INTERVIEW | Barbara Diehl, Baltimore Review Editor and Eckleburg Workshop Instructor

barbara284We are utterly ecstatic to have Barbara Diehl teach “Short Story I” through the Eckleburg Workshop Series. With a twenty-five-year publication history full of poetry and short stories, Diehl is well-versed in not just the techniques of the craft trade, but also in the wide variety of literature out there that can teach us how to become better writers as we become better readers. With a workshop that encourages improvement in writing not just from practicing the craft, but also from reading attentively and providing engaged feedback, poet and writer Diehl brings an invigorating mix of passion and professionalism to her workshops.


The Doctor TJ Eckleburg Review: How did you become involved with the Eckleburg Workshops Series?

Barbara Diehl: I participated in the Magic Realism course as a student and very much enjoyed the experience. After completing a graduate program in writing and then taking some time off from writing, I needed some structure and “kick in the pants” motivation to write again. Not that I’m ever far from the writing world. I manage a literary journal. But I needed that “me” time. It did pay off. After some polishing, one of the pieces produced during the course found a home in a journal. Knowing how beneficial that “me” time can be, I was delighted when Rae asked me to lead “Short Story I.” That’s a territory I know well and love.


TJE: What workshop do you teach and how often do you teach it?

BD: I’m scheduled to teach “Short Story I,” and I hope to be able to teach it monthly. This workshop focuses on the scene—the heart (in my opinion) of the short story.


TJE: What attracts you to the genre of your workshop?

BD: I’m torn between the poet’s precision and concision and the novelist’s careful, slow unreeling of narrative. The short story is the perfect middle ground for me. I love a writing workspace of three or four pages to about 18; so much can be accomplished in a small space. And small spaces should appeal to many contemporary readers. At least they do to me. I like getting a lot of bang for my buck.


TJE: What is your approach to teaching and running a workshop?

BD: I don’t believe that we learn the complexities of good writing by being talked at—or reading “how to” advice in large chunks. Not that these aren’t helpful activities. (I own an awful lot of books on the writing craft.) We learn to write fiction by reading extensively in the genre we love most, reading for enjoyment and reading with an analytical eye; by spending as much time as possible actually writing and revising; and by getting feedback from other readers and writers.


TJE: What is your own writing background?

BD: I’ve been writing and publishing poems and short stories for about 25 years, and I was writing for many years before that. (A bookworm with a ridiculously overactive imagination since elementary school.) I’ve also been an active member of Baltimore’s literary community for many years, as well, including participation in and management of literary organizations. Writing may be a solitary activity, but writers should be good citizens of their writing communities. It’s a win-win.

I enjoy trying different types of writing; it’s good to stretch the writing muscles. Switching back and forth between poetry and fiction is good for me, as well as switching between realistic stories and stories with magical elements.


TJE: What three books/articles would you recommend to someone who is just starting to write in her workshop’s genre?

BD: Writers who want to write great short stories should read anthologies such as the Best American Short Stories series to get a good sense of the kind of fiction currently being published by literary journals. Writers can also develop a good sense of the kind of fiction they find most appealing (or not at all appealing) by reading a large number of contemporary authors. For someone just starting to write fiction, I suggest a book on craft that covers the basics such as Writing Fiction Step by Step by Josip Novakovich or the classic What If by Anne Bernays and Pamela Painter. Both combine the basic elements of fiction writing with loads of exercises. A fairly comprehensive grammar and punctuation book is good to have, too. I’ve had Right Words Right Places by Scott Rice for a long time. I’d advise that new writers actually read a grammar book cover to cover, at least once. Boring, yes, but writers should take the nuts and bolts seriously if they want publishers to take their stories seriously.


TJE: What type of material, and how much of it will the participant produce by the end of the workshop?

BD: We will focus on writing story scenes—the story element (rather than exposition and description) most likely to engage readers’ attention, with lean and precise language. Scenes written over the four weeks of the workshop could be combined into a full story, used as starting points for several stories, or  be developed into complete, one-scene stories.


