A Poem by SJU Writing Studies Student Maura Shenker

Photo courtesy of the author.

Photo courtesy of the author.


Worldview Words That Describe How I Feel on a Sunday Morning in November After the Election – by Maura Shenker





Stomachacha-pained and ravanaged

my blue I’d blurry self. Eyerainful.

Blerked with nuked coffee

Infinite simile, intestinally twistoptic


My thoughts turn entrospectif

In the quiet of my domestisilo


Safety becomes my primary concern in this

Society of trumpeeting divisination.

With out honor; with out humor –

just a malignificent terrortumor.


Semi-radicalized extraspecticktocular

Intellectual pseudobscurbation


Corpse aquiver, mouth agape,

throat scorched with acid regretsting.

Unkind hindsight causes fleshtions

flashing: come up wanting (air)


Nerves blergomous in the silence

Ears straining for the clatterpanic of the




Their carnivagorging all consuming,


As a family we break freak feast

Ribbonibulous time streaming out.


Maura Shenker is the Director of the Center for Professional Development, an SJU alumna with an MS in Organizational Development and Leadership, and current Writing Studies student. Maura has an MFA in Glass from Ohio State University and a BFA in Glass from the Rhode Island School of Design. She is a current board member of the New Kensington Community Development Corporation, a catalyst for sustainable development and community building in North Philadelphia, and lives in Kensington with her one-day-to-be husband, their two children (Maverick age 6 and Lucky age 3) and a very crotchety 17-year old dog.



Tackle – Funny in Less than 500 Words by Ryan Latini

Photo Courtesy of the Author

Photo Courtesy of the Author

Photo Courtesy of funnyinfivehundred.com

Photo Courtesy of funnyinfivehundred.com



Thank God it wasn’t hunting season,” was the last thing I could remember saying to Officer Bill before I blacked out. Usually, he wakes you with a clipboard smack to the forehead, but this morning it was the tapping of a No. 2 pencil. As I stirred, I could feel the eraser keeping beat out of time with the inherent beat of my hangover.

“What’s that song you’re tapping out?” I asked.

“Ain’t no song.”

Officer Bill stood and smiled, looking down as I rubbed my eyes. I squirmed on the floor of the holding cell, stretching toward the fluorescent lights. “

It’s Morse code for, you’re a goofy asshole. Your mommy is here to pick you up again. We’ve got another public intoxication award for you.”

“What do I win?” I asked, rising in the cell, rubbing my right eye.

“A court date.”

“A while since I’ve been on a date,” I said. “Who punched me?—Is it bruised? Feels a little swollen.”

“Murph did,” Officer Bill said. “In fact, he said you were trying to get a date with him last night. Want to see my rod, is what you said. It’s all in the report.”

“Oh!” I followed the officer down the hall toward booking. I remembered. “Fishing.”

“What?” He said, sitting down behind his desk with a squeaking swivel. I couldn’t see my mother standing two feet to my right, but I could smell her “out-and-about” perfume. My eye was swollen and nearly shut.

“It was a fishing rod. I have a new one. For catfish.” Officer Bill rustled paper. My mother sighed. I couldn’t look at her—literally or figuratively. “Graphite composite rod. Three bearing reel. Ergonomic design. Two-piece construction,” I said.

I didn’t see it coming, but pain suddenly blinded my good eye. My mom flicked the side of my head with her finger. “You’re a dumb boy. Fishing in the street?”

When the pain subsided, I remembered the night before, out front of the Spread Eagle Tavern, casting my fishing rod into the street. I remember the police approaching. I remember slowly reeling in, jerking the rod to bounce my jig worm on the asphalt. Officer Bill had asked for my license. “My fishing license?” I asked.

Officer Bill was gentle with me—the way he’s been since I was a teenager. My mother—not so gentle, but she has to “keep up appearances.” That holding cell is home for her just the same. We’ve left notes to each other carved on the rail of the cot.

After signing my rod out of the evidence room and placing it carefully in her sedan, down the center and out through the trunk, we sat in silence.

“What kind of bait were you using?” She laughed and slapped the dashboard. “Want me to drop you at the Spread Eagle?

“No,” I said. “Drop me off at the river. That jig hasn’t seen water yet.”

“You got your license?”

