Category Archives: Blog

Category to place blog entries into

Anthropomorphism: An Animal’s Tale

By: John Peebles

“The tale of an animal is one worth telling because it is so vastly different from our own.”

Tell a story about a man, then change the man to an animal, and the story changes dramatically. The main character is not the only thing that has changed, but how the story is written. The reader is constantly aware that the main character is not human, which adds a level of surrealism and fantasy to the story. When writing about anthropomorphic animals, the author needs to consider how the animals’ natural abilities, instinct, and biology affect their development as characters, the setting, and interactions with those around them. An author can imagine and study a specific animal’s behavior but never know firsthand what the experience is genuinely like, that they must project their ideas and characteristics onto the character. The projection of the characteristics of human subjectivity onto animal sentience and behavior is called anthropomorphism.

Animals in literature cannot be written the same as human characters because the story is being told from a different relationship and perspective to the world around them. For example, Watership Down by Richard Adams tells a story through the perspective of the rabbit characters. The story would be much different if told by a human observer who only objectively describes the animal and their actions. To write this story, Adams has to imagine the thoughts and feelings of the rabbits as they struggle and progress through the plot. These elements include their limited knowledge of the world around them, their basic biology, and simple behaviors such as running and eating.

What is Gained by Using Anthropomorphic Animals as the Characters in Literature?

Writer, Juliet Kellogg Markowsky, describes four reasons for anthropomorphic writing: 

  1. Identify. The first is being “to enable young readers to identify with the animals”. Knowing what the animal is feeling and understanding their behaviors in a specific way allows for the reader to empathize and engage with the story, which leads to Markowsky’s second reason, which is escapism.
  2. Escapism. “Escapism must be looked at not only escaping from a reality, but as escaping to a new form of reality which an imaginative author can provide.” . 
  3. Variety. The third reason Markowsky describes is “an author can develop a great variety of characters in a short book with a few words if an animal is used to express attributes commonly assumed to represent the creature” . This can be done in various ways depending on which attributes are taken from the animal including an animal’s natural intelligence, physical ability, and even what they eat. 
  4. Humor. The fourth of Markowsky’s reasons is humor. “Animals who are caricatures of certain types of people are funny to adults and children alike.” This is common in cartoons and movies.

Recognizing the Differences in Animal Characters, Just Like Human Characters

Anthropomorphizing animals creates a problem in literature due to the fact the author cannot know the actual thoughts or feelings of the animal themselves, so they must imagine what they would be like based on pre-existing human thoughts and perceptions. This is important for writers to understand when using anthropomorphic animals or any non-human creature in a story because, just as not all humans are the same, the animals differ even more, especially when considering factors such as species and breed. A larger breed of dogs will act differently from a smaller breed and be treated differently by those who come in contact with it. Each character differs from each other because of the animals’ biology, natural demeanor, and how they are perceived by the other characters they interact with throughout the story. The conflict between those who eat meat and those who are eaten will also be considered when writing a story and how that affects the plot.

How Do You Properly Anthropomorphize an Animal in a Work of Literature? 

As previously stated, the author has to look at what the animal’s real-world biology is and adjust their behaviors and attributes from there to fit the story. While this is not a hard rule, it is important to consider when writing anthropomorphic characters.

There are basic worldbuilding elements that are critical when writing these kinds of stories. A characters’ psychology for instance such as a carnivore’s desire for meat and an herbivore’s fear of death are two popular traits used when telling a story about anthropomorphic animals. How does a wolf’s desire for meat affect them in a world where such actions are considered taboo and murder? What alternatives are there for such cravings or are such actions acceptable such as eating meat?


Biology is also critical when using animals as characters because the author must remind the reader that the character is something other than human through the use of behaviors and terms associated with the animal. Examples of this would be wagging tails, flapping ears, rising and falling fur, clacking of hooves, and scratching with claws. An animal’s enhanced sense of smell, sight, and hearing are ways of developing the plot and allowing feats to be accomplished that normally couldn’t be done with human characters. How often and how these traits are used is a good way to demonstrate that the character is something other than human and how they fit into the setting. An animal’s strength or size is a good way of adding tension to a story such as a bear’s large size making them harder to interact with smaller more delicate animals. This brings in the subject of prejudice against certain species or animals because of their biology which is commonly seen in stories, the most famous example being George Orwell’s Animal Farm.


The animals’ society is the final point when dealing with anthropomorphism and this gets back to the world building mechanics and setting. This can be summarized into one question, who is in charge? Are the strongest on top or is there a system of equality for all species? Are those who are the most intelligent in charge like in Animal Farm? Orwell’s novel is a good example of using an animal’s distinctive and natural traits to build a miniature society. Dogs are loyal to their master; some animals are more intelligent than others while the larger ones are tasked with doing the heavier work. Then you have to consider humans and how they fit in with this animal society? Are they friend or foe? In my opinion, it is important to have both humans and animal characters coexisting together whether it be as enemies or friends. Having a human element in these types of stories adds a level of realism and allows for the reader to latch onto something within the story.  

