Category Archives: Connotation Press


by Karen Stefano

In 2007 I sat in front of my computer inside my office at a prestigious pressure-cooker of a law firm. The computer had a key board on a track that slid beneath my desk and back out again, a contraption intended to maximize ergonomic efficiency. Ergonomics held great importance since I (like so many other lawyers) spent hours and hours hunched over my workspace, tension coursing through my neck and shoulders, devoting my writing talents to briefs, emails to clients, nastygrams to opposing counsel. Soul-sucking work that paid well.

The keyboard track had been sticking, refusing to simply glide in and out with ease. This frustrated me. I needed to bang on that keyboard. I had work to do! And so I wrestled with it, none too gently because let’s face it: these high priced electronics didn’t belong to me and I didn’t give one shit about treating them gently. I shoved and pushed and twisted. Finally it slid out with a crack and one of the keys flew up and smacked me hard, straight in the face, then fell to the floor. I bent down to retrieve the offending key and as I rolled it over to see where on the board it belonged, I saw that it held two words: Wake Up.

Wake Up.

Wake Up.

Wake Up.

Sometime thereafter I heeded that key’s warning, a message I like to believe came straight from the magic of this Universe. While I still had to support myself, I left my fancy firm, found a less intense environment, cut back my hours, decided to take myself seriously as a writer.

I grew up female. I was taught to not ask questions, to be quiet, to be a little lady.

I complied.

In my compliance I lost my voice.

In my compliance I found my voice.

I started to read. Reading was quiet, safe, reassuring to my parents. Reading was explosive, dangerous, pushing me to expand my mind, to feel things, to delve deep.

Sometimes I have difficulty speaking, difficulty making the words behave as they stumble from my mouth. Consequently I often inadequately articulate my feelings, my needs, the conflict raging inside me. It happens because while speaking, my brain hits the edit button too much. (Like many women, this reticence appears only when advocating for myself. Fight like hell for a client? No problem. Stand up for myself? That’s more fraught).

Writing, I don’t have this mental handicap. Which is not to say the words flow magically from my fingertips onto the page. They don’t. But with effort, with slow quiet time on my side, I can make them line up in a way that makes sense. Putting words on the page, telling my story, is a healing process. Writing gives me what I don’t always find in the world: power, control, release, clarity, beauty. Writing is how I find my way out of hell. It’s a way to take control of my runaway mind.

Writing gives me back my voice.

We only get one life. Mine is not perfect but I am now devoting myself to something I love. Writing is a willingness. A willingness to share my true self, to put myself on the page. I don’t believe in writer’s block. Writer’s block is fear and we must all find our way out of fear. Writing is the ultimate act of self-care, of believing in oneself. It is the ultimate act of courage. I like feeling courageous. It makes me feel proud of myself –and what can beat that?

by Karen Stefano

We walk the same streets as another restless day tapers off, anxiety pumping through each limb as we pass the sleeping homeless, silently remembering how our mother dressed us as bums one Halloween because she’d prepared no other costume, how she recast us into smudge-faced little ragamuffins, but now these bodies around us are grotesque carcasses we won’t step near for fear they will reach out, infect us with their loss, their sorrowful stench, transforming us with a touch into them….and as we hurry past I try to distract you by pointing to the trees, their branches riding on the breeze, licking at the sky and I show you what I see inside their shapes, a woman shaking a cane like a threat, a weeping long nosed dog, a monocled bear, but when I try to make you see what I see, your eyes fade, you won’t look at my trees and I feel your heart return to its crypt as you stare down the gray concrete under our feet, saying, your voice a low warning, hand gripping mine, nails digging into my flesh, that visions like mine only appear in clouds.


Karen Stefano is the author of The Secret Games of Words, published by 1GlimpsePress (2015).  She served as Fiction Editor for Connotation Press from 2014 through 2016 and her stories have appeared in The South Carolina Review, Tampa Review, Santa Fe Literary Review, Epiphany, Lost In Thought, Metazen, Green Mountains Review, Gloom Cupboard, and elsewhere. Her story, “Seeing,” was nominated for the XXXVIII Pushcart Prize. To learn more about Karen and her writing, please visit

JOURNEY TO PLANET WRITE: Mirko and other Muses

by Andrew Stancek

“You will bail us out, won’t you, sweet Mami,” Mirko laughed, at the conclusion of my 2011 story called “Moving On.” That last line from the first of my Mirko tales marks a beginning.  

