Rust Belt Femme: A Conversation with Raechel Anne Jolie

Interview Conducted by Brianna Di Monda

Raechel Anne Jolie grew up in northeast Ohio with her mom before receiving her PhD from the University of Minnesota and going on to publish her memoir, Rust Belt Femme. The book was a winner of the Independent Publisher Book Award in LGBTQ Nonfiction and an NPR Favorite Book of 2020. Her story covers her experience growing up in poverty with her single mother after her father is hit by a car. She navigates permanently altered relationships with her parents, grandparents, friend, and boyfriends, and finally finds a home in queer pop culture and the local punk scene. Jolie kindly agreed to an interview about her memoir, and together we discussed witchcraft, male care, code-switching, and common perceptions of so-called “white trash.”

This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.

Brianna Di Monda: You wrote your memoir after getting your PhD from the University of Minnesota. Why the pivot? What drew you to writing a memoir after working in academia for so long? Had you written personal essays or creative nonfiction—or just journaled—before?

Raechel Anne Jolie: Why the pivot: One reason is that many people with PhDs were pushed out of academia in any sustainable way. I had short-term contract positions and never landed that secure, full-time position, which is increasingly rare in academia. So part of it was not having a stable job. Although I continued to adjunct, part of the deal in academia is that everything you write is academic research. It dawned on me that I wasn’t getting paid to research in the way that, in theory, professors have a salary and research is part of that. So I thought, “Why am I wasting time?”

I was a creative writer since I was a kid. This actually didn’t make it in the book, but I used to have a notebook that I would write stories in. My creative nonfiction really developed through LiveJournal and online blogging. I realized that I enjoyed writing about myself by bringing in theory. When I decided not to keep doing academic writing that I don’t enjoy, I just let myself start writing this book instead.

BD: Did you have journals and old writing that you pulled from and compiled into the book?

RAJ: I had tons of journals. My mom, as you read, moved around a lot, so I think my personal journals probably exist in a storage facility somewhere or a friend’s basement, but I didn’t have a ton of access to those. I do have photographic memories of some of those journal pages, so I definitely drew on very concrete memories of pages. But as I write at the beginning of the book, the memoir is my version of my memory.

BD: That’s an incredible testament to your memory. I also read in your interview with Hippocampus that you cast a spell to get your book accepted by Belt Publishing. And I noticed aspects of witchcraft in your memoir. You say the lightning bugs on Tinkers Creek were your “first foray into witchcraft” (when you were five) and that they were “sacrificed in rituals some nights.” I was wondering: What was your practice as a kid? When did you develop it? If I may ask, what is your practice now? And how has witchcraft shaped your writing?

RAJ: I definitely wouldn’t have identified it as witchcraft as a small child. That was a retrospective label. But so much of my early relationship to magic was my relationship to nature. And that’s something I’ve been able to make the connection to much more clearly in my adult life, especially when I actually learned the elements of Paganism. I lived with the seasons in these material, worshipful ways. So much of that was just being a rural kid who felt spirits in trees and pretended mixing bowls were cauldrons.

My mom was also a horror buff, so I grew up on scary movies and had witches and magic and fantasy in my life. And then being lucky enough to be a teenager in the 90s, witchiness blended with dark lipstick and combat boots, like in The Craft. So 90s pop culture allowed me to have elements of witchcraft even though I didn’t identify as a witch. It was only much later in my life—my late 20s, early 30s—that I really opened up more to spirituality.

After getting involved with activism work, I didn’t think I had a need for spirituality, because the activism I was involved in was very secular. But then I felt pulled to spirituality, partly because I was half-developing a yoga practice and I was like, “Well, I really like the spiritual elements of this, but it’s not my culture, so I should look into my ancestral roots.” And there was Paganism. And it felt super intuitive. 

My practice now is everything from honoring moon cycles and setting intentions to casting very specific spells. (The spell I set to get my book published by Belt had a jar of honey with mantras written on a piece of paper inside and a particular crystal on top.) I also continue to be in tune with nature and celebrate certain Pagan holidays. Or I light a particular candle before I start writing. I don’t do that on normal workdays. Bringing that intention helps with the magic and writing.

BD: Absolutely. I ask because I’ve similarly gotten into witchcraft and am realizing how this attunement with nature I had as a kid and this interest in astrology and candles and stones has been a throughline in my life. My mom kept this stone collection I had as a kid and I found them recently and recognized them as stones used in witchcraft.

You say your mom got sober “seemingly overnight” after your dad was hit by a car. That she did it because, quite simply, she “knew she had to raise [you].” It seems like your mom put a lot into raising you as a single parent, even if you also acknowledge that she wasn’t always perfect. I’m wondering: How did her strength (or maybe even her mistakes) influence your understanding of womanhood or motherhood?

RAJ: In so many ways. I’m not a mother, and this is actually shifted from the book, but although I still very much identify as femme, I have less identification with the word “woman.” I added “they” to my pronouns. (I’m feeling grateful for young people for their more expansive categories.) So I’ll respond to the question with both not being a mom and not identifying with capital “W” “Womanhood.”  That said, I think my mother helped me understand femininity in a way that was much more expansive and obviously defied any sort of traditional, normative stereotype that women are docile or weak. I got the opposite example of that. 

I will also say, and I kind of hesitate because my sweet, dear mom still hasn’t read the book. I say this with all the love in the world, but she sacrificed a lot for me. Almost her whole self. And I do think that was not healthy for her. I got a lot of love. What I didn’t get was examples of how to set boundaries. I expected a lot from relationships as a demonstration of love. I expected selflessness, which isn’t fair. I am grateful that I was loved so fully and she gave so much to me, but I feel regret for her because it was a sacrificial kind of love.

BD: Yeah, in putting so much care into making sure you were okay and you got the attention you needed after the accident, it almost went too far for her sake. I understand that. In contrast to my last question, you call the “men who took care of things” during the first four years of your life the “heroes.” You acknowledge, “I’m not supposed to say this, but this was what I needed and this was what I lost.” Why do you say you’re not supposed to say this? What framework are you confronting by acknowledging the need for men (or maybe masculinity)—in addition to women (or femininity)—to support you?

RAJ: The reason I’m not supposed to say it is because I’m a feminist studies professor and a queer person. It’s the recognition of the role that men played in my life, as well as my attraction to butch and men-identified people. My attraction to a particular kind of masculinity. I love this question and it’s a hard question. I am looking forward to the day when masculinity and femininity can express themselves, regardless of what you were assigned at birth. But I also think we can find value in what we would traditionally assign as masculine energy and feminine energy, even if those categories are still problematic regardless of somebody’s “sex.”Given my upbringing, I’m okay with the fact that I would like a partner who knows cars because I don’t know cars. That’s a traditionally masculine thing that, to me, is not problematic because we’re not all good at everything. That’s not to say that a masculine person needs to like cars, or that they can’t cook, or whatever. I’m not trying to put people into boxes. But I do think there’s a version of caretaking that appeals to me in ways that some people would say is problematic, but that’s just how my femme shows. I’m curious what you think about that. What comes up for you with that sort of theme?

BD: I think it balances your narrative of not wanting your partner to be selflessly devoted to you—that doesn’t mean you don’t want care. You lost your dad. And that made you realize how much his support meant something. And there is a lack when he’s not there. For you to say you don’t need these men in your life is to say, maybe, that nothing changed when your dad left, which wouldn’t be true and wouldn’t be honoring his memory.

RAJ: That’s beautiful. That’s true though. And I believe that patriarchy harms men just as much as it does all the other genders. Because men aren’t allowed to be vulnerable and emotional. But that doesn’t mean that we have to throw what we consider masculine under the bus. I think there are some beautiful traits in masculinity. Butch women are such a beautiful example of a community that’s demonstrated how chivalry and toughness can be gentle and loving.

BD: I think this also segues well into the next question I have, which asks about this tension between male care and toxic masculinity in your book. There’s a devastating moment where Jack (your boyfriend at the time) meets your abuser and says he wants to kill him. The two of you cry together and you realize you’d been wanting that feeling: “that a man made [you] feel like he wanted to protect [you].” You say you unpack this want in “therapy, in journals, with tarot decks.” You say you come to terms with this want. Why is it okay to want male care? And what did you learn in unpacking? With all these questions about masculinity, I ask because I feel like it’s such a common dynamic people seek in their relationships without ever confronting what it means.

RAJ: It’s obviously a privilege, first of all, to go to therapy. But I think everybody, regardless of class or race or anything else, is in their heads about themselves navel-gazing. It’s just that the memoirists put that on display. And I think it’s important to bring awareness and attention to our choices in relationships—and that doesn’t have to just be in romantic relationships. As much as, for example, Instagram pop psychology is problematic sometimes, I’m glad that it’s a space for people to talk about trauma and feelings. It’s good for us to be mindful in relationships because we are all bringing a lot of shit to them. In a world of sexual violence and emotional abuse, and just all of these horrible relationship dynamics that exist, for me to say that I like being loved by masculine energy feels not bad.

BD: I think that all makes sense. I think you’re making this clear distinction between toxic masculinity and male care. And where you find a home is in acknowledging the importance of male care and not ignoring a kind of masculine care that anyone can emit.

Then, when your first boyfriend breaks up with you and cries in the car, you say you’re “grateful to know the tenderness that existed in this sixteen-year-old boy. That the root of these boys is not toxic masculinity, but rather a limited number of places where they can be free—to feel, to be vulnerable, to say this hurts and I’m sorry.” This is a big theme in the book: redeeming people who have inflicted pain (you sympathize with his tears even as he breaks up with you). You seem profoundly capable of recognizing the multiplicity in people and forgiving them for their worst deeds. Would you say that’s accurate? Is this book, in a way, a redemption story for your exes and your family, your mom, and maybe even yourself?

RAJ: That’s such a sweet question. I do think I am extremely forgiving, sometimes to a fault. I think that has been the case my whole life. I’ve never had a revenge streak. My forgiveness or compassion, with an understanding of the other person’s pain or the root cause of the situation, is intentional. First of all as a prison abolitionist, for example, but also as a person who identifies as an anarchist and a radical. The definition of radical is “the root” of something. So looking at the root cause of harm, to me, reveals that the people who cause harm are victims almost all the time of another situation themselves. That articulation comes through an explicitly intentional political lens.

To bring witchy stuff back into it, I actually have a friend who is a beautiful astrologer and tarot reader who says that people with a lot of Pisces in their chart have this particular trait of being extremely compassionate and nonjudgmental and understanding and forgiving. And I have a lot of Pisces in my chart. I think that’s also part of it. It never crossed my mind to not write about people compassionately. That just felt intuitive. I don’t know that I realized it, but of course I wanted to say that there are reasons for everybody’s choices. I hope that I gave that context.

BD: I loved your description of grieving after your first break up, of playing Fiona Apple on repeat, journaling, crying in your room. You acknowledge a self-awareness in these actions: You relished your “ability to understand what Fiona [was] singing . . . dreaming of how many more loves [you] will have and how terrible and perfect it will be to lose them too.” I loved this description because I think a lot of people share this melodramatic experience growing up. Do you think these actions—mourning over a lost love with delicious self-indulgence—are part of the teenage initiation into adulthood? Why was this important to include in your memoir?

RAJ: I recently went through a breakup with the person who, in my book, I refer to as my present tense partner. We separated after eight years. So a very long, difficult, grown-up breakup, much more shattering than this teenage one. But I thought about that line about how I loved pain. And I really love that less as an adult. The stakes are a lot higher in a separation that happens when you’re in your 30s. 

Sharing your life with somebody is huge, and there is something beautiful in that. Thankfully the separation was mutual. I mean, it was devastating, but not ugly in any way. To answer the question: I guess it’s a teenage thing, but I don’t know. I’ve had really earth-shattering breakups in my 20s as well. And then the most recent one. And of course, the “’I’ll never find anybody again” feeling when you’re 15 is hilarious. But there’s something in me that wants to answer this question by saying it’s the same. It is a teenage thing, but it’s also an adult thing. But yeah, I do think like a first breakup is a life experience that pushes you further into adulthood.

BD: Yeah, it’s a coming of age moment, but maybe we never get over it. I guess what sounded so unique to teenagehood was how you specifically talked about how you relished your ability to understand heartbreak. Maybe there’s like an ego to heartbreak as a teenager.

In the memoir, you say “white trash” is the term we use in the U.S. for “failed” white people, and that our common understanding is “white trash” tends to vote red. You complicate this narrative by showing that queer people can be supported in this community and that there are left-leaning people in the Rust Belt. Was giving a voice to this side of whiteness intentional when you set out to write the memoir?

RAJ: It was definitely intentional. I started writing the memoir the summer before Trump got elected, so that discourse about Trump voters was already in the media. Something that’s important for me to clarify is that the intention wasn’t to say that not all white people are bad. I still identify as an activist. I’m certainly thinking about how to make the world better. I hope my writing gives people this “aha” moment—especially well-intentioned liberals who should talk to “white trash” Trump voters—to not be so snobby about people who are marginalized by the things that I claim to care about. 

My goal was really to illuminate the commonality of oppression. I’m certainly not saying that poor white folks and poor people of color, or people of color in general, are the same, but just that the economically disenfranchised includes people of all races. And there can be space for solidarity, whether that’s for white folks, queer people, people of color, or whatever the case may be. There is room for that. And I want to tell those stories because I think we would have a much more robust movement against repression if more people realized how much we all have in common.

BD: You’ve said in an interview with Autostraddle that you code switch no matter where you are. At what point did this begin, and why? Was it only once you went to college, or did you find yourself code-switching between the Cleveland subculture with Ben (another ex-boyfriend) and home even in your teens?

RAJ: I love that specific question at the end because the answer is yes. Code-switching is something that I’ve really done my whole life. I’ve always been in punk and activist spaces, and then also have very normie friends So there’s a lot of managing what I would or wouldn’t say in certain spaces. I think I’m over the fact that in normie spaces I’m often the only person with tattoos or not married with children (which brings in the queerness aspect). 

I don’t really talk to my super radical friends about the pop culture I consume. It’s very low stakes, but code-switching is something I very much have existed between my normie and queer friends. And then the class thing. At this point, it feels pretty easy because I’ve been navigating it so much. I think I’m not ever in super-rich spaces, but I behave a little differently in family space. I think I’m a little more self-conscious about how I look, especially around my partner’s parents. I’m suddenly embarrassed by my cheap acrylic nails and tattoos, but not enough to do anything about it. 

BD: It doesn’t mean you’re changing who you are, but you are aware of how you look and come across.

RAJ: Yeah. And code-switching is definitely a term that’s been most utilized by people of color who have to navigate much more high-stakes environments than I ever have. Whether it’s code-switching or microaggressions, there’s extra mental energy and labor that people have to do when they’re not taken as “normal” in particular spaces. I don’t want to complain about it too much because I feel like I have it pretty easy, but it is something that exists in my life.

BD: Ok, my final question: You talk about media you consumed before you went on to realize you were queer. You citeBroken Hearts Club, Jeffrey, Kissing Jessica Stein, and But I’m a Cheerleader as some of the movies you watched with your mom growing upDo you have any other recommendations for young queers today discovering their identity, that maybe weren’t around when you were growing up in the 90s, or that you happened to discover later in life?

RAJ: I love this question because I love pop culture. There’s one movie I always gush about when I have the opportunity. It’s called Appropriate Behavior. Desiree Akhavan is the writer and director. She’s an Iranian-American bisexual woman who made this beautiful indie movie about a queer woman in New York City. You see her through one long relationship and a couple of shorter relationships, and it’s just so evident that a queer person made the movie. It’s like, this person knows what it’s like to go to the dive lesbian bar after pride, and not the big tourist gay bar or whatever. She’s just so in the know. I love that movie and I think it’s not super well known because it’s an indie movie. 

Another is To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! – Julie Newmar. It’s one of the best gay movies of all time, and I think underappreciated by younger generations. It’s technically about drag queens, but they would really be read today as trans women.

I also want to say that growing up, the AIDS crisis was still, I mean, a crisis. One of my best friends in college was diagnosed with HIV at the time and it felt like a death sentence. He’s alive and thriving today, thankfully. It was pretty pressing, but I certainly didn’t grow up in the gay mens’ community in New York, where, for example, there were funerals every week. That was not my culture. But so much of queer culture today owes so much to that period of time. There’s a documentary called United in Anger: A History of ACT UP. It’s some of the most important queer histories out there. It offers a lot for us to think about, especially with COVID, and how we take care of each other in a health crisis. It’s about movement building and love and sex and desire in our politics. So that’s my elder queer homework.

About the Interviewer and Interviewee:

Raechel Anne Jolie (she/they) is the author of the critically acclaimed memoir Rust Belt Femme, which was the winner of the Independent Publisher Book Award in LGBTQ Nonfiction, an NPR Favorite Book of 2020, and a runner-up for the Heartland Bookseller’s Award.

Brianna Di Monda (she/her) is a contributing editor for Cleveland Review of Books. Her fiction and criticism have appeared in The Brooklyn Rail, Chicago Review of Books, and Worms Magazine.

An Interview with Daren Dean

Interview Conducted by Shaun McMichael

Grit lit Novelist, Daren Dean, opens up about his new novel This Vale of Tears (Cowboy Jamboree (CJ) Press; October, 2021), a torrential tragicomedy of manners, miracles, and mortal wounds.

Cuckolded scofflaw Troy Scofield kicks off This Vale of Tears’s torrential tragicomedy when he kills old Bobby Lee Phelps, the lover of his wild-thing wife, Alisha. Troy’s prison release seven years later rekindles the brooding enmity between the pugnacious Scofield and Phelps families who because of their similarities are destined to conflict. Both rural Missouri clans mirror each other’s dire money trouble, generational curses, and cults of patriarchy alive and well in the novel’s 1970 epoch. “Old wounds ran deep. A shared genealogy spooled behind them but was powerless to heal the rift. The men…liked to think of themselves as figures of some grand tragedy and knowing all along that their own flaws of character would eventually bring them low” (60). The liquor-pickled men carouse and pick fights while their women leave, cling, or manipulate in ways that unintentionally double their misery. For example, young Raelyn Phelps flees her family’s abusive confines just to run into Troy. The two entangle in a star-crossed love affair further enflaming already combustible Phelps and Scofield patriarchs. I spoke with Daren Dean about his process writing This Vale…

Shaun Anthony McMichael (SAM): What was your entry point into this novel?

Daren Dean (DD): I wrote This Vale… a while ago and over a long stretch of time. I would have loved to start publishing this stuff when I was thirty-five instead of in my forties and fifties, but it wasn’t ready. But what I remember is that for “This Vale…” I wanted strong-structured sentences that flowed like Cormac McCarthy and William Gay’s style of writing. 

