Tag Archives: writing

Lindsay Hunter on Black Candies: Gross and Unlikeable

We gave a copy of Black Candies: Gross and Unlikeable to Lindsay Hunter, the author of the devastating novel Ugly Girls, as well as the short story collections Daddy’s and Don’t Kiss Me. Here’s what she had to say about our book:

Gross and Unlikeable made me feel the way I felt as a kid reading scary stories with a flashlight in the dark. These tales hit at something primitive and true, something beyond fear. Then and now, I felt almost giddy as I read, the way one might when the footsteps are getting closer and the only thing left to do is scream.

-Lindsay Hunter
author of Ugly Girls.


Black Candies is our annual print collection of short stories. Black Candies: Gross and Unlikeable is a special women-only issue, featuring stories and art by all-women contributors. It hits the shelves on Black Friday, 11/25/16. That’s right: this week.

Pre-order your copy here.

Mark us as “Want To Read” on Goodreads here.

Come to our San Diego Release Party and Reading on Thursday, December 8th!

If you like the work we do at So Say We All, please consider becoming a supporting member for as little as $5 per month. Details here.

Submissions due 10/2 for VAMP: Skeletons in the Closet!

Send us your work! We want to hear your stories, and we want to see you on our stage.

Submissions for our October VAMP are due this upcoming Sunday night, 10/2, at midnight. The showcase will be Thursday, October 27th at Whistle Stop Bar. The theme? “Skeletons in the Closet.” We hope you have fun with this one.

VAMP: Skeletons in the Closet

What do monsters and our darkest, messiest secrets have in common? They’re hiding away in the closet, tucked beneath the bed, balancing trapeze-style from the rafters and why doesn’t the protagonist ever think to look up?

VAMP: Skeletons in the Closet is a showcase of stories about the things we tuck away, the things we only think about in the thick of night, when nobody is watching, when nobody is around to help. Or maybe you actually did once find some bones hanging up behind your winter coats.

Send us your work!

For submission guidelines and a link to our submissions portal: http://www.sosayweallonline.com/submissions/

Please read our submission guidelines! But if you know the drill, to go straight to our Submittable site, click this pretty little button:
Submit button


In The Radvocate 14: Karl Sherlock

The freshly-pressed newest issue of The Radvocate is filled to the brim with really great poetry, fiction, and non-fiction, and we can’t wait for you to read it. Order your copy now!


If you’ll be in San Diego this Saturday, September 24th, come buy it directly from our Launch Party and Reading at The Glashaus, and we will also regale you with performances from the book. The reading will feature Radvocate contributors Anthony Martin, Dania Brett, Ryan Hicks, Sara Morrison, and Karl Sherlock, who we feature today.

Karl’s poem, “Pointless Drama: A Poem in Five Acts,” is strange, compelling, and sprawling. Here’s an excerpt:

Act I: Rising Action

[to be heralded in rumblings and preparatory ramblings in a deep off-stage voice–ideally Morgan Freeman or Colleen Dewhurst]

a nineteen forty-
something U.S. penny
from a skyscraper at
midnight and all at once
it’s a point in search of
conclusion, earth-bound, seventy-
some stories high becoming lower,
and the “low” of lower nearing
a point of zero acceleration, when
the gravity of the one story that remains
remains a story yet to be plumbed–
an upward zephyr in a downward yaw
over turvy then top; brake lights below
look up, threading a z-axis
on a grid of tarmac, and it’s all
a solid universe of the now
parked cars busting into stars, until
points are swallowing their outsides
in, birthing an infinite number of zeros
hobnailed on the cumbrous streets, while
windows whiplash into the doppler-
shifting slipstreams, wheat stalks
emancipated form a droplet of copper
smelted from sky, a russet exhale
that knocked its quantum of worth
right out of Abraham.

For more, come listen to Karl read his work at The Glashaus this Saturday, 9/24, at 7 PM. Or buy your copy now from Amazon!

