Toti O’Brien–Interview

Describe your creative space. Do you work at home, in public spaces, etc.?

How did you guess? Yes, I work in public spaces, as it comes to the creative process. They are various and unpredictable (the spaces), as I always carry a tiny notebook along. I can start scribbling whenever the occasion presents itself. Line at the post office. Transportation. My car, if I have arrived earlier for a commitment. A bench, anywhere. Doctor waiting rooms. Hospital waiting rooms (how many of those…)

I said: “as it comes to the creative process.” I review, of course, on a computer, mostly at home.

What kind of materials do you use? Do you write by hand or type? What is your favorite writing utensil?

I mentioned a tiny notebook. Hopefully it is at hand. Luckily, I seem to have developed the ability of finding anything writable-upon. I am amazed at the variety of matter that might work. Surfaces don’t need to be clear. I can write between lines, around lines, on top of them. As for the tracing instrument, everything goes. I confess having tried a lip liner, once, with poor results. So… I write by hand, yes, and I review on a computer. Two completely different processes.

What is your routine for writing?

There really isn’t one. But I have few “unwritten writing rules.” One is embedded in my previous answers: the first drafts inevitably occur in the open—interstitial, impromptu, spontaneous, free. Two—if something comes to mind I feel I should (or would like to) write, I have a deal with myself: yes, I will. No excuse. That seed will go into the ground. That thing, whatever it is, will be laid on paper, always. The third unwritten rule is that I devote time to review, rewrite, polish drafts, submit, edit, take care of all publishing practices, as often as possibly—daily is the ideal, and I rarely skip a day. Meaning a night, because the time I devote to such practice is nocturnal.

How long have you been writing? When did you start writing?

As a child. Which means I have done it for a lifetime. But I have immigrated twice, each time settling in a new language, and restarting from zero. Each new beginning took decades of adjustments.

Who is your intended, or ideal, audience? Who do you write for?

This is a fascinating question. For a long time I have “perceived” an audience I semi-consciously tried to reach as I wrote. I suppose it was banally made of those people I have loved the most, and somehow I have missed to reach in depth, or they haven’t responded to my wish of mutual understanding (relatives untimely passed or unavailable, failed relationships, teachers/mentors inaccessible or gone). Of course, that doesn’t make a crowd. Just a couple of souls from which I’d have liked to get a nod back. Through the years, these hidden interlocutors have vanished—and I like it better this way. When I write, now, it is like sealing a message in a bottle—for the unknown person who will enjoy what I have to say. I can’t wait to meet that person, yet waiting is exhilarating, and serene.

What inspires you to write? If you are blocked, what do you do?

I could describe what inspires me to write as “emergency.” Something (anything) that breaks the surface of my usual perceptions, insistently comes to mind, keeps whispering in my ear, demands for attention. Usually, a bizarre feeling, bizarre association of ideas, curious pattern of events. Like a knot that needs unraveling. Like a path in the woods I want to follow to see where it goes.

I don’t experience blocks. Not really. As I said, my writing is spontaneous and intermittent, though frequent. I’d continue on a piece because there is more to say, whenever there is more to say. If I pick up my text—wherever interrupted—and read it afresh, there will be certainly some corrections to make. As I make them and read over, something will follow. Even a little bit. Some things are irresistibly drafted—they pour out unstoppably. Some things accrete slowly. I don’t fret over them. They will bloom eventually. Nothing, ever, remains unfinished.

What other things do you do besides writing? Do you dance or play golf, etc.?

I am an artist and crafter, a professional dancer, singer, and musician. I have always done all these things for my living. They are my curse and my blessing.

What is your favorite part of the creative process?

The end, of course. The moment when, by magic, something is in front of me that didn’t exist before. Like when you smell the pie in the oven, and it has risen, and it is golden brown.

What is your advice to aspiring writers?

I am not too much of an advicer, alas.

But I could say: you know what you do, and why you do it.

Trust your contents, let them dig their own riverbed. Never harness them, never force them.

Try to never double-guess yourself.

Never listen for a single second to any negative comment you might receive, no matter how authoritative the dispenser.

Take all positive comments with a grain of salt.

Go on.


Check out Toti’s work in Volume 4, Issue 1.

Steven R. Jakobi–Interview

Describe your creative space. Do you work at home, in public places, etc.

I live on a 15-acre property in a rural part of New York state. I spend a lot of time in the woods and it is during my forays that I jot down ideas in a small notebook. I have a small office (my wife calls it a “man cave,” although we both spend a lot of time in there) and I like to go there late at night when everyone is asleep.

What kind of materials do you use?

My motto is: “happiness is a handful of sharp pencils.” I prefer wooden pencils and a legal pad. Then I use Word for transcribing and storing the hand-written work.

What is your routine for writing?

I do most of my writing in the winter because I spend my time outdoors when weather permits. I scribble ideas on paper and write in my head. Sometimes I have to interrupt what I’m doing and sit down to write but, generally, most of it is already worked out in my mind. I don’t like routine and I don’t set a specific time aside every day for writing.

How long have you been writing? When did you start?

I spent most of my professional life as a biology professor. As such, I have done a lot of scientific/non-fiction writing, starting with my dissertation. In the 1990s I lived in Massachusetts, and I started writing a regular nature-oriented column in a regional newspaper. I put creative writing aside for a number of years, but in the back of my mind I had this idea that wanted to write a book of short nature stories for the non-scientist. Key to that was the concept that the stories had to be no more than 3-8 pages long and non-technical, so as to keep the interest of the reader. I hope to have accomplished that in my two self-published books, Giorgio the ‘Possum and Other Stories from Nature, and Birds, Bats, Bugs, Beaver, Bacteria: Lessons from Nature. I came to poetry late in life and have been writing poems for only a few years. I find poetry to be very liberating compared to other forms of expression because it allows me to use imagery and language that are not always suitable for other types of writing.

Who is your intended, or ideal, audience? Who do you write for?

I have always enjoyed writing in a simple, straightforward manner, so that anyone reading any of my work wouldn’t have to sit and scratch their head about the meaning of my work. In poetry, I admire the writings of Wendell Berry, Robert Frost, and Carl Sandburg, among many others. In fiction, my characters struggle with the imperfect human experience that we all face at one time or another. In my non-fiction writings, I hope to target an educated and curious, but not necessarily scientifically savvy, audience that is interested in the natural world and its protection and preservation.

What inspires you to write? If you are blocked, what do you do?

I like to share with people. More often than not, the same thoughts and feelings that bubble to the surface of my consciousness are also the same ones that occur to others. We are social animals and the one thing that we MAY be able to do better than other life forms is the capacity for a variety of ways to communicate. Let’s share with one another: paint, sculpt, play music, write!

When I encounter a creative block, I don’t fight it. It usually works itself out subconsciously if I am patient.

What other things you do besides writing?

I like to garden and recently became a master gardener to help people with planting problems. I also do other volunteer work: meals-on-wheels, and have done several tours of work after Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy and, most recently in Louisiana and Texas. I love to read and try my hand at photography. For sport, I play racquetball.

What is your favorite part of the creative process?

I am always amazed when an idea comes to my head that I can work into a story or a poem. I have written many short stories that no publisher has been interested in, but I love them because their characters are always people who have some sort of problem or conflict to work through. They are people who are dear to me.

What is your advice to aspiring writers?

Every one of us is a story teller and writer. Sit down, take out a piece of paper and a sharp pencil J and write. Write for yourself and you will also write for others. There may be a few writers who were born with the talent to pen something extraordinary, but even those are not always understood or are sought after in their lifetime. For most of us, it is a leap of faith to write. So, be bold, be adventurous, be creative, and be happy.


Check out Steven’s work in Volume 4, Issue 1.

Tony Concannon–Interview

Describe your creative space. Do you work at home, in public spaces, etc.?

I write both at home and at a favorite Starbucks. I like having people around me even if I don’t know them very well.

What kind of materials do you use? Do you write by hand or type? What is your favorite writing utensil?

I have been using the same size mechanical pencil for many years. I usually write in pencil first, then type it up later.

What is your routine for writing?

I write early in the morning on Saturdays and Sundays and other days off and on one afternoon a week.

How long have you been writing? When did you start writing?

I started writing when I was 25, and I’ve been writing on and off for nearly 40 years.

Who is your intended, or ideal, audience? Who do you write for?

I don’t think I have an intended audience. I try to write the type of stories I like to read. 

What inspires you to write? If you are blocked, what do you do?

Enjoyment is what inspires me. Also, I think there are things we feel, or see, or understand, that we cannot articulate in speech, and writing can be a way to express them.

I keep plugging away at whatever I’m writing. I’m usually working on 5 or 6 stories at a time and I try to spend some time on each one. I constantly rewrite.

What other things do you do besides writing? Do you dance or play golf, etc.?

I exercise a lot, including running, playing basketball, lifting weights and walking.

What is your favorite part of the creative process?

Stories sometimes seem to take off and write themselves or go in a direction or dimension you didn’t foresee. Then the writing is easy.

What is your advice to aspiring writers?

Keep working at it. Writing takes a long time.


Check out Tony’s work in Volume 4, Issue 1.

Susan P. Blevins–Interview

Describe your creative space. Do you work at home, in public spaces, etc.?

I write at home the majority of the time, but since I always have a notebook with me (a Moleskine, of course!) in my purse at all times, if I find myself in a cafe with the urge to write something, I write!  And I have a large notebook by my bed, because irritatingly enough, it seems that one of my most creative times is that magical time between wakefulness and falling asleep.  How many times have I been dropping off to sleep and had to turn on the light to jot down an “important” writing thought that popped into my head!  I also have a notepad in my car and in the kitchen.  My work place is littered with bits of paper!  My cat is definitely part of my work space, either with her tail draped across the computer keys, on the chair next to me, or on my lap.

What kind of materials do you use? Do you write by hand or type? What is your favorite writing utensil?

I would have to say that I am very comfortable writing on my laptop.  I trained as a typist (oh horror!) so feel totally comfortable with a keyboard in front of me.  Before the computer I had a portable typewriter and was quite at home using it.  I write by hand when I am in a particularly quiet moment, late at night perhaps, when I want to write poetry.  Then I like the quietness of the pen and paper approach.

What is your routine for writing?

Well, I wish it were different!  Even when I have a whole day stretching out in front of me for writing, between one thing and another (like clearing my inbox and answering emails, and perhaps baking a pie), I usually end up writing seriously about 4 p.m.  I keep going as long as I need to to feel satisfied.  I am still struggling to understand why I procrastinate.  I love writing, it makes me happy, people seem to enjoy my writing, so why do I put off starting?  I don’t know if it’s fear of failure, fear of success, fear of commitment to the particular piece of writing I’m working on.  One day I hope to overcome this and just plod away steadily, disciplining myself to write about 500 words a day.  I always feel I never have enough alone time.

How long have you been writing? When did you start writing?

I have written ever since I was a child.  I still have my early diaries, more often than not expressing my anxiety about the meaning of life, and WHAT/WHO IS GOD?!  Then I progressed to journals to absorb my inner condition.  In the late ‘70s, early ‘80s, when I was living in Rome, Italy, I had a weekly column in an international newspaper.  I wrote mostly about food, travel, restaurant reviews, with lots of personal anecdotes.  I was teaching aerobics at the same time, so I was very busy indeed. A weekly publication schedule is very demanding, but I loved it more than I can say.

Who is your intended, or ideal, audience? Who do you write for?

I don’t think I write for an audience.  I write for me.  I always read out loud what I have written, because I want to sense the music of my words.  My thought is that if I like something, then perhaps others will also, but it’s not important to my creative process at all.  Writing for me is the best anti-neurosis tool. (Any creative activity is anti-neurosis!)  If I don’t write I can feel myself becoming more and more neurotic!  However, of late, I have been nurturing the hope that my writing can bring light, love, inspiration, comfort, meaning to some lives.  If my writing can touch just one heart, then I shall not have written and lived in vain.  We can create a ripple effect.

What inspires you to write? If you are blocked, what do you do?

Well mercifully, I rarely feel blocked.  I keep a file in my computer, called “Ideas,” and I have 45 pages so far of things I want to write about.  My notes could be single words that inspire me, or phrases, or a thought I heard someone express, or a conversation I overheard.  I write them ALL down, and then when I need inspiration, I go to my Ideas file.  Mostly though I am overwhelmed daily by things I want to write about!

What other things do you do besides writing? Do you dance or play golf, etc.?

I paint, I play piano, I definitely exercise at least three times a week, I garden, and I read.  I guess I could say that my three major passions are reading, gardening, and classical music.  My idea of utter bliss it to be home, in silence, and read for several hours during the day without feeling guilty!  There are not enough hours in the day for reading AND writing!  I’m not painting at this moment because all my energies are going into my writing.

What is your favorite part of the creative process?

I think I would have to say the completion of a piece of writing. When I have not written for just a few days, I begin to feel quite ill.  Something moves around in me and builds up tension until I sit down and write it out.  And then, OMG, it is like giving birth!  I feel light, I feel “justified,” I feel relieved, for a few days.  And then it starts up all over again.  Writing is definitely my means of fighting the neurosis that all creative people experience.  And when I am swept up on the wings of the creative impulse, then time ceases and the world recedes, and I go into what I would call kyros as opposed to chronos.

What is your advice to aspiring writers?

Probably the same that all writers give!  If you feel the urge to write, then JUST WRITE!  And above all, don’t worry about creating the perfect text with the first draft.  Get down those reeling thoughts in whatever order they come.  You can sort them out later and discipline them into some sort of sequence.  But you don’t want to lose the muscularity of expressing your thoughts spontaneously.  And never, NEVER listen to nay-sayers!  Share your writing with friends who are tried and true, AND NOT JEALOUS of your talent.  So hone your perception of people, and trust yourself.

Writing is a gift that we can share with others eventually, but that we share with ourselves first of all.

You should not take rejections personally, or be downcast or deterred.  Selection for publication is a very personal one, and truly, one editor’s meat could be another editor’s poison!  In order to achieve 53 acceptances last year I submitted 305 times.  As Winston Churchill said, “We shall never give up/surrender”!!


Check out Susan’s work in Volume 4, Issue 1 and Volume 4, Issue 2.

Winner of The Magnolia Review Ink Award for Volume 4, Issue 2

I would like to thank Suzanna for giving me this opportunity. She should be proud of this issue and all the strong voices that it captures. Some of my favorite pieces are “Turtle Bay” by Henry Hintz, “Punk 4 a Day” by Diane Hoffman, the poems of Holly Day, Chuck Thompson, GTimothy Gordon, and Sarah A. Etlinger. If it were not for my first choice, “Two Fools” by Sarah A. Etlinger would be my winner because to its tightness, sharpness, and grace of language.


However, I find the excerpt of Theresa WilliamsFrom The Diary of Lea Knight to be the undeniable centerpiece of this issue. In this excerpt, Williams balances a combined feeling of prose and poetry in her writing. Her line work is crisp when called for and chaotic when necessary. In the best way possible, the notebook presentation of Williams’ project brings to mind Lynda Barry’s Syllabus, while the dark, real philosophizing evokes Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home and Are You My Mother? The work also takes me to old folktales, like Cinderella, that showcase familial catastrophes by an unhinged parent onto an innocent child, and the ensuing existential crises people feel under the force of an oppressive thumb. I think this slice of From The Diary of Lea Knight is a fascinating piece of sequential art, and I cannot wait to see more of it once it is inevitably published.




Dom Fonce is an undergrad English major at Youngstown State University. He’s been published in fiction, poetry, comics, and journalism. Some of his work can be found at Calliope of the University of Mount Union, Penguin Review, the Jambar, and the forthcoming summer 2017 issue of 3Elements Review. Collaborated with Vincent Butka (penciller), Jared Burton (inker and colorist), and Kaleena Spackman (letterer).

Sandy Coomer–Interview

Describe your creative space. Do you work at home, in public spaces, etc.?

A few years ago, we expanded our kitchen to include a sitting area. We added lots of windows to two walls and the ceiling was elevated. I loved the light in that area, and the large free space above me. I decided to use one half of that sitting area for my “art studio.” I don’t use an easel, but work on a large bar-high art table instead. I put that table in the corner, added some storage cabinets, and voila, the perfect place to create! (And I’m very near the fridge and coffee maker – an added bonus!)

What kind of materials do you use? What mediums do you work in?

Recently I’ve started to work on cradled Gesso board and Clay board more than canvas. I love the harder surface, and the way I can better manipulate the paint. Plus, I’m finishing a lot of my work with epoxy resin, and I need the sturdier surface for that. I use acrylic paints, Golden heavy body. I also create mixed media art, using paint, pastels, ink, paper, and various embellishments to create an inspirational scene and message. I love hiding words in my art—leaving little secrets that require careful examination to find. Words like believe, blessing, dream, seek, love, dare, brave, and happiness. Also, I love birds. It’s not unusual for me to add a bird somewhere in the art.

What is your routine for art? Do you always sketch first?

I’m probably the most anti-routine person ever! I follow the muse, and most of the time I work backwards. I know in my head what I want to do and then I figure out how to make that happen. This means I have a lot of mess ups, but every mess up is a great chance to learn something. I’ve been working in the morning lately, immediately after waking, which is a switch for me. I used to work only in the afternoons. In many ways, I’m always thinking about art, and because I also write poetry, I’m always thinking about words. Any interesting color combination, design, texture, landscape, phrase, conversation, etc. is likely to become one of my many post-it-noted inspirational ideas for future use.

How long have you been making art? When did you start making art?

Selling art—about 3 years ago. Making art—forever. I used to draw as a child. When I had kids of my own, I was heavily into creating intricate pages for their scrapbooks. Then I started drawing birds with ink and using watercolor to paint them. Mixed media was my next addiction, and the basis for my first exhibit and art show. I love creating original covers for hard-back journals, and I sell a lot of those in art and craft shows. Lately, I’ve started exploring acrylic pour paintings and abstract landscape paintings. Obviously I find it hard to stick to one thing.

Who is your intended, or ideal, audience? Who do you make art for?

A lot of my mixed media art is geared toward children. The journals are for anyone who writes, draws, or keeps a diary. I make art for anyone who enjoys the creative nature of color and design.

What inspires you to create? If you are blocked, what do you do?

Nature inspires me. Language inspires me. Life inspires me. Sometimes I feel overwhelmed with all the many things I want to create that it makes me anxious to think I won’t have time to do them all. I am a detail-oriented person, and I notice everything, and so many things lead to new ideas. I rarely feel blocked, but if I do, I like to go to Pinterest on my computer and search for interesting color combinations or a new technique for some random thing. Usually 10 minutes is enough to get me going again.

What other things do you do besides art? Do you dance or play golf, etc.?

I write poetry. I’m the author of 3 poetry chapbooks and the founding editor of an online poetry journal called Rockvale Review. I’m a poetry mentor with the AWP Writer to Writer Mentorship Program. I’m also an endurance athlete and an Ironman. I just competed in the World Championship race for the 70.3 Half Ironman distance in Chattanooga, TN after qualifying for the race last year. My new goal is to complete a 50 mile trail race, hopefully in 2018.

What is your favorite part of the creative process?

Probably the idea phase. I love to think up a dozen things I want to create, jot down some notes and color ideas, and plan how I’m going to do them. Even right now, I’m looking at four rough sketches of landscapes complete with color notes that I want to create in the next couple of months. I also really like holding a finished piece of art in my hands, one I’m really proud of. That makes me indescribably happy!

What is your advice to aspiring artists?

Don’t follow the rules. I’ve never done anything the conventional way, and I like it that way. But I realize I might be a stubborn person for thinking like that, so let me say this instead: Don’t follow all the rules. Be free enough to take chances, to dare to color out of the lines. Believe in yourself enough to create the way you are made to create—from your own heart and the unique way you see and experience things. And put your art out in the world. You may be amazed at how many people respond positively to your creativity, and how your gifts might inspire, move, even heal someone else.


Check out Sandy’s work in Volume 4, Issue 1.