Daryl Murphy’s “As Clear As Water”

Contributed by Daryl Murphy and Kit Peterson

photo (7)When I was a kid in the turbulent ’50s and ’60s, the fiction and poems
I read presented a world where people maintained (or found) a strong
moral compass despite the sometimes insane behavior around them.
Harper Lee’s Scout, Jem, and Boo Radley. Tormented John in James
Go Tell It On the Mountain. I knew people like them walking
my streets, needed to write about them, so I earned my MFA from the
Iowa Writer’s Workshop. After twenty-plus years as a teaching
vagabond, moving from state to state to teach the craft of writing, I’m 
currently settled in Chicago and focused on actually finishing a short fiction collection and a novel. My story “Philly” was the 2010 Briar Cliff Review Fiction winner and a Pushcart Prize nominee. “Fledgling” was a 2013 finalist for the Bellingham Review’s Tobias Wolff Fiction Award, and “Blue Notes” was a 2013 finalist for Southwest Review’s David Nathan Meyerson Fiction Prize.

                                                                                                          -Daryl Murphy

What is the color of one’s skin when the hueless and ghostly shape of emptiness lies beneath it?

Daryl Murphy’s award-winning short story “As Clear As Water” is one of scars that will not heal even if the skin itself has not been physically marred. Dr. Louise Banks is left with the choice of seeing a lover from the past who has been diagnosed with lung cancer. She instantly remembers Abe Connor, the white pre-law student, and a romance born from social activism and broken by society’s prevailing judgment of interracial couples. Within the walls of old pain she not only recedes into the past of her people, but her own tormented womanhood as well as a powerful love lost. It is her father’s look cast down upon Abe and her as they walk down the street, and people stare. It is her weakness for Abe, “the lingering brush of his hands on her body,” when “she should have stayed loyal, choosing a man black and strong…”

Through Daryl’s powerful present-tense narration, we receive glimpses of Louise’s family’s arduous past in Mississippi, as she “relives stories told in her father’s deep rumble,” as if they are happening for the first time. Daryl’s characters are internally wounded—on the surface their stories coincide with so many others who were and still are subject to the racial prejudices of the 20th and 21st centuries. But it is their personal narratives that make these wounds something more than merely exemplary of a time period or one particular cultural theme. Through revelation, these characters tell us something that feels privileged and honest—something that lies beneath their armor and color. They are strong, fervid, and vivid, but eventually we feel their emptiness and their fragility, as Daryl paints us people “as clear as water,” and “as vacant as steam.”

Please visit Gemini Magazine website to read Daryl Murphy’s “As Clear As Water”



Maggie Kast: I Never Knew You Had A Girl

Maggie at Call to Action conference

Contributed by Kit Peterson

Maggie Kast is the author of The Crack between the Worlds: a dancer’s memoir of loss, faith and family, published by Wipf and Stock. She received an MFA in writing from Vermont College of Fine Arts, and has published fiction in The Sun, Nimrod, Paper Street, Rosebud, and others. Her essays have appeared in America, Writer’s Chronicle, and Image, among others. A memoir excerpt, published in ACM/Another Chicago Magazine, received a Literary Award from the Illinois Arts Council, and a Pushcart nomination. She’s currently working on a novel, I Never Knew You Had a Girl, excerpts of which have been published in anthologies on food and sleep from Red Claw Press. Her most recent excerpt, “I Hate that Chills,” will soon appear in The Huffington Post.

In Maggie Kast’s story, “Sleeping With Men, an excerpt from her novel-in-progress, 17-year-old Henriette is with Lucky, “a rakish older reporter,” at a left-wing meeting. It is Chicago, the year is 1930, and earlier in the novel Henriette has escaped her oppressive home life in Oak Park, Illinois to experience the “life of the body,” as she calls it. But as Lucky’s thigh moves closer to hers, Henriette, who has been embattled with the powers that be in an oppressive social structure, now must descend into the volatile trenches of her sexuality, and emerge from them into womanhood. When the two go back to Lucky’s apartment Henriette must make a choice, despite the memories of her father’s sexual abuse resurfacing. Her decision juxtaposed with her traumatic past makes us feel a different type of violent insurgency– Henriette’s interior mutiny of past ideals, where she will stop at nothing in order to bring about her own revolution.