Some Things to Avoid When Writing Anthropomorphic Characters

There are pitfalls when using anthropomorphic characters in literature. Relying on cliches and stereotypes can become a crutch as well as r the reader’s engagement with a particular character. Simply telling the reader what type of animal a character is but not using any of their traits defeats the purpose of using the animal as a character in the first place. While there is no rule that says an animal character needs to act or exhibit animal behaviors to be a character, not having those traits takes away the animals’ unique qualities and lessens their role. Another pitfall I will mention is simply stating an animal’s traits inaccurately. When using animals as characters, it is crucial to have an understanding of their biology so not to make simple mistakes that a quick internet search could point out.

Why Should You Use Anthropomorphic Characters in a Story?

Is it worth going through the trouble of ensuring that you as a writer are portraying each animal accurately and respectively? In my opinion, it is worth it. I already stated Markowsky’s reasons for using anthropomorphic animals in stories, but now I want to state mine. Having animal characters allows for a way to tell a story through an artistic lens that simply cannot be told with human characters or aren’t as engaging. The struggles of characters with problems that humans cannot begin to understand because of our different biology. Anthropomorphism allows for an entirely different method of storytelling.hile it is a common practice in literature, it is not as well known or appreciated as many other genres and writing styles. The tale of an animal is one worth telling because it is so vastly different from our own.

Works Cited

Markowsky, Juliet Kellogg. Why Anthropomorphism in Children’s Literature? Elementary

English, vol. 52, no. 4, 1975, pp. 460-466.



John Peebles received his MAW from Coastal Carolina university and is pursuing a MFA in Creative Writing at Converse College.


Feature Photo by Daniel Tuttle

Always Having Something to Say, But Never Having Time to Write It

By: Shanta Brown

” Writing was and still is my calm and happy place.”

As an undergrad at Converse College, I wrote a lot outside of my regular homework assignments. Nothing would come between me and my writing, not even my roommate begging me to come hang out. Writing came so natural to me, like breathing. Whether I was having a good or bad day, I would write. Writing was and still is my calm and happy place. All of my family and friends should be thankful for this! 

Fast forward to almost 20 years, I have a husband, 3 kids, and a dog. I was like: Writing? Who, what, when, why and how? 


I must pay homage to all the wives and mothers who have mastered the art of living and writing! At first, I didn’t know how. Honestly, I’m still trying to figure it out, but I’m learning. Slowly, I had allowed my happy and calm place to disappear. Of course, it didn’t happen overnight nor was it intentional on my part. However, it happened and by the time I noticed, it was too late, or so I thought.

Professors. They Do More Than Teach. 

Thankfully, Professors Rick Mulkey and Susan Tekulve kept their eyes on me. Even though I was no longer their student, they invited me into their friendship circle. I’m forever grateful for that. They always made sure to invite me to reading and writing events. Along with them and my forever writing friend, Kathryn, writing remains a part of me. Even though I neglected it, the talent I have for writing never left me. I continued going to readings, but not writing; or editing someone else’s work; but not writing. At the time, I didn’t realize writing was slowly wooing me back. Even while attending readings and editing others’ work, my mind was full of poems that were not yet written – I just didn’t know it.  

Dear Me…

I’ve always had something to say. My husband will totally vouch for this. Looking back on this journey, I’m inspired to write a note to my 20-year old self and to my future self. 

Dear Poet Shanta,

Yes, you are, and are going to be. I know right now that it doesn’t look like it, but you are going to write your heart’s desire on paper. The change you wish you to see, you will write about. Writing loves you, and you love it. However, you two will break up for some years before reuniting. Please know that this time apart will be necessary. You will need to grow into your many roles: adulthood, womanhood, and motherhood. These roles will be your rearview mirror, your connector – linking your upbringing to your future. I know that you can’t see it, but I can. Whatever you do, just keep internally speaking. I promise you that when it’s time, you’ll be ready. Writing will come back to you, and you’ll get that same flutter in your stomach, and even in your soul, to grab that paper and pen, and you’ll start to write; because you know that you have a lot to say!

The Takeaway

So, for those of you who were bitten by the writing bug like me, I want to leave you with a small token of encouragement. Be satisfied with each stage of life that you live, and when writing makes its reappearance in your life, HOLD ON and WRITE ON!



Shanta Brown is a poet who writes about her strong southern family roots. She is an MFA candidate at Converse College. She’s also a Junior Poetry Editor at South 85 Literary Magazine. She was also recently selected for a Converse College MFA Graduate Teaching Assistantship to begin Spring 2021. She resides in Spartanburg, SC with her husband and three children.



Feature Photo by Andrea Piacquadio.

The Practice of Prompt Writing

By: Hannah Marshall

“A prompt delivers a nice, packaged “triggering subject” from which to write…”

I used to hate prompts, their artificial sentiments bullying their way into my writing. Before I enrolled in the Converse College MFA in Creative Writing, I almost never used a prompt to jumpstart my writing. I believed in order for my writing to be pure, it needed to emerge organically. I wanted to freely write poems from my life experience, the words falling from the ether and onto the page. But you know what? Even back then, I used a prompt for pretty much every poem I wrote. I just didn’t know it.

The Magic of the Naturally Occurring Prompt

I used to always spend the beginning of my writing time reading a book of poetry, whatever was on my list at the time. I’d read maybe one poem, maybe ten or twenty, and then I’d have the sudden urge to write a poem of my own. These poems were responses to what I’d read, and though I didn’t have a written prompt, it was the words on the page that prompted me. I’d read something like these lines from “The Mother’s Apple” by Li Young Lee: “The blossoms give themselves to the wind. / Who will I be given to?” and I’d need to speak into the subject myself.

