Category Archives: Um… yeah

Intermittent Visitors: Shane Rhodes

  Shane Rhodes is the author of six collections of poetry, including X, which was just released; The Wireless Room, which won the Alberta Book Award for poetry; Holding Pattern, which won the Archibald Lampman Award; and The Bindery, which won the Lampman-Scott Award. His poetry has also appeared in a number of Canadian poetry anthologies including Seminal: The Anthology of Canada’s Gay Male Poets. His work is available online at Lemon Hound, Numéro Cinq and Rattle. Rhodes lives in Ottawa, Ontario.

 

1. What is your writing process?

I sleep. I wake. I eat. I sit. I think. I drink a cup of matcha. I turn on the radio. I listen. I turn off the radio. I sit. I turn on the computer. I look at the computer screen. I read email. I search the internet for a 15th century papal bull. I read. I write. I erase. I sit. I exhibit common avoidance procedures. I stare out the window. I try not to look at the computer screen; I pretend it isn’t there. I search the OED for the etymology of “kench.” I read the Wikipedia page on “paprika” and then “grey seals” and then “matcha” and then “match” and then “phosphorus sesquisulfide” and then “phossy jaw” and then “the London matchgirls’ strike of 1888.” I get a hold of myself. Seriously, I get back to writing. I write. Seriously, I write. I sit. I erase. Seriously. I don’t look out the window; I pretend it isn’t there. I write quickly. I erase quickly. I work. I read email. I talk. I listen. I come home. I sit. I write. I erase. I write. I read. I write. I sleep.

 

2. What’s some writing advice you’ve received, that works for you?

While traveling in Mexico for a year, I met a Texan who passed on this advice (it was advice, he told me, that was passed on to him by his grandfather): “There are three things you really need to know in life: how to drink, how to dance, and some names to call the stars.” It seems just a pertinent now as it did then.

 

3. Can you say a little bit about the genesis of X?

X, which is my sixth book and available with Nightwood Editions, is largely made up of poems based on Canada’s post-confederation treaties, on contemporary and historical “Indian” law and policy, and on the current discourse around treaty rights and First Nations protests in Canada. X came from my desire to better understand how colonization, settlement and anti-Indigenousness (for racism is too general a term for the particular types of discrimination we have engineered in relation to Aboriginal people in Canada) functioned historically and continues to function in the present.

Conducted by the Government of Canada over a 50-year period, Canada’s post-confederation treaties (commonly called the numbered treaties, numbers one through eleven) represent the “legal” basis for one of the largest systematic, colonial land appropriations in the world. Daunting for the history and future they carry and their impenetrable legal diction, these texts represent the foundational logic of Canadian colonization and of ongoing settler, First Nations, Inuit and Métis relations. The post-confederation treaties, and their interpretation and implementation, ceded vast territories across Canada regardless of tens of thousands of years of First Nations’ history and placed Indians (it was a point of law that Indians be called Indians and not persons) on reserves smaller, in proportion, than the generous land grants being given to newly arrived settlers from Europe.

X uses the treaties’ own strategies of finding, one-sided negotiating, erasure, obfuscation and overstatement to take the documents themselves apart. At the same time, the constraints placed upon the project (to restrict my vocabulary to the source material) seemed a fitting strategy (indeed, it seemed to me the only ethical strategy that could work), given that the documents themselves are so much about the creation of new constraints (constraints that would only grow with the establishment of the Indian Act and its many precursors) for a frontier territory and its peoples to feed the growth of the British Dominion and its domination.

 

4. Have you had to sacrifice anything in the rest of your life to write?

I have tried sacrifice but have found it is an inconsistent way to please the gods. I sacrifice no longer.

 

5. Do you think writing helps you to understand more about yourself and the world, or is advancing as a writer more about learning how to communicate the things you already know?

I write poetry to understand the world around me. I write myself into the parts of the world that I don’t understand.

