A Fevers of the Mind Quick-9 Interview with Lisa Molina

Q1: When did you start writing and who has influenced you the most?

Lisa: I was always writing short stories and plays as a young child, and reading books. My undergrad degree is a BFA in both Theater and English  Education. While in college I took a creative writing course with the recently deceased novelist, poet, essayist, and critic, Zulfikar Ghose. He became my writing mentor, and the next semester I took his grad level Creative Writing course. He was a phenomenal writer and teacher, and we stayed in touch after I graduated. Just two years ago, when my children were older, and I started writing and submitting poetry for publication, he was very encouraging to me and I’m so grateful that, before his passing last summer, he was able to read my first published chapbook, which was digital, and shared with me one of the images I had written that would remain with him forever. All that I learned from him, his writing, and the great writers he urged us to read and learn from are my most important influences.

Q2: Any pivotal moment when you knew you wanted to be a writer?

Lisa: After my children were older, I began reading the classics voraciously and binged on all the works, journals, letters, and biographies of Sylvia Plath, Virginia Woolf, and Shirley Jackson over of a couple of years-( I also read some Tolstoy and Camus and Kafka during that period.) 

Reading about how these women were able to somehow navigate their writing careers in spite of the times in which they lived, with social expectations of women being nothing but housewives or secretaries; (certainly not professional writers), I was so inspired. Especially now that, thankfully, times have changed, I felt compelled to follow in the paths they had forged. 

I do remember one distinct moment: I was doing laundry, and we had just learned that my 23 year old son, who is a 3-time cancer survivor, now had chronic heart disease, caused by the years of treatment his body had endured. So, I’m putting clothes in the dryer, and the phrase “If one of us must die, I hope that it is I.” I thought about how Shirley Jackson was always jotting things down on scraps of paper at home whenever they popped into her head, so I quickly found a piece of paper and wrote it  down, and kept writing, and then began researching how to submit, and never stopped. That was what all that reading over those years had been building toward, and the writing finally started to happen and flow out of me.

Q3: Who has helped you most with writing and career?

Lisa: Of course, my husband has been a tremendous support, since I am still working full-time working with high school students with special needs, which means most of my weekends is when I read, write, submit, and participate in workshops. I’m retiring in the next few months, and I know we are both ready for me to have more free time to write, so that I’m more available to him and my family on weekends!

I would also say that, since I started this whole journey during Covid times, I did a lot of workshops either in private Facebook groups or on Zoom, and I have learned so much from the writers in these groups, and their networks. This is a very supportive community. We all do this because we love it so much, knowing that the chances are slim that we will ever become famous or rich. The goal is to write, and write well. 

I’m also grateful to Fahmidan Publishing for publishing several of my poems, and publishing my first chapbook, in digital form, “Don’t Fall in Love with Sisyphus.” They also nominated one of my poems, “Who You See” for “Best of the Net,” which has been so validating for me.

Q4: Where did you grow up and how did that influence you? Have any travels influenced your work?

Lisa: I grew up in a suburb southwest of Houston, and attended a very large high school. Luckily, I found my “tribe” in theater and choir and advanced English classes, so I had a group of like-minded friends who understood about that urge to express oneself creatively, and although we were definitely the “geeks” at school, we were very close and had a lot of fun. 

Several of my high school friends were gay, which was very unaccepted in the early to mid 80s, and I was, and still am, so in awe of their bravery in coming out to their friends. I felt honored to be a trusted confidant, and cried the entire day that the right to gay marriage was made Law by the Supreme Court, thinking of all the bullying and abuse some of my gay friends had been through, even as teenagers! I’ve gotten a little off topic, but I think it really opened my eyes to how various forms of art, be it acting, designing, singing, writing, etc. was such a healing force in peoples’ lives.

