Monthly Archives: August 2013

Writeliving Interview – Amy Gerstler

Any Gerstler Photo

Lately, we’ve seen a lot of lists of influential poets. Amy Gerstler would definitely appear high up on mine. She is yet another example of how So. Cal has plenty of writing heavyweights. She was gracious enough to share some of her writing life with us. Enjoy.

Martin Ott

Who has been a major influence on your writing?

Dennis Cooper was a major mentor to me in college and beyond. He transformed my life, pointed me in important literary directions, introduced me to Rimbaud so much else when I was very wide eyed and naïve and unworldy. David Lehman has also been a generous mentor whose approach to writing and teaching has taught me tons. Other authors I would love to believe have affected or will affect my work in the future include: Wislawa Szymborska, James Tate, Sylvia Plath, Virginia Woolf, Tom Clark, Sei Shonagon, Charles Simic, Marianne Moore, Russell Edson, Frank O’Hara, Franz Kafka, Elizabeth Bishop, Lucia Perillo, MFK Fisher, Phillip Larkin, Rainier Maria Rilke, John Ashbery, Mark Twain, Elaine Equi, Eileen Myles, Benjamin Weissman, Walter Benjamin’s writing about drugs, Robert Walser, Donald Barthelme, Walt Whitman, Alice Notley, Ai. I could go on forever with this sort of list, past influences, current ones, writers whose work I hope will yank my writing in fresh and better directions.

Can you give us insight into your creative process?

I tend to be a collagist and cull from a variety of different sources. Research and note taking help me generate phrases and ideas and get juices flowing. I love doing research and collecting odd bits of language. Usually I need to be surrounded by books I can flop open and cannabalize in order to write. I just learned the word syncretistic and have a bit of a crush on the word at the moment. I consider myself a syncretistic poet. Old reference and text books, instructional or spiritual texts, science and nature books, art and film texts, old national geographics, books on ancient religions or archaeology, the newspaper….anything wordy and strange and packed with odd information could be useful. It’s hard for me to leave used bookstores empty handed. My house is a chaos of piled, crammed, shelved, stacked booksprawl. (This is typical writer stuff, I think.)

How has teaching impacted your work as a writer?

What a blooming miracle to be able to teach to support one’s writing. What a relief. It’s amazing to have a job that’s related to writing. A job you like. This is a big luxury, especially these days, when it’s a gift to have a job at all. To get paid for hanging out with smart, talented young humans and hearing what they’re reading, interested in, thinking about, worried about, wanting to do is kind of nirvana. Trading ideas with them. It’s like having a bunch of literary scouts out in the world. Ditto for accomplished colleagues who are writers or literary scholars or artists or scientists, etc. obsessed with some version of the things you’re obsessed with: writing, books, information, figuring out how to balance supporting yourself and forging a writer’s life. Students and colleagues teach me a lot. And of course preparing to teach whatever writers, forms, and books you assign, immersing yourself in all that, enriches your brain for writing too. Teaching forces me into the world in ways I’d probably avoid if I wasn’t compelled to do it, being a natural hermit, so that’s probably healthy. Otherwise I would just be living in a cave with a couple of feral dogs, eating berries, grunting and scratching and talking to myself, or something pretty close to that lifestyle. And having the amenities of a college or university available (library, bookstore, lectures and classes you could theoretically attend, visting writers and academics who come through, an intellectual and research community, a center of learning etc.) doesn’t hurt, either. So these things help my work, (and I should take advantage of them more!) The down side is of course teaching sucks up precious time and energy. It’s great but depleting. That’s the trade off. And I’m shy so being in front of a class is always a bit of a leap for me.

Do you consider yourself part of any movement in poetry?

No. Sometimes I regret that, not having that special camaraderie, but I’m a loner, mostly.

What is the best advice you can give to a writer finding her/his voice?

Nothing they haven’t already thought of and that hasn’t been already said to them repeatedly: write tons, read tons, find peers, go to readings, cultivate your obsessions, try to customize your life so that writing is at the center of everything. Fill yourself with whatever inspires you, and if you don’t know, try lots of things: art, music, all forms of literature, nature, solitude, love, travel, sex, ballroom dancing competitions, making pastry, whatever. Be patient and persist. Keep keeping at it. Have faith. I know this is cornball but believe in your work and its potential as though it were your kid. Remember art can be play. Push your work out into the world when you’re ready so you can see what happens. Don’t take rejection personally, or at least try to work towards that admirable goal of calm detachment.

Can you share an example of overcoming adversity to keep your writing dream alive?

I’ve been lucky as a writer. Real nasty adversity hasn’t reared its head much so far in my literary life. Sure, I’ve had difficulties and disappointments, who hasn’t, but many of them were probably self inflicted when I look back and think about it. When I hear the term “adversity” I think of truly dire stuff: Denton Welch writing while lying in bed horribly injured, or Dennis Potter sipping morphine from a to-go cup during his final illness to keep going long enough finish his last work, or what I’ve been reading recently about the bravery of David Rakoff hanging on to complete a final project while suffering a similar punishing fatal illness. My tiny troubles look microscopic in comparison. When I was much younger I sent out 30 or so inquiry letters over a period of time trying to get a book published and no one would even agree to read it. I was discouraged by that for quite a while. Then by pure happenstance the editor of  a lovely publishing house (the now defunct North Point Press) saw the manuscript and got interested. That kind of thing is why I vehemently advise young writers to persevere.