Sometimes, I’d be out in the world, doing life: walking by Lake Mendota, shopping for groceries at the local co-op, or changing my infant’s diaper, and I’d have that URGE to write a poem. These prompts were situational, brought on by events, but they were still prompts. Perhaps I’d see a Norway maple so yellow I could taste its brightness. Write it down! Or my baby would look at me in a way that I’d never been looked at by anyone before, her helplessness, her complete trust. Write about it!

The thing is, these situations take time and space to develop. I don’t have epiphanic moments every day, not even every week. And I don’t always get sparked to write when I’m reading someone else’s poems. I like to be in conversation with other poets, but sometimes it comes out in more subtle ways than, I must write about this same topic right away!

When the Magic of the Muse Is Not Enough

When I started writing more frequently during my time as an MFA student, I realized these occasional “natural prompts” were not numerous enough to sustain the number of poems I needed to be writing. I knew I needed to get over my illogical disdain of the writing prompt.

Sometimes, writers have dry spells. For me, however, I’ve discovered “dry spells” are simply times when I’m not being externally stimulated to write. These times, more than ever, I need prompts.

Benefits of Using Prompts to Write

Prompts are a way to artificially stimulate the writing process. And it’s okay that it’s artificial! I don’t need to know where I’m going when I start a poem, but I do need an inciting idea. Prompts provide that for me. I’ve found this quote from Richard Hugo’s book The Triggering Town to be very true in my own writing: “A poem can be said to have two subjects, the initiating or triggering subject, which starts the poem or ‘causes’ the poem to be written, and the real or generated subject, which the poem comes to say or mean, and which is generated or discovered in the poem during the writing.” A prompt delivers a nice, packaged “triggering subject” from which to write towards a “generated subject.” When the poem is finished, it’s impossible to distinguish between a poem I wrote from an artificial prompt and one I wrote from a natural prompt, because in both cases the prompt gave me a triggering subject. Once I got going, the generated subject revealed itself and might have little or no clear relation to the triggering subject. Thus, in edits, the lines about the triggering subject are often deleted, and the prompt disappears altogether.

Where to Find Good Writing Prompts

Now, post-graduation, I have not given up the practice of using prompts for my poems. I have books full of prompts, which I would recommend to any poet needing help: The Practice of Poetry, edited by Robin Behn and Chase Twichell is pretty much 100% prompts and writing exercises. The Poet’s Companion, by Kim Addonizio and Dorianne Laux, has excellent writing advice as well as great chapter-end prompts. Poets & Writers posts prompts for fiction, nonfiction, and poetry on their website weekly. The latter recommendations are especially good for days when you really want to immerse yourself in a prompt and maybe learn something along the way!

This time of the year is my favorite for writing prompts. Two years ago, I began participating in NaPoWriMo—National Poetry Writing Month—which happens, of course, in April, National Poetry Month. The “official” NaPoWriMo website posts a prompt each day for the entire month. I write a poem each day all through April, and I find that the constant production is great for my poetic muscles. It also forces me to move out of my usual subjects and write about unexpected things. I turn to researched poems about historical and biblical figures, or to bits of interesting scientific or medical news. I discover new tools available on the internet to spark interesting triggering subjects. My poems become more experimental because, since I’m writing a poem every day, I don’t feel pressured to have each one be good.

I have embarked on my third year of writing a poem each day for the month of April, and I’ve been looking forward to this since February. It’s now become a ritual of spring for me, a time of growth that coincides with the waking of the natural world. And I’m a prompt lover now, fully converted to the practice of using whatever works to write myself toward the next good poem.



Hannah Marshall, Poet

Hannah Marshall lives in south-central Illinois, where she works as the advising editor for the literary journal The Scriblerus. Her poems have appeared in Poetry Daily, New Ohio Review, The Madison Review, Anglican Theological Review, and elsewhere. She holds an MFA in creative writing from Converse College.


Feature Photo by Tyler Nix.

Interview with Educator & Poet, Tyree Daye

Tyree Daye, Educator & Poet

Listen to MFA Creative Writing candidate, Marlanda Dekine interview Tyree Daye, a poet and educator of University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill. Daye is also the author of two poetry books,  Cardinal and River Hymns, a 2017 APR/Honickman First Book Prize winner.

Daye is a Cave Canem fellow, he also won the 2019 Palm Beach Poetry Festival Langston Hughes Fellowship, the 2019 Diana and Simon Raab Writer-In-Residence at UC Santa Barbara, and a 2019 Kate Tufts Finalist. Daye was also awarded the 2019 Whiting Writers Award.


YouTube interviews are captioned.

Marlanda Dekine – Sapient Soul

Poet Marlanda Dekine-Sapient Soul is a poet, author & recording artist from Plantersville, SC. Her work has appeared in Emergence Magazine, the Screen Door Review, Flycatcher Journal, Spark & Echo Arts, and Minerva Rising. Marlanda is an MFA candidate at Converse College, the 2019 Fresh Voice of the Year, awarded by SC Humanities, and the 2018 Emrys Keller Cushing-Freeman Scholar.


