Hello, Reader. Today I’m happy to post part 2 of my interview with poet, essayist, and radio broadcaster, Molly Fisk. This time, she interviews me briefly, then gives us the skinny on self-publishing and print-on-demand. AND she’s offering a free signed copy of her book Blow-Drying a Chicken, which believe me, you want. More details about the giveaway at the end of this post. If you’re just joining us, you can read part 1 of this interview here. And now…
Molly Fisk: Let me turn the tables for a minute. What brought you to poetry writing? I know you’re the mother of three fairly young kids, and have relocated to CA from (?) Michigan. Were you a poet before you became a mother, or are those two things rooted together?
Molly Spencer: I think I came to writing poetry out of a need to process and understand the world and my life. Words always felt like a natural mode of expression to me, but to tell you the truth, I don’t remember writing my first poem, or how old I was when I started writing (definitely not out of my parents’ house yet, though — because I used to “borrow” my dad’s legal pads and Swirl pens to write with). I do remember a night of typing up revisions on a typewriter, before correction tape, and letting a curse word slip when I made a mistake — all this, during my mom’s quilting group. This brought laughter from the quilting ladies, and consternation from my mother. As I think back on it, I’m glad I was committed to revision early on.
About poetry and motherhood… There was a time when I thought I had to choose between the two. It’s as if I had some innate sense that there wasn’t enough of me to be both mother and poet. I also knew that I’d have to be more honest than might feel comfortable to me or my family if I were to pursue my writing. At the time, I chose motherhood, or thought I did.
It turns out I was right: there isn’t enough of me to be both mother and writer. At least that’s how it feels most weeks. And I was wrong: there was no choice. I feel claimed by poetry — not that I think I’d un-choose it if I could; just that it chose me, not the other way around. So, I’ve made my peace with feeling like there’s never enough of me for both callings and pursuing both callings anyway. And I’ve made peace with being more honest than might be comfortable. I will say that, although I’m sure I’d have been writing poetry even if I’d never had kids, there’s a lot about motherhood and family life that I find puzzling and complicated. Writing helps me sort all that out (and plus, I think it’s something people need to know about!), so naturally motherhood has become a source of content for me.
As for my peregrinations, I do come from Michigan and Michigan will always be “home.” There was a year or two here and there — Indiana, Ireland, Louisiana, New York City — then 13 (I think) years in St. Paul, Minnesota, and now, here in the Peninsula Town these last two years. I’ve told Husband I’m not going any farther west, unless it’s to a house on the coast (#notholdingmybreath).
But back to Blow-Drying a Chicken… . Tell us about getting this book out into the world: how you did it, what you learned.
MF: Blow-Drying a Chicken is my new book of radio commentary: short, three-minute essays on every subject under the sun. I’ve been recording these for the News Hour of my local radio station for about ten years now, and have made two CDs of them. When I decided to self-publish, and looked at the four books I had at various stages of development, this seemed the easiest to get finished, and also perhaps the most likely to be popular. And it has been tremendously popular, more than I dreamed! I am also quite shocked at how much readier people are to buy a book when they know it isn’t poetry.
One of the drawbacks to having John Updike be your uncle and becoming a writer, even as late as I did (at 35), is that you see the old publishing model as the norm, and you want to succeed (or I have always imagined success being) according to that norm. But as you may have noticed, I’m not John Updike… 😉 I’m a woman, I’m a feminist writing about child abuse, I’m on the West Coast (yes that matters), I’m mostly writing poetry (not light verse the way he generally did) rather than novels, etc., etc.
So after having two poetry collections brought out by wonderful but very small publishers, and waiting probably far too long to be “discovered” in some sense by the larger literary world, I finally decided I couldn’t stand waiting one more minute and should self-publish a book of my radio essays and see what happened.
I’m the perfect person to self-publish, because I’ve put books together in the past (four anthologies for California Poets in the Schools) so I know the right people to ask for help: one friend did the cover for me, another did the pre-press insides, a third copy-edited, and all kinds of folks have helped me with promotion. Even Uncle John, before he died, agreed to let me use a quote from one of his letters to me as a cover blurb. I’m also a born entrepreneur, there is nothing I like better than being in charge of everything all at once and keeping those plates spinning. It’s a particular type of approach to the world and I’ve had it since I was selling home-made rag dolls to gift shops in San Francisco when I was 10.
Having said that, there’s a big learning curve in dealing with print-on-demand issues and training myself to switch hats between being the author (Hooray! Guess what?! I wrote a book!!) and the publisher (Be quiet! We don’t have any books yet! Don’t tell anyone until we have some to sell!). Luckily I have a coach who helps me sort these things out, so I’m not in hysterics as much as I might otherwise be.
Many things have gone wrong, particularly with various branches of Amazon, but all of them got figured out and fixed, so now I think I have the production end in place and can turn my attention to selling. I’ve sold quite a few books already, but I want this little volume to go far, so I’ve got to hunker down and see how that can best be done.
MS: Well, I hope you’ll come back and tell us about that after the book has been out in the world for a while. Thanks for sharing your book’s journey with us. Do you have any parting words of wisdom about writing and/or life and/or the writing life?
MF: Some people begin to write because it interests them or they have an idea about what “being a writer” might look like that seems appealing. Some just can’t stop themselves from writing, they feel driven. Either way, writing turns out to be partly fun and partly lots of work, just like any other pursuit: cross country skiing, writing code, teaching math to fifth graders, or painting the outside of a house. You just have to figure out if it’s your kind of fun or not. I would rather write than many many other things, including painting the outside of a house. But it’s just like anything else in this marvelous world, you have to learn a lot, and then when you think you’re good at it you find a whole new vast layer of things you don’t know and ought to, and then you go through boring phases where it seems less fun than it was, and then you get re-inspired and fall in love with it all over again. Writing is not going to save you. But writing can be the way you save yourself.
Meanwhile, Reader, if you’re wondering why anybody would ever blow-dry a chicken, let’s just say the farm kids know, but you’ll have to read the book to find out more. Buy it here.
And if you’d like to enter the giveaway for a free, signed copy of Blow-Drying a Chicken, comment on this post by October 7. Be sure to include a way for me to contact you. I’ll draw the winner’s name a week from today.
And because there’s a youtube video for everything:
Poet Molly Fisk writes weekly essays for community radio stations in California, Colorado, Illinois and Wisconsin. She’s the author of the poetry collections, The More Difficult Beauty, Listening to Winter, and Salt Water Poems, and the audio recordings of commentary, Blow-Drying a Chicken and Using Your Turn Signal Promotes World Peace. Fisk has been awarded grants by the National Endowment for the Arts, the California Arts Council, and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. She’s the owner of Poetry Boot Camp (poetrybootcamp.com) and can be reached at mollyfisk.com.