Category Archives: Interview

Ciona Rouse (Poet Interview)

I had the great pleasure of interviewing a friend and an amazing poet based in Nashville, TN, Ciona Rouse. Ciona is a beautiful example of living poetry, and she is a great champion for fellow poets in the Nashville community and beyond. Her first chapbook was recently published by Third Man Books.  I wanted to talk with her about writing, inspiration, and going through seasons of creative drought. I was not disappointed by her ability to inspire or her honest love for words.

What was the first thing that made you want to put words onto the page and call it poetry?

My teacher in fifth grade guided us through several exercises with verbs and adjectives and then invited us to write a poem. I knew poetry, as my mother always talked about Langston Hughes, Paul Laurence Dunbar and Gwendolyn Brooks to me, but I think this might have been my first attempt at writing a poem. I wrote a poem about fireworks: Dancing angels go withering by / carrying a banner across the jet black sky / Listen to the whistle of their banners as the wind blows. There’s more, but that’s all I remember. I think back on that now and recall being so excited that I could make a magnificent thing (fireworks) into another magnificent thing (angels) with just words! Oh, the magic!

What are the benefits/blessings of hosting poetry events vs. sharing your own poetry and the other way around?

I think poetry should be a part of the daily dialogue of people. It is for me, as I’m a poet who’s found her poet people. But I want it to be that way for the poet who feels lonely in her poet thoughts. I want it to be for those who don’t think poetry matters to them and for those who just don’t think about poetry at all. I want it to be that way for the small child who believes he is “allergic to poetry,” as a little boy said at the start of a class I taught once. I want them, like this little boy, to then scream, “Noooo!” when I call time and say to put the pencil down. So I simply believe poetry is in the world, and I want to curate beautiful spaces to share it–whether that’s with my own work on the page or a stage or in giving other people an opportunity to share their work. Both are important to me and, hopefully, both create avenues for poetry to enter people’s lives and their conversations. I also love hosting poetry events because it helps me surround myself with good poetry often. When I didn’t have a poetry community in Nashville, I created these events, knowing only a handful of poets who could read at them. Now I have a great world of poet people to call my family.

How do you choose to write something as a poem rather than an essay, short story, blog, memoir, etc.?

Well, poetry is my primary writing genre these days. It’s the medium my body most responds to. When a poem speaks to me, it’s often punching me in the gut, tingling my spine, tensing my shoulders. So when I’m diving into the tendrils of my curiosities, it makes sense for me to embody them in poetic form. I rarely write much else these days. I’m exploring the haibun form, though, which begins with a prose poem that I think of as an “essayette,” if I may borrow Ross Gay’s lingo. Then it ends with a haiku.

What influences you as a writer in this season of your life?

I currently have 18 books right next to me within arm’s length; at least ¾ of them are poetry. So I’m most influenced by my teachers–all of these poets whose work challenge me. One of them is a nonfiction book about Prince. Artists who are wild and experimental and fiercely in love with their art inspire me, like Prince, Heath Ledger, Carrie Mae Weems, Nick Cave. I like to read about, watch films about these people and their craft, as well. James Baldwin influences my life and, hopefully, much of the nation right now as we address racial relations. Anything that impacts my life, impacts my writing. The eclipse. That moment of community & light & moon blessed me so much. I keep putting that moment back on my body; I can’t wait to see how I might wear it in my writing.

Do you go through seasons of deprivation or resistance creativity wise? How do you combat or deal with those? Or let go of those?

You know, I used to hit seasons of deprivation quite a lot. I felt empty and self-deprecating and would always judge myself for not writing. I finally realize it’s ok because I’ve finally figured out that all of it is poetry. All of my moving and being in the world is a part of the process. So what I’m reading and what I’m eating is part of the poetry. What I’m writing and what I’m avoiding are all a part of the process. Whether I’m on the page or not, I’m learning how to still be in the poem, to still embody poetry. I think it helps that even if I don’t write ferociously every day, I’m at a place where I do read every day. And when I read every day, I always go into myself and pluck out words or images that find their way to a page. So I do write something each day that lends itself to poetry. That’s all we really must do: show up to life every day, seek to be better humans. Poetry makes me a better human. It’s less about what I’m producing and more about who I choose to be each day.

Where is your favorite place to write? A place that makes you feel your most creative self? (Can be a room, a state, a writing retreat, etc.)

San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, is still my favorite place to write. Mary Oliver has a poem about the place, actually. Neal Cassady died there. The food, the daily sounds of cannons and children playing, the evening mezcal, the way it takes only two days before you’ve met just about everyone in the community: it’s all magic. Someone says the places is built on quartz. I don’t know if that’s true, but it’s a myth that’s not hard to believe. I can’t wait to return there.