I didn’t travel much as a child, except to visit my grandparents in Texas and Illinois, but five days after our college graduation, my now-husband and I left Austin to backpack across Europe for 9 weeks. We had EuRail Passes with a map, about 3 changes of clothes, and a tent in our backpacks- with no pre-made plans, and, of course, no cell phones, this being 1989. It was an incredible adventure, starting in Frankfurt, and then going as far East as Greece, and as far west and Ireland with most countries in between. I specifically remember going to restaurants that I read  the Lost Generation writers had dined at, a bar Oscar Wilde had frequented, and some of the places in Dublin that Joyce mentions in Ulysses. I sat and read Madame Bovary on bench in front of Notre Dame while in France, and I actually stood on the amphitheater stage of The Theater of Dionysus in Athens.  (I don’t think people are allowed to do that now) Looking back, I’m so glad we were young and crazy and just went for it- We’ve traveled a lot since then all over the US, and also, with our children once they were older; to Turkey, Japan, Thailand, and we went to Costa Rica this past summer. I really believe that travel, especially when you try to go where “the locals” go, is life-changing. It has definitely influenced my writing, insofar as the experiences I’ve had with the people of all the various cultures while traveling, and also just feeling the spirits of all those amazing artists, writers, composers, architects, throughout the centuries speaking to me through their different means of expression that are still preserved today. All forms of art are truly expressions of cultures and periods in history, and you realize how connected we are, and how self-expression is a universal basic human need.

Q5: What do you consider your most meaningful work creatively?

Lisa: The title poem of my last chapbook, “Don’t Fall in Love with Sisyphus” holds special meaning to me. Reading Camus’s “The Myth of Sisyphus” was life-changing for me during a very difficult time, and helped me to ponder and realize how the suffering we all experience in life really does have meaning.

Q6: Favorite activities to relax?

Lisa: I’m definitively an introvert, so I love just staying at home, reading, writing, listening to music, and playing piano. That being said, Austin is a beautiful city with a river going right through the middle of it that I loved to kayak on, beautiful walking trails, and an incredible new 4-story Central Library, which is definitely my happy place outside of my home.

Q7: What is a favorite line/stanza from your writings?

Lisa: In my poem, “Life Still Dances,” I write about how my family celebrated Mardi Gras in the hospital room when my son was in treatment. We had always celebrated at home with beads, music, food, and dancing- and  so we did it even in that hospital room with my son hooked up to an IV pole. We had the music playing and my son was dancing with his sister, and my husband and I were dancing:

“It is a dance of the exquisite Normal; Nearly lost In our lives

That cancer cannot take away from us.”

Q8: What kind of music inspires you the most? What is a song or songs that come back to you as an inspiration?

Lisa: In college, I would always crank up the brilliant soundtrack to the film, “The Mission” composed by the late, great Ennio Morricone on my turntable, whenever I would stay up all night writing papers or short stories for classes. If there are lyrics, I find it difficult to write my own words while hearing other words being sung, so I became a big movie score soundtrack nerd starting in high school. A lot of times, I’ll put on a soundtrack to a film that may go well with the tone of what I’m going to be writing. 

And to inspire me and give me breaks when I’m not writing, I’m very much stuck in the 80s. Just a few examples are  David Bowie, Peter Gabriel, early U2, and Talking Heads. I think they are all brilliant. The song I tend to go back to over and over is “Heroes” by Bowie, and I also love the symphonic version by Peter Gabriel in his “Scratch My Back” album. There are many reasons for this, but it would take me another three pages to write about it…(Working with students with special needs, heroes themselves, for the past 22 years, is just the tip of the iceberg for why I need this song in me life- see more below and you’ll figure it out more…)

Q9: Do you have any recent or upcoming books or events that you would like to promote?

Lisa: Yes! I have a poetry chapbook, “Womb Worlds” (Finishing Line Press) in pre-sale status through January 20, 2023, and the book will be released in the weeks following March 17. 

It is about my experience of having a child battling cancer three times, and (spoiler alert) how his life was eventually saved by the donated umbilical cord cells of a newborn, who will forever remain anonymous to us. But it’s also about how this traumatic experience changed me as a person and my outlook on life. The fact that my son’s blood, down to his very DNA, exactly matches another person’s on this planet, as a twin, whom we will never know, just makes my head explode. We are all connected on this planet in mysterious ways that we cannot even fathom. 

