Interview with Author N. Alexsander Sidirov

N. Alexsander Sidirov was born in the frigid landscape of Siberia. As a small child, he was adopted from Sosnovoborsk and moved from one of the coldest places on Earth to one of the hottest: Arizona. From his new home in Arizona, he began to explore the world of writing at the tender age of seven and found that the more he put pen to paper, the broader his vision became.

He began experimenting with using his life experiences as fuel for his literary fire by writing short stories. Even then, Sidirov enjoyed infusing his writing with the heartbeats of his identity and themes of his life, like his adoption journey, sexuality, loneliness, individuality, and neurodiversity.

It was in college that Sidirov turned his creative eye from penning short stories to practicing poetry. After six years perfecting his craft, Sidirov decided to capture his unique view of the world in his debut poetry collection, There was Histrionic Laughter at the Clowns Cadaver, which, like all his writings, strives to change the way society views the world and liberate the creative process from the confines of social and literary conformity.

When not writing, Sidirov enjoys learning new languages, watching vintage cartoons, and—most of all—filing disputes with the credit bureau.

Глаза боятся, а руки делают
The eyes are afraid, but the hands are still doing it.


1. Many of our readers haven’t spent time with your poetry yet, so I want to give them a chance to get to know you. How would you describe yourself as a writer? How would you describe this collection?
I would describe myself as brave, subversive, bold, and open-minded. As a writer I would describe myself as brave, subversive, experimental, and bold. I think this collection is genre-bending, psychedelic, technicolored, aggressive, soft, honest, confessional, colorful, dark, ambient, straightforward, and enigmatic. I think that depending on the page it’s a different thing. What it means to the person reading really depends on their experiences. I have had people who have interpreted some of my poems exactly as I did, but the beautiful thing about poetry is that it’s art. It literally exists equally in the mind of every person who reads it. I wanted to create something that no one had read before and would be nearly impossible to compare to others because—as a writer—I didn’t want to be seen as a lesser version of a different writer. I am very much myself: what I create and my point of view is mine, and so this book is a conglomeration of my experiences and also how those experiences are filtered through my art and rather crazy mind. The book is very existential, avant-garde, and frankly in a lot of ways abstract. There are some people who are going to appreciate that it is one of a kind and that I put everything I could into it. There are others who are going to shrug their shoulders and find it too dense or challenging, and that’s okay. Either way, I’ll be alright.

2. I’m interested in your page numbers and the poem they create. What inspired this poem and what impact do you hope it has on readers’ experience with your collection?
Ah yes, I remember us talking about that poem frequently throughout me writing it. First, I wanted to write a palindromic poem about the arbitrariness of the arrow of time, but I found the format to be incredibly constricting and it difficult to say anything of real meaning. Then, as I was finishing the book, I found myself absolutely petrified of death. I genuinely felt afraid of dying and a voice in the back of my mind said, ‘If you finish this book well, then you’ll have finished something, so now it’s all over and whoever or whatever can strike you down.’ It was very bizarre, but what I realized is that a lot of my procrastination came from an existential place—that I had put off finishing things because all along there was this fear telling me that if I did then I could die because I did something, and if I didn’t then how could I—I still had things to do. So I sat on a mountain and ruminated on it, and I decided that either I could try to bury the fear deep within myself or I could turn towards it. So I did the latter: the poem that extends over the page numbers is me imagining my eulogy if I were to die today. There’s this gratitude exercise where you imagine yourself on your deathbed and ask yourself what would you tell the people you love, and I decided to take it one step further. Frankly, doing it scared the living daylights out of me. It felt like I could be somehow cursing myself, but I knew that facing my fear of mortality in such an open and honest way might help others do the same. Because the truth is a lot of us are afraid to die. We only know life, Death is a house guest we’ve never met. I wanted to confront my mortality in a place where the numbers rise like age, and I also really liked the idea of imagining new places where poems could exist, and where their placement could kind of make its own statement. I think, hopefully, that I achieved that—thus far it has had a really really positive reception and I am grateful for that.

3. Many of your poems address the frailness of innocence and youth. Was this a conscious theme you had in mind while creating your poems, or did it occur naturally within your work?
That’s so interesting that you said that, because I did not realize that my poems addressed the frailness of innocence and youth. I think nostalgia is an especially potent drug in that it almost always offers some form of high, but I would agree that youth is always present in my writing. Particularly the antithesis of youth. I think that more so than youth is the fear of the anti-youth, the loss of youth more often than not. I think that frailness, or perceived frailness, comes from a fear of getting older and not having enough time. That’s a theme that I read in so many of my poems. This is something I always felt—like I was behind or there was some form of magic clock sitting on my head and so if I didn’t move fast then nothing would get done. I am sure that has much to do with going to funerals as a child, I think coming to the realization that life does have an ending and our time here is ephemeral at a young age certainly shapes one’s perspective.

