Meet The Author

Meet the Author: Steven Simoncic

Steven Simoncic is a playwright and writer of both creative nonfiction and fiction. His plays have received productions, readings and, workshops at The Goodman, Steppenwolf, Victory Gardens, The Second City, Pegasus Players, The Baruch Center for the Performing Arts, Stageplays Theatre, and The Soho Theatre in London. Steven’s play, Once Upon a Time in Detroit, was selected as a semi-finalist for the 2013 Eugene O’Neill Theater Center’s National Playwrights Conference, and Heat Wave was recently selected for Steppenwolf Theatre’s 2015 Garage Rep season. Steven recently completed critically acclaimed productions of Broken Fences with Ballybeg in New York and 16th Street in Chicago, which was featured in The Chicago Tribune’s “Best of 2013.”

Steven's piece "I Like You," is about the emotional and even physical struggles of parenting and the curve balls that we are often thrown in the process. When visiting his parents and old hometown of Romulus, Michigan, more than just stale memories are stirred up, and the bigger issue that Steven and his wife are unaware of surfaces from the behavior of their youngest child. What seems like mere hyper-sensitivity and temperamental flare-ups on their son's part unfolds into what's known as Sensory Processing Disorder. This story is heart-wrencing and grueling at times, not to mention vulnerable, but it exemplifies the kind of self-reflection that we are capable of and that fuels us to overcome our greatest obstacles.

Q:Upon reading your story it appears—that for all intents and purposes—it is going to be about your daughter (suspected to be an only child from the first paragraphs), and that there would be some profound coming-of-age anecdote or the realization of a father truly understanding—or as much as a father really can—his daughter. This assumption was completely wrong however, and the story is refreshingly about a father and his son and the struggles they both share.

How was it to not only write about something so personal and intimate as your parenting skills—the good and even the bad at times—but to showcase it for readers of this story?

A: Writing this story was challenging in that it required brutal honesty and a certain openness that is easier said than done. I guess the thing that sort of drove me to write this was reaching a certain humility in my parenting and in life in general. At some point you realize that parenting is incredibly difficult—add in a special needs child—and it becomes even more difficult. So instead of pretending you have it all figured out—you sort if find power and hope in understanding your limitations and fallibility. Because that opens doors to other people sharing their limitations and fallibility—and in that discourse you might have a shot at becoming better.

Q:You write that in the moment of trying to disarm your son, both literally and metaphorically,

“I had spent years trying to move on from this place [your home of Romulus, Michigan]—trying to somehow be better than where I came from, but in that moment I was significantly worse.”

This must have been a hard realization to swallow, like that you had seemingly left your town far behind only for it to catch back up to you, but to then feel or know you had never really left it behind at all.

How did you reconcile that?

A: I come from a true blue collar background—and when you come from that place you are given some great gifts—resiliency, humor, the ability to survive and stand up for yourself. These are things I am grateful for and carry with me. At the same time, I do not look at where I come from in an entirely romantic way. There is a lot of close-mindedness, anger, and pettiness as well—and a general feeling of being just outside the anointed caste that gets to be affluent and beautiful and well adjusted. So I have always been ambivalent about where I come from—and I think that struggle comes through in this piece. I will always be a member of the proletariate and I am not ashamed of that—but it is a complicated and often dubious place to have come from.

Q: How, too, were you also able to admit quite vulnerably in your piece that in all the pandemonium, your son and his struggling at the ice rink were second in concern to how your parenting was being perceived by the on-lookers?What you felt in that moment is something all parents seem to be guilty of but don't want to acknowledge and it shows a broader self-awareness.

A: Yes. I think I just didn't want to let myself off the hook. I think a lot of parenting does have a dotted line to ego on some level. Your children are inextricably linked to—and are an expression of—you. On our best days—we meet them where they are and take pride in them for who they are. On our worst days, our esteem and sense of well being hinges upon how they act at the mall. I couldn't write this story and pull a punch in that scene—I had to admit that my ego was a factor—right or wrong it was there—and that level of honesty seemed important—maybe folks who read this piece will relate or connect.

Q: Reading further into your piece we learn that your son, with all his melodramatics, is actually justified in—or at least exonerated from—his behaviors because as you also come to find out, he has SPD, Sensory Processing Disorder.

Was this frightening for you and your wife to hear or was it more of a relief in that you guys discovered the root of these small fits and could then try to effectively combat them?

A: It was both frightening and a relief. It helped to have an angle on what was going on—but SPD is tricky and the school of thought regarding SPD is still sort of forming—so it was far from finding a tangible, magic bullet cure for the situation. It was more like trial and error and discovering things that seemed to help and building from there.

Q:Stories of creative nonfiction, such as your own, are so often about growth that spans definitely longer than the couple of pages that it gets condensed down to.How long did it take after finding out about your son's diagnosis for you to begin tackling and writing this piece?

A: It was a couple of years—it took that long to get a handle on it and have some sort of narrative distance to create an arc for the story.

Q:Lastly your witticisms in your writing and the seemingly self-deprecative but humorous asides that you make must be touched upon. You and your wife are very self-aware, environmentally-aware, and just aware in general. You make the point of mentioning that you both eat Greek yogurt and do hot yoga, which you stylistically include for readers to better comprehend who you are and what you are about. Yet when you make the change to riding your bike to-and-from work, you admit that it isn’t just you doing your part to protect the environment.

How much of these little nuances, which are probably quite characteristic of you as a writer, do you actually include in your other writing?

A: I write theatre and fiction as well as nonfiction and in all of my writing humor tends to find a place—but more than that—the telling detail is almost always there. To me, specific details—the quirky specifics and stuff of life—really go a long way to creating character and moments within a piece. They are economic, telegraphic impulses that say so much more than is evident at first blush.

Meet The Author

Meet the Author: Mary Collins

Mary Collins moved to the United States from England, where—as you'll come to read—she had been writing "expressionless" research based articles for medical and nursing journals. She first discovered her passion for creative writing late in life when she set out to untangle the knots of childhood and put the conflicting tales of her father in order. Mary recently received Solstice Literary Magazine's 2014 Award for Creative Nonfiction. Her work has also garnered scholarships to the Norman Mailer Writers Colony and a contest prize on Brevity Journal's blog. She lives on Cape Cod with her husband and her son. She's working on a book-length memoir, and she REALLY loathes cooking.

Mary was the first reader at our 3-year anniversary reading, which you can hear at the 4-minute mark on the recording.

Q: When and why did you start writing?A: I began writing creative nonfiction about eight years ago, when my son started kindergarten and I had some quiet time. Prior to that I’d written for medical journals as part of a job: the kind of writing that offered no scope for creative expression.

My brother had recently died and it troubled me that I couldn’t put the events of our childhood in order. There were so many gaps, and it all felt so muddled. Writing helped to organize and revive memories and—unexpectedly—brought me to a great sense of peace with the past.

I suppose, when I think about it, I’ve written since I was tiny. I can still call up the visceral awe I felt at hearing my first teacher read a poem. You could do that with words? I was enchanted, and began making “books” of my own: stories about animals, poems, wild-flower pressings. I have them still. They are funny, revealing, and sad. I’m working on a collection of themed essays that prompted me to dig the books out from storage. I’ve been stunned to discover that almost every story repeats the same theme: juvenile animals lost and found. Funny how those same themes have played out, metaphorically, all these years later in the UTGT essay. I hadn’t seen that.

Q: What do you enjoy most about writing?A: All of it, and none of it. It’s the best and worst, the easiest and hardest way to pass a day.

I love the joy of discovery that comes with reflection. Metaphors and echoes and patterns reveal themselves as a piece comes into being. Almost always I begin with no clear sense of where I’m going with a piece. I start out with something that comes to me unbidden: a memory, a fragment, a smell, and it drives me to write, to follow it and see where it takes me. The beauty of writing is that it always delivers far more than we ever imagine we’ve retained in memory.

And there’s so much resolution in writing from real-life; so much that I’ve been able to reach a deep level of acceptance of and compassion for through writing. There’s a growing body of research to support the notion that the act of writing is dramatically more effective than talk therapy in resolving trauma. Take a look at this very recent post by writing teacher Mary Carroll Moore, referencing an article on this subject in the Harvard Business Review. There’s also the joy that comes from the product of any creative endeavor: of something existing in the world that hadn’t even been conceived of before you sat yourself down to write. That excites me.

Q: Where do you find your biggest inspiration when you write?A: I suppose the material I have to work with is my main inspiration. I’ve been blessed (or afflicted) by the kind of life experiences that create rich seams of material to mine. Lots to poke around in, and find angles on.

I’ve had some exceptional writing mentors along the way: Michael Steinberg, my first and enduring mentor, taught me the invaluable lesson of working to master the essay form before tackling a book-length memoir. Kaylie Jones taught me the necessity of restraint in memoir-writing; how less really is more; how not to “bleed all over the page.” I finally got on track with how to shape a manuscript through working with Mary Carroll Moore. Her online workshops are excellent.

Q: Do you have a writing schedule?A: I write to avoid cooking. Actually, I have no schedule. If things are going well, I go at it for hours. At other times I don’t go near the writing for days. Or weeks. But I believe that there’s never a time when we’re not somehow working on the writing, even when we think we’re doing something else. It needs steeping time. And I firmly believe that engaging in other forms of creative expression helps the writing too. (Anything but cooking, that is.)

Q: What is the hardest part of writing for you?A: The bit that comes between right after starting a piece and right before editing a draft (which is to say, most of it). I’m happy starting, and I absolutely love editing and polishing once I’ve got the first draft done. But most of the time I find the actual writing absolute torture. Sometimes it just flows and seems to write itself, and that’s beyond gratifying. But the rest of the time it almost physically hurts trying to stay in the chair and keep going. So, a lot of the time I don’t. It’s a good job that my family’s livelihood doesn’t depend on me writing. Perhaps if it did I’d have more discipline, and be less of a perfectionist.

Q: How long does it usually take you to finish a story?A: It depends whether it arrives as a gift, as I mentioned above—in which case it can be a day or two for a short piece. Longer essays (5,000 words or more) I can work on for more than a year before I feel that I’ve nailed what I’m really trying to convey and can let it be. I have half a dozen pieces at various stages of development at any one time. I much prefer letting things sit a while and going back to them with a fresh eye as they progress.

Q: Are you working on anything now?A: A number of things, mostly to the same end: several series of linked essays on themes which have presented themselves over these years of putting the past in order. I write poetry, too, and like to try the same story in both forms: prose and poem. I also like to switch point of view and tense and see how the same story feels in first, second or third person, and with the immediacy of the present tense or the reflective tone of the past. Writing or re-writing a piece as a prose poem really helps me tighten the language.

