SH pictureSarah Holtkamp is a sophomore at the University of North Carolina – Asheville. She is one of the featured fiction writers for the inaugural issue of the Oakalnd Arts Review. You can read her short story, “Desert Stars,” in the OAR coming out soon.

– Bethany Olson


You start and end your story, “Desert Stars,” with references to Johnny Cash. How important is music in your writing? Why did you pick Johnny Cash in particular? 

Music is a resource of mine for drawing inspiration and mood. It makes finding the words easier sometimes. That said, I didn’t pick Johnny Cash for this story out of any preference for his music or in an effort to establish the tone. Johnny Cash just seemed like an artist old enough to have a best-of album on cassette that Fiddle would have lying around in his truck. I chose Johnny Cash because it fit Fiddle, not because of any sort of symbolism involved with the artist. Seriously, I know nothing about Johnny Cash.


You make multiple pop culture references throughout the story. Do you feel adding contemporary references change or influence a reader? 

I think pop culture references can extend a sense of familiarity to the reader. It grounds the characters to the story and setting rather than letting them float around in some timeless place. For contemporary audiences especially, pop culture references may invoke nostalgia or present a point of relatability between the reader and the characters.

I noticed you don’t use quotation marks throughout your story. What is the reason behind this stylistic choice? 

I like the way it gives the dialogue more of a rambling feel. Call it more natural or something, but I know when I’m listening to someone speak, I don’t mentally close quotation marks around their sentences. Everything is observation. I wanted to make that impression.


What draws you to fantasy? Have you read any fantasy stories that may have inspired or influenced “Desert Stars”?

Simply put, I grew up with fantasy and fiction. If it didn’t have magic or dragons or aliens in it, I probably didn’t want to read it. As so many others will agree, fantasy is an escape from tedious reality, but more than that, fantasy is an opportunity to invent literally anything, no matter how crazy. Discovering that I could take advantage of that opportunity through writing gave me the power to never be bored. As for influential stories, Neil Gaiman’s Stardust comes to mind, as does that horrible webcomic called Homestuck.

What do you like about fiction versus other genres? Would you consider branching out and trying nonfiction or poetry?

It’s funny you ask that, because most of my original work recently has been creative nonfiction. But fiction is great because you can just make shit up. When I was having friends read and critique “Desert Stars,” one girl asked me if it was a true story. And I just kind of… well… I didn’t tell her no.
I write some poetry, too, but I wouldn’t want to subject anyone to that.


What do you feel is the most challenging part of writing short stories?

The most challenging part for me is finding the time and concentration to write. I seem to have the most ideas when I’m too busy to write them down, and the least motivation when I have nothing else to do.

Who are you favorite contemporary writers?

Neil Gaiman, Andrew Hussie, Khaled Hosseini. All three make me cry.

What advice do you have for other undergraduates who are looking to publish their work?

Befriend your professors in your literature or English department. They would be the first to have connections to reputable publications and will be enthusiastic to answer any questions. Failing that, university websites usually have a page about their creative magazines, as well as information on who is eligible to submit.

What inspired you to pursue creative writing as an undergrad?

Oh, gosh, fanfiction probably.
There’s a story I’m not telling right now. Or ever.

What is your favorite book and why?

Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett. You’ll laugh; you’ll cry; you’ll piss off your conservative relatives when they ask what you’re reading.

As a writer, one of the most difficult things to deal with is writer’s block. There is nothing more frustrating than wanting to write something, finding the time, and having nothing come to mind. I typically experience writer’s block when trying to start a new project. No matter how many ideas I may have, there is something intimidating about looking at a blank page. Usually when I find myself at this point, I read as much as I can, go back through old writing, and generally complain that I can’t figure out what to write next. Lately though, I’ve taken to scouring the internet for good writing prompts to help spark some ideas. I like prompts. I like the idea of taking an idea and running through it, even it doesn’t materialize into something that I want to keep working with. I find it comforting to have some suggestions on what to write. So, in order to  help anyone else suffering from writer’s block, or just generally looking for some extra writing inspiration, I created a list of five writing prompts for poetry, nonfiction, fiction, and comics. 

