Push to Publish 2020 Interview: Alison Lewis

Alison Lewis

This year’s virtual Push to Publish Conference will include all of the great tips, trends, and connections that writers have gotten from this popular, in-person event—but now from the comfort of your home. Below, we talk with Alison Lewis, the editor-in-chief and publisher of Frayed Edge Press. Alison will be participating in Push to Publish as a speed date editor.

PS: Tell us a bit about your background and what you’re doing now.

AL: I’ve always been a voracious reader and have multiple English degrees. I’ve worked professionally as a librarian and a college professor, but I’m happy to be doing all publishing-related things now. At Parlew Associates, I help provide editorial and pre-press services for authors and publishers. I find it gratifying to fill in gaps for small presses that need extra help, and to aid authors in improving and professionalizing their work. As publisher and editor for literature at Frayed Edge Press, I’m excited to work directly with authors whose work we believe in, and to see their manuscripts grow into fully-formed books that they can be proud of.

PS: How did you get into publishing?

AL: I started out in publishing by helping out a friend who founded a small academic press. My background in English and attention to detail proved to be useful and I started getting paid for my work. In 2015, I co-founded a company to expand upon what I was already doing, and to provide services to other publishers and directly to authors. Three years later, we started Frayed Edge Press in order to publish the kinds of work we were most interested in.

PS: What trends are you seeing in the publishing industry?

AL: The dual trend of consolidation and expansion: fewer “big” publishers consolidated at the top, and more small presses, “indie” publishers, and self-publishing authors expanding at the bottom. The continued dominance of Amazon as a gatekeeper for publishing, while at the same time there is an increasing number of interesting alternatives to Amazon springing up. The saturation of the market and the ubiquity of electronic tools and the internet making pirating rampant both impact the ability of publishers and authors to be paid fairly for their work.

PS: How do you think the publishing industry has changed since the pandemic?

AL: We’re scrambling to find new ways of promoting books as in-person readings and author events are largely impossible right now. There has also been a negative impact in terms of bookstores and distributors losing business, or going out of business entirely. Many publishers have cut back on the number of titles published and/or slowed down their production schedules. On the more positive side, there’s still a healthy interest in reading and I’ve personally felt more of a need for reading as a means of “escape” these days. A lot of people stuck at home are in need of a good book!

PS: What do you think writers should avoid when approaching editors or agents?

AL: Avoid sending proposals for works that fall outside of our submission guidelines. When you send something that is in a genre we don’t publish, or that doesn’t meet the criteria for a particular series, you are wasting your time and ours. Avoid sending writing samples that haven’t been at least minimally proofread. No one expects a manuscript to be “perfect,” but multiple glaring errors show a lack of care and are a red flag for most editors and publishers.

PS: What other advice do you have for writers looking to get published?

AL: Be patient. Try to find the publisher that’s the right “fit” with your work. Know that rejection of your work is a necessary part of the business and often is reflective of factors other than its intrinsic merit. Keep writing, seek out helpful feedback, and continue to grow and improve as a writer.

 

Push to Publish 2020 Interview: Jackie Karneth

Jackie Karneth

This year’s virtual Push to Publish Conference will include all of the great tips, trends, and connections that writers have gotten from this popular, in-person event—but now from the comfort of your home. Below, we talk with Jackie Karneth, a literary publicist at Books Forward. Jackie will be speaking at the panel Marketing & Promotion for Authors.

PS: Tell us a bit about your background and what you’re doing now.

JK: I began working as a publicity assistant at JKS Communications, which has since rebranded as Books Forward to better reflect our company’s mission of elevating voices from a diverse community of authors. Now I’m working as a publicist, partnering directly with publishers and authors to promote books of all genres, including short stories and poetry.

PS: How did you get into publishing?

JK: I started my publishing journey early on, while in college. Originally, I’m from New Hampshire, and I always imagined going to a university in the Northeast before I discovered a unique publishing program for undergraduates being offered in Nashville. I joined the program and had the valuable opportunity to learn from industry professionals about every step in the publishing process, from writing a book to promoting it.

PS: What trends are you seeing in the publishing industry?

JK: Certain genres will of course have their moment in the spotlight with libraries and readers each year, with some genres peaking in popularity at unlikely times. Library Journal recently reported how, interestingly, horror and dark fiction is in very high demand at the moment. Some Barnes & Noble stores that had ditched their “Horror” sections reported that they plan on bringing them back, and new genre-specific imprints are being created to fill the demand. And as someone who just finished reading Carmen Maria Machado’s horror-memoir mashup “In the Dream House,” I definitely agree that the genre seems oddly appropriate for the time, as we’re all coping with, and learning from, our sense of fear.

PS: How do you think the publishing industry has changed since the pandemic?

JK: Some challenges lie in the fact that this fall will be a fully-booked publishing season, and large, traditional media outlets won’t be able to cover more books in light of the exceptional number of releases. While the competition is strong in that regard, there are also a lot of opportunities unique to this moment that are exciting and worth pursuing! Now is a good time to promote ebooks and audiobooks especially. Working on your social media presence, and focusing on interaction is also key. Launch celebrations are taking place virtually, of course, and virtual events with two authors in conversation are quite popular. Libraries have also been making the shift to virtual, and many now offer readers’ advisory programs, book clubs, and special events with authors through Facebook Live and other platforms.

PS: What other advice do you have for writers looking to get published?

JK: My advice would be to begin thinking about publicity early on in your publishing process. Every book is unique, and I believe that every book requires a unique publicity plan. In order to determine which approach will work best for you, take the time to weigh out your options and goals – both short term for this release and long term for your author brand. You should aim to set yourself up with a strong foundation to grow your brand and readership not only for your book’s release, but also for the months (and years!) to come.

 

Push to Publish 2020 Interview: Kelly Andrews

Kelly Andrews

This year’s virtual Push to Publish Conference will include all of the great tips, trends, and connections that writers have gotten from this popular, in-person event—but now from the comfort of your home. Below, we talk with Kelly Andrews, the editor-in-chief of Pretty Owl Poetry. Kelly will be participating in Push to Publish as a speed date editor.

PS: Tell us a bit about your background and what you’re doing now.

KA: I’ve worked in academic publishing for the last 10 years in various roles, including as an Assistant Managing Editor, a freelance copy editor, and a writing coach. I founded Pretty Owl Poetry in 2013 with two other editors who have since left the journal, and in the years since then we’ve grown to a staff of 8. My role for Pretty Owl is that of Editor in Chief and I oversee all aspects of the journal production and staff. In 2016, I received my MFA in poetry from the University of Pittsburgh. I currently work as a consulting editor for a nonpartisan public policy research firm.

PS: How did you get into publishing?

KA: For my undergrad, I studied Journalism, and I was very interested in working for the media as a reporter or editor. I thought this was the most practical way I could use my writing and editing skills. Before college, though, I had been studying poetry with Susanna Fry, a writer who was based in Philly for many years. With her encouragement, I took creative writing classes and really started to identify as a poet. After college, I took the first publishing job I was offered as an editorial assistant for a nonprofit and continued pursuing poetry in my spare time. This led to me pursuing an MFA in poetry from the University of Pittsburgh and starting Pretty Owl Poetry. I love the publishing industry and hope to continue working in it for as long as possible.

