Thursday, May 30, 2013

Anne Champion reviews F IN

Poet and essayist Anne Champion has written a beautiful, thoughtful 
review of my book F IN  for Rattle. I've been urging Anne to write 
a collection of essays on popular culture,and this just makes me 
want to read more of her cultural analysis. The cover of F IN 
is a photograph by Holly Andres, who has a show opening in June 
at the Hallie Ford Museum of Art in Salem, Oregon. Her show runs 
June 1-August 4, 2013. 
Photo: Holly Andres

Friday, May 24, 2013

Interview on "We Are Homer"

Traci Brimhall keeps a blog that's focused on collaboration. This week she interviews me and Kristina Marie Darling about our new book, X Marks The Dress: A Registry. Check out Traci's blog, We Are Homer, for our interview. Kristina and I welcome inquiries from reviewers and teachers. Please let us know if you are interested in learning more about our book, which would work well in Creative Writing classes focused on poetry, flash fiction, or hybrid forms; as well as Women's Studies and Queer Studies classes. In honor of our lingerie-laden feminist approach to a (fake) wedding registry, here's Autostraddle's gallery of 50 lesbian brides.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

New Book co-written with Kristina Marie Darling

My collaborative poetry collection is now available from Gold Wake Press! Co-written with Kristina Marie Darling, X Marks The Dress: A Registry uses the objects in a fake wedding registry to tell the story of three tangled lovers and the rituals that bind them. 
Our book begins with call-and-response prose poems, followed by footnotes and other miscellany, flash fiction, and erasures of the initial prose poetry sequence. It's a hybrid text that examines contemporary American heterosexual marriage rituals from a subversive perspective. Cue the bouquet!

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Krystal Languell Reviews Darling Endangered

Here's a smart and politically savvy review of Darling Endangered,
written by Krystal Languell and published in Sink. 

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Interview With Sara Greenslit

After reading Sara Greenslit's wonderful book As If A Bird Flew By Me, my students conducted an interview with Sara about writing, witches, and whales. Thanks Sara! Thanks students! And be sure to check out Sara's earlier novel, The Blue Of Her Body. This lyrical novel first led me to Sara's work.
Sarah's bio:

My novel, As If a Bird Flew By Me, was recently published by FC2 for winning the 2009 Sukenick/ABR Innovative Fiction Award. My first novel, The Blue of Her Body, won the 2006 Starcherone Innovative Fiction Award. I earned an MFA in poetry from Penn State University and have been awarded grants from the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts and from the Barbara Deming Foundation/Money for Women. I work as a small animal veterinarian in Madison, WI. 

First of all, thanks so much all of you for taking the time to so carefully consider my book! You flatter me. Really, I am honored!

I hope, below, I answer some of your questions to help you get inside the book a little more. And here, I was interviewed by my press' intern, that may illuminate some threads too. 


Your interest in biology and career as a vet are apparent in As If a Bird Flew By Me. Does this passion always work its way into your writing? How do you balance your work life and time set aside to write? What kind of background led you to this point where you do both?

SG: My biology training certainly has influenced my vocabulary, like of anatomy, ornithology. Interests within the zoological studies. The more you read or study, the more exacting your language becomes, its own diction. And your training shapes your "eye", too, right? Fourth year of vet school is largely learning how to touch/examine patients, how to talk to clients, and how to slow down and pay attention. This learning never ends really. After training as an veterinary acupuncturist in 2011, animals "feel" differently than they did before: pulses, ear warmth, foot pad softness, tongue color. I want to train to do vet chiro too: and imagine the subtleties one's hands should be able to differentiate after this! And how could this not affect how one sees everything? Use all your senses.

I luckily work part-time, so I have large chunks of time to mull, read, and hopefully write. I have been in a 3 year lull of not writing and am trying to not panic. Some say one should write even when you can't. I can't and haven't. So I read instead, walk my dogs. I watch a lot of documentaries. 