What is something about you that writers and readers may not know?

That I am double jointed. That I love Ella Fitzgerald’s voice to the point of swooning. That I am a big fan of graphic novels.

About the Author

Amy Gerstler’s most recent books of poetry include Dearest Creature,  Ghost Girl,  Medicine,  and Crown of Weeds. She teaches at University of California at Irvine.

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What I Learned as a Publishing Intern

Guest Post by Anna L. Davis

Anna photo

What I Learned as a Publishing Intern

Ten years of writing from home, querying and plugging away at word count while breaking up sibling fights, can wear on the nerves. I wanted to learn more about the writing industry. I wanted to get out of the house, but still have time for my family. So with some hunting I found the perfect job: a part-time creative writing internship for Henery Press, a local mystery and suspense publisher.

The catch? It was unpaid.

After a conversation with my tolerant (and steadily employed) husband, I agreed to the job. Thus began my semi-formal instruction in book publishing. Oh, I knew a bit about publishing before I took the internship. I worked as an editor for the college paper, blogged regularly, even self-published a nonfiction book a while back. But much has changed since then, and this hip new publisher taught me what it takes to create and market novels in today’s volatile market.

I worked with some cool people out of a loft-style office in an artsy urban environment. We read through submissions and talked books while drinking coffee and jamming to Pandora (or sometimes the strains of hip-hop drifting up from the street below). We went to writer’s conferences and told people we worked in publishing. It was terribly exciting stuff for this write-from-home mom.

I learned more about publishing in six months interning, than in the previous ten years of trying to make it on my own as a writer. But I didn’t earn a dime. And this is perhaps the most important lesson gained: money should not be a writer’s goal.

Don’t get me wrong. Publishing is a business – a risky one. There are costs involved, and if you get a book published in today’s market, you better be out there doing everything possible to get that book moving off the shelves, not just for your own career, but also for the publisher who took a chance on your writing.

Creative writing should be about something deeper than money, though. In his book On Writing, Stephen King said, “Do you do it for the money, honey? The answer is no… I did it for the buzz. I did it for the pure joy of the thing. And if you can do it for joy, you can do it forever.”

When we as writers come to the blank page, we must set aside concerns about sales rankings and reviews. As writers we must focus on the words, not the money. We should sit at the keyboard and ponder the push and pull of sentences, the cadence of lines that spark emotion.

Yes, publishing is a business. This I know well. But writing?

Writing is for pleasure.

About the Author:

Anna L. Davis is a Dallas-area novelist who writes about flawed people, brain implants, and bio-surveillance. Read more about her internship at Henery Press on her blog, Invisible Ink.


Filed under Guest Blog Post, Publishing, Uncategorized

Poetry and Professional Life: Balance? What’s That?

Guest Post by Victoria Chang

Photo Victoria Chang

When asked to write a blog post on juggling professional life and a life in poetry, the irony of course, is that I am too busy to add yet another thing (however small) onto my plate. The very same week my self-imposed deadline for this blog post arrived (too fast), my own third book of poems, The Boss, came out from McSweeney’s Poetry Series, I was just starting a new project at work, we had just brought home a new puppy, our two kids (7 and 5) had summer camp 30 minutes each way, and I was on my way to do a slew of readings for my new book in San Francisco!

Plenty of people throughout history and in real-time have schedules like mine, and even worse. People often talk about Wallace Stevens and T.S. Eliot, who both were successful at working in business and simultaneously writing poetry. I read somewhere that Stevens, an insurance lawyer, had his assistant type up his poems that he wrote at work and that he liked to work because it gave him discipline and regularity and he didn’t need to worry about money.

But there aren’t a lot of examples of people who have successfully juggled work (especially in business) and the literary life, especially in the case of women and/or mothers. Plus I think that there’s a stigma, especially in poetry, if you work in anything commerce-related. I think it can be perceived as crass and non-artistic. I can think that poetry and a professional business life are not mutually exclusive, but if the “establishment” doesn’t think so, I’m out of luck…

…or am I? The thing is, if you write poetry that others want to read, establishment or not, if you say something important in a way that is arresting or different, or even something non-important in an arresting way, I still am an optimist and a purist and think that all the juggling of time is worth it in the end.

At the end of the day, I think everyone needs to think about what’s important to them and how they want to live their lives and just do those things, however much time each activity takes and no matter how hard it all seems. And not worry so much about what others think is “normal” or “conventional” or even “acceptable.” If that means writing poems once every two years, versus the prescriptive two hours each morning, then so be it. Your actions will show you what you want to do.

Our 7-year-old daughter finished a two-week writing camp a week ago and told me that a boy teased her for only writing half-a-page. After reading the boy’s 5-page description of his trip to Disney Land, I had to explain to our daughter, who had thought of a fiction story using her imagination, that age-old cliché: “Quality is more important than quantity.” I believe that and try to live that every single day with everything that I do, and that goes for poetry too.

Sometimes I watch our new dachshund puppy let his nose lead the way. I like to think I have something to learn from that little guy. I let my nose lead my way and try and block out all the other white noise.

 About the Author:

Victoria Chang is a poet and works in marketing and communications. She has an MFA and an MBA.  Her third book of poems, The Boss, is just out from McSweeney’s. She lives in Southern California with her family.

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Filed under Guest Blog Post, Poetry, Uncategorized, Writing