Wednesday, August 15, 2012

#53 - Amanda Auchter


How often had you sent out The Glass Crib before it was chosen as the winner of the 2010 Zone3 Press First Book Award?

I sent the manuscript out to about a dozen contests and two open reading periods for about a year and a half before it was finally accepted by Zone 3 Press in 2010.  It had been a finalist for six contests before that point, so by the time it was accepted, I was like, “finally!  Thank God!”

Tell me about the title. Had it always been The Glass Crib? Did it go through any other changes?

The manuscript was actually titled Glossolalia, which roughly translates to “speaking in tongues.”  However, Rigoberto Gonz├ílez, the judge of the Zone 3 Press First Book Award for Poetry, suggested The Glass Crib as a title and I fell in love with it instantly.  The image of “the glass crib” appears throughout the book and I feel that based on the thematic subject matter and what Rigoberto said—the nuance of fragility and of containment—that it was appropriate for this collection.

It seems like there’s a possible misconception among some poets who are trying to get their first book published: that they must win a contest. Were you concerned about winning a contest at any point? What advice would you give to poets sending their book out now regarding contests versus open reading periods?

I did want to win a first book prize.  I think I was hungry for it, actually, as a lot of poets seem to be early in their careers.  A first book prize comes with prestige and a monetary award (in addition to publication), and who wouldn’t want that straight out of the gate?  Someone once told me that a first book prize can be a career “maker.”  I don’t know how so that actually is, but it certainly can’t hurt.  A book prize does set a book apart in some way.  It not only has the stamp of the press, but of the judge as well.  I’m very grateful for that. 

I would tell other poets who are just beginning to dip their toes in sending out a completed manuscript to send to both book contests and open reading periods.  I had a great response from Graywolf when I sent them my first manuscript during their open reading period.  While they opted not to accept it, I had wonderful feedback from them and they were very positive about my collection as a whole.  It should be said that you need to research every single press before you send your work out.  You have to do this even if you think it’s tedious.  Don’t blanket submit because you want to get published just “anywhere.”  You and your publisher should be a good fit and they should be behind your work 100%. 

What was the process like assembling the book? How many different versions did it go through as you were sending it out?

My first book actually went through about two main revisions.  Ed Ochester, who was my thesis director at Bennington College, told me to leave the final manuscript alone (which I finished at Bennington, but had started at the University of Houston) because I would only mess it up and edit myself into a hole.  I think this was some of the best advice I’ve ever received and I’ve passed it on.  If you find yourself revising and revising and reordering and reordering while you’re sending the manuscript out, it’s not ready to be sent out. 

My husband, who is not a writer, actually is responsible for the ordering of the manuscript.  He is very logical and orderly and we spread out all of these poems on a work table in the garage and went through them one by one until we created the narrative arc I was going for.  Rigoberto Gonz├ílez emailed me with a few suggestions in terms of ordering and removing a few poems to make the structure tighter.  I’m very thankful to both of them.

How involved were you with the design of the book—interior design, font, cover, etc.?  Did you suggest or have any input regarding the image that was used on the cover?

Zone 3 Press was wonderful about giving me a lot of say-so in the design process.  I was fortunate enough to know a spectacular artist, Carrie Ann Baade, who provided the cover image.  It’s funny—when I began working on my first book in 2006, I told Carrie that if I ever got the book published, I wanted to use that image for the cover.  I’ve always felt that that image resonated with what I was trying to do in the poems. 

I worked very closely with Zone 3 Press in terms of choosing the font, etc.  I’ve always thought that they make gorgeous books and it was great working with them on the design-end of things.

What about the publication of the actual poems prior to the book being published? Was there ever a concern for you to have the majority of the poems published before you were sending out your manuscript?

I published about 45 of the poems in journals, which in hindsight is quite a number.  I didn’t think about that too much when I was sending out the manuscript, however.  I started sending out the poems in late 2006, so there was a span of about four years where I was writing and sending out the poems.  I was fortunate enough to have such a high acceptance rate, so I guess I can’t complain.  In contrast, I sent out very few of the poems from my second collection, The Wishing Tomb, mainly because I was so focused on the research and I was teaching.  I don’t think it matters how few or how many poems have been published.  I’ve never had an editor mention it to me, at least.

How much work did you do as far as editing the poems from the day you knew the book would be published to its final proofing stage?

I didn’t edit the poems at all with the first book.  The ordering changed a little and I think two or three of the poems were removed, but that was about it.

What do you remember about the day when you saw your finished book for the first time?

I about died when I opened the box.  The book was gorgeous and I wanted to share it with everyone I knew as soon as possible.  I had such a tremendous amount of joy and gratitude that I was a little emotional.  It was, in a way, my gold medal.

How has your life been different since your book came out? I know that your new book, The Wishing Tomb, [EDIT: which was just released] by Perugia Press. Can you tell us a little bit about that book? The poems all deal with New Orleans in some way?