There is a story that I tell in my second book, holding pattern, about how, in an ancient land, a King would let a horse wander for a year followed by a band of soldiers. If the horse was impeded in any way, the soldiers would fight to make sure the horse could wander freely. At the end of the year, the horse was slaughtered and the land over which it had wandered became the King’s territory.

My poetry: I let it wander.

 

This interview is part of Intermittent Visitors: a multi-author blog tour.

Intermittent Visitors: Bradley P. Beaulieu

  Bradley P. Beaulieu is the author of the epic fantasy series The Lays of Anuskaya, including The Winds of Khalakovo and The Straits of Galahesh. He also co-wrote Strata with Stephen Gaskell. His short story collection, Lest Our Passage Be Forgotten & Other Stories, comes out today.

 

1. What is your writing process?

I’m an inch wormer. What’s an inch wormer? Well, often you’ll hear people talk about pantsers vs. plotters. Or gardeners vs. architects. The thing is, most writers will fall somewhere in the middle of those spectra. Sure, there are examples of extreme plotters that create 100-page outlines, or people that never plot for fear of losing interest in the story. But me? I find that I can’t plot exhaustively, but that I also need some sort of plotting to help guide me.

So what I do is use what George R.R. Martin calls “lights in the fog.” I figure out the ending to my story, plus a couple of high points along the way. These are my lights in the fog. I don’t know how I’ll reach them necessarily, because the fog in the swamp is thick, but I know generally where I’ll be once I reach them, and then it’s a matter of leaping from stone to stone to get there. I may veer far to the right or left, but eventually I’ll get where I want to go.

And as I do, as I move forward in the story, I’ll stop every so often. I’ll recast the plot, the adventure, even the characters and the world, and then I’ll continue marching forward. And so it is that I “inchworm” my way through the first draft.

 

2. What’s some writing advice you’ve received, that works for you?

One of the biggest “ah ha” moments I’ve had was from Kelly Link when I attended Clarion in 2006. I had written a story that needed more layers and depth. And by that I mean the words weren’t working hard enough. I had a section that introduced a circus troupe leader, and I was describing his clothes in a rather (if you’ll excuse the pun) laundry-list sort of way. It’s not enough to simply describe setting or character. You have to do so in such a way that it reveals more.

You might reveal more about who the observed character is. If the troupe leader has a stained white shirt, it might color him as slovenly. If it’s impeccably white, you’ll get another impression.

But you can also reveal more about the observer. If the character is annoyed at the troupe leader’s slovenly appearance, it will tell you something about them. If they’re accepting of it, or understanding given the daily grind the leader must deal with, it’ll tell you another.

But don’t stop there. You can reveal more about race or religion or gender with the simple act of description. Or narration. Or dialogue.

Make words work double or triple duty. That’s what we’re told when we first start writing. But it’s difficult to know just how to do that. This is one way: look at a lusterless passage and figure out if there are ways the words can tell more than a surface read implies. Make connections to other things about your world through implication and inference, and soon you’ll find that the story is much more textured and nuanced than it was before.

That’s what makes fiction deep, by adding layer upon layer. It makes your stories rewarding, and that, at the time, was a huge revelation for me.

 

3. Can you say a little bit about the genesis of Lest Our Passage Be Forgotten & Other Stories?

I started out as a novelist. I hadn’t really considered short stories as an avenue to publication. But then I started attending Kij Johnson’s seminars at GenCon, first in Milwaukee and then in Indianapolis when the convention moved. It was an eye opener for me, trying to create stories that can live inside of 5,000 words instead of 150,000. It was difficult as well, but as I continued working at it, I began to admire the form, and eventually I began selling stories.

This story collection compiles all of my fantasy stories to date. (I’ve held back the science fiction stories for a future collection.) I decided late last year to run a Kickstarter for the collection. I feared that it wouldn’t succeed, but it succeeded well beyond my expectations, getting over 300% of my initial goal.

And the Kickstarter added to the contents as well. I offered to write three new stories if we hit certain goals, and we hit all three of them. So I wrote those, including two stories set in my epic fantasy world of The Lays of Anuskaya. It was a really fun way to connect the story collection to the trilogy I’d been working on for the past half-decade.

