Meet the Author: Cameron L. Mitchell

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You can read Cameron L. Mitchell’s story “Big Cat Head” in our Winter Issue. Cameron grew up in the mountains of North Carolina. His writing has appeared in or is forthcoming from Oyez Review, Vol. 1 Brooklyn, Jonathan, ImageOutWrite, The Queer South anthology, and a few other places. He currently lives in New York City, where he works in archives at Columbia University’s medical school library. He’s hard at work on his first novel. Check out his blog, which includes information about some of his work. You can also find him on Twitter: @CameronLMitchel.

 

What inspired you to write this work?

I wrote ‘Big Cat Head’ after a particularly lonesome few days I had in New York. I started thinking about how isolated one can feel in the city at times despite the fact that there are always people around and countless things to do. I think a lot of people experience that, being lost in this massive crowd. The process of writing the story was a way to cheer myself up. It felt incredibly funny to me, which is kind of a weird thing to say about your own work. It’s also weird because I’m not sure it’s really a funny story at all.

But it all started with that image of a person with a big cat head, which just came to me. I wondered, what would one do if they found something so bizarre in their house?

Are there any authors, artists, books, etc. that you feel influence this work or your work in general.

There are numerous authors and books that I love. My biggest fear is dying and not being able to read anymore. If there’s an afterlife, I hope it’s a library filled with an unending supply of books.

Everything I read is influential in some way, in a general sense. As for this particular story, I was much more experimental than I normally am. Much of my work is very straightforward, so it was fun to play around. There’s a book of short stories by Yoko Ogawa that I go back to again and again called ‘Revenge: Eleven Dark Tales.’ It’s the perfect collection of stories. They’re dark, they’re mysterious, and strange things happen. I don’t re-read many books, but I could read this one over and over again. While I wasn’t thinking of these stories during the writing of ‘Big Cat Head,’ I’m sure they had some influence.

Is there anything in particular that you hope readers will understand, gain, or experience from this work?

I hope readers enjoy the story. That’s all I can ask for.

Describe your typical writing process.

I’m at my most creative in the late morning/early afternoon. I love brewing a pot of coffee and sitting down to write. I need total quiet while composing first drafts, but it’s fun to take myself out into the world when it’s time to revise. On weekends, I often print a story out and bring it to a favorite coffee shop to work on. I like having something physical in my hands to read over and revise – it helps me see the work in a new way and catch things I might have missed otherwise.

If you could choose to be any nonhuman creature, what would you be and why?

 Can I be a nonhuman creature for only a little while? The idea of permanently turning into something nonhuman makes me nervous. I like being human. I’ll assume I can be a nonhuman creature on a strictly temporary basis. In that case, I’ll say a bird of some kind – a large bird. I hate the idea of being a sparrow or some tiny, frail thing. Maybe an eagle? I’d love to know what it feels like to fly, mostly because I often have dreams of being able to fly. In every single dream, it’s like I have this hidden talent that I forgot about. I’m so happy when I remember that I can fly. I take off into the sky, and it’s magnificent. But then I wake up, crushed to discover that I can’t fly.

We loved how the absurdly fantastical in this piece moved into very serious and unexpected territory. Was it a challenge to balance the tone of this piece? Do you feel that absurdity is useful when writing about difficult subjects like death?

I didn’t think much about the tone of the story while writing it. I started with this image of a person with a big cat head and took it from there. The writing was very quick, like the story was already there and just needed someone to write it down. My best stories are the ones that insist on being written. That’s not to say I didn’t take lots of time revising it, but the basic story didn’t change very much.

Death is absurd – the things we do to avoid thinking about it are absurd. I really don’t like thinking about death, honestly. When I was a child, I remember praying for whatever god might be listening to take thoughts of death away. For me, I looked at it in two distinct ways: you die and blow out like a candle; or, there’s an afterlife, and you just go on and on for eternity. Both options terrified me. I didn’t want to blow out like a candle, being gone forever. I also didn’t like the idea of being conscious in some way, going on and on and on – till when?

I should stop now. I’m sort of freaking myself out. But yes, maybe the absurdity in this story is a way for me to work through some issues. Thinking there could be this other world after death that’s unlike anything we’ve ever known or would expect – perhaps that’s comforting to the child burying his face in a pillow, praying to just stop thinking about the whole thing.

All that being said, I’m not sure my story is in fact about death at all. Not in the way readers might think, anyway. The original version of the story actually continued for another paragraph or two, concluding in a far less ambiguous way. Ultimately, I decided to chop those paragraphs off and let the reader come to their own conclusion.

Many of our editors are very fond of our cats and find them influencing our writing, so we felt a particular kinship to this piece. Assuming you, too, are a cat person, please feel free to use this space to tell us all about your cat(s) and their influence on this story.

