This spring, I had the pleasure of sending Joy Acey a copy of my book, Solace in Nature. I received the nicest note back from her and discovered one of her poems had been incuded in the Poetry Friday Anthology. She is my guest today for Interview Wednesday.
MsMac: What books are on your night stand?
Joy: I have a nightstand that is one shelf, one drawer and then a flat surface on top—so there are a lot of books stacked there. On the bottom shelf at two texts on children’s literature and my condensed Princeton Guide to Poetic Terms. There is also a Nora Roberts that I need to get to the used book store.
There are three mysteries that my husband passed on to me that he thinks I’ll enjoy( one is the latest J. A. Jance) and two MG novels that I’m trying to catch up on. Adam Rex is an Arizona writer that recently signed a contract with Disney for his SMECK DAY MG novel, and so I’m trying to finish that one too. I’ve only lived in AZ for two years, so I’m trying to catch up on the AZ writers that I haven’t read. (There are some really good writers in this state and I want to be able to speak intelligently to the kids about them.) The funny thing about all these books is I’m not a person who reads in bed at night before I go to sleep. Put me in bed and I’m asleep in five minutes. It really irritates my husband that I can fall asleep so easily. I also multi-task by listening to books on CD’s in my car. Right now I’m listening to Allen Wolf’s THE WATCH THAT ENDS THE NIGHT: Voices from the Titanic. It is a really brilliant poetry collection. I highly recommend it.
These are two of the important items on the top of my night stand. The flashlight is a black light. It makes scorpions look neon green in the dark. I have this great fear of stepping on a scorpion in the middle of the night when I get up to go pee. It is an Arizona thing. The other object is a writing pad that lights up when I remove the pen so I can make notes in the middle of the night. The perfect line or word for a poem is an elusive thing. I might remember the idea of the poem, but never the exact wording, so it is important to be able to quickly jot it down.
Ms Mac: What was your favorite book as a child?
Joy: My reading as a child was rather strange. My mother, a single mom and teacher, thought books were really important. I can remember that we would go to the library every week to exchange the books we had selected. I also remember having to be interviewed before I could get my library card when I was five. You might think that would make me a great reader, but somehow I got stuck in picture books. I really loved them—the pictures, the text. I particularly enjoyed the rhyming verse. I must have read all the Flicka, Ricka, Dicka books about triplet Scandinavian girls, and the boy’s version Snip, Snap, Snur. I thought Dr. Seuss was wonderful. I even memorized the first 40 lines of Horton Hatches An Egg when I was in 7th grade and we had to memorize 40 lines of poetry each quarter. I also memorized Charge of the Light Brigade that year. My mother gave my sister and I a book for each Christmas and I remember my sister got all the Bobsey Twin books, and I got Honey Bunch. But I pretty much stayed with picture books until the summer of 4th grade when my best friend Helen and I started raiding the adult sections of the library. I read Rebecca and Nine Coaches Waiting and several of the Zane Grey westerns that summer. I can remember in high school, I enjoyed reading the True Romance magazines and the magazines with the words to the popular records in them. My step father asked my mom about this, should they be worried. The next week I was reading Time, Newsweek and US News and World Report for the debate class I was taking. Mom said not to worry, as long as I was reading that was the important thing. She knew I’d find my way to the books I needed and the ones that filled that need for me. Anyway, I sort of skipped all the middle grade and young adult novels. Once I started writing for children, I had to go back and read all of those books. Thank goodness I had kids of my own that I could read those books to. My crazy reading habits as a kid were probably a good thing, because it let me be very lenient with my own kids when it came to their reading choices. I can remember my frustration with the school librarian who wanted to direct the boys reading. Jacob got hung up on the Choose Your Own Adventure stories. He devoured them. And I can remember one Christmas vacation, my youngest Kees, who was never much into reading (he’d rather be out playing with friends) read 13 of the Animalia books in five days. He also was a Goose Bumps reader. But the school librarian wanted them to be reading good literature, which really put them off reading.
MsMac: Wow Memorizing? I am not good at that. What is your favorite reading spot?
Joy: A big brown leather chair where I can tuck my feet under me and look out the window at the birds eating from the feeder.
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.
Joy:Yes, I have a Kindle, I’m actually on my third one—thank goodness they have a good replacement policy. I love my Kindle. It is wonderful for traveling and actually if there is a book I want to read immediately it is great. I belong to a book group and my Kindle has saved me several times when I’ve put the book on reserve at the library and it still hasn’t become available 3 days before the group meets.
Often the ebook is cheaper than the hardback and then there are epoetry books like Sylvia Vardell and Janet Wong’s P’*Tag and Tag Time. David Harrison also has a wonderful ebook Goose Lake that I wouldn’t have been able to read without my ebook reader. I think the electronic books have given us so much more diversity and variety in the books that are available.
MsMac: What does a day of work look like for you? What is your favorite time of day to write?
Joy: Oh boy, I wish I could say I have a routine, but honestly my day is really broken up with writing squeezed in. When my kids were young, I got in the habit of writing from 3 to 5 AM and I still do this.