I loved animals and books concurrently, since I was little. So I got a BA in biology, and took a writing course each semester as a treat, to balance out my science load. Then I decided I wasn't ready to go to vet school at 22, and wanted to be a better writer first. After my MFA, I had a copywriting job for 5 years, but the cubicle was killing me. I kept looking at the vet school requirements. I took a few classes, talked to the admissions office, and crossed my fingers. Vet school was hellish, exhausting. But then you come out and you're a vet. I feel lucky.

Why did you choose to write about the migrations of Humphrey the whale? How does it tie into the rest of the story?

SG: Way before I became internet-news obsessed, I heard about Humphrey some regular way, newspaper, perhaps, 15 years ago. His case got me thinking about the way (human) immigrants migrate and how we and the animals sometimes get off track, lose our way.  The animal sections are also tied to the "Forever" time, shaped around the form from the musical piece Ghost Opera's: Now, Past and Forever. 

What do you wish to convey by putting together migrations next to the story of the cellist and the descendent of a Salem witch? Is it a story of returning to your roots, or those of your ancestors? Or are they completely separate?

SG: It's related to the structure of Ghost Opera (see above). I was also interested where I came from, literally in soil and person. Landscape shapes us like our families, don't you think?

On page 14-15, you have a list of legacies that family members leave behind; which description fits you or which would you like to fit you?

SG: I hope I am in the family that writes names on the pictures! I am the quiet type… I have a couple of books, so this is a great whisper out into the universe, I suppose. But these are small whispers, so who knows what lasts?

Did you translate any of your writing from the musical piece Ghost Opera? (Movements versus chapters) Why did you want to add it?

SG: I thought about Ghost Opera for a long time, how I could translate it into a written piece. I listened to the cd, read the liner notes, read the composer's bio. I was struck by how the layers of time overlap, and how we think Past is Past, but in fact, it layers with us Now. This second, in fact. 

How much did the writing of sections and sentences interlace with rhythm? Were they lyrical?

SG: I grew up playing the cello, for about 20 years until carpal tunnel said, Stop. Then I studied poetry, got my MFA. So the roots of lyricism are in both. I wanted to make a song on the page. 

Beginning on page 108, seemingly unrelated pieces start to conglomerate. How did you decide to order of the pieces? 

SG: I was aiming to combine music with nature, to dig a little deeper, to see where we come from. I don't' know if it worked! Going deeper, back to our roots, I guess. 

Which character, if any, do you identify with?  How do you incorporate this into the rest of your writing?

SG: I am the cellist, I am Celia, I am the birds (my wish). You start with your life's template and then extrapolate to fit a story, or a hope of a story. 

How much of your work is inspired by real events in your life? Why did you choose to use your own last name?

SG: Some writers are good making up completely new worlds, writing about lives that do not look like their own. I fail at this. I take notes from where I live. As a starting place. 

I have a hard timing working solely in one genre. I had for at least 10 years wanted to write about my relative killed in Salem, but I couldn't figure out a way until I came across Ghost Opera. I used my last name because it's important to know where you come from, what history laid out for your family, how that changed the present, most likely.

Can you share a bit about how you got your work published?  What was the process?How much control did the editor have over your work, and are you satisfied with the final product? 

SG: I got my first poem published in grad school in the Beloit Poetry Journal. I think a teacher or a friend recommend I try them. It's all random, in a way. What poems you write, you send, you get published. 

To get my novels published, I sent my manuscript out to contests because they were strange, non-linear projects, i.e. books large presses couldn't make money on. I didn't care. Just holding your book in your hands! I cannot explain the deep joy this blooms. 

The books had to be nearly perfect/done before they were sent to contests. You don't get to change much after you get picked up. Small edits, yes. But they are on deadline, and they want finished works. I have been very happy with both presses I have been so lucky to work with, Starcherone and FC2. 

If you had the option to shift from an independent publisher to corporate would you? Why or why not?

SG: I would not. I love the independent spirit of small presses. You count to them. They know you, they love you and your work. There's nothing like this.

Why would you choose a paper printing over electronic publication? 

SG: I am glad my books can be downloaded as e-books. But this cannot replace the actual physicality of reading, holding the book, smelling the fresh paper pages, how the light hits the white and black. I always feel more comfortable in the world when I know I have a book in my bag.

Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?

