Sunday, August 13, 2017

12 or 20 (second series) questions with Rachel Thompson

Rachel Thompson’s book of poetry, Galaxy (Anvil Press, 2011), won SFU First Book Competition when contest judge Gregory Scofield said her poems had “Wonderful and clear imagery as well as a ‘real’ and ‘true’ sense of place, love, longing, family, and the constant struggle and re-negotiation of self and experience.” She loves working with writers with her project and as an editor with Room magazine.

1 - How did your first book change your life? How does your most recent work compare to your previous? How does it feel different?

Writing my first book changed my life in that in writing it, I developed many writing friendships, found mentors, and to this day feel the support of an incredible community of writers. My most recent work is creative nonfiction. I don’t know that it’s too different from my poetry in that I still draw from my life, family, and domestic settings. But, I’m different. I’ve lived a lot in the years since the book came out, and my writing likely reflects this.

2 - How did you come to poetry first, as opposed to, say, fiction or non-fiction?

I’ve had the poetry bug since my sixth grade English teacher Madame McGilvary read my “Ballad of Gentle Words” aloud for our class. I was too shy to read it myself, but in that moment I felt understood by a reader, my teacher.

3 - How long does it take to start any particular writing project? Does your writing initially come quickly, or is it a slow process? Do first drafts appear looking close to their final shape, or does your work come out of copious notes?
It takes me a while to warm up to a project. My writing comes very slowly and through much resistance to the process. I procrastinate and avoid. When I finally get down to it, I write copious notes and then I write around the writing, meaning I overwrite. By the time I begin revising, I need a very big knife.

4 - Where does a poem usually begin for you? Are you an author of short pieces that end up combining into a larger project, or are you working on a "book" from the very beginning?
Before my book came out, I stayed more present as I wrote. I took it poem by poem, image by image, line by line. I don’t have a second book-length work ready yet, and one reason for this is I get ahead of myself, thinking of the book and not the page, and then I lose focus.

5 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process? Are you the sort of writer who enjoys doing readings?
I love doing readings. Madame McGilvary’s English class was not predictive. I find readings are really helpful when I’m working out material to see how the writing lands on the readers’ (listeners’) ear.

6 - Do you have any theoretical concerns behind your writing? What kinds of questions are you trying to answer with your work? What do you even think the current questions are?
This is such a great question. I don’t approach things explicitly in terms of  theoretical underpinnings, but I do consider if, as James Baldwin said, I “drive to the heart of every answer and expose the question the answer hides.” When writing about difficult times and places I have known, one puzzle I usually am curious about is if and how was I complicit in what went wrong.

7 – What do you see the current role of the writer being in larger culture? Does s/he even have one? What do you think the role of the writer should be?
I used to live by the maxim that the act of writing and reading creates empathy. The idea was that writers by virtue of being willing to invest in a deep examination of society and individuals made the world more compassionate. But, this year in CanLit was like eye surgery. A few laser zaps corrected my ocular lenses so I could see that empathy is not enough. As Alicia Elliot wrote in her essay On Seeing and Being Seen, we need to write with love.

8 - Do you find the process of working with an outside editor difficult or essential (or both)?
I think with the right fit, it can be magic. I did find it somewhat difficult when it came to doing the final preparations for my book. So, both! I had worked with a couple of outstanding mentors on my manuscript, so I had to negotiate between their earlier advice and some of my editor’s suggestions. I do think it’s absolutely essential to have someone who can critically evaluate your work. We all need someone to point out that you have a solitary ampersand in the book so you can decide if you truly need it.

9 - What is the best piece of advice you've heard (not necessarily given to you directly)?
Some advice I tend to pass along to other writers about feedback comes from Brené Brown. She says to listen only to critiques from people who, like you, are on the arena floor, face-down in the muck. As she says, it’s essential to ignore the people shouting from the cheap seats.

10 - What kind of writing routine do you tend to keep, or do you even have one? How does a typical day (for you) begin?
I have two small children right now and I’ve lost my writing space and with it my routine. So, for me, writing happens in surprise stolen moments. Even now, I’m responding to your questions during an unexpectedly long nap of my smallest one.

11 - When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration?
I often read the writing of mentors, like Miranda Pearson, or Betsy Warland, depending if I’m generating (Miranda) or revising (Betsy). I can hear their advice as I do it.

12 - What fragrance reminds you of home?
The last stanza of my poem, “At My Birth”, goes:
O, how I howl
a wild thing, searching
for the scent of home.
I wrote this because there isn’t a scent that feels like home for me. From my childhood, I remember the smell of a Prairie thunderstorm coming in. I remember the smell of the vinegar I used to wash the mirror in the bathroom. But, there isn’t a food or any strong ol factory experience that impressed upon my memory.  It's more of a lack. I’ve now lived in so many places that I still don’t think one smell defines home for me. I may always wonder what home smells like. And now that you bring my attention to this, I wonder (with some dread) what my kids think home smells like.

13 - David W. McFadden once said that books come from books, but are there any other forms that influence your work, whether nature, music, science or visual art?
When I write poetry, I’m influenced by music and the musical potential of a line. In truth, I’m influenced by everything—from podcasts to tall grass, but I don’t think about this too much as I’m generating words. Certainly books inspire me, and often books I read early in life make an impression. (Where the Wild Things Are in the stanza referenced above.)

14 - What other writers or writings are important for your work, or simply your life outside of your work?
As I mentioned Betsy Warland and Miranda Pearson have both personally had a big impact on me as teachers and mentors.

In the past few years, I’ve been reading a lot of submissions to Room magazine, because I’m on the editorial board. I learn so much about the craft of writing by reading submissions. I start to see big patterns in terms of what works and what doesn’t work as I do this reading. And at times I am wholly surprised to see someone doing something totally different and effective. When this happens, it’s the best part of lit mags; the writing can be so fresh and take big chances.

I’m hesitant to give you “the list” of writers and writings, because I read across so many genres—from highbrow to lowbrow, from self-help to sci-fi. Though I will say that I remember talking to friends and finding out we had all read Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time and at the time I thought that might become a test for whether a person has creative passion and curiosity. It doesn’t work for me now, since I live in a Francophone area, and they have their own books.

15 - What would you like to do that you haven't yet done?
Get over my childhood.

16 - If you could pick any other occupation to attempt, what would it be? Or, alternately, what do you think you would have ended up doing had you not been a writer?
In terms of occupations, recently I thought I would like to try teaching writing, but outside of an institution. So, I created an online course and am doing this now.

17 - What made you write, as opposed to doing something else?

The miles between my rich interior life and my inability to express myself well in most other ways.

18 - What was the last great book you read? What was the last great film?
I recently re-read Marge Piercy’s Gone to Soldiers and have been thinking about it ever since, wondering how much of the characters’ experiences leading up to WWII are like ours.

I seldom watch movies—with small kids a spare couple hours is a rarity—but I have watched the series Sense8 on Netflix. It’s phenomenal—very cinematic in scope.

19 - What are you currently working on?
I have two focuses at the moment. First, writing weekly letters to writers who subscribe to my emails at Second, editing an upcoming issue of Room on the theme “family secrets.” This summer, I will work on a wfe CNF essays that have been brewing for a while.

12 or 20 (second series) questions;

No comments: