A Conversation With Rattle Editor Tim Green by Cati Porter

We’re again in the midst of National Poetry Month, so I thought it might be a good time to catch up with one of our regular columnists, Timothy Green. An avid supporter of the literary community, Tim recently moved from Los Angeles to Wrightwood, a move that has proven fruitful for him and his family. Here is our conversation:

Cati: Inlandia is all about celebrating the region, so tell me: you’ve been living in the Inland Empire for a few years now. What convinced you that moving to Wrightwood was the right move, and how does it compare to where you were living before?

Tim: I grew up in western New York, and my wife in rural Washington, state. We moved to Los Angeles to work at Rattle, but we were never meant for the City of Angels. We managed for a while, avoiding crowds by time shifting our weekends and work hours, but then we had kids and realized we needed a change. We chose Wrightwood for the seasons, the nature, and the easy drive up—coming here felt like coming home. I’d never lived in a small town before, and now that I’ve experienced the friendliness of the line at the post office and how much everyone cares about things like Little League, I’ll never be able to leave.

Cati: Most people who follow this column know that you write for Inlandia Literary Journeys and by virtue of that know that you are the editor of Rattle, a prestigious literary journal based out of Los Angeles. You mentioned once that you read something like 80,000 submissions each year—is that right? How do you get through so many submissions?

Tim: Writers send us 100,000 poems a year now, which is 250 a day, every day—even Easter. When you consider that the average book of poetry is about 50 poems, that’s five books before bed each night. I don’t know how we do it—my wife Megan and I read everything, and we’re always reading. But, then, this is the 21st century; everyone is always reading. We’re just always reading something very specific: boxes of submissions.

Cati: Can you tell us about the literary community in Wrightwood? I understand there are a number of writers who live there? You’re a writer as well as an editor—how has moving to Wrightwood affected your writing?

Tim: Wrightwood is a great place for writers—it’s almost in the name, right? My office overlooks a few dozen Jeffrey pines, all of them full of squirrels and quail and Stellar’s jays. It’s a great space for daydreaming. And there are writers here—I met a few through Inlandia: MJ Koerper and Victoria Barras Tulacro. But there hasn’t really been a literary community; there hasn’t been a nexus to bring us all together.

Cati: Today in my inbox, I received notice that you are planning a Wrightwood Literary Festival? Can you tell me a bit about it—where did the idea come from, and what kinds of activities and special guests do you have planned? I understand you’re also leading a workshop, on polishing your writing for publication. That’s a great opportunity for folks who want an editor’s insider perspective.

Tim: We’re having this festival to bring us all out of the woods, so to speak. The festival was borne mostly of jealousy, to be honest. I love Wrightwood, but I wish there were more of an Idyllwild element to it. Wrightwood is a great gateway to skiing and hiking, or day-tripping the Angeles Crest, but it isn’t known for art—why not? There are artists here, many visual artists, many musicians, many writers. I thought we could show off the beauty of our mountains, while also giving our local artists something to rally around. 

Inlandia Literary Laureate Juan Delgado is giving a keynote presentation on hiking and storytelling, followed by creative workshops with local artists. It’s really a retreat: our goal is to provide a space where participants’ personal stories can come to life. The wildflowers will be blooming, the pine scent on the air will be at its peak—it will be a respite from the daily grind of the Inland Empire, capped off with a lively open mic.

My contribution will be a workshop on how to really move an audience through writing. We all have important stories to share, each one of us, but how do we make a complete stranger want to listen? As an editor, that’s been my job for the last decade, and I’ll share what I’ve learned.

Cati: Do you think the festival will become an annual event? If so, what do you think future years will have in store?

Tim: The festival is definitely going to become an annual event. We wanted to start small and build outward, and in the future we’d like to make it a whole weekend, spread across multiple venues in town, including more visual arts and theater. For now, more information for the May 30 event can be found at www.wrightwoodlitfest.com.

