26. Creative Cross-Training with Poet July Westhale

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Happy Independence Day! We’re excited to return from our sabbatical with a splashy jump into the literary deep end.

July Westhale is a poet and essayist living in Oakland, CA. She is the author of The Cavalcade, forthcoming from Finishing Line Press, and has poems in The Pittsburgh Poetry Review, Cimarron, cahoodaloodaling, burntdistrict, and Quarterly West, among others. She has been awarded grants and residencies from the Vermont Studio Center, Sewanee, Dickinson House, Tin House and Bread Loaf.

July knows how to hustle, making her living as a freelance writer in the competitive Bay Area. In this episode, we mine her experience for inspiration and practical tips on how to do the same. Join us as we talk “creative cross-training,” “literary citizenship,” “healing from creative energy,” and the role poetry plays in swaying the cultural conversation. Few people we’ve spoken to dig words the way this lady does. Hold on tight as she closes the episode with her poem, “Trailer Trash.”


Follow July:

Author Website
Author Facebook Page
@JulyWesthale on Twitter Continue reading

25. The Parenthood Podcast: The Postmasters Talk Kids & Art & How to Deal

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Lacy attempts to write with a 4-year-old office mate

It’s the parenthood podcast! Art and parenthood. What gets sacrificed? What is more important? How does one feed the other? Lacy (at 37-weeks pregnant) and Audrey (with a 4-month old in her arms) address the way motherhood affects the writing life, both directly and indirectly [25:48].

 

Highlights

Lacy on completing an MFA as the mother of young kids:

“I had a three-year-old and an almost one-year-old… and they were just so much for me to handle… I just knew that if I didn’t do something to make myself write–which, for me, came out as an MFA–that I would go crazy. So, that’s why I did it, for my sanity. It was crazy to try to do an MFA with really young kids, but it would have been crazier not to.”

Audrey on keeping a journal as a brand new mom:

“It’s not even a journal about my days. It’s more like a journal that forces me to write something happy that happened, so that I am aware of that thing, because it’s so much easier to dwell on the bad stuff… I’ve started calling it Dispatches from the Isle of Motherhood.”

Audrey on the necessity of continuing to write:

“Writing is the way I figure things out. I need to write in order to get through [early motherhood] in a healthy manner in my mind, but I don’t always have the time or the energy to do it. And the days when I do get something out on paper are better than the days when I don’t.”

Lacy speaking truth:

“It’s important to be really forgiving of yourself, really generous with yourself.”

Who’s Who

Purity by Jonathan Franzen

Zadie Smith

Ayelet Waldman

Zoë Harris

Barbara Kingsolver

Susanna Hislop

Bastard Out of Carolina by Dorothy Allison

The Same Sky by Amanda Eyre Ward

The Dear Sugar Podcast by Cheryl Strayed and Steve Almond

Closing Quote

I say this in spite of the fact that children are giant endless suck machines. They don’t give a whit if you need to sleep or eat or pee or get your work done or go out to a party naked and oiled up in a homemade Alice B. Toklas mask. They take everything. They will bring you the furthest edge of your personality and abso-fucking-lutely to your knees. They will also give you everything back. Not just all they take, but many of the things you lost before they came along as well.”
Cheryl Strayed, Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar

Year of the Baby

Baby-TypewriterIn March, Picador published a volume of essays titled “Selfish, Shallow & Self-Absorbed: Sixteen Writers on the Decision Not to Have Kids.” Because my favorite author, Pam Houston, was among those sixteen, I waited for the book with breath bated. Until very recently, I’d been among that selfish, shallow, and self-absorbed crew, after all: childless by choice. Child-free, say those who think the word childless implies a lack of something they don’t believe they needed in the first place. I get these people. But I’m no longer one of them.

