Wednesday, July 22, 2009

bits & pieces, an interview

As a preview of bits & pieces, my forthcoming book of poetry, I'm answering some questions that have been posed to me periodically about writing, from the process to the finished product. So here you have it. 23 questions about bits & pieces.

When and why did you begin writing?

My first recollection of doing any kind of creative writing was when I was 12 years old. It was a poem about a boy. The form has changed, but the content has not. :) In school, my friends and I would pass poems back and forth adding lines to each other's poems. It's fun to go back and read those. (Yes, I still have them.) They weren't too bad!

When did you first consider yourself a writer?

I'm just now beginning to come into my own and see myself as a "writer." I came across a good quote that put it into perspective for me. "Eighty percent of people in America want to write a book. About two percent do. If you have, then you're an author. If you're working on it, you're a writer." But I think it goes even further than that. I think people who express themselves better in the written word are natural writers, no matter what they write or whether or not it gets published.

What inspired you to write your first book?

About eight or nine years ago I started wanting to put a poetry book together. There were much fewer resources out there at the time and I had no idea about Photoshop or any kind of design software. So I printed out a bunch of my poems and took them to a local printer who made a cover and bound about fifty copies for me. They mostly got handed out to friends and family. My dad footed the bill for that one. Later, in the process of starting the publishing company and working on a couple of other long term projects, I thought it might be nice to revisit the poetry collection idea and add some new things to it. So now we'll have the official version. And not just the dot matrix/Microsoft Word version. :)

Do you have a specific writing style?

In respect to poetry, I do have a style. It's kind of daydream meets masked emotion meets stream of consciousness. I try to write accessible poetry. So many people are scared of poetry. Hence, the reason it gets ONE shelf at Barne's & Noble. People don't understand it most times. It takes work. With my stuff, even if you don't know the story behind a poem or exactly what I'm getting at in the poem, my hope is that you can relate to it on some level personally. I try not to complicate things too much. But I can say this: it's a safe bet, if it seems like a complicated poem, there's something I really want to say but can't get the courage up to just come out with it. So that'll be a nice little helpful hint whilst you're reading. :)

How did you come up with the title?

It's a phrase from one of the poems in the book. It's an important phrase I think. It sums up the relationship I was describing in that individual poem, but also about the collection of poems as a whole. It's like bits & pieces of life, a person, art, emotion, relationships, etc.

Is there a message in your poetry that you want readers to grasp?

That self-expression is important. In any form. Just like with the photographs that intro each chapter (massive kudos to Caroline Miller for those photographs). It's important for us to express ourselves in a way we feel connects us to the world around us, whether that's through speaking, writing, music, or just creating. Healthy, creative expression makes us better people, I think.

How much of the poetry is based on your real life experiences?

Every single one. Now, to say each experience actually happened the way I've written it wouldn't be accurate. But it happened in my mind at least. And that's an experience. :) But yes, most of the book is written about real life relationships and experiences I've actually had with real people. It's important to remember, though, that poetry is what it is to the reader. It's not static. It changes depending on the connection you make to it. So don't worry too much about the actual logistics of it.

What books have most influenced your life most?

Ariel, by Sylvia Plath is probably my favorite poetry book. It's dark, but I think I'm naturally drawn to that sort of stuff. I need drama and intrigue. Otherwise, I lose interest.

If you had to choose, which writer would you consider a mentor?

I've obviously read a lot of Sylvia Plath and I also love the poetry of Audre Lorde. "A Litany for Survival" is my favorite poem.

What book are you reading now?

Your Life as Story by Tristine Rainer. An EXCELLENT read. It's helping me get through a memoir project.

Are there any new authors that have grasped your interest?

I really like Sabrina Ward Harrison. ( I dig her stuff. I like how she mixes art with her writing. It's very creative and inspiring.

What are your current projects?

bits & pieces comes out next month. I'm in the re-writing phase of a memoir, which is a long term project. I hope for it to be complete in 2010. And I'm currently brainstorming the next side project for DG Press.

Name one entity that you feel supported you outside of family members.

Two things: I had some great friends and very talented professors at Oklahoma City University who inspired me to pursue creative writing. Secondly, I married a musician and have been around that scene for a few years-- and that just sort of breeds creativity. So I'm in a good place. I'm surrounded with people who create. And that's inspiring.

Do you see writing as a career?

I see it as my life. At times it will bring in income, but mostly it's just something I do constantly, whether it's in a contemplated, organized fashion or not. I also teach high school English. So I'm pretty much writing or reading all the time.

If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in your latest book?

No, I'm really happy with it. I think it showcases some of my best work. The artwork is excellent and it feels good when I look at it. It took some hard work and I'm proud of it.

Do you recall how your interest in writing originated?

I was young and I needed to say things that I couldn't make come out of my mouth. So I wrote them down. Once it started, it never stopped.

Can you share a little of your current work with us?

Check it here.

Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing?

Writing poetry comes very naturally to me. Other types of writing, not quite so much. I'm having to focus and concentrate more on the memoir project. Poetry just kind of comes out of me when it wants to. I can conjure it up if I have to, but it's so much better when it's ready and just comes out.

Who designed the cover?

The massively talented Caroline Miller. ( She did all the artwork for the book. And big shout out to her husband, Kevin, also. He helped us with some technical print issues at the end as well.

What was the hardest part of writing your book?

Obviously this poetry is very personal. So it's kind of like that dream you have where you show up to school and realize you're naked. Except I'm doing it on purpose. So it's a little nerve wracking still. But it's out there. I'm putting it out there into the world. And I'm okay with that.

Did you learn anything from putting this book together and what was it?

It's funny reading back through the manuscript. I can see how I've grown as a person and as a writer. Some of the poems in the book I wrote when I was 18 or 19 years old. Some I wrote this year. That's a 10 year span. That's a score of relationships, a marriage, and two degrees later. Some of it makes me laugh, and some of it is just like nails on a chalkboard. But I couldn't just throw out those old ones. They're part of the story.

Do you have any advice for other writers?

Just write. It's so easy to say and sometimes it's so hard to do. When it's personal, sometimes it seems hard to get through. Have a good support system. And then just sit down and put it on the page. No one else has to see it just yet, but getting started is more than half the battle. It comes easier after you make that big step.

Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?

I hope they can connect to it in some small way. Even if our experiences aren't all the same, I hope they can somehow relate to it and see the universal life experiences we all have in the poetry. Because that's really what it's all about.