: Scarred Beauty by Gerburg Garmann

In a perfect world, there would be order and a trustworthy cadence as a well thought through plan unfolds itself in crisp, equally shaped squares—one step at a time. But it’s not a perfect world and the grand universe of literary-ness (and life in general) is chaos more often than not. 

Like most people, I want to appear as if I have my shit together even when things get crazy so admitting that the cart didn’t just come before the horse but came completely unhitched altogether, is not easy. That, my friends, is kinda what happens in life—happened with the release of our Winter issue—and this little confession is both an apology and a means to try and hitch things back together… 

First things first. If you have not yet looked at our most recent issue, #10 ~ Winter 2023, then I’d highly recommend starting with the fantastic artwork which perfectly sets the tone for the collection of stories, poetry, and the ten-minute stage play it accompanies. Then, buckle in for an intense ride with all that wonderful writing. More details about the nature of that ride are available in my very “late to the party” and more personal than usual, editor’s note

The delay with the letter is just one of the consequences of the aforementioned chaos. Another casualty was the lovely, full-spread downloadable version of the issue, which I am pleased to report is also now available here and from our home page. 

If the plan had been executed as intended, the issue release would have been officially announced on our blog and quickly followed by a blast of that news on all the socials. Epic fail. Better late than never though. So this is it! Finally. I’m calling it a “re-release” because twice is nice, right?  

I am sorry for the delays and missteps but most of all I’d like to apologize to the authors and artists that contributed to this issue. Many thanks for your patience and kindness. 

If you are still reading this (thank you, too) you might be wondering what flavor of chaos caused these delays. Pulling the curtain back a little further reveals that we might have had a touch too much going on all at once at the start of 2023.

For example, this month we launched a new segment on our blog called Micro Monday. This segment will feature micro prose and short poems that will provide readers with some “punchy” and thought-provoking pieces to jump-start their week. More of an official intro for this segment coming soon! 

Our team is also gearing up for our first appearance at AWP in March. In just two short weeks, seven of our all-volunteer staff of 23 people will be getting in cars and on airplanes to converge on the convention center in Seattle. We are all very excited about attending some amazing talks and connecting with so many cool people! If you are planning to be there, be sure and stop by our table at the book fair, T526, and say hello!

And last, but certainly not least, we’ve been deep in the weeds planning for this year’s contest– The Honeybee Literature prize in poetry, nonfiction, and fiction. Two fabulous people–Rodrigo Toscano and Hugh Reilly–have graciously agreed to work with us as judges and we are diligently working on someone equally as fabulous to select a winner and runner-up for fiction. More about the contest and judges can be found on our submissions/contest page

It’s definitely shaping up to be an action packed year and we’re enthusiastic about Issue #10 and all the exciting endeavors and events in the works despite the chaos. Stay tuned for more about all of this plus new interviews and fun updates from our team coming soon! Again.. thanks for reading.

~Shyla & The Good Life Review Team

book review

Young Mungo by Douglas Stuart Review by Ally Muterspaw

Young Mungo by Douglas Stuart

Review by Ally Muterspaw

Grove Press
Publication: April 2022
400 Pages
ISBN: 978-0-8021-5955-7

When Trauma Plotlines Feel Inevitable: A review of Young Mungo by Douglas Stuart

If you have read or ever heard of Douglas Stuart’s Shuggie Bain, the recipient of the 2020 Booker Prize, or are familiar with the Scottish-American writer, then you might expect a specific set of social circumstances. Like Shuggie Bain, Stuart’s sophomore novel, Young Mungo, tells a story of systemic poverty, toxic masculinity, and gay/queer sexuality. In 1980s Glasgow, male-led Catholic and Protestant gangs run the city, teen pregnancy is rampant, and youth are granted little aspirations outside of romance and sex. The novel’s protagonist, Mungo Hamilton, doesn’t fit into this environment; he is a sensitive 15-year-old boy, aptly named after the city’s benevolent Saint. When Protestant Mungo begins to fall in love with the Catholic James, the only emotional outlet the boys have places their lives at risk. The novel is told in two separate storylines; one in the present, where Mungo is on a fishing trip with two men, while the primary narrative relays Mungo’s burgeoning relationship with James, along with the social pressure to join the gang led by his brother, Hamish. The timelines begin to converge in a devastating turn of events for the teen boys.

