Sweet Fan Mail: Randon Billings Noble

Click “FAN MAIL” in the main menu above for this and more,
in our exciting new Fan Mail section.

Be With Me Always by Randon Billings Noble

Be With Me Always CoverReading your book, Be With Me Always, I am reminded again of Sherlock Holmes in your approach to every haunting, and every visitation of your body by a ghost. Holmes makes an appearance in your list essay, “69 Inches of Thread, Scarlet and Otherwise”, but I noticed the similarities before this. When you ripped through Vivaldi arpeggios without realizing you had an audience, I pictured Holmes playing his Stradivarius. In “A Pill to Cure Love” you dissect the way a body metabolizes a love affair, and I pictured Holmes performing extractions in his home chemistry lab. Holmes’ devotion to justice, I liken to your hunger for understanding your ghosts. As Holmes hunts for criminals, driven by empathy and a lust for intellectual challenge, so too, do you hunt for your ghosts.

Read full review here!

Sweet Fan Mail: Katey Schultz

Click “FAN MAIL” in the main menu above for this and more,
in our exciting new Fan Mail section.

Still Come Home by Katey SchultzStillComeHomeBookCover

When reading, Still Come Home, I was in a mason jar of dust and oak and apricot. The novel was a self-contained entity of imagery and conflict that incited all the senses. Sweet to read yet there is a discomfort created within these pages, wounds that bleed out in lyrical prose and conflict. Discomfort in the good way. This is the kind of reading that can be absorbed in one sitting, because one can’t stop, but do, because the lines created need to be inhaled and exhaled.

Read full review here!

AWP 2019 Portland

Come visit Sweet: A Literary Confection at the AWP conference in Portland, Oregon. This week, from Thursday March 28 to Friday March 30, Sweet booth #10058 is featuring a variety of chapbooks for purchase, with author signings scheduled throughout the conference.

Our chapbook and broadside lineup this year includes:

Kindling Book Image - SmlKindling by Lisa Laughlin

Lisa will be signing the last of these handmade chapbooks on Thursday from 3:00pm-3:30pm. Don’t miss your chance to get this beautiful book!

cc919a4e-ef92-487b-a1a9-01aa107f7a30Borderlines by Jill McCabe Johnson

Jill McCabe Johnson’s lyric essay, “Borderlines” dives into memory and water. In poetic prose, Johnson fragments a moment in her life, seeking to understand and uncover the innocence of childhood and the dark shadows that ever follow.

001-637x1024Rules for Loving Right by Brian Baumgart

In Rules for Loving Right, Brian Baumgart practices misdirection in that understated way unique to the upper Midwest. These are the final handmade chapbooks we have in our inventory, so get yours before it goes digital!

All Of Us - CoverAll of Us—Sweet: The First Five Years edited by Katherine Riegel

If you’re looking for a great poetry anthology, look no further! Katie will be at the booth and ready to tell you more about this book.

LadyInInk_CoverPageLady in Ink by R. Claire Stephens

Still our most popular book, Lady in Ink is a mystery, the kind that everyone is trying to solve every minute of their lives: “Why did I do that? Why in God’s name did I do that?”

All of these are available in the Sweet Shop online if you can’t make it to Portland this year.

New to the Sweet lineup this year:

0692bdd6-b2dc-4d29-9dce-ede33bfd43efAfter the Night, a comic by Jarod Roselló

This comic details a father’s struggle with the demands of raising his little girl. In a heartwarming sketched style, Roselló candidly retells his own experiences and lessons learned on the importance of patience, love, and family.  

Also making a first-time appearance, are the winners from our 2018 Nonfiction and Poetry competitions:  

Jaw Wiring_What You Need to Know_Page_1Jaw Wiring: What You Need to Know by Kristine Jepsen (nonfiction winner)

This pamphlet-style prose piece is an excellent teaching tool for explaining hermit crab essays. Using the guise of a medical pamphlet, Jepsen details her own experience with jaw wiring as a treatment for a broken jaw. Each section title and formatting detail alludes to a brochure one might find in a waiting room—but the content takes readers down a different path.

17e68b70-d3b1-4bb3-aafb-594b6fdaeaff“1943” by McKayla Conahan (poetry winner)

This broadside is created in conjunction with Print St Pete (http://www.printstpete.org/), a community letterpress located in St Pete, Florida. 1943 is a snapshot of a time in world history roiling with conflict and desperation, where the workings of the human heart are raw and real and the ties that bind us together are more important than ever.

McKayla will be signing copies of this beautiful letterpress broadside Friday from 3-3:30.

