Tag Archives: Intermittent Visitors

Intermittent Visitors: Simon Kewin

Engn Cover 528 x 800   Simon Kewin was born and raised on the misty Isle of Man, but now lives and works deep in rural England. He divides his time between writing SF/fantasy fiction and computer software. He has had around fifty short stories published in a variety of magazines and anthologies, along with a similar number of poems. He has a degree in English Literature from the Open University.

He is currently learning to play the electric guitar. It’s not going that well, frankly.

He lives with Alison, their two daughters Eleanor and Rose, and a black cat called Morgan to which he is allergic.

 

What is your writing process?

I write every day, although it can be tough fitting that in and around everything else. Some days I only manage 30 minutes. If I don’t manage any I start to get antsy. I’ve basically gotten used to grabbing any time I can here and there and my family are very good at giving me a little space. I envy madly those people who can spend all day writing, but on the other hand there’s nothing like knowing you’ve only got very limited time to focus your mind. If I did have hours and hours each day, it would be interesting to find out how much more I write. One day, that’s something I shall discover…

 

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

I’m wary of writing advice, I have to say, because I find it tends to make me think I’m doing lots of stuff badly and that’s a creativity killer. The most basic advice for any writer is to read a lot and write a lot and I don’t think you can go far wrong with that. And then just be true to yourself. And, yes, the adverb thing. I do find it useful to think about my next idea/chapter/scene when I’m not writing and then, when I do sit down, I know where I’m going to start. Even just the first sentence will do. Then I’m not faced with a blank page and that little blinking cursor…

 

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

Engn is a kind of fantasy book—although it has no magic or fantasy beasts in it. It’s a sort of alternative-world steampunkish sort of book. One or two people have compared it to Gormenghast, and that’s something that pleases me beyond measure. As to its genesis, it was basically the collision of two unrelated ideas. I find a lot of stories start like that: what happens if I take this idea and this idea and smash them together? So, I had the idea of a vast, steam-powered, city-sized machine that people live and work within. It is huge and incomprehensible and strange. It seemed like it could be a pretty good setting for an adventure story. The other idea was to do with being true to youthful ideals. I imagined two young people making promises to each other about what they’re going to do with their lives and the question becomes, do they remain faithful to that or do they move on?

 

How much research do you do?

Very little. I write mostly fantasy and SF because you can just make it all up. I will obviously check facts where I need to. With Engn, there’s quite a bit of stuff about steam engines and the like and, while it is a made-up (probably impossible) world, I did try to stick to realistic details for the machinery. My father, as it happens, is an engineer and knows a lot about this sort of thing. He spotted only one mistake, to do with a soldering iron, which I was pleased about…

 

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

Time, money and helpless animals. I’m kidding about the last one.

 

Why do you write?

I don’t know. It’s just what I do. My question would be why don’t some people write?

 

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

Intermittent Visitors: Lucas Stensland

FunAgain   Lucas Stensland’s most recent book is Fun Again, a collection of short poems from Yet To Be Named Free Press (UK). In 2011 he co-authored my favorite thing (bottle rockets press), which was shortlisted for the Touchstone Distinguished Book Award. He is the co-founder of Montague Street Journal: The Art of Bob Dylan and author of the novel Name Your Poison. He lives in Brooklyn with his cats Delia and Sadie.

I was delighted to get to interview Stensland, who I know from his submissions to 7×20 (which I used to edit). And I blurbed his book! I said, “Stensland writes with an unerring ear for the rhythms of marriage and breakups. His haiku are fierce, uncompromising, and will inspire you to read them aloud to the stranger sitting next to you at the bar. Pointed and funny, these short poems don’t spare anybody, including the poet, from his sharp wit.”

 

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

I submitted some poems about a year ago for consideration in an anthology Yet To Be Named Free Press was doing about, I think, mental health issues. Brendan Slater, its editor, rejected all of my poems, but said he enjoyed them; they just didn’t fit the tenor of the collection. I believe he singled out the below as ones he enjoyed.

I’ve always had
the same penis
she’s had others

and

one night stand
two
too many

He asked if I’d be interested in putting together a proposal for a book of humorous short poems. It grew and shifted direction from there.

