Writing Process Blog Tour

Thanks to Jessica Goodfellow for tagging me in this!

1.  What are you working on? 
I’m still working on getting my full-length manuscript, Swallow Tongue, published. It’s been through several iterations of edits, offered publication once, and made it to two semi-finalist spots on prestigious contests, but hasn’t found its home yet. I will probably be revising it once again around May to submit to another round of contests. I am also working on a group of “wife” poems that if they don’t make it into the first manuscript will definitely work well in a manuscript of their own.
 2. How does your work differ from others of its genre?
I know of at least several poets that adapt Roman myths to a modern context, and/or re-write them, but I also throw in a couple of fairy tale re-writes and poems with their own mythicisms.
3. Why do you write what you do?
Because I can’t write anything else. Because they’re my obsessions.
4. How does your writing process work?
Right now, my process is all fits and starts. I tackled a poem-a-day in November, which was huge, but haven’t written much of a word since. My job sucks up a lot of my time, and since I’m at a new place, I’m still in the adjustment period. Once the summer comes and I can breathe, I’m looking forward to reconnecting with a process and having a good plan for how I will tackle the next year.
Two other poets will be nominated to do this. Coming soon!

Why having a book published makes me extremely comfortable

I’m an introvert with a constructed extroverted facade. I teach by profession, so I’m out there, dynamic, loud, but constantly practicing breathing techniques to get over my anxiety of talking in front of a group or person or people I don’t know intimately, and that anxiety hasn’t gone away, even though this is my sixth year teaching (and I’ve taught little people all the way up to college age).

I also can’t stand talking or being talked to constantly. I need pauses, breaks, silences. When I switched from working one-on-one and small groups to a traditional classroom setting, for the first several months I drove to work in the morning with the radio off to prepare myself for the dayThere is so much talking and noise during learning, and it’s good and necessary, but my auditory mind needed stationary rest before all of that. Now, I’ve built a enough tolerance that I can talk on the phone with a close friend or listen to a podcast or audiobook.

So, when people started telling me, “I bought your chapbook!”I internally recoiled. The attention! The questions! The compliments! All of it, uncomfortable. Writing has felt like a very private act, one in which I might let people privy to in blog posts or my own descriptions. But when the element of anyone anywhere being able to get my tangible work in their very hands, my automatic response was recoil, don’t bring it up, don’t talk about it, say “thank you” through gritted teeth, do the necessary grunt work of posting announcements and maybe even doing a reading, but that’s really enough. If it’s like this for me in a chapbook with a small print run, I can’t imagine how awful it’d feel for me if I was publishing something..big.

But one of my deepest wishes since third grade was that I’d publish a book some day, and here I have it, and here several copies loll on a shelf reminding me of my imperfections, natural quietness, and sense of being pinned and scoped when I’m suddenly the focus of attention.

This is all a process. I imagine with some time, it’ll be easier, and many who love me have been gently pushing me to do things like a reading, like fill out some paperwork so a few copies will be sold at a local bookstore, like continue to send out my full-length. For now, I have this tiny chapbook with a lovely cover that is solely mine.

Objects in motion stay in motion

I’ve been thinking the last few weeks that though I’ve felt absent from my writing life, my writing life has not been absent from me.


-my chapbook came out, and I finally got to hold it in my hands.

-people I love bought it and sent me pictures of them holding it in their hands.

-my full-length (Swallow Tongue) was a semifinalist for the 2014 Crab Orchard Series in Poetry Open Competition Awards (out of 620 manuscripts, mine was selected as one! wowza!).

-Zone 3 is publishing my creative nonfiction essay “That Ache” in their Spring 2014 issue.

-One of my poems was nominated for possible inclusion in Best New Poets .

-I’m reading from my chapbook at story booth (422 N. Cleveland Street, Memphis, TN 38104) through the Impossible Language series on April 26th with Heather Dobbins and Caitlin Mackenzie.

Why I Turned Down a Poetry Book Deal

Last Friday, I received an email from a small press with an acceptance for my poetry collection along with a book contract. I found myself shaking with happiness, reading and re-reading the e-mail that would answer a yearly–or heck, a lifelong–dream to get a book published. (Yes, my chapbook is coming out super soon, but I wanted a book out, something more substantial than short and sweet.)

When my mind had settled a little bit, I read over the contract and terms. I learned later that the no advance/contest prize money, 12% royalties, and contributor copies I was offered are usually part of a pretty standard poetry book contract. Something about the offer or whatever didn’t feel right to me though, so I asked for advice on Facebook and got these questions to consider:

  • How long has the press been in existence? Will they still be going strong in 5 years and therefore still be able to be counted on to sell my book?
  • What is their track record? How many good books have they published?
  • What kind of marketing/promotion do they do? Do they send out review copies, submit for major prizes?
  • How many contributor copies will you get and how reasonable is the cost for purchasing more?
  • How do you like the layout, covers , etc. of their other books?

While I don’t want to give anything away about the press, my answers to a lot of these questions were in the negative. Publishing my book with them would also mean I would no longer qualify for First Book contests and other newbie awards or grants. Also, since I don’t have a job that is predicated on my need to get a book published (and thank goodness for that), I could wait.

Even though I made up my mind that partnering with this press wasn’t the best fit for me and that I would wait, I still couldn’t send an e-mail that refused the offer. I’d go back and re-read the editor’s kind comments and feel overwhelmed with doubt: “What if this is the ONLY offer I’ll ever get? What if I’m turning down THE ONE?” (This part really felt like trying to get up the nerve to turn down a marriage proposal.)

So, I waited. I talked it over with more people, felt my footing and conviction grow stronger, and finally after a week, I e-mailed the editor.

While not everyone will have the space and time available to do what I did, I felt really empowered being able to make that decision for myself. Yes, I want a book out, but I also want it to feel right. I want to know the press I’m working with is one that has not only chosen me, but I’ve chosen it, and for reasons that make sense logically and emotionally.

For those of you with published books, how did you know the offer was right? Were there sacrifices or compromises you were willing to make or ended up making?


2014 Goals


Last year and the year before, I made a set of writing goals for myself. Out of the five, I met four, a big feat! I got not just one but four creative nonfiction essays accepted for publication. I wrote 3 more than my 50 poem goal. I submitted high, though I haven’t fallen into the stars just yet (but I did get some personalized rejections), and I did plenty special just for my writing: I worked through the 12-week Artist’s Way program with a group of writers and did two poem-a-day months (in January and November).

Here are my goals for 2014:

#1. Get my poetry manuscript, Swallow Tongue, accepted for publication. (I’m carrying this over from last year’s list. S.T. got an encouraging rejection from an independent press and a semifinalist nod from a fancy contest. It feels worthy enough to keep trying.)

#2. Keep writing creative nonfiction. (I wrote four essays and all four got published. There’s something there, and I need to figure it out by continuing to write.)

#3. Write with vulnerability and graciousness. Write because I need to. Write because I love to.

#4. Submit high. (Another carryover from last year. Keep submitting to the journals I hope one day to be in.)

#5. Read more. (Teaching with passion and fervor has meant I’ve given up joy-reading to compensate for it. I recently started reading again, and I need to find a good balance. Reading is too lovely of a gift to myself to give it up again.)

I met four out of my five goals from last year. Let’s see how this next year will hold.

What are your literary goals for 2014?