Let us know which ones you like in the comments,and if any of these ideas do  happen to inspire you, submit them to us here.


  1. Write a conversation with your favorite writer or entertainer. What would you say to them? How would they reply?
  2. Write a poem including the words: dexterity, peppermint, chargeable, gulf, hogwash, and elastic.
  3. Take a first line from your favorite poem and make that the first line of your next poem. Compare the two poems once you’ve finished.
  4. Take an image from the room you’re in and make that the first line of your poem. It could be a concrete image, a line of text, or a person.
  5. Write a poem from the perspective of a light bulb.



  1. Write about your phobias. How have they affected you? Do they have any cultural or historical connections? When did you first realize you were afraid?
  2. Write about a dream you’ve had. How did it affect you? What do you think the real-world implications of your dream are?
  3. Write about your winter coat. Describe it. Tell the story of how you got it. What does this coat mean to you? Does it have a cultural or familiar significance? What does it say about you?
  4. Tell the story of a trip you’ve taken. Think about who was with you and how the trip was different from your expectations?
  5. Write about one of your first experiences. First day at a new job, first date, first day of universtiy, first time driving ect. Pick any first you can think of and write your experience.



  1. Write about a group of people who must rely on each other to accomplish a task, though they are classic enemies (bully and victim, popular girl and loner, etc.).
  2. Write about a character who refuses to choose a path in life and tries to remain in college forever. Chronicle the changes that occur from 18 to 24 years old and how the same mindset becomes less acceptable to their peers.
  3. Write a story about an anti-hero and draw on the irrelevancy of “good” and “bad” in terms of humans.
  4. Write a story in the form of a letter. The letter could be addressed to a fictional character, a famous person, to someone you know or once knew. Focus on expressing something in letter form.
  5. Listen in to a conversation in a crowded area. Write that conversation into a story and create characters around what is said.



  1. Write a comic about a holiday or family event, but introduce a famous character from mythology or folk tale. How would they get along with your family? What kind of conversations would they have?
  2. Explore the future wherein people’s morality shifts to value the information gained from social media over all else. 
  3. Create a diary of a kid who never says no to anything. No experience is declined, no question left unanswered. Where does a kid like this end up in their 20s? 40s?
  4. Imagine a world where culture has melded together and there are no more distinct groups of people or culture divides. What becomes subversive if there is only one accepted norm? Who gets to decide what is “new” or if there is ever change? Does this world have to end in revolution?
  5. Write a story detailing the life of your pet from their perspective. Image what a great day would look like to them? What are their goals? Who are they inspired by?

 – Bethany Olson

Headshot CameraA few months ago, I was out Christmas shopping for last minute gifts. I’d gone to my local superstore – which rhymes with ‘Hall-Cart’ – to find something for cheap, when I found myself passing by their book section. I was planning on going to a bookstore later that day to buy a book for my dad, but I figured it wouldn’t hurt to give a look at the meager collection that they had on display. Maybe I would get lucky and find a hidden gem. After looking over their selection of teen romance and adventure books, lifestyle guides, and Christian literature, I went around the corner to find something more up to par with my father’s taste. That’s when I discovered the “African American” section. Should I be impunnamedressed that there was a whole section dedicated specifically for black readers to find representation? Well, I might have been – if not that eighty percent of the books were the stereotypical gangster crime and romance books, adorned with glossy images of black woman in lingerie, and men with gold chains, teeth, and guns. In my overall disappointment, I found myself mildly amused by the seasonal addition of a novel titled “The Magic of Mistletoe,” with a man lounging in the snow like a GQ model, with a branch of mistletoe place ever-so tactfully over his crotch.

