Today I’m interviewing Susan Taylor Brown, author of Hugging the Rock. Susan regularly posts for Poetry Friday, participated in the March Poetry Madness and created different prompts for National Poetry Month. She’s here today for Interview Wednesday.
Your Reading Life
MsMac: What books are on your night stand?
STB: I read so fast that this changes almost daily. Right now there’s a pretty tall stack on the floor by the bed including, Art of Bird Photography by Arthur Morris, A Little More About Me by Pam Houston, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life by Barbara Kingsolver, Best American Essays 2011, New and Selected Poems, Volume One by Mary Oliver, Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 3 – The Missing FAQ by Victoria Bampton,
Understanding Exposure and Understanding Shutter Speed, both by Bryan Peterson and Because of Winn-Dixie by Kate DiCamillo (A frequent reread for me.)
MsMac: What was your favorite book as a child? As a teen? As an adult? What particular genre stands out?
STB: As a child I think my favorite book was The Five Little Peppers and How They Grew. I wanted to be a part of a big family so much and I just loved how they seemed to work and love together no matter what. As a teen I went through my “in love with anything about the holocaust” period with The Diary of Ann Frank being a favorite, followed by a “I’m depressed and no one else has ever felt like I do period” with Lisa Bright and Dark being one I read over and over again which led me to falling in love with poetry and carrying around a copy of a Rod McKuen or e.e. cummings book everywhere I went.
We didn’t have young adult fiction as a genre when I was young but I’m sure I would have been obsessed with it had it been around then. I don’t fall into one particular genre all the time. I tend to cycle, gorging on middle grade and young adult fiction, nibbling on poetry, feasting on non-fiction about plants and gardens and photography.
MsMac: I hear you about YA genre not being around when I was that age. Where’s your favorite reading spot?
STB: What time of day is it? During the day, out back on the patio where I can watch the birds and listen to the water. If it’s too hot or it’s wintertime, I’m in the rocker in my office. In the evenings I curl up in bed. Mid-day, I’m on the couch in my library, when it’s cold in there, I’m sitting by the fireplace.
MsMac: There are rapid changes in the world of publishing now that tablets/ereaders and such are in the market in a big way? What are your thoughts about ereaders versus a book? Do you have an ereader?
STB: I don’t think we can ignore the idea of ereaders. They aren’t going anywhere and today’s kids are growing up much more technically savvy than previous generations. But I don’t think about the form of the story when I’m writing so I guess I don’t think about them much. I don’t have an ereader yet. Partly because I’m not interested- I love the feel of paper too much- and partly because I’m terrified of going broke because it would be too easy for me to click and buy too many books. I have little willpower when it comes to book buying.
Your Writing Life
MsMac: What does a day of work look like for you? What is your favorite time of day to write?
STB: I’m a bit of a social media junkie (way too many years working alone) so the first thing I do is check my email and check in on Facebook. A workday depends a lot on what I’m working on and what stage I’m at with the project. In the brainstorming stage I’ll usually wander around the house and yard with a notebook and a pen jotting down various ideas and playing around with them.
If I’m a bit further in the process, like with the YA verse novel I’m working on right now, I’ll park myself on the couch in the library with the laptop on my lap and power write on and off throughout the day.
It’s usually about 45 minutes of writing and then 10-15 minutes to get up, let the dog out, wander around the garden, come back in, and repeat. That usually takes me from about 10am to about 4pm. Somewhere in the middle I take a longer break for lunch and catching up on emails. I’m often back at work after dinner but with lighter tasks like early revision or more brainstorming.
My favorite time to write, especially when I am coming to the end of work on a novel, is really from about 2pm – 6pm with a second round from about 9-11pm.
MsMac: Writing the first draft or revising? Which is your favorite?
STB: Revising! Oh how I hate the blank page. Getting started takes me forever but I love to revise and can spend hours reworking a single paragraph. I think the heart comes to the page with those initial writing bursts but beauty and clarity is found in the revision process.
MsMac: What does your writing space look like?
STB: I love my office! It’s the second largest room in the house, next to our library. It’s split into two sections, one for writing and one for making art and has a wall of patio doors facing the backyard. No matter where I sit in I can always see at least one of the three water features the birds frequently visit. There are French doors leading from our library to my office. The room is furnished with an antiques including an oak teacher’s desk where I have my large monitor set up, an oak library table for art making, an old set of wood file cabinets and even an antique oak library cart which holds some of my art supplies.
MsMac: What are your current projects?
STB: I’m working on a young adult verse novel inspired by the series of poems I wrote for National Poetry Month 2011. I have never known my father or much about him so I spent the month writing poems about how that affected me as a child. By the end of the month, with the help of a friend who does genealogy research, I was able to locate some of my father’s family. He was already dead but I got to talk to both of my aunts before they died and learned about my sister and two brothers as well. The book I’m working on is not our story but it is inspired by the emotional journey.
You can read those father poems here:
I am also working on a middle grade prose novel about a boy learning about native plants while trying to work out his own peculiar family dynamics.
MsMac: What advice do you have for poets of any age?
STB: Read the kind of poetry you like to write. Then read the kind of poetry you don’t think you like because you might surprise yourself. Learn forms, not necessarily all of them, unless that intrigues you, but understanding of some poetic forms will help you build foundations for your poetry. Keep a list of metaphors. Beth Kephart advises writing five metaphors a day. I haven’t managed that consistently yet but I know that when I attempt it more regularly, my poems improve.
If you’re having trouble getting started you can take a look at my series called Kick the Poetry Can’ts designed to help new or tentative poets of all ages start having fun writing poetry.
MsMac: What might readers find you doing when you’re not writing?
STB: I’ll probably have a camera in my hand since I have fallen in love with taking photographs of my native garden and the many birds who come to visit. If I’m not taking photos, I might be puttering around in the garden. We took out the lawns and converted our small suburban yard to a California native garden wildife habitat which I have documented on my garden website. http://www.poppiness.com/ I often work on one of the patios with the camera by my side.
If I’m not taking photos or enjoying the garden I’m probably doing some kind of art. I’m a mixed-media artist with a special love of working in collage form.
Just for Fun
MsMac: Chocolate: Dark or milk?
MsMac: Coffee or tea?
MsMac: Dance: funky chicken or the tango?
MsMac: Favorite Quote:
STB: love quotes so I have scads of them on the computer, on the bulletin board, on my desk, and in journals. This one is a favorite I come back to again and again:
“It always comes back to the same necessity: go deep enough and there is a bedrock of truth, however hard.” — May Sarton
Oh to have a library and office like that. So amazing! On Friday, I wil share a poem by Susan Brown Taylor for Poetry Friday. See you then.
Interview Wednesday is Booktalking.