Ryan R. Latini is a freelance and fiction writer living and writing in the Greater Philadelphia Area. He received his M.A. in Writing Studies from Saint Joseph’s University, and is currently on the editorial staff of The Schuylkill Valley Journal. Contact him on Twitter, @RyanRLatini, gmail: ryan.latini856@gmail.com, and check out his website, The Narrative Report at www.ryanlatini.com.

Twelfth Night – by John M. Rafferty, SJU Writing Studies Student


John M. Rafferty







Twelfth Night is a flash fiction piece inspired by the work of Raymond Carver. It is concerned with a man’s struggle to find work, and the unexpected place his search takes him.

I went on the audition as a favor to my friend, Cole. I’m not an actor and neither is he, but I used to work full-time on his construction crew. His wife, Maria, is an actor, and as Cole related to me over the phone, Maria had told him that they “were really very desperate” for more actors, just for small parts. I had been struggling so hard to get consistent work, I figured Cole might help me if I tried out for this community production. He told me it was Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night.

I practiced the lines they had sent me. I felt nervous, sick, the whole day of the audition. I drove to the church in the rain, about forty minutes. It was a medium-sized theater. Bright, clean, wood floor, royal-blue stage curtain. The director, Simon, and two other older people–one a man, one a woman–sat at a table. Simon had a grayish-white beard and was paunchy, friendly and relaxed. The older man and woman, late sixties, early seventies, were a little fragile in how thin they were. They both had white hair, too; the older woman, glasses. They all smiled as we said hellos and shook hands. I filled out a sheet with my basic information and walked up onto the stage.

I read for three small parts in total. At first, I felt it was going fairly well–and then better –but I had to do an accent next, which I fumbled: I was having so much trouble with the lines that I forgot to keep up the accent; the last character I improved, I thought, but it was all overwhelming. It appeared they were not impressed when it was over. I walked down off the stage and they thanked me for coming out and I thanked them for the opportunity and was courteous and well-mannered.

When I left, it was still raining, driving home, and I felt unbearably strange: I didn’t want to act and I never wanted to be in the production, but I felt like a failure now that it seemed as though I would not be offered a part. At home, I sat in the kitchen and felt worse. I was tired. Maybe if I did some leg work, found other actors to recommend, that would help. That might count for something.

I never heard from the theater. I got a gig, full-time, selling alarm services door-to-door. I hated it, but I had to stomach it. I went and saw the play. I was a little worried I might run into Simon or the older man and woman (it would be embarrassing), but I didn’t. I saw Cole watching Maria up on stage and wondered if there was any point in talking to them when it was over. But really, I focused all my energy in understanding what was going on upon that stage: Who was playing who and what the characters wanted, and if it worked out for any of them.

Thanks to John for sharing his work with us!




Sex in the cornfields: The agony and ecstasy of dating at a strict Christian college

This piece is part of SJU Writing Studies student Dan Rousseau’s thesis, published on Salon.com last week. Loved it!


(Credit: MaxyM via Shutterstock)








The Indiana corn weaves like a maze of chastity. My girlfriend, Becca, and I are driving in my black Subaru Forester, hunting for a solitary space. I am a sophomore in college and am studying the Bible in hopes of entering the ministry. My left hand dictates the steering wheel, while my right hand is clasped to Becca’s manicured fingers. A double-looped, olive scarf and a single chestnut braid contrast her blue eyes, dilated juniper berries that have been expertly framed.

Our relationship began in high school. Although her allure lay somewhere beyond my league, she, the graceful cheerleading captain, and I, the mop-headed metal drummer, found an immediate Eros — one that remains clothed and censored by burgeoning, Christian morals.

Now, we drive as college mates, best friends and eager lovers. There is necking and driving, reckless passion born of young frontal lobes. Our relationship needs a hidden roadside without an audience, where we won’t make love but will dream of doing so. And in the process, press upon ingrained religious and physical boundaries.

It is early October, and the dry cornstalk still stands. Time-worn, dirt roads are masked by seven-foot plants. We would like the vegetation to hide us while we enjoy the back seat, but it only masks the oncoming traffic: Farmers in ancient pick-ups appear out of nowhere, flash their headlights and roll down their windows. “You kids OK?”

I am wary of authoritative eyes in the harvest and the lips that call nakedness shame. My staunch, self-induced morality whispers, “Sex is reserved for the shadows.”

I am reminded of a juvenile angst.

