Welcome Back, Elizabeth J. Colen & Carol Guess!

This month we are celebrating the titles that we’ve acquired in the past six months. These manuscripts came to us through our open reading periods and our 2017 Hudson Prize. Today we bring you Elizabeth J. Colen & Carol Guess, co-authors of the short story collection True Ash, due out next summer. This will be Elizabeth’s second book with Black Lawrence Press and Carol’s fifth.
Have a manuscript you think we’d like? During our November Open Reading Period we are looking for poetry (chapbooks and full-length collections), short fiction (again, both chapbooks and full-length collections), novels, novellas, nonfiction (CNF, biography, cultural studies) and translations from German. Also, our Big Moose Prize for the novel is currently open to early bird submissions.

Colen_photo1-2The Authors

Elizabeth J. Colen is most recently the author of What Weaponry, a novel in prose poems. Other books include poetry collections Money for Sunsets (Lambda Literary Award finalist in 2011) and Waiting Up for the End of the World: Conspiracies, flash fiction collection Dear Mother Monster, Dear Daughter Mistake, long poem / lyric essay hybrid The Green Condition, and fiction collaboration Your Sick. Nonfiction editor at Tupelo Press and freelance editor/manuscript consultant, she teaches at Western Washington University.
Gues Author Photo - With DragonCarol Guess is the author of numerous books of poetry and prose, including Darling EndangeredDoll Studies: Forensics, and Tinderbox Lawn. In 2014 she was awarded the Philolexian Award for Distinguished Literary Achievement by Columbia University. Recent BLP titles include With Animal, co-written with Kelly Magee, and Human-Ghost Hybrid Project, co-written with Daniela Olszewska. She is Professor of English at Western Washington University.

On writing True Ash

From Elizabeth:
We pull over to the side of the road to watch for wild horses, which we were told to find here. The rare tree sways in the distance, yellow tussocks of rothrock grama, dry grass, but the horizon stays clean of mustangs. The red desert rocks hide the truth of the bodies they have swallowed, shimmer, the heat’s sorrow, close down the shadows at midday. Dust rises and settles and we lift our shades to see if that will make the landscape clearer. It doesn’t. The landscape obfuscates even what it reveals. True Ash began as a way to honor connection, the lost, and find some truth, perhaps. These stories began concurrently from a place of hurt and a place of power, a place of deep love, commitment. An understanding that through shimmer of heartache is the only way to come to terms.
From Carol:
True Ash began with the title story, which left both of us wanting to know more about the characters and world we’d created together. Rather than plot out a conventional novel, we decided to work in experimental forms, chain-smoking story to story, linking each character’s narrative to the next through a pack of candy cigarettes. Our aim was to leave some of the book’s mysteries unsolved, but to allow our readers access to each character’s emotional reality. We moved around, rather than through, the central violent gesture illuminated in the title story. Characters got closer and closer to the core, but never quite grasped what happened — to each other, to themselves. We kept a sense of humor and play about serious subjects; moments of magical realism added to the mood and movement of our collaboration.