BodyOfStarlight_coverAnd if that weren’t all enough…we will be introducing Sweet Aperitifs and their new book from Melissa Carroll, Body of StarlightMelissa will be signing pre-release copies on Saturday from 10-10:30. 

Also available for sale are our Sweet t-shirts and Christmas ornaments. Stop by and say hello to us at booth #10058 and chat with our authors!

In Memory…

Kayla Roseclere

We were saddened to learn that Sweet contributor Kayla Roseclere passed away in August. She was an explorer–inquisitive, intelligent–and had the ability to navigate this world and write about its subtleties in a way that connected deeply to readers. Please read her Sweet poem Synchronicity from issue 10.2 and celebrate the life of a beautiful writer. We look forward to reading her collection of poetry, The Secret Language of Crickets, coming out from Ampersand Books in 2019.

Kayla Roseclere II

You can read more of her work on her blog, The Good Men Project, and the Molotov Cocktail.

Winner of inaugural Poetry Competition.

From ten finalist poems selected by Sweet editors, final judge Chelsea Dingman (National Poetry Series Winner for Thaw, 2017) chose McKayla Conahan’s poem “1943” as the winner of the inaugural Sweet Poetry Competition. Conahan will receive $500 and 10 broadsides of the poem.

Sarah Stockton’s poem “Protection Rite for Most of the Girls” was noted as a runner up.

The other finalists were:
Bailey Cohen: “Self-Portrait of Yurico Praying to Mosquito with Snapped Proboscis”
Andrew Dugan: “Milk Thistle”
Kelsey Frank: “In the Produce Section”
Grace Gilbert: “threnody for what’s left of you”
Phyllis Klein: “Hardware”
Pete Mackey: “The Grief”
Allie Marini: “Vanished”
Sara Ryan: “My Father Asks if I Was Raised by a Jackal”

These poems will be published in the September issue of Sweet. Many thanks to all who entered their fine work.

Interview with Courtney Kersten

KerstenCourtney.2018-cCourtney Kersten is a writer, essayist, and educator whose work was featured in Sweet’s 7.1 issue. Her latest publication is Daughter in Retrogradea memoir that explores her relationship with her mother and how one deals with loss and grief. In the interview below Kersten gives advice on how writers might tackle writing about personal material, addresses how she deals with her own writing hesitation and gives astrology recommendations for further reading.

Daughter in Retrograde focuses a lot on your coming-of-age journey. What were your journals like as a young girl? I’m curious if you documented everything or were there chunks of time where you didn’t write?

When I was younger, I was a performative journal writer. I didn’t write what I was actually feeling or what happened in my daily life, but I wrote sort of “performing” for my future self (as in, my older self would be reading these diaries or journals). I did this in several blank books at various points in my childhood. In the first entry, my diaries or journals would begin with big meditative flourishes wherein I would contemplate the act of writing in a blank book. For instance, I would usually muse on what a “diary” was. Should I name her? Was it a “her?” What is the best way to write in a diary? Should it be a list? A stream-of-consciousness tracking of my thoughts? What was the difference between a diary and a journal? There would maybe be one or two more entries about the fabulous things I found in the backyard or an anecdote about going to the mall and then I would abandon the journal entirely. I’ve found a few of them and they’re bizarre to read. Since then, I’ve kept daily prayer journals where I write my prayers. I’m not sure why… sometimes it feels less ephemeral to have my prayers written before me. When my mother was dying, I did journal with a fervor. I wanted to document everything. I didn’t want to miss recording anything, any last moment of my mother’s life. I journaled every day.

daughter-in-retrograde.w300How useful were your journals to your writing process when you began working on Daughter in Retrograde?

My journals were essential. From capturing accurate dialogue to verifying information, I looked at them often. In fact, it was the fodder from my journals that I used to “map” Daughter in Retrograde’s narrative.

You bring up the idea of playing a role, referencing “going off script” in terms of reacting to grief. My favorite line on this theme of performance and grief comes from the chapter Virginia’s Closet: “I blow my nose, smear my face on a paper towel, open the door, and prepare to take my bow.” Do you think society will ever get to a point where individuals can freely express true emotion without feeling like they must act like they are “okay?”

I’m not sure. This is a really great question and it’s a question I think about a lot. I suppose what I can say is that, for me, now that my mother has been gone for five years and I have moved through various periods of grieving her, I’m grateful for what grief has taught me about emotion. For the first time this year on the anniversary of her death, I was upset—in some moments, I felt wild with sorrow. But I didn’t feel the urge to rationalize or explain it to myself. In general, I feel more accepting with the moments where I “go off script.” Grief has been my teacher. It’s helped me accept wherever I’m at.