I was eight months pregnant when the book dropped, eager to read it from cover to cover, and… I haven’t managed to open it (or almost any book at all, if you don’t count Are You My Mother? or Goodnight Moon) since the day my daughter was born. That was almost three months ago. While I have managed to post a couple of times to my personal blog, The Girl Behind the Red Door, my writing life has otherwise dwindled to quick-and-dirty scribbles in a moleskin beside my bed. Bleary-eyed and distracted, these scribblings are barely legible the next day, but they are what I have now. I cling to them. After all, having a baby didn’t actually make me any less selfish, shallow, or self-absorbed than I was before. It’s just that my daughter’s life-or-death needs–which, thankfully, include playing and intellectual stimulation to build her little mind–require me to put on a more selfless face and show up, even when I would rather have my nose deep in a book, or my hands rattling across a keyboard.

Originally, I’d hoped to keep up the pace here at Postmasters. How hard could it be? pre-motherhood me thought to herself, as she sipped a cup of hot tea (still hot!) and casually flipped the pages of the current New Yorker, debating whether to take a leisurely shower and give herself a pedicure instead. Turns out, very. Especially when both co-hosts decide to have babies just five months apart.

That’s right, here at The Postmasters Podcast, 2015 is the Year of the Baby. Which is why you may have noticed us go to radio silence this month. Our intent is to continue with the podcast, but we’ll be dropping down to quarterly episodes in the immediate future. Our priority will continue to be bringing you, dear listeners and readers, fun, helpful, inspiring interviews with authors of every genre and at every level of personal success. (And don’t be surprised if one of our next interviews concerns strategies for maintaining a fruitful writing life as a parent, because lord, I could use the help!)

We wish you a wonderful summer! You’ll hear from us soon.

Audrey Camp & Lacy Mayberry

23. The Turner House: a Conversation with Debut Novelist Angela Flournoy

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ANGELA FLOURNOY is a graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, where she received a Dean’s Fellowship, and the University of Southern California. She has taught writing at the University of Iowa and Trinity Washington University, and has worked for the District of Columbia Public Library. She was raised in Southern California by a mother from Los Angeles and a father from Detroit. The Turner House is her first novel [23.33].

 

Highlights

On writing about Detroit…

“For me, I think of Detroit as a place of warmth. My experiences are obviously colored by the fact that it’s like a reunion when I got there…I don’t necessarily think of Detroit as a city of blight.”

“I had people immediately saying: this book needs to be grittier. It’s so light. It’s so happy. It’s so funny. This book needs to be darker. You know, basically like–kill some dogs in this book.”

On the paranormal…

“I think people incorporate all sorts of beliefs in the paranormal or supernatural. But for some reason in the fictional world, if you mention a ghost and you give it some sort of seriousness, all of a sudden it puts you in some kind of other sort of category. I don’t necessarily think it pulls your book out of the realm of realism.”

On first pitching her novel to agent Ellen Levine…

“I was going to meet with her even if I had nothing. So I wrote the first scene…and told her: ‘Oh, I have 100 pages of this thing.'”

On her experience at Iowa…

“A writing program is not the best proving ground for everyone, but for me, it helped me be able to explain to myself why I [make the decisions I make in my writing].”

“One of the things I learned in Iowa…is that you cannot hang your hat on criticism.”

Who’s Who

Marilynne Robinson, Edward Carey, & Paul Harding — Authors and Angela’s teachers at the Iowa Writer’s Workshop

Ellen Levine — Literary Agent with Trident Media

Ayana Mathis — Author of The Twelve Tribes of Hattie

Closing Quote

Mouths don’t empty themselves unless the ears are sympathetic and knowing. — Zora Neale Hurston, from Mules and Men

21. Flying & Throwing Pots: Thoughts on the Interdisciplinary Writing Life with Alisa Hagerty Miller

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Alisa Hagerty Miller recently completed her Master’s in Interdisciplinary Studies from Western New Mexico University with major concentrations in English and Writing. Before enrolling in graduate school, she worked for ten years as a commercial pilot. In January 2015, Alisa represented WNMU’s graduate division in Santa Fe, New Mexico, and presented a research poster, “Interdisciplinary Education in Action,” for New Mexico Legislature’s first annual Graduate Education Day. She is completing a final revision of her first young adult fantasy novel, while actively submitting short stories and essays for publication about the flying life and other subjects. Look for one of her latest CNF pieces in the spring edition of WNMU’s literary journal, Twisted Vine. [28:57].


