A story from Joan Hawkins: My Writing Teacher

My writing teacher

Most of us working the phones used a handle. An alias in case some cop or speed freak or infatuated client tried to track us down. A persona to match the online personality.  Tom was Moodus.  Harry was Speed.  Women tended to choose literary names.  Sharon went by Emily. Ginger—more radical by far—called herself George.  “Eliot or Sand?” Speed asked her once. “If you bothered to read them,” George answered, “you’d know.” Sharp tongued among ourselves.  Acid wit. Gallows humor.

          It was 1969.  Anything could happen at any time.  And when we weren’t working the phones, we were on edge.  We were Damien Switchboard, a crisis hotline and intervention center, located on the no-man’s land borderline separating San Mateo County, California, from San Francisco. Our goal was to buffer between counter culture freaks and The Man, to keep our people off the street and outside institutions as long as humanly possible. We provided drug counseling, draft counseling, pregnancy and abortion counseling, birth control information and sometimes basic sex ed. We did mental health referrals.  We kept track of crash pads—places where a stranger could spend the night—and safe houses where runaways and victims of domestic violence could shelter.  We maintained a rides board, hooking up people who had wheels with people needing transportation.  We talked frightened mystics down from bad acid trips.  But most often we just “rapped,” as we called it then. With the rusty percolator on overdrive, and KSAN humming in the background, we would talk to lonely, dispossessed, disheartened people all night long.  A lot of our work was suicide prevention.

          The youngest and most romantic of the group, I took risks. I did not use a handle. I was 16; it was the 60s; I believed in a kind of fate.  And besides I’d already changed my name once. At the Switchboard I was Joan—plain Joan.  The same name I used in my other life—not my real life, since things at Damien were always a little more intense and therefore a little more real—but my offline life, my student-poet-cashier-coffeehouse life.  At Damien, I worked the Friday night shift, the second-worst shift of the week.  When the phone wasn’t ringing, I wrote dark poetry and long, complicated journal entries.  “Write what you know,” my high school Creative Writing teacher used to scrawl on my papers. But I was writing what I knew.  Transcribing really.  The horror stories I heard on Friday nights. My writing teacher meant well, but he didn’t have a fucking clue.

Bio: Joan Hawkins is a writer and spoken word performer, who focuses mainly on creative memoir.  Her  poetry and prose have appeared in Avalanches of Poetry, Fevers of the Mind, the Performing Arts Journal, Plath Profiles, and Sand.

Two poems are forthcoming in a special poetry issue of The Ryder Magazine. She and Kalynn Brower have co-edited an anthology called Trigger Warnings, which contains one of Joan’s stories; it’s currently under consideration by Indiana University Press. “My Writing Teacher”  comes from a manuscript in progress– School and Suicide.

Joan lives in Bloomington, IN with her cat Izzy Isou. She is currently the Chair of the Writers Guild at Bloomington.

Poem “Eclipse” by Joan Hawkins for Before I Turn Into Gold Day

Leonard Cohen and Edie Sedgwick at the Chelsea Hotel by Joan Hawkins

Republished Poetry: Godiva Leaves Town by Nikoletta Gjoni

Woman, Field, Hot Air Balloons, Balloons
photo from pixabay

Godiva Leaves Town

first published in Rhythm N Bones Lit Issue 6 : Love

In an effort to erase the shame, stories will later say she roamed through empty streets under a canopy of darkened clouds, head down, arms limp. Perhaps her husband demanded that version of the story be told. Perhaps he killed anyone who looked upon her, snuffing out the truth of what had happened, more for his sake than his wife’s.

           What had happened was this:

 There was no cloud in the sky that day.

            The streets were lined with men, women, children. Eyes roamed hungrily, curiously, disgustingly, shyly.

            Her skin rippled with goosebumps in the morning chill, nipples hardening like daggers against the intrusive stares. Her hair, the color of rust or copper, swayed against her bare body like a curtain in front of an open window.

            Once out of the castle’s sight, the lady took out the long knife hidden in the horse’s saddle.

            “She’s going to kill herself,” screamed a woman from the crowd, before a chorus of spectators began chiming in unison, urging her to turn back.

            But the blade didn’t so much as touch her pink skin. Drowning in her nerves, her throat moved like waves lapped beneath the surface. Then, just as suddenly as she appeared on the street, she kicked her horse and clicked her tongue, motioning for him to turn a tight corner into an alleyway.

            Hidden in the shadow of two stone buildings, she stretched out, her fingers and toes brushing the soft, warm hide of her beloved pet. Her hair fell over the horse’s flank and she imagined herself fusing with him; melting into his body to become some mythical creature. What life she could lead outside the city walls.

            Sitting up again, she felt a warmness spread between her legs at the thought of uninhibited freedom. She pulled the knife out again and held it up to her earlobe, her free hand grabbing and holding down a handful of hair as the blade violently kissed the lumped strands.

            She repeated until the sun sat high between the two buildings.

            Until sweat trickled down her body like new springs having risen to the surface.

            She repeated until most of her hair lay in wispy clumps around her horse’s hooves.

When her horse stepped out from the shadows, the townspeople stared in disbelief. Beneath the sky’s watchful eye, bathed in the sun’s mid-morning light, Godiva clicked her tongue again and made her horse move towards the crowd. Her hair sat lop-sided and frayed around her ears; the curtains were torn down from the window so that everyone could look in.

