March Staff Picks

Nate Ragolia

Poor Things

Released in December in the U.S., Yorgos Lanthimos’ latest film, Poor Things, might just be the best film of 2023. It’s a heartfelt, deeply feminist coming-of-age take on the literary classic Frankenstein that shows off Emma Stone’s awe-inspiring acting range, while getting some brilliant performances from Mark Ruffalo and Willem Dafoe (among a stacked cast). It features a globe-hopping, eye-catching journey as protagonist Bella Baxter chases her young curiosity to find out who she really is, and who she really wants to be.

Fair warning, this film features a lot of sex and nudity, but does so while subverting the male gaze and bringing sincere, patriarchy-undermining humanity into every frame. It’s a stylish, strange, bold film that may rub some viewers the wrong way, even as it’s one of Lanthimos’ most accessibly human films. We all, ultimately, want to know who we are, what we’re made of, and why we’re here… and Poor Things hits every note in an undeniably unique and heartfelt way. Plus, there’s a chicken with a pig’s head in here, so if you’re into that kind of weird, this film is EVEN MORE for you.

Sara Santistevan

This is My Body: Poems by a Teen Trans Fem

It’s rare to find a teen poet confident in both their poetic voice and artistic mission. That’s why I was so excited to get my hands on Madeline Aliah’s debut chapbook This Is My Body: Poems by a Teen Trans Fem.

In the book’s forward, Aliah makes her goal clear: “This little book is an offering of 18 poems as candles for a birthday I didn’t expect to reach. I hope it’s a light for those who need it. I hope it helps the non-trans reader understand what it’s like to be someone like me.” Indeed, Aliah’s debut is a stunning example of how vulnerability can not only comfort those who identify with the speaker’s experience, but can also serve as a radical form of advocacy and education.

This book is thoughtfully divided into three sections (“The Body Counterfeit,” “The Body Politic,” and “The Body Manifest,”) which explore Aliah’s coming-of-age and relationship with her body. Some of my favorite lines beautifully capture the narrative arc that unfolds throughout these sections. Consider the shift in the speaker’s autonomy from the couplet in “I Woke Up Twice This Morning” to that of “The Pronoun Game,” respectively:

“My second morning body is an oven / My first morning body is a dove.”

“I/Me/Mine / are dangerous pronouns to choose / because choosing me makes me dangerous.”

The choice Aliah eventually makes, and the power she has to make that choice, is fully realized in one of the collection’s final poems, “Trans Risk.” Despite the title, Aliah sees no risk in her choice to become herself, and instead challenges the reader by asking “Does it bother you / that womanhood is a gift / worth dying for?”

I’m always stunned when I remember that Aliah had these revelations, and captured them so powerfully in her writing, as a teenager. If I were you, I’d be keeping an eye on Aliah’s future career as a poet (and bragging that I knew of her before she was famous)!

Marizel Malan

Prelude to Ecstasy

Though I’m a tad late, I have been absolutely obsessed with the band The Last Dinner Party, and their debut album, Prelude to Ecstasy. They’re currently touring, and I’m incredibly jealous of every single person who gets to experience them live.

The woman and nonbinary-led rock band has taken over every playlist I make. I’ve been listening to their album nonstop. Even though it was released in February, it’s a staple of my March listening habits. In fact, I’ve barely listened to anything else this month! This is one of those rare albums where I don’t want to skip a single song. The lyrics are incredible and they tell exceptional stories in each of their pieces. I am an absolute sucker for indie bands, and The Last Dinner Party is no exception. With the release of singles prior to the album, I was expecting some great music, but they completely surpassed all expectations. While I do have a soft spot for the single “My Lady of Mercy“—which sounds great in-between all the other songs on the album—”Beautiful Boy” has quickly become my favorite. If you enjoy unique rhythms, incredible voices, and gorgeous imagery, definitely check out The Last Dinner Party!

Dominic Loise

Resident Alien

To help get through the winter months and my seasonal depression, I’m rewatching the previous seasons of Resident Alien. The third season started dropping new weekly episodes on Valentine’s Day, and it was a better gift than a box of chocolates could ever be for me.

Resident Alien is a sci-fi action comedy on SyFy (streaming on Peacock and Netflix) about an extraterrestrial’s failed attempt to destroy Earth and become its protector. The show is also explores what it means to be human. Alien Harry struggles as he pretends to be an Earthing and learns to not be an outsider. He also learns that being human involves more than just our outer appearance as the show provides deep, complex layers to the citizens of fictitious Patience, CO.

I was familiar with the Dark Horse comic book series the TV show is based on, but the show has its own tone. That tone is built around the casting of Alan Tudyk as alien Harry. And, even though our interactions with the citizens of Patience, CO are filtered through the arrival of an alien, I find myself fully invested in each character’s presence and personality in this ensemble show and look forward to hanging out with everyone in town on my weekly viewing visits with Resident Alien.