It was a midnight high wire act: arms out for balance, white socks moved heel to toe. Wide pupils were focused on the stair railing to my right, and fretful ears were fixed on the copper hinges on my parent’s bedroom door. The maple floorboards were bubbled, and my twelve-year-old stride activated a creak. It echoed. I froze, then wrenched my neck to the head of the hall and listened for movement. The air sat still. My pastor father and stay-at-home mother remained asleep.

I considered my sixth grade English class and Poe’s light-footed night stalker. But I was not on a murderous search for The Tell Tale Heart — I was a libido-driven, fuzz-stached pre-teen in search of late-night cable boobs.

My family had just moved to the Chicago suburbs from North Carolina. This was my seventh house. Preacher’s families are often blown about the country, tossing God’s Word to the common-people, and receiving a free month of HBO with each new city.

I crept down the stairs, back hunched, knees bent — attempting to lower my center of gravity. Our yellow lab, Caleb, named from the Hebrew for “dog,” met me at the ground floor. His tail swayed in anticipation of play; dull claws scratched at linoleum. I pinched his muzzle with my right hand. “Not now,” I whispered. The dog’s brow tilted backward. He let out a muted whimper, promising silence. In sympathy, I let him follow me to the beige-carpeted living room, a companion in the carnal exploration.

The television’s cathode tubes hid behind a forty-inch square of black, bowed glass and rested on a two-foot, red oak cabinet. For months, the TV had prodded my budding hormones. I wasted days by flipping through channels, looking for skin. I would spend a half-hour viewing “He-Man and the Masters of the Universe,” trying to will the gold-plated bra off of Teela: the long-legged, red-haired Captain of the Royal Guard. I would change the channel to “The Cosby Show” and feel palpable tension between myself and Denise Huxtable, portrayed by the tempting Lisa Bonet. The dreadlocked renegade sported extra-large, cable knit sweaters, leaving everything but her high cheekbones to the imagination.

Conjectured pictures moved in my head: The bare chest of Eve from my Illustrated Children’s Bible was plastered over Teela’s sultry hips — all of this capped by a Huxtable smile. Using the thin, grey remote, I powered the television, expecting to find my fantasy girl gyrating on late-night, premium-cable porn.

The erotic light of channel 501 swallowed the space, and my thumb pressed mute. A pale, blonde female security guard sat alone in a surveillance room: naked. She monitored a video feed of a masked, shirtless burglar. I had seen protruding abdominals like his before on the glistening, blue body of Captain Planet. I stared, bewildered as the woman massaged her tight, left nipple and caressed her inner thigh with petite, red-tipped fingers. She bit at her lower lip with the same euphoric agony as a kid lusting after a Ken Griffey Jr. rookie card — “1989 Upper Deck, oh baby!”

I was uncertain as to what the woman was doing or trying to do. But the longer I looked, the warmer I felt. My senses clouded, chest trembled and muscles clenched. My left hand was urged to the fly of my baseball-print pajama pants. A sudden wetness was accompanied by dream-like ecstasy, then a return to perspective with my pulse’s decrescendo.

I powered off the television. There was blackness. I could feel Caleb’s warm pant against my left hip. The dog’s eyes shone green and inserted regret. The experience was unknown and therefore was sin.

Becca winces and my perspective is pulled back to the present car-ride, “You’re crushing my hand.” I apologize and blame a pent-up libido. She leans her shoulders toward the passenger window and fixates on the moonlit fields. “You only care about the physical stuff.” My fingers move to her denim-covered knee, a safer spot to prove a gentle agape.

I speak to her backlit silhouette, “I’m sorry. It’s this place. This school. They make it impossible.”

Taylor University’s 40-foot brick bell tower rises like a stalk from the Indiana corn. The bell tower is split into two columns which meet at a head: a symbol of the integration of faith and learning. The 2,000 students are deeply committed, evangelical Christians. The community is tight and secluded; the campus sits in the middle of a 4,000-resident farm town. In this place, which boasts of conservative roots, there is vocal guilt attached to sex: “Should it actually feel good?”

The wing where I live houses 60 men. Our pleasures are secret. I’ve only seen alcohol here once, have never heard porn through the concrete walls but have a hunch the guy two doors down smoked pot when he went home last weekend. Sin is obsessed upon.

