If you could cook dinner for any author, dead or alive, who would it be? What would you make?
No one should ever be subjected to my cooking. If they weren’t dead already, it’d kill them.
What scares you the most about the writing process? How do you combat your fears?
I have a chronic fear that I’m getting worse at writing instead of better. Like my talent is waning or something. Really all I do to combat this is keep writing anyway and hope it doesn’t suck.
Who is your biggest literary crush, author or character?
Don’t have one. I’ve never really understood celebrity crushes. How can you be infatuated with someone you haven’t met?
What books are on your nightstand?
It changes. At the moment, “Always Coming Home” by Ursula K LeGuin because my partner told me I should read it and I found it at the library the other day (it’s out of print).
Favorite punctuation mark? Why?
I like using colons in poems. When making a metaphor, I have a preference for using a colon rather than the word “is.” I don’t know why.
What book were you supposed to read in high school, but never did?
A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens
What inanimate object would you thank in your acknowledgements?
The navy blue, rubber support bracelet I wore for over 2 years. It didn’t save my friend from terminal cancer, but I think it saved my life. Hope is a funny thing.
If you could write an inspirational quote on the mirrors of aspiring writers, what would you write?
“Get Free” It’s a slogan I picked up at the Pink Door Writing Retreat. I like it because it can mean so many different things.
Does writing energize or exhaust you?
What are common traps for aspiring writers?
Getting discouraged too quickly. It can take years to get your work recognized, and it is truly a numbers game. The more journals and presses you send your work to, the greater your chances of someone reading it who wants to publish it.
What is your writing Kryptonite?
Netflix. I’m definitely a television addict. My day job leaves me so drained that when I get home I just want to escape and not feel.
Have you ever gotten reader’s block?
Yes. For about a year after I finished grad school.
Do you think someone could be a writer if they don’t feel emotions strongly?
Yes. I think to say “no” would be ignoring neurodivergent folks.
What other authors are you friends with, and how do they help you become a better writer?
There are so many, and some I’ve lost touch with. My MFA faculty, Luisa Igloria and Tim Seibles, were very helpful. My MFA colleagues were amazing also. Jamaal May is a fantastic poet I met through poetry slam who encouraged me to apply to grad school. As did Andrew Hudgins and Allison Davis, who taught me at Ohio State. Some of my first fans in the literary world were Jacob Rakovan and Rachel McKibbens. Early encouragement is so important. Rachel runs the Pink Door Writing Retreat, which was one of the most valuable experiences I’ve had as a writer. And I will never forget the poets of the Travonna Writing Group who peer pressured me into becoming a poet myself. Rachel Wiley, Mike (Spike) Cowell, Ethan Rivera, Atticus Inch, Dave Nichols, and a few others I’m probably leaving out.
Do you want each book to stand on its own, or are you trying to build a body of work with connections between each book?
Both. I think all my work is connected in certain ways, but I think of each book separately and not as part of a series.
How did publishing your first book change your process of writing?
I don’t think it did, really. I started out in poetry slam and homemade chapbooks are currency there. So I was always grouping my poems together periodically to make a new chap. Publishing a book was just a bigger version of that.
What was the best money you ever spent as a writer?
Pink Door Writing Retreat admission fee
What authors did you dislike at first but grew into?
Nothing comes to mind. There are certain books I’ve had to put down and come back to in a few years. I’m very impatient with slow-moving plots and intricate descriptions, but it seems to be improving slightly with age.
What was an early experience where you learned that language had power?
I have always loved words. I told my mom when I was about seven years old that I wanted to be an etymologist.
What’s your favorite under-appreciated novel?
Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen. It’s funny. Like actually funny, not “comedy of manners” funny.
As a writer, what would you choose as your mascot/avatar/spirit animal?
Spirit animals are an excellent example of cultural appropriation. But that wasn’t the question, so I’m going to go with a peacock.
What do you owe the real people upon whom you base your characters?
I write poetry and nonfiction so I don’t have characters per se. But I owe my family, friends, and partners past and present quite a bit, both good and bad.
How many unpublished and half-finished books do you have?
None at the moment. I wrote a chapbook while I was waiting for this book to get picked up, and the chapbook got picked up by Dancing Girl Press, so now I’m out of books.
What does literary success look like to you?
I’m highly motivated by recognition, and I’m not ashamed to admit it. I would like to win a prize, be invited to speak, be invited to read, stuff like that.
What’s the most difficult thing about writing characters from the opposite sex?
First, I believe there are more than two genders. Second, the vast majority of the speakers in my poems are just different versions of myself. I’m a very autobiographical writer, you could say.
What did you edit out of this book?
Maybe six or seven years ago, Rachel McKibbens said in a writing workshop to always hold something back. Don’t ever give them the whole story. Keep something for yourself as the author because you deserve it. I held something back.
If you didn’t write, what would you do for work?
This is a pretty silly question. I don’t write as a job. I don’t know anyone who does. There is no money in this, especially not in poetry. I work in insurance. So I guess that’s what I’d do for work because that’s what I’m doing.
Ellie White is a writer living in Charlottesville, Virginia. You can learn more about Ellie White at elliewhitewrites.com.