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Monday, January 28, 2013

#46 Paula Bomer

20 Questions with Mourning Goats
Paula Bomer

Sean P. Ferguson, a good friend of the goat, did a review of Paula's book for ManArchy Magazine and I was intrigued. When I asked the Mourning Goats readers who they wanted, he suggested that I ask her a few questions. So, knowing he has pretty good taste, I searched out Paula and found out she's awesome, even though she writes about a few things the goat has not dove into, literaryily (I believe in the freedom to make up words...like that one) speaking...

1. What comes to mind when you hear, "Mourning Goats?"
Honestly, a question mark. But I love your webzine.
2. What's your novel, 9 Months about, in your own words?
My own words sort of fail me regarding my work, so I'll quote some other people- I like the ones who say it's a woman having an existential and identity crisis. It's also an examination of one woman's pregnancy and birthing experience.
3. Your first book was Baby & Other Stories, then 9 Months, please tell me the next one is conception.
My next book, Inside Madeleine, is a novella and a group of stories that are about young women generally is some sort of crisis. The novella is decidedly unfunny and the stories range in tone.
4. You have your MA in English and Creative Writing from City College, what do you think about teaching creative writing? Is the degree necessary?
I've never taught creative writing, but I really enjoyed my time at CCNY. It was good for me, a twenty something year old. I took a lot of English classes because that's how that program was structured and that was wonderful. I should take some more now. The workshops were a mixed bag, but working one on one with great professors was helpful and often inspiring. That said, it is in no ways necessary.
5. I saw on your Facebook page about a review that was just downright mean, what's it like getting reviewed by people all over the world, stressful?
I do find getting reviewed by people who hate my book as mildly distressing. Then I can laugh it off, usually. I wrote Nine Months to purposefully push the PC buttons of the world, so I really have no right to be distressed when someone hates it. I tell myself, whoever hates my book it's because they are not the right reader for it. And I try to focus on the positive reviews, and that sometimes works. I can't wait to get to the point where I don't read them. I already don't really read my goodreads reviews.
6. What's your process like? Do you write every day? When the urge hits?
I write as much as possible and that varies tremendously. I'm pretty good with deadlines although I do bang my head on the desk at times or not get out of bed for a really long time to avoid working. I love it when I get that "flow" and I hate it when it's hard coming. It's often hard coming.
7. You have a reading coming up on February 11th, are you excited? Nervous?
I hate reading. My husband says I've gotten better at it but that's just because I discovered how relaxing vodka is. That said, I love getting out of my house and talking to people in the literary community because I don't do it enough. And I do love it when the audience laughs. That's gratifying.
8. If anything, you and Sonia have one thing in common, you're both Brooklynites, do you think living here changes a person?
I think wherever we live and wherever we are from greatly affects who we are. I've lived in Brooklyn for 22 years and frankly, I'm done. But I have a few more years before my kids are in college so I have to stick around. Then I'm going to try to force my husband to retire- oh wait, he has to pay for college. I'm stuck here for a while longer. Sigh.
9. Another Mourning Goats Author interviewed you, Shya Scanlon, what was that like?
That was wonderful. Firstly, Shya is just one of my favorite people to be around and I don't see him and his fantastic wife nearly enough. And he was an excellent reader of Nine Months and I loved his questions. He's a very smart man. He's funny, too.
10. I've heard whispers of a sequel? Where are you in that process?
Haha. One reviewer mentioned they wanted a sequel and I was so flattered and then I thought- what a great idea. Like Roth's Zuckerman, I can use Sonia in other books. I think I'll have her freak out on her teenagers who drive her mad and have her fly to some exotic land where all sorts of absurd and terrible things happen. I am absolutely nowhere with this book. I've got two other to finish up first. But who knows, maybe it will jump ahead of one of them.
11. Do you work on multiple projects at the same time? Reading over some timelines, it seems like there's a lot of overlap.
Yes. Baby was written over the course of many years and two novels were written within those years as well as some other stories from Inside Madeleine. That said, when working on the novels, I focused pretty intensely for months at a time just on those.
12. Where do you find the time, you have two kids, Sententia Books, AND writing?
I also have two dogs two cats and three houses. And I still manage to watch way too much TV. Frankly, my kids are teenagers and want nothing to do with me and are never around. They are so busy! I beg them to hang out with me, so they are not the problem. Any problem I have or ever had with writing comes from inside my brain.
13. Your book was reviewed by an online men's magazine, ManArchy, did you ever thing there would be a mail audience for this?
I am happy about it. I'm not really surprised. I don't think I write Chick Lit or even upscale women's fiction. I write literary fiction- or try to- and that should appeal to everyone. The excellent Jon Reiss wrote an interesting piece where he admitted he wasn't interested in Nine Months because of the subject matter and then said it was one of the best books he'd read in years. He discusses the prejudices we have as readers. Anyway, I;m just happy to have readers, period. Really really happy.
14. This was a very different book when you first wrote it. What happened?
I wouldn't say it was different. Sonia has always been Sonia and she was on a road trip after having a freakout. But I did revise it with the great help of my editor Mark Doten. He made me make her go to different places which is quite funny if you think about it. He made me make it a better book. Maybe some writers can do that themselves- I often hear about writers revising 400 times. I needed some direction and feel fortunate to get it. That said, with Baby, we didn't change a word. I'm much more comfortable in the story form, or was. Now I seem to have lost that comfort level. Here's hoping it comes back.
15. You have some awesome blurbs! How do they come in to play? Friends or just a publisher that pushes to the right people?
Some of the blurbs are from friends and acquaintances and some, frankly, are complete strangers that I contacted, writers I admired. I urged my Sententia author Scott Wrobel to do the same. He got some great blurbs that way. You'd be surprised who's generous and who wants to help out, and equally surprised who doesn't. But as a writer, I had nothing to lose. What's the worst that can happen? Oh wait, a former mentor insulted a book- this after being so encouraging for years- and refused to blurb me. I cried for three days (not non-stop).