February Staff Picks

Dominic Loise

Mychal Threets

Mychal Threets, who won this year’s I Love My Librarian award, is having a moment, but the patrons of the Solano County Library will hopefully feel Mychal’s influence and impact for years to come. I am thoroughly enjoying the openness and warm, welcoming energy Mychal brings to social media. Mychal has a soft, Blues Clues-host vibe when discussing what’s going on in the library and how it’s a space for appreciation of others.

Around the time of the award, Mychal was talking with Oliver James on social media. Oliver’s account centers around teaching himself to read as an adult living with OCD. I very much appreciated their discussion of literacy and engagement with books. I also grew up with a learning disability and eventually went on to work with a literacy organization and marry a librarian. Mychal is equally open about mental health awareness and announced his last day at Solano County Library would be on March 1st to prioritize mental health and work with his mental health check-in team. I equally appreciate this openness as someone who also left their full-time job to prioritize their mental health, and I am in his corner as he puts his health first.

There’s been a lot of discussion about banning books in libraries lately. Growing up, I had to work around the stereotypical shushing librarians to find space in a room I didn’t feel invited to, especially as someone from an “ethnic city” family living in the suburbs during the seventies. I celebrate great librarians like Mychal and literacy spaces because I know what it was like growing up within a conservative curated collection. A real librarian doesn’t see their patrons to check out books but makes sure they are seen on the shelves. Visit Mychal Threets online then stop by your own local library.

Credit @ I Love Libraries

Ari Iscariot


For the past few months I have been on a button-mashing, finger-bashing, and skull-smashing rampage through the roguelite dungeon crawler, Hades. This comes as a surprise, because I’m notorious for abandoning games that require dying to advance to higher levels. Hades is no exception to this rule. But what makes Hades brilliant is the way it uses its death mechanic: when you die, you advance the story. 

The protagonist of Hades is the fire-stepping Prince of the Underworld, Zagreus. His mission is to fight his way out of his father’s realm. This realm is rife with ghostly enemies: vexatious witches, club-wielding wretches, and even revered heroes from the surface world. And with such formidable opponents, Zagreus dies. A lot. When you perish, you return to the game’s starting point, the House of Hades, a venerable stone mansion populated by Zagreus’s closest friends and family. With each successive death, these characters reveal to you their deepest desires and their most secret fears. And Zagreus reveals more of himself: his contentious relationship with his father, his outsider status among the denizens of the Underworld, and the secret that drove him to attempt escape—he seeks a long-lost mother he has never met. 

There’s hardly an emotional motivation more compelling than this, a child who longs for love and acceptance. It is a core that keeps you fighting even as the game slaughters you again and again. “I have to get this guy to his mom.” Eventually, you do. And it is glorious. 

Asma Al-Masyabi

Mr. Villain’s Day Off

Mr. Villain’s Day Off poses a relatively simple question as its premise: what does a lead villain trying to take over the world do on his days off? The answer is—he tries to enjoy them to their fullest, and, in turn, slowly grows to appreciate Earth and its strange inventions and inhabitants. 

Called only the General, our main character is the antagonist to Super Ranger-like heroes—until he’s off the clock. He then changes into his comfy turtleneck and trench coat and strives to avoid work at all costs. This new slice-of-life anime has already managed to capture my heart. There’s nothing more relaxing than watching someone attempt to strike that perfect work-life balance while reveling in the small moments and details that make living life worth it. Whether it’s watching pandas at the zoo, ordering latte art of said pandas, or working up the courage to eat a limited-edition panda meat bun, the General does it with unmatched determination that I can’t help but find endearing. 

Another thing about this show, it is unbearably cute. The General’s successes, and failures, have me smiling throughout the whole episode. Cute girls doing cute things is a popular genre in anime, but I think that cute guys doing cute things should be just as standard. Adults, and particularly men, aren’t often shown enjoying their life in media, and I love the way that Mr. Villain’s Day Off pushes back against that.   

Ciena Valenzuela-Peterson

Schitt’s Creek

I’m probably not the first person to recommend you Schitt’s Creek. I’m probably not the second. You’re probably thinking, “Ugh, I know, I know, everyone says I would love Schitt’s Creek, but I watched the first episode/handful of episodes/season and I just wasn’t hooked.”  

Dear reader, listen to me—listen to me, I beg of you. I know you. I see you. I was you. It’s no mistake Schitt’s Creek fans are constantly pushing the show on unsuspecting sitcom enjoyers, wheedling and insisting that you’ll love it with all the brimming sentimentality of a Canadian grandma wearing a pride pin. It really, really is that good. 

Schitt’s Creek follows the wealthy Rose family who loses everything and has no choice but to move to a crusty motel in the middle of nowhere. Over six seasons, Schitt’s Creek demonstrates the power of character-driven storytelling; what begins as a comedy satirizing the idiosyncrasies of the uber-rich unfolds into a beautiful journey of personal growth, love, and family. You’ll see yourself and your own family in the Roses—Alexis and David Rose have the realest sibling dynamic I’ve seen on TV, and Moira and Johnny’s marriage has a verisimilitude that could only be achieved by the decades-long friendship between Catherine O’Hara and Eugene Levy. Real-life father-and-son duo, Eugene and Dan Levy invite the viewer to a more hopeful world—one where queer acceptance is a given, love is precious, and everyone is good at heart. You’ll cry by the end, guaranteed. 

