Monday, March 4, 2013

The Next Big Thing

Michael Klein has generously tagged me for The Next Big Thing interview series. Here's my self-interview about my recent book.

What is your working title of your book?

The book is called Dear Editor.

Where did the idea come from for the book?

I was trying to figure out what makes a poem a poem. It's not line breaks, because we've all seen work with line breaks that isn't poetry-there's something else, something I couldn't but wanted to define that contributes to the poem, a way of thinking, as Blackmur says in his wonderful definition, an "animating presence."

When you write a poem you use a different mind than when you write, say, a generic submission/cover letter. It's something vital, something wander-y, in the poetry mind, and I wondered: is there a way to isolate the essence of that restlessness, even find a form that emphasizes this? One day, I thought: what if, when she goes to compose the cover letter for submission to the editor, the poet doesn't, or can't, turn off that part of the mind and voice and heart that's actively involved in writing poems? What would happen if her poetry mind overruled her cover letter? And then, as I drafted each day, the discipline of the letters evolved into something that seemed apt and evocative of the daily act of getting oneself into the world, about the nature of being, not to mention the letter writer's insistence on a reality that is more in her sense of the world than the world outside. 

What genre does your book fall under?

Poetry. Epistolary.

What actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

Anyone with a Super 8 camera, really.  You. Also: Lena Dunham before Tiny Furniture, Tavi Gevinson before Rookie, Lili Taylor in Say Anything. This isn't real, right? I'm using my imagination. Speaking of which, forget the movie, can I just have Lili Taylor read it out loud? Because I love her voice.

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

Dear Editor is a book of poems in the form of cover letters to an unseen, all-knowing editor.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

Dear Editor was published by Persea Books.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

I write over the summers, so: three years of summers.

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

The story of a writer wondering in the world seems to me to be a part of every writing endeavor.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?

Dear Editor emerged from a strange intersection: a combination of trying to trying to figure out what makes a poem a poem, and a conversation I had with one of my students about sin and daily penitence. It seemed to me that there the two issues bewildered me equally. I mean bewildered in a kind of archaic sense: 'be” meaning "thoroughly" and “wilder “ meaning "lead astray, lure into the wilds." I felt led into a wild, but it was not a pathless wild, It had many intersecting paths, like in a fabulous maze, and then I walked in.

What else about the book might pique the reader's interest?

I've talked elsewhere about her frustration with metaphor, and her fascination with chess and with girl saints, both iconic narratives concerning power, strategy, and discipline. The Amy Newman of the book is especially interested in the girl saints' ability to break into blossom or burst into fire at the slightest hint of bullying. She much admires that ability, and her letters become increasingly concerned with what it means to persevere in spite of the silences she encounters, to quietly continue in the private monologue—what she fervently hopes is a dialogue—she has begun.

But she's also just a lonely girl in high school, exploring her sense of being in her world: am I a part of it? Am I outside of it? Am I a pawn? In any case she is enthralled by it. And I think this feeling is not limited to her, but extends to all us.

And here are the writers I've tagged for the series:

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