At the time, my stories, reverberating with the influences of Chekhov, Faulkner, Munro and other luminaries, were only taking me down a death spiral.  But Mirko, a hooligan in Bratislava in the sixties, was different.  He shook me, called me by name and said, “Come, let’s do a little slumming.  We’ll have a blast.”  

In that flash story he is thrown out of home by his mother and handed over to a father only marginally more responsible than he is. Mirko pushes all the buttons.  He came, he told, he departed.  Almost thirty of his misadventures have since been shared with readers.  I’ve moved to other narrators, to other tales.  But Mirko’s in-your-face attitude, his eagerness to rush in regardless of consequences, was a breakthrough.  I continue to wrestle with long stories and a whale of a novel while finding the challenges and possibilities of flash liberating. 
The world of Bratislava, of the sixties, of my childhood, has been fertile soil.  I have dreamt of that world all my life, and now I tinker with the right words.  Other preoccupations have followed:  flying, food, war, fatherhood and sonhood, death. 
Adam Zajac, in my serialized novella Wingy Unbound, has discovered the secret of flying which I have longed for ever since watching the gulls soaring over the Danube. A book of my early childhood called Perutenka concludes with the heroine growing wings and flying off, and ever since, imprisoned by one limitation or another, (too young, too clumsy, too daydreamy, too, too, too) I have longed to soar like the gulls, and do so with my protagonists.

Frequently, as I sit at my computer in southwestern Ontario, I suddenly inhale the sweet cherry aroma of bublanina in my grandmother’s kitchen, my mouth fills with the tang of bryndzove halusky, and I am transported to Bratislava, my magic kingdom. I am again at my grandfather’s side as his magician hands turn empty boxes of chocolates full; we ramble through the woods and return with a basketful of fragrant summer cep mushrooms, hands sticky with the juice of berries, both crowned with a wreath woven of field flowers. I am again beaten in dark passageways by groups of jeering hoodlums; my palms throb after an encounter with the bullying Comrade Houskova’s idea of appropriate classroom punishment. My father and I make our Easter sibacka rounds, greeted by neighbors with chocolates for the youngster and a glass of something to take the morning stiffness out for him, culminating in full-voiced singing of folk songs. From those kernels, stories grow.

I dream of my father, his early escapades with me, his dark moods, his absences, his betrayals, his death.  In my eulogy at his funeral I shared the story of how he, a non-swimmer, rescued me when a sudden undertow grabbed my raft, and I only cried in terror.  As a three year-old I accompanied my parents, still married, to Rosutec Mountain in the Tatras, where I scrambled up a bank, fell, looked back, to see a cow low in my face.  My father yelled, “Hybaj, kravisko”, (Get away, huge cow), and that of course became a family tale, and another of my stories. My darker memories of him culminate in my stories of sons cutting down the rope around father necks.
War is the context in that novel I keep struggling with, which I will perhaps, one day, finally bring to a conclusion.  I have seen tanks first-hand, rumbling through the streets of my occupied homeland.  After immersing myself in research to ensure I avoid missteps, I walk away from it, time and time again.  But it will come.  It continues to bubble in me – it has to come out.
So I wake in the morning, see the glint of light on broken glass, hear the echo of an owl hoot, smell cinnamon and nutmeg folded into apple strudel.  My fingers race on the keyboard.  A story pours out.  I break off, like Sheherazade in The Arabian Nights who managed to postpone her death, night after night.  A thousand stories later, she was deemed worthy of living on.  I have many stories yet left to tell.  Perhaps even a thousand and one.


Andrew Stancek entertains Muses in southwestern Ontario.  His work has appeared in Tin House online, Every Day Fiction, fwriction, Vestal Press, Pure Slush, Journal of Compressed Creative Arts, and Camroc Press Review, among others.  He’s been a winner in the Flash Fiction Chronicles and Gemini Fiction Magazine contests and been nominated for a Pushcart Prize.

Read Andrew Stancek’s work:

Horses’ Heads