If you could cook dinner for any author, dead or alive, who would it be? What would you make? I would want to cook dinner for James Baldwin and it would be baked ziti since that is a speciality of mine.
What scares you the most about the writing process? How do you combat your fears?For me, it’s really about time and energy and how to harness both for writing project and I often fear I never have enough of either to complete the projects I have in mind. I have both chronic pain and illness and as a result, my bandwidth is limited. I do also have to work, and so sometimes there is little motivation or ability leftover for my own independent projects. I know sometimes writers feel a lot of pressure to not only “write everyday” by dedicate X hours and create X amount of words on the page by the end of that time block and to stick to a schedule. I just don’t have that privilege between my health issues and other needs. So, I have liberated myself by carving out time when it works for me to write and not pressuring myself to keep up with what society tells me I need to do and be.
Who is your biggest literary crush, author or character? Right now, I am crushing big time on Baldwin. But I’ve been enamored with Audre Lorde for the better part of two decades. She not only gives me glimpses of what I would strive to be as a poet and essayists, but as a better human being.
What books are on your nightstand? Currently I am reading Another Country, which is a novel by James Baldwin, a book of short stories by Anne Beatie, and a book of collected poems by Mary Ruefle (Trances of the Blast)
Favorite punctuation mark? Why? Without a doubt, the em dash. Admittedly I don’t use it very often in most of my poetry, but I use it frequently in my prose and especially in my personal essays. I like it because I like it it allows me to form long and complex sentences that are not run-ons and how it lets me make side notes and observations within a given sentence. People who are familiar with my work definitely note it as a characteristic of my literary “style.”
What book were you supposed to read in high school, but never did? I did not read Crime and Punishment all the way through as at the time the topic was so dark and disturbing for me and it gave me nightmares. So I skimmed it and used the Cliff Notes to fill in what I needed. However, I did read it on my own shortly after I completed college in my early twenties and I list it among my favorite all-time novels.
What inanimate object would you thank in your acknowledgements? I think it would be a tie between my bed and my bathtub. I am not the most Zen person, but being able to have a good night’s sleep or take a deep nap can be amazingly restorative. But more than that, once the weather cools down, I love taking long Epsom salt baths once a week. I light candles and play some of my favorite music and just soak, think and allow myself to feel my feelings. It’s a cheap and easy way to pamper and I find it helps clear my head and relax me in a way few things can.
If you could write an inspirational quote on the mirrors of aspiring writers, what would you write? I would borrow from George Eliot: “It is never too late to be what you could have been.” I don’t think that actually applies to everything, but I think it can for writing.
Does writing energize or exhaust you?I think it can do either (or both simultaneously) depending on the type of writing I am doing, the circumstances under which I am writing and what else is going on in my life. If I am writing something for work or school that does not speak to my soul or inspire me, it can sometimes be like pulling teeth to put words on the page. It becomes a slog. Also, if I am having a pain flare, writing under tedious circumstances or in forms or about subjects that do not interest me, can exacerbate my fatigue. But if I am writing about something I love or in the form that I love (in other words, creatively), it can completely energize me. In fact, writing freely about the things I care about and in the forms that matter most to me or are most natural to me, act like an elixir for me.
What are common traps for aspiring writers?I think a common trap is that people get caught up in the sexiness or romantic view of what it means to be a writer, and also sometimes have impractical perceptions of how it will pan out. The truth is, writing is hard work and a lot of it isn’t sexy or romantic. It is lonely and publishing can be an uphill battle full of rejections. While some people can and do find wild success with it, the vast majority do not. I make my income writing, but it took a long time and my income is extremely modest. If you are serious about being a writer, you need to understand that it really needs to be about loving it and doing it because you need to, and not because you have illusions of wealth and granduer. Because that rarely happens.
What is your writing Kryptonite?I definitely tend to write very long, sometimes meandering sentences (hence my love for the em dash). While I can appreciate my own proclivities, I realize I can get carried away. My editors will often spend most of their time cutting up my long sentences into shorter ones.
Have you ever gotten reader’s block? Yes, and I get it quite often nowadays. I often find that after I finish a book--particularly one that I really loved--it’s hard for me to switch gears and take up another book right away. I seem to still want to live in the world of the book I just left behind. Sometimes if a book doesn’t immediately capture my attention in the first few pages, I find that I am more reluctant to pick it up again until it hits its stride with me. However, I make a point of persisting until I am absorbed in that book as well. Or, if it still doesn’t appeal to me, I look for one that does. I used to force myself through books even if I couldn’t stand them. But I rarely do that anymore. Luckily, it’s very rare that a book I am reading doesn’t eventually pique my interest by the time I am a quarter of a way into it.
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?
I write in many different genres and so not everything I write is connected except by a greater thread that underscores my interest in justice. My poems do seem to follow similar themes: love, sex and illness/death tend to be their primary concerns. Many of my essays also explore a lot of the same topics: my family, my own past traumas and conflicts, and how to try to create a brighter future for myself and others.
What was the best money you ever spent as a writer?While I am an admitted Luddite, I have to admit getting my first laptop in college really catapulted my writing to another level, even in just the way it enabled me to write more--so I’d have to say that was my best buy.
What authors did you dislike at first but grew into?While I thought Hemingway was just okay, I grew to appreciate him more as I read more of him. When I read the “Fire Next Time” my freshman year of college, I couldn’t get into it (I think I was too young/immature to appreciate it), but now I adore Baldwin, having become acquainted with his work later on in life through his shorter essays and fiction.
As a writer, what would you choose as your mascot/avatar/spirit animal?If you had asked me this question a couple of years ago, I might have said a wolf, simply because I love their loyalty and sense of wildness while still being relatable. However, I now think it would be my black cat Cokey. He’s been with me almost all my adult life and so has been nearby as I’ve created almost all of my writings. He’s been a constant source of support and compassion, of love and loyalty. Many times, he’s laying next to me while I write. I also like the subversion of the stereotype of the black cat as bad luck: he’s brought me nothing but love.
How many unpublished and half-finished books do you have? I have four unfinished books right now that have yet to be published but I hope will be one day.
What does literary success look like to you?To some extent I feel like I have already achieved what I considered my baseline for literary success in that I support myself solely through either my writing or teaching writing. I have a long list of publication credentials in reputable online media outlets, literary journals and other publications. I mostly happy with what I am doing with my life and stood by my principles. However, I would love to have some of my books published to completely fulfill my ideas of success.
What’s the best way to market your books?I think identifying audiences that my book would appeal to and approaching them is an especially effective method, such as finding those who like similar works. I am big about interfacing with the media--conducting interviews and guest posts on blogs and journals--as well as putting myself out there with the public. This doesn’t just include formal readings at bookstores, but book clubs, etc.
What’s the most difficult thing about writing characters from the opposite sex?I think whenever writing a character that is of a demographic one is not a part of, that one needs to be very careful about that and sensitive to the fact that one cannot appropriate firsthand experiences that aren’t one’s own. However, I do think that is more critical when depicting demographics that have been historically marginalized--so women, people of color and the disabled, etc. As a woman, I have less qualms about depicting white (cis) male characters due to this power disparity. That being said, I tend to write my fiction mainly through the lens of female characters.
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