Winter’s Repent

Written by Callie Cheng
Art by Pixabay

Wavy winter
Whispers woes,
But with or without,
Her dissonance shows.

Leather binds
And meads the tide,
With white-eyed woes,
And wounds inside.

Snow laughs piercing
That my wife,
And keeps her frozen
Far from life.

The willows shake
Like fallen stars,
And moon-shed teardrops
Wilt cigars.

Where pine were needles,
Scream her scent,
But why so feeble,
Did winter repent?

As hymn from frost
Do nip my nose,
But pay that cost,
As warm blood knows.

And as washed up winter
Worded white,
The queen did cry,
And slip her might.

A Mother

Written by Allison Lee Riechman-Bennett
Art by Dale Chihuly

There must be a way to both constrict and construct a mother:
To talk through the distortion in favor of a parasite a blessing,
hold the deepening curve and support it past the days of birth.

There must be a way to confess a mother.
To hope due of the few nights stay and a spinal tap,
hold one another while the plastic cradle exits the floor.

There must be a way to confine a mother
To speak unspoken fears to a midnight shift nurse,
hold that truth so tightly that it seeps through the stitches.

There must be a way to breathe without a mother.
To simply dream of drain bags and nothing more,
hold something that drinks from you rather than through.

From QR Codes to a Poetry Debut: Creating the intimate, distant, and exacting with Emily Marie Passos Duffy

Emily Marie Passos Duffy is a poet and itinerant performing artist. She was a finalist for the Noemi Press 2020 Book Award and a finalist of the 2020 Inverted Syntax Sublingua Prize for Poetry. She was named a 2020 Disquiet International Luso-American fellow. She earned her MFA at the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics at Naropa University. She is a collaborator with Writers Warehouse, a mobile writers’ community resource, and co-founder of Flores de Maracujá, a collaborative Lisbon-based arts project. She is a PhD student in Translation Studies at the Catholic University of Lisbon. Her first book of poetry is forthcoming with Perennial Press.

O: When did you begin writing? 

Emily:  I’ve been writing for as long as I can remember and, before that, storytelling. 

O: Is there a writer that you look up to, whether it be someone who motivated you to begin writing or someone whose work inspires you today? 

E: This is a tough question because there are so many writers I admire who have helped me along my way. I was named after Emily Dickinson, and she has been a huge influence on my capacity to imagine through poetry. The fiction of Dominican-born modernist Jean Rhys, helped me give myself permission to be pathetic (and to understand the curious power in that stance). Stephanie Kaylor and Rachel Rabbit White are present-day poetry titans in the realm of writing on erotic labor, in my eyes. Irene Silt has written some of the best prose on sex work and anti-work I have encountered. Shauna Barbosa and Lucas de Lima are also big poetic inspirations. 

O: If you had to describe your work in three words, what would they be and why? 

E: Intimate, distant, exacting. “Exacting” because I like to say things precisely. I want my words to create an atmosphere, or a vibe, and also be very direct and sharp in some ways. Intimate and distant are paradoxical words I’d place on two poles— and playing with formal choices helps me explore that tension and write into the space between… kind of like seeing a city from inside versus above or just passing. I like to toggle and move around like this— like how would this emotion or experience be rendered if my face was right up against it…. how would I write it from far away?  

O: What is your favorite part of the creative process? 

E: My favorite part is the flow, presence, and devotion that comes through making. There is lots of doubt, sure, and also a surrender — to a hope that no matter what happens it’s going to turn out as it’s meant to. 

O: Your work is riveting, authentic, and thought-provoking. Where does your inspiration come from? 

E: I love those words! My inspiration comes from travel, family stories of migration and survival that I’ve inherited, half a decade of stripping, my femininity, my queerness, the practice of walking in cities, my anger and dissatisfaction with and also love of, this violent, beautiful, surprising, and oftentimes, bullshit, world. 

O: What is your favorite piece of work so far and why is it your favorite? (Please include a link if you have one, we’d love to include it on the website!) 

E: It’s not necessarily a favorite, but it’s one I’d like to share. A little over a year ago I started a monthly newsletter as a way to connect with people at a different pace than Instagram offers. I publish it once a month—the theme is big moods// disquietude. This has been a really rewarding endeavor. The monthly schedule keeps me accountable to my own writing practice, and it’s a way to offer an unmediated and intimate piece of writing and let people know what I’m up to, what I’m listening to, reading, etc. I love hearing from people that receiving it has brightened their day. 

