Lanternfish Press

Rare & Strange

author interview

Introducing Barbara Barrow, author of THE QUELLING

InterviewsFeliza Casano

Clever, beautiful—and hopelessly violent.

Diagnosed with a rare psychiatric condition and accused of murder in childhood, sisters Addie and Dorian have spent most of their lives in a locked ward under the supervision of eccentric researcher Dr. Lark. Now on the cusp of adulthood, Addie has a plan: start a new family, to replace the one she lost. Dorian struggles to quell her violent tendencies in time to help raise her sister’s child. But Dr. Lark sees these patients as key to the completion of his revolutionary cure, and he will not allow the sisters' aims for their own lives get in his way.

Barbara Barrow's debut novel is harrowing, bittersweet, and at times claustrophobic. While we look forward to sharing The Quelling with the world in just a few weeks, we sat down with Barbara to learn more about the stories—and the person—behind the upcoming book.


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Thank you for taking some time to speak with us! Please introduce yourself and your work to our readers.

I grew up in Atlanta and lived in Germany, New York, and St. Louis before moving to Pittsburgh five years ago. My father was a taxi driver and used to take me out in his cab to pick up passengers, and I used to meet a lot of interesting characters and see the city this way. I have a lifelong obsession with books and I especially love Gothic literature and surrealism. Currently, I’m an English professor at Point Park University. I specialize in Victorian lit, but I love teaching courses like Detective Fiction and Mad Science & Lit as well as more contemporary novelists like Zadie Smith. In my spare time I like to explore the city and I also volunteer at a meal ministry on Pittsburgh’s North Side.

I read and write fiction with strange or offbeat themes and I like stories with multiple narrators. The Quelling is about two sisters who struggle with violent tendencies and decide they want to raise a child together. When the story starts, they are in an institution because they committed a murder when they were just kids, and they are obsessed with watching nature shows, those scenes of animals hunting—Animal Planet, BBC Earth, that sort of thing. A good friend describes it as a “feminist Clockwork Orange,” and I think this phrase captures the weird psychological atmosphere of the novel.

Addie and Dorian, Dorian and Addie – the relationship between the two sisters is central to The Quelling. What inspired you to focus the narrative on not a single protagonist, but on a close-knit sibling pair?

I’ve always been interested in close-knit friendships that are essentially like sisterhoods. In coming-of-age stories the focus is usually on a single character, but I wanted to show how when you’re younger, and when you’re in a close, even claustrophobic friendship like that, it’s almost like at times you don’t have a separate consciousness. Instead, your identity merges with that of the person that you’re close to, the person you’re having all these early formative experiences with, so that their identity becomes yours and vice versa. It can be powerful and tender and frightening at once, and I wanted to show that kind of tense sisterly intimacy.

Photo credit: John Zeller

Photo credit: John Zeller

The sisters have a rare psychiatric condition, which is the reason they’re under Dr. Lark’s care at the start of the novel. Tell our readers a little bit about this condition.

The sisters have been diagnosed with reactive attachment disorder, which means they have difficulties forming emotional bonds with other people. Patients with this condition can act out violently and do things that sabotage or hurt themselves or others. There are many well-respected doctors and institutions that research and raise public awareness about the condition, but there have also been some bizarre and even abusive treatments. One example is the Candace Newmaker case from the early 2000s, which got national media coverage. Her doctors did a violent simulation of the birthing process and suffocated her, which sparked public outrage and some preventative legislation. I read a lot about this case and other abusive treatments when I was conducting research for the novel.

What comes next for you as a writer?

I’m in the very early stages of a second novel that takes place in Atlanta in the mid-nineties, and am finishing up some short stories and academic essays. My partner and I are also collaborating on a graphic novel called Furder, She Wrote. We’re hoping to reach out to some illustrators once we are finished writing and storyboarding.

Where can readers find out more about you and your work online?

I have a website and am also on Facebook and (just recently!) on Twitter @dustyoldbagz.


