April 2013 Archives

A Bit of Reflection

By Dalton Craig, Copyeditor, Ivory Tower

I'm sitting in a coffee shop in Dinkytown as I write this. (I know: how stereotypical of an aspiring writer. But at least I'm not writing a novel; I work on that at home, or anywhere but a coffee shop.) I've done a decent amount of pondering over what to write for this post--my last one before the Launch Party on this coming Wednesday (7:00 p.m.-10:00 p.m., in The Whole Music Club, in a relatively obscure section of the basement of Coffman Union). I suppose I could talk about the Launch Party in great detail, lauding the benefits of attending this annual extravaganza (free refreshments including coffee and baked goods, prizes, free copies of our literature-and-art-packed 2013 issue, and live readings by some of the authors published in our magazine). However, if you've been reading our social media posts regularly, you've probably reached the point where you'd rather attempt to give a porcupine a sponge bath than read another advertisement. So, instead, I'll share some of my reflections on what taking the Ivory Tower production class has been like for me. Still, though, come to the Launch Party: it's definitely going to be one of the highlights of the spring season.

When I first started the class, I was nervous. I'm sure we all were. I had never done anything like this before, and I'd actually been the last one of us to register for it, over the summer. It was unnerving at first, since everyone in the class helps out everyone else with a wide range of duties. So I, an editor and writer by nature, found myself helping out in the wholly unfamiliar areas of promotion and marketing as well. I got the hang of it, though, and ultimately I believe that the experience it gave me was worth it. The editing experience I got in the class was fantastic. I got experience with creating a style sheet (a list of guidelines that, among other things, gives rules for how an organization will treat linguistic ambiguities such as the spelling of the word "grey"), editing the work of actual authors, corresponding with authors to finalize their pieces for publication, manuscript proofreading, and a whole host of other resume-boosters. Furthermore, we had guest speakers from various organizations in the publishing and literary world, and it was a great opportunity for networking. I also got to read a great many interesting poems, stories, and nonfiction pieces. Everybody collaborated to help decide which pieces went in the magazine and which didn't, and I thought it was quite fun. My favorite part of the class, however, is the communal feeling that develops because the class is two semesters long. Especially in the second semester, the class starts to feel a bit like a hard-working family. This will be my last semester at the U before I graduate. I won't miss the workload of college, but I will miss going to class on Wednesdays, seeing so many familiar faces, and feeling truly welcomed and appreciated. If anyone reading this wants an opportunity to network in the publishing industry, get some excellent hands-on experience with producing a small magazine, and meet some great people, I would encourage you to sign up for this class. (Also, see how craftily I managed to slip in an advertisement for the class instead of the Launch Party? You didn't expect that, did you? Well, okay, you probably did).

Up Close: Interview with Matthew Ullery

By Melissa Meaglia, Fiction Editor, Ivory Tower

This week I had the privilege of interviewing another one of our authors from this year's Ivory Tower, Matthew Ullery! Matthew is the author of "Delicate Hobbies" and is a junior this year at the U pursuing an English major. You can read "Delicate Hobbies" at our Launch Party on April 24th and maybe even meet him yourself!

1. Some readers may have seen you reading your piece, "Delicate Hobbies," at Hazel and Wren's event Words at WAM. How was the experience? Had you done something like this before?
That was the first time I have ever read in front of an audience. I was incredibly nervous, but it was a great experience. I especially enjoyed hearing the other performers.

2. By the way, happy birthday! (April 1) Did you pull any pranks?
Thank you! I'm not much of a pranker myself, but I do have my fair share of traumatic birthday prank stories (thanks, Mom).

3. What do you want to say to the undergraduate community through "Delicate Hobbies" ?
I'm hoping everyone who reads it will get something out of it. I'm wondering how we can defy expectations placed on us and how we can turn sadness into strength and art.

4. If you were an actor, would you want to play a good-guy or a villain?
I would want to play a villain, but I don't think I'd be very good at it. I'd probably be better as the damsel in distress, which is my second choice anyway.

5. Where does most of your inspiration come from? How do you generate and develop ideas?
I get inspiration from everything - other artistic mediums, people on the bus, conversations, found objects... It's difficult for me to write anything without urgent inspiration. Usually a first sentence will come to me and I have to build off of it slowly, through lots and lots of writing and rewriting.

6. When and how did you decide you wanted to be a writer?
I have wanted to write for as long as I can remember. Nothing else has ever really interested me in the same way as writing has.

7. Besides writing, what are your other hobbies?
I know this might be surprising, but I like to read. I also spend a good deal of time playing with my cat. If drinking coffee is a hobby, then that, too.

