Conversations with Writers: Sam Caton

Sam Caton is a poet, screenwriter, novelist, and actor from Fargo, ND. His screenplays have received awards in international festivals, and his most recent work is currently in production with the company he founded, Quiet Minds Productions.

Caton’s writing is an ongoing journey of learning about himself and how to be a part of this changing world.

He finds both peace and turmoil in writing, just as all passions and work, and believes that, just as stories in myth and fiction and history are the maps we have to follow as we work on growth and piecing together a future of peace, his own writing is a means to a similar end.

“So get started. Write. Go to bed. Wake up. And then get started again.”

When did you first express an interest in writing?

The first time I remember writing for pleasure was when I was six years old. I was a bit of a geek in my early years, and I had just finished a family road trip visiting historical sites, including several battlegrounds from the Civil War, such as Shiloh and Gettysburg. My Grandfather, Pap, was a huge influence in my life at that time and remains as one to this day, although he passed a few years back. It was his birthday, and, being the six-year-old geek I was, I thought a six page essay on the Civil War would be a great gift for him, so I wrote one for Pap. 

You write an array of genres—how do you go back and forth between screenplays and poetry?

It’s hard to say. I have a pretty wild imagination, which isn’t always a good thing, and whichever world I’m writing about at that time I get fully immersed. However, all my work, whether it be a black comedy screenplay, a psychological thriller, my novel (which is a western that entails the lore and mythology of Shakespeare’s Elizabethan Faeries), or my simple “non-fiction” poetry, all my writing is a direct result of how I view the world, how I view myself. What I mean is that I think I, in a way, write in just one genre, and that genre is Sam Caton, and sometimes I’m in good moods and sometimes I’m in foul moods, and sometimes I’m anxious, for in all writing, the basic humanity of the writer lies present within the breakdown of his or her own characteristics into the splintered caricatures of the characters being written.

Printed out versions of screenplays and books that Caton has written.

You are a founder (and writer) of Quiet Minds Productions—what is your mission for your company and where do find inspiration?

Quiet Minds Productions is a film production company focused on using fictional narratives in movies to bring to light the struggles that we all so often hide from others, such as addiction and mental illness. We, as artists, know that if we are going to tell stories, there must be purpose, and if we can bring about awareness and change in the stigmas of addiction and mental illness, then it’s our duty as artists to do so—to have a purpose with our imaginations. As the writer of our team, I find inspiration, as many writers often do, in the stories and struggles and hardships and suffering of people I know, have known, have met, whether it be for an hour or a lifetime, and, as always, from myself, for I, too, struggle with a difficult amount of mental illness.

Do you have a writing routine?

One of my favorite poets is William Blake, and one of his “Proverbs of Hell” from The Marriage of Heaven and Hell is: “Think in the morning. Act in the noon. Eat in the evening. Sleep in the night.” I tend to follow this to some degree. The morning is for poetry, the afternoon is for other projects, screenplays or novels, a big meal, and then bed. On top of that, and although it may be odd, I have written three full notebooks of poetry almost entirely at The Empire Tavern as a regular for a period of my life. Maybe not typical for 2020, but I feel if you time-traveled to a Greenwich pub in the sixties, you’d find quite a few people enjoying a whiskey as they write poetry.

Caton has two writing spaces; one in his apartment and one in his garage (pictured).

What advice do you have for writers?

I guess my advice to writers is to write. Just write. Write because you long to write. Write because it’s therapy, it’s hope, it’s activism. I know many people who want to write, or perhaps want to want to write, and I know how this is because I have had many dry spells as well. But, as with many things, one of the hardest things to do is get started. So get started. Write. Go to bed. Wake up. And then get started again.

Conversations with Writers: Oscar De Leon

Greetings, New Rivers Press fans! I hope you are doing well and finding the opportunity to express creativity amidst the chaos.

Our first conversation is with Oscar De Leon. De Leon is a Mexican-American filmmaker based out of Fargo, ND. He has been working independently since the age of 18, eschewing film school to pursue his passions. He has since gone on to write, direct, and edit award-winning short films and documentaries.