What would you tell a writer who is experiencing discouragement about their gift? What most speaks encouragement into your life where your gifts are concerned?

You’re not the only artist who feels this way. Don’t get lonely in that feeling. I wanted to throw up the week my chapbook released. I wanted to take it all back. I am grateful for other poet people who tell me, “Yes, I’ve felt this way, too.” I would also tell them that there are so many paths. Trust that. Just a little over a year ago, I felt like I’d never get my work out there. I felt the weight of multiple rejections and kept saying, “Well, if these paths aren’t working, maybe I’m not supposed to be a poet.” I talked myself out of that emotion, though, and kept writing. I kept creating and surrounding myself with teachers. I kept showing up each day to be in poetry, which means to be more human. And I walked through doors that somehow started opening. Now I look back at dejected me of last year and am grateful that she’s stronger than she thinks she is.

What is the importance of story? Do you believe sharing our stories can heal?

Well, everything is ultimately mystery. We pretend to understand so much, but humans are mystery. Life and what’s next is mystery. We have only our experiences and the experiences we’re willing to take in from others–and even those stories aren’t always set in stone. Story is our way of getting closer to making sense of that which we’ll never fully comprehend. Metaphors can be healing. Seeing yourself in a story can be healing. Opening to someone else’s story is necessary and can be healing. We can’t get trapped or stuck in our idea of story, though, because all of it must give way to mystery. Story is important. But I think questioning even our own story is more important. Share it, question it, dive into the mystery. I think of poetry as more curiosity than storytelling. Even if I tell a personal story or a persona story in a poem, I’m entering into that memory or idea with questions and curiosity if I’m writing the poem well.

Is there a person or experience you’ve never written about that you just can’t quite touch yet?

There’s probably something, surely. I have many more poems in me. But I do try to write about it all. That being said, I don’t always share those poems, though. My aunt died a year ago, and I’ve written several poems about her death. None of them have found skin in the world yet, though. I have shared a few of those harder poems about my mother, and she especially hates them. I’m still learning how to do this well. I recognize that people have many angles to them. One poem may only capture one or two of those angles, and that may seem unfair to her (or to my father or sister or whomever may show up in the poem). I hope that she and others might see the body of my work and recognize that I see them and honor their many selves even as I honor my story and give into the mystery of my known experience.

Why did you desire to work on and put out a chapbook at this time in your journey?

Truly, the doors opened at just the right time, so I walked through. I’m grateful. But I definitely decided at the end of 2015 and wrote down that I did want to be more brave about getting my work out into the world. I had no idea how it would manifest, and I have loved the process of making Vantablack.

Tell me about the title of the chapbook.

Vantablack is the blackest black ever created by humans. It absorbs 99.965% of light. My goodness, it’s a fascinating substance! I could stare at it for hours. And I also couldn’t help but think about how this substance mimics a blackbody in the universe, and we laud and praise it. While human black bodies are not as celebrated. That gave way to the title poem of the chapbook, which I wrote a few years ago when the substance was created. It’s fitting as a title because I do write a lot about black bodies, including my body. I also address some darker things in my life, in the lives of people I’ve encountered over the years. Even the love poems have some darker aspects to them. Sometimes going into those seemingly darker places can be glorious.

Which poem was the most difficult to write in the book/which was the most healing?

My sister’s baby died only a few hours after she was born. I write a lot of poems to that sweet little girl, AJ. “There’s so much I want to tell you” is probably the most difficult one to share, not to write. I played Miles Davis and explored my curiosities, so there was a flow about it. But it’s so close to me–the pain of losing her, to love a person so much and never have touched her. It’s difficult. And it’s difficult to share since it’s also my sister’s story.

As for most healing, “On the Sidewalk of Troy, TN, 1904” is probably the one most healing to write. I pushed my normal tone and cadence and sought to connect with a man I never knew but who seems to represent a Black Everyman in America (and around the world, as white supremacy does not belong to the U.S. alone). I read a story by Thomas J. Pressly, whose parents told him about this man whom the people of Troy tried to lynch in 1904. Pressly’s parents helped him escape to Kentucky; they don’t know his fate after then. I like to think he got free. But I think of this poem as recognizing the power of owning your humanity even if others are trapped in not seeing you. We must see all humans as humans. And to not see another human as a human is really the most terrible of prisons. His freedom is in recognizing it in himself and claiming humanity even though the law didn’t allow it. The white girl on the sidewalk is the one trapped, lynching herself in a terrible lie. It’s unfortunate that a poem about lynching is relevant today. But a lot of White America still needs to be set free from this.

How do you approach readings? Do you like the connection with an audience vs. the solidarity that is involved in doing the work?