Q: How many rejections did you get before you had something published?  How did you deal with them?A: I had a horrible experience following one of the first writing classes I ever took. The instructor (a published writer herself) insisted upon everyone sending their brief memoir piece to the journal that she picked as the one most likely to publish it. She even collected all our packets to mail them herself, to ensure we didn’t chicken out. She raved about my piece and insisted I address it personally to the revered editor of The Atlantic, who was a friend of hers. I was stunned. Surely I couldn’t be that good right off the bat? But like a lamb to the slaughter I was taken in by her rabid enthusiasm for my work. The rejection slip that rapidly followed would have been easier to bear had the editor not written on it, “I fear this is rather lightweight for us. Give my regards to J.” That was eight years ago. Of course, I didn’t know enough to feel grateful that he’d given me any feedback at all. I cried all day; I felt like such an idiot. If the exercise had been a means of inspiring us to believe in the value of our work, it failed for me. It was only recently that I had the courage to submit anything again. The four pieces I have submitted (three to contests, and this essay to Under the Gum Tree) have, luckily found homes, but only one of them on the first pass. Sometimes they’ve placed as finalists or semi-finalists before finally being picked up.

Q: How did you celebrate when you got your first acceptance?A:I photocopied the $500 check before I banked it, and pinned it above my desk. I’m hoping it won’t spend its entire life alone . . .

Q: Do you prefer typing or pencil to paper when you write?A: Both work. Or not. I more often write directly onto the screen though, even though I believe that there is something magical that passes between brain and heart and hand when we wield a pen/cil. Now I think of it, I never type poetry directly onto the screen. I have a notebook I use for poems. Any notes and brainstorming on structure, etc. I always write in longhand. On a bazillion scraps of paper.

Q: What do you do when you’re not writing?A:  Anything that makes me look too busy to cook. I’m into Feng Shui and clutter clearing at the moment so am totally distracted with turning the house upside down and just letting stuff go. I haven’t been writing much since I began the clearing, but my sense is that I’ll come back to it fresher and feeling less encumbered by the weight of all that’s no longer of value to me.

Q: Who is your favorite author?A: Horrible question: Too many to mention. I greatly admire Andre Dubus III. He really knows about the alchemy of creating something beautiful from lives that are anything but, both in his memoir and his fiction. I read everything Per Peterson publishes (exquisite writing and story-telling), and have recently re-read Jenna Blum’s stunning and gripping novel Those Who Save Us. For memoir, Jeanette Winterson, Mary Karr, Abigail Thomas and Joan Didion. Anne Lamott for telling it like it is, and with humility. Lee Martin is a gorgeous writer and an extraordinarily generous literary citizen. He does so much to support writers.

One of my favorite recent reads is Anthony Marra’s novel A Constellation of Vital Phenomena. Apparently, his process of revision involved retyping the entire manuscript half a dozen times. He believes that we consider and re-consider each word, sentence, character, etc. from a higher and deeper perspective each time we retype it. It’s a strange but logical paradox: gaining distance from getting really close. My favorite contemporary memoir is Bleeder by Shelby Smoak, a deeply moving but unsentimental insight into life and coming-of-age as a hemophiliac given the dubious gift of HIV through an otherwise-life-saving blood transfusion. I balk at writers being called brave for facing down their stories. But here is a man baring unimaginable angst with such grace and not a hint of self-pity. The writing is beautiful. I especially fell in love with his parents through the writing.

I’ve found myself picking up new short story collections. Rebecca Lee’s Bobcat is wonderful.

It feels horribly unimaginative to mention Catcher in the Rye, but I have to. Holden Caulfield is like a son to me, he is so real. He has to be one of the most credible and endearing characters ever created.

Q: What are some of your favorite books?A: Having mentioned a good few above, I’ll shift the focus to a collection about the craft of writing. The recent Rose Metal Press Field Guides are absolute gems. Each is like an MFA program in a slender volume. I’ve learned so much from them. Anything that has the hand of the wonderful Dinty Moore in it is bound to be a great investment.

Q: Do you have any advice for other writers?A: Find your own rhythm and a process that works for you. Don’t buy into someone else’s, or beat yourself up for not writing every day. Don’t underestimate the value of stepping away from the page to go out for a walk or potter in the garden. And trust that all kinds of creative endeavor work your writing muscles.

But above all, READ. We never become better writers without constantly improving as readers. We learn the craft only by finding and immersing ourselves in the work of those whom we can admire.

Meet The Author

Meet the Author: Jonny Blevins, on his piece "Which Person She Is"

Jonny Blevins is pursuing his MFA in creative nonfiction at Chatham University. He is also a Henry Reich Teaching Fellow and student-coordinator for Chatham's Words Without Walls program and is an active member of West Virginia University's Appalachian Prison Book Project.  In the past Jonny taught ESL in China. We are extremely happy to have given Jonny his first publication. If you want to know more about his on-goings, his doodling, his interest in adorable animals, just follow this link to his personal blog.

Jonny is also read live with us during our 3-year anniversary party. Wanna see him read his story, "Which Person She Is"? Just fast-forward to about 32:00 minutes.

Q: From reading into the first few paragraphsfrom just the first sentence evenwe as readers get the significance that you didn’t grow up with your mother carrying out a domestic role, 

“My mom has cooked a cocktail of from-scratch southern foods, not microwaved, not made by my father, and not purchased from a fast-food restaurant,”  

We venture you weren’t accustomed to family sit-down dinners and that is why your mother was enraged when you didn’t display correct table etiquette. Is this pretty accurate?A: Ha! No, my mother wasn't typically a domestic person in terms of cooking. But I think that was our fault, and that's what I'm only just now starting to understand. She'd try to cook something and my brother and I, even my father, would make these vomitty, extremely rude reactions to it. Maybe it was bad cooking, but we could have behaved a little more courteously, yeah? I think my mother wasn't meant to be domestic—she was super fiery and independent.

Q: You continue on to explain your disconnect in later years (age 9) to your peers and even your mother. However, what you underwent is a natural stage and sometimes a lengthy one that each of us experience, whether earlier or later than others. When you were confronted by your mother's “act of desperation,” did you honestly buy into what she claimed? Or were you rebellious to those accusations at all?A: I didn't really get into it in the story, but I grew up getting slapped around until I wasn't rebellious, so excessive whippins' haha. And that was normal for the people I grew up around. Think '80s country West Virginia folk—what's the "norm" for them? I think it was normal enough for the time period. What wasn't normal was communicating with charts—the graphic representation of that chart made sense to me because I was such a gamer, you know? Honestly sometimes, when I'm feeling especially foul, it still is something I buy into. I feel like I'm not being a good employee to life sometimes, ha.

Q: Halfway through your chronological timeline of growing up, you come to the understanding that humans need fear and you make the bold announcement of: “I get it.” What exactly was it that culminated for you during that time? What insight did it give you into those peers you went to school with and to your mother?A: I want to say that feeling fear is a good thing. When a nature writer writes about saving our planet, what do they use to persuade us with? The fear of losing all this beauty. My mother wanted to instill a fear of mediocrity, and between the white space I hope there's an understanding that every parent is afraid of their child settling for less. Her methods just happened to be really quirky (or crazy, I guess). I think my insight was that fear is an emotion we feel in order to prepare for something. If we use that fear and adrenaline in a positive way against whatever adversity we face, we'll be more likely to succeed.

 Q: How did you rationalize or come to understand the conception of three different (but actually all the same) women, “mother, mom, and MOMMY?” How old were you?A: Kids understand a lot more than we give them credit for, of course. I can't remember exactly when I thought I was dealing with different people, but it was pretty evident that my mom was going to be a different person every time I talked to her. As for how it's been rationalized, well, I guess I'm still working on it. I lean toward the positive. I lean toward thinking: having two young wild boys must have been really hard.

Q: Is it safe as readers to assume your mother did have some mental/emotional disorder?A: Exactly, that's the whole problem I run into. Is it safe to assume anyone is rightly diagnosed with most mental disorders? I wanted to write this piece as if the labels "depression," "bipolar," and "dissociative identity disorder" didn't exist. I hate labels, and I know most people do in some regards. I still hate to make any definitive claims on this, because we don't actually understand psychology. It's all guess work. How could I pin this person with something if she was simply too stressed out to deal with kidsat the time?

Q: Until your time in high school, your family seemed to exist satisfactorily without the knowledge that maybe there was something to investigate. How much of this do you think was just ignoring signs?A: All of it was ignoring the signs. All of it certainly, was ignoring at least a good discussion. Recently my mother (who's really mellowed out with new medicine, age, and probably more acceptance of herself) will allow me to talk to her more openly about what could have been better in my life and her life, and she seems to want nothing more than forgiveness, as do I. And of course I forgive her, as if there were anything to forgive. It's never that I resented her for any of the crazy stuff (the more severe stories I don't choose to share), it's that I was angry I couldn't figure her out or just have normalcy, whatever that means. I think that's what is so terrifying about writing creative nonfiction for me. I'm busy trying to create the content, friendly, totally peaceful family I didn't grow up with (including myself), and stories like these feel in so many ways like it would damage what I'm working really hard to fix. To be totally candid with you, I mull over whether this degree is worth it or not almost on a daily basis.

Q: Is that why in your last line you say you felt “like a traitor,” when agreeing with your father’s conclusion?A: Yeah. I felt like a traitor because I was just ignoring this wounded woman. That's the only reason I feel okay submitting this kind of work—maybe someone will read my work someday and say, "Oh man, me too," and they'll try to do something about it.

Q: What with the wildness of your mother during the Washington D.C. trip she chaperoned, and all the sex-ed she offered your schoolmates, we’re nosey to learn if she educated you similarly in that awkward-way-parents-will-tell-their-children, or if that was purely something she did to gain popularity amongst your peers?A: That's a great question. I can't remember any time she ever talked to my brother or me about sex-ed. She felt more comfortable around girls, she wanted to be their friends, and if we're really digging, it's becoming clear to me that in doing these goofy kinds of things, I think she wanted to find a piece of her childhood she never got to live. Her dad was an extremely strict Bible-thumping kind of man of Italian lineage who overcame alcoholism. They all laugh about it now, but I'm sure my grandpa was hard to grow up with, all of that not to say he's a bad person either.

Q: What turned you on to writing Creative Nonfiction?A: I decided to join a creative nonfiction program because Chatham University has a program that allows students to go into the county jail and teach. I love that. Hearing those stories has been more valuable to me than anything else. But I came to the program expecting to write about literary journalism or oral histories. I wanted to write about living in China or to write about social justice. Instead, it's been mostly all about family structure, and that's been a fine surprise. I've really opened up in ways I never expected to.

