Chloe N. Clark’s poetry and fiction has appeared in Apex, Bombay Gin, Glass, Hobart, Uncanny, Yes, and more. She is co-EIC of Cotton Xenomorph, writes for Nerds of a Feather, and her debut chapbook, The Science of Unvanishing Objects, is published by Finishing Line Press. She can be found on Twitter @PintsNCupcakes.
1 - How did your first book or chapbook change your life? How does your most recent work compare to your previous? How does it feel different?
The one out in February, The Science of Unvanishing Objects, is my first and it was life-changing to receive that acceptance as it truly showed me that there is an audience for my kind of strange outlook on life and how I portray that through poetry.
My most recent work definitely feels different. I think as I write more and more, I find that I pay more and more attention to the way that the poems feel as they’re read. I used to only consider how something looked on the page, but now I want it to feel good being read aloud—so my editing process involves a lot of me just reading lines out loud over and over until they sound “right.”
2 - How did you come to poetry first, as opposed to, say, fiction or non-fiction?
I actually probably came to fiction first and poetry was a much later love. I wrote it sporadically as a teen, but it wasn’t until a college class on the Modernists that I really found something I loved in poetry—particularly in the WWI poets such as Ivor Gurney and Wilfred Owen.
3 - How long does it take to start any particular writing project? Does your writing initially come quickly, or is it a slow process? Do first drafts appear looking close to their final shape, or does your work come out of copious notes?
I think I’m a long planner in that I think about stories and poems for a long time, not even necessarily in an entirely conscious manner, but don’t write anything down. Once I write though, I write fast as I like to get full drafts down in one sitting. In stories the first draft is usually much shorter than the final, but for poetry the first draft is often very close to the final and then I work on line lengths and individual word choice for my revision process.
4 - Where does a poem or work of prose usually begin for you? Are you an author of short pieces that end up combining into a larger project, or are you working on a "book" from the very beginning?
For a poem, it usually begins with the first line or title. I’ll have that and I’ll start repeating it in my head over and over until I’ve found the next line. When I have two lines, I’ll usually sit down and try to write out a whole piece. For prose, it’s almost always begins with an image of where the piece will start. I think, for whatever reason, in my head fiction is images and poetry is sounds.
For poems, I write them individually and only later will discover that I’m writing a lot that cycle around the same themes or images. Then I’ll find the patterns of a book out of those pieces.
For prose, I usually have some longer project in mind. I write story cycles, so I at least like to know what the overall themes of the cycle will be before I really start heading into the longer, more intensive work.
5 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process? Are you the sort of writer who enjoys doing readings?
I am definitely torn on public readings. I enjoy giving them in one sense because readings are wonderful community building events, but I also am not a person who enjoys any sort of spotlight—so they are nerve-wrecking. Since becoming a teacher, and having to be in front of a classroom often, my readings have improved significantly with the confidence I’ve gained through teaching. But, I still wouldn’t say I necessarily enjoy them. That being said, I do find them extremely valuable to see what jokes are working in my pieces. Humor is a big part of my process and getting that immediate feedback of whether someone laughs is a great help.
6 - Do you have any theoretical concerns behind your writing? What kinds of questions are you trying to answer with your work? What do you even think the current questions are?
I do scholarship in the rhetoric of violence and I also study monster theory and how that goes with cultures of othering. So both of those factor heavily into my writing. Additionally, I have a background in folklore and ghostlore, so I’m very interested in how and why we tell stories and what that gives to communities. Storytelling is a big part of everything I write. So the question of what we need from stories is ever present in my mind as I write.
7 – What do you see the current role of the writer being in larger culture? Does s/he even have one? What do you think the role of the writer should be?
I think writers are witnesses. One of my favorite Wilfred Owen quotes, which I’m about to paraphrase here, is that “all the poet can do today is warn.” I think writers act as voices of warning of what is, what was, and what can be. But, I’m also not sure that writers do need to fill a role—I think that’s up to what the writers want to accomplish and what their readers need to take from them.
8 - Do you find the process of working with an outside editor difficult or essential (or both)?
I think someone reading your work is essential. It doesn’t necessarily have to be an editor, I have a couple of people who are my trusted beta-readers, but it should be someone. Writing is solitary and introverted, we need someone who can step outside ourselves to see how a piece of writing is actually working.
I’ve always had great experiences with editors, though, as well. So I think it’s been essential, but that might depend on the person editing.
9 - What is the best piece of advice you've heard (not necessarily given to you directly)?
I think just anytime someone says write for yourself first. I think it’s easy to get concerned with whether people will like what you write, but really it won’t be any good if you don’t like what you write, so start with enjoying it yourself.
10 - How easy has it been for you to move between genres (poetry to fiction to reviews)? What do you see as the appeal?
It’s always been fairly easy because I need to be working on more than one thing at once, for the way my writing brain works, and I can’t work on two fiction projects at once—so having poems to do helps me keep on track and my writing brain feel constantly refreshed.
11 - What kind of writing routine do you tend to keep, or do you even have one? How does a typical day (for you) begin?
I don’t have much of a routine. I don’t like to schedule writing, as I can only write when I’m feeling it. I do tend to write almost every day, but at all different times and for different length periods. One day I might jot down some notes for 5 minutes and another I might sit down and write a 20 page story in a 5 hour sitting.
Because I’m a teacher, my typical day begins with getting ready for classes and then teaching. So during the week, I tend to write more towards night.
12 - When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration?
I usually put the writing away and just dive into reading. I think of it as recharging my writer’s battery by reminding me what I love about words and stories.
13 - What fragrance reminds you of home?
Definitely either pine forests or baking bread.
14 - David W. McFadden once said that books come from books, but are there any other forms that influence your work, whether nature, music, science or visual art?
I’m definitely inspired by a lot of things beyond the written word. I started out by wanting to be a filmmaker, so movies are where I get a lot of inspiration. I write to music a lot to get into moods. Science and folklore also heavily influence me, as do overheard conversations—I think a lot of my writing comes from trying to understand the space between people’s words.
15 - What other writers or writings are important for your work, or simply your life outside of your work?
My favorite writer is Colson Whitehead and he’s a huge inspiration for me on what makes good storytelling. Some other important writers to me: the afore-mentioned WWI poets, Michael Schmeltzer, Kaveh Akbar, Ada Limon, China Mieville, Kelly Link, Percival Everett, Ray Bradbury, Ngugi wa Thiong ‘o, John Steinbeck, Nathan Englander, Helen Oyeyemi, and Carolyn Forchè.
16 - What would you like to do that you haven't yet done?
I’d like to write a more traditionally structured novel, rather than a story cycle. But mostly just because everyone tells me I should. I greatly prefer story cycles and interconnected novels.
17 - If you could pick any other occupation to attempt, what would it be? Or, alternately, what do you think you would have ended up doing had you not been a writer?
Filmmaking, as I said above, was my early love, but I don’t think I’d be a great filmmaker. I think if I hadn’t ended up as a writer/teacher, I’d probably work at a library or, maybe, have gone more into anthropology in some way.
18 - What made you write, as opposed to doing something else?
I’ve honestly just always written, so it seemed a natural path for me to take. I resisted it a lot, though.
19 - What was the last great book you read? What was the last great film?
I recently finished Nathan Englander’s latest novel, Dinner at the Center of the Earth, and it was stunning. The last great film I saw was Thor: Ragnarok, which is just wonderful, but also my favorite film of the year was the brilliant Get Out.
20 - What are you currently working on?
I’m working on ordering the poems in a chapbook of poems about monsters. I’m also plotting out a story collection that I’ve been wanting to write for years, based on the Wisconsin Dells.