PS: What trends are you seeing in the publishing industry?

KA: There seems to be more acknowledgment of the need for diversity, equity, and inclusion in the publishing industry and a lot of journals and presses are taking the right steps to make this happen. We’re constantly evaluating our practices and thinking about the need for change within our own publication and hope this trend continues in others.

PS: How do you think the publishing industry has changed since the pandemic?

KA: The obvious change is the move to online platforms for things like poetry readings and workshops that would traditionally take place in person. I welcome this change as it’s allowed us to have more opportunities to feature writers all over the U.S. in online readings and I’ve had the personal opportunity to take classes with writers who I wouldn’t otherwise.

PS: What do you think writers should avoid when approaching editors or agents?

KA: The quality and fit of a person’s work will be the most important factor when an editor decides to accept or reject your submission. I would avoid trying to sell yourself when approaching an editor. Focus on the quality of the work you’re creating and this will be what leads you to successful publication.

PS: What other advice do you have for writers looking to get published?

KA: Read past issues of a journal before submitting your work. So many journals vary in style in what they accept. You want to make sure your work would fit in with that style before taking the time to prepare and send your submission.

 

Push to Publish 2020 Interview: K.L. Walther

K.L. Walther

This year’s virtual Push to Publish Conference will include all of the great tips, trends, and connections that writers have gotten from this popular, in-person event—but now from the comfort of your home. Below, we talk with K.L. Walther, the author of If We Were Us. Walther will be speaking at the panel The Publishing Journey of a Debut Author.

PS: Tell us a bit about your background and what you’re doing now.

KLW: I grew up in an old (but not haunted) farmhouse in Bucks County, Pennsylvania and am the oldest of three children. I played ice hockey from elementary school through college, and graduated from the University of Virginia. Right now, I am revising my second young adult novel and drafting my third!

PS: How did you get into publishing?

KLW: I have always loved to read, and took a creative writing class in college on a whim and discovered I had a passion for creating characters and telling their stories.

PS: What trends are you seeing in the publishing industry?

KLW: In the young adult genre, there is a true call for diverse characters and stories, and that makes it exciting for both writers and readers! Romantic comedies are also on the rise, since everyone loves a hopeful and feel- good story.

PS: How do you think the publishing industry has changed since the pandemic?

KLW: I know most editors are currently working remotely, along with book conferences and events being moved to virtual formats, so reaching readers has changed. Social media is now more important than ever. My own publisher does a wonderful job hosting Instagram takeovers and book clubs to spotlight our work.

PS: What do you think writers should avoid when approaching editors or agents?

KLW: Don’t immediately pitch your book when approaching an agent or editor in person at a conference. Play it cool. If you follow them on social media, or if you read an article about them, or read a book by one of their clients, those are great icebreakers. Pitch them your book when you are scheduled to pitch! If you weren’t able to get a slot, you can always query them later and then use your conversation as a way to personalize your letter. If you do have a pitch appointment, be prepared to talk about your book, and if you need a script, that’s okay! Agents and editors understand it can be nerve wracking. They will ask questions, but you can also use the opportunity to ask them your burning publishing questions too. They love talking about books and the industry, so take advantage of the face time.

PS: What other advice do you have for writers looking to get published?

KLW: You need discipline, tenacity, and a thick skin, since chances are, you will receive more rejections than requests. Be open to other viewpoints, directions, and perspectives. Don’t lose sight or be deterred from your goal! I know that sounds cliché, but if you really love your writing and believe in it, the hard work is worth it.

 

Push to Publish 2020 Interview: Gabriel Cleveland

Gabriel Cleveland

This year’s virtual Push to Publish Conference will include all of the great tips, trends, and connections that writers have gotten from this popular, in-person event—but now from the comfort of your home. Below, we talk with Gabriel Cleveland, the managing editor of CavanKerry Press. Gabriel will be speaking at the panel Publishing Opportunities for Poets.

PS: Tell us a bit about your background and what you’re doing now.

GC: I am a poet with an MFA in Creative Writing from Pine Manor College with years of service in the field of caregiving for people with increased physical and/or psychological needs and the current Managing Editor of CavanKerry Press.

PS: How did you get into publishing?

GC: After 5 post-grad years of trying and toiling in unrelated and aforementioned fields, I joined CavanKerry during a period of transition with a referral from the head of my MFA alma mater, working as an assistant to the other staff, especially Publisher Joan Cusack Handler. It has long been my pursuit to apply my studies practically, and I adopted the role with a fervency that allowed me to quickly take on more responsibilities, and… here we are!

PS: What trends are you seeing in the publishing industry?

GC: I don’t have a thorough answer for this. We are a tiny, independent, nonprofit press, so our scope is limited, but within our own organization, we have consistently pushed for community involvement and equity among readers, writers, and industry as a whole. With a mission of publishing work that is accessible and understandable to all adult readers, as well as a requirement that our authors give back to their community with multiple free outreach programs a year, we have been setting the bar higher and hoping to establish that trend in the wider publishing world.

PS: How do you think the publishing industry has changed since the pandemic?

GC: During the pandemic, obviously a lot has transitioned to digital and, where possible, publishers are pushing more virtual editions of their books, but it seems that physical books haven’t received the death knell that some expected. Rather, the pandemic has highlighted the resilience and innovation of the industry as a whole to serve their clientele with the emergence of new online retail outlets and more remote events.

PS: What do you think writers should avoid when approaching editors or agents?

GC: I can’t really speak to the agent side of things, but when approaching editors, I think writers should pay close attention to meeting the needs of the editor/publisher they are seeking to work with, while retaining their own voice. The English language is nothing if not full of cracks and made of rubber, and there’s a lot that can be accomplished within a publisher’s constraints to craft a work that presents the individual’s world in a genuine, tangible way. When working with an editor on a project that’s slated for publication, especially if that editor is established with the publisher who will be releasing the work, the writer should keep an open mind when receiving feedback. A good editor will sharpen the blade rather than seeking to replace it, and while the process can be a challenge, having the patience to consider the guidance of an editor as valid and possible for improving the work as a whole can really draw more poignancy out of a manuscript while remaining true to its initial intent.

PS: What other advice do you have for writers looking to get published?

GC: It’s trite, but read from a variety of presses to learn their aesthetics, as there’s no hard and fast rule for what the publishing world as a whole is looking for. That said, contrast in your manuscript is important. Sparks of light, hope, or humanity can make a bleak collection of work more palatable, while also making the depths of that collection that much more impactful. Likewise, a narrative devoid of struggle, pain, or obstacles will at the very least come off as unrealistic and at worst be seen as nothing more than fluff.

