Tag Archives: writers

Video: Ari Honarvar’s “When The New Normal Becomes The Law”

At VAMP: Law and Disorder last Thursday night, January 26th, 2017, San Diego writer Ari Honarvar read her piece, “When The New Normal Becomes The Law.”

It started with a murmur of worry, a tiny fracture in our boundless optimism. Whispers surfaced that opposing views wouldn’t be tolerated by our new government. Surely that was paranoid nonsense, we thought, but before we could remember former civil rights, newspapers were shut down and people of a certain religion were targeted. Women’s rights were cut in half and just like that half the population became second class citizens.

We’ve put the video online for you:

Even though I had forgotten what freedom felt like, I often revisited the fantasy that maybe nature would take care of a bad situation. Last night, my cat disposed of a deformed kitten in the litter by eating it, so maybe an invisible mother cat would eat this erratic deformed monster of a government.

Ari Honarvar was born into a family of poets and poetry lovers and raised in Shiraz, the Persian city of gardens, love and wine. She is a translator, performer and an artist who blends Persian calligraphy and painting. Her work has been featured on Huffington Post, Elephant Journal and NPR. Her Oracle Card Set and book, Rumi’s Gift is forthcoming in 2017. www.rumiwithaview.com

A version of this story was published on Elephant Journal this month.

Still photograph by Matt Baldwin
Videography and editing by David Jay and Greg Tuttle

We are committed to sharing stories, and the experiences, fears, triumphs, joys, heartbreaks inside of those stories. Sometimes the stories that are the hardest to hear or the hardest to find, are the ones that resonate with us the most. If you like what we do at So Say We All, a literary non-profit, please consider becoming a supporting member for as little as $5 per month.

Henry Hoke reads at The Foundry on January 14th!

The Foundry is our literary reading series! It’s this Saturday 1/14 (tomorrow!), at 8 PM at Public Square Coffee House in La Mesa.

Tomorrow’s reading features wild, weird, beautiful, funny, intense, and unexpected work from amazing authors we are truly honored to host here in San Diego: Meredith Alling, Cali Linfor, Justin Maurer, Leah Thomas, and today’s feature: Henry Hoke.

Henry Hoke is southern expat gothic. He wrote The Book of Endless Sleepovers (Civil Coping Mechanisms, 2016) and Genevieves (winner of the Subito Press prose contest, forthcoming 2017). Some of his stories appear in The Collagist, PANK, Winter Tangerine and Carve. He co-created and directs Enter>text, a living literary journal.

I first heard about Henry by way of seeing his book cover (revealed online by the designer, a writer/friend Ryan W. Bradley), which is an excellent “judge a book by its cover” meeting story. His debut, The Book of Endless Sleepovers (2016, Civil Coping Mechanisms) is a powerful book that slithers through boyhood, love, agony, predators, fear, family in an almost mystical way. It’s a quick and feverish read, but masterful in its completeness. And yes, it has a killer cover.

An excerpt:

Parents: if you teach your children to pray, they will only pray for endless sleepovers.

“It’s a little bit night and a little bit morning.” 4am, not dawn, but when day teases the edges of the world. If they walked outside they’d be drifting silhouettes, a terrifying time. But warm inside, Huck’s mumbled response is comforting. Tom wakes up at 4am when he sleeps over, wakes loudly or moves just enough to rouse Huck, and Tom always asks the same question: “What time is it?” And Huck always has the same answer: “it’s a little bit night and a little bit morning.” Tom wakes at this time for the rest of his life.


“We have to work out a system,” Huck says and lays out a map of tunnels and turrets on the rug. Tom stares at a spot of dried blood on Huck’s ear. It’s all Tom can see. It’s going to be the best snow fort ever.


Imagine yourself on a raft in a slow-moving river at night. Every soft animal makes sounds from the bank. You are in the center of the raft, and surrounding you are all your friends, asleep. This is heaven. He wakes you up by singing “I just stuck a top in my crotch.” You wonder if he’s sure what crotch means and if he’s hurt and if you are in love with him. The water is stupid with stars.


When the girls twist the stems of apples and the pop-tops of canned Coke they always end up on H for Huck. Never, in the history of twisting girls, have they reached the letter T.

Tom and Huck are on their backs in the grass again.
Huck says he can’t wait to have kids, so he can beat them.
Tom tries to imagine what their children would look like.

How many times can you write the word “pussy” in a book of Mad Libs? Tonight we’re going to find out. By god.

–from The Book of Endless Sleepovers by Henry Hoke

Henry’s next book, Genevieves, is forthcoming this year. We can’t wait to read it, and we can’t wait to introduce San Diego to Henry. Join him, along with Meredith Alling, Leah Thomas, Cali Linfor, and Justin Maurer, at The Foundry reading series, this Saturday, January 14th, at 8 PM at Public Square Coffee House in La Mesa.

Saturday, January 14th at 8 PM
Public Square Coffee House
8275 La Mesa Blvd, La Mesa CA 91942
$5 suggested donation.

–Julia Dixon Evans

If you like what we do at So Say We All, a literary arts non-profit and small press, please consider becoming a sustaining member (for as little as $5 per month). We love you and we can’t do this without you.

The Foundry #3 is January 14th

The Foundry is our newish literary reading series, where we feature touring authors, emerging writers, and all around literary citizens, and get killer stories and literature out into the world.

Our next installment, on Saturday, January 14th, will bring Meredith Alling, Leah Thomas, Justin Maurer, Cali Linfor, and Henry Hoke straight into your ripe little hearts.