I’m comfortable sharing my work aloud even though I’m not a performance poet, per se. But I think poetry should be read and should be heard. And that people should get sticky/messy in it. I keep trying to think of ways to have people interact with the poems more at the readings. I’ve tried a few things and still seeking the best way. There’s so much about line breaks and sound in poetry, so some of those nuances can be lost in readings, but I like the challenge of still allowing the poem to have a life on a stage that might be different on the page.

Are poets still changing the world?

Yes. Absolutely. On the page, yes. Definitely. And I am also always made better by the way my poet friends and teachers move through the world.

What was the most challenging thing about putting this collection together?

My friend Tiana Clark said to me that I need to think of the chapbook as its own one poem. That was helpful advice to overcome a challenge of mine. Because some of these poems were written years ago and others are fresher, I had a way of writing and editing years ago that is different today. Even just how I placed the poem on the page was different. So my editor would suggest changing, say, the capitalization of a poem, and I was so hesitant. It had always been a lower-cased poem; that seemed important when I wrote it that way. Once I recognized the chapbook, though, as its own whole piece, I was able to give up the way I’d always done one poem so that it worked better in the whole.

Perhaps, though, the most challenging thing was turning it in and [to stop editing]. I’ve taken a red pen to it after publication even. Ai yi yi. Do we poets ever know when to stop?

Ciona Rouse is a poet, living in Nashville, Tenn, where she curates many poetry experiences and reading series in the city and teaches poetry workshops. Her poetry was recently acknowledged as “Best Dressed” by Sundress Publications and is featured or forthcoming on WPLN Nashville Public Radio, Nashville Public Television, Matter and Talking River. Rouse recently won the Literary Death Match at the Southern Festival of Books. Her poetry chapbook VANTABLACK was released in August 2017 by Third Man Books.

For more information on Ciona visit: www.cionarouse.com

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Artist Interview: Eileen Tull

Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?

I’m a performing artist originally from Cincinnati, OH, currently living in Chicago. I have a big family and I love Star Wars. I have worked in theatre as a director, playwright, and administrator, although I’ve recently moved towards performance. I perform all over the country as a performance artist, poet, one woman show person, storyteller, and comedian.

When did you first discover your passion for writing and the theatre?

From a very young age, my siblings and I were creating horrible holiday plays and forcing my parents to watch. I’ve sought the sound of applause ever since I can remember.

What is your creative regimen? How often do you write?

My best inspiration is a deadline. I wish I had a better schedule for myself, but I find the actual act of writing very tedious. I take lots of ideas out for walks or runs by the lakefront, sort them out, and then, at the last possible moment, sit at a laptop and type the thing.

Do you have a day job as well?

I have two day jobs right now, as well as a monthly production management gig. I need the structure and the financial support provided by these things. I can’t function without either, truth be told.

Do you have any advice for artists who are looking to direct and/or write stage plays?

Don’t start a theatre company. But when you do, make sure you’ve seen a ton of work in your community. Be genuine and don’t apologize for yourself. Find the balance between confidence and humility. Get comfortable, it’s a long haul. Take breaks. Build other people up. Come to terms with the necessity of your day job. Talk less, drink less, and do more.

What themes or topics do you like to discuss through your art?

At this moment in time, I explore feminist themes, body politics and food, and addiction (to technology, to substances, and to ourselves), all tied to a central theme of seeking joy. Above all, seeking joy.

What are some of the most memorable plays you’ve directed?

I’m still in love with the first play I ever directed, John Patrick Shanley’s Savage in Limbo. It’s a strange little script about people who don’t know what to do with their lives. I directed it my senior year of college, so I heavily related. I still do. I had a great cast and creative team, and it was such a dream to see the play come to life. I enjoyed playing maestro to that piece, we created a beautifully dysfunctional world together. Since then, I’ve directed plays in bars, historical buildings, and art galleries. I love a good non-traditional performance space. I’ve also been fortunate enough to work with some amazing artists in Cincinnati, San Francisco, New York City, and, of course, in Chicago.

You’re also a comedian. Where do you draw inspiration from to create your material?

Everything can turn into a bit, for better or worse. I draw on my real life experiences (and sometimes the experiences of those around me) and I use comedy to understand them. For me, comedy is a way to find each other in the darkness, following the sounds of laughter until you bump into someone, and you’re not alone anymore.

Can you describe one of your favorite poems that you wrote? Why does this poem stand out more so than the others?

A while ago, I wrote a poem called, Everest: Or, How Do I Get Down, to express my anger about the prevalence of sexual assault in America. I’m particularly proud of this piece because it drew from a different voice inside me. I am constantly using humor to address my fears or the general misery I sometimes feel. In this poem, I faced some intense fears and realities head on, without apologizing for this direct address or for the seriousness of my tone.