SG: Oh my! Ok, let's see: read, of course. Be patient. It took many rejections to get poems picked up, and then my books. Many! Right now I am looking for a home for my first poetry collection, and I am on rejection number 30. Don't take these rejections personally: just do your research (web helps a lot), and pick the places that fit your work. Buy others' books, see where they publish. Make writer friends, ask them to read your work. Carry a notebook with you everywhere. Go to art and science museums, go to gardens. Hike. Nap and then write down what your dream-brain was thinking. And again: read read read. 

Friday, May 3, 2013

Interview With Joseph Young

My students at Western Washington University conducted
interviews with writers Joseph Young and Sara Greenslit. Here's
the first of the two interviews, with microfiction writer and artist
Joseph Young. Thanks to both authors, and to all of my students!
Joseph Young lives in Baltimore. His book of microfictions, Easter Rabbit, was put out by Publishing Genius Press in 2009, and his chapbook, 5 drawings of the maryland sky, by Ink Press in 2013. He also makes his own pdf chapbooks, which can be found on his blog, Joseph makes visual art as well, which has appeared in various galleries and some of which can be found on his blog. 

When writing, do you start by writing a longer piece, and then compress it, or do you write compressed to begin with?

I write compressed to begin with. The stories start out small and I write them all at once. The revision comes in playing with the words, syntax, and rhythm to get them right. Often what will happen is I will get a story almost right but then spend several hours to several days trying to figure out one or two words that aren’t clicking with me. 

How did you come up with the individual titles for your writings in Easter Rabbit?

I try to use the title to stretch what the story is doing, to give it an added dimension. Because of that, they often aren’t descriptive—telling you what’s in the story—but rather I try to made them open things out, expand the story. One thing I’ll pretty often do is think about the story contents and then do wikipedia searches to find words, phrases, or ideas that can work as titles. I’ll end up reading about all kinds of weird stuff during this “research.” 

Why use the spaces on the page and how do they function? 

I’m really interested in visual art, as much so as writing, and I have been pretty devoted to making it over the past several years. One of the reasons my stories shrank the way they did (I used to write more conventionally lengthed stories but then they got smaller and smaller) was in the attempt to make them as “visual” as possible. What I mean is that I wanted the reader’s eye to be able to take in the whole story at once, the whole thing on one page, in one compact unit. The white space helps in that, I hope. 

Would you say you could compare your form to a haiku? How or how not? 

Yes and no. I definitely thought about haiku a lot as I was first getting into microfiction. I admire how a really great haiku takes those 17 or so syllables and a few images and points to the entire world. It’s like this haiku by Issa:

With his radish, the radish picker points the way.

There’s everything in the universe in that poem!

And I want to be able to point to a much larger world beyond the story itself, for the reader to find a lot more between the words and between the sentences. But haiku usually does that with a great deal of clarity, whereas my stories are often (usually?? always??) so obfuscated!

Is there an over-arching theme that you wished to convey? 

I think a theme I come back to a lot—or at least I used to—is the one sort of pointed to in the story “Epistomology.” How do we understand, or not understand, the things we say to each other? How, honestly, do we manage to understand each other as much as we do? We actually make meaning for ourselves despite the fact that the world is so confusing and strange. 

Are you okay with the audience interpreting the writing different than you mean it? Is it meant to be specific or vague?

Yeah, I love when a reader interprets a story in a way I never thought of. Matter of fact, I often don’t have any idea what a story might “mean” until some really sharp reader tells me. Oh, right, that’s it!

I think the language is supposed to be very specific but the meaning, it’s not supposed to be vague, but what I hope for is that the story is big enough to carry more than one meaning. If I do it right (once in a while), then a story can mean X but also mean not-X, too. And it can mean Q and E as well. Actually, and sorry for getting so “out there,” but I’m more interested in a story having meaningness—that is, being meaningful—than having a particular interpretation. I mean, what’s the meaning of a rock? Rockness. So, what’s the meaning of a story? 

What is your intention with the front and back cover? 

The cover was made by my dear friend and collaborator, the encaustic painter Christine Sajecki (encaustic is painting with molten wax). We’ve done a bunch of art shows and other events together over the past 6 or 7 years. When I had a book coming out, she was my very first choice to do the cover. She’s actually done two different covers for two separate printings of the book.

