Buying Flowers for My Wife After a Disagreement

by Kyle Singleton

When I walked into the flower shop on the corner I thought of what my mother once said to me about gifted flowers: “Always trust flowers given on anniversaries. Never trust flowers sent from an unknown admirer. Trust flowers given after the birth of a child, but don’t trust flowers that say, I remember you. You can trust flowers that say, you’re beautiful, and flowers that smell edible, but not flowers that say, I’m sorry.” Then, I wondered what my flowers would say and if they could be trusted, but I looked around the shop anyway. I saw the lilies that stand in elegy, the frangipanis that toast freshly made vows, and the pink peonies that remind graduating daughters they are still young. In the back stood the orchids waiting to pray over the altars of hospital beds, and the carnations that will ask anyone to sleep with them. And right before I left I found a flower that, when you stare into its nectar, breathes a wild world into your lungs. I forgot to buy something on the way out.



Kyle Singleton is a senior at BYU studying English and creative writing. He is originally from Florida.

Mexican Mothers of America

by Mallory Dickson

Let your kids belong!
Get them out of their casas and cuartos

and into a friend’s beat-up Chevy lleno de
music, not bachata but country

guitarras swaying to blonde hombres and chicas.
And when you cook chicken, rice, and beans

and cook them you must, give it to the abuelos.
Slip dollars into brown hands

venturing through the electric arches
of fast food and fake Hispanic buffets.

Let them play football, the American
kind, and leave their soccer balls olvidadas.

Fifteen is no longer the fiesta, Hola is no
longer a serious greeting.

Forget your abrazos and warm latino
soul. Shake hands instead, when

absolutely necessary.
They’ll thank you for the neutral colors,

the white hips and flat r’s.
Soon they will forget the meaning of their names.

-After Frank O’Hara


From a young age Mallory Dickson has been fascinated with books and writing, pulling her parent’s library collection off the shelves and flipping through each book one by one as a child. She has worked on a fantasy trilogy for over seven years, dabbles in poetry, and writes creative essays. She is a senior at Brigham Young University, studying English with an editing minor.

Interview with Lia Purpura

Inscape: How do you feel your upbringing in Long Island has affected you as a writer? What landscapes have influenced you?

Lia Purpura: The landscape that any writer grows up in will absolutely affect her work in one way or another, whether they’re resisting that landscape, or embracing it, or developing a complex relationship with it. The landscape of Long Island was a real mixed bag for me, and I think that mixed bag is represented all over my work. The natural parts of Long Island, meaning for me primarily the ocean and the beach, were like companions. I felt really comfortable there, and I wanted to be out at the beach walking the dunes as much as humanly possible. The other built-up, suburban parts of Long Island were completely deadening for me and really awful. I felt like my soul was cauterized by that landscape. I lived in a really nice neighborhood, and by nice I mean it was full of older immigrants and people who had settled down in that area. It wasn’t in any way a wealthy area, and there was a little scrap of woods that I spent a whole lot of time in. I spent a lot of time trying to stay away from the brightly lit, overly-built suburban ugliness since it was really kind of soul killing. But, then there were the soul sustaining parts. So I mostly just wanted to get out—I wanted out of there. We were close to NYC, which was about a forty-minute train ride away, and I did spend a lot of time in NYC because I had really good friends there, and it was incredibly exciting. We did a lot of great stuff.  We went to museums and concerts. At that time you could go to the opera if you were a student for five dollars and stand way up in the nosebleed section, and that was really rich and exciting.

Inscape: In your essay, “There are Things Awry Here,” you write about the body in relation to its environment: “I can’t figure out how to get my body to land in a land where the present’s not speaking. Where stories won’t take, and walking is sliding.” How do you find inspiration in places that seem monotonous and mundane?

LP: That essay, “There are Things Awry Here” takes place in Tuscaloosa. The parking lot, the giant, endless parking lot of whatever hotel I was staying at, was surrounded by these awful big-box stores. I’m a walker: I have to walk at least three, four, sometimes five times a day with my dog. It doesn’t really feel like it, but a lot of work goes on while I’m walking. I was trying to find a place to walk in Tuscaloosa, and that was the only place I could get to. As I walked this parking lot, which was a kind of crazy thing to do, I kept thinking, “There are stories here, and I can’t hear those stories. I don’t know what they are; they’re not able to speak. They’ve been asphalted and capped, and there’s no way I can even feel my way into this land.” I went to the special collections and asked to read the history of what went on in that area and they came back with really great literature about the history of that area. So I was able to write into that and think about being there and think more deeply now that I had the history. I thought about what had been there, what was missing, and the gap between the two. In that sense, going into that environment with a sense of hunger was what kickstarted that essay. I couldn’t find anything; I couldn’t hear anything—and I very much needed to.

Inscape: In the collection One Word, in which you appear, you discuss the significance of the verb. How is the verb, or action, an integral part of your writing? How does this coincide with the physicality, or “musculature,” of writing?

LP: Verbs are so important and interesting, and when they’re flat, they just drag a sentence down. But when they’re surprising, they lift the whole image; they lift the concept and motion of that moment right out of the mundane and into the stratospheric. A surprising verb almost works like a little window into the life of whatever character, dog, cloud, human is under surveillance by the writer. Almost better than any sort of image, the verb shows the musculature.  It often shows a really surprising aspect of this creature’s relationship to the world. Active verbs for any student are so important.

Inscape: In your childhood, you say you kept a “book of quotes” where you collected poems, song lyrics, and words that you liked. Do you have a similar book now? What is your journaling process like?

LP: I absolutely collect words. Every region has a set of words, so I’m always listening for those words. Already, I can tell you the words “mission” and “sister,” used to describe a companion, are unique to this area, and this was just in the car ride over here. Those are completely different from my points of reference. They are not Baltimore regional words—you’ll never hear that. You’ll hear “sista” but it’s more like, “hey sista, hands off!” The regionality of words is completely thrilling to me. We have a friend who’s a contractor, and he’s an older guy who uses language so brilliantly. He used the word “muster,” like to muster your energy. He’s from the Eastern shore of Maryland where people still use the word muster, a very old word. I do keep lists of words. I have pages and pages of words. Sometimes they’re drawn from my readings, sometimes they’re overheard, whatever’s interesting. These words often suggest scenes, they suggest ideas–just the words alone. It’s kind of a different concept than writing something and trying to find a word. It’s almost like starting with a word and seeing what the word exfoliates, what it blossoms forth for you. They’re very alive like that for me.

Inscape: I love the honesty and beauty in “On Coming Back as a Buzzard.” What drew you to writing about the buzzard? What’s the story behind the essay? What is the value of writing about typically-overlooked or neglected and complicated subjects?

LP:  The buzzard’s work, in my mind, is a kind of holy work – undersung, full of care, part of a working system, and necessary. I’ve thought about that for a long while. Without that work, demeaned as it is, or scoffed at as it is, we would be living in a very messy place, and I believe so deeply in using up our leftovers and not wasting things. It’s a spiritual endeavor to not waste and to use something fully and wholly, completely. The bird and its habits mean something to me, ecologically and spiritually. In that one creature, all of this came together.

Inscape: How does your spirituality play into your alignment with anything outside of yourself?

LP: The act of creating metaphors is a spiritual act: it is an act of empathy and insight and surprise and curiosity. It allows us to step into another’s body and feel from within, and it makes connections that are unseen until they are made. There are so many silent, invisible tethers between people, between people and objects, between objects and ideas, and metaphors uncover all the invisible ways we are connected and all the invisible ways that surprise us. They force you to see things in others or in “the other” that you had not seen. That act of rebirth is exactly what metaphors are working on, constant rebirth of attention, of recognition, constant rebirth of your capacity for aligning yourself with another creature, another person.

Inscape: Do you feel like you go through an aligning process continually, or is it separate moments of alignment?

LP: I think it’s a way of walking through the world that makes a person porous and attentive to the body. Driving in here and seeing the mountains was a physical experience. Coming from Baltimore, it’s a physical experience. It’s dry and they’re imposing and they’re gentle and they fold, and they exert. To be open to the sensations of a mountain is at first a really wordless feeling. That’s why I want to write. I want to find how language approaches that feeling.  It’s a way of living. This isn’t an act of sitting down to the paper or the computer; it’s a way of living.

Inscape: What is the appeal of maintaining the mystery of the lyric essay and why is it necessary for this genre?

LP: If I were to assert that I wanted to maintain the mystery of the lyric essay, it would probably be because I don’t really see a need to pin down the attributes of a subgenre. I call what I do the essay. I don’t subgenre my essay; it has been subgenred. There’s a difference between what I do and what an essayist who works in journalism does. For the purposes of study and discussion, we can make these nuanced divisions. I prefer to call it the essay. I started my writing life as a poet, and it’s clear that poetry influences my prose. When I’m reading the essays, they normally sound like long poems to me. The lyric essay is a prose branch of poetry.

Inscape: Are poetry and prose more related and integrated genres than they’re often made out to be?