What inspired you to write this poem?

The first line of the poem materialized in my head after some terrible injustice against women by politicians emerged in 2013. Take your pick of which one.

Where do you get your ideas for your poems?

I usually start with an image, either real or imagined, that transforms into a metaphor, and I try to use words to describe what I’m seeing.

Do you have plans for a book?

Yes, I just need to take the leap and start sending the manuscript through the proper channels.

What was the last play that you wrote?

I recently completed a draft of a new one woman show about what I’ve learned about life and love from Harrison Ford films. It’s intensely personal and chronicles my romantic life up until this point, while also commenting on my lifelong obsession with movies.

Why did you feel compelled to tell this story? What message did you want to get across to the audience?

Well, lots of creative people have a delusion that their lives are so interesting that audiences should watch us talk about them and clap at the end. I suffer from that delusion. But I make sense of the world and my life through creative expression, whether it’s storytelling, performance art, comedy, poetry, or theatre. So, I suppose it’s mainly that there were (and still are) a lot of things I’m trying to make sense of. I also have an ongoing love affair with Harrison Ford and it’s time the world finds out.

What is the hardest part of writing for you?

Sitting down and doing it. Shutting off the part of my brain that tells me this is going to be terrible before I even get a word down on paper. Finding the time.

What’s the best thing about being a writer?

Once you get it down on paper, the weight of the thing is lifted off of your shoulders. And then you can really examine it. You also get to give your thoughts, feelings, and creations to people and make them focus on it for a time.

How do you deal with writer’s block? What is your advice?

Go outside. Tell your block to get out of the way. Go outside again. Come back in. Write, even if it hurts.

What do you like to do when you’re not writing?

I run. I love being in Chicago. I love all the historical buildings, museums, and beautiful energy of the streets. I like to retrace my steps to see where if I’m in the same place I used to be the last time I was here.

What books are you reading now?

I just started Lena Dunham’s memoir, Not That Kind of Girl, I am slowly getting through On the Road, and I’m always in the middle of rereading Leaves of Grass.

If you were writing a book about your life, what would the title be?

I Want…I Want…I Want Everything I’ve Ever Seen In The Movies (which is a line from Mel Brooks’ The Producers).

What has been the toughest criticism given to you as a writer, theatre director, and comedian? What has been the best compliment?

Some of the best criticism has been that I use too many words. I spend a lot of time “clearing my throat” in my writing. Just get started. Kill your darlings. Don’t be afraid. I’ve also been told that I apologize for myself as a way of trying to express humility. Sometimes humility can take a back seat.

The best compliments are when people tell me that my work is brave or courageous, because that means that something I said or did addressed a fear that they themselves hold deep inside. And now they feel less alone. I also just always want to be told that I’m funny.

Which artists have inspired you while traveling through your journey in the arts?

I am heavily inspired by Gilda Radner, Steve Martin, Tig Notaro, Julia Cameron, and Marina Abramovic, among others. There are so many fantastic people and shows in Chicago that light me on fire constantly. I love when women are confident and creative about telling their truth.

Can you share with us some of your goals for this year?

I hope to finally get my book of writing published. I just started co-curating a monthly performance series for female-identifying artists exploring gender, sexuality, and feminism, so my goal is to make it one of the best shows in Chicago. I put a post-it note above my desk on January 1st: “Just Keep Going,” so I’m trying to follow that.

Which of your teachers was the most important? 

I never thrived in any academic setting, in terms of theatre or performance. I got the most support from teachers in other subjects, especially my Latin teachers. They buoyed my confidence in myself, personally and creatively. I felt (and still feel) so believed in, even though I never got cast in a speaking role in high school theatre.

What motto, quote, or saying do you live by? Why?

“The truth is like castor oil: it is bitter to swallow and people don’t want it, so you make them laugh and when their mouths are open, you pour it in.” – Harold Clurman

“Life is a party. All the time. Sometimes you have a bad day, and that just means it’s a bad party. Sometimes you have a good day, and that’s a good party.” – my little brother Billy, when he was 8

“But they are not the Me myself.” – Walt Whitman

Do you have any upcoming projects, tours, events, or announcements that you would like to share with our readers?

I’ll be at the Cincinnati Fringe Festival performing Jesus, Do You Like Me? Please Mark Yes or No., a one woman show at the end of May. I will be in the Minnesota Fringe Festival at the end of July with A Series of Absurdities, a three woman sketch show. And I co-curate Sappho’s Salon, a monthly performance series featuring female-identifying artists exploring gender, sexuality, and feminism at Women and Children First bookstore in Chicago every second Tuesday of the month.

