Fiction authors Christiane Williams-Vigil, Darryl Lauster, Lauren Kardos, Brett Salsbury, Max Asher Miller, and Joanna Clapps Herman, and visual artists Luciana Abait and Karen Fitzgerald.

Artists on Artists: the Fiction Authors and Visual Artists of Vol. 7

By Vol. 7 Fiction Authors and Visual Artists | September 26, 2022

We asked the fiction authors, flash fiction authors, and visual artists from our latest issue what questions they would want to ask their fellow Volume 7 contributors. A few then answered those questions, delving into their craft, their inspirations, and their approach to creating. Read on to learn more about Christiane Williams-Vigil, author of "Infinite," Darryl Lauster, author of "To Be Done," Lauren Kardos, author of "Some Birds," Brett Salsbury, author of "Xeriscape," Max Asher Miller, author of "I Am Alive, and I Am Surviving," and Joanna Clapps Herman, author of "This Now," as well as visual artists Luciana Abait and Karen Fitzgerald. And make sure to check out their work in Vol 7: WILD!

Fiction / Flash Fiction

Christiane Williams-Vigil (questions from Lauren Kardos)

Lauren Kardos: What time of day does creativity most often strike for you?

Christiane Williams-Vigil: Typically, I am a night-owl writer. During the day, I am either taking care of my children or at work teaching my students. So, the place I can dedicate the time to focusing on my work is well after the sun goes down.

LK: Have you dabbled in other modes of creative expression? If so, what and when?

CWV: I am the daughter of an artist, and from an early age my mother showed me the basics of painting, art journaling, and watercolor. Sometimes I mix my writing and art together to create visual poetry. I usually get to explore this other type of expression in the fall when I have a lot of free time to myself. 

LK: Do you have a creative cheerleader? If so, who are they and how do they support your endeavors?

CWV: My number one creative cheerleader is my wonderful husband. He enjoys our nightly ritual of putting our children to bed and then coming to sit with me as I write. His support is usually just silently observing me at work and enjoying each other’s presence. He loves to get me new journals to jot down ideas in, new sets of pens, or get me a cup of coffee to motivate me to keep going.

LK: What's your favorite type of firework?

CWV: When I was a teenager, I used to light up Black Cats. However now, I am content with watching Roman Candles go off.

Darryl Lauster (questions from Christiane Williams-Vigil)

Christiane Williams-Vigil: Where are you most comfortable writing? 

Darryl Lauster: I write almost exclusively during residencies. I find artist residencies to be a significant component of my creative life that allow me the uninterrupted time to be thoughtful, introspective and reflective.

CWV: How has your work evolved since you started writing? Do you notice common themes among your pieces?

DL: It may sound silly, but I feel like I've gotten better. I want to drop an idea or pose a question using as few words as possible. What is unsaid becomes as important as what is said. I write about the American divide as it relates to the struggles and conflicts between social, political and economic groups, often exacerbated by generational divide and misplaced nostalgia. We are a nation fraying at the margins.

CWV: What is the story of how your piece came to be?

DL: This story was a response to the mass murders that took place in Buffalo NY and Uvalde TX in May 2022.

Lauren Kardos (questions from Joanna Clapps Herman)

Joanna Clapps Herman: Where did this or these particular pieces begin or come from? 

Lauren Kardos: "Some Birds" began in one of my neighborhood's Little Free Libraries. A favorite piece of writing advice from a workshop last year is to continually mine for inspiration in all types of stories. So one day last spring, when I found a donated 1970s book of English fairy tales with wacky illustrations, I borrowed it for some mining. With one of the stories in conversation with the reader for style inspiration, I worked to imprint my own modern fairytale with stories of farm animals I'd heard growing up.

JCH: Which writers have influenced your writing life, even if they write in another genre? 

