Writing as the Act of Doing: Kwame Daniels

Kwame Sound Daniels is a painter/poet who is based out of Maryland. Xe are an MFA candidate for Vermont College of Fine Arts. Xir first book is coming out August 2022 with Perennial Press. You can find xem pickling vegetables or learning plant medicine or hiking with xir dog.

O: When did you begin writing? 

Kwame Daniels: I began writing in middle school! I dictated fanfiction to my friend Sunshine in middle school while she wrote it down and when I developed into a mallgoth early in high school, having read my father’s collection of best American poetry from his college years, I began to write poetry. (I still have that collection with my favorite pages marked, even though the binding is in pieces now.) But I recently read over my high school poetry and I was obsessed with rhyming — what’s funny to me is now I can’t stand rhyming. I suppose I feel like it’s a marker of my youth. I’m not that person anymore, you know?

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

K: As for writing, I am deeply inspired by Vladimir Mayakovsky, Anna Akhmatova, Rae Armantrout, Robert Hayden, and Kwame Dawes. None of them motivated me to begin with (all those years back in middle school) but they keep me considering structure and language these days. I really try to learn from them. In terms of painting I’ve been very inspired by Kazimir Malevich, Lyubov Popova, and Olga Rozanova for the past couple of years. Recently I’ve been looking into Secundino Hernandez and Helen Frankenthaler. I want to develop my abstraction beyond Suprematism (which I will always go back to but, you know, growth).

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

K: At the risk of sounding pretentious: Complicated, Sensory, Hungry.

I didn’t realize until I broke down my poetry for some people in a Discord that I’m in that my poetry actually has depth. I’m looking at it from my perspective and I was like “Oh damn! I pack a fuckton into that little sonnet.” So it’s more complicated than I thought. I’ll say “Sensory” because my work has been described as sensual, but also because tactility and other senses are very prominent in my work. I think “Hungry” because I am hungry, always hungry, for more growth, for more knowledge, for dialogue, for food. I’m a very restrictive person so I think my hunger comes out in my work. My work wants.

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

K: For a single poem, my creative process is simply the act of doing. I like to just write. I like how it flows from my fingertips, how each poem is an act of grace in concert with myself. For a planned manuscript, I like reading poetry books and philosophy books and getting inspired by concepts and how I can apply that to my obsessions. I like conceptualizing and planning it out. For painting, I like visualizing. I like imagining where shapes and colors go, moving them around like puzzle pieces in my mind, I like sketching it out with pastels in my book.

O: Your traditional artwork is captivating, complex, and dynamic. Where does your inspiration come from? 

K: Thank you! My inspiration comes from that which I love. The painting I showed you was inspired by a character from a book I love called The Hands of the Emperor and the painting is based around the emperor’s character, on his inability to touch things, on his restrictive life. I’ve painted my dog in cubist form twice. I painted a woman I was in love with a few times. I did a study on a Bacardi bottle (my favorite run and hard liquor in general). And I think I’ve come to paint my own feelings, which I’ve also come to love. This may seem silly but I like being passionate about passion.

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!) 

K: I wrote a chapbook for the Suffering the Silence We’re Still Here Grant. This is my most recent published collection, free and accessible to the public. https://www.sufferingthesilence.com/kwamedaniels

And then for my traditional art — there is a work I painted in 2019 I think, which was the painting I first started to feel intent with. I’ve made art since then that I like but this is probably my favorite. https://www.instagram.com/p/B1RgWpvltt6/?utm_source=ig_web_copy_link

O: Of course, we have to extend our congratulations on your new book coming out with Perennial Press! Could you briefly take us through your publishing journey—starting with how you decided that you wanted to publish with PP to where you are now?

K: I tend to look through a platform called submittable to be on the lookout for indie presses who are accepting manuscripts around the time I complete them. So many presses didn’t want my book! lol! But that’s standard, right? It’s very difficult to get published at all. And I was thrilled when Perennial Press wanted my book. I accepted because I scoped out their website — amplifying marginalized voices is a focus there. I am a marginalized voice. I felt that they would take good care of me, and they have. We worked on this book for a year. But, once I realized my work was publishable, I immediately wanted more. So I worked on another manuscript and another and I’ve been using the drive to have a dialogue with a reader as a reason to improve.

O: Your new book is “an exploration of the body in relation to spirituality, love, itself, and the outside world.” This sounds absolutely exquisite! Could you tell us more about this book (e.g. what inspired you to write it/how you choose this story to be the one you told, and how you found your voice)? 

K: I think I found my voice early on. Even when I was writing edgelord poetry as a teenager I sounded like myself. And I only sounded more me as I continued to write.  So this is a work spanning 2-3 years, my junior and senior semesters in college. At the time I was discovering that I could get serious about writing poetry, that people might actually want to read my work. So I developed mini-projects – the Odes to Things I Have a Difficult Relationship within the book coming out, for example. And I realized my mini-focuses have a narrative flow because they changed and grew as I did. I wanted to explore my connection to ancestry, I wanted to explore my connection to love. What does that mean for a black disabled mad agender lesbian? Not enough poetry by us out there.

O: You’re an Anaphora Arts Residency Fellow! Could you tell us a bit about this residency and how it’s impacted your writing? 

K: It was glorious, it truly was. Run by the wonderful Mahtem Shifferaw, by people of color, for people of color. A ten-day intensive of craft talks, workshops, lectures, poetry readings, peer discussion, and classes. Kwame Dawes was my workshop leader and he gave an incredible lecture on artists and their obsessions. Our obsessions can be anything but learn to recognize them and you can utilize it to further your work. My obsession is identity. Most of my work is about identity and embodiment. Once I actively recognized that, I directly started developing projects surrounding my identity. An amazing thing is that the poetry cohort from the residency still meets! We meet every month to discuss triumphs and how our lives are going and our ideas, and each one of us takes a turn in leading the others in a workshop. Learning how to lead workshops has me taking an analytical look at my approach to writing. I’m a lot more conscientious now about how I begin. And I’m in love with my community.

O: Clearly, you are a super dedicated and talented multi-disciplinary artist. What does it mean to you to be able to express yourself in multiple mediums, and how do you balance your creativity between both writing and making art? 

K: It’s kind of wonderful, actually, to have so many places for me to go. I can write a lyric essay, or a short story, or an aubade, or I can paint. It’s fun! It’s joyous that I can extend myself in such a way. I suppose I balance both by giving time to both. Prose writing in the morning, art in the afternoon, poetry at any other hour I feel like it. If I feel mentally exhausted by writing, I paint. If my fibromyalgia has made me too fatigued or too pained to paint, I write. I suppose the balance is about listening to my body. When it’s tired and/or hurting, I rest. When it’s energetic, I create.

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

K: Totally dive into your obsessions. You don’t have to marry them (my high school art teacher gave me great advice: Don’t get married to your art) but do right by them. Honor them. Honor yourself. Be in dialogue with your creativity. Feed it. Nourish it. Nourish yourself.

O: Do you have any other upcoming projects that we should look out for? K: Yes! Ethel Zine is publishing a hand-bound chapbook of mine – sonnets on the subject of anorexia – in June! And this isn’t officially announced yet, it’s still in the works, but I have another collection of poetry coming out in January 2023 with Atmosphere Press called the pause and the breath, a black trans answer to the American sonnet exploring the breadth of identity.