Businesses Need Poets and They Don’t Even Know It

By: Zorina E. Frey

“Poetry and business writing are the Capulets and Montagues…”

Poetry is under appreciated by the business industry. It is not recognized as the staple of rhetoric its serves in our language. It’s overlooked as a hobby and not as the true literary artform it is.

Working as a copywriter, I can’t tell you how many interoffice pings I received from digital marketers and even C-level executives asking me to brainstorm some catch phrase for one of our clients. Being the poet I am, I didn’t hesitate to quickly ping back a list of options for them. It wasn’t until I joined a writing team for another company did I realize when writers aren’t strong poets, coming up with catchphrases doesn’t come naturally.

The Business of Writing Poetry

There is a disconnection between poetry and business writing. So many marketing agencies don’t realize they need a poet to be part of their writing team. Likewise, many poets may not realize their talents are needed outside of academia. Poetry’s carpe diems rhetoric breaks the rules of traditional business writing. On the other hand, business writing’s formal rules seem as though it quells poetry’s creative rhetoric.

Star-Crossed Rhetoric. If That Isn’t Poetry, I Don’t Know What Is.

Poetry and business writing are like two people who hate each other but are secretly in love and neither one of them wants to admit it. It’s as if these two writing artforms come from separate worlds but are essentially one in the same. Poetry and business writing are the Capulets and Montagues—star-crossed lovers destined to be together even though the world wants to keep them apart.

Are we good on the similes and metaphors?

These two literary forms can’t play nice together because of disapproving outside influences in their respected genre. Business writing has its traditional writing rules and poetry has a bohemian existence that thrives in academia. “Both academia and bohemians are perceived to live outside the economic and social systems…” (Gioia 107). However, every television commercial, radio podcast, company social media post, ecommerce product, and even electoral slogans signify a poetic voice.

There is a give and take on both sides. The poet must conform his or her work to traditional styles of writing and business writers need to make room in their rhetoric for the bohemian artform. The payoff—especially for the poet will result in a broader spectrum of professional writing options while businesses benefit from more insightful and rich content that can better appeal to a person’s senses.

Infomercial: Got Poetry?

When I worked as the lead copywriter for a digital marketing agency in Miami, our staff met twice a week for client updates and to discuss creative ideas. In a nutshell, the ideas involved searching for the right string of words to convey a client’s message that had to be clear, concise, and witty. What they were asking for is poetry.

When I worked as a content writer for a restaurant supply company, the team would spend up to 45 minutes agreeing on the right type of wording for an Instagram post. When it came to writing product descriptions for the company’s website and Amazon, the type of verbiage we were expected to produce had to complement the visually appealing product photo. This is also poetry.

When You Find That Writer, You’ll Know

Wouldn’t it then, make sense for employers to take a second look at their writing team, recognize the poets and give them the credit they deserve? Not every writer is a trained poet, and not every poet is a trained writer. There are writers whose skillset is strong with grammar. Another writer might be good at monologue and scriptwriting. Another writer may be strong at research, collecting facts, and reporting them. Then you have the poet who is pretty damn good at descriptive storytelling. For businesses that are lucky enough to have a writer who’s good at all these things, hold on to that writer. Hold on to that writer tight, and never let that person go.


Works Cited

Gioia, Dana Gioia. Ways of Living. Can Poetry Matter? Graywolf Press, 1992



Zorina E. Frey

Zorina Frey is an MFA candidate at Converse College from Miami, Florida. She’s published in the forthcoming Chicken Soup for the Soul: I’m Speaking Now, Shondaland, Writing Class Radio, Filter, and Michiana Monologues. Zorina holds a BA in Journalism and a certificate in web design from Indiana University. She also has a literary publishing certificate from Emerson College.

Annette Saunooke Clapsaddle | South 85 Journal

Interview with Annette Saunooke Clapsaddle

By: Andrew K. Clark

 Book: Even As We Breathe

University of Kentucky Press, 2020.

“Good literature is felt in the body.” 

AKC – South 85: Tell me about the decisions you made around including Cherokee folklore in the novel. I am thinking of Spearfinger and other lore you included.

Clapsaddle: I wanted anything I included to be pretty natural. I wanted it to be something characters would reference casually anyway. I didn’t want to teach folklore through the narrative, so just as I would think about dialogue, for instance, I would think about what aspects of Cherokee stories or culture would be relevant in that moment. I needed it to serve a purpose, that it added another layer to the narrative. And there may be some instances where these inclusions might not be obvious to all readers, just those who have experience with Cherokee culture. That’s fine with me too. There are different layers for different readers.

AKC – South 85: I have a question around point of view. Cowney is an adult looking back on his life rather than telling the story from a teenager’s point of view. Tell me about that choice.

Clapsaddle: One of the most significant considerations when I was drafting the novel was to pay close attention to voice, mostly because of my experience with previous manuscripts. I had to spend so much time revising voice that I wanted to make sure I was being mindful about the voice I was selecting. I had read and teach Ta-Nehisi Coates’s Between the World and Me and that was almost a trigger for me to recognize that I liked the retrospective voice, almost providing advice to the next generation based on one’s experience. It allowed me to present a character who was obviously well educated later in life. That’s another thing I felt I had to be careful of, I didn’t want to present native characters who seemed ignorant or uneducated, even though he or she was still a teenager. To do so would have blended so easily into stereotype. I wanted to provide a Cherokee character who could be intellectually reflective. So, the retrospective voice allowed me to do both: show him young and learning but also provide a voice that is more representative of our culture and people.