4. Your poem “Shelter Melter” is one of my favorite pieces in this collection. I view this poem as an absurd sort of Ars Poetica. I’m curious if you agree with my reading and what you personally hoped readers would take away from this specific piece? 
So that’s really interesting, yes Shelter Melter is one of the most controversial so far. People either love it or angrily write about the slew of letters on Goodreads. I think that your reading is absolutely a valid one. I would never go out of my way to tell others how to write a poem because the truth is I don’t think there’s one way or a right way. I would say, though, that I am always challenging the notion that there is a “best way” to write poetry and what constitutes “valid” forms of poetry. “Shelter Melter” came from an innate desire to shatter the fourth wall in a poem. Like take someone somewhere with me on a surrealist journey and then absolutely rock them by just kicking down the walls of their understanding of perspective. I think that in a weird way a lot of poetry, especially poems like “Shelter Melter,” really play with dimension in the sense that they exist in their own. There are a lot of things about poetry that I think are not frequently utilized enough in the art form and experimentation with dimension and perspective (in almost sculptural way) are certainly some of them. I hope that people can read that poem and realize that you don’t always have to take yourself seriously to write something that deserves to be taken seriously.

5. I’m proud to say I’ve been an active participant in your workshopping process for this collection and have seen your writing develop in unique ways over the past several years. How do some of your “older” poems vary from your “newer” ones within this collection?
Yeah, you have been a HUGE part of the journey that was getting this book made—though, for many years, it was just me writing poems. I think that I always was experimenting, but over time I learned how to stage things better; I learned how to create poems that were definitively experiences. I always felt that poetry had the potential to be something grandiose and exquisite and in a lot of ways I think modern poetry tends to revel in the small, which is not a bad thing at all, but that wasn’t my thing. I loved Jodorowsky, Kate Bush, Bjork, and very very grandiose artists who created things in their mediums that just felt BIG—and I wanted to do the same with my writing. Over time I got better at creating subtle moments to interplay between those broad brush strokes. In order to create a masterpiece I am sure a painter must use many brushes; I feel this is probably the same with writing.

6. The cover of your collection is striking in all the right ways. What was your experience in collaborating with an artist to create this piece for the collection?
Yes, so I worked with an artist Jeffrey Marchetti, who is incredible. He’s a queer artist. I saw his work on Instagram and told him I wanted to talk to him about maybe making my book cover. He agreed and we basically talked back and forth for weeks while slowly it developed. It was an arduous process, but to me it was really important that we create legitimate art. I wanted the cover to reflect the contents so I wanted to create a cover that someone could look at and analyze and actually derive meaning from. Personally, I am so happy with it. Jeff is an amazing artist who was so wonderful to work with; I really like to trust creative people to be creative, so I mostly just gave him abstract feelings and focal points to use as his inspiration and then as he progressed we would talk about it and discuss. I was never steadfast or militant about getting a perfect image because I know that in collaboration the perfect image happens with synastry and connection.

7. Independent publishing is a complicated and demanding process. What advice do you have for other writers who are considering this type of publishing for their own work?
Do it! Do it! But be ready. It’s really hard, it’s exhausting, and it will wear you down. But being able to have complete control over what you make is one of the best feelings. I modeled for years and constantly had to defer to others in the creative process. Being able to have full, complete creative control is amazing—but it also means there’s no one to blame but yourself when things go wrong.

8. What’s next for you as a writer? Are you working on any new projects?
YES! So I am currently writing a novel that I am trying to finish in 16 days! I have a break from my European coding bootcamp, so I decided that I would challenge myself to write this novel that I have had the idea for—in 16 days. I am currently on day three, and honestly it’s going really well. I have a TikTok channel dedicated to it! I am sure that by the time this is published, whether I did it or didn’t it will be there for the world to see, but follow it anyways @n.alexsandersidirov. After the novel is finished and begins the editing process, I am starting on a very very complex and frankly ambitious project that will infuse art, technology, and poetry into a book. It will not be a personal poetry collection, definitely more conceptual, but I am hoping that I can create something that brings poetry rocketing into the twenty-first century with some stuff that, at the very least, could only be conceived in 2021. That last statement will make sense once it’s finished, but I’ll just say that my coding bootcamp will definitely come in handy. As for following me as a writer, I have a website; I am on Goodreads. Expect the unexpected—right now I don’t see myself ever being a James Patterson or a genre specialist. I love poetry though, and I want to continue to create subversive pieces that hopefully show others that poetry means there are no rules, and the only way to break all the rules is to never learn them in the first place.

8. How can our Spellbinding Shelf readers best support your collection and your future writing ambitions?
Well honestly, check out the collection! The physical book is absolutely the format it was meant to be read in, but the Kindle format is actually wonderful too! I am immensely grateful for anyone who is willing to read what I have written. As a queer author, its been wonderful having so many LGBTQIA people reach out and tell me that they really appreciated the book and that has been such a blessing. Being a local Arizona author, I think to some extent it can be intimidating to ask people to read your book, especially when it’s as abstract and extraneous as this one, but everyday I find myself telling people. It’s all part of the journey I suppose. I am immensely grateful for this interview, which helps give me an opportunity to explain it and also myself so people who have questions have something to elucidate them.

