Anne Higgins’ next big thing

Vexed Questions cover

Hello, Reader. I’m still working my way through the last of commitments I’ve made to host other writers’ “next big thing.” Without further ado:

What is your working title of your book? Vexed Questions

Where did the idea come from for the book?  The title came from a talk on Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar” given by Sarah Scott, a Shakespeare scholar and colleague of mine. She referred to some issue about some lines from the play that continue to be a Vexed Question. I had never heard that term before. I looked it up, and found this:

“VEXED QUESTION, vexata quaestio. A question or point of law often discussed or agitated, but not determined or settled. (Source: A Law Dictionary, Adapted to the Constitution and Laws of the United States. By John Bouvier. Published 1856).

Anyway, I decided that I had encountered many vexed questions in my life, and decided to include in this book many poems about those vexed questions.

I used whimsical “vexed questions” as dividers, though the questions had more than whimsical overtones: ”How Does Straw Become Gold?”  “What Have I Swallowed?”  “From Whose Body Did You Come?”  “Who Still Gets Flowers?”

What genre does your book fall under?  Poetry

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?  Can’t do just one sentence! Many of these poems grew out of fairy tale themes and characters. Many of the poems deal with cancer – not just the disease, but the causes: pollution, environmental disasters, our tendency to put off going to the doctor, etc. Many poems about aging, too.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?  Neither. It’s been published by Aldrich Press in California.  It’s available on Amazon now!

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?  This is my sixth book of poetry. Most of these poems were written between 2008 and 2012. I was working on another manuscript at the same time, but these poems seemed to call for a new book.

Who or what inspired you to write this book? My own ongoing interest in fairy tales inspired me, but also my teaching a Poetry and History course on twentieth century Europe at my university. Finally, my 2008 diagnosis and radiation treatment for cervical cancer impelled me to write, though it took me until 2011 to be able to write about that experience.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?  I have one poem in that book called “Habit-taking” which is about my first days in the convent in 1978. Some of the other poems are at least indirectly related to my life as a Catholic sister. I was thirty when I joined my religious congregation, and I am still a member today (kind of like still being married), thirty-five years later.

Buy this book here.

photo courtesy of the author

photo courtesy of the author

Anne Higgins was born in West Chester, Pennsylvania. She is a member of the Daughters of Charity. She is a graduate of Saint Joseph College, Emmitsburg, Maryland, Johns Hopkins University, and Washington Theological Union. She lives in Emmitsburg and teaches at Mount Saint Mary’s University.

Marjorie Maddox’s next big thing

photo courtesy of the author

photo courtesy of the author

Today I’m happy to host Marjorie Maddox’s next big thing. Without further adieu:

What is your working title of your book (or story, or project)?  Local News from Someplace Else

Where did the idea come from for the book? As have many of us, I’ve been thinking more and more about our unsafe world and particularly how best to raise a family in such an environment. Society’s changing definition of what is and isn’t “safe” affects how we view “home,” as well as how we see ourselves, others, and the world in which we create that “home.” Often, after reading the newspaper or listening to the radio, I find myself returning to the same stories. A number of the poems in Local News from Someplace Else poetically examine such headlines. Ultimately, though, this is a book about how to live—joyfully and in community—in today’s damaged world. Thus, I also examine small pleasures—the ocean, a cup of coffee, an extra thick towel at a hotel—along with the deeper riches of family, friends, and faith. The book doesn’t have easy answers—there aren’t any—but it does, I hope, examine what matters most in our lives.

What genre does your book fall under?  Poetry

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?   Jodi Foster, Helen Hunt, or a younger Meryl Streep or Judi Dench—someone able to handle the chaos and tragedies of life, but also with plenty of capacity for joy.

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?  Because—in this unsafe world—we no longer define “home” the same way, Local News from Someplace Else confronts fear, embraces family, and rediscovers both grace and joy.

Who will publish this book?  Wipf & Stock

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?  The book has gone through numerous versions (and been a finalist in 30 national competitions) over a span of fifteen or so years. I know because there are some poems about my daughter’s birth—and she just turned sixteen!

Who or what inspired you to write this book?  Short answer: life, my children, current events. The title addresses our paradoxical horror of and fascination with local and national events and how, too often, we disconnect from our own lives. On a different level, I hope the poems emphasize how truly universal are our human joys and sorrows.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?  In addition to the more well known headlines I address— the TWA Flight 800 plane crash that deeply affected my town; the Quecreek mine rescue; the Nickel Mines Amish schoolhouse shooting; the Oklahoma tornadoes; etc.—I consider more lighthearted headlines: a man getting a tattooed wedding ring; a wedding ceremony at Reptiland; a woman suffering from amnesia who remarries her longtime husband—to name a few. I also look at such simple joys as riding a bike and greeting the morning sun with your children.