MEREDITH ALLING, author of the brand new story collection Sing The Song (Future Tense Books, 2016)

LEAH THOMAS, author of the William Morris Debut Award finalist young adult novel Because You’ll Never Leave Me (Bloomsbury, 2015) and the forthcoming Nowhere Near You (Bloomsbury, Feb 2017)

JUSTIN MAURER, author of the story collection Seventeen Television (Vol 1 Brooklyn, 2013) and the collection of true stories, Don’t Take Your Life (Future Tense Books, 2006)

CALI LINFOR, editor of Epicenter Literary Magazine and author of the poetry collection The Book of Ugly Things (CityWorks Press, 2012)

HENRY HOKE, author of The Book of Endless Sleepovers (Civil Coping Mechanisms, 2016) and the forthcoming Genevieves (Subito Press, 2017)

Come on out to the brand new Public Square Coffee House in the lovely La Mesa Village for an evening of stories, coffee, food, and drinks. And books. Piles of books.

The Foundry #3
Saturday, January 14th, 2017
8:00 PM
Public Square Coffee House
8278 La Mesa Boulevard
La Mesa, California 91942

$5 suggested donation

If you like what So Say We All does, please consider supporting us during our winter fundraiser, or becoming a sustaining member.

VAMP: Token is Thursday, August 25th

Our next VAMP storytelling showcase is coming up in less than two weeks! Join us at the Whistle Stop Bar in South Park for VAMP: Token on Thursday, August 25th at 8:30 PM.

Sometimes we feel special, unique, and important when we are different from the masses. Sometimes it makes us feel lonely. Sometimes it makes us feel oppressed. Sometimes we are, quite literally, oppressed. And sometimes we seem to be exactly like everyone else but still don’t know how to fit in. Sometimes we feel like we’re just being brought along to be the token [(the list is endless)].

Tokens, in the literal sense, are symbols, representatives, and gestures. Come hear some stories about symbols — people or things. Come hear some stories about being the only one, for better or for worse.

Alejandra Lucero Canaan
Alix Sharp
Emma Lee Whitworth
Jahleh Ghanbari
Jennifer Boots
Lizz Huerta
Michael Billingsley

Produced by Nadia Mandliawi and Trissy McGhee

VAMP: Token
Thursday, August 25th
8:30 PM
Whistle Stop Bar
2236 Fern St
San Diego, CA 92104
(619) 284-6784
$5 suggested donation

If you like what we do at So Say We All, please consider supporting us and becoming a member. Details on our membership page here: http://www.sosayweallonline.com/become-a-member/

The Foundry #2: Almost here!

The Foundry, our fiery new literary reading series, returns Saturday for an evening of readings from some amazing writers. We are looking forward to hear Scott McClanahan, Juliet Escoria, Uzodinma Okehi, Jim Ruland, Jean Guerrero, and Aaron Burch read to us, Saturday, 7/30, 7:00 PM at Tiger Eye Hair in Golden Hill. It’s gonna be smokin’.

Over the past month, we’ve featured these writers here on our site, and we hope you enjoyed getting to know them, browsing their work, or reading some interviews.

Here’s each feature in a handy list.

PEN/Fusion Prize Winner Jean Guerrero reads at The Foundry No.2

Aaron Burch Reads at The Foundry No. 2: An Interview

Uzodinma Okehi reads at The Foundry No.2

Juliet Escoria Reads at The Foundry No. 2

Jim Ruland Reads at The Foundry No. 2: An Interview

Scott McClanahan reads at The Foundry #2

That’s the round up! It has been a joy to work with these writers to prepare for this reading: not just talking to them about their work and running interviews, but actually reading their brilliant writing. It’s been a killer binge-read sesh. We really look forward to sharing all of this with you. Hope to see you tomorrow, Saturday 7/30 at 7:00 PM at Tiger Eye Hair, 811 25th Street, Suite 105 San Diego. Bring your people. Show ’em how we do lit in San Diego.


If you like what we do at So Say We All, please consider supporting us and becoming a member. Details on our membership page here.

Jim Ruland Reads at The Foundry No. 2: An Interview

The Foundry is our shiny new literary reading series, launched beautifully this spring. Our second installment is this month, July 30th, at the delightful Tiger Eye Hair in Golden Hill. As we approach the show, we’d like you to get to know the readers a little bit, and today we land on one of our heroes, Jim Ruland. Jim will be joined by many other greats: Aaron BurchJean Guerrero, Juliet Escoria, Uzodinma Okehi, and Scott McClanahan.


We love Jim’s writing. It’s intimate and obscure at the same time, delivering the fringe in oddly palatable and approachable ways. One of our favorite pieces is Cat Party, published this spring at Shadowgraph Quarterly.

So Say We All’s production director (and Foundry host) Julia Dixon Evans had a little chat with Jim recently.

jim only RulandTinWhistle Jim Ruland: pretty talented his entire life

JULIA DIXON EVANS: Jim! Thanks so much for agreeing to read at The Foundry, and for all your support in general. You’ve been a friend and volunteer of So Say We All far longer than I’ve been around. Tell me how you got involved?

JIM RULAND: I went to San Diego Animal Control and saw Justin Hudnall huddled in the corner. The rest is history.

JULIA: You’ve collaborated on some phenomenal co-writing projects lately: Giving The Finger, and My Damage. Co-writing seems like an incredibly daunting undertaking, mostly because I imagine you and your cowriter sitting together in someone’s dining room, typing and reading out loud together. I’m sure that’s not the case, but were both of those projects similar in how the work and the writing got done? That is, did you spend a lot of time on-location, getting your hands dirty? And is it still as lonely as typical writing can feel?

JIM: No, it’s not lonely at all, because you constantly have your subject in your ear. The backbone of the book comes from recorded interviews so the first step is getting the subject’s voice down. I’ve been writing for punk rock zines and interviewing bands for most of my adult life. Collaborating feels like an extension of that. I think that’s why so many journalists get into these kinds of projects. It’s a combination of access and know-how.

With Keith Morris, we spent a lot of time together because he is 100% committed to the project. We went to his old haunts in Hermosa Beach, Hollywood and Chinatown. He read each draft with laserlike editorial focus. We ate a lot of tacos and drank a lot of coffee together. To be honest, I’m going to be sad when it’s all over.

JULIA: What would be a dream co-writing assignment for you right now?

JIM: Raymond Pettibon. Not that he needs a collaborator. Raymond did the artwork for My Damage and my name is right there on the cover so I don’t think the universe is taking any more of my requests. 

JULIA: Back to loneliness. (Of course). In your novel Forest of Fortune, which is excellent, you follow the arc of three characters: Pemberton, Alice, and Lupita. And every single one of them seems so lonely. Even in the 24/7 world of a casino or a city after dark, you write very desolate characters. But they each have a confidant, a companion, and sometimes that does very little for their loneliness. In a bigger picture, isn’t that part of the appeal of a thing like gambling, of a thing like a bar: together, alone/alone, together? 

JIM: Casinos are very lonely places. People don’t strike up conversations with each other the way bar patrons do. It would be very hard to sit in a bar for three hours and not talk to anyone. In a casino? No problem. Although card games like blackjack and poker are very social, there’s nothing social about a slot machine.

JULIA: I loved your TNB Self-Interview. It’s equal parts depressing and encouraging. Your journey from starting out to publication truly took 20 years? And at what point in that was Forest of Fortune born? How did you keep at this? I understand that there’s some novelty to this interview, but the interviewee gives off a sense of true inevitability. Inevitable writing in the face of inevitable failure. That’s amazing.

JIM: Thank you. It did indeed take me 20 years to publish a novel, but I had many other successes and setbacks along the way (I won an NEA, published a short story collection, got fired by my agent, drank waaaaaay too much, etc.). Forest of Fortune was born after I’d completed my third novel and my agent invited me to explore other opportunities. I’d been working at an Indian casino for two and a half years and decided to finally write about it. I knocked out a draft in 2008 and in early 2009 I lost a friend to a drug overdose. That was a very potent reminder that our time here is finite. After I got sober and put my house in order, so to speak, I went back to work on the book. I’ve been turning and burning ever since.

JULIA: You and I recently discussed your [unpublished] collection of short stories [note: one of these stories appears in So Say We All’s dark ficton/horror anthology, Black Candies: See Through]. Tell me a little more about it. How is your short work — and this collection — different from your novel, Forest of Fortune

JIM: Cat Sitting in Hollywood is a linked collection of stories that draws on my adventures as an amateur cat sitter during the time I was commuting between San Diego and Los Angeles. After working in the casino for over five years, I was seeing LA through new eyes and writing these very odd stories. As much as it pains me to admit it, I owe a debt of gratitude to Ryan Bradford because his solicitations for Black Candies helped me see that these stories I was writing were all variations on the theme of cat sitting.

JULIA: Your reading series, Vermin on the Mount, is as vibrant as ever. I think one of the reasons I asked you to read at The Foundry is because I love hearing you read, but it seems the only chances I’ve had to see you read the last few years are in different cities, for AWP. Do you find that, as a sort of San Diego gatekeeper figure for other people’s work, helping get it out into the world, you are more inspired and empowered to create your own work? Or are there some consequences, like lower productivity, too much multi-tasking to write?

JIM: I wouldn’t say I’m a gatekeeper. Far from it. I think VAMP [So Say We All’s monthly curated literary storytelling showcase] does a far better job of showcasing San Diego’s literary talent. If anything, I play a small role in bringing writers from outside of San Diego to our city. Vermin on the Mount, which is about to celebrate its 12th anniversary, continues to inspire me. When that stops being true, I’ll stop doing it.

JULIA: I love that you always ask your Vermin readers this, and as a fledgling member of the well-t-shirted Legion of Vermin myself, I wonder if it’s all right for me to ask this of you: (to quote the great Jim Ruland) “What’s the most unusual experience you’ve ever had at a reading?”

JIM: A long time ago, a reader at Vermin on the Mount in Chinatown, through a combination of nerves, alcohol and white powder, was so wasted she could barely get through her reading. She thought every word that came out of her mouth was absolutely hysterical. At first I was horrified for the reader. Then I thought I was going to have to gong her off the stage. Finally, I just sat back and enjoyed the performance.

The strangest part was when the show was over she sat down next to me and asked me all kinds of questions about my family. The kind of conversation you have with a really thoughtful acquaintance. To this day I have no idea which part of her show was an act.

JULIA: And what are you working on next? What are you reading?

JIM: I’m working on a bunch of stuff, including a novel set in LA in the near future that I’ve been drafting in fits and starts since 2012 but is finally coming together, and a couple of collaborations that I can’t say too much about other than I’ve been reading nothing but commercial fiction this summer: thrillers, mysteries, spy stories and crime novels. I’m finally reading San Diego writer Don Winslow and wondering why I waited so long.

JULIA: Thanks so much, and we look forward to hearing you read on the 30th!

JIM: De nada!  

Come hear Jim read alongside Aaron Burch, Jean Guerrero, Juliet Escoria, Uzodinma Okehi, and Scott McClanahan at The Foundry, So Say We All’s new literary reading series. The Foundry #2 all goes down on Saturday, July 30th in Golden Hill.

The Foundry, No. 2
Saturday, July 30th at 7:00 p.m.
Tiger Eye Hair
(by the new Golden Hill Dark Horse Coffee)
811 25th Street, Suite 105 San Diego, CA 92102
(619) 798-3996
$5 (all ages)

Jim Ruland is the author of the award-winning novel Forest of Fortune and the short story collection Big Lonesome. He co-authored My Damage with Keith Morris, founding member of Black Flag, Circle Jerks and OFF!, which will be published by Da Capo on August 30, 2016. Jim is the books columnist for San Diego CityBeat and writes book reviews for the Los Angeles Times and the Los Angeles Review of Books. Jim’s work has appeared in numerous publications, including The BelieverEsquire,GrantaHobart and Oxford American, and he runs the Southern California-based reading series Vermin on the Mount, now in its twelfth year.

