Interview: Sally Deskins with Laura Madeline Wiseman and Lauren Rinaldi, collaborators of The Hunger of the Cheeky Sisters: Ten Tales (Les Femmes Folles Books, 2015)

The Hunger of the Cheeky Sisters lets girlhood hunger rove cupboards, blacktops, and playgrounds to find the sweetness we can cup with our hands—butterflies, marathon medals, the body of a telephoto lens. Illustrated by artist Lauren Rinaldi, these ten collected tales by Laura Madeline Wiseman show the strength of girls coming into their own. Here the author and artist share with artist, writer and Les Femmes Folles curator Sally Deskins about how collaborating impacted creating this work around issues of body image, class, poverty and hunger and more; why this was an important project to take on as a woman; what makes them life, cry and swoon in the book and more.
Sally: Both of you have created works around the female experience; can you talk about that and how this project is both related but also different from your other work? How did each other’s work impact the final result?
Madeline: As an undergraduate at Iowa State University, I double majored in English Literature and Women’s Studies. I did a master’s degree in women’s studies at the University of Arizona and for my comprehensive exams for the PhD, one of my reading lists focused on women writers. My dissertation that became the book, Queen of the Platform (Anaphora Literary Press, 2013), explored the life of the suffragist Matilda Fletcher. In terms of my research interests, I’ve been studying the ways in which the female experience is presented in literature throughout my adult life. I also teach women’s and gender studies courses. I literarily get paid to think about gender and to teach young people to think about gender, too. In terms of my creative work, gender is often an integral part. Tales tells stories about girls and women as they live their lives in a world where gender layers experience. Tales is also attentive to issues of class, poverty, and hunger, and how girls living in such socioeconomic environs survive and thrive. Tales and Lauren’s art enabled me to fully consider the female body because Lauren’s work says, “Here’s it is. Look.” You have to look and for me, it was of that looking that Tales came to be.
Lauren: Madeline initially sent me a first draft for Tales including five of her short stories and I felt this immediate connection, I had a real visceral response to her work and I started responding with new sketches right away. I felt like we were both working with an uncomfortable intimacy and this balance between a voyeuristic view and quiet reflection, I was very much looking forward to previewing the next batch of Tales. As Madeline revised, reworked and added more tales and sent them to me, I read and reread and read them again. With every read through I found newness in her evocative prose. Using her characters as muses, I pulled particular lines and feelings to create sketches and new layers in my paintings. Her works began to inform my work and her girls and women started to feel like my girls and women. My work, before our collaboration, had largely been informed by my own personal narratives. It was a little different when I was creating pieces for Tales because, though my experiences shaped how I was responding to Madeline’s stories, the pressure I usually put on myself to specifically use my life to draw from felt like it wasn’t in the forefront. In a way it gave me more freedom and it also gave me more confidence because I felt like I had the permission to pull from a more collective experience, one that I was a part of but wasn’t only mine.
Sally: Madeline, what is your favorite work of Rinaldi’s in the book, and why?
Madeline: My favorite are the cheeky sketches. I’ve read studies that explore the emotional impact of fashion magazines on women and girls. Such research argues that when women spend time paging through fashion magazines like Vogue, Elle, Seventeen, and others they feel more depressed by that looking. They feel worse about their bodies, diet, self-image and self-esteem. Certainly, some of Lauren’s images are talking to those consumer culture images, but rather than some unseen photographer taking snapshots and airbrushing them for the page, the girls and women in Lauren’s work are often taking their own selfies. They are the camera holders. Sometimes they take up that critical eye. Other times they present the more iconic pinup girls of the 1940s and 1950s. But the majority of them, at least in my reading, suggest another gaze, perhaps a contemporary gaze, but it’s certainly a gaze of beauty and awe. As I was going through the proofs of Tales, rereading the pages for typos, checking the design, and gazing excitedly at how the images and words spoke to each other in the final layout, I said to a friend, “When I look at Lauren’s work in Tales, I feel better about myself—nothing at all like looking at women’s magazines.” I’m struggling here to put a finger on it, but there’s some kind of cognitive-emotional response for me when I study Lauren’s work that makes me adore my own body. Do I have flaws? You bet, but when I spend time with her cheeky sketches, I love them. My flaws make me beautiful.
Sally: Lauren, which is your favorite story of Madeline’s and why?
Lauren: That is a difficult question to answer, I love them all for different reasons! I love how the stories make me feel uncomfortable and yet I find comfort in reading them. I love her characters’ strength and vulnerability, I admire their resilience. It’s too hard to choose one!
Sally: Madeline, your stories are so true, to me, of growing up in different walks of life, each with their own perspective. How did you tap into so many different characters, and/or, why was this an important collection for you to write as a woman?
Madeline: I wrote the stories in Tales over the span of ten years. When I was culling through the over forty published stories I’d written and narrowing it down to the ten for the book, I purposely selected stories that spoke to each other in terms of theme, character, and situation. Ideas of food and hunger permeate the book. Sometimes that hunger is due to class. At the gym this week, one of my classmates was talking about a program that his company supports—The Backpack Program. This program gives children in the public schools who need it, a backpack full of food on Fridays, enough food to last the entire weekend. This program is to supplement the kids who receive free breakfasts and lunches, a way to get them through the weekend by providing nutritious meals to enable them to learn, play, and grow during the school year. Some of the girls in Tales would have benefited from such a program, had there been one for them in the world of story. Other girls in Tales struggle with eating disorders perpetuated by a cultural that expects girls and women to live up to an unrealistic body size. One story focuses on trying to find food while traveling abroad and experiencing a new culture. I think we have a food obsessed culture and for women, it’s a particularly complicated obsession. Tales is one way I was able to explore the ramifications of that obsession in terms of class, the body, and the psyche.
Sally: Lauren, your images, to me, as well, are poignant of today’s youth and the body; how do you see your works in TALES in terms of body image, or why was this series an important one for you to create as a woman?
Lauren: This series was important for me to create because I started it by questioning the validity of the projected identities and the carefully curated lives that we choose to present to the world, especially online. The stories in Tales give us raw glimpses into different characters’ lives and the experiences that affect them. They put you right there in that waterbed, on that boat, in the dressing room, thinking about your marriage, your sisters, the time you spent abroad, the first time somebody touched you and you actually felt. The women in my accompanying sketches reflect these experiences, but the sketches also explore the nature of women who are seeking affirmation under the guise of anonymity. I was looking at what we show and what we hide. One way I interpreted the idea of hunger was in terms of our collective need to be seen and accepted and how we seek to attain self-confidence through likes, comments and shares. A lot of my work included in Tales reflects the exhibitionism and insecurities I see presented in our day-to-day digital landscapes. I like the ownership women are taking of their bodies, I’m not judging people on what they choose to put out there, but I am challenging us to really think about why we share what we share.
Sally: What in TALES (art and/or writing) makes you laugh?
Madeline: Page 30. When Lauren and I were collaborating, I sent her a list of possible sketches she might do, along with the various drafts of the stories. I remember sometime after that, Lauren posted the cheeky sketch of a visible panty line. It made me laugh because it fit so perfectly with the tension and image created by one of the stories. I also love the ferocity of page 84. Page 131—it reminds me of my bedroom I had in college in an apartment I shared with three other women and fits well with the story on traveling abroad. Page 145—It’s like she’s saying “Kiss it.” I chuckle every time. It’s the perfect last image for the book.
Lauren: Page 125 – The line “She says she’s an atheist, but doesn’t know what she’ll do when she has kids. You pause, okay?” That makes me laugh. And shake my head, I know girls like that. And on the first page of Hunger – “When you se the woman, you say, ‘Hi Jaundice,’ because you think this is her name.” Makes me think of the little girl who lives next door to me, I picture her waving and smiling as she roller skates by. She’s always repeating things her parents say that she isn’t supposed to and it cracks me up. And throughout the story Raw, how the word “selfie” is used in such a matter of fact way. Like, selfie is a real word and that’s funny to me, funny and strange.
Sally: Swoon?
Madeline: Page 27, page 89, page 126, page 115, and page 107.
Lauren: Madeline’s writing makes me swoon! Page 105 – “As your sister talks, the dyed black tendrils of her hair whirl around her made-up face—thick black liner around the eyes, eyebrows plucked to long and narrow arches, a pale powder and foundation smoothing the spaces in between—and her tattoos curl and move along her muscles like a breeze in a comic book garden of peonies, heavy-headed and full.”
Page 45 – I like this page a lot – I love how the girl in the sketch is coming up for air, swimming through Madeline’s words that curve around her.
Sally: Tear up?
Madeline: Page 16, page 46, page 110—I adore the girls in these sketches. I want to hug them.
Lauren: “How To Be a Wife” page 116 – ”You know you’re not crazy, but you begin to dream about volume, about turning the sound all the way off. You want drinks every night. You want a party, one where when you appear, everyone cheers. Mostly, you just want.”
Sally: In your opinion, does feminism play a role in TALES?
Madeline: Yes, I think so. Feminism, to me, has always meant equality, but more than that, feminism is caring about the lives and bodies of women and girls. Tales explores how girls learn to love themselves as they grow up and grow into their adult body. Such a feminist exploration is an act of love.

Sally Deskins is an artist, art writer, consultant, art model, mother, wife and art enthusiast. She is a Teaching Assistant in the Art History Graduate Program at West Virginia University. Heavily inspired by contemporary artist Wanda Ewing's work challenging society's definitions of femininity, Deskins' art explores womanhood, the body and motherhood in her life and others'. Her art has been exhibited in galleries in Omaha, New York, Philadelphia and Chicago; and has been published in publications such as Certain Circuits, Weave Magazine, and Painters & Poets. She has curated various solo and group exhibitions, readings and performances centered on women’s perspective and the body. Her writing has been published internationally in journals such as Stirring, Prick of the Spindle, Bookslut and Bitch. She is founding editor of LES FEMMES FOLLES. She has published three LES FEMMES FOLLES anthologies of art, poetry and interview excerpts can be found on Her first illustrated book Intimates & Fools, with poetry by Laura Madeline Wiseman, came out in 2014.
Laura Madeline Wiseman is the author of the full-length poetry collections American Galactic (Martian Lit, 2014), Some Fatal Effects of Curiosity and Disobedience (Lavender Ink, 2014), Queen of the Platform (Anaphora Literary Press, 2013), and Sprung (San Francisco Bay Press, 2012). Her dime novel is The Bottle Opener (Red Dashboard, 2014). She is also the author of two letterpress books, nine chapbooks, and the collaborative book Intimates and Fools (Les Femmes Folles Books, 2014) with artist Sally Deskins. She is the editor of Women Write Resistance: Poets Resist Gender Violence (Hyacinth Girl Press, 2013). Her newest book is the collaborative collection of short stories The Hunger of the Cheeky Sisters: Ten Tales (Les Femmes Folles Books, 2015) with artist Lauren Rinaldi.
Lauren Rinaldi is an artist living and working in Philadelphia. Her intricate and personal stories function as a sort of diary on canvas and become a universal representation of female experiences. Her work has slowly shifted its focus to reflect ideas of art in the age of digital narcissism, where the concept of the discarded selfie exists and where seizing control of your self-image can be orchestrated by filters, self-confidence ascertained with likes and comments.