LP: I think the best prose is completely attentive to all sorts of poetic elements, like sound, rhythm, and breath, and inflection. Poems shape themselves very differently: they use space and lines. Sometimes prose uses space and sometimes lines. In that sense, there are some very serious and identifiable crossovers. Some poems are highly narrative and read like stories, and some prose reads like a long poem. Great prose writers have an ear that’s poetic.

Inscape: You began your career as a poet but, after your pregnancy, began writing prose. How did becoming a mother evolve your writing and writing process?

LP: It’s hard to make that call, to see how being a mother in some way informed my life as a writer. In certain essays, [my son] makes little cameos. I don’t have long essays dedicated to him. Sometimes we’ve had conversations that fit into some idea I’m writing about, or I need to refer to his friends for some reason. Those are the most practical ways he fits in. I’m sure it’s made me see the world in a different way, but I’m not sure what claims I can make about that. I don’t think it’s an event or a way of being that’s made me more alert or compassionate or ferocious. Probably something on the ferocious scale. I’ve had to figure out how to stay on a schedule, how to write and have a family. I was always interruptible and my son never interrupted me much, so we had a good vibe going. I’ve had my eye on certain subjects in certain essays, as a mother, that I wouldn’t have had access to before. There are definitely essays in which I’ve called myself out as a mother, and that’s been very clear.

Inscape: Several of your poems, such as “Design” and “First Leaf,” have to do with fall. What about this season is so evocative and inspirational for you?

LP: That’s so true! I’m not a person who has favorites, just, in life. Whenever adults ask kids, “What’s your favorite season?” I think that’s the most boring question. You’re asking them to rank things, and evaluate. But I’m going to go against all of that and say that fall is pretty much my favorite season. Everything being on that cusp of decay, there’s something so poignant and ferocious about the season– and bold. I realized when I put this last collection of poems together, It Shouldn’t Have Been Beautiful, how many poems took place in fall, and I had to take a few out because it was so unbalanced. That book was originally arranged by season, and there was a huge fall section. But I do feel quickened in fall–very alert, very alive. The colors are brighter because they’re about to crash. My dog is happier.


by Drew Rupard

today I think I will leave
my unfinished seltzer water on the nightstand
shoes kicked under the sofa
leftovers in the fridge
a clutch of cellar spiders by the radiator

otherwise a clean house
making me look good
making it easy on my family and friends

—I know it will be hard for them, days from now
when they read my journals and count my bobby pins
in the bobby pin dish, holding them to their lips
with the faint hope that these once lay in her brown hair,
pretending to smell Pantene, holding the pin close to the eye,
inspecting for places where the gold paint has nicked

then, not knowing what else to do with them,
putting my old pins to use
on their own glowing heads—
they are so easy to lose
after all



Drew Rupard is an MFA candidate in poetry at BYU. Her interests include America, heaven, and mythmaking. She is especially partial to green paintings.

Interview with Rosellen Brown and Marv Hoffman

Inscape: As I think about you and your husband, I also think about the writing students here at BYU who are trying to balance their lives. They have to synthesize school and writing, as well as their careers and lives as parents.

Rosellen Brown: It’s never easy. There were times when I had to go away to readings and things like that, and I did that a lot. Fortunately, at that point Marv was teaching kids and had a slightly more flexible schedule than a lot of people, so sometimes if I had to go off and go do a gig like this, he could cover for me when my kids weren’t in school.

Marv Hoffman: Just an interesting parallel: I once did a series of interviews with scientists about how they do their work. Several of them started their careers in Germany and Hungary and were fleeing from the Nazis, and they all said to me that they did some of their most significant work during those years. There’s something useful about that kind of pressure.

RB: It’s imposing the discipline on yourself to do it when you can do it. I never used to work when my kids were home. I would work when they were in school. And one day my oldest daughter came home from school while I was finishing working on the typewriter, and I said, “Honey I’m sorry, I’ll be with you in a second.” And I go on, and she’s standing there. And I say, “Honey look, there’s milk and cookies in the kitchen, you know, please, I’m sorry.” I was very apologetic. And she said, “But I want to see what it looks like when you’re working.” When she was home, I was trying to pay attention to her and not to my work. She is a writer now, though she doesn’t have children. I’m much less disciplined now than I was then, because now I have all the time in the world––in theory.

Inscape: It strikes me that people think writing books when you’re married is a challenging process, but there are some partnerships—literary partnerships—like Virginia and Leonard Woolf, George Eliot and George Lewes. Creating a space for your work without sacrificing the needs of the children had to be a partnership deal.

RB: Absolutely. I was very young when I started writing, and I knew that I wanted to write. I have a number of friends who discovered way later, when there was something they were dying to say, that they wanted to become writers. I remember one friend who’s a writer who started late, Hilma Wolitzer, mother of the currently popular Meg Wolitzer, saying, “We had to renegotiate the marriage contract.” My husband had to discover that maybe dinner wasn’t going to be on the table exactly when he wanted it, or whatever. I was not there to serve him, and of course every relationship should be that way, but an artist certainly needs it.

MH: And there are some men who say at that point, “This is not what I signed on for.” But you already had an identity when we married.

RB: I had an identity as a writer in graduate school, and I started publishing very early. I think that was one of the things that attracted Marv to me, and of course he didn’t know what he was getting himself into, but he did know that I had an identity and that my identity was not going to be pushed to the side, and I think that was very important. I have seen people whose marriages have crashed when the husband discovered that his wife was not at his service in the way that he might have expected her to be. So with Marv and me, some of it was the wisdom of knowing what we wanted and maybe needed or didn’t need, but most of what happened after that, I think has a lot to do with luck.  

Inscape: You’re a very good husband, Marv.

RB: Fifty-four years and counting.

MH: I got a lot in return.

Inscape: What do you think about the relationship between character—not character as in a novel, but personal, individual character—and the simulation of voice and authenticity? Is there something in the rigors of style and the capacity to think that apply also to the rigors of character and the capacity to act?

RB: I’d like to think it, but of course the horrible reality is that a lot of writers are terrible people! (Laughs). It’s one of those things you discover when you read the biographies of great writers. Dickens two-timed his wife, which, of course, is hardly unique, and had many other shortfalls of moral character. So it’s hard to say, “Well, if you can do a complex sentence, you have a complex character.” I’m not sure that they really translate. I have a distinct memory: I had an instructor in college with whom I, like so many other young women in black who thought of themselves as budding artists, fell in love. It’s almost a given that that will happen—but then I discovered that he was not the person whose wisdom showed up on the page. He was a wonderful poet, but his moral character was another thing altogether! It was a very sad awakening.

Inscape: Do you think there’s a responsibility and opportunity as writers, or as teachers of writers, to help people to learn to think, and to introduce new thoughts, and create—

RB: Aspirational! (Laughs). I wish! I don’t know. I’d like to think that’s the case, but we can’t claim too much power as writers; let’s face it. When I think about some of the wonderful writers who are horrible people and who abuse their families or other people, clearly all that reading has not made them into better people. So it’s an aspiration, but I don’t know that you necessarily improve people. Wouldn’t it be nice if it worked that way!

Inscape: So I was also thinking about how many of your novels deal with domestic tragedy. It sounds like you have such a wonderful family and marriage, but you also deal with these difficult problems in your books. Where does that come from?

RB: I think it comes from the idea that if I do it on paper none of it will happen to me in real life (laughs).

Inscape: That is a great idea!

RB: Well, I’ll tell you in part where it comes from, and this is probably going to surprise you: I’m not a good storyteller. I have to kick start my so-called “plot” with something big happening. I’m really not the sort of person who thinks of one thing happening after the other, and my books for the most part are strung together episodes. There’s only one book that actually has what I think of as a plot, something where if you took one thing away the whole thing would fall apart because you wouldn’t know what comes next. The rest of them deal with complications and aftermaths of the tragedy. And I’m not very interested in actually describing the tragedy itself. What I’m interested in are the ramifications of the thing: how people respond to it, the psychological complexity of it. I’m just not good at telling really interesting stories. So in some ways the tragic events in my stories are a result of a weakness. The impetus for most of my novels is something I’ve heard or read, situations that seem to promise complex responses, no easy solutions. I have to re-frame them totally but the initial questions are still there.

Inscape: But you’ve made it a strength! You’re really good at delving into the psychology of your books’ family members.

RB: Well, that’s what I’m interested in. Marv was trained as a psychologist, though he’s ended up teaching, but it’s of real significance to me.

Inscape: Did you pull from that in your research? I’ve noticed that, in a lot of your novels, you really delve into a lot of legal ramifications.

RB: Well, I’ve had to get help with that. When I wrote my book “Tender Mercies,” I had to learn about being a quadriplegic. For Before and After, I needed advice about some things that would happen in court, so I found a lawyer and said, “Well, I’m sorry, but I’d love to take a little of your time if you wouldn’t mind,” and she said, “I’m so interested in meeting you because I’ve read your stories and they’ve informed my family court practice.”  She let me come to her courtroom, and she gave me terrific advice. I thank her in the beginning of the book. So, yeah, you have to hope that the research doesn’t overwhelm what you’re doing, but you need to learn some stuff.

