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  • Interview with Photographer Doug McGoldrick

    Interviewed by William Grant

    Doug McGoldrick is a fascinating man. I met him while attending Columbia College Chicago where he teaches photography classes part-time. When I took his class, I was in the process of creating a new photographic series that I was incredibly passionate about. Doug was one of the biggest influences for me during that time. His encouragement and insight helped push me to create some of my best work.

    When I was assigned the task of interviewing an artist for Hair Trigger 2.0, I immediately reached out to Doug. From my time working with him, I knew he would make for an interesting interview. He’s done a bit of everything and seems to always be ready for something new and compelling. In the interview below he tells me about his passion for photography, his favorite things to shoot, and how he defines his success.

    Will Grant: When did your passion for photography begin?    

    Doug McGoldrick: When I was in grade school my dad was an amateur photographer, and we would sometimes go out on weekends and take nature photos together. What sparked it? Getting photos back from the camera store and seeing my photos when I was a kid was super exciting.

    WG: You’ve done a wide variety of work ranging from weddings to industrial factories to motorcyclists and more. Is there one subject you’ve done that interests you the most or is there fun in always changing?

    DM: For me whenever I can get to see behind the scenes someplace where most people don’t get to be, I’m happiest. I think in my heart doing documentary-type work is my favorite. I think part of it is, growing up I was very shy and bringing my camera into a place to take pictures gave me a reason to talk to people.

    WG: Do you have other non-photographic hobbies and do they ever bleed into your photographic work?

    DM: I do a lot of painting and drawing and they tend to go together with my photography nicely. Also bike racing and motorcycles are things I’m into, taking photos in those communities gives me an excuse to talk to people and get more involved than I would normally be.

    WG: Is there a series/subject matter that you’d like to explore in your work that you haven’t yet?

    DM: Oh man, so many. I would really love to go on tour with a dance company or band and shoot everything. Also any sort of big, dirty industry.

    WG: You’re a part-time teacher at Columbia College Chicago. What is a key piece of advice you share with all your students? What is something unexpected or valuable that you’ve learned from your students?

    DM: Lately I’ve been teaching a business of photography class and I like to let all the students know that in the photo biz moreso than almost any other, competition is incredible and to make it you need to be a person who hustles harder than the rest. I’m always learning so much from the students, a lot of it is tech stuff, but to me the most exciting thing is seeing how people's way of seeing the world changes.

    WG: How do you define success and, by your definition, do you consider yourself successful?

    DM: I think if you are making your living from photography you are in a sense successful, because it’s really hard. In my head I have this picture of success where I’m not pushing myself out there for work but work is just coming to me; I don’t think I’m there and probably nobody really is. Sometimes I feel like a success, sometimes I don’t. I was talking to another photographer recently, joking about how some months you want to start driving for Lyft and some months you feel like you could buy a Tesla. It’s a strange biz but way better than going to an office every day.

    See more of Doug’s work at dougphoto.com


    William Grant is a Photography and Fiction Writing major at Columbia College Chicago. He enjoys broccoli and Anna Kendrick.

  • Samantha Irby: blogger, essayist, realist

    Interview by Jennifer Bostrom

    Almost four years ago, Samantha Irby came to my class and we talked about vibrators. No, it wasn’t a sex ed class, Irby was visiting to enlighten prospective writers, myself included, on the pros and cons of publishing her first book, Meaty (2013), with an indie-publisher. Those familiar with the essayist and blogger’s work might think: “Yeah, totally. Why wouldn’t you talk about vibrators?” but those unfamiliar might wonder: “WTF? What do vibrators and publishing books have to do with one another?” The answer is quite simply: very little (unless maybe you’re trying to lesson the sting of editorial rejection with some Irby-approved "me time").

    Bitches Gotta Eat (henceforth reffered to as BGE) is part recipe blog (not really, but with a name like "Bitches Gotta Eat" Irby does throw in the occasional recipe post), part "Dear Diary," and part self-deprecatingly candid posts about Irby’s battle with Crohn’s disease—including the “hotsex doctor” she sees for it. BGE’s popularity, as well as Irby’s candor and personality, lead her to pen Meaty. Every bit as funny, real, and grounded as the author, Meaty is a collection of essays that bring BGE's flavor for 251 pages. Currently, Irby works full time and is writing a second book, but gave me the opportunity to distract her for a bit.

    Jennifer Bostrom: How did BGE get its start?

    Samantha Irby: I first started a blog on Myspace (omg does anyone even still know what that is) to impress this kid I wanted to be my boyfriend. The relationship went to shit and so did that blog, but a bunch of people reached out to me asking me to continue writing. Eventually, at the urging of my friend Laura, over cheeseburgers and beers, I decided to start BGE.

    JB: Your first BGE post was June 2, 2009 and it reads “welcome to the raddest spot on the interwebs.” What is the raddest thing about BGE?

    SI: Every answer that comes to mind makes me feel like an asshole, so I will just say “it’s funny.”

    JB: You’re approaching the seventh anniversary of BGE (congratulations); it’s not uncommon that once bloggers have been published—or if they have a full time job—for blogs to lose momentum. How do you consistently bring a fresh perspective to posts, even when you revisit topics like writing or dating?

    SI: I can’t believe it’s been seven years already, omg. Wellllllllllllllllll, I’m not sure that “consistently” is a word I can confidently use, since over the last handful of months I’ve only posted a handful of times. I am forever evolving, and s--t is always happening to me in new ways. And the zeitgeist is forever changing, too. So I feel like as long as my cultural references stay au courant, then I’m all good.

    JB: BGE has always been written in lowercase font, boldface, and neon colors interspersed for emphasis. How did this style develop? If you could, would you publish your books the same way? 

    SI: I’ve always written in lowercase, just as a personal style thing. The multicolored text serves two purposes. 1) Since I tend to write long-form prose, it helps to break it all up a little bit, and 2) it serves my massive ego to highlight lines I am particularly proud of. I have been discouraged from using lowercase in my books, and I’m cool with it. It distinguishes the books from the blog to have them formatted differently but—and this is the more important thing to me—the text won’t be a distraction to people who are unfamiliar with my writing. Since it really is my personal preference, and not some stylistic or political statement, I don’t want every review to focus on why I don’t capitalize my Is. I don’t want anything to get in the way of the work.

    JB: When you write things like “Compliments are the currency of womanhood,” it makes me want to quote you (and if I had a better memory I would). How would you describe your voice?

    SI: Salty and with a strong undercurrent of wit, multiple hatreds, and crushing anxiety.