In terms of the story, I had this idea of writing about a deeply troubled character like Troy Scofield meeting a much younger character like Raelyn Phelps and about how she affects him. Then I wrote the first chapter, which operates as a kind of prologue. I didn’t call it a prologue though because of the immediacy and impact it possesses. After I wrote it, I wondered how I was going to keep up with that intensity and pace. The way I tried to achieve that relentless pacing was to cut out all the boring parts, which has always been a goal of mine. At the same time, I didn’t want to overwhelm a reader. As the chapters go along, some of them are more languid as certain dynamics take more time to develop.

SM: Let’s talk some more about Troy: “Everyone knew or had heard of Troy Scofield, he wasn’t a real person anymore in their minds, he was an evil spirit haunting the backroads of the past. An evil man who belonged in a tomb” (255). 

Troy is a rage-filled, entitled mess, yet a reader can’t take their eyes off him. We’re compelled to him the way women are. At outset, Troy appears as a bad seed. But as the narrative unfolds, we see he’s a seed trying to grow in a shallow cowpie. This brings me to the topic of likability. Tell me about what draws you to depicting characters whose unlikeable qualities may turn the average reader away.

DD: I knew I was never going to be the kind of writer who writes to a market. That’s just not who my role models were. Let’s take Flannery O’Connor. You would be hard pressed to think of a single likable character in her prose, yet you still want to read about them. The matter of likability just isn’t something I think about. I wanted Troy to read like a real person whose life is fucked up from the beginning. I wanted to show his progression. 

I grew up around people like Troy—people with good qualities and bad. Let’s take my step-father, a truck driver and a local charmer. Though he and my mom weren’t married that long, I loved the guy. He was great with kids. He was always carrying around a Reader’s Digest to improve his vocabulary. Occasionally, he’d throw out new words at you, only he’d use them in a way that wouldn’t make total sense. Like when we were bickering, he’d argue, “well, that’s immaterial!” And I would scratch my head wondering what he meant. So in my first published novel, Beyond the Pale (2015; Fiction Southeast Press), I give that quirk to my main antagonist, Vaughn so he’s not just a relentless evil.

Or let’s take one of my great aunts who passed away a few years ago. She was always exasperated, saying “Oh my god, all you kids do is mess around!” Whenever I would see her, she would look at me and say “Haven’t seen you for a while. Don’t you love me anymore?!?” When I first brought my wife by her house, I said it to my aunt first, trying to get her goat. “Auntie, haven’t seen you for a while. Don’t you love me anymore?!?” But then she said, “Oh, shoot. I’m the old lady. You come see me!”

I like using little details like these in my fiction, giving mixed qualities to my characters.

To go back to Troy, he isn’t Hitler, but he’s never going to join the Chamber of Commerce. I wouldn’t even say he’s in the middle. He’s just a regular person. And when you get right down to it, we’re all just regular people.

SAM: Troy makes the most sense in the context of his environment: Fairmount, a town in Kingdom County, Missouri. Tell me more about the setting.

DD: Fairmont is fictional, though based somewhat on Fulton and a few other small towns that I grew up around and where my mom and dad still live, separately. These towns were established by Southerners, which is funny because I don’t consider myself Southern exactly.  My fictional county “Kingdom County” comes from The Kingdom of Callaway County. Around the Civil War, citizens of this county tried to remain neutral and succeeded officially from the United States. But as with a lot of places that tried to remain neutral during the Civil War, the towns in The Kingdom of Callaway got taken advantage of; both sides hated them. I write about that in The Black Harvest (2020; CJ Press).

Like a lot of writers who write about their hometowns, I write about these places to gleefully expose their underbellies. Though I’m aware that people from the place may get mad because my novels aren’t PR pieces about how wonderful the towns are and how great the Soybean Festival is, etc.….

SAM: While plot convention necessitates foreboding tones to some degree, I felt a profound sense of ominousness throughout this novel. Even after the climax’s catastrophe, in the denouement, a reader feels that the real storm has yet to break. To what extent did the disturbing nature of our contemporary times fuel this sense of foreboding that floods the novel?

DD: Not so much. The story takes place in the ’60s and ’70s. I grew up in those times and it wasn’t hard to write about those feelings from back then. As a kid, I remember not understanding exactly what was going on or why people were saying what they said. I didn’t know what my future was going to be. So it seemed natural to try to capture that experience. 

SAM: This is a language driven work as much as it is character driven. For these characters, bottle openers are “church keys”; to be armed to the teeth is to be “loaded for bear”. You’re a college professor. Tell me how you keep your ear low enough to the ground to maintain authenticity?

DD: You pay attention to the language, the cadence, and the diction of the people around you. Of course, many of the people who were adults in the ’60s and ’70s don’t speak in the same way anymore; they’ve been exposed to more things and have become more ‘sophisticated’. But in writing this novel, I wanted to remember how people spoke back then. So again, I turned to memories of my great aunt. She still spoke the way she had when she was young. We were out driving down a gravel road to visit some of my cousins and she said, “When I drive through here of a night, I have to watch out for deer and the like.” And, like an idiot, I said how interesting I thought that was, “of a night”. But she just thought I was making fun of her. I love to capture things like that and put them in my fiction. When someone says something in a natural way from the heart, I pay attention. 

SAM: The intertextuality with music is enjoyable in This Vale…. Thank you for sharing your soundtrack for the novel on Spotify (, which makes a wonderful companion for the novel. In addition to musical artists, I hear the following literary artists’ voices in This Vale…: O’Connor, Faulkner, and McCarthy. Who were you listening to when you wrote it?

DD: Two early influences come to mind. Truman Capote’s Other Voices, Other Rooms (1948) was a book that felt really close to my life. I could really understand it in a tangential sort of way. 

In the ’90s, I read Flannery O’Conner for the first time. She’s not a writer they introduce you to in high school because she’s so subversive. I remembered thinking, who has been hiding Flannery O’Connor from me? And I read everything she wrote. Wise Blood (1952) had a particular impact on me. I had a strange childhood—four or five childhoods really. Part of my growing up was with my aunt and uncle. My uncle was a holy-roller, lay-preacher who spoke in tongues and did the laying-on of hands. When I was about eight years old, they asked me what I was going to be when I grew up. At the time, I had this weird obsession with Elvis, so I said I was going to be a singer. They were very irate. “No,” they said. “You’re going to be a preacher and serve God!” We didn’t just read the Bible. Biblical language was your whole life. You memorized it. You had to do citations of it. I went to this little Christian school where you had to recite whole chapters. I memorized 2 Corinthians 13, the love chapter, in the King James, of course, because as they’d say, “if the King James was good enough for Jesus, it’s good enough for you!”