Our Long Brown Land by David Stone

Growing concern over this season’s low-levels of snowpack in the Sierras has brought numerous comparisons to California’s lowest recorded snowpack in 1977. This summer we may be once more “under the sky that deafened from listening for rain” as Gary Soto wrote in his 1977 poem “The Drought.” Californians need to place drought literature at the top of their reading lists because it provides us knowledge of our past and visions for our future.

The Salvadoran poet Roque Dalton wrote, “man uses his old disasters as a mirror.” Natural disasters such as drought allow humans to see more clearly their relationship to Earth and its natural forces.

The classic American novel of drought is John Steinbeck’s “The Grapes of Wrath,” which describes farm families fleeing the Great Plains’ Dustbowl in the 1930s with false hopes of an Eden in California. Steinbeck’s novel helps readers to see the environmental, economic, and human costs of drought and the great migrations that major droughts can cause.

The term “dustbowl” is increasingly being used to refer to California’s Central Valley. Former Inlandia Literary Laureate Gayle Brandeis recommends Alan Heathcock’s “Scenes from the New American Dustbowl” with photographs by Matt Black, published in the online magazine, Matter. Reminiscent of Steinbeck’s travel literature, the fiction writer Heathcock turns to nonfiction to tell the story of farmers along California’s Highway 99.

Drought drives home the value of water. Joan Didion’s essay “Holy Water” from her 1979 collection “The White Album” reminds us to reconsider the complex and distant sources of California’s water. Didion says, “the apparent ease of California life is an illusion, and those who believe the illusion real live here in only the most temporary way.” The megadroughts of prehistorical California, like the 240-year-long one that began in 850, make Didion’s words sound prophetic.

For the definitive history of water resources in the American West, read Marc Reisner’s “Cadillac Desert,” commonly described as an illuminating look into the political economy of limited resources. For a more in-depth look at the history of the Colorado River, which Reisner called the “American Nile,” read “Contested Waters” by water historian April Summitt of La Sierra University.

The Nebula and Hugo award-winning author Paolo Bacigalupi’s “Water Knife,” now available for pre-order, presents a near future dystopia where Nevada, Arizona and California fight over the water of the Colorado River. Early reviews describe it as a science fiction thriller with a realistic portrayal of an all too probable future.

“Water Knife” may also be classified as climate fiction, cli-fi for short. Climate change concern drives this emerging genre’s increasing popularity in literature and film. Often described as a cousin of science fiction, climate fiction typically focuses on the results of climate change in the present and near future. J. G. Ballard began the cli-fi genre with a trilogy of novels in the 1960s , including “The Burning World,” which tells the story of a global drought caused by industrial waste. The novel was later renamed “The Drought.”

Should we as humans see ourselves essentially in conflict with nature? Do Southern Californians misconstrue natural disasters “by a way of thinking that simultaneously imposes false expectations on the environment and then explains the inevitable disappointments as proof [of] a malign and hostile nature,” as Mike Davis argues in “Ecology of Fear: Los Angeles and the Imagination of Disaster?”

The academic field of ecocriticism, which examines how nature is portrayed in culture, prompts careful rethinking about the relationship of humans to the environment. “Readers should ask how could individuals and societies inhabit their world more sustainably. Literature can help us articulate the dangers and imagine the solutions,” says Lora Geriguis, associate professor of English at La Sierra University and host of the Natures conference, which annually draws ecocritical scholars from around the world.

Children can also use literature to cope with drought. Larry Gerber’s “Adapting to Drought” gives readers in grades four to eight a basic understanding of the science behind droughts as well as suggestions of how to take action. They might also enjoy Karen Hesse’s Newberry Award winning free-verse novel “Out of the Dust” that tells the story of Billie-Jo trying to survive during the dustbowl years of the Depression.

Teens looking for something beyond the myriad of dystopian novels should check out “We Are the Weather Makers: The History of Climate Change.”

