September 10th, 2014

Unzipping Stories: Meg Tuite & James Claffey in Conversation

Meg Tuite: Are you an early riser, and how does your day begin? 

James Claffey: Always. Awake between 5:30 and 6:00 every day, and I usually make coffee, get the toddler her morning milk, let the dog out for her constitutional and then feed her, and after that I check email and read the news on the BBC website. If it’s a weekday I’m heading in to school and the pre-teaching prep ritual there, which involves copy room business and making sure I’ve got the warm-up and lesson for the students ready to go.

MT: What is an exquisite moment living on an Avocado Ranch?

JC: Night, when the owls are aloft and the raccoons and other creatures are foraging in the trees, and every movement can be heard through the open bedroom window. In those moments I’m able to look back on all the places I’ve lived and know there’s not been one more magical.

MT: How is it to live with another exceptional writer? Who has to wrack the real world out there for cash or do you take turns soliciting the streets?

JC: Oh, boy. It’s a complicated dance when there are two writers in the house competing for space in the world. When we first met I was not writing and was much in Maureen’s thrall, impressed by her wonderful writing and the manner in which she always managed to find time to write and paint. After a few years of me writing, and then publishing a fair amount, things got difficult in terms of how there didn’t seem to be enough room in the house for two writers. We’ve worked hard to find a middle ground, a place where both our writers are honored and given space and time to thrive. 

As for the second part of the question; lately, we both work really hard; me teaching high school English, and Maureen runs Red Hen Cannery, making jams and marmalades for local retailers and selling at the farmer’s market a couple of days a week. We also take care of our toddler, but with me on a regular working schedule, Maureen ends up doing a lot more during the week than I do. On weekends I mind our little girl while Maureen sells at the market. 

MT: How did you and Maureen meet?

JC: We met at a Halloween party in a friend’s house near Santa Barbara. I was dressed as the ghost of James Joyce and she was dressed as a 1920s trapeze dancer, so it was ordained…

MT: Why did you leave Ireland?

JC: I left home in 1993 and probably because it was one of those big “birthday years” and the transitional nature of the universe was at work and a big shift was called for in my life. At the time I was working, managing a retail store, and sort of stuck in a cycle going nowhere. I’d gotten a Green Card in a lottery and had three years to avail myself of it, so I came to the States for a couple of vacations and then on a cold winter’s day finally decided to flee. 

MT: I know you went back for a visit recently. How often do you visit and do you have many relatives in the green lands that you enjoy catching up with?

JC: I try to visit yearly as my mother is there, and two of my brothers and their families. As far as friends go there are only a few close ones I keep in touch with any more. Time and life and distance have winnowed my friends to only a handful now. We want to try and spend more time there, maybe rent a cottage on the coast for a month or two each summer and do some writing, have some good family get-togethers, and so on. Since my mother’s failing memory has accelerated I feel the need to get back more often, so we’re trying to find time to get back again before the year’s end.

MT: What are you working on now?

JC: I recently completed my twelve stories for the Pure Slush Year in Stories project, and I completed edits for my novel that’s coming out with Thrice Publishing and I’m collaborating with Tara Masih on a novella, expanding the collaboration we did for Jamez Chang’s Counterexample Poetics project. I’ve also got a longer-term project involving a moment in Irish history that might turn into a novella/linked-stories collection. Now I’m teaching high school again there’s a premium on time and I have to be extremely careful not to commit to too many projects that take me away from what matters to me most.

MT: What music influences you? Can you add a link? 

JC: Oh, so much music, so much. I suppose for writing I spend a lot of time listening to bands like Sigur Rós, The Gloaming, Volcano Choir, The Civil Wars, and of course U2, The Dubliners, The Chieftains… I’m a little enamored with this original song by the true-blue Dubliner, Imelda May—Kentish Town Love Song ( I’m a bit of a hopeless romantic under it all, and having lived in London and spent some time in Kentish Town, this really speaks to me.

MT: How about film? Does that play into your work at all? 

JC: Certainly. When I was in my early-twenties in Dublin, not writing, but building the foundations through music and books and movies, I spent long hours at the cinema, smuggling in bottles of red wine and watching magnificent, strange films from all over the world. I never went in for the traditional blockbusters, instead gravitating to the “art house” movies of Truffaut’s Jules et Jim, Ettore Scola’s Le Bal, Jeunet & Caro’s Delicatessen and City of Lost Children, and Patrice Leconte’s The Hairdresser’s Husband. I also found David Lynch’s Blue Velvet to be a movie that resonated with me; it’s strange brew of sensuality and violence really opening my eyes to what can be done with a story. I’m a visual writer, interested in the images that come together to make a story, rather than the straightforward plot structure. As a kid we’d traipse along to the local cinema on a Saturday morning and watch the Tarzan movies, and the Flash Gordon episodes, and the tangible smell and taste of those mornings is still with me.