Karl Sherlock is a Poetry Writing instructor and the Co-Coordinator of the Creative Writing Program at Grossmont College, in San Diego. He holds an MFA in Writing from the University of California, Irvine, and is a Fulbright alumnus and Academy of American Poets Prize recipient. His poems have appeared in Cream City ReviewDickinson Review, South Coast Poetry Journal, Alsop Review, gay writers journals such as The James White Review and Assaracus, and others. His prose memoirs have appeared in anthologies, including So Say We All’s The Far East, and in journals like Limehawk, for which he was a finalist for Sundress Publication’s 2014 “Best of the Net.”


An ample list of goodies and treats about The Radvocate #14:


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.

In The Radvocate 14: Laura Preble

The Radvocate Fourteen will be released tomorrow, Tuesday, September 6th! The Radvocate is our literary magazine, and we can’t wait to share this with you. Order your copy now so it’ll arrive just in time.

To give you a taste of the fantastic and striking fiction, poetry, and non-fiction in the book, here’s a little snippet from Laura Preble’s short story, “Headless Angels,” which appears in this issue:

We brush by red lights and hurricane windows, we are swept into the crowd. It’s a streetful of good times, no one comes here to brood, and if they do it, they get kicked out.

It feels good to walk after the train, especially with Jim, since I haven’t seen him for months. The sweet air and the music, it would all be perfect—coffee and beignets in the morning, staying up all night talking in a little boarding house on the Rue Royale, with a real gaslight winking out on the cobblestones below, then sleeping. He’d see, finally, what we are together, we’d hear a plaintive whisper of Louis Armstrong’s phantom trumpet—

“We got married.” He’s looking at the pavement, says it as if he just told me the time.


“Karen and I. We got married.”

I look straight ahead into the backs of strangers, concentrate on the foreign perfume of people I will never see again or know at all.

Order your copy of The Radvocate Fourteen now, for more of Laura’s story, as well as many other fine pieces!

Laura Preble is the author of the popular Queen Geek Social Club YA series as well as the novel Out. She was an award-winning straff writer for the San Diego Union-Tribune and has contributed to the magazines NEA Today, California Educator, Westways, Writer’s Digest, and Hysteria. She has worked as a freelance content writer for Binary Labs (for Glencoe publishing), and has published five young adult fiction novels with Penguin publishing. She won a Kurt Vonnegut fiction prize.

radvocate 14 release

The Radvocate Fourteen features work from: Karl Sherlock, Joe Baumann, John Vanderslice, Anthony Martin, Jamie Sullivan, Meggie Royer, Caroline Taylor, Emily Green, Scott Sherman, Laura Preble, Allyson Whipple, Sara Morrison, Juleigh Howard-Hobson, Janet Joyner, Eric Raymond, Lois Harrod, Dania Brett, Harley Lethalm. // Cover Art: Matt Parchinski // Editor: Matt E. Lewis

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.

In The Radvocate 14: Anthony Martin

The Radvocate Fourteen hits the stores and your hearts this upcoming Tuesday, September 6th! The Radvocate is our literary magazine, and we can’t wait to share this with you. You can even order your copy now so it’ll arrive just in time.

To get you in the mood, and to tease you for our upcoming Launch Party & Reading at Glashaus on September 24th, here’s a little snippet from contributor Anthony Martin’s short story, “Harvey Stone,” in which the titualar Harvey toys with some poor, unsuspecting Mormon boys that come to his door:

Harvey slammed the bottle down and reached back into the seat of his wheelchair for his chrome-plated nine-millimeter Beretta. I knew it well. He pulled the sliding mechanism and chambered a round.

“Take the drink.”

The boys looked at each other. Ponytail was frightened. Black Curls braved it first, downing the whiskey in one go as if he’d done it before. He put the glass down firmly and glared at Harvey as he swallowed. He was angry now and Harvey knew it.

“That’s good,” he said and turned the Beretta toward Ponytail, who was staring at the caramel liquid in his glass. The boy took a deep breath and drank his share like a glass of water, slow and steady. His face soured at the foulness of it and he started to cough after bottoms-up. He dropped the glass to the carpet and grasped at his throat.