O: Of course, we have to extend our sincerest congratulations on your upcoming poetry collection, Hemorrhaging Want & Water, which is going to be published with Perennial Press! Could you take us through your journey of publication with them and what you’re most excited about with this collection? 

E: Thank you!! From the moment they accepted my manuscript and notified me of their decision, Perennial Press has been attentive, collaborative, and nurturing. I have felt incredibly empowered as an artist throughout this process and I am so grateful to everyone involved.  

The thing that feels most exciting is that, once it’s out there, this book is going to have a life of its own. I can’t even begin to imagine the experiences that a reader may have with it, which is both terrifying and really, really cool.

O: If there could be only one (though we’re sure there are so many), what is the ultimate takeaway that you want readers to have by the final page of this collection? 

E: Hold your eighteen-year-old self gently by the hand. 

O: Outside of writing, you’ve also worked with Writers Warehouse and spearheaded Flores de Maracujá. For readers who might not be entirely familiar with either of these, could you give a little background on both organizations and talk a bit about your work there—e.g., what your favorite parts of your role are, and why you were motivated to join or jumpstart these organizations? 

E: These have been more projects than organizations. For me the word organization implies something fixed or institutionalized, which neither of these projects are. Writers Warehouse was founded in 2016 in Boulder, Colorado. You can read more about the history and our work here. My favorite part of Writers Warehouse has been working with Ellie Swensson, an incredible infrastructure poet who is now doing research in the field of urban planning. Our workflow has always prioritized resting when we’ve needed to, which challenges the notion that successful community endeavors have to be long-term or perpetually sustained. 

With Flores de Maracujá, Inês Oliveira and I are creating a body of work that promotes sensuality, big feelings, and communal play. We’ve sold our pieces at fairs in Lisbon, and exhibited one in the east window gallery in Boulder, Colorado. We are still making visual pieces that combine drawing, collage, and typewriter poems, and we’ve also pivoted to organizing seasonal events with food, music, and art. What motivates me in projects is the generative spark that comes from collaboration, from dreaming and making together. Each project or event carries the signature of all of those involved. 

O: You’ve also completed a recent project which involved poetry, public space, and… QR codes?! Please tell us more about this project! 

E: This one was a lot of fun! I placed QR codes at miradouros, or lookout points, throughout Lisbon. The QR codes led to google forms which contained poetry prompts people could respond to; for example, one prompt was, “describe the view using only colors.” I got lots of gorgeous responses in many different languages and only one “go fuck urself” which is a great ratio for any anonymous public forum. I created a collective poem from these submissions with an accompanying video. I also wrote an original poem for each miradouro included in the project. So far I’ve written seven miradouro poems, and I intend to keep going. I collaborated with German student and multidisciplinary artist Katharina Sonneberg, who I’d met through a mutual friend. I was describing the project to her over coffee and she resonated with the idea so much she ended up creating a collage for each of my miradouro poems. This project was part of an exhibition called Sensing the City- Sense of the City which was an inter-city joint venture between Berlin and Lisbon.  

O: If you could give new writers some advice from what you’ve learned, whether it’s about creative processes or finding their voice, what would it be?

E: Don’t let older men with advanced degrees and god complexes tell you what is good writing or what you are capable of! Do, as I remember poet and educator Tongo Eisen-Martin saying during a summer writing program at Naropa University: “write about the shit you see that no one else does.” The things that make you feel strange, alone, or different— dive towards them. Try to language them… eff the ineffable. Find writers that you like and nourish yourself with their words. Nourish yourself also with other creative practices so you don’t get too discouraged when language is inadequate to hold the totality of what you long to express. And keep writing! Show up for writing like it’s your lover—like you care a lot and want to make it coffee in the morning. 

O: Do you have any upcoming projects that we should look out for? 

E: Definitely subscribe to my newsletter for updates, upcoming workshops, readings, etc. I  have a couple of nascent translation projects in the works so stay tuned! 

Thank you to Emily for sitting down to chat with us about everything from writing to learning to life! Find out more about Emily and her amazing work by checking out her newsletter and Instagram.