 

Push to Publish 2020 Interview: Lawrence Knorr

Lawrence Knorr

This year’s virtual Push to Publish Conference will include all of the great tips, trends, and connections that writers have gotten from this popular, in-person event—but now from the comfort of your home. Below, we talk with Lawrence Knorr, the founder and CEO of Sunbury Press. Lawrence will be participating in Push to Publish as a speed date editor and speaking at the panel Querying Your Book Without an Agent.

PS: Tell us a bit about your background and what you’re doing now.

LK: I am the founder and CEO of Sunbury Press, Inc. We have been in business for 16 years and have over 400 authors and 800 titles under managements. We publish in a variety of categories under 10 different imprints, producing paperback, hardcover, electronic, and audio books. Our books are sold worldwide.

PS: How did you get into publishing?

LK: I wanted to publish a family history and didn’t want to pay someone else to do it. I learned a lot of lessons along the way including that I loved publishing books.

PS: What trends are you seeing in the publishing industry?

LK: Audio is on the rise. Amazon is dominating more than ever.

PS: How do you think the publishing industry has changed since the pandemic?

LK: Independent bookstores are really struggling under COVID. EBooks have made a rebound, but Amazon is getting more of than revenue.

PS: What do you think writers should avoid when approaching editors or agents?

LK: Avoid being shy—get right to the point—have your elevator speech ready to go. Avoid presses or agents who do not represent your category. Avoid being disappointed when being rejected. Keep plugging away!

PS: What other advice do you have for writers looking to get published?

LK: Publishers have to perceive the book will sell well enough to cover costs and make a profit—though they sometimes invest in emerging authors whose second or third books might be the moneymakers. Authors remain at a disadvantage because of the sheer number of authors they are competing against. Try to limit that field by knowing how you fit in—find a way to stand out and be unique—or be like someone who sells really well.

 

An Incandescent Coming of Age

 

Erin Eileen Almond headshot

Erin Eileen Almond

 

— Former Philadelphia Stories Nonfiction Editor, Julia MacDonnell talks with Lanternfish Press author Erin Eileen Almond.

 

Erin Eileen Almond’s debut novel Witches’ Dance, just out from Philadelphia’s Lanternfish Press, is as riveting and intricate as the Paganini violin solo for which it is named. It’s one of those ‘curl up in a chair’ with tea or wine kind of books, the type the author herself, in a recent interview with Philadelphia Stories, said she loves to read.  Thanks to its trio of main characters, Witches’ Dance is rich and edgy, and interwoven with enough suspense and sex to keep the pages turning.

Hilda Greer is an incandescent teen-age violin prodigy, as passionate as she is confused, torn between her love of classical music and her desire to become a rock star via the heavy metal band Devil’s Advocate.

Her beautiful, narcissistic mother Claire is a dance teacher whose career as a ballerina was cut short by early motherhood.  Claire, who subsists on cigarettes, merlot, and a string of lovers, has raised Hilda alone after her jazz guitarist husband departed for the West Coast with one of his own young students.

Finally, there is Philip Manns, a virtuoso whose career as an internationally acclaimed violinist was ended by madness, in particular by an episode during which he believed that he’d become Paganini himself, the 19th century Italian virtuoso. Eventually Manns, reduced to teaching at the fictional Cambridge Conservatory, becomes Hilda’s teacher and mentor, with the alluring and troubled Claire forever hovering nearby.

In lustrous prose, and alternating among the points of view of Hilda, Claire, and Philip, Witches’ Dance ponders artistry and madness, and the tenacious if evanescent connections between creativity and insanity.  Its publication is the culmination of 10 years of hard work for Almond, a decade during which she not only rewrote the novel ‘from scratch at least three times,’ but also gave birth to her three children, the youngest now in first grade.  Not surprisingly, she put the novel down for ‘long stretches of time.’

“A more reasonable person might have just moved on to a different project at that point,” she says, “but I couldn’t seem to shake these characters and this story. I needed to write this book.”

Witches’ Dance reflects Almond’s own intense artistic journey, and her transformation from musician to writer.  She began playing violin in elementary school, switched as a teenager to heavy metal guitar, but, ever ‘obsessed with virtuosity’, returned to violin, eventually matriculating in violin at the Hartford Conservatory, planning a career as a performer and teacher.

“That experience was very eye-opening for me,” she said, “and essentially confirmed what I’d long suspected – that I just didn’t have the talent, or maybe even the confidence, to really go for it as a professional musician.” Hence, her creation of the unforgettable Hilda, whose labile emotions find their truest expression in the music she plays.

“The story really began with Hilda, my teenage prodigy…” who, Almond speculates, represents “my own grief at realizing that I would never be a professional violinist.”

Christine Neulieb, editorial director at Lanternfish Press said, “I was captivated by the character Hilda: the conflict between her fierce desire to be a rock star and her prodigious talent at classical violin; her strained relationship with her immature mother; the bewildering vortex of inspiration and insanity she encounters in her violin teacher. In the midst of all this she has to sort out where to pin her self-worth as she finally comes into her own. I was rooting for Hilda from page one.”

Almond recently answered some questions about her writing life, about her marriage to another writer, and about publication by a small independent house, Philadelphia’s Lanternfish Press.

 

JM: If Witches’ Dance is an indication, your knowledge and love of music is a major force in your life. When or how did you realize that writing, not music, would be the focus of your creative life?

EA: Music has definitely been a big part of my life for a long time! I started playing the violin in elementary school … and I studied it pretty seriously until I got to high school and gave it up for heavy metal guitar. (My parents were duly horrified.) But, even as a terrible lead guitarist for bands with names like The Virgin Saints, I was obsessed with virtuosity. And eventually that obsession led me back to the violin, because violinists – especially Paganini who was obviously a big inspiration for Witches’ Dance – were the original rock stars.

After I dropped out of the conservatory, I enrolled in classes at my local community college. And that experience was eye-opening for me in a different way, because although I’d always known that I wanted to write a novel, no one had told me that you could go to college to study fiction writing.

JM: When or how did you know that novel writing would be the best expression of your creativity – assuming, from the quality of Witches’ Dance, that it is? 

EA: Well, unless you count the terrible poetry that I was filling up notebooks with for most of my teen years, the novel was the first literary form that I ever tried to write. (I wish I could find and thank Donna Garden, my high school English teacher, who so sweetly read the chapters of my first novel attempt, ripped out of a spiral bound notebook, and encouraged me to keep going!) I adore short stories and poems and memoirs and essays, but I’m at my happiest as a reader when I’m engrossed in a long, complicated, and well-written novel. So, I always knew that, if I were trying to write the kind of book that I would most want to read, it would be a novel.

JM: When you first set out to write a novel, what did you think becoming a novelist would be like?  What do you think about it now that you have been published? Does the reality match the fantasy?

EA: Back in my earliest days of fantasizing about being a published novelist, I had a very old-fashioned sense of what it would mean to be putting books in the world. I assumed that it was the perfect profession for an introvert because I could just write the books and not worry about having to go out in the world and promote them. That would be someone else’s job. (You can stop laughing now.) But I realized that wasn’t the case long before I published Witches’ Dance.  Even though I’m still more comfortable alone in a room with my characters, than I am with public speaking, I’ve grown to love that part of it, too.

