Thursday, August 20, 2009

author talk: Jessie Carty & Mel Bosworth

Jessie Carty is the author of the full length poetry collection Paper House (Folded Word, 2010) and two chapbooks The Wait of Atom (Folded Word, 2009) and At the A & P Meridiem (Pudding House, 2009). She is often beset by cats from her home in North Carolina where she continues to write, edit and teach. Recent online publications: Scythe, Drunken Boat, Girls with Insurance and others: link list.

Mel Bosworth is the author Freight (Folded Word, 2011), Grease Stains, Kismet, and Maternal Wisdom (Aqueous Books, 2010), and When the Cats Razzed the Chickens (Folded Word, 2009). He lives, breathes, and laughs in western Massachusetts. Recent online publications: Necessary Fiction, The Northville Review, Dark Sky Magazine and others: link list.

This author talk took place in the virtual daily café in August.

Jessie: You have quite a prolific publication schedule recently! I'm saying this to you as I've heard the same thing. I wonder if your experience was similar to mine in that you sent stuff out for years and then all of a sudden things just started to fall into place. I'd like to hear a bit about your recent books (or other notable publications in journals) and how they came to finally show up on the screen or the page?

Mel: Yeah, Jessie, things have been busy lately, for the both of us. I've got a book coming out and your poetry collection Paper House just dropped in March of this year. And hey- it just occurred to me that this conversation is between a poet and a fiction writer, for the most part. That's kind of cool. But anyway, yes, my novella Grease Stains, Kismet, and Maternal Wisdom is slated to drop sometime in August. Aqueous Books has been very good to me. I'm excited to hold a copy in my hands. And to backtrack a bit to an earlier question, I'd have to say that things really started to pick up for me (publishing-wise) when I stopped being such a scaredy-cat of the internet.

Jessie: I am amazed that you were scared of the internet! I see you publishing online, blogging and even vlogging with the best of them! When I came back to writing after not submitting, or writing much of anything from 2001-2005, I was amazed at what a powerhouse the internet had become. It really does make researching where to send you work and the actual sending of work much easier. I even chose which publishers to submit my chapbook manuscripts to based on internet groups like CRWOPPS (link).

Mel: I was sending out work in hard copy form for a few years with no luck, but once that crazy internet got into my brain- boom. Whole new world. And now I shall backtrack yet again to the idea of holding a copy of your own book in your very own hands. Hot damn. What was that like, Jessie, when you received your first copy of Paper House? We've both had the experience of holding our own chapbooks, but what was it like to hold a true blue BOOK in your hands? And no disrespect to chapbooks, I love them and venerate them, but your standard paperback book is a different beast. What was that like? I'm looking forward to the sensation. Also, what were some of your personal favorites from the Paper House collection? Feel free to throw some quotes out there.

Jessie: I do love my chapbooks but I find it hard to describe what it was like to hold a perfect bound book in my hands which contained my poems, which had my name splashed across the front. Folded Word did such a beautiful job with the design. I was speechless! Every time I pull out a copy to read from or to sign, I find myself caressing the book like it is a pet. Oh how I love it! I can’t wait for you to have that experience. To see the book after so many years of trying to circulate the individual poems for publication while still revising and figuring out which ones go together was truly one of the best days of my life. It is hard for me to pick favorites from the book but there are poems I enjoy reading quite a lot. I’ll give you a full poem because it is short and is a nice transitional piece when I’m reading. It is a bit of a surprise, a twist on the whole idea of fairy tale:

Little Red

I let the wolf
hold me
felt his teeth
against my teeth
because he came
and I wanted
to give

Mel: I absolutely love “Little Red,” Jessie. The whole Paper House collection, in fact. And you’re so right—I can’t wait to have that experience of holding my very own book in my hands. But back to poetry, Paper House reminded me that the kind of poetry I enjoy reading the most is the kind that tells stories. Now, arguably, all forms of writing tell stories, but your collection, to me, blurs that line between fiction and poetry. Some call it “verse fiction” or “prose poetry.”

