Friday, March 13, 2020

12 or 20 (second series) questions with April Ford

April Ford’s fiction, poetry, and essays have appeared in print and online journals in Canada, the U.S., Mexico, Germany, and Scotland. She’s the recipient of a Pushcart Prize for her short story “Project Fumarase,” and has held fully funded residencies at Virginia Center for the Creative Arts and Ucross Foundation. Her books include Death Is a Side-Effect: Poems (Frog Hollow Press, 2019) and the award-winning story collection, The Poor Children (out of print). Her debut novel, Carousel, is forthcoming May 14 with Inanna Publications.

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

My first book, The Poor Children: Stories, was my trampoline to author nirvana. That same year, one of the stories in the collection won a Pushcart Prize. I didn’t even know “Project Fumarase” had been nominated (the notification letter never found me), so I didn’t believe the news at first!

I suppose I became more attention-worthy? Acquaintances I hadn’t seen in years sent me Facebook friend requests and asked for free, autographed copies of my book because we had “history,” and someone showed up at one of my readings with a bizarre gift to demonstrate their loyalty. The Poor Children even inspired some of the administrators at the college where I worked to look beyond my Adjunct status.

Overall, I was enjoying the privilege of being a published author, and looking forward to seeing my second book, Gentle: A Novel, released the following year by the same publisher, until. . . .

One early morning at a literary conference, my publisher and a new editor (both male) came to my private hotel room to discuss the direction of Gentle. I wasn’t sure about this new direction, since Gentle had already been treated by an editor and I was in the mindset to revise the novel according to her notes. Right after the new editor and my publisher left my hotel room, I started to cry. I had heard that a turnover in editors could mean the death of a manuscript, and I feared this was happening to Gentle.

For a few months, I struggled to revise the novel according to the new editor’s preferences. When I finally told my publisher I was willing to make 85% of the changes, I was surprised by his “all or nothing” attitude. In the almost year Gentle had been under contract, he had never mentioned the necessity of a re-write (and we had been in the habit of speaking regularly). Putting my foot down ended up costing me the contract and, over time, support for The Poor Children.

Recently, the publisher asked if I would like the rights to my story collection returned to me. The publishing agreement was about to expire, and my sales numbers were “dismal.” I accepted the offer; it was the best way out of a bad situation. When I reminded the publisher about my experience with the new editor, he said the new editor ended up leaving not long after our hotel room meeting. I was gobsmacked and cried all over again.

Circling back to your question about how my most recent work compares with The Poor Children:

Carousel (Inanna Publications, 2020) is such a different book and I’m in such a different place, I can only come up with contrasts. Now I know how to be an author, and that includes choosing the right publisher. Like a lot of emerging writers, I was willing to accept any offer of publication for my first book—and there’s no reason why that can’t lead to a positive outcome. But when I started receiving offers for Carousel, I did my research. I even contacted writers who had experience with any agent or publisher who expressed interest in my work. You only get one debut novel, after all.

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

Storytelling’s just my thing. In fact, other than the small miracle of Death Is a Side-Effect: Poems (Frog Hollow Press, 2019), I’ve never been driven to write anything other than fiction. When I turn to a different form, it’s to strengthen my skills as a fiction writer—that is, I use poetry to study the DNA of language, and I let creative nonfiction lead me to the fractals of truth that deserve their own stories.

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?

Here are some figures that are sure to make me a disappointment to agents and publishers but hopefully reassuring to a writer or two out there.

Book 1, The Poor Children: Stories, 10 years
2005: Began
2013: Completed
2013: Publishing agreement signed for 2015
2015: Published

Book 2, Death Is a Side-Effect: Poems, 15 years
2004: Began
2019: Completed
2019: Publishing agreement signed for 2019
2019: Published

Book 3, Carousel: A Novel: 10 years
2010: Began
2016: Completed
2017: Publishing agreement signed for 2019; postponed to 2020
2020: Forthcoming May 14!!!!!!!!!!

Book 4, Gentle: A Novel
2009: Began
2013: Completed
2014: Publishing agreement signed for 2016
2015: Publishing agreement terminated
2015–present: Untouched

Book 5, Blue Heron: A Novel
2017: Began

According to the above figures, there’s no method to my process—clearly! I write when I can, and I tend to do my best work when I’m happy and have a full and busy life. Days for miles to do nothing but write? That scenario doesn’t work for me.

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?

My stories always start with a narrator’s voice. I love when these voices speak to me, because they’re so articulate already that all I have to do is give them breath on paper. I know right away if I’m working on a short story or a novel—it’s all in the energy of the narrator’s voice. I avoid working on more than one creative piece at a time, as I enjoy revelling in the purity of each piece for as long as possible.

