The amazing Wendy Willis, author of the incredible poetry collection, Blood Sisters of the Republic, tapped me on the shoulder the other day and asked if I would be interested in taking part in The Next Big Thing, an interview series working its way through the interwebs. Then, I looked at the folks who Wendy also tapped, and I began to get nervous. These folks are talented, interesting writers, who will likely post amusing and tantalizing “interviews.” Was I up to this? Then, my life got unexpectedly busy, and so now I’m LATE, posting my response. So, I better get on with this and try to redeem myself.
What is the working title of the book?
Pause, Traveler. I had toyed with the idea of calling the book Siste Viator, which means “Stop Traveler.” The phrase was often used on Roman roadside tombs and at crossroads. However, friends pointed out that most folks wouldn’t neither be able to read Latin nor have any idea of the provenance of the phrase. Still, I liked the idea of coming to rest, pausing on the long road of a life.
Where did the idea come from for the book?
Pause, Traveler began as the kernel of my MFA creative thesis, but then branched out from there. Up until 2000, I’d lived a peripatetic existence, bouncing from coast to coast, never settling down for too long in one home. My life felt like one long journey, including mentally and emotionally traveling from a person who didn’t understand how be true to herself to the person I am now who is infinitely more comfortable in my own skin. I had a chunk of poems about living in New York City, a chunk of poems about living in Alaska, and this other odd chunk of poems about weird roadside attractions and diners. With a little massaging and filling in the blanks, it became a book.
What genre does your book fall under?
Poetry – a little lyric, a little narrative….
What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?
Yeah, hmmmmm…. this might be easier if I watched more movies.
What is the one sentence synopsis of your book?
A journey in poetry from New York City to Alaska, through the dark heart of the landscape and a life. (Thank you Kevin Clark for “portraits of the kind of a nearly gutted American soul…” which inspired “dark heart.”)
How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?
I wrote the poems over a span of six or seven years. However, first I had to live the life that such poetry might spring from, so perhaps over the last thirty years. I’ve been writing poetry for a long time, but I didn’t start to take it seriously until I moved to Alaska. Maybe it’s the long dark winters, maybe it’s the physical and emotional space for introspection, maybe I just decided that if I was ever actually going to become a better poet, I should learn about what makes good poetry and seriously write for awhile.
Who or what inspired you to write this book?
I wanted a practice that would wake me up to the world, and poetry has done that in spades. Some of the poems in this collection were my attempt to make sense of the my life. Others spring from my desire to be deeply rooted in the landscape.
If I go a little further back though, my father inspired my love of language. When I was small, he read to me for a long time each evening. He taught me that words were an honorable, almost venerable, way to leave breadcrumbs on the path so that others could follow you and experience what you did. Reading and writing has always been a way for me to be less alone in this big world.
What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?
Prairie Dog Town, Circus World Museum, The Corn Palace, The Little Gem Diner. Oh, and small-town Alaska.
Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
I am honored to have my book published by Boreal Books, an imprint of Red Hen Press, established by the amazing poet Peggy Shumaker in 2008. Boreal Books is dedicated to bringing the voices of Alaskan writers to wider audiences. And the folks at Red Hen Press have been absolutely wonderful to work with.
The book comes out on June 1st, but I’ll be at the Red Hen booth at AWP selling and signing copies, so stop by and see me!
My tagged writers for next week are:
Some these wonderful folks will be posting their responses on Being Poetry, and others on their own blogs…. And thank you Wendy, this was a great way to really think about my book.