So when I read Wise Blood and Hazel Motes came along with his Church of Christ without Christ… It hit me hard. After I finished it, I knew I had to start writing again, that it was my true calling.

Everybody said it was crazy and that I couldn’t do it. It’s funny. Now that I have these degrees and am a professor, suddenly everyone comments on how I’m so intelligent. But I don’t remember anyone saying that when I started. They told me to pull my head out of my ass.

A few years after reading O’Connor, I came across Mississippi writer Larry Brown, who became another big influence. I’m nothing like Larry Brown, but his characters really spoke to me. I could really understand them. And I thought I could work in that school of writing.

There are writers I read now just for language. Let’s take Barry Hannah, a master of the non-sequitur. He has this great short story called “Ride Fly, Penetrate Loiter” (1983) about these guys hanging around a gas station. They see this beautiful, well-dressed woman and the guys start speaking Shakespearean. With a turn of phrase, Barry Hannah can pivot genres. He’s a genius with language. Reading Barry Hannah or others like him, I get emotional and have to share it with somebody or exclaim “can you believe they wrote that?” When I was younger, I used to read everything, but now, if a writer doesn’t move me that way, I don’t want to read them.

SAM: A reader can’t help but be dazzled by well-limned scenes in your work rendered with fugue-like detail. How do you go about composing a scene?

DD: The secret I’ve learned to writing isn’t much of a secret. It just takes a long time to develop, and you can only progress so far beyond a certain point unless you grasp it. Madison Smartt Bell writes about it in his Narrative Design(Norton, 2000); Robert Olen Butler devotes his book From Where You Dream (Grove, 2006) to it. What the secret is, is what they’re talking about: writing from your subconscious.

Some writing teachers say you brainstorm, then outline. But when I try to write an outline, as soon as I really get into a scene, the outline is no good anymore. If you’re writing well, you’re writing from the unconscious mind, from where you dream, as Butler says.

Since we were kids, we’ve been getting in trouble for daydreaming. “You’ve got to work harder,” they’ve said. “You’ve got to diagram some sentences. That will be good for you.” But as a writer, none of that will help you unless you have great ideas. How many ways can you polish a turd? It might be grammatically correct, and your sixth-grade teacher would love it, but it could still suck.

So how do you write from the subconscious? You get distracted a lot by everyday life: taking out the garbage; telling your kids to do their homework; helping your wife with something; dealing with a student plagiarizing… All those things detract from being able to  get your head in the right place. You have to do those things, but they do detract from being able to dream your stories. Of course, those daily happenings can also enhance your stories. I find that inspiration usually doesn’t happen when you sit down and say “Okay, now I’m going to write.” You might be in the shower and suddenly, a scene starts happening and you’ve got to get out of the shower and write it down or it will be gone forever. So when you’re washing dishes and inspiration happens, if you can maintain that state of mind, that’s where you can start. 

SAM: I found that the most gut-wrenching scenes in This Vale… were those in which an adult tries to fill up a child’s need for love with good manners. Yet one of your epigraphs is a quote from William Faulkner’s Light in August (1932): “Perhaps they were right in putting love into books,” he thought quietly. “Perhaps it could not live anywhere else”. Tell me about the love you put in this book? To phrase the question another way, how/why is it loving to write a book depicting such tragically unloved characters who act out in unlovable ways? 

DD: To me, what fiction is all about is expressing the things that go unexpressed. Even if we love people and they love us, the words ‘I love you’ are inadequate most of the time and we hurt each other. Even with the best intentions, we don’t communicate well. I don’t propose how to fix this in my fiction. I’m trying to capture it. My aesthetic is not to teach moral lessons. That’s what I admire about Cormac McCarthy. He states what happens and you see the story unfold. But he doesn’t tell you how you should feel about it. It’s frustrating because you sometimes want him to. But for me, it goes back to the Bible. If you read the stories in Genesis, there’s very little ethical commentary on what happens. Much like literary fiction, it happens, and you’re left to ponder what it means. Life tends to be that way. I don’t want to give a sermon and tell people what to think. Not to argue with John Gardener too much; there’s a responsibility you have as a writer. But it’s not to tell the reader what to think or how to live.

SAM: There’s a Romeo and Juliet comparison with Troy and Raelyn’s relationship. Indeed, the Phelps vs. Scofield dynamic alludes to the Capulets-vs-Montague tension. Was that in your mind at all when constructing the narrative?

DD: It wasn’t really in my mind when I was writing it. But I was talking to a reporter who did a review of the book and in trying to think of a way to explain the novel to an average person I remarked that it was a hillbilly Romeo and Juliet story. 

SAM: The strongest thematic tie for me between your work and the Shakespeare play is actually in how ineffectual the older generations are in helping the younger generation. Take this quote for example: 

“Walker Scofield (Troy’s grandfather) was crazy and the inheritance he had passed on to his kids and heirs was that each had their own brand of peculiar to contend with” (295). Along with generational curses, This Vale… depicts vicious cycles: sexually-charged relationships imploding and rebirthing anew; the toxic relationship between alcohol and masculinity; neglected children who beget children they then neglect. What inspired these vicious cycles? 

DD: It’s been observation and thinking through what I’ve seen in my family and other people’s families.

Parents now want to help their kids and they try so hard to cocoon and protect them from all the negative experiences that it also can hinder your growth as a person. I’ve been guilty of that as much as anyone. I’ve tried so hard to protect my kids, I worry if they’ll have the necessary grit to make it through truly bad times when mom and dad aren’t there. I’m sure they will, but I can remember growing up and seeing the complete opposite.

During the time that This Vale… is set, it was a different generation. When I was a kid, adults had more of a WC Fields approach to parenting, like “go away, kid. Ya bothering me!” kind of thing. A parent’s attitude back then was, “I’m doing my thing here, you go do your thing over there”. My parents’ generation was all about doing your own thing and making yourself happy. My mom was married five times. My dad was married three times. People were trying to find themselves. That’s what you used to hear all the time. 

And they had it tough. My dad told me a story about how his mom got remarried to this really big jerk. The guy was huge, but he also horded food from the kids. The ice man would come once a week and stick a brick of ice in the icebox. The Iceman Cometh, right? Well this guy would stash food in the icebox and not share any of it with my dad or his brother. And they were hungry. So one day they made a plan to wake up early and gorge themselves on the food and attack their stepfather when he came down after them. And that’s what they did. They attacked their stepfather and felled him to the ground. His mom screamed “you’re killing him”. My dad said, “Well, he’s been trying to kill me for years!” He realized after that that he couldn’t stay there anymore and ran out of the house. He was twelve years old. He moved around with different family members until he joined the army because he could get paid and get his three-square meals without having to asking somebody if he could sleep in the backseat of their car. 