    JB: On BGE you’ve written about outlining your new book. What is your typical process for writing? How, if at all, has your process changed since writing Meaty? Does anything differ when you write for your books vs. blog posts? 

    SI: Writing my blog is a lot easier for me. Usually something dumb happens and then I’m like OH MY FUCKING GOD I GOTTA WRITE ABOUT THIS RN (RN= right now, for those not versed in social media shorthand) and then I huddle over my desk and bang it out and get the instant gratification of seeing it go live and getting reactions to it. The book is hard because I sit alone writing in a vacuum and have to wait months and months before anyone lays eyes on it, which means I have months and months to pick it apart and doubt whether or not it’s good. Having a lot of time is almost tougher than trying to write it in a few months, because I’m a master procrastinator who is terrific at making excuses. If this damn thing ever gets done, it’ll be a miracle.

    I try to write an outline for every piece, and I never start writing a thing until I know how I’m going to end it. Even if I know exactly what an essay is going to be about, I don’t feel comfortable unless I know how it’s going to wrap up. Sometimes I’ll write the last couple paragraphs before I start the first. It’s that serious.

    JB: Where do you write—home, coffee shops? What music is in your Spotify “writing playlist” right now? 

    SI: I try to write at home because I hate people and noise and sunshine and looking at things—plus I don’t have to put on shoes or a bra—but writing at home is hard because there’s a TV and a bed. It’s an actual nightmare. I wrote most of the new book at other people’s houses, which is the best of both worlds: I don’t have to worry about leaving my laptop if I have to pee, but also there’s the public shame of someone catching me doing internet crossword puzzles while pretending to be writing.

    I make a killer fucking playlist, and I keep adding songs to the one I made to help me get through working on this book. It’s got 100+ songs on it, and I would never bore you with all of them so here is a sampling:

    “Your Love is Killing Me” - Sharon Van Etten

    “Weekend” - Mac Miller feat. Miguel

    “Refuse” - Kevin Garrett

    “Caretaker” - D.R.A.M. feat. SZA

    “2000 Seasons” Talib Kweli

    “No Role Modelz” - J. Cole

    “Coming Down” - Dum Dum Girls

    “You Took Your Time” - Mount Kimbie

    “Mad Lucas” - The Breeders

    “Etc” - Francis and the Lights

    “Forgive Me for Giving Up” - Hundred Waters

    I’m also really into Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue album and looped recordings of thunderstorms.

    JB: I know when it came to writing Meaty, you’ve said that it was an opportunity that presented itself. What opportunity lead to the decision to write another book?

    SI: This is going to sound like bullshit for real, but it really was another opportunity that presented itself. I didn’t have an agent for Meaty—the publishers were friends of mine. After it came out, I got an email from my current agent asking if I had one. I told him no, we talked on the phone, then BOOM he became my rep. He told me to put a few new pieces together and I did, he sent them out, and a few months later, I signed a deal. Even though it happened to me, writing it out feels like a fever dream. Crazy.

    JB: Had that initial opportunity not presented itself, do you think you would’ve still written a book? 

    SI: NEVER EVER FUCKING EVER. Finding an agent and pitching a book are difficult things to do even if you’re incredibly motivatedand I’m just not. I have a job, being active on Twitter stresses me out. I have no desire to do more than randomly post shit to make people laugh whenever the mood strikes me. I was perfectly happy just toiling away in my little corner of the internet, and my plan was to do that until life got boring or people stopped reading blogs—which is probably now, but I’m too old to have caught onto that yet.

    JB: What has been the hardest thing about writing your latest book? 

    SI: Figuring out what is interesting enough to go in it.

    JB: Meaty was marketed almost entirely through social media. Are you going to use the same approach with your new book?

    SI: Meaty came out on a small local press [Curbside Splendor] and big budget ad campaigns were totally out of the question. This new one is coming out on Vintage, a subsidiary of Knopf, and there are editors and marketing people and digital strategists and all sorts of other big time shit. I will be in charge of nothing, and that’s totally cool. 

    JB: I read in your interview with Chicago Now that Meaty took four months to write, all while watching twerking videos on Youtube and Grey’s Anatomy. What are your vices with this new book?

    SI: Makeup tutorials, holy shit. I could sit for hours watching Jaclyn Hill and Jeffree Star apply eyeshadows and highlighter. IT’S MESMERIZING.

    JB: What are the top 3 ways you procrastinate? What are the top 3 ways you push through procrastination?

    SI: 1) HBO

    2) Napping

    3) Carbohydrates

    1) Threats

    2) Disappointed emails from my agent

    3) Daydreaming about all the dumb shit I can waste money on when the book starts selling

    JB: Like you, I attended Nichols Middle School and Evanston Township High School, take my pets to Bramer Animal Hospital (where Irby maintains a full-time job), and eat at Lady Gregory’s and the Cozy Noodle on Davis—basically, I think I may be geographically stalking you (sorry!)—but you and I have very different writing style. What would you attribute your style to?

    SI: Omg, I am now wracked with anxiety that I might have been inexplicably rude to you at my job. (Just FYI, reader, Sam has never been rude to me at her job.) People always tell me that my voice is very distinctive, but I don’t know what to attribute it to. It’s just the voice I hear in my head, stream of consciousness rambling run-on sentences, sprayed on paper. I really do just write things to make myself laugh, and when it makes other people laugh, too, that’s butter on the toast.

    JB: I remember when you came to my class you championed LELOs (ahem, vibrators). You’re candid with every topic you write and talk about. As a writer, I often stray from uncomfortable topics, whether it’s from a place of my own self-censorship or an external factor. Do you struggle with any censorship? How do you think you grew to be so comfortable with candor? 

    SI: I suppose it’s been easy because I’ve had very few negative consequences? Lately, I have been trying not to swear so bleeping much, but other than that I don’t really censor myself. There are topics I avoid—politics, religion, etcetra—because 1) they aren’t that funny and 2) I don’t feel learned enough to write about them and sound like I know what I’m talking about, and others I shy away from because no one should ever be totally transparent. (Also: Go get a LELO if you haven’t yet—they’re magical.)

    JB: In Meaty, we learn that your parents died when you were very young. My condolences. Did that loss contribute to introspection and lead to becoming a writer?

    SI: I’m not sure that I ever wanted to become a writer. In high school, I wrote a lot of fiction based on fantasies of the lives I would’ve created for myself if life was something I could be in charge of rather than a game of cosmic roulette. Those stories were an escape from the horrors of my real life. I don’t know that writing is something I would’ve pursued if I had people around telling me how disappointed they were in my decision to put my life out in public. I never got to know my parents well enough to know how they’d respond to my work. I hope this doesn’t sound callous, it’s definitely an advantage to not have them around.