“Breathe,” said Harvey. “There. That’s good. It goes away, see. Burns good.” He rested the Beretta on his impotent knee, his finger still on the trigger. “Now, unless either of you wants another one for the road, get the god fearing Joseph Smith out of my living room.”

Anthony Martin’s work is published or forthcoming in The Tishman Review, Paper Darts, and Whiskey Island (among other fine places). Come hear Anthony read from “Harvey Stone,” along with Sara Morrison, Karl Sherlock, Dania Brett, and Ryan Hicks, on Saturday, September 24th at Glashaus.

radvocate 14 release

The Radvocate Fourteen features work from: Karl Sherlock, Joe Baumann, John Vanderslice, Anthony Martin, Jamie Sullivan, Meggie Royer, Caroline Taylor, Emily Green, Scott Sherman, Laura Preble, Allyson Whipple, Sara Morrison, Juleigh Howard-Hobson, Janet Joyner, Eric Raymond, Lois Harrod, Dania Brett, Harley Lethalm. // Cover Art: Matt Parchinski // Editor: Matt E. Lewis

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.

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 Radvocate Fourteen: Coming Soon!

The Radvocate #14 is almost here. We’re pleased to announce the publication date of this fine literary magazine: September 6th. Stay tuned for teasers, where to buy your copy, and details on our upcoming release party and reading.

Featuring work from: Karl Sherlock, Joe Baumann, John Vanderslice, Anthony Martin, Jamie Sullivan, Meggie Royer, Caroline Taylor, Emily Green, Scott Sherman, Laura Preble, Allyson Whipple, Sara Morrison, Juleigh Howard-Hobson, Janet Joyner, Eric Raymond, Lois Harrod, Dania Brett, Harley Lethalm.

Cover Art: Matt Parchinski

Editor: Matt E. Lewis

Welcome to the fourteenth issue of The Radvocate. What started in 2011 as a poorly-xeroxed cry for artistic solidarity in the form of a zine, morphed into an open-sourced platform of expression. A like-minded community of artists was formed: poets, authors, artists, photographers, columnists, videographers, journalists, and many more joined together from all over the country to make the eclectic issues a reality. In those flimsy paper copies, the soul of The Radvocate was forged, an irreverent but proud spirit which carries on to this day.
We can’t wait for you to enjoy this literary magazine. It’s a great and mighty book.


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.

Incoming Reviewed at The Rumpus

So nice to see a great and thoughtful review of Incoming up at The Rumpus today!

It is a rare nonfiction collection about these wars, but there is another reason it is unique as well: its mission is not only to bridge the deep divide between the military and civilian public, but also to bridges the divides between the unique experiences of all who have served, “active duty and veterans alike, men and women, gay and straight, across the multitude of ethnicity.” In other words, it is not just a collection of war stories, but rather a book intended to show the diversity of experiences and perspectives for those involved in the wars.

The piece studied two collections of stories: one from a single author, Luke Mogelson’s These Heroic, Happy Dead along with our Incoming: Veteran Writers on Returning Home.

The literature of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan seems to be turning a similar corner. The initial push of largely excellent fiction about these wars from civilian and military writers alike is morphing into its second act, where much that was initially explored is now accepted as fact and provides the foundation for deeper exploration by other authors. The nonfiction of these wars, which has many more titles and many more years to contend with, is also moving away from the simple memoirs reporting on their places, battles, and people.

Incoming is available for purchase on Amazon, or at other venues, including all of our local shows. Have a read of some of these fantastic true narratives written by veterans.

Incoming is important. As an outgrowth of several writing programs and initiatives, it offers what appears to be unfiltered and unmediated voices from the wars. Because it is the result of several writing programs and initiatives, there is hope that the editors will produce more works like it in the future. At least we can hope that they do.

We hope so too. Read the full review here.

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.

Incoming cover

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.