As for my mom, she was only seven years old when her mom died in childbirth.

These are the situations I want to capture in my stories set back in time.

SAM: Though the novel ends in tragedy for some of the characters, one of your middle-aged characters has a somewhat surprising repentant turn around by the end of this novel. If there’s a glimmer of hope in the ending, it’s for this middle-aged character. How did you decide to have this shift happen?

DD: I wanted to show that he had changed over time too. He’s not a perfect character. But I wanted to show this man in the position of acknowledging his own failings as a father while preserving what there is left to preserve. I see this play out a lot with parents who had it hard and were really stern with their kids. But then, when they have grandchildren, they spoil them. I didn’t want the story to just end in death. Sure, you’re the main character in your story, but when you’re gone, life goes on. And that’s the rebirth. 

Daren Dean’s next novel Roads is forthcoming from Cowboy Jamboree (CJ) Press in 2023.

About the Interviewer: Shaun Anthony McMichael is the editor of two collections of poetry by youth affected by trauma, mental illness, and instability: The Shadow Beside Me (2020) and The Story of My Heart (June 2021). Over 40 of his short stories and essays have appeared in literary magazines, online and in print, such as The Chicago Tribune’s Printers Row, Carrier Pigeon, Litro, Existere, Nude Bruce, and others. Shaun’s book reviews and author interviews can be found on PopMatters, an online arts and culture magazine.

An Interview with Greg Gerke

Interview conducted by Megan Neary

Greg Gerke is the author of the essay collection See What I See, the book of short stories Only the Bad Things, and many stories and essays that can be found in various publications, including Tin House, The Kenyon Review, and 3AM Magazine. He is also the editor of the new literary journal Socrates on the Beach. 

 Gerke said he created Socrates on the Beach because “he wanted to make a place that was more open to long form work,” adding, “I’d been thinking a lot, just ‘cause of my own writing, with mostly submitting longer essays, people don’t typically take them.” So far, there have been two issues of the magazine. He said his “favorite thing has been being introduced to writers I did not know…I’m really excited to find those new writers and I hope publishing them can help on their writing path.” According to Gerke, Socrates on the Beach “is about literature. It’s not really about politics. I wanted to kind of get away from that.”

One of the writers who has appeared in Socrates on the Beach is Joseph McElroy, whom Gerke counts among his favorite living writers. McElroy has published nine novels, including Plus and Women and Men. Gerke said McElroy “writes in a very special way, kind of maybe as special as a Faulkner or a Henry James… there’s probably nothing like it in American literature.” Gerke plans to write a long essay on McElroy this year. 

 In addition to writing essays, Gerke is working on revising a novel called In the Suavity of the Rock. About the novel he said, “people will say it’s autofiction, but I’ve tried to almost detonate a bomb in autofiction because there are certain correspondences in my life, but then I make up other things.” He is also “faintly planning another essay book” that will focus on art, literature, and film. Gerke has also written another novel that he described as “a New York novel with three main characters.” The characters are a film critic, a scholar, and a homeless outreach worker—three roles that Gerke has played in his own life. He said, “it’s kind of a Seinfeld thing, but serious too, and funny, hopefully.” The novel clocks in at 700 pages, which Gerke feels may be too long to attract interest, but he hopes “it’ll see the light of day sometime.” 

One of the authors who has most influenced Gerke is William Gass, who wrote essays, short stories, and novels, including Omensetter’s Luck. Gerke said, “when I read him… it really touched something and luckily he was still alive and I went to interview him and that was really important—to experience him after experiencing all of the work…just to see him how he lived, it was just, it was…very influential.” One aspect of Gass’ writing that Gerke seeks to emulate in his own is the “exuberance” with which he wrote.

Gerke also sees a connection between the writing he does and the films he loves, saying, “there seems to be a rythm in sentences… related to cutting in film and editing in narrative film and, you know, the words you use are kind of camera positions—if it moves or not, what’s in the frame.” “There is kind of a connection in a way, I think it’s hard to replicate…great directors in words, but I mean, I can read an essay by Emerson, take one of his older essays, like Fate or Power, and I can see images from Terrence Malick films.” He added, “In the vaunted shot of the camera coming at ground-level toward the mother on the salt flats, I hear the adamantine language of Emerson—the same sublime.”

 Gerke’s advice to writers is to “read everything, read widely: poetry, philosophy, Shakespeare, Dante, all the people you would think to read, that would be the people to read.” Adding, “it’s good to read things that are alien and strange—they challenge you.” But, he says, “I wouldn’t read anything just because it’s difficult, it has to be beautiful too.” He gives Shakespeare as an example “it’s amazing every time, that he wrote this thing and there’s so much beauty in it that you just go running, leaping with joy.”

About the Interviewer: Megan Neary is a co-founding editor of Flyover Country, and a writer and fifth grade teacher in Columbus, Ohio. Her recent work can be found in The Cleveland Review of Books, The Schuykill Valley Journal, and The Amethyst Review.

Interview with Matt Miller of Milk Carton Press

Interview conducted by Megan Neary and Joe Neary

We were fortunate enough to speak with Matt Miller, a poet and co-founder of the new independent publisher, Milk Carton Press ( Below is a condensed transcript of the wide-ranging conversation we held, which focused on such topics as the Beat poets, the MFA experience, the need for independent literary presses, and the burning passion to write. 

Flyover Editors: Matt, to start off, could you give us a rundown of Milk Carton. When did you and your two co-founders meet, how did you choose to start the press, and what works are you looking to publish?