It’s fair enough to say I shouldn’t have expected much in the first place from a department store. I would have found a sizable collection of African American literature in the nearest Barnes & Noble – which I did later that day – but even then, the shelves were stocked with historically recognized black novels, or, the hypersexual choices I found at ‘Hall-Cart.’ And it raised this question: where is all the positive, modern, diverse literature?

It’s an issue that has been talked to death at this point: we need more diverse representation for women, racial and ethnic groups, the LGBTQ community, non-traditional body standards, the physically disabled, and the mentally ill. Not only do we need more books like these, we need stories that don’t feed directly into the stereotypes of that group, but are allowed to create their own voices separate from their societal identities. Gay people’s lives are not only about coming out, the mentally ill are not only the struggles of their illness, and fat girls aren’t all having life altering epiphanies about loving the skin they’re in. There is so much more going on in the lives and minds of these people, and writers (and publishers) owe it to all book lovers to do them justice.

In an effort to expand my horizons, I’ve hunted down some books that strive to do just that. If you find yourself interested in finding more diverse literature, I suggest these great book blogs that post frequently on newly released diverse books by diverse authors:

  1. Diversity in YA – Diversity in YA Tumblr

This blog is a great because it draws on a variety of different identities including race, sexuality, gender, and differently abled people. Not only do they recommend diverse books as they’re newly released, they create book lists based on genre, and do interviews and guest posts with diverse authors on their books.

  1. Rich in Color – Rich in Color Tumblr

Rich in Color focuses on promoting and reviewing books focusing on POC protagonists and books written by POC. Their goal is to ensure that young adults have access to literature that represents their voice.

  1. Gay YA

Gay YA is a blog dedicated to everything LGBTQIA+. Their efforts are to endorse more LGBTQIA+ YA that promotes positivity representations of the community, and put those novels into the hands of teens and young adults who need them the most.

  1. The Brown Bookshelf

The Brown Bookshelf raises awareness of the many African American authors writing for African American youth. They cover everything from children’s literature – illustrated by African American illustrators – to Young Adult novels. During February, they hold their 28 Days Later initiative, which showcases new books and books that have flown under the radar.
Diverse literature may not be getting the promotion it needs, but with blogs like this, and the people who run them, we’re getting closer to ensuring that everyone finds a book with a familiar voice.

– Camera Martin

2016-02-15 10.52.58 (1)You don’t have to look far. It won’t take long to find those five perplexing words: Must have five years experience. It’s an odd concept. How does one obtain that type of experience when you’re fresh out of college and your diploma hasn’t even gotten cold yet? Well, the key is to start way before graduation with an internship.

Most college students don’t really think about internships. There are exams to study for, group projects to present, mountains of homework to climb, and let’s not forget that part time job. I know I didn’t think anything of doing an internship until two summers ago. I stumbled upon an article about how students can prepare for the workforce, and one of the tips was getting an internship.

Internships can be paid or voluntary. If you aren’t getting a check from your internship, they’re paying you with their knowledge. You’ll spend at least fifteen hours a week working on site, or communicating via skype or email. You get to do the exact type of work you’ll be looking for when you graduate. This is the type of experience you can put on your resume to set you apart from the rest or your peers. It also helps you explore your career options.

There is a catch though. Before graduation, you’ll need more than one internship. Now, you don’t have to go all out like fellow intern Lauren Berger, known as the Intern Queen, who logged in fifteen internships before she graduated college, but you will need at least three to add to your resume.