Written by Atticus Payne
Art by Salvator Rosa

A week ago, you bugged me—practically harassed me.
                   you weighed down every thought with a tiny stone, sewn gently, seeds of doubt into the high-strung knit of my heart just where you knew the seams would be. Because you sewed me: from dust to bone to this reckless mind. But just a speck and nothing more, borne by every thought till it coalesced in—
No. Certainly something close, though. The same colour, in a different shade.
Funny, what unseating a mere day’s thoughts will do to you; gentle waves working at hardened silt formations, dissolving rough ridges into something a little softer. You’ll pause, choke; your eyes blinking, search for some way out. 
At least let me understand what this is. Discomfort? Too general.
Guilt? Warmer.
There it was: the thought that had been sinking its sharpened roots in. “This is not right.” There. There it was. Now that it’d been named, I could barely think of anything else without the words taking all the space. It is how some describe love, and yet, infinitely worse. Love is a haze, not a blinding light. Right? 
It was night, and the lamps were dimmed. So with a silent room and locked door, I…knelt. 
I have not done this in a longvery long time. 
Fine. So I did the speaking. The more I spoke, the more the words came, till with the torrent, the pressing weight of shame had lessened somewhat. I could think again. 
How I thought. 
The world’s a rather judgement-based place. Yet when your knees are bruised and your neck a mess from bowing the head; when your lips are cracked from speaking of everything you could possibly think of, it’s hard to get unsettled again. There’s a steadiness to being on your knees—a kind of peace.
A week ago, you bothered me, and it was the best, most uncomfortable bothering. 
Why would you go silent now? 
What have I done to stop it? To block you out? How can I bridge this gap?
Bother me again, will you?
I miss you.
Am I mad? 
Blind me, bind me. 
Without you I’m now left, stranded in the in between, floating between two ends of complete and incomplete. 
Come on, now. How could you do this?
There’s no cleverness to this. No hidden commentary or thought, nothing weaved in the narrative. I am nothing but

Let me Remember your Sunshine

Written by Gabriella Troy
Art by Andrea Piacquadio

Memory doesn’t usually work in my favor.
I lose what I love
and I replay what I fear.
Why is my brain so set against
my happiness?

I want to remember yesterday forever:
sweet strawberry bursting onto my tongue,
bubbles floating up and shimmering in the sun,
the warmth from your giant bear-hug.

It’s not fair that
I only get this once a year.
I want to replay your laugh
over and over
until the next year comes.

But what if it never comes?
And I can’t see
through the fog in my brain
to the happiness that surrounded us?

I don’t want to be stuck
in this storm of what-if:
winter will come
but it’s still summer now.

You’re already 247 miles away
but I pretend you’re still here with me,
sitting in a green field of wildflowers,
fresh air brushing my face–
or is that a dandelion tickling my nose?

I’m lying face up,
looking right into the sun:
my eyes are closed
but the sun is still there.
If I burn you into my memory will you stay?
Or will I be blind until next summer comes?


Written by Gabriella Troy
Art by Rizky Sabriansyah

I’m a disaster walking
down the street.

Too many pieces to hold together;
as I glitter in the sun
they slip
and I wait
to come crashing down after them.

My mind and my body and my mind
I’m a robber of my own future but
I can’t disguise in daylight
so I melt
                          a shadow
bruises under my eyes.

I see everything in a haze
                          see nothing
a lost wanderer
who won’t ask for directions.

Spinning in circles
                           my mind
down the gutter I’m fruit
once sweet but now
too far gone.

Just need to leave
away, anywhere.
I walk into the street
but don’t raise my hand
                           yellow car
light flashes.

Open my eyes
                           my mind
partially gone
partially whole
I can’t make a collage out of my ugly


Written by Atticus Payne
Art by William Blake

(Ihminen: human)

We humans, all so tastelessly mortal. Dropped onto cliffs hugged by ravines, a cord around the neck our only harness, frantic fingers; opposable, fragile thumbs, gripping, slipping, holding on ‘til we fall.

No landing kills you—just your own porous bones.

One by one, I watch them lose their hold. Fingers with skin worn ‘til only bone shows, others more torn by their eyes and not the stones. One by one, I watch them die, hear them cry, shake most from anger in their last sigh as they try so much to stay alive, while next to them, another ihminen falls.

I’ve seen some try to climb—upwards, in a game of chasing the rain. The air thins that far above; presses down on the chest ‘til ribs crack, ‘til you can’t catch your breath. “Searching,” they say. “For what?” I reply. 