Though in the end the book morphed into a sort of chronology of breaking up and drinking through long and wasted years, I tried to maintain a droll tone—especially with riffraff poems, the stand-alone jocular ones that didn’t further the narrative. The end, in a way, is upbeat—but I wanted to avoid any kind of disingenuous statements of eternity: that life will now be free of strife. Fun Again isn’t about twelve-stepping, getting sober or finding true love. It’s just about a struggle to have and be fun again.

 

What is your writing process?

I used to carry tiny notebooks with me, in my back pocket or bag. I was a lot more prolific when I did. It stopped a few years back when I got a smartphone. Now I write in its notepad app. With my phone I look much less pretentious when writing in public, but I write far less. My smaller turn-out isn’t entirely blamed on my adoption of the smartphone, but writing with pen and paper was more enjoyable and yielded greater results. I liked having a history of all my drafts in tiny notebooks. But I got lazy and now just phone it in.

 

Which writers inspire you?

I like simple, direct writing. My taste in literature is pretty stereotypical for my demographic. I’m fairly certain thirtysomething men living in Brooklyn are issued Bukowski and Carver books by the State Department. And I fall in line. As for Carver, I always preferred his Gordon Lish-edited works. In college when I read Carver’s “Fat” and got to the unexpected end (“‘My life is going to change. I feel it’.”), I understood I was reading something special, something that didn’t leave me cold like all that magical realism or Milan Kundera or Tom Robbins. I never cared for Bukowski’s poetry, but I loved his novels. The end of Women where he feeds the pregnant cat influenced me a lot; it was subtle and organic, and it did not draw attention to itself in a precious literary way.

 

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

Intermittent Visitors: Ranbir Singh Sidhu

  Ranbir Singh Sidhu was born in London and studied archaeology at the University of California, Berkeley. He is the author of Good Indian Girls (HarperCollins India/Soft Skull Press), a collection of stories (which has its own Tumblr!), and Deep Singh Blue, a novel (forthcoming 2014). He is a winner of the Pushcart Prize in Fiction and a New York Foundation for the Arts Fellowship, and other awards. His plays include True East, Conquistadors, and Sangeet. His fiction appears in The Georgia Review, Fence, Zyzzyva, The Missouri Review, Other Voices, Alaska Quarterly Review, The Barcelona Review and other journals and anthologies. Stories are forthcoming in The Happy Hypocrite (UK) and The Literary Review (USA).

 

What is your writing process?

Messy and undisciplined, with no clear schedules. I write in bed when I can, and I often try and get away and write while traveling, where I can keep the laptop next to my head, wake, sit up with some pillows behind my back and pull the computer onto my lap and get immediately to work, often still half-asleep and remembering dreams. Last year, I was very fortunate to be able to spend several months living on Crete and in Berlin, which was marvelous. The latter city was far more productive, but the Greek island much more beautiful. When I feel I’m becoming too sedentary, I use an improvised standing desk, usually built onto a dresser at home. I hate sitting and writing. I suspect the latter reminds me of awful days as a child in school in England when I felt locked into a desk while a faceless teacher droned on about something useless at the head of the class.

 

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

I’ve never received writing advice that was worth anything, and as a rule, I’d advise any writer starting out to ignore all the advice they’re given (there’s advice for you!). What has been important to me are the times I’ve worked with great editors. Three come to mind: Stanley Lindberg, the former editor of The Georgia Review; Monique Wittig, the French avant-garde novelist; and Lynne Tillman, the novelist and former ficton editor at Fence. All three were invaluable to me as a writer at various times in my life. As I was editing the manuscript of my new collection of stories recently, the one question I kept returning to was: What would Lynne Tillman do? This is amusing as this question is also the title of Lynne’s new book and at the heart of a viral poster campaign in New York City (so that I find myself walking down the street and discover the question shouting back at me from a wall). During the editing process, I took the question very seriously. If I thought Lynne would cut a line, out it would go. I am sure the book is much stronger for it.

 

Which writers inspire you?

I’ll give one example, though there are many. I remember reading the Scots writer Alasdair Gray’s epic novel Lanark when it was first released in the US in 1985 and knowing immediately that he had done everything I ever wanted to do, and done it much better. It was both extremely exciting and terrifying, because that novel was so good, so monumental, so all-encompassing, that it was a tremendous thrill to read, but it also left me with the feeling that I could never surpass, perhaps never come close, to what he achieved. I still hold Gray’s singular accomplishment as one of the stars I guide my writing life by, and I hope, with each passing book, that I come a little closer to its unique brilliance.