Can you tell us where people can find you and learn more about your work? Website, social media, blog, etc.

www.eileentull.com – my general website

https://deployedabsurdism.wordpress.com/ – my website for poetry, writing, general thoughtitude

https://www.facebook.com/pages/Eileen-Tull-Performer/134755930063892 – my facebook page

https://twitter.com/Tullie23 – Twitter

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?

Creativity, empathy, and humor are your most reliable tools. Use ’em.

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Poet Interview: B. Diehl

Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?

I’m a neurotic twentysomething and somewhat of a recluse. Seeing me out in public is like seeing a mythical creature or something. I have a 9-to-5 job, but other than that, I tend to stay inside to read and write. That actually sounds kind of depressing, but I love it. Isolation is where a lot of my inspiration comes from.

When did you first discover your passion for writing?

I actually discovered it around age four or five. It’s awesome: I used to hand-write these short stories on computer paper. I’d write a story, scribble in some artwork with crayons, and staple the pages together. I still have a lot of them. One is called “The Big Bubble That Floated to Florida.” It’s just funny. I didn’t really get into poetry until 2013, but that is what I stick to now.

When and where do you write? Do you set a daily writing goal?

It’s hard to say when I write, but I write in my bedroom at my parents’ house. It’s the room I grew up in and it’s associated with tons of memories, which really triggers creative thought for me. When you’re a writer, it’s hard to have a set-in-stone schedule because inspiration isn’t usually consistent. I do write at least a little bit on a daily basis, but hardly ever at the same hour. It seems so random. Oftentimes, poems pop into my head at my job. I have to stop what I’m doing to write them down on sticky notes and my co-workers give me weird looks. I never sit down at my computer and say, “Ah, time to get creative.” The poems find me; I don’t find them.

How do you deal with writer’s block? What is your advice?

Some days, I feel like I can write through the blocks. Willpower, at times, can help you surpass it. Other times, not so much. My advice would be to take a walk, read stuff by other poets, and participate in mundane tasks: do laundry or watch some golf on TV. Your brain will be so bored that it’ll start turning absolutely nothing into creative poetry material.

What is your favorite poem that you have written and why?

Probably “Car Trouble.”

What inspired you to write this poem?

I spent most of 2014 being absolutely torn up inside over some girl. I’m a stereotypical Pisces and still a teenager at heart. I could lose my job and my bank account could be drained of everything in it and I’ll get over all of that in a week. But I don’t handle breakups well. When I lose someone, I feel like the world is ending –– and I do mean that literally. “Car Trouble” was the poem I wrote after telling myself, “Just let it all out.” It was painful to write, obviously, but I felt a lot better afterwards.

Where do you get your ideas for your poems?

Personal experience. None of my poems are exactly fictional. The narrator in almost every poem I’ve written is myself. For me, writing poetry is just like keeping a diary, but its more artsy.

Which do you enjoy more: poetry or fiction?

I definitely enjoy both, but I’d say I enjoy poetry more. I have a short attention span.

Do you have plans for a book?

Yeah, I do! It’s being proofread as we speak, by a good friend of mine. And then I’ll be doing some editing and maybe trimming the fat (removing the poems that suck). I’ll be making an official announcement soon.

What is the hardest part of writing for you?

Like I said, some topics are painful to write about. But you do it anyway for relief and because you know it’ll make for some great literary material. It’s always worth it.

What’s the best thing about being a writer?

I’d say the best part about being a writer is this: when something terrible happens, I can at least say, “Well, this is unfortunate, but thanks, universe. I can now write an immortal poem.” The best poetry always comes out during my darkest days.

What do you like to do when you’re not writing?

I promote my writing, read work by others writers, hang out with my cats, and eat food.

If you had to choose, which writer would you consider a mentor?

I’d say Charles Bukowski because his book, Love is a Dog From Hell, is what initially got me obsessed with poetry. But Bukowski hated everyone, so maybe I’d pick Billy Collins. I mean, Billy Collins is great and he’s also still alive, so that would probably make more sense anyway.

What books are you reading now?

Right now, I’m reading Evidence by Mary Oliver. That probably sounds funny because her poetry is so optimistic, whereas mine tends to come off as pessimistic (and, at times, even nihilistic). But I like to cleanse my palate when I can. Mary Oliver is very talented.

If you were writing a book about your life, what would the title be?

Well, even though my first book is a collection of poems, most of them are about my life. My book is called Zeller’s Alley.

If you couldn’t be an author, what would your ideal career be?

I’d probably be a vocalist in a hardcore punk band. I live for self-expression and I believe that business is the Devil’s work, for the most part. Art is godlike.

Have you attending any poetry readings or writing workshops in your community? If so, can you please describe your experience?

