Monday, May 9, 2016

1/2 Dozen for Joshua R. Helms

I can't quite describe the feeling of having students who devote themselves to the craft and emerge with a book in hand. Joshua R. Helms was an undergraduate student of mine. MACHINES LIKE US, their debut chosen by C. Dale Young, has just recently been released into the world. 

"Out of three hearts (Boy Heart, Historian Heart, and Poet Heart), Helms has woven a new poetics of vulnerability that tells the story of survival and lust, brutality and tenderness.”  -- Sabrina Orah Mark 
Introducing Joshua R. Helms -- in the form of six questions. 

Current obsessions -- literary or otherwise.

Emily Dickinson. The Outs (though the second season is disappointing). Pesto carrots from the General Store in Putney, VT. My “grunge is dead” t-shirt. Washing my face with honey -- an excellent skincare tip from Jess Richardson, whose debut story collection, It Had Been Planned and There Were Guides, is now available.

I despise the pervasive myth of inspiration – the idea that an entire book can exist simply because of an accumulation of inspired ideas – but I don’t deny that inspiration exists. There are things that have no other explanation. Was there a singular moment of inspiration for this book?

I also despise the myth of inspiration because I think making a book exist is really hard work, but I don’t deny that sometimes I feel “inspired.” I started writing these poems during my first semester of grad school, just a couple weeks after I broke up with my first long-term boyfriend. Breaking up with him was one of the healthiest decisions I’ve ever made and it also broke me apart. There are several poems in this book that I felt compelled to write during the first year or so after the break up -- poems I wrote quickly and feverishly and often in one sitting because I didn’t know how to breathe and continue being without writing them. 

People always talk about the writers they aspired to emulate. I’d love to know the writers you most hated as you were coming up and how those tastes shaped you.

Hemingway. I hate a lot about Hemingway. I especially hate that, in various literature classes, I feel I’ve been asked to see the value in his blatantly misogynistic work. How this shaped me: I don’t feel obligated to see the value in problematic work and I’m working every day to confront and unlearn the various misogynistic things that the patriarchy has taught me. 

What kind of child were you, inside of what kind of childhood, and how did it shape you as a writer? 

I was quiet, bookish, sensitive, introverted, queer. I have vivid memories of my mom reading to me when I was very very young. I also remember watching Mary Poppins and The Sound of Music a lot and how important those narratives were (and are) to me. When I was five, I climbed to the top of the slide on the small swing set we had in our backyard and I jumped off with an open umbrella, pretending I was Mary Poppins. I always had a lot of imagination, was often daydreaming. I read the Harry Potter series (as it was coming out) when I was a teenager, which was delightful and gave me a safe place to go during a time that was hard and shitty -- I experienced a lot of queerphobic harassment at school and I desperately needed to believe in magic. I’ve always needed to believe in magic. And so I write. 

Have you learned to strike a balance between your writing life and the other aspects of your life?

No. This is a thing I think about all the time. I have to work to make money to feed myself and meet basic needs and like go to therapy and stuff. Having a job is exhausting and uses up so much of my energy and sometimes I’m pretty mad about this. It’s a constant struggle. 

What’s your worst writerly habit?

I don’t write enough. 

Joshua R. Helms is a nonbinary queer person from the south. They have an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Alabama and their writing has appeared in various print and online journals, including alice blue review, Copper Nickel, DIAGRAM, Fairy Tale Review, Ghost Ocean, Gertrude, New England Review, Phoebe, Sonora Review, and Word Riot. Their first poetry collection, Machines Like Us, was chosen by C. Dale Young as the winner of the Dzanc Poetry Collection Award and is available now from Dzanc Books. Their chapbook, The New Promise, is forthcoming from Tree Light Books in 2017. Josh lives in Brattleboro, VT. Follow them on Twitter: @joshuarhelms, and Tumblr:

Thursday, April 28, 2016

new essay on the body (well, my body, in particular)

The essay about my body (which isn't getting any younger) that I wrote for Real Simple is now online. It starts with my daughter, a sculptor, asking me to pose for her work. Her theme? Deterioration of the body. (Thanks for thinking of me?) 

Warning. It gets graphic -- like I refer to my breasts as my sad Walter Matthau eyes; they’re that soulful-looking these days.

I've gotten such stunning emails and letters about it from women of many different ages, which really surprised me. 

Here's the link. (Note: There's an editorial gaff -- a small paragraph near the end interrupts the piece and then is repeated later. Sorry about that. Out of my hands.)

Thursday, April 14, 2016

cover reveal!

The cover of my upcoming novel THE INFINITY OF YOU & ME at last! J.Q. Coyle is my joint pen-name with the ever-brilliant Quinn Dalton. The novel -- it's technically YA -- comes out with St. Martin's this fall. Writing it was one wild ride -- alternate parallel universes, Sylvia Plath, infinite forests ... 

Thursday, March 24, 2016

An Open Letter to Governor Pat McCrory

Dear Governor Pat McCrory,

My family's roots are in North Carolina. My grandfather once owned the 42nd Street Oyster Bar in Raleigh. My family goes back many generations in the state. I went to graduate school at UNC-Greensboro in large part to recapture that sense of home. I met my husband there. He proposed to me on the North Carolina coast. We now have four children. When I was a child, my father picked me up and ran me along the shore of Kitty Hawk the length of the Wright Brothers' first flight, my arms outstretched. I was looking forward to reliving that moment with our youngest this summer.

We won't be coming to North Carolina.

You just signed into law sweeping discriminatory legislation. Until all are welcome and treated with respect in North Carolina, we won't be visiting. We're not interested in teaching our children hate. We're not interested in handing over our vacation dollars to a state that encourages hate. We're not going to spend time in a state that has stripped Americans of their basic rights, a state that seems to have no basic concept of the gifts of the LGBT community, no understanding of the basic struggles facing the community, in particular the vulnerable youth. You are actively creating a hostile environment for your own people. Do you know that the suicide attempt rate for the transgender community is 46%? Do you know how at-risk these teens are -- even without hateful legislation that strips them of their basic civil liberties? Shame on you for signing this bill without meeting the families in your state who need protection and listening to their stories.

Perhaps you once visited the lunch counter in Greensboro, home to an historic moment in civil rights history? Do you realize that you just made it legal to deny gays, lesbians, and transgender people a seat at lunch counters across your state? You did that. In one fell swoop, you reversed all of that progress.

You've taken a state that is beloved in this household and you've turned it into a place of hatred, discrimination, and bigotry.

We might be just one family -- and you should know that we're Christians. We're protesting. We're boycotting. Count us out.

Julianna Baggott

on craft

Late at night, I read in bed and write notes about my current project in the front and back pages. I wake up in the morning curious what I worked out, usually thankful. My night mind functions differently than my day mind and, in this way, before falling asleep, one can talk to the other.