 

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

Intermittent Visitors: Kasey Jueds

  Kasey Jueds’s poetry has appeared in numerous publications, including Crab Orchard Review, Barrow Street, 5 A.M. and Verse Daily. She has been awarded residencies at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, Soapstone, and the Ucross Foundation. A native of Coral Gables, Florida, she lives in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Her debut collection, Keeper, is from the Pitt Poetry Series.

 

What is your writing process?

For such a long time, it’s been the same, or at least very similar. I write meandering sorts of notes in longhand, in my journal, and write them over and over again until (maybe) lines start to emerge, music, something that feels like a poem. And then I write that over and over again, sifting and revising and moving things around. I try to keep whatever it is (I don’t even call things “poems” until I’ve worked with them for ages) open for as long as possible—open in the sense of being still malleable and pliable and able to be entered. I don’t type things up until I start to have a stronger sense of the poem being, in some essential way, the way it wants to be. (I’m weirdly superstitious about the typing part—once I do that, the poem starts to feel more fixed!) And once I’ve put a poem into a word doc I still type it over and over, although at that stage I’m mostly fiddling at the level of words and line breaks and not making big radical changes.

That process (long drawn-out, rather serious) has taught me so much, and it’s how I’ve worked ever since I’ve started to make poems. But now that the book is done, and almost published, I’m realizing I would love to experience more play in my process of writing. I don’t want to abandon that older, more familiar (yet still always strange and new and surprising) way of making; most of the poems that feel most alive to me have involved time and patience and a certain amount of mental/emotional pressure. And at the same time, I know I can be way, way too serious. I can press so hard I squeeze the life out of poems. I would love to open the door to more light-heartedness, more joy (because there is joy in writing as well as tremendous anxiety and fear and discouragement and all the rest). More play. I was recently so moved by this interview with Sarah Arvio: her process sounds so intuitive, so open and trusting. If I could shift even a little bit in that direction, I would be very happy.

Oh, and since I love hearing this sort of detail from other writers, I write with a fountain pen (I have two cheap ones and a more expensive version, and they—and the bottles of gorgeous ink—are among my favorite possessions), and in a notebook (Moleskines are beautiful but I can’t use them because their paper doesn’t work with fountain pen ink… so I have a variety of other types, some with graph-paper-like pages and some with lines and some blank), and then on a MacBook Pro (which I love very dearly, as well).

I also write aided by many cups of tea.

 

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

My most recent book is my only book… and I think I wrote it in a very old-fashioned way. I worked on it for a long time (ten years? maybe longer—it’s hard to say exactly when it started to be a “book” or at least a book-in-progress). I tried to look at it periodically as a whole, and periodically I took out old poems that didn’t seem to be working any more, and added newer ones. I shifted poems around (though the first and last poems have been where they are for a long time). I looked at images and how the images in one poem seemed to speak to those in the poem that followed, and how each poem looks on the page, the form it takes, and how that might speak to the shape of the next poem. I didn’t have any sort of conscious idea or theme around which I was trying to shape a manuscript. So many of the books I love and admire are made that way: they seem to have grown up organically, with a mixture of conscious and unconscious work, around a particular something: a topic, a subject. They feel of-one-piece. But my book is much more hodge-podge (that’s largely what I meant by “old-fashioned”), which is why I have such a hard time describing what it’s about when people ask. But I need to get better about this! It’s kind when people ask, and it’s also a very normal sort of question. So I guess it’s about my obsessions, which are not especially unusual ones: intimacy and relationship (with people, yes, but also with animals, landscape, the natural world) and mystery and longing.

 

What are your marketing and promotion habits?

I want to say I don’t have any, but that’s not true anymore! I have been trying very hard, very consciously, to develop these—because my natural tendency is to want to hide in my apartment and pretend nothing is happening, when it comes to things like promoting the book. But I have been lucky in having a very generous friend who is helping me with publicity. She’s encouraging and supportive and working with her has made me focus on this in a way that feels like it’s helping me to grow. She’s helping me find places to read, and I’m working on that myself, too. Another kind friend helped design a website for me. I use Twitter. I’m also lucky in that the publicity department at the University of Pittsburgh Press is amazing. It’s all important. I would never have found some of the books that are most dear to me (many of which are not published by big presses) if they hadn’t been publicized and promoted. And I’m so grateful for the presence of those books in my life. So: this matters. Definitely.