MT: Is there something wild we don’t know about James Claffey that we’d enjoy? And if so, what?

JC: That I worked as a professional racket stringer at Wimbledon and other big tournaments back in the day might be considered wild. I enjoyed the time dealing with the likes of John McEnroe, Maria Sharapova, and Mary Pierce, who became a friend over the years I worked on her rackets. I’ve got some stories of the pro tour that’d make quite some book, but I’d probably end up in deep $&%* if I told them!

MT: What’s a quote that speaks to you?

JC: Lately, with my mother’s health in decline and my father dead these fourteen years, I’ve been giving a good deal of thought to aging, so Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s words, "A man knows when he is growing old because he begins to look like his father, resonate with me.

 * * *

JC: Can you speak to your trajectory as a writer? How did you start out in the writing game, and what sort of journey has it been for you?

MT: It’s been pushing against my ribs since I can remember having ribs. Mom was a librarian and Dad was a professor. Every room was walled in by beauteous bookshelves and our family read everything we could get our hands on. How glorious is that? Any page that was blank was there to be filled. My siblings and I wrote on anything: paper, cardboard, magazines, telephone books. It was an exquisite journey.

JC: Bound by Blue deals with a particularly dark set of characters and events. Where did the seeds for this collection come from?

MT: People. Unzipped stories. Nothing more exotic than the psyche of the unsaid. 

JC: I love New Mexico, it’s magical air and the beauty of the mountains. How long have you lived there, and what drew you to the place?

MT: I’ve been in NM for over 20 years. My sister moved here first. She sent me a video of this ancient, wild mining town and I was living in NY at the time. She opened a furniture store and I said ‘hell, yes,’ and moved out here. I used to come and go and now I go and stay. The big sky rocked me when I first saw it! We live in a house that gives us three views of different mountain ranges and we can ride our dirt bikes out here. I am in LOVE!

JC: If you were cast into space on the Mars Voyager and could only take one book and one piece of music, what would they be, and why?

MT: Bruno Schulz’, “Sanatorium Under the Sign of the Hourglass,” and Led Zeppelin, “Kashmir.” And maybe some red and orange paint to work some of the terrain out there into a Tibetan landscape if they let me out of the craft. Why? Because they are necessary and my bones are buried inside them.

JC: You are a terrifically busy writer and editor, involved in multiple projects and journals at any one time. How do you keep from spreading yourself too thin, and how important do you see a writer’s involvement in their community as being?

MT: I write every day, because it’s a LIVE, LOVE thing and I haven’t stopped, nor been able or wanted to. Working as an editor for Connotation Press has been three years of another love affair. I am ecstatic when I read a submission that breaks it all apart. Time slows down and I orbit this magic. Ken Robidoux is one exceptional human being that I am blessed to work with! He is no bullshit, pure joy and luminous, and I am peanut butter spread slab-thick. There are no thin walls here. Santa Fe Literary Review is an annual print magazine and once again, I am in the appreciative position to publish some exemplary students, as well as writers around the globe that need to be read. Miriam Sagan, the founder and editor-in-chief, is also pure joy and brilliance! So being an editor has been a damn great experience. It has only opened my world to more writers out there that need to have an audience.   

JC: If you could write an exquisite duet with any writer, dead or alive, who would it be and why?

MT: My duet would be with Janet Frame. And why? A quote:

“It is said that when a prisoner is condemned to die all clocks in the neighborhood of the death cell are stopped; as if the removal of the clock will cut off the flow of time and maroon the prisoner on a coast of timelessness where the moments, like breakers, rise and surge near but never touch the shore.”

JC: A quick poem, using the words: Dowdy. Petrified. Duty. Misogyny. Jellied. Worthiness.

MT: Jellied breath of intruders pillowed themselves inside her every night. She stood dazed, let the moon mouth her into what most call duty or nothing less than a uniform with darts where breasts petrify. She worked graveyard shift at Dunkin’ Donuts dowdy with the drip of dozing eyelids and misogyny. Yes, splintered casts, drunk on their tethered worthiness of yellow lust or decay, ordered a pink dollhouse of Munchkins and coffee in a four-pack. Flat faces waned and waxed a slack wind trussed up on candy-colored martinis and meth into her lungs, empty as withered glasses on sticky tabletops.