You can read/hear some of the poems in this collection here:

And here is Marjorie’s bio: Director of Creative Writing and Professor of English at Lock Haven University, Marjorie Maddox has published Local News from Someplace Else (2013) Weeknights At The Cathedral  (2006), Transplant, Transport, Transubstantiation (2004 Yellowglen Prize), Perpendicular As I (1994 Sandstone Book Award), five chapbooks, and over 400 poems, stories, and essays in journals and anthologies. She is co-editor of Common Wealth: Contemporary Poets on Pennsylvania (2005) and has published two children’s books with Boyds Mills Press, A Crossing of Zebras: Animal Packs in Poetry (2008) and Rules of the Game: Baseball Poems (2009). The recipient of numerous awards—including Cornell University’s Sage Graduate Fellowship for her MFA and Pushcart Prize nominations in both poetry and fiction—she is the great-grandniece of baseball legend Branch Rickey, the general manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers who helped break the color barrier by signing Jackie Robinson.

Visit her web site here:

Marjorie tags the following writers (and, while I won’t be hosting these posts, you can learn more about the work of these writers by following the links provided):

April Lindner’s next big thing

April Lindner; photo courtesy of the author

April Lindner; photo courtesy of the author

Hello Reader. As promised, here’s a little light shining on the work of other writers. Today, I’m happy to host a “next big thing” for April Lindner. Please also take a look at one of April’s tags, Ann E. Michael’s next big thing.

What is your working title of your book (or story, or project)? Lucy

Where did the idea come from for the book?  The summer after I graduated from college I backpacked solo across Europe for two months, an experience that changed how I saw myself and the world. Lucy was inspired by that experience, and also by E. M. Forster’s novel A Room With a View.

What genre does your book fall under? The Young Adult novel, with, I hope, crossover appeal to adults.

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?  Helena Bonham Carter circa 1985 and Milo Ventimiglia circa The Gilmore Girls.

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?  On the trip of a lifetime across Europe, a young girl falls in love with an American street musician in Florence, Italy, and begins to question the life that awaits her back home in Philadelphia.

Who will publish this book? Little, Brown’s Poppy imprint.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?  The first draft took a summer, but that was two summers ago. I’m still revising; in fact I’m on draft six right now.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?  My first two novels were contemporary retellings of classic Brit Lit–Jane (a modernization of Jane Eyre) and Catherine (based on Wuthering Heights). After I finished writing Catherine, I knew I wanted to do at least one more classic update, and my thoughts immediately turned to Forster’s A Room With a View. It’s one of my favorite novels, but the truth is, I fell in love first with the gorgeous Merchant-Ivory film adaptation and only came to the book after the fact.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?  Apart from high romance under the Tuscan sun? Well, Lucy’s a gifted actress/singer whose father bribes her to give up her acting ambitions with the aforementioned trip to Europe. So there’s backstage intrigue. And, as always in my books, there’s rock music.

April Lindner is the author of two novels, CATHERINE (a modernization of WUTHERING HEIGHTS) and JANE (a modernization of JANE EYRE).  She also has published two books of poetry, THIS BED OUR BODIES SHAPED and SKIN, winner of the 2002 Walt McDonald Poetry Prize. She lives near Philadelphia and teaches at Saint Joseph’s University. 


I don’t know about you, Reader, but I now have several more books on my To Read list. April’s other tags are Ned Balbo, Lynn Levin, and Angela Alaimo O’Donnell. I’m not hosting these tags, but if you hunt around on Google, I bet you can find them. Stay tuned for more light shining on the work of other writers, and thanks for reading!

Alan Davis’ next big thing


One last “next big thing,” Reader. I’ve enjoyed showcasing the work of so many writers. This last post is from Alan Davis:

What is the working title of your book?  My book’s title is The Theater of the Invisible Guests.

 Where did the idea come from for the book?  I spent a summer in Indonesia (Bali and Java), where the dalaan (shadow puppet master) who makes an occasional appearance in the novel and strongly influences its narrator first made my acquaintance. A few years ago, here in Minnesota, a man now known as the Craigslist killer committed a horrible crime, the murder of a young woman he lured to the house where his parents lived, and that crime is central to the plot.

What genre does your book fall under?  I wrote the book as a novel.

What actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie?  Ryan Gosling might be the narrator and protagonist, though it could also be Edward Norton. Karen, his Kentucky fiancé who works as a horsewoman and whose father is the influential Colonel, might be played by Natalie Portmann, though Rachel Weisz would also work if it was Norton and not Gosling.

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?   In The Theater of the Invisible Guests, a man brought from England as a boy moves to the Upper Midwest after he loses his family and becomes obsessed with, and then implicated in, a murder in his neighborhood.

 Who published your book?  The book is unpublished. My previous books include So Bravely Vegetative (winner, Prize Americana for Fiction 2010) and two other collections of stories, Alone with the Owl and Rumors from the Lost World.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript? Several years.