8. What would your dream Saturday look like?
That's a hard one. I'd wake up early, get coffee, and go to the zoo or a museum or something! Then I guess I might go exploring outside, and end the day with a movie and a nice cup of tea.

9. Many writers stick to a writing schedule such as a designated time of the day, a certain amount of time, or a certain number of words they will write every day, week, etc. Do you do anything like this?
I really wish I could say I do, but I typically just write whenever the fancy strikes me, which means some weeks I write every day and others I don't write at all.

10. What advice would you give to aspiring writers?
Write about what you love, or maybe about what you hate. Or write about something you don't care about... just write!

11. And finally, just to mix things up, what are you wearing right now?
Okay, now you're getting a little creepy.

Up Close: Interview with KT Perleberg

By Dalton Craig, Copyeditor, Ivory Tower

For today's blog, I emailed a set of interview questions to KT Perleberg, the author of the fiction piece "Hummingbird," one of the stories we're publishing in this year's Ivory Tower. The questions dealt with various aspects of her life, her writing, and "Hummingbird" in particular. So as not to keep you in suspense with a long-winded introduction, I'll keep this concise. Below are KT Perleberg's responses, as well as the questions themselves. Come to think of it, you could have figured that out for yourself without me telling you. Oh well. Anyway:

What sources do you draw inspiration from as a writer?
I draw inspiration from most everything around me, though I notice that I get most of my ideas at the beginning of a new school year or semester, when everything is busy and new and I'm surrounded by new people. Sometimes a particular character will be drawn from a movie I've seen, or even songs I hear on the radio.

The bio you gave us for the "Contributor Bios" section of the magazine says you're a Film Studies major. How did you decide on that as a major, and how do you think that relates to your writing?
I think a part of me has always known I was going to be a Film major. For as long as I can remember I've loved movies, and the more I learn about how they're made the more I'm in love with them, picking them apart and figuring out how they work. To me, it's all storytelling, in the end, whether it's written down or played on a screen.

What sorts of films do you most enjoy? What influence do you think they have on your writing?
I can usually find at least one thing to really enjoy in any film I watch, but I definitely have a taste for more films off the beaten track. I have a particular fondness for Tarantino, Allen, Coppola, and Russell. Like I mentioned before, just about anything can influence my writing. A character, a scene, a song, even the way the camera shifted around Bradley Cooper in the first therapist's office scene in Silver Linings Playbook can make my fingers itch to write.

In your bio, you said that you wanted to act, produce, and write screenplays in the entertainment industry after graduation. Do you also plan to continue writing short stories?
I don't think I could stop writing if I wanted to!

In addition to fiction, have you written any other types of creative work, like poetry, memoir, essays, and screenplays?
For a brief time in my middle teens I dabbled in poetry and songwriting, but didn't take to it as much as fiction. My dad and sister are very talented songwriters and musicians, so I always felt like I ought to give it a shot.

Of the many types of written works (novels, short stories, newspapers, magazines, memoirs, essays, research papers, the backs of cereal boxes, etc.), which do you enjoy reading most, and why?
As fascinating the backs of cereal boxes may be, I've lately been enamored of graphic novels. Mixed media like that has always interested me, and reading a comic book at the end of a long day is a great way to decompress while still immersing myself in great storytelling.

What is your favorite genre of fiction (realistic, historical, romance, science fiction, fantasy, etc.), and why do you enjoy that genre more than others?
Fantasy and science fiction are great, but I have a hard time enjoying them without a good dose of realism thrown in. Magical realism and stories about the real world that's just a little shifted to the left are definitely my favorite, because it makes the story and characters that much more relatable.

Who is your favorite author, and why? How much does his or her work influence your own?
Neil Gaiman and Matt Fraction are my favorites of the moment. They're very funny, though--Gaiman in a more dry, sneak-up-on-you sense where you can read part of his book, put it down, go about your life, and then in the middle of washing the dishes you suddenly get the joke and you're giggling into the soap suds. Not only that, but both authors have a very distinct narrative voice, which I always try to convey in my writing, even when I write in third person rather than first. I love having very opinionated third-person-omniscient narrators.

Who or what do you think is the greatest influence on your writing, and why is that?
There is no one person or thing that is the greatest influence on my writing. The whole world is constantly barraging me with new ideas from all sides. Sure, I might go through phases where I tend to focus more on a certain type of relationship, or a turn of phrase, or the way a fire feels when you sit too close but can't tear yourself away, but there's never just one thing. It's a sea of voices all clamoring to be heard at once.