AKC – South 85: One thing I’ve heard you talk about in other interviews is the Great Smokies Writing Program. Tell us about how that program and the larger writing community have affected your work.

Clapsaddle: As you’ve probably experienced yourself, we live in a very rural area so finding a writing community is more difficult than if we lived in a major city. So, I’ve been involved with the North Carolina Writers Network for a number of years. After my first manuscript didn’t look like it was headed for publication, despite winning some awards, I wanted something new. I felt I was ready to start a new novel but I love structure and so I took a writing workshop with Heather Newton at the Great Smokies Writing Program that UNCA (University of North Carolina at Asheville) coordinates. The name of the workshop was “Git ‘Er Done – Write Your Novel,” which sounded cheesy enough for me, but it was great because [the program] set out a structure. The assignments were to write a synopsis, to write a first chapter, a final chapter, and a climax chapter. And that was incredibly challenging for me to write a synopsis for a novel that didn’t yet exist. But that workshop gave me the structure I needed to be successful as well as some early feedback on my ideas. As a mother and full-time teacher, it allowed me to sit down in short segments of time and build the novel. That’s what I needed. Everybody writes differently but I really need to know where I’m going. That workshop taught me how to set that up for myself. I expanded my network to the Appalachian Writer’s Workshop that Hindman Settlement School hosts each year and that has been instrumental in building my network. I talk to someone every single day from Hindman. If it were not for that workshop, Even as We Breathe wouldn’t have been published. Fireside Industries is an imprint that came out of the Appalachian Writer’s Workshop and University of Kentucky Press. Silas House became my editor, partly through Hindman.

AKC – South 85: What can you tell us about your next book?

Clapsaddle: (Laughing) I’ll tell you what I know. It is set in contemporary Cherokee and my protagonist is female, probably late 30s. What I am doing is looking at traditional Cherokee origin stories, extracting the values and themes from them and applying them to this modern context and exploring Cherokee politics in a way. I want to get at the tension between traditional and contemporary Cherokee culture.

AKC – South 85: This is more of a writer’s question. You had a first manuscript that won awards but didn’t publish. Having gone through your experience with Even As We Breathe, do you have a sense for why that was the case, or is it still a mystery?

Clapsaddle: I know that manuscript needs work, if I were to return to it. I know there are things I could do differently. But it’s still a bit of a mystery to me. It was a finalist for the PEN/Bellwether, excerpts were published, etc. The more I get to know about this business, it really is being at the right place at the right time. I can tell you that I’m most interested in moving on to the new project rather than looking back.

AKC – South 85: You have a rich non-writing life, as a mother, teacher, and an avid mountain biker. Tell me how your non-writing life informs your writing.

Clapsaddle: One of the reasons I returned to teaching was the energy in my high school, both for the students and being around colleagues who are always thinking and troubleshooting issues. With students it’s the good, bad, and the ugly of teaching, right? I just think it’s a more authentic experience of the human spectrum. The kids are coming from different places, backgrounds, and ideas, and I need to approach them all the same. It just makes me think differently. It keeps me from getting in my own bubble. It fires something creative in my brain although it can be exhausting. With mountain biking, we are fortunate to live in a great place for biking and hiking, and I think reading should be a physical process. Good literature is felt in the body. It’s important for me to have a physical experience when I’m thinking about what I’m writing. Mountain biking does that for me. Mountain biking is like storytelling. You make it to the pinnacle to see where you’ve been and then you try to find the most exciting resolution possible without killing yourself.

AKC – South 85: If readers have enjoyed Even As We Breathe can you point them toward any other Easter Band of Cherokee artists they should pay attention to?

Clapsaddle: There are some really talented visual artists in the ECBI. Bear Allison is a wonderful photographer that everyone should check out. There’s a jewelry maker, Alicia Wildcatt who I really love. There is a group supported by the Sequoya Fund called Authentically Cherokee that supports our artisans on their website you can see the work directly.

AKC – South 85: Tell us about your influences.

Clapsaddle: I love a lot of the classic southern writers I studied in school, even though I now know some of them are problematic. I love Faulkner, I really do. The first native author that inspired me is now considered very problematic, but I will always say Sherman Alexie’s writing influenced me. He helped me realize I could write about where I am from instead of trying to write about something I’m not familiar with. Then it was those great Appalachian writers like Ron Rash and Charles Frazier and of course I now have Silas House for a mentor. Currently, I really love Louise Erdrich. She’s kind of my literary hero. I also love to teach Toni Morrison to my AP Lit students.

AKC – South 85: Tell us about your writing rituals.

Clapsaddle: I do a lot of writing off the page as I said before whenever I get outside or go bike riding. I might think about a sentence for an entire ride. I like structure, so I try to sit down to write with an objective in mind. I sometimes go to my family’s cabin to get a change of scenery.  But I love my writing space at home. I have a lot of windows and I decorate it with things I collect: rocks and feathers, seashells, etc. I want to have natural elements nearby even when I’m inside. Sometimes I build music playlists with songs that fit the space I want to inhabit in a scene. When I’m focused on word choice and syntax, however, I usually have to turn the music off.