Thank you to Kwame for xir time answering all of our most pressing questions about xir inspirations and upcoming works! You can find out more about xe on xir Instagram.


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.

Eliza Kent: Writing the Striking and Impassioned in Her Poetry Debut “You Were the Graveyard” 

Eliza Kent is an author from Phoenix, Arizona studying for her Bachelors in filmmaking. After periodically writing poetry while completing her first three novels, she accumulated over a hundred poems. Her poetry book, “You Were the Graveyard” is releasing on May 27 and can be bought where books are sold.

O: When did you begin writing? 

Eliza: I’ve been writing since I can remember. It started with comic stories and developed into little booklets. When I was eleven, I began plotting what became my first full-length novel. Since I was fourteen, I haven’t stopped those serious projects.

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

E: There are a lot of writers I feel I look up to, but the first one would be Neil Gaiman. I remember watching Coraline for the first time and feeling strangely inspired. At that age, I had never watched anything so spooky. Weirdly enough, that inspired me to begin writing my own creepy stories. Books eventually turned into poetry. Another person that inspires me, especially in my poetry, is Taylor Swift. Her lyrics are so metaphorical and have definitely made me want to get better at planting my own hidden meanings in my words.

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

E: Lyrical, intense, and honest.

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

E: I love seeing my work come together in the revision/ending stages. Drafts are often just a barf of the idea in my mind, and as fun as they are, they’re not often a good representation of my intention. Watching my work become what I imagined is so powerful.

O: Your work is striking, heartbreaking, and impassioned. Where does your inspiration come from? 

E: I like to think that my writing comes from all the little moments in between the big events. Some bad people and times in my life inspired my poems, but I often find myself remembering the little events, rather than the huge betrayals. You always remember the weather on your worst days or the way the open window felt. I try to encapsulate that into my poems. Words can’t describe massive emotions like love and loss, but starting with describing how they felt in individual moments narrows it down.

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 hard to pinpoint one piece of work that’s my favorite because they all represent different stages of myself. But if I had to choose one, it would probably be rosie or Hysterics. Both of these poems are very personal to me, and both showcase a similar time in my life.

O: Okay, so of course, we have to ask you about your poetry collection debut! Could you talk about what inspired you to start this collection and why it’s titled “You Were the Graveyard”? 

E: My poetry collection naturally grew over the years. At first, it became a casual part of my routine. But as I self workshopped my poems, I realized they had potential. I wanted to put together a collection of poetry for several years, but they never felt cohesive enough until recent months. I reached a point with all my poems that it felt a section of my life had a clear beginning and end, all documented in my writing. I categorized my poems to tell that story. I drew the title, “You Were the Graveyard” from a line in one of my poems Hysterics. I thought it described the overall emotion behind most of the poems. “You Were the Graveyard” is for when you feel like somebody is a graveyard for all of your love and emotion.

O: Your poems in this collection are especially lyrical and metaphorical. How did you find your style and voice throughout the process of writing these poems? 

E: I’ve always been pretty good at noticing little details, and throughout the years I would jot down little things that seemed important. Oftentimes, I would come back to them years later and just write and revise them until I found something I liked. For my other poems, I would just brain dump my emotions and metaphors would come naturally with the flow. Above else, I tried conveying my style in the way I felt things. Some would come on very quickly, others simmered in my mind for years before they got words.

O: This is more of a logistical question, but we’d love to hear about the process of self-publishing and how it’s worked out for you. Have you encountered any challenges along the way? What made you choose this route over traditional publishing? 

E: There are so many challenges in self-publishing, most of them coming from annoying self-publishing rules and software. My other issues have been with promotion, and all the tiny annoying things I don’t think authors should have to worry about. Putting that aside, I chose to do it for my collection of poetry because I wanted the freedom to tell my words exactly how they were. These poems are so personal to me, so I couldn’t imagine altering them for a publication like I would for my fictional projects.

O: You’re working on a few short films for social media promotion! What attracts you to film as a creative medium—both in terms of why you’ve elected to use it for promoting your collection and also why you’ve chosen to study it in college? 

E: Storytelling has always been my calling. It started with writing books, then poetry, and in the last few years I’ve become interested in telling stories through film. I find it so interesting because you can show details on screen rather than just saying them. For some of my poems, I thought adding imagery and a physical image to them would help people relate. I’m currently working on a short film for my poem rosie. I’m also writing and directing a short film over the summer.

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

E: Stay true to your personal style and the genres that call to you. As a young writer, there was pressure for me to write less mature things instead of love poems and thrillers. But I kept true to what I knew I could write, and it paid off because I always felt satisfied with it. Never let anyone tell you what is right or wrong. That being said, don’t be closed to constructive feedback. Knowing the difference between pointless criticism and constructive feedback is often the key between destroyed confidence and, well, destroyed confidence (but with a better plot this time!).

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

E: Yes! I’m working on filming a short film over the summer for one of my poems rosie. I’m also always writing more novels! While I do not plan on self-publishing any of my fictional novels, I’m always working on several projects which I either share or provide updates on, on my Instagram. 

Everybody give a hand to Eliza for her time answering all of our most pressing questions about writing and her exciting new debut “You Were the Graveyard! You can find out more about her on her website and also on her Instagram, Twitter, and Tiktok.

PS. Don’t forget to preorder her book where books are sold!

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.

Dissecting the Heartfelt and Humorous with Caitlin Andrews

Caitlin Andrews (she/her) is a writer, editor, social media peruser, and undergraduate student who lives in Scotland, but doesn’t really have the perks of a fun accent. She has been previously published in a variety of independent and corporate publications, including Soft Sound Press, Unpublished Magazine, MovieWeb, and most recently Periphery Magazine, where she holds the position of Senior & Managing Editor. 

Cait’s favorite hobbies include reading, writing, dying her hair, smoking cigarettes, quitting cigarettes, bullying her neighbors on the internet, yelling into the sky, debating a legal name change for memorability purposes, and routinely being a smart-ass. Wherever she’s going, it’s probably hell. 

O: When did you begin writing? 

Caitlin Andrews: You know, my nursery wouldn’t let me graduate without knowing my ABCs, so I think it was probably sometime around then. In terms of properly writing, I’d always been an imaginative kid—I vividly remember spending weekends wandering around the Scottish hillside wearing a variety of neurotic-mother-mandated sunscreening hats, and chatting the ear off my parents about the imaginary universes I had created in my brain. None of them were any good (in fact, the first attempt at a novel I wrote aged eight was a blatant knockoff of Harry Potter, starring a little witch girl named Lily Potts), but I was a hyper-anxious child and, at the time, fiction was a great way to obtain some control over being a kid, in attempts of forgetting how much it sucked—a feat I’m still trying to achieve, even now. 

In terms of trying to be halfway funny: when I was nine-ish, we went on a school trip to this activity bunkhouse thing called Comrie Croft (which, for the record, contained far too much hillwalking for a bunch of grouchy middle-class children), and when we got home and were asked to write a short essay about our experiences, I remember thinking about it for a few moments, before writing an opening line where I described myself as a “twat in a beanie hat.” I don’t know if I fully registered “twat” as being a bad word (one of the many consequences of growing up in a house with an Ulsterman and an Australian), but I remember thinking, even if unconsciously, that even a feeble attempt at “being funny” was one of those things I could do to take control over an otherwise unappealing life. Much of this realisation had been prompted by the reality that my beautiful best friend had spent our week away kissing good-looking boys and sneaking off in the middle of the night to play games of Truth or Dare, but I had short hair, and was greasy, and wore stupid cagoules in a time when you were still allowed to hurl abuses at the people you thought were lesbians, so trying to shift my competition a little bit seemed natural; to channel into the energy of, “This is something you can be a bit of a dog while doing, and still succeed! People might like you!”