Jazzmin Joya


I absolutely love watching movies! It is one of my all-time favorite ways to pass time. After quarantining, I started going to the movie theaters more often, really taking advantage of their discount Tuesday’s.

During this routine, I watched the new film adaptation of Willy Wonka, starring Timothée Chalamet, Keegan Michael-Key, Olivia Colman, Hugh Grant, Rowan Atkinson, and other fun actors. Wonka is a whimsical movie establishing more background on Willy Wonka before the adventures seen in the original film and the book written by Roald Dahl. The soundtrack was beautifully done, it really captured the essence of Wonka and the magical spirit of the film. This reimagining separated itself from other movies, staying true to the essence of the story while giving its own playful spin. It also introduced us to new storylines and interesting characters. I know there were mixed feelings over this film, but I really enjoyed it. It reminded me of my childhood. The whimsicalness, the vibrant coloring, people’s LOVE for chocolate. I definitely recommend watching Wonka, you’re in for a fun time. Just be wary, the songs might get stuck in your head! 

Stephanie Sargas


This week, articles flooded my social media feeds announcing the narrative lead of my favourite video game franchise, Suikoden, sadly passed away at 55. Yoshitaka Murayama of Rabbit & Bear Studios was the chief writer for the Suikoden series, which spanned five titles and numerous spin-offs for PlayStation and Nintendo DS from 1995-2012. 

In Murayama’s honour, I’ve decided to replay Suikoden. I played it for the first time at age 6. It’s a whimsical, turn-based fantasy game that has you collect 108 ragtag allies and lead a revolution against the corrupt imperialist government into which you were born. The game features adorable artwork and a disarmingly rich soundtrack. There’re mysterious, magical crystals called runes governing the world’s elemental powers. Oh, and there are flying squirrels. And gambling. You know how it is. 

The older I get, the more it amazes me that Murayama created such a socially and politically nuanced narrative with Suikoden while being fun and accessible across age and literacy brackets. To me, this is masterful storytelling. I like to say Suikoden radicalized me before I could pronounce “radicalized,” or “Suikoden.” For that Murayama will always have my gratitude. Through his writing, I had formative exposure to diversity and representation in storytelling. I learned about the limits of black-and-white morality, and the importance of individual choice. Suikoden is why I love writing, and why I love video games. I’d recommend it to anyone who’ll listen.  

January Staff Picks

Inanna Carter

My Time at Sandrock

Farming sims and RPGs have been around for quite some time. The classics of Harvest Moon and Story of Seasons, the iconic Stardew Valley, the upcoming Fields of Mistria—they’re not going away for a long time. Now, take that and add…building?

My Time at Sandrock is an RPG where rather than moving to a new town to take over your deceased grandfather’s farm, you move to a new town to take over a builder’s workshop. The full release recently came out, and though I only just got around to starting it, I’ve been having a blast. This game is heaps better than its predecessor, My Time at Portia (though Portia has a special place in my heart).

Aside from building for the community, you can mine, fight, farm, and form relationships with the other townsfolk. It’s something you can easily sink your time into, and overall, it’s a great game. The writing is witty and the plot keeps you on your toes. Games like Sandrock and Portia, ones with complete storylines, remind me so much of books. They don’t have to be perfect or extraordinary, but if the story is engaging and the characters evoke emotion, then I’d say they end up being something pretty special.

Dominic Loise

Wesley Dodds: The Sandman

When I talk about the Sandman, I am not like most comic book fans. The character I am talking about isn’t Spider-Man’s granulated, morphing foe or Neil Gaiman’s groundbreaking goth-classic character. My Sandman is the Golden Age character, Wesley Dodds. Dodds, in his WWI gas mask, stood out to me against his WWII counterparts by wearing a three-piece suit, trench coat, and fedora while the rest of the Justice Society of America were flexing their muscles in tights and domino masks.

The new DC Comics miniseries by writer Robert Venditti and artist Riley Rossmo delves into Dodds as a man-of-mystery hero rather than a two-fisted, vigilante crime fighter. Venditti writes to the core of the character by looking at the nonviolent nature of the Sandman’s sleeping gas and PTSD from Dodds’ father in WWI, which led to his path as a hero and experiments with nonlethal weapons.

Rossmo’s art style is perfect for a series that needs to be grounded in the urban alleyways of gangster pulp and other times drift away in the dreams of a tormented hero trying to make the world safer. Besides hired thugs and gang bosses, the main villain is a darker version of Dodds, using toxic gases and tapping into the hero’s horrors and his work against chemical weapons in warfare.

Wesley Dodds: The Sandman shows a character a step between comic book and pulp novel heroes. It also shows the mindset of someone trying to make the world better between two world wars all while dealing with local violence and injustice in his city.

Sara Santistevan

Marry My Husband

*SPOILER ALERT* The following contains plot details about Marry My Husband.