JM: How did you find the experience of submitting it to agents and publishers?  What can you tell us about Lanternfish Press?

EA: I was lucky in that I connected with my agent, Danielle Bukowski, of Sterling Lord Literistic pretty quickly. I found her online and submitted to her because she listed Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke as one of her favorite novels and it’s also one of my very favorites. Danielle really understood what I was up to in Witches’ Dance and was able to suggest some very smart revisions before she submitted it to editors at major publishing houses. But, even though it found a couple of editors who really loved it, those editors weren’t able to sell it to the marketing teams at their big houses.

At that point, since I had already started my second novel, Danielle and I talked about whether I was going to put Witches’ Dance on hold and maybe try to sell it as a second novel or submit to smaller independent publishers. And I’m so glad that I decided to search for an indie press because Lanternfish Press has been such a great home for Witches’ Dance. They’re interested in literary works that also includes elements of speculative or sci-fi fiction, and they’re not interested in playing it safe or mimicking the trends of the big presses. I’ve been super impressed with all of the books they put out and am so grateful that Witches’ Dance is in such good company.

JM: Can you tell us a little about your writing process – like, when do you write?  All on computer or some handwriting?  Do you share your drafts with other writers?  Who first gets to read your work in progress? 

EA: Well, I can give you my ideal process and then I can tell you what it’s really like on the ground… ideally, I would write every day, first thing in the morning, before my mind gets distracted by all the mundane logistical tasks that I have to deal with as a parent and homeowner. But, of course, before I can even sit down at my desk, there are three kids to get off to school and there are definitely days when, despite my best intentions, a kid stays home sick, or there’s a doctor’s appointment, or the car breaks down… But that’s the struggle for everyone, I think, even writers who aren’t parents have to figure out how to fit in their creative work in between the work that pays the bills and taking care of their loved ones. My guiding principal is to get to my fiction writing as early in the day as I can because by the time the kids go to bed at night I need to fill the well, and I’m only good for reading, not writing.

I do a lot of handwriting in journals when I’m developing an idea – that feels more conducive to the kind of loose, dreamy thought that works for me at that point in the process – but then I’ll move to my laptop when I’m ready to start composing scenes. I definitely outline before I begin, although that outline constantly morphs when I’m working on a first draft.

After Witches’ Dance, I swore that I wouldn’t show a novel draft to anyone until I had a first draft done, but then I almost immediately went back on that promise to myself early on in the process for my next novel. It’s just so hard to know that you’re on the right track once you get deep into a new project, and I’m really lucky to have a handful of writer friends whose opinions I trust and respect. Sometimes all you need is a little encouragement – yes, this is a viable project – and sometimes it helps to have someone point out an obvious flaw, early on, before you’ve spent four hundred pages writing yourself into a corner.

JM: Your husband Steve Almond, the original Dear Sugar, is a well-known writer of fiction and journalism.  What’s it like to live with another writer?

EA: Ha – how much time do you have? It’s amazing to be married to another writer because no one understands the struggle like someone else who’s in it, too. But it’s also difficult because we’ve often had to negotiate – this was especially the case when our older kids were babies – who gets to write and who has to be the support person holding down the fort with the house and the kids. And because Steve was (and still is) the more established writer, as well as the writer whose work actually pays our bills, I’ve often felt guilty about prioritizing my own, mostly unpaid, work. That’s changed a bit in the past couple of years – putting out my first novel, definitely helps, but I’ve also started taking on manuscript consulting and publishing non-fiction pieces, and so now I’m learning how to balance creative work with what Steve calls “money-work,” too.

We’ve also had to learn how to be good readers for each other – we’re constantly sharing and discussing our work – and that was harder for me in the early days because I had a much thinner skin. I’ve learned that, for me, it’s better to show Steve work when I’m pretty sure that it’s done, whereas he’s more comfortable letting me see his prose much earlier. But the overall dynamic between us is extremely supportive – we’re definitely each other’s biggest fans. And I know that when I’ve written something that Steve really likes that it’s got to be good, because he’s a tough critic, and he’s always given me his honest opinion.

JM: How do you manage all those amazing characters in your imagination with all those actual characters – a husband and three kids!! – in your home? Any tips on how to shut off the creative flow and transition from writing fiction into being a mom?

Well, I would say that, for me, the difficulty is the other way around – it’s much harder to shut off the mom-brain and focus on my characters and my creative work! I mean, the kids’ needs (and sometimes the husband’s – ha!) are so immediate and tangible, whereas the characters, well, let’s just say that no one’s going to starve if I don’t make it to my writing desk on any given day. That’s another reason why I really try to prioritize doing my creative work as early in the day as possible, because once I’m ticking through items on my to-do list, it’s really hard to shut that off and connect to those dear people who exist only in my imagination.

But there are practical reasons to prioritize creative work, too – because I’m much more pleasant to be around when I’m working on my fiction. That is a real, tangible need, for me, at least, to feel creatively alive and effective in that way. And when I feel that I’m neglecting that part of myself I can become irritable and short-tempered and just, in general, unpleasant to be around. So, in a way, making sure I have time to do the creative work that feeds my soul also makes me a better parent and partner.

JM: What do you hope readers will take away from reading Witches’ Dance?

EA: I hope that readers will come away from the book curious about classical music – if they don’t love that music already! – and also of course, the violin, which is one of the reasons why I included a list of recommended recordings at the end for all of the major pieces mentioned in the book. I also hope readers appreciate the complexity of what all my main characters are up against: Hilda, in her quest to establish her own artistic identity, Phillip, in his struggle with the double burden of virtuosity and madness, and Claire with her maternal ambivalence and broken dreams.

JM: What do you love (are most proud of; most satisfied with) about your debut novel Witches’ Dance?

EA: The best part of the whole experience of putting Witches’ Dance into the world has been to connect with readers. There were many moments when I doubted it would ever see the light of day as a published book. Not because I didn’t think it was worthy of being published, but because I have enough writer friends to know how subjective the gatekeepers often are, and how difficult the publishing process can be. It’s very, very satisfying now to hear from readers who’ve enjoyed Witches’ Dance and who connect to the characters and their struggles.


Witches Dance Cover image

 

Excerpt From Witches’ Dance by Erin Eileen Almond

Paganini. What do you think when you hear that name? If you know classical music, if you’re lucky enough to be a fan of the violin, you might think of the Italian virtuoso Niccolò Paganini (1782–1840), widely recognized as the father of modern violin technique. You might know that Paganini was the first instrumentalist to tour widely as a solo act. You might have heard the legends about how he sold his soul to the devil. Or how, mischievously fueling those rumors, Paganini arrived for his concerts in funeral carriages, dressed all in black. None other than Goethe saw Paganini perform in Hamburg in 1828 and swore he saw a little man standing in the shadows to the left of the violinist, directing his fingers and bow. But because you belong to the modern age, an age in which devils have become passé, or at least predictable, it’s possible you prefer a scientific explanation for Paganini’s ability to play three octaves across four strings in a single hand span. Well. There’s always Marfan Syndrome, a genetic disorder that often afflicts its sufferers with long fingers and extreme flexibility.