Q: Do you find yourself writing a lot of about family?A: Unfortunately, haha. I guess, like writers and professors say, if you keep coming back to the same subjects, then you're not done writing about it. I hope to be finished writing about family structure soon.

Q: This is only your first publication, (among many to come we are sure) what other pieces are you most excited about, either finished or in-progress, that you are submitting?A: I'm currently writing a lot about growing up with video games and that's really exciting. Again, a lot of times I'll be writing an essay about playing Final Fantasy and suddenly it's a story about fighting with my brother or ignoring my mom. I guess my brain just isn't finished with that subject, yet.


Under the Gum Tree Magazine Announces Four 2014 Pushchart Prize Nominations

2015CoverHomeToday is the postmark deadline for submitting 2014 Pushcart Prize nominations, one of the most coveted literary prizes. It's particularly special for magazines like us, because the award is for "little magazines and small presses," of which we are definitely one. And, it's particularly special for Under the Gum Tree this year because it is our first time nominating. The Under the Gum Tree editors are proud to announce our 2014 Pushcart Prize Nominations:

"Something to do With Baldness," by Laurie Easter, January 2014

"Long Play," by Katy Sargent, April 2014

"How to Pack a Suitcase," by Patrick Kindig, July 2014

"Promises Like Piecrust," by Kate Washington, October 2014

The competition for this prize is fierce, and the UTGT editors would like to recognize the accomplishment of these four writers regardless of the outcome of this nomination. We look for stories that explore the truth and meaning in our life experiences with a vulnerability that rejects the shame that society often thrusts upon us, and we have been honored by the stories of these writers who fearlessly embody our motto: Tell stories without shame.

To read these stories, purchase a digital copy of the magazine here, or purchase a print copy here.

Meet The Author

Meet The Author: Kate Washington

Kate Washington is a Sacramento-based writer. Her work has appeared numerous places such as in The Washington Post, Yoga Journal, Sunset and the Bellingham Review. She is noted for contributing at Sactown Magazine and she is a co-founder of nonprofit literary press, Roan Press. When not writing, Kate also spends much of her time parenting and—as we can see in her story, "Promises like Piecrust"—baking.

Follow this if link you're interested in seeing and hearing Kate read that piece live at our three-year anniversary reading. (If you only want to see Kate, fast forward to the 19-minute mark).

Q: Your piece is so rhythmically and phonetically rich that in some places it sounds like pure poetry:

"Nothing holds so much promise in a kitchen as a pie cooling on a wire rack, lumpy with sugared fruit, drippy juices pooling, translucent sheets of toasty fat-bound flour sloughing off the crust at a touch."

With this specific quote in mind, what is your writing background? A: My writing background is varied. I spent my mid-20s in graduate school for English literature, with a specialty in the Victorian era. That’s where the title of this piece and the reference to Christina Rossetti, a Victorian poet, comes from. After grad school, I moved first to editing and then to food writing, first at a magazine and (for the past 10 years) as a freelancer. In recent years I’ve been more interested in the essay form and have written a lot of personal memoir and creative nonfiction. This piece probably brings together the various pieces of my writing background more than any other I’ve published.

Q: Have you always had a penchant and fascination for creative nonfiction or did it develop from another area? A: I’ve always enjoyed reading the essay form and writing in it from time to time—my first published piece was about the experience of swimming in San Francisco Bay and appeared in a newspaper travel section—but I only started regularly working in it over the past five years. I was too busy working and chasing assignments as a freelance writer before that, and also my mother’s death gave me a lot to grapple with. It has proved to be a subject I’ve worked with a lot, and writing about various aspects of her and my relationship with her has been both fruitful for my work and helpful for me personally.

Q: When did you start writing? Do you write often about family? What other topics interest you? A: I can’t remember a time I didn’t like to write. I started writing about food and making up recipes when I was a kid: my first recipe was for a cookie I called “chocolate pocklets” (featuring chunks of chocolate in the middle of sugar cookie dough). I also wrote poetry and stories at a young age (no poetry since then, though!), and even loved writing my school assignments. I recently found one that was an autobiography and family history from fifth grade, so I guess I’ve been writing about family for a while. Family has been a lot of what I’ve been working on lately, but I’m also branching out with a new project, a hybrid long essay on nature and ecology that includes a lot of memoir. It’s specifically about a creek watershed here in northern California where we have a family cabin.

Q: It’s amazing in your piece that you can associate a pie to a certain person in the example of the lemon meringue with your grandmother, both of them, “a showy golden number” as you write. Were you to assign a pie to yourself, which would it be?A: I am not sure I can judge that for myself! Maybe apple cranberry: looks like regular apple at first, but has some colorful (and maybe a bit tart) surprises.

Q: What is the story behind the tradition of pies? You mention a great grandfather’s orchard of fruit trees, is this when it began or was it before that even?A: The orchard is actually on the other side of the family from the pie bakers! My dad’s dad originally had the orchard, which is an almond orchard with a plot of various fruit trees—fig, peach, apricot, orange, satsuma, Meyer lemon, plum, pluot, pear, even persimmon—for family use. The pie bakers have all been on my mom’s side: her grandmother, my grandmother, my mom. I’m not sure why pie became such a thing for our family. I guess everyone just responded positively to eating a lot of pie. In my mom’s generation it definitely helped and spurred on her baking to have so much fruit that needed to be used up. She used to have a gadget called a Seal-a-Meal that vacuum-sealed food for freezing, and she would preserve the summer fruit by making fruit pie fillings and stack them in our extra freezer. I think that was inspired partly by hating to simmer and can jam in the heat of summer, and I can’t blame her.

Q: What is the strangest pie you remember your mother making or that you’ve made?A: The one that gets the most puzzled response from people I mention it to is probably the sour cream and raisin pie, which I’ve found sounds disgusting and bizarre to modern eaters. It’s very old-fashioned, and I understand it was traditional in California. The inside of it is grayish and goopy and quite sweet because of the raisins, but cut with the sour cream and some spices, and then there’s a meringue top. I can’t remember the last time I had it but I wish I had a slice right now. I remember my mom taking it to some holiday potlucks and us getting to bring home quite a bit.

Q: You mention that it was two years before you could make a pie again, how long did it take for you to write your story? Was there a long period of writing just to make sense of things?A: Actually parts of this piece were written long before my mother died—probably 10 years ago or more, when I was trying to write something lighter, just about the pies in my family. Pulling those pieces together with the darker material about my mother’s death took a long time and many iterations. When I first drafted this version I had not yet returned to baking pies, so it ended differently, on a note that was more like “maybe someday I’ll make one again.” Two Thanksgivings ago I felt like I really had my pie mojo back, though, and the pies turned out well, and that’s when I felt like I could really finish the piece.

Q: How has teaching your daughters to make pie crusts of their own gone? Do you see similar emotions in them regarding the crusts’ construction that you felt? Any refuse of crust remnants find its way onto the kitchen floor?A: Well, it hasn’t gone great because it turns out they aren’t really that interested, though they both like eating pie cookies. For some reason neither one of them likes fruit, and I mostly like to bake fruit pies. Maybe I should make more chocolate cream pies to hook them in. I figure their interest will come someday; they’re only 9 and 5 years old. I’m going to try again with getting them to roll out crust next week. They like the rolling.

Q: When you’re not writing, what else are you doing?A: Hanging out with or shuttling around the aforementioned kids, working out (I have discovered a surprising-to-me love of weightlifting), puttering around in my garden (I wish I did that more), drinking coffee, reading books, wasting time on the internet, making dinner, grocery shopping, laundry, more laundry, errands, and whatever else seems to need doing.

Q: With Thanksgiving right around the corner what are your pie plans? A: Lemon meringue and pumpkin. Lemon meringue is my dad’s favorite, and he is turning 70 on Thanksgiving Day this year, so that is a definite. And I don’t feel like it’s Thanksgiving without pumpkin pie (whipped cream mandatory). Black Friday pumpkin pie breakfast is something I look forward to all year. I would love to have an apple cranberry pie too, but we only have six adults coming to Thanksgiving dinner and half a pie per person seems possibly excessive.

Meet The Author

Meet the Author: Lesley Howard

Lesley Howard is a full-time mom and part-time freelance writer. She's co-founded the New River Land Trust (a community land conservation) and New River Valley Voices (community of prose and poetry). Her story "After" in the current issue of Under the Gum Tree is her first piece of creative nonfiction and subsequently her first piece in a micro-magazine. It is concentrated around an emotional time in her life when she had recently announced her first pregnancy to her disbelieving grandmother and when she and her mother were dealing with admitting her grandmother to an Alzheimer's unit. The piece is highly evocative for one so brief and gives a wonderful glimpse into the inner-workings of our many relationships.

Hear Lesley read her piece in the video of Under the Gum Tree's three-year anniversary reading (Lesley is on at about the ten-minute mark).

Q: When and why did you start writing? A: I started writing in Kindergarten, on that paper with a pale blue dotted line indicating where the top of the "e" and the hump of the "h" should fall. I wrote stories to accompany my elaborate pictures of trees with rabbit families living in them (my understanding of the natural world notwithstanding, I believe this non-accurate rabbit habitat was an example of my early experimentation with creative nonfiction). These bunnies were always celebrating the current holiday. I drew teeny tiny hearts for Valentine's Day, for example, under the beds, or in the oven.

Q: What do you enjoy most about writing? A: I love all the physical aspects of it: pen on paper for my discovery writing (I'm partial to rollerball cartridges in a thick-barrelled pen and Claire Fontaine 90 gram paper; yes, I am Picky Picky Picky). I love the sound of the keyboard when I type in my longhand drafts. I love the fine-line red pen I use to mark up my drafts. I love the printer's whirr as it types out my edited drafts. I also love the writing process: I love discovery writing, when I don't know what's going to happen next. I love learning what I think while I write. I love plotting or developing an outline. I love looking creating a "word trap" (a technique I learned from Priscilla Long). I love rewriting my sentences, my paragraphs. I love finding synonyms in Roget's.

Q: How did you celebrate when you got your first acceptance?A: I hollered "woo hoo!" and ran upstairs to our family room and did what I call the "happy dance" and what my teenage sons call the "mortifying excessive celebration dance."

Q: What inspired you to write this particular piece? A: I was stuck with how to process my inheritance of journals—still am stuck, some days!—but I've found that writing about my experiences inside the parameters of a form loosens me up and reveals interesting facets of them, and myself. In this case, the form was based on the concept of repetition creating a powerful through-line for a short essay, and I modeled it on a short piece given to me in a workshop led by Priscilla Long. I've also found that creating "found poetry" from my mom's journals is effective, as is using strict poetic forms.