If Marry My Husband is just your run-of-the-mill K-Drama, then I sincerely regret sleeping on K-Dramas until now! Based on a Webtoon by Sung So-jakMarry My Husband follows the story of Kang Ji-won, a woman who gets a second chance at life after she is murdered by her husband and best friend, who were having an affair.

I’ve often wondered what life decisions I would make differently if I got the chance to go back in time with the knowledge I have now. I also love a good revenge story! What makes Marry My Husband special is the plot’s seamless acknowledgement of some of the technical complications of time travel. In early episodes, we learn that in her previous life, Ji-won was diagnosed with stomach cancer, which was implied to result from gastritis due to the stress of her marriage. When Ji-won is thrust back into her life prior to her illness, she learns, through a series of experiments, that although future events can’t completely be avoided, they can be delayed or passed on to someone else. With this knowledge in mind, Ji-won makes it her mission to set up her best friend and future husband to avoid her fate.

Along the way, Ji-won forms genuine friendships, learns to stand up for herself, and grows more confident in her appearance and personality. Oh, and don’t worry—there’s plenty of romance, too, courtesy of the mysterious Yoo Ji-hyuk, Ji-won’s manager who seems to know more than he should about Ji-won.

December Staff Picks

My wife, Jenna, and I are huge fans of the show Monk. Not only is the first of our therapy rabbits named Trudy, after Detective Adrian Monk’s deceased wife, but the original show was a gateway for me to destigmatize the conversation around my OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder). I felt awkward when I’d spend up to fifteen minutes locking a door, checking the oven or light switches before leaving, or trying to step away from an ATM. Before I went on medication, it would sometimes take up to an hour to lock up before leaving for the day.

The original Monk series mirrored the daily work that went into addressing my mental health, and watching the show was a guide post for us to see a famous detective evolving as he put the work in through therapy and solving cases. Needless to say, we were extremely excited about Mr. Monk’s Last Case dropping on Peacock.

In the original run of the show, Tony Shalhoub brought care and compassion to the lead character of this mystery/dramedy which ran on the USA Network for eight seasons. Over the years, viewers witnessed Monk move towards two goals—getting reinstated into the police force and solving his wife’s murder. The original series had an emotional and satisfying ending to both of these accomplishments along with Monk’s character growth.

The tv movie brought back original characters and also introduced the reality of COVID-19. Specifically, how the pandemic set back Monk’s progress in therapy and how the world became a little more aligned with Monk’s mindset. Mr. Monk’s Last Case also went deeper into mental health than the original series, addressing the importance of having a purpose in life as part of the therapeutic process. Especially since COVID-19 and other events have taken away Monk’s purpose. This tv movie explored Monk finding a way to function in society and choosing to engage with others to achieve this goal. I do wish to put a trigger warning as Monk does face suicidal ideation, but i’m recommending Mr. Monk’s Last Case also because of how it deals with suicide awareness. This tv movie is not so much Adrian Monk’s last case, but the next chapter in his life.

Cecil Janecek

Lonely Castle in the Mirror

Lonely Castle in the Mirror ends in a way that feels perfectly inevitable, and yet the novel still managed to surprise me. Mizsuki Tsujimura masterfully keeps the reader on edge, questioning whether this is a heartwarming coming of age story or a fantastical horror. In the novel, seven teens—who’ve all stopped going to school for one reason or another—are chosen by the Wolf Queen to search for the Wishing Key, which will grant one of them a single miracle. Even if they choose not to search for it, they’ll still have access to the castle for one year as a respite from the “real world.” But if they break the Wolf Queen’s one rule—never enter the castle after 5 p.m.—they’ll be eaten.

As the teens’ lives get more complicated and strange coincidences continue to connect them, they begin to question the Wolf Queen’s motivations and their realities. I, too, began to worry that the book would employ my least favorite trope: at the end of the adventure, everyone would forget and return to their normal lives as if nothing had happened. But no! The Wolf Queen’s secrets gutted me to tears and the found family among these seven traumatized teens connected them in ways I never anticipated, but found completely satisfying by the end.

JP Legarte

Alan Wake II

As writers, I don’t think we would deny the power words hold, but what if the stories we wrote manifested in our environment and altered reality? Enter Alan Wake II, a survival horror game where FBI agent Saga Anderson arrives in a small town called Bright Falls to investigate a ritualistic murder and finds pages of a manuscript titled Return that detail events as they happen—a manuscript written by the titular character, Alan Wake, stuck in an alternate dimension named the Dark Place for the past thirteen years.

Throughout the game, you can alternate between both characters, leading to situations where progressing through one character’s chapter fills in the blanks of the other. As Anderson, you traverse the isolated alcoves of Bright Falls and the vast forest of Cauldron Lake; and as Wake, you navigate a twisted version of New York. These locations were symmetric blends of beauty and eeriness, magnified when monsters—the Taken and Fadeouts—constantly haunt the characters and when, at times, the monsters are the characters’ own fears.