In the literary world, there is a tendency to regard stories that focus more on plot and less on character--such as those of many old science fiction writers like A.E. Van Vogt--as less literary or less skillful than those which focus more on character and less on plot. What is your opinion regarding this attitude? Do you feel that character-driven stories are indeed superior to plot-driven ones, or do you feel that both types of story are more-or-less equally skillful, just in different ways? Or are you a rebel, who feels that the plot-driven story is actually superior to the character-driven story?
Each type of story demands just as much respect as the other, in my opinion. With the vast amount of pre-existing stories out there, it can be a real challenge to come up with an original and engaging plot, so anyone who is able to come up with something bright and new is a hero in my book. The same goes for characters: it's not easy to make a hero who is flawed enough to be relatable without composing them of clichés.

What is your process when you write a story? For example, do you know the plot of the story beforehand, or do you make it up as you go along? Do you write for large chunks of time at once, or do you space out your writing time into small, regularly scheduled intervals?
Usually I get either one specific scene, idea, or character in my head and build the rest of the story around that. Sometimes I'll be writing the early exposition of a story (I typically write in chronological order) but an idea for the last scene or the climax will be sitting in my head, and the words will come together just so, and I'll have to stop and write that in a second document before I lose it, then shape the story to lead the way there. I don't like going back to work on small projects in increments again and again; it's typically all or nothing in one sitting for me. I get everything down, let it stew for a few hours or days, then go back to reread with a fresh eye and fix anything that feels out of place. I never schedule when to write--it starts to feel too much like work--but I try to write a little bit every day no matter what. Even putting down one sentence makes it a little easier to sleep at night feeling accomplished.

"Hummingbird" is about a world in which hearts are literally the source of human emotion. How did you come up with such an intriguing idea for a story?
Like with my favorite types of fantasy/science fiction, I love the idea of a world exactly like ours but shifted a little to the left, with one thing changed and therefore changing everything. It started when I read a compilation of short stories called Machine of Death, about what the world would be like if a machine were invented that, with just a prick of your finger, accurately predicted exactly how you would die. That idea sat with me for a long time, and so when it came time to write a story for one of my classes I decided to take that idea and play it around in my hands for a while. One thing led to another, and here we are.

The main character of "Hummingbird" is Lizzie, a girl who has no emotions. Where did the idea for her character come from?
She came a little bit from several of my most-loved fictional characters, actually. Part was from an online forum discussion about Sherlock Holmes, from the BBC series Sherlock, a modern take of the Victorian hero who plays at purging himself of all emotions to better understand the world around him. Another part was Black Widow from the Marvel Cinematic Universe, who pushes aside her own wants and feelings to disguise herself in the lives of other people. And the last was Spock from Star Trek. The one thing each of these characters, and Lizzie, have in common, is that at the end of the day, even the most heartless of people still reach out for human connections, whether they want to or not.

I notice a pattern in subject matter between this story and your first story (a girl who can't feel, a puppy who can't bark): both are about characters who are unable to do something that is considered "normal." Is this reflective of a lot of your writing, and if so, why?
Not entirely indicative, no. Recently I've been experimenting a lot more with testing my comfort zone in writing stories like "Hummingbird," but I used to stay relatively safe when it came to plot devices and character traits. Now I've become much fonder of the world-weary, damaged, and societally "wrong" characters that are so often the ones who need support the most, but don't seek it out of pride or fear.

Can we expect to see more submissions from you in upcoming issues of Ivory Tower? In other words, do you plan to submit again, so that future classes producing the magazine can look forward to reading your work?
It would be my genuine pleasure.

Up Close: Interview with Andrea Tritschler

By Jessica Sanko, Poetry/Online Editor, Ivory Tower

Very recently I had the exciting opportunity to interview Andrea Tritschler, author of the poems "Greetings" and "Yours Truly." Tritschler is a senior at the U of M and is pursuing a degree in Professional Journalism. You can find her two poems in our magazine coming out April 24.

Why do you write poetry?
I honestly don't know if I can answer that question. I guess because poetry comes naturally to me. I love anything where I can break rules. But poetry also challenges me in a way other forms of writing don't. It is the most personal form of writing for me, and it can be kind of exhilarating to put myself out there, but also completely terrifying.

How did you get into writing?
I know it sounds cliché but I was always writing. Starting in second grade I always kept a journal. I actually still have all my old journals. I started writing about everything that happened each day, or observations about something odd. It slowly evolved into a more creative process.

Where do your ideas spawn from?
I'm mostly driven to write by events in my own life. I find that's where most of my ideas are born, but sometimes I have really strange dreams that are so weird I feel compelled to write about them.

