An Interview with Deanne Stillman

twentynine palms coverDeanne Stillman is the author of four books, including Mustang: The Saga of the Wild Horse in the American West, Desert Reckoning: A Town Sheriff, a Mojave Hermit, and the Biggest Manhunt in Modern California History, and Twentynine Palms: A True Story of Murder, Marines, and the Mojave. In 2013, Inlandia’s online literary journal published “The Lost Children of the Inland Empire”, an excerpt from Desert Reckoning. She teaches in the UC Riverside-Palm Desert MFA Low Residency Creative Writing Program.

 

 

Cati Porter: Much of your subject matter is inspired by the west — old and new, including the Inland Empire. What brought you to this region?

Deanne Stillman: I grew up in Ohio and had been wanting to escape for as long as I can remember. My father used to read the Edgar Allan Poe poem, “Eldorado,” to me when I was little. I would vanish into it, and later started to read Mary Austen, Willa Cather, Native American myths; Tony Hillerman was a professor of mine at UNM – an early trail guide. Also, I grew up around horses; my mother was an “exercise boy” at the racetrack, and that fueled my wanderlust. I was writing as a little girl as well, and knew I wanted to continue. Everything came together when I got out of Dodge, and, well, came to Dodge.

 

CP: In 2013, a year after Desert Reckoning was published, Inlandia brought you out to present for us at the Riverside Public Library, and it happened the same week the Christopher Dorner manhunt took place. What was that like?

DS: Strangely, Desert Reckoning – about a manhunt – merged with the Dorner manhunt as it was unfolding. One of the characters in my book, Rande Linville, lives in Big Bear, and had spotted Dorner’s burning truck during the search. He alerted cops, putting them on Dorner’s tail. Weirdly, Rande was planning to come to my talk that night, but his neighborhood was locked down as I was speaking! Remember the sirens? That was cops chasing Dorner. Also, the cabin where Dorner was killed was owned by some people from the Antelope Valley, where my book takes place. In the end, Dorner went out in a blaze of glory, like Donald Kueck, the hermit I wrote about. He had probably seen the coverage; I wrote about it for Rolling Stone and the manhunt became the template for other law enforcement agencies.

 

CP: Former Inlandia Literary Laureate Gayle Brandeis says of your work, “One of the greatest gifts of this book is how Deanne Stillman is able to open our hearts to people we might otherwise judge or dismiss.” How is it that you are able to paint such a complex portrait of the people you write about?

DS: Certain stories call me; they are place-based, generally, with the desert as a character. I’m sympatico with the people who live there, due to my riches-to-rags childhood which took my family from the right side of the tracks to the wrong side in about 24 hours. Suddenly we were persona non grata as far as certain relatives were concerned. I learned about America’s dirty little secret, class, at a young age. There were castaways, and I had become one.

 

CP: This is the fifteenth anniversary of the publication of  Twentynine Palms: A True Story of Murder, Marines, and the Mojave, about two girls killed by a Marine in Twentynine Palms after the Gulf War. What drove you to write this particular book?

DS: I was hiking in Joshua Tree National Park and afterwards, I stopped at a bar for a drink. I heard people gossiping about two girls who had been “sliced up by a Marine.” I asked about them and was told that they were “just some trash in town.” That hit me hard and I knew I would tell their story.

 

CP: Twentynine Palms was an LA Times “best book of the year” and bestseller, and Hunter Thompson called it “A strange and brilliant story by an important American writer”.  It’s taught in many college literary nonfiction classes, yet remains controversial. Can you talk about that?

DS: The town depends on the Marines and tourism for income. In part, my book is about a Marine with a history of violence towards women, and the culture that aggravated his behavior. The murders of Mandi Scott and Rosalie Ortega happened on dollar-drink night, which was Marine payday, when violence spiked. Twentynine Palms, which I love by the way, is the portal into Joshua Tree National Park. Some town elders were concerned that my book would drive tourists away. But to this day, people tell me they have visited Twentynine Palms because they love the way I wrote about the desert.

 

CP: All of your work features heavy material — a mustang massacre, the killing of two girls, a hermit who digs his own grave and commits suicide by cop.   Does this affect your emotional well-being?

DS: Yes, it does. It’s one of the reasons my books take years to write. Sometimes I have to step away. Incidentally, people come to me with violent stories all of the time. I am generally not interested. There must be a way in for me, and most stories of crime are smaller than the sum of their parts. I simply cannot write those.

 

CP: Your book Mustang will soon be released on audio with an all-star cast: Anjelica Huston, Frances Fisher, John Densmore (the drummer in the Doors)…. What has the process been like, seeing your book move into an audio format, and, more importantly, did you get to meet Anjelica Huston?

DS: Well, the cast is an embarrassment of riches, and they sound great! Everyone is now involved in the wild horse campaign, and some were before Mustang came out, such as John Densmore. I met Anjelica Huston some time ago; she had optioned Twentynine Palms.

 

CP: You’re also an award-winning playwright and screenwriter, with credits going back to the 80s teen television show “Square Pegs” and a recent play, “Star Maps”, performed at the Ink Fest series at the Hudson Theatres in LA.   What other projects do you have on the horizon?

DS: My next book, with roots in Mustang, is Blood Brothers: The Strange Friendship Between Sitting Bull and Buffalo Bill, which I’m writing for Simon and Schuster.