Anderson and Wake are certainly not defenseless against the Taken and Fadeouts. Players can obtain numerous weapons, such as a shotgun, a crossbow, and a flare gun. However, they are ineffective on their own, which brings me to one of my favorite parts of the combat system. Equally important are the batteries for flashlights as well as hand flares, both used to diffuse the shadows and darkness protecting the Taken and Fadeouts. This mechanic emphasizes the importance of resources in the characters’ limited inventories. Heightening the combat is the claustrophobic feeling when multiple monsters attack at locations where there is not much room to maneuver, offering a challenging yet rewarding fight against darkness with light, metaphorically and literally.

Alan Wake II is a horror story that brings you to the edge of your seat as you contend with supernatural scares and shifting realities. There’s even a musical sequence in one of Wake’s chapters that was an absolute masterpiece in mixed visuals, sound, and—yes—combat. If you’re still not convinced, consider the game’s accolades at The Game Awards 2023: Best Art Direction, Best Narrative, and Best Game Direction. Rest assured, I’ll soon be replaying the game through its rendition of New Game Plus titled The Final Draft, falling down the familiar yet changed rabbit hole with Anderson and Wake all over again.

An Interview with Sina Grace

Trigger Warning—This interview deals with the subject of death by suicide and suicidal ideation

Superman: The Harvests of Youth deals with the topic of suicide awareness. With all of Clark Kent’s powers, what was it like writing him in high school and his fellow students having an invisible illness which his Kryptonian abilities (super strength, heat vision, ect.) are no match against?

This is terrible phrasing, but it was so much fun writing about a superhero tackling issues he can’t punch his way through! From a creative standpoint, I always struggle with being the writer who comes up with the coolest, most inventive fight scenes. Being in touch with my emotions and writing about people finding ways to connect with each other? I excel! This is to say, I felt confident going in and telling a story about people getting lost right under Clark’s nose and how he takes these lessons to become the greatest superhero of all time. A do-good teen like Clark wants to run directly at every problem and fix it right away… that’s not always the best move (even in fight scene situations), so putting him in these delicate and vulnerable situations felt like a great place to do my best as a storyteller.

After a decline before the Covid pandemic, The Center for Disease Control and Prevention reported that the United States has seen a 4% increase in the rates of completed attempts in deaths by suicide in 2021. Since the CDC’s 2022 percentage still shows an increase in this percentage, how does Superman: The Harvests of Youth address the topic of suicide awareness in a comic book universe where the main character of Superman symbolizes Hope?

In making Superman: The Harvests of Youth, I tried my best to portray the reality of loss and similarly what it’s like to feel lost. There’s a song by Sleater-Kinney called “Reach Out” that was incredibly inspirational during the production of Superman. Even though the song was released before the pandemic, it so terribly captured the desperation we all felt during lockdown. I stayed focused on real emotions, and then used the characters to find different ways to say things I would have wanted to hear (or, in some instances, say) in those moments. Giving space and normalcy to these big, dark feelings… that was sort of the best I could do without becoming preachy. 

I started writing this book in May 2020, and turned in my last page of art in November 2022. Every beat of this book was made in the confines of my home, where I think there’s a subconscious infusion of my own tug-of-war between desperation and hope. I was creating the most difficult and upsetting book of my career, but I was making it with the hope that it would see the light of day, that publishing and comics would be on the other side of an industry-wide shutdown. 

Clark is not the only person looking for what to say as a way of supporting other characters in Superman: The Harvests of Youth. How was it writing Jonathan and Martha Kent scenes particularly when Jonathan is trying to find the words to guide his adopted son with alien superpowers when Clark is looking for human answers?

My main goal with the book was to show all the different ways people struggle and how “not succeeding” doesn’t mean “failure.” Pa Kent is usually portrayed as having the answers, so I really loved putting him in a position where instead of giving Clark terrible advice, he’s kind of like “I’m stumped too.” I also wanted to capture that moment in adolescence where you realize your parents don’t understand or aren’t the ones to turn to when the challenges get big. Clark’s parents really were my favorites to write, just because they volleyed off each other like a real couple… quibbles and all. Without spoiling an interaction at the end, they show what compassion looks like in terms of taking someone for where they’re at and not pushing them harder than they can take.

The graphic novel deals with the ongoing issue of cyber bullying that students face today. Could you talk about writing Clark facing an unseen adversary which does not comes from outer space but is fellow students he walks with in the same school hallways and fellow community members he unsuspectedly passes on the local streets of Smallville? 

When I started making this book, I wanted to give love and humanity to issues that I’ve faced in my own life. It seems easy for folks to fall into some rabbit holes online, or jump onto bandwagons where they’re not quite understanding the impact of their actions. Humanizing that stuff made me find some of my own peace in terms of recognizing that these people are finding community of their own… albeit at the expense of my mental health. I don’t think there’s any point in trying to challenge cyber bullying online, but making more of an effort to reach out to people in everyday life feels like a good first step. 

In the graphic novel, Clark Kent also discovers an online hate group operating in his midwestern hometown of Smallville. What increase of hate speech have you noticed on comic book websites and message boards as the industry grows to be more diverse in its audience representation?