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?   Walker Percy’s The Moviegoer, Albert Camus’s The Stranger, Knut Hamsun’s Hunger, Jack Kerouac’s On the Road, Dostoevsky’s Notes from Underground.

What is there about your book that might pique a reader’s interest?  Walker Percy once wrote a book titled Lost in the Cosmos. In this novel, a protagonist who is lost in America undertakes a journey of self-discovery that leads him from the islands of Indonesia to the blue grass horse farms of Kentucky when he decides to befriend an alleged murderer who lives in his Upper Midwest neighborhood and finds himself under suspicion as a possible accomplice. Readers who like Kerouac might want to travel with him. Readers who enjoy literary mysteries will want to know how things turn out, and those who like love stories will skip to the end (if they’re unscrupulous) to find out what happens in Kentucky.

Alan Davis teaches in the MFA program at Minnesota State University, where he is Senior Editor of New Rivers Press, and in the low-residency MFA program at Fairfield University in Connecticut. He’s received a Loft-McKnight Award of Distinction in Creative Prose, a Minnesota State Arts Board Fellowship, and a Lake Region Arts Council Fellowship, as well as Fulbright awards to Indonesia and Slovenia. For ten years he co-edited American Fiction, an anthology of short stories chosen in 1998 by Writer’s Digest as one of the top 15 places in the United States to publish fiction. His three collections of stories include So Bravely Vegetative  (which won the Prize Americana for Fiction in 2010), Alone with the Owl, and Rumors from the Lost World, which Dorothy Allison reviewed in The New York Times Book Review: “Alan Davis’s voice transports and sings….I kept thinking that I wouldn’t mind winding up as a character in one of his stories. Odds are, he’d do me justice.”

Suzanne McNear’s next big thing


Happy Monday, Reader! There are still a few next big things coming over the transom, and today I’m happy to host Suzanne McNear’s. I also want to point you to Kathryn Levy’s, whose next big thing is posted on her website.

What is the working title of your book?  My book’s title is Knock Knock

 Where did the idea come from for the book?  The idea came to me many years ago. I started the book, put it aside, worked on it again, put it aside again when an agent said it was much too long. (It was).  At the time I was divorced, raising three daughters, working at a demanding job as a fiction editor at Playboy Magazine. The novel was based on my life, and it was too close to me, too hard for me to cope with. I put the pages- all typewritten – into a box and put the box away.

What genre does your book fall under?  I wrote the book as a novel. However, my co- publishers at The Permanent Press  thought of it as a fictional memoir. I had always thought of the book as a novel, and was not familiar with the term “fictional memoir.” However, the book was certainly based on my life, and sometimes I used real names. The story is told by a character I  called March Rivers, and to me, the story is March’s story. Not Suzanne McNear’s story.

What actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie?  A movie. Oh that would be fun. I would have liked Nora Ephron for a director.  I wish she were still with us to consider it. I’m not sure about actors. Maybe Philip Seymour Hoffman for the director and for March’s husband.  The husband is a drinker, a mystery writer, a troublemaker, a buffoon.   Philip Seymour Hoffman would be perfect, and he would know the right actress to play March.

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?  An artist friend wrote to me and said he found Knock Knock “deeply moving and wickedly funny.” I put this note up on the wall above my desk.

 Who published your book?  The book was published by The Permanent Press, a small press in Sag Harbor, New York. Judy and Marty Shephard, the co –publishers took the book after a friend asked them to read the manuscript, and this all happened very quickly. I was stunned. And for good reason.  The Shepards and their staff work in a wonderful old farm house not far from where I live, and when Judy showed me her desk there was a huge stack of manuscripts, going back a year or more, which she was working her way through. So were it not for a friend I might still be waiting to hear.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?  It took forever. I started the book when I was pregnant with my third child, and put it away when she was born. I worked on it again about ten years later when I was a fiction editor at Playboy Magazine. Robie Macauley who ran out small department sent the novel to an agent in New York and though it was not finished, and already ran to 500 pages this agent sent it to various publishers who turned it down. Then the agent and I had a falling out and the novel came back to me and back to the drawer in my desk. I did not want to think about it again. Ever. Ten years later I was living in New York and in Gordon Lish’s workshop. When I had finished a collection of stories I was given a contract by Knopf where Gordon was an editor, but the contract was for “a work of fiction,” not the stories. According to the editor and chief at Knopf, all the stories were alike. Which they certainly were not! At the time I had just exchanged my apartment in New York with a friend who had a house in London, so off I went with hopes of creating this  “work of fiction.”  I sat at a desk in a house in Little Brompton and stared at the Concorde on its way to New York, winter afternoon after winter afternoon. Trying to think of a work of fiction. Something. Anything. Nothing. A few years later I did publish the stories in a collection titled Drought whose working title had once been Water Water. I loved the way this collection turned out. It was designed by Leslie Miller at The Grenfell Press and published by Canio’s Editions in Sag Harbor.  I was writing stories again when my daughter who is a writer and editor asked me to think about the novel I had put aside. What had ever become of it? Where was it? Well, it was, fortunately, still with me, after six moves, in the same box, in the desk drawer. I opened the box and there were the pages, crisp and yellow with age, thin as potato chips, and not a terrible book at all. Worth going back to. After many years.  And so, with my daughter’s encouragement, I set to work, and three years later the book was finished.