TJE: What is your favorite facet of the workshop?

BD: Reading the workshop participants’ scenes! (Selfish, right?) After that: Helping them fine-tune those scenes and considering ways that the scenes can be integrated into a full story. I’ve scoured many short stories looking for scenes and spent a lot of time considering exercises that we can take from them, so I’m eager to see what those exercises produce.


Barbara Westwood Diehl is founding editor of The Baltimore Review. Her fiction and poetry have been published in many journals including MacGuffin, Confrontation, Potomac Review (Best of the 50), American Poetry Journal, Measure, Little Patuxent Review, SmokeLong Quarterly, Gargoyle, Superstition Review, Word Riot, Bartleby Snopes, Penduline Press, Northwind. NANO Fiction, and Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine. Stories forthcoming in Luna Luna and Per Contra.


INTERVIEW | Arianne Zwartjes

Arianne Zwartjes photo284Arianne Zwartjes brings the body into her writing. In Detailing Trauma, she looks at our anatomy and the intricate interactions between our organs, blood, muscles, tissues—all of it, really—in order to discover something about trauma and healing. Here, Zwartjes speaks further about hybridity and stretching the boundaries of genre, as well as a multitude of ways in which writing enriches our world and our experience of it.




Chelsey Clammer: Your most recent book, Detailing Trauma, is subtitled “A Poetic Anatomy.” Can you explain a little bit as to what this phrase means and how it interacts with your lyric essays?

Arianne Zwartjes: Well, the subtitle here plays a couple of roles. First, I think, the role of going beyond what is a fairly concise, definitive title to question and complicate the latter’s scientific tone. Second, on a more straight-forward level, I suppose you could say it’s a point-blank indication to readers that this book is written in lyric form, it’s not your “normal” linear, concrete researched non-fiction. Finally—and this desire occurred at the editorial and marketing levels—it plays the role of indicating to potentially-leery readers who may feel they’ve read one too many memoirs about lifetimes of personal traumas that the word trauma in the title refers to the physical, medical meaning of that word.


CC: An interesting facet of nonfiction is that many writers and scholars discuss it in terms of gender—how gender is a fluid thing, an identity that can always change. Genre, they argue, can/is just as fluid as our varying gender expressions that stretch way beyond the dichotomy of male/female. Thinking of this, what are the ways in which you work within and rebel against established genres? How does this help and/or hinder your work?

 AZ: I think it’s absolutely true that both genre and gender often get defined in terms of little boxes, but are so much more fluid and complicated than that. Jenny Boully articulates this really clearly in her essay “On the EOE Genre Sheet,” which she read on a panel at AWP in 2010, where she writes, “It seems to me that the inability to accept a mixed piece of writing is akin to literary racism.  I think of the EOE data sheets.  Choose the genre that you feel most accurately describes you.” I don’t know if you’ve seen the interview I recently did for Fourth Genre, with Barrie Jean Borich, but I talked a lot about this—the fact that I am very invested in questions of hybridity, margins, borders, both personally and literarily: in the hybridity of both social identity and of artistic form. These questions play out artistically in the debate around genre-boundaries and multi-media work, and socially they play out around multiracial identities, queerness, immigrants, and everyone else whose identity busts out of all those neat, organized little boxes.

AZ quote 1But when I sit down to write, I’m not thinking about “rebelling” or how what I write is going to break some boundary or evoke questions about its form. I’m writing what I like to read (or at least, I’m trying to do so): work that is multi-layered, thinky, linguistically beautiful, critical and questioning. I like work that brings together lots of different ideas, and looks at the sparks they create when they collide, and so that’s the way my writing process often occurs, also—putting very disparate things side by side, and seeing if they create chemistry. I like, also, to play with the tension between a given language set, often something technical like medicine, and my subject matter, which is often much more personal.