 

Which writers inspire you?

Emily Dickinson, George Herbert, Gerard Manley Hopkins. Rilke.

Jane Hirshfield, Jane Kenyon, Linda Gregg.

They are all long-time companions, people whose work I go to again and again. But I’m also inspired by so many contemporary poets. One of my teachers in graduate school, Suzanne Gardinier, told us that there are times to read in a tightly focused way, to read favorite writers over and over. And then there are times to “cast your net widely,” to read anything and everything—and to read against the grain, read things you wouldn’t normally gravitate towards. When I am in that second, more expansive place, I can feel inspired by many, many writers, and it seems to me there is so much work out there to love. I am inspired by the fact that so many people are writing, when so much in our culture works against it.

I am inspired by my friends who write, who make art—by the beauty and the intelligence of their work, and by the fact of their working, their dedication and courage.

 

Why do you write?

I love this question! And I think my answer is pretty unoriginal: on some level, I do feel that I write because I have to. I have been through periods of not-writing, for various reasons, and while not-writing is, in some ways, easier, it also makes me feel less alive. Making poems feels like making containers for the many feelings and experiences that, if it weren’t for the poem, would have nowhere to go, nowhere to be. All the emotions that are nameless and formless and messy and huge, that seem to ask for something to hold them, to give them a structure, a home. I think I need to make poems because I need to make homes for those things that would otherwise be homeless.

 

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

Intermittent Visitors: Karen Skolfield

  Karen Skolfield‘s book Frost in the Low Areas (2013) won the First Book Award for Poetry from Zone 3 Press.

Skolfield is the poetry editor for Amherst Live, a quarterly production of poetry, politics, and more. She’s also a contributing editor at the literary magazine Stirring and her poems have appeared in Apple Valley Review, Memorious, Rattle, Split Rock Review, Sugar House Review, Verse Daily, and others.

 

1. What is your writing process?

 

I would love to tell you that writing is a daily thing—I so admire writers who are at it every day, writing in the gloam of 3:30 a.m., the only time they’re able to carve writing space out of their lives. And I do occasionally fall into a habit of daily writing, but it’s mostly by dare.

I do, however, write often, and that feels right for my life and for a working mom with two young kids. My husband and I also work out two writing retreats for me per year at the gorgeous Wellspring House in Ashfield, Massachusetts—treasured weeks of my life.

The actual process is just work, but it’s work that occasionally drops me down a slide—when the writing is pulling me along, rather than me pushing. That’s an exciting feeling. I keep a journal of writing notes and ideas and books to consult—the Soldier’s Manual, Army Training, with its fabulous “SMART” acronym, is high on my list right now thanks to my time in the U.S. military. Here’s a sample of one of my “SMART” poems, from UCity Review.

 

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

Mostly, I love writing advice that makes me laugh—the humorous is perfectly suited to my personality. I love the quote that’s often attributed, probably in error, to Mark Twain: “Substitute ‘damn’ every time you’re inclined to write ‘very’; your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be.” I love the advice to forgive yourself for not writing or for writing poorly, but don’t forgive yourself too often—I’m not sure who said that first. If no one steps up, I’ll claim that advice as my own.

Honestly, the best advice I’ve ever gotten is not in words, but in actions. I have a good group of writing friends that impress me every month, every year with their creativity, their output, their struggles, their stick-to-it-ness. I want to keep up with them and bring the same energy to my life as a writer. They inspire me by not giving up, by continuing to come up with new ideas and drive even as we enter the middle of our likely lifespans and we all have other things—kids, work, other interests—pulling us away from a full-time creative mindset.

 

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

This one makes me laugh—because I couldn’t have written the book without my kids’ naptimes! Most of the book was written when my two kids were about age two (the youngest) and four (the oldest), and four of my writing pals and I banded together and took on one of those 30 poems in 30 days challenges. We had so much fun with it that we went to 100 poems. On and on. And then a few of us began assembling manuscripts and sending out to first book contests.