Economic suffering in Young Mungo reflects the everyday sufferings of global capitalism; emotional apathy is central to the social dynamics of Glasgow. The novel is set in the first few years of Margaret Thatcher’s tenure, whose defunding of manual labor projects in Scotland is still felt in the present day. Labor jobs steadily disappear, living tenements are barely habitable, and many young people like Hamish are granted no hope for a safe and stable life. The women in Mungo’s life, his mother (called Mo-Maw) and sister Jodie, recognize his fragile, but unique qualities. Incapable of fulfilling the expectations of violent masculinity and compulsory heterosexuality, Mungo feels that his only chance of happiness is outside of Glasgow. Under the conditions of being outed, Mungo can never return home if he leaves with James. The burden of this choice pressures the protagonist throughout the novel.

Stuart’s environment is remarkable to read, particularly with the balance of nuance and empathy he creates through the characters’ questionably ethical behavior. In the throes of surviving everyday life, aspirations diminish. The author presents this nuance through Jodie’s obligated role as Mungo’s obligated caregiver. When her life is complicated by an unexpected pregnancy through the consequences of a financially enticing affair, she decides to get an abortion. In perhaps one of the first times in her life, Jodie prioritizes her happiness and understands the burden of young women’s opportunities that are placed aside to prioritize the men in their lives. Jodie’s decision is a radical one, especially in an environment where abortion was rare, and difficult for minors to access. Jodie’s radical choices solidify the dangers of surviving Glasgow.

The past tense narrative sets the provenance of the novel’s socioeconomic turmoil. At the same time, the other storyline takes place in “The May After” the expected outcome of James and Mungo being outed. Mungo is sent by his mother to “man up” on a fishing trip in Northern Scotland with two strange men named Gallowgate and St. Christopher. Mungo ends up being molested by both men on the trip, a traumatic plotline presented as an inevitability. During the weekend, Mungo murders the two men and returns to Glasgow alone. At the end of the novel, police find Gallowgate’s body, and want to question Mungo, since his mother notified the police that he could be in danger. Hamish pretends to be Mungo and goes in for questioning, while Mungo sees James at a nearby bus stop. He is left with a choice: to stay in Glasgow, or to go into the unknown with someone he loves. 

A feeling that is difficult to shake throughout the novel is the feeling of dread; the threat of sexual violence toward Mungo feels inescapable. In plenty of LGBTQ+ stories, real and fictional, we know the constant threat of violence that is present in private spaces. Isolated spaces have historically been a safe haven for our community, like the secluded spaces where the boys spend their time, or dangerous, like the fishing trip. While it’s in Mo-Maw’s character to send her son off with strange men, I still question the motives of Stuart’s device with this plot. Does the reader need to see that an abusive form of masculinity is more socially acceptable than the intimate, gay love between Mungo and James? Or is more acceptable than Chickie, Mungo’s neighbor, who remains unmarried? Possibly, but I imagine that most readers probably enter the novel with this mindset. At the apex of the love story, Mungo was ready to leave Glasgow; the arrest, murders, and outing of Mungo and James’s relationship don’t cause the love between the two boys to falter; on the contrary, these events emotionally devastate Mungo into emotional apathy, until the final chapter.

Perhaps Hamish’s potential arrest is a practical plot device Mungo needs to leave Glasgow. Hamish, essentially the “father” of the house, continuously risks his life for his siblings, girlfriend, and child. Pretending to be Mungo is a fulfillment of this responsibility, granted that he knows how to call off the police. This responsibility does not feel just or satisfying, since Hamish must reckon with the effects of traumatizing Mungo through a violent public entity that criminalizes poverty. What kind of accountability can be accomplished when Hamish fears for his and Mungo’s lives? The family’s trauma is underlined with gang activity as a continuation of the centuries-long sectarian violence that plays in Scotland’s history. Gang life is just another trait of generational trauma young men inherit in Glasgow.