Barbara Barrow is a fiction writer and literary critic who adores all things feminist, fabulist, and surreal. Her short fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in The Forge Literary Magazine, Cease, Cows, Folio, Zahir, Nano Fiction, and elsewhere, and her journal articles have appeared in Victorian Poetry, Journal of Victorian Culture, Victorian Periodicals Review, and Nineteenth-Century Contexts. She is Assistant Professor of English at Point Park University in Pittsburgh. Follow her online at barbarabarrow.com or on Twitter and Facebook.

Introducing Allison Coffelt, author of MAPS ARE LINES WE DRAW

InterviewsFeliza Casano

"To escape this rocking weight, all I had to do—I thought—was draw my line."

Allison Coffelt's debut memoir Maps Are Lines We Draw: A Road Trip Through Haiti recounts her travel through the island nation with Dr. Jean Gardy Marius, founder of the public health organization OSAPO.

With just a month to go before Maps Are Lines We Draw releases, we sat down to chat with Allison about her travels, her influences, and her work. You can also add the book on Goodreads.


Maps Are Lines We Draw largely centers on your travels in Haiti.  Tell us a little about other places you’ve traveled around the world.

I was very fortunate growing up in that that travel was something my family valued and was able to do. I touch on this a little bit in the book – what it means to have what I think of as “geographic curiosity” at a fairly early age. 

While I’ve been able to travel to several places, it was doing research for this book that really gave me the opportunity to deeply think about what it means to travel, to travail, to (choose to) do that certain kind work. Travel requires, often, physical discomfort. And it means putting the body in settings that are unknown, where you’re not always sure how you’ll respond. All this, usually with the hope that in the end it will be worth it. 

When we choose to put ourselves in unknown or uncomfortable situations, I believe we learn something about ourselves and, just as importantly, about the world around us.  There is a misconception, I think, that travel means you have to go far away.  That’s not necessarily true, though this book is set nearly two thousand miles from where I live.  Right now, I’m doing another place-based project that builds on what I’ve learned with travel, but is set a little closer to home.

Photo: Britt Hultgren

Photo: Britt Hultgren

Who are some of the writers who have influenced your work over the years?

The list is long.  As one of the early readers points out, my journey to write this book begins with another book, Tracy Kidder’s Mountains Beyond Mountains, which I read at the formidable age of 15, and which sparked my interest in Haiti – and thinking about injustice and why things are the way they are. 

Since that book, there have been so many other writers who have been instrumental in the formation of my work. In terms of contemporary essayists, I’ve been influenced by Annie Dillard, Eula Biss, Claudia Rankine, Barry Lopez, Joni Tevis, Ta-Nehisi Coates, Maggie Nelson, and many others; I come back to books by those writers fairly often for guidance. Poetry – and writers who deeply care about the sound of language – have always been significant influences. I also have a deep appreciation for fiction. And, of course, there are many other writers who are long gone who have shaped my work.

For this book, I read Vivan Gornick’s The Situation and the Story at a crucial time in my revision and it helped me greatly.  I also work closely with the work and research of others: Peter Hallward’s Damming the Flood, Jonathan Katz’s The Big Truck That Went By, Mary Louise Pratt’s Imperial Eyes, Paul Farmer’s many books, of course Edwidge Danticat’s work, Susan Sontag, Pietra Rivoli’s Travels of a T-shirt, oral histories, in person interviews, and a lot of news reporting.  I’m influenced a lot by nonfiction film, audio storytelling, and other forms of media.

Where else can readers find you and your work before Maps hits the shelves in March?

There’s a portion of the book up at Anchor Magazine, a publication from the wonderful folks at Still Harbor. I also have a piece in the Los Angeles Review of Books about Donald Trump, which I wrote during the election, but I think there’s still some relevance to it.  Were I to rewrite it today, it would be a bit different, and far more urgent.  There’s a piece of flash nonfiction up at Hippocampus called “Inheritance.”  This year, I’m also doing more teaching and working with individuals on writing; you can find information about that on my website.