As for when I began writing well…let me know when it happens, will you?

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? 

Caitlin Andrews: In terms of recent inspiration, I think Cynthia Heimel, Chuck Klosterman, and Merrill Markoe have probably already influenced my writing to a certain extent. I had a very temporary position at a small magazine as a Sex and Intimacy writer earlier in the year, and during the course of my various internet travels, stumbled across a copy of Sex Tips for Girls by Heimel, which really reinvigorated my passion for both reading and writing (and, much to my gratitude, reminded me that not every book has to be painfully serious). Honestly, prior to that, I hadn’t really read a book in months—there’s something about spending thirteen years in school that can suck the extra-curricular enthusiasm right out of you, but now that I’ve started on this Goodreads Book Challenge of 25 books a year, I’m burning right through them! It’s just about learning what you want to read and, in comparison, the shit you feel like you’re obligated to want to read.

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

Caitlin Andrews: Hmm, I think that probably depends on my target audience—if my very professional grandfather asked me to describe what I wrote about online, words like “raunchy” probably wouldn’t spring to mind so quickly. But, if I had to pick an easy author tagline, I think I’d use words like “Crass, Lighthearted, and Humorous,” just to let people know the kind of content I like to put out into the universe, and that they should dip out for the foreseeable future if they don’t like naughty language.

On an actually vulnerable level, I’d like my work to be perceived as “Effortful, Honest, and Empathetic.” Maybe that’s incredibly self-aggrandizing, a trait my adolescent brain seems to struggle with shedding, but I think at my core, I just want to my work to have some effect on the two people that read it. To especially demonstrate to young women that you can be bad in bed, or have neuroses, or just generally be a bit unappealing to most of mankind and still have some semblance of a future. Life’s not finished just because you started in last place and you’ve spent the rest of the race running backwards; there’s always time to get past this thing of needing to be “the perfect woman” in every sexual or romantic experience (though admittedly, even though I say this, I do still have that recurring thought that whispers, “Yeah, but if someone I’m attracted to reads this, will they think I’m cool for saying it, or will they think I’m less sexy because I try not to care about being sexy?”). At the core of it, I want people to feel better than I do, and if I didn’t have some deep-seated need for connection and understanding, I’d probably be off chasing a desk job that might even pay me money.

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

Caitlin Andrews: Probably not the drinking five cans of Redbull, convincing myself I’m having a heart attack, and then passing out over my laptop and sustaining a major neck injury, though it’s definitely nearing the top of the list. Also probably not convincing myself that I can Bukowski a good article by unsuccessfully trying to drink a bottle of spirit, because I’ll usually end up half-naked, on the floor, and crying about some vague childhood trauma with a blank Google document. 

I’d say the proper best bit is when you’ve taken a week or two away from writing, just long enough for you to start developing this kind of paranoia that you’ll never be able to write again, and then you sit down at your computer and it just flows. That moment when everything you’ve been thinking about recently just pours itself into words, and you can physically see your work shaping up into something not totally terrible. I wish I could bottle that feeling and drink it instead.

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!) 

Caitlin Andrews: Honestly, my favourite piece of work probably doesn’t exist yet! I spend most of my time writing, editing, drafting, re-drafting, reviewing and then rewriting, but as soon as I make the decision to put a piece anywhere on the internet, I usually feel pretty gross about it. My ultimate goal is to make sure my oldest pieces are my worst, so I can guarantee I’ll feel as embarrassed as an adult about the pieces I write now as I do now about the pieces I wrote when I was fifteen!

But if I had to pick a favorite so far, I think I’d choose “Indiana Jones and The Case of the Apathetic Anal Sex,” mainly because it’s so utterly ridiculous and strange that I think it really reflects my harebrained nature. You don’t realize how jankily your mind bounces from topic to topic until you go from anal sex, to middle-aged divorcees, to Aquaman, to Indiana Jones, to McDonald’s fries, to the Riverside Museum and back again. Also, because if I had written this piece five years ago, it would have been a scandal.

O: Your writing reminds us a ton of Joan Didion—the language is precise, the feelings somehow raw and detached in the same breath—but it’s also so inherently you! Could you talk a bit about how you found your voice as a writer? 

Caitlin Andrews: Joan Didion? Wow! Careful, if you let my head get any bigger I won’t be able to fit through the door frame. Honestly, I think “finding your voice” is just one of those things that happens to you, like magically becoming a super genius at twenty-five when your brain is finished developing (or so I imagineI’m basing my theories off the assumption that having a fully cooked brain is like that novel writing scene from Limitless). At some point, you either get comfortable enough to fully immerse your personality into your writing, or you can, quite literally, die trying. I will say though, academia is a total fuckfest when it comes to writing stuff that actually appeals to people. You get conditioned into prioritising bibliographies and word counts and the exclusion of a first-person pronoun; worst of all expressing an individual opinion not originally presented in a textbook, which means, if you’re a person who has spent a lot of time recently in school or university, you’re probably going to be writing shit for a little while. 

For me personally, I wrote almost exclusively shit for several months. Every time I opened a Google Document, I crushed my personality into a little box and said, “Sit there, nobody cares about you right now,” while writing things that a chimp with a keyboard could replicate. Some of it was successful, and some of it was so totally terrible that I want to weep into my hands at the idea that it could ever be associated with my name, but that’s part of the big learning curve that is getting a bit less bad at something. You just have to keep writing things that suck, acknowledging that they suck, writing things that you don’t think suck, and then four months later realising that they do, in fact, suck. Now do you understand why my work is so vulgar? 

O: Your piece Unhappy Mother’s Day is a stunning and heartbreaking contemplation on familial relationships and what it means to value your own self-worth. How does your writing help you heal and connect with yourself and others?

Caitlin Andrews: That’s a good question, I’ve actually been thinking about this recently! So, as we know, I am as depressive as I am neurotic, and I spend most of my evenings devising cruel and unusual methods of psychologically torturing myself. After a hundred thousand hours’ worth of clinical trials, I’ve discovered that my own personal hell is letting my brain repeatedly poke at all my painful and embarrassing memories, whether it’s the mildly dumb stuff I did in the corner of a classroom aged twelve, or the incredibly dumb stuff I did in the corner of a bedroom aged sixteen (…truly, if we could inject teenagers with my inescapable sexual memories, it would be way more effective at preventing underage sex than abstinence education). However, the discovery of writing has also unearthed two things when it comes to my experience of healing from embarrassment and pain: the first being that I can now use these terrible memories as grist for the literary mill, and the second being the fact that I am embarrassed by some of these memories is actually more embarrassing than the event itself. 

For example—when I was a child, I went to swimming lessons every Tuesday night. During these lessons, I was expected to swim several laps to the end of the pool and back, while my mother read her book and looked down at me from a large windowed balcony. Around half of this time was spent with me choking on piss-and-chlorine filled pool water (which, if you believe the internet’s stance on cyanogen chloride, probably explains why I am constantly nauseated and lethargic) and trying not to pay attention to other kids’ manky plasters knocking about in the pool filter, until one day, I didn’t manage to complete my final lap. Instead, I swam to about the halfway line in the pool, kicked my legs like the seafaring dolphin I knew I could be, swallowed some more pool water and gleefully lifted my head, thinking I had already probably won the lap-race and was about to be crowned the next Michael Phelps in training. Instead, I found myself still in the middle of the pool and staring at the befuddled face of my swimming instructor and the other children, who had actually completed their laps. “You just turned around and did a spin in the middle of the pool,” my mother later announced, in a tone some might consider unmaternally gleeful. “We were all watching.” 