We have a masturbation jar. Each time you get your rocks off, you must stuff a dollar in the jar. God is watching. The jar fills fast. I don’t think they do this at state colleges. A buddy of mine says its alright in God’s eyes to masturbate to inanimate objects, “Just don’t lust after girls.” He’s never kissed one.

Taylor’s academic reputation is strong, but so are its rules. In the 1960s, a handbook was constructed of promoted, Godly conduct, and of restricted behaviors that might lead to sin. The University officials who penned the work named it after Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s book, “Life Together.” Bonhoeffer, a radiant theologian, was hanged by the Nazis for planning an assassination of Adolf Hitler and reportedly died a virgin. He showed no regret in missing out on sex, claiming to have lived a full life — although a sexual summary is an unfair judge of the honest man.

Upon signing the Life Together Covenant, students agree to refrain from the following behaviors: dancing, lying, profanity, drinking, smoking, premarital sex, involvement with pornography, homosexual relationships and immodest dress, among others. Refusal to sign the covenant may result in expulsion. While consensus might agree that abstinence, or moderation, from some of the aforementioned actions could promote physical, emotional and spiritual well-being, there is a loss of critical thought in the removal of a student’s free choice to act on, or refrain from, “sin.”

Like an authoritative parent, the University’s sexual mistrust is layered. Dorms are categorized by gender. Men and women are allowed in one another’s rooms twice a week, for four hours. Resident Assistants troll the hallways during visiting hours, like nurses in a psych ward, making sure all lights are on and all doors are open. There is plenty of flirting, but no way to act on it.

Raging hormones are repressed to the backs of minds, where they are interpreted as guilt.

The young women are told that having sex is as painful as labor, while the men place the vagina on an ivory pedestal, of sorts: “I’m going to rail her on our wedding night.” In a community so focused on not having sex, there is much lost in the beautiful intricacies of learning to appreciate the soul and body of a loving partner.

Each fall, the school devotes a week to sexual education. The week’s festivities are referred to as “Sex in the Cornfields.” Men and women fill separate auditoriums where speakers romanticize celibacy before marriage, and outline, via animated PowerPoint slides, ways to reduce and quit masturbation. The term “sex” is thrown around as a ubiquitous catch-all for promiscuous sin, but is never defined. Thus, the sexually illiterate evangelical students develop operational definitions of sex based on their childhood and teenage experiences.

In an effort to define sex, I call upon my own late night, cable-enhanced sixth-grade exploration.

Elementary school sex education videos taught me how to hide a random erection: “Here’s a cool tip, carry your books in front of your penis.” These same tapes showed cartoon testes, with bug-eyed sperm swirling about, chomping at the bit to reach the woman’s high-cheeked, Maybellined egg.

I was twelve and, for two years, had been waiting for a chance to examine real semen, to watch my sperm bounce like guppies. The opportunity had finally arisen. There I stood, dog at my side, holding a fresh, albeit fast-cooling, sample in my pants.

I moved to the kitchen, and trod a wide gate to keep the sperm in place. This was a sleuth mission — the Pink Panther theme song crept from the corners of my subconscious. My parent’s bedroom lay above. The white pantry door was ajar, so it opened with a breath of a push. I scanned past the canned soup, most of it split pea, then found the plastic sandwich bags sitting atop a wire shelf. My hand plucked a bag from the cobalt, cardboard box. This was followed by a soft close of the door. The brass knob’s click was consumed by the darkness.

My sly legs moved to the staircase. I exhorted a whisper at the rustling dog: “Caleb, stay. You’re too loud.” He obeyed and watched me climb toward manhood. I avoided the middle of each step, where the bare wood was likely to groan.

The second-floor hall was as I left it: serene. Although I figured the Holy Ghost and his judging eyes were planted in a dim corner. I slid into my room and flipped the snow-white light switch on. Not wanting to waste precious time, I turned the plastic bag inside out, as I was accustomed to doing when picking Caleb’s poop from the neighbor’s lawn, and reached into the front of my pants. I pulled out a hoard of creamed, buried treasure. With surgical efficiency, I flipped and sealed the bag.

Several thousand loose baseball cards, stacked in eighteen-inch piles atop my honey-cedar desk, were swept to make room for the semen sample. I then rummaged my closet, whose cramped, carpeted floor ramped above the staircase. My hands dug through die-cast cars, a stiff catcher’s mitt, once-lost math worksheets and a battery powered X-wing starfighter; liquid freeze pops, American Girl doll glasses, stale tightie whities and a “Check yes if you like me” note. Then the all-powerful semen-deducing tool emerged: a Wendy’s-brand, Peter Pan magnifying glass.