Then, again, I watch them die.

They crumple from the shivers, so easily that for a moment you could forgive yourself the thought that they’d gone and done; that this was their climax. 

It’s just death. Just as futile as the rest.

So I stand and wait and lock my muscles as best I can. It’s useless, I swear. All it does is make you stare at the gasp of the gallows and wonder if you’re next. I stand, and wait, and watch, and pray; for mercy, for control, for anything to end it all. Slowly, I lessen the pleas. Just gouge my eyes out.

Words get swept by the wind.

Ihminen. Human. Frail, and unmade for this plane. 

Unknot the cord, step off the ledge. What end is there if you can’t see it?

Should I die, I will have earned it.

Have flown, for a second, and not cared.

A Robot Drives Me Home

Written by Cassidy Bull
Art by Alejandro Skol

A beep—the sensor scans the chip in my arm, clocking me out for the day. The automatic doors of my office building slide open, and I breathe a sigh of relief as I step out. 

The city’s bustling swarms me as I head to the bus stop. People glide across the sidewalk, wearing the latest i-glasses. Texts and TV and video games scroll over the lens screens. The skyscrapers are covered in digitized advertisements. Everywhere, there’s no respite from all this urging to buy.

Three different pop-up holograms appear in front of me as I walk. Prostitute androids coo and coax, claiming they’re more lifelike than ever. 

I guess the city’s algorithm senses my misery. 

I pass straight through them.

I can barely remember life before it turned robotic. 

Once I reach the stop, I stare down at the screens built into the ground while I wait for the bus. 

I hate the bus. But it’s better than the self-driving taxis, which often malfunction. Despite the deaths every day, they’re still the most popular mode of transportation. Their original design was faulty, something with the proximity sensors, but profits would have tanked if they issued a mass recall. So they didn’t. Only the rich own their own cars. The rest of us sign waivers saying we won’t sue if we die. 

I keep waiting for someone to do something about this artificial existence. Sometimes I think I might. I’m not sure what I would do exactly. I could burn down the server district, or plant a garden. 

The bus stops in front of me. 

I peer at the faceless robot in the driver’s seat. I shouldn’t get on. I don’t want to. But if I don’t, I’ll get a visit from the government androids, asking why I broke routine. 

With a sigh, I swipe my wrist under the scanner on the bus’ side. 

The doors open.

Depression Dust

Written by Rigby Celeste
Art by Karolina Grabowska

Depression convinced me to hole up in my apartment. I didn’t sleep through my days, like the movies have you believe. I tried to maintain a small routine. I checked in on my classes; though, I had no work to hand in. I made food for myself, but only convenient stuff, stuff you can microwave. I fed the cat. Nonetheless, my days felt empty. Only one part of my routine genuinely felt productive: When the monotony of my waking life overwhelmed me, I could kneel in my kitchen, pull the bottles of disinfectant from under my sink, and clean.

I would start with the rag, the one with fleur de lis indented along its length, woven like a plush paper towel. I pulled it along the length of our plastic counters and repeated. My first pass was dry. As the rag approached the cliff of the counter, individual specks of dust and crumbs and basil leaves rained on our linoleum floor. I made my cleaning process precise. I’d start in the corner where our cooking oils were kept. I picked up each slicked bottle one at a time and transferred them to the center of our stove. With effort, I could reach into the pockets of gunk where the counters met the wall, then pull all of it together and down it would fall to our checkered floor. 

Next, to the stove, where I’d replace the oils to their home and transfer the burner covers to the newly dusted corner. The crumbs on the stove were usually big. Expect uncooked pasta bits, plates of dried tomato sauce, and rat-gray indeterminate specks. Instead of the flat length of my rag, I would roll it up to give it some bulk. Down, down, down all the food would fall.

Once the stove was clear, I passed my rag along the open area next to the stove. On inspired nights this counter could shoulder tiny bowls of prepped onion, garlic, bell peppers, sweet potatoes, anxious vegetables anticipating the rush of hot oil. The next morning, I would be the one-man clean up crew. The clutter would often spill over to the far right counter in the kitchen. The counter: our patient friend. He held open boxes of cereal, unlidded bouillon, and packaging my roommates forgot to throw out. In order to express my love for him, I lidded the jars and placed boxes in the cabinets. I wiped him off until he was dust-free.