And as far as “hindering”—working in this hybrid space, the barriers I come up against show up when I try to interact with structures and systems outside of myself—i.e. the publishing world—which needs me to identify and label where my work fits (and often sticks it in the “Poetry” category when they can’t figure out what else to do with it). Back to Boully again: “To be told to choose is to be told that you disrupt the neat notion of where things belong, that you don’t belong…. Just as my identity is often displaced, so too are my poetics and literary inclinations.” But I have to also say that I’ve been blessed to find editors and publishers—notably Joe Parsons, formerly at U of Iowa Press, and Ander Monson of DIAGRAM/New Michigan—who have embraced my work and haven’t tried to squish it into a box that doesn’t fit it, for which I’m really grateful.


CC: The majority of our society believes that we are in control of, well, basically everything, even every bit of ourselves and those we love and know. In this bootstrap-pulling-up land of the “brave,” phrases such as “you’re the master of self-control” predominate the socially-constructed view of how we relate to (read: dominate) the world. So. One concept you poetically approach in Detailing Trauma is the fallacy of control, especially in terms of our helplessness when faced with loss. You also touch on the idea that “living is an act of faith.”  Where do you think faith and control intersect, if they even do? What part do our bodies play in this interaction between loss and hope?

AZ quote 2AZ: You know I think there’s a real dualism present in US society, because on the one hand we have this incredible, arrogant rhetoric about being “world leaders” and having all this influence and control around the world—and financially and militarily, unfortunately, we do—and all this capitalist advertisement-based rhetoric about becoming perfect: perfectly happy, perfectly beautiful, perfectly safe. But at the same time we’re very aware, on a gut level, that we are very much not in control, that our bodies get older and break down, that we can’t even predict, let alone control, what will happen to us in the next 24 hours. In fact, I think most of the rhetoric of the former probably has to do with our denial of the latter—or at least, to do with both that and with power.  I’ve had a very serious meditation practice for a long time now, and really the most central tenet of mindfulness practice or Buddhist study or what-have-you is the idea of impermanence, of us not being in control, and all the shifts in mindset that have to follow once you admit to that very basic principle.

As far as faith, well, my relationship to that word is a bit complicated because we so often associate it with some sort of blind faith in religious doctrine. But I think part of the process of writing this book was of grappling with the question of what faith & hope mean to me. And ultimately what I’ve come to, at least in part, is a sort of faith/hope in my ability to remain kind—to both myself and to others—which I think is way, way underrated in our society.


CC: Personally, and I know I’m not alone on this, I consider the body to be another page on which we write, that our bodies tell a story that is much different from what our writing can relate. As you worked on Detailing Trauma, were there any surprises in regards to how you used or thought about your body while writing?

AZ: I’m going to reference another writer again here, this time Lynn Kilpatrick whose piece entitled “Your Body is An Essay” appeared on Essay Daily last March. She writes, “language is a body and the essay is a map. A way not only out but in. Around.” And, “The way I understand the essay is the way I understand feminism which is the way I understand the world: through my body.” I think as I was writing Detailing Trauma I was very aware of my body and its fragility, but maybe in a way that I almost always am. As a medical person and a very physical person—for many years I’ve led thirty-day backpacking trips in the mountains of Wyoming, for example—my experience of the world and of self feels very much rooted in physical embodiment. Or maybe I was hyper-aware during the writing period, but if anything that hyper-awareness came from that singular experience—have you ever felt this?—of being so in love with someone that you suddenly feel their physical vulnerability, and yours, immensely, acutely, constantly. So not from the book project directly. Though the book’s starting point was a sort of outgrowth of that feeling.


CC: What role do you think writing plays in the context of navigating and healing from trauma?

AZ quote 3AZ: I think the question of role is very personal, different for every individual. Obviously it’s critically important to find the voices of others out there in the world who have experienced, and found their way through the tangled labyrinth of healing from, a similar trauma to yours, whatever it may be. So the role of writers working through, publically and honestly and vulnerably and transformatively, their own struggles is critically important in the sense of offering succor, a sort of light forward. On the flip side, though, the question of how one navigates one’s way through via writing is very individual. For myself, I think writing is how I ask the questions that matter to me, and then try to write my way into some sort of deeper understanding, if not (and usually not) an answer.