If you like what we do at So Say We All, please consider supporting us and becoming a member. Details on our membership page here.

Aaron Burch Reads at The Foundry No. 2: An Interview

When we found out that Aaron Burch would be touring along the west coast in support of his forthcoming book, a “Bookmarked” memoir structured around Stephen King’s The Body and Stand By Me, we thought: dibs.

The Foundry is our shiny new literary reading series, launched beautifully this spring with fantastic readings from Adrian Van Young, Lizz Huerta, Ryan Bradford, and Lauren Becker. Our second installment is this month, July 30th, at a fantastic and curious venue: Tiger Eye Hair in Golden Hill. Aaron will be joined by many other greats: Jean Guerrero, Juliet Escoria, Jim Ruland, Uzodinma Okehi, and Scott McClanahan.

So Say We All’s production director (and Foundry host) Julia Dixon Evans had a chance to email back and forth with Aaron recently. We discuss memoir, Stand By Me, and “the most important things,” to name a few. Enjoy Aaron’s answers (we did).


JULIA DIXON EVANS: I’ve seen Stand By Me countless times, though not in years, and I have never read The Body. I think, going into it, I felt unqualified as a reader for that reason, but that feeling vanished on the first page. I love the way the movie and the book have non-warring real estate in your memoir. They do not compete for superiority, and neither feels more literary, more intellectual than the other. Have you always felt that way? Or, did you have some sort of evolution? Did you once think: “I should like the book better than the movie, because I’m a professor or whatever,” and then finally one day come around to recognizing that both book and movie are great?

AARON BURCH: I like the way you put that. That they have non-warring real-estate, and I’m glad any feelings of being unqualified vanished.

A couple things: Bookmarked was pitched to me as kind of like a “33-1/3, but for books.” I’m familiar with the series, though more as concept; I haven’t actually read very many. I think I’ve read all of the Boss Fight Books series though, itself a kind of “like 33-1/3, but for video games.” That said, of the first 12 books in that series, I think I’ve only played two of the games. What I learned from reading them was that whether or not I’d played the game had a small impact on my reading experience, via the pleasure of the familiar, but it was pretty minimal. Whenever a book got bogged down in the details of the game, either I’d played the game and those details felt only like they were telling me something I already knew, or I hadn’t played the game and the details felt confusing and distancing.

That gets at the first half of your question, I hope. The idea of being familiar or degree of qualification. As far as book v. movie… I kind of get at this in the book, I think, but I really love both. I don’t think I ever had any thoughts that I should prefer one or the other. Like many (I think?) I saw the movie first, and came to the novella through that, and though I read the novella at some point growing up, unlike the movie, I never revisited and reread. Until I added it to a syllabus, without rereading it first, so if anything there was something of a sigh of relief when the story held up in the classroom and gave us enough to talk about. I just think each is really strong on its own merits, though part of what I love about each is how similar they are, so the pleasure in one is often echoed in what I love about the other.

JULIA: [Mutual friend] Ryan Bradford and I both joked that we felt like we’d gone through one of your classes as we read the book. (Well, technically, I’m 99% sure I wrote it in the margins and then he read my review copy, so I like to think that I subliminally gave him that idea). I felt like I not only understood The Body / Stand By Me on an academic level, but I felt like I understood writing. It made me want to write. As an academic, did your teaching change over the year you wrote this book? How will you tackle this story in the future?

AARON: I think maybe I won’t teach the book again, actually. Part of my approach to teaching is encouraging my students to try to figure something out. As I say in the book, to ask interesting questions, and then struggle for interesting answers. And I often find myself in the process of discovery right alongside them. I don’t think I “figured out” The Body while writing this book, but now that the book is written and done, it does feel like maybe I’d be a little less open to discovery, which feels like it would be a hinderance in the classroom.

I think my understanding of my teaching changed more than my actual teaching. Like, I don’t think I would have said the above paragraph in quite that way before working on this book.

JULIA: I was eager to hear about friendship in this book. I expected it. I think, though, in the end, that we didn’t so much learn about your “four,” just the fact that you’ve always had that as your touchstone. I think the book gives us your ideas of friendship rather than the grit and the intimacy of your actual friendships. Did you feel guarded about that? Or do you feel on some level, that the idea of friendships — and the availability of them — are maybe the biggest source of comfort in the friendship anyway? That is, the details aren’t the thing here?

AARON: Here’s a theory I came up with after reading through these questions, which means I haven’t really road-tested it yet or anything, so I’m not sure how it’s going to come across. I think it’ll start self-deprecating and turn into a humblebrag, and it also might be wrong, but here goes…

I think most books (all? all that are good?) are “failures” in two ways:

One being that, unless you have an incredible ego about your own writing and/or are unimaginative in ambition, they feel not quite as good as what you’d envisioned it to be. The second is a failure of expectation, not so much expectation of quality but that it isn’t quite about what you thought it would be. (That isn’t really a “failure,” but I’m calling it one for sake of theory.)

Both of these are because what’s on the page is just never quite what was in your mind. Ira Glass called that first way “The Gap“; it’s often at the heart of writer’s block, etc. Embracing that gap is kinda the only way you’ll ever finish anything. And then, embracing that second “failure,” is what makes most good writing good, I think. Letting something become what it wants to be, instead of what you think it should be, or want it to be, or had set out for it to be, or whatever.

Which is a long, kinda bullshitty way of saying: half the reason I chose The Body to write about was because I wanted to write about (male) friendship. Maybe I was too guarded to do so, or maybe I just didn’t have as much to say about friendship as I thought I did, but at some point the book ended up being about teaching and marriage and narrative–how and why we tell the stories that we do–and so I tried to embrace those ideas, even though they weren’t what I’d set out to do.

