I was absolutely delighted to learn that poet Nance Van Winckel has chosen my manuscript After Our Departure as the winner of the Powder Horn Prize from Sage Hill Press! The book will be published at the end of 2016!
I’ve barely had time to settle back into the Pacific Northwest after about thirteen years away, and to attend stellar events like the Lilac City Fairy Tales reading in Spokane, and now I’ll be returning to Kansas to read myself at the end of October. I’m thrilled to be a part of Emporia State University’s Visiting Writers Series this fall. I’ll be reading in Emporia on October 24th at 7pm in the PKP room of the Memorial Union. I’ll also be reading from An Amah in Victoria Park, my speculative fiction novel-in-progress, set in nineteenth century Tianjin, China, on October 25th, at 7pm, at the Raven Book Store in Lawrence, KS.
Joe Harrington asked me to take part in the blog tour this past week, and you’ll find my responses to the set group of questions below. I love to hear what other writers are working on, and how they approach process. If you’d like to read Joe’s responses, you can find them here. I found some of these questions pretty difficult to answer, but I did my best. I have contacted a couple of friends and asked them to take part next week, and will link to their blogs, and provide some information about them, and their work, after I post my own answers. Ok, let’s get to it!
1. What are you working on?
I just finished a short chapbook manuscript that combines prose poetry and found slide images, titled A Field Guide to Adaptation. Two different hybrid pieces of mine that also incorporate found images will be included in the “Beyond Category” special issue of Seneca Review which will be available in March. I also recently finished a flash fiction chapbook titled Outside, Bright Lights. The title story from the flash fiction chapbook was chosen by Nuala Ní Chonchúir, and is going to appear this spring in an issue of The Stinging Fly, and another flash fiction piece from it was published this past November in Johnny America. The rest of the pieces are very new, though, so I’m going to set them all aside for a few months, and then take another look at them in the summer, in order to do revisions.
Right now, I’m starting work on two longer projects. The first is a speculative novel set in 19th century China, a crime novel titled An Amah in Victoria Park. I’ve been conducting research and planning it for about a year, and am finally getting into my first draft. On the poetry side of things, I think that I’m writing a new book of poems. I’m not sure. Poems are happening, especially when I feel like playing hooky from the novel. This poetry thing, whatever it is, is the first entirely new project I’ve started in a while, so I’m letting it remain blissfully shapeless, for now.
2. How does your work differ from others of its genre?
That depends on the project. My novel might differ from some speculative novels, in that the protagonist is in her sixties. I think she is very much in keeping with many older characters in the tradition of the mystery novel, though, such as Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple, and also has things in common with older characters in the crime novel, and noir traditions, outside of the mystery novel tradition. I am fascinated with older characters, and more than a little bit nervous to be writing a character much older than myself, of a different gender, from a different culture. My wife’s brother married into a Chinese family, and I spent a great deal of time with them while living in Tianjin, China. In some ways, the protagonist of my novel was inspired by the great grandmother of that family, who is delightful, and who attempts to sneak extra spice into every meal at dinner, and who has amazing and terrifying stories about taking part in the Long March.
There are so many fascinating things happening in contemporary poetry, and the field is so broad, that most of my poetry projects can find comfortable precedents and antecedents, or at least friendly crowds working in the same neighborhoods. I do still tend to write a lot of prose poetry, which is more common now than it used to be, but might differ from what some folks are doing. I also write constraint-based poetry, depending on the project, and that might differ from what some free verse poets are doing. Again, it just depends on the project. Many poets are working, and have been working, with images combined with text, as well.
3. Why do you write what you do?
My practice of writing poetry has been a large part of the way I respond to the world for a very long time. I write poetry because it is a sort of “working out” of something I can’t stop thinking about; a response to, but also a creation of experience. I am friends with another poet, DaMaris Hill, and we were delighted to discover that we both came to poetry when we were quite young, maybe ten years old, through a sort of theft. We both snuck into forbidden parts of our parents’ houses, and took books we weren’t allowed to read, and ferreted them away in secret, only to discover they were books of poetry. What a strange and wonderful thing to have in common with another poet! That thrill of theft has never really left me. Reading poetry, even when I was very young, always felt like theft of a particular kind of understanding of the world I desperately needed, and that wasn’t available any other way—not in school, not in advice from other people, not in prose; only in poetry. Writing poetry grew, over time, to feel like the same kind of theft.
I write the fiction I write because I love the experience of getting lost in the causal events of a narrative, and getting lost in a particular character. I feel we really submerge—truly turn into little submarines—when we are reading fiction, in a way we don’t with any other form of art. Novels, in particular, feel like entering into a long relationship. You carry around this story with you, possibly for months, or for the rest of your life if you truly love the book and read it again and again, and you become utterly immersed. I try (ham-fistedly) in my fiction to aim for that sort of immersion.
4. How does your writing process work?
When things are working well, I try to have at least two things going at the same time, so that I can switch to the other one when I feel I’ve hit a wall, or if I feel my energy dips with one project or the other. I worked in bakeries for a long time—maybe seven or eight years—and part of that job meant getting up very early in the morning. I’m not a chipper person in the morning, but I think I trained myself to wake up early—to get my brain awake—from all those years in bakeries. I like to write first thing in the morning, before my head fills with anything else. I also need to set things aside for a while before revising them, or sending them out, like most writers.