Along with discussing the impact of Alisa’s flying life on her writing life, her experience at WNMU, and her publishing aspirations, we also talk about post-MFA teaching opportunities. Lacy teaches three college-level writing classes online; Audrey is in the midst of an MA in English Literature at the University of Oslo; and Alisa remained at her school for an extra semester in order to pick up some important literature-based classes, potentially making her a more attractive candidate for teaching jobs. We hope these insights help you, dear listeners!

Highlights

“I got into flying because I thought it would fuel my writing life… and I also had this fantasy that pilots had all this time off!”

“I found [WNMU] by providence and by luck… I didn’t really see a clear path back into education as I got older. I think it’s a common thing for people in their 30s and 40s: They’re like, I’ve put [grad school] off for this long, am I ever going to do this?”

On Interdisciplinary Studies…

“[IS] gives students the opportunity to design their own degree plans, usually in two or three disciplines… and the goal is to ultimately draw connections between those disciplines.”

“I think my whole life had been interdisciplinary. Flying is just about the most interdisciplinary career I’ve ever encountered.”

Management Information Systems: “A branch of computer science; you don’t have to code, but you learn about really cool technical concepts and organizations using technology.”

“I think that education should be dynamic. That flexibility [at WNMU] was really important to me.” Continue reading

20. Poetry & Social Justice: A Dialogue w/ Poet Enzo Surin

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Enzo Surin is a Haitian-born poet​, publisher​, and social advocate, and the author of the chapbook, HIGHER GROUND (Finishing Line Press, 2006). His poetry​ is forthcoming and​ has appeared in publications such as ​The BreakBeat Poets anthology, Ozone Park Journal, sx salon, Tidal Basin Review, Reverie: Midwest African American Literature, The Caribbean Writer, among other literary journals. ​Surin hold an MFA in Creative Writing and currently serves as Assistant Professor of English at Bunker Hill Community College.​ He is also founder and publisher at Central Square Press, a small, independent, literary press that publishes poetry with a commitment to African-American, Caribbean and Caribbean-American communities. (25:53)


Visit Enzo’s Website

Follow Enzo on Twitter @enzothepoet

REMINDER: The deadline for The Postmasters Podcast Short Story Contest is 14 February! The prize is $100 and a chance to read the winning story as part of our April episode. No entry fee! Submit today!

Highlights

To kick off the episode, Enzo reads a new WIP poem for us, titled Trace Commodity, inspired in part by the recent controversial events in Ferguson, Missouri and “cities like it.”

On his inspiration for a given poem…

“The piece I just read to you… there’s always endless news cycles about violence happening in different states, and I always consider what’s happening to the folks after what I call the trauma of the violence. When the news are gone, when the protests are gone, when the trials are done, whether or not the person is found guilty or not guilty, people are still dealing with the trauma and the effects of the situation. I focus more on the individual, the aftermath of everything else.” Continue reading

19. Peace, Translation & Diversity: A Dialogue w/ Poet Andrea Beltran

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Andrea Beltran is a poet currently living in El Paso, Texas. She is a graduate student at the Vermont College of Fine Arts, and her poems have recently appeared in Luna Luna, Word Riot, Mom Egg Review, Superstition Review, and Acentos Review. (26:41)


Read Andrea’s Blog
/Follow Andrea on Twitter @drebelle

And we announce our first Postmasters Podcast Short Story Contest! Submissions are now open. Send us your fiction before Valentine’s Day 2015!

Highlights

“I wish I could say that I’m one of those writers who, you know, wakes up every morning and has a set routine… I tend to be a binge writer. I find I’m more at peace with that.”

“[VCFA] has changed my life… I’m so grateful I got over my fear and just did it. I feel a lot more comfortable with my writing now than I ever have. But I feel like I’m a better reader, and I think, coming away from VCFA, that’s what I’m most proud of.”

“I am very nervous to work with [Rigoberto González], if I do get to work with him, but I feel it will probably be the most rewarding semester… He expects a lot from his students, and I feel like I need–and I want–that challenge at this point in my writing… I also have not [yet] been able to study with a Latino writer, which is very important to me.” Continue reading