I’m terribly excited to get the story collection out and to share the stories that reflect much of my time as a serious writer of fantasy.

 

4. Have you had to sacrifice anything in the rest of your life to write?

Well, yes. There’s no getting around it. Many, many late nights have been “given over” to writing. But I don’t regret it. Sure, there are days where I’m exhausted. I’d rather play a game, or watch Game of Thrones, or just hang out with my family and talk.

But books don’t write themselves. I get a big thrill from writing, especially at the milestone moments—the end of scenes, end of chapters, end of stories, and so on. So I try to take the little victories and enjoy them, because otherwise why do it? The big victories are so few and far between, you’d better enjoy the small ones.

Plus, I do try to balance my life appropriately. I don’t ignore my family. I make sure I live with them as I live with writing. The balance is never perfect, but what in life is?

In the end, I’m happy with the sacrifices for the time being. Hopefully in the future I’ll have more time for writing that isn’t of the “into the wee hours” variety.

 

5. Do you think writing helps you to understand more about yourself and the world, or is advancing as a writer more about learning how to communicate the things you already know?

Great question, and I hope for many it’s both. It certainly is for me. I question myself all the time. I’m writing what I know, certainly. But I don’t want to stop there. So much of the fun of writing is to learn more, and to share the things you’re learning, that you think are cool, or important, or devastating, or lovely. And you can’t do those things if you try to rely on only the things you’ve already experienced. Sure, you can do that for a story or two. But eventually you’ll need to move on or you’ll stagnate.

What goes hand-in-hand with this is our personal interests. They change over time. And it’s best if you keep your finger on the pulse of those changes. Use them to your advantage, because it will only help your fiction. Your enthusiasm, or disgust, or love, or what have you, will show through. And that can only help your fiction.

 

This interview is part of Intermittent Visitors: a multi-author blog tour.

Intermittent Visitors: Wendy Vardaman

  Co-editor and webmaster of Verse Wisconsin and co-founder/editor and webmaster of Cowfeather Press, Wendy Vardaman‘s poems, reviews, and interviews have appeared in a variety of anthologies and journals, including Antiphon, Interrobang?!, The Mom Egg, Poemeleon, Prime Number, qarrtsiluni, Whale Sound, and in audio at The Knox Writers’ House Recording Project. The author of Obstructed View (Fireweed Press, 2009), she has been nominated for numerous Pushcart Prizes, as well as a Best of the Net Award, and was runner-up in 2004 for the Council for Wisconsin Writers’ Lorine Niedecker Award. In 2012, she was appointed, with Sarah Busse, Poet Laureate of Madison, a volunteer post overseen by the Madison Arts Commission.

 

1. What is your writing process?

I try to keep regular appointments with myself to draft new work. That was especially important to me during the years that I had young children…Now that they’re mostly grown, I ought to have more free time, but other commitments always creep in and impinge on the writing time… I find scheduled writing time to be more important than ever these days.

I keep a spiral to journal in, start poems, take notes at lectures and conferences, and generally collect ideas and scraps of stuff that seems important, including lists of plays, movies, and books I see or read. When I fill up a notebook I read through and type up anything I’m interested in working on and revising. Some work goes out and gets published quickly; some poems I’m actively cycling through for years and laboring over; some work gets a lot of attention from me but never interests an editor.

Since becoming poet laureate of Madison, Wisconsin, I also regularly receive assignments from people who either want me to write to a particular theme or an occasion. I find I do a lot more research for these pieces, and work on concertedly for days/weeks or more–it’s a change in my normal process because it removes the thinking/ not writing time that normally goes into a poem for me between drafts and revisions.

 

2. What’s some writing advice you’ve received, that works for you?

The best writing advice I’ve gotten is to figure out a way to give back to others through my writing, to support both other poets and poetry in general. I’ve found that anything and everything–from book reviewing to doing a prison workshop to editing and interviewing–has a positive effect on my own work, gives me new ideas, and makes me feel less isolated as a writer.