    JB: How much of your free time is dedicated to writing?

    SI: I usually write my blog on my lunch breaks at work. I have never wanted it to feel like a chore, so I don’t write it on the weekends or my days off. When I have book stuff to work on, I try to write whenever I’m not working, but that usually ends up being 70% Hulu and 30% staring at my Macbook waiting for the words to present themselves to my fingers. But I don’t really like writing in a vacuum, so even on the days I dedicate to writing, I try to break it up a little bit: stretch my legs, watch some trashy TV, whatever I can do to give my brain a little breather.

    JB: The first paragraph of Meaty has the line “I have a ‘job’ and not a ‘career.’” Has a job working in an animal hospital hindered or helped you as a writer? Would you consider writing your career? 

    SI: I’m not sure if anything other than the flexibility and lack of any sort of punitive moral code of conduct has helped my writing, but I guess those are pretty important things. It’s pretty amazing not to have to worry about being fired for something I’ve written on the internet. I’m not really sure I want writing to be my career, because what if the ideas stop? What if I stop being as interesting, or as funny? I’m not sure I would enjoy writing as much if my livelihood depended on it.

    JB: Lastly, what advice would you give to aspiring essayists?

    SI: Get a job. It doesn’t have to be a career, but you definitely need a regular paycheck for things like food and cocktails and lightning fast internet or whatever. Not having the pressure of hustling for money, or writing shit I don’t care about just to collect a check for it, has been incredibly freeing. I’m free to write about my butthole and falling asleep in nightclubs because, even if no one wants to pay to read about it, because walking dogs or selling doughnuts has already covered my rent.

    To read more of Irby's words, go to Bitches Gotta Eat or find Meaty online at Amazon or Barnes & Noble.


    Jennifer Bostrom is a BA Honors Fiction Graduate from Columbia College Chicago, Academic Excellence scholarship recipient (2013-2016), Production Editor of CCC’s award-winning Hair Trigger anthology, and intern for HYPERtext MagazineJennifer's fiction can be found at The Copperfield Review and Habitat Magazine or on her website jcbostrom.com. 

  • Q&A with Gina DiPonio, 2011 Friedman Award winner

    Interview by Ben Kowalski

    Gina DiPonio won the David Friedman Memorial award in 2011 for her piece "Then There Were Three." She is now the program manager for University of Chicago's Writer's Studio. She also teachers in the Master of Liberal Arts program at University of Chicago and the Professional and Liberal Studies Program at Roosevelt University. Aside from Hair Trigger, DiPonio's work has been published in The Sun, Three Hawks Review, and Contrary Magazine. She has also published journalistic work on ExploreChicago.com and in Traverse: Northern Michigan's Magazine.

    Hair Trigger spoke with Gina DiPonio about working in journalism, her current novel project, and how deadlines can be a positive thing.

    Ben Kowalski: You've mostly worked in creative writing, but you've also done some journalistic work. What inspired you to do that?

    Gina DiPonio: I’ve always been drawn to writing and I wanted to try a bunch of different styles and genres. When I first started out, I was interested in literary nonfiction so I thought that writing for magazines would be the way to get there. But I often felt that writing an assignment like that—writing in a more commercial [way], often to promote a product or to meet the voice of the magazine or the newspaper—didn’t appeal to me as much, even though I still like that. I find fiction, creative nonfiction, and personal essays...can be more interesting, [and give] you more room to play.

    BK: How does the journalistic experience affect your creative writing?

    GD: One powerful lesson from journalistic writing is getting a piece done. Having that deadline forces you to give it your best shot and just get it out. That can be a struggle with creative writing if you aren’t working on a deadline and there’s no one waiting for you. Having a deadline taught me how to complete pieces.

    BK: What creative writing projects are you working on, if any?

    GD: The main thing I’m working on is a novel about three women, each traveling alone through Europe. [It’s also about] exploring the stages of a woman's life through the vehicle of these three women.

    BK: What inspired you to write that?

    GD: I mostly write personal essays and memoir, but I want to fictionalize more. [When I started writing about a] seventeen-year-old young woman traveling through Europe and [having] a bunch of adventures, I thought, “Let me try to not make it about me. Let me try to fictionalize it.” From there, I took my experience and thought about two other women of different ages, one of which is where I am now—in [her] mid- to late-thirties—and one is older. [I] take my experiences and extend them and reflect on them and play with them to see what more I [can] develop from [them]. That’s been fun, too, because it’s taken away the danger of hurting people I want to write about.

    BK: How did winning the Friedman Award affect your writing career?

    GD: It’d be so great if I could say right now, “That award was the stepping stone to everything that’s come since.” I don’t know about that—but it was very validating and meant a great deal to me, especially [as] part of a community of so many excellent writers. writers. It also told me that the memoir that I was working on was working, at least in part. It validated the specific work that I was doing and helped me feel encouraged to keep going with it.


    Ben Kowalski is a BA Nonfiction senior at Columbia College Chicago, creative nonfiction writer, copy editor and contributor at the award-winning Columbia Chronicle (2015), and music critic at Pop'stache.com (2014–2015). Ben is currently working on an essay collection about music, and his album reviews can be found at http://popstache.com/author/bkowalski/.

  • Q&A with Francesca Thompson, 2013 Friedman Award winner

    Interview by Ben Kowalski

    Francesca Thompson is multi-talented writer, whose work includes screenwriting, fiction, and nonfiction and won the Friedman Award in 2013. The Friedman Memorial Award was established by David Friedman's family in 2002 as a memorial to their son and is given to a story or essay published in the Hair Trigger anthology each year. Aside from Hair Trigger, Thompson's work has been published in Print Oriented Bastards, Little Room, The Citron Review, Chicago Union League Journal, The Interlochen Review, and Up Until Now.

    Hair Trigger spoke with Thompson about life after Columbia, writing in different environments, and the importance of reading.

    Ben Kowalski: What has your writing career been like since leaving Columbia?

    Francesca Thompson: I’ve been doing all sorts of things. I lived in California for a year and studied screenwriting through the Semester in LA [program]. After a while, I figured out that screenwriting wasn’t really for me, so I left Los Angeles and joined the Peace Core. I did that for two years. Now I’m in Michigan working at [Interlochen Center for the Arts], where I went to high school. I’ve been doing that for about a year. At the end of May, I’m moving to Austin, Texas to start a new job. I’ve been all over the place, but through everything I’ve been writing.

    BK: What will you be doing in Austin?