My day-to-day life isn’t really that different: I still hang out on my couch in flip flops checking my email on my iPad while watching Mad Men or Project Runway while drinking tea.  I have been able to relax a bit more because I’ve had two books come out in under a year.  That part has been a bit overwhelming—trying to publicize two books, get reviews, schedule readings, etc.  I’ve had more interest in my work since my book came out in the form of solicitations, interviews, Facebook friend requests, etc.  I’m not writing poetry right now and instead have switched gears toward memoir writing, which is something I’ve wanted to do for the better part of a decade.  I’m working on a memoir about adoption and the foster care system and have spent this summer banging out about 20,000 words.  I’m really happy where things are and feel fortunate to be in a position where I don’t have to send out a manuscript just yet.

The Wishing Tomb began in 2010 when the Saints went to (and won!) the Super Bowl.  I read in an article where a New Oreleanian was asked what this meant to New Orleans and they said, “New Orleans is more than Katrina.”  That really struck me.  I’m a Gulf Coaster and I love New Orleans.  I had read wonderful works (poetry, fiction, and prose) about New Orleans, but they were all about Katrina in some way and I wanted to do something different.  I wanted to create a history in verse about this very quintessential American city and that’s what I did. 

And can you talk about the challenges of writing The Wishing Tomb in that it’s a conceptual book? Are the challenges different for this kind of manuscript? In what way?

The book was a giant undertaking, to say the least.  I spent more time reading and researching than I probably did writing the book.  I kept a journal of ideas for titles and poems and at final count, I think it numbered around 300 ideas, so I had to narrow it down and create a structure from these stories.  The challenge was different in that I was not writing about myself as I had done in large part (though not entirely) in The Glass Crib.  I was writing a lot of persona poems.  I was dealing with race, and plagues, and history, and death, and musical legends, and Katrina, and the oil spill.  I wanted to do it right and not create caricatures.  I wanted it to have a voice of authenticity.  I felt deeply about this work—more so, I think, than even the first book.  America would not be America without New Orleans and I wanted a book that would bring back these histories and voices because I think so much has been lost to time.  It was difficult to say the least, but I enjoyed the challenge and am happy with the result.  I wanted to do something that hadn’t been done before and I think I accomplished that.

You’re also co-editor of the poetry journal, Pebble Lake Review. Has being an editor helped shape your own writing in some way? How so?

I love editing and my dream job would be an acquisitions editor at a publishing company. However, editing does not shape my writing at all.  I switch gears when I’m editing.  Reading, whether it’s submissions or other works, does influence my work in that it makes me want to write, but the day-to-day act of editing does not.

Why and when did you start Pebble Lake Review? Do you have any advice for others who want to start their own journal?

I started PLR back in 2003, so we’re approaching our big 10-year anniversary, which I’m very proud about.  I had worked as an editorial associate on Gulf Coast (and continued to do since through 2006), but I wanted to have my own journal and present my own aesthetic.  I had high hopes for the journal from the start and it’s not been a disappointment. 

Running a journal is very time consuming and you make no money, unless you’re backed by a college or university or a grant.  Don’t do it to make money.  Do it because you love literature and you want to give voice to what’s new in poetry and writing at large.  Have a plan on where you want to go with the journal, because it can get big before you know it.  PLR literally grew from a tiny nobody to a Verse Daily, Poetry Daily, and Pushcart Prize-appearing journal in three years.  Also: don’t try to run it by yourself.  The operations are too much for one person.  You have to learn to relinquish control and delegate.

What have you been doing to promote The Glass Crib, and what have those experiences been like for you? And how do you plan to promote The Wishing Tomb?

I’ve been scheduling readings for both books, using social media (which is a big help), sending out promotional postcards and copies of the book for review.  I’ve just discovered Goodreads and held a drawing to win two free, signed copies of The Glass Crib, which drew 619 entries.  Even if only a small fraction of people actually go on to purchase the book, that’s still 619 people who know about it, some of whom may actually buy it at a later date or suggest it to someone else.  I’ve also been asked to do a few radio programs, which I’m really excited about (although I think I sound like a five-year old on the radio).  I’ve been pushing both books just this side of annoying, but that’s what you have to do.  There are so many books out there and such a limited audience, that you have to make yourself stand out in some way, but always, always be professional.  It does matter.

If you struck up a conversation next to someone seated on an airplane, and after a few minutes you eventually told them that you were an author who had a book of poetry published, how would you answer their next question: “What are your books about?”  What advice do you wish someone had given you before your first book came out?