Andrew Clark

Andrew K. Clark’s work has appeared in UCLA’s Out of Anonymity, fall/lines, The Wrath Bearing Tree, and other journals. Main Street Rag Press published his first full-length collection of poetry, Jesus in the Trailer, in 2019. He is searching for a home for his first novel, The Day Thief. He is a native of Asheville, NC, and an MFA candidate at Converse College.


Writers’ Conferences in the Age of Zoom

By: Russell Carr

“The online conference surpassed my expectations.”

Writers need community. We read each other’s work, give feedback, and help each other grow. It’s also nice to know there’s someone else out there struggling alone at a desk, holding you in mind. Many people find such communities at writers’ conferences, so much so that there are hundreds throughout the country. I enjoy them because I usually receive the best feedback on my short stories and personal essays within conference workshops, and I also gain friendships with fellow writers. Even though I’m usually shy around people I don’t know, I always enjoy mingling with a crowd of writers. They get what I love to do. Conferences also give me the opportunity to hear lectures from leading writers and educators. By the end of a long weekend or week, I leave tired but motivated. At the beginning of 2020, I planned to attend at least two writers’ conferences during the upcoming year. But by late February, COVID-19 changed my plans. I’d like to share my experiences with a few conferences, without naming names, during this time of social distancing and cancelled gatherings, and offer some lessons learned that might help you decide whether to attend one in the age of Zoom.

In the before times, 2019, one of my friends attended a writers’ conference and loved it. She encouraged all of our mutual writer friends to apply for the conference in 2020. Most, if not all, of us who applied were accepted into it. We joked about a conference takeover, but our goals were really so see each other in person again and to learn from other writers.

Then the pandemic hit. The conference was to be in the May. In March, the organizers held out hope to still have it, but soon many states were shutting down. They cancelled the conference, with the plan to return in 2021. Of course, we were all disappointed, but understood. At that same time, schools that had shut down were scrambling to figure out how to continue. Zoom was just beginning to be used for classes. Understandably, the conference didn’t want to enter that experiment so soon after the pandemic struck. We all hoped to attend next year.

I’d also signed up for a summer writers’ conference separate from the one with my friends. I’d discovered it the prior summer. Then, it had been a nice adventure.  It was about an eight-hour drive from my home, so that meant ten days without the usual work and home responsibilities, which my wife supported (Thanks again, Liza!). Being there without any friends meant I made many new ones. There were the conference regulars, some of them having attended ten or more summers and joked that it was their adult summer camp. There were other first-timers like myself and those in between. And then there were the faculty and staff who were very friendly and approachable. What I liked about it was just how laid back everyone who attended or taught at it was. I ate with different people every day. I stayed in a dorm, single room, and within a few days, I was having scotch every evening with a new friend there. During the day, I attended great lectures and readings, discussed them with new friends, and received great feedback on my own writing in workshops. By the end of the ten days, I knew I would return for more in 2020.

After the first conference I’d planned to attend with my friends was cancelled, I feared my summer plans were lost also. But even as the early struggles with transitioning to online meetings and school continued across the country, the summer conference organizers announced that they wanted to try an online version. Watching the troubles my son was having with online school, I was skeptical. But I decided it was worth trying, at least to get the workshop experience and lectures. I was nervous as the first day it approached. I didn’t like the idea of my experience depending upon my technology skills or the whims of my broadband.

The online conference surpassed my expectations, but it wasn’t the same as in person. The organizers did a great job getting the technology set up and sending out explanations about accessing each activity. My workshop was outstanding, among the best I’ve participated in. All of us did accidentally interrupt each other at times, but we were sensitive to that risk with Zoom and allowed for it. Occasionally, connections froze, but that didn’t stop the overall momentum that the workshop leader established and continued through hours of discussion. She told us that she’d led a workshop with Zoom through an MFA program’s summer residency a few weeks earlier, and her experience showed. The lectures were also great, and there was the added perk that I could turn off my camera. Then I could stand up, walk around, check my phone, but still listen and not distract anyone.

But there were some limits that no one could change. The conference tried to encourage participants and staff to hang out after hours in Zoom meeting rooms. People did, but, with the limits of online technology, only one person could speak at a time. If there was someone I wanted to talk with individually, I could reach out through private chat, or leave the group meeting room and call him or her directly. Also, I missed the meals with random participants and instructors. So, outside of workshop, it was difficult to make new friends. And because of limited ability to have individual conversations, I don’t know nearly as much about the people I did meet: their opinions they won’t share in a group, how they stand while they talk, what they like to drink or eat, or even their heights. All the body language. We connected, but didn’t.

As the pandemic continues, we all have to take what we can get when it comes to social interactions. Fortunately, everyone is learning more about using online opportunities and how to adapt them to our expectations and needs. I encourage you to continue to seek out connections through those writers’ conferences that are still happening, even if you don’t leave your desk to attend them. Online conferences also offer new opportunities. With so many of them moving to an online format, this can be an excellent time to attend ones that have been too far away, such as overseas or ones on the opposite coast of America from you. Their online versions are also cheaper, since they don’t have to include room and board.