Cosmically, is that story actually that embarrassing? Not really. But did it haunt little childhood me, to the extent I might have just as well taken a poo in the pool and sucker punched little Jimmy in the next lane hard in his little wet face? Absolutely. I spent the next week trying to convince my mother to let me stop taking swimming lessons, which in practice lasted for about as long as it took to arrive at the community centre and get out of the car. I’d have earnestly preferred to drown than think about it. But now that I have the opportunity to divide my life into “publishable” and “unpublishable” content, that story wouldn’t even make the cut, because it’s just not that embarrassing, or really, that interesting. So, as it turns out, the best way to cope with pain and humiliation is by exploiting yourself on the internet. Who knew? (Other than the pals who predicted I’d end up doing porn, I mean.)

O: On a much lighter note, you’ve done a ton of fantastic work reviewing music and film. What about these two mediums is fascinating to you? (And if you have a favorite song/album/film, please do share those with us as well!)

Caitlin Andrews: Honestly, I consume a ton of internet-appointed “male manipulator” content (think: Tarantino, Scorsese, literally anything written by Bret Easton Ellis) and when you consider yourself a feminist, there’s a tiny voice in the back of your head that says, “Hmm, all of this is great, but I can’t freely enjoy it without acknowledging that if it’s got a cool male protagonist, there’s often a woman in the background having a really shit time.” It’s especially difficult to critically dissect a form of content when you find the protagonist attractive, or the production itself is aesthetically pleasing, and I often have to watch something a few times to analyse it beyond looking at the pretty people and pictures. So, I think that probably explains why I write so much content about film at least, because I’m capable of loving really good toxic shit, and I need to find a way to clear my hypocritical liberal conscience!

In terms of music, I’ve got absolutely no skills to actually critically analyse anything, given my lack of ability to play an instrument (other than maybe an E minor chord on guitar, which is about as impressive as it is complex), so I’ll usually just turn to tyrannically bullying the artists I love and hope that makes for interesting content. So far, that list has mostly just included Matty Healy, the poor bastard. But I think it’s important to note I don’t ever really write articles about stuff I’m apathetic towards, so when I do comment on a piece of content, it’s usually because I have some form of appreciation for it!

In terms of my favorite music at the moment, I’ll spill the beans on myself and drop you the first few songs in my On Repeat Spotify playlist: “Me & Mr Jones” by Amy Winehouse, “You Never Can Tell” by Chuck Berry, “Let’s Get It On” by Marvin Gaye, “I Can’t Stand The Rain” by Ann Peebles, “I Fall In Love Too Easily” by Chet Baker, and “I Wanna Get Next To You” by Rose Royce. I guess you could say there’s a theme there.”

O: At Periphery Magazine, you worked as a staff writer for two months before moving up to be their Senior & Managing Editor! Could you talk a bit about how you managed to move vertically within an organization and share any advice you might have for someone who aspires to do the same? 

Caitlin Andrews: Um, be obsessive as hell. For a few months, I just went ham with suggesting things and trying to develop projects, and when it looked like I could work with my lovely editors Katrina Kwok and Madison Case to help bring Periphery to a larger audience, I quit writing for other places in hopes of trying to make it succeed! I don’t subscribe to the idea of “hustle culture” by any means (in that I think you should be allowed to sleep, and watch Netflix, and eat food that doesn’t exclusively come out of a powder pouch without being labelled lazy) but there’s something to be said for picking what you want and earnestly working towards it. 

In terms of advice, I think if you want to move vertically, you just have to follow a few reasonable expectations: be polite, meet your deadlines, be receptive to communication and feedback, and if you’re looking to rise in a position quickly, go above and beyond to demonstrate your commitment to the publication wherever possible. Above all else, be effortful! Wherever you wind up, you’re never going to regret having tried to the best of your ability, and on a personal level, even if my writing career goes to shit, I like to think I’ll still have a collection of essays for my future kids to be embarrassed about.

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

Caitlin Andrews: In my opinion, every single good piece you’re going to write is going to be vulnerable. Even if it’s humorous or tackles a serious topic in a light-hearted way, it’ll probably cut close to the bone for you emotionally when it’s released, which is why it’s important to start leaving the self-doubt at the door when you start creating whatever you want to create. For me, I get stuck thinking about all sorts of consequences when I write things – what will my mother think? Are some of my former classmates going to stumble across my sex articles from my LinkedIn profile and further solidify my reputation as, justified or otherwise, the class slut? If my current relationship ends, is this content something I’m comfortable with an asshole on Tinder turning into a pick-up line? It might not be possible to completely abandon those worries, but coming to terms with the fact that people probably won’t like you and that you need to be yourself anyway has been a powerful lesson for me, both in writing and in life. 

Also, this might be weird, but if you were a bullied kid, that’s your superpower. There’s no one more observant than a child hellbent on hurting your feelings, so analyse what people tried to kick the shit out of you for, and figure out what characteristic made you special. Cool people suffer, but really cool people turn that suffering into something.”

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

Caitlin Andrews: I’m so going to jinx this, but at the moment I’m trying to figure out the beginning stages of building a portfolio on Medium! Last night, I actually quit my freelance job at MovieWeb in hopes of pursuing some more diverse content (mostly of the sex and pop culture variety), which I’m really looking forward to sinking my teeth into over the next few months. There are also a few pieces I’ve nudged towards slightly larger publications, so fingers crossed for that!

Thank you so much to Caitlin for sitting down to chat with us so extensively about both life and work! You can check out more of her work on her website and find her also on LinkedIn and Medium!

Musical Escapism with the “Drifting” Christina Nicole 

For some artists, the art of making music takes years to perfect, for others, like New Jersey native Christina Nicole, it comes naturally. As a child growing up in Freehold, New Jersey, Christina was always singing songs around her house, and performing karaoke for school talent shows. Throughout middle school, she participated in choirs and voice lessons and was accepted into a high school entertainment technology program, where she began writing her own music.

Christina Nicole’s songs, inspired by Lorde’s meaningful lyrics and instrumentation, have been compared to the likes of Beach House and Kate Bush. With her evocative melodies and elegant vocals, Christina Nicole makes music like no other, combining her years of classical vocal training with knowledge learned from her time studying Recording Arts & Music Production in Drexel University’s Music Industry Program.

Christina says that her love of music comes from her childhood in New Jersey, spent singing in talent shows and vocal groups. But, it was her time at an entertainment and technology high school where she discovered a love for songwriting and sharing her music with the world. About sharing her music, Christina Nicole says, “The fact that something I love so much and has always been my escape also has the power to be somebody else’s escape at the same time, is so powerful to me. I want to be the conversation over morning coffee. Being able to have that same emotional impact on an audience, but this time with my own words, and my own stories, truly became life-changing.” 

Christina Nicole makes music that has a beautifully haunting quality to it. Her debut single, “At Sea” was released in September 2020 and she is preparing for another recent release, again inspired by the ocean, “Drifting.” 