Jessie: I know you are primarily a fiction writer but you have done a lot to support poets as well with your YouTube site and reviews that you have written. I found quite a few of your short stories in your Folded Word collection When the Cats Razzed the Chickens that were very poetic. Are you influence at all by poetry? I’d love to hear some excerpts from your new book as well.

Mel: I’m definitely influenced by poetry. I’m also influenced by the sunshine. And rain. And weather in general. Breathing is a big inspiration. And I think it is fair to say that some of the work in my Folded Word collection (we’re Folded Family!) has a poetic tint to it. Because it’s hard not to blur the lines these days. I credit the internet with that too, and these accelerated times. It’s exciting to be a writer and to be alive, really, because things are evolving so rapidly, and to stay fresh one has to truly yield to that evolution. I think that’s kind of our job as writers, and as humans. We have to yield and absorb. Would you agree with that? And as far as my new book goes, I’ve been having a hard time finding fun quotes because so much of the work is just action and dialogue, but I’ll take a quick shot. The book, in essence, is a love story.

From Grease Stains, Kismet, and Maternal Wisdom:
“I was touching Samantha’s leg. She was touching my hand. We held hands. We were slow. Everything was okay. But the cowbell of reality still clanged around my neck, and Samantha’s too, only it was no longer in the form of her mother’s stern voice from the morning, but of something much more visceral, heavy, something now. It was in the car with us, it was in the music, it was in our hands as we touched, it was in the lights that we moved through, it was in the road, it was in the sun…The sun was in my eyes. I dropped the visor and sighed. I was getting heavy…and sad.”

Jessie: I love the excerpt you chose from Grease Stains.. (full title = awesome) because it flows exactly into what we were talking about: the conjunction of fiction and poetry. I’m around a lot of writers and many of the best prose writers will say they admire poetry but that they cannot write it, but when you read their writing you can point out to them just how poetic they actually are.

If I saw this except by itself, as an editor, I would fall in love with it as a prose poem because the action moves from word to word. You build tension by the power of vocabulary without having to focus on other “effects” of writing. You sentences sound more poetic than some of my poetry does! As you noted, I tend to want to tell stories in my poems. I definitely consider myself primarily a narrative poet and that is also the type of poetry I enjoy although I will never toss away a really awesome reflective haiku either (am I, like a teenage girl, saying awesome too much?) I also find breathing, by the way, as a big inspiration! Too funny.

Mel: You can never say “awesome” too much, Jessie. Never ever. And I’m glad that you revere haiku too! I think haiku get a bad rap sometimes. And you’re working on a series of prose poems? HMMMMM! Tell me more about this project.

Jessie: I tend to have at least one prose poem and one haiku in most of my projects but this group, so far, appears to be leaning towards being just prose poetry and like your excerpt the poem moves by the individual word rather than focusing on where the line ends.

The words of poetry and prose are much closer than maybe most people realize. Historically, they have feed off of each other as poetry came out of the oral traditions once writing was invented. Then the novel started emerging to re-tell these epic legends that were only previously presented in verse and now some of that is circling back as anyone with a computer can become more of a Renaissance man/woman than the Renaissance men could have been during their own time just given the width and breadth of knowledge that is available.

I love your quote that as writer’s we should “yield and absorb.” That is a terrific way to put this almost un-nameable thing we call a muse or inspiration. For those who aren’t writer’s, what writer’s do is take in the world and then try to distill it back for their reader’s in a way that is new. Speaking of readers, do you feel like you write for a specific audience?

Mel: I suppose I just try to create things that are readable. Things people might enjoy. Things I enjoy. I write my best, I think, when I’m having fun. The first task is to get the idea down on paper, then sew all of its moving parts together so it can live outside of my head. Lastly, with the awesome internet at our fingertips, and in particular, it’s easy to locate an audience for most anything these days. So, to answer your question simply, I write for anyone and everyone, but for myself first. If the writing isn’t honest, it’s probably not going to be very good.

