If you haven’t heard of my new project, the On Fire anthology over at Transmundane Press, this mini-interview and excerpt series will showcase the amazing authors I get to work with and their writing. Meet J. Lee Strickland.
Do you Google yourself?
After I Googled myself a few times, I realized there were too many Jim Stricklands in the world. A few years back, I started marketing my fiction writing using my first initial and my middle name, J. Lee Strickland. That change has made all the difference in cyberspace. I’m pleased to see that a search for Jim Strickland still returns some of my older, non-fiction pieces among the politicians, baseball players, and felons.
What is the title of your next story and what will it be about?
Sabbatical, the story of a poet who takes a sabbatical from her teaching job at a California university for a poet-in-residence position at the home of a famous, deceased poet in a run-down, rust belt town in the eastern United States. Culture, esthetics and moral values all come in to play when she befriends a young woman working in a grocery store and plunges into the gritty authenticity of the city’s underclass while juggling a long-distance relationship with her husband and waning enthusiasm for the sterile, self-absorbed poetry of her past.
How do you deal with writer’s block?
I always have several projects in progress at the same time. This is not a strategy. It happens because my imagination never lets me rest, but if I get stuck on one story, I can move over to another story and keep writing. Sometimes, I shut down completely. Then I go split firewood.
From “Fire Night” by J. Lee Strickland
I’ll go now to the well. That’s next, like every day. Water no less wet that William’s gone, and drinking no less necessary that no pleasure gives. That plate there on the sideboard needs a rinse and, too, the spoon, like every day.
Tiarella takes the two oak buckets and their yoke from the low shelf beside the door. They seem so heavy, although they hold no water yet. Not quite like every day. The forest canopy is thinner with loss of leaves. The still, brown autumn air, “like stale bread,” William would say, his favorite snack an old crust dipped in beer.
“Tee-yah.” Above the trees a circling hawk cries out. “Tee-yah.” Almost like William’s voice calling her name, charged with excitement at some novel find.
She searches for signs of him. The axe rests where he left it beside the splitting stump. His heavy leather gloves hang like some dark animal on the post, the woodshed unfilled. All as it’s been for several days.
A small gray bird patrols the pile of logs.
Unbroken stillness everywhere but there.
The vesper marks the Changing. After sundown, the far hills will bloom with great fires as folks there match the coming cold and dark with light and heat. In past years, she and William climbed to where the rocky outcrop cleared the western trees to watch the far-off flickering display, fire heaped upon fire on hill heaped upon hill. Folks say it is a time when between this world and the other…
Is that where William is…? The other? A sudden gorge of sorrow clamps her throat as if a claw gripped her there.
She leans against the lichen-matted stones circling the well and squints against a tear. They first spoke at her mother’s well, William there to leave a tool he’d fixed.
What tool? She can’t recall more than a vague, long shape in deep-veined hands.
The words were nothing, ordinary things: she, offering a drink; he, grateful, praising Mother’s cherished well. But even then, she knew that he’d return, and she’d be there to greet him. So, they were, like water mixed with water, until now.
J. Lee Strickland is a freelance writer living in upstate New York. In addition to fiction, he has written on the subjects of rural living, modern homesteading, and voluntary simplicity. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in Sixfold, Atticus Review, Scarlet Leaf Review, Workers Write!, Pure Slush, Mad Scientist Journal, Newfound Journal, Jenny, and others. He is a member of the Hudson Valley Writers Guild and served as a judge for the 2015 and 2016 storySouth Million Writers Awards. He is at work on a collection of connected short stories vaguely similar in format to the long-defunct American television series Naked City but without the salacious title.