The title “Womb Worlds,” of course, refers to the wombs of these two connected children, but also how we all live within the “womb” of the universe, and like a lot of writers, I’m very drawn to images and meanings of bodies of water; so there are a lot of micro/macro water images. 

To read more about the book and order a copy, people can go to https://www.finishinglinepress.com/product/womb-worlds-by-lisa-molina/

Bonus Question: Any funny memory or strange occurrence you’d like to share during your creative journey?

Lisa: During the time that I was writing the poems that ended up being in my first chapbook about my son’s cancer and cord blood transplant,  I was listening to the Peter Gabriel version of “Heroes” on Amazon Prime music, because, of course, I think of my son and the donor family that saved his life as heroes.

One day, after weeks of listening to this song, I happened to see the cover art of the album when I was getting ready to play the song on my phone, which I had never paid any attention to.  I instantly knew that the photo/design on the cover is of 2 red blood cells sticking together. Since the poems I was writing were about how my son’s  life was saved by a donor giving him the fresh new cancer-free blood cells that still circulates in his body to this day, I was just gobsmacked by the connection. And then I learned that Gabriel’s next album was titled “Scratch My Back.”and the following tour was called “The New Blood Tour” Wow.

I also collect typewriters that are the same brand as the ones Sylvia Plath and Shirley Jackson used. I now have  9 vintage typewriters like the ones they used throughout their lives- 

Bio: Lisa Molina is a writer in Austin, Texas and author of the digital chapbook, Don’t Fall in Love with Sisyphus (Fahmidan Publishing & Co, 2022). Her new chapbook “Womb Worlds” is currently available for pre-sale with Finishing Line Press until January 20, with the book being released in spring 2023. Molina’s poem “Who You See” was nominated for 2022 “Best of the Net” by Fahmidan Journal, and her poetry has twice been chosen as a winner in the Beyond Words Magazine 250-Word Writing Challenge. In February 2022, her flash fiction piece “Young Man in the Moon” was named a finalist in the “Fifty Shades of Blue” contest, held by The Ekphrastic Review. Molina’s poetry, creative nonfiction, and flash fiction can be found in numerous online and print publications and anthologies, including The Champagne Room, Fahmidan Journal, Beyond Words Magazine, Miniskirt Magazine, The Ekphrastic Review, Sky Island Journal, POETiCA REViEW, Neologism Poetry Journal, Flash Fiction Magazine, Amethyst Review, Boats Against the Current Poetry Magazine, Epoch Press Autumn 2021 “Transitions” issue, Bright Flash Literary Review, and several anthologies by Quillkeepers Press and The Poet. She lives in Austin with her husband, two adult children, and two cats, and works with high school students with special needs.

Read more of her words and news at:

Twitter: @lisabmolina1

Instagram: @lisabookgeek

Blog: lisalitgeek.wordpress.com

A Poetry Showcase from Nancy Avery Dafoe

from pixabay

Chasing Light

Chasing light,
we ran through tall grasses—
my brothers and I wrapped our fingers 
around fireflies sending signals in the night. 

Before opening our small fists 
and releasing those living lanterns, 
we imagined life as magic constellations 
mirrored in the bones of our wrists 

like Nemerov suggested in his poem Writing,
our lives stretched out before us infinite 
because we were not yet able to imagine death 
of ourselves or others in a flash of lightning.

Take the Beaver

Take the beaver, for example,
that industrious creature slowing rivers, 
creating wetlands absorbing toxins; 
beavers building dams and lodges
for their kits nestled in comfort, 
beaver lodges with eating chambers 
and underwater exits and entrances;
beavers with architecture so intricate 
yet their lives not worth their pelts,
so, man took the beaver and took 
the beaver until that animal
was nearly eradicated nationwide
and replaced by man’s genius 
in carving up bogs, filling swamps 
with toxic landfills leaching 
into water supplies.

Man’s labors speeding up 
rivers for hydroelectricity,
destroying those carbon sinks
once the domain of the beaver
now in industrial development, 
as monstrous amounts of carbon 
are emitted, choking life 
out of the planet, but at least 
we have fewer beavers 
to deal with and those reminders 
of a simpler time in the face 
of our complex systems 
of waste and ruin. 