Though my counters were now spotless, the floor became victim to the crumbs. All of the dust and kibble that my rag pushed landed down below. Bits of food and plastic skirted to the far reaches of the ground. Now, my duty was to sweep it all away. I used the broom to tease the corners of the room. I could gather the bits all together like I did on the counters, but instead of discarding off an edge, I pulled it into the dustpan. Weightlessly, I’d drop the dust into the trash.

After sweeping, I finally reveled in the joy of spritzing disinfectant. It would go everywhere! For a moment, I was a child again, in a swimming pool with a squirt gun aimed at my cousin’s head. When all I could breathe was sterile citrus, I would put my bottle down and scrub. All of my frustrations and anxiety would channel into my rag. It would twitch along the surface of my counter as my wrist dug into the murky sections of my counter. When I found something stuck, I would imagine my arm dipping into the volume of the counter. I could curl my wrist, press my palm, then allow the pressure to roll through my muscles until it hit my tricep. I Press, press, press, until the spot went away. Finally, I’d step back and admire a room that practically sparkled.  In the long months of uncertainty, between depression naps and cleaning, I attended therapy. My therapist emphasized routine. What does your perfect day look like? Now I do that. On my perfect day, I wake up and before my body could switch on, I am already on my routine: wiping, then scrubbing, then sweeping. I used the same rag every time. What once was elegant in its bleach white had become green-gray with pockmarks of bright oranges and blacks. It was no work of art, but each hue stood as a trophy of a time I came and I conquered. It was not the dirt that I heroed, but the slew of white noise that replaced my brain. For at least an hour I had coherent thoughts: dust, then sweep, then spray.

Writing the immersive, haunting, and raw with Pushcart Prize nominee Bryana Lorenzo

Pushcart Prize nominee Bryana Lorenzo is a Junior at Boone High School in Orlando, Florida, a Junior Editor at Polyphony Lit, and a storyteller at An Insipid Board of Ideas—a storytelling blog and nonprofit dedicated to spreading awareness of social issues through short stories. Her fiction has been featured in Outlander Zine, The Graveyard Zine, Rhodora Magazine, Le Château Magazine, The Literary Canteen, Pile Press, and Block Party Magazine, and is forthcoming in Agapanthus Collective, Novus Literary Arts Journal and io Lit. She has critical essays published with Youth Be Heard, Cordelia Magazine, and Blue Blood International, as well as a creative nonfiction piece published in Ninetenths Quarterly.

O: When did you begin writing? 

Bryana Lorenzo: I began writing when I was about ten years old (though technically I had attempted to write a few “books” before that). My parents had informed that all the little daydreams I had swirling around could be written down and turned into real stories. So one night I literally started writing one of the daydreams I used to get to sleep! Most of my work in those earlier years was mostly just derivatives of my favorite books, movies, and TV shows at the time (while still being different enough to not be considered fan fiction, which I’m actually surprised I never got into despite reading frequently). 

Even as a kid, I tried my hardest to write “seriously” out of a normal kid desire to get my work published so I could share it with other people. Still, it wasn’t until I was fifteen that I really found “success” with my work since that was when I first started writing short fiction seriously, and it wasn’t until I was sixteen that I got a short story published. 

However, to give any tween writers out there some hope about their own work, I just want to say that the first piece I got published (by the lovely Outlander Magazine no less) was actually a story I’d technically written a few years earlier when I was twelve. It was completely rewritten and edited to Hades and back, of course, but I still managed to get that gawky, quirky little idea of mine to bloom into a sweetly melancholic little piece that eventually found a home. Moral of the story: don’t ever think that your stories or ideas are too immature to ever be published or even just be good just because you came up with or wrote the idea at a young age. Any story can be good—even great—with a little TLC.

O: Is there a writer that you look up to, whether it be someone who motivated you to begin writing or someone whose work inspires you today? 

B: Shaelin Bishop—from their writing tips to their short stories to their entire writing ethos in general—is really the main reason why my work is what it is today. I wouldn’t be writing with the style I am right now without their videos on specificity and concrete detail and I wouldn’t even be publishing short fiction without their video on the literary magazine submission process. It’s to the point where I’m sure a critical analysis of my work could easily boil my writing style down to “Shaelinwrites fangirl energy.” 

O: If you had to describe your work in three words, what would they be and why? 

