F.C. Malby is a contributor to Unthology 8 (Unthank Books) and Hearing Voices: The Litro Anthology of New Fiction. Her debut short story collection, My Brother Was a Kangaroo includes award-winning stories, and her debut novel, Take Me to the Castle, won The People's Book Awards. Her short fiction has been published in various literary magazines and journals online and in print.
I hope everyone has survived lockdown. We are not out of the woods yet, but it’s good to have a little more contact with the outside world. I have had a recent flurry of writing and four short story acceptances this week! Stories forthcoming in Burnt Breakfast Magazine (July 2020), Fully Lit Magazine (July 2020), Lunate Fiction (August 2020)
I had a lovely acceptance letter from all of the above journals, but wanted to share the words from Lunate Fiction about my story, A Place of Unfinished Sentences:
“It is a rich and complex story, once that requires focus and attention from a reader in order to bring out the full story, and even then, as the title suggests, we are not given all the pieces of the puzzle! Your use of narrative voice is exceptional in this piece, as is your careful use of minor detail which draws the reader’s attention and acts almost as a smoke-screen for the wider picture. It is a remarkable flash fiction.”
When paranoia sets in, I mentally search for the fire escape. Is it in the hallway? Is it on the second floor? What if I feel the urge to jump from the balcony? A short man with a balding head walks past me and winks. He is holding a book on golf. My stomach turns. I am in the self-help section, looking for something that might fix my mind, but it is not there. There is no book that can erase memories. Maybe the cookery section might help, something from Jamie Oliver or Mary Berry. Someone once told me that Delia is outdated. I have acquired lots of books on how to bake cupcakes and muffins, which I would happily make all day, but sometimes you need to get into the meaty stuff, the grit of life….read more at Reflex Press.
Taylor is a black, fun-sized Chicago native currently living in Cincinnati, Ohio. She received a Bachelor’s Degree with Honors in English and a Master’s in English, Creative Writing from the University of Alabama, Birmingham. She is now a second year Creative Writing PhD student and Yates scholar at the University of Cincinnati. Her work appears, or is forthcoming, in New Ohio Review, Borderlands Texas Poetry Review, Jellyfish Review, Iron Horse Literary Review, Another Chicago Magazine, Empty Mirror and others. She has been nominated for two Pushcart Prizes, and Best New Poets 2020.
1. How did your writing journey begin and did anything in your life particularly influence this?
I’ve been writing since I was much younger, probably in my early teens. I used to write poems in the middle of my diary entries, so I always had a love for poetry. When I went to college at the University of Alabama, Birmingham, I was an English major with a Creative Writing concentration, but back then I focused more on Fiction. I was still writing poems, but I wasn’t really studying and reading it outside classes. In my senior year, I took an Ekphrastic Poetry class, and that was what caught my attention. Looking back, I was in a really terrible romantic relationship at the time, and my father was starting to become more noticeably abusive around that time, so I think poetry saved me during a really hard time in my life. After that class I switched my concentration to Poetry for my Master’s degree, and I’ve been dedicated to writing it ever since. Of course, I branch out and write other things, but writing poetry is essentially second nature to me now.
2. What have you learned from your Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in English, and has this changed the way you write?
Since my Bachelor’s degree was so heavily focused on fiction, my poetry is often narrative-driven and it’s really important for me to get the details right. I’m almost always trying to tell a complete story within a poem and to tell it so vividly that my reader is right there with my speaker. When I was writing poetry during my Master’s degree, I was still finding my voice as a poet. Those two years were me figuring out how to make a poem as strong as I possibly could. How can I make these line breaks have more impact? How can my verbs do more work, so I can then spend less time describing things? How do I write about the subjects things with a fresh twist? My Master’s was really a two year study in making my language come alive on the page.
3. What is the area of study for your PhD?
I am currently pursuing a PhD in Creative Writing at the University of Cincinnati, focusing on poetry.
4. Can you tell us a bit about your poetry and your creative non-fiction work?
Lately, I’ve been writing more heavily about race and thinking about what it means to be a Black woman in this world. My first completed poetry manuscript touches on themes of ancestry and black womanhood, and I believe those threads run through everything I write, and will continue to be currents running through my work throughout my career. The poetry that I’m writing now in this moment is essentially a part of this larger project, to write the kind of poems I wish I had read when I was a younger Black girl. I think I would have come to poetry much sooner if I was reading poetry in which I could see myself. So the poems I’m writing now are about being in love, having a difficult family, loving my body, and experiencing racism. My creative non-fiction work has been a space where I’ve given myself permission to write about some of the more traumatic things in my life, such as my alcoholic father and body dysmorphia. I want to eventually complete a collection of essays looking at all of the things that have shaped me and made me the woman and writer I am today, and I think a big part of that is looking at the obstacles I’ve overcome along the way.
5. How has being nominated for two Pushcart Prizes and Best New Poets 2020 affected your profile as a writer?
Being nominated for two Pushcarts and for Best New Poets was such a shock. I’m not sure if it has necessarily affected my profile as a writer, but it did wonders for my own personal view of my writing. It’s been a little over a year now that I’ve started submitting my work, so to get those nominations right away confirmed that I was doing something right. This time last year, I was getting ready to start a PhD program with writers who were older than me, more accomplished, had awards, books and tours. I was joining the program with only a handful of publications to my name. I know that playing the comparison game is never a good idea, but impostor syndrome was very real. Those nominations were like a voice that said, “keep going,” during a time when I wasn’t sure I belonged in this world.