If drought worries you, crack open Ruth Nolan’s “No Place for a Puritan” to the excerpt from Mary Austin’s “The Land of Little Rain.” “If one is inclined to wonder at first how so many dwellers came to be in the loneliest land that ever came out of God’s hands, what they do there and why stay, one does not wonder so much after having lived there. None other than this long brown land lays such a hold on the affections.”

For All Those Who Ask, What *is* Inlandia? by Cati Porter

Once again we are approaching that time of year when we give thanks for friends and family, take stock of what we have accomplished, and express appreciation for all those who have made it possible. So, thank you—we are all Inlandia.

A question I get asked regularly is, what is Inlandia? We have now been writing these columns for well over a year, and I don’t think we have ever addressed that directly here. Sure, you can make out who we are by the patchwork of topics covered here; what you see is what Inlandia is and does: many voices, all hailing from Inland Southern California, celebrating the region. But on the heels of what has been a banner week for Inlandia, I thought I would try to explain it in a little more detail.

The Inlandia Institute was established in 2007 as a partnership between the City of Riverside and Heyday, our co-publisher, after the publication of the anthology Inlandia: A Literary Journey through California’s Inland Empire. The idea was to found a literary and cultural center here in the Inland Empire that focused on the writers and readers of the region. Soon after, Inlandia moved into our own office, incorporating in 2009, and in 2012 Inlandia was granted non-profit status as a 501(c)(3).

Inlandia has five core programs: Children’s Creative Literacy, Adult Literary Professional Development, Publications—both with our co-publisher Heyday as well as a locally-produced independent imprint, Free Public Literary Events, and the Inlandia Literary Laureate. What does this translate to? Just this past year, Inlandia has:

– Served over 2000 children, including at-risk youth through The Women Wonder Writers program of the DA’s office, resulting in a collection of written work and a public reading and discussion; and in programs in Title 1 schools like Fremont Elementary, where we held a book discussion and gave all 200 fifth-graders and sixth-graders a free copy of Gayle Brandeis’ young adult novel, My Life with the Lincolns, thanks to a generous Rotary sponsorship.

– Served over 2400 adults through public outreach events like Celebrate Mount Rubidoux and the Mayor’s Celebration for Arts & Innovation, and by hosting free monthly author events during ArtsWalk at the Riverside Public Library, and writing workshops throughout Riverside and San Bernardino Counties, including a Family Legacy Writing Workshop at the Goeske Senior Center.

– Published: No Easy Way, the story of the integration of Riverside schools, by Arthur L. Littleworth, a chapter integral to Riverside history; Vital Signs by Inlandia Literary Laureate Juan Delgado and Tom McGovern, which went on to win an American Book Award from the Before Columbus Foundation; and the Orangelandia anthology, which contains the fruit of Riverside’s citrus heritage. And launching this week, a new children’s chapter book, Tia’s Tamale Trouble, by Inlandia author and educator Julianna Maya Cruz.

Inlandia also undertakes special projects from time to time, like “Making Waves in Inlandia,” which chronicles the stories of the women’s environmental movement through oral histories and a very cool interactive component on our website, including a map of all the spaces saved by local environmental activists, and video interviews.

We also have two other interactive features on our website—a map that details the location of every Inland Empire site mentioned in our flagship Inlandia anthology (which, regrettably, is currently out of print—but we are working on a second edition! More about that in a future post). And, just this past week, with the publication of No Easy Way, we launched an interactive timeline, “Time Travel through Riverside’s School Integration History.”

Further, after the first of the year, we will be launching a six-part series of monthly public civic discussion forums featuring esteemed panelists and partner organizations, with the kickoff event at UCR’s Culver Center on January 31, 2015, at 1 pm.

One of the sound bites associated with Inlandia is, “celebrating the region in word, image, and sound.”

