Monday, March 02, 2020

12 or 20 (second series) questions with Alana Saltz

Alana Saltz is the author of the poetry chapbook, The Uncertainty of Light (February 2020). She's the editor-in-chief of Blanket Sea, an arts and literary magazine showcasing work by chronically ill, mentally ill, and disabled creators. Her essays and articles have been published in The LA Times, The Washington Post, Huff Post, Bustle, and HelloGiggles. Her poems have appeared in Occulum, Five:2:One, YesPoetry, LadyLibertyLit, and more. You can visit her website at and follow her on Twitter and Instagram @alanasaltz.

1 - How did your first book change your life? How does your most recent work compare to your previous? How does it feel different?

This is my first book. So, we'll see!

2 - How did you come to poetry first, as opposed to, say, fiction or non-fiction?

I'm a multi-genre writer, though poetry was one of my earliest writing forms and has been my main genre the last couple of years. I've always loved playing with words, imagery, and metaphors as well as the tight focus of the poetic form. It's been a longtime way for me to express certain emotions, experiences, and thoughts that don't quite fit as essays or fiction. I also find it more approachable these days as my chronic pain has gotten worse and longer projects can feel overwhelming.

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'm slow to start but a fast writer overall. Once I get going, unless the piece is giving me trouble, it tends to come together quickly. I do some editing of my poetry, but it tends to stay fairly close to the original, especially because I tend to edit as I write. I always read it over a few times and read it out loud, experimenting with things like line breaks, making sure there aren't problem spots like overused or repeated words.

4 - Where does a poem 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?

It depends on the project. For The Uncertainty of Light, I began by writing a few poems about chronic illness and then realized I wanted it to be a chapbook eventually. I was just getting back into poetry after years of essays and memoir, so I did a lot of reading and writing to hone my voice and craft. I wrote a lot of poems and only some of them made it into the final manuscript. It had a lot of drafts, many cut and added as time went on, until I finally got to a place where I felt good about it as a book.

5 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process? Are you the sort of writer who enjoys doing readings?

I love doing readings. I'm a shy person in general, but I really enjoy connecting with other writers and sharing my work.

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?

These days, I think a lot about advocacy and activism. Can I bring new awareness to things like chronic illness, mental illness, and disability through my writing, even in a small way? But at the heart of all my work is the desire to share my experiences and connect with others. I've felt misunderstood since I was a kid. Growing up as someone with multiple marginalized identities and undiagnosed/misdiagnosed illnesses, writing has been a way to try to convey what I'm going through in the hopes that I will be heard and that those reading will feel heard and understood as well.

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?

We absolutely have a role. Writers share and reach out. Many of us endeavor to shed new light on issues and experiences that matter to us. You see our words all the time, in books, magazines, newspapers, even social media. People engage with that as much as they want and bring their own opinions and experiences into the mix. I think that's as it should be.

8 - Do you find the process of working with an outside editor difficult or essential (or both)?

It's essential to get feedback on your work. My first editor is usually my partner. He gives me his thoughts on my work and some helpful positive encouragement. My current book not only had a professional editor but many poems were workshopped in classes and I had several friend and beta readers as well. I can be difficult to hear feedback that means making major changes or that you disagree with. That didn't happen much with The Uncertainty of Light, thankfully. I also take feedback with a grain of salt and sometimes get a second opinion, always ultimately going with my gut and instincts about what feels true to me and my voice.

9 - What is the best piece of advice you've heard (not necessarily given to you directly)?

You don't have to write every day to be a writer. And I don't. We all have lives, many of us are struggling, many have illnesses and disabilities. Putting a qualifier on this just adds unnecessary pressure to a difficult endeavor. Letting go of expectations like that helps me push through times when I'm feeling stuck, uninspired, or too sick to write. I'm still a writer even if I have to take long breaks. My words still matter and will return when I'm ready.

10 - How easy has it been for you to move between genres (poetry to essays to articles)? What do you see as the appeal?

I like moving between genres. I can get burnt out when I do too much of anything in particular. I wrote fiction for a few years, then memoir, then essays and articles, now poetry. I've written some articles and essays here and there and imagine I might get back to that more regularly at some point, but poetry feels like it's going to be with me now no matter what I'm doing. It's nice to go where my inspiration takes me, and every idea or project comes in a different form, so I appreciate knowing that's there.

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 really have one unless I'm working on a particular project, I have a deadline, or I'm doing a writing challenge like The Poeming or NaNoWriMo. I generally work on something writing-related every day and throughout the day, especially now that I have a book coming out and there are a million things to do that aren't writing, but when it comes to actually sitting down and working on something, I do it when I'm inspired or have the time and energy to attempt something.

12 - When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration?

I really enjoy doing erasures and found poetry when I'm stuck. The words are there and I can play with them and bring my own lens to them. Sometimes I try writing prompts, but they can be hit or miss. Reading can also be very stimulating when I feel stuck.

13 - What fragrance reminds you of home?

The forest.

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?

Nature is a big one. It shows up a lot in my work. Music can help me find a mood, but I usually can't listen to anything when I'm actually writing because I get distracted by the lyrics or changes in tempo or mood.

15 - What other writers or writings are important for your work, or simply your life outside of your work?

There are so many writers I admire. Reading chapbooks, collections, and poetry in literary magazines helps me keep in touch with the current poetic moment. I read so much as a kid and that informed my love of writing as well, even if much of it was in genres I don't write myself. My life outside my work informs my work substantially. Most of my work comes from my experiences in some way or another, either directly or indirectly.

16 - What would you like to do that you haven't yet done?

My next goal is a full-length poetry collection. I'd also love to publish an essay collection and maybe a novel someday.

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?

I'm a freelance editor and I run a literary magazine, so I do that as well as write. I think I would have been a good therapist, though I realized early on that I probably couldn't handle that profession emotionally. I've done some work for nonprofits and have always thought that would be a good fit. Something in the realm of disability advocacy or services.

18 - What made you write, as opposed to doing something else?

I've always been drawn to books and writing. I can't quite say why. I love entering the world of a story or poem. My parents read to me and told me stories they made up, and that inspired me too. I'm also terrible at drawing and not amazing at most forms of music (though I do enjoy singing, photography, and occasionally rocking some ukulele).

19 - What was the last great book you read? What was the last great film?

Honestly, the last great work of writing I experienced was a TV show, Mr. Robot. Sam Esmail did an unbelievable job building that world and story over 4 seasons. Most shows don't have the type of consistency and arc that show does, and Mr. Robot has kind of ruined other shows for me. Every little detail matters. Everything feels natural and real but is actually planned and comes together in such a revelatory and satisfying way. I also really loved seeing types of diversity and representation in ways I hadn't seen on TV before.

20 - What are you currently working on?

I have a micochap in progress, but most of my time lately has been going toward publishing and promoting The Uncertainty of Light.

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