If you could cook dinner for any author, dead or alive, who would it be? What would you make? I don’t know if he eats meat or not, but I’d love to have a steak with Cormac McCarthy. I’m not sure what route I’d go with it. Sometimes I do my secret marinade. On other occasions, I’ll do a red wine and mushroom demi-glace. I could also just do a pan sear with garlic, butter, and rosemary. So many options, but I’d definitely do asparagus and mashed potatoes as a side.
Who is your biggest literary crush, author or character? Well, I wouldn’t call this a crush any longer because I’m now an adult male, but I definitely had a crush on Wednesday Addams as a kid. I was in the sixth grade when the 1991 film came out, and I fell in love with Christina Ricci’s portrayal. Jenna Ortega does an incredible job in the new series.
Does writing energize or exhaust you? Both, actually. When I’m in the flow, like when I’m really feeling the poem almost as if I’m channeling it from a source outside of myself, I feel incredibly energized. Time stops. This sounds weird to say, but I feel this sense of unity and oneness, a true euphoria. When I exit that space, I feel depleted. I have to decompress a little. I can’t talk to anyone because socializing feels so strange, like another language. I need a drink and several minutes just to feel like I can be a person in the world again.
What is your writing Kryptonite? Oddly enough, teaching poetry. I love when I get to teach poetry along with the usual English comp courses, but I find that giving feedback on poems taps into the same energy that I use for my own work. Whenever I teach poetry, like I did in spring 2022, I end up not writing as much.
Have you ever gotten reader’s block? Interesting concept. I wasn’t aware this actually existed until the interview. Anytime my English 101 students turn in essays. Unfortunately, I don’t have a choice but to read them and give them feedback. They’re trying. They’re mostly good people, but some of their essays…yikes.
How did publishing your first book change your process of writing? I feel like it puts more pressure on the process. I’ve been submitting my work to literary journals since I finished graduate school (2010), and while I had several published, it wasn’t really until the first book came out that I started thinking every poem had to be “publishable.” I got in my head for a while. I overthought everything. Is this good? Will someone publish this? In the past, I wrote poems that I knew were throwaways, but I enjoyed writing them. It took me a while to be able to get back to writing for fun and not thinking each poem needed to be great.
What authors did you dislike at first but grew into? Poets as a whole haha. I was really into sports growing up, and I had this very typical, Midwestern belief that poetry was “girl stuff.” I loved reading, but I was strictly into fiction and nonfiction. I hated poetry units in school and didn’t take them seriously. It wasn’t until high school that I started reading and writing poetry. I saw one of my friends writing in the high school library. I asked him what it was, and he told me, “Poetry.” I was surprised. I was like, “What the fuck are you writing poetry for? That’s lame.” He said, “No, it’s actually really therapeutic. I can process my thoughts and experiences and feel better about my life.” So, I started writing poetry to deal with my teenage angst, but I didn’t really know what I was doing. In college, I took a Brit Lit class and encountered the Romantic poets again. I fell in love with John Keats. I learned more about form and technique. I started devouring all the poets I could. So that’s the long answer. I guess the short answer is John Keats.
What was an early experience where you learned that language had power? In high school, I was kind of an asshole to my parents. I just thought I was smarter than them. They were conservative, very practical Christian/Catholics who both came from agricultural backgrounds, and I was weirdly this liberal, creative atheist who just viewed them as backwoods Kansans. I don’t think that anymore. I would do a lot of things just to piss them off, like becoming a Kansas Jayhawks fan instead of cheering for K-State, or deciding to become a vegetarian for a while not for any ethical or environmental reason but just because it was a stab at my dad, who had been a cattle rancher. One Saturday night, I was supposed to hang out with my friends. We were at my sister’s basketball tournament in Kansas City, and my dad decided he wanted to stay to watch the next teams play because some of my sister’s friends were on those teams. I was upset, so on the way home, I made a cutting remark about him not having any friends when he was young. He’s ordinarily a pretty calm guy, and this is very uncharacteristic for him, but he pulled the car over and came at me like he was going to beat the shit out of me. My mom intervened, and we didn’t come to blows. That was when I realized that language has power. I think I always knew it, but that was the moment where I saw language’s power coming at me in the form of a fist.
As a writer, what would you choose as your mascot/avatar/spirit animal? Definitely a raven or a crow. Or a plague doctor. They’re all kind of similar. I remember my first email handle was oldcrowsmiles. I chose that in high school. My parents thought I was sneaking around drinking alcohol because of Old Crow bourbon. I just liked crows.
How many unpublished and half-finished books do you have? I have 4-5 manuscripts that are actually ready to go. I need to revisit them. Many of them were written while I was in graduate school or shortly thereafter. I was quite prolific then, but when I look back on material from 10-15 years ago, I feel like I’m such a different writer now. While I may eventually try to publish those old manuscripts, I’d like to put together a new one of the stuff I’ve written the last couple years.
If you didn’t write, what would you do for work? I don’t currently write for work as teaching pays the bills. Well, I do work as the lead writer for Bandbox vinyl record club, so I guess I can’t say that I don’t write for work. But to answer the question, I’d be a chef. I love cooking. I would love to be like Anthony Bourdain, cooking and writing.
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