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!

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