I’ve noticed a lot of misguided anger proliferating in our industry. From my own personal experience, things were hitting a boil around five to seven years ago… it seemed like people thought the best way to get what they wanted (less of the books they disliked?) was to demoralize and relentlessly attack individuals. I’m sure the rhetoric and activity is still happening to the same degrees as I experienced when I was promoting my Iceman book at Marvel, but nowadays I just post and walk away from platforms where that chatter goes on. I think the thing I’m noticing too is that it’s really only focused on the “floppy”/ direct market side of comics. 

Superman is a character who is limitless in his ability but what guardrails come with writing Clark in this story as opposed to stories you are able to tell with your independent comic book characters Rockstar and Softboy?

When it comes to writing a character as beloved as Clark Kent, I just have to be sensitive about how the character interacts with potentially amoral or “naughty” things. In my book, Clark is a teenager, so when Lex Luthor is seen drinking in the book, I had to make it abundantly clear that Clark wouldn’t participate in or condone underage drinking. It wasn’t a problem to spell out what I believe is the character’s DNA, and I think the same is true in the other direction with Rockstar and Softboy. Those boys are bawdy and aggressive in their pursuit of gay hijinx, so I took great care spelling that out in their dialog and actions. 

Where can our readers find you and your work online?

Nice thing about my name is that I have a pretty firm hold of @SinaGrace on all platforms! Instagram is my fave place!!

A Review of Love Letters from an Arsonist by David van den Berg

Setting and self are at the center of David van den Berg’s poetry collection Love Letters from an Arsonist. Van den Berg’s poems are rooted in a southern gothic tone borrowed from generations of people who have been contained by their environment, just like the fantasy creatures he describes lurking in the dark shadows. The metaphysical and mystical are both misfigured by the surroundings of the Florida outskirts as van den Berg tries to process the environments around him: natural, unnatural, and familial. 

The collection is divided into three parts. The first two sections examine the anger in feeling powerless and the immobility found in the South. The third section travels past the self-righteousness of places rooted in traditional values when resisting the benefits of modernization, and moves on to confront the act of self-loathing. Each section excavates and explores loneliness until the only option is to rise above our environment and change the story, rather than continue the same narrative of previous generations.

Salt River Blues is the first section of poems and takes a closer look at the underbelly of what haunts us when reflecting on our monstrous selves. Among immobile people wishing for less enlightened times, it gives a sense that America has moved past the ancient deities—but some immortal legends such as European mythical creatures, voodoo spells, and Lovecraft tales still wander these backroads. There are allusions to this in the title poem of this section, “mudcats sing ‘bout mermaids what grow whiskers and choose tobacco over princes.” Van den Berg’s poems also give the sense of growing up around people pushed to the fringes of commercial society. The men are portrayed as sons of Argonauts, landlocked in trailers, narrating dated folklore around campfires. The women, on the other hand, appear as daughters of Circe who know the unspoken ways of dealing with problems. 

Mythical creatures are pickled and morphed while God drinks moonshine from empty mason jars as we transition into the second section, The Midnight Gospel, which has a more biblical approach with the poet as seeker. Here he is confronting the mystical head on—instead of it being an unknown entity—to explain the surroundings outside mainstream society. As the poet is a seeker on the way to understanding the self, he is no longer looking into the deep pools and caves of myth. Instead, he finds God and ends up disappointed that the almighty is like him, searching for reprieve in shallow liquor glasses. This leads to the realization that we need to face our own flaws. If God is man, then God is fallible. In the poems in this section, God is questioned in bars or whichever dirty dive the deity is found in and the answers received come short and direct like shot glass wisdom. In “Prayer For Peace,”the deity’s response to the question of peace is, “he asked if we had tried killin’ other peoples’ kid”, and“he said maybe if we kept it up we’d figure things out”, while walking off with his drink.

The third section, Pinecone Son, is about learning to lean on ourselves to make the changes we are looking for in life. The title of this section comes from the poem the book is named after. It borrows from Love Letters from an Arsonist’s opening line, “daddy was a wildfire burned hisself inside out / spat out pinecone sons what can only grow in flames’,which define how this section deals with the poet working to replant himself in a nontoxic environment and rise above the smoke screen of others to see the world clearly with his own vision. The poems hereare about breaking the cycle of parental expectations, overcoming the limitations of where we grew up, learning to set expectations for ourselves, and being open to help from strangers. The poem “Fly United”  appreciates a man from the Ivory Coast experiencing and expressing joy on an airplane with his plea, “and if you have that light in you, i ask you now share it just a little more often for those like me who live in darkness and spend our lives without”. “Mithras Rising” is about an unseen stranger helping someone after a night of drinking as “he stumbled out the door at 2 am,” and wakes up on the beach afterwards, discovering“next to the pants he found a full bottle of water and an unopened pack of crackers and on the bottle were three words, written in sharpie: ‘love yourself more’.”It gives the reader a sense that the poet has found a way out of the trap of generational patterns and that he can close the door on the past to start finding peace in the present.