My eye almost touched the glass, turning it into a monocle of sorts. As the first person to examine my semen, all observations were noted as discoveries. The initial revelation pertained to color. I’d been under the impression that semen was bleach white, but it was more of a linen with a hint of French vanilla. I wondered if my blonde hair affected my semen color. The second detection was of odor. The viscous sample smelled of must — not unlike mildewed baseball pants; I considered a washed uniform to be bad luck. I thereupon became statuesque, with pupils focused on a centimeter-wide portion of the specimen. My eyes were fishing for sperm. In held breath and wishful thought — I swore I saw one move.

A roadside clearing jogs my mind back to the meandering path beside Taylor University. I turn onto a rocky, dim road and ask Becca if she can see any houses. Her vision is better than mine, “I think there’s a house way up there, but it could be a silo. Nothing to worry about. Just pull off here.” I slow the car. Weeds whip beneath the tires. I cut the engine; I turn the lights off. We coincide a sigh and sit for a moment, listening to the wind against the windows. I turn and lean to kiss her, but my seatbelt impedes my progress. She unlocks the belt, then climbs from her chair.

We lay in the backseat, stuck to faux leather, our desires enhanced by the full moon. I am focused on her eyes — not the world outside. She reaches for my jeans.

Suppressed longing escapes.

Fog rises.

A heavy thud hits the passenger side window.

“Oh, shit.”

I force my body off of Becca, hitting my head on the glass moon-roof. She groans, “Your knee is in my crotch.” I look to the window, ready to appease an angry farmer. But all I see is a cud-chewing, flared-nosed, voyeuristic cow — sent by God to protect my virginity. We laugh, re-assume the upright position, turn the car back on and meander beneath the moon.

Dan Rousseau is a Philadelphia-based writer and MA candidate in Writing Studies at Saint Joseph’s University. He holds a degree in psychology from Taylor University in Upland, IN, and has worked in behavioral psychology through the Institute for Behavior Change.

Five Things You Missed at the Oct. 13 Authors Showcase (presented by The Avenue)

By Writing Studies Student Ryan Latini (ryan.latini856@gmail.com and on Twitter @RyanRLatini)

  1. Civil War dreamscapes of voodoo and pistol fire

  2. Passion, cadence, and activism from an open mic up-and-comer

  3. Blaxploitation, Black Panthers, and the fashion sparked by the movement

  4. The sonic surrealism of heavy metal hidden in nature’s underbelly

  5. A delusional, dysfunctional, golden-era obsessed YA heroine as read by a grown man

Oh, you also missed the readings from the five published writers behind these ideas—all current or graduated Writing Studies students: Don Philbrick, Elishia Peterson, Dan Rousseau, James R. Sanders, and Don Corcoran.

The Authors

The Authors










The reading was put together to get an idea of what’s getting published by writers in Saint Joseph’s University’s Graduate Writing Studies Program.

I sat down with each of the writers to gain some insights into the works they read and their tips for success.

Dan Rousseau

Dan Rousseau


Dan Rousseau: Editor-and-chief of The Avenue. Dan’s piece can be found in the literary magazine, The Rain, Party, & Disaster Society.




What are you reading tonight? It’s a piece you wrote in Owen Gilman’s Nature Writing course?

Yes. Sanctuary in the Shadows: Finding Extreme Metal in Nature.

It was published in The Rain, Party, & Disaster Society. What is their niche? Weirdos who look like Midwestern youth ministers, but are actually dark, terrifying human beings? (Dan was polite and laughed at my joke.)

It’s an online magazine. Their niche is weirdo stuff, some surrealist stuff—very visceral. My most recent piece is darker and crazier.

Where was that published?

L’Allure des Mots. I got a piece published in there about eating my eyeball—it’s a fictional piece (Dan says, pointing to his eyeball), and I have a piece coming soon in One for One Thousand about real estate racism

Why is this character so special in the piece you’re reading from tonight? What made you combine heavy metal and nature?

The character is essentially me. I’ve got a huge interest in metal. I played in metal bands growing up, and I played jazz in college—ensembles and stuff—but the metal is huge. I go hiking a lot out at Green Lake Park by my house, and there’s a lot of kind of decrepit stuff. I found a dead deer there that was rotting and the idea that nature is all happy-go-lucky is a false idea.