“Sleeping With Men” is published in the anthology, Seek It: Writers and Artists do Sleep from Red Claw Press. Maggie’s most recent essay, entitled “Symbols: Forest of Ambiguity” can be found in the online publication Numero Cinq Magazine. Her nonfiction flash piece, “Ghost Alive,” has just been published in Defunct Magazine. Links to other publications and excerpts can be found on the blog Ritual and Rhubarb Pie.


Bill Shunn Brings the Funk

Contributed by Bill Shunn and Kit Peterson

bill-whiskey-large (1)

William Shunn has published over thirty works of short fiction, including the Hugo, Nebula, and Sturgeon Award-nominated novella Inclination (available as an audiobook from Audible.com and iTunes.)  He is also co-author, with Derryl Murphy (not to be confused with WWS’s Daryl Murphy,) of the short horror novel Cast a Cold Eye (PS Publishing) and has recently completed a memoir, The Accidental Terrorist, about his misspent youth as a Mormon missionary, as well as a young-adult science fiction novel, Root.

Bill has also worked as a computer programmer for more than twenty years, most notably for WordPerfect Corporation and Sesame Street.  In the early days of the web, he helped produce live online concert broadcasts for artists like The Cure, The Allman Brothers Band, and Mötley Crüe. On September 11, 2001, he created the first online “survivor registry,” where New Yorkers without phone service could post a note telling friends and loved ones they were okay. Additionally Bill served for three years as a national judge for the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards. He has been married to the amazing Laura Chavoen for 12 years, and they are the proud parents of Ella, a soft-coated wheaten terrier.

Subterraneans, a story written in collaboration with Bill’s wife, Laura, most recently appears in the collection of sci-fi, fantasy and horror, entitled Glitter and Mayhem: The Speculative Nightclub Anthology. The anthology made its debut in August 2013 at the World Science Fiction Convention in San Antonio, TX.  More information can be found at:  http://glittermayhem.com/

Bill was also the co-producer and co-host of Chicago’s Tuesday Funk reading series (which still takes place at Hopleaf Bar on the first Tuesday of every month) until his recent move to New York. We at WWS cannot fathom missing Mr. William Shunn more than we currently do, but we have a feeling this is not the last we’ve heard from him.

The Ways I Serve

A beautiful thought from someone who played a special role in WWS over the years.

Reflections From My True Self

I walk among the bluebells that spill over the forest floor, and I think about the ways I serve. For all of my roles, for all the different ways that I could compartmentalize my service, as a mother and wife, a life coach and spiritual companion, a volunteer, a friend, I know this:

When I am fully present and engaging the whole of my Self, I can be a vehicle for others to reach into themselves and to touch what lives most powerfully within them, to reconnect with their soul and recall who they yearn to be. I can be a vehicle for others to discover their voice, to recognize their essence, to own who they are at their depths. I can be a vehicle for them to recognize what is real, and sacred, to them.

And to do so, I have only to see in them their transcendence, only…

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Spotlight on Corinne Mucha

Contributed by Sally Decker in August, 2011

Meet Corinne Mucha, new this summer to the Writers Workspace and a graphic novelist, author of the recently published Freshman: tales of 9th Grade Obsessions, Revelations, and Other Nonsense. I recently read this book and found it charming and incredibly realistic in its depiction of freshman year in high school… I think she does an especially great job of  illustrating the seriousness with which we all seemed to take that year (the BEGINNING of the REST of our LIVES..) yet also balancing that notion with humor and perspective through the way the characters respond to each others’ anxieties. One of my favorite parts of Freshman was its portrayal of the “types” of teenagers, and the need for something—an activity, a club, a band, a sport, a group of friends—something—to define you. I remember that being such a frustrating part of high school, how people so quickly resorted to placing others in boxes. Another part that stood out to me was the ending. Something about the timeline of years, and I think school years in particular, prompts a very strange warping of time. So much happens! And then suddenly it’s all over and we’re wondering where the time went. As someone who just finished their freshman year of college I can definitely say I had that response when it became June and I was packing up to come home. I loved Annie’s stunned reaction to the time passing on the second to last page.