The real question seems to be, “How do I get the most out of my internship?” You’ve sent in your flawless cover letter and resume, they’ve hired you as their intern, but is it your job to only do the tasks you’re assigned? I thought it was. I figured I’d go into Wayne State University Press, learn to edit, read a few manuscripts, and add the experience to my resume. I was wrong. Here is a list of ways I’ve learned how to get more out of your internship:

  1. Dress to impress. This is one of the key tips on making the most of your internship. Even though you might not be getting paid, you should still treat your internship like a job. You’re working with real professionals who might one day become a reference.
  2. Check in. This is a tip I learned from the Intern Queen herself. Pick a day, maybe once a week, and go to your internship coordinator or whoever you’re working directly under and ask them how you’re doing and what you can do to improve. This makes you look like you’re really taking your job as in intern seriously. When I went to the managing editor and asked her how I was doing, she was taken aback. She had never had an intern ask her that before and was glad to tell me how I could improve and see if I had any questions about the business.
  3. Always ask questions. The key to success is networking. I wrote questions for each member of the editorial staff (about four for each person). During my down time, I went through the office asking each one about their education, their experience in publishing, and why they loved their job. This is good for getting to know more about the industry you’re interested in. Remember you’re amongst people who have gotten where you want you to be. Pick their brain!
  4. Use your downtime well. There are times when there is nothing for you to do (trust me, there will be moments like this). My advice to you is: Do not waste your time! It would be so easy to spend those moments scrolling through Facebook or taking Instagram selfies. I was constantly asking if there was anything for me to do during down time. I filled that time with editing book jackets, organizing files, and proofreading manuscripts.
  5. Use your last day wisely. Take this day to go around asking any last minute questions, and be sure to thank everyone. You want to make lasting impressions that will be beneficial to your future. Lastly, don’t forget to keep in touch. Remember, it’s all about networking.

Whether it’s your first internship or your third, each experience is going to be different. Not every internship will be beneficial, and some might be down right boring. But you will learn all about the industry and how professionals function day to day. Make the most out of your internship so that it will become more than just words on a resume. Make it a lasting experience.

 -Sharnita Sanders

With 44 Weeks Left in 2016 (minus two final exam weeks) try the OAR’s 2016 reading challenge to help you meet your reading goals for this year. Tag photos of your books with #oaklandartsreview to share your stories.

  1. A memoir
  2. A book of short stories
  3. A book about space
  4. A book with a child protagonist
  5. A book written by someone who shares your last name
  6. A book set in Latin America
  7. A book of historical fiction
  8. A book on the New York Times Best Sellers List
  9. A book that will soon be adapted to a movie
  10. A book with a yellow cover
  11. A book by an author that shares your birthday month
  12. A graphic novel
  13. A book written in the last year
  14. A book written in 1916
  15. An undergraduate journal
  16. The first red book you see in the library
  17. A collection of poems
  18. A book from a recommendation on GoodReads
  19. The book you have had for a while but never got around to reading
  20. A book about life after graduation
  21. A nonfiction essay
  22. A book set in your favorite location
  23. A book you think you won’t like
  24. An epic poem
  25. A book about college
  26. A book by an author that is not of your gender
  27. A book about mental health
  28. A self-help book
  29. A travel book
  30. That book you read and didn’t like (or understand yet) in high school
  31. An old book of poems
  32. A book from a used book store
  33. A book set during your favorite season
  34. A book about change
  35. A book with a very old protagonist
  36. A book about family
  37. A book with an animal on the cover
  38. A coffee table book
  39. A book your mother likes
  40. A book you see someone else reading
  41. A book of fairy tales
  42. A book set in another world
  43. A book that has notes in the margins
  44. A book about a road trip

– Bethany Olson

Natasha, aka BookBaristas on Instagram is perfectly summed up by her description, “just a book person recommending you hot drinks and hotter reads.” With over 68K followers, and nearly 800 posts, Natasha has built up an impressive following by sharing her life though book reviews and beautiful photos. She agreed to talk with us about her experience using Instagram to talk about books and publishing.

 – Interview by Bethany Olson


How did your account get started?

I started my account when I first started my blog, Book Baristas, because I was planning on using social media to drive traffic to my website where people could read my book reviews, see bookish content and hopefully stick around long enough to want to come back for more later. I never really intended on growing so quickly on Instagram; it was just going to be another platform that you could reach my blog from.