Memoirs are extremely personal, but writers have quite a bit of control over what they put in or keep out of their work. Was there ever a moment where you hesitated to share something while writing this memoir?

Yes, though I wouldn’t say I hesitated in the initial act of writing, I revised and contemplated much of what to include or not to include once I had it on paper. In particular, in the obituary section, I went back and forth over what to include and what not to include. There were a few details that I worried would be too personal or, possibly, offensive to include. But, ultimately, I felt that the whole purpose of that section was to show the moments we don’t put in our obituaries and the complexity of who my mother (and, really, everyone) is so I ended up including almost everything, but it was a long process of internal debate.

What would be your advice to writers who want to start writing about personal moments from their lives, but are afraid of what those close to them might think?

This is a tricky question. I think it really depends on the writer, the family/intimates, and why someone wants to write. I would suggest reflecting on what your feelings and motivations are behind writing something and why you feel afraid. I think you have to render your “characters” as truthfully as you can, but I also think that this is a delicate subject that should be approached with a lot of self-reflection and radical understanding and grace given to those around you. It’s hard to think of your family or friends as “characters” in your story, but, ultimately, for the book or essay or whatever, that’s what they are. It feels weirdly clinical. I would also say focusing on scene and showing rather than telling is really helpful for writing about those close to you. That way, you’re merely showing rather than calling someone out. The reader can then come to their own conclusions.

If you were creating a reading list for a beginner’s course on astrology and numerology what books would you include? What’s the course’s title?

I love this question! I actually don’t know a ton about numerology (besides, like, repeating numbers having meaning), but I have found Dan Millman’s book The Life You Were Born to Live to be fascinating and accurate. I’m not sure if Millman would call his method numerology, but it does deal with numbers and your date of birth and the meaning behind these numbers. As far as astrology goes, one of my favorite authors is Jan Spiller. In particular, I love her book Astrology for the Soul which focuses on North Nodes. I return to that book at least a few times a year as a reminder of how to overcome what tests me most. It’s amazing. I also love Linda Goodman’s work on astrology. Lots of folks, rightly, say today that her work is dated and a bit stodgy with regard to gender roles and the like, but she’s still a fabulous and insightful read.

Let’s pretend it’s a dystopian future and you can only finish one more project before writing is banned. What project would you dedicate your last written words to?

I would write an anthology of love letters to everyone and thing who has ever helped or loved me. I would write love letters to my family, my husband, my brother, and my friends. I would write love letters to the sea otters I see in the ocean and the egrets on the beach. I would write love letters to the strangers who have smiled or helped me in small ways. I like to think that I would spend my finals days scribbling in gratitude.


Interview with Lisa Laughlin

Lisa Laughlin is Sweet‘s 2017 Flash Nonfiction Contest Winner. Her chapbook Kindling includes three essays, focused on nature and various ways humans interact and connect to it. Below she answers questions on how she decides what she wants to share in her writing, the nature essay’s role modern-day society, the hardest part of the writing process, and more! Be sure to pick up a copy of her chapbook while they’re still available!Laughlin

In “A Sort of Trespass” you recount the memory of your brother finding an arrowhead and your father urging you to not tell “those people” it was found on the land because it would risk attracting more visitors. You also confess your hesitation to write about this peaceful piece of land. What changed your mind and as a writer how do you decide on what to share in your writing and what to keep secret?

I think a lot about ownership, memory, and land. I think about how my homesteading great-grandfather put a claim on a certain number of acres, and, in many definitions, made it his own: he worked the soil, struggled against the environment, and carved out a living for himself. When things like arrowheads surface after erosion, it’s a natural reminder of all the people who inhabited the land before the farmers. I felt compelled to make a gesture toward that complication in my writing.

In modern days, we create fences and boundaries and property lines, but what do those really mean for the land? I like exploring the balance of respecting a place we “own” by remembering that our claim on it is temporary. The thought of claiming land, even if it’s something like claiming familiarity through hiking, seems to bring up ideas of exploitation for me. I can’t stand people who visit beautiful places just to get a good Instagram picture; that being said, I take pictures of beautiful places and Instagram them.

I write at the end of “A Sort of Trespass” that I know who “those people” are as self-implication: I am one of those people. I’m someone who takes from nature, whether it’s a memory, a resource, or a physical object like an arrowhead. Writing about taking those things was complicated—it risked exploitation if I romanticized the taking. On the other hand, I wanted to romanticize it, to pay tribute to a place of such harsh and arid beauty that grounded me.

