Firsts: An Interview with Ace Boggess

The Firsts column features Windmill writers talking about their own firsts in both writing and life. Interview conducted by Theresa Pham.

Ace Boggess is both a poet and prose writer. He is the author of the novels A Song Without a Melody (Hyperborea Publishing, 2016) and States of Mercy (forthcoming from Alien Buddha Press). His recent fiction appears in Notre Dame Review, Lumina, and Superstition Review. He received a fellowship in fiction from the West Virginia Commission on the Arts and spent five years in a West Virginia prison. He lives in Charleston, West Virginia.

Q: What is the first word that pops into your head to describe yourself and why?

A: ‘Terrified.’ I have had unbearable anxieties my entire life. In many ways, they are the cause of my becoming both a writer and an addict.

Q: What was your first dream job?

A: I’ve only had one dream job. In the early 90s, I was a reporter in Huntington. Mostly it involved covering the police beat (for which I don’t fail to see the irony these days) and weekend obits, but I also branched out to cover the local music scene in a time when alternative music was breaking. It was magic to me. It’s the inspiration for my only published novel, A Song Without a Melody.

Q: How did your first book change your process of writing?

A: It didn’t. My first poetry book came out in 2003, and by then I was a drug addict. My writing process revolved around the drugs. I took my dose, read a book until the buzz kicked in, then wrote. My process is essentially the same today—read and then write—just without the dope.

Q: What was the first thing you remember writing? 

A: When I was 11 or 12, I decided I wanted to write an adventure novel about an emerald mine. I wrote the first chapter and then forgot about it. I wrote a lot of first chapters as a teenager.

Q: When was the first time you knew you wanted to be a writer?

A: My sophomore year in college I finished my first novel (not good novel, mind you, but something complete), a horror/fantasy novel that I’m embarrassed to think about. Still, I knew at that point that I had to keep going. That same year I wrote an obnoxious experimental novel, followed the next year by a slapstick comedy (a much-shortened version of which will be published later this year after only a quarter of a century). Then, my writing took a more literary turn and I couldn’t stop. In law school, a professor asked me in class why I went by Ace, and just to say something, I said, “I’m a writer.” He replied, “Well, now you’re a lawyer,” and I said, “No, I’m a writer,” as I looked down at the journal in front of me which already had the first few chapters of my next novel.

Q: When was the first time you felt successful/like a real writer?

A: In ’97, I found an agent for one of my novels. It didn’t sell, but the fact an agent took me on after years of rejections was mind-blowing. Then, around the turn of the millennium, first Notre Dame Review and then Harvard Review accepted poems I’d written. Those were the biggest successes I’d had to that point, and I felt like I was on my way.

Q: How did you celebrate your first book?

A: Oh, that was one of the most fun nights of my life. I premiered the book at my home-away-from-home, a bar/restaurant called Calamity Café in Huntington, West Virginia. In order to build the audience, after the reading, I hosted a poetry slam, took the sign-up list and, as I read each name, introduced the poets with bizarre, fanciful bios that I made up on the spot. We had a lot of laughs, and I sold a lot of books—two of my favorite things. What a wonderful evening.

Ace Boggess’ short story Embraced by Every Atom of the Universe is forthcoming in the 2019 edition of Windmill.

Check out our third print edition on ISSUU!

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As we dive head-first into work on our fourth print issue, the time has come to share our third issue with you. In her publisher’s note, Melissa Connolly sums up our feelings about issue number three:

In this, our third printed edition of Windmill, we continue to learn lessons.

Since our staff is an odd amalgamation of MFA students, undergraduate volunteers, and a one-credit publishing studies class, some of those lessons are obvious, and the questions posed along the way are usually voiced in a slightly annoyed tone: Why isn’t Submittable letting me write notes on this piece? Why does the printer keep talking about signatures? Why can’t I add a second line to the title in this InDesign template?

But other lessons are more subtle, and longer lasting: How to find beauty in writing, and how to discuss the merits of different types of work? How to find consensus? How to take disparate pieces and create something whole, something organic, something even—dare I say—beautiful? And perhaps the most important: how to continue to love writing and art and this literary magazine when you’ve spent the last several hours making small windmill-shaped section dividers for the book that should have been at the printer last week?

This is the part of the unseen work, along with the opportunity to comb through the pages of emerging and established writers line by line, word by word, and work with them on perfecting and publishing their art. Along with these short stories and essays, it is also our charge at Windmill to explore the relationship between creativity and art through our narrative features and interviews. In this issue, we learn about poet and teacher Jane Wong’s craft and highlight a selection of her poems. We also hear from vibrant personalities who visited us at Hofstra this year, including renowned choreographer Twyla Tharp, who shared her thoughts on the creative habit, and the illustrative John McPhee, who discussed the painstaking process of writing, and rewriting.

We even spend some time with our founding editor, Kelly McMasters, who normally writes this letter, but stepped away from much of the day-to-day process of putting this book together this year to tend to the publication of another: This Is the Place: Women Writing About Home, an essay collection she edited with Margot Kahn. In this issue’s Faculty Spotlight, we see Kelly through the eyes of her MFA student, Lily Vu, and consider the twin crafts of creative non-fiction and editing.