Inscape:  That’s amazing. So I was wondering; you have two novels, Civil Wars and Half a Heart, that deal with the civil rights movement. What do you think about our current political climate?

RB: You really want to hear? I’m not allowed to curse here, as far as I’ve been told. (Laughs).

Inscape: Well, if we shut the door. (Laughs).

RB: Well, without being specific, I can’t imagine a more appalling state of the country than the one we’re in right now. I don’t think anybody can listen to each other or be honest about their experiences. I just think we are in a very terrible period.

MH: There’s a wonderful African-American writer, Julius Lester, who said that when people interview political candidates they often ask the question, “What books are you reading?” Well, you can’t even ask that of Trump because you know that he’s not reading anything, but in the past people would talk about various biographies or Six Crises by Richard Nixon, or you know, The Winds Of War, and Lester said that’s the wrong question. You have to ask, “What novels have you read?” Because if someone reads novels, they have the capacity to empathize with characters. When Rosellen met Barack Obama, long before he was famous, he told her that he had read Civil Wars.

RB: Immediately I said, “Whatever he stands for, I’m going to vote for him!” (Laughs).

MH: My point is that you can see in his autobiography that this is a man who knows how to empathize.

RB: And how to write, as a matter of fact. Talk about what’s happened to the English language with our current legislators! I mean, we’re very much the worse for it.

Inscape: Things I thought we were past, like intense racial tension, we’re not actually past.

RB: Well, when we went to Mississippi—we moved there in ‘65 and lived there for three years—like most Americans, we thought that the horrible racism was endemic to the South. We went there from Boston, which, as it happens, is an incredibly racially divided city. Racism is not just in the South, and in many ways it’s more frightening farther north.

MH: We were back in Mississippi a few months ago, and I think the disheartening thing about being there was that we initially felt we were part of something that was fundamentally changing the country, but we were confronted with the fact that that’s not the case. There are a lot of superficial things that have changed, which shouldn’t be discounted. The fear that people lived under was really intense, and that’s gone, but underneath the same structural inequities exist.

RB: Frankly, I’m pretty discouraged in a lot of ways, because the country is going backwards now, I believe, when it comes to equality. So much is now permissible to say that could not have been said earlier. But that was just sort of slightly hypocritical self-control that people were exercising. Now, unfortunately, our president has led the way in giving people the right to say anything they want to. It’s very sad. So, like everything else, it’s complex. What you do when you write is you try to destabilize people’s sense of what is absolutely set and perfect, because life’s not like that very often. We need to listen. We need to talk. We need to figure out ways to move forward.

Inscape: We do have a problem in our culture of not listening to each other. You’ve said before that, essentially, the beginning of style is listening to others. How does one make that part of the culture of a classroom?

RB: It’s very difficult. At the School of the Art Institute in Chicago, I teach what we call Generative Seminars, in which people write afresh every week and then read it to each other. We have copies, of course, that people pass around so you have it in front of you, but people really have to listen very carefully, and it’s hard. It’s especially difficult with poetry to be able to critique on the spot, but it does sort of enhance the necessity of listening. But in general, what you’re talking about is a moral problem. It goes way beyond the realm of writing that we don’t listen to each other, that we speak over each other, that we tend to exclude ideas that other people have. So I think it’s something that goes way, way deeper. But just to listen to the words—I think that’s a conscious practice, actually.

Inscape: When you teach kids, you accept the fact that, beyond 10 minutes, they don’t listen. I’m pretty sure that something similar happens with adults. But you have to build your teaching around the recognition that listening is an intense activity, and you can’t expect it to go on for very long. So people need to move into some more active kind of posture, which is sharing their ideas with each other, doing their own writing, whatever the activity is. But it’s true that listening is a challenge. I think that may not have been true in other cultures at other times when the whole mode of education was sitting quietly and listening.

RB: I think that’s true.

Inscape: A storyteller mentioned how critical it is to know your audience and speak to that audience. Among other things, that’s how history was passed down from generation to generation.

RB: I think that’s true! Maria Edgeworth, Dryden, and people like that wrote long, complicated paragraphs that are difficult for us to penetrate! The audience was used to that and that was the prevailing style at the time; the long, classical sentence structure was what people did and knew. And Shakespeare! Even those of us who have read a lot of Shakespeare and are pretty adept struggle. The first few minutes of a play, I have to adjust to the sound of that syntax because it is complicated. It is not a twenty-first century syntax, and it takes a while before you begin to think that it’s natural. The Globe Theatre, where Shakespeare’s plays were originally produced, was a pit of people—smelly people who could not take showers, untrained, uneducated people—who came to listen to those plays, and yet they, without educations, were able to follow what some of our students find almost impossible. Marv had a student who said, when he was doing Shakespeare with them, “This stuff is pretty good. I’d really like it if it was in English!” (Laughs). Because it isn’t automatic! But we’re sort of coddled by the terseness of television scripts and newscasts that are coming at us in short bursts all the time—now we’re down to, what, 140 characters? Now there are novels and poetry being written on phones. There was a film a few years ago that was called Tangerine that was made entirely on an iPhone 5. I mean we’re in a very, very different culture.

Inscape: You said something earlier that I think is interesting about the sound bite. And people have talked about that before in terms of the “tweet,” but there are some things you just can’t do in 140 characters.

RB: If you think you can reduce things to 140 characters you are not getting the whole picture.

MH: When our kids were little, when they watched television––and this will tell you how ancient we are––Sesame Street started. They had been watching this show called Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood, which was beautiful and quiet, calm and peaceful. And when Sesame Street came on, it felt like the beginning of the end. It was incredibly rapid fire. I don’t know what’s chicken and what’s egg in this situation, but it reinforced a certain kind of short attention span.

Inscape: Is there something we can do to counteract this as writers?  

RB: Read Moby Dick. (Laughs).

Inscape: Write 440 page novels. (Laughs).

RB: I don’t know if anyone has the patience for that … you hope that your students can somehow enjoy enough of what you assign to them so that they’ll go on doing it themselves. There’s not a policeman out there saying, “You must read continuous prose!”

Inscape: Harry Potter changed things, in terms of publishers accepting longer works.

MH: One of the fascinating things about Harry Potter was to watch the kind of attention the kids were able to invest in those books. I mean, there were kids who sat down and read those books in one take.

RB: A lot of Marv’s teaching is in inner city Chicago, and you have kids who are so far from the Harry Potter experience, and they would sit down and gobble this stuff up.

MH: Those Harry Potter books are usually way, way beyond the reading level of the kids who were fascinated by them, but it didn’t stop them at all. So that’s an interesting example. There’s still a kernel of possibility for paying attention.

RB: Apparently there is.

Inscape: Obviously you’ve been a very successful writer. You’ve had numerous books published, both in poetry and prose, and you’ve done all of the genres you could do.

RB: Except children’s literature.

Inscape: There’s still time! But I wondered if there was a moment in your career when you felt like you’d really “made it,” or felt like you’d reached some sort of literary success?

RB: I’ll tell you a small thing. I was one of Ms. Magazine’s “12 Women of the Year” in 1985, which was probably before your parents were even born. There were people in there you’ve probably never heard of, and we all had little things written about us. And a writer named Judith Thurman wrote an essay about me that in a million years I could not have dreamed of. I simply could not have imagined anyone saying these things about my writing, not about me personally, but about my writing. That is a moment that I hold incredibly dear. Last year there was a celebration for a so-called “lifetime achievement” for me, and a lot of it was about writing, teaching, and mentoring. My old students were there, and other writers, and they talked about me with big parts of my writing up on the wall, projections of prose and poetry. It was a great moment, but long before that this one essay by this one person that I respected that took the writing seriously was probably more significant to me than the fact that one of my books was made into a movie. It was a terrible movie, but I did get to meet Meryl Streep and get a hug from Liam Neeson. That was good. But seeing somebody who was the ideal reader, who got what I was doing and who could tie it all together, was much more important to me than any of the rest.

MH: This is more Rosellen’s style: She put up on her office door at the University of Houston a royalty check which she got for—

RB: For a story that was anthologized.

MH: Well, the royalty check was for twenty-four cents.

RB: I wanted my students to be forewarned about what they were getting themselves into! (Laughs). Not to mention running up debt paying for school.

Inscape: You mentioned that those late seventies were years when there was intense pressure on you as a writer. What have you noticed in terms of being relaxed or confident under pressure?

RB: Some people need less time than others. I have a friend who’s quite a prolific writer, and we went to a Cubs game with her, and between innings she would pull a manuscript out of her bag and revise it while we were sitting in the stands. I can’t do that. I’ve always needed a lot of time.  Maybe not down time, but drifting and dreaming time, in order to write.

MH: And there are issues like when to take care of little things that have to be done around the house.

RB: Well, I’m always giving the advice, and still to some extent do this: When I’ve been asked all those questions about how to be a mother and a writer and all that, I say the first thing you learn is that you do not do your housework first. I make the bed, but basically no one cares about what your house looks like during the day. At the end of the day you can fix it up, but you don’t have to do it during your prime possible work time.