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

I’m quite nervous at readings—like, quivering from the time I walk on stage until I sit back down—but I always end up enjoying the experience. I have a visual disability that was caused by a brain injury I sustained when I was hit by a car at the age of 17. As a result, I have no peripheral vision in either eye, my remaining field of vision is permanently obstructed by floaters, and there’s a delay in the time it takes my brain to process the information my eyes see. For example, if you and I were sitting across from each other at a café and you suddenly threw your scone at me, it would hit my face before my brain told me to duck out of the way.

When I’m nervous, which is at every reading ever, my vision gets even worse. There are times when I’m practically blind while I’m on stage. But I really do enjoy myself once I’m in the rhythm of reading, which is why I tend not to tell event hosts about my disability. I don’t want it to be a reason I’m not invited to read, you know, because someone’s worried I might accidentally fall off the stage . . . which has almost happened a number of times. But with more than a decade of teaching experience behind me, including classrooms filled to maximum capacity with raucous college students, I’ve got this—mostly ;)

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?

The questions I try to answer with my writing are the ones that come up in my writing. I don’t typically start with a question and use writing to find the answer. Truth: I have never journaled. Like, ever. I process my reactions to life in other, equally beneficial, ways.

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 find questions like these can be dangerous, especially in reactionary times. . . . The way I see it, writers write and authors publish. Lots of insightful, talented writers never get published, or maybe they choose not to publish, while anyone with ambition and some savings can author a 99-cent eBook on any topic, whether or not they’re an expert. If you’re a writer who hates the business of writing, don’t let that be a reason to stop practicing your passion altogether; if you value revenue and the novelty of calling yourself a writer over content integrity and the quality of the prose, there are numerous hybrid and self-publishing packages available for purchase.

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

The year before The Poor Children was released, Southern author and Pulitzer Prize nominee Dale Ray Phillips offered to print one of the unpublished stories in New Madrid: Journal of Contemporary Literature. I was thrilled and willing to do whatever he advised—and did he advise! My 8000-word story became a 7000-word story (that’s a lot of content to cut from an already short piece), and he made me change the title. Privately, I balked. But I also trusted Dale’s interest in the story, his concern about its needs and about what I needed to learn in our brief editor-author relationship. Fast forward one year, and I received the text congratulating me on winning a Pushcart Prize for “Project Fumarase.”

Then there is my experience with Gentle. I haven’t been able to work on the manuscript since—the editor was a skunk, and all these years later his stench lingers. So while I look forward to working with editors and recognize how essential they are to the book-making process, I consult my gut before anything else.

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

You’ll never be the best at what you do, but you can be the you’est at it.

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

Since it takes me so long to complete one project, I’m always eager to try something new with the next.

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 like to write very early in the morning, espresso in hand. I’m in a good place when I can commit to a few two-hour bursts every week. In my 20s, I was a binge writer and it was not a good thing. I was prolific in those years, but I paid for it in sometimes crippling post-production blues. Someone else might call those lows a form of depression, and I wouldn’t disagree, but since I’ve learned to regulate my writing highs, I’ve stopped crashing like that.

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

I used to be like a cartoon character trying to run on ice whenever I got stuck: I just kept trying and falling, trying and falling. Finally, after what I can only assume was a burnout, I said, “Fuck it. There’s more to life than writing—writing needs living—so if I’ve lived all the life I can for now, then I’ve written all I can for now.”

13 - What fragrance reminds you of home?

Funny you should ask! The same brain injury that caused me to become partially blind also caused me to lose my ability to taste and smell. So if I were to be reminded of home, it would have to be from a scent I experienced before the age of 17, which would have to be freshly oiled leather, because I was a precocious amateur of the BDSM scene. Kidding! I grew up around horses, and all the cool kids hung out in tack rooms.

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?

90% lived experience, 10% secondary sources.   

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

Whatever feeds my creative appetite at the time.

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

I would like to live for myself. As someone with a compulsion for helping and accommodating others, I’ve only just recently begun to live for myself—at the age of 41. I don’t mean setting aside 20 minutes each day to read an inspirational book while I sip a homemade and shockingly delicious nutrients-dense smoothie. I mean: I left one marriage where, for nearly a decade, the focus was on my partner’s carer success, and then I left a second marriage three years in, when I found myself $30,000 in debt after trying everything within my power to make that person happy. The stakes feel high, but I’m hopeful; I get to be me now!

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?

A serial killer profiler.

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


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

I just finished Alicia Elliott’s A Mind Spread out on the Ground. I admire how directly and deeply she challenges the reader with the final essay. You don’t get brag, “Lookit mee! I finished a book!!”

20 - What are you currently working on?

A novella about a private liberal arts college’s inability to cope with the suicide of one of its students. But don’t expect anything from me for another decade ;)

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