 

3. Can you say a little bit about the genesis of Obstructed View?

My book Obstructed View (2009) goes back to poems I began as a newish parent fifteen years earlier… I write a lot but have been slow to publish work, especially as books. I have a couple of manuscripts circulating now, but have trouble justifying putting another single-author collection into the world when there are so many, many good poets writing and doing wonderful work.

 

4. Have you had to sacrifice anything in the rest of your life to write?

Well, paying work hasn’t been easy to find or sustain. I taught for some years after getting a PhD, then quit because I couldn’t do creative writing and teach and parent all at the same time. After a stint as a part-time arts administrator, I’ve recently gone back to teaching writing workshops and am working on an online class for the fall. But I’m proceeding cautiously–I’m never quite sure where the line is between being able to maintain my poetry and being able to do other kinds of work.

 

5. Do you think writing helps you to understand more about yourself and the world, or is advancing as a writer more about learning how to communicate the things you already know?

I don’t know if I’d know anything if I didn’t write it down first. It’s how I think. Maybe that’s why teaching–which is really talking, and finding out what you know through talking–used to feel so difficult. I had to write everything down ahead of time to figure out what I wanted to say. Some writing work is communicative, of course, but that’s more what I do on, say, social media or email or my website, and less how I work through a poem or an essay or even a book review.

 

This interview is part of Intermittent Visitors: a multi-author blog tour.

Intermittent Visitors: Christine Klocek-Lim

  Christine Klocek-Lim spends most of her time daydreaming—which isn’t much different from what she did as a girl in northeast Pennsylvania, as a college student in Pittsburgh, as a twenty-something technical writer in New York City, and as a young mother in suburban New Jersey. For the past decade or so she’s been dream-surfing in the Lehigh Valley of Pennsylvania. She’s published a pile of romance novels, a few poetry chapbooks, and a bunch of short stories.

 

1. What is your writing process?

If you’d asked me that question ten years ago, I would’ve said that I collect words. I wrote only poetry at that time so my focus was on imagery and metaphor. When I had enough words, I formed them into a poem.

Five years ago I would’ve said I think of a theme (astronomy, clouds, angels) and go from there. Three years ago I’d have told you that I write an outline, then work on a book chapter by chapter.

Now that I’m focusing so much on novel-writing, I begin with my characters. I give them names and a history and something that affected them greatly in their past. When I’ve figured out who they are, I put them into a situation of conflict. The characters decide where to go from there.

 

2. What’s some writing advice you’ve received, that works for you?

Just keep writing. I don’t recall hearing this at some point in time and having some sort of realization. Rather, it’s the advice that everyone says over and over again. The more you write, the better you get at it. It takes a long time to grow comfortable with your voice. If you want to improve your skill, the only way to do it is through practice.

 

3. Can you say a little bit about the genesis of Disintegrate?

Disintegrate began with a scene that appeared full-blown inside my head: a girl lost by a river, at night. I knew that I wanted to write about what it felt like to be right on the cusp of adulthood, and since I love paranormal stories, I gave Felicity the ability to manipulate matter in a certain way. Of course, she has no idea why she can do this or how important it would be for her in the future. All she knows is that she’s lost, she’s cold and tired, and suddenly, she hears music. She finds her way to a bar where a young man is singing. Jax isn’t what she expects. He’s nice. He likes her. They immediately sense a connection, but nothing happens easily when you’re seventeen, does it?

 

4. Have you had to sacrifice anything in the rest of your life to write?

Yes. Lately, I’ve found that I don’t have much time to read anymore, and that’s been really strange. To suddenly go from reading two or three or more books a week to maybe two in a month has been extremely frustrating. On the other hand, the stories in my head have been clamoring louder and louder the older I get. I want to write them down. I want those characters to be heard.

 

5. Do you think writing helps you to understand more about yourself and the world, or is advancing as a writer more about learning how to communicate the things you already know?