In any case, the painting on the cover is filled with a lot of references to our friendship and to our work together over the years. The swans on the back, the dark window-like squares on the front, stuff like that. And the figure on the front walking away from us is actually based on a photo of me that Christine took. 

But more to your question, Christine had in mind the “white spaces” I try to put into my stories, the feeling of things between and among and outside of the words. And she had in mind the feelings she personally gets when she reads the stories.
Have you ever thought of putting pieces on Facebook or any other social media site for review? How do you feel about putting this down in publishing rather than forever documented on the internet? Do you feel like the effect of people seeing your work on Facebook would be different from reading it in a book? Why mention it in the story on 61? 

I put a lot of stories on my blog, I used to text message stories to a big list of people, and I often put together e-books of my stuff that people can access or download online. I’m putting together a new tumblr for the art books I make, but it isn’t live yet. Never have put stories on Facebook but I def promote them there. 

I’m all about putting work out in whatever format works. I like reading paper books and I like reading online magazines, and Facebook, YouTube, Twitter etc. These are all tools available to people, and I say use them! Get creative and use them! And sure, the effect of reading something on social media is different than in a book, but one’s not better than the other. I always say, give a creative person a burnt stick and a square of toilet paper and they’ll do something awesome with it. Same with social media, same with pen and paper.

As for that story on page 61, in that series I was thinking about how inanimate objects could be characters in a story. Facebook seemed like an interesting character.

How does religion tie in to your stories, if at all? There were some times in the story that even from a secular stand point, these iconic images could be imagined. For example we talked about, “Light of No Understanding” (18.) Here take this, is similar to handing over the bread in communion, she could be putting down her faith. “Easter Rabbit” (30) could be references the holiday of Christ rising and saving humanity, but there is still the pain and sin of humans living on. His death was also hurtful. 

It does tie in! I’m not a religious person in that I go to church or temple or what have you, but I’m utterly fascinated with religion and the power of its signs and symbols and the emotion and meaning of it. So, Christianity and Christ and the Saints show up in my stories and so does Buddha and Taoism (the “10,000 things”) and Zen. Although I didn’t think of communion myself in “Light of No Understanding” I like that someone did think of it. Communion is a really powerful thing.

Are you mentioning religion and Facebook as the faiths of people at large, or social media and religion being the things people devote their time and thoughts to? Even if not, do you feel as if there could be a discussion made about this? 

I’m sorry, I don’t understand this question. But in general, yeah, a discussion could be made!

How did Easter Rabbit get published? 

The publisher and editor of Easter Rabbit lives in Baltimore, where I live, and he asked to publish it. Before we really knew each other he had published a broadside of my writing and both of us liked how that turned out, so then we were both really excited to work on a book length project. We were just starting to be friends when he asked to publish the book and through the process of working on Easter Rabbit we became really good friends.

How much control did the editor have over your work, and are you satisfied with the final product? 

REALLY satisfied. He didn’t do a lot of editing—just some small things here and there—but we worked a lot on choosing the stories and putting them in the right order. It was really collaborative. Same goes with the cover artist and the designer for the first printing—it was a collaboration. It was a team effort, and given that, I enjoyed the process so much. 

If you had the option to shift from an independent publisher to corporate would you? Why or why not?

Nope! I mean, if Random House wanted to give me a whole bunch of money to publish with them, okay I probably would, but it’s pretty doubtful that will ever happen. Given that, I want the hands-on, collaborative magic that happens with an indie publisher (another small press, Ink Press, just put out a little book of mine called 5 drawings of the maryland sky). I’m also pretty keen on self publishing and have put out a lot of stuff in pdf form. I like making my own covers and laying it out in InDesign and working with Photoshop, etc. It’s really satisfying. 

Why would you choose a paper print over electronic publication? 

I wouldn’t choose one over the other. Both are great. 

Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?

Be strong, protect your vision, do the “wrong” thing. Taking advice is great—do it—and learn from people, your friends, your teachers. But writing is yours. Own it.