April Gibson is a poet, essayist, and educator whose work has appeared in Pluck!, Valley Voices, Tidal Basin Review, Literary Mama, and elsewhere. She has received a Loft Mentor Series Award in Poetry, a Vermont Studio Center Residency, and is a fellow of The Watering Hole Poetry Retreat, a VONA/Voices Writing Workshop fellow, and a Callaloo Creative Writing Workshop fellow. Her chapbook, Automation (2015), was published by Willow Books as part of their emerging poet and writer series. Her current project is a full-length poetry collection titled The Black Woman Press Conference. I met April some years ago at a reading at Common Good Books and I was immediately struck by her poetry’s force and grace. It was my pleasure to interview this bright, bold light about her recent and in-progress performance and poetic work.
Katie Kitamura's The Longshot is about a mixed martial arts fighter who has a rematch with the first fighter who ever beat him, back when he was winning, and he hasn't really been a winner since. It's about the journey from the top of a career to understanding himself as something else.
Good writing about competitive sports makes bodies present and physical, but still acknowledges the brain's involvement and the games it plays. In elite athletics, the mind and the body act together, but they might also work against each other. The Longshot makes that strange and nuanced mind/body relationship come alive.
Working with another author on a book idea can be life-changing experience. Writing can be a satisfying yet isolating experience; the possibility of writing and creating a book with another person can present opportunities to learn more about the writing process, while sharing individual knowledge and successes with one another.
"I think everyone has the capacity to be an artist. Unfortunately, we live in a society where it feels like only certain gifted people get to be artists. It’s been fascinating for me as a teaching artist to work with, for example, youth and senior citizens to create artwork. Some people have amazing stories, or are amazing performers. The difference between them and someone like me is that they never had a platform to try things out. I feel like I’m in a position where I can share resources, like, “Hey, I’ve got a gig. Do you want to perform?” In that way, I’ve been trying to amplify more voices."
I met speculative novelist/prose writer and fellow INTJ Stephanie Chrismon last year when I was the local poetry mentor for the Loft Mentor Series and she was a prose participant. I was inspired by her sense of humor, her fearlessness in her personal essays, and her passion while presenting her work at the Loft.
To get a rough draft onto the page, we writers have already bushwhacked our way through the woods. We've had a great adventure, and, as Peter Turchi writes, “The desire to cling to that first path through the wilderness is both a celebration of initial discovery and fear of the vast unknown.” The path may be narrow, it may have missed some spectacular scenery, it may go the long way, but gosh-darn-it, it arrived!
Here's the thing, though: The wilderness you've crossed in your first draft is far more spectacular and significant than you yet know. You need a way to go deeper, to find the best material. You need a friendly guide.
Let me introduce you to revision. Revision is the work of seeing with new eyes. Creativity is the ability to make new things or think new ideas; it’s the capacity to see or make newness. Revision is the flourishing of creativity.
A word closely related to revision is respect, whose Latin roots mean “look back at” or “regard.” Revision is the work of respecting creation.
Contrary to what writers learn in writing workshops and MFA classes, there really is a single, secret ingredient to creating work that comes alive. Along with the more obvious items in the recipe—basic literacy, paper and pen or laptop, an idea, motivation, and stick-to-itiveness—without this one ingredient, nothing much happens. Sure, you might write a piece. It might be skillful, with a fresh voice, and gripping plot, and clever insights. Or not. It might be successful in others’ eyes. Or not. Your finished product might be a stack of effort filed under a bed, or a self-published booklet circulating within your family, or a packaged product gaining accolades in the marketplace, and still, without this element it will make no real difference in the world.
Maybe this satisfies you, but if not, read on.
Author Molly Beth Griffin talks about the long and winding road to publication in this blog.
"When I was pregnant with my son, I took a road trip with my mom to see the Sandhill Crane migration.
After that trip to see the cranes, I spent months writing and rewriting this long, complicated picture book called MIGRATION with a dual narrative. On the left side of the page: a girl on a road trip. On the right: a flock of cranes migrating. At the climax of the story, they meet. The girl is transformed. It was over 2,000 words."
Samanta Schweblin's Fever Dream (translated by Megan McDowell) is a beautifully frightening novel. I don't want to give away the precise circumstances because the suspense is so well rendered, but I will say the dangers are psychological, chemical, and mystical—all wrapped together and teased to a taut and chilling terror. The first page sets the tone.
Recently a friend of mine (not in publishing) asked over lunch if self-publishing is still frowned upon. It took me by surprise, as this is someone who generally avoids discussing the writing realities of publishing, and generally geeks out over books with me. Needless to say, I wasn’t surprised by the conversation. It’s one I know can and will happen when I least expect it.