Why do you write? What gets you to sit in a chair and do it?

I like to research things endlessly—politics, sports, religion—so when I lock onto an idea, I can’t stop thinking about it. Writing is a way to stop thinking about it.

What is the hardest thing about writing?

The hardest thing now is publishing. Rejections come.

How do you cope?

I can’t help but see it go somewhere. If I’ve worked so hard on something, I’ll take what they say to me, if they respond beyond, “We don’t want this.” I just have to have it somewhere. I don’t know. It’s an obsessive thing, and if it’s a piece especially that deals with my morals and ideology, I don’t take it personally. I’m obsessive.

How do you deal with writer’s block?

I listen to music. Watch documentaries. I like to go out and hike. I was reading an article recently about procrastination and they said, you know, for this writer, there was no such thing as procrastination—there’s only brainstorming time, and for me that’s true. I might go two or three days without putting pen to paper, but when I do get there and have all the ideas, it just comes out in a solid chunk.

(We both smiled, refraining from making a constipation joke)

How do you relax?

I started doing mindfulness meditation. I studied psychology for a little while before I got into writing, and they talked about it but I didn’t do it.

What advice would you give your younger writing-self?

Writing is pretty new. I’ve only been writing for a year. I would have started sooner. I started in ministry, then psychology, and then I spent some great time working with autistic kids, and that was important stuff especially for what I write about.

Favorite books?

An Unquiet Mind by Kay Jamison, and The Sacred Journey by Frederick Buechner.

James R. Sanders

James R. Sanders


James Sanders: Fashion editor, stylist, with magazine credits in Vogue, GQ, Glamour, and L’Officiel




Where can we see more of your writing?

I am writing consistently for Vogue—Italy and America—GQ, and Glamour, so just Google James R. Sanders and any of those three publications, and my stories will come up.

I know your successes have come in magazine writing, so what writers inspire you?

A majority of them are fiction writers: Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God is still just the most important piece of literature that I’ve ever read. Toni Morrison, James Baldwin, Alice Walker, and on the journalism side, Hunter S. Thomson, Andre Leon Talley, Anna Wintour, from Vogue magazine.

Why do you write?

I write because I feel as though my voice is very unique. My perspective is very unique. A lot of writers come from adversity, and a lot of them come from poverty but—and I’m no different in that respect—but I feel as though the things I’ve been able to accomplish, the way that I think, my approach with things, is different. I don’t like people telling me what I can and can’t do. I don’t believe them to begin with. I do what I want. And anything I want I can have. And very few writers believe that. Most writers who come from the poverty and from the bottom—if you want to refer to it that way—they write from that pain, but I use that pain to write stories of triumph when I’m writing fiction or creative nonfiction. When I’m doing journalism, it’s for a check, because I’m broke. I’m going to spend the rest of my life letting the world get to know me because I’m worth it.

Tell me about the piece you read from tonight—how the black panther’s sparked a movement beyond their own movement, a fashion movement—where did this piece come from?

Foxy Momma. It’s a popular phrase from the Blaxploitation genre, and the shortened version appeared online for Vogue magazine, but there is a longer version that is part of my thesis. It was actually one of the samples that got my literary agent interested in the project. It’s important to me. When reading tonight, I tried to beef it up a bit and give it some color, some flare, because journalism can be dry. I don’t care if you’re describing a dress with 1000 sequins, it can still be boring, especially to those who aren’t into fashion as much as I am. I tried to make it interesting.

You certainly did James. Any tips on what to do and what not to do as a writer?

As a writer, my biggest tip is to decide whether or not that’s really, truly, what you want to do, because a lot of people will say they want to do it because of Sex and the City with Carrie Bradshaw who lived in this fabulous brownstone and just wrote and went to lunch and had sex and wrote about it. If you come from a background of nothing, like I did, and all you have is your skill or your talent or your inspiration, then you should take that and let that drive you to get each thing that you want to get. Somebody, somewhere, will read it. This program especially has some unique voices, but there is a place for everyone and no one can really tell you what you can and can’t do, unless you let them and unless you believe them.

What advice would you give to your younger writing-self?

