Includes book reviews and bits from writer's journal. For the professional stuff, see website link below left.

Friday, July 15, 2011

'River of Stones' — the Process


I’m participating in this month’s ‘a river of stones’ over at my Stones for the River blog. I did it in January too, with great joy, and intermittently between then and now. This time around, I’m noticing more about the process, probably because my husband has joined in this time and his approach is different from mine. Well for one thing, I’m a poet and choose to write my small stones in verse; he’s a story-teller, whether in fiction or memoir, and naturally seeks to make stories out of his small stones. But it’s more than that.

I love his writing, so what I’m about to say isn’t a criticism of that — but I notice he has real trouble simply paying attention to the world around him. He produces lovely pieces that don’t end up on his blog because they’re not actually small stones. They are diary entries, records of events and the way he feels about them. He talks, for instance, of running into a couple of old friends in town yesterday. After reading what he wrote, I know that this event happened and who the people were, what he felt about the exchange, and a little of what was said between them. I know nothing of the surroundings, or what the people looked like, or how their voices sounded — no description. The ‘small stones’ idea is all about getting outside oneself and noticing the world around us. I think it’s OK to bring oneself in if necessary, but from the outside, dispassionately observed. He manages it, but it’s often a struggle.

Back in January Kaspalita, who co-founded the river of stones, posted a piece on just this. It seems many people have the same difficulty. I don’t seem to have quite as much trouble with it, and I put that down to a few years of attempting haiku, tanka and other short forms which train one to pay attention to the world. However I worry that I‘m ‘doing it wrong’ in a different way. Although there isn’t any obligatory length, I keep thinking mine are too long this time. I was convinced that I wrote much shorter ones in January, until I went back and had a look. No, they’re about the same. 

I notice, too, that both my husband and I keep falling into the significance trap. What do I mean by that? I’ve been in a long-term writers’ support group (often by email) with Jennie Fraine and Leah Kaminsky for — good heavens! — 20 years. We are devoted to what we call ‘the anti-significance factor’. One of the earliest things we identified was that trying for deep significance is death to poetry. Or, as my friend Philip Martin used to remark, people don’t like to be buttonholed by a poem and told what to think and feel. Personally, if I try to write something deep and meaningful, it paralyses me, whereas if I just play with words or forms I produce poems — sometimes even deep and meaningful ones. It’s essential to remember that art is play. I think, with a small stone, the thing itself is what matters; no need to weight it down with any extra meaning. But human beings are very good at trying to add extra significance to everything, even the simplest things.

Difficult or not, I think the task is worthwhile, not only for the writing it can produce but even more so to have us engage with the world around us. It even led to me watering my geraniums, which badly needed it, because I stopped to take a good look at them. 

Friday, July 08, 2011

Achievements of a writers' group

I'm the facilitator of WordsFlow, a writers' group that meets weekly at Pottsville Beach Neighbourhood Centre. I used to live at Pottsville and am now a half hour's drive away.

We have our own WordsFlow blog. I'd love to draw your attention to the three most recent posts: an article taking an affectionate look at the group members, by Eddie Blatt; a poem by Nan Doyle which has been widely aired on Australian radio and which listeners fall in love with, and an account by me of our recent presentation of a new computer to an emerging writer from a nearby town.

Monday, July 04, 2011

Collin Kelley Interview

Collin Kelley, from Atlanta, Georgia, is poet, novelist, playwright and journalist. He also has a widely read blog, Modern Confessional, which is both entertaining and informative.

We met in Texas in 2006 when we were both featured guests at the annual Austin International Poetry Festival, and have kept in touch online ever since.

I’m mad about his poetry and own all his poetry books so far. I think he’s a master of free verse and I’m in awe of his technique. Above all, he gets me emotionally every time, whether with wry humour, piercing social criticism or haunting love poems.

In novels I love the unexpected, things I can’t second-guess. Usually I can; therefore I seldom read novels any more. But I did read Collin’s first novel, Conquering Venus. I even bought it. I probably would have bought it anyway because he’s a pal, but I also hoped that this would be a novel I’d actually enjoy, as I like his other writing so much. Sure enough, I loved it. Not boringly predictable, it nevertheless feels ‘right’. It’s the first part of a trilogy; I’m looking forward to the other volumes.

