Welcome to the one hundred and forty-fifth of my blog interviews with novelists, poets, directors, bloggers, autobiographers and more. And today’s is with poet and Poet Laureate of Douglasville, Georgia (USA) Alice Shapiro whose poetry tips were my first guest blog piece. (The photo of Alice is provided courtesy of John Barker / Douglasville Patch.) A list of interviewees (blogged and scheduled) can be found here. If you like what you read, please do go and investigate further.
Morgen: Welcome back, Alice. Please tell us something about yourself and how you came to be a writer.
Alice: As a young teen I wrote cowboy plays and had my siblings act them out for the neighbors. I did not write again until my mid-40s. I always hesitate to say this, but a psychic told me to write. I took a few classes, won some prizes, production and publication and so my writing career began.
Morgen: Then regardless of what people think, it set you onto something you clearly enjoy doing. 🙂 I know you for writing poetry, is that the genre you generally write?
Alice: I write poetry and plays. Other genres do not provide the same joy I feel as these two forms.
Morgen: And there we have it, the word ‘joy’. 🙂 What have you had published to-date?
Alice: My third collection of poetry, Saltian, will be released October 2011 by unbound CONTENT. My first collection, Cracked: Timeless Topics of Nature, Courage and Endurance, was nominated for a Pushcart Prize and Georgia Author of the Year. The second collection, also by TotalRecall Press (2010) is Life: Descending / Ascending. I live in a small suburb where only Borders Books and a small used bookstore exist, and now Borders no longer exists so I look for my titles on Amazon.com.
Morgen: I think a lot of people are going that way anyway. How much of the marketing do you do for your published works or indeed for yourself as a ‘brand’?
Alice: Up until recently I have done all the marketing myself but it is not my favorite thing to do. By marketing and branding myself, however, I became visible in my community which led to my appointment as poet laureate. My newest publisher is taking over the major marketing for my latest book and she is doing a marvelous job.
Morgen: That’s great, so you’ll have more time to write. 🙂 You mentioned competition success, do you think they help with a writer’s profile?
Alice: I think if you want to be recognized as an academic success you need credentials. I do not have a degree so I made an effort to get an award to help with recognition. If you simply want to sell your book there are other ways to get there without the competitions. After my first book was nominated for the awards I mentioned above, I found it beneficial to my creative flow because I somehow relaxed more and realized I could write from my heart now that I was published and acknowledged.
Morgen: You also mentioned having a publisher, does this mean you have an agent? Do you think they’re vital to an author’s success?
Alice: I’ve heard it is good to get an agent to help negotiate big deals but they are not so helpful before that. The industry is changing and they are as much up in the air about what to do as writers are. I thought it might be nice to have an agent but I soon realized the time I was spending trying to qualify for one could be just as well spent on finding a publisher instead. In addition, I do not travel outside my state so I don’t necessarily need an agent to set up readings and book signings for me.
Morgen: Are your books available as eBooks? If so what was your experience of that process? And do you read eBooks?
Alice: Both my publishers offer eBooks through Amazon.com I do not personally get involved in that process. I do not read eBooks.
Morgen: I read very little, too many paperbacks vying for my attention… plus I travel less, I think they’re perfect for that. So we’ve covered competitions, what was your first acceptance and is being accepted still a thrill?
Alice: My first poem was accepted at a journal through a competition and provided me with a $30 prize. My first play won a competition and was produced. For that I received $6. Both were lovely, exciting experiences as are any honors I receive to this day.
Morgen: 🙂 Then on the flipside, have you had any rejections? If so, how do you deal with them?
Alice: Yes! While trying to build an art career I experienced many, many rejections. In the beginning it would take me about a week to recover emotionally from each one. By the time I bowed out of the art scene and started writing I was so calloused that any rejections simply roll off my back. In fact, I now look for people to tell me about my work because I am more able to distinguish between real constructive criticism and just bad advice.
Morgen: And there’s a lot of both. What are you working on at the moment?
Alice: Finalizing the Saltian book and also I have begun writing a musical.
Morgen: Oh great! One of my writing group colleagues is doing the same, I just hope she doesn’t expect us to sing when she brings it in for critiquing. 🙂 Do you manage to write every day? What’s the most you’ve written in a day?
Alice: No, I write sporadically when time permits or the inspiration arrives. The most I’ve written was that first play. Once I started I went straight through for 3 days until it was complete.
Morgen: Wow. I was going to ask you next about writer’s block, do you ever suffer from it? If so, how do you ‘cure’ it?
Alice: Sounds like an illness. I don’t look at not writing as a block. Everyone has their own inner time clock, whether that takes the form of hours, days, or years. Mostly when I’m getting the feeling I want to write and if I’m busy with too much activity to do that, I will make a concerted effort to go somewhere away from the pressure (in the back yard, to a restaurant, etc.).
Morgen: Where do you get your inspiration from?
Alice: Sometimes I will receive an assignment on a specific topic or project. Otherwise I simply notice a feeling or urge to write and then start writing.
Morgen: 🙂 Concentrating on your poetry, do you write to form or free verse? What would you say is the difference between a piece of prose and a prose poem? Why do you think poetry is so popular and yet so poorly paid?