And if I can backtrack again for a moment, we’ve touched upon the internet and its many avenues and opportunities. The first time we connected was through the YouTube channel Shape of a Box, an online literary venture that you created. First of all, thank you for accepting my silly little piece "A Matter of Perspective" way back when, and secondly, what do you enjoy most about online literary magazines/projects? More specifically, tell me about Referential Magazine, your new brainchild.

Jessie: I loved working on “Shape of a Box” and was THRILLED when I published your piece even more so when I saw the hilarious drawings that would be put into the video. I was a bit jealous when Jessi (my former assistant editor at Shape and now managing editor of Folded Word Press) was the one to actually put the video together, but I needed more people like her because that project was so time consuming. I had to let it go but I couldn’t let go of the joy that is finding writers and artists for a publication so I started “Referential Magazine” so I could continue to do that. Being around other writers also keeps me grounded and inspires me. That is what I like about working on a literary magazine.

At “Referential” we started out with a few poems and then built from those pieces. By built I mean most new pieces that appear, whether prose, poetry or art, refer in some way to something else on the site. They can refer to the word “the” for all I care, but I like seeing that kind of virtual collaboration.

I have taken on new editors to help me with the work at “Referential” and I was worried that the voice of the project would change but I am amazed at how easily these new editors have fit in. We are looking for good writing and I’ve never seen a piece that we disagreed on and I’ve only actually ever met any of the editors in real life once yet somehow we have this same vision and voice for the project. I never intend to prepare “Referential” or any of my own writing really for a specific audience. I just write what I would like to read and I publish what I like to read but I’ve been hearing a lot of people talk about writing for an audience (and I’m prepping a writing composition class) and I wondered how cognizant most writers were of that issue when they were writing. Um, and why haven’t you submitted anything yet? Hmmmm.

Mel: You’re awesome, Jessie. And Referential is awesome too. Congrats a million times over on all of your projects. You are a writing machine! And I know I know! I haven’t submitted anything to Referential yet. I know I know. I will. I will. I promise. It’s just been a busy, somewhat scattered year for me this 2010. But in a good way. Changes in my “real” life have put a bit of a pinch on the writing time in my “fake” life. Ha. That doesn’t sound right. But I think you know what I mean. The balancing act is tricky.

And a thought just popped into my mind: how important is it to be greedy, from a writer’s standpoint? And I don’t mean “greedy” in a bad way. I mean “greedy” in a virtuous way (ha!). We’ve both had a taste of success in the indie publishing world, and it’s been a great taste, but what grabs me and often scares me the most after finishing a project, or even when I’m working on a current project, is the thought of, “Oh, crap! What am I going to write next?” Is it drive? Paranoia? A fundamental flaw that exists in all creative types? Is it a need to create or a need to be validated for that which we create or both? How does one balance, with any consistency, the confidence needed to focus while writing and the wild insecurity that often flings open the door to raw emotion? Confidence and vulnerability. How do you strike a balance, Jessie? Coffee? Something stronger? A loved one? A comfortable crying pillow? Where was I going with this train of thought?

Jessie: Oh, this greedy discussion is so in the front of my mind right now! I am writing a lot right not but I didn’t write anything from 2000-2005 so I find myself scared that I’ll lose my momentum and I won’t be able to write if I don’t keep doing as much writing as I possibly can. Whenever I go for a day without writing I get worried that I’m done for. That doesn’t mean everything I write is publishable but I like to try and put something down on paper or the computer screen each day just to show I can.
I love to finish a projects but I am always thinking of the next thing. I actually worry about having too many publications at once like when my chapbooks both came out in 2009, but I can’t seem to stop myself from continuing to create. I have a 3rd chapbook that I’m trying to find a home for and I’m working on finalizing a contract for a 2nd full length poetry collection that I’d like to come out in 2012 (although that is hoping my 3rd chapbook would find a home and come out in 2011 which is hoping a lot!) The business end can be daunting. I love blogging about it which really gives me a way to take it all in in a more objective way than I can process. I also like to do videos, like this post-road-trip / writer-conference one:

I think I process everything better when it is put into words and not just floating around in my head! Also being married to a non-writer and rare reader of books helps keep things in perspective. As he puts it this is what I sound like, “Hi, how are you, poetry, blah blah blah, kitties, blah blah blah poetry.” Yeah, that keeps me grounded.