16. You are the first author I've read about who's told their spouse and children to NOT read their work. Why?
My writing is my private thing. I never shared it with my parents or other family members, although they stumbled across it from time to time. My husband, at this point has heard me read -so therefore knows- quite a lot of my work. Maybe half? But we don't sit around discussing it. And if my kids at some point want to read my work- and they've attended two readings and my older son helped me with the Indiana chapter and once in a while I ask him to read something- then I have no power to stop them. But I think it's fine to warn them away from graphic sex scenes or really depressing stories. And they KNOW me. They don't want to read my fiction. That said, they're super proud of me. I was 42 and had been writing for 20 years before I got my first book published. No one is happier for me then my sons.
17. I read somewhere that you didn't want your kids to go to college in New York, do you think your schooling and travels created the author I have before me? Could you not have done it if you stayed here?
I think seeing as much as the world as one can is ideal. I'm pushing them a bit. Once they're done with college and want to move back to Brooklyn and never leave, I'll have no say in the matter. That said, we have a cabin in the Dominican Republic and I've traveled all over Europe and parts of South America with them so I think I've instilled in them the desire to travel. We shall see. For me, it's a huge priority.
18. You've worked with two presses, what are your thoughts on sticking with one, or jumping from press to press? How was publishing through Soho and Word Riot?
I am so fortunate that Jackie Corley at Word Riot loved Baby and did so well with it. She's become a friend and a writer and editor that I adore. When Mark Doten- another stroke of great fortune in my life- asked to see novels and loved Nine Months, Jackie was really happy for me. As a person who runs a small press myself, I'd love it if my authors nove to a bigger press. I'd be so happy for them. And so it was with Jackie- she was happy for me. It think that's the healthy response- Jackie is pretty sane. Except she runs more than me and that makes me - envious? Something like that. I wish I was in as good as shape as her.
19. When did you first really consider yourself a writer and why?
That's a good question. In my own little mind, at 22 even though I wrote some in high school and college. Openly admitting to the world was a slow process. That first story getting published, being in grad school for writing, and then- a book. And then another book. I'd say now that I have two books out, with a third on the way,I can safely call myself a writer,
20. What's next for Paula Bomer?
With great pain, I hope to God to finish this book I'm working on soon. Then I'll try to finish another. I'd love to quit smoking. And I'm desperate for a long vacation at my cabin in the Dominican Republic. I'll say this- no more pets- the last one was an impulse buy. And just a few nights ago, my husband and I were oohing and ahhing over photos of Maine Coone cats on the internet. Lord help us.
Thank you!