9. Is there anything else you would like our readers to know before they dive into your collection?
Yes, the book is both very experimental and also very confessional—an unexpected combination certainly, but alas, it is what it is. It also requires careful reading and a willingness to take a leap of faith. Erin, you told me yourself that its not the kind of book you read casually on your lunch break, and I don’t want to disappoint anyone who imagines it might be something akin to an Instagram poet. A friend of mine described it as an electric storm or a mess of live wires, something that feels like it could electrocute you as you hold it. These are all very abstract metaphors, but I guess what I am trying to say is that I wrote the book for people who like bizarre, surreal, and absurd imagery and poetry—if that’s you, then yay! If that isn’t that’s fine, not every book is for every person.

You can purchase N. Alexsander Sidirov’s poetry collection or read the free Kindle version here.

Author Interview with Hunter Codner

During brunch a few weeks ago, I was gifted a new book by a friend for my reading pleasure. The New Deep by Hunter Codner was emblazoned on the front cover. Any day that begins with the collection of a new book is a great day to me and to many fellow bibliophiles, but what my friend said next changed the context of this particular book: it was written by a coworker of my husband.

It’s not unheard of for book lovers to be avid writers as well—for many it’s our dream to write that novel, build our own world, tell our own story, and the biggest step towards that goal, in the words of Stephen King, are to “read more books.” So I took a second long, good look at this new book in my possession. At the fabulous artwork on the cover, at the professional matte paperback finish of it, and finally at the name of the author, which suddenly rang a bell to me as an individual my husband had mentioned speaking and working with. For me, it hit close to home: it made the goal of publishing a novel so much more real and tangible. I took it home and, with a stack of TBR books on my nightstand, I devoured The New Deep in one evening, late into the night. I was enamored with the rich characters and sci-fi world of Hunter’s debut novel, and in addition to wanting to tell the world about the success and triumph of an acquaintance from our very own neighborhood, I had a need to ask him about how he went about making “the dream” happen. So as follows is my interview with the author of The New Deep, and I hope that his story provides some ideas for my fellow writers considering the avenue of self-publication, and inspires you to check out Hunter Codner’s excellent new addition to the science fiction genre.


  1. Did you always set out to write and publish a novel? 
    I’ve wanted to write a novel for a while now, but I never got past the world-building stage. I finally decided to push through and do it after I went to Gen Con last year and saw all the folk in author’s alley. From there, I knew that I wanted to write and publish a book.
  2. What was a big motivator for you to develop your idea and pursue a novel-length story?
    There were two enormous motivators for me to push through with the story. One was that I knew I absolutely wanted to write a book and share it with people. The second was that I had been working on my science fiction world for over a decade and finally had the drive to do something with it. Then inspiration struck—surprisingly, not from any science fiction source but from D&D. I had this idea of a spaceship that wasn’t really a ship but instead a giant mimic, and I went from there.
  3. What were some of your biggest challenges?
    One of the largest challenges was striking a balance between my job, my hobbies, and trying to write. After finding that balance, I hit a hard wall about fifteen thousand words into the story. I had to eventually just take time off work so that I could push myself over the wall and finally finish the story.
  4. When you finished, what were your first thoughts?
    I didn’t really believe it, but I was also super pumped—not as much as my husband, though. It was like being on a super tough hike, and finally, I had reached the first significant milestone. Right after I finished, I started researching about the next steps for the process.
  5. How did you begin the proofreading/editing process, and how did you get in touch with an editor?
    For an editor, I lucked out in that I had a friend who wanted to become an editor and was going to school for it, so I offered my book. Unluckily for her, I’m a new author, and at that time, I was even less knowledgeable than I am now and just sent her first draft, untouched. Bless her heart, she was patient with me and worked with me for almost an entire year and through many drafts/revisions until we had a workable product.
  6. What motivated you to pursue self-publishing rather than using a publishing company?
    I decided on self-publishing after I finished the first draft, and I saw it was only the length of a novella (after the editing process, it did reach novel-length). I didn’t think that a publishing company would want to take up a thirty-thousand-word story from a new author (and after some research, I was correct). After researching self-publishing, I realized that Amazon had made the process so easy that there was no real reason I shouldn’t.
  7. What was your biggest source of information for the process of self-publishing?
    Oh man, the site two sites I think I visited the most were Reedsy and the Kindle Direct Publishing main site. Reedsy is a great blog with articles about writing and publishing that really helped me figure out the process and things I needed to get done. The KDP site has an FAQ section that goes through everything. They cover not only the things you need for publishing through KDP, but also guides on typesetting, layouts, and cover design. Besides those two though, there are so many different sources of information for people wanted to self-publish: one quick Google search, and you’ll have a tsunami of useful info.
  8. How did you go about choosing the designs and getting copies of your book printed?
    Lucky for me, my husband is a graphic designer and artist. He insisted that not only did he want to draw the cover of the book, but also draw chapter art. Later, when I was typesetting and laying out the interior of the book, he also found me a great font to use for chapter headings and cover. As for physical copies, surprisingly, Kindle (Amazon) does that as well, and it’s pretty straightforward. While I highly recommend hiring someone to layout out your book, Amazon does have step-by-step guides on how to properly layout your book for print.
  9. What has been the most rewarding thing about self-publishing your first novel?
    The most rewarding moment was when I finally hit publish for the physical copies on Amazon. I had spent maybe a week and a half working on the layouts for the book, then uploaded them and ordered my proof copies to make sure everything was ready to go as we believed. Thank God we did. In the flurry of getting the book ready to publish, I had missed so many tiny things that it made the book look sloppy. My husband, editor, and I spent a weekend pouring back through the book—both digitally and physically—until we felt that we had caught everything. So, when I finally hit publish the next weekend, it was a sigh of relief.
  10. What advice do you have for other writers? Would you suggest for them to pursue self-publishing?
    My advice would be that no matter how ready you think that the first draft is for someone to see, it’s not. Don’t send anything before the third draft to an editor, and look for some good honest beta readers to look at your story, too. As for self-publishing, I suggest going through the process even if you don’t plan on hitting publish, just so you know each point of the process of publishing a book.
  11. Lastly, we like to ask all of our featured authors to share their current read.
    Sure, currently I’m listening to the audiobook version of the first Redwall novel.