JULIA: So many of my questions for you are whether you knew something all along or developed the idea as you examined the story to write this book. Gordie says: “The most important things are the hardest things to say,” and I think every time that came up, I read it through my hands, cringing a little bit, hoping you wouldn’t apply it to marriage. But you did, because: of course. Because that’s the trouble, isn’t it? And I wonder: Did you know this all along? Every read of The Body, every watch of the movie, every class you taught this to, did you know that this is a profound concept for friendships, for parents, for life, but the most difficult and most worth-it relationship you’ll ever want to say the hard things for is a marriage? Or was that a connection you made in writing your book?

AARON: Totally while writing the book. Almost every idea in the book was developed while actually writing the book. That sentence isn’t in the movie, and it had actually never stuck out with me when reading and teaching the novella, until I started working on this book. I just kept coming back to it, and at some point was like, shit, I guess that is how and why this book is gonna become about marriage…

JULIA: I feel like this is the tricky part of what I want to ask you, because it’s always the tricky part of things I want to talk about, and this part of the book was both beautiful but horrifying in its resonance with me. The way you write candidly about your marriage — and I use the word candid in a non-lip-service sort of way: You not only speak openly and kinda shrug-y about the difficulties of marriage, but you seem like you actually just feel open and shrug-y about it. I got such a strong sense of waiting as I read this. I think of early re-watches I’ve done of Stand By Me, and how you know the action is mere minutes away, so why are they just sitting there doing nothing at the dump? Get on with it. But the waiting is magical in really quiet ways. I know that waiting out the dark parts of a marriage is anything but magical, but the truth is: every marriage has dark parts, and even though that’s a unifying thing, those dark parts are different for everyone. And the end product of this in your book is that we are left with a suspended state. A marriage in flux, in suspension. And I wonder: as you finished the book, were you tempted to go back and either clue us in or clean it up? Show us what was resolved, the way Gordie does at the end of the movie and the book?

AARON: I think “open and shrug-y” is actually probably a pretty apt way of describing me in general. I started to answer a lot of questions not actually asked here, but instead will just say, no, I wasn’t ever really tempted to give that aspect of the book more resolution. I’m not sure why not but the lack of resolution always felt right. My question, a little more, became trying to pull that off, to end the book while still leaving some aspects of it in flux.

JULIA: Shortly before I started reading your book, writer Wendy C. Ortiz tweeted this: “I like when I’m familiar with a writer’s spoken voice & I like it & then read their whole book hearing it narrated in their voice.” And I thought about this tweet often as I read. I heard this entire book in your voice, which made it amazing. It felt like a friend. And I think what is masterful about the book is that I think it would feel like this regardless — your style is very conversational, very informal, even while dropping some major concepts. You have a very untidy and approachable style. You write a lot about not writing much non-fiction, but I’m curious if you studied it before diving in. If this was a calculated move: writing in a spoken, casual style?

AARON: Thanks! That’s an incredibly kind sentiment. I wouldn’t say it was calculated but… purposeful, maybe?

I think all good writing probably has its own specific rhythms and timing, and I think my own writing is usually strongest when it feels most conversational. I’m not sure how I found or realized that, but I’ve done a good number of readings and tours over the years, often with really great readers, and I think if and when I hold my own it is via a more informal, casual tone. I think when it’s felt both most natural and strongest or best or whatever is maybe when it feels most like I’m just telling a story.

As far as study or calculation… I didn’t “study” any nonfiction for this book, but I at times teach my Intro English classes as a kind of creative nonfiction class, despite having never really written creative nonfiction, and I ended up finding my own teaching to be incredibly self-instructive, in a way that I hadn’t realized it ever would be at the time. My second piece of “study” was probably reading so many of the Boss Fight Books. Each book took its own tactic at being “about” the game it was about and the ones that affected me the most were the ones that most braided being about the game and about the author. It’s funny, I’ve glanced at those books’ Goodreads pages and everyone (of course) has totally different opinions–some people aren’t really fans of the books that go personal, some people most loved the books in the series that I just didn’t. I reminded myself of that while working on this. I’d have moments of, “Ugh, nobody cares about you,” or “Oh, no, what if people just want to read more about Stand By Me,” but I’d remind myself of my own tastes, I’d remind myself that I was trying to write the book that I myself would most want to read.

JULIA: Early in your book, you talk about the origin story of Hobart, the literary journal you founded 15 years ago. Hobart is possibly my top “go-to” in the literary world. It’s the thing I recommend to the most people, either readers or writers. Sure, you’re boundary-pushing in many ways, but it’s still a very literary and very respected thing. But it had such a simple start. It’s so earnest, in a way, that you just started a website with a cool name. That you didn’t even understand that you were making a literary magazine when you first made it. You just knew what you liked. In a way, it sounds similar to your writing process for Bookmarked: The Body: That you wanted to write the kind of book you’d read. What’s your favorite piece you’ve published in the last 15 years? Maybe asking for a favorite is unfair, but what’s the first piece that comes to mind when I asked that? The most Hobart-y?

And can you sort of track your own tastes by looking at the kind of work you’ve published over the years? I suppose that would be a really cool look at the changing lit scene of the last decade and a half.

AARON: Again, Julia: thanks. That’s a very kind way of putting it.

[Wife and partner] Elizabeth gives me shit sometimes, for not really having goals; or, more specifically, I think she gives me shit for being afraid to say I have goals, or afraid to name them specifically. Which is fair enough. I’m more ambitious than I typically want to admit, which I think comes back to the “shrug-y”ness we talked about, my general “aw shucks”-y attitude. But, mostly, I want to write things that I would be most stoked to read, as a reader; and with Hobart, I mostly want to put out a journal that I’d want to read, and I don’t really read many journals.

Anyway. Again, that wasn’t quite your question. Nothing jumps to mind as a favorite. The more I think about it, the more Mike Meginnis’s “Navigators” stands out, in part cause I really love that story, in part cause it was in Best American Short Stories, so it’s easy to point to the anthologized thing as something that stands out. Also, I wasn’t only stoked for Mike to be in BASS, or for Hobart, but I thought it was extra rad just to see a story about video games get so recognized. I think that speaks to Hobart: literary and quality, all that, but also fun, a little more goofy or pop culture-y, or just generally not taking ourselves that seriously.