B: Pretty and sad. My prose is lyrical and I don’t think I’ve yet published a work with a happy ending (or even written a work with a happy ending). It sounds really simple, but it’s actually led my writing to be really fluid, with a wide range of themes, imagery, and ideas. Very few of my stories are like any other story I’ve ever published. If it’s kinda pretty and if it’s kinda sad, I’m very likely to write it, thus the three-word phrase “pretty and sad” is the most perfect encapsulation of my work that I can think of off the top of my head. 

O: What is your favorite part of the creative process? 

B: Getting the initial inspiration and writing down the first draft like lightning in my notes app. I’m a really inspiration-driven writer, mostly because I’m so busy as a person that I don’t actually have time to seriously sit down and really get into the flow of the writing, thus everything I write has to be seriously in the moment (probably the reason why I write and publish so much flash fiction now that I think about it). Thus, getting that spark and suddenly having a brand-spanking-new piece to edit and submit to magazines is always the funnest part, since it always feels like I’m being possessed by the story itself and its language since every piece is so different and no formula can be replicated twice. 

O: How has the pandemic changed your workflow? 

B: The pandemic has essentially given me more time to write and read until the sun explodes. Since the pandemic started, I’ve indulged myself more and more in my book buying addiction, reading pretty, precious prose to fuel my own writing. I’ve also just plainly had more time to write to entertain myself, especially being stuck at home for so long. A lot of these positive effects are thanks to my own privilege coming from an upper-middle-class household able to ride through the worst of the pandemic, so I sincerely doubt my experience is universal. Knowing that the pandemic has negatively impacted the creative work of others due to complications pertaining to the pandemic has made me put a bit more internal pressure on myself to be more productive since I feel like I should use my time wisely to create as much as possible and be appreciative of the fact that I can create as much as humanly possible. The insanity of Junior year has sort of lessened that feeling, but I still get it every now and again. 

O: Your work is immersive, haunting, and raw. Where does your inspiration come from? 

B:  A lot of my inspiration comes from pure, unadulterated spite. “Longing Primavera,” for instance, came from when I read the Phoebus and Daphne story for the first time in my sophomore year and thought it was so unfair that Daphne essentially got stuck as the pretty plaything of Apollo (called Phoebus in this tale) all for Apollo’s slight against Eros. “Sunset Flower” emerged from anger at violent love interests in stories treated as romantic instead of as abusive. “Life after Death” was inspired by our tendency in both true crime and fiction to forget about the victim in stories about grizzly murders and instead focus on the murderer himself. Even a piece as simple and silly as “A Bar for Old Ghosts, Among Others,” was born from an indignant empathy for seemingly unimportant side characters in fiction who probably have interesting lives but are instead relegated as emotional support to the main characters. 

Essentially, I’m inspired by the unheard, by those with a story to tell but who are often ignored or forgotten or even villainized for doing nothing but existing. I love ghosts who just want to be remembered by the people they care about and teen girls who are has-been precocious Pollyanna-esque child protagonists. I adore awkward Cuban grandmas who just want success in their new country and girls whose home life is so terrible that they hallucinate the imaginary friends they drew into their family photos as real. Rage against justice not done and rage against the burying of stories untold is the true lifeblood of my work. 

O: What is your favorite piece of work so far and why is it your favorite? (Please include a link if you have one, we’d love to include it on the website!) 

B: I basically have two favorite different pieces of work and that is mostly because of my objective versus subjective assessment of their literary merits as stories. My favorite work in terms of which piece I believe is the best short story I’ve ever written (thus far) has to be “Chipped Blue Paint” which is forthcoming (or even already published, depending on when this interview is published) in Novus Literary Arts Journal. That piece was inspired by a conversation I had with my dad about Cuba in which he introduced me to the song “Qué Será” by Jose Feliciano. We talked about missing family, about missing a place you were at once so desperate to leave and yet so desperate to stay. It was a frankly honest and illuminating conversation about the motherland I never knew, the motherland he left at six yet still remembered if only faintly so. That, combined with watching Encanto a few months back, really inspired the emotions behind the piece.