I am delighted that my friend Jennifer Colatosti has allowed me to tag her to respond to these questions next week. Look for her responses next Monday, on her blog! As a preview, here is a short bio for Jen:
Jennifer M. Colatosti lives in Lawrence, KS, where she is a PhD candidate in Creative Writing at the University of Kansas. She is currently the fiction editor of Beecher’s. Her work has appeared in The MacGuffin, Connotation Press, and Midwestern Gothic.
My friend, the talented poet Mary Stone Dockery, tagged me to take part in The Next Big Thing Blog Hop. What this means is that Mary sent me a list of questions to answer about one of my current artistic projects. I’m going to answer the questions here on my blog, and then tag five other writers who will answer the same questions next week. It’s a really fun way to learn about what different writers and artists are currently working on. If you’d like to read Mary’s answers to the questions, you can find her answers here. Also, Nathaniel Tower has been working on compiling a list of people who have taken part in The Next Big Thing so far, if you’d like to read more interviews.
What is the working title of the book?
An Assortment of Shivs, or just Shivs
Where did the idea come from for the book?
I will be reading in the phenomenal Taproom Poetry Series, curated by Megan Kaminski, Jim McCrary and Sorcha Hyland, on February 10th. At each poetry reading in the series, Megan or Sorcha mention the “merch table,” indicating that some of the readers may have things for sale on it. I first heard the word “merch” combined with “table” in a conversation with Iris Moulton in 2009. Since that time, I often find myself, listless, standing in a kitchen, saying “merch table” softly to myself, repeating it, and wondering how I can get involved with a merch table, what is it that a merch table wants, why does the word “merch” make me think of the word “lichen”?
What genre does your book fall under?
Your mom. Just kidding. It’s a poetry chapbook—a very, very small one. I’m making them myself, folding them, sewing them together, and leaving the pages uncut. Each chapbook will include a very small shiv that I will fashion myself, out of found objects. At first, I wanted to buy toothbrushes at a Dollar Store and then make the shivs out of those, riffing off of prison shiv construction, but then I thought that wouldn’t really be in the spirit of an actual shiv, made from found objects, so I decided I should only use found objects to make the shivs. I live way out in the country, so some of them will probably be made from stone, and from metal, and a few from bone. I will make a sign to warn the vegans away from the bone ones, and draw the non-vegans toward them, tantalizing them. My idea is that the reader will be able to use the shiv to cut open the pages of the chapbook. This is my first foray into chapbook construction, although I have been a long-time admirer. Poet Robert J. Baumann used to make beautiful chapbooks for his Mitzvah Chaps. I took a one-day class in book-making at the University of Kansas library last year.
Wait, is chapbook a genre? Not really. Poetry? Your mom.
What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?
A movie rendition of a poem? Björk. The answer to this question is always Björk.
What is the one sentence synopsis of your book?
Shiv is a micro-chapbook of univocalic poems.
How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?
“Manuscript” is a little bit lofty for this thing. I think there will be seven poems in it, total. The first draft of the poems was completed a couple of days ago, and I expect to go through several more drafts before making the chapbooks.
Who or what inspired you to write this book?
My friend, the artist John Jenkins, used to curate an online series called NFDU Projects. John lived and taught in Australia. For one of his projects, Debris, John asked artists to walk around their neighborhoods, around the globe, and pick up whatever objects they found and scan them. The idea of making shivs for the chapbook out of found objects was inspired by this.
The idea of writing a chapbook of poems titled Shivs came from a texting conversation with my friend Marty Baldwin. I told her I could have lunch with her on Fridays, but then remembered that I don’t have office hours on Fridays (I teach at a university), so I sent her a text that said “Since I don’t have office hours on Fridays, I can’t have lunch with you on those days, because I’ll be off-campus, committing crimes and making an assortment of shivs.”
Making the poems univocalic probably stems from a fascination with the book Eunoia by Christian Bök. I wrote a univocalic poem called, oddly enough, “[Spring Kinks Its Shiv]” that was published in the most recent issue of Parcel magazine edited by Justin Runge, a very talented poet who lives in my town and whom I always fail to have conversations with. Writing that poem for Parcel made me want to write more univocalic poems about shivs.
What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?
I’m only making twenty of them. What am I, made out of chapbooks?
A few of my favorite writers who will answer these questions next week:
Today I found out that my entry for this year’s Atty Awards won third place in the contest!. Margaret Atwood was the judge, and each of the three winners will have a chance to consult personally with her, about their work. MARGARET ATWOOD! My entry was a short collection of ten poems, each written in a different poetic form (as per the rules of the contest). The collection is titled Skrimshander and is available to read on Wattpad , as are all of the other entries into the contest. I am excited about using Wattpad to publish more work, in the future. Also, I highly recommend the Margaret Atwood novels Oryx & Crake, and The Year of The Flood to anyone who hasn’t read them. They are phenomenal.
I was thrilled to learn that my poem “Tide Charts, Meier’s Quarry” won second prize in Prick of the Spindle‘s Poetry Open for this year. It’s a real honor to receive the award from one of my favorite magazines. If you haven’t read Prick of the Spindle, you should check out their online archive of past issues. My poem, the first and third place poems, and the honorable mention poems, are available as an ebook through Amazon.