There are so many incredible things always happening in the Lehigh Valley. For anyone who lives nearby, I’d highly recommend checking out Connexions Gallery. I love small places like that. To me, they just make every experience more personal. You feel connected, in a way, to everyone there because the crowds aren’t particularly huge. For a more theatrical experience, you might want to go to Philadelphia.

What motto, quote, or saying do you live by? Why?

“What matters most is how well you walk through the fire.” – Charles Bukowski. I mean, think about it. How much more meaning could a single sentence possibly have? That quote is fantastic.

Do you have any upcoming projects, tours, events, or announcements that you would like to share with our readers?

I’m still figuring out the details of a few upcoming events. To anyone reading, I’d just like to say…please keep in touch with me via social media if you’re interested. I post updates as often as I can.

Can you tell us where people can find you? Website, social media, blog, etc.

My official website will be launched within the next month or two. But I am a total social media addict. Here are my links: facebook.com/B.DiehlPoetry, goodreads.com/iambrandondiehl, twitter.com/iambrandondiehl, instagram.com/iambrandondiehl, & iambrandondiehl.tumblr.com!

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?

Thanks for reading, everyone. Stay awesome. I will see you soon.

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Author Interview: Dean K Miller

Would you please tell us about yourself and your work?

I am a mid-50-ish husband, father of three daughters, writer, FAA air traffic controller who spent my early days at the Oregon Coast and wading the streams that drained the snow fields of Mt. Hood. Fly fishing fanatic and Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing volunteer. I’ve summited a mountain, ran a marathon, rafted Class V white water, surfed several locations, performed stand-up comedy, and owned a small business, among other things. My writing reflects upon, and draws from, those life experiences.

When did you first discover your passion for writing?

I wrote my first story in 4th grade about a pig that flies around the world to meet other cultures. I continued into college with creative writing courses. I paused for a few years (nearly 20.) After moving to Colorado in 1999, I taught myself  fly fishing  and over the next 7 years of spending a lot of time fishing alone in the Big Thompson Canyon, I found myself back in the writer’s chair expressing my thoughts, discoveries, and ideas. It’s been nonstop ever since.

What’s a typical working day like for you? When and where do you write? Do you set a daily writing goal? Do you have a day job as well?

I work as an air traffic controller for the FAA, so my “day” job (which rotates various shifts throughout the week) dictates my writing schedule. Mornings, afternoons, and evenings, whenever I can grab enough time to jot down some words. I carry a notebook everywhere so I don’t lose an idea, poem, compelling conversation, or storyline.

Is there any particular author or book that influenced you in any way either growing up or as an adult?

The first book I purchased with my own money was Richard Bach’s Illusions: The Adventure of a Reluctant Messiah. I had gone to the book store to buy Jonathan Livingston Seagull but it was out of stock. Best backup purchase I’ve made. I loved the story and the poetic advice from the Messiah’s Handbook resonated with me. I read this three to four times throughout the year.

What themes or topics do you like to discuss through your art?

Most often I’m working with spiritual, nature (particularly water), and with my poetry, darker themes of sadness, loneliness, and death. My personal essays revolve around my interaction with the natural world, what it means to my inner self, and occasionally what happens after we die.

What has inspired your poems as of late?

My latest works have been in the forms of Cascading and Acrostic poems. I continue to draw inspiration from the outdoors, self-reflection, and the moments of life that make me smile.

You’ve recently released your first poetry collection, Echoes: Reflections Through Poetry and Verse. Was this book self-published or was it traditionally published?

Echoes was published through Hot Chocolate Press, an independent publisher in Fort Collins, CO.

How did you get connected with this publisher?

Kerrie Flanagan, the owner of Hot Chocolate Press is also the creator of Northern Colorado Writers, of which I am a professional member. We have worked together on many projects, essays, etc. As she was planning on starting Hot Chocolate Press, I was beginning to piece together my first book And Then I Smiled: Reflections on a Life Not Yet Complete. The timing was right and we agreed that And Then I Smiled would be the first book published by Hot Chocolate Press. It was natural to stay with HCP for my first poetry collection. We’ve discussed publishing my first novel as well and I plan to publish through HCP with my next poetry collection, hopefully in 2016.

Can you please tell us about any challenges you faced in connection with getting this book published?

Even after publishing my first book which contained some poetry, feeling my work was publish-ready and having the confidence to put a large body of my poems into a single place was nerve-wracking. Many of the poems hadn’t been published and reached deep in to my personal life. Secondly, finding an agreeable order of the poems took some time.

What would you say are the main advantages and disadvantages of traditional publishing against self-publishing?

My contracts with Hot Chocolate Press carry a mix of traditional publishing and independent/self-publishing components which allows more individual input and creative ideas on my side but reduces some of the responsibilities I would pay for if I were self-publishing. It’s been a great experience and partnership, and I am working with Hot Chocolate Press with my first novel.