Earth Awakens

In that moment of insight—
silent movement found in descending light—
latecomer red clouds—
bloodred streaks in the sky—suggesting another time 
even another locus from this far field isolation
with fading tall grasses bent and blurring 
figures first then thoughts
into other dark.

That near place— 
almost unreachable now—
that once familiar time culled then held close
from hushed memory in which distinction is blurred:
the Earth awakens, our defensive projection,
to destruction—lands and waters 
poisoned. Asking of us, 
to what ends?

It's Getting Hotter

It’s getting hotter across the planet,
and grasses have turned sizzling brown
as if to please a blistering sun with their burning. 

While an ominous shadow crosses the plains 
without releasing its rains—that bounty 
saved for a part of the country
where rains are still plentiful
and creeks and rivers swell until 
overflowing, flooding everything 
downstream, taking all that is left of good soil—
another desert is forming.

Another people in forced migration
on a widening path under cover of night 
when it is still cool enough to walk, 
with their few belongings on their backs, 
across now barren lands
toward some distant hope, 
toward imagined plenty, they walk 
knowing even the stars would reduce 
all to ash before they got close. 

This planet is getting hotter,
and all of mankind is moving
toward conflict and desolation:

Nemesis exacting her revenge 
for the hubris of man foolish enough
to help destroy his only habitable home.

Examining My Carbon Footprint

Examining the rough soles of my feet,
many years into wandering,
I consider my high arch, the ball of my foot
that juts out too far, my narrow heel lined 
with callouses, and I think of being on my feet
all day when I was teaching before remembering
to ask, just what is my carbon footprint?
That CO2 emission I personally 
am responsible for, endangering
the planet and every life form.

I think about waste and chaos,
chaos and waste as the world plays itself out.
I think about politicization and misinformation
told by knowing men as they drilled and lied.
I think about trying to reduce or just contain
our wastes or use of electricity, driving
my car to see my grandchildren. 

There are enumerated steps to follow 
in reducing our dangerously high CO2 
emissions, but they are difficult for the individual 
to believe that one of us can make any difference
when a single flight uses 36,000 gallons of oil.

Eat less meat, plant a garden, drive less,
waste less—but I’m aware our entire way 
of life is based upon manufactured waste 
as prime ingredient in profit directive.

Changing how we live so hard when
nearly half the population is still 
wrapped and insulated in conspiracies and lies, 
they will never consider science or knowledge 
of real value. And I think of the generations’
long deceptions by big oil and gas companies—
looking at you, Exxon Mobil, BP, Sinopec, 
and Saudi Aramco whose CEOs have duped us all—
with CO2 footprints large enough to fill continents.

When they line up the species to examine 
our carbon footprints, none compare to man’s
and his legacy of destruction, wars and waste, 
what we leave in our wide stance 
our stature small but out CO2 footprints those
of monstrous giants stomping across the planet. 

But that vision is so dark as to cause giving up 
or giving in, so I will do neither and reduce 
where I can, when I can and encourage others, 
before going to the garden to listen 
for sparrows and the whistle of the osprey.

Thinking About Sylvia Plath and Anne Sexton
first published in Nancy's collection Innermost Sea, by Finishing Line Press, 2018

About how they never got over pain,
considering the ways a child’s loss
worked itself up 33 bones—
these vertebrae that form spine
—where frustration and loss lodged
in cells of dorsal root ganglia,
on route to the brain
where at will, Plath and Sexton
could return to seasons of girls
catching fire,
transmitting torment into
perfect articulation.
No suicide girls, these women
who chose immolation—
even though choice implies preference
when it is no more than opportunity
at slivered edge. These poets
let us hear the voice beneath the din,
those sounds we scarcely recognize,
overlapping as they are 
by slapping sounds on water.
How to describe it exactly—
fluctuating quivers of emotion
and intellectual thought
moving emptiness, filling
void with desolation as we try
to find our way by echolocation,
listening, separating out cymbals
because, after all, too often 
what we hear is just
air beating on inner ear,
asking to be let in.