Despite the plot devices, Stuart’s well-researched and emotional nuance makes the novel worth its suppressive atmosphere. Mungo’s conflicted feelings about upholding his familial responsibilities, and living an authentic life, are at the core of this novel. Many in our community reckon with the concept that familial love comes with conditions, but the chance to explore sexuality can be a sacred one. There is a certain power at the end of the novel when Mungo feels the glimmer of redemption in his relationship with James. How often do LGBTQ+ characters experience an upswing of hope at the end of their story, especially in the 1980s? I imagine Young Mungo will be just as successful as Shuggie Bain, and rightfully so. However, the question remains for our communities’ stories on what doses of trauma are critical in storytelling, and what are repetitive to the same bouts of trauma that feel overwrought.

Young Mungo is available now from Grove Atlantic.

About the reviewer:

Ally Muterspaw is a librarian based in Indianapolis, IN. She is an active member of her union, and lives with her partner and their cats. While Ally is newer to publishing her writing, her work has been published in Bi Women Quarterly, and has written blogs for her local bookstore. She focuses her writing on LGBTQIA+ book reviews and pop culture.

announcements team member spotlight

Introducing Cid Galicia

Introducing Cid Galicia

January 13, 2023

Today we want to shine a spotlight on team member Cid Galicia. Cid is currently in his final semester in the MFA program at the University of Nebraska-Omaha. When I first met Cid about a year ago, what stood out to me was the energy and enthusiasm he had for the program and the people he was connecting with. He was eager to learn more about TGLR and our team and didn’t skip a beat before volunteering to be a part of it. He joined in the spring as a reader for our 2022 HoneyBee Prize (our 8th issue). A few beats later, when an opportunity at a more permanent spot as an editor opened up, he was the first to throw his hat into the ring. 

Now, as we near the release of our 10th issue, I’m excited to finally, *FINALLY*, officially introduce him and share more of what he’s shared with us about himself and his writing life, beginning with why he decided to pursue an MFA. 

Honestly, it was covid.  The idea of an MFA and transitioning into the higher education community has always been a goal, but it continuously seemed like a far-off destination.  During covid, I was very lucky that no one in my family was deeply affected.  I had peers and coworkers who had the opposite and even deaths in their families/communities.  That is when my mortality/finiteness kind of slapped me across the face. I had this realization that if I had any remaining goals I wish to pursue/achieve, I should have started yesterday.  I was on an amtrak train home for the holidays (I love writing on trains) and that was the moment I decided I would begin pursuing graduate school for my MFA.

I love the fact that he pinpointed the exact moment, which made me curious if there was some point in time or event that sparked his passion for writing in the first place. 

As with many writers, at a young age, I found myself in a different mindset than many of my peers.  And, in order to clear my thoughts and calm myself, I just began to consistently journal.  In high school, after a struggling freshman/sophomore year, I was finally able to test into AP English classes.  I had an amazing teacher, Ms. Majerison,  that year who introduced me to poetry, and that is when I became deeply interested in the craft and began to pursue it on my own.

I then asked some of the same questions we’ve asked our contributing authors over the past year including what fuels his desire to write and also what the biggest influences in his writing have been. 

Human relationships are the most fascinating experiences to me, and all platforms: friendship, family, young, old, intimate, and platonic.  I love watching, observing, and experiencing them personally.  I love thinking and writing about them.  Most of my poems stem from that idea of human connection.

One of TGLRs previous poetry editors, Ally Guenette, completed her thesis on discovering your writer-genealogy–which I thoroughly enjoyed. Interestingly, and cliche enough, my first adolescent inspirations were Poe and the rap group Bone: Thugs In Harmony.  Back then, rap/rappers really had a lot of strong poetic connections.  Later was introduced to Rilke and T.S. Eliot.  I was drawn to Rilke because he also had a deep focus on love and relationships and Eliot for his long poems and vibrations of form and the musicality in his work.

