Posts tagged author
Posts tagged author
Scenes from the MLA/DLA Joint Library Conference:
1. Me geeking out over my special Speaker nametag
2. Presenting on a panel about new methods of library outreach
3. Author Karen Hesse speaking at the conference luncheon
4. The view from my hotel room
Today’s author is Jonathan Balog, whose short story “The Truth” was just published as part of a tribute collection to Kurt Vonnegut called So It Goes. He is also the author of an e-collection of short stories called Inaugural Games. Balog currently resides in Rome and can be followed online on his website.
HEY BOO BOOKS: You just had a short story published in a tribute to Kurt Vonnegut, So It Goes. Congratulations! How did that come about and what can you tell us about the book?
JONATHAN BALOG: One afternoon last summer, I was on duotrope.com, and I came across an open call for submissions for an upcoming book dedicated to KV. The guidelines simply said they wanted stories that would have made the man proud. I thought, “FUCK, I’ve got something perfect for that!”
The year before I’d written a satirical piece called ‘The Truth,’ which I’d dedicated to Kurt’s memory. When I first got the idea, I knew I wanted it to be driven by that kind of dry, cynical humor that characterized Breakfast of Champions. I consciously riffed on KV’s style, aiming to deliver the tale in a manner that would pay tribute to the man, but without blatantly ripping him off. The fact that it ended up finding a home in a book dedicated to the guy who inspired it makes me immensely happy.
HBB: You’ve also self-published a collection of short stories, Inaugural Games. What can you tell us about that collection?
JB: In early 2012 I was having trouble getting my stuff placed anywhere. My girlfriend brought up the option of self-publishing on the Amazon Kindle page. The more I thought about it, the more I liked the idea. I put together a book of five radically dissimilar stories and released it as Inaugural Games. It contained a mystery, an urban fantasy, a period piece, and two absurdist psychological thriller-type pieces. The idea was for it to be a sampler, something that would give people a taste of the different styles I like to work with. Also, these were stories that I’d labored over, and I loved them. Even if I wasn’t getting paid, I’d much prefer them being read than collecting dust on my hard drive.
HBB: How did the self-publishing process work for you?
JB: It pretty much accomplished what I’d set out to do. A lot of people who’d never read me before checked it out. I got some very kind praise, and a few of them left 5-star reviews. Now that I’m starting to get published via more conventional channels, the people who read Inaugural Games are interested in checking out the new stuff.
HBB: Do you have any other upcoming publications in the works?
JB: Actually, yeah. This summer, Grey Matter Press is releasing a book of horror stories called Dark Visions. It’s going to contain my piece ‘The Troll,’ which is sort of a mash-up of Donnie Darko, Stephen King’s IT, and Ray Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes. Also, my story ‘The Sentient Hamster’ was recently purchased for an anthology of stories about aliens. That’s one of my older ones, and it reads like Douglas Adams would have read if he’d grown up in American suburbia.
HBB: How did you get into writing short stories?
JB: Well, I’ve wanted to be a writer for as long as I can remember. At a certain point I just realized that if I didn’t get serious about it, I was going to wake up on my 80th birthday still dreaming about it.
As for the short stories, I think it was reading the shorter works of Ray Bradbury, Stephen King, Clive Barker, J.G. Ballard, Neil Gaiman, Richard Matheson, H.P. Lovecraft, etc., etc. I think the medium offers a lot of freedom for everything that falls under the broad umbrella of imaginative fiction. It’s easier to maintain the fantastic for twenty pages than it is to let it fill an entire novel. It’s reasonable to ask the audience to suspend disbelief for the length of a short story, which allows me to get away with stuff like ‘The Deviant,’ where a man steals penguins from the Baltimore Zoo, and then they start plotting against him. If I attempted to turn a story like that into a novel, at some point I’d be obliged to start explaining myself. And often, explanation takes all the fun out of it.
HBB: What is your writing process typically like?