MH: The new novel that’s coming out next year is happening a long, long time since the last novel. So this is another aspect of dealing with a career, because she’s been out of the spotlight for a long time. There are implications for your self-image, your identity, the feeling that you’re sort of off people’s radar.

RB: Yeah, I used to do gigs like this all the time, but I don’t do them much anymore because this generation doesn’t know my work. And my new book is a chancy book for me. I think a lot of people won’t like it. It’s a book different than what I’ve done before, and people don’t like that. They’re not ready to cut you the slack that you need, like, “Well, she thought this was going to be interesting to do as a different kind of book, and maybe it works and maybe it doesn’t work.” But it should be part of a career.

Inscape: What’s your new book called?

RB: The Lake On Fire. It’s  set in late nineteenth-century Chicago.  

So you’d like a piece of advice.  Hmm…I think I’ve pretty much said it implicitly: take yourself seriously. Dare to consider that what you’re doing matters.  That doesn’t mean that you mustn’t take into consideration the lives of the people around you, who often have to support and protect you and your time and concentration.  But it you want to – need to – write, then don’t give that up because it’s difficult or opens you to rejection or because you’re deferring to others’ career needs. Be your own champion and find a few people who believe in you to help you on your way. Then pray for luck because a lot of what will happen to you is out of your hands!

A Night with the Investment Bankers

by Maren Loveland

The waiter sets the glistening steak in front of me, a gorgeous piece of meat that shines as though covered in a layer of plastic.

Fake steak for fake people with fake names and fake faces.

Even as I stare ahead, I can feel the blood-filled juices seeping out onto the pristine whiteness of the plate, the last, warm remnants of an unnamed animal. I gaze unblinkingly into the face of the man across from me, a man I do not know and do not wish to know. Yet he is there, talking and talking and talking about his villa in the south of France and the faultiness of the American educational system and the uselessness of history. I cut the meat into tiny pieces so I don’t have to look at his suede suit jacket and thin lips anymore, and I shift my focus onto the pointed blade of my knife instead. Thin, delicate, deadly. It reflects the light like the scales of a butterfly wing.

I feel the overpowering urge to plunge the knife into the man’s vulnerable chest, end this ceaseless egotism and empty-headed heartlessness for the benefit of mankind, which has enough on its plate as it is. “The Dinner Party Hero,” they would surely call me. “Well, I do what I can,” I reply, coquettishly.

But I sit with my ankles crossed, and I smile and nod and smile and nod with an unnatural frequency, hoping my fraudulency is detectable. I see my lipstick smeared like a bloodstain on the rim of my glass. I think about the poor, dead cow, the realest being at this table. I grip the knife tighter.



Maren Loveland was born and raised in Atlanta, Georgia. She is a junior studying American Studies at BYU, with a particular emphasis in American literature. Her career goals include inspiring and teaching others, ardently defending the humanities, and creating beautiful things.

On Selling Out

by Kessia Robinson

Meg and I flipped out the legs of the fold-up table and heaved it upright.  It skewed slightly on the gray brick flagstones of Brigham Square, but held.  So we proceeded to deck the tabletop in print copies of Inscape, to litter it with flyers, and—of course—to sprinkle candy over every possible surface.  Then, with a flourish, we taped signs to the front edge of the table and to the easels around it: “Poet for Hire.”

We were set.

The Poet for Hire booth was a way to promote Inscape, BYU’s literary magazine, which meant that we had a mission.  So—with the zeal of a good cause—we accosted students on their way to and from the Wilk, flagging them down with dramatic feather pens, luring them in with chocolate.

“Get a poem portrait,” I cried.  “For your spare change, get a poem written for you by one of our poets right now.  On the spot!”

It was a good day for poetry.  It was the last week of September 2017; the trees around the square still waved green leaves; pink petunias waterfalled over the edges of enormous cylindrical planters; the sun’s warmth was pleasant, the air crisp.

Soon, all of our poets were busy scribbling away, writing poetical caricatures for people and collecting pennies and quarters as payment in our little lantern tip jar.  I myself wrote several poems for passersby.  Then, toward the end of my shift at the booth, one particular student halted before me at the table, his eyes scanning the journals and the candy. “What’s this?”

I explained the Poet for Hire concept.  “You want a poem written about you?”

He shrugged.  “Yeah, but I don’t have any change.”

“That’s okay,” I said.  The booth was more about promoting Inscape than turning a profit.  “This one can be for free.”

I interviewed the young man briefly, sifting through his life for poetical details.  I found out his name was Mark, that his major was computer science, and that he adored his girlfriend.  Nodding, I sat at a chair by the table and started to scratch out a poem on a notepad.

Multiple times, Mark said, “I just feel so bad that I don’t have any change.”

I assured him this was fine and continued writing.  Then, when I was almost done, Mark blurted, “Oh!  I know what I can give you!”

I glanced up to see him fishing through a leather wallet.  Then I focused back on the paper.  I was on the last two lines when something plopped onto the table in front of me.

My eyes flickered over to see what Mark had given me—and I froze.

Because it was a condom.

Unmistakably.  Square orange wrapper.  Trojan logo.  There it was.

I gawked down at it.

And then an uncomfortable thought squirmed through my mind: How are you paying me, exactly, sir?  What do you have in mind?

Slowly, I raised my head to peer at Mark—and he mirrored me, so that we lifted our gazes from the condom in sync until our eyes met.

Then Mark looked away, a flush creeping up his neck.

“That wasn’t what I was going to give you!” he said, snatching the condom off the table and burying it back in his wallet.

He pulled out a fast food coupon instead and placed it in the tip jar.

I hurriedly finished the poem, ripped the page out of the notebook, and handed it to Mark.  He took it and raced away, humiliated—poor thing—and I sat back in my chair.

Thoughts flitted through my mind quick and liquid as a flock of starlings.  But Mark didn’t need to worry.  I didn’t spend a second puzzling over Mark and his girlfriend, over the BYU Honor Code, over Mark’s embarrassment.


I was too busy wondering whether the universe was trying to tell me something through this experience.  Was selling my artwork for a profit like this a form of prostitution?  Suddenly, the words “Poet for Hire” seemed disturbing.

Even now, weeks after the Poet for Hire booth, I’m still considering the implications of Mark’s accidental offering—because the fact is that “selling out” is a true concern for artists.  It’s an old paradoxical conflict, because most writers do “sell” their work.  They participate in a market for novels, for poetry, for essays, trading their precious artwork for pennies and quarters and royalties.

Yet, for many writers, publication isn’t about the money. Rather, it’s about gaining a readership; it’s about the joy of witnessing your art reach another person, affect them, change them.  It’s a deep, vulnerable form of communication, my soul to yours, and as such feels a universe away from profit margins, from haggling, from the vulgar daily battles waged over nickels and dimes.

For some, this is perhaps difficult to understand.  For instance, writing this now, I can’t help but think back to an argument I had with my roommate, Ann.  It occurred a few weeks ago.  Nick—a fellow writer—had lingered at our house after a larger get-together.  He, Ann, and I sat together on a couch in our living room after everyone else had left, and Nick said, “Question for you guys.  Currently, in mainstream writing, LDS religious themes seem pretty unpopular—but because I’m LDS, such themes are an essential part of my artwork.  Do you think there’s a way for me to publish a mainstream novel that includes LDS themes?”

I grinned.  Nick and I had talked about this on several occasions—how to stay true to one’s art in an unaccepting market.

But then Ann attacked. “Uh—no. Of course that won’t work.  No one will buy that.  Think about it.  Your job is to write things your readers want to hear.  Your book is like any other product produced in the marketplace.  It’s all supply and demand.  You need to create a product that people actually want.  That’s the whole point, isn’t it?”

I stiffened, instantly offended and outraged.

Still, I tried to keep calm.  Nick and I attempted to talk to Ann about the nature of art as personal expression, but Ann obstinately kept coming back to the marketplace, comparing writers to manufacturers of dollar-store soap and combs.

I found myself getting angrier and clamped my mouth shut in an attempt to remain civil.  Because what I wanted to do was stand up, clench my fists, and scream, “What would you know?  You’re not an artist!  And you’ll never be an artist, because your soul is all abacus and humbug, and I hate you!”

Luckily, I managed to keep my tantrum to myself.

Now, writing this essay, I can calmly admit that Ann is right, in some ways.  As writers, we definitely need to consider our audience and compose with their needs in mind. However, what Ann doesn’t understand is that there’s an expectation of integrity among artists—of creating works that are true to some elemental part of who we are as individuals.  There’s this uncommunicated understanding between us, a belief that art is connected to identity, that the value of art is about the personal fingerprint of the artist—and so if we alter our work too much in order to placate an audience, if we destroy the personal touch of the self in order to gain a profit, then we have betrayed ourselves, and our art, and our fellow artists to boot. This is the essence of what it means to “sell out.”  This is why the title “starving artist” is a point of pride, a badge of honor, among writers everywhere.  Because an impoverished artist is probably a true one.

At the Poet for Hire booth, I began to wonder if I’d sold out somehow.  Of course, I wasn’t too worried about the Poet for Hire booth itself.  I felt no shame about creating cute poetical caricatures of passersby in order to promote literature.  But I did take the Poet for Hire incident as a warning and an opportunity for reflection on a larger scale.  On a more fundamental level, I wondered: Was I in danger of prostituting my art in some other way?