This is one of those trick questions, right? It’s both! Of course it is both. I didn’t start writing novels until I hit age forty, so I had a long time to learn about life. Even so, as I began to fool around with characters and conflict and narrative, I learned that to write from a character’s point of view required me to learn how to see things from outside my usual frame of reference. I needed to become the characters in order to write their voices and decisions into a novel. I’ve been writing poetry since I was a child, and while it is a demanding and exacting art, I found that I didn’t bother with other people’s perspectives as much when writing poems. I love what I’ve learned by tackling another form of writing.

 

This interview is part of Intermittent Visitors: a multi-author blog tour.

Intermittent Visitors: Daniel McGinn

  Southern California poet Daniel McGinn is the author of 1000 Black Umbrellas. His work has appeared in Litnivorous, Poetry Super Highway, Radius and Beyond the Valley of the Contemporary Poets 1998. He has been a journalist for the East Whittier Review, the OC Weekly and Next Magazine, and has performed at The Bowery Poetry Club in NYC and The Fuse in Philadelphia. He has had five chapbooks included in the Laguna Poets Series.

 

1. What is your writing process?

Here is my process today: I write the first draft with a pen and composition book. I rarely write the first draft with line breaks. I write quickly and try not to think too much. I try not to correct myself while I am sketching out the initial draft of a poem. It is difficult for me not to cross out and correct myself while I am in this first stage but I have learned to just keep writing. I often rewrite, or correct those same sections later, but not in the draft stage. Once in a while, words or phrases that sound odd to me in the first draft become my favorite parts of a poem. I try not to worry about what a poem is doing, or where it is going; I just want to allow it to happen. I like to set the draft aside for about a week before I make changes to it. I think this waiting period helps to give me a little more objective view of the piece.
Writing on a computer is an entirely different process; when I start creating a piece it already looks like a finished product. Writing on a computer isn’t like writing on a typewriter; it will underline every misspelling and grammatical aberration in red and green. I can’t help but look, and in doing so, I interrupt the writing process. I am aware of the spatial relationship of the poem to the digital page and can’t help but write in line breaks. It is so easy to cut and paste that I edit the poem while it is in process. When I write on a computer there is no first draft. I often complete a poem in one sitting. I used to write on a computer a lot but I don’t want to do that at this time.

 

2. What’s some writing advice you’ve received, that works for you?

Ralph Angel suggested I record my poems on the iPhone and listen to my speech patterns to determine where to place line breaks. That has worked well for me. I hear more than line breaks when I play back these recordings. I will often make changes to a poem based on how it sounds; sound is of critical importance in poetry.

 

3. Can you say a little bit about the genesis of your most recent book?

It took years to write. It has all of the elements of a memoir but because it’s a book of poetry I can take a lot of poetic license.

 

4. Have you had to sacrifice anything in the rest of your life to write?

No. I’ve always been writing something.

 

5. Do you think writing helps you to understand more about yourself and the world, or is advancing as a writer more about learning how to communicate the things you already know?

I think it does help me know more about what is going on inside and outside of myself but that has never been the goal of writing poetry. The goal is to concentrate, let go of myself and enter the world of the poem.

 

This interview is part of Intermittent Visitors: a multi-author blog tour.

Intermittent Visitors: Judy Jordan

  Judy Jordan is the author of Carolina Ghost Woods, which won the 1999 Walt Whitman Award from the Academy of American Poets, the 2000 National Book Critics Circle Award, the Utah Book of the Year Award, the OAY Award from the Poetry Council of North Carolina, and the Thomas Wolfe Literary Award. Her second book was Sixty-Cent Coffee and a Quarter to Dance. She has been featured on NPR’s All Things Considered, and her poetry has appeared at the Academy of American Poets, and in Prime Mincer, and Apocalypse Now: Poems and Prose from the End of Days.