Outlander: How did you get your start in music? 

Christina Nicole: As a child, I had always loved to sing. I remember being extremely excited for all the elementary and pre-school shows where the class would sing a few songs together. As I grew up, that love of music grew right beside me. There never really was a time where I didn’t have music directly involved in my life. The elementary school concerts turned into high school solo performances, which then led me to start writing my own material. While I was involved with a music program in high school, I realized the amount of passion I had for this field, and how much I could say through songwriting. Songwriting opened up a whole world of creativity that I could manipulate to tell my stories. I continued to let this passion grow with me, and am excited to see what else it evolves into.

O: Is there an artist that you look up to, whether it be someone who motivated you to begin your music career or someone whose work inspires you today? 

C: The first artist I became a real fan of was Lorde. Seeing somebody so young accomplish so much, and make absolutely beautiful music really inspired me to try the same. I instantly became a fan of the vibe of her songs, and how unique it felt. It led me to try experimenting with untraditional moments in my own music. Her lyrics felt genuine and true to herself. I strive to be as genuine as that, and make a unique vibe in my music. Even today, I am still a huge fan of hers and enjoy seeing her genuine vibe persisting. 

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

C: Thoughtful, experimental, thematic. I try to make my music have a lot of meaning, and be something you really think about to understand what the big picture is saying. This meaning hides inside the lyrics as well as the sounds I choose to use. Which is why I would say it is also a bit experimental. The instrumentals tell the story as much as the lyrics do. I choose synths and sounds that I manipulate to help the listener paint the story in their head. I love writing about a metaphor that turns into a theme. In my song Drifting, this metaphor is sinking into the sea. 

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

C: For me, my favorite part is recording vocals. As a vocalist, it is super fun to figure out the style vocals that best fit the song. I absolutely love to sing, and singing my own material is super cool. I like to experiment with different registers and tones, and decide what works best. It is the part of the process that I feel I can truly let go and kinda just do my thing and see what works and doesn’t work. Different styles of vocals can really change up the whole vibe of a song.

O: If you had only one sentence to pitch “Drifting,” what would it be? 

C: Drifting tells about a journey, and makes you feel immersed in it. 

O: Tell us about your experience writing and recording “Drifting”! 

C: I wrote the lyrics to this song a long time ago. At first it was a slow piano ballad, in a higher key. I let this sit for a while, and eventually came back to it to add what I have learned about music and songwriting. When I did this, I completely changed the vibe. I lowered the key and added tons of synths and experimental soundscapes. It was super cool to see the song change directions so drastically.

O: Both “Drifting” and your debut song, “At Sea” are about the ocean. What about the sea inspires you?

C: I think the ocean is so fascinating. For me, I use it as a metaphor. The thing is that it looks so stunning from a distance, you just want to jump in. But once you’re in, it is ruthless. It is deep, unpredictable and rough. It quite literally pulls you in. Using this as inspiration for songwriting really opened a lot of doors for creativity to pour in.

O: Since a lot of your musical influence comes from Lorde, we have to ask: What elements of her music do you love and wish to emulate for your own style? And in the same vein, how do you deviate from what she puts out?

C: I absolutely love the vibe of her songs. Something about it feels super unique, and genuine. Her lyrics feel real and true to herself. I definitely strive to have a unique style and raw lyrics. A lot of her music follows the traditional verse-chorus style. I do tend to not follow this pattern in my songs, and just let them flow out the way that feels right. I like not being confined to a pattern I have to follow.

O: You studied in Drexel University’s Music Industry program for a few years. How does your classical vocal training translate into the music you produce today?

C: It is definitely very helpful to know how to manipulate my voice to fit a style and a vibe. Vocals can sometimes be the most important aspect to creating a style. It is cool to be able to experiment with different runs and little things to add in. Knowing how to add harmony has been amazingly helpful when songwriting. Also, vocals are the most enjoyable aspect for me, since it is what I feel I know best.

O: You talk a lot about how escapism is a key point in the music you produce. What do you define escapism as, and how does that translate into your music? 

C: For me, escapism in my music is the ability to get lost and forget everything else for a brief moment while listening to music. I had a high school teacher describe to me how powerful you can be to an audience. He explained that as a musician you have the ability to take away the audience’s stresses and worries while they are listening to your music. All that matters to them at that moment, is the music they are listening to. The music allows them to be completely present inside that moment. I completely understood what he meant. I have been to concerts and during those two hours, nothing else mattered in the world besides that moment, and the beautiful music I was immersed in. Music has been an escape for me while listening and writing. I hope to be able to share that feeling with my listeners when they hear my songs. 

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

C: Sometimes I find myself getting frustrated and stuck in writer’s block. However, I have come to learn that you cannot force art. It won’t be genuine, and it won’t feel right. Writer’s block is terrible, but it always passes. Sometimes even writing down brief ideas and letting them sit for days or weeks is okay. When you come back to those ideas, you’ll have a fresh headspace and bring more ideas- and then leave those ideas to sit. As the ideas build up, an “ah-ha” moment will come along. Definitely write down all of those little ideas though, you never know what will grow into something amazing. 

Another thing I would say is that the most inspiring things in life are sometimes not obvious. I will often see things in public that seem cool to write about. I’ll take out my phone and write a very brief note of it to pull inspiration out of later, for when I am ready to sit down and write. There is always meaning in the mundane. Even if the world around you seems a little gray, something deeper is always hiding beneath that grayness  ready to be written about and shown how beautiful it really is. Or, write about why the world seems a little gray. There is always meaning ready to be uncovered. 

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

C: At the moment I am currently working on some lyrics that definitely have the potential to grow into something super cool. I also have some projects that I plan on working on this year. They need lots of work, but I am excited to see where they go.

Thank you so much to Christina for sitting down and chatting with us about her music, creative processes, and more! Make sure to check her out on Instagram and TikTok.

Tedx Talk(ing) with Sidney Muntean

Sidney Muntean is a senior in the Creative Writing Conservatory at Orange County High School of the Arts and a 2021 alumna of the Summer Workshop at the Kelly Writers House. She is the founder and editor-in-chief of The Junebug Journal. Her writing has been recognized by the Scholastic Art and Writing Awards and the Kay Snow Writing Awards. She has also been published in Inlandia: A Literary Journey, Rising Phoenix Press, Sunspot Lit, and Adonis Designs Press, among others. In her TEDx Talk, Sidney dives into her personal experiences with identity, and why, ultimately, accepting ourselves is enough.  

Outlander: When did you start writing? 

Sidney Muntean: I’ve been writing since I was a wee 1st grader, but I started to formally write in 9th grade when I was accepted to the Creative Writing Conservatory at Orange County School of the Arts. 

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? 

S: I admire the performance poet Phil Kaye. In my freshman year of high school, I immersed myself in the world of poetry and I eventually stumbled upon Kaye’s work. I am inspired by his use of language; he doesn’t always use extravagant vocabulary in his work but allows the complexity of his ideas to do the heavy lifting. I am not impressed by poems that use grandiose diction to make up for the emptiness in their message, so I appreciate how Kaye uses simplicity to evoke profound emotions. As a performer, Kaye stands out to me stylistically; he doesn’t need to raise his voice to command an audience’s attention. He connects with the audience through the authenticity of his expression and gesticulations. I actually had the opportunity to be in a master class with Phil Kaye last spring and got some insightful feedback from him on one of my poems. 

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

S: Whimsical, headstrong, and interdisciplinary. I chose whimsical because I believe that there’s a bit of magic in everything, and this belief subconsciously finds its way into my writing. I would also identify my work as headstrong because it is unapologetic from the start; it does not pretend to be something it is not and is unafraid to put the reader on edge. Lastly, I consider my recent work to take an interdisciplinary approach. I am interested in exploring the intersections between creativity and logic. I have written chemistry-based creative essays as well as poems entirely in code. I am excited to continue pushing the boundaries of the abstract and the physical. 

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

S: Surprisingly, my favorite part of the creative process is revision. There is something about revising that feels liberating: the idea that you can seamlessly erase entire worlds and rebuild from the ground up is more of a comfort to me than a daunting prospect. I also save all my different draft versions, so none of my words are truly lost forever. 

O: Do you remember the first piece you wrote? 

S: Very clearly. When I was in first grade, my teacher asked that we keep a journal. We would have “free write” sessions in class which inspired me to begin writing fantasy. I created a series of stories about a time-traveling, dimension-hopping horse named Spirit. Each story was about Spirit’s exploration of a different world and the friends he made along the way. I continued writing about Spirit into second grade as well. 

O: What’s the biggest challenge you’ve faced on your creative journey?

S: I’ve struggled with making sure my perfectionism doesn’t inhibit my creativity. I used to focus too much on finding the best combination of words or maintaining a high level of vocabulary instead of capturing the emotion I was trying to convey. I’ve had to learn how to remove myself from the writer’s chair and take a seat from the reader’s perspective. First drafts don’t have to be perfect; after all, you can always go back and revise. Now, when I sit down and write, I let all my ideas flow unfiltered. 

O: What is the story behind the founding of The Junebug Journal?

S: It went like this: a group of teenagers huddled in front of a computer and cheered when the “Publish Website” button was pushed. They had spent five months designing concept art, taking themed photos, setting up submission forms, and building an entire website all on their own. The Junebug Journal was launched in December of 2019. I am lucky enough to be in an environment where I can pursue my passions, but I have other friends from other high schools who also have creative interests but are unable to follow them due to a lack of opportunities. Thus, I had the idea of creating The Junebug Journal: a platform for the creative arts community. The Junebug Journal was established to be an outlet to showcase the unusual and overlooked potential of creative pursuits, ranging from writing to culinary arts. I truly am grateful to have the opportunity to bear witness to the self-expression of our contributors. 

O: Do you remember the first time you got published? How did you feel?

S: The first magazine I was published in was The Phoenix. I was a budding writer, merely a freshman in high school, and I was overjoyed. I remember that I was very self-conscious about my writing and never shared it with anyone. When I finally got the print journal in the mail, I felt like my writing was real and had value. That gave me more confidence in my work.

O: Is what you like to write the same as what you like to read?

S: In terms of genre, not always, but in terms of style, yes. I like to read genres of science fiction, fantasy, and realistic fiction, but I like to write nonfiction or magical realism. Stylistically, I like the strange and the unique and strive to achieve that in my own work. I like reading works with a spin on stereotypical writing forms, like combining calculus theorems in poetry or creating a computer science test that doubles as an essay. I try to incorporate this into my work by taking an interdisciplinary approach to writing, such as using scientific or mathematical concepts to convey an idea. 

O: What kind of writing moves you?

S: I am moved by works that are the purest form of humanity. I want to read about your tragedies and your losses, but I also want to hear about your triumphs and moments of personal growth. I want to hear about places where you lost yourself and found yourself. I want to read about the lessons you learned: and the ones you didn’t. I am moved by confessions, lamentations, proclamations, and realizations. Everything and anything human. 

O: Do you remember the first submission you received at The Junebug Journal? What was it like?

S: Yes, I remember that our first submission was a photography piece. Since we received that submission at the early stages of The Junebug Journal (even before we had expanded to our wonderful team today), the editors were comprised of my friends and myself. We used that submission as a jumping-off point as to how all the rest of the submissions would be reviewed and many of those elements are still considered today. 

O: What motivated you to center your TedTalk around identity?

S: This topic was something I have personally struggled with throughout the years. I was experiencing a lot of change in my life, and the ways I was reacting to those changes were not up-to-par with how I previously behaved. I started to question who I was and how those changes were affecting me. I initially resisted the change and tried to cling to external impressions of myself. I finally realized that identity is not a stationary state of being; it constantly changes in response to the lessons retained from a person’s individual experience. I found that when I stopped resisting change, I felt more connected with my inner self than ever before. 

O: What is one thing that you want someone to take away from your TedTalk “Journey to the Center: Why Identity is Important”?

S: You are more than you realize. You are more than what other people think of you and more than what you think of yourself. If you look inside of yourself, you’ll find that all your previous and future selves are residing there simultaneously with varying intensities that all chime in; some are louder, some are softer, but all are in harmony. This symphony is specific to you and you only; no one else has the same song, and that is enough. You are enough. 

O: How did you feel after delivering such a powerful message through your TedTalk?

S: I felt grateful for all the support I received and also exhilarated by the idea that my message could reach someone who needs it. I recently had a friend tell me that they were struggling with their identity and that watching my Ted Talk gave them some clarity and reassurance. I wish I had someone to guide me when I was having my own identity crisis, and I’m glad I could be that person to someone else.

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

S: I would recommend staying true to your own voice. Every writer has a unique perspective and a talent to convey those ideas using words. However, some budding writers may feel like their talents are diminished in light of rejections from writing competitions and publications. I have heard of some writers who create pieces to perfectly “fit” the expectations of these institutions, even if those pieces are not true to their personal creative voices. You shouldn’t exchange the value of your original thoughts for what you might perceive as writing glory. It’s not worth losing sight of the reason you write. If the only reason you write is to get published or win awards, then maybe writing is not for you. Having a passion should be emotionally fulfilling; your passion should not exclusively be based on external validation. 

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

S: I have spent most of my life enamored by creative writing and am now in a phase where I can share this love with others who wish to pursue it. While I can’t officially announce many details, I can say that some collaborative and community-based projects are in the works. If you’re interested, stay tuned on my Instagram socials (@sidneymuntean and @thejunebugjournal) to hear more about what’s in store for the future. 

A huge shoutout to Sidney for sitting down to answer our questions! Make sure you stay up to date on her latest adventures by following her on Instagram and Twitter. Check out her website too!

Shattering Monotony with Lena Fine

Lena Fine is an authentic singer and songwriter making indie-folk tracks that invoke a sense of nostalgia for young coming-of-age people. Inspired by Pinegrove’s sound, Soccer Mommy’s relatability, and Joni Mitchell’s storytelling ability, Lena Fine’s relatable lyrics, and dazzling vocals have been compared to that of Lucy Dacus and Julia Jacklin.

Though she grew up in Montclair, NJ, Fine is currently based in Philadelphia, PA, where she attends Drexel University. She started pursuing original music when she was 14 and says “I’ve been writing songs for as long as I can remember, but I wrote my first song that really stuck with me when I was fourteen. I’ve been singing since I was seven, but finding something that clicked and that people actually wanted to hear made me realize it was pretty much all I wanted to do.” Lena aims to create authentic music for whoever it may resonate with. In high school, Fine worked with producer Jake Weinberg of CRITTER, and has begun working with other producers in Philadelphia.

Having previously released three full-length albums, Lena Fine is currently working on new music with producers Bay Dupuy and Robert Fine, set to release in Summer 2021. She has two upcoming performances, including Drexel Flux’s Lawn Jawn online concert in May 2021.

Outlander: How did you get your start in music?

Lena Fine: I started singing when I was 7 and writing music seriously when I was 14. I had written songs before that but they were all kind of silly; it wasn’t until I was 14 that I wrote a few that I thought could be something real. Since then, I never really stopped and it’s just been a constant. 

O: Is there an artist that you look up to, whether it be someone who motivated you to begin your music career or someone whose work inspires you today?

L: Joni Mitchell’s and The Chicks’ storytelling abilities were always very striking to me. Though they’re very different sonically, I remember listening to both when I was little and wanting so badly to be able to do what they could. 

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

L: Poignant, introspective, honest.

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

L: Either when I finish writing a song and I just want to play it all the time, or when I’m recording and adding harmonies. There’s something about figuring out harmonies that’s incredibly therapeutic for me.

O: If you only had one sentence to pitch “Dance Partner,” what would it be?

L: It’s a song that makes it okay to romanticize the idea of someone.

O: As you are studying Screenwriting at Drexel University, how has your songwriting been influenced by your screenwriting and vice versa?

L: I think in both screenwriting and songwriting the goal is ultimately the same: make the audience feel something and connect. I think my songwriting is a lot more introspective because it’s all about me and my own feelings, whereas in screenwriting I kind of have more room to figure things out about myself and the world around me through different characters and voices. 

O: Since you wrote “Dance Partner” during a time of suffocating mundanity and desperation, do you want your listeners to find solace through your new single?

L: I hope so! The song can get a bit sad and I don’t want it to be a total downer. I think it will be interesting for the audience to interpret a song that was written during the height of the pandemic as we slowly start to come out of it. Everything’s opening back up and I think it will be interesting to see if those feelings in the song are more universal than just that isolated moment in time.

O: What’s the biggest challenge you’ve faced on your creative journey?

L: Making everything in my head tangible! Especially with recording, it can get really frustrating not knowing how to communicate the way I hear things in my head, and it taking longer than expected to bring all the sounds to fruition. It’s always worth the wait, though!
You mention that you first wrote your first song at 14 which jumpstarted your music career.

O: Can you tell us a little about your first song and how it helped you realize you wanted to keep writing?

L: One of the first songs I wrote that felt like a real track was “Boy in the City.” I think it was really good for me to be 14 and full of angst and kind of only having one place to put it, which was music. I had been singing for a while at that point and it sort of felt like an extension of myself, so writing music felt like the logical place to go. Once I wrote that, and it became a song I actually wanted to listen to, I started to think that maybe there was something worthwhile about it all. 

O: Out of all the songs you have written, which would you say resonates with you the most?

L: Either “Bittersweet” or “Thus Far.” I wrote “Bittersweet” at a time when everything felt like it was ending: my brother was leaving for college and everything felt like it was about to change. A lot of the song is forcing myself to see the good in the endings, but also just being honest about how sad it all is. “Thus Far” was really good for me to write because it forced me to take a step back and think about things differently. I wrote it as I was coming to the end of my senior year in high school and was just in this headspace of running out of time and remembering the things I could have savored more. I think I constantly feel like I’m running out of time, so it’s nice that I made something for myself that reminds me to stop once in a while. 

O: If you could give advice to other aspiring musicians from what you’ve learned, what would it be?

L: Always make sure you’re doing it for yourself! If you’re not in it enough, it’s not worth it and it’s not going to be a true reflection of who you are. 

O: What are you most looking forward to after the release of your new single, “Dance Partner”?

L: Working on and sharing the rest of the album! 

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

L: I am working on an album that should be out later this year!

Thank you so much to Lena and Dime + Dog Records for sitting down to chat with us! We hope you feel inspired hearing about Lena’s story and creative journey. If you want to keep up with Lena’s latest adventures, make sure to follow her on Instagram, Twitter, and TikTok!

The Liberating Power of Words: Ann Lilly Jose

Ann Lilly Jose has been scribbling on pieces of paper since she was a kid and started writing seriously at the age of thirteen. A firm believer of the liberating power of words, she hopes to tell stories that can be the light at the end of somebody’s long, dark tunnel. When not writing, she can be found learning about random things, obsessing over twilights and the moon, and consuming unhealthy amounts of coffee.

Outlander: When did you start writing?

Ann Lilly Jose: I started writing seriously at the age of thirteen and drafted a novella overnight at fourteen, but I’ve only recently discovered my style and niche, so I would like to call myself an amateur.

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? 

A: I’ve always relied on AuthorTube for inspiration. Shaelin Bishop and Rachel Lachmansingh are the ones who have impacted my journey the most. Their tips and personal writing experiences have taught me valuable lessons about the craft and the process, and I still look up to them for inspiration and strength. Their works are some of my all-time favorites, too.

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

A: Raw, because I try to portray emotions and settings in their most raw and authentic form instead of glamorizing them. Uncanny, because most of my recent pieces deal with uncomfortable topics and explore strange relationships and settings. Experimentative, because I’ve been trying to experiment with language, form, and style.

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

A: I am a discovery writer, so my favorite part is when it all starts making sense. That moment when the story seems to have purpose and starts flowing freely, when it unfurls and reveals details about the characters and the setting, when the story seems to write itself.

O: How has the pandemic changed your workflow? 

A: I saw the pandemic as an opportunity to write more, but a writer’s block hit and it’s still hanging over my head. I’ve produced very little in terms of quantity, but it has been a wonderful process. My attempts at writing amidst the pandemic helped me discover my style and experiment with prose.

O: What is the best compliment you’ve received on your writing?

A: A lot of people have told me that my pieces are easy to read through and that they do not feel the need to stop or take breaks. This, for me, is a huge compliment, and probably the biggest I’ve received.

O: Out of all the characters you’ve created, who is your most favorite? Why?

A: So far, it has to be Norah. She’s the protagonist of my short story Twinepathy. It’s mostly because she’s an unhinged narrator. She has freaky dreams, has a complex worldview, and floats on the surface of things, merely existing. Got to love a character like that!

O: Do you ever reread your old works? How do you feel about them?

A: I cringe at the language and style of my old writing, but being in writer’s block, I’m fascinated by my younger self. I used to be able to write thousands of words a day and come up with several story ideas a month, some of which were really good. I even intend on developing a few old ideas into short stories or novellas.

O: How has joining the writing community transformed your writing process?

A: It has been miraculous. Being a non-native English writer, I often do not feel a sense of belonging in my real-life peer groups. But the online writing community always felt like home, particularly Tumblr. I only recently started a Tumblr blog, but it’s changed the way I look at the writing craft and process. I feel like I belong somewhere and that is wonderful.

O: Are there any themes in writing that you would like to explore in the future?

A: I would love to start writing adult literary fiction someday. It sounds like such an intense genre and the possibilities of it are so exciting. I’ll wait patiently for the day I can finally lay my hands on it.

O: Could you share with us a few sentences or a paragraph that you are particularly fond of?

A: Renee and I are in the midst of a  forest,  a  full moon shining translucently through the dark clouds.  My teeth chatter in the cold, breath-catching mist,  turning exhaled air into short-lived frost. We’re roasting marshmallows over a  little fire,  the crackle of twigs burning blended with the music playing from my phone,  her dancing to it,  swaying from side to side. Observing that she’s too close to the fire,  I get up, asking her to move away, but she doesn’t.