JB: I do my best work when I can start first thing in the morning, while my head’s clear and uncluttered by everything I’ll have to think about that day. I once saw an interview with Gore Vidal where he advocated the first-thing-in-the-morning approach, because that’s when you’re closest to the dream state, when you’ll come up with thoughts and word combinations that would never occur to your conscious self. I think there’s something to that. Of course, since I’m currently juggling jobs, that isn’t always an option. I basically write whenever I get a free moment.
HBB: Where do you find influences for your stories?
JB: They all come from different places. I got the idea for ‘Inaugural’ when I was doing research on the Roman Colosseum, and started drawing parallels between popular entertainment in the ancient world and the modern world. ‘The Man Who Sold Flowers’ came to me when I was buying some flowers for my girlfriend at one of the 24-hour floral shops scattered around Rome. I wondered what it would be like to run one of those things during the night shift. ‘The Troll’ was born while I was taking my dog for a walk along the Tiber River, and I suddenly had the image of a boy having a conversation with a magician under a bridge.
HBB: Do you have any advice for aspiring authors?
JB: Yeah, don’t listen to my advice! The methods that work for me won’t necessarily work for you, and vice versa. Find the conditions that are conducive to YOU writing, and maintain those conditions. Don’t listen to anyone who tells you there’s one true way to do it, and for God’s sake, don’t let anyone who doesn’t get what you’re doing discourage you.
Of course, it’s a Jane Austen truth-universally-acknowledged that you have to read A LOT. Read frequently, and read broadly. Read anything that catches your interest. Build vocabulary, absorb technique. And just so you know, it’s OK to borrow someone else’s voice once in a while, especially at the beginning when you’re still discovering your own.
HBB: If you were stranded on a desert island, what three books would you want to have with you?
JB: Oh man…I’ve never been good at narrowing down my favorites. There’s too much that I like. However, if I were planning on being marooned this week, I’d probably bring the following:
My reason for those is that I recently made the mistake of reading them on trains and buses, and I missed out on a good third of each.
Today I’m excited to introduce the lovely and talented poet Tyler Mills, the author of Tongue Lyre, which won the 2011 Crab Orchard Series in Poetry First Book Award (Southern Illinois University Press, 2013). Her poems have received awards from the Crab Orchard Review, Gulf Coast, and Third Coast and have appeared in the Antioch Review, Best New Poets, Georgia Review, TriQuarterly Online, and elsewhere. A graduate of the MFA program at the University of Maryland, she is currently pursuing a PhD in Creative Writing at the University of Illinois-Chicago.
Hey Boo Books: What can you tell us about your lovely new poetry collection?
Tyler Mills: The title of the collection, Tongue Lyre, draws upon two different concepts. The first, “Tongue,” invokes the myth of Philomela, or the loss of speech post-violation. The book itself gets kind of dark and dangerous. It also invokes language itself (as in “mother tongue”) and its capacity for song. “Lyre” draws on the convention of lyric poetry, which comes from the word, “lyre.” In the myth of Orpheus, the lyre was an instrument that, paired with the voice, could enchant anything in the world (other than death!). Southern Illinois Press wrote a lovely summary of the book here. And, I’ve written a little bit more about it here, too.
HBB: When did you first begin writing poetry?
TM: It really feels like I first began writing poetry when I learned how to draw…or even began trying to learn how to draw. To me, poetic images are about a way of seeing that is simultaneously a way of making that ties the body, mind, and world together. When I was around twelve, I received a collection Emily Dickinson’s poems as a gift and soon tried imitating her. I made little pseudo-common meter poems about the trees outside my window, a walk in the snow, a candle. My poems now can be kind of huge, but my very early poems were small Dickinson imitations. I spent a year in music school—writing my little poems throughout it—until I came to the realization that all along I really was, or wanted to be, a writer.
HBB: What is your writing process like?