What is this book about? Why should readers buy it?

Echoes: Reflections Through Poetry and Verse covers a diverse range of topics from love, death, life, hope, anguish, recovery, old-age and more. A great feature of the book is the six original sketches by author/illustrator April J. Moore. After selecting the poems she resonated with as an artist, she produced the drawings for the book.

How long did it take to complete this poetry collection?

Echoes contains poems written over 30 years ago, though I wasn’t always writing over the past three decades. Some were written within weeks of publishing the book. Once the decision was made to bring a collection together for publication, the process took a little more than 6 months.

What advice would you give to poets who are looking to publish their first poetry collection?

Patience is key. Setting the order of the poetry is important and often difficult. My original plan was to have four distinct sections, but a beta reader suggested making the entire collection stronger than the four parts, so we set about restructuring the work. The other important aspect is to read your poems aloud, either alone or to others. This is the best way to catch lines/verses that work well and those that don’t.

If you had to go back and do it all over, is there any aspect of your book that you would change?

Not really. I had a few poems out for contests/publication that I wished I would have waited to submit, as I couldn’t include them in the book. But otherwise, the final product is something I am proud of releasing.

What are your views on using social media for book marketing?

Social media is a tough mine field to harvest. Over “announcing” is viewed as spam. The best mode seems to be to generate authentic discussion/connections with your circles/readers/intended audience and let the story of your work come out in a more natural way. Being authentic is huge.

Which social network worked best for you?

Facebook seems to connect me to more readers than anything or social platform. I’m finding good connections at readings and other public events as well.

Can you please share with readers a few of the tips you’ve learned? What should authors avoid doing on social networks?

On blogging: this can be a great way to exercise your writing, but have a plan, a crowd you want to reach and don’t overdo it. It’s easy to get caught up in the blogoshpere. Also, don’t overcommit your time with social networks. Choose one to start, hone your skills of communicating in that forum, limit followers/likes to those you have common ground. Don’t horde followers and don’t send them an instant message to “buy my book” right after they’ve chosen to follow you. Honor and respect the writing time you have and create something new every day, even if it’s a title or single idea.

How do you market your work? Beyond social networks, what other avenues work best for your genre?

With my first book, I used numerous techniques to get it in seven countries, international shipping waters, and over 25 states within two months of its release. For Echoes, I’ve been softer on the release efforts. I have the book in several CO book stores, a couple of coffee shops, and an online store with Hot Chocolate Press. It has a presence on Amazon, Kobo and other online retailers. I’m finding better success with Echoes from speaking engagements, readings, and one-to-one contact.

Is there anything else you would like to share with readers about Echoes: Reflections Through Poetry and Verse?

Echoes contains a poem that doesn’t use a single word and also a poem about toilets.

You are a member of Northern Colorado Writers. What is this group about?

The mission statement of NCW is: “providing support and encouragement to writers of all levels and genres in Northern Colorado and beyond.” What I have found within this statement is the trust and respect NCW’s writers have for each other. I’ve worked with Phd.’s and Masters level, critiquing their work and have sat with brand new writers working on their first short story. I’ve met many great friends who I trust to be honest about my work and feel safe that I’ll be treated with honesty and respect. This group is about being successful, whether it’s getting published or finding the right title for your story.

What are a few examples of the opportunities available to writers who are members of NCW?

NCW provides excellent opportunities for all levels of writers. From a wide array of classes, Critique group organization, social events, marketing events, monthly write-ins, a great conference, writing retreats in the mountains, a monthly newsletter and a strong community of support.

Do you think you’ve evolved creatively? If so, how?

After releasing two books, an e-book short, I’ve found new energy in spoken word poetry, collaborating with other artists to combine visual, musical, and other art forms with my poetry. My work is evolving to an organic level. I find myself writing more form the core of my heart and then finding ways to shape that into a poem that touches people. I’m am experimenting with other forms of poetry and working some interesting “visual” aspects of word structure and layout.

What is the hardest part of writing for you?

I enjoy helping other writers in various ways, so I have a difficult time saying no to requests. This leads to overloading my writing time, multiple deadlines, and the risk of failing someone who is counting on me. I’m working on developing a schedule with particular projects rather than “shot-gunning” my ideas and then trying to figure out what I’m going to do with the jumbled mess of first drafts.

What’s the best thing about being a writer?

Nothing beats having someone connect with your writing and telling you how you’ve made a difference in their day (or more.) Also, celebrating a new writer’s first success, as well as, my writer friend’s successes. We celebrate together and share the good vibes.

How do you deal with writer’s block? What is your advice?