LK: There are too many to list here! For the slipstream, folklore, and plain weird stories I try to write into, Kelly Link, George Saunders, and  Steven Millhauser have been influential. I so admire the world and character-building of sci-fi/fantasy writers Martha Wells, Nnedi Okorafor, and Tamsyn Muir. Craft books from Walter Mosley, Anne Lamott, and others are constant inspiration to keep writing, bit by bit, every day. And finally, I wouldn't be where I am two years into this journey of giving myself permission to write without all of the lovely writers, poets, and magazines on Twitter.  

JCH: What's the most important thing for us to understand about you and your work? 

LK: Like most writers, I think it's impossible to decouple life from writing, that the little anecdotes we live are forever tucked into each story or poem. I think the most important piece to share is the constant clash of my rural Western Pennsylvanian upbringing with my current residence in Washington, DC. I would love to return to Appalachia, though, as in life, much of my writing explores a longing unfulfilled for various reasons. It's this longing and dichotomy of being torn between two places that crops up in most of my stories and poems. 

Brett Salsbury (questions from Max Asher Miller)

Max Asher Miller: What inspired or guided you while writing this piece? 

Brett Salsbury: I love desertscapes and how life survives and often thrives in what we usually consider to be "extreme" environments. In reality, we're seeing plant life that perfectly encapsulates what it's like to exist in that particular place. I wanted to capture the feeling of awe one might have for those plants, while also adding some humility. Nature is going to do what it does, most often in spite of us.

MAM: What struggles did you encounter in the process of writing this piece? 

BS: How do you express the feeling of what a garden looks like beyond just listing a bunch of plant names and descriptions? I wanted it to feel alive, so I tried to make that happen through Yuyis and her fascination with the garden.

MAM: How do you see this piece as being in conversation with the thematic idea of "the wild”?

BS: The plants are wild, of course, but more than that, the situation seems both wild and out of human control. Yuyis feels like she needs to become wild (whatever that means) in order to fix things.

MAM: Tell me about your writing habits and how you work through your personal artistic process. 

BS: I work a full-time job, so I have to be pretty intentional with my time. On my best days, I'm waking up at 6 and I get a couple of good hours in, following a new idea or scene or revising something I've let sit for awhile. On my normal days, my dog only lets me have about one hour. On my worst days, it's the snooze button, and telling myself - "I'll do twice as much tomorrow."

Max Asher Miller (questions from Darryl Lauster)

Darryl Lauster: Who are your influences who are not other writers?

Max Asher Miller: I'm always inspired by dance music, which is largely evident in "I Am Alive, and I Am Surviving." The story starts outside of a dance club and ends at a bedroom rave, so it's bookended in that way. The culture of protest that birthed dance music is one reason EDM soundtracks this story. It's important to emphasize, given how massively popular it eventually became, that the dance movement originated in Black and queer clubs to create a space where the simple, essential right to exist and assert joyful self-expression was paramount. It was inherently, explicitly antihierarchical and antifascist. And then, from a more craft-oriented perspective, I find the best electronic music to be structurally analogous to good fiction. The careful building of tension, the quick and cathartic release, or the sudden intensification. It's the same toolbox us writers use.

DL: Do you think about a particular audience when you write?

MAM: When I find myself struggling to communicate some essential aspect of the subject at hand, I find it useful to imagine myself telling the same story to someone else. It doesn't matter who that someone is, but we are at dinner together, or tucked off in the corner of a party. We all know the reaction we want from our listener in that situation. That flicker in the eyes when they are gripped by your words and willingly give themselves over to the experience of being told a story. That's the effect I'm trying to create, and the mental image helps remind me what my job is.

DL: What do you consider success?

MAM: When I first started writing, finishing a story felt like success, and I am delighted to report that it still does.

Joanna Clapps Herman (questions from Brett Salsbury)

Brett Salsbury: Where do the ideas for your prose arise from?

Joanna Clapps Herman: The work I’m most involved with now comes from all the thoughts that flit through my brain over and over but which I have never had a place for. Now that I’m only working in micro form (at least for the moment) I find the small box I’m choosing to work in is the perfect size for these images, thoughts, sensations — these flimsy almosts. I love the compression involved, the incising editing that comes with the tight micro form. It brings out something good out in my work – it seems. 