De Leon often operates under his artist name, “Guero,” which roughly translates to “white boy,” a nickname he grew up with.

As an artist, De Leon changes styles depending on the subject he’s working on. His portfolio includes a vast array of work ranging from personal music projects, podcasts, commercial writing, and screenplays.

In 2014, he and Kevin Ackley created Chamber Six Media, a media group doing both commercial and artistic work that serves as a form of expression for both artists. Together they have had success as independent filmmakers with their work being accepted into international film festivals. 

Let yourself fail. What failure teaches you is that every mistake opens up a new road.

When did you first express an interest in screenwriting? Was there a specific event, person, film, or epiphany that inspired you? What inspires you now?

I knew I was a storyteller when I was about 12 or 13. I had all these elaborate scenarios in my head that when I figured that I could write them down, it was like opening a secret door or something. I quickly started writing little scripts for my stories and basically taught myself how to format by finding stuff online or watching movies with subtitles on so I could understand the rhythm of dialogue. As I’ve gotten older, the process has been refined but for the most part it’s the same as it was back then. 

You are of Mexican-American descent—how does your heritage play a role in your writing/directing, and overall involvement in the film community?

Being Mexican-American is something I’m really proud of and something that I consciously try to incorporate in any film I make or screenplays I write. Most of my main characters are Latino and are morally and emotionally complex people—like human beings. My artist name is “guero” because that’s what I was called growing up and I think it’s important to show that any art coming from people (especially Chicanos) as being multi-faceted, complex, and worth diving into is because that was my experience growing up and feeling like I don’t really belong on either side of the cultural war. 

How would you describe your writing, directing, and editing aesthetic? 

I like to think that everything I make is coming from an emotional point of view. Whatever I do, I ask if it is speaking or communicating a specific feeling or emotion. To me, a lot of art falls flat if you can’t sense the emotional framework of the creator’s mind. There’s plenty of stuff out there that rings hollow because a character will say something that they (the writer) thinks should be said as opposed to what they actually feel should be getting across. I like to think that anything I create is a pure reflection of what’s in my heart/soul at the moment and that communicates for better or worse. 

An excerpt of an unfinished screenplay of De Leon’s called WOVEN.

Do you have a writing routine?

My routines are changing with age but I have a little “ceremony” I perform before I write: I typically wait for around 11pm-1am, play some ambient music, turn down all the lights, and “allow” myself to “open up.” It may seem like new-age bullshit but I really do think that we’re not in full possession of our ideas and sometimes we need to let them pour in from “wherever” that is. I think everyone defines it differently but I think it’s all the same. 

How much do your screenplays change during filming? 

In my experience, you’re always adapting what you write. You’ll almost NEVER see what you wrote on screen as is. What’s so great about filmmaking is that you adjust to fit the flow of the movie. The movie will become its own thing in three separate ways: there’s the movie you’re writing, the movie you’re shooting, and the movie you’re editing. You basically have to let go of any sort of preciousness you have about the word and be willing to let it adapt to the people who are helping you make it. 

“WOVEN is structured like a braid where the past and present interweave seamlessly throughout the picture. I think the excerpt I included is a pretty good example of the type of mood I write in which is sort of a shiny-somber combination.”

What advice do you have for aspiring screenwriters or writers of any genre?

What I’ve learned is that you have to write it all. Even the bad stuff. Let yourself fail. What failure teaches you is that every mistake opens up a new road. New solutions present themselves if you get stuck and all you can do is keep it going, sometimes you will surprise yourself. And, all things considered, I’m a terribly lazy writer: I only work when I have something to say. I will spend months just THINKING of an idea and won’t write. This is a bad approach. In order for you to find solutions to the problems you might be facing, you have to strike while the iron’s hot and write, write, write! 

Celebrating World Poetry Day


With World Poetry Day approaching on Saturday, March 21, now is the time to reflect on why poetry is so important. Founded in 1999 by The United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) to “support linguistic diversity through poetic expression and to offer endangered languages the opportunity to be heard within their communities,” World Poetry Day is celebrated by diverse and talented individuals all around the world. Poetry not only encourages us to read and write, but it evokes a sense of emotion that is unique to its genre. 

