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.

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.

Volume 5, Issue 1 Theme

The issue will be available January 2019.

The optional theme is Lost and Found. See the Submit tab for details on how to submit. We accept photography, art, comics, creative nonfiction, fiction, flash fiction, experimental work, and poetry.

For poetry, I would love to see more Blackout and Cross out poems. For examples, check out these books: Newspaper Blackout by Austin Kleon, A Humument: A Treated Victorian Novel by Tom Phillips, The ms of m y kin by Janet Holmes, Bukowski Erasure Poetry Anthology: A Collection of Poems Based on the Writings of Charles Bukowski by Melanie Villines, A Little White Shadow by Mary Ruefle, Mornings Like This: Found Poems by Annie Dillard, Nets by Jen Bervin, and Of Lamb by Matthea Harvey. Please submit the original and the typed version. And for fiction, creative nonfiction, and art, photography, and comics, please interpret this theme how you will, or see if you can do something new and unique with this found poetry method.

Volume 4, Issue 2 is Here!

The issue is available as a PDF: TMR Volume 4 Issue 2.

The optional theme is comics, be it drawn in sequential images or just plain funny.

Contributors: Gershon Ben-Avraham, Susan P. Blevins, Mela Blust, Charles W. Brice, Aria Callaham, Joan Colby, Holly Day, Darren C. Demaree, Adam Durso, Kelcey Parker Ervick, Sarah A. Etlinger, GTimothy Gordon, John Grey, Jack D. Harvey, Aloura Hattendorf, Henry Hitz, Diane Hoffman, A.J. Huffman, Phil Huffy, James Croal Jackson, Lonnie James, Gloria DeVidas Kirchheimer, Matthew J. Kreglow, Claire Martin, Megan Miazgowicz, Jennifer Davis Michael, Paul Mills, TJ Neathery, Simon Perchik, Steven B. Rosenfeld, David Anthony Sam, William L. Spencer, David Spicer, Chuck Thompson, Dennis Trujillo, Bess Vanrenen, Maryfrances Wagner, Michael Whelan, Theresa Williams, and Kelsey Zimmerman.

Reviews: Hold Me Gorilla Monsoon by Colette Arrand, Auri by Auri, Internet Yearnings by Gary Beck, Mnemosyne’s Hand: Poems by Charles W. Brice, Her Secret Husband by Abbey Faith, The Future by From Ashes to NewBurn Site In Bloom by Jamie HoughtonRookland by Jesse Minkert, Beach Dweller Manifesto by Leah MuellerGhost Matter by Jade RamseyHeavenly Whispers by Roger SipplPermanent Change of Station by Lisa Stice, and i’m fine: A Haiku Collection About Mental Illness by Jamie Winters.

Winner of The Magnolia Review Ink Award: Theresa Williams, for “From The Diary of Lea Knight,” chosen by Dom Fonce.

Theresa Williams

Theresa Williams lives and teaches in Northwest Ohio. Her current project is a Sketchbook novel called The Diary of Lea Knight. It traces the inner life of Lea Knight, who has recently lost a baby. Theresa twice received Individual Excellence Grants from The Ohio Arts Council and has been published in numerous journals, including Gargoyle, Hunger Mountain, and The Sun.

From The Diary of Lea Knight, Volume 4, Issue 2
Winner of The Magnolia Review Ink Award, selected by Dom Fonce

Megan Miazgowicz

Megan Miazgowicz is a digital artist and illustrator, who recently graduated from Bowling Green State University with a BFA in Digital Art. Megan enjoys both digital painting and creating comics, and hopes to someday publish her own graphic novels. She is currently developing a comic series with her best friend and hopes to begin work on it this fall. Outside of comics, she enjoys reading, writing, character design, sleeping, and hanging out with her dog.

A Boat, Volume 4, Issue 2