Compared to a lot of my other work, “Chipped Blue Paint” is pretty grounded and pared back. It still has a lot of my hallmark humor and pretty language, of course, but it’s also more of a quiet portrait of a character, namely the narrator’s grandmother, who fled from poverty and tyranny in Cuba to seek success in America matter what the cost. Unlike some of my other pieces, there isn’t really a clear villain. There isn’t a lot of vitriol either, or really any other strong emotion. It’s just a tale about a bunch of deeply imperfect people living deeply imperfect lives, a few moments of which are collected and strung together for this piece. It’s a gentle exploration of immigrant angst, a topic I rarely actually explore in my own work despite being the daughter of immigrants, and it’s just generally one of my most polished and well-structured pieces of short fiction. 

My other favorite piece of writing is beloved by me on basically a purely subjective level. It’s still solid, don’t get me wrong. However, much of my love for it comes from it being a piece basically tailor-made for very specific writing interests. The story, “Life after Death” published by Le Château Magazine, is about an older sister who gets murdered unceremoniously and, as a spirit, reflects on her life and her relationship to her younger sister, while also pondering how her sister may remember her. This piece is among the few that still makes me feel emotions when I reread it, and it’s one whose subject matter still passionately inflames me (despite the story being all made up). Even though the language and structure of this piece is rougher than “Chipped Blue Paint,” I still really love its raw quality, and I also in general love stories that unpack a lot of our society’s unhealthy habits in regards to violent crime and how we treat the victims involved. It would be the kind of story I would be likely to read for pleasure as a reader (and even as a writer) thus making it my other favorite.

O: We of course wanted to say congratulations on the Pushcart Prize nomination! For any readers who don’t know what the PP is, could you talk a bit about what it is? We’re also super curious to know how you’re feeling about having been nominated—what does it mean to you? 

B: The Pushcart Prize is a yearly anthology prize run by Pushcart Press, and it’s meant to publish the very best poetry, short fiction, and creative nonfiction published by small presses each year. Even getting nominated for the prize is a huge honor because it means that the magazine that published you considers your work amongst the best that they’ve published that year. 

As for my personal feelings on the matter, getting nominated at all was a huge shock. The magazine that nominated me was the third literary magazine I ever submitted to and got published in. If my life were a novel, I would have probably seen the nomination coming, since it was pretty handily foreshadowed by the fact that this magazine’s acceptance was—and still is—the nicest literary magazine acceptance email I’ve ever received. Still, at that point, I’d only published three short stories in literary magazines with one forthcoming in April of the following year, and I was also still trying to find my writing voice. I had never felt so much overwhelming euphoria than in the days following that nomination. I’d secretly always hoped that my writing would get nominated for some sort of prize, but I never thought it would actually happen. I’m still honestly in disbelief that I got nominated and it’s been a good five months! 

O: You describe An Insipid Board of Ideas as a “storytelling blog and nonprofit dedicated to spreading awareness of social issues through short stories.” Tell us about your work as a storyteller there! 

B: As a storyteller, I’m tasked with writing engaging short fiction meant to spread social issue awareness to fellow youngsters (and non-youngsters if they happen to like my work). The issues I write about there are more varied since I’m actively writing about different pressing topics and current events. My pieces have ranged from human trafficking to gun violence to homelessness to even the recent book bannings across the US. One great thing about working with Insipid Board is that they really let you write about practically anything so long as it’s based on some sort of social issue. 

O: You’re a Junior Editor at Polyphony Lit, which is a pretty big-name publication in the literary sphere! Could you talk about what you do for them and what your favorite part of working there is?

B: I’ve been on break from Polyphony Lit for a while due to the stress of Junior year (though I do plan on getting back in the nitty-gritty this summer) but I basically just read my assigned submission and provide both general and line-specific commentary to the author, then when I’m finished I make a recommendation on whether or not to ultimately accept or reject the piece. One of my crowning moments as a Junior Editor was when some of my feedback was chosen as an example of excellent critique to train future Junior Editors. 

I’d say I’m a pretty nice reader since I recommended acceptance for a good chunk of what I review, but that could also be due to us just receiving so much good work in general. Seriously, when editors say that they had more good work than they had room to publish, believe them. When I was super active on the job, I was swamped in submissions most weeks and most of the pieces were pretty great most of the time so I sent them up for a recommendation. Very few, if any, of those exceptional pieces were published. 

As for my favorite part of working there, I love reading the poetry we’re sent. I swear, Polyphony Lit is sent poetry of such great quality, I’d assume it was written by Richard Siken or Ocean Vuong if I didn’t know the author. I wouldn’t consider myself a big poetry reader and when I first started the job I was a bit dumbfounded as to how I’d even handle critiquing poetry, but it’s genuinely now one of my favorite things to read and review. 