    FT: I’m working at a nature conservation for low-income families. [...] I want to work in non-profit and I’m going for my masters in Social Work. It’s a different path from fiction writing, but I still write. 

    BK: How did winning the Friedman Award affect your writing?

    FT: It encouraged me to write more than I had been. You can get in a slump where you’re like, “Why am I doing this? I’m no good. No one’s going to want to read any of this”—so to be recognized is nice.

    BK: How did writing for the screen differ from writing literary work for you?

    FT: Screenwriting is a lot faster-paced. You’re paying a lot of attention to how your scene is playing out on the page because you also have to pay attention to how it’s going to play out on a screen so really, you’re thinking about two art forms. [In] screenwriting, there [are] less words. It’s almost like poetry in that sense—you have to fit a lot into a small space. 

    BK: What’s been your favorite aspect of writing in all these different environments?

    FT: Going places and doing things is so important to inform your writing because there is a kind of base-language that we use now, through social media [and] in texting. We’re using this simple language that everyone understands and no one is surprised by, but the more you travel, the more people you meet, the more things you do, and the more things you see, your language transforms with those experiences. You can pick up different dialects and your vocab can grow. Your language expands. That’s my favorite part—watching my language expand through the different experiences that I’ve had.

    BK: Is there anything else I haven't touched on you want to add?

    FT: For me, reading is super important. Reading is as much a part of my writing as actually sitting down and writing. I know when I read certain books, that voice tends to come out in what I’m writing. It’s something that a lot of us skimp on, especially after you graduate college. No one’s making you read anything. It’s really hard to sit down and just read, but it’s super important for me. It’s a big part of my writing.


    Ben Kowalski is a BA Nonfiction senior at Columbia College Chicago, creative nonfiction writer, copy editor and contributor at the award-winning Columbia Chronicle (2015), and music critic at Pop'stache.com (2014–2015). Ben is currently working on an essay collection about music, and his album reviews can be found at http://popstache.com/author/bkowalski/.

  • Q&A with Stephanie Shaw, 2008 Friedman Award winner

    Interview by Ben Kowalski

    Stephanie Shaw is the author of several full-length monologues, including “Good Eatin’,” “A Proper Dragon,” and “Ductand Materia Prima.” She has also directed several productions around Chicago— many at Columbia College—and worked as a theater critic for the Chicago Reader

    Shaw won the David Friedman Memorial Award in 2008 for her piece “Afterbirth.” The Friedman Memorial Award was established by David Friedman's family in 2002 as a memorial to their son and is given to a story or essay published in the Hair Trigger anthology each year. Hair Trigger spoke to Stephanie Saw about her recent work, influential fiction, and opportunities for Chicago writers.

    Ben Kowalski: Tell me about your most recent work.

    Stephanie Shaw: About two years ago or so and [I published] a novella [called “Mademoiselle Guinol”] about the Grand Guinol, a theater in Paris just before the turn of the century which specialized in horror, splatter theater, and sensationalism. It was a work of fiction. It was historical. It wasn’t exactly horror. It was published in an anthology called [Tattered Souls 2]—so there’s that. Since then, I’ve done a lot of spoken word work around the city.

    BK: How did you come across that anthology?

    SS: I’ve always drifted toward the slightly weird. Columbia was very useful to me in that—I first learned there that it was possible to not be one genre or the other, that there was interstitial work that could be done. All of my stories that took place in natural settings always had some sort of weird twist to them that people found interesting, off-putting or confusing. I think I got it from reading a lot of Shirley Jackson when I was a little kid, and from being a big fan of the Brontes, in which supernatural stuff [happened] all the time and no one ever blinked an eye.

    BK: What got you into Shirley’s writing, originally?

    SS: When I was a little kid, we had a book of hers hanging around the house. It was called Life Among the Savages. It was about a domestic life with four children and an academic husband. I loved it. It was very episodic, it was funny, and it was based in the day-to-day life of this woman and her crazy household. I think now, looking back, there are hints of darkness in it that I didn’t see when I was younger. Shirley Jackson didn’t have the greatest time when she was living in that house that she writes so funnily about. Her husband was an academic and they lived in the countryside. Her family was a target—the townspeople were very antisemitic. She didn’t exactly fit in, eventually became agoraphobic, and died very young. There was a lot of dark tragedy behind what led her to write comedy.

    BK: Does that influence your current writing?

    SS: I do tend to gravitate that way—toward the long dark night of the soul that takes place at  two in the afternoon in a nice house in a suburb.

    BK: Are you working on any creative projects right now?

    SS: I’m trying to write what’s turning into a sequel to “Mademoiselle Guinol.” “The Rite of Spring”—that ballet that caused so much concern and caused a riot—happened in the spring of 1913. I’m sort of convinced that “The Rite of Spring”—that brutal, brutal music and that brutal, brutal ballet, which everyone hissed and booed and cheered and were so confronted by—was a harbinger of World War I. It was a messenger of death, almost, because up until that time, art had been decorative, pleasing,  and there to make you feel good.

    BK: How did winning the Friedman Award affect your career as a writer?

    SS: It helped with my self-esteem [and] it was encouraging. You can write and write and write and never get recognized. The idea of just getting recognized—especially for [a piece that] was semi-autobiographical, even though there were dragons in it—that something that came out of me that was that honest could be recognized, was a very encouraging moment. It showed me that I could keep on in that fashion and I wasn’t doomed to failure.

    BK: Is there anything I haven’t touched on that you’d like to add?

    SS: Most of my work lately has been spoken word and [in] the live lit scene around Chicago, which is a thriving, huge scene. I’d like to see more writers, more fiction writers, [and] more essayists, take advantage of things around Chicago like The Paper Machete and the Write Club. There are so many opportunities to stand up in front of a mic and read your work out-loud. It’s a huge community and very supportive.


    Ben Kowalski is a BA Nonfiction senior at Columbia College Chicago, creative nonfiction writer, copy editor and contributor at the award-winning Columbia Chronicle (2015), and music critic at Pop'stache.com (2014–2015). Ben is currently working on an essay collection about music, and his album reviews can be found at http://popstache.com/author/bkowalski/.

  • Publishing the Undead: Scott Kenemore reveals the braiiiins behind horror writing

    Interview by Ben Kowalski

    Scott Kenemore shambled into the world of horror writing with his 2007 satire The Zen of Zombie: Better Living through the Undead. Now the author of four horror novels, five zombie-themed satires, and 2011's Zombies vs. Nazis—which is listed as an "unclassifiable found-document" on his website—Kenemore has made a name for himself in both zombie-themed and general horror writing.