Q: What was the influence for the title?A: NOTE: There was kerfufflement around the title! The piece's title is AFTER, *not* "The Fall"! That said, the influence for the title was, perhaps too obviously, the repeated word, "after." It's a short piece; adding a "meaningful" title didn't feel right.

Q: The story certainly leaves readers with the itching question over what you found in your grandmother’s journals, were you satisfied in what you discovered? A: Well, only insofar as I've been able to decipher them thus far. The "itch" was scratched, for me, through subsequent conversation with my mom and other family members after my Gram ultimately died. Conversations that I, at least, wouldn't have known to even start, if not for the journals and my mom's reaction to them.

Q: Did what you read in journals account for any confusion you had as a child and grandchild growing up? A: Some of it explained why things felt "off" in my family. But learning about how my parents were mistreated as children—and integrating my guesses about how that played out in their parenting, and how that's carried down in my own parenting—has been a cyclical process for me. There are some moments where events of 30 years ago yield new insights.

Q: During the timeframe of this story you were pregnant with what seems to be your first child. Can you take anything from the shared experience of this story with your grandmother and your own mother and apply it to being a parent for your child? A: The experiences that triggered my writing of this piece have informed my choices around candid conversations with both my kids; things are what they are and pretending they ain’t—no good comes of that. I am, perhaps, too candid in front of them at times.

Q: What has been your experience with writing before? A: As noted in the answers to the first batch of questions, I started writing stories when I was about 5. I journal regularly, to clarify myself to myself, and I usually have a short story on a low boil. I was one of those kids who always had her nose in a book. That has remained true to this day—I love reading others' writing.

Q: What genres do you find yourself particularly drawn to?A: I have always been drawn to fiction. Short stories, particularly, are satisfying to me. That said, now that I'm in the middle of my life, I find nonfiction that reflects on the experiences of aging, transition, parenting, elder-care, etc., to be just as compelling.

Q: Who is your favorite author? A: One?! Only one?! OK: Virginia Woolf.

Q: Are you working on anything now? A: I have a short story that I've been playing with for about a year, plus a couple of prose poems. But I don't talk about specifics because then my energy for writing that particular piece diminishes.

Q: Do you have any advice for other writers? A: Craft can be learned! Talent is overrated, though helpful. Priscilla Long's book, The Writer's Portable Mentor, is the single best book on writing I've seen. My copy is dog-eared, flagged, underlined, and marginalia-ed to within an inch of its life. But bottom line: you gotta put your butt in the chair and keep it there long enough to do the work. TURN OFF YOUR INTERNET.

Gum Tree Live, News

Under the Gum Tree 3-year Anniversary Reading + 10 More Days of No-Fee Submissions

So, you missed the online anniversary reading which happened live from our humble studio last week. Well don't sweat it, reader! You can still watch every minute of it below. We had fun, as did our readers, and you can to, just click play or follow this link to view the video on YouTube.


We were pleased to hear from Mary Collins, Lesley HowardJ.J. Anselmi, Kate Washington, Brigitte Bowers, Jonny Blevins and Wendy Williams. Who woulda' known Mary has such a beautiful accent? Or that Brigitte could evoke so much laughter? These details are the tiny nuances we get to witness and share when experiencing events such as live readings. They bring us together, and especially in a technologically-driven age, keep us human and connected.

No-Fee Submissions

Apart from the anniversary reading, we're still honoring our promise to waive the submission fee for the entire month of October. But you better hurry and submit before that window ends on the 31st and before the winter deadline of November 1 approaches!

Mini Q&A With Featured Artists

One last thing we want you to keep your eyes open for are our Meet the Artist interviews we started sharing this week. If you follow us on any of our social media platforms, facebook, twitter, tumblr, instagram, then you will catch visual snippets of the artwork inside this issue and a quick one-question Q&A from the respective artist. So far Anna Ladd and Allen Forest have given us some compelling responses. To see one of ours and Allen's sample interviews click here. As for Meet the Author interviews, we'll have a new one to share within the coming week!



Meet The Author

Meet the Author: Lucy Black

Lucy E.M. Black is a Canada-based writer and an educator. The stories of the young people whom she has worked with have shaped her professional life as well at that of her storytelling. Lucy studied creative writing at the undergraduate level and later earned her master's degree in nineteenth-century British Fiction. She has also been a student at the Sage Hill School of Writing and the Humber College School of Writing. Lucy received the “Writer of Distinction” award from Humber College for her manuscript on the plight of Irish immigrants in 1870s Ontario. Her story Mrs. Harris appears in our summer issue.

Q: When and why did you start writing?A: I started writing in grade one.  I wrote my first novel in a Hilroy scribbler–it was called The Great Mumbo and was a detective story. It was very thrilling and my teacher asked me to read it to the class. They loved it and it completely hooked me on having an audience.

Q: What do you enjoy most about writing?A: The thing I love most about writing is the ability to engage other people in story while at the same time provoking them gently, I hope, with something meaningful.

Q: Where do you find your biggest inspiration when you write?A: All of my writing stems from my life experiences and the people I have encountered.

Q: Do you have a writing schedule?A: My writing schedule fluctuates according to the background of living.  I try to be disciplined about a writing regime but find that life often intrudes and my active writing time disappears.  This isn’t necessarily a bad thing though, good stories need time to percolate, I think.

Q: What is the hardest part of writing for you?A: The hardest part of writing for me is the editing. I tend to over-write and produce a great deal of material. The boiling down and cutting takes a great deal of hard work and perspective.

Q: How long does it usually take you to finish a story?A: I can usually write the first draft of a story in a couple of weeks. Sometimes it takes me years to edit and polish it. Occasionally, a story will come out very nearly right, but that is the exception. Mostly, I fine-tune and chop and change them for months.

Q: Are you working on anything now?A:I’m always working on two or three things at a time. Typically I have a new story on the go at the same time that I am re-working and re-writing and editing a couple of others. 

Q: How many rejections did you get before you had something published?  How did you deal with them?A:I received hundreds of rejections before my first story was published. I saved them in a file folder for years thinking what fun it would be to do something creative with them when I finally had something accepted. By the time I had something accepted, the file was so fat and I was so tired of moving it  around, that I cheerfully threw the whole thing out.

Q: How did you celebrate when you got your first acceptance?A:My husband and I danced around the house and grinned like idiots when I received my first acceptance. It was a stellar night.

Q: Do you prefer typing or pencil to paper when you write?A: I always carry a pad and pen with me and will often scribble down story ideas or names of streets. I’m a shameless eavesdropper and will also copy down bits of dialogue when in restaurants or cafes. I do the majority of my writing on a laptop but all of my editing is done with a pen on a hard copy. 

Q: What do you do when you’re not writing?A:  I am an educator and have a responsible position that I love. It allows me to work with young people and all manner of interesting individuals. I think, though, that I’m almost always writing–in that I try to be a keen observer of life, and people and things–and try to take everything in so I can use it in my work, however imperfectly. 

Q: Who is your favorite author?A: I have several favorite authors. I love William Trevor and Alice Munroe for their short stories. I love Dickens for his wicked characterizations. I love Austen and Charlotte Bronte for their romantic figures and keen observations. And I love Margaret Laurence for the world she created for us and the honesty of her characters. But I also love Donna Morrissey for the haunting and evocative stories she tells and the beauty and clarity of life that she shares.  

Q: What are some of your favorite books?A:Some of my favorite books include Jane Eyre, Great Expectations, The Stone Angel, Sylvanus Now, Three Day Road.

Q: Do you have any advice for other writers?A: The best piece of advice I ever received about writing came from Donna Morrissey. She told me to “get to the heart of the story”. I thought that was brilliant and try hard to do that when I’m editing. It’s actually harder to do then it sounds!

Meet The Author

Meet the Author: Rachel Lowrance

Featured in our current issue is Rachel Lowrance and her story, "Capturing the Beauty." Rachel is both a musician and writer from Detroit, Michigan. She is a firm believer of using both crafts to create art which speaks truth. She keeps two different blogs, one about music here and her blog about life here. We highly recommend looking at both of those, but! not until after reading our interview with her!

Q: When and why did you start writing?A:I actually used to hate writing until I was in junior high and had my first creative writing teacher. At that time I also made a new friend who loved writing. Both of them saw something in my little scribbles and encouraged me to pursue writing further. The world of writing opened up to me as not a list of rules that I had to follow, but as a way of expression and to create beauty. I've always been drawn to creating beautiful things, and so I began writing as another way of creating beauty.

Q: What do you enjoy most about writing?A:I love piecing together a poem; when the right word jumps out at me and just fits.I also love stringing unusual words together, pulling out meanings and ideas that impact the reader and make him or her think about the world differently.

Q: Where do you find your biggest inspiration when you write?A:I've had three inspiring creative writing teachers in my life as well as three close friends who are writers, and I think of each of their voices and tidbits of advice when I'm feeling uninspired. All of them have given me pep talks and feedback on my work, helping me to write better and truer.

Q: Do you have a writing schedule?A: Sadly I do not, because writing has always been my hobby on the side. ButI love to write in the mornings, if other obligations don't take up my time.Sometimes over the summer I will get up at 6 a.m. and write and Skype with a fellow writer friend.

Q: What is the hardest part of writing for you?A: Oftentimes the hardest part is simply starting to write, whether I'm in the middle of a scene in my novel or beginning a poem that's itching to come out. I love formulating ideas, but it's much harder for me to wrangle them into elegant (or even coherent) sentences.

Q: How long does it usually take you to finish a story?A:Well, seeing as I have only finished two first drafts of novels in my writing career so far, it takes me a very long time! But if I am writing something like a short story or creative nonfiction piece, that typically takes me a couple of days (to let the first draft marinate and then revise and tweak).

Q: Are you working on anything now?A: Yes, I am working on a novel called Alphyri (which has been my summer project for more years than I care to admit). It is a Medieval-esque adventure/romance involving hidden identities, broken promises, and the fate of a kingdom mixed up in the intertwined fates of the crown prince Alphonzo and a peasant girl Phyri.Think of a traditional fairy-tale with a number of twists.

Q: How many rejections did you get before you had something published? How did you deal with them?A: I haven't yet written a final draft of a novel that is worthy of publishing (though I'm hoping Alphyri will be my first), but I've sent out about fifteen creative nonfiction pieces and poetry selections before I got something published. The rejections did stifle my creativity for a little while after each one. It's hard to feel inspired when you feel like there's never going to be an audience for all your hard work.