But say you are none of these things. Not a twenty-first-century reader, not a casual admirer of the violin. Say, instead, that you are Phillip Manns, a twenty-three-year-old savant about to solo with the Boston Symphony Orchestra. Say you are at the end of a long tour, run-down, ready to return to New York with your manager, Anna Zedzevsky, for a well-earned rest. Say you hate the guest conductor, Georg Domini, an arrogant prig who interprets according to whim and who wears entirely too much product in his hair. Say that tonight’s program is Paganini’s Concerto no. 1 in D Major, and you are considered the world’s greatest interpreter of Paganini.

In that case, the year must be 1984. And although your given name is Phillip Manns, you must believe, despite how crazy it sounds, that you are Niccolò Paganini, or at least his reincarnation. It is your greatest pride, and your greatest secret—you’ve told only your manager, and she’s warned you not to tell another soul.

 

 

Interview: Steve Almond

Steve Almond pic

Steve Almond, the author of nine books of fiction and nonfiction, and a slew of DIY books with varied subjects, served as the final judge of Philadelphia Stories’ 2011 Marguerite McGlinn national fiction contest and was keynote speaker for that year’s Push to Publish conference.  The prolific Almond describes himself many different ways: ‘troublemaker’ and ‘American freak’ on his website; ‘heartbroken lefty’ and ‘failed novelist’ in lectures and conversations. His self-branding suggests a writer determined to chart his own path – and a look at his ever-growing oeuvre confirms the suspicion. Those familiar only with Almond’s prize-winning short story collections, God Bless America and The Evil B.B. Chow, might not realize the breadth of his work, which ranges from the exquisitely literary to the overtly political and profane. His publishers have included big profit-makers and small indies, among them Random House, Algonquin, Grove Press, Mariner Books, Melville House, Lookout Books and now, for Bad Stories, Red Hen Press, a stellar not-for-profit indie based in Pasadena.

In the early years of his career, he originated an advice column called Dear Sugar for Stephen Elliott’s The Rumpus.  He handed it off a few years later to his friend Cheryl Strayed.  This was before the monumental success of her memoir Wild.  Almond and Strayed, ‘great pals,’ have since created the ‘radically empathic’ podcast Dear Sugars and, based upon it, The Sweet Spot column in the New York Times.  Connecting this work to his other writing, Almond says, “When we tell bad stories, we get bad outcomes, whether in our personal or political life.”

Almond, one of three sons of two psychiatrists, grew up in northern California but moved east for college (Wesleyan) and has stayed east ever since. These days he lives just outside Boston with his wife, the writer Erin Almond, and their three young children. He insists he has never had a master plan for his career. “I’m just trying to tell the truth about the stuff that matters to me the most deeply,” he said. “Most days I think of myself as a failed novelist. But it’s probably more accurate, and merciful, to say that I’m a short story writer who avoids writing novels by chasing his obsessions.

He recently answered a few questions for Philadelphia Stories:

PS: What compelled you to write Bad Stories instead of a million other things you could write have written about after Against Football?

SA: I come from a family that has always been politically active. My grandparents were members of the Communist Party. My parents were activists in the civil rights and peace movements. I was raised to believe that we have a moral duty to fight for social justice. Literature does that work, by enlarging our moral imaginations. But the 2016 election revealed a darkness in this country that terrified and confused me, and it was one that I had to try to understand before I could move on. In that sense, I really didn’t choose to write Bad Stories. The book chose me.

PS: What have you learned during your cross-country tour in support of the book?

SA: Mostly that citizens of good faith are much less interested in how we got into this mess and much more fixated on the question, “Who’s going to save us?” My response is to say, as gently as I can, “Hey, stop expecting other people to save us. The point of the book is that we’re going to have to save us.” I wrote the book so people would understand the forces that led to the 2016 election, and thereby feel less confused and distressed. But we’re living in an historical moment where the news cycle is so full of corruption and cruelty that people are in this state of perpetual distress and exhaustion. What’s really happening is a struggle of faith. People need to recognize that the fate of American democracy depends on them becoming active as citizens, giving time and money and passion to candidates and causes devoted to social and electoral justice. That requires people to shoulder the burden of hope, to believe they can make a difference.

PS: What has given you hope since the book’s publication?

SA: The idea that some Americans have responded by refusing to lose faith, and by converting their anguish into action. I’m thinking of the teachers in Arizona and West Virginia and Oklahoma who organized and demanded a livable wage. And the teenagers in Parkland who stood up and demanded that politicians be held accountable for supporting the gun lobby. And the huge numbers of citizens who have become more politically active, whether by running for office or simply getting off their couches and taking action.

PS: Which of the bad stories has continued to play out most vividly since the book’s publication?

SA: The bad story that the Cold War Is Over and We Won, I guess. It’s become obvious that Putin controls our president, inasmuch as our president can be controlled. Putin saw that America was vulnerable to bad stories. He saw that our democracy was fundamentally much weaker than we ever realized. Our media was so driven by profit that they could be enlisted to act as his press agents in smearing Clinton, that right wing media would also spread his propaganda, and that Americans were so apathetic that barely half of them would bother to vote. This is putting aside the revelations of attempted collusion and criminal conduct. Putin could see that Americans had grown lazy and disinterested, that millions had been indoctrinated by propaganda, that they would vote for a demagogue out of blind tribal loyalty and/or misogyny and/or racial resentment and/or gullibility. He saw the American empire as far more vulnerable than we did. He was right. That should trouble us more than the collusion itself.

PS: What can concerned readers of your book do to make things better?  What should they read or listen to?

SA: I’d recommend changing your media diet, both for your mental health and so that you’re not supporting those programs that convert news into entertainment. Support organizations such as ProPublica and the New Yorker that do in-depth reporting on what the current administration is doing to place corporate interests above human interests. Stop watching the shows that feature pundits yelling at each other and focus on the voices that help connect the dots between corrupt business and corrupt government. And more than anything, take some kind of action rather than simply complaining to like-minded folk. For me, this has meant doing house readings and fundraising workshops. There’s no shortage, in terms of what we can do. And we should, because our kids and grandkids will want to know what we did.

 

Julia MacDonnell (Chang) has lived many lives, among them, urban homesteader, circus performer, modern dancer, waitress, anti-war activist, newspaper reporter, college professor, and ‘gluer’ of velvet boxes on a production line in a rosary bead factory. MacDonnell’s second novel, Mimi Malloy, At Last!, was published by Picador in 2014, and chosen as an Indie Next selection by the A.B.A.  It was released in paperback in 2015. Her first novel, A Year of Favor, was published by William Morrow & Co.  Her stories and essays have appeared in Ruminate, Alaska Quarterly Review, North Dakota Quarterly and many other publications. She is the former nonfiction editor of Philadelphia Stories.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

An Interview with Philadelphia Writer Larry Loebell

LoebellPhiladelphia writer Larry Loebell, who placed third in Philadelphia Stories’ 2015 Marguerite McGlinn Fiction Award for his story 49 Seconds in the Box, has just published a collection of novellas. Titled Seven Steps Ahead, it is his second collection of stories in as many years. In a recent interview, Loebell described these works of fiction “as a total DIY project,” despite the many accolades he has earned during his long career as a playwright, a screenwriter, a dramaturg and a teacher of dramatic writing at both the University of the Arts and Arcadia University.