    Hair Trigger had the opportunity to speak with Scott Kenemore about his literary inspirations, his view of zombies, and his creative process.

    Ben Kowalski: How did you first enter the world of horror and zombie writing?

    Scott Kenemore: I’ve always liked horror. I think the formative moment in my life was being about 10 years-old, riding my bicycle to the public library and checking out a book by H.P. Lovecraft—who is my favorite writer now. I had sort of heard about [him] in connection to things like roleplaying games and was oddly curious because I never liked scary stories. They had one of his books. I took it down at the library and I read the first two stories, which were “In the Vault” and “Pickman’s Model.” I remember putting the book down and thinking, “This might be the best thing that anyone ever did, ever. I know I’m a dumb 10-year-old—I don’t know much about the world—but I feel pretty confident this is the best thing anyone ever did ever.” I’ve largely continued to feel that way as an adult.

    BK: How has your view of zombies changed since you began writing about them?

    SK: Being someone who does something creative with zombies has given me a better sense of how elastic they can be. I have noticed that some of the works of art involving zombies that are my favorites and mean the most to me were made by people who were taking a chance and, if not breaking the rules, bending rules.

    I really like, for example, [The] Return of the Living Dead, my favorite zombie film. That’s the first film [where] zombies say “Braaaiiiins.” It’s just delightful but so much of it is risk-taking. Dan O’Bannon, the writer/director [came] up with a coherent story for where zombies came from, [tied] in Night of the Living Dead to the mythology of [The] Return of the Living Dead, [came] up with zombies wanting to eat brains, why zombies want to eat brains, [and] new rules to what can and can’t kill a zombie—really interesting stuff. 

    I would say my favorite zombie short story is “What Maisie Knew” by Davis Liss. In his world, zombies can remember a little bit about their former selves when they are either in extreme pain or having sexual intercourse. The way he uses that in fiction to create a world where zombies hungering after a little slice of their own former consciousness—or consciousnesses—is awesome. I came to identify a little bit with the people who may don’t totally reinvent zombies, but bend rules in the service of being creative.

    BK: You’ve written both zombie satire and zombie horror. How do those writing processes differ for you?

    SK: Those tend to come from me personally feeling hatred and contempt for other people and thinking [things] suck. At least, that I could be doing a better job of them or that they deserve to be made fun of. If I think they deserve to be made fun of, then I will go with satire. If I think, “God, this guy f----n’ sucks, this gal f----n’ sucks,” then it becomes the motivation to do my own creative work and try to do a better job than what I’ve just read.

    BK: Your most recent novel, The Grand Hotel, is a collection of interconnected short stories and a departure from zombies. Can you tell me more about that?

    SK: I don’t only write about zombies. There is what you write and there is what gets published, and yet, readers only see what gets published. I also write horror fiction and straight-up scary stories, but that sometimes is a little bit trickier. I feel like I’m mostly a zombie guy. 

    I’ve always loved collections of short stories and loved when they were interconnected—it was this little world. I was getting dinner along Demott Avenue in Chicago, and something I do when either I’m early or other people are late, is browse the curiosity shops and book shops along Demott Avenue. There are a lot of English language books for sale in these stores that are imported from India for English-speaking Indian audiences. One of the books I came across was something totally new to me: The Five-and-Twenty Tales of the Genie by Sivadasa, a story cycle from ancient India that was written down several hundred years ago but probably existed orally before that. I love the idea that this was something that had been updated and changed. [It] showed that interconnected story cycles were elastic and created people that played with and found certain uses for it again and again. It was really interesting and I wanted to do something with [it] in a cultural appropriation sort of way. I looked at what I thought was interesting about it and it was sort of the inspiration for The Grand Hotel. If anyone reads The Grand Hotel [and] the only thing they take from it is [that] they get curious about The Five-and-Twenty Tales of the Genie, then I did something good.

    BK: What would you say is your favorite aspect of the horror genre and the process of writing it?

    SK: An important function—maybe the most important function—of good horror is that it makes you question what you know. As Freud identifies in his essay “The Uncanny,” [he] says that the root of all uncanny horror is that we are realizing that something we thought we knew for sure, we don’t know for sure, or [somewhere] that we thought was a safe place is not a safe place. 

    Not all horror does that—some horror is just about creating likable characters and putting them into danger—but the best horror, the horror that keeps me writing, makes us ask: “Do we really know things for sure? Do we really know—in the case of a zombie outbreak, say—how we would act during a crisis? Do we really know how other people would act during a crisis?” I can make people question things like, “What would community mean during a crisis?” or, “What would working together mean during a crisis?” For me, those are really interesting questions that keep me interested in horror.

    BK: Is there anything you’d like to add?

    SK: If younger people are reading this interview that are doing something creative, if you are interested in writing about horror [or] zombies: Come on in, the water’s warm. There’s a lot of interesting stuff still to be written. With respect to all the people who are working in the genre now, I think a lot of us feel like the great zombie novel still has yet to be written. Maybe you could be the person to do that. If you’re interested in zombies, if you’re interested in that kind of horror, absolutely go for it and do something creative. 

    Visit Scott Kenemore's site here.


    Ben Kowalski is a BA Nonfiction senior at Columbia College Chicago, creative nonfiction writer, copy editor and contributor at the award-winning Columbia Chronicle (2015), and music critic at Pop'stache.com (2014–2015). Ben is currently working on an essay collection about music, and his album reviews can be found at http://popstache.com/author/bkowalski/.

  • Interview with Douglas Perry

    Interviewed by Claire Doty

    Chicago is not known for its gentle history—a devastating fire, corruption, and a wild gangster scene are just a few of the gritty scars imbedded in the city's timeline. The famous musical Chicago echoes that history with a wry and comical twist. Few know, however, that its origins came from actual events that happened in Chicago. Author Doug Perry opens the curtain to the fascinating world in the 1920s in his book The Girls of Murder City (2010), which delves into the lives of women in Chicago in the bustling time of prohibition, crime, and lust. Perry creates a historical narrative that guides us through each woman's tale, whether it be a blossoming reporter or an accused murderess. 
    Perry has a great understanding of Chicago as a city in the 21st century as well as the in the early 20th. His extensive research led him to find documentation that was overlooked and considered  ordinary, but in fact added depth to the complicated history of the women who inspired Chicago. He sheds light on the roles of females and the struggles they faced in a male-dominated world, which threads into the issues women still face today. Perry sheds new light on common plot points—that some human qualities linger decades longer than humans themselves, and that those modern humans are not so different from their predecessors. In delving into the past, the present becomes sharper.