Though I don’t consider myself a cat person, I had one up until recently. I like cats, but if I were to get another pet, I’d prefer a dog. Dogs are full of love and fun to play with. Cats are weird and not always the most loving creatures. They do their own thing and come to you only when they want. I had cats and dogs growing up, as well as numerous other animals.

My cat was a big influence on ‘Big Cat Head.’ Some of the cat-specific details of the story are lifted from my life. I often wondered what my cat was thinking. Sometimes, she couldn’t get enough attention, demanding to sit on my chest; other times, she hid in the closet, perfectly content without me. While writing this story, I still had my cat, but she was getting older, so I was thinking about what it’d be like once she was gone. She’s still alive, but I had to find her a new home when I moved. It worked out really well since a trusted friend took her in. She has more space now and is happy, though I do miss her.

Cats are kind of absurd creatures. They’re funny and highly entertaining. I like the idea that there’s this world out there with cats walking upright, chatting away. I bet they’re wise.

 

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Meet the Author: Lizzie Reinhard

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Lizzie Reinhard’s story, “Bread, Eggs, Milk,” appears in Sun Star’s Winter Issue. Lizzie  earned her MFA from Columbia University. She has been awarded fellowships by Brush Creek Foundation for the Arts and The Catwalk Institue, as well as the Dogwood Prize for Fiction. Her work has appeared in The Seven Hills Review, Juxtaprose Magazine, and is forthcoming in Salamander Magazine. She lives in New York City with her husband and their maniacal Pomeranian, Petunia. 

 

What inspired you to write this work?

Should I be honest? There was a snow storm coming to NYC and I thought it was funny how everyone was “stocking up” as if we wouldn’t be able to leave our homes for days. That might happen some places, but is very rare in NYC. That brought me to the feeling of being trapped, and I decided to trap these two sisters together and see what happens. The other thing that was on my mind, is on my mind, at this age (I’m 30) is that I think we’re all constantly comparing ourselves to others, deciding whether we’re doing better or worse than them to see if we’re on track. I think this can cause us to be blind about the people we’re comparing ourselves too, when they’re our family.

Are there any authors, artists, books, etc. that you feel influence this work or your work in general?

Claire Messud stands out for me. Alice Munro because she’s the master of short stories that seem to be quiet but pack a lot of punch. I was definitely deep in my Elena Ferrante phase when I wrote this, which probably put my focus on female relationships.

Describe your typical writing process.

Pacing around my apartment until I force myself to sit down and write, writing at least one draft that I “don’t care” is bad (but is that ever true), and trying to polish from there.

Do you have a favorite place to write or a peculiar writing habit that you’d like to share?

“Shitty First Drafts” in Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird was a great comfort to me. It’s really hard to sit down and write. So if you say: I’m going to write a shitty first draft, that takes a lot of the pressure off!

I also do morning pages a la Julia Cameron. The idea is that you write three pages of blah blah blah whatever to clear your mind, release the ideas that are holding you back from sitting down and writing but I do find that ideas emerge from them. Once I’ve written a full page of, “Ugh my apartment is dusty and I wasted an hour on Facebook,” I find that other thoughts float in, ones that I might not have accessed any other way.

If you could choose to be any nonhuman creature, what would you be and why?

A Pomeranian, because I love them. But honestly? Any! Most don’t overthink things the way we do. They definitely don’t waste hours on Facebook.

This story captures such a complex and individual relationship between sisters. Was it challenging to find the right balance for this relationship in the story? And are there any particular books/stories/poems that you would recommend for capturing the complexity of sibling relationships?

Amy Parker’s “Rainy Season” portrays a sister relationship incredibly – how sisters can be resentful, protective, best friends, and enemies at the same time. The amount of feeling between her two characters is devastating and so real.

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Presenting: Sun Star Review #3

ss_w17_cover1-4-daniel1-ghosts-finalIt’s a new year. The holidays are over, the world is cold and barren, the falcon is growing just a bit hard of hearing, and the center is entertaining inchoate doubts as to its ability to hold. Sounds like the perfect time for new Sun Star!

We would like to express our sincerest thanks to our authors for the privilege of publishing their work, and to everyone who overwhelmed our inbox with wonderful work and made the final cut so difficult. We’re humbled and grateful for all our diverse contributors, and it means so much to us to be able to publish so much work that represents and touches on issues near and dear to our hearts. In every (general) issue, there is a moment, usually just before publication in that last frantic blizzard of word breaks and em dashes, when the project finally takes full shape before your eyes. The threads that you’ve been weaving pull together, and what had been a plan and a feeling becomes a real object staring up at you from your desktop. I must say, in the transition from writer to editor, those moments, the realized conversation and collaborative creation, are among the very best.

