1.When did you first start writing?
I’ve always had an interest in words, and I still recall a short story I wrote in grade school when I first learned to write called “The Coming of Dawn.” That’s all I remember of it, and it preceded my sister Dawn’s birth by several years. Psychic? Hardly. I also remember randomly opening a dictionary up to any page, plopping my finger down on a word, and including it in my stories and writing. I know I perplexed my teachers, who couldn’t figure out how a word like “haberdasher” would end up in English homework; it certainly wasn’t in the Dick & Jane stories we read in class. I’ve never lost that love of words, though I’ve expanded it.
2.Do you enter many writing contests?
When I first started taking my writing seriously, I entered contests, but back then one could often enter for minimal amounts of money—and there weren’t so many. Once contests starting charging $15-25 for the submission of 1-3 poems, and once every tiny publisher in the world seemed to offer a contest, I stopped. It seems that most contests are long shots at best, and I’d rather spend the time and effort on writing or submitting to journals.
3.How do you feel about entering contests only for the “fame” and not “fortune”?
I think “fame” is a far better reason to enter contests than “fortune.” No one gets rich from winning a contest; but winning a high-profile contest can help with marketing one’s work and booking readings. Basically, anyone in the literary business only for fortune ought to rethink his or her reasons for writing. If it’s not for the love of writing, get out.
4.How do you stay motivated?
Publishing is one way of staying motivated. It shows that what one is doing is worthwhile—at least to someone. Belonging to writing groups (and organizations) is also very motivating. The feedback is important, but so is the chance to interact with other writers. One of my poetry writing groups meets twice a month, and I find that the dates encourage me to revise or complete work to share with the others—or to write something entirely new. Reading is also a significant motivator, constantly providing ideas for new work and techniques for attempting in a poem.
5.Have you ever hated something you wrote?
Of course! I think any writer who claims otherwise is lying. I’ve written many things I’ve hated; it takes a lot of practice to get good. Writing is no different from other skills that must be honed and practiced.
6.How do you come up with your titles?
Good question, as titles are something that many writers blow off. My titles almost always are written after I’ve completed a poem, or at least a draft of a poem, partly because I often don’t know where the poem is going to take me until I get to the end of it. In fact, I find that when I do know where a poem is headed, it often sounds forced or pedantic. But getting back to titles, I often look for something in the poem that could be pulled out and made into the title; it’s a way of editing out something that might be necessary but doesn’t really need to be in the poem. Other times, I like to use a “trick” title, a title that leads one into the poem so that the poem isn’t what one’s expecting. I’d say I often “test” fifteen or more title before I settle on one.
7.Are experiences you write about based on someone you know, or events in your own life?
A lot of my poems are based on both my own life and those around me—but that does not mean they are merely autobiography. I follow Dickinson’s maxim of telling the truth but telling it slant, so I often mix truth and fiction in my pieces. The specific details in my poems may be entirely made up, but still based on my life. Most days I walk 4-5 miles in a nearby park—always with a notepad—and many of my poems stem from my observations, not really “events” or even “experiences.” I’ve been writing a lot more personal poems the past few years, and I’m happy with the way they force one to get away from one’s own life, though there’s always a little bit of me in my poems.
8.What are your current projects?
I’ve been obsessed with ghazals the last two years, and I’ve now got several dozen Dickinson-inspired ghazals, each starting with a line from her. I’m working on putting together the best of them for a chapbook. Before that I was all about the sonnet. I’ve got a manuscript of about a hundred sonnets as well. Unfortunately, I greatly prefer the creative side of writing to the “business” side of writing, and I have to force myself to do submit poems and manuscripts, probably the reason it took ten years between my first (Vegetables and Other Relationships) and second (Presence) books. But I have also been busy with editing a new collection, Wingbeats II: Exercises & Practice in Poetry, a follow-up to the first best-selling volume. There’s just not enough time to do it all!
9.Name one entity that you feel supported you outside of family members.
I am blessed in many ways, but one is in having a husband who is also a writer, David Meischen. It’s wonderful to be with someone who understands the effort that goes into writing, revising, editing, submissions, etc.—and doesn’t complain about the time I spend “alone” on them (because he does the same). Another blessing is having a writer in the house to bounce ideas off, to read and critique new drafts, to encourage me to always do my best. Of course, it’s a two-way street! Not many people have a partner who’s so understanding and helpful, and I’m very appreciative.
10. Do you have any advice for other writers?
I have so much advice, but one of the main things I stress in writing workshops I give is one word: perseverance. Keep at it, and you’ll get better. Yes, I receive plenty of rejection letters; all writers do. But you can’t let them get to you. Keep revising, keep submitting, persevere.