 

1. What is your writing process?

Slow and labored and one of accretion. I have no self-esteem whatsoever and hate my own writing so much of writing for me is forcing myself to sit at my desk and then battling with the “shit committee” in my head which constantly tells me my writing sucks and I need to go back to delivering pizzas. So my writing is a few scrawled lines then those same lines rescrawled slightly changed then some criticisms from the ‘shit committee’ over and over so that by the time I have something like a first draft it’s a page, front and back, scrawled all over, upside down, in the margins, with lines and arrows pointing to scribbles off in the corners, plus various stabs at similes scattered here and there. I then rewrite that onto a clean page, scratch out lines, add lines, scrawl things in spare spaces with lines and arrows, until the page is nearly impossible to read then I start again on a fresh page. A few drafts in I type up the poem then edit the typed copy and continue to do that for a few drafts. This whole process usually takes one or two weeks by the end of which I’m exhausted and hate the poem passionately. At that point I put it away and come back weeks, even months later and look at it with fresh eyes and objectively and see that despite what the ‘shit committee’ has to say, it isn’t all that bad.

 

2. What’s some writing advice you’ve received, that works for you?

I can’t remember any writing advice I’ve been given but I do remember once when I was bad mouthing my long, sprawling poems, wishing I could write much shorter and cleaner poems, Gregg Orr quoted some Keats to me: I leaped headlong into the sea and there by have become better acquainted with soundings, the quicksand, and the rocks than if I had stayed upon the green shore and piped a silly pipe and took tea and comfortable advice.

And also this from Charles Wright from “Halflife”: All the well-made, passionless, wooden little poems one sees everywhere nowadays, panting like tongues in the books and magazines. But poetry is not a tongue. Poetry is the dark beast with its mouth open, and you’ve got to walk down that tongue and into the windy mouth. And you’ve got to sing while you walk.

 

3. Do you think writing helps you to understand more about yourself and the world, or is advancing as a writer more about learning how to communicate the things you already know?

For me, I think it is the former. I spent most of my childhood confused. It was a childhood in which I was witness to racism, sexism, classism, and great amounts of violence. And I understood none of it. It was also a childhood in which people were taken from me. Most importantly my mother who died when I was seven. But other people died also and other people just disappeared (perhaps because they no longer came to visit my mother.) It was a childhood of silences. The whole thing about southerners being storytellers is a great myth (at least in my family) so my entire childhood is a puzzle piece of silences and glances and cleared throats and people answering “I can’t speak bad of the dead.” when asked direct questions. So all my life I’ve tried to piece together this puzzle. Tried to find a narrative thread in a broken story, tried to find reasons for why this man committed suicide, why this child was beaten, and this other child died, this child shot, this man shot, this man jailed, this man destroyed by drugs and alcohol. So all of my writing is about trying to figure out the world, at least my small part of it.

 

This interview is part of Intermittent Visitors: a multi-author blog tour.

Intermittent Visitors: Jeannine Hall Gailey

  Jeannine Hall Gailey is the Poet Laureate of Redmond, Washington and the author of three books of poetry: Becoming the Villainess, She Returns to the Floating World, and most recently, Unexplained Fevers. Her work has been featured on NPR’s The Writer’s Almanac, Verse Daily, and in The Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror. Her poems have appeared in The Adirondack Review, The American Poetry Review, The Pedestal Magazine, poemeleon and Prairie Schooner. She volunteers for Crab Creek Review and is a Seattle 2013 Jack Straw Writer. Her web site is www.webbish6.com.

 

1. What is your writing process?

I write a poem or two every week, sometimes more, sometimes less. They are usually inspired, not planned—they happen after reading poetry or fiction, viewing an inspiring art exhibit, even after reading news stories or watching a particularly good movie or television show. They usually happen in patterns and in clusters—a group of poems about radioactive elements, or a group of poems on supervillains, that kind of thing.

 

2. What’s some writing advice you’ve received, that works for you?

Let your language and cadences be the most “you” possible. Each of us has our own particular vocabulary, shaped by where we grew up, what we read, the music we listen to, etc. Don’t try to imitate somebody else’s idea of what a poem must be or sound like, don’t try to write a poemy-poem, just be yourself. (I know, I hated it when it was my mother’s dating advice, but it truly is the best idea when you’re writing poetry.)