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

#45 Holly Goddard Jones

20 Questions with Mourning Goats
Holly Goddard Jones

You asked for an interview with Holly, and I'm here to please! Not only is she a fantastic short story writer, but she also has a novel coming out the day before Valentines day called, The Next Time You See Me. Check out the interview, buy the short story book, Girl Trouble, get the novel next month, and take note of Holly, she's one to watch!

1. What comes to mind when you hear, "mourning goats?"

When I first saw your Facebook friend request, I misread it as “Mountain Goats.” I have some friends who are really into that band.

2. Your first book was a short story book, back in 2009, in February, your first novel, The Next Time You See Me will be published, how was writing and publishing the books different?

I was a grad student when I was working on the stories in Girl Trouble, and the book went through a few different incarnations. I took away a story, completely rewrote one, and heavily revised the others. But there was never, during all of this rewriting, the panicked sense that one move could unravel the whole project. There were plenty of other kinds of panic, but I never doubted that I was making a collection that would eventually hold together.

The novel, on the other hand—75 percent of the writing experience was believing I would never finish it, that I didn’t have the skill or the wherewithal necessary to pull it off. I can admit this now only because I did finish it. At the time, though, it was years of feeling like I was playing pretend. It wasn’t until I got to about the 250-page mark of the rough draft, and went back and did a structural overhaul of those first pages, that I saw the way the rest of the book would go and started to feel some confidence.

As for the differences in the publishing experiences, I’ll probably be able to better answer that a few months. This book will be out in hardcover, whereas Girl Trouble was a straight-to-paper release, and that feels significant in an entirely superficial way. If there’s a negative, I guess it’s that I probably no longer have the automatic goodwill that comes to a young person publishing a first book, especially a less commercial project like a book of stories. The pressures are more acute this time around.

3. What's it like being married to another academic?

Well, that’s a question I never thought I’d be asked, if that tells you anything. It’s still really hard for me to think of him that way. Brandon worked for years at architectural firms, he seemed content in the professional world, and he’s frankly not a stereotypically bookish, professorial type. But when I got my current job in North Carolina—this was 2008—the economy was tanking, and architectural firms were letting people go, not hiring. So he decided to go back to grad school. Two years later, this teaching job happened, and he’s great at it. It’s a luxury for us to both be on academic schedules, and it’s good to finally have a partner who really understands me when I’m griping all the usual gripes. The bad side is that when he gripes to me, as he has every right to do, I feel almost as stressed on his behalf as I do on my own. I’m hoping this will go away with time.

4. What was it like studying under Lee Abbott, a master of short fiction?

It was terrifying and exhilarating in the way that you see students in movies getting terrified and exhilarated by larger-than-life, brilliant teachers and mentors. He was confident, encyclopedic in his knowledge, and analytical in a way that really resonated with me, as I’m not (and especially wasn’t then) a touch-feely, spiritual sort of writer. He was plain about what he hated and even plainer about what he loved. I was smitten with him.

5. Another interviewee of the Goat, John Mantooth, just reviewed your upcoming novel, what's it like getting reviewed by other writers? I can only imagine it's a huge compliment.

Oh, of course. It’s a compliment, and it means something extra, just because you know what a writer is having to sacrifice to make time to study and review someone else’s work. And you feel that a writer understands what you’re trying to do, and can at least give you credit for that, in a way that someone who doesn’t write might not. I’ve not had the courage to step into that reviewing role myself, though.