BS: What fascinates you the most about the writing process?

JCH: Writing at its best is a focused suspension for me. The closest thing to it is swimming, which I love too. I like being swimming near the portals of where language and ideas emerge from the unconscious. That’s when I’m really working well—when I can catch them as they just begin to gestate. That state of otherness is unlike any other feeling or activity.

BS: At what point do you consider a piece of writing to be "finished"?

JCH: The piece always tells me when it’s finished. The piece gradually comes to a state of this really says what I’m trying to say. There’s usually some language that comes up off the page. It’s its own hum or sound. This is done. Longer work has always told me – how long it needs to be. I’ve never tried to predict, lengthen, or shorten. It’s in the piece itself.

BS: Who is your greatest artistic inspiration other than your favorite writers?

JCH: El Anatsui is an epic textile artist that has moved me deeply, Ferzan Özpetek, the filmmaker is another. Anyone who helps me toward a greater understanding of us as the complicated, difficult species we are. 

BS: What is it about writing that brings you back to the page(/the screen)?. 

JCH: Writing is one of my homes, a place where I am more myself, just as water is another one, just as dreaming brings me deeper into center, so too does writing. 

Visual Art

Luciana Abait (from Karen Fitzgerald)

Karen Fitzgerald: What are your essential aesthetic touchstones?    

Luciana Abait: The natural world, especially landscapes from my own personal experience, are key in my work. I use imagery of environments close to home, or my upbringing, along with mountains, icebergs, and water in all its forms. All these things contribute to my own understanding of what is precious and how I might share this view with the world.

KF: What non-arts research do you pay attention to?    

LA: Climate change research is very important to my work. I look to how society relates to environmental issues and nature at large. I am also interested in how immigration is impacted by climate change. These two elements go hand in hand in my work and are the basis for most of my projects.  

KF: Is it possible to produce art (visual, written, danced, acted, etc.) which is non-activist in today's cultural climate?    

LA: I can only speak for myself. My environment, my surroundings, my response to what’s going on in the news, our current humanitarian crisis, immigration issues and the future of humanity directly inform and nourish my work. My work cannot be complete without the engagement from other people and so I see my work as starting a conversation. I don't usually describe myself in activist terms, but I think many of our goals are similar. I think it's nearly impossible to be in this world and not have an interest in making it better.  

KF: Why is relevance important?

LA: I believe it is important that artwork speaks about the times that the artist is living in. The audience can hopefully then relate to the work and can reflect on their own reality.  They can connect the work to their own lives and therefore think, dream, be transported to another universe. At the same time, there needs to be a universal language and also a timeless quality. This is the reason why some artworks from other centuries still resonate and move us today and I hope my work will fit into that continuum.

KF: How are non-binary, decentralized, and unknowing constructs evident in your work? Do you work with random processes?

LA: When I create my work, I am not particularly interested in creating art as a woman. I am interested in speaking a universal language. So while it is a part of me, I am more interested in wider conversations that impact all beings. 

Karen Fitzgerald (questions from Luciana Abait)

Luciana Abait: Do you have a ritual when you go into your studio?

KF: I am a person of routine – not so much ritual. When I get to my studio, early in the day as I'm often there by 7am, I put up hot water and make a cup of coffee. I look at the work that is in progress – and sometimes I look at finished work. I consider the day's plan ahead. Then I read poetry – at least 4 poems. These are from various mailing lists. If the poems have spark, I add them to my poetry file. I also attend to any writing that needs doing such as grant application statements, essays for my newsletter, or curatorial statements for projects in progress. By then, the day is in full swing. Communication is the core of an artist's work: I swing back and forth between verbal and visual communication for the entirety of the day.

LA: What is your ultimate goal as an artist?

KF: I'm interested in bringing attention to the subtle phenomenon of this world. Experience and sensation are fleeting, yet they bring a whole suite of subtleties. We are energy, and suffused in energy fields: I'm interested in visualizing these things. Connecting the imagination to the visual language is very important in my work; poetry is an essential tool in that regard. The language of poetry has half a foot out of the verbal language, and half a foot in another, more evocative realm.