I hate this question.  A lot. I always tell people that The Wishing Tomb is a collection of poetry about New Orleans because that’s the simplest answer and almost everyone I’ve met loves New Orleans or is interested in New Orleans.    Describing The Glass Crib is more difficult because there are several narrative threads that run throughout the book.  I usually focus on the mother/child/sibling/faith aspect of the book because most people can relate those elements.  I want poetry that people can relate to, even if they don’t understand every word of it.  I want my poetry to be read by poets and the mailman.  People want to be moved and want to be told stories.  I want to do this.

I wish someone would have told me how hard it was to get your book reviewed and that you really have to put in the time to sell it.  You have to be a good salesperson and wear many hats to be successful—you have to know a little PR, a little editing, and have a lot of dedication. 

Do you believe that poetry can create change in the world?

Of course I do.  Words, not weapons, I say!

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Amanda Auchter is is the founding editor of Pebble Lake Review. She is the author of The Wishing Tomb, winner of the 2012 Perugia Press Award, The Glass Crib, winner of the 2010 Zone 3 Press First Book Award, and of the chapbook, Light Under Skin. She holds an MFA from Bennington College and teaches creative writing and composition at Lone Star College. She lives in Houston with her husband and three cats. Visit her website for more information at http://www.amanda-auchter.com
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Thursday, August 2, 2012

#52 - Anne Shaw


How often had you sent out Undertow before it was chosen for the 2007 Lexi Rudnitsky Prize?

I had been sending the book out for about three years, editing and revising as I went along. After each round of contests, I would pull the poems I thought were weaker and replace them with new ones I thought were stronger.  I also re-organized the manuscript a number of times.

Tell me about the title. Had it always been Undertow? Did it go through any other changes?

The title went through at least four changes, and there were many other titles I contemplated. The book began as Enumeration and won the contest with the title Ignis Fatuus.  My editor, Gabe Fried, suggested Undertow as an alternative and I agreed. The new title still seemed to capture the essence of what I was getting at. It also fit with all of the watery poems in the book. Poets aren’t always the best at titling. It isn’t something we learn formally. I’ve been making a study of titles and titling for a number of years now. I think I’m finally starting to get the hang of it.

It seems like there’s a possible misconception among some poets who are trying to get their first book published: that they must win a contest. Were you concerned about winning a contest at any point? What advice would you give to poets sending their book out now regarding contests versus open reading periods?

I absolutely worried about winning a book contest, although I also sent to open reading periods. The concern is that the manuscript will get lost in the noise if it does not win. In some ways this is justified. However, there seem to be more and more venues for poetry publications all the time. I was just reading about the model of nano-publishing, where one editor who is an established poet picks a book to edit for a younger poet. They create a press that publishes that one book and that’s it. I think there are more and more creative models for getting work out there, not to mention selfmade chaps. It all depends on what you want for the book you are working on, who you hope will see it and why.

To a poet who has just begun sending out work, I would say that the most important issue is matching your work to the aesthetic of the press you are sending to. It took me a long time to familiarize myself with who was doing what. I would also recommend looking into alternative models of publication, especially if your work is doing something unusual that is difficult to place. However, I’d continue to send to both contests and open reading periods where you think they might be open to your work. You never know who is looking and with what set of eyes.

What was the process like assembling the book? How many different versions did it go through as you were sending it out?

Ordering the book was a huge issue. I really feel that this is a separate skill from sitting down and writing; it’s something like writing a huge new poem using the poems you already have. The book went through at least four iterations and orders. I really wanted to place the childhood poems first, but a friend suggested putting the more experimental work first and I followed his advice. It turned out to be a good call.

How involved were you with the design of the book—interior design, font, cover, etc.? Did you suggest or have any input regarding the image that was used on the cover?

Persea was great about letting me have a say in all aspects of the book design. Soon after the book was accepted for publication, they sent me several mock-ups of possible page layouts and fonts. Gabe also asked me if I had any ideas for cover art, and I looked up and saw one of my favorite paintings by my partner, Alane Spinney, hanging on the wall of our bedroom. It pictures a maelstrom of purple waves. The first time I ever saw that painting, I said, “There’s nowhere to stand!” and that seemed perfect for Undertow. I was immensely pleased to be able to use it. I was also able to change the color of the surrounding cover from grey to blue, and to have input on the font that was used. I feel very fortunate to have been able to have so much to say about the final look of the work. As someone trying to make a complete work, I feel it’s important. The cover art and design have received many compliments.

What about the publication of the actual poems in journals and magazines prior to the book being published? Was there ever a concern for you to have the majority of the poems published before you were sending out your manuscript?

I wasn’t concerned about having the majority of the poems published, but I was concerned about placing some of the best ones in good journals. I also spent a lot of time looking at the publication credits of other poets putting out first books. It seemed clear that some folks had well-established publication records and others didn’t at all. I took the impressive acknowledgements lists as a sign that those writers had either been busy building their publication records, or had been writing a long time without (for whatever reason) publishing a book, or both. In my opinion, for a first book it’s more than about the quality of the work than about the volume of published poems going in.