In terms of money, the answer is simply this: no chance.  It’s true that I’ve made a little money off of my writing, but not much.  And likely, I’ll never make enough of a profit to even have the option of “selling out.”  This is just not a sin I’m capable of committing.

At least not in terms of money.

But that’s the thing: there are plenty of other ways to sell out.  We can alter or cheapen our art for any number of goods, nebulous or concrete.  We can sacrifice our writing even for things as elemental as love.

Or happiness.


Years before the Poet for Hire booth, my father and I strolled down the sidewalk on University Parkway.  It was November, and the trees around us had grown stringy and ragged, just a few brown leaves sagging from their bare branches.  As my father and I walked, side by side, I kept my hands deep in the pockets of my pea coat to keep them warm, and told my father about the creative writing class I was taking.

My father paused, and then said, “Yeah, but you’re too happy to write poetry now.  Right?”

I halted mid step—my foot pausing in the air just long enough for me to lose my balance and stumble.

What? I thought.

“Careful,” my father said as I regained my footing.

We continued walking, and the conversation moved on, but my mind didn’t.  My thoughts whirred, stuck on that one fascinating statement: You’re too happy to write poetry now.

Where had that sentence come from?  And what did it mean?

Apparently, my father believed that happiness undermines one’s ability to write poetry, that poetry and happiness are not conducive, that they’re antitheses.  And not only did he believe this, but he also saw it as common knowledge, a fact so universal that he didn’t need to introduce the idea or clarify it afterwards.

And then there’s the last word of that statement: now.  You’re too happy to write poetry now.

So then, what was I before?

A miserable writer?  A disturbing Poe-esque poet?  The cliché tortured artist?  At what stage of my life had my father seen me this way?

His statement was like a fun house mirror; in his words, I saw myself distorted and monstrous—and grotesquely fascinating.

Now, thinking back on this experience, I can’t help but wonder if there’s something to his statement, some kernel of truth in his morose perception of poets, or even writers in general.  Is there a blood price necessary in order to don the wings of the artist?  Must I pay for each word I compose with a tear?

My father is not the only person by far to believe that true art requires deep suffering.  In fact, it seems to be a pretty general assumption.  For instance, once, in a creative writing workshop class at BYU, a classmate declared: “My parents gave me a happy childhood—and I will never forgive them for that!”

According to this misery theory, the path to great artistry is as follows:  You must have a terrible childhood—you must be able to swap abuse or neglect stories with Jeanette Walls or Dave Pelzer.  Or, as an alternative, you could develop a debilitating mental illness, like Sylvia Plath, or Virginia Woolf, or even Leo Tolstoy.  Regardless, your unique brand of human agony must compel you to do bedlam-esque things, like put your head in an oven or walk into a river with pockets filled with stones or—at the very least—cut off your own ear.

While I may be a bit melodramatic here, my point still stands: there’s a common theory that the recipe for high-quality writing includes misery. And I can’t help but wonder as a would-be artist myself how true this theory is, and how much I’m willing to endure.

Is this where I’m selling out?  Am I really too happy to write poetry?


I’ve spent many hours puzzling over my father’s statement.  Part of the strangeness of his words lies in the nature of our relationship: we’re not particularly close.  Certainly, we care about each other, and whatever interactions we have are generally warm.  However, such interactions are rare.  My father lives in southern California and I live in Provo, and we almost never talk on the phone.  We don’t email.  We’re not even friends on Facebook.  So our little stroll down University Parkway was not a regular occurrence; it was an oddity.

And, during the entire walk—like most of our relationship—we talked only of surface-level things, safe topics with no room for conflict.  We skirted around taboo subjects and asked no clarifying questions.  This is the main rule for keeping the peace.

This means that I have little to no understanding for how my father sees me as a person. That’s not a safe subject. So his words that day—You’re too happy to write poetry now—gave me a peek into his concept of me, and a weird one.

Of course, he was right, in a way.  Not about the fact that I’d stopped writing poetry—because I hadn’t.  But it’s true that I’m much happier now than I was growing up.  I was a thoroughly depressed teenager, and produced hundreds of agonized poems on the subjects of death or grief or pointlessness.  

But here’s the tricky part: my father never read any of those poems.  In fact, my parents never read any of my writing.  They didn’t show interest in the nine novels, hundreds of poems, and dozens of short stories and plays I completed before graduating high school.  They bragged to people at church about the fact that I was a writer—but that was the extent of their interest.

So how did my father know about my emo poetry streak?

Then I remembered.  Once, during high school, I was recognized as a finalist in a national poetry competition.  As such, I received a congratulatory letter and a free bound copy of the poems of the winners and finalists.  My poem was included in the collection.

That day, my parents expressed excitement about the award—but still I never imagined that they actually read my winning poem.  They hadn’t read any of my other poetry, after all.  And after that day, we never discussed the award again.

It would only be years later that my mother would say to me during a casual conversation: “Oh yeah!  I remember that poem.  It terrified your father.”


So have I sold out in the name of happiness?  This might seem like an odd question, but the truth is that I have never been as productive a writer as I was during those years of high school—when I was abjectly miserable.  If I peer back through the years, it’s easy for me to note that the times that I’ve produced the most work—and the deepest work—have always been my times of greatest distress.

Part of me longs for that—for the suffering that yields poetry, for the pain that spurs me to write.  In some ways, I reflect fondly on dark moments that led to artistic triumphs.  But would I want to go back to high-school-level misery now?  Just the thought makes me shudder.  Just the thought makes me feel as resistant as a cat being forced into a bucket of water.

And so I wonder.  If it came down to a choice, what would it be?  Happiness or poetry?  Would I sell out to escape from suffering?  Would I surrender my pen if doing so could guarantee me a life fused with joy?

Burdened with such a question, I feel like Christine from Phantom of the Opera—like I must choose between the disturbed masked muse with his mesmerizing music of the night, and the happy-ending prince with his sunshine and fine horses.  

Of course, for the most part, this is a false dilemma.  Fantastic writing doesn’t always stem from broken childhoods or shattered minds.  And even if it did, even if art depended solely and completely upon suffering, our portion of pain is not always something that we can choose.  Staying true to one’s writing does not guarantee someone a greater portion of life’s hardships, and therefore a deeper well of inspiration.

But even so, I don’t think that this dilemma—happiness versus poetry—can be dismissed easily.  There’s something that rings true in my father’s words: You’re too happy to write poetry now.

Can it truly be a coincidence that so many of our most renowned writers were depressed?  Were recluses?  Were disturbed?  I think of Fyodor Dostoevsky.  Emily Dickinson.  Mary Shelley.  Emily Bronte.  Edgar Allen Poe.  Surely, without their woes, we could have no Grand Inquisitors, no funerals in the brain, no melancholy monsters, no Mr. Rochesters, and no pessimistic ravens.

There must be something, then, in suffering—some path to artistry, some door into the inner chambers of poetry itself.  Perhaps it is not the only door, the only path, but it is there.  I sense it in these books I read, in these authors and the suffering that lives and breathes just beneath the letters on the page.  I sense it in myself, too.  For me, at least, suffering—and the confrontation of suffering—is at the center of conflict, of plot, of essay, of poem.

And while perhaps it is true that we cannot always choose the amount to which we suffer, we can choose how much we are willing to face our hardships, to what degree we are willing to descend into them, and find hidden paths that lead to places we’ve never been.

The reality of this is demonstrated by writers like Lauren Slater, who in her autobiographic work, Prozac Diary, outlined her fear that if she treated her depression, she would no longer be motivated to write.  In a way, this proved true.  After she started taking Prozac, she didn’t write much at all for months, years.  She no longer felt driven to write in the same way.

Of course, I’m not saying she shouldn’t have taken her medication—just that there does seem to be an inverse relationship between happiness and poetry, and that there also seems to be at least some element of choice in the matter.

So which do I choose?

Perhaps the decision seems simple, the answer obvious.  Happiness, you might think.  Raoul and true love and fine horses.  What else is life for?

But here’s the crux: there’s a reason that this decision is difficult.  The very fact that art is comparable to happiness in this way, that the two exist on the same plane, that the two are similarly valuable, is telling.  There is a satisfaction that we gain from poetry, a transcendence, a moment of triumph, of overcoming.  There is a way in which art alters our view on reality, our view on ourselves, on our own lives.  There is a bliss in creation, a catharsis in expression, a godly power in the binding strength of the word.  If this is not quite happiness, then it is equally potent.

And perhaps that’s why, in our suffering, we naturally turn toward art—because if we cannot quite reach joy, then still we can reach this.  We can commune with the muse, and pluck up our troubles like flowers, and arrange them on the page in a way that is heartbreaking in its beauty, in its complexity.  

In its truth.


In all honesty, I don’t believe that my winning poem was especially dark.  However, when I think of it through my father’s perspective, I suppose I can catch a glimpse of his terror.