As far as the poems go—well, the theme of family dominates, sometimes in a really playful way, sometimes in more concrete and serious ways, and sometimes even a mix of those two approaches. The military breezes through. I love science, so there’s some science-y things. There’s even a dinosaur. My only regret is that my favorite prehistoric creature, glyptodon—think of an armadillo the size of a small car—isn’t in this book. Maybe the next book. Hold on, I have to add that to my writing notes.

 

4. What are your marketing and promotion habits?

I’m not a Twitter gal, but I do like Facebook, and I’m really good at reaching out to editors where I’ve been published to help me spread the word (many of them use Twitter or keep blogs, or use other social media, so yay). I have to say I haven’t been great at self-promotion—especially at setting up readings—but I’m working to improve. I might be great at it by the time my next manuscript is ready to make the rounds.

 

5. How much research do you do?

Lots, and continuously. For instance, my husband stumbled on this cool shark tracker website—great white sharks all over the world are tagged and followed by the science group OCEARCH. Oooh, I thought, and wrote a poem about it, but I couldn’t come up with a title. So I kept researching, and found out that great whites are part of a group of sharks called requiem sharks. REQUIEM SHARKS. Is that science handing me a title, or what?

 

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

As I’ve mentioned, I don’t sacrifice sleep—well, I might stay up late, but I don’t get up early. Bully to those of you that do! Everyone makes decisions about how to spend their time, and I do try to give my energy to what I deem important, and less to what I deem unimportant. That means very little television but lots of time at soccer games. I work at least part of every evening after my kids are in bed, either on student work or on my own.

So I’ve given up—oh, reality TV for a book. That’s a pretty good trade. I wish I had more reality TV to give up; I’d probably have a second book by now.

 

7. 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?

My continued growth as a person, now in my 40s, is intertwined with my growth as a writer. I don’t know how to separate them. I certainly feel a lot more centered and confident now than I did 20 years ago—but is that due to writing or just paying attention as I age? I don’t know. I love where I am right now, and I mostly love who I am right now, even as I work at being a better writer, partner, mother, and friend.

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

Intermittent Visitors: David M. Harris

  David M. Harris spent twenty-five years working in publishing in New York, then threw it all over to go to graduate school and become a teacher. He got an MFA in fiction, then threw it all over to write poetry. After living in and around New York City all his life, he threw it all over to move to Tennessee to get married. Now he has a wife and child, a varying number of dogs, cats, fish, and chickens, and a 1972 MGB roadster. Along the way, he picked up some work in film production and some credits as a writer: a published novel, two produced screenplays, a weekly column that ran for about a year and a half in the local daily newspaper, a few short stories, a collection of essays, and a few dozen poems published in places like The Pedestal, Labletter, Pirene’s Fountain, and the anthology 140 And Counting.

 

What is your writing process?

My writing process has evolved considerably over time. When I was writing my first novel, I set my alarm an hour earlier, and devoted that extra hour to writing every weekday on my computer. I also wrote when I got home from work, but most of the good stuff, it seemed to me, came in the morning, when I was fresh and hadn’t already spent the day working on other people’s novels (I was, at the time, an editor for a book production outfit, Byron Preiss Visual Publications, who had also commissioned the novel I was writing). Since then I’ve gotten an MFA (and, curiously, an MGB), switched my emphasis to poetry, and shifted to writing by hand. I do most of my drafts with a fountain pen in a small notebook (they vary, but about 4″x6″), and wherever I happen to be with enough time to write. I carry a portable office in a plastic clipbox, or sometimes just the pen and notebook. I would probably get a lot more done if I had a particular time for writing every day, but I am lazy and undisciplined by nature. Once I’ve got a draft I like enough, I type it into the computer, and edit on printouts. Then, for poetry, my writing groups are an essential step for me so I can do final (there may be several rounds of “final”) revisions.

 

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

Sarah Schulman, who was my advisor for two semesters at Goddard, once said in a letter, “If it doesn’t hurt, you aren’t doing it right.” Oddly enough, I got the same advice from my friend Carter Stevens, former publisher of the S&M News. But Sarah was talking about finding the difficult emotional truths of each scene; don’t stop until you’re reaching something that part of you doesn’t want to reveal, and then reveal that.