How this work is shared out to the world involves my partnership with the Universe.

LA: What is your dream as an artist?

KF: By the time I am ready to transition out of this physical realm, all of the work I have created will have found homes.

About the author

Christiane Williams-Vigil is a Xicana writer from El Paso, Texas. Her work has been published in various literary magazines such as HyDRAW, Chismosa Press, and Marshall University’s Movable Project. Currently, she is a Best of the Net nominee and is a contributing staff writer for Alebrijes Review.

A 2010 recipient of the Joan Mitchell Foundation Grant for Painters and Sculptors, Darryl Lauster is an Intermedia artist, writer, and an Associate Chair of the Art and Art History Department at the University of Texas Arlington. His writing has been published by Gulf Coast Magazine, Art Lies Magazine, North by Northeast, Crack the Spine, The Conversation, The Athenaeum Review, the CAA Art Journal and his first novel, Rites of Passage, was published by Creators Publishing in 2017.

Lauren Kardos (she/her) writes from Washington, DC, but she’s still breaking up with her hometown in Western Pennsylvania. The Molotov Cocktail, Rejection Letters, HAD, (mac)ro(mic), Best Microfiction 2022, and The Lumiere Review are just a few of the fine publications where her work lives. You can find her on Twitter @lkardos.

Brett Salsbury (he/him) is a queer writer who lives in Lawrence, Kansas. His work has most recently appeared in The New Territory and more work is forthcoming in the Concrete Desert Review and the Evening Street Review. A graduate of the MFA program at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, he is the 2022 recipient of the Langston Hughes Creative Writing Award in prose. His chapbook, "Surrender Dorothy", is forthcoming from North Dakota State University Press.

Max Asher Miller is an author of speculative and literary fiction from Denver, Colorado. He holds an MFA from Columbia University, where he served as Managing Editor of the Columbia Journal and was nominated by the program's faculty for the Henfield Prize in Fiction. He has been shortlisted for The Writer Short Fiction Contest, the Uncharted Crime and Mystery Contest, and nominated for a Pushcart Prize. Max's work appears in Fatal Flaw Magazine, The Intermountain Jewish News, Walkabout, and elsewhere.

Joanna Clapps Herman has had 30 short prose and poems published in the Covid era: Odyssey PM, MUTHA, Pummerola, The Ocean State Review, Italian Americana, Persimmon Tree. Her book length publications include, When I am Italian: Quando sono italiana, explores the whether it’s possible to be Italian if you weren’t born in Italy, No Longer and Not Yet and The Anarchist Bastard: Growing Up Italian in America. She’s co-edited two anthologies; Wild Dreams and Our Roots Are Deep with Passion.

Luciana Abait was born in Argentina and currently lives and works in Los Angeles. Her multimedia works deal with climate change, environmental awareness, immigration, displacement, assimilation and adaptation. Abait’s artworks have been shown widely in the United States, Europe, Latin America andAsia in solo shows in galleries, museums and international art fairs. Recent projects have been shown at the Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) and the Palm Springs Museum of Art. She has completed numerous public art commissions and installations. Abait is the recipient of the 2016 Santa Monica Individual Artist Fellowship Award and the “Art Lives Here” Award by The Geffen Playhouse in 2022.

Karen Fitzgerald was born and raised on a dairy farm in the Midwest. It is this early, close relationship with the natural world that informs her work. She has an active exhibition history in the US and abroad. The Queens Community Arts Fund, Women’s Studio Workshop, and NYFA Artist Corps have supported her work. The work is in private, public, and museum collections. Heavily influenced by poetry, her work delights in the energy of gardens, mysteries and all things invisible.

up next...

Artists on Artists: the Poets and Nonfiction Authors of Vol. 7

Learn more about poets Elizabeth Galoozis, Joseph Byrd, and Rebecca Faulkner and nonfiction writers Christina Rosso, Bradley David, and Renee Gilmore. And make sure to check out their work in Fatal Flaw Vol.7: WILD.