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?  The book was published as a fictional memoir, and I haven’t really read many memoirs. I have certainly been influenced by Christina Stead and Jane Bowles, and by Beckett and Harold Pinter. And by Gertrude Stein. And Kafka. I love writing that is unconventional, dark, quirky. And black humor is important to me. I have written a number of plays and when I was rewriting Knock Knock I found that I could take advantage of all I had learned from Beckett and Pinter. Recently I have been reading David Foster Wallace. The Pale King is extraordinary. It goes on forever and I could not stop until the very end when I felt such a sense of celebration, for the work, and such a sense of loss, knowing David’ s work was complete. There would be no more.

What is there about your book that might pique a reader’s interest?  There are unsettling scenes in the book; a turbulent marriage, a divorce, a nervous breakdown, but there is also a comic sense that carries the story along. At the worst of times the story is funny. The sense of the absurd, that manner of seeing life as such is at the core of my work.  I recently published a story titled “Swimming Lessons” which won the Neil Shepard prize given by the Green Mountains Review earlier this year.  The story was about a sudden death, a woman quite lost for a while, a man falling or jumping through a glass roof, but again the story was comic. It also had a scene from a Pinter play in it. So Pinter is my guardian angel, and a very attentive one.

Suzanne McNear is a former editor and journalist, and now devotes herself to writing fiction and plays. Her essays have been published in The New York Times and Vogue. Her collection of stories titled  “Drought” was published in 2004. A story titled “Excerpts from a Wisconsin Childhood” was published by Midnight Paper Sales in a special edition with woodcuts by Gaylord Schaniiec. She is currently working on a collection of stories which will include “Swimming Lessons,” winner of the Neil Shepard prize for fiction in the latest issue of the Green Mountains Review.

Chip Livingston’s next big thing

Chip Livingston.jpgToday, I’m happy to post another “next big thing” — this time, Chip Livingston’s:

What is your working title of your book? NAMING CEREMONY

Where did the idea come from for the book? The name of the collection is actually the title of the first story I ever published, which was written after attending a naming ceremony at a Creek Indian village in Florida. That story grew into a series of related stories that are included in the book, as well as other stories that look at naming in other ways. I’ve always been interested in names, what we call things and what things we are called, what titles we’re given and those we claim for ourselves.

What genre does your book fall under? Fiction, Gay & Lesbian, Native American Studies

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?  It’s hard to say because it’s a short story collection, thus there are many different characters from a wide range of backgrounds. But if I think about it, a skinnier Taylor Lautner could play Peter Strongbow, the protagonist of several linked stories, and I could easily see his older sister played by Irene Bedard. I had Irene’s image in mind as I wrote that character, Lana Strongbow. A younger Johnny Depp or Ewan McGregor could play the poet’s helper in the New York City stories. Phillip Seymour Hoffman could be made up to age and play the senior poet.

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?  Short stories with a wide range in style and form examine global human behavior through individual struggles and obsessions.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?  Lethe Press will publish the short story collection in Spring 2014. I admire the books this small press is publishing and submitted my manuscript to the press after receiving a positive response to a query letter. I believe it helped that one of the stories in the collection had been selected by the same press to appear in its BEST GAY STORIES 2013 anthology. I did not go through an agency.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?  The stories in the collection have been written and published individually over the last fifteen years. Last summer I began sequencing them together in the form of the story collection. I submitted the final manuscript to one contest and it was a finalist, which gave me the confidence to query Lethe Press to see if it was something they’d like to review for potential publication.

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?  I’m not so bold to compare myself with these writers and collections I most admire, but I can say that I am strongly influenced by Susan Power’s ROOFWALKER, Brad Gooch’s JAILBAIT AND OTHER STORIES, Victoria Lancelotta’s HERE IN THE WORLD, and Sherman Alexie’s THE LONE RANGER AND TONTO FISTFIGHT IN HEAVEN.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?  I began writing the stories when my first long-term partner was weakening from HIV-related problems, when I was an undergraduate at University of Florida. That’s the same time I began a deeper exploration of my Creek Indian roots. I guess in facing his death at such a young age, I was looking to shore up my belief system and looking for a literal root to hold on to. It was also during this time that I discovered there were creative writing classes at the university, where one could actually study the craft of fiction writing, and my workshops there changed the course of my life.