JC: Can you speak to the process involved in putting together a collection of stories? You’ve written several, and how do you go about ordering, and choosing which to include and exclude? 

MT: I usually work with the publisher. I have my idea of what seems to gel and move through a collection and then I like to get feedback. So far, each book, has been a smooth collaborative between the publisher and myself.

JC: Is there a story you’ve failed to have published that you love and can’t understand why it’s not in the world?

MT: I have to say no. I am not sending out as many stories as I used to, but they now have their own lives wherever they landed and I’m thankful for that.

JC: As an artist as well as a writer, can you explain the importance of the visual image in your writing? 

MT: Yes. As a reader we move through a story or novel by the images that are presented to us and if they are not too detailed we create something from our own past history to fill in those blanks. That is a beautiful dance between writer and reader, when it is successful.

JC: I know you create these amazing t-shirts with famous writer’s faces on them, and I’m curious to know how and why you started making these wearable art pieces? And do you have any thoughts about including writer’s words with their images?

MT: I made the collages for myself at first. I surrounded my room with all of the brilliant beings that I read. Then when I showed them to friends, they wanted collages for their walls. I was living in Montreal at the time, and someone said make a batch and let’s take them to Vermont, (over the border). So we did and the first shop we went to bought all of them. That freaked me out. It was a love thing for me and then found a broader audience. Each of my t-shirts has a quote with it, so the words have always been included with the image.

JC: What are your three favorite places in New Mexico?

MT: My house. Ghost Ranch. Chama.

JC: What’s on your reading table these nights?

MT: Always Janet Frame and Kate Braverman. Haywire by Thaddeus Rutkowski, Selected stories by Robert Walser, No One Belongs Here More Than Me, Miranda July, Moral Disorder, Margaret Atwood, The Poisonwood Bible, Barbara Kingslover, Tenth of December, George Saunders, Elegantly Naked in My Sexy Mental Illness, Heather Fowler….

JC: What’s the one book that influenced you as a young person and turned you on to the world of writing?

MT: I was reading from the time I could record memory. My mother was extremely prolific and a librarian and so reading was as necessary as eating and more necessary than talking. I remember when my brother gave me a collection of Flannery O’Connor’s when I was 13. I read it over and over and over. I did that with all books. We went to the library each week and were able to take out six books. I had each read in the first day, so swapped with my siblings so our six book limit became limitless. It was a deep LOVE of the words, the smell, the life within each binder I opened.

JC: What’s next for Meg Tuite?

MT: Hopefully, more writing and reading.


Meg Tuite’s writing has appeared in over 300 journals, including Berkeley Fiction Review, Epiphany, Superstition Review, JMWW, Monkeybicycle, and Boston Literary Magazine. She has been nominated nine times for the Pushcart Prize and has been a finalist in the Glimmer Train short story writer’s contest twice. She is fiction editor of The Santa Fe Literary Review and Connotation Press, author of Domestic Apparition (2011) San Francisco Bay Press, Disparate Pathos (2012) Monkey Puzzle Press,Reverberations (2012) Deadly Chaps Press, Bound By Blue (2013) Sententia Books, Her Skin is a Costume (2013) Red Bird Chapbooks. She won the Twin Antlers Collaborative Poetry Award from Artistically Declined Press for her poetry collection, Bare Bulbs Swinging, (2014), written with Heather Fowler and Michelle Reale. She teaches at the Santa Fe Community College, lives in Santa Fe with her husband and menagerie of animals. She blogs at:


James Claffey hails from County Westmeath, Ireland, and lives on an avocado ranch in Carpinteria, CA. His work has appeared in the New Orleans Review, Word Riot, Metazen, Necessary Fiction, Spork and many other places. His short fiction collection, Blood a Cold Blue, is published by Press 53. He writes at

September 9th, 2014
Gliding into piano tinks, we tiptoed on puddles. Razed by guitar, shattered in bird screams. Into the grift of momentum and pulled back down again, just so.
September 3rd, 2014

I wonder now much further the sun can melt, how much deeper this new season. I wonder what percentage of water I am, and if it will be enough, and if it carries meaning, as my father once thought. I wonder if in the absence of a terminus the ghosts find new homes, if my mother and father will reunite somewhere in a cold dark, and if that is the only heaven one can ask for any more.