I just realized I forgot to address the prose poem question (did I miss anything else?). I LOVE working on prose poems and I wrote one recently called “Aloha” that I really enjoyed. It was also received well when I posted a draft on my website. I suddenly found myself writing others that all seem to have connections to specific letters so I’m thinking I am going to try one for each letter of the alphabet and maybe other alphabets if I want to make it a full length project versus a chapbook project.

How about you - what else do you have in the works?

Mel: As for other projects, I now have two sizable, unfinished manuscripts lingering around on my desktop. One is something I began work on in…2008/09, and the other is my first stab at the Folded Word project. I’ve come back to it a few times and it’s a lot better than I actually thought it was. It needs work and it needs a solid ending but it’s there, and it’s not going anywhere. Projects have the ability to wait for you. To pester you. To remind you they’re still there.

Currently, I’m pushing my novella “Grease Stains,” which ships at the end of August, 2010. (Here's one of the youtube promo clips: Grease Beats). And I’m trying to squeeze out flash fiction pieces and the occasional short story to keep myself active. It’s a battleground, Jessie, inside and out. The online writing community, although global, is actually very small when you step back and look at it. The amount of great work out there is stunning. And the number of books available is also stunning. It’s hard to decide which to buy. Although I’d like to buy them all, I just can’t. And I know that most everyone in our community is faced with that same issue. So it’s hard. It’s hard to market. It’s hard to sell. It’s hard to reach a broader market, a place not exclusive to writers and editors and publishers. It’s hard to reach the simple “readers,” especially coming from an independent standpoint. We could have a gigantic discussion on marketing and promotion alone, Jessie. And I know that’s something you’re great at. Remind me to pick your brain sometime.

And I’ll wrap up by saying, “Thank you, Jessie. Thanks for taking the time to have this little chat with me. And thanks to Dorothee Lang for setting us up in this imaginary café. The food was excellent! Don’t you agree? And lastly, I wish you nothing but good things in the coming months and years, Jessie. It’s been a true pleasure to fight by your side, and I hope we can continue to fight (in the best, most non-violent sense possible) for a long time.”

Jessie: I have to second all the thank you’s and to send one right back your way! Finding the readership that is right for you is difficult even as, on the surface, vast as the internet makes things out to be. I still feel like a tiny fish in the middle of the ocean who hasn’t gotten used to salt water. Good luck with all your ventures and I can’t wait to have a few more of them on my shelves when I finally get the wobbling stack of waiting to read, review or skim books to shrink . . . . and then there is that blog reader . . .

[The END]

... and on the note of blogs + books + reading, some further links:


  1. Congratulations to the both of you. Two of the hardest working writers I know. You are so deserving of every success.

  2. What a wonderful conversation--engaging, informative, lively, motivating, and fun, fun, fun!!! Thanks so much ~

  3. Awesome! I agree with Mel, the word can't be overused.... I'm so glad I read this now, when I'm feeling a bit discouraged and isolated. It's great to read this wonderful energy you both have, practically jumping out of the screen at me. Sort of. You know what I mean.... I agree with Jessie re the loveliness of this: "I think that’s kind of our job as writers, and as humans. We have to yield and absorb." :)

    Oh - and it was great to hear Jessie's voice on that clip too. It's different than I imagined. More Southern. Of course this shouldn't be surprising, but I just hadn't given it any thought before!

  4. It is fun to read these interviews and to realize how we are all struggling with similar issues. Like balance. How to balance all the different writing activities we have to perform, from creating, editing, to publishing, promoting etc.

    I totally relate to the "will I write another poem fear" and perhaps what may have come to be known as writers block. But over time I came to realize that writers block happens when we let that fear creep in and immobilizes us. When we forget ot breathe. If one manages to keep it at bay, and face the fact that sometimes we become empty and we have to fill up. And that is ok, and the poetry is always there... we just have to breathe and listen:-)
    Thanks for the talk.