Who are your favorite authors?
I have so many favorite authors. A lot of my favorite authors tend to be journalists as well. Some of my favorites are Joan Didion, Sylvia Plath, David Sedaris, Jack Kerouac, Paulo Neruda, Chuck Klosterman, and Vladimir Nabokov.

Who inspires you the most?
I'm really inspired by spoken word poetry and poets like Andrea Gibson and Guante. I love the rhythm and passion of spoken word, and I try to incorporate that into my own writing. Even though I'm not brave enough to read it online.

Do you write every day?
No. Writing every day would be torturous for me. Writing is a definitely a source of catharsis for me, and I find that my writing tends to be pretty dark, even when I'm writing about something cheerful. So to write every day would probably make me really depressed.

Do you prefer writing digitally or on paper?
I prefer to write on paper. When I make mistakes on paper, they are still there to go back to. When I make mistakes on a computer and hit backspace they are gone. Sometimes mistakes end up being useful later.

What do you think makes a good poem?
I think a poem is good when it reaches an emotion that you didn't even realize was there, or describes something that you couldn't.

Are you more interested in realistic poetry or abstract poetry?
Abstract Poetry.

What do you find most challenging in your writing?
Starting. Ideas come easily but when I first sit down to write, I go through like three pages or verses before I'm finally like, okay I know where this is going to go.

What do you do when you experience writer's block, if ever?
I do something else--go for a run or clean the kitchen--just something to take my mind off what I'm doing.

What is your favorite genre to write about? To read?
I prefer to write non-fiction and poetry. I think the two are very interconnected for me, but I like to stick with what I what I know and what I have experienced. I also like to read non-fiction, mostly essays and memoirs, but poetry and biographies too.

What are your goals as a writer?
I would like to continue working as a journalist, but eventually I would like to get a book or collection of poems or essays published. I will continue to write creatively until the day I die or until I no longer can, so eventually I will get there. Let's just hope it will come sooner than that.

Up Close: Interview with Matthew McGuire

By Natalia Petkovich, Fiction Editor, Ivory Tower

Recently, I had the pleasure of interviewing Matthew McGuire, a former staff member of Ivory Tower and one of this year's contributors. Make sure to check out his story "Silence is Sexy" when our magazine is distributed on April 24.

Natalia Petkovich, Ivory Tower: Let's get into the important stuff right away: Are you a dog person or a cat person?

Matthew McGuire: I think I am more of a dog person, but I see the appeal of cats.

NP: Here's a more serious question: Who are your favorite authors?

MM: David Foster Wallace was my first exposure to difficult literature and he remains my favorite. Ben Marcus, David Markson, Jena Osman, and Zachary Schomburg top my contemporary list. As far as the canon goes, I like William Gaddis, Ralph Ellison, Emily Bronté, Thomas Hardy, and Samuel Beckett. I think no one comes close to Kafka and the way his stories work. There's a British author, Stephen Gilbert, who wrote a brilliant book called The Ratman Notebooks.

NP: Name a fictional character who you despise.

MM: Walter Berglund from Freedom gets under my skin. He represents a lot of what I don't like in fiction, obvious social criticism, lack of genuine human relationships, misogyny masquerading as feminism.

NP: Describe your writing process. How do ideas come to you and how do you turn those ideas into stories?

MM: I get most of my story ideas from conversations with friends or bits of speech I overhear in public. Most pieces start with a voice and then I try to experiment until I find something that works.

NP: "Silence is Sexy" has a unique style; what inspired you to write this story?

MM: "Silence is Sexy" came from a friend's complaint about his relationship. He claimed to have trouble sleeping next to another person because of the extra body heat. My goal with the story was to completely eliminate anything that could indicate character, gender, names, age, etc. What was surprising to me was when I showed the piece to some trusted readers, everyone agreed on the genders of the speakers.

NP: You were a fiction editor for the 2012 edition of Ivory Tower. What did you learn by being in that class?

MM: Working on Ivory Tower taught me a lot, mainly that I don't have what it takes to be an editor. It was extremely difficult for me to reject pieces without having the necessary space and time to explain why the pieces didn't work or fit with a certain theme. Thankfully, the other members of the staff helped me make the tough decisions.

NP: This year you'll be graduating with degrees in English and Philosophy. Do you have any plans for after graduation?

MM: After graduation, I plan on moving out of Minnesota. I'd like to give writing a shot and see how far I can go.

NP: Last question: Imagine that you're stuck on a desert island. You get three books, two movies, and one iPod that can play only one song. What do you bring with you?

MM: Books: a collection of Kafka stories, a condensed OED, and Infinite Jest. Movies: Melancholia and Salò. Song: "Nobody's Wounded" by Deine Lakaien or "Love Less" by New Order.

MM: Thanks to Ivory Tower!