Bio: Author/poet/educator Nancy Avery Dafoe writes in multiple genres and has thirteen books, including three poetry collections, through independent publishers. Her poetry won the William Faulkner/Wisdom award in 2016, and her fiction won the short story award from New Century Writers. A member of the CNY Branch of the National League of American Pen Women, she is currently serving as second vice president of that organization. 

A Fevers of the Mind Quick-9 Interview with Natalie Marino

Q1: When did you start writing and whom influenced you the most now and currently?

Natalie: I started seriously writing poetry in 2019, and was at first most influenced by Louise Glück and Sylvia Plath. Currently, two of my favorite poets are Linda Gregg and Charles Simic. 

Q2: Any pivotal moment when you knew you wanted to be a writer?

Natalie: I have always been drawn to what I call the potential of magic in poetry. My chosen career as a physician and being a mother of two young children keep me very busy attending to other people’s needs, and both are roles that I feel privileged to have. Soon after I turned 40, I started a weekly writing practice because I developed the need for a creative outlet.

Q3: Who has helped you most with writing and career?

Natalie: Kelli Russell Agodon has been a wonderful mentor to me. She has been very helpful to me in my pursuit of becoming a poet.

Q4: Where did you grow up and how did that influence you? Have any travels away from home influence your work?

Natalie: I grew up in the San Fernando Valley. I often include details of Southern California’s landscape in my poetry. 

Q5: What do you consider your most meaningful work creatively to you?

Natalie: My ecopoetry and poems concerning grief have been the most meaningful to me. 

Q6: Favorite activities to relax?

Natalie: My favorite activities to relax are cooking, gardening, and creating art with my children.

Q7: What is a favorite line/ stanza/lyric from your writing?

Natalie: Favorite lines from one of my poems include these from my poem “Songbird:” “Even the sycamores outside/ the window acknowledge your end// with their sudden stillness./ You chose my birth// and watched me walk in the sun/ and then into the world’s grief,//but we were not new together./ Did it seem so the first time// I was mesmerized by snow?”

Q8: What kind of music inspires you the most? What is a song or songs that come back to you as an inspiration?

Natalie: Jazz music inspires me the most. Miles Davis’s “Blue in Green” is a song I listen to again and again for inspiration.

Q9: Do you have any recent or upcoming books, music, events, projects that you’d like to promote?

Natalie: My first poetry chapbook, Memories of Stars will be published by Finishing Line Press in June 2023.

Bio: Natalie Marino is a poet and physician. Her work appears in Atlas and Alice, Gigantic Sequins, Hobart, Isele Magazine, Pleiades, Rust + Moth, The Shore, and elsewhere. She lives in California. You can read some of her poetry at nataliemarino.com






Short Story/Poetry: Writing School Dean by Karol Nielsen

Time, Work, Clock, Coffee, Planning

photo from pixabay

Writing School Dean

I interviewed for a job as a writing teacher while I was still working as a journalist. My eye watered all during the interview. It had started to water after I got a bad sty in South America and the tear duct scarred over when it healed. The dean who interviewed me said that Catherine Hepburn had a watery eye that she developed during filming of the African Queen. He asked me why I wanted to teach and I said, “I need the money.” My freelance magazine job owed me thousands and I was desperate for a steady paycheck. He chuckled and hired me. The school had a holiday party at the end of my first term and I wore a hot pink angora sweater while most of the staff wore beatnik black. The dean talked to me all night and asked me out. He wrote young adult mystery novels but he was shot down when he proposed young adult spy novels. He also wrote plays and worked odd jobs to support his writing like bail bondsman and building manager. His old girlfriend left a message on his answering machine on New Year’s Eve while I was in his apartment. “I love you,” she said. He used to work straight through the weekends and weeks would go by before I saw him. I grew tired of waiting and got back online to find someone new. When I wrote a play about internet dating, I had a reading at a bar on the Lower East Side. I invited the dean and he asked, “Am I in it.” “No,” I said.