Speaking of, Roxane Gay’s “North Country” was in that same issue and was also in that year’s BASS. And as much as I loved the story at the time, I’ve taught it a number of times since, and I love it more each time I get to discuss it with a classroom of students, which I guess brings us back to The Body.

JULIA: Thank you so much, Aaron. We look forward to having you in town! And, of course, hearing you read from The Body: Bookmarked at The Foundry reading series on July 30th. It’s gonna be a great night of readings and I can’t wait to pour you a drink!

Come hear Aaron read at The Foundry No. 2, our literary reading series, Saturday, July 30th at 7 PM at Tiger Eye Hair in Golden Hill. For more details and to invite your Stand By Me-loving friends: https://www.facebook.com/events/1762857903955708/


Aaron Burch is the author of Stephen King’s The Body: Bookmarked, a memoir about the King novella and Stand By Me. He is also the author of the short story collection, Backswing, and is the Founding Editor of the literary journal Hobart. Read an excerpt of The Body: Bookmarked here.

high school id(Aaron, a couple of months ago)

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PEN/Fusion Prize Winner Jean Guerrero reads at The Foundry No.2

Foundry No. 2 reader Jean Guerrero recently won the esteemed PEN/Fusion Prize for her memoir, Crux. Jean is going to be featured in our next installment of the Foundry, our new literary reading series, featuring stories and readings by touring authors, writers living in San Diego, and our favorite emerging literary citizens. Details here. Jean will also be reading with Aaron Burch, Juliet Escoria, Uzodinma Okehi, Scott McClanahan, and Jim Ruland.

A gorgeous and heart-wrenching portion of her manuscript, Crux, was performed as “VHS Vortex” in our August 2015 VAMP: Red Flags storytelling showcase. We also admire and respect the work Jean does in journalism. Check out this piece for KPBS on the deadly police raids in Tijuana tunnels: http://www.kpbs.org/news/2016/jan/28/tijuana-migrants-hide-tunnels-police-raids-get-dea/

To prepare for the reading and get you all excited to hear Jean read, So Say We All’s Julia Dixon Evans talked with Jean about her book, her work, the nature of truth in storytelling, and winning the PEN/Fusion prize.

So Say We All’s Julia Dixon Evans: Jean! Congratulations! Are you still buzzing with excitement about this, or has it begun to sink in?

Jean Guerrero: Crux has been my dream for so many years – to see it recognized this way feels like some kind of hallucination. I’m surprised so many weeks have passed since the announcement and I still haven’t woken up.

JDE: When did you start writing this project, your memoir, Crux?

JG: The first version of Crux was a novel. In college, I was afraid to approach the naked truth when it came to my own life. But I made the decision to pursue journalism as a career because telling the truth about the world outside myself was comparatively easy and exciting. Plus, striving to become a novelist (and studying creative writing) seemed too fanciful. I didn’t believe you could be taught how to be creative. Two creative writing professors told me my decision was a mistake – that journalism would strip my writing of creativity and magic and severely limit its power to inspire.

It wasn’t until I started my career as a journalist that I realized how magical pure nonfiction can be. True fairy tales can be excavated from facts. As someone who was born and raised in the U.S. but comes of Mexican and Puerto Rican parents, I have faith in science and objectivity but can’t entirely discount the supernatural. So in 2013, I pursued an MFA in creative nonfiction through the low-residency program at Goucher College to write what is now Crux, which journalistically explores alternative explanations for what I grew up believing was my father’s “schizophrenia,” and some of them are mystical. 

JDE: Your book is about searching: For understanding, for history, for explanations, for reconciliations. At what point in this lifelong search did you become aware of the search? And at what point did you realize that you would be/were recording it?

JG: I was self-destructive as a teenager, thanks to the conviction that I was doomed to become “schizophrenic” like my father. I was writing essays and short stories about him, but I always saw it more as an escape or exorcism – like venting – than a search. Sophomore year of college, I was hospitalized for cutting my wrists, and I decided to minor in neuroscience. I found myself attending creative writing classes to write fiction about my father. The writing itself – as well as my study of dendrites, axon potentials and the Diagnostic Statistical Manual – made me very aware of the fact that I was searching for understanding.

Coincidentally, around this time, my father started telling me his story. I was captivated, and I suddenly felt that the beliefs I had grown up with – that he was a paranoid schizophrenic, that I had a genetic predisposition toward craziness – were not the truth, at least not with a capital T. It was kind of a perfect storm.

JDE: One of my favorite parts of the excerpt you read for us at our August 2015 VAMP showcase, “Red Flags,” is this line: “Moments after my father took this photograph, the two entered the tent behind her to mix the witch’s brew of me. I search for myself in the sinister blackness lurching toward my mother from the direction of the sea.” There’s something vaguely unsettling in writing about the personal lives of our parents and ancestors, and you tackle it with a really graceful curiosity. How do you do this? Do you classify these real people as characters? Or is there a current of reality in every line you write?

JG: As a journalist, and as someone who studied creative nonfiction at Goucher College, where they are fanatic about Truth, I feel very strongly about sticking to the truth and nothing but the truth. Once you blur the line between fact and fiction, you forfeit any chance of revelation from your writing – at least in nonfiction. Fiction is another story, of course. In nonfiction, you’re breaking a pact with the reader when you fabricate or exaggerate. Most likely, the reader is going to sense that lack of sincerity and put down the book. If you assume the reader is stupid, your writing is going to be rudimentary.