    Claire Doty: What made you interested in the history of these particular women?

    Douglas Perry: I saw the musical Chicago on Broadway and enjoyed it immensely. Not only was it hugely entertaining, [but] it also struck me as insightful, clever and topical. The best work Kander and Ebb ever did, in my view. The playbill mentioned in passing that Maurine Watkins, the author of the original play on which the musical was based, had been inspired by actual murder trials she covered for the Chicago Tribune in 1924. This intrigued me, and I went looking for books, articles, essays—anything that had been written about the play’s source material. But I was surprised to find there was very little information available about the events that inspired the play and musical.

    CD: Where did you start your research?

    DP: I started in the Chicago Public Library, where I spent days going through its newspaper archives. There were half a dozen daily newspapers in 1920s Chicago, and newspaper coverage was a lot different—and far more entertaining—than it is now. Reporters routinely impersonated police officers to get information. They broke into and ransacked the homes of murder victims in search of diaries and photographs. Crime reporters at this time could walk freely through police stations and jails at all hours. They sat in on and participated in police interrogations. They investigated crimes themselves, trying to stay a step ahead of homicide detectives. Reporters hung out at the Cook County Jail and interviewed “the girls of Murderesses’ Row” at length, over and over, without the women’s attorneys present. While it was, in some ways, a more brutal time, it was also a more naïve time. These women who were facing murder trials were often remarkably candid when talking to reporters.

    The newspapers, of course, were only the beginning. I delved into government records, where I unearthed a lot of valuable information. Belva Gaertner’s divorce records, for example, proved to be a treasure trove. The documents walked me through her life almost year by year from about 1917 to about 1926. They included long interviews with Belva and her husband, and detailed reports from private investigators. One of the great things about historical research is that you don’t know what you’re going to find until you start looking. These divorce records were in Cook County’s archives, sitting untouched in a dusty box for 80 years. No one knew they were there. They hadn’t been digitized and put online, and they probably never will be. Such records aren’t about celebrities or world leaders, and they’re mostly commonplace documents, so they are a very low priority for archivists. But there are some fantastic stories there. Having gotten started, I began tracking down and reaching out to descendants and others who knew (or knew about) those involved in the events. One thing kept leading to another.

    CD: What inspired you to write about Chicago's crime history?

    DP: I moved to Chicago right after college and lived there for most of the 1990s. I instantly fell in love with the city. Chicago is always changing, evolving, reaching out to the future—but its history remains front and center. You can walk through the neighborhood where Maurine Watkins lived in 1924 and still get a fair sense of what it was like then. The building where Eliot Ness and the Untouchables worked looks—on the outside—almost exactly the same today as it did 80 years ago, though it’s been converted to residences. It’s not far from Columbia College, of course. I used to live just blocks from the Biograph Theatre, where John Dillinger met his end. My favorite used bookshop—now gone, sadly—was two doors down from the theater. I learned the city during my first year in Chicago by spending my weekends riding the El, getting off at random stops and walking around. If you keep your eyes open, the city’s whole history is right there for you.

    CD: What intrigues you about Chicago?

    DP: It’s the all-American city, by turns beautiful and terrifying. There’s just an excitement about Chicago, and it’s something very different from what New York offers. “Stormy, husky, brawling,” as Carl Sandburg wrote. It’s the most interesting city in the country. 

    CD: How would you categorize your book? 

    DP: The Girls of Murder City is history, but I like to think it’s more than that. It’s about unique events that took place in 1924, but like the musical Chicago, it speaks loudly and clearly to today’s celebrity culture. It’s also. . .funny. It showcases how there’s really no such thing as normal. We all want to fit in—and we’re in a conformist era right now—but people are odd, and strange things happen. Thank God for odd people and strange happenings.

    CD: In crime and gangster history, especially in Chicago, the focus is always on men. Do you think there is almost more respect for men who engaged in crime rings in the 20th century than there is for women?

    DP: Chicago’s famous gangster era was a man’s world, there’s no way around it. The early twentieth century was a time of social upheaval and transformation. Women were gaining new freedoms, and this inevitably had a dark side. But of course a lot of people still had 19th-century attitudes, and so they had a very difficult time coming to terms with the very idea of women committing crimes. Violence was widely considered an unnatural act for a woman. When it happened, there had to be extenuating circumstances: the woman had been abused by a man or tricked by a man, or—ye Gods!—was in love with a man and so had lost her mind. A woman who killed surely had been overwhelmed by alcohol or feminine emotions, or both, and so she was not responsible. Cook County juries were all male, and so women—especially good-looking women—were almost always acquitted, no matter how much evidence there was.

    CD: What is your opinion on the glamorization of certain crimes?

    DP: I’m not in favor of glamorizing crime. While researching the book, I found Belva and Beulah to be endlessly fascinating. And my heart broke for Wanda Stopa, the pioneering “girl lawyer” who ended up killing a man. She was even bigger news than Beulah and Belva. The newspapers called the public’s appetite for her story “the Wanda sensation.” But I tended to relate to Maurine Watkins, who was appalled that women murderers were being treated like celebrities. It infuriated her that Beulah and Belva were using their gender and sex appeal to manipulate the justice system. She did everything she could to help secure convictions for them.

    CD: What did you want readers to take away from your book?

    DP: The march of technology increasingly makes earlier generations seem very strange and distant to us, but people haven’t changed much down through human history. Our motivations are the same generation after generation, and so there is much we can learn by studying the past, the “small” events and people as well as the big ones. And in this era of 24/7 entertainment and 400 scripted TV series, I would like readers to realize that truth really is stranger than fiction. At book events, I heard over and over from readers that they had no idea Chicago was based on real events. They would say: These beautiful, murderous, in-your-face women—how could their stories be true? But if you study history, you know the real question is—how could they not be?

     To learn more about Perry's writing visit his website.

  • Interview with Michael Czyzniejewski

    Interviewed by Karina Corona

    There is nothing is more human than the experience and emotions that follow a break up. In our age of disconnect, the act of breaking up is no longer a simple good bye and good day. Whether you’re the one dumping or getting dumped, when it comes to relationships—be it one of a few years, months, or even weeks—one things is certain: things are bound to get weird. 

    Michael Czyzniejewski is a master in the art of breaking up, or at least when it comes to writing about it. His book, I Will Love You For the Rest of My Life, is a collection of short stories regarding the dark and sometimes strange occurrences before, during, and after a break up. 

    Hair Trigger had to opportunity to talk with Czyzniejewski about his book and more importantly, the proper pronunciation of his last name. 