CC: What are you working on now?

AZ: I’m working loosely on a project investigating the human tendency and drive toward both connection and violence. I can’t say much more about it than that—I don’t tend to sit down and frame out a whole project outline, complete with beginning and ending locations—that takes the discovery out of it. So, I’m writing my way into the project, whatever it ends up wanting to be. But I can say that I spent time in Turkey and in Cyprus this summer, and being in such geographic proximity to what is going on in both Syria and Gaza felt very impactful to me, on a sort of physical level. And I teach at a school with students from both Syria and Palestine, as well as so many other regions of the world where violence is an everyday reality. So that’s all a part of the writing I’m doing right now.


After receiving her MFA in Poetry at the University of Arizona and teaching English and creative writing there for six years, Arianne Zwartjes is now in northern New Mexico serving as the director of the wilderness program at the United World College. The University of Iowa Press published her lyric nonfiction project, Detailing Trauma: A Poetic Anatomy, in the fall of 2012; a selection from Detailing Trauma won the 2011 Gulf Coast Prize for Nonfiction, and was named a Best American Essays Notable Essay in 2013.  Her poetry and prose can be found in Ninth Letter, DIAGRAM, Essay Daily, No Tell Motel, Cue, and elsewhere; her previous works include Disem(body), The Surfacing of Excess, and (Stitched) A Surface Opens: Essays.


Chelsey Clammer received her MA in Women’s Studies from Loyola University Chicago, and is currently enrolled in the Rainier Writing Workshop MFA program. She has been published in The Rumpus, Essay Daily, and The Nervous Breakdown among many others. Her essay “A Striking Resemblance” received an Honorary Mention for Water~Stone Review’s 2014 Judith Kitchen Award in Nonfiction. Clammer is the Managing Editor and Nonfiction Editor for The Doctor T.J. Eckleburg Review, as well as a workshop instructor for the journal. Her first collection of essays, There Is Nothing Else to See Here, is forthcoming from The Lit Pub in 2015.  Her second collection, BodyHome, will be published in Spring 2015 by Hopewell Publications. You can read more of her writing at:


INTERVIEW | Brenda Mann Hammack, Editor and Eckleburg Workshop Instructor

hammack pic284The Doctor TJ Ecklburg Review is thrilled to have Brenda Mann Hammack as part of our workshop series’ team of instructors. Hammack teaches workshops on fairy tales. She encourages cross-genre writing and by the end of her workshops, participants will have created three original short stories, and gone through one longer revision. Throughout the workshops, Hammack provides numerous materials and prompts so the participant can figure out what works best for her. Fun and informative, Hammack’s workshops provide a fresh perspective and innovating ways to approach writing fairy tales.


The Doctor TJ Eckleburg Review: How did you become involved with the Eckleburg Workshops Series?

Brenda Mann Hammack: When preparing to teach a magical realist workshop at the Rooster Moans Poetry Cooperative, I came across an article in which Rae Bryant observed that “[f]or staunch realism and prose traditionalists, magic realism might as well be poetry.”  Not long after, I saw an advertisement for one of her fiction classes at Eckleburg.   Since my own writing frequently operates in that in-between place where genres overlap, I decided to register for Rae’s workshop, expecting that her ideas about magical realist fiction might propel me into new directions as I contemplated the ways in which theories about fiction might carry over into poetry.


TJE: What workshop do you teach and how often do you teach it?

BMH: I am currently teaching a workshop on the writing of original and revisionist fairy tale at Eckleburg.   My focus is on fiction writing although cross-genre approaches are never discouraged.  My schedule for spring and summer 2015 has yet to be determined, but I will be leading the class again in December of 2014.


TJE: What attracts you to the genre of your workshop?