Allison Coffelt lives and writes in Columbia, Missouri. Her work has appeared in the Los Angeles Review of Books, Hippocampus, Oxford Public Health Magazine, the Crab Orchard Review, museum of americana, Prick of the Spindle, the Higgs Weldon humor website, and the University of Connecticut journal of Contemporary French & Francophone Studies (SITES).  She was a finalist in the 2015 Crab Orchard Review Literary Nonfiction Prize, the 2016 San Miguel Writer’s Workshop Essay Contest, and the winner of the 2015 University of Missouri Essay Prize.  She currently works for True/False Film Fest, where she is the Education & Outreach Director and host of the True/False podcast.

Introducing Anca L. Szilágyi, Author of Daughters of the Air

InterviewsFeliza Casano

Daughters of the Air will be out in just four short weeks, so we wanted to get to know author Anca L. Szilágyi first. If you're in Seattle on December 5, join us for the Daughters of the Air launch party at Hotel Sorrento hosted by Hugo House. (Find more details on the Hugo House website.)


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Welcome! Please introduce yourself for any readers who aren't yet familiar with you and your work.

I was born Queens and raised in Brooklyn. I feel an affinity for those two sprawling boroughs of New York; large cities have always inspired me. It's no surprise, then, that I married a map-loving urban planner! These days we live in misty Seattle. Even though it's been nine years since we moved west, I still marvel at the flora of the Pacific Northwest--lavender, rosemary, and artichokes grow wild in the street, and the magnolia tree in our yard bursts into intoxicating lemon-velvet-scented blossoms.  

My writing is an elastic sort of realism--gritty or fabulist or both. Growing up, I gobbled myths, fairy tales, Narnia; later on books like The Tin DrumInvisible Man, and The Bloody Chamber left a mark on me.  I like to stretch form too--increasingly I'm experimenting with lyric essays, mostly related to foodartmemory, and culture. Many of the essays, my short fiction, and obliquely, Daughters of the Air, draw on my family's experiences during the Holocaust and the Communist dictatorship in Romania, and as immigrants and refugees in 1970s-80s New York City.

Pluta is the teenage girl at the heart of Daughters of the Air. Tell us a bit about where she comes from.

In high school, I took choreography workshops at the Gowanus Arts Exchange, a vibrant arts space in a creepy, creaky former soap factory. I've been obsessed with the strangeness of Gowanus ever since--it felt so odd and secretive and dangerous. Pluta is also quite strange; the earliest seeds of the book are her dreams, which came to me while recovering from surgery in 2001 (which I wrote about here). I kept thinking about her, and picturing her alone in Gowanus, but I didn't know why. At some point between 2001 and 2003, I began worrying about the rhetoric of the War on Terror; there seemed to be some troubling similarities with Argentina's Dirty War, and that history became part of Pluta's.

Back in September, we went on a bit of a crawl through parts of Brooklyn as you showed me a few parts of Gowanus that Pluta discovers over the course of the novel. Are there any settings from Daughters of the Air that no longer exist?

Gowanus is very different these days. There were no luxury condos back in the mid-late 1990s, when I was dancing there, and certainly not in 1980. The Public Place is what has changed the most, or at least it has for me, because I'd spent so much time looking at it, especially as the F train soars over it. Before my time, it was the site of a manufactured gas plant, then it was the fenced up patch of wilderness included in Daughters of the Air. Now it's paved over. The iconic neon Kentile Floors sign, which could be seen from the train, is also gone, though it may be coming back to a playground in the neighborhood. 

What comes next for you as a writer?

Embarking on the tenth draft of my second novel! It's about a struggling diorama artist working as a paralegal in 2008, set against the backdrop of the Bernie Madoff scandal. There's a third novel on the back burner, and some short stories and essays floating around in the ether.

Where can readers visit you online?

My website is ancawrites.com and I'm on Twitter (@ancawrites) and Instagram (anca_szilagyi). Come say hi!