6. What advice would you give to new writers?
Write about what matters to you. There is no right or wrong way to write a poem. Don’t just read poetry, read things outside your genre, outside of your interests. Always shoot for the stars, you miss every shot you don’t take!
7. Who or what are your inspirations?
This is such a hard question because there are so many writers publishing some really amazing writing. One of the writers who completely changed my life was Erica Dawson. I was introduced to her during my Master’s and that was the first time that I realised I could write about what mattered to me. I could write about being black, I could write about my grandmother, I could write about getting my hair done. I also admired the way Erica wrote in form, and I’m now a formalist at heart myself. She definitely changed the entire landscape of what I thought poetry could be for me. Danez Smith is another poet who continues to stun me with the way they use language (Danez is non-binary). Their poetry manages to be joyous even while being about heavy subjects. They have a gift for rhythm, for music. They put words to feelings that I never knew I had. I am always connecting to their work and feeling seen in their work and that’s so important to me. Two other really incredible Black female poets that come to mind are Ashley M. Jones and Tiana Clark. Ashley is unapologetic in the way she writes about race and blackness and it’s so admirable. Tiana transports me into another universe every time I read her work.
8. This is a difficult but necessary question – How has being Black affected your life?
I would say that the area that is probably most affected by my race is education. I didn’t have teachers who looked like me until I got to college. The texts I read throughout high school were mostly by white, male authors. My knowledge of black history is nowhere near where it should be, and I’m doing the work of catching up on my own, and even writing about those gaps in education in my poetry. In my Catholic high school and middle school I experienced racism from my teachers. An 8th grade teacher equated sounding unintelligent with “talking black.” In high school, black students were drug tested far more often than white students, and the school tried to penalise students with false positive test results. When I lived in Birmingham, I was called a “nigger” at the gas station the morning after Trump was elected president. When I was dating a white man, I ended the relationship because I didn’t feel like he would fully understand my position and the position of our children in a world like this. In the world of academia, I often have to be twice as impressive as my white peers and counterparts. I’m fortunate to be on a PhD course where I have other women of color as peers, but I know that other PhD courses aren’t as diverse as mine. I worry about what life may be like in the future if I work in academia, and if the environment will be one in which I’m constantly fighting to prove my worth and be heard. I go back and forth on whether I want to bring children into this world. Just within the past few days, the #PublishingPaidMe hashtag has put a spotlight on the disparities between how writers of colour and white writers are paid for their work, which has been a little disheartening to see. It bleeds into everything. But I’m so proud to be Black. I love being Black. I wouldn’t change it for anything.
9. Can you recommend any good literary journals run by Black editors or Black writers that we can read, support and follow?
Smoke rises from the fire pit, curling into snakes above their heads. Sounds from the black of the forest make Harry flinch and spin his head like a baby owl. He is the only boy to turn his back on the heat of the flames. Robin holds the tin close to his thigh. Their fears, written on pieces of paper in spider writing, coiled tightly inside, ready to burn, sending a spiral up to their ancestors. If a great grandfather can take the thoughts that keep them awake at night, they might sleep easy. Harry wonders how many of them have written about the accident, about how Ed had died on the tracks that night last winter as the mist descended. They all carried the belief that it had been their fault, that they had killed him… Continue reading in Cabinet of Heed Journal. Many thanks to editor Simon Webster for publication.
I often used to wonder whether winning competitions or gaining awards had any impact on authors and, if so, how and to what extent?
Let me give you a snapshot into some of my own experiences. When my self-published debut novel was put forward by readers for The People’s Book Awards, I was thrilled, but perhaps naively didn’t expect it to win, or for it to make any great impact on my journey as a writer. It subsequently gained sales and readers (after a cover redesign with the award added to the front) and was picked up by a couple of agencies. It was decided that the book wouldn’t quite fit the market at the time, which is partly why I had decided to self-publish. I was then contacted by an editor who sent my work to other agents, and a small publishing company, who also came to the same conclusion.
Some of my short stories won awards (I won the Litro Environmental Disaster flash fiction competition), which boosted sales of my stand alone short stories.
I have come to the conclusion that, while it does undoubtedly raise your profile as a writer, the importance of your journey lies in continually writing and working on new stories and novels. It’s a long distance run, rather than a sprint.
I have decided to self publish my second novel (because it falls between a commercial thriller and literary fiction), and I will probably do the same with my second collection of short stories (many of which have been published in online journals).
How about you? Are you a writer? What has been your experience of awards and competitions?
I used some visual and verbal writing prompts at a writing workshop last year, and the first full story to form from a visual prompt is due to be published this month in Cabinet of Heed.
It led me to contemplate the use of prompts for inspiration. Historically, stories have always formed in my mind naturally, so I resisted this method at first. It felt clinical and a little prescriptive. The fact that I have written a story that I rather like, which has also been accepted for publication, made me rethink and question.
Have you used writing prompts for your short stories, or a longer piece of writing, a novel or novella? What are you thoughts on prompts? Here are some visual prompts, which i find more freeing.
Some people find verbal prompts easier. You can use the first line of a story and change the wording or the topic, or you can use online prompts, like the ones below.
What inspires you as you begin to write? Do you use prompts and are they visual or verbal? Do you use life experiences, or people or scenes you pass in the street through your day?