Love Letters from an Arsonist is a poetry collection that can be read multiple times. David van den Berg has put much thought into how these pieces connect, and how they flow together not only as we read them in succession, but even when they are divided across three sections. Each part also portrays stories about where we come from, where we are going, or the consequences of staying immobile at the crossroads of indecision yet circumventing ‘The Fates’ of becoming immortal through passed-down stories. This last part the poet accomplishes by writing about breaking the cycle of family stories to tell our own, and how to cut off from the bad branch of the ancestral tree and not become another infamous character in local lore. 

I would recommend this collection for anyone haunted by their past and in search of their current self. In its whole, Love Letters from an Arsonist is a poetry collection that puts on paper a roadmap of growth for both a poet and a person.

Love Letters from an Arsonist is available now from April Gloaming.

An Interview with Christina Quay and Chase Griffin

First off tell us about your new book How To Play The Necromancer’s Theremin and its character psychedelic sci-fi writer Rocco Atleby

Griffin: How To Play A Necromancer’s Theremin is about a cult classic author named Rocco Atleby and his literary world called the Patasphere. Rocco is this archetypal mid-century wise old sci-fi author sage and the whole world, that he may or may not have created, is obsessed with him. There are Rocco-themed bars, Rocco pilgrimages you can purchase, and much more. The world is littered with his face and words. 

The book is about the cult of personality, our clout-obsessed showbiz culture, and the search for authenticity and spiritually-meaningful living in our techno-infused carnival of political horrors called late capitalism. 

Quay: Rocco Atleby was born in the middle of the pandemic when Chase and I were both laid off from our jobs. We went on a lot of walks together to pass the isolated time, especially late at night when we were restless and didn’t have any jobs to get up for in the morning. 

I don’t remember exactly when Chase started talking about Rocco and his admirers, it was like he had always been there, like someone we were remembering together. He is definitely Chase’s brain child.I feel so lucky that we have the kind of relationship where Chase always wants me to word play with him and live and interact within his imagination with him. 

What was it like writing a character from back in the days of fringe drug culture when we now see that psychedelics have fallen more into the mainstream for mental health treatment?

Griffin: Writing Rocco was like having a kooky old uncle move in with us. It was a bit of a sitcom episode. But instead of dividing the house in half with duct tape, the Griffin-Quays on one side and Rocco on the other, we sequestered Rocco to a mother-in-law suite located above the detached garage. And he was only allowed into our home when we gave him permission. So, I guess it was like a sitcom about a friendly, kooky vampire uncle. Man, I gotta pitch that to someone. We could call it Vuncle.

We’d ask Vuncle questions about the old days and his excessive toxic creative behavior and then when Vuncle came to be too much and we politely asked him to go back into the suite he politely went back into the suite.

Quay: As someone who decided to begin the journey of total sobriety when the pandemic started (no alcohol and no cannabis, and coffee has been my only vice for 3 years now) it was very therapeutic for me to write about these wild characters who totally distorted and bastardized the magic of words and used them for drug-like purposes. It almost made me feel even more sure in my decision to live life sober and uninhibited by mind altering substances. And saying all this isn’t to knock anyone’s lifestyle by any means, but it was a good way for me to find perspective personally. 

It was really fun to write about a character from back in the days of fringe psychedelia because I have always been fascinated by the stories of Carlos Castaneda, Philip K. Dick, and Terrence McKenna to name a few. I have always been drawn to tales of the otherworldly and breaking through our reality into shared realities. The way Chase used [these] books as that vehicle in our novel was just so creative to me, I’m literally astounded continuously by his unmatched imagination.

How is it like looking at the work of those sixties and seventies psychedelic sci-fi authors, whose ideas were celebrated by readers for being avant-garde and then one sees video of Philip K. Dick speaking at the 1977 Metz SciFi Convention and he presented the VALIS trilogy as possibly real? How does your work deal with the Borgesian conundrum questioning “whether the writer writes the book or it writes them”?

Griffin: Whenever people ask Alan Moore where his ideas come from he says, “I have no idea. A voice just shows up and does the work.” When I sit down at the old desk and write, not much happens for the first hour or so. Some verbs and nouns tumble onto the page and dance like a herky jerky robot. Don’t get me wrong. Sometimes the herky jerky robot can be a fun spectacle for both myself and the reader, but that robot dance along with all the various types of fiction dances must be on our terms and on purpose. 

I think this Muse, VALIS, is what PKD was hearing (and seeing sometimes) and because the notion of positive “support system” didn’t quite exist back then and because the psychology world was in the midst of rapid transition and constant change back then and because of whatever the underlying mental health issues he suffered from his whole life and because of the amphetamine use, he sometimes took his Muse experiences to be very real.

I guess when I watch that video of PKD at the Metz, I feel lucky. I feel lucky to have a modern perspective. I feel lucky to not take myself so seriously (whether it’s on purpose or not). I can for sure understand PKD’s Metz exuberance. Sometimes when I have a creative breakthrough I feel like I want to hold a press conference too. I won’t lol but sometimes I want to. 