    Karina Corona: In the dedication, you dedicate this book to Karen who “didn’t inspire a single word of this book.” Who is Karen?

    Michael Czyzniejewski: Karen is my non-breakup, the one who didn't get away, the one who I truly love for the rest of my life. My first two books were dedicated to my parents, one each, and it was basically going to be her for book three. Sadly, the third book was all about sadness and the end of relationships, so I almost dedicated it to all my ex-girlfriends and was going to put their Facebook page urls so people who read my book could either congratulate them on moving on from me or tell them how foolish they were, depending on how they liked my book. But then I thought of a way to shoehorn Karen in, make it sweet, make her melt. Next two books will be my two kids, then my cat, then probably something abstract like punk rock or ennui. And if I write more books than that, I'll either have to get married again (bigamy, because again, Karen = rest of life), have more kids, or something I haven't thought of. Is Jodie Foster a cliché?

    KC: Who or what did inspire you to write break-up stories?

    MC: Stories always need conflict, and for some reason, the conflict I was always going to was the trouble that relationships were having. I guess that the "for some reason" is what you're really asking for, but that's the best I got: I wrote plots and conflicts around people's lives falling apart in that way. I realize that a lot of stories have another conflict, another plot, AND a relationship in the background, but I haven't gotten there yet. I'm working on a novel, without any love yet, and now maybe I just thought of my next forty pages.

    KC: Some of these stories sound extremely intimate, as though they were taken directly from someone’s private journal. Are any of these stories inspired from reality?

    MC: One story in particular is inspired by an ex, but only marginally. It's the Ding Dong story. While Ding Dongs, or snack cakes in general, weren't involved, the dynamic of the relationship—how I felt during it, how I see myself as being treated—was straight from., pain). But otherwise, I just made a lot of them up, imagined how and why people hurt each other. It was hard at first, but then easy, because hurting itself is pretty easy, can be accomplished in so many ways.

    KC: I understand you’re from Chicago and while reading your book, the overall feeling was very much the feeling of Chicago—shifting in mood and tone much like the shifting weather here—but the location where these stories take place is never a thing which is mentioned. Was this something intentional or is it just second nature?

    MC: Both. I've never really thought of setting in the way that someone like Rick Bass or E. Annie Prouix does. Or most writers. It's for the same reasons I tend to not describe my characters—except in the grotesque sense—or give them ages or races: I want my stories to be more universal, as if they could happen anywhere, to anyone. I think I've succeeded in that, too. Donald Barthelme is a huge influence on me and when I think about it, none of those stories have a particular place, or descriptions of the weather or geography. Would I like to be better at that? Sure. But I don't feel bad that I've left it off—you telling me that you feel like they feel Chicago makes me glad. Had you said, "Prague" or "Provo" I would have wondered what was causing that. I've never been to either. (Now I want to write a story set in Provo.)

    KC: It’s always fun to come across writing that feels new and fresh. How did you come up with “The Braxton-Carter-Vandamme-Myers-Braxton-Carter Divorce: An Outline”?

    MC: I really wanted this book to take chances, to do things I've never done, or maybe that no one's ever done, and the best way to do that is experiment with form; it wasn't like I was going to make up some new kind of suffering or heartbreak for people to endure, as you either lose someone or you don't, through your fault or theirs (or death, I guess). So I thought about stories I've read, different forms, and I remember index stories and columned stories and all kinds of epistolaries, even what Dave Eggers does with the legal pages and other front and back material in his memoir, Heartbreaking Working of Staggering Genius. But I hadn't seen anyone write a story as an outline and turn it in as the finished product (I made sure when I sent the manuscript to my editor that he knew it wasn't an in-progress piece, but what I wanted it to look like), even though, ironically, a lot of writers have that version, because they start with an outline, or get to one at some point. I wish I'd done more of that, more forms, as so many people ask me about that story.

    KC: Finally, how do you pronounce your last name?

    MC: Easy: Exactly how it's spelled.

    To purchase "I Will Love You For the Rest of My Life: Breakup Stories" visit Curbside Splendor

  • Jac Jemc: Poetry-Prose writer

    Interview by Jennifer Bostrom

    She’s a novelist among poets and a poet amongst novelists: Jac Jemc is an author whose prose elegantly delivers both story and lyricism. A Chicago-based writer, Jemc has authored a chapbook, a collection of short stories, a novel, and numerous poems and nonfiction works.

    Jemc’s first novel, My Only Wife (Dzanc Books), was named a finalist for the 2013 PEN/Robert W. Bingham Prize for Debut Fiction and won the Paula Anderson Book Award. In addition to penning her prose, Jemc spends her time as Writer-in-Residence at the University of Notre Dame, editor to a handful of presses and journals, and an avid blogger about writing and rejection.

    Hair Trigger Online had the chance to talk to Jemc about My Only Wife, her process, and what’s coming next.

    Jennifer Bostrom: When did you first begin writing?

    Jac Jemc: I’d always written a little. As a kid, I loved writing scary stories. I wrote a handful of E.E. Cummings knock-off poems in high school. I also had an obsession with copying out passages of books, catalogue copy and lists of names longhand from childhood on. I see that now as some sort of apprenticeship I was doing—immersing myself in language without actually producing it myself—though I couldn't have identified it as such back then. I started writing fiction in college and wrote the first draft of My Only Wife as an independent study during undergrad.

    JB: My Only Wife was your first novel. How long did it take you to complete?

    JJ: I spent about three months on the first draft, which is mind-bogglingly fast compared to my pace now. I shuttled it through workshops and advising sessions irregularly for another two years of grad school and then spent another year editing it on my own afterward. It was accepted for publication in 2009, but wasn't published until 2012. So there were about seven years between starting work and the book meeting readers.

    JB: What is you writing process like? How does it differ when approaching a poem versus a short story or novel?

    JJ: It used to be nearly identical between all three forms. I'd start with language and start piecing together fragments. With poems, I was satisfied to leave space between the gluts of language and allow the force to be more intuitive. With stories, I'd try to fill in the gaps a bit more. With a novel, I strung together more of these narratives and tried to identify pattern and shape in a way that only the mass of 40,000+ words can allow you to do. Lately, I've been going into fiction with a little more of an idea of what I want to aim for than I used to. I might have an idea or a voice or a particular image that I start shaping action around. It's still very exploratory, but now I might choose a ideological location to set off from, whereas before, I'd close my eyes and drop a finger onto the map.

    JB: My Only Wife shows elements of poetry in the prose. Would you say that you identify more as a poet than fiction writer, or rather that one discipline influences the other?