You can purchase Hunter Codner’s debut novel The New Deep at Changing Hands Bookstore here.


Thank you to the author for providing this ARC in exchange for an unbiased review.

Author Interview with Novelist Stephanie Elliot

Meet Stephanie Elliot, local author of A Little Bit of Everything, and more prominently known for her recent novel, Sad Perfect. T/W, her novel is inspired by her daughter’s experience with ARFID (Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder). I had the pleasure of speaking with her about the novel, her current read, and more!

  1. From what I understand, your novel, Sad Perfect, was written while your daughter went through treatment for ARFID. Where did the idea to write about the experience come from and how did it affect the way you handled the situation?
    Yes, I did write Sad Perfect as my daughter was diagnosed with ARFID. I didn’t anticipate ever writing a young adult novel; my others have been more along the lines of women’s fiction. But when she was diagnosed and in an intense therapy program, I spent a lot of time across the street at a coffee shop and started writing it. It was so therapeutic for me to write as I was dealing with certain feelings of my own as well.
  1. This novel is based on your real-life experience with your daughter. How did this experience translate to the novel? That is, how did you balance actual events and the fictitious elements?
    As for the balancing of fact with fiction—everything in the book that has to do with how ARFID affects the person and her family is true to what my daughter and our family experienced with her ARFID. However, there are many fictionalized scenes. The book might have been very boring without them. While it’s true that my daughter did meet a boy rafting on the Salt River, she didn’t have a long term relationship with him like Pea and Ben did. My daughter also did not get admitted to the pysch ward in real life. Some discussions in the book about ARFID (like the first meeting with Shayna, the therapist) are almost identical to the conversations my daughter had with her therapist in real life. I wanted to put a face on ARFID, to let others know about it and share the real aspects of this disorder, while also ‘inventing’ some other stuff to make it more interesting.
  1. Sad Perfect is actually your second novel and differs a bit from your first, A Little Bit of Everything Lost. Aside from your experience with your daughter, did anything else inspire this change?
    As I said above, I hadn’t set out to write young adult. I had written and self-published A Little Bit of Everything Lost and several other more adult books and had no plan for YA. My daughter was the sole inspiration for making the change to young adult novels. I had been stuck writing a couple other adult books and then when the idea of Sad Perfect came out, it just poured out of me and I couldn’t NOT write it.
  1. Going along with the previous question, how has your approach to writing changed over the years?
    I have a really really really HORRIBLE approach to writing. I don’t do it steadily. I wish I was more disciplined in my writing, but I haven’t written a big chunk of anything in a really long time. But I’m not being hard on myself. Other stuff has gotten in the way: family issues, now Coronavirus—but, I feel that when it hits me again, when I get a really good story idea and start it, then it will roll out of me. I just wait and anticipate that I will be able to do it again someday, hopefully soon!
  1. Do you have any ideas or plans for another novel at this time?
    Yes, I would like to write a novel about a teen boy with mental health issues and severe depression who overcomes a lot. That’s all I’ve got so far so I better start thinking or maybe if I start writing it, stuff will appear on the page! 
  1. What advice do you have to writers working towards being published?
    Connect with other writers in any way that you can. Ask them for advice. Sit down and write. Never throw away anything that you think is not good writing—you can delete it, but keep these ‘trashed’ scenes in a file on your laptop—it might inspire something later! Also, do the work. If you want to get traditionally published, you need to finish your book, edit your book, share your book with people you trust, write a query letter, find an agent who will then hopefully find you a publisher! Sad Perfect was about my fourth or fifth completed manuscript before I was traditionally published. It takes thick skin and a lot of work and a lot of rejection to become a writer. Anticipate and appreciate the rejections because they bring you closer to the YES!
  1. And lastly, we like to ask all of our featured authors to share their current read. Are you reading anything right now that you would recommend?
    I just read STRUNG OUT by Erin Khar which is an amazing and inspiring memoir about how she overcame addiction. And, I just got the advance copy of Emily Giffin’s THE LIES THAT BIND. I love, love, love everything Emily writes and usually drop everything in life to start her books when they come out!