JDE: I think what I really meant was: Do you need to distance yourself from them? Stop thinking of them as family and think of them as…perhaps a more journalistic term for it would be “subjects”? Like, is it easier for you to think and write of their personal lives so thoroughly if they’re not your mother and father but someone (still real) that is separate from you? Coming at writing/teaching memoir and personal narrative from a creative writing standpoint, it can help beginners (and me sometimes) to stop thinking of someone as “mom” or even “I,” and start thinking of them as a character or narrator. Not out of a fictionalization sense, but as a way of letting the story take hold, seeking character development, stakes, etc. I am definitely committed to truth in non-fiction writing, though I know some personal essayists have different takes on that. 

JG: Your strategy of distancing yourself from your subject matter – at least in the beginning – makes sense. I guess you could argue that’s why my initial instinct was to approach the material as fiction.

But for me, the real insights emerged only when the writing became very personal. I’m trying to understand myself through my family. I’m not trying to expose anyone. I don’t presume to know what’s right or wrong when it comes to other people.

JDE: We loved seeing you perform in VAMP, and I think many of us learned a lot from you – to name one thing: telling a story that was (on the surface) about these other people, your parents, but was so deeply and wholly about you. What are some things you learned about your writing or your story during the VAMP process?

JG: I was just starting out as a radio and TV reporter, so the performance training I received through VAMP was very useful. In MFA programs, you aren’t taught how to read aloud. Writers tend to oscillate between monotone and melodramatic tones. I think learning how to read your stories aloud in a compelling way helps you inject a more authentic voice into your writing. It creates a sort of bridge between how you talk and how you write. You start to sound a lot more like yourself, in both speech and prose.

JDE: You’re a journalist, working for KPBS in San Diego. How has journalism shaped your memoir writing? And how has your work on Crux in turn shaped what you do as a journalist, or which stories you are drawn to?

JG: Journalism gave me the tools to dig deep into my family history. One of my favorite chapters relies almost exclusively on the paper trail of my ancestors. My first job after graduating college was as a foreign correspondent for Mexico City – my father’s birthplace. My career has always led me in the direction of writing Crux the true way.

As for how Crux shaped me as a journalist – my manuscript is largely about migration. My beat is the border. The themes run in perfect parallel. When I’m reporting, I’m most attracted to sources who remind me of my father: male outcasts with eccentric personalities. It’s worth noting, by the way, that the superstar journalist Gay Talese recently offended hundreds of female journalists, including myself, when he said his idols in journalism exclude women because  “educated women” aren’t interested in the antisocial characters he finds magnetic. In fact, I know more women than men who are fascinated by Dostoevskian types.

JDE: San Diego has a vibrant writing community. Are you a solitary writer, or do you thrive on this community? Or a mixture of both?

JG: I knew a writer in Mexico City who threw parties when he wanted to write. He brought his desk into a corner of his living room and pounded at his keyboard while everyone drank and talked around him. He felt most inspired in the midst of this chaos. It was impressive – I wish I could do that! But I need to be alone to focus. That said, I’m thrilled about San Diego’s literary community. The story of how I learned of its existence is embarrassing, so I’ll tell it. I was living at my mom’s house, transitioning from Mexico to the U.S., sitting on the living room couch in pajamas, wearing no makeup, depressed about a deteriorating relationship and the fact that I was living with my mother, when the magical writer Lizz Huerta just materialized in front of me. She asked: “Are you a writer?” She just appeared like that, all gorgeous in her paint-stained overalls, posing that perfect question. I had no idea who she was or why she was in my house. It turns out she was painting the railing on my mom’s staircase – for those who don’t already know, Lizz’s talents are infinite. Anyway, she was bonding with my mom about their shared Puerto Rican heritage when she noticed my bookshelf and came looking for me. At the time, I thought there was no writing community in San Diego. Huerta enlightened me. It was one of the best days of 2015 for me.

JDE: What are you working on right now?

JG: I’ve been polishing my manuscript with my agent. But after dwelling inside of it for so long, cutting and carving and creating, I feel I have gone blind to it. I stare at sentences and have this sense they’re in a foreign language, or even hieroglyphics. It’s like when you gape at any object for too long – it starts to look kind of alien and incomprehensible. I spoke to Huerta about this, and she told me the solution was simple: to go have an affair – as in, a little fling with fiction. Apparently all professional writers know this is the secret to rekindling creative fire. It seems to be working. I’m writing a short story about an alcoholic deportee who sleeps with cockroaches in Tijuana while he dreams of his family across the border.

JDE: I know exactly what you mean. And that sounds amazing, and it sounds like exactly the sort of story I would read and then call Lizz and demand that she read it too.

Congratulations again. We are so proud and thrilled for you, and we can’t wait to hear you read from Crux at The Foundry No. 2 on July 30th. And best of luck with the book as it makes its way into the world!

Come hear Jean read! July 30th, 7 PM, at Tiger Eye Hair in Golden Hill: https://www.facebook.com/events/1762857903955708/


Jean Guerrero is the 2016 recipient of the PEN/FUSION Emerging Writers award for her manuscript Crux, a cross-border memoir about her quest to understand her Mexican father, whom she grew up believing was schizophrenic. She is the Fronteras reporter at KPBS, San Diego’s NPR and PBS affiliate, where she covers immigration and other border issues. Previously, she was a correspondent in Mexico City for the Wall Street Journal and Dow Jones Newswires, trekking through mountains with coffee smugglers, opium poppy producers and maize farmers. More recently, she ventured into Tijuana’s sewers to expose the plight of deported migrants. She holds a master’s in creative nonfiction from Goucher College, as well as a University of Southern California bachelor’s in journalism and minor in neuroscience. She is half Mexican, half Puerto Rican.

The Foundry #2 is Saturday July 30th

Our second installment of The Foundry, So Say We All’s brand new literary reading series, is coming Saturday, July 30th.


We are really, insanely excited about (a) this line-up (b) the rad scooped out Texaco garage that is Tiger Eye Hair in Golden Hill, and (c) you coming to see it all.

More details about our readers soon, but for now, here’s a quick teaser. You should ask us in person how much we love these writers, and we will likely get overly excited and gush and hold you by the shoulders and read our favorite lines of their writing and you might be a bit embarrassed for us. But until then here’s some formal bios:

Aaron Burch is the author Stephen King’s The Body: Bookmarked, a memoir about the King novella and Stand By Me. He is also the author of the short story collection, Backswing, and is the Founding Editor of the literary journal Hobart.

Juliet Escoria is the author of the short story collection Black Cloud, which was originally published in 2014 by Civil Coping Mechanisms. In 2015, Emily Books published the ebook, Maro Verlag published a German translation, and Los Libros de la Mujer Rota published a Spanish translation. Witch Hunt, a collection of poems, was published by Lazy Fascist Press in May 2016. Escoria received a BA in Creative Writing from UC Riverside, and an MFA in Fiction Writing from Brooklyn College. Her writing can be found in places like VICE, The Fader, Dazed, Hobart, and more. She was born in Australia, raised in San Diego, and currently lives in West Virginia.

Jean Guerrero is the 2016 recipient of the PEN/FUSION Emerging Writers award for her manuscript Crux, a cross-border memoir about her quest to understand her Mexican father, whom she grew up believing was schizophrenic. She is the Fronteras reporter at KPBS, San Diego’s NPR and PBS affiliate, where she covers immigration and other border issues. Previously, she was a correspondent in Mexico City for the Wall Street Journal and Dow Jones Newswires, trekking through mountains with coffee smugglers, opium poppy producers and maize farmers. More recently, she ventured into Tijuana’s sewers to expose the plight of deported migrants. She holds a master’s in creative nonfiction from Goucher College, as well as a University of Southern California bachelor’s in journalism and minor in neuroscience. She is half Mexican, half Puerto Rican.

Scott McClanahan wrote The Incantations of Daniel Johnston and The Sarah Book. He lives in West Virginia.

Uzodinma Okehi spent 2 years handing out zines on the subway. Wasn’t as fun as he thought. His work has appeared in PankHobartBartleby Snopes, also many, many places, no doubt, you’ve never heard of. He has an MFA in writing from New York University. He lives in Brooklyn. His son is 8 yrs old, smiles a lot, (too much?), and will absolutely, cross you over and drain a jumper in your face.

Jim Ruland is the author of the award-winning novel Forest of Fortune and the short story collection Big Lonesome. He co-authored My Damage with Keith Morris, founding member of Black Flag, Circle Jerks and OFF!, which will be published by Da Capo on August 30, 2016. Jim is the books columnist for San Diego CityBeat and writes book reviews for the Los Angeles Times and the Los Angeles Review of Books. Jim’s work has appeared in numerous publications, including The BelieverEsquireGrantaHobart and Oxford American, and he runs the Southern California-based reading series Vermin on the Mount, now in its twelfth year.

About the venue: TIGER EYE HAIR is a cut/color/barbering lounge situated in an architecturally preserved Texaco gas station in Golden Hill.

There will be food for sale, and maybe a little something to whet your thirst. Because these readers are gonna be fiery hot.

The Foundry #2: A Literary Reading Series
Saturday, July 30th
7:30 PM
Tiger Eye Hair
(behind the Golden Hill Dark Horse Coffee)
811 25th Street, Suite 105 San Diego, CA 92102
(619) 798-3996
$5 (all ages)


Meet Adrian Van Young from The Foundry No.1

The Foundry is our new reading series, launching on April 5th at Soda and Swine Liberty Station.

foundryposter-top only

Lizz, Ryan, and Lauren all live in San Diego. Our final featured reader, Adrian Van Young, however, is mostly rolling through town just to read to you. Well, I suppose he has some family here but whatever.

1929288_10153937980878879_1805713453792222922_nAdrian Van Young is the author of The Man Who Noticed Everything, a collection of stories, which won Black Lawrence Press’s St. Lawrence Book Award in 2011, and the novel, Shadows in Summerland, coming any day now in April from ChiZine Publications. His fiction and non-fiction have been published or are forthcoming in Black Warrior Review, Electric Literature’s Recommended Reading, VICE, Slate, The Believer, and The New Yorker, among others. His work has also appeared in the anthologies States of Terror II and Gigantic Worlds. He has twice been nominated for the Pushcart Prize and is a regular contributor to Electricliterature.com. He lives in New Orleans with his wife Darcy and son Sebastian, where he teaches creative writing at Tulane University.

Some of us here at So Say We All have had a chance to read his new book, Shadows in Summerland, and… wow. It’s an amazing piece of work: intricate and masterful, and almost cinematic in the ways we are fully placed in the setting: mid 1800s spiritualist-obsessed Boston. With flawed, charming characters, Adrian’s writing is vivid, compelling, intelligent, and always exquisite, even when it borders on the grotesque.

One of our favorite short stories of Adrian’s is “The Lady Winchester Deciphers Her Labyrinth,” which appeared in The Masters Review last fall. Have a read.

The third time she wakes and the bed-frame is shaking. It is, she thinks, the century’s end. The bed appears to levitate, arising on its own vibrations and she is a caught up in it, hostage unto it, as it floats in the maelstrom and then hunkers down. And then she springs out of her bed. She has not moved this way in years. She is running, she thinks, to the door of the room where the lintel built into the wall will protect her, but just as she presses herself to the frame the ceiling behind her comes crumbling down.

Here is the moment, she thinks in the din, where I will be buried by what I’ve constructed.

She lies on her back staring up at the beams. Flakes of cracked plaster rain down on her face. She does not need to lock and unlock the room’s door to know that she is trapped inside it.

Now come hear Adrian read an excerpt from his upcoming novel tomorrow, April 5th, at 8 PM. Adrian is reading alongside Lizz Huerta, Lauren Becker, and Ryan Bradford at The Foundry No.1 at the Liberty Station location of Soda & Swine. Find us on the lovely back patio.

(This reading’s gonna burn).