Loebell is a four-time recipient of the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts Playwriting Fellowship, and a 2006 recipient of a new play commission from the National Foundation for Jewish Culture. For more than a decade he has been writing a play called Living News which is performed during the school year at the National Constitution Center.

Loebell has just finished a novel, Tough Girl in the Jam, set in the world of professional roller derby.  He has also written and directed a low budget feature film, Dostoyevsky Man, loosely based on Notes from Underground which was a “Fringe First” in the 2012 Philadelphia Fringe Festival.  His full-length plays include  Pride of the Lion; Memorial DayThe Ballad of John Wesley Reed, which was premiered by Theatre Catalyst in Philadelphia; Girl Science, a featured play at the first Earth Matters on Stage Festival in Arcata, California; and La Tempestad, produced at the Ohio Theater in New York City. La Tempestad is also anthologized in Playing with Canons: Explosive New Works from Literature by America’s Indie Playwrights. Among Loebell’s career highlights are a “Best New Play” Barrymore Award nomination for House Divided.

How do you describe your new collection of novellas? Who should read it?

Seven Steps Ahead is a set of love stories, though not all of the happily-ever-after variety. As far as who should read it, Seven Steps Ahead is adult fiction. The characters include a former hippie medical doctor, a sixties radical hiding in the underground, a chess playing open marriage/polyamory advocate, and an actor turned folk singer. All of the stories are about the coincidences that lead people into relationships, and the forces that threaten them.

Why the novella instead of the short story? Or the novel, for that matter? What is it about the form that appealed to you?

One answer is that I was working my way up to a novel. I put out a book of short stories (The Abundance League) in 2016. The novellas came next. I needed to write novellas to convince myself I could sustain the longer form. But there is another answer. I really love the form. It’s a comfortable length for me, and I suspect I will return to it. There’s enough room to stretch out, but there’s also the requirement to be efficient. With the novella, the challenge is to tell a story that’s as expansive as a novel, but in a shorter form.

You have written in many forms, including for the animated program Rugrats. Which form is your favorite? Which is the most challenging?

My favorite is always the thing I’m working on at the moment. I’m really loving writing fiction right now. Rugrats was a sort of fluke in my writing career, a kind of one-off gift. It’s fun to be associated with something that so many people have seen, but it’s hardly the most important thing I’ve done. I’ve been writing a character-driven museum stage show for the past twelve years for the National Constitution Center about the human impact of Constitutional issues. Tens of thousands of people have seen that show, compared to the probably millions who have seen Rugrats on TV. Smaller numbers have seen my plays or read my fiction. Very different challenges, and very different rewards. But sitting at my desk while I am working, I experience similar levels of agita and pleasure trying to make whatever I’m writing work. I despise every project equally when I am struggling, and love each one unequivocally when I’ve completed it to my satisfaction. I feel lucky to have had as long and varied a career as I have had.

How does your long career in dramatic writing and dramaturgy impact your fiction?

Several of my plays and some of my fiction are based at least in part on actual events and therefore require looking at the facts behind those events. My entire dramaturg career involved working with living playwrights on new plays. One part of that job was helping playwrights with research. Another part was essentially editorial, diving into the text and asking questions about character, plot, and themes. Being a dramaturg taught me to ask those questions of myself.

Formally, playwriting has certain challenges that are different than fiction writing. There’s no omniscience on stage, for instance. Depending on the narrative style, in fiction a writer might have expanded options. But formal problems have always seemed to me to be simply puzzles to solve. The harder issues are creating worthy characters and stories, revving them up, and getting good conflicts going. That is pretty much the necessity in every story-telling form. I suppose it’s fair to say that since playwriting preceded writing fiction for me, the impact is that I learned how to do those things first writing drama.

When you get an idea for a story, how do you know what form it will end up in? Do you know before you begin writing?

In the years when I was most actively writing plays, I thought as a playwright, and my stories formed around the formalities and limitations of stage writing. Now that I am writing fiction pretty much exclusively, I am thinking about how my stories and characters activate in fictional forms. I feel this is a sort of necessity. To move forward, I have to know something about the genre I am going forward in. So, I suppose the answer to the question of whether I know the form before I start writing is: yes. But I will tell you that the novel I have just finished started life as a play. For many reasons, it was very unlikely to get produced (very large cast, difficult technical requirements) so it made sense to me to write the second draft as a novel. It feels much stronger to me as a novel than it ever did as a play.

Why do you write?

The answer to this question at this point in my life is different than it was when I was younger. When I was younger, I wrote with a kind of mission. I thought I had things to say that were important, and I was interested in a career as a writer with all of the things that brought: engagement with an artistic and literary community, an audience, and perhaps having enough renown to earn a living at it. So, when I was younger, in addition to liking to write, I wrote with some idea of personal and worldly utility in mind. These days, I write because I write. I don’t choose it or un-choose it. It is simply what I do. It is part of my life’s order. I get up in the morning, I walk my dogs, I eat breakfast, and when I finish, I go to my desk and write. I have made some promises to myself about the amount of work I want to finish over time. But I am not driven by those earlier expectations anymore. Why do I write? I guess the answer is I like it. I think it’s hard to keep at it as long as I have if you don’t.

What advice do you have for beginning writers?

The most useful advice I have to offer is really the same advice I got from my best teachers: Write all you can. Try not to get discouraged when it isn’t going well. Kick all the censors out of your head, especially the ones you feel you might have to answer to: parents, family members, partners, lovers. Read a lot. Don’t fetter your imagination by worrying about what should or should not be your subject or your voice. Do your due-diligence when you research. Abandon research before it overwhelms you. Write what you imagine, not what you know.

Seven Steps Ahead is an Amazon publication. Why did you go this route? How has it worked out for you? Would you recommend it to other writers?

One of the reasons I stopped writing for theater is that I am very impatient. I want the road between finishing something and having it out in the world to be a straight line. Theater is slow, and often convoluted. The process of getting a play on stage at a professional theater can be excruciating – going through a development process, waiting for acceptances by theater companies, waiting through the casting and rehearsal process – and I say this having had five of my full-length plays produced within a year or so of their completion. Early in my theater career, I self-produced two shows. I did this because I was impatient, but also because I wanted to understand the process. I learned a great deal doing that, not just about the business side of theater, but also about what lands and what doesn’t when you’re writing for stage. I learned about audience reaction, about the role and job of critics, and about why some playwrights say no play is every finished. I loved the scrappy company of actors and technical folks I put together to do those pieces.

If I had been younger when I returned to fiction I might have gone a more traditional route getting my work published.   There is a real value in having organizational support, though my well-published friends tell me that book publishers are doing a lot less in the way of support than they used to. My later plays were all produced by Equity companies with decent budgets and marketing people, which meant that more people saw them, more critics wrote about them, there was a more significant response.

