Tuesday, March 01, 2022

12 or 20 (second series) questions with Holly Lyn Walrath

Holly Lyn Walrath is a writer, editor, and publisher. Her poetry and short fiction has appeared in Strange Horizons, Fireside Fiction, Analog, and Flash Fiction Online. She is the author of several books of poetry including Glimmerglass Girl (2018), Numinose Lapidi (2020), and The Smallest of Bones (2021). She holds a B.A. in English from The University of Texas and a Master’s in Creative Writing from the University of Denver. In 2019, she launched Interstellar Flight Press, an indie SFF publisher dedicated to publishing underrepresented genres and voices. As a freelance editor, she provides editing services for writers and organizations of all genres, experiences, and backgrounds, but enjoys working with new writers best.

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?

I think as poets and writers we get caught up on the important “milestones” of writing and often inject a lot of meaning in them. I remember exactly the feeling when my first poem was accepted and where I was—the memory is so strong of that “finally” feeling. My first chapbook, Glimmerglass Girl, was published by Finishing Line Press in 2018. My first steps into making a book felt very tentative. With my new debut book of poetry, The Smallest of Bones (CLASH Books, September 28, 2021), I felt a lot more sure of my voice and what I wanted to say. The books have a lot of overlap in terms of feminism and discussion about women’s bodies, but they are different in approach.

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

I’ve always loved writing poetry ever since I was an angsty emo teen in the 90s and early 2000s. I find poetry as a way to express my emotions about life. I think women are often taught to compress our feelings and poetry was a way to put into words my inner world. Poetry has that power, whereas fiction is often about taking the reader on a journey. I love both, but they are different modes.

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?

Writing a poem is about tapping into an inner well in yourself. I generally fall into the imaginative space in my mind and let it go wild when I first start writing a draft. That is my absolute favorite part of writing. It’s the thing that makes non-writers look at you and go, “How do you just come up with ideas?” Ideas are everywhere, floating in the either, if I can give myself space to find them.

4 - Where does a poem or work of fiction 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?

Each project is its own special weirdo for me. Some projects come to me write away. For example, I recently started writing a series of poems about growing up as a kid in the 90s and 00s and being queer and confused about literally everything. I can see the arc of that book in my mind. But my other projects, like my large scale blackout poems, have been going on for years.

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

Oh I hate doing readings, ha. I feel like I’ve gotten better at performing over the years but I am very much a “page poet.” It helps to practice!

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?

Someone once said they saw my poetry as always picking something apart or examining something that needs deconstructing and I think that’s a valid reading. I’m always wondering how we can change the current state of mind. Many of the topics always in my mind are feminism and queerness, the horror of being a woman, how writing can be a conversation with the past and the future.

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?

In some ways, I think public-facing writers have a huge responsibility and if your platform is large enough, you can really enact change in people’s hearts and minds. Reading is a great creator of empathy. But I also love the idea of writing being a personal process. Even if it just changes you from the inside out, I think there’s still a lot of power there. I come back a lot to Ursula K. Le Guin’s Bryn Mawr College speech from 1986, in which she says, “People can't contradict each other, only words can: words separated from experience for use as weapons, words that make the wound, the split between subject and object, exposing and exploiting the object but disguising and defending the subject.” We can only write from our own personal experience, but that experience can transcend space and time, a great dark gulf, to get to the reader.

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

I’m a freelance editor and a writer so this is always tricky for me! I love working with others to receive feedback on my work. It’s a great gift. But I have a hard time turning that editor brain off.

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

I’ve come back to this saying by Chuck Wendig a lot, “You do you.” I think in terms of writing and life, you have to love what you do. Otherwise, what’s the point? And the best way to love what you do is to be yourself completely.

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

I write a lot of poetry and also a lot of fiction, and I find that they often inform one another. When I write a story, I can often reread it and think, “This needs more lyricism!” And sometimes I revise my poems and find myself inserting more narrative. It’s also a fun exercise in keeping your writing mind agile. I enjoy the challenge.

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 used to write more regularly but these days I take what I can get. I generally write early in the morning to avoid distractions, and I spend about five to ten minutes reading and listening to music beforehand, usually in the genre I’m planning on writing in. I write for as long as I have time for, and usually have to stop because life intervenes.

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

A lot of time when I feel stuck, I find it helps to “meditate” on my project. I spend time thinking about it right before bed and even imagining myself in my character’s shoes. This helps me get beyond a sticky scene where I can’t figure out what comes next. I find myself way less stuck in poetry, because I can write a poem in one sitting. Fiction is more about telling yourself the story.

13 - What fragrance reminds you of home?

I’m from the south in Texas so I find a lot of smells evocative of home that might seem strange to folks from other states. The smell of barbecue on the fire, fireworks in the summertime, sunscreen and “marshmallow salad” (a green concoction my Mom used to make that involves pistachio pudding, fruit, and marshmallows.)

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 very influenced by a lot of non-book subjects. One example is ambient music—which I find puts me in the zone to write. My new book The Smallest of Bones is very much influenced by anatomy textbooks and the science of the body.

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

As far as authors go, I greatly admire Margaret Atwood, Kazuo IshiguroKelly Link, and Edward Hirsch. My influences and tastes are constantly changing. Other good reads include Brandon Sanderson, Nnedi Okorafor, Ursula Le Guin, Walt Whitman, Sherman Alexie, Sofia Samatar, Amelia Grey, Stephen King, Kazuo Ishiguro, Margaret Atwood, Ken Liu, Sabrina Orah Mark, J.R.R. Tolkien, Virginia Woolf, Audre Lorde, and Rita Dove.

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

A million and one dreams. If it’s writing related, I probably have dreamed about doing it. There’s not anything specific I can pick out, but I mostly just want to sustain my writing life as long as I can.

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’ve always been fascinated by scientific jobs like oceanography or studying animals! I feel like if someone had given me the opportunity to study more in the STEM fields as a child, I might have gone that route because I’m always fascinated by how things work.

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

When I got out of college, a lot of people told me that I needed to “live more life” to write. So while I desperately wanted to write most of the years I wasn’t, I never gave myself that freedom. It wasn’t until I discovered the idea of writing in speculative genres that I realized it was worth pursuing writing as a serious occupation. I think I would have always ended up a writer. 

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

I recently read Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo and it made me incandescently angry how good it was. The last great film I saw was The Green Knight. I’m such a giant English major nerd that I’m still geeking out over it.

20 - What are you currently working on?

I’m trying to finish up a young adult fantasy novella this year. I’m also working on a series of 90s-themed poems about queer pop culture like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Princess Di, and Rocky Horror. And I’m working on more visual art / poetry crossover projects like my series of blackout poems, Man Erased.

12 or 20 (second series) questions;

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