I’ve moved around since leaving Florida, living in Colorado, New York City, Los Angeles, the Virgin Islands, Italy, and Uruguay. These places and the people I’ve met on my travels have been unequivocal inspirations.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?  I think there really is “something for everyone” in the collection. While I often stick to writing what I “know,” leaning toward protagonists who are gay and/or native, NAMING CEREMONY comprises stories that cross the spectrum of experience and other genres, bridging fiction narratives with poetic monologues and sung incantations.  Links to stories online may be found at my website.

Chip Livingston is the mixed-blood Creek author of two previous poetry collections, CROW-BLUE, CROW-BLACK (NYQBooks 2012) and MUSEUM OF FALSE STARTS (Gival Press, 2010). His collection of short stories, NAMING CEREMONY, is forthcoming from Lethe Press in 2014.

Chip’s writing has received awards from Native Writers’ Circle of the Americas, Wordcraft Circle of Native Writers and Storytellers, and the AABB Foundation. His writing has appeared in Ploughshares, Cincinnati Review, The Florida Review, Court Green, and New American Writing, and in the anthologies THE PEOPLE WHO STAYED: Southeastern Indian Writing After Removal; SING: Poetry of the Indigenous Americas; SOVEREIGN EROTICS; WHO’S YER DADDY: Gay Writers Celebrate Their Mentors and Forerunners; and DIAS DE LOS MUERTOS.

Chip has taught writing and Native American literature at University of Colorado, University of the Virgin Islands, and Brooklyn College, as well as online for Gotham Writers Workshops. He will join the low-residency MFA faculty at Institute of American Indian Arts in 2014.

Chip grew up on the Florida-Alabama border and now lives in Montevideo, Uruguay. Visit his web site at

Barbara Crooker’s next big thing


Today I’m happy to host Barbara Crooker’s next big thing:

What is your working title of your book (or story, or project)?  Gold

Where did the idea come from for the book? I’d been writing poems all along during my mother’s illness and death, and when I started looking at them, I realized I had enough for a collection.

What genre does your book fall under?  I’d call this a hybrid, lyric-narrative poetry.

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?  Helen Mirren, because she can do no wrong.

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?  It’s a journey along the shores of grief:  my mother’s long illness, her death, its aftermath, but there are also poems about Ireland, aging and the body, the loss of friends, the difficulties and joys of love in a long-term marriage, plus ekphrastic work, poems on the paintings of Gorky, Manet, Matisse, and others.

Who will publish this book?  Cascade Books, a division of Wipf and Stock, in their Poeima Poetry Series. D. S. Martin is the poetry editor, and it’s been a pleasure working with him. We’re about halfway through right now.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?  The fresh answer is “all my life,” because it takes everything I’ve got to write every poem. The oldest poem in the manuscript is about fifteen years old; others are  more recent. I wish I could say I “wrote” the manuscript, but really, I  wrote the poems. Then I had to struggle to find a container, a shape, something to put them in. I know it would be much easier to come up with an idea, then write the book, but I don’t seem to be able to work that way. So, for me, constructing a manuscript is like doing a giant unwieldy puzzle, one where you’ve lost the box cover, and don’t know what the final picture is supposed to look like.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?  There are so many poets who inspire me, too many to name, but here are a few (who are also writing in this genre):  Sylvia Plath, Anne Sexton, Maxine Kumin, Sharon Olds. . . .

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest? It’s sad, but not depressing. There are also poems about pistachios, flannel sheets, marshmallow Peeps, and Dunkin Donuts. . . .

You can read some of the poems in this collection here:

Barbara Crooker’s fourth poetry collection is Gold (Cascade Books).  Awards include the 2009 Paterson Award for Literary Excellence, the 2007 Pen and Brush Poetry Prize, the 2006 Ekphrastic Poetry Award from Rosebud, 2006 Paterson Poetry Prize Finalist, the 2005 Word Press First Book Award, the 2004 WB Yeats Society of New York Award, the 2004 Pennsylvania Center for the Book Poetry in Public Places Poster Competition, the 2003 Thomas Merton Poetry of the Sacred Award, the 2003 “April Is the Cruelest Month” Award from Poets & Writers, the 2000 New Millenium Writing’s Y2K competition, the 1997 Karamu Poetry Award, and three Pennsylvania Council on the Arts Creative Writing Fellowships.  She lives and writes in rural northeastern Pennsylvania, where she occasionally leads writing workshops.

Visit her website,

Barbara tags the following writers: Marilyn Taylor, Kathryn Levy, Leslie McGrath, April Lindner, Penelope Scambly Schott. Thanks, Barbara, for sharing your next big thing!

Eric Paul Shaffer’s next big thing

Eric Paul Shaffer 2005 Van der Tuin L

Eric Paul Shaffer

This week I’m pleased to host Eric Paul Shaffer’s “next big thing.”

What is your working title of your book (or story, or project)? RattleSnake Rider: Redux is the title.

What genre does your book fall under? RattleSnake Rider is a book of poems.