By his own account, Cid has “been in a ravenous state hungry for experience, growth, and community” and has found what he’s been desiring in each semester of the MFA program. Here’s a little more of what he elected to share about his experience with each of his mentors in the program thus far…

Semester 1: Elizabeth Powell

She was my first mentor in the program and met me exactly where I was–an adult educator who had not been in academia for decades.  She helped me navigate the university topography again and reassert my voice.  My first poetic love is for old forms: sonnets, sestinas, and villanelles.  She, however, pushed me outside of those and, in response to my forced evacuation from Hurricane Ida, introduced me to hybrid poetic writing as a new vein for written expression.

Semester 2: Maray Hornbacher

This lady is a badass!  Can we say badass and post it?  Anyway, I was feeling on fire after semester 1 and wanted to see how I could push myself.  I remember my first impression of her, my first semester, was something like this:  I bet she’s awesome, but she would burn me alive! Not this semester, but one of them for sure! By the end of my time with her I had written over 40 pages of critical writing and had 2 poems accepted to journals!  Marya is fire!

Semester 3: Kate Gale

If you can survive The Marya you can pretty much figure your way through just about anything. I decided to take myself to the next step and that was to ask if Kate Gale, head editor of The Red Hen Press, would accept me as an intern for the optional third-semester internship option. Through that experience, I have been able to work through the many moving parts of literary press anatomy. My highlights have been managing the creation of a poetry anthology, making my blog posting debut, and teaching poetry through their Writers In The Schools program.

That sounds like an action-packed ride for sure and though everyone’s experience is different, I’m 100% with Cid in that applying for the program was one of the best decisions of my life. It is, after all, part of what led me to the “good” life I’m living right now. This is precisely why I’m always curious about other people’s thoughts about the phrase “The Good Life.” Cid’s Response: 

Now that I have roots in The South–specifically New Orleans, when I hear The Good Life I think of live music, dancing, drinking somewhere with the Open Container law, writing near The Mississippi, and a good make-out session.  That sounds really good to me.

Cid’s recent publications include “Letters to Marya” in Trestle Ties and “Danni” in the Elevation Review. He’s also got several poems forthcoming in 2023: “2am Dances With My Father.” in South Broadway Press, “We Swayed Furtively” and “Mongamish” in Roi Faineant, and “Club Dances and Car Window Kissing” in Trampoline. 

Cid… Thank you for jumping in on this journey with us and for the fantastic energy you bring to  the team. I feel fortunate to have met you and look forward to future shenanigans! Best of luck with that 4th semester!!


PS. More about all of our TGLR editors is available on our Masthead.

announcements event

Third Thursday – Voices at Larksong

Third Thursday – Voices at Larksong

January 6, 2023

Happy New Year and welcome to 2023! We’re looking forward to all that this year has in store and excited to announce that we are kicking things off right with a local, in-person reading in January in Lincoln, Nebraska. Though our team is scattered across the US, from New York to Oregon and Texas to Minnesota, we have a healthy cohort that reside in and around the Omaha Metropolitan area and we’ve been invited to participate in Third Thursdays – Voices at Larksong.

On January 19th at 5:30, TGLR will be converging on the Larksong Writer’s place in Lincoln to connect, read from our personal collections, and share a little bit about our journal.

Readers include: Cat Dixon, Tacheny Perry, Michelle Pierce Battle, Tana Buoy, Annie Barker, and Shyla Shehan.

  • Where:  1600 N Cotner Blvd, Lincoln, NE
  • When: 5:30 – 7:30PM. The event will begin with a social half-hour and the reading with a Q&A will run from 6 to 7:30.
  • Cost/Tickets: This event is free and open to the public. We can’t wait to meet you!

A huge THANK YOU to Larksong and Karen Shoemaker for making this event possible and for her long-time dedication to writers and the literary community!