We hope you enjoy. Again, we cannot offer sufficient thanks to our authors, our submitters, our assistant editors, and everyone else who makes this project possible!

Happy reading!

Pushcart Prize Nominations

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We are so grateful for the work that we have received this year, for the chance to read and to publish many folks in whom we really, truly believe. Over the course of our first few cycles on this project, we’ve had the privilege of meeting and getting to know so many new people, of hearing so many new voices. It has been wonderful to see so much interest in and support for our project. And so, in recognition of the talent and dedication of the writers who have made this last year possible, we are honored to announce our nominations for this year’s Pushcart Prize:

Adriana Campoy, Unsent Letter
Gayane Haroutyunyan, Please
Rachel Linn, Pass Slipped Stitch Over to Decrease
Maria Rosa Mills, Shapeshift
Audie Shushan, A Sky This Big
Steve Werkmeister, Going Home

It’s always tough to make final selections. We want to offer our congratulations to these writers, and to offer our sincere thanks and respect to everyone who contributed to our journal this year! Thanks for writing, thanks for reading, thanks for helping us do what we do.

Free submissions are closed. Long live submissions.

Dear readers,

First, we want to thank everyone who has expressed interest in our project, and we want to offer our sincere thanks to everyone who submitted through our first go-round on submittable. The response was impressive and, at times, quite overwhelming–and we couldn’t be happier.

We would like to note that our free submission window is now closed. We now look forward to forging ahead through our inbox–there’s a bottom there, somewhere, we’re sure–reading all that wonderful work, and moving forward with the next editorial steps.

We would like to note that we still do have an open submissions call: our Tip Jar is currently running year-round, and we welcome submissions through that tab. That option does require the increasingly-ubiquitous nominal fee. As far as free submissions go, we anticipate opening up again in late winter / early spring of 2017, with dates dependent on our editorial needs. We will be sure to keep you posted when we know the schedule there.

With that, we’d like to offer one last thanks. We are truly excited about the issue that’s coming together for January 2017, and of course we could not have done that without all your support!

Submissions update: 1 week left!

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The last stubborn roses of autumn have finally wilted here in Portland. This is, of course, the traditional harbinger of Sun Star Review’s own (semi) hibernation period. We’ve been a bit quiet this fall, but far from idle. We’ve been so impressed by the quantity and quality of submissions we’ve received, and a common sight around our neighborhood has been our editors hunkered down in a cafe window, so engrossed in our submission queue that they can hardly spare a look up now and then, to catch those last falling petals. We’d like to thank everyone who has submitted, and it truly has been a pleasure to read your work.

However, if you would like to submit for this round but haven’t quite gotten to it yet, there’s still time! Our free submission period runs for one more week, through November 15th, so send us your work ASAP! At that point, we will only be accepting work through our tip jar category.

Once again, we’d like to offer our sincere thanks to everyone who has contributed to the upcoming issues. We are frankly blown away by the work we’ve received, and we are tremendously excited for the Winter 2017 issue to take final shape. Keep an eye out; we’re pretty sure you’re gonna love it, too.

Meet the Author: Adriana Campoy

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We were so excited to have the opportunity to feature some of Adriana’s beautiful poetry  in our first issue. She’s a multi-talented writer with an MFA from the University of Washington and an MPhil in Medieval and Renaissance Literature from the University of Cambridge. You can also see Adriana’s work in the short film People Are Becoming Clouds, which she cowrote the screenplay for.

What is your favorite place to write in/at?

Usually at home, alone at my desk, where I can get up and pace and read aloud without bothering anyone. Sometimes the kitchen table, where there is lots of light and there are snacks close by. 😉 Occasionally it’s nice to go to a cafe when I’m revising.

We loved the variety of subjects in your poems and the sense of the poems reaching outwards to see through different perspectives. Can you tell us about what inspires your poetry?

It’s usually an image that grabs my attention–a painting or sculpture, a movement in a dance, something I spot while on a walk or cycling home. Occasionally it’s stories that people tell me–“El Mamey” was inspired by something one of my aunts told me during a visit to Mexico City. In the past year I’ve been thinking a lot about slowing down moments in time and describing them in detail and letting the images speak that way. I find it to be a really good exercise even if I don’t get a poem out of it.

Can you tell us a bit about your use of form? How do you decide what form a poem should take?

I usually just let it unfold in a way that feels natural to the image or to the shape of the sentence that’s unwinding–I wish I had a better answer than that!

If you could spend one day as any plant, animal, or non-human organism, what would you be?

I think I would be kelp swaying with the waves somewhere in the San Juan Islands.