As a poet myself, I gain inspiration, knowledge, and a well-rounded awareness of different forms of poetry by reading any and all poets, subject matter, and forms. Poetry is a beautiful way to release your inner thoughts and emotions without restrictions or specific guidelines. Don’t think you can be a poet? Think again. Poetry can be complex and intuitive, but it is also extremely versatile and approachable for anyone who enjoys writing. Don’t worry about rhyming, play around with your form, talk about the vulnerable or talk about the mundane, take risks, get weird, and stay true to yourself.

March is also Small Press Month, so here are five must-read unique and diverse collections of poetry (also independently published!) that will inspire you to start writing and reading something new:

I Can’t Talk About the Trees Without the Blood by Tiana Clark
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Published by University of Pittsburgh Press, Clark’s bold and electrifying compilation illustrates black history, pain, racism, identity, and the inability to escape the terror of the bloodied trauma of the past. Her voice rises from the South as she presents soul and integrity in her poems. Her striking language and vivid imagery will paint a picture that will leave you feeling redeemed and put you in each scene. 

Odessa by Patricia Kirkpatrick
Image result for odessa patricia kirpatrick

Published by Milkweed Editions, Odessa is a stunning personal narrative of the speaker’s discovering of brain cancer, leaving her facing the biggest fight for her life. Kirkpatrick’s haunting and visceral poems are also brave, filled with rage, sorrow, suffering, and a deeper understanding and acceptance of what it’s like to not know what tomorrow will bring. 

Thieves of Paradise by Yusef Komunyakaa
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Komunyakaa’s collection is published by Wesleyan University. As a Vietnam vet, his disorienting compilation of poetry focuses on a soldier’s return to home after war and the shock of separating war from peace. This collection is full of soul, jazz metaphors, and raw recollections of war. Komunyakaa also includes an array of forms, such as quatrains to prose poems. 

There Are More Beautiful Things Than Beyoncé by Morgan Parker
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A Tin House publication, Parker’s pop culture-infused look at African American women in the twenty-first century fervently tackles issues that are present in everyday life, such as racism, mental illness, tragedy, desire, and the vulnerability of living. Her visions are badass, inviting, hilarious, real, and unfiltered. You’ll finish reading wanting to change the world while listening to Beyoncé.

Virgin by Analicia Sotelo
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Another Milkweed publication, Virgin is an outstanding and jarring look at womanhood from Sotelo’s own experiences. She combines mythology with biography as she conquers the tropes of femininity and explores Latina sexuality. Virgin will leave you wanting more of her gorgeous and flawless sensory imagery, such as grilled meat, golden habaneros, and burnt sugar, and a taste for exotic life experiences. 

Romance is Canceled; Emotionally Investing Yourself in Books is in


It’s Valentine’s Day, a day to celebrate love. (Insert groan or “yay!” here.) It doesn’t matter if you’re in a relationship, single, or it’s complicated. Books are always a good idea (though chocolate is, too).

Here are some books to emotionally invest yourself in this Valentine’s Day:

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J.K. Rowling

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If you didn’t read these books when you were a child (or you did), there is never a good time to not read these books. Get ready to start an adventure with Harry, Ron, and Hermione at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. If you are just starting, don’t start with Prisoner of Azkaban, as it is the third one, but it is my personal favorite. By the end you of these books, you’ll understand what Hufflepuff actually is.

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Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

Peak Romance. Mr. Darcy, AKA the original fictional boyfriend. Also, he’s relatable in that I, too, die inside when I’m in public.

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Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel

This is magical realism mixed with romance, food, and a crazy mother. You might have one of these things in your life (most likely food), and if you’re lucky, you have two out of three. Each food dish described connects to a different part of Tita de la Garza’s life and her romantic troubles.

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Daisy Jones and the Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid

This book tells of the story of a fictional band in the 1970s. Told in interview format, the story draws you in with the band members’ accounts leading up to their final concert and how the band fell apart. Once I picked up this book, I couldn’t put it down.

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The Dinner List by Rebecca Serle

You can have dinner with five people dead or alive. Who do you pick? Sabrina spends the evening of her birthday with her best friend, an old college professor, her father, her ex-boyfriend (Tobias), and Audrey Hepburn. The story alternates between the dinner and her relationship with Tobias. It’s a story of love, loss, and moving on. I cried once I reached the end and was also left with a feeling of hopefulness.

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The Unhoneymooners by Christiana Lauren

When the entire wedding party gets food poisoned, Olive gets the opportunity to go on her sister’s honeymoon in Maui. However, there is a catch. She has to go with the groom’s brother, Ethan, whom she has hated since their first meeting. For the trip, they must fake being newlyweds, and Olive realizes that being fake married to Ethan isn’t so bad. This book is funny, charming, and heartfelt. You’ll wish you had this romance.

There are plenty of books out there to get emotionally invested in. Just visit a bookstore or a library; you’ll be able to find anything. If you want, you can even take your significant other or your friends to help find the right book for you.

Remember that this Valentine’s Day, you aren’t alone, and that there are plenty of books in the bookstore.

Free Comic Book Day and The Growing Legitimacy of Comic Books as Literature

“I just don’t have time for books anymore.”

If you’re a working adult, or even just a busy person of indeterminate age, you may have heard this sentiment among your peers. Maybe even you have slipped into that tenebrific bookless existence. I am here to offer a solution you may not have considered before: graphic novels.

This Saturday, May 5th, is Free Comic Book Day, an event created in 2002 in order to celebrate and increase the visibility of independent comic sellers across the United States. Various comic publishers release special 1-issue samples for comic shops to give away on Free Comic Book Day. Series such as The Avengers, Tank Girl, Riverdale and many others are represented on the list of this year’s free comic samples. If you’ve ever been interested in the world of comics, but had no idea where to start, Free Comic Book Day could be an excellent, low-risk opportunity for you to make your entrance. Locally, businesses such as Paradox Comics and Cards and Comic Junction are joining in on the festivities, but for a list of participating businesses in your area, or for more information on the event, you can visit the official Free Comic Book Day website.

Maus, the first graphic novel to win a Pulitzer Prize.

There is something of a stigma surrounding comics and graphic novels. Their ample use of images rings in people minds as akin to childish picture-books. Much like cartoons, comics and graphic novels suffer from the assumption that only children can, or should, enjoy them. While children certainly enjoy reading comic books, and an ample supply of the comics on the market are meant for children, there is also a thriving market of comic stories meant to be relevant to adults. When it comes to comic books for adults, the thought is that with fewer words per page, this makes graphic novel reading easier and thus less fulfilling than reading a full prose novel. Additionally, there exists and undesirable stereotype about the kind of adult who reads comic books: that of an obsessive, dysfunctional, child-like adult. Let’s banish all of these misconceptions from our minds. Just as there is traditional literature of every genre for every age, so too, are there impactful comics for everyone of any background.

Hugo-Award Winning Graphic Novel: Saga

Comic books (as well as their Eastern counterpart, called manga/manhwa) have been making strides recently both in widespread popularity and in credibility as a legitimate form of art and storytelling. In 1992, the historical memoir graphic novel Maus, became the first graphic novel to win the Pulitzer Prize. As a result, it is often read alongside other historical literature in classrooms around the country. The first volume of Brian K. Vaughn and Fiona Staples’ Saga series, a provocative space opera with elements of fantasy, won a Hugo Award in 2013.

In 2009, five comic book artists had their artwork displayed at the Louvre in Paris as a part of a special exhibit titled “The Louvre invites the Comics“. Among the participating artists was Hirohiko Araki of Japan, the mangaka (comic book artist) who created the internationally acclaimed manga series Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure.

Illustration by comic artist Hirohiko Araki, whose art has been featured in the Louvre.

