The Next Big Thing Interview

Thanks to Tawnysha Greene for inviting me to do this! She is promoting her book, A House Made of Stars.

The Next Big Thing is a blog activity in which writers answer a series of questions about their current manuscript and then tag other writers to continue the tradition.


What is your working title of your book (or story)? 
Swallow Tongue. 

Where did the idea come from for the book? 
My book, like most people with an MFA, started out as a thesis, just a collection of poems I’d been writing that I shoved together to meet the page requirement. As I started to look at them as a “book,” I realized they had a lot in common thematically: violence, ruined relationships, inability to connect intimately. My first draft, under the title of Predator’s Tongue, focused on different forms of violence and trauma. My most recent draft, under the title of Swallow Tongue, has more hope in it, how even our violent, uncomfortable pasts can turn into something beautiful.

What genre does your book fall under? 

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?
Ryan Gosling, mostly because the men in my poems are brooding, wracked by their feelings. Jennifer Lawrence, because she can take a punch and still come out strong. The women in my book need that sort of embodiment.

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
“Wounded people wound people.”

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
I’m currently submitting it to contests, so I hope it will win one of those!

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?
I feel like I’ve been working toward this book my whole life, sort of like being pulled by gravity. I just naturally write poems that have the same themes, but I didn’t sit down and start thinking of a bunch of them working together until May of 2011. Then, I started sticking them together and ordering them, and earlier this year, I started really writing poems that fit more into the story line and started building toward an “arc” and a “resolution.” Now, after the major revision I did on it in November, I feel like it’s the closest to a true “book” as it’s ever been.

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
Many of my poems are inspired by or modernize Greek and Roman myths, so it’s similar in that way to Ted Hughes’s Tales from Ovid and A.E. Stallings’s Archaic SmileThe rest of my poems are closer stylistically and thematically to Galway Kinnel’s Book of Nightmares

Who or what inspired you to write this book?
All writers have their own sort of obsessions that manifest over and over again. My poetry collection is a compilation of mine: Greek and Roman myths, effect of nature on an individual, romantic relationships, birds. I worked on the “story” of the manuscript then, of how we recover from trauma, of how we learn to love despite being broken. It’s a narrative of growth.


For more of The Next Big Thing, these fantastic writers will give their answers by December 30th:

  1. Courtney Miller Santo, with her book, The Roots of the Olive Tree.
  2. Kelly Davio, whose book Burn This House is available for pre-order from Red Hen Press.


Should you wish to participate, answer the questions on your blog, and leave your link in a comment.

Weekly Update

The deadline for some of the biggest Poetry First Book Contests is TOMORROW. Thankfully, I’ve done quite a lot of work on my manuscript, and I have a couple of hours free today to push through the rest of it and, hopefully, come to an agreeable consensus that it’s, for this round, “done.”

Ever since I printed out the second round of revisions, a sort of laziness has taken over me and it’s been harder to get myself to hunker down and tear through them like I did for the first round. I’m so glad at what I have edited so far though because I found some glaring errors (like repeating the word “dolly” three different times in a poem, and in another poem, I stopped mid-edit and had a sentence ending on “the.”). I also did a couple of shifts in terms of the order, so the last ordering I did is holding pretty strong so far.

This last edit is really about nailing down each poem. There are a few that keep flying away from me, and I’m going to have to figure out what to do with them.

Thankfully, tomorrow I will send this manuscript off into the world to 4 contests and won’t have to worry about it for some time.


In other news, acceptances! YAYYYY!

One of my writing goals for this year was to get one of my fiction stories published. This has been a goal of agony. Writing fiction for me is incredibly hard and so is editing fiction in an attempt to make it good enough to get published.

When I looked back over the last year, I had sent my story “The Last Hurrah” out 29 times. I got several nice rejections (from big journals even, like OneStory and Camera Obscura), but no acceptances. I knew because it’d gotten some nice rejections that it was close, so I just kept working at it. I finally decided to submit to a journal that had a word requirement of 2000 words, so I cut a total of 4 pages off the story, and what that did was remove some really irrelevant scenes that I had been holding onto since the very first draft that didn’t really do anything emotionally or move the narrative very much (things I’m learning about fiction…). That particular journal didn’t accept this version, but Panka journal I adore and have had work featured in before, did, so “The Last Hurrah” is now forthcoming in the February 2013 issue of Pank. 

That same day, I got an acceptance e-mail from the wonderful Stacey Lynn Brown, editor at Sou’wester, telling me they’d like to accept my poem “The Swamp Wife” (draft notes here) in a forthcoming issue.

Here’s to the final push. May your final pushes come together as well!

Manuscript Redux, Part 2

I tackled the MAJOR revisions and re-ordering of what is looking to now be called Swallow Tongue. The original first and second sections have been flipped and now transition into one another. Some of my strongest work leads the first section and poems that can work as dialogue pieces resolve the third section.

Since I’ve never worked so exhaustively on this manuscript (at least 6 days thinking about it, editing, re-ordering it, re-writing it), I’ve never experienced the roller coaster of emotions around the process. Sometimes, I had a major breakthrough on revising a poem that I hadn’t been able to figure out for years. Some perfect line, perfect ending, major cut would come to me. I’d text my husband, “I FIGURED OUT AN ENDING TO THIS ONE POEM AND IT’S AWESOME NOW!” But then, an hour or a day later, I’d re-read that edit and be like, “What the hell was I thinking?” Or, I’d realize these two or three poems talked to one another in a really cool way, so I ‘d place them near one another, and then, I’d be screaming (in my head) “OMG! POETRY IS AWESOME! ORDER YAYYYYYYY!” Then, the next day, I’d sit down to translate that re-order change from paper to the document on my computer, and I’d lose that sense of it being the right order and I’d be down again. Or, I’d be on a high of reading my own work and feeling proud of it, and then turning to some of my favorite poets to get an idea for an ending for a poem I’m revising, and then get so startled by a beautiful poem they wrote that seems so utterly perfect, like it was never revised ever, like it just came out on the page straight from the mind of a poetry god, and I want to give up the manuscript totally because, I tell myself, “How could I ever writing something like that?” 

It’s been several days of talking myself off the ledge, but thankfully, with all of the major revisions done, all that’s left is the nit-picking and order-checking. I need to make sure the order shakes out, so I need to be evaluating if some things really fit where they are now. I also cut five poems while I was going through it, so I need to make sure if those are poems that could be re-worked to be put back in, or if they should be gone forever.

I also need to work on titles. I have a lot of poems that have titles that finger-point at the myth they were derived from. If I could come up with another title for those poems, the poem itself wouldn’t scream myth and would fit a little easier with the rest of the poems. For example, “Daphne as a Housewife” (up at PANK) could be titled “Portrait of a Housewife” and work fine. Other titles are going to be harder, just as titles always are. I’ve also realized as I’ve worked through this that I have way too many one-word titles. I probably want to go and vary that up.

Speaking of variance, I’m looking at form a lot too, trying to make sure there’s not a huge clump of poems with the same form near one another, and, if so, changing up the form of one of them, or changing up the order a little. At places, poems with the same form works. Others, it’s just too much.

Swallow Tongue is shaking out to be very different from the version of Predator’s Tongue I sent out in July. Only another…80 million hours of work on it to go!