Planned projects include a new Adopt-a-School program which will bring literary arts education, taught by professionals in the field, to area schools; a Native American Voices conference at the Dorothy Ramon Center in Banning, featuring and celebrating indigenous peoples; a writing workshop at the Ontario Museum of History and Art celebrating black aviators in February, in honor of Black History Month. Not to mention our usual monthly Arts Walk series at the downtown Riverside Public Library and the free writing workshops held in six different cities throughout the region.

We are supported wholly through the generous donations of our members, supporters, and through grant funding from organizations like the City of Riverside, the Riverside Arts Council, the E. Rhodes and Leona B. Carpenter Foundation, and Cal Humanities. But like any arts organization, we are constantly thinking of creative ways we can ensure continued funding while also making it fun for contributors. Last week, we participated in the county-wide Give BIG day of giving, and to all of those who helped us meet our goals, thank you!

We are also currently in the midst of a book fair fundraiser sponsored by Barnes & Noble. If you missed the kickoff event on Saturday November 22, which featured readings by notable locals Larry Eby, Isabel Flores, Stephanie Barbe Hammer, Julianna Cruz, and a flurry of contributors to the Orangelandia anthology, know that you can still participate through the end of the week by shopping online or in store (any Barnes & Noble anywhere, as long as you have Inlandia’s code: 11484482), through Black Friday. So if like most people at this time of year you are beginning to think about holiday gifts, give a gift to Inlandia when you shop at Barnes & Noble this Thanksgiving week.

From all of us at Inlandia, we give thanks for you this week, and every week, throughout the year.

A Conversation with Susan Straight

For the past two years, award-winning novelist Susan Straight has been serving as Inlandia’s very first Literary Laureate. A post of distinction, this position was created to highlight the talented author’s of Inland southern California by bringing their work to the people on a very personal level. To that end, Susan has been sharing her deep connection to the region and love of literature with the Inlandia community through writing workshops (to which she sometimes brings her own homemade cupcakes) and a new essay series for KCET, Notes of a Native Daughter, in which she documents places around the Inland Empire that are personally meaningful to her.

As Susan Straight’s two-year term as Inlandia’s first Literary Laureate comes to a close, we at Inlandia: A Literary Journey wanted to take the opportunity to ask her some questions about her work and her relationship with this region that many of us call home.

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Inlandia: A Literary Journey: As a novelist and essayist, all of your work seems informed by ‘place’; to what do you attribute your strong ties to the Inlandia region?

Susan Straight: I was born here, as you and many readers may know, and every single day that informs my life, and my writing.  I was born at Riverside Community Hospital, went to University Junior High, North High, Riverside City College, then went to USC.  I began writing fiction and essays when I was sixteen, in an RCC Creative Writing class with a wonderful professor named Bill Bowers, who passed away before my first book came out.  But I didn’t really write well about my place until I went off to Massachusetts for graduate school, already married, living in the snow in Amherst, and missed my landscape with a passion.  I wrote most of my first book, Aquaboogie, during those two years, and then during five years after I returned and was living in a series of apartments downtown.  Walking around downtown, going to the library, teaching at RCC, mailing my first stories at the downtown post office to literary journals, I came up with Rio Seco.  I spent a lot of time in the orange groves and at the Santa Ana River, writing.

I.L.J.: Your fiction routinely mentions real place names, like Mecca, a remote census-designated area of the I.E., while others are fictionalized, like Rio Seco, a dead ringer for the real city of Riverside. Are there advantages to mixing real & fictionalized places? Or, how did this strategy come about for you?

S.S.: I named this area Rio Seco so that I could move around geography and make it a fictional place, like William Faulkner did for his Mississippi area.  But neighboring places, like San Bernardino and Pomona and Mecca, should stay what they are, I felt.  For Highwire Moon, I invented a fictional Tourmaline which was modeled on Garnet and Cabazon.  But my vision of The Salton Sea and the vineyards of Mecca were based on many visits there.

