Faculty Profile: Lena Bertone’s Works Published

Lena Bertone teaches English and communications on SUNY Poly’s Utica campus. When she’s not teaching and helping others to hone their ability to tell stories, she’s writing them herself, with two books seeing publication recently.

Behind This Mirror coverBehind This Mirror, published in January, is a collection of short pieces she had published in online and print magazines between 2011 and 2013. Sometimes they’re a page, sometimes less, but in each, silly things happen to seemingly normal people, “seemingly” being the key word.

“Sometimes the people aren’t so normal,” Bertone says. “And sometimes the things that happen aren’t so much silly as absurd or strange.”

She describes her other book, Letters to the Devil, published in February, as a breakup story in which the heartbreaker is the Devil himself, and the letter-writer is his former lover and partner in cruel and devilish acts.

“She works through her grief and anger in the letters, and tells the story of their time together.”

It took her roughly three months to write her first draft of Letters to the Devil in 2011. She then spent a few years revising and reworking it before it won The Lit Pub’s prose contest. About a year later, it saw publication.

Letters to the Devil cover“That was a very productive time for me, during which I would write very short stories and have pretty good luck finding homes for them in magazines. Once I had enough stories, and they were thematically similar, I put them together and started sending them out to contests and small presses to see if I could find someone interested in publishing them as a volume. Origami Zoo Press expressed interest, and then it was a full year before the book was published.”

Jack London once said that you can’t wait for inspiration to strike, that you have to go after it with a club. For Bertone, she found inspiration every day in the little things that get taken for granted or go unobserved in the world around her.

“My favorite kinds of stories are those that happen in the real world, but that also captures the magical things that can happen in the real world. I find everyday life to be strange and surreal, and I like to write about that,” she says. “I’m currently teaching a class with a fairy tale theme, in which we talk about how the structures and metaphors of fairy tales are deeply engrained in our everyday lives, and shape our expectations of magic and happiness, and good and evil.”

Though people often think of academic writing very different than creative writing, Bertone says that her experiences behind the author’s desk certainly lend themselves to her perspective in the classroom.

“Both require close, careful reading, and the ability to observe from what you’ve read and analyze and transform it in your own writing. So, though I don’t directly use my creative writing in my approach to teaching academic writing, I think it informs how I think about all kinds of writing and gives me a particular flexibility in talking to students about their writing.”

With these two literary ventures now out of her head and into the hands of readers, she says that it’s only the beginning, with countless other stories already begging to be told.

“I have a novel that’s completed and I’m looking for a publisher for it; several stories that will eventually grow to (I think) novella size, based on the short life of an Italian scientist; and a novel-in-progress set in central and western New York that I’ve been wanting to get back to for about two years now. My goal every day is to write something – some words, a sentence, a paragraph, a tiny story.”

Behind this Mirror is available at: origamizoopress.com/titles/behind-this-mirror.

Tell us YOUR story