You need to be more prepared, you need to be saving more, and you need to be working. I know you know what you want to do, and that’s great, that’s even fabulous, but you have to prepare for the future because your future is going to get rough, so bitch get it together. Start working in McDonald’s while you’re in college. I understand it’s not fabulous, but look, you don’t have anybody, it’s going to be hard, so you got to do what you got to do.

How do you relax?

Lately I haven’t been relaxing. However, I’d like to think that me relaxing looks like me not worrying about anything, and maybe watching something really stupid and mindless where I don’t have to think. Like maybe one of the Real Housewives franchises, or something with the word “Kardashian” in the middle.

Elishia Peterson

Elishia Peterson


Elishia Peterson: Poet, open mic up-and-comer, read Open Season, out of her new collection of poetry, Black Listed.




Give us an insight thematically to the collection.

What I see in my own neighborhood, the things that I write about are either from experience, the things that I observe, or things that I hear. Even if I’m on the trolley or driving, I hear something out the window, or in the mall, I catch those things and that’s how I relate in my writing.

What made you sit down and write Open Season?

It was probably something I saw on the news, some other black man or boy who got shot, and I was just like, “Wow are they hunting for them—are they looking for them?” Something that I saw on social media said it’s open season out here, so that’s where it came from. While you may be educated or have a family, it doesn’t matter. Obviously, it doesn’t matter if you’re educated, poor, wealthy, whatever, you’re a target, so I just had to get this out. I actually read it at the open mic back in July, and I got nice feedback from people. It felt good.

You do open mics?

I’m not quite a newbie, but I’m definitely getting a lot of practice, and I’m more comfortable with speaking in public. I’ve been going to the World Cafe Live for almost the last year. They have a good crowd. They have a jazz night before it, and it leads up to the open mic, so a lot of people come out.

Why do you write?

I write because it’s always been a release for me. Ever since I was a child, I was very shy and quiet, and I found writing as a way for me to express myself. It’s always been a tool for me to say what I wanted to say without any kind of prejudices or problems. So writing for me is just—free.

What is the hardest thing about writing?

It used to be, for me, being critiqued. When I first started here at St. Joes, in the workshops, I’m like, “Please like it.”

How do you deal with writer’s block?

Sometimes I make up songs. I like to sing, so sometimes I’ll make up a catchy song, and be like, “Maybe this could be a poem.”

Any tips for writers starting out?

Take the chance. It’s tough, so take your own initiative to do what you want to do for yourself as a writer, and just try it out and see where it goes. If I didn’t try to put this together myself, this would still be sitting in my computer, or still sitting bound in my thesis. Nothing would have happened, so you’ve got to kind of start it up yourself.

What advice would you give your younger writing-self?

I would just say, trust yourself. Don’t second guess yourself, because I’ve done that a whole lot, where I think maybe I’m not really good enough to do this.

What have you written, and where can we see it?

Well my chapbook, Black Roses: Five Women and Their Mental Breakthrough, which was my thesis, is a chapbook now and it can be purchased online at twopensandlint.com, and I also do open mics at World Cafe Live on Monday nights, 7pm.

Follow Elishia’s blog at www.lablesloveandliving.wordpress.com

Don Philbrick

Don Philbrick


Don Philbrick: (pen name: Sawney Hatton) read from his new novella, Uglyville.




Tell us about Uglyville.

It’s a noir-inspired YA novel. Dark comedy. It was also my thesis project and it’s now available on Amazon. It’s out there and ready to be purchased.

What made you sit down and write Uglyville?

I was living in LA for 8 years and doing a lot of work for hire screenplays. I also did a lot of spec screenplays. I had pitched an idea to my agent, which was Uglyville, and he said, “Yeah, write the script.” He thought it was too dark. I think he wanted something a little lighter. But I loved the story, and I thought it deserved to be told. So instead of taking the screenplay and forgetting about it, I decided to adapt it into a book. It worked out really well. I started the program here, and I had just started writing the novella of Uglyville and it just fit into the whole thesis, because it’s not a super long story.

Why do you write?

I’ve always loved story telling. I don’t even call myself a writer—I call myself an author I guess—but really I like calling myself a storyteller because essentially that’s what I love doing. I hope I tell them well, obviously, but I have to get these stories in my head, out, otherwise it just drives me nuts. Cleansing myself if you will.

Like an enema?

Yes, very much like an enema. Put that down—writing is like an enema.

What’s the hardest thing about writing?