Much of our fiction has a distinctly dark and dystopian feel to it, led off with the familiar-yet-postapocalyptic world that colors previous Windmill contributor Heather Whited’s “Things Read by Moonlight,” and the darkly real suburbia in Matthew McGevna’s chilling “The First Few Steps.” It’s in the nonfiction that we feel the immediacy of the natural world, the poetry of the every day—our hometown, the nature we surround ourselves with—whether in Jen Fitzgerald’s meditation on loss and solitude in “Shuttle Launch” or through Akiko Busch’s memory essay “Home in Seven Acts.”

And so the art we chose for this collection reflected the frenetic nature of our written selections: homey yet unfamiliar, beautiful but with dark and foreboding shadows. The otherworldly tulips of the cover, Russian Red Really by Bear Kosik, illustrate this sensibility––natural, yet false; something so familiar and every day that seems just a little off, in a way we cannot quite define. Perhaps this, then, the collected works of friends new and old, of writers and artists, is in its entirety a reflection of our times—the shadows that line the unfamiliar road, the acknowledgment of a work- in-progress, the promise of tomorrow, the beauty of the everyday moment. In days both dark and light, perhaps that is all we can hope for. Perhaps that is what art and writing provide.

Lessons learned.

Melissa Connolly Publisher

Check it out on ISSUU!

 

Submissions Are Open!: The 2019 Print Issue

It’s that time of year, folks! We are so excited about this year’s print issue of Windmill and we hope that you are too!

For our print issue, we are seeking short stories and essays, both fiction and creative nonfiction, that celebrate strong narrative voice. We strive to showcase both emerging and established writers. Our print issues are not themed and submissions should be 5,000 words or less. Longer pieces are judged at a higher standard. Additionally, please note that we are not accepting poetry submissions at this time.

Submissions are live now, and we are accepting submissions until April 1, 2019.


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Holiday ’18: “Carp Per Diem” by Bear Kosik

We celebrate the Lunar New Year. We don’t have any Asian heritage, although being one-quarter Lebanese kind of technically qualifies me as Asian if you want to get geographical about it. Anyway, the Asian Lunar New Year falls in February. The Chinese call it the Spring Festival. It breaks up the winter the way Christmas would if it were held a month later. The red decorations blend in for Valentine’s Day, too. Très festive!

I don’t know all the details about the holiday. We just focus on the food. Certain dishes are served for special reasons. For example, long noodles symbolize long life, greens mean making money, et cetera. Serving a whole fish is one of them. Something to do with living out the whole year, I think. If it even hints at providing good luck, I’m all for it.

My Spousal Unit insists on going to the Asian market to pick out a live fish. This year, I went with him. I remember the supermarket I went to as a kid had a tank with live lobsters. Other than that, I’ve never seen any protein sold on the hoof (claw? fin?). Supposedly, my grandmother used to cut the heads off chickens. They ran around the yard before dying. That might just be a false memory to explain how my family usually behaved before Sunday dinner at Granny K’s.

So, Hubby and I go to the Asian market to pick out a fish. He hates when I call him Hubby. I do that to remind him that hate is really too strong of a word to use in that context. Anyway, we get to the fish tank and find five good-sized carp steadily swimming around. The tank isn’t really crowded. It is close quarters though, if something can be close quarters without being crowded.

I know things to look for when choosing dead fish: no fishy smell, clear eyes. I haven’t a clue how to pick a live one and Hubby can’t remember. Choosing baby bok choy wasn’t this difficult, although I do have an issue with anyone calling a food ‘baby’ anything. Well, unless it is food for a baby. I still can’t eat breakfast with my younger brother because he calls eggs chicken miscarriages. It’s a good thing I know how to pretend to be an only child.

The Spousal Unit engages the Vietnamese owner of the market. The owner pauses as a ‘what are you, stupid’ expression emerges on his wrinkle-carved face. Then he tells Hubby the fish are all fresh because they are all alive. I hadn’t thought of that.

The market owner gets a net to pull one of the creatures out of the tank. Now, trust me on this. A carp stopped swimming right in front of me. Its eye on the side I could see moves, as though it’s studying me. You know, like when the eye doctor tells you to look up left, down left, et cetera. It slowly moved its body to where it could face me. And it just continued to look at me.

Naturally, since the staring carp stopped swimming it is the easiest to scoop up. I’m standing right next to the scale where the guy dumps the fish to weigh it. I swear it didn’t take its eye off me. And it just lay there. I thought fish flopped around.

No, this one wanted to die in peace. Maybe it sacrificed itself so the others could live or it was tired of being held captive. I can anthropomorphize this incident as much as I want, but I’m just making matters worse.

I said a prayer like the aliens do in Avatar when they kill something for food. Thankfully, that turns out to be sufficient amends for me to enjoy the meal later on. What worries me is the impact that fish has had on my life. Seriously. I don’t think I can look my food in the eye ever again. In the future, we may have to serve steamed lobster for Lunar New Year. I never could tell what were eyes or antennae in the lobster tank.


Bear Kosik’s book Remaking Democracy in America was just published (Stairway Press). He also writes novels (two as Hugh Dudley), plays (six produced in Manhattan since 2016), and screenplays (sixteen laurels from competitions since 2016). Bear’s short fiction, poetry, essays, and photos have appeared in reviews and anthologies since 2015.