A while back I had the pleasure of interviewing Leila A. Fortier, author of Numinous.
Check out her inspiring interview below. Don’t forget to purchase a copy of her latest book, which is now available at Amazon and other retailers.
Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
I am a published poet, artist, and photographer currently living in Okinawa, Japan. I love the peace and tranquility of this island that has allotted me many opportunities to be inspired and create. I am extremely passionate and interested in a variety of subjects and pursuits. I am known to juggle many projects simultaneously. Right now, I am anticipating the release of my second book of poetry, Numinous through Saint Julian Press. I am working toward completing my degree in English creative writing and am also in process of becoming a certified yoga instructor. Outside these immediate things, I am a vegetarian who also loves to travel and volunteer toward various humanitarian causes.
At what point did you realize this was something you wanted to do?
Writing has been an intimate part of my life for as long as I can remember. For many years, I never realized it could actually be my occupation. I spent fifteen years in the fitness industry as a master personal trainer and fitness instructor. I did not really know many other poets; therefore, my writing was something personal that I largely kept for and to myself. In 2006, I discovered networks of poets and writers through social media and began to openly share my writing for the first time. After I married in 2009, I was finally in a position where I could leave the fitness industry and pursue my art and writing full time.
When did you first consider yourself a writer?
I believe I always considered myself a writer … as in, something that was an innate expression and part of my DNA. The difference came, when I became aware that it was more than a natural expression for me; that it was a calling and necessity—a part of my ultimate evolution as a human being.
What’s a typical working day like for you? When and where do you write? Do you set a daily writing goal?
This is a difficult process to explain. On one hand, I am highly organized and routine oriented. But another part of me is highly spontaneous and refuses any kind of limitations. I find that physical activity and nature make a vast difference in the productivity of my inspiration, focus, and ability to create. I am more productive when I make the time to be active (running, yoga, etc.). I also try to spend time reading on the beach every day. I have a beautiful view of the East China Sea that always stirs my creative energy. Of course, I also have to balance these things with my current studies and family responsibilities. When I was single, I used to write best in the wee hours of the night. Now, I find that the afternoons are best because I am still alone at home, but have cleared most of my other schedule.
I do not “make” myself write each day. This is the spontaneous part of me. I believe in inspiration. If I am not compelled, or moved in some way, I feel my writing is forced and agitated. I can do it, of course—but chances are I will not be happy with it. I do adhere to making certain I do the things that inspire my creativity to not let it go stagnant. That part I am religious with as well as my commitment to submitting my work for publication. I tend to keep running lists in my iPhone and laptop of fragments of poetry; words, sentences, and ideas that I have not fully developed for when I have the time to flush them out. Sometimes, the poem comes all at once. Because my poetry takes visual designs there are steps to completing the poem. I begin by flushing the text to the left in traditional stanzas because the words are the most important part of the poem. I make my revisions from there. When I am satisfied with the poem, I begin shifting the lines until it makes a visual design. There is no premeditation in the poem’s form. It is something I have to feel and sense my way through and acts as a sort of meditation for me in the creative process.
How do you deal with writer’s block? What is your advice?
It took me some time to understand how to deal with writer’s block. There are earlier periods in my life that I could go months or even years without writing. I was always afraid in those times that it would never come back to me. I did not realize that I had a part to play in keeping inspiration nourished. Sure, it is wonderful when our inspiration hunts us down and taps us on the shoulder, compelling us to create. But when it does not hunt us, we need to hunt the source ourselves. For me, this means reading, listening to music, looking at art, spending time with nature, meditating, and surrounding myself with interesting and inspiring people. The last time I hit a block, was ironically, when I first went back to school. This was very discouraging for me since I am working towards a degree in creative writing. But many of the required credits have nothing to do with your degree and are sometimes academically dry. I had to switch my writing expression to be very linear and literal. I had to strip my voice of its poetic license. This was a painful transition for me. I found that I was all academic … or not. Now, I have learned to balance the two expressions. But nourishing inspiration is something that I have learned is a necessity to keeping your writing alive.
What is the last book you wrote? What is it about?