Actually sitting, putting your butt in your chair every day, and putting words on paper. I always have stories to tell, but actually disciplining yourself—it’s so easy to get distracted by Netflix, Facebook, going to get coffee, but the hardest part is just sitting down. It’s intimidating. The blank page, or partially written piece, so to really discipline yourself to sit down in a chair and pump out words is probably the most daunting task of any writer.

What’s the skinny on self-publishing?

So, I have my own publishing company. I just started it in 2013. I put out my first novel called Dead Size through that. It was a learning process.   I wanted to learn the best way of doing things in terms of marketing, printing, all the logistics of it. It really was a trial by fire. It worked out really well. It’s got 35 reviews on Amazon, I have fans, and there are people actually interested in what I’m writing. I want to start releasing works from other authors. That’s my next goal. I think marketing is a lot of fun. Even a traditional publishing company, they have very small marketing budgets, so all the onus of promotion falls on the author.

Any tips on what to do and what not to do in writing and self-publishing?

When it comes to marketing your own stuff, it’s nonstop. You can’t stop. You can’t ever say, “You know something, I spent a month marketing this book, so I’m done.” You can’t think that way. As soon as you stop, you fall off people’s radar, so marketing yourself is constant. If you want to be a writer these days, you have to know how to market yourself, and you have to do it effectively and efficiently, and nonstop.

Favorite authors?

Joe R. Lansdale—he’s kind of the master of Texas noir. They’ve been adapting more and more of his stuff. There was a movie called Cold in July.

Robert McCammon—Swan Song, Speaks the Nightbird. Generally considered a horror author, but he’s more than that.

What advice would you give your younger writer-self?

Start sooner, but I try not to lament.

Where can we read more of your work?

Sawneyhatton.com, and I’m also on Goodreads, Facebook, and all my books are available on Amazon.

Don Corcoran

Don Corcoran


Don Corcoran read from his novel, A Road Paved in Iron. He is the first Iron Writer Flash Fiction Champion. He has been published in several anthologies including Urban Harvest.



For the piece you read from tonight, A Road Paved in Iron, give us an insight into your main character. What do they do that is so special?

Noah is a black Union soldier in the early part of the Civil War. The search for his mother in the heart of the south forced him to face persecution from northerners and southerners alike. In this hotbed of cultural conflict, Noah is at its confluence. He becomes the Wandering Stranger archetype of the Spaghetti Western tradition, only to discover his spiritual inheritance.

What made you sit down and write this work?

I believe we write from our subconscious and gather our best details from what’s had time to percolate in our heads. For my first series I wanted to delve into subjects with which I had a lot of knowledge and experience. I wanted a story that was subtly spooky. The Civil War, institutional racism, and Voodoo seemed like a natural fit.

What is the hardest thing about writing?

Getting it done. There are a great deal of distractions, pieces of life that get in the way. It takes a lot of discipline and support from friends and family to focus on writing, to put to paper enough words to be successful.

Why do you write?

It’s less about what I like and more about what I have to do. I need to write. My head gets filled with the voices of my characters. I have to get them out, let their stories be told. Don’t worry, they don’t tell me to do anything dangerous.

Any tips on what to do and what not to do in publishing / self-publishing?

Most of my experience has confirmed the advice written on countless blogs and books. Promote yourself. Hire an editor and cover designer. Write every day. I believe what the writing community isn’t up front about is to trust yourself and don’t waste too much time and money on books, conferences, and advertising. The writing industry is filled with people who are looking to make ends meets and exploiting new writers has been a recent pastime. I’m not saying you can’t trust anyone, there are lots of really supportive folks out there, but be discerning about what really propels your craft forward and what may be a waste of resources. Nothing makes you a more successful writer than writing and revision regularly. There are no short-cuts.

How do you relax?

Cinema and reading are how I get out of my own head and into the ideas of others. I love film and I am enjoying what seems to be a renaissance of film-making, especially through the medium of a series. We are experiencing such depths of storytelling with groundbreaking feats such as HBO’s The Wire. We can explore deeper social lessons and develop more complex characters. I’m also a big nerd. I spent an enormous amount of time involved in game design and how to tell stories in a huge array of media.

What advice would you give your younger, writing self?

Streamline. I am a generalist – a good quality for most writers – but you can’t do all the things you want to do all at once. Choose something and stick to it. And quite frankly, get rid of the people in your life who are impediments to your dreams.

Where can we buy or see your works?