It’s not like there was an actual secret I felt I had to keep after the experience of finding the arrowhead. The place just seemed so complicated I was afraid words would fail me. The land doesn’t have a voice to say whether you’ve accurately defined it. At the end of the day, if it’s something that tugs and buzzes at the back of my mind, I write about it.


“Ordinary Claims” explores the idea of taking jasper and gold from the land. What’s your favorite thing you’ve claimed from nature? And why?

I struggle with the idea of “claiming” things from nature because so much of what I write explores the idea of ownership and land. Joan Didion writes that “a place belongs forever to whoever claims it hardest, remembers it most obsessively, wrenches it from itself, shapes it, renders it, loves it so radically that he remakes it in his image.” And I think there’s a lot of truth in that. The favorite things I’ve taken from nature are intangible—memories, experiences or smells that I cling to and reshape to make meaning of my life moving forward.

That being said, I still have the impulse to collect rocks, shells, and other bits from nature that I can physically carry with me to different times and places. I treasure a jade plant that was snipped from a bigger plant that was once my great-aunt’s, the iris bulbs I took from my parent’s backyard, and a bundle of dried wheat from my last day working wheat harvest. It comes down to collecting things from nature that I’ve anchored personal stories too.

Kindling Book Image - SmlA lot of your writing focuses on “human connection to the land and nature.” I’m curious about your thoughts on the role of the nature essay in modern day society where it seems people are more inclined to stay indoors.

The nature essay still gets a bad rap. Some people assume a nature essay will be boring, or won’t relate to them, or will be less dynamic than an essay based on people or ideas. A good nature essay makes whatever topic it’s exploring relevant to any person, even one who prefers to stay indoors. I think the basic and most important function of a nature essay is to inspire people to pay attention to the world around them. It can inspire good stewardship of the environment or empathy for people who deal with natural disasters, but those things should come naturally when someone starts to pay attention to whatever slice of the natural world they inhabit.

Essays that inspire me to pay attention to place are pieces like Mary Oliver’s “Waste Land: An Elegy,” E.B. White’s “Once More to the Lake,” Gretel Ehrlich’s “The Solace of Open Spaces,” or Jo Ann Beard’s “Coyotes.” I’m most interested in nature essays that explore the relationship between humans and the land, the constant tug-of-war, but other nature essays like “Once More to the Lake” use a close examination of a place as a springboard to talk about mortality. A good writer can always make the mundane meaningful. If someone sees nature as mundane, a nature essay should inspire them to reflect on the rest of the world.

In “Kindling” you write about the forest fires in a very apocalyptic manner. If an apocalypse were to occur in the future do you think it’ll start with a natural disaster, Mother Nature revolting, human hubris, or a mix of everything?

I really have no idea. I kind of live expecting an apocalypse every day, and I think that feeling is impossible to avoid if you’re paying attention to the world. When I see simple things like trash on a hiking trail I often feel an overwhelming snowball effect. I think about islands of trash in the Pacific Ocean and all the harm that humans are doing to our environment. I think about Silent Spring by Rachel Carson. There are already intense natural disasters—the wildfires sweeping the West each summer, the hurricanes hitting one after another on the East coast. I went to a talk recently where an astronaut shared photos of deforestation in Brazil and smog over China, both of which can be seen from space. The last Northern White Rhino male just died, so that feels damn depressing too. All of this is news and not news. Terrible and good things going on every day. I guess this is a long way of saying that it’s all connected—natural and man-made disasters—and it seems inevitable that we’ll spiral out of control. The scariest thing is that the apocalypse will happen slowly.

In “Kindling,” what was the hardest part of the writing process for you?

The essay “Kindling” was initially inspired by Joan Didion’s essay “Miami.” I love how she establishes a sense of place through an account of details. She uses specifics to pin down an intangible feeling. Sometimes, the truest definition of a place or time is the most impossible to describe. I felt that way about the summer I spent in Ephrata when everything seemed to be on fire. I was witness to incredible loss that I found difficult to define. Reporting on specifics helped me approach it, and it was interesting to dig into the details of that summer via research—all of the water-related deaths in contrast with the extreme heat of that summer, the specific names of the fires that year, etc. It was a time when I felt disoriented, so when I went to write about it I chose details that were naturally contradictory. What was challenging about this piece was pushing it to mean something universally. I took a draft to my mentor that was essentially the first half of the essay (which I considered to be a collage, and nearly finished) and she said, “So what’s next? This is only the beginning.” After I picked my writer ego up from the floor, I dug into the essay in a way I wouldn’t have if someone hadn’t said, “So what?”