More about all events and workshops offered by Larksong Writers Place can be found by visiting their website at

book review

The Ways We Get By by Joe Dornich Review by Edward Jackson

The Ways We Get By by Joe Dornich

Review by Edward Jackson

Black Lawrence Press
Publication: January 2021
190 Pages
ISBN: 978-1-62557-830-3

The Not So Absurd, in the Absurd Settings of Joe Dornich’s The Ways We Get By

Joe Dornich’s collection of stories find the right balance of new weird and traditional short story form to draw in a wide range of readers. The nine stories have interwoven characters that remind us, as they veer just enough off the track, that we are indeed in a very strange world. Dornich’s characters find themselves in a variety of odd jobs such as cuddlers, fake criers at funerals, Jesus impersonators at Christian theme parks, and campers at a sleepaway where all are allergic to sunlight. While the settings are not that strange, a boat, a camp, even a brothel for cuddling, it is the circumstances within those just enough odd settings that make the stories resonate with readers. 

Dornich wisely starts the collection off with The Continuing Controversy of the Snuggle Shack. One part new age retreat center, one part non-sexual brothel, and two parts weird, readers are drawn in as the circumstances of those protesting the existence of this benign center of cuddling as much as they are drawn to the workers. The protestors seem eerily familiar to right to life protestors, and their tactics can be equally as frightening. 

While the settings of these workplaces draw readers in, it is the protagonists of each story that readers will linger the longest with. It is a genius battle that Dornich has achieved by not allowing these wonderful settings to overshadow his characters. 

The collection for the most part is wisely put together with a balance of odd settings that may not exist in our world but seem fully probable to settings that we see today.

The Reluctant Son of a Fake Hero sees the world of a Hollywood Boulevard costumed superhero worker from the eyes of its teen protagonist, whose father poses for tips with tourists as Superman. The setting, one that anyone whose been to Los Angeles knows all too well, is sadly coiled into a California roll. The young boy ends up joining his father as Aquaman on the boulevard, barely making a living. It is the underbelly of the workers in these jobs that gut punches the reader. 

The obvious parallels to sex workers are indeed one of the most resonating themes of the collection. Dornich’s settings like Hollywood Boulevard, the Snuggle Shack, and the insemination center at the endanger animal release center, all remind readers of places we often look down upon in our world. But Dornich forces the reader to reexamine their thoughts on the workers in today’s world at places like these. 

In addition to the world of sex workers that readers will find parallels too, Dornich readily taps into our daily relationships through family and coworkers that readers will gravitate to. More interesting, though, is the less visible parallels. Dornich taps into our fears as well. The idea that no one would cry at our funeral, makes the hiring of actors to be paid criers completely understandable as the American reader will always have fears about that. But Dornich also makes many parallels to religions and its hypocrisy. The actors at the Christian theme park, show the absurdity of American religion in all its glories. 

While the balance of relatable settings to the new weird workplace situations is a balance of achievement, the collection falls a bit flat in the placing of its last story. Boat Guy feels a bit out of place with the rest of the collection, and not the best ending note. It leaves the reader less enthused by the settings and characters that we started with that packed so much into them. While Boat Guy certainly fits well with the collection, it is not a great bookend to the The Continuing Controversy of the Snuggle Shack. Boat Guy, while funny and a bit odd, feels all too relatable of a note to end on. A boat with a broken toilet and an odd captain doesn’t match the power of the wonderful weirdness of the Snuggle Shack. Had the order of the stories been arranged in a more powerful manner with particular attention to the last one, readers would leave more satisfied. A better ending story that matches the opener would have been more impactful. 

Boat Guy would have been a better fit in the middle. This misstep is a key to the importance of arrangement regarding a collection of stories. Perhaps Understudy to Matinee Jesus, would have been a better closer to the collection. With it’s relatable setting, a theme park, and its oddness of the characters work, spoke better to the achievement of the balance that Dornich was so successful at. 