 

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

My wife kept noodging me to put a book together, and a woman out in Cookeville (TN) posted a call for submissions for a new press, St. Murgen’s press, specializing in chapbooks by Tennessee authors. So I put together a small manuscript and sent it out, and she accepted it. Unfortunately, she almost immediately ran into various problems and shut down the operation after one book. My book would have been her second. At any rate, I then had the manuscript ready when Unsolicited Press posted its call for manuscripts on the Speakeasy, and they also accepted it to be their second book. There’s no particular theme to the book, though; it’s just a bunch of stuff I’ve written, with a fairly broad range of subjects and styles.

 

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’ve always been pretty glib. Good sentences have never been my problem. Working in publishing (which I did for about 25 years), I always saw writing as something that almost everyone did. So I started doing it. Most of what I wrote (other than cover copy and suchlike) was pretty awful because, even though the sentences were good, there wasn’t any heart; blood on the page, as I’ve come to call it. Writing was a mechanical process, aimed at getting published rather than at learning anything. It wasn’t until after I left the business and went to Goddard that I learned about putting real heart into my good sentences, and that’s what I’ve been working on ever since. When I write non-fiction, as I still do sometimes (I published a chapbook essay collection some years ago: Democracy and Other Problems), I’m trying to understand some aspect of the world outside me. My poetry is sometimes external, but even when I’m writing about, say, the 9/11 attacks, it’s to understand my own relationship with that subject. Of course, since I’m also trying to universalize my feelings, I hope it will speak to others and their connections with each other and the world, but if I don’t get my own blood on the page (there’s that phrase again!), I won’t touch anyone else. None of this applies to light verse, of course.

 

Which writers inspire you?

Over the years a lot of writers have inspired me in different ways. In 1976 I rather unexpectedly found myself as the agent for the estate of P. G. Wodehouse, and decided I ought to get familiar with his work. I’ve been reading him regularly since then (many books more than once), and I’ve tried to catch some of his pure joy in language. He’s a good balance for the pretentiousness of a lot of my other answers here, too (or the rest of this one). I read a lot of Anthony Trollope, too, from whom I get an understanding that (despite my professional background in science fiction) real life, real people, are really the only subject worth writing about. Even if you set a story on Mars or write a poem (as I have done) about Disney princesses, everything has to be grounded in real life to say anything interesting. Even Wodehouse is, ultimately, grounded in real life. Among poets, Donald Hall currently inspires me most directly. I read his poems and make notes for poems that I want to write. From Auden I learned about using everyday language. And I learn something just about every week from the poets I read on my radio program (Difficult Listening, WRFN, www.radiofreenashville.org, Sundays, 10 to noon Central Time). I read someone new every week, and learn something from most of them. I also learned a lot about poetry from Tom Disch, whose use of forms helped convince me that formal poetry is not dead, and whose friendship gave me a lot of confidence as a writer. Let’s include Damon Knight and Jane Yolen, too, as friends who had faith in me even when I had considerable doubt.

 

Why do you write?

I’m not at all sure why I write. Oh, I suppose I have something to say that no one else is saying, although I’m not sure that’s enough of a reason to write and try to get published. And I do write, at least in part, to try to get published. It’s still some small thrill to see my work out there where people can see it, a validation and a massage for my ego. And, of course, it was what all my friends did when I was in publishing. Now it’s what many of my friends do in the world of poetry. After all these years, it’s nice to find something I’m reasonably good at (I was a pretty decent editor, too, though), and at which I can get better with some work. But I don’t have that drive that sends me to the desk every single day. I don’t feel incomplete if I haven’t put words on paper each day. I do keep getting ideas for poems, though, so I might as well keep writing them.

My mother was a dancer. She studied with Martha Graham and performed professionally with a couple of other moderately well-known companies. She also played the piano. My father painted as an amateur (he studied at the Art Students League in New York, where he met Sammy, later Zero, Mostel) and worked as a photographer for the Associated Press. By the time I was born he had given up playing the mandolin, although he still owned one. My sister took piano and guitar lessons and studied acting at the Neighborhood Playhouse, eventually winning awards for her work with community theater. I was no good at music (lousy voice, no gift for piano, clarinet, guitar, or recorder, all of which I studied at some point), couldn’t draw worth a damn, and couldn’t remember my lines when I acted. So I had to become a writer. Fortunately, I’m better at writing than I am at all the other stuff.

 

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

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.