From “Somehow Always Getting It Right”
The second one wore a green coat with fur around the collar and looked nothing like her. Not the right age or hair color, not the tea olive smell of her skin. Asked no questions, did not count off-color cars in the parking lot. “Orange,” Cora used to say, “look at that. Bright orange and silver orange. Two lizard green. One pink one.”
“Look at that pink car,” I said to the girl. The license plate said KITTY. The girl said nothing.
“Look at that green one.”
“Go back inside,” I said. “Go back.” And when she didn’t, I realized I had to let go of her hand. “Go,” I said. And she did.
And there was the one who cried, and of course I returned her immediately. “I’m so sorry,” I said, over and over, “I’m so sorry,” while the car dragged itself back to the fire lane in front of Target.
And the one who ordered French fries but wouldn’t eat them. “I ordered you fries.”
“I don’t want them,” she said.
“You said you did,” I said.
“No, I didn’t.”
And the one who called me Auntie Grandma.
And the one who could manage the Honda’s sticky buckle herself.
And the one who sounded right, knew all the right movies, but had dark curly hair. It couldn’t be her. Would I have to wait until Cora was reborn? How long would that take, and should I look for her younger? Pull her from cribs or from strollers? All I wanted was to hold her hand, stop seeing her lifeless, stop seeing that stain in the road. What used to be our daughter. I wanted her giggling at the antics of squirrels, her stories of alien abduction. I wanted her babble about dinosaurs, all of the names and all of their faces crayoned into the wall. I wanted to sing all those songs from all those terrible movies. I wanted her back again. Her hair and her breath, her pillow, those candy cigarettes, ring pops, licorice. How she loved Brussels sprouts, but wouldn’t eat green beans, loved onions, but not peanut butter. The way she demanded jam all the way to the edge of her toast. I would have given anything to make her breakfast.
And then there was the one who bolted when the car stopped. Ran off like an animal uncaged across a dark parking lot.
I could get none of them home into the next-prettiest dress, none with their hair just right, none to call me mama.
From “Ash”
After you quit, you became one of those people. Nothing matched the taste of ash. You’d snatch at smoke in strangers’ mouths, stamp cigarettes with a twist of your heel. Now and then you went too far, stealing candy cigarettes from children. This went on for months until you started smoking again.
You quit tennis lessons; you quit taking the bus. You knit half a hat to match all of my eyes. You quit jobs and religions, broke leases and vows.
You quit everything, but you never quit me.
Because I knew you were born to quitting, I built quitting into my expectations. I started joining things for both of us. I brought home disasters wrapped in bright scarves.
Your affair’s name was Kayla. Her twin’s name was Kylie. They were dental hygienists with spray tans and fake breasts. They snapped their gloves with the same practiced gesture. Beyond a few questions, I wasn’t jealous at all.
“Why Kayla and not Kylie?”
“Kylie plays for a different team.”
“Which team is that?”
“The one that’s no fun.”
When you quit Kayla, you sulked a sulk I’d never seen before. Your lower lip twisted and twitched. Then one morning you brought me coffee in bed, your smile placid, and you were easy again.
After the wedding you broke all of our dishes. You wanted to start new, you said. I caught you fingering forks and spoons, daydreaming meltdown, metal on fire.
When you didn’t come home, I wasn’t worried. You’d gone feral and vanished before. But weeks of no calls and your zig zag tattoo. Threads from your sweater. Your last dental records.
I told the police it wasn’t you – the face under the sheet, the impossible leaving. Like a cat, you always returned. I trusted you to work some kind of magic.
I saw you everywhere – the arboretum, Georgetown, First Hill. Once I swerved in Belltown traffic when you waved from the balcony of a shiny hotel.
Someone called 5 times, no message. Hitting redial I called Green Lake Dental. Kayla had the voice of a woman who put her fist in strangers’ mouths.
I said your name and listened for clues through the static of a bad connection. But she said she’d heard nothing, and I chose to believe her. Asked her to lunch, which led to three things.
The third thing was searching her apartment while she was in the shower. By this point I believed that she had no idea where you were, so my search was mostly to understand where you’d been. It wasn’t even fun to snoop. You were omnipresent as her twin. I half expected you’d had children together, Becky and Buster, life formed from clay.
Sometimes I missed you. Ice cream seemed to help, but some nights it got so bad I downed shots of cough medicine and lay in bed with cloth over my eyes. My dreams were fantastic then, three-legged animals with pink scales and blue claws.
We continued texting as if nothing had happened:

Pick up cupcakes?

Pick up beets?

But of course my phone could talk to your phone, my fingers tapping both bright screens.
I quit my job and found another just like it, the kind of thing you used to do.
It rained for 56 days straight.
Green things hung from the overpass, dripping.
Cleaning under the sofa cushions I found your datebook, annotated in Swedish. You didn’t know Swedish, so you made it up: odd words in fake places, new names on lost streets.
When you were easy, I thought I knew you. Your smile looked natural and your wrinkles relaxed. I thought I could tell what you were feeling, read your face the way you read mine.
But although I knew you better than anyone, I knew you less well than you knew me. It wasn’t that I wanted to know to know you better. I just wanted you to stay.