Quay: Chase and I definitely don’t take ourselves so seriously as to think anything we write has any basis in this tangible shared reality. Do artists create realities? Absolutely. But do we think in some multiversal plane Rocco Atleby is hurtling through time in a fat tornado clock? Not likely. I have always been tickled by the juxtaposition of the writer and their intentions versus how their work is received. Intention versus reception and interpretation is an animal all of its own.

And when it comes to the psychedelics and admiring their groundbreaking strides, we can love and revere their work without considering it as a religion of truth. 

As far as the Borgesian conundrum, it’s a paradox that Chase inserted I think quite intentionally into our book in a few different ways. My favorite example is the character Holger, because while we wrote the book, I asked him, “So did Rocco write Holger into existence, or is it more of a Stranger than Fiction situation where Rocco is omnisciently narrating and guiding the fates with his pen?” And Chase has still remained mysterious, even with me, in his answers, because I think maybe it’s a little bit of both. 

What is it like for you two writing a book together as a couple with a family together? What is your process?

Griffin: Christina and I Yes-Anded this book during the pandemic as a way to pass the time, jokingly muse about the nature of things, flirt with each other, and try our dang hardest to make each laugh so hard we piss ourselves

Quay: Writing a book with Chase was a purely magical experience. It was like he invited me to live in his head for a while, because Chase deserves full credit for the birth of the Roccoverse. Writing this book with him was like being invited on a road trip. And he handed me this wild map that only I could interpret and we hopped in a flying clown car and I played navigator on this wild ride to another dimension where occasionally I would completely take the wheel. It really says a lot about Chase’s ego, he genuinely wanted my voice to be present in his work, and it became ours. It started off as me just “editing” and “taking a look” but I started asking if I could tweak things or add sentences and then scenes, and before I knew it I had written so much that I said “Chase, I don’t feel comfortable not having my name on this, what if this gets published and someone quotes my words and the by line says Chase Griffin? And he said, “Scroll up to the top of the document,” and he had already put my name under his. He’s quite devilish really. 

We wrote the book like a conversation in a Google document. That way we could both work on it at the same time and even see where the other person was in the document while we wrote. We heavily got into writing when I found out I was pregnant with our first child in 2021. My stepson was 7 at the time, so I would go to work, come home, cook dinner for us while Chase was at work, put our son to bed, and I wouldn’t start writing until 9 o’clock at night some nights. It was really hard work, and especially since I was pregnant writing this felt like a happy fever dream. 

Kelvin Matheus writes that your book is “some type of esoteric improv that explores Borges’ theory on causality as the main problem of the literary arts”. We discussed Borges and psychedelics, fringe sci-fi but improv have more connections than people know when you look at the biography, tall tales and teachings of improv guru Del Close. How familiar are you both with Close’ work, bio, and this teaches of “yes and”, truth in comedy” & “working at the top of your intelligence”?

Griffin: Del Close is another one of the great psychonautzzzz. He’s almost never credited as one, but he is. He was even a Merry Prankster and the SNL crew’s house metaphysician. Del Close was from that long line of, from High Weirdness, “subcultures…united in their desire to affect a complete discontinuity with the conventional reality.”  

Improv comedy is one of the big themes, concepts, and engines of our book. Christina and I were constantly playing Del Close’s game, The Harold. And Wasteland has been a big inspiration on my creative life. The Harold and Yes And are like spells. Improv comedy has always fascinated me. It is like the creation of brief anarchic pocket universes. Improv comedy, in my opinion, is a modern day esoteric magickal ritual. 

Quay: I am extremely well read, but Chase is the comedy manual, philosophy nut so this question is admittedly a better target for Chase. I’m more of a historical fiction, fantasy reader. But I think that’s what makes our novel so fascinating. If you’re an avid reader of philosophy and improv comedy, you’ll see so much behind the lines that Chase put there on purpose, but if you aren’t, like me, you can still totally understand and interact with the book. 

What sci-fi writers of this time period do you wish more readers would rediscover? What draws you to their work?

Griffin: Ursula Le Guin, Octavia Butler, Samuel R. Delany, and Michael Moorcock. Borges isn’t sci-fi in the traditional sense and he’s older than the new wave sci-fi we’ve been discussing but I think he kind of counts because he had a renaissance towards the end of his life in the 60’s and 70’s when he was discovered in the US by this generation of writers and readers. 

I always recommend Borges (Borges and Mary Shelley are probably my all-time favorite writers) and his trippy brain-wrinkling reality warping tales like The Library of Babel, Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius, Funes, His Memory, The Immortal, The Aleph, and so many others. And yes, if anyone was wondering, more than anything else, How To Play A Necromancer’s Theremin is our attempt to write a full length Jorge Luis Borges novel.

Where can readers find you online and check out your work?

Griffin: How to Play a Necromancer’s Theremin will be published by Maudlin House on September 28th. Long Day Press published my debut novel, What’s On the Menu?. That book is about sunbaked restaurateuring and tainted water supplies. My Instagram @sleepcook_ is where one can find all the updates and extra nuggets.

Quay: My paintings and drawings can be found on my Instagram @qualien_