Matt Miller: Well, it’s really been a lot of fun. So, the three of us, Sean, Garrett, and myself, we’ve been really good friends, but we’ve also been contemporaries in the Sioux Falls arts scene, and we’ve all been self-publishing, been coming out with our own books, hosting our own readings, trying to build a community, and to live our own art. We’ve been trying to do this as hard as we can. And the three of us, we met through Sean’s book bar, a book and conversation bar, called Full Circle book Co-op. We also had a community open mic where we would meet once a month, as well as a writer’s happy hour. Eventually, Sean and his business partner, Jason, opened the Co-op, after raising money through a Kickstarter. And they were able to stay open through COVID. It’s kind of hard to talk about Milk Carton without talking about Full Circle, because it’s been such a community generator. In fact, Full Circle is where our physical address is for Milk Carton. Our dream is to one day have a Milk Carton office in the basement of Full Circle, almost a city lights kind of thing. …

The three of us have a shared aesthetic and values, similar enough that we agree on what stuff has value. So, from this and very long conversations, and helping each other edit books, it was really kind of inevitable that we should do this. And my experience at BGSU working at Mid-American Review, and just seeing like this is how you run a publishing house, that really helped to kick things off. We’ve been going now since February 2021, both been sprinting and going slow on this thing. We are about to release our third book. Each of use three co-founders is releasing a book because this just seemed like the right thing to do. I released a book, Here and There, which during my MFA, I wrote two books, The Silly Knife and Here and There, which I decided to release through Milk Carton. Garrett has released Shotgun Vernacular, which was the kickoff for our experimental chapbook series. We are trying to release both traditional books of poetry and also experimental chapbooks. Crazy, off-the-walls stuff, stuff no one has seen before, but stuff that has value and gets people talking and thinking. Sean is coming out with his book in November. And then, Tim’s book, Self-Titled by Alien, we are releasing their full-length collection in the spring of 2022. We currently have open submissions for both the full-length books and chap books. We are also doing an online magazine, more of an online art thing. We are trying to include not only poetry and literature, but also things like short film, hybrid work, gifs, and really releasing this as an eBook format. We are taking open submissions for this as well. Oh, and we have a blog, which is pretty much for anything. If you send us something we think is cool: essays poetry, art, we will publish it there. Also, we are leaning really hard into the whole milk thing. If you send us a poem about milk, pretty much anything, if you just write something about milk, we will publish it. We have gotten some really cool stuff.

Flyover Editors: So, Matt, that was an awesome overview. It sounds like you are doing some very cool stuff at Milk Carton, but we need to know: where does the name Milk Carton come from?

Matt Miller: Oh, yeah, so it kind of started with a half idea. Then it kind of bloomed from there. So, the three of us are very inspired by Beat poetry. Like, the Beats are what inspired the three of us to get into writing. They keep us going, and we always come back to them. And the thing that draws us to them the most is this idea of seeking, of not being complete. This idea that something is missing. We’re sitting off-kilter and we need to find it. Also, this idea of nostalgia for things we’ve never had, like hopping trains, or their whole hitchhiker lifestyle. You can’t feasibly do these things anymore. The world that we live in is fundamentally different than the one the Beats lived in. Yet, we still feel the same way. We know that there is more to this than what we see and what we hear. And the three of us have deep, personal issues that make us write and keep us going. And so, this idea of Milk Carton. At one time, missing kids were on milk cartons. And it’s not a perfect metaphor, but this idea of something being missing. And yet, at the same time, it’s fundamentally not even there anymore. If you were to find a milk carton with a missing kid on it, you could keep seeking, but like they don’t even make milk cartons like that anymore. It’s double lost, so completely lost. And we feel like that is how we are right now. They call the Beats the lost generation, but they were lost in a world that could fundamentally still work with them. And we feel like we are double: unaware, and too aware of everything at the same time. And there is nothing we can do, so we just write poems about it.

Flyover Editors: Talk about your experience living in Ohio and attending Bowling Green State University’s MFA program a bit. Did this experience change how you approach writing?

Matt Miller: It’s kind of funny. You know, I grew up on a farm, like so many people in South Dakota have. I find myself writing about the city so often. You know, I’ve written several poems about the concept of the city itself, and just my experience living in them. I find city life really exciting, and love seeing different types of people, or hearing different languages. And I did not get that on the farm. Yet, at the same time, it was really interesting living in Ohio. When I moved to BG, I had an idea of what I wanted to write about. I wanted to write about my time as an EMS. I used to be a paramedic. So much of my identity was wrapped up in that, but then I found out I have terrible back issues, and I don’t have a future lifting heavy things. So, I couldn’t do the job anymore and it ruined me. And I knew, coming into an MFA program, that I wanted to unpack that. The more I wrote about that, the more I ended up writing about childhood. It was funny, but, going to Ohio, I really started writing about the farm. All of my writing up until that point was focused on the city. Though I think that was less about Ohio itself, rather than being able to focus on one big project, to chase it to its core. But Bowling Green was awesome. The town was very nice; it had character, and the campus did too. The thing I like most, other than Flatlands, was probably just the people I met. Once you get into academia, everyone is from all over. 

Flyover Editors: Thanks for that. It’s very interesting hearing that you almost had to leave something behind, to have enough distance from your personal story and upbringing, in order to write about it. That seems to be a thing with many writers, a common theme of sorts. So, Matt, going back to your comment earlier on our generation being an even more extreme version of a lost generation than the Beats were, the idea that there is even more of a disconnect within our experiences. Do you think art can help to fill in what is missing? Is this a part of what Milk Carton aims to do, in the sense that you still believe in the transcendent power of poetry?

Matt Miller: Yeah, definitely. And even if art can’t do it, we can’t not make it. For me, I can’t not write or create something. You know, I get sick if I don’t. And maybe where this illness is coming from, is that we all know that there is more than what people are telling us. The people on the screens are leaving something out…. The world isn’t black and white, but they try to say it is. And this is a problem because life isn’t like that. Everything is complicated….

Flyover Editors: Could you talk a bit more about the types of creative works you are open to. Are you interested in publishing any short stories or novels, along with poetry?

Matt Miller: Right now, we’re focusing on poetry, but who knows about the future. With the blog and the magazine, anything goes. You know, fiction, hybrid, essay, anything. We’re drawn to poetry, the three of us. We read fiction and nonfiction as well; I’m also an essayist and Garrett worked as a journalist, but, for us, it’s almost a waste of time to read anything that’s not poetry. When we keep asking why and we keep focusing, it always comes down to that. I guess our factory default settings are all set to poetry….

About the Interviewers:

Megan Neary is a writer and fifth grade teacher in Columbus, Ohio. Her recent work can be found in The Cleveland Review of Books, The Schuykill Valley Journal, and The Amethyst Review.

Joe Neary is a PhD student in English Literature at The University of Kentucky. His recent work can be found in the quint: an interdisciplinary quarterly from the north, and Olney Magazine.