My writing process changes greatly from poem to poem. Sometimes I hear a word or phrase that follows me around for a while. Sometimes I hear a story and hold onto it (like the one in my poem “Violin Shop”) until I find a way to use it in a poem. Sometimes, I approach my notebook with a general, vague feeling that I just need to write, and then assign myself sets of words or a form that I must work with in order to find out what it is I need to say. Often, I revise poems many, many times before I feel comfortable with the idea that they are “done.” I can be kind of neurotic like that. One of my recent poems has been through 40 revisions. Yet, another has only been through four. I suppose what keeps me returning to my notebook is how mysterious the writing process can really be. Keats famously said “We hate poetry that has a palpable design upon us,” and I try to remind myself of this when I sit down to work on something and think that I already know what I want to say about it.
HBB: Where do you find your inspiration?
TM: I find my inspiration in art, music, politics, history, memory, and texts of all kinds.
HBB: Who are your favorite authors?
TM: First, I have to say that some of my teachers are my favorite authors. I really mean this and am not just saying that. Their work continues to teach me. I have recently read Stanley Plumly’s Orphan Hours, Michael Collier’s An Individual History, Shara McCallum’s This Strange Land, and Elizabeth Arnold’s Effacement. Srikanth Reddy has also been an inspiration (Facts for Visitors). When I was writing Tongue Lyre, I read Anne Carson’s Autobiography of Red and Stanley Plumly’s The Marriage in the Trees over and over. I also read and re-read Elizabeth Bishop and John Ashbery. And, Lucille Clifton has been a dear poet to me for many years. I was also greatly influenced by James Joyce’s Ulysses and wanted my poems to spark the way his prose does. I also kept returning to Homeric myth and Ovid’s Metamorphosis. The plot structure of the Odyssey is intriguing.It is a frame story, but the shape of its circle is delightfully maddening. I can’t tell you how many times I revised the order of my manuscript before finally arriving at the sequence of the poems that are in Tongue Lyre.
HBB: What’s the best writing advice you were ever given?
TM: I would have to say that when I first became serious about writing poems, I came across a copy of Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet on a visit to Brooklyn. The quote that has stuck with me was a version of this one, which I hunted down again for this interview: “The necessary thing is after all but this; solitude, great inner solitude. Going into oneself for hours meeting no one - this one must be able to attain.” We writers like to be social, but the writing itself is very solitary. And that’s OK: it’s a good thing.
HBB: Where, besides your book, can we read your poetry?
TM: You can find some poems from the book in Memorious, TriQuarterly Online, and Connotation Press. The title poem of the collection, “Tongue,” is being published in the Women Write Resistance anthology—an exciting project I am honored to be part of.
HBB: If you were stranded on a desert island, what three books would you choose to keep you company?
TM: Wow. Too bad the huge Russian novels I love wouldn’t float very well! Perhaps if I brought the Odyssey, I could learn from Odysseus how to wander (Float? Sing?) my way home.
…and then read some more.
(created by Gayana)
When I was in 8th grade, I was given permission to skip school to go meet my hero Brian Jacques, author of the Redwall series. He did a wonderful reading and spent time signing books and talking to his young fans (like 12-year-old me, pictured above).
When I asked him what advice he might have for a young writer, he told me to “always remember to paint a picture with words.” Best skip day ever.
At the farewell dinner for my library conference, we got to meet Barney Sheehan, a Limerick native who edited a lovely book of poetry called My Limerick Town and has worked with the likes of Ezra Pound and Desmond O’Grady. Such a lovely gentleman!
Life-size statue of James Joyce in Dublin (aka the Prick with a Stick, according to some locals).
I am very sad to report that one of my very favorite childhood authors, Jean Craighead George, has just passed away at the age of 93. She was a wonderfully prolific author who focused a lot on nature, writing the now-famous works My Side of the Mountain, Julie of the Wolves, and many others.
Maurice Sendak’s classic Where the Wild Things Are was one of my favorite childhood stories, and it was the very first book that I ever bought for my beloved nephew. Sadly, Sendak passed away yesterday at the age of 83, though he did leave behind quite the legacy.
Mr. Sendak, “Oh, please don’t go—we’ll eat you up—we love you so!”