Arrangement aside, Dornich’s collection of stories, The Ways We Get By, is an achievement in the new weird reaching a wider audience. One ready for a world of new jobs that seem strange, yet totally relatable. Many of us may need paid criers at our funerals as the world gets more cynical and Dornich has wisely tapped into that. Dornich has created several characters and settings I quite enjoyed spending my time with.

The Ways We Get By is available now from Black Lawrence Press.

Edward Jackson is a creative writer who has published prose in a variety of publications including The Louisville Review, The Pennsylvania Literary Journal, The Blotter, and The Gay & Lesbian Review along with book reviews in Entropy and School Library Journal. He holds degrees in Education, English, and Library Science from Western Michigan University, Aquinas College, University of Georgia, and Youngstown State University. He lives in Greenville, PA with his husband and their menagerie of pets named after Mad Men characters.

announcements team member spotlight

Introducing Terry Belew

Introducing Terry Belew

December 10, 2022

Today’s team member spotlight is on Terry Belew. Terry is currently in the midst of getting his MFA from the University of Nebraska-Omaha which is where I first met him. Unlike many of the folks on our team who have been with us since the inception of the journal, Terry came to us this past spring when he volunteered to read for our 2022 HoneyBee Prize (our 8th issue).

We’re extremely grateful that he decided to stick around for more TGLR shenanigans and are delighted to announce that he is now an editor on our Poetry Team. In fact, Terry eagerly offered to play a more active role on the team and is not only organizing and facilitating meetings for his team, but also assisting with marketing campaigns and coming up with fundraising ideas. Over the last six months I feel like I’ve gotten a good sense for who he is but wanted to take this opportunity to share a little more about him and his writing life with our readers. I asked Terry a number of questions, beginning with where he first discovered a love for writing and poetry.

I started to enjoy writing in elementary school when we were asked to illustrate and narrate children’s books. I became interested in poetry in high school after reading William Blake and Chaucer. Poetry really piqued my interest when I was a student at Missouri State and that’s when I took an introductory workshop class with my mentor and friend, Sara Burge. 

I then asked what prompted him to pursue an MFA.

One of the primary reasons I am pursuing an MFA, other than to write more and work with accomplished writers on improving my writing, is to help build my literary community. The literary community, at times, seems quite large. Still, we really are a small portion of the population and the more we can interact with one another and learn from one another, the better off the literary community will be.

I then asked some of the same questions we’ve asked our contributing authors over the past year including what the most difficult and satisfying parts of the artistic process are. 

Right now, one of the most difficult parts is generating new material. At times, new material comes forth on a daily basis and I need to do a better job of making more time to write, but right now trying to generate new content is a struggle.

As for something satisfying it would be reading poems to my wife, who is a non-writer, and her being moved by them. I also am thankful for her listening to a poem over and over again, even though I might have changed three words or re-lineated and expect the poem to be better.

He also shared that his desire to write comes from simple observation and a love of manipulating language which I relate to and appreciate. I then asked Terry if he has any projects he is working on and/or recent or upcoming publications to share.

I recently “completed” my first book-length manuscript and have been submitting to book contests. I’ll continue to add and subtract content until it one day hopefully finds a publisher willing to take it in.

I’ve also had a few poems published in the last year or so, in West Trade Review, Solar, The American Journal of Poetry, Book of Matches and Split Rock Review, and in print in Storm Cellar. I try to keep submissions out, especially during the academic year, so hopefully I’ll be lucky enough to have a couple more forthcoming by the end of the year.

Amazing poems and that’s quite a lot for such a short time! Congratulations!! When I see this list and read the poems, it definitely makes me think he is making the most of this one precious Good Life. It definitely made me curious for his answer to what he thinks about when he hears the phrase “The Good Life.”

I’m not well-traveled, so the first time I went to Nebraska for my first residency and saw one of their mottos is “The Good Life” that’s my natural association. Having worked on The Good Life Review for a couple of months now, that’s also another natural association. 

When I think of “The Good Life” as a kind of situation, I think of living in the Midwest—as backward as some things are, I really enjoy the ability to live in nature and to have access to it constantly. 