An Interview with P.F. Kluge

By Megan Neary

I spoke with author P.F. Kluge over the phone while he sat on his porch at Kenyon College enjoying Ohio’s first day of Spring weather. Kluge is the author of several novels, including: Eddie and the Cruisers, The Day that I Die, Final Exam, and Biggest Elvis. He has also written numerous nonfiction essays and articles, with many fine examples collected in the  books, Keepers, Alma Mater, and The Edge of Paradise. Here at Flyover Country, we’re interested in highlighting authors who give voice to the lives lived between America’s coasts. Though he’s from New Jersey and lived in New York City for years, Kluge has made Gambier, Ohio his home. He first went there to study at Kenyon College sixty years ago and he’s been leaving and coming back ever since. In his novels, he captures the sound of Ohio and the complicated feeling of loving a town while wondering if there’s somewhere else you should be. Interestingly, Kluge’s works regarding Micronesia–where he served in the Peace Corps–reflect an atmosphere not unlike that of a small, isolated college and he captures the voices and stories of the people on those small islands, bringing to life a place many readers may just be discovering. 

Today, Kluge lives within walking distance of his freshman year dormitory, which he returned to for a year during the writing of Alma Mater, a nonfiction account of a year in the life of Kenyon College. The book was somewhat controversial, according to Kluge, “some people said it was an act of revenge, some people said I should not have written it, but, generally I think people understood that it was a fair shot at this place.” The book weaves together history, autobiography, and journalism to provide a beautiful, complex portrait of the college. 

Kluge first left Kenyon for graduate school at the University of Chicago. After graduating,he joined the Peace Corps and was assigned to Micronesia, which wasn’t his first choice, or even on his mind as a possibility. But, once he got there, he fell in love with the islands. His first novel, The Day that I Die, was inspired by his time there. The novel tells the story of a murdered war hero turned actor who returns to the islands where he once fought. 

While on the islands, Kluge became involved in politics, befriending a man named Lazarus Salii who would later become president of Palau. Kluge stayed on the islands after his term with the Peace Corps ended to write speeches for Salii. Later, he would write the preamble to the nation’s constitution. A nonfiction book, The Edge of Paradise, speaks to this friendship with Salii, as well as his love for the islands themselves. 

After returning to the United States, Kluge worked as a journalist, publishing stories with Life Magazine and the Wallstreet Journal. He also wrote and published several novels. He was invited back to Kenyon on a temporary teaching assignment and is now the college’s writer in residence. 

To Kluge, “reading is the breathing in and writing is the breathing out.” He cited Philip Roth, John Updike, and Alice McDermott as favorite recent authors. Currently, Kluge is working on a book called Wordman about writing and teaching. The title is a callback to a character in his novel, Eddie and the Cruisers. 

Kluge began writing early, working on grammar school and high school newspapers and holding summer internships during college at newspapers and Life Magazine. His interest in writing comes from his belief that “it’s your responsibility as a human being to leave a record behind.” He has always felt, “that something hasn’t happened until it’s been written down.” So it comes as no surprise that Kluge is still writing five days a week. He writes in longhand with paper and pencil, going back to the beginning and reading through the whole manuscript every thirty pages or so. In his office, there’s a shelf that holds his published books. He glanced at it and said, “you know, I like them all–I really do– and I’ll keep writing, that’s for sure.”

About the Author: Megan Neary is a teacher and writer from Columbus, Ohio, and a contributing editor at Flyover Country. Her fiction can be found in Near Window and Rejection Letters, and is forthcoming in The Amethyst Review, and Schuylkill Valley Journal. Her journalism can be found in The Record Herald.

Journalism Post 2

This is an example post, originally published as part of Blogging University. Enroll in one of our ten programs, and start your blog right.

You’re going to publish a post today. Don’t worry about how your blog looks. Don’t worry if you haven’t given it a name yet, or you’re feeling overwhelmed. Just click the “New Post” button, and tell us why you’re here.

Why do this?

  • Because it gives new readers context. What are you about? Why should they read your blog?
  • Because it will help you focus your own ideas about your blog and what you’d like to do with it.

The post can be short or long, a personal intro to your life or a bloggy mission statement, a manifesto for the future or a simple outline of your the types of things you hope to publish.

To help you get started, here are a few questions:

  • Why are you blogging publicly, rather than keeping a personal journal?
  • What topics do you think you’ll write about?
  • Who would you love to connect with via your blog?
  • If you blog successfully throughout the next year, what would you hope to have accomplished?

You’re not locked into any of this; one of the wonderful things about blogs is how they constantly evolve as we learn, grow, and interact with one another — but it’s good to know where and why you started, and articulating your goals may just give you a few other post ideas.

Can’t think how to get started? Just write the first thing that pops into your head. Anne Lamott, author of a book on writing we love, says that you need to give yourself permission to write a “crappy first draft”. Anne makes a great point — just start writing, and worry about editing it later.

When you’re ready to publish, give your post three to five tags that describe your blog’s focus — writing, photography, fiction, parenting, food, cars, movies, sports, whatever. These tags will help others who care about your topics find you in the Reader. Make sure one of the tags is “zerotohero,” so other new bloggers can find you, too.

Journalism Post

This is an example post, originally published as part of Blogging University. Enroll in one of our ten programs, and start your blog right.

You’re going to publish a post today. Don’t worry about how your blog looks. Don’t worry if you haven’t given it a name yet, or you’re feeling overwhelmed. Just click the “New Post” button, and tell us why you’re here.

Why do this?

  • Because it gives new readers context. What are you about? Why should they read your blog?
  • Because it will help you focus your own ideas about your blog and what you’d like to do with it.

The post can be short or long, a personal intro to your life or a bloggy mission statement, a manifesto for the future or a simple outline of your the types of things you hope to publish.

To help you get started, here are a few questions:

  • Why are you blogging publicly, rather than keeping a personal journal?
  • What topics do you think you’ll write about?
  • Who would you love to connect with via your blog?
  • If you blog successfully throughout the next year, what would you hope to have accomplished?

You’re not locked into any of this; one of the wonderful things about blogs is how they constantly evolve as we learn, grow, and interact with one another — but it’s good to know where and why you started, and articulating your goals may just give you a few other post ideas.

Can’t think how to get started? Just write the first thing that pops into your head. Anne Lamott, author of a book on writing we love, says that you need to give yourself permission to write a “crappy first draft”. Anne makes a great point — just start writing, and worry about editing it later.

When you’re ready to publish, give your post three to five tags that describe your blog’s focus — writing, photography, fiction, parenting, food, cars, movies, sports, whatever. These tags will help others who care about your topics find you in the Reader. Make sure one of the tags is “zerotohero,” so other new bloggers can find you, too.