But I’m pretty sure that only the luckiest or the most blessed writers get book deals at sixty-five years old, which is how old I was when I published The Abundance League. I was not really all that excited about waiting around to see if I was among their number. I wasn’t sure, when I published my story collection how it would do with readers or critics. Because I had the skills and tools to publish it myself (and I didn’t really want to risk any money) I used Create Space to produce the book and then published through Amazon (under the Blue Footed Books imprimatur.) I know there are people who have big issues with Amazon. But it cost me nothing to produce the book. I knew that sales would be modest, though I have to say that the collection exceeded my expectations. It and the novellas are pure DIY projects.

What is your next project?

The novel that I am finishing is set in the world of women’s professional roller derby and is about sacrifice.

 

Julia MacDonnell (Chang) has lived many lives, among them, urban homesteader, circus performer, modern dancer, waitress, anti-war activist, newspaper reporter, college professor, and ‘gluer’ of velvet boxes on a production line in a rosary bead factory. MacDonnell’s second novel, Mimi Malloy, At Last!, was published by Picador in 2014, and chosen as an Indie Next selection by the A.B.A.  It was released in paperback in 2015. Her first novel, A Year of Favor, was published by William Morrow & Co.  Her stories and essays have appeared in Ruminate, Alaska Quarterly Review, North Dakota Quarterly and many other publications. She is the former nonfiction editor of Philadelphia Stories.

 

Molly Peacock Interview

Interview Introduction:

Molly Peacock Low RezThe astonishing literary life of multi-genre writer Molly Peacock proves that creativity can do better than survive the meager soil of its birth:  It can go on to flourish, restless and varied, finding and, when necessary, generating its own nourishment, even amid the noise and violence of contemporary life. Peacock’s new poetry collection, The Analyst, her seventh, just published by W.W. Norton, explores her 40-year long relationship with her psychoanalyst, one that began when Peacock, in her early 20s, fearful and floundering, arrived in New York City to begin her career as a writer and teacher.  Her analyst’s stroke at 77, and the analyst’s subsequent loss of memory and language, but her pivot toward painting as a means of self-expression, triggered Peacock’s collection.  With exquisite lyricism, stunning imagery, and sly wit – the hallmarks of Peacock’s oeuvre – The Analyst offers a luminous meditation on their rare and ever-evolving relationship.

 

Among other accolades, Oprah Magazine has just chosen The Analyst as a ‘must read’ book for 2017, noting its ‘bittersweet pleasures’ and the way that Peacock, in its 100 pages, brings readers “into the consulting room with her— first supine on the couch, then free to sit up and face the analyst, not as a patient but as one person to another.”

 

Peacock Norton Analyst coverThe Analyst is Peacock’s 11th book, but demanding attention too are the deep resonant pleasures of her memoir, Paradise Piece by Piece, first published in 1998, and perhaps more relevant today.  (Available now as an eBook.)  Peacock describes it as a memoir of her decision to remain childless, but I (having read it many times and taught it in graduate classes on the memoir) see it as a gutsy portrait of the artist as a young woman, in the crazy swirl of ‘60s and ‘70s, finding her way out of a dysfunctional (and at time violent) working class family and into international recognition as a woman of letters. It is also, by the way, a delicious recounting of her love story with her husband Michael Groden, a James Joyce scholar and author, (Ulysses in Focus; Ulysses in Progress) now a distinguished professor emeritus at Western University in London, Ontario.  They’d first connected in junior high, but did not see each other for decades, not until after Peacock’s own first successes and Groden’s emigration to Canada.

 

Peacock, who has edited The Best Canadian Poets in English Series since 2008, recently published two other books of prose, notable not just for the originality of their contents, but also for the beauty of the books themselves:

 

The Paper Garden:  An Artist Begins her Life’s Work at 72 (Bloomsbury 2012) recounts how Mary Delany, back in 1772, hurled herself out of grief over her second husband’s death, by creating a new art form: mixed-media collage. Over the next decade, Mrs. Delany produced 985 botanically correct, breathtaking cut-paper flowers that are now housed in the British Museum. The book contains thirty-five full-color illustrations of them. A New York Times book review said Delany’s story ‘abounds with energy as Peacock brings her alive. Like her glorious multilayered collages, Delany is so vivid a character she almost jumps from the page.’

 

The other is Alphabetique: 26 Characteristic Fictions (McClelland and Stewart, 2014) in which Peacock writes flash fictions for the letters of the alphabet, creating personas, provocative and droll, for each.  These magical stories are accompanied by stunningly vivid collages by the artist Kara Kosaka, with whom she collaborated on the book, so that words and images have a lovely, fairy-tale like synergy.  Upon publication, Amazon called it ‘the most gorgeous gift book of the season.’

 

Interview:

Recently, after a launch for The Analyst at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, Peacock, who will serve as Poet Laureate at the West Chester Poetry Conference in West Chester, June 8-10, generously agreed to an in-depth electronic interview.

 

Your career has been long and varied as poet, memoirist, performance artist, editor, teacher and advocate for the importance of literature in daily life. What has surprised you most about your own career?

 

What has surprised me most is the variety itself. In my twenties, I only wanted to write poetry.  But as I went on in life—could you say, as I grew up?—and lived both in Canada and in the United States, I discovered that I had a much more restless imagination.

 

Having created a particular and lovely niche for yourself in American letters,  I’m wondering if you started out with a goal or a grand scheme of how you wanted your writing life to turn out.  Are you surprised by where you’ve ended up?  

 

There’s that word “surprise” again!  Yes, I had a grand scheme at age 30: five or six  books of poetry, and maybe a book or two of short stories.  That seemed like a lifetime of writing to me, a working class girl with a full time job. But the creation of a life is very much like the creation of a poem.  You turn within your limits, and you discover connections you never thought were there.

 

How about a botanical explanation?  Plants have dormant nodes  on their stems, and that allows them to respond to changes in environment.  Change or damage to one part?  Then another part starts to grow.  And I think that’s what happened to me.

 

Each time my creativity began to shift, I panicked.  Each shift threw me back into psychotherapy. Was I destroying myself as a poet when I began to write prose?  Wrecking my career when I moved to Canada?  Abandoning my writing when I performed in The Shimmering Verge, a one-woman show?  Bewildering my audience when I started writing about late-life creativity in The Paper Garden.  Now, at my age, almost 70, I see how they are all part of the same tapestry. The examined life helps create the artist’s life.

 

Can you pinpoint a couple of pivotal moments that moved you in your writing from one place to another?  (i.e. maybe the move to Canada?  Your marriage?) And tell us why you think it happened?

 

My binational life definitely inspired my memoir.  To marry, at 45, my very first serious boyfriend from high school, then to move to another country, Canada, where he had emigrated, suddenly gave me a kind of quiet time.  In my husband’s house in London, Ontario, I began to teach myself how to write prose.  My marriage forced the issue of children.  But I had chosen not to have children, even to the point of having a tubal ligation.  With the time to write, and the reason to write (since my then-new husband agreed with my choice) led me to the memoir.