Terry.. Thank you for being on the team and for being so willing to sacrifice your time and effort on making our journal and organization a success. And also for being open to this little Q&A. I hope you stick with us for a long time!!


PS. More about all of our TGLR editors is available on our Masthead.

book review

Hush by Nikki Ummel Review by Cid Galicia

Hush by Nikki Ummel

Review by Cid Galicia

Belle Point Press
Publication: October 2022
28 pages
ISBN: 979-8-9858965-2-7

In the chapbook Hush, Nikki Ummel guides readers through the neighborhoods, bars, and backyards of New Orleans–while simultaneously the streets, alleyways, and rooms of her own life as a partner, mother, sister, and queer woman. Readers travel the lived realities of medical recovery and support for her sister, hurricanes, and the ever-stretching diversity of today’s family dynamics. There is joy, but that joy is not a shield of denial to hide behind from real-world experience. Through these poems, she offers us truths of living with struggle and love in the heart of The Big Easy.

Many writers use their first pages to coax the reader’s attention and adoration–offers of pleasures, happiness, or wealth of life that can be lived vicariously. Truth is never avoided in New Orleans, and truth is never avoided in Nikki’s writing. Her opening poem, My Sister’s Double Mastectomy, adheres to this. The reader follows Nikki’s observations of her sister’s recovery as she struggles to identify with her new body that looks and feels now so distant and strange.

                      She is relearning comfort…
                      This is not her body, or wasn’t,

                      but now is…

                     She pulls his four year old body
                     to her recessed chest but us unable to staunch his giggles.

To the many readers who have experienced the same personally, or have  had friends/siblings that have, in which they also had to painfully observe–Nikki’s poems offer a sanctuary of empathy.

At the same time, Nikki is also a laughter igniter. One of my favorite poems is Eleven. In this poem, Nikki writes through the narrative lens of a young adolescent girl nearing one of the physical thresholds of womanhood, her first period and also through a mother with concern for this coming too soon for her daughter. What I love about this poem is the simultaneous dialogue of prayers to the Virgin Mother.  Spoken as a reflection of the two, one of high anxiety and the other of youthful female ferocity!

               Hail Mary / full of grace / am I blessed
               amongst women too? / And my fruit / 
               Buds / Holy Mother / but it’s too soon.

               Hail Mary / full of grace / bless me
              Mother of mothers / make me a woman too.

The narrative poetic craft of setting, characters, symbols, and humor are so strongly etched within this poem. We are pulled into the duality of the two characters so deeply, we cannot help but leave this poem with hope and a bit of laughter.  

Throughout this book Nikki artfully covers the full canvas of poetic expression as she guides the reader through her words and stories down the pages and into the hearts, hopes, worries, and fears of each poem.

Nikki Ummel is an active advocate of poetry in her New Orleans community. She is a writer, editor, educator, and laughter-igniter to those who find themselves in her creative wake. Assistant Editor for Bayou Magazine, UNO & Xavier University Instructor, and most recently co-founder of the reading series lmnl lit. Nikki has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize, Best New Poets, and twice awarded the Academy of American Poets’ Andrea Saunders Gereighty Poetry Award. She is the 2022 winner of the Leslie McGrath Poetry Prize. Nikki has been published, or will soon be, in Painted Bride Quarterly, The Adroit Journal, The Georgia Review, and more. Her second chapbook Bayou Sonata, NOLA DNA, is forthcoming Spring 2023.

Hush is available now from Belle Point Press.


2022 Pushcart Prize Nominations

2022 Pushcart Prize Nominations

November 30, 2022

With one day to spare, our 2022 Pushcart Nominations have been signed, sealed, and are on the way to Wainscott, New York. Huzzah!!

Pushcart is one of the most honored literary series in America and each year editors of small book presses, magazines, and journals are invited to nominate poetry, short stories, essays, or stand-alone excerpts from novels. As such, we are grateful for the opportunity to send six pieces published in 2022 for consideration. The following are this year’s nominations:

Congratulations and best of luck to all!

The Good Life Review Team