an. I’m sure to disappoint you with my response to this one. The last time I was in a Blockbuster was in 2008 in Toronto. I moved to Anchorage in 2012 and should have taken advantage of those sweet, sweet video rentals while I could have.
2. I’m always fascinated by how a book comes together for an author. What was your writing process like for Lararium?
This particular project serendipitously snapped into place one afternoon early last fall. I was working on an entirely different project (a series of erasure poems using an early-seventeenth-century text called Historie of Serpents) when it dawned on me that I had already written a lot of poems centering on reptilian images and my relationship with my father, who was a zoologist specializing in reptiles and amphibians. I started looking at those poems and figuring out what narrative they could tell when put together. Then, it was just a matter of submitting to chapbook contests and open calls. I’m so happy to have Lararium come out with Variant Lit. Tyler Pufpaff and the rest of the team have been wonderful to work with throughout the whole process. I have been so lucky to have such generous and detail-oriented editors for both of my chapbooks.
3. What would you do if you woke up one day and your house was filled with 100 dogs?
I would definitely start panicking because JD, my rescue dog, can be a bit of a jerk when it comes to interacting with other dogs. She plays well with plenty of dogs most of the time, but sometimes she will decide for no apparent reason that she dislikes a dog and will try to bite their face off. She got kicked out of doggy daycare because her play consistently escalated into fighting. I love her, but it can be a bit of an ordeal to manage her interactions with other puppers. One hundred of them would probably send me into cardiac arrest, making the dietary sacrifices I have made to cut my cholesterol all for naught.
4. You’re also a history professor. How has online learning been going this semester for you? Do you find it harder than in-person teaching?
Sweet baby Jesus! I love my students, but teaching all online is really hard. All of the screen time definitely has me fatigued. I’ve been getting carpal tunnel flare ups from grading so many papers and discussion board posts online. I keep getting booted off Zoom in the middle of one of my classes, and my students have a joke that when it happens I am being abducted by aliens.
There are so many things I miss about pre-pandemic teaching like the ways that discussions can evolve organically in a class much more easily when no one has to unmute themselves to talk or when there aren’t hours or sometimes even days between posts on a discussion board. I have a lot of students doing projects related to the history of food this semester, and I am so bummed that their classmates and I won’t get to sample the results of their culinary investigations into medieval and early modern recipes. Still, I’m excited to see their videos, photoessays, and blogs.
This has been a rough semester for everyone. I have many students who are working so hard in spite of everything, and I really want all of them to get across the finish line.
5. Ok, let’s settle something for the folks on Twitter: is a hot dog a sandwich? What about a taco?
I think it’s pretty easy to make an epistemic justification that a hot dog is a sandwich, but a taco is most definitely not! Did you know that the term taco has its origins in firearms? It went from meaning a cloth plug used to hold the ball of an arquebus into place or a ramrod to, in the nineteenth century, also signifying a small bite of food. In Mexican silver mines during the 1800s, workers also called the explosive charges wrapped up in paper that they used tacos. Thus, a taco is much more likely to provide a taste explosion in your mouth than a hot dog is and is superior in every way.
6. What are you currently working on?
The fall semester is a super busy time for me as a book reviews editor of an academic journal, so since I met a deadline in October for a scholarly essay on festivals and diplomacy in the seventeenth century, my own writing has kind of been on the back burner. I’m working here and there on a history book about a powerful Spanish duke and duchess who fell from favor in the seventeenth century and on a series of poems inspired by the genre of field guides. I’ve just started sending out a few of those out to literary magazines. One is forthcoming in Orange Blossom Review and one will be out with Waccamaw soon.
7. Finally, build your perfect writer’s cabin. Where would it be? What’s it look like? And more importantly, does it have a fully stocked bar?
I’m a bad Alaskan for not actually having a cabin—or at least a shabin. Maybe someday…. I’d love to have a log cabin in or near Talkeetna or Homer. I’d need a bed, a table to spread everything out on, a bathtub, and ideally a comfortable chair. I wouldn’t want a tv, but I would need wifi. Absolutely, the bar would be fully stocked! In terms of hard liquor, bourbon is my go-to year-round, but sometimes I like to switch it up with Palomas, margaritas, or gin and tonics, especially in the summer. I used to live in Spain, so my bar in my dream cabin would have to have plenty of bottles of red wine and a decent Albariño or two as well.
Ray Ball (she/her) grew up in a house full of snakes. Originally from Oklahoma, she currently lives on the land of the Dena’ina, where she works as a history professor at the University of Alaska Anchorage. She is the author of the chapbooks Tithe of Salt (Louisiana Literature, 2019) and Lararium (Variant Lit, 2020) and a poetry editor at Coffin Bell. Her poems have appeared in numerous journals, including descant, Glass, Okay Donkey, and The Tulane Review. You can find her on Twitter @ProfessorBall.
Shawn Berman runs The Daily Drunk. He tweets a lot about Adam Sandler. Follow him @sbb_writer.