6. Do you think an authors success these days circles around their willingness to embrace social media as well as their talent?

This is something I’ve thought a lot about, and even despaired over some, and I just don’t know. I deleted my Facebook account a few months after my first book came out and stayed off for 2 and a half years. I felt embarrassed about how I’d presented myself on social media and how hard I’d promoted that book. Then, the new book got picked up, and I felt some pressure to go back. So there ended up being this paradox: I thought I needed to be on social media for the sake of promoting my book, but I didn’t want to be the kind of person who promotes herself on social media. What I decided to do was have a personal FB page, where I’d post dumb stuff and dog pictures and connect with friends and other writers in a non-professional (and sometimes unprofessional) way, and I’d also create a Twitter account and a Facebook Author page, and the author page is where I’d post the blurbs and the reviews and the reading dates. Then, I was on Twitter recently, and this group of writers was talking back and forth about how gauche it is to have a Facebook Author Page. I just crumpled with humiliation. So really, I have no idea what I’m doing and what effect it’s having and to what extent I look like an asshole.

7. LitReactor.com just mentioned you as one of the top ten authors you've never heard of, how do you respond to that?

I think it’s an honor but also really funny. I don’t disagree that most people haven’t heard of me.

8. What was it like winning the Hillsdale Award? The presentation is coming up in April, are you excited? Nervous?

The email notifying me I’d won came out of nowhere. It’s not something you apply for, and I hadn’t known I was in the running. So I was thrilled, of course. What a gift. I’m excited to go to this conference in Chattanooga, because I’ve heard about it for years, and I have friends in nearby Sewanee.

9. Girl Trouble was featured in O: The Oprah Magazine, what was that like and how did it happen?

I don’t know how or why it happened. Getting reviews—that’s mysterious to me. With Girl Trouble, I’d just suddenly hear from the publicist at my press, usually by email, with a PDF scan of the review attached. And you can tell when the review is going to be just so-so because the publicist says something like, “Here’s a very winning review of your book!” With O Magazine, I remember I was actually called on the phone by the publicist a few weeks before the review hit newsstands, and I could tell she was just as excited as I was. So that was a great day.

10. If someone who wasn't familiar with your work picked up one of your books, what would you tell them to expect?

I’d warn them that it’s pretty dark stuff, usually. And I’d say that I love to develop characters, but I also enjoy a good page-turner, and that’s what I try to give a reader.

11. Do you feel that since you're considered a southern writer, you tend to be drawn to southern writing?

Of course I appreciate southern writing, and have drawn a lot of inspiration from southern writers, but I don’t seek it out in particular over other kinds of fiction. I’m just as capable of enjoying a dystopian novel or a novel about self-absorbed upper class New Yorkers. And I hope, in turn, that you don’t have to be a southerner to like my work.

12. If you were given one piece of advice before getting into your MFA program, what would it have been?

I think I intuited then the advice I’d still give now, which is to not amass a bunch of debt to get the degree. After that—once you’re in a program, committed to going—I would say to be kind (which is not the same thing as being falsely nice or a pushover). I was insecure and defensive, 23 years old, and there were too many times when I wasn’t a generous reader of my peers’ work. I’d take that back if I could.

13. How did you get your agent, Gail Hochman?

Gail is my second agent, which is a long story. She represented one of my grad school professors, and I sent to her before signing with the other agency, only to get a long and thoughtful email from her after I withdrew my manuscript from her consideration. So when things didn’t pan out with the first agent, I got in touch with her—this was a couple of years later—and she still remembered the book and me. Which is one of the amazing and wonderful things about her. She is so sharp, so thoughtful. I don’t think it’s simply a matter of having a good memory. It’s that she is a reader and not just a businesswoman, and her way into selling a book is first making an emotional connection with it. 

14. I love how dark you like to go in your stories, should we expect the same in your novel?

Oh, yeah. And then some!