My father was a man who made boasting about his children a sport, who told anyone who would stand still long enough that his daughter played basketball and volleyball and ran track; that she had a 4.4 GPA; that she did mathletes and academic decathlon; that she wrote novels in her spare time.  He painted an image of our family through surface-level details like this—an image of flourishing and happiness.

I used to hate it.  It felt hypocritical to me.  It felt like a lie.

But here’s the thing: I think my father believed it was true, at least about me.  Since the surface-level details were all that we talked about, how could he know any different?  How could he understand that all of these things were simply distractions that concealed who I really was?  A shimmering surface to hide a drowning girl?

My winning poem was short.  It went like this:


Light eradicates darkness,

Eradicates darkness,


This I tell myself,

Moan myself,

Scream to myself

As I rock

In the bile-colored lightning.




Thunder and dark.

A howl from heaven;

Just a smile from hell.

It was called “Too Late for Grace,” and after my father read it, I don’t think he ever saw me the same way again.


Now, thinking about the Poet for Hire booth—about being offered a condom for my poetry—I once and for all consider whether or not I’ve sold out.  Have I traded my poetic nature for a little happiness?  Given up a universe of thought for a smile?  Have I prostituted my writing for a measure of contentment?

I hope not.  It’s true that I’m happier now than in my tortured high school days.  But I remain willing to confront my suffering—to explore it, to transmute it into artwork.  I’m not afraid to use tears as ink, or to laugh in the face of anguish, to mock it on the page even as I revere it.  So I guess if there’s a choice between happiness and poetry, I choose poetry.

Once, after that strange conversation with my father on University Parkway, I tried to explain to him what being a poet meant.  This time, my father and I weren’t walking.  We were in the car, he with his hands tight on the steering wheel, and me in the backseat, peering out the window.  I told him then that I didn’t fear hardship—that I’d learned to enjoy it, in a way, through writing about it.

He paused for a long time.  “Do you consider yourself an optimist, then?” he asked.

In some ways, this was still a surface-level question—but it was a deeper one than he normally posed.  And I felt strange echoes between the words, as though this inquiry was his way of asking all the questions we had no skills to discuss: Are you happy?  Do you know what happiness is?  Is it truly too late for you?  Too late for grace to touch you?  Too late for you to know joy?

All the questions of a concerned father seemed wrapped up in that one: “Do you consider yourself an optimist?”

I thought for a long moment—about happiness versus poetry, about the meaning and satisfaction poets wrest out of darkness, about how my pen equips me to handle every experience, to relish what most people fear.

Do I consider myself an optimist?

“Yes, Dad,” I told him.  “I do.”



Kessia Robinson is an MFA candidate in fiction at BYU. She enjoys writing novels and creative nonfiction. She’s often happiest when frolicking through the woods with a book in her hand and wildflowers in her hair.

On a Stick

by Kevin Zalewski

Eighteen years ago, Frank traded in his corner office as a bank manager for the greasy kitchen of a food truck fry cook. He never looked back. Frank liked the seat in his cramped cab better than the seat in his cramped cubicle. Frank had no mortgage, no car payment, no pension. All Frank needed was enough money to pay for a tank full of unleaded gasoline, a fryer full of restaurant-quality peanut oil, and a freezer full of the best darned homemade corn dogs and thick-cut french fries.

Frank sat behind the wheel and inhaled the smell, meaty and golden brown, that permeated the vehicle, permanently lodged in the food truck’s sun visors and streaming from the air vents. He turned on the defroster to fight against the chill November air. Frank was on his way to Cincinnati. It was about 1:30 in the afternoon, and Frank had been driving for almost six hours when he saw the sign for Meyers. The town lay thirty-two miles off the highway. He rubbed the knot out of his neck and flicked on his right blinker.

Frank guessed that Meyers had a population of about two hundred as he pulled into the parking lot of the only church in town. The church was small—just one room, Frank suspected—but easy to spot. Its white walls and steeple blazed against the sky, higher than any other building around. Perhaps Frank should have felt guilty doing his money-changing at the Lord’s house, but he didn’t. He always said, “The best place to be is a spitting distance from the local chapel. Come hell or high water, the Lord will protect the walls of His edifice—and perhaps its parking lot as well.” Besides, it was a Tuesday; Frank knew it didn’t matter if these people were Catholic, Protestant, Baptist, or Seventh-day Adventist—nobody holds mass on a Tuesday.

Sure enough, before Frank even had the awning up, a man with a wide, balding forehead and a pair of bootcut jeans was already approaching the truck. The man asked if Frank was lost as his wide eyes looked up and down the tower of a truck coated in brightly colored paint. But Frank responded that he wasn’t lost as long as he was somewhere where folks enjoyed delicious deep-fried food. The buttery scent of the food truck wafted to the man’s nose. He smiled, shook Frank’s hand, and ran door-to-door telling his neighbors to grab their wallets and purses.

And they did. By dinnertime, half the town had gathered with chairs and tables collected from people’s homes and from the storage closet inside the little church. Children played while the adults drank beer and pop. The men told stories that were partly true, and the women told tales that were mostly lies. The oldest man in town, who everyone called Old Man Walters, had never had a corn dog before. After he took his first bite, a smile spread across his wrinkled face, and his cheeks turned a rosy red. Frank made plenty of money, and when Bobby, the young son of the balding man Frank had first spoken to, asked to see the inside of the truck, Frank showed him the bubbling oil in the deep fryer and let him stick his head in the big freezer and showed him the pull-out cot. Bobby grinned widely and was impressed. He told Frank that he wanted to grow up to be a fry cook too. Frank laughed hard and heavy and did not miss forcing a smile and pretending that a man in a suit with a six-figure income was being reasonable.

When the town had had their fill of homemade corn dogs and thick-cut french fries, they put the chairs and tables away, gathered their children, and returned to their homes. The stragglers stayed and shook Frank’s hand, thanking him for coming and for frying the best corn dog to ever come to Ohio. Frank thanked them back, found the pastor among them, and asked if he could leave the truck overnight in the parking lot. The pastor told him that he could but that they were expecting some bad weather. Certainly he could find someone in town to put Frank up for the night. Frank told the priest that he was grateful for the offer but that he’d cast off the shackles of mammon and that a man’s dwelling ought to be his temple and that he slept better in his own cot anyhow. The pastor said that he understood, and Frank tucked in for the night.

When Frank woke up, the snow was halfway up the wheel of the truck and still falling. But Frank wasn’t in any hurry. He smiled and turned on the deep fryers. He’d be on his way once they had the roads clear; now it was time to feed some fine people.

At lunchtime, a few townsfolk came by to get a quick bite. But by dinnertime, most of the town had gathered around the truck in their puffy coats and their fluffy mittens. When Frank passed the corn dogs out the window, they steamed in the frigid air. The townspeople ate happily and were not so worried. They congregated in the parking lot as they waited and filled the pews, laughing and talking together as they sat eating and shielding themselves from the cold. Every time someone opened the church doors, a gust of frigid wind rushed through the chapel. But nobody complained; they simply held their coats a little tighter and took another bite of piping hot corn dog and savored the breaded meat warming their throats and stomachs as it slid downward.

Bobby came to the window and asked for two corn dogs, and when Frank told him he couldn’t eat that much, Bobby replied that one of them was for his dad. But Frank knew that Bobby’s father had already ordered—he had been one of the first and had eaten his fill. Frank just chuckled to himself and handed Bobby the corn dogs, one in each hand. The boy ran off, his feet moving in quick, small steps so that he could push through the layers of fallen snow.

As the people of Meyers ate their dinner, a pine tree—many miles away, straining under heavy snow and leaning from the driving wind—wrested free from the frozen ground and fell onto a power line. The lights of Meyers went out. And Frank’s food truck glowed as if it were a single candle in an empty room. And the people of Meyers slowly began to huddle in closer to the food truck and closer to one another. And for a moment all were afraid of the sudden darkness. And for a moment all were in awe of the beaming lights. And it was like watching a death. And it was like watching a birth. And the remaining townsfolk shuffled from their darkened homes and joined the rest. And then, under the glow of the solitary lights of the food truck, the people of Meyers commenced eating.

The snow continued for days. Eventually, it got so cold that the people’s trucks and cars would not start, whether because of frozen gasoline or frozen pistons or frozen starters they could not be sure. They tried and tried to get the vehicles to run, but eventually the mechanics and the handymen had to give up and leave the useless husks to be buried beneath the cascade of white. The men would shovel and plow all day, only to awake and find the snow piled just as high. After a couple of days, they had men working through the night, taking shifts, and still they could not keep up with it. When the first group of men working the night shift came back in from the cold, they realized that Old Man Walters was not with them. He had been working some distance from the rest of his group, and when the slowly drifting flakes had suddenly become a swirling surge of snow, they had lost sight of him and had not seen him since. The men had intended to go out searching for Old Man Walters with flashlights and hunting dogs. But the flashlights could not pierce the whirling white, and the dogs pulled against their leashes, dug their heels in by the door, snapped their jaws at their masters, and would not go into that storm. So the men said a prayer for Old Man Walters, asking that God watch over him while they could not.