While reading Corinne’s book I was also reminded of how fun the graphic novel form is. Your eyes are free to dart around the pages so quickly! The reading itself is very active, and the number of pages and amount of material you get through in one sitting is satisfying. I think the form works especially well with the subject matter in this case, how the four seasons lead the reader eventually to the end of the year. It imitates again that odd sensation of so much passing so quickly…the reader feels that surprise along with the characters when suddenly it’s the end of spring at the school dance. I was interested in Corinne’s process of writing this, and the different ways in which graphic novelists work and get out their ideas out in general. I sent her over some questions and she was happy to respond. Here’s the Q&A…

S: How were you first introduced to graphic novels and why did you take a particular interest in them?

C: I started drawing comics during my junior year at RISD, while doing independent study abroad in Rome. I found that when I had the time to do whatever I wanted, art-wise, I wanted to spend most of my time doodling little diary comics about my day. When I returned to Providence in the fall, I pursued making comics more seriously, and started self-publishing minicomics that spring. I also started reading graphic novels that year, but it took a long time for me to work up to creating stories of that length.

S: Tell me about your new publication. Where did the idea come from and from where did you draw inspiration? How long did it take to write this novel?

C: The general idea for this project mostly came from my publisher, Zest Books. I had illustrated a book for them previously, and when they decided they wanted to put out a graphic novel, they asked me to write it. Then they brainstormed what kind of theme they wanted the book to have, and decided it should be about a group of teenagers completing their first year of high school. I took it from there, adding bits and pieces of my own high school experience in between. I spent a little more than a year writing, drawing, and coloring this book.

S: How much time does it typically take to draw one page of comic strips?

C: It varies a lot! If I’m working really quickly, I can tackle one in a few hours. Other ideas that are more complex, or that require a lot of photo reference, take more time, maybe a day or two.

S: Tell me a little bit about the process of writing/illustrating a graphic novel in general… does a full, fleshed out idea have to come first, next the words that will appear on the pages, and lastly the drawing? I know sometimes for me just the act of writing itself helps me think through my ideas in a clearer way—can drawing act as that kind of brainstorming tactic?

C: For some cartoonists, the words come first, and for others, the pictures. There’s really no right way to do it. I work in my sketchbook or on loose leaf paper, scribbling ideas in a loose grid, so it looks like I have nine tiny paragraphs on a page. After I’ve got all the narration, captions, or dialogue figured out, I go back in and scribble some pictures that will accompany the words. I don’t usually have the idea completely fleshed out when I start—I just know how it starts and then I let the act of writing lead me from there. I think that drawing could act as a brainstorming tactic, and definitely does for some people, but drawing doesn’t usually help me organize my thoughts.

S: What has been one of the most satisfying moments/events/aspects of your career thus far as a graphic novelist?

C: Hmm, it feels like I’ve really only just started! It feels satisfying every time I’m asked to do a new project. I love the beginning of every new writing project, making pages and pages of chicken scratch, getting my ideas down, before I have to start wrestling with editing.  I think one of the most satisfying events of my career so far though was getting a Xeric grant to self publish my first graphic novel, “My Alaskan Summer.” I had no idea how hard it was going to be to put together a comic book of that length, and I learned so much in the process. It was the first time I felt like a “real” cartoonist, and publishing that book opened a lot of doors for me.

S: What current project or projects are you working on currently? Plans for future work?

C: This summer I’ve mostly been working on anthology contributions, all of which I’m really excited about. I’ve also got some plans for exciting new self published projects, including a minicomic called “It Doesn’t Exist,” which is supported by a CAAP grant.

Check out Corinne’s comics and look out for her upcoming projects! Her website is located at http://www.maidenhousefly.com where you can see samples of her illustration, comics and her blog (I especially like the diary strips about her days and events from her life). And as usual, say hello next time you see her around—it’s exciting to have her here at the Workspace.


Welcome to the WWS Blogroll, Maggie Kast

We have our first contribution to the WWS blogroll, Maggie Kast’s Ritual and Rhubarb Pie. Welcome, Maggie!

Along with the mix of event announcements, travel plans, and commentaries on other authors that you’d expect in a writer’s blog, there’s plenty in here to encourage gentle reflection. Questions I think Maggie’s blog explores well: what does it mean to have a spirtual life; how do work projects intertwine with a person’s life mission; how can we speak respectfully and authentically about loss while enjoying life?

Take a look; see how one of her posts speaks to you.