Alice: I write free verse. I don’t really know what the difference is between prose and prose poetry except for length. Perhaps prose poems are a sort of middle ground between poetry and prose forms as there is generally more rhythm in the prose poems than in straight prose and less than in poems. This is a question I have been grappling with and discussing with other poets. My conclusion (for the moment) is that a poetry book has no commercial value as would a painting. It is not usually shared physically as would an experience at the theatre. I cannot imagine a mom at a PTA meeting rushing over to tell her friend, “You have to read this amazing book of poems I just finished!” It doesn’t have the prurient value of a romance novel. Poetry books are private affairs.
Morgen: I know a couple of poets who would agree with you there, I know they read their books in private. Who is your first reader – who do you first show your work to?
Alice: I facilitate a local poetry critique group so they are the first recipients of my new work.
Morgen: Do you do a lot of editing or do you find that as time goes on your writing is more fully-formed?
Alice: In the beginning I would edit a lot and often throw things out. I have become mostly comfortable with what I am writing but will also tweak the work a bit, especially after it has been critiqued by others.
Morgen: You’re clearly practiced and I think that’s what it comes down to. How much research do you have to do for your writing? Have you ever received feedback from your readers?
Alice: Research for my poems is basically from the Thesaurus. For plays, if I have to take settings, time, etc. into consideration I will do some research. For my Saltian book, my publisher has posted all 51 poems on her blog. Each poem was assigned an editor who then posted a critique of that poem on the blog. Then the general public was allowed to comment on both the poem and the critique. Now that the WIP: Saltian project has ended I am revising the poems, taking into consideration these suggestions, before the book is published next month. It has been an amazing journey that included artwork, responsive writing, and controversial remarks. The publisher has videos and audio recordings planned as a follow up. Anyone can still add a comment if they wish on http://booksblog.unboundcontent.com.
Morgen: Oh wow. I’m not practiced at poetry but I hope that anyone reading this who is will go along and comment. I often think of poetry as being a pen or pencil and paper, not sure why but do you write on paper or do you prefer a computer?
Alice: Initially I write by hand on paper and then transfer to the computer and then back to hand for revisions.
Morgen: I do prefer to edit on paper too. Apparently it uses a different part of our brain. You mentioned earlier that you’re not a fan of marketing, what’s your favourite / least favourite aspect of your writing life?
Alice: Favorite is the joy of writing. Least favorite is not getting paid.
Morgen: I agree with your favourite (least favourite for me I think is not having as much time as I’d like to do it but then I’ve not had to market myself much… yet). What advice would you give aspiring writers?
Alice: Oh, please read the tips I’ve written for Morgen.
Morgen: Yes, please do, they’re great. 🙂 What do you like to read?
Alice: I wish I had more time to read. I recommend Gerard Manley Hopkins, my favorite poet. Also enjoy Wallace Stevens, Adrienne Rich, Seamus Heaney and Charles Bukowski.
Morgen: I was given a Seamus Heaney poetry collection for this year’s World Book Night but not read it yet. 😦 What do you do when you’re not writing?
Alice: Mostly I am trying to find time to write. I just returned to my art recently by designing digitally through an interior design company called Find Your Niche Décor. Walks are always on my to-do list and being with family and friends.
Morgen: I’m like that when I do NaNoWriMo. Come 1st December I remind people that I’m still alive, and that was before I started this blog – this year will certainly be interesting. Are there any writing-related websites and / or books that you find useful and would recommend?
Morgen: Ooh new ones to me other than GoodReads (which I’ve explored properly yet). You’re US-based do you find this a help or hindrance with letting people know about your work?
Alice: The internet provides such great international access that it really fosters getting people familiar with my work. On the other hand, it is a bit more difficult to market yourself because of the amount of information out there.
Morgen: That’s very true but I like to think that quality will beat quantity. Are you on any forums or networking sites? If so, how invaluable do you find them?
Alice: LinkedIn has been the most valuable to me for business-related issues. I’ve found people to write blurbs for my books and I learn much from the experiences of others. I use Twitter for promotions and Facebook for friends and family. I just don’t have time to add forums to the list.
Morgen: That’s about all I’m on too. Where can we find out about you and your work?
Alice: Thanks for asking.
Morgen: You’re very welcome… wouldn’t want anyone who enjoys this interview to not be able to look you up. 🙂
Alice: My poetry / plays website is www.aliceshapiro.com.
Morgen: Is there a question you’d like to ask me?
Alice: Why did you choose a blog to help others and how has this affected your book sales?
Morgen: <laughs hysterically> Ah… none of my books are ready yet. If I’d known how this blog was going to take off I would have got them ready before but I’m working on it. They should be available mid/late-October and yes, I hope it makes some impact. 🙂 As for helping others, it’s just kind of happened that way. I was interviewed and found it fun so started offering it to other authors (via the aforementioned social networks) and it snowballed from there (nearly 15,000 hits in six months). It is hard work but I’m really enjoying it and I’m so grateful to the authors for making it such a success as it would just be my ramblings without them (you Alice). 🙂 So, thank you Alice, for coming back to the blog for this interview. 🙂
Alice Shapiro is currently serving as Poet Laureate of Douglasville, GA. In addition to her three collections of poetry, one of which received a Pushcart Prize nomination and Georgia Author of the Year nomination (2010), she also won the Bill C. Davis Drama Award for a verse play (Four Voices), is Executive Producer of a TV competition for poets, and was one of the judges for Poetry Out Loud’s 2010 and 2011 regionals. Her third book, Saltian, is now available at Amazon.com and bookstores worldwide. Visit her website at www.aliceshapiro.com.
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