Sometimes we need to hear those things. The hardest part was working toward the turn in the essay that goes from a wide lens to the personal: So there were many instances of loss and death and fire that summer—So what? What did witnessing that loss mean to me? How did it affect my perception of the most important thing in life, in the inevitability of losing the ones I love? It was hard to go there as a writer, but once I did I knew it’s where the essay needed to go.

Who or what is inspiring you right now? This could be anything!

Right now, I’m inspired by The Shepherd’s Life by James Rebanks, and by gardening. After growing up on a wheat farm I lived in apartments for eight years, and I recently moved to a place where I have a yard. For me, it’s been more than just getting a yard because it’s a move to put down serious roots in a place that’s very different from the land I grew up in. I’m learning about the plants in Spokane—what comes naturally in the damp, sandy soil of my backyard scattered with pine trees rather than the arid soil of my sagebrush hometown. It feels like pioneering a new terrain on the micro level; I have snails here! I have no idea what to do with snails. And I know someday that everything about my new terrain will feel old, but for now, it feels nuanced and ripe with inspiration. It’s gotten me thinking about how I interact with land in a suburb, about boundaries, and about how we develop intimacy by learning the names of the natural flora.

As for the book, it’s one of my all-time favs—it’s the one I go back to when I lack inspiration. With Rebanks’ words, I’m transported back to the feeling of being on a farm, of having my day-to-day life governed by the seasons, and to the struggle of carrying on family knowledge in a modern world. I’ve never been to England, I’ve never met a shepherd, and the only sheep I’ve ever petted was at the County Fair—somehow, I still feel a deep connection with the book. It’s fantastic stuff.

Post-AWP 2018: A Recap & Reflection

planner0Not going to a lie, I spent almost forty-five minutes trying to find parking for this conference. Downtown Tampa’s roads were a crisscross of cement that intersected with my driving anxiety and my last ounce of patience. When I finally found the right turn, I passed it because I hesitated a second too long and the car behind impatiently pressured me by honking their horn. But, once I finally made it into the parking garage my journey was just getting started.

Tampa Convention Center reminded me of an airport in its’ summer vacation season: beautiful lighting, wonderfully high ceilings, and a constant hum of people on a mission. People walked in groups, pairs of twos and threes or on their own – like myself. We were all carrying some kind of tote, either the official AWP 2018 one of our own. I slung both over my shoulder, dedicating the AWP one to merchandise and my own to my wallet and packed snacks.

Overwhelming feels like an understatement for what I experienced walking into the book fair. There was table after table of information I didn’t even realize I was curious about until someone sitting there offered me a smile and flyer. I lingered at the Cave Canem booth, willingly getting lost in the wide display of poetry. The founder of Well-Read Black Girl openly shared her experience with me on how to successfully start up a literary business with the aid of social media. And I ran into writer, after writer, all with the same type of hopes and fears I had when it came to taking advantage of this rare opportunity of being in the presence of so many other writers. Because as we all know writing takes up time that would otherwise be used for socializing.

Being in the presence of so many storytellers and readers reminded me of how large the literary community truly is. Sure, the numbers of people involved and interested in the art of literature are undeniably high online. But, after a while, I forget how to visually translate tweets and Instagram likes to actual individuals. AWP reminded me there is always someone out there that’s just as excited as I am about the future of stories. And not only excited but willing to share their excitement and experiences with others, generously and unabashedly.


AWP 2018: Freshman’s Guide to AWP

I’m going to be honest; I wasn’t aware of what the AWP conference was a few months ago. The first goal of my research was figuring out the acronym. AWP: Association of Writers and Writing Programs. Simple enough. For a newbie to this whole writer’s conference experience, here’s what I’ve been able to gather during my research that I hope will help me get the most out of my first conference:

  1. Prepare as much as possible. The AWP app has been an amazing tool in organizing the panels I’m interested in attending. It’s also helped me find the booths of publishers I’m excited to talk to.
  2. Bring a portable charger. I can see it now: I’ll be right in the middle of Putting Her Back in the Narrative: History and Herstory when my phone prompts me to adjust it to low power mode. From there I’ll frantically look for an outlet, and find one if I’m lucky. But, with a portable charger, I’ll be able to maintain a full charge of my phone and continue accessing my schedule on the AWP app.
  3. Be an active participant. For any beginner, it’s easy to become overwhelmed and sit back, taking everything in. But, being an active participant rather than just an observer will provide opportunities to network and share ideas with like-minded writers.
  4. Know what you want to take away. Between the bookfair and the numerous panels, AWP is going to be a sensory overload. Before delving in, pick at least three booths you know you want to visit, and some panels which you just have to go to. Keep your goals realistic so you leave getting exactly what you want out of the conference.