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book? RattleSnake Rider: Redux is a second edition of poems composed in New Mexico, California, and the American West between 1980 and 1990 when I was reading and writing poems at a feverish rate as I studied literature.

The volume consists of three books: “Simply Speaking,” single poems of praise and occasion; “Earth Works,” a long sequence of short poems depicting moments of insight and contact with the planet; and “RattleSnake Rider,” my answer to Lew Welch’s “Rider Riddle” and a culmination of my reading, writing, and travel in those years.

What about your book will pique the reader’s interest? Lew Welch, from whom I have learned more about writing poetry than from any other poet, wrote a poem called “The Rider Riddle” in the late sixties.

Essentially, Welch’s poem encourages readers to re-connect with the places they inhabit and the planet.  Readers are enjoined to make observations close enough to determine which “animal, plant, insect, reptile, or any of the Numberless Forms” of life is the one that the readers “ride,” or, in other words, which will be his or her guide.  In effect, Welch asks us to climb “the Mountain,” look around, and recognize which one has the most to teach us about who, what, and where we are.  (You can find the poem online if you search “Rider Riddle Welch.)

I was fortunate enough to live near Mt. Tamalpais, the mountain sacred to Welch, the one to which he refers in his poem, and the one he himself climbed to answer his own riddle.

When I climbed Mt. Tamalpais, I saw a rattlesnake.  As I found myself suddenly alone on the way up, a rattlesnake crossed the broad gravel path to the peak only a few feet before me, heading downslope, and sliding directly through the shadow of my head.

At that moment, I wasn’t entranced by the idea that I might “ride” RattleSnake, but I would have had to be willful and stupid not to recognize the opportunity in that encounter.  I climbed to the peak and sat for more than an hour, contemplating the meeting.  As I did, turkey buzzards (Cathártes áura), which was Welch’s choice of his own “ride,” wheeled over the peak, reminding me of him and his majestic poem to the vulture, “Song of the Turkey Buzzard,” his own answer to his riddle.  (I recommend without reservation that all writers read his poem.)

Descending from the peak, I was still unsure, and I met a park ranger at the foot of the trail.  Idly, I asked him how often he saw rattlesnakes on Mt. Tamalpais.  His reply was, “I’ve never seen a rattlesnake here.”  Whether he meant to quell fears, to get on with his own day, or to speak the truth, right then, I decided that I must accept RattleSnake.

In the days that followed, I sought and found more occasions to observe rattlesnakes in the wild and to read and research these remarkable animals.  My travels, reading, thinking, and writing led to the extended poem that constitutes my own answer to Welch’s riddle and closes the book, entitled “RattleSnake Rider.”

Shorter and generally, RattleSnake Rider: Redux contains poems with primarily an ecological and environmental focus and subject matter.  As the poems were composed, I was coming to terms with my literary environment as well so the poems are about finding and learning about my place both as a writer and an inhabitant of Earth.

Where did the idea come from for the book? I wanted to practice the craft of writing poems, celebrate the times and places in which I lived, and speak of what was significant to me.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript? The accurate and glib answer is “all my life,” but the actual composition and revision process covered the years of my education from 1980 to 1990.

What other poetry books would you compare RattleSnake Rider: Redux? I aspire to emulate and complement the work of Lew Welch in Ring of Bone; Jim Harrison, particularly Returning to Earth and The Theory and Practice of Rivers; Gary Snyder, particularly Riprap and Cold Mountain Poems, Turtle Island, and Axe Handles; and many other poets I admire, including Antler, Richard Brautigan, Raymond Carver, Greg Keeler, Ted Kooser, Alden Nowlan, William Stafford, Clemens Starck, J.D. Whitney, and all of the writers of poems I met and shared work with in that decade, collectively known as the Ancient Order of the Fire Gigglers (after a poem by Lew Welch).

Who or what inspired you to write this book? Other fine poets and their work inspired me to write this book.  I learned from other fine writers that writers are made, not born.  We become writers because we want to join the literary conversation of our ancestors and contemporaries.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency? RattleSnake Rider: Redux will be re-issued by Turkey Buzzard Press, a poetry publishing collective of which I am a member.  The book should be available in late 2013.

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition? Poems rarely become movies unless we count Poe’s “The Raven.”  Has anyone made Coleridge’s “The Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner” into a film yet?  However, in Fantasyland, I would choose John Lithgow, Kevin Spacey, Kate Blanchett, Morgan Freeman, Emma Thompson, and, of course, Lew Welch, but no “bad boys” or Hollywood Ryans because these poems are already unshaven.