    JJ: I’d say I'm definitely more a fiction writer these days, but the poetic roots still live in me, and I hope and expect that I'll return my focus to poetry again someday. I think a lot has been determined by where I've found my community. Though I've published a fair amount of poetry, I always felt a bit adrift in that world, like I never got a firm handle on what my place was in relation to other poets. With fiction, I felt like I found my way a little easier, and have a clearer idea of how my position shifts depending on the work I make. That said, I enjoy feeling a bit lost, so I'm happy the world of poetry is always there to revisit.

    JB: Having completed This Stranger She'd Invited In, a chapbook of short stories, were there challenges that arose with writing a novel that you weren't expecting?

    JJ: I actually wrote My Only Wife before the chapbook of stories, though TSSII came out first. The stories that make up the chapbook are almost more biographical character sketches, but they all live in the same world. In some ways, I saw those stories as a novella - something akin to Dylan Thomas' Under Milk Wood — defining a community.

    JB: Your short stories were published first and in your third book you've returned to short stories after My Only Wife, a full-length novel. Is that out of a preference for short stories or just where inspiration took you?

    JJ: The stories in A Different Bed Every Time were written over the course of the last 10 years, so there's at least one in there that was drafted even before My Only Wife and many that were written during the drafts of My Only Wife and other longer projects, too. I can't imagine ever ceasing to write short stories. I'll keep writing them as breaks from longer projects and ways to work out ideas are more suited to the shorter form, but because the stories are generally so short, it will take a while to amass enough for a collection.

    JB: What lead to the decision to leave the husband and wife unnamed in My Only Wife?

    JJ: My Only Wife is built on the repetition of "my wife." To keep up that voice, I opted not to add names into the mix. Possession and ambiguity were ideas I was interested in exploring, and that phrase sticks close to those themes.

    JB: You keep busy. How do you find time to set aside for your projects? Are you particularly rigorous about setting aside time each day, or specific goals you have to meet?

    JJ: I try to spend my entire morning on personal projects: reading and writing and editing. Afternoons and evenings are for class prep and reading/responding to student work, reading submissions, blog posting, submitting my own work and applying for residencies or teaching gigs. It's definitely busy, but I feel very grateful to get to focus on what I love.

    JB: As previously mentioned you post, most, if not all of your rejection letters on your website. Rejection isn't something most want to face but you do so very personally and publicly. Can you elaborate on why?

    JJ: I’m very invested in transparency in the writing life. I believe there's value in seeing rejection as a regular part of the writing life and admitting to the quantity of no's you hear in relation to the yesses. I don't really care to pretend to be some hero who's succeeding at everything I attempt. Failure is core to the creative process.

    JB: What's the next big project for you?

    JJ: I have two novel-length projects in the works right now: One is a haunted house story based in the present. The other, which is much younger draft-wise, is a historical fiction novel set in late 1800s Bavaria.

    To find out more about Jac Jemc, visit her website


    Jennifer Bostrom is a BA Honors Fiction Graduate from Columbia College Chicago, Academic Excellence scholarship recipient (2013-2016), Production Editor of CCC’s award-winning Hair Trigger anthology, and intern for HYPERtext MagazineJennifer's fiction can be found at The Copperfield Review and Habitat Magazine or on her website jcbostrom.com. 

    1. Meet Hair Trigger 2.0's New Editor-in-Chief: An Interview with Jennifer Bostrom

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    Interviewed by Ben Kowalski

    Jennifer Bostrom graduated from Columbia College Chicago's Creative Writing (Fiction) major in May 2016. She was the Production Editor for Hair Trigger 38 and was a contributor and intern at Hypertext Magazine online. She has been appointed to be the Editor-in-Chief of Hair Trigger’s online edition.

    I had a chance to sit down with Jennifer Bostrom to talk about Hair Trigger, its new website, and the creative writing community at Columbia.

    Ben Kowalski: What attracted you to Hair Trigger, originally?

    Jennifer Bostrom: Coming into the department, Hair Trigger was one of the main things I often looked forward to not only reading but [also] aspiring to each year. As a student, it was really nice to be able to read stories written by my peers that were [on] a professional level. I looked forward to editing because [editing] was an experience that I had before, so it gave me the opportunity to grow up professionally and in my own writing.

    BK: What do you hope to bring to Hair Trigger as its online Editor-in-Chief?

    JB: The idea for Hair Trigger [Online] is to introduce it to a national audience. I’m hoping that I can bring the Columbia spirit to a national audience because it’s funny, it’s dark, [and] it’s experimental. It’s not [the kind of] fiction—and in some cases Creative Nonfiction—that I see in many places, so I’m hoping that we can broaden the audience.

    BK: How do publications like Hair Trigger affect Columbia’s creative writing community?

    JB: [It’s] an anthology of my peers—I work on their writing with them or I listen to their writing in class. It’s sort of a way for me to not only see my peers’ work come to fruition as a published piece but it’s also a way to expose students to what fiction can be. It’s a way to show them how experimental or how silly or how crazy a piece can be—it’s not just Pride and Prejudice or Shakespeare. It’s much more fun and “out there,” but still very literary.

    BK: Has working with Hair Trigger informed your fiction writing in any way?

    JB: From the writing side, it forced me to step outside of my comfort zone. As an editor, it forced me to view my pieces from a much more critical lens. I started focusing a lot more on how I said things, or how I punctuated, even—whether I was supposed to use the em dash or a semicolon, whether things should go in italics. It forced me to elevate the standard to which I held my own writing. 

    BK: What is your biggest challenge as a writer and editor?

    JB: My biggest challenge as a writer would definitely be my own self-censorship about whether or not I should write things or whether I should send them out to places. As a writer who edits their own work, I try to be very careful about not over-editing my own pieces because [you are] your own harshest critic. I edit out things that are written from [an] emotional basis, or edit too much, [or] edit out the thing that really should have stayed in there because it was hard-hitting and honest. 

    As an editor, the hardest thing is editing too much, or editing to honor a piece and that author’s intent or that author’s voice. You never want to over-edit [or] overstep your bounds.

    BK: Is there anything else you’d like to add?

    JB: I hope that we can successfully bring this magazine to a broader audience and honor the tradition that we have with the Creative Writing Department.


    Ben Kowalski is a BA Nonfiction senior at Columbia College Chicago, creative nonfiction writer, copy editor and contributor at the award-winning Columbia Chronicle (2015), and music critic at Pop'stache.com (2014–2015). Ben is currently working on an essay collection about music, and his album reviews can be found at http://popstache.com/author/bkowalski/.