Why do you choose to use Instagram to make book recommendations over other social media platforms like Twitter or Tumblr? Why do you think the reading community is so successful on Instagram?

I have both Twitter and Tumblr for my book blog, but have found that making book recommendations on Instagram, or bookstagram, is a lot more interactive than using the other social media outlets. Personally, I think it has to do with the visual aspect of the recommendation and how easy it is to interact and engage with other book lovers on every post.

What do you think makes a successful Instagram account? 

I would have to say that a successful Instagram account is one that is engaging, real (this is important) and posts quality content. I can’t stress this enough: post what you love because your passion will show. If you’re posting content that you don’t actually love, it’s might come across as impersonal.

Do you feel any pressure to stick to certain genres or read more popular books? How do you pick which book to read next?

There’s definitely a pressure to read the more popular books, if only to stay in the loop of what everyone else is reading, but at the end of the day, I’ll read what I want to because life is too short for stories that won’t stick with me. I sometimes follow a reading schedule, or I’ll stray from that and choose a book that may have been highly recommended to me by another reader.

I saw that you’ve recently moved to New York City. Do you feel this will influence your account in anyway? What are you most excited for?

I did! I definitely think it’ll influence the look of my photos – I’ve got a city that’s teeming with life and all kinds of photo opportunities to take advantage of! I now need to learn how to balance my blog and my job, but I don’t think I’ll ever be out of content to post; there’s always something happening in the city. I’m most excited for the newness of it all – the day trips to other cities close by (Boston, I’m coming for ya!), the landmarks that need to be seen, the food that’s waiting to be had. I can’t imagine that I’ll ever stop being excited about this place.

You’ve done takeovers with authors on your account, how do you choose which authors to work with? What do you like about takeovers?

For author takeovers, I’ll choose to work with authors whom I absolutely admire. It’s exciting having an author whose work is something you can actually attest to loving take over your Instagram. Actual fangirling occurs, every single time.

How did you create contacts in the book/publishing community?

The only way to make contacts is to talk to people. Reaching out via social media goes a long way. Make conversation, befriend other bloggers, email publishers and let them know you are a reviewer looking for titles to review. Give yourself a voice in the blogging world and make yourself be heard.

What do you think about reading physical books vs digital copies? 

It really depends on my mood. If it’s daytime and I have a great reading spot/chair, then I’m all for physical copies. If it’s nighttime and I’m reading in bed, I’d rather read on my phone because it’s more convenient. Basically I’m too lazy to hold up a heavy book in bed, LOL.

What advice can you give to students who are looking at graduation? 

Ah, I’ve got words for this topic. Here’s what I think: it may seem daunting, this whole adult thing, but it’s actually quite nice once you’ve gotten the hang of things (as most things tend to be). There’s probably going to be this awkward state of limbo where you’re not a student anymore, yet you’re not really an adult. I was stuck there for a bit and it was just a really confusing time, but embrace it! Be okay with just being there, you know? Eventually, you’ll find a place in the world and it’ll be great. But absolutely enjoy the last bits of being in school. Lastly, congratulations! Graduating is an amazing feat, so be proud of yourself because you did it!

What is your favorite book and why? 

My favorite book, at the moment, is MAYBE IN ANOTHER LIFE by Taylor Jenkins Reid. I can’t really pinpoint why, mainly because it feels like there are a million reasons why. It could be because I read it right after graduating college and it just felt like the perfect time in my life to read that story. Or it could be because I felt very close to the main character. Whatever the reason is, that story will forever stay with me. One of my favorite quotes from it reads “you never know what you’re ready for until you have to face it.” There’s beauty in not being ready for whatever life throws at you. It’s all about how you handle what you’re given. I can’t recommend this book enough. If you haven’t read it, please do. It might be just what you’ve been needing to read.