Goodness. Please don’t make me talk about my last book (shudders). My last book was actually my first full length book of poetry, Metanoia’s Revelation. My intention was in the right place, but I was not seasoned enough within the publication process to know what I was doing. I thought I could cut corners by skipping over the inevitable wait and rejection process of literary journals and publishers by self-publishing my collection. I am not saying that there is no merit to self-publication, but I am saying that you really have to know what you are doing inside and out to put out a quality book that you can be proud of that also meets success. There is something to be said about enduring the long and tedious process of submitting to literary journals and publishers that helps you refine your skill as a writer and develop a thick skin. If you think about it, most of the great writers before us had to endure this process—some for years, some for decades, and some for their entire lives before reaching success. Why should we think that if we are truly serious and sincere about our work that we should undergo anything less?
Therefore, I have regrets to my first book, indeed. A lot of things I would have done differently. But I view it as a learning curve. I went back to the start. I began refining my work and submitting manuscripts voraciously to innumerable publications. Now, five years later, I have endured many rejections, yes. But I am proud to have had my poetry published in hundreds of journals worldwide and can now look forward to my second book of poems, Numinous through Saint Julian Press. This collection has been handled with extraordinary care and I am proud of its cultivation.
How did you come up with the title?
My forthcoming book, Numinous came after stumbling upon the word and writing a poem with it as a title. The word numinous (Latin), means: Indicating the presence of divinity; evoking the transcendent, mystical, or sublime. This collection of poems is based on a very intimate spiritual unraveling I experienced from 2006-2009. There is no religious affiliation in a strict sense, but rather, a collective of all spiritual expressions that moved through me. I felt the word, standing on its own, was intriguing as a title, but also, best fitting for the collection.
What was your favorite part to write and why?
I do not go into any book with the intention to make it a book. What happens for me is that I start to notice a trend or theme in my work in the time I am writing it. Then, I begin to place copies of the poems that I recognize falling into the same theme into a folder. When I realize that my writing is no longer contributing toward the collection, I look at how much is in the folder and see if it is worth turning into a full length manuscript. Such is how Numinous occurred. I realized I had a full collection, and yet, had reached a point where I wasn’t adding to it anymore. This is when I knew it was complete. This is also when I first recognized my process for writing full length manuscripts. I now have several other manuscripts in the making, just in recognizing my own trends in subject matter within my writing. Looking back at the work, I would say that one of the last chapters, which is also titled, Numinous are among my favorite pieces in the collection as they reach a climax in my own experience expressed in verse. Of course, I tend to be most attached and enthusiastic about my most recent work because it is closer to whom I am today.
What’s different about this book?
Numinous is different in that the poems take artistic shape in the form of abstract visual designs. This has become a sort of signature of my work. I was not the first to implement it, but I most concrete/visual poets construct their verse into shapes of tangible things, such as a flower, a chair, or an apple. For me, the designs of my work are not premeditated or calculated. They are an emotional and spontaneous byproduct of the poem, which emulates in some mysterious way, the essence of alchemic emotion and transcendent experience I felt when the words came to me. Numinous is an ecstatic collection that defies the confines and dogmatic teachings of the church. Rather, it embraces the mysterious and intimate experience with the divine that knows no limitation. This transcendent type journey was not without pain, struggle, absence, and bewilderment that led to deeper understanding and revelation. These poems are contained within the book as well. It is my hope that the reader will feel the words resonate within themselves and their own unique spiritual experiences.
What has influenced your development as a writer?
First and foremost, would be other writers. The more you read, the more you learn, period. Furthermore, you learn by reading those you admire as well as those you don’t. When we are new to writing and inexperienced as readers, we are much more prone to clichés because we think that what we have said is entirely original. The more you read, the more you realize how everything, to one degree or another has been said before. Does that mean we should not write about it? No. What it means, is that we have to find a way to speak on universal issues and experiences in fresh new ways that penetrate our understanding. Through reading others, I have learned to break out of clichés and write more efficiently/concisely.
What is the hardest part of writing for you?