I really enjoyed working and speaking with Elliot, she has a lot of wisdom to share! Prior to the COVID-19 closures, she was the Writer in Residence at Tempe Library, so definitely keep an eye out when things open back up! I highly recommend everyone read Sad Perfect if interested, it is deeply honest and beautifully written. You can purchase it from Changing Hands Bookstore here.

Author Interview

Interview with Writer Jenny Irish

Meet Jenny Irish, an Assistant Professor of English at Arizona State University and the author of the new short story collection, I Am Faithful, published by Black Lawrence Press. Staff writer Edward Dolehanty had a chance to talk to her about her new book, names characters, dogs, and more!

1. How would you describe I Am Faithful to a potential reader?

First, thank you so much for these wicked smart questions.
I love what you all are doing with The Spellbinding Shelf!

Second, that’s a big first question! Okay! Buckle up!

I Am Faithful is a collection of stories about the experiences of the working, lower class. As a writer, I want to challenge stereotypical representations of Americans living at the edge of poverty and engage the complexities of human experience and the effects of multigenerational poverty. These are stories posing questions about privilege, power dynamics, and the consequences of the choices and compromises people make when attempting to improve their conditions. And I also try to ensure that every story avoids simplifying things that are knotty and entangled.

Across the stories in I Am Faithful, there’s also a focus on the experiences of girls and women.
It’s common for girls and women find themselves preyed upon because they’re physically desired, because of the body they inhabit—but that same physical desirability, in a certain context, also gives them a degree of power. What happens, then, when a woman who is dependent on being desired—who commodifies her sexuality out of necessity or choice—becomes a mother, her body altered and her freedom encroached? What happens to the children of these women, especially their daughters, who may become viewed as competition?

2. One of the things that I most enjoyed while reading I Am Faithful is the way that a lot of character’s emotional ranges are shown through their relationship to dogs. How did you come up with the idea to so creatively incorporate dogs into your work?

*whispers* I wanted to be a Rottweiler when I was little.

I think for many writers there are things that appear in their work consistently. Whether these elements make it into the “final” version of a piece or not, the majority of my writing will have dogs, snow, and PBS in it. Some of it is because of familiarity, some of it is because of curiosity, and some of it is because it’s what feels right in the particular piece.

I love dogs. With the exception of a sad, short stretch in graduate school, when it wasn’t financially possible, I’ve always had dogs. My first favorite book was the AKC Complete Dog Book, with all the pictures of breeds, and diagrams, and descriptions of temperaments. And dogs are amazing because they direct back the energy that they feel from a person. In that they’re a kind of magic mirror that can show what’s inside someone.

I also think it’s incredibly telling how people treat things that are dependent on them: children, seniors, strangers they could help, animals in their care. So, I try to address this in my work. I also think that it’s important to recognize that there are different motivations for similar actions. The story “I Am Faithful” is very much about this.

3. So many of the stories in I Am Faithful feel delightfully uprooted from time through the use of flashbacks to inform the present moment. Does this relationship to time come naturally to you in your writing or is it something that you think about a lot in the drafting process?

This is just the way that I tend to write, without thinking about the work or having a plan. Most of the stories don’t follow a straight path, chronologically. Instead, they’re moving associatively. I think there’s a relationship between how elliptical stories can be “uprooted” from chronological time and the operation of memory. Associations carry us from one place another, and that movement isn’t necessarily be linear.

4. Something that stuck out to me about I Am Faithful is how most of the narrative characters go without a name. For me, as a reader, this allowed who the characters are to shine as opposed to highlighting what they are called. Could you discuss your relationship with naming characters in your writing?

There is something entirely mortifying to me about naming characters. In I Am Faithful, I think there’s only two characters with names, girls who have the same name, and much of the story is dependent on their shared name because of the comparison it invites between the two.

For me, characters are representative of real people, experiencing things that happen in the world, but they could be anyone. These things, or things like this, they happen to a lot of people.