As we can see, comics, manga, and graphic novels have continuously proven their legitimacy as a media for art and storytelling. They can offer a fulfilling reading experience for people of any age, often with a smaller time commitment. As a visual medium, graphic novels are distinctly poised to enrich the experience of stories in which world-building or character nuance is key. The novel’s artwork allows the author’s vision to be communicated in the truest way. There exist many comic book adaptations of already existing classic or acclaimed literature. Here is a list of 5 graphic novels based off your favorite stories to help get you break into the world of comics.


wrinkle-in-time-coverA Wrinkle In Time

Adapted by Hope Larson / Based on Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle In Time
Grahic Novel – Monochrome / Sci-Fi, Adventure
Published by Margaret Ferguson Books

Many Americans remember A Wrinkle in Time as “that confusing sci-fi book” from their middle school English class days. You may have had the chance to revisit this story with the recently released live action adaptation. If you just can’t get enough, pick up a copy of Hope Larson’s A Wrinkle in Time and see how the medium of the graphic novel has transformed this familiar yet delightfully strange story.


Adapted by Kaoru Mori (writing & art) / Based on Jane Austin’s Emma
Manga – Black and White / Historical Fiction, Romance
Published by Yen Press

In Japan, comic books are called manga, and have developed their own iconic look and conventions for telling stories.  They are marked by their unique art style (sometimes also referred to as “anime style,” after their animated, and more widely known equivalent) their inventive use of paneling and emotive character expression.

While I have not personally read this adaptation of Emma, I have read Mori’s other work, A Bride’s Story, a collection of stories from the perspective of different women in the historical Middle East and Central Asia. Mori’s artistic attention to detail, especially in clothes and home decor is astounding and her nuance in character development make her perfectly suited to adapting this classic novel.

Note: read from left to right, as per the original layout in the Japanese language.


max-ride-coverMaximum Ride

Adapted by Narae Lee (story & art) / Based on James Patterson’s Maximum Ride series
Manga – Black and White / Urban Fantasy, Action
Published by Yen Press

For the thrill junkie, check out Narae Lee’s adaptation of James Patterson’s wildly popular Maximum Ride series. The story centers around a “flock” of children all genetically enhanced with wings and other abilities, as they evade the cruel and shadowy organization that made them that way. I personally think that the fast-paced nature of the story and the fantastic details of the plot lend themselves better to a graphic novel than a traditional book. For that reason, this manga series is, in my opinion, the best way to experience the Maximum Ride saga.


lastunicorn_tpb_cvrThe Last Unicorn

Adapted by Peter B. Gillis (story) Renae De Liz (art) & Peter Dillion (art)
Based on Peter S. Beagle’s The Last Unicorn
Graphic Novel / Color
Published by Idea & Design Works LLC

You may take on look at that word “unicorn” and conjure up notions of silly, girlish, fantasies swathed in pink. Nevertheless, you will find something a fair bit more nuanced and mature in The Last Unicorn, though no less pretty to look at. This story feels equal parts folk and fairytale, and the art style of the graphic novel adaptation does an excellent job evoking the unnerving yet alluring nature of both. The story revolves around the eponymous last unicorn as she leaves her forest to search for her kin, rumored to be missing by malicious means. She is joined by a clumsy magician and courageous bar maid as they forge into the territory of the ruthless King Haggard in order to discover the truth.



Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon

Adapted by Andy Seto (story & art)
Based on The Iron-Crane Pentology by Wang Dulu
Historical Fantasy, Wuxia (Martial Arts Action Adventure), Romance
Manhua / Color
Published by Comics One

You may not have known that director Ang Lee’s year-2000 award-winning martial arts epic was based upon a series of novels dubbed the Iron-Crane Pentology. Or that it was further adapted into a gorgeously illustrated manhua (Chinese graphic novel) series. Inspired in combination by the original novel series and the movie, this adaptation of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, offers an action-packed, drama-filled saga set in a fantastical interpretation of historical China surrounding the wielders of  the legendary sword, Green Destiny, and those who would seek to steal or destroy it.

Originally posted May 3, 2018
Written by Mikaila Norman