Q: How did you celebrate when you got your first acceptance?A:Pretty sure I jumped up and down in excitement and then called up one of my writing friends to share the good news.

Q: Do you prefer typing or pencil to paper when you write?A: I used to love pencil to paper, but my ideas often come in such a random order that I need the convenience of cut and paste when I write.

Q: What do you do when you’re not writing?A: Teach piano lessons (my main job), or other musical activities (playing for weddings, learning new repertoire, or just improvising with my brothers). I also release my creative urge through photography, watercolors, and composing.

Q: Who is your favorite author?A: I can never answer this question with just one author! C. S. Lewis and G. K. Chesterton make me think hard about life and beauty. Annie Dillardand Emily P. Freeman's words are gorgeous and perfect. And Gerard Manley Hopkins is one of my favorite poets.

Q: What are some of your favorite books?A:The Lord of the Rings (Tolkein), Inkheart (Cornelia Funke), The Giver Quartet (Lois Lowry),Fahrenheit 451 (Ray Bradbury), The Goose Girl (Shannon Hale), and The Last Sin-Eater (Francine Rivers).

Q: Do you have any advice for other writers?A: Don't be afraid to call yourself a writer, even if writing is just the thing you do on the side for fun. Fear in any form will only stifle your creativity, not channel it. So forget about your fears and just write!

Meet The Author

Meet the Author: Rob Freedman

Robert Freedman is another of Under the Gum Tree's most recent contributors from our summer issue that we'd love for you to meet --because we loved meeting him too. Robert is both a writer and teacher, writing for over forty years and teaching for thirty. His novel, Fancypants: an autobiographical novelwas published in 2008 and other works of his have appeared in Tikkun, Drash, Philadelphia Stories, Still Crazy, and many others.

Here is Robert on his writing habits, career, and idiosyncrasies:

Q: When and why did you start writing?A: I started writing when I was a teenager. My first attempts were short stories like the kind I saw in the copies of Playboy I hid under my bed. I even submitted one of my adolescent stories to Playboy. I now have absolutely no idea what it was about, though I’m sure I tried to include numerous sex scenes, which I knew even less about than writing.

Q: Where do you find your biggest inspiration when you write?A: My only guiding inspirations when I write are: 1. To tell a good story and 2. To be as honest as I can possibly be.

Q: Do you have a writing schedule?A: I try to, but I’m not always successful in keeping to it. At my age, though, I’m not really worried about schedules anymore. I don’t feel like I have to keep my feet to the fire like I did when I was younger.

Q: What is the hardest part of writing for you?A: Facing the blank piece of paper. I have evolved lots of techniques that I use with my students to get them past this hurdle, but I’m not as good at getting myself over it. Having a deadline, whether real or artificial, can be a big help in getting past the blank page.

Q: What do you enjoy most about writing?A:Like Dorothy Parker famously said, “I hate writing. I love having written.” I mostly agree with that. Writing is really difficult and painful, but the rewards are great. There is a part that I do like, in fact, almost live for. And that is the moment in writing when I feel lost, swept up into my own story, on automatic pilot, enjoying the ride. It doesn’t happen all that often, but enough to keep me addicted to the process.

Q: How long does it usually take you to finish a story?A: It’s different for every story. Some get written in a day, some take years. “Rescue” the story in this issue of Under The Gum Tree, I worked on (off and on) for over three years. I’m still not sure it’s done. In fact, I’m sure it’s not.

Q: Are you working on anything now?A: Yes. I’m working on a long autobiographical piece about Judaism and my sometimes-tortured relationship to my people, religion, and culture.

Q: Do you have any advice for other writers? A:  Try to answer the question, Why do I want to write? If you’re not sure of the answer or if the answer is because you want fame and fortune, I’d consider another line of work.

Q: Is there anything else you would like to share with the readers?A: At the risk of sounding pedantic (though I think I’m entitled, having taught for over 30 years), I think all of us writers need to really study and understand the basics of the language – i.e. spelling, grammar, usage, sentence structure. I don’t mind reading sentence fragments, if I know that the author understands she is using them for effect, artistically if you will. If I suspect, however, it’s because she doesn’t understand that a complete sentence must include a subject and a verb, I’m turned off. So there. (a fragment)

Meet The Author

Meet the Author: Chelsea Schott

Chelsea Schott Under the Gum Tree is pleased to bring you -- a Q&A with Chelsea Schott. Chelsea teaches literature and writing, and is a recent graduate of Rice University where she is also president of the MLS Writers. Chelsea has had her work published in Germ MagazineThe Winter Tangerine Reviewand most recently, Chelsea's story, "The Frederick Boy" was reviewed by New Pages in junction with our magazine's summer issue. Read her and our review Here

Q: When and why did you start writing? A:  Believe it or not, I started writing stories when I was 6 or 7. Writing has always been very natural to me. I seemed to be hearing a "voice" which compelled me to write, to share stories. I still hear that voice—I suppose it’s a muse. Whatever it is, it is more essentially me than myself.

Q: What do you enjoy most about writing? A:  I really love when I feel like I’ve captured an emotion completely, when I feel like I’ve delivered a punch to my readers. One of my deepest fears is a reader would finish reading my work indifferent. I want readers to feel something intense when they read my work; I hope to inspire love, longing, fear, dread, regret—anything.

Q: Who or what is your biggest inspiration when you write? A: Well, the who would be the people who are the subjects of my writing and the what is typically dialogue and setting. In the former, I am fascinated by the impact words have on our conscience, our emotions and our perceptions of people and events. I have found in the latter, a setting of a good story is a character in itself. It remains in the background yet speaks through climate and physical attributes like geography. Sometimes, the presence of geography is more powerful than the protagonist—in a way, it’s God-like.

Q: Do you have a writing schedule? A: When I am deep into a piece (most recently I wrote a novel), it’s a full-time job. I don’t worry about word count or pages typically, but I do require a schedule: 4-6 hours alone, in silence, coffee and snacks nearby and absolutely no interruptions. This goes on for six days a week and I force myself to rest on the seventh.

Q: What is the hardest part of writing for you? A: Usually, it’s the first hour (or two on a bad day) of writing.  My sentences feel sophomoric, unpolished, amateur. I can’t tell you exactly why this happens, but I am fully aware I have to press on through this, then something remarkable occurs—my sentences flow, my voice is mature, intelligent—I transform from banal, technical-speak into fluid poetry. And, at this point I am a slave to the story.

Q: How long does it usually take you to finish a story? A: The novel took a little over two months of full-time writing. Short stories take about 2-3 days only because –for reasons I can’t articulate—I must step away from the work for a day or two after its completion and then revisit it.  I become objective when I do this and am better able to edit my own work.

Q: Are you working on anything now? A: Besides wooing agents, I’m working on a collection of short stories. I plan to put these into a novel-form. After that, I’m going to tackle another longer novel I’ve been working up the courage to write. And, writing is a courageous act.

Q: How many rejections did you get before you had something published?  How did you deal with them? A: What felt like countless rejections was closer to 15. (According to Submittable.)  More painful was the amount of time I spent in obscurity—I went about 10 months unpublished. It was grueling, but I have a close network of writer friends who kept reassuring me that I needed to accept the rejections as part of Greater Author Territory. Rejection, unfortunately, is the norm even for amazing writers, it’s acceptance that is exceptional.

Q: How did you celebrate when you got your first acceptance? A:  I immediately contacted my writing mentors from Rice University. They had all been my greatest supporters; believing in me when I did not. They had been helping me mature into a creative writer for three years, I owe them everything.

Q: Do you prefer typing or pencil to paper when you write? A: Typing. I like to see what it will look like when it is actually read.

Q: What do you do when you’re not writing? A: I’m a teacher and a mother. So, young people take up most of my time. And, much of that is spent encouraging them to write well and read better books. When not with them, my time is spent as President of the MLS Writers at Rice University. It’s a group of graduate students who creatively write. We workshop each other’s pieces and host guest speakers—typically published authors and distinguished faculty.

Q: Who is your favorite author? A: Hemingway.

Q: What are some of your favorite books? A: I tend to favor American men. So, in that respect almost anything from the following: Tobias Wolff, Sherman Alexie, Henry David Thoreau, Langston Hughes, Twain, Arthur Miller, Poe, Fitzgerald, Richard Wright, Tennessee Williams, James Baldwin. The exceptions are Shakespeare, Dickens, Joyce Carol Oates and Joan Didion.

Q: Do you have any advice for other writer? A: I’d share the same advice I was given: If you’re truly a writer, then write—no excuses—put away the bullshit. And, never give up—keep submitting, keep workshopping, keep revising, keep editing, fill your house with books and read them!

Q: Is there anything else you would like readers to know? A: Yes. You can find more of my work coming out this September. My Other Ex is an anthology written by a collection of women authors detailing true stories of when friendships fail. It’s from the HerStories publishers, Stephanie Sprenger and Jessica Smock. If you love UTGT like I do, you’ll like this book as well.

Meet The Author

Meet the Author: Patrick Kindig

Patrick Kindig -- whose story "How to Pack a Suit Case" was just excerpted in our last blog post -- has kindly agreed to answer our questions for those of us imploring minds. Kindig, a graduate student at Indiana University, has already had publications for his poetry in Poiseis Review, Isthmus, and Jabberwock Review, but Under the Gum Tree is proud to publish his first piece of creative nonfiction. Here is our Q&A with Patrick Kindig.

Q: When and why did you start writing?

A:As a kid who loved to read, I was always writing the first chapters of fantasy novels and laying them down before anything actually began to happen in them. I didn't begin to write "seriously" (i.e. poetry and "literary" prose) until my second year of college, and I guess I began doing that for the same reasons I wrote as a kid: I wanted to feel like I was more actively engaged with the writing I loved--now Virginia Woolf and Charles Bukowski rather than J.K. Rowling and Christopher Paolini--than just reading would let me be.

Q: What do you enjoy most about writing?

A:Writing, for me, is often a struggle; inspiration doesn't come easily, and I have a difficult time finishing anything much longer than a page. It's incredibly rewarding, however, when I'm reading over a finished piece and realize that I've managed to surprise myself. This doesn't happen often, but sometimes I'll read the ending of a poem or prose piece and find myself thinking, "Where did that come from?" This is such a great feeling.

Q: Where do you find your biggest inspiration when you write?

A:My inspiration varies, and I'll often go through phases. Sometimes I'll become obsessed with writing creative responses to news stories. Other times I'll write for weeks about my childhood or I'll become really interested in language experiments and write nonsense for a while. A lot of this depends on what I've read most recently.