I.L.J.: During your term as Inlandia’s Literary Laureate, you conducted a workshop through a local elementary school who read your novel for children, The Friskative Dog, a story set in Rio Seco, as well as a workshop for teens who read Highwire Moon, set in various places in the I.E. including Rio Seco and Mecca. Do you find that the young people can identify more easily with the work if it is set in a familiar locale?

S.S.: I think young people in our area haven’t seen stories and essays about this place, or people like them, very often, and so I think they really connect with characters like Elvia, who lives in the desert, was raised in a foster home in Rio Seco, and then travels to Mecca, because they see themselves or their family and friends represented in her.  Serafina, the mother, is from Oaxaca, and countless teens in LA, Riverside, and other counties have told me how much she is like their migrant mothers.  Younger schoolkids have said they liked The Friskative Dog because it’s about a girl who lives in an apartment, like they do…

For my new novel, Take One Candle Light a Room, which has settings in Los Angeles, Rio Seco, the orange groves and Santa Ana River, as well as Louisiana, I’ve had people all over the country tell me they like the idea that some of us stay forever where we were born, and some of us leave, and the characters who struggle with that are interesting to readers.

I.L.J.: You have also been writing a series of essays for KCET, Notes of a Native Daughter, which takes the reader into places unique to the region. There is such an immediacy to the details in your essays that readers are instantly transported. Do you physically go to these places to write, or what is your method?

S.S.: I love this new series for KCET.  I always go physically to these places – Doug McCulloh is sometimes with me, and sometimes he goes separately.  We drove to Hemet for “Sierra Dawn”, and to Nuevo to see the sheep ranch we wrote about.  We went to Anza Narrows for that piece, and to Agua Mansa for the essay about that astonishing cemetery.

I.L.J.: Finally, you’ve lived in the Inland Empire all of your life. Do you have any favorite places, places that you feel most at home, or that may be under-appreciated or virtually unknown, that you’d like to share with our readership?

S.S.: I love the Santa Ana River, walking along the paths with my dog, thinking about what I’ve learned from Katherine Siva Saubel’s work about the Cahuilla people who lived near Mt. Rubidoux for hundreds of years, and who hunted along the river.  I think about Anza and his party crossing there, and my brothers and I pretending we were Indians and collecting acorns, and the smell of the willows, and the sound of the coyotes at dusk.  I love the orange groves everywhere, including Redlands and the lovely avenues of tall palms.  I love Forest Falls and Mentone, the rocky washes where I like to hike.  In San Bernardino, I love driving down Baseline or Mt Vernon, and I love remembering White Front, the store where my mother used to take us!  Next week, I’m going to Mecca and Thermal and Oasis to write about the desert, another favorite place, and I can’t wait to have a date shake – my mother always took us there, too.  I feel incredibly lucky to have this Inland landscape all around me.

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Susan Straight has graciously agreed to sit on the jury panel to determine the next Inlandia Literary Laureate. Check back for an announcement in April.

Thank you, Susan, for all that you do for Inlandia.

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Susan Straight was born in Riverside and still lives there with her family. (She can actually see the hospital from her kitchen window, which her daughters find kind of pathetic; most days, she walks the dog past the classroom where she wrote her first short story at 16, at Riverside City College, which they find even more sad.) She has published seven novels and one middle-grade reader. Highwire Moon was a finalist for the National Book Award in 2001; A Million Nightingales was a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize in 2006. Her short stories have appeared in Zoetrope, The Ontario Review, The Oxford American, The Sun, Black Clock, and other magazines. “The Golden Gopher,” from Los Angelas Noir, won the Edgar Award in 2007; “El Ojo de Agua,” from Zoetrope, won an O. Henry Award in 2007. Her essays have appeared in the New York Times, Reader’s Digest, Family Circle, Salon, The Los Angeles Times, Harpers, The Nation, and other magazines. She was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship to work on Highwire Moon, and a Lannan Prize was an immense help when working on Take One Candle Light a Room.