O: You sound like a super busy bee! Between writing, school, and your work with literary organizations, you’re also dual-enrolled in community college creative writing courses. What have you learned from juggling so many things at once and what has the experience of being dual-enrolled been like for you? 

B: Take the classes and extracurriculars that you’re passionate about and cut the ones you aren’t as passionate about (or even just take a break from them for the time being). For example, I’ve had to basically take a break from Polyphony Lit all of Junior year due to the workload from all my classes (though I plan on getting back to business in summer because I miss editing and I’m getting so rusty). I love writing and I love the humanities social sciences, so all my classes are basically writing-intensive humanities and social science classes. 

It also helps when a lot of my writing passion projects overlapped with my school writing assignments. For example, two out of three of the critical essays I’ve published were originally written for my two writing-intensive AP classes (Lang and Seminar) and the only one that isn’t was still inspired by what I was researching in class at the time. The pieces I write for my creative writing classes at my local community college are, similarly, pieces that I’m seriously passionate about. For example, for my second-semester fiction class, I essentially fully wrote out the first chapter and a half of a novel that I’m currently working on, which has not only allowed me to make some serious headway into the project but has also allowed me to get some critical feedback on my writing skills from fellow peers.

All in all, it can be hard to juggle personal projects with academic work, but if you can make them overlap, then they become far easier to balance. I love every piece I write for Insipid Board. I love every essay I write for English. I love the novel I was writing for fiction. Essentially, if you love what you’re learning to the point that you’d actively pursue it outside of a classroom setting, school work, extracurriculars, and personal projects become a lot easier to balance.

O: If you could give new writers some advice from what you’ve learned, what would it be?

B: Novels are not the only way to learn how to write well and they aren’t the only path to publication. Writing short stories is a great way to improve your craft fast and to get a few publications under your belt before you embark on a big project like a novel or a short story collection. It’s probably not advice that needs to be given for the young writer demographic of Outlander Magazine, but I still do genuinely wish short fiction was emphasized more as an art form. If it wasn’t for short stories, my writing would be nowhere near as strong as it is now.

O: Do you have any upcoming projects that we should look out for? 


Besides the short fiction, I’ve already said is forthcoming, I’m also in talks with a magazine about editing and publishing an opinion piece I actually wrote last year. I’ve also been invited by Ninetenths Quarterly, a new creative nonfiction literary magazine that recently published my first nonfiction piece, to become a guest editor for a teen-focused issue in the summer. 

I’m also still writing a novel (but I doubt I’ll finish and edit—or even just finish—it this year). I’m also currently drafting a novella, which I really don’t know when it will be done since I basically just started. And finally, I’m also actively editing and seeking publication for a flash fiction chapbook (four out of the eight stories contained within are already published, and I’m really happy with the way the collection is turning out as a whole, but it’s really hard to find presses that accept manuscripts so short that aren’t poetry). As a writer who primarily writes either flash or pieces of about 2000 words at the absolute maximum, it’s always been hard to fully flesh out a full-size collection since, for me, that would require, like, fifty or more individual pieces just to hit the word count. Needless to say, it’s been pretty hard to find the right publisher for my project for this reason, but if I do manage to find a small press for which my manuscript is a perfect fit, that will definitely be a project to watch out for (and one that I am personally extremely excited to share). Also, if anyone has any submission recommendations, I’d be happy to hear them. 

I’d also like to announce that I’ve also been accepted to the Iowa Young Writers Studio summer session and have been accepted to the Adroit Journal Summer Mentorship Program for fiction! I don’t know if that really counts as a project, but I do know that it is a cool honor that I’ll be definitely adding to my bio as soon as I can be bothered to change it.
Essentially, I both have a lot of projects to look out for, and not a lot of projects all at the same time. A lot of this stuff depends on my ability to stop procrastinating and either edit and/or submit my work. I, of course, am trying as hard as possible for the sake of my fans (do I have any fans? Maybe family) but I’m still just a young writer trying her best in the big wide literary world. A wee little guppy in the Pacific Ocean. What I do manage to make happen I’ll make sure everybody knows about.

Thank you to Bryana for sitting down to chat with us about everything from writing to learning to life! Find out more about Bryana and her amazing work by checking out her website and Instagram.