—Joel Hans, “Ghosts in the Termini

September 2nd, 2014
She starts to leave and even though I don’t, I want to stop her, to know her, to trust her word, to ask if she worries about the weight of water, to ask if she’s ever drank a ghost, to ask if she’ll someday seek out the Pacific’s last palmful, to ask why she saved my life, to ask if she has ever carried the desiccated barely-living structure of someone she once loved, to ask if she weighed the options of giving water or giving a terminus for haunting, to ask if she heard that loved one’s bones creak like the gears of a bicycle left out in the rain.
Joel Hans, “Ghosts in the Termini
August 14th, 2014
Now you’re at the next level, and the flaws in your work will be glaringly apparent to you, which means it’s time to start over.
Reblogged from Danny Goodman
August 13th, 2014

Dancer held out his hand. There was a nickel-sized open sore on the pitching side of his index finger. Doc frowned. “You pitched a great game, Dancer.  You’re going to remember that game for the rest of your life. Hell. We all are.”

“What about the Cardinals?”

Doc shook his head. “You can’t pitch with your hand like that.” 

“I can still throw my fastball.”

“Son, it’s the big leagues. You got a good fastball, but you ain’t no goddamn Bob Feller. Without a curve they’ll kill you. I can’t do that to you.”

Dancer hung his head and stared at his wounded finger. Doc patted him on the shoulder. “I’m telling the Cardinals you can’t pitch on Labor Day. They’ll probably bring up that kid from Columbus.” 

“Then what?”

“You’ll get your shot. Next year. Take care of that hand.”

It was a perfect game. No one could take that from him. Or from Clayton. No matter what else happened they would always have that game. That moment. And Doc was right. He was young. He’d get another chance.

—from Len Joy’s American Past Time

August 12th, 2014
Doc had been a pretty fair shortstop before the war. He had an invitation to spring training with the Tigers back in ‘42, but enlisted instead. He was part of the 45th Infantry Division that landed in Sicily in July ‘43. Got his right arm shot to hell just outside Salerno. That was it for his baseball career. There wasn’t much demand for left-handed shortstops.
Len Joy, American Past Time
August 4th, 2014

Just Around the Corner: An Interview with Len Joy

Interviewed by Kuzhali Manickavel

I remember reading the first iterations and versions of this novel. If you could go back and talk to that Len, what would you tell him about the novel and its journey? What’s he doing wrong and what’s going to surprise him?

I would probably not tell him anything, because he’s stubborn and I know he wouldn’t listen. He would be certain the novel was “almost finished.” He wouldn’t want to hear that he still has more than seven years of work and a million more words to write. He wouldn’t believe me when I told him he has far too many characters and sub-plots.

If I were cruel I would tell him that many of his absolute favorite characters: Kayla, Paula and the sexy Anita are not going to survive. Well it’s not that they aren’t going to survive, they’re just not going to get on stage because the story is going to end decades before they make an appearance. That would definitely surprise him.

How hard was it to cut your favorite characters and how did you realize they would have to go?

When I eliminated Kayla and Paula and Anita I told myself I wasn’t killing them off, I was saving them for a sequel. So that wasn’t too difficult. I originally had a prologue with a grizzled old whiskey runner named Cecil Danforth who talks to Dancer about baseball and regales him with tales about the St. Louis Cardinals. When we got to the final edit of the book, the line editors suggested the prologue was unnecessary and should be cut. Cecil was a son-of-a-bitch and a hypocrite and a crook and I was very fond of him, but I knew they were right. I was sad for a day, but got over it.

We’re old workshopping buddies and I know you put up a lot of this book for online workshopping- what was the best part of workshopping the novel? And what was the worst?

The problem with trying to workshop a novel is that you can only share a small piece of the story. I attended a bunch of summer workshops over the years (Iowa Writer’s Festival, Squaw Valley, Tin House, Skidmore NY State Writers Conference, Norman Mailer, Sewanee and Bread Loaf). I tended to always workshop the opening chapter (The one actual baseball game in the novel). The best part of the experience was when people (usually women) would come up to me after the workshop and tell me that they didn’t really like baseball, but they enjoyed my story.

I don’t know if this is the worst (probably not) but the most memorable in a not good way was when I attended Sewanee. After the workshop one of the participants told me she heard a couple of the scholars (those are the exalted members of the workshop who don’t have to pay to attend) talking about my excerpt and one of them thought that the name of my main character, Dancer Stonemason, sounded like the name of a gay pornstar. I actually thought that was sort of funny, except they said it behind my back, which made me feel like they were making fun of my work. See we never really outgrow those feelings of insecurity.

