Friday, April 23, 2021

12 or 20 (second series) questions with Jessica Palmer

Jessica Palmer lives with her children in the mountains of North Carolina. Her work has previously appeared in numerous 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
Having my first book released was both exhilarating and terrifying. It is by far the most personal writing I've ever done, and the fact that others related to it both grieved and comforted me. My previous work had been mostly young adult fiction, so poetry seemed like a very different avenue. I was surprised to find my voice in it.

2 - How did you come to poetry first, as opposed to, say, fiction or non-fiction?
I had always written on and off, but it was pretty sporadic. Fiction had been my focus, but that changed a few years ago. Apparently my subconscious realized that I was searching for answers to my own questions. When I began to explore those doubts, poetry gave me the permission I needed to ask those questions.

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?
It all depends. I was telling my students the other day that sometimes I can spend a total of hours agonizing about three words. At other times the writing is almost fully formed as is. It's a bizarre process.

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?
A poem usually begins with a phrase that appears in my brain, and the theme builds around that initial phrase. I was utterly shocked when I realized that the poems I had been writing were part of a cohesive whole, that they were communicating the same concepts. I hadn't realized I was writing about all of my questions and doubts about the universe.

5 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process? Are you the sort of writer who enjoys doing readings?
I absolutely love doing readings. I’m an extrovert, so it feels like a way to connect to people. Readings energize me. I had never done a public reading of my own work until early in 2020 and was intensely nervous, but when I got up on stage, it mostly became about nothing other than me and the words. I also did an online reading with my local writing organization on the book release day. Covid really changed how the book was released, but I'm hoping to do more readings and promotion when it's safe to do so.

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 Unordering of Days unintentionally ended up being about all of the questions I had about my relationships, the universe, and my own place within it. I questioned my own value and worth for a very, very long time. Writing gave me permission to honestly confront those feelings, to understand my own unhappiness, and to realize that I had the power to change that. Much of the book is about the attempt to reconcile the heart with the mind, about how to embrace the ambiguity of the universe. Poetry allowed me to find my voice, to find peace and even joy in not having answers.

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 the role of the writer is whatever the author wants it to be. I tell my students all the time that you have to know your readers. Whether it's entertainment or information, fantasy or realism, authors should write for whatever reason makes them happy, much as readers should read what connects with them. Reading and writing give us the opportunity to be more informed about our world, to become more empathetic people. Writers will always be essential.

8 - Do you find the process of working with an outside editor difficult or essential (or both)?
My experience with Atmosphere Press was excellent. You hear horror stories about the publishing process. They were nothing but supportive in making sure my voice was heard in the way I intended, and they had a level of intuition about my voice and desires that I think is unparalleled. They turned my poems into a complete work.

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

I don't know if it's the best, but one of the most profound pieces of "advice" was that I have the right to say that I'm unhappy, that I don't have to live my life by anyone's standards but my own. While not specifically about writing, it applies to all parts of life.

10 - 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 haven't been writing the past year. When Covid hit, I had ambitions about using that time to produce a great work of art. I ended up binge watching television. And that's okay. It's been a difficult period of time. I work as a middle school teacher, so right now every single creative drop of energy goes to my students and my own kids. Writing is definitely not a priority right now, but I’m at peace with that.

11 - When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration?
I live in the mountains, so one of my favorite places is on my back deck in the evening when the sky is clear. I've done a lot of revising in my mind while looking at the stars. Music is frequently involved.

12 - What fragrance reminds you of home?
Bacon. Definitely bacon.

13 - 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 influenced by everything: emotions and evidence, entertainment and art, but music tends to be a big part of my writing process. I have music that puts me in certain moods, and sometimes when writing I've intentionally remained in difficult spaces for a prolonged period in order to maintain a specific emotional framework that informs my writing. Music is part of that process. A lot of Radiohead has been involved.

14 - What other writers or writings are important for your work, or simply your life outside of your work?
For modern poets, I'm a huge fan of Joanna Klink and Rudy Francisco's spoken word poetry. (I teach a few of his pieces to my students.) I also love W.S. Merwin and Mary Oliver; I have tattoos that represent words from some of their poems. T.S. Eliot is also one of my favorites.

I am a big fan of fiction and love Chaim Potok, Fyodor Dostoevsky, Chuck Palahniuk, Marilynne Robinson, John Green… I could  keep going. I love anything that Malcolm Gladwell does and am a huge fan of the Freakonomics series.

15 - What would you like to do that you haven't yet done?
I should say "be independently wealthy as a result of my writing," but I'll stick within the confines of realism. I'd like to go to Greece. I’d like to have another book published, perhaps young adult fiction. I’d like to see all of the most beautiful libraries in the world and eat excellent food and drink excellent wine along the way.

16 - 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 love teaching. Absolutely adore it. But some of the tasks and burdens that go along with teaching are exceptionally challenging, especially in the current environment. I'd actually really love to narrate audio books. Or be a professional board game player. There’s got to be a way to make money playing Catan or Dungeon & Dragons or Dominion, right?

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

I am a huge advocate of using creativity to communicate, whatever that looks like. When I realized I had something to say, writing became the natural medium for that. I adore music but am not exceptionally musical. And I can't draw a straight line to save my life. I do, however, have a tendency to talk way too much, so I suppose writing is an appropriate fit.

18 - What was the last great book you read? What was the last great film?
I read The Three-Body Problem this year and loved it; bizarre, nuanced, and beautiful. While not a film, Watchmen was one of the best things I've seen in years. And one of the most important.

19 - What are you currently working on?
Reading final chapters that my students wrote for The Giver.

12 or 20 (second series) questions;

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