I’m no novelist myself, and don’t want to be. Few poets are. Australians David Malouf and Roger McDonald have managed it successfully, and Americans Marge Piercy and Margaret Attwood are prolific and brilliant in both forms. But it’s rare, so I was intrigued by Collin’s successful venture. He kindly agreed to be interviewed as follows.


SnakyPoet: Why did you decide to branch out from poetry to novels?

Collin Kelley: I always wanted to write novels. I made a few attempts in the 80s and early 90s, but they never went anywhere. In 1995, a trip to London and Paris gave me the framework for Conquering Venus and I was finally able to complete a novel that I thought had substance and might interest readers.

SP: So how long did it take you to write?

CK: Conquering Venus actually started as a screenplay in 1995. I wrote it in about three weeks. In 1996, I had an agent who tried to sell the screenplay in Hollywood, and while all the producers who looked at it liked the story they said it was a big budget art film and no studio would fund it. My agent said I should turn the screenplay into a novel, so I did. I worked on the novel for about three years off and on until it was completed in 2000. From 2000 until the book was finally published in 2009 was a series of agents, contests and assorted publishing wankers who made lots of promises they never kept.

SP: Which is the more satisfying kind of writing for you, poetry or fiction — or are they just different, and equally fulfilling?

CK: I like the immediacy of poetry — the economy of language and the challenge of putting across a feeling or emotion in as few words as possible. With fiction it’s more of a long game, but I try to incorporate the techniques of poetry into my novels as well. I never wanted to be anything but a writer, so the act of writing satisfies me immensely. I’m grateful that I’ve been able to make a living as a writer.

SP: I think all poets would agree that making poems is a thing we can’t not do. Do you find that this now applies to your novel-writing too?

CK: I think so. When I write fiction, I read poetry and when I write poetry, I tend to read more fiction. I already have the outline for the third book in The Venus Trilogy, I’m sequencing a collection of poetry and I plan to start working on a memoir about my misadventures on my many visits to London. I even have an idea for a sci-fi novel.

SP: Wow, you’re running hot! I definitely want to read all those books too. Do you find the novel sells better than the poetry books?

CK: I’ve definitely sold more copies of Conquering Venus than any of my poetry collections, but here in the States if you sell a couple hundred copies of a poetry collection then it’s considered a success. By that measure, I’ve been successful. Better To Travel has sold about 1,000 copies and my chapbook, Slow To Burn, sold out its 300 copy run in a just a year or so. Seven Kitchens Press will release a second edition in August, which is really exciting.

SP: Yes, it is! Where/how can people acquire your books?

CK: Amazon and Barnes & Noble have both the print and ebooks available of Conquering Venus. My poetry collections Better To Travel and After the Poison are at Amazon. The Slow To Burn reissue will be available from Seven Kitchens Press website. Ebook fans can also find Conquering Venus at places like Smashwords and OmniLit.

SP: Was it harder or easier to write the sequel to Conquering Venus?

CK: The challenge with Remain in Light was creating a sequel that continues the story from Conquering Venus, but also stands alone as its own story. My goal is to have each of the novels in the trilogy stand on their own so they can be read in any order. While Conquering Venus is literary fiction with a little magical realism thrown in, Remain in Light shifts in tone and has a more urgent, suspenseful storyline. I think anyone who likes a good mystery and detective story will love Remain in Light.

SP: When will Remain in Light be available?

CK: Since the ebook version of Conquering Venus far outsold the print edition, we’re staggering the release of Remain in Light. The ebook will be out in late October just in time for the holidays and the print will appear in January 2012.

SP: Interesting. I have the print edition of Conquering Venus. Are the ebooks specifically for one kind of e-reader or suitable for all?

CK: It depends on where you buy the ebook. Those bought on Amazon can only be read on a Kindle and those bought at Barnes & Noble can only be read on the Nook. But there are great sites like Smashwords where you can download books in various ebook formats and read them on any device. Conquering Venus is on Smashwords and Remain in Light will be, too.

SP: Do you have a favourite amongst your own poetry books?

CK: I really do love Slow To Burn. I think some of my best work is in there, so I’m thrilled Seven Kitchens Press is bringing it back into print for new readers to discover. The new collection I’m working on now is shaping up to be pretty good, too. I’ll be sending it out to publishers soon.

SP: I love that book too, but I’m also very keen on the others. Good luck with all your new endeavours!