 

3. Can you say a little bit about the genesis of Unexplained Fevers?

Unexplained Fevers grew out of some of the reading I was doing for research on my second book, She Returns to the Floating World. I happened to read two books—Blue Bamboo by Osamu Dazai, which contains a series of retellings of “Rapunzel,” and Haruki Murakami’s After Dark, which is a series of short stories which have two characters that could be related to the sisters, Snow White and Rose Red. I thought about the fairy tale characters I had left out of “Becoming the Villainess,” because I thought they were too passive: The Princess and the Pea, Rapunzel, Snow White, and Sleeping Beauty, and thought up some new ways that they might escape their various traps. During the time that I wrote Unexplained Fevers, I was going through some fairly serious autoimmune and other health issues, and those were reflected in the poems as well. It’s not hard to imagine Sleeping Beauty as a drug addict, or Snow White as someone with chronic fatigue syndrome, when you’re spending a lot of time in hospitals.

 

4. Have you had to sacrifice anything in the rest of your life to write?

Money is probably the biggest thing that springs to mind. You just don’t make as much writing poetry as you do writing technical manuals. But I don’t regret the switch. Probably also a certain amount of domestic house work remains undone most of the time, as well. I spent the last year working as Redmond, Washington’s Poet Laureate, and that job gave me the chance to see just how important it is to try to make space for poetry in our own back yards, so to speak—libraries, schools, community arts centers, etc. It’s as important to cultivate reading as it is to cultivate writing.

 

5. Do you think writing helps you to understand more about yourself and the world, or is advancing as a writer more about learning how to communicate the things you already know?

Yes, I think that anyone that goes into writing poetry thinking they know exactly what they’re writing about is fooling themselves. I often discover the themes of my book after I write them. This third book explores some similar terrain as my first book, Becoming the Villainess, but the tone is very different—maybe more funny, more cynical, a tad more, dare I say, mature? That’s what happens when you have a decade happen in between books, I guess. You do a little growing up, and that ends up in the poems.

 

This interview is part of Intermittent Visitors: a multi-author blog tour.

Intermittent Visitors: Brynn Saito

  Brynn Saito is the author of The Palace of Contemplating Departure, winner of the Benjamin Saltman Award from Red Hen Press (2013). She co-authored, with Traci Brimhall, Bright Power, Dark Peace. Brynn was born and raised in the Central Valley of California to a Korean American mother and a Japanese American father. Brynn is the recipient of a Kundiman Asian American Poetry Fellowship, the Poets 11 award from the San Francisco Public Library, and the Key West Literary Seminar’s Scotti Merrill Memorial Award. Her poetry has been anthologized by Helen Vendler and Ishmael Reed, and has appeared in Drunken Boat, Muzzle, Verse Daily, Virginia Quarterly Review and Waccamaw.

 

1. What is your writing process?

“Writing” without writing anything down is liberating, so sometimes I write poems in my mind while wandering a city street or while riding a train, listening to music. Other times, I’m good about waking and first thing making my way to the desk to record my dreams and see what follows. Mostly, I try to do a little writing everyday—journaling, free-writing—to “keep the portal open,” as the writer Julia Whitty once advised writers to do. In the end, a lot of my process is tied to community: I get the writing done when there’s a friend, or writing group, or editor holding me to some sort of deadline. Deadlines, I’ve heard it said, are a writer’s greatest inspiration.

 

2. What’s some writing advice you’ve received, that works for you?

I love what Annie Dillard said in her book The Writing Life: “Write as if you were dying. At the same time, assume you write for an audience consisting solely of terminal patients. That is, after all, the case. What would you begin writing if you knew you would die soon? What could you say to a dying person that would not enrage by its triviality?” I probably haven’t succeeded at avoiding the trivial, but Dillard’s questions help me to get at the urgency of what I’m trying to communicate in a piece of prose or poetry.