5. One of the themes that resonated most with me in your collection is the sacrifices so many of the characters make in the name of independence. How they are willing to put themselves into compromising situations physically, socially, and morally, for the satisfaction of having something to call their own—no matter how small. In the story, “Worry,” the opposite is true of the narrative character, who is willing to make these sacrifices in the name of dependence. Did you find that the process of writing this story differed greatly from the others in I Am Faithful?

Thank you for telling me you appreciated this story. I’m proud it, but it hasn’t been particularly well received.

In “Worry,” a young girl disappears, and her mother is largely unconcerned. The mother’s smitten boyfriend—who is the narrative lens—was witness to the hostile relationship between his girlfriend and her daughter. He desperately wants to believe the woman he worships wouldn’t have harmed her child, but struggles with what he’s seen. This is a story, for me, about how complicated sexual commodification is and how powerful a motivator loneliness is. It’s also one of the longest stories, because it needed to be.

Love is complex and love isn’t always healthy. I think, when we talk about sacrifice, we often link it to punishment, but sacrifice can be a true act of love. In the collection, there are mothers who experience the sacrifices that parenthood demands—whether they choose to make those sacrifices or not—as a punishment and their relationships with their children reflect that feeling. I hope that there are other examples who see love in the sacrifices they make, and in that have the potential to be affirmed by their choices, even as they’re struggling.

I’ve already said a version of this, but I think it’s worth repeating: I hope to always avoid good/evil binaries, which I think are dangerously simplistic and generally false. Though there is one unquestionably “bad mother” in the collection—the mother in “Worry”—I think there are more people who are trying to be better than their circumstances, but making uncomfortable compromises along the way.

6. Each one of these stories strikes me as authentic and true even though they are fiction. I think that this in large part to the way in which the characters are presented as they are and, unless intentional, without the prejudice for impoverished people that is quite prevalent in society. Is this something that you were conscious of while writing this collection?

The very first rule of fiction, or, the very first rule of fiction workshop, is that we never ever conflate author and story. That said, like many writers of fiction, I do draw on my own experiences in writing.

When I was child, I always had an awareness of my class positioning. The reminders of it were constant. I always had an awareness that my mother was struggling to make ends meet. There was a perpetual anxiety about how to scrape things together in a way that would allow a precarious situation to keep going. I watched the people around me beg, borrow, and steal, and I understood that it was my job to conceal that. Hiding how bad things were was huge part of my childhood.

So yes, a goal of I Am Faithful is to be authentic and in that, capture the anxiety and varied forms of violence, desperation, and hope that come with living a life scraped together from scraps. Too often, I feel like these experiences are grossly simplified and fetishized. I’d rather they be honest and as ugly as they need to be.

7. A question we love to ask of our guests here at The Spellbinding Shelf is, what are you currently reading?

Ahhhh! I love books! I just finished We Will Tell You Otherwise by Beth Mayer, and re-read The White Book by Han Kang, and right now I’m reading By Grand Central Station I Sat Down and Wept by Elizabeth Smart and Blood Box by Zefyr Lisowski.

Thank you so much for reading I Am Faithful and this conversation!


For more information about Jenny Irish, click here. Buy I Am Faithful locally here.


Thank you to Black Lawrence Press for providing an ARC and making this interview possible.

Interview with Novelist, Screenwriter & Director, Stephen Chbosky

Meet Stephen Chbosky, whose 1999 novel, Perks of Being a Wallflower took the world by storm, inspiring young people everywhere to participate in the world around them. This novel has transcended time and remains an important staple in YA fiction—it was even made into a movie in 2012, which Chbosky wrote and directed as well. Now, 20 years later, he has written a new novel, Imaginary Friend, and I have had the pleasure to speak with him about it.

1. I’m sure most people are familiar with your first novel, Perks of Being a Wallflower, but your new novel, Imaginary Friend, takes on a much different genre than Perks. What was your motivation/inspiration behind this change?

My motivations for Imaginary Friend were many. One of my favorite genres is horror, I love Stephen King. I also love coming of age stories. Perks came out of my love for coming of ages stories, so Imaginary Friend came out of that same love, but for horror. I had such a great time with the Perks movie. It was the most satisfying experience of my life, so I wanted to do that again but in a different way. Also, to prove that I could write another novel. Most of what I do is in movies and T.V., and I wrote Perks when I was younger.

2. Imaginary Friend came 20 years after Perks. Was this lapse in time intentional, or did it stem naturally from your writing process?

It wasn’t a deliberate career move, but it’s how things worked out. It was a very ambitious book and I wanted it to be special. If I put something into the world, I want people who like my work to know that it was my best effort. When I wrote Perks I was single and had no children. I could throw 16 hours into writing, but now I have a wife and children and my family comes first. I started Imaginary Friend 10 years ago.

3. How has your relationship with writing changed/evolved over the years and what (if any) factors have influenced this change?

It has changed as I’ve gotten older. It is harder now, harder to find time and to focus. Due to that, I’ve had to change some of my process to accommodate that. It’s harder to write now but it’s also more meaningful. Every time you stare at a blank page is a chance to do something special with it and I take that more seriously now, because now that I am older I have less blank pages to work on. It adds a lot of meaning for me.

4. Not only are you an author, you are also a screenwriter and director. How do these overlap and what challenges do you face trying to balance them all?

All of the different things I do influence the other. Writing screenplays are merciless when it comes to structure and because of that I am always thinking about the story moving forward, even in a longer book like Imaginary Friend. Naturally, as a film director it has made me think more visually with hearing and sound. So when I write a book, all these elements find their way into a novel. On the flip-side, since novels are treated as more serious than movies, my novel writing always reminds me to make sure my movies are quality. I always try for my best no matter what.

5. What is some advice you have for aspiring authors working towards publication?

1st is to never use the word aspiring again. I wrote Perks when I was 26 and the 2nd draft when I was 27. I couldn’t find an agent for a year, and due to circumstance and luck I got a publisher and an agent. Was I writer when I was 27 when I didn’t have a publisher? Yes of course, if you write you are a writer. It isn’t up to some publisher. It is important that writers and artists feel they are a part of their work.

2nd work hard to find your authentic voice. I don’t mean to write about your childhood, unless that is your voice. Think about the books that you love and have inspired you. I wrote coming of age stories because I love them, I wrote a horror novel because I love horror and Stephen King. Those are my passions, so I did it. I did because I loved it and it was my authentic voice. If you do that—where you’re always challenging  yourself to get better—you’re gonna have a much better time with it. There are writers who write pulp fiction and that is their authentic voice, and it is just as authentic as Fitzgerald and Hemingway. All that matters is their authentic voice.

3rd I offer a 4 point plan; One is to write down every idea you have. It is very important that it is every idea. It could be page, a paragraph or a sentence. Two create a PDF of that document and register it with Writers Guild of America East or West for proof that it is your idea. Three share it with 5-7 friends or family members. It has to be people whose taste you trust and who want you to succeed. No frenemies or people that would want you to fail. Four is listen to them. Say it takes you a year to write a book or story, so say you’re 20 years old, you have 60 chances to write something remarkable. Time is so precious, what if you spend 1 of your 60 years on one idea, but these people love this other idea more. By having this discussion, little by little you learn about your characters and a genre that you weren’t sure about and find your best narratives and titles and themes. What’s funny is we as readers can identify peoples identities. You know what a Stephen King book is, everyone who writes has that style and their version of it. It helps them find it a little faster. You never know when the right time is going to come and you never know when you won’t get the chance. If George Orwell had written Animal Farm at a different time, or gone with a different idea, it may not have become what it did. Write the story that feels right to you, but find the things that are most intriguing to others as well. It really increases your chances of having a successful novel.

6. Do you have any ideas or plans for future novels at the moment?

I believe that I will write a sequel to Imaginary Friend. I have many other ideas, I love directing movies which is a (good) distraction. I have many ideas though and Imaginary Friend will not be last my book.

7. And lastly, we like to ask all of our featured authors to share their current read. Are you reading anything right now that you would recommend?

Ironically, my current read is the novel Dear Evan Hansen. I am directing the movie of the musical and it is quite good. I am reading it professionally but it’s a great book, so I would recommend it to anyone.


I had an amazing time speaking with Stephen, everything he says is full of little nuggets of wisdom, all of which I made sure to share. I have always been a big fan of his work and I couldn’t be more grateful for the experience. If you wish to purchase Imaginary Friend, you can do so from Changing Hands here. You can also read my review of the novel here if you’re on the fence about it, I promise it’s worth it!

Author Interview

Interview with Novelist Melissa Duclos

Meet author Melissa Duclos, whose new novel, Besotted, is out now from 713 Books. Listen as staff writer Edward Dolehanty has a conversation with the author about her debut novel, the drafting process, and the work she is doing to shed light on small literary presses!

Melissa Duclos interview

For more information about Melissa Duclose, click here.


Thanks to the publicist at TNBBC Publicity for
providing an ARC and making this interview possible.

Author Interview

Interview with Author & Photographer Anna Jean Ouellette

Meet Anna Jean Oulette, a local author and photographer from sunny Arizona! Anna is the author of the Raz series, Soft Soul, and 46 Miles. She is currently working on her sixth book.

1. You’ve already published five books in the past six years, which is certainly a very fast pace! How were you able to keep up this writing speed and motivation? Do you have a regular writing routine?

My writing routine has changed a lot throughout the years. In high school I used to wake up at four o’clock in the morning to walk to the nearest coffee shop and write my stories. Since I was such a morning person, this was a regular routine for me and not a difficult one either. However, when I started college, I no longer had the motivation to wake up at four in the morning, and my writing routine began to slack a lot.