First option: Go fly fishing. Second option: write something, anything. Third option: Break open the bag of chocolate. I am willing to walk away for a day or two, but after that, I’m raring to get back to the page. I don’t have too many days where I don’t write.

What do you like to do when you’re not writing?

I enjoy time with my wife and the kids when they are in town. Fly fishing is my major hobby that I go to when I need to recharge my batteries. Also, I co-founded and volunteer for a veteran’s support group that uses fly fishing as a means of rehabilitation and connecting.

What books would you recommend to readers?

Illusions: The Adventures of a Reluctant Messiah by Richard Bach
Hooking the Sun by John Nizalowski
Writing Begins With The Breath: Embodying Your Authentic Voice by Laraine Herring
WritingThe Life Poetic: An Invitation to Read & Write Poetry by Sage Cohen
I am beginning to read Colorado poet David Mason and recommend any of his works.

What has been the toughest criticism given to you as a writer?

On an online contest I was left a severely scathing review about the entry I submitted. Many people reacted with disgust and sympathy. Fortunately I was able to let my emotions run their course quickly without reacting. I then took the words and read them from outside my personal perspective. Some things were worth hearing, but didn’t need to be stated in the way they were. It was an interesting experience and when all was said and done, I ended up winning the contest. I learned much of patience, humility, holding my anger and tongue and came out a better person for it (though I never thanked the commenter.).

What has been the best compliment?

This compliment from a judge is special: “A seemingly unrelated collection of essays, short reminisces and poetry, And Then I Smiled: Reflections on a Life Not Yet Complete kind of breaks the rules because it also works well as a cohesive whole.  Only a deeply thoughtful and careful writer can pull this off, and Dean K. Miller manages admirably.  The reader can open this slim volume and start reading any page.  These pieces stand on their own and still provide a cumulative emotional punch.” Judge, 22nd Annual Writer’s Digest Self-Published Book Award. Also, an amazon reviewer said: I don’t think the book blurb completely conveys what this book meant to me. It holds an unique magic, brought to mind the work of Eckhart Tolle and Paulo Coelho, and it was especially welcome at a time when life was difficult. It was a wonderful sharing experience . . .”

What are your goals for your writing career?

Foremost is to continue to study, learn, and improve my craft of writing. I’m working on a fundraising anthology as editor/author and would like to do more of that type of work. There’s a novel that’s under construction and I’ll be looking at late 2016 for its release, along with two new poetry projects I’m writing. I want to continue to share my essays and poetry via live readings, and touch people’s lives in a positive way. Most importantly I want to stay true to myself with my writing and create some smiles along the way.

What have been some of the barriers to achieving your goals?

Self-doubt wracks the soul of many writers, myself included. I’m working around time constraints, looking at retirement planning, over-booking myself. If I take the time to define my goals clearly, I am less likely to stray from their paths.

What advice would you give to your younger self?

Don’t take that 20 year break in your writing, be honest to yourself with your words. Never fear criticism and know the world needs your words as only you can write them.

What motto, quote, or saying do you live by? Why?

“I am nothing that I write; and it is everything in me.” This comes from my essay “Solitary by Choice” and defines my belief in life and in writing. All the words I put in paper do not define my being that someone sees. But they (the words) are everything that is inside me, which drives me to create. The body is an illusion, as are the words on the page. But the beauty of the place where those words originate is the reality I know.

Do you have any upcoming projects, tours, events, or announcements that you would like to share with our readers?

I have two essays and one poem appearing in Writing For Peace’s Dovetails: An International Journal of the Arts themed “Nature” out May 1, 2015. I am editor/author of the anthology The Water Holds No Scars: Fly Fishing Stories of Rivers and Rejuvenation due out in September and would love to have poetry submissions for that. I am nominated for 2015 Fort Collins, CO Poet Laureate, of which I am honored.

Can you tell us where people can find you? Website, social media, blog, etc.

I can be found at my website at www.deankmiller.com, on Facebook (DeanKMiller), on Twitter @deankmiller, Instagram Dean K Miller and Pinterest at Dean K Miller – Author.

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?

We are on this planet for a short time. However, our words last forever. Choose them wisely, share them widely, and always strive to make someone smile.

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Poet Interview: Leila A. Fortier

A while back I had the pleasure of interviewing Leila A. Fortier, author of Numinous.

I met Fortier when we (TL Publishing Group) published a few of her poems in our inaugural issue of the Torrid Literature Journal.

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.

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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.

www.leilafortier.com

https://www.facebook.com/leila.fortier

https://twitter.com/LeilaFortier

http://www.redbubble.com/people/Metanoia

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


Interviewer:

Alice Saunders, Editor

Follow me on Twitter: @LyricalTempest

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