 

3. Can you say a little bit about the genesis of The Palace of Contemplating Departure?

The book is a compilation of about eight years worth of writing and revising poetry. I was doing a lot of departing, arriving, coming, and going during that period of my life and the poems in the book write into—and out of—that tension and momentum. I didn’t understand that “departure” was one of the main threads woven throughout the book until my editor, Kate Gale at Red Hen Press, suggested calling it “The Palace of Contemplating Departure” (which is the title of one of the poems in the collection). Suddenly the book revealed itself to me, anew.

 

4. Do you think writing helps you to understand more about yourself and the world, or is advancing as a writer more about learning how to communicate the things you already know?

The best writing converts wonder to more wonder. Live the questions, said Rilke. I believe writing begins in inquiry, in deeply questioning the things of this world. In marveling at them, in rebelling against them—with words, emotions, and ideas. Every poem or piece of prose is, for me, rooted in a question that is alive for me at that given moment. It seeks resolution, but resolution is never possible, so the world remains wondrous and the writing, inexhaustible. My poems teach me things I would not know otherwise. They know more than I do: they reveal to me my hidden desires and obsessions, they show me who I am.

 

This interview is part of Intermittent Visitors: a multi-author blog tour.

Intermittent Visitors: Mary Alexandra Agner

  Mary Alexandra Agner is the author of the poetry collections The Scientific Method (Parallel Press, 2011) and The Doors of the Body (Mayapple Press, 2009), as well as Olivia & the Experiments, short stories funded by her Kickstarter backers to subvert scientist stereotypes with LEGO fanfic.

Her work has appeared in Astropoetica, Eye to the Telescope, Goblin Fruit, inkscrawl, poemeleon, Stone Telling, Strange Horizons and other magazines too numerous to name (a complete list is here).

Her advanced degrees include Earth & planetary science and creative writing. She is a freelance science writer working with Under the Microscope, Argonne National Laboratory, and other markets.

1. What is your writing process?

Idea descends, put words on paper, revise until better.

Getting ideas does really feel like walking through a mess of insects while I’m in web mode: they just come from the air. I usually can’t start on one until I have a phrase or a voice saying something; it’s always the sound of the words that gives me the energy to break into writing.

It takes a lot of practice to keep writing once the voice or sound have spun themselves out, but if I know that the piece isn’t done, I just switch into writing down what *should* be going on, questions if I’ve got nothing else. And when I say a lot of practice, I mean years of it. This is the disheartening part because it’s like the Muse, should you believe in her, has glanced out the window, taking her gaze off of me, training wheels all gone, and wouldn’t it be easier just to fall off?

I rely entirely on my ear to tell me when a piece has been sufficiently revised: I read and re-read listening for unpleasant jangles. And then re-fashion the sound of the jangles.

 

2. Can you say a little bit about the genesis of your most recent book?

Olivia & the Experiments has two sources, a personal one and a public one.

I was intrigued by the new LEGO line of blocks “for girls” because one of the characters has an inventor’s workshop and I desperately wanted her to be the kind of girl who did real science with it while wearing pastels and hair ribbons.

The public source are my Kickstarter backers, who funded me to write four stories about Olivia doing real science showcasing that many traits typically considered feminine are a strength in science, such as communication and collaboration.

Additionally, the backers dictated the science in the stories as well as who made cameo appearances. Olivia has a run-in with an NMRI machine, gets up close and personal with an onion nuclear membrane, resurrects Dorothy Hodgkin’s Nobel-prize winning work, and solves a puzzle with a only a telescope and clear seeing.

 

3. Do you think writing helps you to understand more about yourself and the world, or is advancing as a writer more about learning how to communicate the things you already know?

I have learned the hard way that “no surprise in the writer no surprise in the reader” is true. I often think of interesting things to say but I have found that while they may feel like conclusions, I need to write *from* them into I know-not-what. Into the surprise. Writing clarifies things for the writer—not necessarily the things it communicates to the reader!—but the writer must learn from that act, not just regurgitate.

 

This interview is part of Intermittent Visitors: a multi-author blog tour.