Eric Paul Shaffer is author of five books of poetry, including Lāhaina Noon (2005); Living at the Monastery, Working in the Kitchen (2001); Portable Planet (2000); RattleSnake Rider (1990); and Kindling: Poems from Two Poets (1988; with James Taylor III). His poetry appears in more than three hundred local, national, and international reviews and in the anthologies 100 Poets Against the War, The Soul Unearthed, Fishtrap Anthology 2006, and Witnessing Earth. Shaffer received the 2002 Elliot Cades Award for Literature and a 2006 Ka Palapala Po‘okela Book Award for Lāhaina Noon. He won a 2006 Fellowship to the Summer Fishtrap Writers Workshop in Oregon and the 2009 James M. Vaughan Award for Poetry. Burn & Learn, his first novel, was published in Fall 2009. He teaches at Honolulu Community College.

Anya Silver’s next big thing

Today, I’m pleased to host another “next big thing” — this time from the poet Anya Silver:

What is your working title of your book (or story)? I Watched Her Disappear

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book? I Watched Her Disappear contemplates, through various approaches, what it’s like to live with illness (advanced breast cancer), but also engages more broadly with larger themes such as suffering, redemption, faith, community, friendship, love, family, and art.

Where did the idea come from for the book? In a way, the book wrote itself. Since I’m living with cancer, it has become what Emily Dickinson would call my “flood subject.” I found myself needing to make sense of my life, and writing allows me, like any artist, to interrogate experience and create meaning. Poetry is a craft, though, so the poems are not just expressions of what I have felt or lived through; on the contrary, I think all good writing requires that the author be able to distance himself or herself from experience enough to place it within the confines of a form and to cut and facet it until the poem becomes its own object apart from the author. In my case, I used fairy tales, the third person voice, and works of art to get at the subject from a more unexpected angle or slant.

Because cancer is, let’s face it, such a depressing subject, with its always-present cape of mortality trailing behind, I balance the book with poems that praise the gorgeousness of the world, the grace of love, and the ever-present possibility of faith and hope. I do think it’s possible to look at the world honestly and without sentiment and then to acknowledge both suffering and blessing. So, some of the poems, especially those about friends who have died, are very angry, while others focus on the happiness of everyday moments like a child losing a tooth or watching my son chase a grasshopper. I think that any healthy person accepts the range of their emotions, and I try to do that in this book.

I like what Julie Moore, a poet whose work I treasure, wrote in her blog post about how her poems “emanate from witness and wonder.”  I’d say that that’s true of my own work and of the work of other poets whom I really admire, like Carolyn Forche and Ilya Kaminsky.

What genre does your book fall under? Poetry.

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition? In my dream life, I would like to look like Penelope Cruz. Of course, I look nothing like her, but if a movie were made about my life, I’d allow the directors to take artistic license.

When will it be released, and who is the publisher? I Watched Her Disappear will be published by the Louisiana State University Press in the Spring of 2014. LSU published my first book, The Ninety-Third Name of God, in 2010.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript? It took about four years. Some of the poems were written eight to ten years ago, but most of them are new. I was already working on the second book when the first was published. At some point, after adding new poems, arranging and rearranging them, I decided that the manuscript was complete.

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre? This is my favorite question because I get to put in a plug for poets whom I love. The best book of poetry that I’ve read about cancer is Jason Shinder’s posthumous collection Stupid Hope. There’s a stoicism and an acceptance of cancer and fate, what Kierkegaard would call “infinite resignation,” in his work that I find very appealing and which I think my own work partakes in as well.

My book is very much in the genre of religious or spiritual poetry, and I’d cite Susanna Childress’s Entering the House of Awe, Margaret Gibson’s Second Nature, and Laura Kasischke’s Space, in Chains as collections that approach the divine as mystery in a way that I try to do in my work. I value Gibson’s poetry for its deep love of humanity, despite its flaws, and her ability to beautifully capture the sacred in the everyday things of this world. This same quality of the sacredness in the mundane can be found in the lovely collection An Almost Pure Empty Walking by Tryfon Tolides.

The poets whom I love the most, and who have most inspired me, are oddly all non-American:  Swedish Thomas Tranströmer, Russian Anna Akhmatova, and Polish poets Anna Kamienska and Adam Zagajewski. I would call each of these poets religious humanist poets.

My own work aspires to the work of these authors; I look up to them tremendously as masters of the craft.

Who or what inspired you to write this book? I felt an almost religious calling to write this book. I don’t believe that “everything happens for a reason” in a platitudinous manner, but I felt like I had been given the tremendous challenge (I might say curse) of living with incurable cancer at the age of 42 and that I had better do something positive with that experience. If I hadn’t had cancer, I don’t think I would have become nearly as proficient a poet as I am now. Cancer, with its threat of incapacitation and death, concentrates one’s life. One no longer has the luxury of time in which to write. I knew that I had to write now and live for the now. Priorities become much clearer in the situation in which I now live. I wanted to write, write, write. I feel like I have to write in five years what I might have written in fifteen if I were not ill. I feel a responsibiliy to write for those who don’t feel comfortable or adequate expressing themselves. I also felt a real desire to leave something behind for those I love that will keep me alive, metaphorically.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest? I draw a great deal on fairy and folk tales in the book, and on works of art. I hope that readers will enjoy my rewritings of the Grimms’ fairy tales and of now lost figures of folklore, like the buried moon and Saint Sunday, who suffers all the needle pricks of girls who sew on Sunday despite prohibitions against work. Though I write a lot about cancer, the book isn’t a sad one. I believe that the reader will find that it ultimately celebrates the fact that each of us is given what Mary Oliver calls our “one wild and precious life.”