She’s dancing to the music as flames turn her into ashes.

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

A: One, do what you want to do. Writing is a form of art and it is supposed to be for you before it is for anyone else. Be selfish and write what you want to write. If you want to, write books just for yourself to read. Two, do not let anyone pressure you into publishing. It’s your choice, and not being published doesn’t make you any less of a writer. Three, do not let the number of words you produce be the measure of your worth. Do not prioritize content over your mental health and well-being. Four, be there for other writers. Connect with them, read their work, and support them. Do not hesitate to reach out for help if you need it. Five, be inclusive with your writing. If you do not know about a community, learn. Make sure that you promote equality and justice. Finally, don’t give up. There will be hard days. There will be days when you want to give up on writing, but know that those days come and go. Hang in there a little longer and the wait will be worth it.

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

A: I am currently working on a literary fiction novella that deals with themes like childhood, religion, trauma, purity, and sin. The plan is to draft it during Camp NaNoWriMo in July. I’ve also recently launched a literary magazine called Eclipse Zine, so I’ll probably be occupied with that too!

Thank you so much to Ann for sitting down to chat with us about all things writing! If you want to stay updated with Ann’s latest literary adventures, check out her website (www.annlillyjose.tumblr.com) and Instagram (@annlillyjose).

Exploring “What If’s” with Callie Reiff

From musical prodigy to industry trendsetter, 21-year-old Callie Reiff is unlike any other. As an accomplished producer, DJ, and all-around performer, she made history as the youngest DJ to perform at Webster Hall — since then, Callie has opened for world-renowned acts including Ed Sheeran and Skrillex and has performed at festivals like Creamfields, EDC Las Vegas, Tomorrowland, and Ultra. Since debuting in 2015, Callie’s bubbling fearless energy, unrivaled character and infectious musicality have captured the attention of tastemakers like Teen Vogue, The Cut, BBC Radio 1’s Annie Nightingale, Rinse FM’s Marcus Nasty, and Diplo. 

Now, 21-year-old Callie is introducing a new era of her career that sees her aligning herself at the intersection of indie-pop and electronica with a sound she’s coined ‘indie-club.’ So far this year she has released a collaboration with Irish singer-songwriter Lenii titled “The Kids Are All Rebels 2.0” and “Crash Into Me (ft. Madison Daniel), both of which have quickly gained support from Spotify and key outlets like Hollywood Life and Pulse Spikes. 

O: When did you begin producing music? 

Callie Reiff: I first started out DJing and learning to mix vinyl when I was 12. Once I started playing shows – I was around 15 years old – I realized how cool it would be to test out my own original production while I was opening for some epic acts. I started working in Ableton back then but I would say that over the last two years I have really dove into improving my production and making it a priority.

O: Is there an artist that you look up to, whether it be someone who motivated you to begin creating music or someone whose work inspires you today? 

C: I say this all the time but Skrillex, 100%. He is out there still working on music while also keeping an open mind when it comes to collaborating with any sort of artist. It’s a great mindset to have and I am always motivated by him.

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

Energetic. Melodic. Feeling.

C: I try to find a balance in my sound with telling the story with the writing, giving each song a certain feeling, and having space for the vocals to take center stage. In the end, my goal is always to have a continued energy throughout the song.

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

C: One of my favorite parts is when an idea just starts to come together fast. I love working with different artists and trying out new ideas. I also love when a random sound I try ends up working out to be in the final version. Or I spark a new song idea out of the current song I’m working on.

O: How has the pandemic changed your workflow? 

C: The pandemic made me focus and put my all into my production skills — I didn’t have any shows to perform or anything else to do! Before the pandemic I would usually start my songs in my room before heading to a studio to listen to them and finish them, but since that wasn’t an option, I made my bedroom into my main workspace. I did a lot of Zoom sessions which ended up being cool because everyone was based in different time zones and it’s possible we would have never worked together otherwise. I made it a goal over this past year to use my music as my way of coping and expanding my ideas.

O: What do you most look forward to in collaborations?

C: There’s sooo much to look forward to with collaborations because you really don’t know what will come out of it each time. I love learning from different artists and I love when we both are able to help elevate a song into something we couldn’t do alone. I also feel like becoming friends with your collaborators and really sharing with them is one of the best parts because it allows the song to be super genuine and real.

O: You’ve coined the term “indie-club.” Could you talk a little bit about where it comes from?

C: I found my ‘indie-club’ sound over the past 2 years. I like to call it ‘indie-club’ because it has that singer-songwriter sound with the vocals, lyrics, and collaborating with different vocalists, but surrounding it is the signature NYC club energy that I grew up around.

O: What does it mean to you to be the youngest DJ to perform at Webster Hall? How old were you then? 

C: I was fifteen. At the time, I didn’t really consider the age thing. I was just determined to play Webster Hall as my first show ever since I’d gone to see Madeon play. I Facebook messaged the Webster Hall promoter and told him I wanted to DJ there. I had to be very careful since I was underage, but once we went B2B and he heard my mixing, he booked me to open for Mija during an Electric Zoo after party. The Webster Hall crew really believed in me from the start and I am forever grateful for that. I was so excited at that first show and I still get super smiley whenever I look back at that time.

O: Could you tell us about your favorite memory from performing at Tomorrowland?

C: Oh wow, Tomorrowland is one of my favorite festivals ever! It is such an experience to just be there and see it all in person — you feel like you are entering a whole new world. My favorite memory of playing Tomorrowland was being able to bring my mom and brother with me. I was pretty young when I played there and opened the stage for the day, but I remember people starting to come over and watch and being so supportive. I hope to play there again and play my new music!

O: What’s the story behind “What Ifs (ft. Louella)”?

C: Isabella [Louella] sent me a vocal idea and I instantly loved it. “What Ifs” is about relationships and the ups and downs that come with each decision we make. I wanted the production to have a certain ‘light at the end of the tunnel’ feeling melodic as the lyrics are pretty dark. As I was producing the song, I also realized how it related to the pandemic and how everyone was just surviving on ‘what ifs.’ None of us were really sure how life would pan out. It was crazy to think about but it also motivated me to get the song out there as soon as we could for people to hear.

O: What do you look for in music that you produce? 

C: It depends but in general I look for a solid melody and energy in the drums. I try to switch up the grooves to keep it from being repetitive. I used to add a ton of extra sounds into my production thinking that’s what fills up a song, but really all you need is a few strong sounds and a set arrangement and you are good to go! 

O: Among all the songs you’ve produced, which one remains close to your heart and why?

C: I have another single with Isabella [Louella] coming out and it’s super, super special to me. Out of the songs that I have released, “The Kids Are All Rebels 2.0” that I did with Lenii remains very close to my heart. It was the first release that introduced the new sound that I’ve been working on for the past 2 years. The moment it came out, everything started to feel like it was really happening.

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

C: Comparing yourself to your favorite artists will get you nowhere. Use your favorite artists as motivation and inspiration instead. Always save your ideas, remember longevity comes with time, and never forget that there’s something new to learn. Also, have fun!

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

C: I have a few more singles coming out and then an EP, which I can’t wait for!

Thank you to Callie for sitting down and answering our most pressing questions! We are so excited for everything that she has up her sleeve–and if you are too, make sure to keep up with Callie on her Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook. Her music (including “What If’s”) can be found on Spotify!