Some things to look for, in my opinion, are how the organizers plan to conduct online workshops and lectures. Will the groups for workshops be smaller than their prior in person ones, for instance, so all participants can talk more easily in them? Do the organizers have experience with online programs, such as also participating in MFA programs? Lectures can still happen in large groups, but beware of ones that are described as large discussion groups, panels, or question and answer sessions. Those can prove very difficult to participate in. Will the times fit with your schedule, including a difference in time zones? The conference might start late or early to accommodate time zone differences. Will there be breaks between events? I found that I needed more time away from the computer screen than I needed between in-person sessions. If the conferences is still meeting in person, which I don’t recommend, how do they plan to implement safety precautions? How does that change room and board for the conference?

While we all wait as the vaccines are being distributed, I hope to meet you at an online conference!


Russell Carr

Russell Carr is a psychiatrist and psychoanalyst in private practice in Maryland. He has a BA in Russian Literature from UNC at Chapel Hill, an MD from the University of Tennessee, and an MFA from Converse College. He recently retired from the United States Navy after twenty years of service. He was the review editor for South 85 Journal for two years, and currently serves as the journal’s fiction editor.

Terms of Endearment: Emotive Diction in Poetry

By Mel Sherrer


What makes a poem captivating? Creating concrete imagery using descriptive language can decidedly make a poem beautiful, but for poetry to be captivating it must do more than make the reader see through the eyes of the poet, it must also manipulate the reader to feel as the poet intends them to feel.  Essentially, the question is how can a poem be written to not only entertain, but to affect a reader? The answer lies in diction.

Word choice amplifies descriptive language by adding emotional connotation and context for the imagery presented in a poem.  For example, a writer can present the image of a rose to the reader in a poem, which is typically a pleasant image, evoking pleasant sensory experiences, like the sight or smell of roses. A writer can also make choices about the context built around an image using emotive diction. The poet could call it a putrid rose, a woeful rose, or a haunted rose, consequently altering the connotation of a widely recognized symbol.

One notable progression toward emotive diction in poetry happened during the Romantic period of literature, during which poets sought new ways to intrigue both scholars and laymen. Romantics rejected the use of lofty language in poetry, because it created too much distance between the poet and reader for the poems to be relatable and understandable. The solution was to attach human emotions to everyday images. An image or symbol may be singular to a specific place, society, or culture; however, emotions are universal. Crafting poems with careful word choice can bridge the gap between concrete images and emotional experiences.

So how does one go about making a poem both relatable and captivating? The construction of awe, or captivation, evolves from constructing relatable emotional circumstances. As a human race, we may not have concrete experiences in common, but it can be assumed that we have the range of human emotions in common, which is a fount of relatable content.

A great example lies in Wordsworth’s “I wandered lonely as a cloud” in which the image of a cloud is paired with the emotional context of loneliness. Imagery that includes clouds may typically represent symbols such as, sky, lightness, freedom, and tranquility, but with the addition of the adjective “lonely” a cloud becomes a vehicle for more complex emotional representations, in this way a poet can reinvent meaning for images and symbols which have become trite or cliché.

Emotive diction is a safe tactic for the poet to indulge in abstractions in ways that do not risk convoluting the meaning of a poem for the reader. Word choice, rather than imagery, might also be safe a method for poets to experiment with rhetoric, without inadvertently writing a piece that is lofty, or pretentious. Poets can play with phrases like, a miserable sunrise, or a gleeful dumpster, and rely on the emotional connotations of the words misery and glee to ensure the poem is still comprehensible on some level, to the reader.

Every word counts! The extra effort put towards connotation and context is the fundamental difference between a poem which is meant to be spectacle, as with a painting, and a poem which is meant to be experienced. A beautiful poem can transport a reader to a destination, but a captivating poem can make them celebrate, mourn, laugh, weep, or scream upon arrival.


Suggested writing exercise:

Try writing a poem that uses emotive diction to make a concrete image emotionally provocative.



“I wandered lonely as a cloud.” The Norton Anthology of English Literature. Ed. M. H. Abrams. Vol. 2. New York: W. W. Norton & Company. 186-187.

Staying Motivated to Write

By: Keagan Herring

Probably one of the hardest things as a writer is staying motivated to write. It’s not that you don’t want to write. Your mind is filled with all these creative and awesome ideas but sometimes the process of getting your thoughts down on paper exactly how you see them in your head takes time and serious effort. You sit there for 10 minutes… 15 minutes… suddenly it’s an hour later and you have one fragment of a sentence and anxiety that you just spent the last hour doing nothing. You put your pen down and think, “I’ll just go do some other things and it will clear my head to write.” But then clearing your head turns into a week and that fragment settles into the pile of papers on your desk, never to be seen or heard from again.

You promise yourself you’ll sit down and write something again soon… when you have an opportunity. But then opportunity never presents itself. Work gets in the way, children become a huge distraction, and obstacle after obstacle presents itself. It’s not that you are procrastinating; it’s just life that gets in the way. So, when do you find the time or motivation to do what you dream of doing?

First, before you think about when to make time, you should assess how important writing is to you. What is it that you do to relax or de-stress after a long day at work, or a busy day with your kids? Perhaps you treat yourself to a glass of wine and your favorite tv show. Or maybe you grab dinner from your favorite restaurant. Or you may even treat yourself to a massage. Whatever it is that you do, you do it because you feel you deserve a break. Sometimes these activities that you treat yourself with take an hour or more. So why not spend just 15 minutes jotting down some of those awesome ideas you have constantly rolling around in your head. Putting ideas to paper, if even just notes, can sometimes lead to enormously great ideas. There is nothing worse than thinking about jotting down a great idea, not getting around to it, and then losing it from your mind completely.