            She let her horse find his own way through the town until the main gates came into view. Her back reddened in the open air with no swaying hair to protect it.

            Perhaps this is where the story dissolves into falsehoods of scarlet skin brought on by shame. The story shared is never as simple as a hot sun on a spring day;

            a woman spiting her husband with little fear to show;

            defiance being mistaken for its distant cousin, embarrassment, instead of any of its other sisters:






            Behind her, the kingdom disappeared over the horizon as her horse stepped out into the world with little ceremony—the only way animals know how to maneuver through a world made lawless through man’s laws.

Bio from 2019: Nikoletta Gjoni is a fiction and creative nonfiction writer living outside of Washington, DC. Her work can be found or is forthcoming in Kindling Volume III, Cleaver Magazine, New Flash Fiction Review, and Riggwelter Press, among others. Her work has been previously nominated for the PEN/Robert J. Dau prize and Best of the Net. You can follow her on Twitter @NikiGjoni or her website at www.ngjoni.com. 

A Fevers of the Mind Quick-9 Interview with Elliot Harper

with Elliot Harper:

Q1: When did you start writing and first influences?

Elliot: I’ve only recently found writing. I’ve been a reader all my life, but never found the time or confidence to start writing, something which has always been a dream of mine. In 2016, I moved to Houston, Texas with my wife, and this afforded me the opportunity to explore that dream. Although I don’t like to stick to any particular genre, my early influences are the Science Fiction of Ursula Le Guin and Iain M Banks, and the weird fiction of China Mieville, Jeff Vandermeer, and Steph Swainston, as well as the dream-like works of Haruki Murakami.

Gifts (Annals of the Western Shore, #1) by Ursula K. Le Guin

Q2: Who are some of your biggest influences today?

Elliot: Currently, my biggest influence is still China Mieville. His use of vocabulary and language in the Bas-lag series of books still blows me away no matter how many times I read them. I’ve recently written a dark fantasy book which is heavily influenced by his work.

Perdido Street Station: Mieville, China: 9780330534239: Amazon.com: Books

Q3: Where did you grow up and how did that influence your writing?

Elliot: I grew up in a little seaside town called Scarborough, Yorkshire, in the northeast of England. My hometown is the basis for the fictional seaside town I’ve created that features in some of my writing and four of my unpublished books called Eastborough-on-Sea.

Q4: Have any travels away from home influenced your work/describe?

Elliot: Me and my wife love to travel. For our honeymoon, we went backpacking around the world in 2011-12. Seeing all those cultures first-hand changed my life and I’m always thinking about what I saw and did in that year. When I write I remember back to the bustling markets and cities and it gives me my inspiration.

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

Elliot: I think the pivotal moment for me was when a friend of mine was published. It was at that moment that I realised that it can happen to real people that I actually know in my life. It gave me the confidence to believe that I could possibly do it as well.

Q6: Favorite activities to relax?

Elliot: My favorite activities when not writing are reading (currently dark fantasy), playing games (currently The Witcher 3), and watching movies and series (mostly horror, Carpenter, Cronenberg, Aster, etc, but also anything by Denis Villeneuve, and eagerly awaiting the Dune movie in November)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n9xhJrPXop4 to preview Dune

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

Elliot: I recently won a flash fiction competition, the Flash Vision contest by The Molotov Cocktail. This was the first time I’ve ever won anything for my writing. The story will be available to read on their website, https://themolotovcocktail.com/ within the next few weeks.

Q8: What is a favorite line of yours or others?

Elliot: Favorite quote is from Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami “If you only read the books that everyone else is reading, you can only think what everyone else is thinking”

Q9: Who has helped you most with writing?

Elliot: The people who have helped me most in my writing by their constant support and willingness to read my work (and listen to me talk about it endlessly) are my wife, Naomi, and my friends, Rob, John and Will.

Elliot Harper is the author of two self-published books, the dark science-fiction novella, The City around the World, and the speculative short story collection, On Time Travel and Tardiness.

On Time Travel and Tardiness: A Collection of Speculative Stories: Harper,  Elliot: 9798644039630: Amazon.com: Books

His story, In the Garden, was the winner of the Flash Vision 2021 story contest by The Molotov Cocktail.

He has short stories in print as follows: Into the Forest appears in Air and Nothingness Press’s, The Wild Hunt: Stories of the Chase anthology, There’s a Dead Bear in the Pool features in Clash Book’s Black Telephone Issue 1, and Blackout features in Popshot Quarterly Magazine, The Protest Issue.

His fiction has appeared online in Issue 3 of Clash Book’s Black Telephone Magazine, Maudlin House, Neon Magazine’s Battery Pack Volume 4, Horrified Magazine, Coffin Bell Journal, FIVE:2:ONE Magazine’s #thesideshow, Storgy, Queen Mobs Teahouse, the Ghost City Review, Akashic Book’s #FriSciFi, Back Patio Press, Litro Magazine’s #StorySunday, Selcouth Station’s #2 Food Edition, Dream Noir Lit Magazine, Vagabonds: Anthology of the Mad Ones Volume 8 and Riggwelter Press.

He currently lives in Houston, Texas with my wife, Naomi, but he’s originally from Scarborough, England, although he considers Leeds to be his home. He likes to write fiction that isn’t confined by any particular genre, but leans towards the dark, the transgressive and the surreal. Find him at his website, https://www.elliotharper.com/, and on Twitter, @E_Harper_Author.

Some links: