Category Archives: writing life

Introducing John Byrne Barry at Three by Five in October

October’s Three by Five author is John Byrne Barry.

John Byrne Barry wrote his first book length project in fifth grade at Kilmer School in Chicago — a 140-page book on dinosaurs. One dinosaur per page. Lots of white space. He’s been writing ever since — newspaper and magazine stories, plays and skits, reports and tweets. He’s even written “advice columns” — “Question the Authority” about environmental issues, and “Lazy Organic Gardener.”

In, 2013, he published his first novel, Bones in the Wash: Politics is Tough. Family is Tougher. Set in New Mexico during the 2008 presidential campaign, it’s one part political thriller, one part family soap, and one part murder mystery. Coming out later this fall is Wasted, a “green noir” mystery set in the world of garbage and recycling in Berkeley.

He lives in Mill Valley, California with his wife and family. For more about John, return on days that have a 3 in them! in the mean time – here’s the first page of his current work in progress:


by John Byrne Barry

Chapter 1: Dry Run


Lamar huddled in the janitor’s closet between the fifth and sixth floor for two hours and thirty minutes. The wind howled outside, whipping across Lake Michigan and rattling the small window above the empty gray metal shelving unit on the back wall. The closet reminded him of a jail cell, though he’d only been in one once, to visit a client.

The small room had a pleasant smell of lemon verbena, from some cleaning products, but underneath that was a dank odor of a wet rug rolled up and jammed against a wall.

In the corner was a rolling cart stacked with folding chairs, and when he got tired of standing, he unfolded a chair and sat. A month earlier, when he did his reconnaissance, the closet had been bulging with Christmas decorations. Ornaments for the trees, stockings, wreaths, tree stands, strings of lights. Now they were on display at the nurses’ station, in the bingo room, by the elevators, and in the first floor lobby.

He had picked the lock of the closet. Easy even for an amateur like him. No one would guess that was something he could do.

At 1:30 am, he walked up seventeen steps. Didn’t make a sound. Nudged open the door with his shoulder. Two hours and thirty minutes earlier, he had slipped a folded postcard between the strike plate and the latch bolt. The photo on the card was of the lakefront and the Chicago skyline gleaming in the summer sun.

As he slipped inside the room, he stepped on something that crunched, like a potato chip. He froze. It didn’t appear to disturb anyone. He shuffled past the roommate, then stood in the shadows behind the curtain separating the two beds. Standing ramrod still, he felt the weight of his shoulder bag, heavy with the nitrogen tank. He could see the light of the corridor through the curtain, but knew that no one passing could see him. Not that there were likely to be any passersby in the middle of this cold night.

Robert Rose lay on his back, his hands open and crossing his chest. Peaceful. Lamar aspired to be peaceful, and may have appeared so on the outside. That was not what he was experiencing on the inside.

JB headshot

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Emerging Writer Prize Open

Time to send in your submissions for the Emerging Writer Prize.

It’s free.

If you win, you get registration to attend the San Francisco Writers Conference over President’s Weekend in February.

Answer the prompt Why I write.

Send a couple pages of your best work or an excerpt from your best work.

Leave me laughing, crying, starving for more after I read your prompt response and your work.

And you too, could join the elite cohort of winners of the Victoria A. Hudson Emerging Writing Prize.

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Ruben Quesada Three by Five Part III

ruben 3Finishing up Three by Five’s interview with Poet Ruben Quesada.


VAH: The blank page stares back at you, what gets you over writers block?

RQ: Art is a big inspiration for me, so when I’m feeling blocked I turn to the works of art that might have inspired others. Usually something new will strike me about the painting and I’ll be able to start working. Music is helpful too. Anything from Mariah Carey to the Beach Boys to Wagner can provide inspiration.

VAH: What does your typical writing day include?

RQ: Right now, it includes a lot of revision since I’m getting my next manuscript ready. It includes reading, listening to music, or if I’m in the mood, having a movie playing in the background as I work.

VAH: What are your thoughts on the writing community – are there writing or author organizations you belong to or online sites ou frequent for community, conversing, networking or commiserating? And do you have some favorites?

RQ: I’m very active on Twitter, which has really given me the opportunity to connect with other writers and maintain friendships I’ve made with writers at AWP or Canto Mundo. Twitter is a great platform to talk about writing or just share about the work of other writers that I enjoy.

VAH:  Traditional or independent publishing? Or a little of both? What choices have you made and why did you go the way you have?

RQ: It depends on what your goals are in terms of writing. There are many wonderful independent publishers that support their writers and have helped get some terrific work out into the world. My first collection, Next Extinct Mammal, was with an independent press and that was a good experience. I’d like to be published by a bigger press as well. What is most important is to publish with people who you are comfortable with and would be proud to say published your work. Never publish with a press just because it’s a publication. Make sure it’s a good fit for both of you.

VAH: Best bit of advice to save another writer some anxiety or heartache?

RQ: Don’t spend too much comparing yourself to other writers in terms of career trajectory. Things happen at a different pace for everyone. Be ambitious; strive for more, work hard, and it will happen. Don’t get discouraged if it doesn’t happen as quickly as you want it to.

VAH: What’s next for you? Do you have a work in progress you can tell us about?

RQ: I’m finishing my second collection of poetry right now. I’m also working on a paper about queer horror movies called “The Horror of Heterosexuality.” I’m excited to have started some new poems that I think are the start of a third collection. I’m also working on video poems. My video poem “Dark Matter” was recently released by  RubenQuesada w book cover

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I Remember

Author and playwright Mary H. Webb often used the prompt “I remember” in her writing groups and classes. Recently, the Military Partner’s and Families Coalition invited me to write a piece honoring the 3rd anniversary of the repeal of the military’s Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy. Today is the 3rd anniversary from when that repeal went into effect.

“I remember” is a powerful and effective writing prompt when at a loss for how to begin either because the blank page is staring back or because the idea peculating in your mind is just too big to tackle. Try it next time you’re searching for just what to say as you create a piece of nonfiction. (Works for fiction too.)

Here is my post at MPFC.

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Ruben Quesada Part II, Three by Five Author Interviews

ruben 3Welcome to Part II of the three segment interview with Poet Ruben Quesada.

VAH: Ruben, do you have a favorite conference or writing event and what makes that event a favorite?

RQ: Just one? Vermont Studio Center was a great experience because you are given so much time and space to write. I also enjoy that it’s not just writers in residence at VSC. I had the chance to meet visual artists as well. Being able to speak with them about how they approached their work let me have new perspective on my process.

VAH: The opportunity to speak with others about how one’s “art” develops is also one of the draws for me when attending conferences or retreats. So often gems are traded from that experience of sharing the process of creation.

You write and teach writing – are you a full time writer or full time teacher?

RQ: I’d say if you are serious about writing, you are a full-time writer regardless of what else you do in life to make money. I’m also an assistant professor. I teach poetry, digital storytelling, playwriting, queer studies, composition, and screenwriting. Both teaching and writing are my occupations. Sometimes they compete for my time, but I make the time required for both because that what I want to do.

VAH: When you are the reader, What books or authors keep you up at night because you can’t put them down?

RQ: The Clerk’s Tale by Spencer Reece; Space, in Chains by Laura Kasischke; When My Brother Was an Aztec by Natalie Diaz; Hustle by David Tomas Martinez; Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay.

VAH:  What book or series of books would you want if stranded on a deserted island and why?

RQ: Obviously they would have to books I would return to again and again, so I’d want some Ovid, Gabriela Mistral, Thomas Hardy, and W.H. Auden. I’m a fan of the quotidian and high art and these writers offer me insight into the high, the low, and everything in-between. I want to feel alive and be reminded of it when I read and that’s why I’d choose these writers.

VAH: That has to be one of my favorite questions in Three by Five as each author gives such interesting responses.

If there was a movie about your life and times, who would play you? What would the theme song be, and why?

RQ: Some friends and I were actually had a conversation about who would play us in movies and it was really difficult to come up with someone for me. There are not enough Latino actors working today. Perhaps an unknown actor would be best.

VAH: Ahh, an opportunity is out there then. Ruben, thank you for contributing your insights and comments with this second installment of Three by Five.

Read some of Ruben’s work at poetry blog The The Poetry.

The third interview installment will publish September 23rd. More from Ruben Quesada then!

Ruben Quesada is the author of Next Extinct Mammal (2011) and Luis Cernuda: Exiled from the Throne of Night (2008). He is Poetry Editor for Cobalt Review, Codex Journal and The Cossack Review. His writing has appeared in The  American Poetry Review, Cimarron Review, The Rumpus, and Superstition Review. He teaches English and creative
writing for the performing arts at Eastern Illinois University.

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Dr. Ruben Quesda @ Three by Five Part I

rubenThis month, Three by Five is happy to host Dr. Ruben Quesda, Ph.D. He is a Poet as well as an Assistant Professor of English and Creative Writing for the Performing Arts at Eastern Illinois University.


VAH: Ruben, Three by Five always starts with the inquiry why do you write?

RQ: I write because art and poetry are meant to push boundaries and discuss issues in the community that might be uncomfortable or that people might not want to discuss. The goal of my poetry is to cause conversation about race, queerness, death, and our human experience. We deal with big issues everyday, so writing is a way for me to process and try to understand them.

VAH: Some challenging topics to address. What do you do when the blank page stares back at you?

RQ: Art is a big inspiration for me, so when I’m feeling blocked I turn to the works of art that might have inspired others. Usually something new will strike me about the painting and I’ll be able to start working. Music is helpful too. Anything from Mariah Carey to the Beach Boys to Wagner can provide inspiration.

VAH: What inspired you to become a writer?

RQ: I published a poem anonymously in my high school paper during my freshman year and it caused quite a stir. I knew then that there was power in my writing. It was exciting. I continued writing and in my senior I won a high school writing competition sponsored by the Los Angeles Times. And it was that moment that I knew writing was all I wanted to do for a living.

VAH: What is your best advice for emerging writers who are discovering that writing is what they want to do for a living?

RQ: Read. Write. Repeat. It’s common advice, but it’s that way because it’s true. Write as much as you can. Read as much as you can. If you are interested in a particular style read all that you can about it and become an expert on it. I think it’s important to know the history of the style you are writing in, so that you know how you fit into the tradition, but also that you know how you are contributing something new to it as well.

VAH: Knowing and understanding the style of writing a writer is growing into is an important facet of the writer’s education. What are your thoughts on studying writing? You’ve an MFA – has the degree helped your career progress or development?

RQ: I do have an MFA. It was helpful in that it allowed me to explore poetry more closely and see what it excited in me as a writer. The MFA as a studio degree is about the creation of work, which is, of course, very useful. However, it doesn’t usually allow a lot of time for the consideration of theory and how your work fits in among a particular theory or historical moment. My time at Texas Tech for my Ph.D allowed me to make such considerations.

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Introducing Ruben Quesada @ Three by Five in September

rubenRuben Quesada – Poet and Assistant Professor of English and Creative Writing for the Performing Arts at Eastern Illinois University

Dr. Ruben Quesada is founder and publisher of Codex Journal, poetry editor at The Cossack Review and Cobalt Review, and poetry editor at Luna Luna Magazine.

Founder of Stories & Queer, a non profit, traveling reading series whose mission is to create safe storytelling spaces for poets & writers of color in underrepresented areas of the country, he now serves as its creative consultant.

A Pushcart Prize nominee in poetry, his writing has appeared in The American Poetry Review, The California Journal of Poetics, Superstition Review, Guernica, Cimarron Review, and elsewhere.

Ruben has been a fellow and resident at CantoMundo, Napa Valley Writers’ Conference, Vermont Studio Center, Squaw Valley Community of Writers, Santa Fe Art Institute, Lambda Literary Foundation Writer’s Retreat, and Idyllwild Arts Program.

Visit his webpage for info on a current call for submissions for Latin@ poets at any stage in their careers.

More about and from Dr. Ruben Quesada this month on days with a three.