There must have been times in your novel journey where you felt like giving up. I myself have shelved my numerous novel attempts for numerous incredibly good reasons. What made you keep going?

Over the years I hired a lot of writer/editors to read my manuscript. It didn’t cost a lot and the people were good writers and candid in their assessments. They helped me to see what wasn’t working with the novel, but they also helped me to see what was working. I became convinced I had created characters readers could connect with. I kept believing success was just around the corner.

It wasn’t frustrating for me to keep writing. The frustration was that when I thought I had a publishable novel, I couldn’t get an agent to even read the manuscript. I sent out seventy or so query letters and probably got five responses all telling me they weren’t interested. I didn’t hear anything from most of the agents I queried. “No Response” appears to be the standard expression when the agent isn’t interested. I understand how that saves time, but it is slightly more frustrating not to hear anything.  

In September 2012 I did give up on the novel and posted my surrender on my blog. Two weeks later I was contacted by Hark! New Era Publishing (who were accepting unagented manuscripts) and asked if I would be interested in having them publish my novel. I accepted, not realizing I would still have to completely rewrite the novel one more time.

A shorter answer would be that I am very stubborn and have an inflated sense of my ability. Sometimes it pays not to be too perceptive.

Dancer is described as someone who is on the cusp of having everything and then loses it all. What’s interesting is how this doesn’t just affect the rest of his life, it affects other people as well. What exactly do you find compelling about this kind of situation and how did it influence the creation of Dancer’s character?

Curt Gowdy, an old time sports broadcaster once commented about a young baseball prospect that, “most of his future is ahead of him.” I played a lot of sports and I often wondered what it would be like to have most of your future not ahead of you. What happens to the figure skater who almost wins the gold medal? Or does win the gold medal? Life goes on after the crowd goes home. How does a person come to terms with his or her life when it doesn’t work out the way we planned. I guess that’s what I find compelling because to some degree it is true for everyone. Nothing works out the way we really plan it. God laughs at our plans.

One of the things I really enjoy about writing stories is that you can come up with some event, like Dancer pitches a perfect game and doesn’t make it to the majors. Okay what happens next? To Dancer? To his wife? To his son? And it’s a ripple effect. A causes B causes C and so on. There’s a zillion ways it can play out. What Dancer does affects his family. And how they react affects Dancer and things just keep rolling along.

Now that you’ve written one novel, are you going to write another one? if so, what would you do differently?

The original version of the novel covered fifty years. I have thirty years of material I wasn’t able to use. I am working on a sequel that takes place thirty years later and includes surviving cast members and many new characters from the next generation. It will take place on a single day in July 2003.

With American Past Time I just wrote stories – one after the other without really knowing where they were going. I think that is a good way to write a novel. I had some idea where I wanted to go, but things changed as I wrote. Characters can surprise you and I think that makes them more believable.

This time I am little more focused on the story arc – making it all take place on one day helps to do that. But I want to remain flexible. I think I know how it is all going to end, but someone may surprise me. 

* * *

Kuzhali Manickavel (Tamil: குழலி மாணிக்கவேல்) is an Indian writer who writes in English. She was born in Winnipeg, Canada and moved to India when she was thirteen. She currently lives in Chidambaram, Tamil Nadu. Her first book, Insects Are Just Like You And Me Except Some Of Them Have Wings was published by Blaft Publications in 2008. The Guardian named the book as one of the best independently published ebooks in the weird fiction genre, calling it “just very, very beautiful.” Manickavel’s short stories have also appeared in print magazines like Shimmer Magazine, Versal literary journal, AGNI, PANK, FRiGG and Tehelka, and in anthologies such as Best American Fantasy 3 and Breaking the Bow: Speculative Fiction Inspired by the Ramayana. A second book, Things We Found During the Autopsy, has been announced for release in early 2014.

Len Joy’s first novel American Past Time was released in April 2014 by Hark! New Era Publishing. He is the author of two short fiction collections, Casualties and Survivors. His work has appearedin fwriction : review, The Journal of Compressed Creative Arts, Johnny America, Specter Magazine, Washington Pastime, HobartAnnalemmaand Pindeldyboz. He is a competitive age-group triathlete. In June 2012, he completed his first (and probably only) Ironman at Coeur d’Alene, Idaho.

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