Q: Do you have a writing schedule?

A: My schedule also varies. I'm a graduate student, so I'm pretty busy during the school year, and when I'm taking classes, I usually only write when I'm struck with inspiration. During winter break or over the summer, however, I try to write or revise something--no matter how bad--every day or every other day. Recently, I've been going to a favorite coffee shop after work and just sitting there until something appears on my laptop screen.

Q: What is the hardest part of writing for you?

A:The hardest parts for me are beginning and ending a piece. I usually rewrite the first sentence of anything I'm working on a dozen times before I can move on to the rest of it, and once I've finished something, I'll rewrite its ending over and over for days or weeks. I always think that my openings aren't hook-y enough and my endings are too trite, so I have a really difficult time bookending my work.

Q: How long does it usually take you to finish a story?

A:I'm primarily a poet, and it usually takes me just a couple of hours (with frequent breaks) to finish the first draft of a poem, which I then revise over the course of the next couple of days. When it comes to prose, I tend to write shorter pieces--mostly flash fiction and nonfiction--and I'll usually be able to finish a story or essay in one or two days (plus a revision time).

Q: Are you working on anything now?

A:I'm not seriously working on any big projects right now, but I am slowly and tentatively beginning on a poem sequence called "Revelations" about the art of keeping and revealing personal secrets.

Q: How many rejections did you get before you had something published?  How did you deal with them?

A:I actually began by submitting to very small lit mags--often published specifically by and for undergraduate students--so my first publication came pretty quickly. My first real person publication, however--in a journal produced by adults for adults--took a bit longer, and I did get quite a few rejections before it happened. I dealt with them primarily by feeling awful about myself and intensely questioning my ability as a writer for a day or two, then getting distracted by school work or some other responsibility and starting on a new piece of writing.

Q: How did you celebrate when you got your first acceptance?

A:I don't think I did anything terribly special. I hyperventilated a little bit, posted an exuberant Facebook status, and then went out for a drink with my roommate.

Q: Do you prefer typing or pencil to paper when you write?

A:I much prefer typing; I edit so much as I go that using pen or pencil would be impractical.

Q: What do you do when you’re not writing?

A: As an English grad student, I'm pretty much always either reading or writing. When I do have some free time, however, I like to bike, drink coffee and Michigan beers, watch bad horror movies on Netflix, and play with my boyfriend's roommate's cat.

Q: Who is your favorite author?

A:My favorite writer is definitely Anne Carson. If we're talking strictly about fiction-writers, though, I may have to go with Ernest Hemingway.

Q: What are some of your favorite books?

A:Autobiography of Red, by Anne Carson, is one of my all-time favorites. I'm also a fan of Hemingway's short story collection Men Without Women and Zachary Mason's The Lost Books of the Odyssey.

Q: Do you have any advice for other writers?

A: I don't really think I'm qualified to give anyone advice about writing, as I don't know what I'm doing myself. Something that's helped me grow as a writer, however, is simply reading as much as possible. Reading good writing changes your relationship with the world, with language, with basically everything (for the better).


A Brand New Issue of Under the Gum Tree for Your Summer Enjoyment

Summer has officially begun and to celebrate the new season Under The Gum Tree is bringing you an entirely new issue. Filled with featured stories, stories from our departments of Fork and Spoon, Sound Track, Stomping Ground and 1000 Words, there is a medley of reading to enjoy for everyone. Under The Gum Tree seeks to reach every individual on his or her own personal level -- whether you enjoy adventuring, discovering something new or finding others out there with stories like your own, Under The Gum Tree has something to captivate you. And of course our issues wouldn't be complete without the lovely aesthetics you see on the cover. Binding the whole thing together we have stunning artwork and a photo essay dispersed throughout the issue's pages. If all that isn't convincing enough for you to commit, here is a sneak peak from "How to Pack a Suitcase" by Patrick Kindig:

Put it off

"Put it off as long as you can. Wait until you have finished your last dinner and your roommate has left for a last walk, then look through the bedroom doorway at your suitcase and tell yourself that you have to start. Do not go into the bedroom. Go into the living room instead.
Look at the ugly green couch where your roommate likes to nap, the coffee table that can be cranked up and down, the cabinet full of crystal wine glasses. Look at the yellow wallpaper and the window ledge on which you sometimes sit and read. Remember that your landlady, who lives upstairs and is as old and tough as forgotten Halloween candy, helped rebuild this house after the war. Go to the closet in the hallway filled with German translations of Shakespeare and detective novels and consider taking one of her books as a souvenir. Do not take one. Look through the bedroom doorway. Return to the living room...
Dig through the contents of your suitcase, which is already half full of souvenirs and books. Notice that there is not much left for you to do. A handful of shirts, a few pairs of shorts, a toothbrush, a sweater—this is all that holds you in this apartment. Stuff these things into your suitcase and realize that now nothing holds you here—nothing but your roommate and a few unopened beers in the fridge. Consider how neatly your life fits into a bag. Leave the suitcase open. Pretend this means something."

To read Kindig's full story and those from Lucy Black, Robert Freedman, Rachel LowranceJustine IckesJanna Marlies Maron, and Chelsea Schott, purchase your summer issue here.  

We hope you take as much pleasure in the stories and artwork as we do.


Farewells & Welcomes: Staff Changes at UTGT

Here at Under the Gum Tree, we're very lucky to be supported by a small staff of amazing editors, designers and interns--all who volunteer their time to make the magazine what it is. So I wanted to take a moment and acknowledge their hard work, and let you know about a few recent changes.

Editors & Designers

If you check out our masthead, you'll see that we have two assistant editors, Kathryn DeJarnette and Becca Litman, who joined us about six months ago and have been a HUGE help with our submissions queue. Bringing them on board also meant that Robin Martin, my good friend and colleague, took on the role of senior editor. 

This year also brought a bittersweet transition when I said goodbye to the lovely and talented Natana Prudhomme, who launched the magazine with me back in August 2011 and who designed our logo and page layout. I can't tell you how lucky I was to find Natana (and would you believe it was all thanks to a Craigslist ad?)--seriously, Under the Gum Tree would not be the gorgeous magazine that it is without Natana. When we started working together, all I had was the title and an idea and Natana executed that idea more beautifully than I could have imagined. As sad as I was to see Natana go, I was so honored to have worked with her for two years and am excited to see her pursuing her goals as an artist.

Taking Natana's place as designer is Aimee Steffen Taber. Aimee is an artist and freelance designer who holds a BFA in painting from Northern Illinois University. She has been with Under the Gum Tree for about six months now, and has been the lead designer on the January and April 2014 issues. Aimee is also expanding the role of designer with us by curating the art for each issue and taking over the management of art and photography submissions. (Aimee is also the talent behind our popular buttons that you've heard so much about since AWP!)

Editorial Interns

Elizabeth & KatieIn addition to the volunteer staff, I have had the privilege of mentoring a very talented young lady who has been an intern with Under the Gum Tree for the past two years, Elizabeth Kroll. You may recognize Elizabeth's name from our e-newsletter, which she has been managing as part of her role as editorial intern. With Elizabeth on board, we have done many things that we wouldn't have been able to do otherwise. Things like regular blog posts, Facebook and Twitter updates, Meet the Author interviews, and more.

Elizabeth's internship has been with us during her junior and senior years of high school. That means she's about to graduate and leave us for college life. In the fall she'll be headed off to Sarah Lawrence College in New York, where she plans to study fiction writing and psychology to explore the connection between storytelling and the subconscious.

Elizabeth says she has loved every second of her time with us. "I've had the great opportunity of seeing behind the scenes of publishing," she says, "meeting fantastic role models, and being mentored by the one and only Janna Marlies Maron." (Aw, shucks.)

Coming on board to replace Elizabeth is Katie Walker, an English major at CSU Sacramento. Here's a little intro note from Katie:

Hello and thank you! for reading this blurb. My name is Katie Walker and I’m abuzz with excitement at the opportunity of interning with Under the Gum Tree. Last fall the door to UTGT was opened to me by none other than Elizabeth Kroll. It was during a poetry writing course at Sac State that I had the pleasure of sitting one seat ahead of Elizabeth and consequently hearing of UTGT from her.

I myself am passionate about the writing and retelling of stories as a means of self-preservation and expression, and I aim to make a career out of fostering storytelling like all those hard at work for UTGT. I look forward to the coming months of helping connect you with news and updates for our amazing publication!

Well--you can tell we've had a lot of changes around here recently. But you know what comes with change: growth. We have seen some of our staff leave us and move on to bigger and better things as part of their individual growth; we have seen new people join our staff as part of our growth as a publication and as a community. As a reader, you are part of that community and a part of that growth. In a few short months we'll be celebrating Under the Gum Tree's three-year anniversary and I hope you're as excited as we are to see what changes come as a result of our continued growth in the years to come.


UTGT Now Accepting Sponsors & Other Ways to Support the Mag

tugboat_logo_full_darkRunning a literary magazine is often a labor of love. No one I know ever does it to get rich, and no one I know gets rich doing it. Even writers and artists submit to literary magazines as a labor of love, because they want to gain some exposure for their work no matter what--no matter that most of the time they don't get paid for that work. It's always been one of my goals to some day pay Under the Gum Tree contributors and staff. We are coming up on our third anniversary this year (in October) and, while that is still a goal, we are sadly still a ways away from reaching that goal. So how does UTGT make it?

Currently our revenue from subscribers and submissions (yes, we do charge the nominal and controversial submission fee) covers our costs of producing the magazine (not including staff time) and we break even. At least we're not losing money, right? But until our subscriptions and submissions increase enough to put us in the black I have been trying to get creative with other ways to generate revenue.

Enter Tugboat Yards.

Tugboat Yards helps digital publishers find their true fans, establish new revenue streams, and foster meaningful relationships with their supporters. Read more about the Tugboat Yards mission on their about page.

With Tugboat Yards, not only can Under the Gum Tree continue to sell subscriptions and back issues, but also we can offer sponsorships and other options--and smaller price points--for people who want to support us. This means that maybe a subscription is a bit too much for your wallet right now, but you really like what Under the Gum Tree is all about--no worries, you can support us with a $5 tip and we'll send you a sticker or a button. How cool is that?

Likewise, if you're a fellow publisher or are part of a literary organization whose mission and vision is complementary to the UTGT mission, then we can partner on an issue with one of our sponsorship offers. You can sponsor the issue as a publisher, which means you get to write a two-page publisher's letter, you get your logo on the back cover of the magazine, you get your name listed as publisher on the masthead, and you get a one-year digital+print subscription.