BMH: Angela Carter’s The Bloody Chamber, Catheryenne M. Valente’s The Orphan’s Tales, Keith Donohue’s The Stolen Child, Eowyn Ivey’s The Snow Child, A.S. Byatt’s The Djinn in the Nightengale’s Eye, Helen Oyeyemi’s Mr. Fox, Marissa Meyer’s Cinder, and Kate Bernheimer’s My Mother She Killed Me, My Father He Ate Me are only some of the books that have contributed to my appreciation of resurrection charms that take the form of fiction.  Anne Sexton’s Transformations, Jeannine Hall Gailey’s She Returns to the Floating World, Carol Ann Duffy’s The World’s Wife, Helen Ivory’s Waiting for Bluebeard, and Jeanne Marie Beaumont’s The Poets Grimm keep me drawing me back to fairy tale poetry. Filmmakers Jan Svankmajer, Guillermo del Toro, Hayao Miyazaki, Michel Ocelot, Catherine Breillat, and Pablo Berger are among the international magicians who have conjured some of my favorite fairy tale films.


TJE: What is your approach to teaching and running a workshop?

BMH: My weekly lessons tend to be hyper-stocked with hyperlinks, though I don’t expect anyone to click to access every link to readings, film clips, and visual art any more than the owner of a magical supply shop would expect a patron to sample every item in rooms with floor-to-ceiling displays.  I provide numerous materials and prompts so that the writer can browse until s/he finds inspiration that activates his/her own writing craft. When I read each participant’s contribution for the week, I try to adapt my feedback to differing prose styles so I’m more midwife than bossy mage.


TJE: What is your own writing background?

BMH: I earned my Master’s in Creative Writing in both poetry and fiction from Hollins College (now University), then my Ph.D. from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro with an emphasis in Victorian literature.  In my first book, Victorine and the Humbug: A Neo-Victorian Fantasy in Verse, the narrative moves between poetry and prose as its titular characters interact in an environment inhabited by taxidermied animals, fretful gargoyles, occult practitioners, and one near-sighted bibliophile.  In addition to writing and publishing in multiple genres, I also act as managing editor for Glint Literary Journal, which is sponsored by the Department of English at Fayetteville State University.


TJE: What three books/articles would you recommend to someone who is just starting to write in her workshop’s genre?

BMH: Jeff Vandermeer’s Wonderbook: The Illustrated Guide to Creating Imaginative Fiction (2013) provides a lively introduction for any writer of fabulist fiction.  I would also recommend the SurLaLune Fairy Tale website as well as the Journal of Mythic Arts archive at Endicott Studio’s website.


TJE: What type of material, and how much of it will the participant produce by the end of the workshop?

BMH: Usually, participants create three original short stories and one longer revision, though I have seen some efforts that might be called flash fiction (or prose poetry), depending on perspective that is probably no more definitive than that Dickinsonian slant of light.  However, much depends on each writer’s other commitments and inspirations. Some weeks, a writer may only find time to write a segment of story; s/he may connect three segments into a 5,000 word mosaic in week four.


TJE: What is your favorite facet of the workshop?

BMH: Since my lessons provide so many different visual and textual prompts, I can never predict the approaches that participants will take in their weekly stories or their discussion board responses.  Although my myth-and-folktale receptors tend to remain on alert whenever I’m conscious, the online venue allows me the opportunity to interact with writers from different cultural backgrounds.  Not only do they allow me to read their works in process, they also introduce me to fairy tale sources that I had not encountered before.


Brenda Mann Hammack is an Associate Professor of English at Fayetteville State University where she teaches seminars in creative writing, children’s literature, and nineteenth-century British literature.  She is managing editor Glint Literary Journal and has taken on the responsibilities of web design for issue 6, expected to publish in September 2014.  Hammack’s on-line courses include Eckleburg Workshops’ “Fairy Tale Fiction” and the Rooster Moans Poetry Cooperative’s “The True Fairy Tale Poem” and “Magical Realist Poetry.”  Her first book, Humbug: A Neo-Victorian Fantasy in Verse, was released by Misty Publications in 2013. Other recent work has appeared or is forthcoming in Interfictions Online, Rhino, The Medulla Review, and Lissa Kiernan’s Glass Needles & Goose Quills:Elementary Lessons in Atomic Properties, Nuclear Families, and Radical Poetics.