 

In Canada, many authors write both poetry and prose.  We have lots of models for viewing ourselves in a more protean way.

 

After years of being married to Michael, and observing him as he tracked down scholarly clues—something of no interest to that 30 year-old young woman who only wanted to write poetry—I decided that facts and metaphor could comfortably live side by side. This led me to dare to write biography.  Having a world-class researcher available for 24/7 queries (and soothing my daily nervous breakdowns in frustration at the world of information) also helped!

 

Your memoir, Paradise, Piece by Piece, tells the story of a young woman transcending her highly dysfunctional family to become, at an early age, its sole survivor.  How did the writing of this book impact the other parts of your writing life?  

 

What amazes me is that Paradise, Piece by Piece is still so meaningful to readers.  My memoir made me realize that my so-called chosen life was the result of social forces.  As a younger writer, I wrote about my own life.  Understanding that my life had a shape led me to a deep interest in the shapes of the lives of others.  This propelled me toward biography.  I have to mention my Fellowship from the Leon Levy Center for Biography at the CUNY Graduate Center in New York.  That year to write and learn was a life-changer for me, and, posthumously, for Mrs. Delany, the amazing woman who invented collage at the age of 72 in 1772.

 

The Analyst seems to me to be a return to your work as a more traditional poet after the successes of Alphabetique and The Paper Garden.  How long were you working on it?  When did you conceptualize it?

 

My long-time therapist had a stroke in 2012 and closed her practice.  Though I had finished our time of analysis, we had check-in appointments for decades and were very close.  When I thought she would die, and that I would never see her again, I was catapulted into a strange grief-with-gratitude state.  Poems poured out of me.  But she survived!  Her memory was blasted, though, and she reached out to a me that had existed years before, in the recesses of her long-term memory.  We began a new post-therapy relationship.  I then had the privilege of watching the person who helped me claim my life as a writer reclaim her own life—through painting.  She cannot read.  She had to relearn what a key was, to relearn how to lock a door!  But those nodes of growth I was talking about worked for her.  Her girlhood talent for painting has rescued her.  The minute she got out of the hospital she began to draw.  And draw away from her previous life.  And draw herself into her coda.  I wrote the poems obsessively from 2012 to 2015.  And then, as it became clear that I had to return to my life, and that she had made a small, peculiar, but vital life for herself with a lot of professional and family help, I stopped, and realized I had a book.

 

In general, how does a poem, or any other new work, begin for you? Can you describe, briefly, your writing process?

 

I am writing all the time, either in my head, or on paper.  New ideas burgeon, and they are kind of in the back of my mind.  I am relaxed about this.  I know new ideas will come.  It’s one of the pleasures of a long life of writing.

 

What success has been most meaningful to you?  

 

My greatest successes are my relationships.  I have a remarkable forty-two-year friendship with the poet Phillis Levin (Mr. Memory and Other Poems; May Day).  We have seen every poem the other has written over all this time.  My relationship with my husband began when we were thirteen years old.  We are able to keep great solitudes in our marriage, solitudes that hold our creativity apart, yet hold our personalities together. My relationship with my former analyst began when I was 26 and continues, despite her stroke and move across the country, to this day.  I can barely define it, even though I wrote a whole book of poems about it. These relationships feel like art to me.  In each one we are, together, writing the book of two strangers becoming more and more familiar.  Yes, I am thrilled by each writing success as it happens.  And probably the New York Times Book Review of my second book of poetry, Raw Heaven, is the most significant success.  That landed me on the map of contemporary American letters, and from then I have had a place.  But my ever-changing relationships, with growth rings for their years of development, are like great trees in my life.

 

How do you juggle (balance) your dual citizenship?  Has Canada given you something that the United States did not?

 

I speak here as a dual citizen: Canada supports me in a way unknown to American writers.  There are many different sorts of grants, for one thing, but, vaster, Canada is a deeply literate country.  School teachers are paid as well as professors.  It does not cost a fortune for a great university education.  The CBC, where people still speak in paragraphs, is a national government-run enterprise, lifting the level of discourse daily.  Every day in The Globe and Mail there is a personal essay by a Canadian citizen.  On the subway you might see poor people, but you do not see people in need of health care.  It is a nation that, whatever its problems, subscribes to the notion that we must take care of one another.  My husband, a nine-time cancer survivor, is alive because of the Canadian health care system.  I am in awe of my good fortune in Canada.

 

And yet…

 

I am equally an American.  It is the place I was born, and New York City, the place where I came of age as a writer, still draws and excites me.  There is a self-starter mentality that I love—it helped propel me through my life.  I always get new ideas the minute the plane lands.  My mother the small businesswoman, my grandfather the general store owner—their bootstrap stories are a deep part of my history, as well as the working class alcoholism and drug addiction that plagued my father and sister.  Each year my husband and I teach at the 92St Y Unterberg Poetry Center in February and March, and we are always thrilled to be back among our friends in New York.  It’s an almost cellular response.

 

I vote in both countries and I work hard to support my candidates.  I exist both in a flexible parliamentary system, and with the strange inflexibility of the electoral college.  I would say that the United States is the country of my youth.  But Canada is the country of my age—and, perhaps, my wisdom.

 

Advice for young writers?

 

Yes, you have the time to write.  Yes, you can write with a full time job, sick parents, a puking dog and children with head lice.  I dare you to write fourteen lines of poetry or prose in 45 minutes.  Just about everyone has 45 minutes in a day:  15 minutes in the morning and 30 minutes at lunch.  Women!  Keep your writing in your purse.  Don’t reach for that brochure in your dentist’s office waiting room:  read your favorite writer—you.  Get out those drafts  from your bag and revel in your own ideas.  That will get you to the next line, the next sentence.

 

What can we expect next from Molly Peacock?

 

I’m working on The Flower Diary, a biography of an amazing floral still life painter, Mary Hiester Reid, born in Reading, PA.  She attended the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, met and married a Canadian painter, ran away to Europe with him, then returned to his home in Toronto to make a career.   A married artist!  And binational…. Do I hear an echo?

 

From The Analyst by Molly Peacock, published by W.W. Norton and Company

  

THE ANALYST DRAWS

 

Two days after your stroke, they hold out the crayon
you vigorously reject.  Four days on

without language,
you do what you loved before language:

pick up a pencil and draw.
“Do you know how much raw

rejection you take?” you asked me
one of the times we thought we’d ended therapy,

then said your Radcliffe professor taught
your studio class: all drawing is thought.

But to you, abstraction was lying.
All you did was draw your father failing,

then dying. So when that man stalked to your easel
to deliver his raking critique,  you walked

away from the studio—not to touch
a brush for 30 years.  Brushes

you exchanged for words,
drawing from what you heard,

the lines of your patients’ inner lives, teasing
out patterns for the easing

of the raking, no, aching you saw.
So draw,

as I was drawn to you
as you drew me to you,

till I could walk away
as you now draw away.