Anya Silver is the author of The Ninety-Third Name of God (Louisiana State University Press) and the forthcoming I Watched Her Disappear (LSU).  She is currently working on a third manuscript entitled Reliquaries.  She has published widely, including in The Georgia Review, Image, Five Points, Prairie Schooner, Crazyhorse and The Christian Century.  She is a professor of English at Mercer University and lives in downtown Macon, Georgia with her husband and son.

Kimberly L. Becker’s next big thing


Kimberly L. Becker

Today (well, okay, I guess it’s tonight already in some time zones) it’s my pleasure to host Kimberly L. Becker’s “next big thing.” Be sure to also check out Drew Myron’s next big thing on her blog.

What is the title of your book? The Dividings

Where did the idea come from for the book? While I was on residency at Hambidge and researching local Cherokee sites, I discovered that The Dividings was the Cherokee name for what is now Clayton, GA, where several trails converged. From there the poems gravitated towards the theme of journey—both inward and outward.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?  I started drafts for the book the summer of 2010 at Hambidge and finished it when I was on residency at Weymouth in November of 2011, although some of the poems I incorporated into the final manuscript had been published previously. For instance, the last poem in the book was one I had wanted to use in my first book, but it just didn’t fit. It found its home in this book. The structure was the hardest part of the process. I remember printing out the sections and paper clipping them together, shifting them around, removing and replacing poems, until I ended up with the final form, but even then I saw some gaps, so I had to write some additional poems. I did a lot of walking in the woods at Weymouth and got ideas there and got lost once for hours, too deep in thought to mark the way, which resulted in a poem about…getting lost!

What genre does your book fall under? Poetry

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition? As yet undiscovered talent.

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?  The Dividings explores our non-linear journey from “setting out” to “crossing over” and junctures along the way that demand or invite our attention or decision.

When will the book be released and who is the publisher?  The Dividings will be released late 2013 or early 2014 by WordTech Editions, publisher of my first book, Words Facing East.

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?  I wouldn’t presume to compare my work to others, but a book I admire for its journey theme is Stephen Vincent’s Walking Theory. Other books that sustained me in my own writing are Allison Hedge Coke’s Dog Road Woman (as well as her memoir Rock, Ghost, Willow, Deer), Linda Rodriguez’s Heart’s Migration, and Deborah Miranda’s The Zen of La Llorona, to name a few kindred spirits.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?  While inspired by places I’ve lived or visited, the book also took me on an inward journey to places I had to reconcile within myself, especially the dissolution of my long marriage. I just kept writing my way through the “gap,” an image that figures in the book. My son, Alex remains my greatest inspiration. “Love lures life on.”

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?  Central to the book is the section called “At the Gap,” a place of difficulty and even trauma, preceding transformation. Many of us struggle with moving forward from the familiar, even if miserable, into the unknown. I thought often of Auden’s “we would rather be ruined than changed.” We can be changed from without, by places and people we encounter, and from within, by how we process our experience.

I’ll include links to a few poems from the book. If readers like these poems then I hope they’ll want to read The Dividings when it comes out. Thanks for letting me share a bit about my work and thank you to Sally Rosen Kindred for tagging me. I admire Sally’s work and congratulate her on her forthcoming Darling Hands, Darling Tongue.

Born in Georgia, raised in North Carolina, Kimberly L. Becker is a member of Wordcraft Circle of Native Writers and Storytellers and is of Cherokee/Celtic/Teutonic descent. She is the author of two poetry collections, Words Facing East (WordTech Editions, 2011) and The Dividings (forthcoming from WordTech Editions). Individual poems appear widely in journals and anthologies.  Other published writing includes fiction, essays, reviews, and a series of interviews with other Native writers. Current projects include adapting traditional Cherokee stories into plays for the Cherokee Youth in Radio Project at the Cherokee Youth Center in Cherokee, North Carolina. Kimberly has been awarded grants from the New Jersey State Arts Council, the Montgomery County Arts and Humanities Council (Maryland), as well as a fellowship to the Hambidge Artist Residency Program in the North Georgia mountains. She has held an Individual Artist Award in Poetry from the Maryland State Arts Council and been Writer-in-Residence at Weymouth Center for the Arts and Humanities (North Carolina).  She has been a featured reader at many venues, including “Native Writers in DC” at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian. Visit her at

Kimberly tags the following writers: Allison Hedge Coke, Chip Livingston, Sy Hoahwah, Laura Hope-Gill and Tiffany Midge.