One of the best ways to stay motivated is to find yourself a group of like-minded writers who get together maybe once a week and do short prompt writing. If you don’t know of anyone who is currently doing that, then set a group up yourself and invite a few people whom you think would benefit from this activity. But instead of meeting in person, because let’s face it, who has time for that, plan to do it on Zoom or some other platform you are comfortable with. Set up a time that works best for you. If your friends or associates are as interested in this as you are, they will show for the meeting. Pick one or two-word prompts and do 15 minutes of writing for that prompt. Some groups who meet do several prompts which can make the meeting run 30 minutes to an hour. It is your group so it is entirely up to you. Some groups share what they’ve written, some don’t. Again, that is up to you. The main purpose of this exercise is to get your creative juices flowing. The prompt may have nothing to do with anything you are considering for your poems, short stories, novels, etc… But sometimes these prompts can lead to unexpected outcomes. For instance, you may have a prompt of the words “beautiful” and “hag” in which you write a comical but sad short piece about an old lady with a dry sense of humor. Then suddenly, it hits you! She would make a great secondary character in that story you started six months ago! Or perhaps none of your prompt writing leads to anything significant… until one day, it becomes your collection of short stories for your first published collection. Without prompt writing, you would have had nothing to pull from to even consider publishing.

Another great way to stay motivated is to not try to sit down with the mindset of writing a novel. Start yourself with reasonable goals and work up to the harder ones. Most accomplished, published book-writers suggest writing anywhere from 1000 to 2000 words a day. For some of us, that is a very daunting goal. Just like anything you try to perfect, you must build up to it. For example, if you were asked to run a five-mile race but had never exercised a day in your life, you wouldn’t run right out and try to run five miles. The smarter thing to do is to test your limit the first time you try, go as far as you feel comfortable and leave it at that. Then, on day two, you go to that comfort level and just a little further; day three, a little further. Trying to run five miles when you haven’t ever run before will leave you breathless, exhausted, and disappointed when you come nowhere close to your goal. This leads to disheartened views about your capabilities and eventually you will quit trying. Writing is very much like running a race. Sometimes you have deadlines or people expecting things from you. That is why it is important for you to start off comfortably and work your way towards those exciting goals. Sitting down and writing 100 words seems both hard and easy… but as you start writing, you suddenly realize that 100 words becomes 156 before you know it. “Okay, that wasn’t so bad. Tomorrow, I will try 200 words.” And 200 turns into 317. Suddenly, it doesn’t seem so scary and before you know it, you’re writing that 1000-2000 words a day! It truly is all about conditioning your brain in much the same way you would condition your body for a race.

A final idea, though none of these are all the ideas currently out there, is to keep a memo pad with you to jot down ideas or blurbs that suddenly pop into your head. Perhaps you were standing in line at the grocery store and the mother in front of you has two teenaged boys with her who are highly disrespectful to her, the cashier, and dressed like little hoodlums, which prompts you to ponder how a mother could let her children act or dress like that. But then it becomes a heart-wrenching story about a woman who is actually the aunt (their mother recently killed in a drive-by shooting) and though not having the financial capability nor the experience to take on two teenaged boys, does so because otherwise, her nephews would end up in foster care, or possibly in jail at some point. Suddenly, you are imagining this whole story line that could be the next Lifetime movie! But you didn’t have a memo pad with you, or an index card, or something of the sort, to jot down this exciting idea. By the way, for those of you who prefer to digitalize everything, there are all kinds of apps you can install to quickly record your ground-breaking ideas versus writing them down.

If none of these ideas work for you, then perhaps you are not a writer after all… I’m just kidding. Who am I to tell you what you are not? It is up to you to find that sweet spot that works for you. Reach out to the people who know you best, the professors, writers, and friends who write, and ask what they find to be motivating for them. There are so many opportunities for success. And by success, I don’t necessarily mean being published or making millions… Your success is measured by what you want to do with your writing and how you go about achieving it.

Stay motivated and you will do great things!

December Issue Available Now

2020 Julia Peterkin Literary Awards



Humankind Needs Larger Birds  by Justin Jannise


Even the Trees Went Under  by Anne Leigh Parrish
440,249 Aconitum maximum Wolfsbane 06-16-20 0814 PDT   by Caroline Goodwin
[dissection]  by Nora Cox

Flash Fiction


The Holy Waters   by Krista Beucler
Hemingway’s Typewriter   by Dutch Simmons
Homeless  by Robert Shelton

Regular Features


Will’s Power  by Sam Gridley


Maximum Compound Inmate Mothers  by Stephanie Dickinson
The Cadet  by Valerie Smith


the ghost of all things  by David van den Berg
Revenant  by Kevin Griffin
Like Apples  by Susana Lang

Book Reviews


Known by Heart: Collected Stories by Ellen Prentiss Campbell
Review by Jody Hobbs Hesler
Even as we Breathe by Annette Saunooke Clapsaddle
Review by Andrew Clark


My Body is a Book of Rules by Elissa Washuta
Review by Amber Wood


Not Human Enough for the Census by Erik Fuhrer
Review by Isabelle Kenyon