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Ready Set – Emerging Writer Contest Kicks Off Soon!

The 2014 Emerging Writer Prize, awarding registration to attend the San Francisco Writers Conference in February 2015, will begin its reading period in just a few days. Are you ready?

Liz Hansen was the 2013 Emerging Writer Prize winner.

Liz Hansen was the 2013 Emerging Writer Prize winner.

Previous essays are posted so you can get an idea of what the judge (that would be me) is looking for. Why do YOU write? Every writer has a story there, how well, how original, how authentic you tell that in 600 words or less is what grabs attention and gets your entry out of the pile. But you also need an excellent writing sample. Because with the quality of writing this contest receives, sometimes it comes down to the writing sample to parse out who will rise to the top. Good luck. Looking forward to reading your words.

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Calls for submission, emerging writers and Three by Five

Thanks for surfing by and visiting. I’ve been on a bit of a break and am gearing back up writing. Please note the calls for submission and if one or more speak to you, I hope you will send in some work for consideration. Three by Five, the author and other interesting people interview series is looking for the next interviewee – so do get in contact if you’d like to be the featured interviewee during an upcoming month. The San Francisco Writers Conference is approaching in about 6 months – and this year I’ll be sponsoring the 8th annual emerging writer prize that provides one emerging writer with registration to attend the conference. If you qualify, please enter between September 8 and December 1.

More to follow -



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Review of Diane Lockward’s The Crafty Poet, A Portable Workshop

crafty poet coverDiane Lockward has published a writing conference masquerading as a book. The Crafty Poet, A Portable Workshop is a comprehensive collection of craft tips with

diane 4

accompanying poem and writing prompts for immediate application of what was presented in the craft tip. With 27 craft tips and and fifty-six poets contributing, this is a treasure trove of inspiration, challenge, and tutoring in the craft of creating poetry.

From an individual trying to improve through self-guidance and exploration, community workshops and writing groups, to class room instructors – poets and emerging writers alike will find worth and value in use of Lockward’s book as a resource or text.

The book is divided into ten poetic concepts covering the gamut from what generates material to revision  to recycling from the dregs and overcoming writers block. There is discussion of diction, sound, voice, imagery, layers, syntax, and lines. The Crafty Poet assumes a basic understanding of poetics, and is not for the beginner. A well-motivated and confident beginner would find this book useful though as an impetus for self-instruction. Unfamiliar terms and assumed knowledge serve as bread crumbs for deeper exploration into the craft of poetry creation. For the intended audience of the knowledgeable reader, each chapter is a delight on specific practice, review, or re-introduction on a poetic concept and application of craft.

An added jewel in each section is “The Poet on the Poem” which puts the reader in the room with Diane Lockward discussing with a poet a specific poem by that poet. Diane’s observances and the poet’s discussion loosely reflects the craft discussion for the preceding section in the book. More so, the reader hears from the poet’s own perspective what was driving that poem, what influences or experiences impact not only the poem but the work of the poet.

Sample poems (of which there are forty-five) are suggestions not end all be all answers for the prompts provided. This reflects the prompt as an entry not a destination in the creation of a poem. Consider the prompt for a particular craft tip as strategy for implementation not instructions for a particular “product” of poetic creation.

There are many formal programs for poetic instruction from community education, community college, graduate programs and writing conference workshops and retreats that immerse one into the writing community. Diane Lockward has gathered together a cornucopia of information that will educate, motivate, and inspire poets seeking rejuvenation, review and perhaps reminder on poetic concepts as well as provide the poetry student with digestible bites of craft education in a format that goes with the writer instead of the writer going to the class room or conference.

The Crafty Poet, A Portable Workshop is THE book, if I knew I’d be somewhere in isolation from the writing community, unable for whatever reason to take a class or attend a conference, stuck on a deserted island or a long train, plane, or other journey – this is the book I’d keep with me so I’d learn, be inspired and most importantly hone my own tools of the craft. You don’t need an environment of isolation to benefit from this book though – this is a resource the individual or a writing group will return to again and again.


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