Sonambulant Funambulist: Interview with Julie Brooks Barbour by Maureen Alsop

Julie Brooks Barbour is an associate poetry editor at the journal Connotation Press: An Online Artifact and a professor at Lake Superior State University. I’m delighted here to offer an interview with Julie along with a selection from one of her published poems which underscores the distinction of her poetry and lyrical interest.

Maureen: Where do you see the current scope/trends in poetry at this point in time and where do you see your poetry in that evolution?

Julie: I notice that contemporary poets are writing about pop culture, history, fairy tales, race and gender, but, of course, this list doesn’t begin to cover the subjects or issues poets are taking on. The scope is large and broad, and, I think, can’t be pinpointed to any certain trend, but if there is one, I’d have to say it’s that poets at this point in time aren’t afraid to take on difficult subject matter. Where do I see myself in this evolution? I write about gender issues, specifically those of women. I’m interested in the ways women are portrayed in our culture, whether through body image, fairy tale characters, ideas of motherhood, or domestic work.


Brooks Barbour’s poem “Stone” published at Rose Red Review highlights the sensuality, directness and underscores these poetic themes as demonstrated in the following excerpt:

“You are ageless, a perpetual girl. If a ship navigates

your waters, it will not be rocked. You will not be

the legend that folds its sails, that causes the wreck

on the shoreline. You are the easy route, devoid of rocks.

You are the way written about in logs and travel journals:

the sunshine, the stillness, the atmosphere of peace.”


Maureen: How do you balance your priorities when managing the multitude of roles you carry as a woman, mother, wife, educator and writer?

Julie: Each part of my life needs its own time and one thing cannot take priority over everything else. I work at switching gears between work and home, writing and teaching, editing and writing. Setting up boundaries between work and home keeps me balance, though I won’t say that my life is completely calm or that I stay that way. It’s important that I don’t think about how much I have to do, but what I’m doing at the present moment. I also have to remember to take time for myself, whether I’m reading a novel, watching a favorite television show, or watching the snow fall (which I do a lot where I live). Time to rest and refuel is important to me. During this time I might suddenly reflect on my work, whether that be teaching or writing or editing. Times of repose really energize me creatively.

Maureen: How does your teaching influence your writing?

Julie: Teaching influences my writing in different ways. Many times I’m inspired by the literature I teach, whether it be classic essays in my composition classes, poetry and fiction in creative writing workshops, or drama in an introductory literature course. Each semester I try to teach at least one text or a few pieces that are new to me so I can discover something about writing with my students. I’m also inspired by my students and their willingness to take risks with their writing, whether through form, subject matter, or genre. I may be a teacher but I’m also a student, constantly learning from other writers, and my students remind me just as I remind them that I shouldn’t steer clear of risks. (They also remind me to take my own writing advice, not literally, but when I hear myself give them advice and know it’s something I need to do, that in itself is a reminder.)


Julie Brooks Barbour is an associate poetry editor at the journal Connotations Press: An Online Artifact. Read the full poem at Rose Red Review.

Sonambulant Funambulist: Countenance by Maureen Alsop

Lisa Kiernan cordially invited my response to the following questions:

What are you working on?
I’m presently anticipating the release of my third full poetry collection, Later, Knives & Trees (Negative Capability Press). I’ve also been engaged in a response to poems through image.
Over the summer I started two projects: 30×30, in which I’ve been creating 30 second videos overlaying audio excerpts from Later, Knives & Trees. Also a bodily, organic response to collage: 27/24 which may extend itself. The premise of carrying a collage upon the body for 24 hours. What have you learned from the message, the unattached self before the self. Strange illusion. Mostly. Seeking the ‘cosmic countenance’ inside the countenance, asking or responding to the secreted self, “what do you want to do next?”

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How does your work differ from others of its genre?

I’m not sure it does. Maybe it shouldn’t. It just is. I’m human, like a snowflake.

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Why do you write what you do?

See Tab: The Journal of Poetry & Poetics: space before text.

From a lecture I gave on Peristaltic Googlism and the Metaphysics of Ephemera and a quote worth repeating:

“Once you’ve heard a Maytag wafuuoom-per, wafuuoom-per throwing its never erring voice across the back yard, you’ll understand a knack for making songs. You’ll understand what Hank Williams’ rhythm section was doing at the laundry mat in Texarkana all night, June 1948; the night Hank knocked up Windy Beauchamp after she auditioned as a dobro player. Birds speak dialects, as people do. Dolphins use sound as a weapon. Crickets won’t answer recordings of their own voices. Even a small fish like an anchovy can hemorrhage, hearing nothing, a silence finally loosing substance.” — Walter Lab

Whether it’s the Maytag’s wafuuoom-per or a hemorrhaging silence, disparate elements endlessly congeal to form the delicate architecture of a poem. Why ask why? Ask, why not.

How does your writing process work? 
I’m not much of a cook. I seem to think there is only one heat level: HIGH. I write like I cook. Sporadically, intensely, quickly. I try to enjoy it. Always wish I did it more. I’m probably best around a fire pit. I’m comfortable with both the raw and refined.


For additional responses from incredible thinkers I’ve asked Sarah Maclay, Nikia ChaneyElena Karina ByrneSparky Campanella, Nic Sebastian, Lauren K. AlleyneCati Porter, Christina Cook, Marcia LeBeau, Farrah Field, Jared WhiteBethany Ides, Linnea Ogden, Cynthia Arrieu-KingCindy Rinne, Prageeta Sharma, Anna Leahy and others.