I used to write in my closet on the floor, long hand on a bread board balanced on my knees. For me there is something about being connected with the earth, being low, that makes my writing work better. So even though I now have a room that is my office, I still like to get low when I’m struggling with the writing. I zip back to bed at 5, sleep until 6. Get up and walk with my husband for two miles every morning and then he goes off to his work and I get to start my day, I answer emails, read the paper and start a load of laundry. Then it is off to my father-in-law’s place to check up on him, or if he has a doctor’s appointment, I take him to that. He is 91 years old and broke his right hip a year ago, and we have just gotten him home from the re-hab hospital yesterday from breaking his left hip.
MsMac:What does your writing space look like?
Joy: Let’s see if I can give you a picture. I’ve got lots of books because I write poetry for children. Lots of picture books, reference books, and adult poetry books, books on writing, etc. And, I have lots of friends that have published books and so I have copies of their books. It really is quite messy. I also like to dabble with art. So I have an art table and a taboret with all my colored pencils, chalks, pastels,watercolors, and paint brushes. I’d include a picture, but the space really is too messy to share and I don’t want to take the time to clean it up now or I’ll never get this interview done.
MsMac: What are your current projects?
Joy: I’m trying to get better at marketing my work. I have several rhyming picture books that I’ve polished for years and I need to send them out. I also have an alphabet collection of desert animals. I’m working on taking a middle grade novel I wrote years ago and changing it into a novel in verse. Then I’m working on five different collections, one for each of the five senses. I have a draft of the sound one I’m polishing and am working on the other four. Then when I get those done, I want to try my hand at a poetry collection for picture book—so instead of a novel in verse, it would be a picture book in verse. I think that would be fun to try and it would let me work on character development—something you don’t get to do too often with each poem.
MsMac: How did your Poetry for Kids Joy blog get started? Joy: For a couple of years, I wanted a venue for sharing my poetry, and I wanted a blog but I couldn’t figure out what I’d put on one—then when I moved to AZ, I started looking to put together a new critique group. It was really hard finding children’s poets in AZ and in Tucson, but Bridget Magee called me and we decided that we’d be a group of 2 and look for some more people to join us. Bridget is an excellent children’s poet and she is really good at critiquing my poetry. Bridget had a blog Wee Words for Wee Ones, and I looked at her blog and said, “Hey, I can do that.” In talking to Bridget, I figured out that in order to post daily, you have to give yourself permission to write some bad poems. Often the poem that gets posted is a draft of a poem that I know I will go back later and play with some more. The key for me is my blog gives me a playground for having fun. It forces me to write a poem a day and as I have continued to post, my poetry has gotten better and I’ve learned a lot about myself and why I’m so drawn to poetry. It also makes me want to learn more, try my hand at writing in more forms, experimenting with line breaks. I don’t know how many times I’ve written a poem and then two days later I look at the poem and discover that the poem wants to be a concrete poem—and then the fun begins to shape the poem to fit the image I have in mind, and to add or take away language to fit the shape. It is a lot of fun. I do have a terrific critique group with Bridget, Charline Profiri, Sharon Landeen and Carolyn Hankel. They all make me a better poet. I also belong to an adult poetry group and an on-line children’s writing group. Each group keeps me busy and working. I do appreciate when I have an extra pair of eyes to look over my writing. I haven’t had any one look over this interview, so I’m sure there are probably spelling, verb-subject agreement and other problems in it, that editing would have helped.
MsMac: What advice do you have for poets of any age? Joy: First and foremost, have fun writing. Write about something you want to share with others. If rhyme doesn’t come naturally to you, try writing in free verse first. Work toward alliteration, consonance and assonance instead of rhyme. I guess the MOST important thing is to just get something down on paper.
MsMac:What might readers find you doing when you’re not writing? Joy: You might find me communing with nature and taking pictures. AZ has a totally different flora and fauna from North Carolina where I spent 27 years of my life. I’m having a grand time learning about all the animals and plants that live in this desert.
Odds and ends:
I love chocolate of any kind.
Coffee first thing in the morning. Tea in the afternoon and evening, Sweet tea in the summer. Chai in the winter. I also love hot chocolate.
Dancing? I’m a dancing fool. Love them all, I especially like line dancing because everybody can dance without a partner—but I have been accused of having two left feet, and since I’m left-handed, how can it be wrong?
My birthday poet is Theodore Roethke. So I’ve spent a lot of time with his poetry. He has a poem NIGHT CROW that every time I read it makes me wonder how I get this emotionally black image at the end.
I do love to travel and have been very fortunate to be able to travel to many distant locations. Next on my list is Africa, but I’ve never been to Alaska or any of the tropical islands (Bermuda, Jamaica, Aruba) off the Atlantic Coast. My husband is an immunologist and through his work I’ve gotten to live in England and Japan, been to Australia, New Zealand, Ecuador, Sweden, France, Germany, Puerto Rico, Italy, Thailand, Singapore, lots of places. I’ve eaten meals with 7 Nobel laureates. It is all a lot of fun and it gives me lots of ideas for writing. I recently returned from a two-week trip to Peru where we visited the Rainforest. I have several pictures and poems from that trip on my blog.
Great interview! Love all the details that were shared. Joy, I have the nite note, too! I don’t use it often enough, though. Fun to hear about all your projects in progress. Thanks, Jone!