The town’s small grocer, who had been awaiting a new grocery shipment on the day the snow had begun falling, was quickly running out of food and wasn’t sure how long his stock would last. The roast chickens and canned chili went first, then the bread and sliced deli meat, until the little grocer had little left besides raw vegetables and cottage cheese.

But Frank’s supply was holding, his freezer packed with delicious dogs waiting to be dunked in bubbling oil. That is, until the air vent on Frank’s freezer froze over and Frank was forced to move the corn dogs to the snow pile outside his door. Thankfully, Frank’s generator seemed immune to whatever ailment had afflicted the cars and trucks. Though they could not understand it, the lights stayed lit and the oil kept bubbling. The people kept coming too, in greater numbers now that the food supply had dwindled. The people came to the window, paid, and said, “God bless you!” and “What would we do without you!” But Frank brushed these away and silently thanked God that he was not denying another home loan.

It seemed natural to address God near the food truck or outside the church, for the two had become as one in the minds of the townspeople. The bright colors of the truck had long since been encased in snow, and it looked to be the very same shade of white as the painted walls of the church. When they prayed in the church, the smell of beef and cornbread—manna from heaven—filled their nostrils, and they imagined that heaven must smell just so. When they took their corn dogs from the window, they held them between their mittens and bowed their heads to eat.

It was on Tuesday when the corn dogs ran out. For a moment Frank was concerned. But the people of Meyers were not. Some of them had raised livestock: fed, watered, and bred animals for just such a moment. They would not go hungry. Their supply was not limitless—this was not a ranching town—but they could last a few days. The men slaughtered the animals and Frank cut the meat into strips, breaded it, and deep-fried it. Bobby stood nearby and shouted encouragement, excited to see them at work. They could feed the entire town a meal from a single cow. And when they had no more cows, they ate the pigs; and when they had no more pigs, they ate the chickens; and when they had no more chickens, they ate the horses. Some of them could not bear to give their cats or their dogs to the men with the butcher’s knives. But some of them could, and the people of Meyers ate another meal. And with each new menu item, the people of Meyers exclaimed that it was better than the last and that they hoped he’d never leave. The snow that had built up on the sides of the food truck had turned to ice. At night the lights beamed white and brilliant through the glacial crystal.

It was Sunday when the animals ran out. Frank had just finished frying the last morsels of Mrs. Johnson’s cat, Snowball, when he turned to the meat pile to discover only a bloody patch of snow. Frank walked back behind the window and raised his voice to shakily announce to the town that there was no more meat. For a moment the people of Meyers were filled with dread. And Frank was as well. Some cried. Some shouted. But many just sat in the fallen snow and stared at the little wooden sticks still in their hands.

But then Bobby’s father walked up holding three dead rats by the tails. He had found them in his basement and figured they were hiding out from the cold. He was certain there were more in the church because of the gnaw marks on the corners of the hymnals. If they could catch enough, they could last another day or two. Certainly help would arrive.

Frank looked at the rats and knew that the townsfolk of Meyers would do better than survive. They would eat well. He skinned the rats, cut the meat into strips, sprinkled some of his signature seasoning on each strip, skewered each on a wooden stick, slathered them in batter, and deep-fried them on low so that the stringy meat would get soft and tender. Then he handed the first one to little Bobby, who said that it tasted just as good as any corn dog he had ever had. The townsfolk sent up a cheer and set about pulling up the floorboards of the church, hunting for future fair food. Frank beamed with pride upon his people. For a moment he considered selling deep-fried rat on the streets of Cincinnati but suspected that city types would never accept a food so exotic from a source so familiar.

Somehow the snow was still falling the next morning when they found Old Man Walters leaned against a tree, affixed there by the ice. They brought him to the church and said they would bury him as soon as they could get through the frozen ground. Frank could not bear to look at the body, for he knew that it would not take long for Meyers to run out of rats. And when the rats ran out, it would not take long for Meyers to get hungry.

The next day, Frank handed out the last deep-fried rat for lunch. For a while, some of the men continued to prowl through the exposed crawlspace hunting the rodents. Every time one of them came to a heap of torn-up floorboards or a removed pew that had been piled at the side of the church, he would shine his flashlight between the slats, hoping that one of the thinner rats had wedged itself within. But eventually, the hunters realized that there were no more rats to be found. And they would haul themselves out of the muddy excavation and curse under their breath and not bother to wipe their feet as the men had done when they first began to foray beneath the church. Back then, the church had always been well cleaned, but now the air was filled with dust and the lingering smell of dead rats, killed on holy ground. The grime stuck to the walls and the single stained glass window seemed to let in less light than it had before. The cross at the front of the church leaned at an angle from when Bobby had bumped it while chasing after a plump-rumped but quick-footed little meal. No one had bothered to right it—if, indeed, anyone had noticed, for it seemed to fit there, hanging askew.

When at last all had given up on finding any more rodent morsels, the people of Meyers sat upon the ground or upon the pews that remained upright or in the mud of the crawlspace and did not say much to one another. The men sat and shivered, and the women sat and wept, and the children sat in silence. All listened to the sounds of their bellies rumbling and felt the cold creep through their bodies. It began in the head for some and the feet for others, but for most, a chill began in their stomachs and crept outward until their entire persons felt empty and immovable. For the first time in a long time, Frank wished he was sitting behind his desk, organizing his pencils, and waiting for someone to put money in or take money out. And the people of Meyers went to bed hungry and woke often to the rumblings of their own stomachs.

And Old Man Walters sat frozen so very near the spot where the corn dogs and the rats had once waited to be fried.

No one could remember who had first suggested eating Old Man Walters. Perhaps every one of them believed it might have been himself or herself who had first said it aloud. Eventually they would all accept that Old Man Walters’s spirit, before passing to the afterlife, had spoken to the heart of every man, woman, and child individually. They would all accept that it was all right and that the person, whoever it was, that had suggested it first, was only acting as a mouthpiece from the beyond. But someone proposed that if Frank could make rat taste good—and that since Old Man Walters was making no use of the flesh on his bones—well, it only seemed reasonable. And all agreed.

Frank suspected it would come to this. He had planned to refuse, to scream in horror, to pound his fist on the counter and damn them all to hell. But when he looked into their pleading eyes, he could not seem to summon the righteous anger. His eyes found little Bobby, who looked longingly at the fry cook as he licked snow off his icy mittens. Frank allowed his eyes to fall upon the frozen Old Man Walters, and, with a burdened soul, he answered the people of Meyers.

So Frank did with Old Man Walters just as he’d done with the rats, only he added an extra shake of his special seasoning because it seemed right somehow. And he asked God to make it not taste however he imagined it might taste otherwise, and then he dropped the first battered piece of Old Man Walters on a stick in the oil. And the smell of meat and cornbread filled the church once again. And the townsfolk ate solemnly until Bobby shouted that this tasted better than the rat! The people of Meyers couldn’t help but laugh, and they nodded their heads in agreement.

And the people of Meyers gathered around Frank’s glistening white food truck as the darkened church loomed beside it, only visible by the light of the truck. And the people of Meyers put their arms around each other to keep warm and waited their turn to receive a deep-fried piece of Old Man Walters with both hands. Bobby smiled a toothy smile, and Frank was glad to be a fry cook.

The roof of the church strained under the heavy load as the snow kept falling.



Kevin Zalewski is a senior studying linguistics at BYU. He was drawn to creative writing because he found it the best way to stroke his ego and feel noble about it.


Kill Your Darlings

by Natalie Kinkade

John James Audubon woke to the sound of a mountain chickadee singing her distinctive song somewhere nearby. He blinked cold dew from his eyelashes. He did not quite speak the language of the mountain chickadee, but its dialect was similar enough to that of the black-capped chickadee for him to understand the essence of the conversation: she was telling a friend about her plans to renovate her nest.

Audubon extricated himself from his makeshift bed on the ground, straightened his coonskin cap, and tucked his gun under one arm.

“Good morning,” he whistled. The chickadee language always sounded so melancholy to him; even a simple greeting took on a kind of sadness.

“Hello!” replied the chickadee. “Join us. We’re just south of the clearing, in an elm tree.”

Audubon flattened a path of asters in his stride. The rising sun cast a peachy glow over the scene, reflecting off of the barrel of his gun. He adjusted the weapon before walking into the woods, his anticipation growing with each step, fully alert, not even noticing the numbness in his toes. A gentle breeze from the northwest played in his hair. He had yet to paint the mountain chickadee.

The birds froze as he approached. “It’s all right, friend,” he sang. “It’s me.”

Upon catching sight of Audubon, one of the pair flew away (so easy, so graceful), but the other bird, the singer, relaxed. She was a lovely thing, with a soft, oat-colored underbelly, striking blue-gray tail feathers, and a large, intelligent, black and white head.

“Your chickadee is wonderful,” she said. She looked at him curiously. “Are you—would you happen to be John James Audubon?”

Audubon smiled, flattered to be recognized so far away from home. He felt it was as it should be. “Yes,” he whistled. Identifying himself may have been a slight risk, but he had to find out how the little bird had heard of him, what she knew of his illustrious adventures.