A Fevers of the Mind Quick-9 Interview with Karol Nielsen

Bio: Karol Nielsen is the author of the memoirs Black Elephants (Bison Books, 2011) and Walking A&P (Mascot Books, 2018) and the chapbooks This Woman I Thought I’d Be (Finishing Line Press, 2012) and Vietnam Made Me Who I Am (Finishing Line Press, 2020). Her first memoir was shortlisted for the William Saroyan International Prize for Writing in nonfiction in 2012. Excerpts were honored as notable essays in The Best American Essays in 2010 and 2005. Her full poetry collection was longlisted for the Terry J. Cox Poetry Award in 2021 and was a finalist for the Colorado Prize for Poetry in 2007. One poem was a finalist for the Ruth Stone Poetry Prize in 2021. Her work has appeared in Epiphany, Guernica, Lumina, North Dakota Quarterly, Permafrost, RiverSedge, and elsewhere. She teaches creative nonfiction and memoir writing with New York Writers Workshop.

A Fevers of the Mind Quick-9 Interview with Robin Wright

with Robin Wright:

Q1: When did you start writing and first influences?

Robin: I started writing in high school: thoughts in a journal, poems, short stories, even song lyrics. One of the most influential writers for me at that time was S.E. Hinton. She had written a couple of novels, “The Outsiders,” and “That Was Then This is Now.” The characters were so richly evolved and the story lines so captivating.

Q2: Who are your biggest influences today?

Robin: I can’t choose just one influence! I think I’m influenced by many contemporary poets: Dorianne Laux, Kim Addonizio, Billy Collins, Ted Kooser, Jim McGarrah, and all of the poets in the RAR online critique group.

Q3: Where did you grow up and how did that influence your writing? Have any travels away from home influence your work?

Robin: I grew up in Southern Indiana in the U.S. in a city on the river. I think the climate, the influence of the water, and the people I’ve encountered have all had their influence on my writing. I have not travelled extensively, so travelling is only a minor influence on my work.

Q4: What do you consider your most meaningful work that you’ve done creatively so far?

Robin: Some of the most meaningful work that I’ve done so far includes the poems I’ve written about family members and friends who have passed away and also an essay about some middle school students who could teach all of us about how to behave as humane and respectful human beings.

Q5: Any pivotal moment when you knew you wanted to be a writer?

Robin: I believe I had the urge to write starting with the writing I did in high school, but other life events happened, and so, I didn’t get back to it until later in life when I went back to college. I took a creative writing class on a whim and knew that I wanted to keep writing.

Q6: Favorite activities to relax?

Robin: Some of my favorite activities when not writing are spending time with my grandchildren, listening to my husband’s band(s) play, reading, walking, visiting a little town not far from where I live, New Harmony, IN.

Q7: Any recent or forthcoming projects that you’d like to promote?

Robin: As for recent and upcoming work, I had my first chapbook published in October 2020 by Finishing Line Press: Ready or Not by Robin Wright – Finishing Line Press, My poem “Winter” will be published in Spank the Carp in August. My essay, “Valentine’s Day 2020: What I Learned from Washington Middle School Students,” will be published in the August issue of Sanctuary Magazine. Links to poems recently published: Poet as President by Robin Wright (sledgehammerlit.com) https://muddyriverpoetryreview.webs.com/Robin%20Wright-1.pdf https://poetryandcovid.com/2020/12/13/grab-and-go-school-lunches-summer-2020/

Q8: What is a favorite line/stanza from a poem of yours or others?

Robin: One of my favorite lines from one of my poems, “Services at a Later Date,” is “. . .I claw/ the soil, bury what’s left/ of the flowers, push/ my palms together, pretend/ I know how to pray.”

Q9: Who has helped you most with writing?

Robin: I’ve had so much help and support over the years. Patty Aakhus encouraged me to take a poetry class, Jim McGarrah was my instructor in a poetry class in college, the members of the Student Writers Union in college, the ladies in my poetry circle, the members of the RAR online critique group, and my granddaughter who is a teenager but a published poet as well. I’m also learning from being a part of the TopTweetTuesday group of poets.