How much work did you do as far as editing the poems from the day you knew the book would be published to its final proofing stage?

Most of the fine-tuning on the poems had already been done, so the edits were minimal. Gabe Fried suggested a few changes to individual poems; we also took out a few. However, he let me keep those I really felt strongly about and didn’t exercise too much editorial privilege as far as changing individual poems went. All of the changes he suggested turned out to be good ones.

What do you remember about the day when you saw your finished book for the first time?

It was the first day of AWP in New York. Everyone was milling around the book fair and I searched out the Persea table. Gabe smiled a huge smile and said, “Have you seen it yet??” And there was a stack of my books sitting on the table. Later they sold out of the copies they’d brought. Friends I hadn’t seen in ages were coming by and buying it. It was amazing.

How has your life been different since your book came out?

It’s been very different. I got a teaching job, for one thing, and I’m sure the book helped. I’ve also been able to build a much better publication record. I think the biggest changes has just been in terms of legitimacy. When you don’t have the book, it’s easy to feel like the over-eager little sister or brother of folks who do. Once you have a book, there’s a sense of being able to take part in a different kind of conversation. It’s a little strange, because chances are that your style, aesthetic, and the head you have on are the same ones as before.

If you struck up a conversation next to someone seated on an airplane, and after a few minutes you eventually told them that you were an author who had a book of poetry published, how would you answer their next question: “What’s the book about?”

I hate that question: “What kind of poetry do you write?” Or worse: “You don’t write sad poems, do you?” I never know how to answer, because poetry is about exploring experiences that aren’t easily classifiable. I think there are themes running through my book: the power and influence of language, the problem of dealing with loss in a world that continues to amaze. But I wouldn’t say that to the person on the plane. At this point, I think I’d say, “ It’s about water. And birds. And being human. You should read it.”

What have you been doing to promote Undertow, and what have those experiences been like for you?

I’ve started a website, put myself on Goodreads and other social networks, sent review copies, scheduled readings for myself. But it’s hard—at least, I’ve found it hard—to break through the noise. Because of my teaching position, I wasn’t able to do a book tour, so the book didn’t get as much exposure as it might have. The best experiences have been readings, where I was able to connect with other poets and students and meet really great people I wouldn’t have otherwise. On the whole, these experiences have been a bit frustrating, but very much worthwhile in terms of contacts I’ve made.

What advice do you wish someone had given you before your first book came out?

I wish I’d been more savvy about self-promotion, and particularly about lining up a reading tour for myself. I realized the press wouldn’t be able to do much, but I could have done a better job with networking. I think you have to be really aggressive in promoting a book of poetry, and even then, there’s no guarantee it will take off.

What influence has the book’s publication had on your subsequent writing? Are there any new projects in the works?

I think the biggest benefit has been the experience of putting a book together. With the second book (Shatter & Thrust, which is forthcoming on Persea), I had to think a whole lot less about structure and order. I just kind of plugged my ears against the thought that I was writing a book and wrote poems, scads of them. Only when the folder on my computer really started to fill up did I think about order, and then it was fairly straightforward. But I was cognizant as I was writing that the work was a bit different from the kind of poem I was writing in Undertow—I did a lot of stripping the poems of their earlier lyricism. I don’t think I deliberately wrote against my own style, because I find that very difficult to do, but I was aware that the work was moving in a different direction and I tried to let it do so. I don’t know exactly where the third book will go. I’m currently studying visual art—I’m sure this will have an effect on my writing. I already sense myself using language more materially. The next big project might be very fragmentary, or not be a book in the traditional sense but rather a series of interactive installations. We’ll see.

Do you believe that poetry can create change in the world?

I’ve struggled with that question a lot. What is the value of poetry? I think that poetry, at its most crucial, helps us cope with our lives and experiences. It doesn’t so much gloss them for us as provide an act of recognition of the complexity of our lives. I think that’s important—the choice toward the complex. I think of it as a kind of handrail along the mountain—it lets the reader know that the human experience is not a wasteland—someone has been there before. I wish I believed that poetry could change the world politically, but in our current cultural climate where poetry is so devalued, I don’t see it. That’s ok—poetry survives because, like insects, poetry is both small and powerful. It can hide in the cracks. In a sense, it survives precisely because it is small and underfunded. That gives it a kind of integrity that one doesn’t see in the larger commercial world.

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Anne Shaw is the author of Undertow, winner of the Lexi Rudnitsky Poetry Prize, and Shatter and Thrust, forthcoming from Persea Books. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Harvard Review, Denver Quarterly, Black Warrior Review, Copper Nickel, Drunken Boat, and New American Writing. Her extended experimental poetry project can be found on Twitter and at her website, http://www.anneshaw.org. She is currently a student of the visual arts at the school of the Art Institute in Chicago. 
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