I have a love/hate relationship with editing. It is the scariest and most challenging part of writing for me. In my earliest years of writing, I used to never, ever edit my work. I wrote a poem start to finish and that was it. Even if I looked back and hated it, I would not change it because that was the essence of whom I was or what I was experiencing at the time I wrote the poem. In my mind, to edit it, would strip the poem of its original essence and it would never be the same. My ego at that time, also could not handle critique because poetry was so intimate and personal an expression that I believed it stood outside the perimeters of criticism. Let me just say, that I was vastly wrong. Going back to school has really helped me get over this. I now edit all my work. I tend to do most of the editing as I write, but increasingly am finding myself going back and revising works that have even already been published. I have a new appreciation for the process and in recognizing where I can say something more effectively, etc. But the process still terrifies me because I always fear that there is no end to revisions. Sometimes it can feel like purgatory. Just when you think you have it flushed out, you look back and find something else … and something else again.
What’s the best thing about being an author?
The best part of being an author is that it is something I love to do versus something I have to do. I know many people that hate their careers and dread every minute spent on their work. This is my passion. I am constantly edging toward a new goal or endeavor within the scope of being an author. There are no ceilings or limitations. From this pursuit I can branch into a thousand untold directions. There is freedom within creativity that never grows stale. Lastly, of which I think every author can agree are those moments when you know your writing has reached an audience personal or professional. To know that you have touched someone with your words, perhaps in ways they knew not could be understood, is the effect I strive for because it was what was given to me when I discovered poetry.
Do you have any favorite authors or favorite books?
Where do I begin? Rumi, Tagore, Hafiz, Mirabai, Gibran, Rilke, Lorca, Anais Nin, Octavio Paz, Pablo Neruda to name a few. Passionate writing. Vulnerable writing. Intoxicating writing. Writing that reads like a secret. Yes.
If you were writing a book about your life, what would the title be?
I am not sure I could answer that because I feel as though I have lived so many different lives within this one. Who I was when I was a young girl is so far removed from who I was at twenty, thirty, and now forty years of age. (Did I just say that?) Perhaps, that being said, I would title the book of my life: Recurrent Alchemy.
If you couldn’t be an author, what would your ideal career be?
If I could not be an author I would concentrate my endeavors into my art and photography. Perhaps dive more deeply into yoga and humanitarian aid. There are all extensions of the ways I create. No matter what occupation I pursue, I must be able to in some way, create.
What motto, quote, or saying do you live by? Why?
Different quotes have served as mantras to me at different points in my life. But the one that fits me best right now would be from Anais Nin:
“I am an excitable person who only understands life lyrically, musically, in whom feelings are much stronger as reason. I am so thirsty for the marvelous that only the marvelous has power over me. Anything I cannot transform into something marvelous, I let go. Reality doesn’t impress me. I only believe in intoxication, in ecstasy, and when ordinary life shackles me, I escape, one way or another. No more walls.”
Do you have any upcoming projects, tours, events, or announcements that you would like to share with our readers?
The one downfall about living in Okinawa, Japan is that the distance prevents me from taking part in a lot of tours, readings, and workshops that I would otherwise be involved with if we were in America. My book, Numinous is due to be released this November, and I will be having a book launch party both virtual (for the states) and here on island. A trailer for the collection will be coming out soon and I will be offering signed copies. It is my hope that I will be able to come to the states in the summer of 2015 for a book tour.
Can you tell us where people can find you? Website, social media, blog, etc.
Thank you for taking the time to participate in this interview. What final thought and/or message would you like to leave with our readers?
“Go into yourself. Find out the reason that commands you to write; see whether it has spread its roots into the very depths of your heart; confess to yourself whether you would have to die if you were forbidden to write. This most of all: ask yourself in the most silent hour of your night: must I write? Dig into yourself for a deep answer. And if this answer rings out in assent, if you meet this solemn question with a strong, simple “I must,” then build your life in accordance with this necessity; your whole life, even into its humblest and most indifferent hour, must become a sign and witness to this impulse.” —Rainer Maria Rilke
Alice Saunders, Editor
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