You can also sponsor an issue as an editor-at-large, which is ideal of other publishers, small presses or agencies who work with writers of nonfiction that they'd like to see featured in a magazine like UTGT. You get to partner with us on one issue to help decide on some of the content, you get your name listed on the masthead as editor-at-large and you get a 1-year digital+print subscription.

Under the Gum Tree is still a fledgling magazine, working hard to find its way in the world and Tugboat Yards is helping us to do that. We're experimenting with the Tugboat offers and I welcome both support and feedback. If there's something you'd like to see us offer, please don't hesitate to drop me an email.

Check out Under the Gum Tree's Tugboat page and please share with your social networks, family and friends. And, as always, thank you for your support--it is what makes it possible for Under the Gum Tree to continue to publish visual art and nonfiction stories told without shame.

Meet The Author

Meet The Author: Katy Sargent

Screen Shot 2014-04-08 at 11.29.09 AMAnother issue, means another Meet The Author Interview, this time with Katy Sargent. She is a recent graduate from the Stonecoast MFA  program. She is a freelance, non-fiction writer who dabbles in screenwriting. She lives in South Portland, Maine with her husband, two daughters and three chickens. We had the honor of publishing her piece "Long Play" and would love to share an excerpt with you. "In this way, my father’s albums became as familiar to my brother and me as our own family photos. Crosby, Stills and Nash were our distant uncles who loved us but who never called or wrote. Joni Mitchell was my father’s brooding sister who was always off, traveling the world. Hall and Oates were his goofy frat brothers from college."

Q: When and why did you start writing? A: I started writing seriously in high school after my physics teacher told me that mine were the best lab reports he'd ever read.  He said they were funny, entertaining and well-written. He encouraged me to pursue English in college. I wanted to be good at science but I wasn't (which is probably why I beefed up my assignments with jokes and longer-than-necessary descriptions). I respected this teacher so much. I thought, if he thinks that writing is a good direction for me, it probably is.  Once I started writing more creative work, I just felt at home.

Q: What do you enjoy most about writing? A: Reading.  I can't be a good writer without first being a good reader.  I would love to read all day.

Q: Who/ what is your biggest inspiration when you write? A: I'm inspired  by music.  When I'm in a rut, I take out some good albums that I haven't heard in a long time and I play them loud.  I love Nick Cave.  His music doesn't inspire or influence me in any direct way - he's moody and dark, which isn't me at all - but his songs make my brain feel alive.  I listen to music - anything complex and emotional - and I feel like I need to create something amazing.

Q: Do you have a writing schedule? A: I don't.  Whenever I sit down and force myself to write, I often find that I don't like what I've done.  I go through periods where I don't write much at all and others where I write all the time.  Usually, I'm struck with an idea and then I'm up all night writing and I'm working all of the time until the idea is out of me.  Some times when I go through a down period I think, well, that's it.  I'm done.  I've had my last good idea.  But then, eventually, something comes to me and I'm very busy for the next few days or weeks.

Q: What is the hardest part of writing for you? A: The biggest struggle for me is confidence.  It's hard to read a great author like Joan Didion and not feel like a joke in comparison.  Like I'm wasting my time.  It sounds cheesy, but I try to remember that, as a non-fiction writer, I'm writing myself, so I can only ever be myself.

Q: How long does it usually take you to finish a story? A: It varies.  Sometimes, when I have a great idea, I'll have the whole thing in my head before I sit down to type.  Once it's on paper an hour or two later, it changes very little.  Other projects might take a few months or even years.  Sometimes I have to write a story, walk away for a while, forget about it and then come back.  I see it differently then and am able to determine where the strengths lie or where the real story is. For instance, I wrote a piece about three years ago, forgot about it and it just popped into my head the other day.  I realized what the essay was trying to say and I restructured it in my head.

Q: Are you working on anything now? A: See above.  I hope to finally finish this essay and send it out for publication.

Q: How many rejections did you get before you had something published?  How did you deal with them? A: Two.  So, I was lucky.  I was prepared for rejection.  I was really expecting it.  So I just moved on and looked for other opportunities.

Q: How did you celebrate when you got your first acceptance? A: I didn't.  I wasn't going to believe it until I was holding it in my hands.

Q: Do you prefer typing or pencil to paper when you write? A: Always typing.  I type my grocery and to-do lists.  When I'm writing in pen, I forget how to spell.  My hands don't move fast enough.

Q: What do you do when you’re not writing? A: When I'm not writing, I'm either cleaning my house or taking care of my two beautiful daughters, Matilda and Ena.  We have a lot of dance parties.  I also volunteer with young students, helping them to find and shape their own stories.

Q: Who is your favorite author? A: I love David Sedaris - he's one of the only writers who can make me laugh out loud.  I also love Michael Chabon, Joan Didion, and Jo Ann Beard.

Q: What are some of your favorite books? A: This is always a hard question.  There are so many great books!  A few that I like:  Norther Borders by Howard Frank Mosher, Joan Didion's The Year of Magical Thinking, Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris and Breakfast at Tiffany's.

Q: Do you have any advice for other writers? A: Listen openly to criticism but don't hear it as fact.  If one person disapproves of a character, passage or plot point that you love, stick with it.  My general rule is, if one person points out a flaw, I can ignore the critique if I disagree.  If three or more people say the same thing, I probably have to make some changes.

Q: Is there anything else you would like to share with the readers? A: Thanks for reading!



Writing Tips from Our Lovely Contributors

We've been doing Meet The Author interviews going on two years now, and we figured it was time to compile some of their best advice. "I can’t remember who said it, but this has stuck with me: 'Write the story that only you an write.'" - Laurie Easter

"I tell my students to find their own voice and don’t over edit. I am a firm believer in the Amherst Writers Artist practice in which you write freely on the first draft and only receive supportive praise until you are ready for a second draft. Also, to read what you love." - Deborah Meltvedt

"Don’t romanticize writing. Just do it. Write about what you feel passionate about." - Sheryl St. Germain

"Find a more respectable pastime, immediately! Failing that, surround yourself with other writers. Find a community of writers that you can immerse in. Listen to and give feedback. Don’t stay with whatever your first reaction is to any feedback – even if it’s good. Writing itself is a very solitary act, but I think it’s essential to have people to prop you up when things are rough and celebrate with you when they’re good. I also think that a little edge of healthy competition can keep you on your game. I want my writer friends to succeed, but I also don’t want to be left behind, so I work hard to keep up." - Penny Guisinger 

"Go with your gut. It’s never wrong" - Michael Soloway 

"I think anyone who wants to write has to pay attention to the world around us, the one that functions in real time and space." - Timothy Kenny

"Find great readers, people who will read your drafts with compassion, honesty, and insight. I have two readers who see my earliest drafts. They are my cheerleaders, and they tell me what is and isn’t working. I have other readers who get later drafts, and they help me to see the themes and threads in my work, so I can more fully shape and sculpt the pieces. I have readers who think and feel like I do, but I have other readers who come from very different cognitive, emotional, and spiritual places. This helps me create work that will appeal to as many readers as possible." - Betsy Johnson

"Pay attention, not only to the details and particularities of your world, but also to what truly interests you. Sometimes we force ourselves to write about a topic – or in a particular genre – because we want to be that “type” of writer, when, in fact, we are not exactly passionate about our subject or material. I believe that, especially in the first portion of one’s career, a writer must spend quiet time grounding and copious hours reading in order to ascertain what stirs his or her heart on a level required to facilitate the sustained curiosity, interest, and effort that the craft deserves and demands. Writing is hard enough as it is; writing about something we’re not really invested in is even more torturous!" - Chris Malcomb

"Don’t ask questions about writing. Ask questions about real problems. Then try to answer them and you’ve got an essay. I love that most about essay-writing and essay-reading: the trying." - Mandy Len

"Perhaps the one piece of advice I was never given is second nature to other writers but it wasn’t for me, and it’s probably the most important change you can make:  Stop thinking of yourself as a student, an amateur, a hobbyist, etc.  Stop waiting for someone to tell you that you are good, looking for writer’s groups and workshops, and planning for that big thing you’re going to do some day.  Stop worrying about whether you are good or bad, talented or a hack.  You are a writer.  Trust yourself and go make that good thing." - James Stafford

For other writers out there, what's the best advice you have?


Sometimes Stories Take Time + #AWP14 Recap

This is the time of year when my editor’s letter for Under the Gum Tree's newest issue reflects on our collective experience at the annual conference put on by the Association of Writers and Writing Programs (AWP). Is it cliché because every one else who attended does the same thing? (And this year there were 13,000 of us in Seattle.) Maybe. But it’s also the perfect milestone for a little indie lit mag like Under the Gum Tree to measure its progress. Last year’s AWP conference in Boston was our first time as a vendor at the book fair. We had six issues behind us and our table was at the end of the last row in the corner of the exhibition hall. Probably not the best spot for organic foot traffic. Also? I definitely tried to do too much: sell subscriptions, sell back issues, get people to sign up for our email list, connect with writers interested in submitting.


This year I changed my strategy. I had two main goals: get people to sign up for our email list by giving away buttons and host a reading with previous contributors from all over the world. Check and check. If you were there and you missed our buttons, they were a huge hit. (Not to worry, you can still get one if you’re interested in supporting us in a small way.) If you were there and missed our reading, that was also a huge hit. We hosted a fast and furious nonfiction reading where twelve of our previous contributors read five minutes of their work, and no less than sixty people came out to Caffe Ladro on Pine Street (the most perfect spot for the event, just one block over from the convention center).

Here's a video recording of the reading. Readers (in order of appearance) are Renee D'Aoust, Sheryl St. Germain, Susan Pope, Georgann Turner, Jacqueline Doyle, David Gardner, Jacqueline Alnes, Linda Silver, Mare Biddle, Mandy Len, Erin Ashenhurst and Robert D. Vivian.

Beyond those two successes, here are some highlights of the three-day conference:

Connecting with other journals of creative nonfiction.

One of the great things about a conference like AWP is that it's a rare occasion for all of these people to be in the same place at the same time, and it's a great opportunity to connect with peers--folks who are doing similar things--and learn from each other. We had the chance to do just that with other journals that also publish creative nonfiction such as Brevity, River Teeth, Fourth Genre and Creative Nonfiction.

Connecting with previous contributors.

When I put out a call to our contributors to find out who would be at AWP, I got emails back from no less than twenty-five people. Of those twenty-five, twelve were featured readers at Under the Gum Tree's first ever AWP reading (and, as I mentioned, you can see we had quite the crowd). But I still got to connect with at least twenty-five previous contributors who were all in Seattle for the conference. Some of them stopped by our table to introduce themselves and others came to the reading. And each time I met one of them, I got to personally hear their reaction to the magazine and what we are doing--they thank me for publishing their work, when really I should be thanking them (and I do!) for letting us share their work.