“I have a message from your son,” sang the chickadee. “He said to look for a Frenchman pretending to be Daniel Boone who could sing chickadee.”

Her mocking tone annoyed Audubon. “Well, what’s the message?” he asked.

“He just wants you to come home,” the little songbird replied. “He says that you have ignored his last thirty-two letters, so he had to find another way to get the message to you. He says his mother misses you and needs you to come back home now to support the family.”

Audubon laughed with sincere puzzlement. “But it’s November! If I came home now I would miss all the winter birds,” he said, as if explaining something very obvious to someone very obtuse.

Before the chickadee could reply, she was lying on the forest floor with a bullet hole in her left wing.

Audubon gathered her up in his hands with tender care. She looked at him with silent reproach as he stabbed her through her heart with his pocket knife. He could do it without spilling much blood on her breast. His shoulder smarted slightly from the kick of his gun. Working quickly, he glued strewn feathers back into place, strung fine wires through her wings, and posed her still-warm body in her never-to-be-renovated nest before rigor mortis set in. She really was a gorgeous little thing.

He whistled a chickadee song as he rendered the finest taxonomic details of her plumage in watercolors, taking pains to capture the inquisitiveness of her face. She looked almost alive.



Natalie Kinkade was born and raised in Oregon. She now writes and studies and sleeps in Utah, where she is a senior in art history at BYU. Natalie originally wrote this story for Dr. Joey Franklin’s class and thanks him for his advice.


The Monument

by Dillon Flake

The Payette River makes a wide arc when it hits Horseshoe Bend; that’s how our town got its name. The river’s U-turn forms a cradle for the place I grew up in: a small collection of trailers, log fences, and rusty old trucks that, in Idaho, constitutes a city. But Horseshoe Bend owes more to the river than its name; the area might never have been settled if not for the Gold Rush. The discovery of treasure in the Payette brought prospectors to our valley in the 1860s. It became a favorite place for hopeful miners to camp out in the winter while they waited for the spring thaw to bring them unimaginable wealth.

The gold ran out eventually. People moved on. Everything the settlers built rotted away. But the river remained. It’s like an heirloom in that way. It’s the one thing that got passed down through the generations. The miners used it for panning; the loggers used it for their mills; nowadays people mostly use it for rafting and tubing and swimming. My cross country team used to jump in the river to cool off after practice.

But the river has its costs, too. Every year it claims a few human lives like some jealous god demanding tribute. It chooses its sacrifices indiscriminately. I’ve known some of them: friends or friends of friends taken before their time; the river reclaiming its treasure. I admit I’ve never cried at a funeral, but I’ve always felt deep sorrow for the deceased as well as for their families. That is, I regretfully admit, except for in one case.

When I was in high school an 18-month-old girl wandered away from home and drowned in the river. The tragedy became a defining moment in Horseshoe Bend’s history. Everyone in the community felt affected by it; many kids skipped school because of grief, and teachers were told to excuse children who requested a visit with the counselor. We were asked not to spread rumors about the death. There was a well-attended funeral in the community center. Afterwards they released a cloud of balloons. Finally they erected a big white cross on a hill near town in memoriam.

I, of course, was an ignorant, selfish teenager. Every time I saw that cross I thought to myself how melodramatic it was. It was the only monument in town, erected in memory of a baby. I remember commenting to my mom that I didn’t know why everybody was making such a big deal out of it. “She’s a baby,” I said, “of course it’s sad when babies die, but when somebody’s that young you don’t even really have a relationship with them yet. It’s not like losing an old friend.”

My mother didn’t attempt to make me understand. She simply said, “You’ve obviously never had children.” At the time I was offended by my mother’s comment. Like many teenagers, I was arrogant and felt like adults took me for granted because of my age. I’d been around plenty of babies and was sure I was right. I wasn’t right, though. I wasn’t right about how serious the tragedy was, I wasn’t right about a parent’s bond with an infant, and–though I didn’t know it at the time–I still had a lot to learn about love.


The most surprising difference between spousal love and fatherly love is that, though the difference is significant, it is not very large. I had to experience spousal love before I could learn this. The idiomatic “love at first sight” was, of course, an oversimplification–that much I knew. An appealing once-over never seemed like valid grounds for a long-term romantic relationship. Reducing eternal devotion to a profile scrapped together from superficial characteristics was a dangerous and irresponsible strategy for pursuing happiness. Still, attraction is a great starting point.

The first time I saw my wife, Emily, I thought she was one of the most beautiful women I’d ever seen: a petite, athletic-looking girl with freckles, honey-colored hair, and almond-shaped eyes. She was so attractive, in fact, that after an entire evening of flirting with her I determined that she was out of my league and left without asking for her number, never expecting to see her again.

Of course, I did see her again. I saw her many times after that. In fact, from our first date until the day we were married, we scarcely spent a day apart. Every evening we went on long walks and talked about every topic that occurred to us, including how silly we both thought short courtships were. We had always taken for granted that love wasn’t love unless it was founded on years of development. To be fair, we did spend immense amounts of time together and knew each other extremely well, but the fact was that we got engaged after only six weeks of dating. We’d only known each other for a little over two months.

Of course the love we felt then didn’t have the same depth as the love we feel now, but when the prospect of marriage came up there was no question. It was as genuine and profound as any spiritual confirmation I’d ever received. It was one of very few instances in my life in which I wasn’t second-guessing myself. My pre-conceived notions were melting like snow in hot water; I knew I’d never roll my eyes at short courtships again. Love wasn’t something that had to conform to an artificial timetable. Its development was unique, case-by-case. Still, I couldn’t understand as a newlywed how this epiphany applied to the tragedy in my hometown. The only thing that could teach me that lesson was having a child.

Ruby RaeAnn Flake was born 10 days early on February 27th, just over a year into our marriage. She was the 34th grandchild born into my family, and only the second born into Emily’s family. Ruby got the best of both of us: Emily’s almond-shaped eyes and dimples, my complexion and cleft chin. Her size definitely came from Emily’s side: Ruby was 5 pounds at birth, but still deemed a healthy child. We were proud of our newborn.

I had always been under the impression that babies were homogenous–all of them were pretty much the same. Personality was something that didn’t develop until someone was 4 or 5. And true, Ruby did spend the bulk of her time as a newborn sleeping and eating, but her individuality became apparent almost immediately. She preferred sucking her fingers to taking a pacifier; being outside to inside (even when it was cold); and, once she graduated from an all-dairy diet, the preferred condiments to any other food we offered her. It had never occurred to me that someone so small could have opinions.

That, of course, wasn’t the end of it. Though our daughter wasn’t a fast grower (even now, at a year-and-a-half old, she still fits into 6-month-old clothes), but she was a fast learner. Half past her first birthday she could walk, talk, dance, throw, climb, high five, give kisses, and take her dirty diapers to the garbage. Sometimes I’d find her in her room, flipping through a book, reading to herself in gibberish. I was shocked by how complex she was–not to say that Ruby is some sort of prodigy, but I’d taken for granted that babies developed on schedule with some sort of unwritten curriculum programmed by God. I thought their interests were 100 percent dictated by what their parents conditioned them to like.

This was not the case. Even when we were trying to teach Ruby her first words, she still blazed her own trail. In the months we spent endeavoring to coerce a “Mama” or “Dada” out of her, Ruby started saying, “duck,” “poop,” and “Jesus,” often interchangeably. Sometimes she would even use words that we were sure we’d never said to her, like “temple” or “platypus.” She made it clear that she had no interest in television unless we were watching it together; she thought it rude of us to eat anything we weren’t willing to share; and she begged me not to play my mandolin unless she was asleep or at the park.

Ruby invented many of the words we use and many of the games we play. She loves to fake us out by tempting us to come get kisses, and then telling us to go take a nap right before we get any. She refers to all of her peers as either “friend” or “Sally,” and believes the two most meaningful ways to interact with them are give them hugs or follow them around. She is perhaps the most popular child in our ward, easily recognized by both the children and the adults, most of whom she’s stolen snacks from during church.

And all this from a girl who’s barely over 18 months. Ruby is the same age that the baby from Horseshoe Bend was when she drowned. Was that child inventing words and games, discovering the world, forming opinions? Was she learning to speak, laugh, and love? How could I have known how wrong I was? Ruby isn’t just my daughter, she’s one of my very best friends. Because of my wife’s demanding nursing job, Ruby and I have gotten to spend a lot of time together. We have expectations of one another, we have inside jokes, we miss each other when we’re apart, and we have a lot of memories together. If I ever lost my daughter, there is nothing that could ever replace her. Would I put up a cross for her? Maybe. Maybe the point of building a monument isn’t to remind us that we lost something, but to remind us how much it meant to us.

And so now, as I reflect, I express the remorse I should have felt for that poor family that lost their child. It doesn’t take a lifetime to truly love someone–it doesn’t even take 18 months.



Dillion Flake is a senior graduating in landscape management. Dillion loved growing up in the small Idaho town that frequently appears in his writing, including his recently-published novel, Rumor of the Year. Dillion lives in Provo with his wife, Emily, and daughter, Ruby.