Now, I work full time at a daycare for some extra money, so when my two year olds nap each day, I use that opportunity to write. Even though that is only an hour a day, versus the two to three hours that I used to commit, sometimes even more, words still get on a page, and my creative outlet continues to thrive. Writer’s block is definitely something that has existed, especially when writing 46 Miles. However, I usually overcome it by skipping whatever scene I am working on and writing a future chapter, which excites me enough to continue my current scene.

2. You began writing at a very young age, with your first novel, Raz, published at age 14. Now, six years later, have you noticed any changes in your approach to or relationship with writing?

I unfortunately write considerably less now than I did when I was fourteen. I used to sit in my room all day, challenging myself to test how many words I could write in a single day, one time reaching 20,000 as I was writing Izz. Now, I typically only write 1,000 words a week, but I definitely have a lot more in my life to balance now with two full time jobs, my family, planning a wedding, and writing. I wish I still had as much free time to spend writing, but I definitely take what I can get and make the best of it.

3. How did writing your first book compare to writing your subsequent novels? Did the writing process get easier or did you face any unique challenges with your later writing?

One challenge that presents itself when writing each new book is the need to grow. Each new book needs to be better than the book before, but I think my stories have definitely improved since Raz. There was slightly less pressure when writing my first book both because of that reason and because now people are waiting for the next book to be published. It has been a year and a half since 46 Miles was published, and the pressure of having to finish my next book before people forget about that one sometimes outweighs how much enjoyment I get out of writing. It’s definitely different to write with other people’s opinions in mind, rather than just writing for the sake of the story.

4. Your first book was the product of a NaNoWriMo project, which is a writing challenge to complete a novel of 50,000+ words during November, or National Novel Writing Month. Some writers criticize this challenge, arguing that the process doesn’t encourage enough reflection time. Yet, other writers praise NaNoWriMo, saying that it gives them the motivation they need to devote their time to a single creative project. In fact, several amazing published works started as NaNoWriMo’s, including Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus and—of course—your very first novel! What are your thoughts on the NaNoWriMo process? Do you think the challenge helped your writing endeavors? 

I absolutely love NaNoWriMo! I have always been very competitive, so the challenge to write 50,000 words in a month definitely stuck out to me! I did it with some friends, so my competitive side made sure I was always ahead of them and on track to finish. I got trifold boards and planned out all my characters and a basic plot line during October and then actually began the writing process on November 1st. I think having some aspects planned out ahead of time helped a fair amount. This challenge definitely helped me write Raz, and then I made my own personal goals for Izz and Adz. I wrote Izz in a month, as well, and Adz in three weeks. I spent a much longer time revising the second two books, however. 

5. In addition to being a published author, you are also the photographer behind AJ Photography, where you capture headshots, senior portraits, wedding events, maternity photography, as well as photos for couples, newborns, families, models, and more. Do you notice any connections between your creative work as an author and as a photographer?

I brainstorm creative ideas in the same way for photo shoots as I do for my books. I get my inspiration from dreams, things other people say, and ideas that I randomly get and pick apart, until they become an entirely different idea. I am constantly daydreaming, and these daydreams are what turn into my stories and photo concepts.

6.  Although most of your photography is professional work, one of the photo collections that stuck out to me most was your creative project—the Invisible Illness Project—which portrayed eight different mental illnesses in an attempt to defy our modern misconceptions. Can you share a little bit about your creative process in this work? How did you decide the ways you wanted to depict these illnesses?

I definitely got a lot of help from both friends and the internet when brainstorming for this idea. I chose models who have struggled with (or known someone who has struggled with) one or more of the mental illnesses that I chose. The models were then able to help better the ideas that I already had and bring them to life. When I displayed these pieces of art in the RAW Phoenix Gallery, I received enormous appreciation for my work, and many people said that they were able to relate to each piece.

7. And, finally, we like to ask all of our featured authors to share their current read. Are you reading anything exciting at the moment?

My latest read is Different by Janet McLaughlin. It’s definitely an easier read, good for younger ages, but is about a girl with Tourette Syndrome, something I struggle with personally and that very few people write about in books. This author is amazing because she is helping spread awareness and overcome misconceptions of Tourette’s. I think that is why this book speaks to me so profoundly, even though it is written for a younger audience. 


Learn more about Ouellette’s books here. You can also view her photography website here.


Author Interview

Interview with Songwriter Thomas Muglia

Here at Spellbinding Shelf, we are so excited to announce our newest addition to the blog—author interviews!

In the coming years, we will be sitting down with local authors—ranging from poets, to novelists, memoirists, and beyond—to bring you several interviews.

Our managing editor was lucky enough to sit down with her friend and fellow ASU student, songwriter Thomas Muglia, to kick off our author interview series.

Listen along in this podcast-style interview as they discuss every topic from Thomas’s recent album drop to writing inspiration—with many laughs in between.

You can learn more about Tommy and his music here.

Thomas Muglia Interview