Connecting with folks who we follow online.

We have regular interactions online via Facebook and Twitter, mostly, with folks like Ruminate Magazine and Meghan Ward, both of whom we got to meet at AWP (and Meghan even gave us a shout out in her own #AWP14 wrap-up blog post). When you've only known people online and you have a chance to meet them face-to-face, it completely changes the relationship and brings it to a new, deeper, more memorable level. I got to put hard copies of Under the Gum Tree into the hands of people who will now hopefully remember the magazine because they remember meeting me.

Connecting with nonfiction book publishers.

Last year at the book fair we were neighbors with Excelsior College's press, Hudson Whitman, a small press that publishes nonfiction. This year we reconnected and I learned about their newest book The Sanctuary of Illness: A Memoir of Heart Disease, by Thomas Larson. Not only did I learn about the new book, but also I learned that they are actively seeking nonfiction manuscripts in the select categories of health, alternative education, military, business and technology. (Hint: if you write nonfiction in those categories, check these guys out & send them your book manuscript!)

Connecting with movers and shakers in the nonfiction genre. 

Not only did we have a chance to connect with other journals, previous contributors, our online friends, and nonfiction book publishers, but also we connected with bigger names in the nonfiction genre like Judith Kitchen, Sheryl St. Germain (also a previous contributor), Dinah Lenny, Brenda Miller (another previous contributor), and Ira Sukrungruang.

During a rare slow moment while I was working our table, a woman stopped, picked up a copy of Under the Gum Tree, and started flipping through the pages. Her name badge was at my eye level and I recognized it right away. "Sue Silverman," I said, "I just read your book." The book is Fearless Confessions: A Writer's Guide to Memoir, which I had just finished a few weeks earlier. We chatted for a few minutes about nonfiction and the power of sharing personal stories. She told me that I was doing important work and before she continued on her way she asked if she could give me a hug.

Where else can all this happen except at AWP?

A better question for us is: When else can all this happen except after three years and ten issues?

See, sometimes stories take time. The story that I had after my first year at AWP as a publisher of a lit mag was not the story I wanted to be telling. The story I had after last year’s conference was a little better, but still not quite the story I wanted to be telling. The story I’m telling now? The one where Under the Gum Tree has published nearly 100 writers; the one where I have met about forty of those writers face-to-face; the one where another thirty of those writers have read their work in front of an audience; the one where our staff is now double the size it was when we started? Yeah—that’s the story I want to be telling. And by this time next year I’ll be telling the story of how Under the Gum Tree has fifteen issues (gulp!) behind us--a feat I wouldn't be able to accomplish without that staff I mentioned. (HUGE thanks to Kate Asche, associate editor & Robin Martin, senior editor, pictured here with me after our reading at AWP14 in Seattle.)

Our story wouldn’t be what it is without you—readers and writers who believe in what we are doing, who support us in our work of finding and sharing stories. Thank you for that. We intend to continue doing that important work.


Meet the Author: Laurie Easter

Screen Shot 2014-02-06 at 1.21.28 PMLaurie Easter appeared in our newest issue, and we did an interview with her that we just had to share. She writes from her home in Southern Oregon where she lives in a funky little cabin off the grid and on the edge of wilderness. She hold an MFA in writing from Vermont College of Fine Arts and has been awarded a fellowship to the Vermont Studio Center. This was Laurie's first time being published in Under the Gum Tree, with her story "Something to Do With Baldness," but her other work has appeared in Hippocampus Magazine, Connotation Press: An Online Artifact, and Oregon English Journal. She's currently working on an essay collection about loss grief. Here's a short quote from "Something to Do With Baldness":

"Lucky for me, I didn't procrastinate. For if I had, it would have been like looking in the wrong direction as a brilliant shooting star streaked across the sky, only to turn my head in time to see the tail fizzle."

Now, without further ado, Laurie Easter's Interview:

Q: When and Why did you start writing? A: I stared writing when I was in elementary school. English and writing were always my favorite subjects. I wrote a play when I was around ten years old and essays on comets and poltergeists. I avidly wrote in my journal. I was in seventh grade when I declared to my English teacher that I was going to be a writer. I told him that I wanted to write stories so that other kids like me wouldn't feel alone. And essentially that's what I'm doing now, only it's taking more than thirty years and my audience so far is not that of children, but adults. Still, the sentiment is the same.

Q: What do you enjoy most about writing? A: Connecting with others. Writing is communication, and I enjoy communicating - both through reading others' words and having my own words read. I enjoy the process of creation, taking all the stored energy and thoughts from within and turning them into something tangible. I simply love playing with language and enjoy nearly every step in the writing process from first draft to revision and editing. Also I'm a total geek; I absolutely love grammar, and because of this (among other reasons), my kids think I'm nuts.

Q: Who/what is your biggest inspiration when you write? A: I am inspired my nature and quietness and a deep need to understand and resolve life's experiences. Poetry inspires me too.

Q: Do you have a writing  schedule? A: I don't have a set schedule, and I don't write every day. I'm what you would call a "binge writer." I'll work ferociously for a chunk of time - days, weeks, months - and then not. Typically afternoons are my most productive writing time, which can be problematic because that's when other things need to be accomplished.

Q:What is the hardest part of writing for you? A: The hardest part of writing for me is keeping  a regular writing routine. When I haven't been writing regularly and am out of practice, the hardest part is trying to get back in the flow. This can feel debilitating at times. But somehow I manage to find my way back. It's not easy. It can be downright painful. But when the words do come again, it sure feels good.

Q: How long does it usually take you to finish a story? A: It depend son the piece, but I'm horribly slow. Some pieces take me years, others weeks or months. I do a lot of writing in my head during those times that I'm not actually sitting down and putting pen to paper or typing. Often i will make copious notes before I ever get around to writing a draft. I have an essay that I'm currently revising that swirled in my head for a year before I actually wrote a word, but when I finally sat down to write it, the words flowed effortlessly. I then had to put it through multiple drafts to get it just right.

Q: Are you working on anything now? A: I am currently working on what I hope will be the last few essays of a collection on loss and grief.

Q: How many rejections did you get before you had something published? How did you deal with them? A: I wrote a regular Op-Ed column for the college paper during my undergrad, and I wrote some pieces for blogs and newsletters that were solicited. My first publication from an unsolicited submission however, was in a scholarly journal. A happy as I was to be published in that journal, it wasn't "creative writing," and I found it difficult to consider myself  published without having landed one of my creative nonfiction pieces in a journal/magazine. I had close to fifty rejections before I recieved my first acceptance of a personal essay. Rejection for me is an ever evolving experience. At first I celebrated rejections because it meant I was in the game of submitting, and I saved the form letters in a file (this was before online submissions). But after so many, the rejections began to wear on me, and I'd get kind of depressed. Then at a certain point, I learned to be a duck, and (mostly) let them roll off my back like water. Now rejections spur me on to make more submissions.

Q:How did you celebrate when you got your first acceptance? A: I whooped, jumped up and down, and high-fived my husband. Then I emailed some of my closest writer friends.

Q: Do you prefer typing or pencil to paper when you write? A: I love to write by hand when I'm free-writing. It feels more intuitive. But i have severe carpal tunnel syndrome, so I can't do this for very long before my hand goes numb. As a result, typing is my most productive means.

Q: What do you do when you're not writing? A: A lot of chores: washing dishes, cooking meals, collecting eggs, and gathering firewood. And I spend a lot of time editing for other people. Gardening in the spring and summer and then harvesting and processing the food in the fall. I spend entirely too much time on the internet. I love taking walks in nature, spending time with my family, traveling, and reading. I read creative nonfiction submissions for the literary journal Hunger Mountain.

Q: Who is your favorite Author? A: I don't have one favorite author, but a few I love are Alice Walker, Abigail Thomas, Barry Lopez,  Brenda Miller, David Sedaris, and Brian Doyle.

Q: What are some of your favorite books? A: This is an awkward question for me because when I think about my favorite books, the ones that usually come to mind are children's books, which makes me feel as though I've never grown up! But I'll give it a shot: Naked and Me Talk Pretty One Day, David Sedaris; The Marriages Between Zones Three, Four, and Five Doris Lessing; The Color Purple, Alice Walker; Late Wife, Claudia Emerson; What the Living Do, Marie Howe; and Charlotte's Web - because I have to include at least one childhood story.

Q: Do you have any advice for other writers? A: I can't remember who said it, but this has stuck with me: "Write the story that only you an write."

Q: Is there anything else you would like to share with the readers? A: Thank you for reading and supporting independent publishing. I'd love to hear from any readers who are inspired to write to me. I can be reached at


February Contributor News

With almost 10 issues under our belt, we have published nearly 90 contributors. So we decided it was time to check in with our previous contributors and share some of their exciting news on a regular basis.  

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To start us off Samuel Autman, a contributor from issue 7, will be reading his piece "A Walk Through the Neighborhood," at 4:30pm of February 26th at Princeton University's James M. Stewart Theater. There will also be a screening of  "A Long Walk," a short film directed my Chinonye Chukwu starring Colman Domingo, DaVine Randolph, Jibreel Mawry and Francois Battiste. The film is adapted from Samuel's piece. After the screening and reading Samuel will be on a panel with director Chinonye Chukwu and actor Colman Domingo where they will all discuss their involvement in the project. This event is free and open to the public.





Renee E. D'Aoust, published in our 5th issue, will be at AWP this year, and will appear on two panels: Switching Genres Midstream: Searching for the Right Match on Friday, Feb 28, 9-10:15am, and Planning for Surprise: Teaching the Unexpected in Personal Narrative on Saturday, March 1, 3-4:15pm.




David Gardner, from issue 9, self-published a book of essays he wrote, which includes a piece that appeared in UTGT called "Spider Webs." The book is titled Speaking Personally: Whimsy, Humor, Essays, Wisdom (WHEW!) and is available through Amazon.




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Roan Press, run by Kate Washington (premier issue) and her husband, has a new book of creative nonfiction/memoir out by Steve Gutierrez, called The Mexican Man in His Backyard. And in terms of exciting news for Kate -- her essay "Marrow" recently was nominated for a Pushcart Prize by Bellingham Review.




JacquelineDoyle300 Jaqueline Doyle's creative nonfiction essay "They Tyranny of Things," published last spring in South Dakota Review, was listed as a notable essay in Best American Essays 2013, and South Loop Review nominated her creative nonfiction essay "Doorbells" for a 2013 Pushcart Prize.