15. You're a pretty recent MFA grad, what do you think of MFA programs? Are they a necessity? Highly recommended?

Well, I teach in an MFA program, and I had a wonderful experience in my MFA program, and so I certainly see plenty of good in getting the degree. But of course they’re not a necessity. If you have means to attend, you can get some time to be serious about your work, make friends and lifelong readers, learn some stuff that you might not learn otherwise, or as quickly, and yes, make some useful connections. But all of that can be done in some configuration outside of an MFA. And programs are so different. The program where I teach is really different from the one I attended—just a completely distinct vibe. I think some students could be happy at both places, but not all. The people I’ve known who were unhappy with their MFA experiences either had unrealistic expectations for the degree—didn’t understand that it wasn’t a set path to publication or a college teaching job—or chose a program with a vibe that didn’t suit them.

16. Do you remember the first short story you sold? What was it like?

The first story I placed was at American Literary Review, and I was paid with contributors’ copies, and so the first story I literally “sold” was to The Southern Review. And that was probably one of the best milestones in my writing life, not only because it was such a great journal—and such a tidy little paycheck for a grad student!—but because that story, which would ultimately lead my collection, felt like the first achievement of my grown-up writing life. Seven years later, that still seems right to me.

17. What did the Rona Jaffe Foundation Writers' Award mean to your career?

It meant everything. Not just to my career but to my life. The day I got the news—I mean, that ranks up there in top life moments. Top five, easy. My husband and I had recently moved to Murray, Kentucky, where I had a teaching job, and we’d bought a little house. He didn’t have a job yet. The day we were signing the closing papers, I was on the edge of a panic, because we were making the first real major financial commitment of our lives, and I was suddenly sure we didn’t have the resources to do it. We left the bank, kind of shellshocked, and I checked my phone, and there was a message from Beth McCabe, who coordinates the prize. And at this point I’d known I’d been nominated for the prize—I got a letter requesting a writing sample and a CV—and so, though she didn’t come out and say I’d won, it felt like a very good sign. I called her back, managed to reach her, and she confirmed it, and I wigged out. I think of that day a lot, especially when I get down, or get passed over for some opportunity or honor, which happens all the time. And one of the things I think is that as many people as possible should have a moment like that, and if missing out on this or that means that someone else can scream with joy and relief, with the knowledge that someone is willing to make that kind of investment in what they perceive is your talent, good. It’s as it should be.

18. Workshops... love them? Hate them? Or, what is your editing process?

I’ve had my fill of them as a student. The thought of passing a pile of my freshly photocopied manuscripts around the table makes me feel a little nauseated. 

As a teacher of workshop, I see a lot of good in them, though it’s not the same good I thought I was getting on the other side of the process. I don’t think now that workshop is about improving individual stories so much as it is about getting new writers reading and thinking critically. It’s a lab that allows us to talk about craft issues in a concrete way. There are things about the workshop process that I find harder to deal with, the longer I do this. In graduate workshops, I no longer uphold that old “the writer doesn’t speak until the end” rule. I’ll ask the writer questions, get him or her to reflect on some of the comments. There’s a theatrical quality to the old school workshop that seems designed to create the highest level of discomfort and anxiety possible, and I’m just worn out on it.

19. Your website says that you have a ton of readings already lined up, do you like giving them? Any fun stories from past readings?

I don’t mind the act of giving a reading. That can be fun, and I still have a bit of the old high school drama geek in me. But I have a lot of anxiety about the apparatus around readings. I almost never finish a reading and think, “That went well.” I don’t know how to react to people reacting to it. Oh, and I’m a blusher, so I tend to get bright red when I’m stressed, and that’s mortifying.

Bookstore readings are humbling. When Girl Trouble came out, I had a few readings with great turnouts and several readings with an attendance of only a couple of people. This time around, I think I’ll be grateful for whatever I get. Five people in the audience who aren’t my husband or a paid bookseller sounds like heaven.

20. What's next for Holly Goddard Jones?

I’m coming off a semester’s leave at the same time that my book comes out, so it will be a hectic spring: teaching, doing some traveling for events, reading MFA applications, reading theses. I’ve started a new novel, and I hope I can carve out some time to work on it.  

Thank you!