This is my first blog tour and already I'm breaking the rules. I've been doubly nominated by Jeannine Hall Gailey and Tamara Kaye Sellman for different weeks…so I'm going now.
1. What am I working on?
Seven months ago, my first full-length collection of poetry The Cardiologist's Daughter was accepted for publication by Two Sylvias Press. The day after I received this most welcomed proposal, I began to do what I couldn't previously, I set my teeth into my mss and began to tear away anything that appeared unnecessary. Even while proofing the final version yesterday, I still found places to finesse. So, I guess right now I'm working on the process of letting my book go, knowing that there will always be one comma I may regret or a poem that no longer defines me, but has a place in the world of this cardio daughter.
2. How does my work differ from others of its genre?
My work…hmm…what is my work? I'm a naturopathic medical student, a writer. Mostly, I've moved away from writing reviews and fiction. I tend to lean into poetry. It's what catches me. Much of my work is informed by fiction, identifying as a first-generation American (born to native Dutch and E. Indian parents), being raised within and falling in love with the practice of medicine. This book in particular explores those roots of being mixed, growing up in the South, and embarking on a non-traditional medical path as a single woman in her thirties.
The other mss that's circulating is much more cynical--it's about what looked like love, but mostly wasn't. Because The Cardiologist's Daughter has some of my earlier poems, the format is more narrative, but I really enjoy playing with space, punctuation/or lack thereof, line breaks, and tend to overall favor the lyric.
3. Why do I write what I do?
You mean, why don't I write about unicorns and rainbows? I find the topic of death and rebirth, along with bones, whether model like the skull on my hutch or real like the collection I keep alongside raptor feathers and a solitary bear claw, to be far more compelling. Who wouldn't want to wing open the latches of a faux skull to discover a neat replication of a sella turcica, sans pituitary gland, within?
Mostly, I think I write where I'm from and where I am. Does anyone write to where they're heading?
Right now, my life is filled with medical school, Boards, clinic, and I want to share this incredibly rich world with readers. Even though gross anatomy lab was over a year ago, I can still remember respectfully and vividly the stunning beauty of our dissections--what it was like to hold the first heart in my hand (especially growing up as the cardiologist's daughter!), to unveil the slim ribbon of the plantaris, or to realize that some of us (me included) still haven't evolved to the point where we don't have the muscle (palmaris longus) whose original purpose was to retract claws.
4. How does my writing process work?
If I admitted to having a muse, it would be something like Veruca Salt meets unidentified raptor. My process of beginning isn't consistent or dreamy. When I haven't written for a while, I feel this deep discomfort. If I ignore it, because I don't have the time or energy, it turns into the big blueberry of a Veruca ready to pop. The demands get bigger and I had better make it a priority.
My ideal writing situation would be right as I wake up, no matter what the time, with a French Press next to me, the phones turned off. Not unlikely, there would be a piece of dark chocolate involved.
In reality, I have often spent four hours alone on the first draft of a poem. Even as I write this first draft, I am editing it over and over again until it seems like it's at a place where I can leave it and return to it on another day and not compromise the mood or tension, because it is essentially complete. If I am living near the workshop I've been attending for eleven years, I'll often take it there for extra eyes. Then, I'll sit with the poem for anywhere for an additional few weeks considering these critiques or I may leave the poem alone for months to years. I strongly believe in the process of revision and will do this over and over, often editing until the piece literally sounds right to me. If there is one thing I took away from a brief attempt to play the drum set as a teenager, it's the ear and need for the right cadence.
Next week, on Wednesday, August 27th, Tamiko Nimura, Andrea Dunlop, and Samantha Updegrave will post their responses to the Great Blog Tour on their respective blogs.
Tamiko Nimura is an Asian American (Sansei/Pinay) writer who grew up in Northern California and now lives in the Pacific Northwest. Her recent publications include pieces inNew California Writing 2012, Kartika Review, Remedy Quarterly, Avidly, Edible Seattle, Full Grown People, and Discover Nikkei. She holds degrees in English from UC Berkeley and the University of Washington. She contributes regularly to The Seattle Star and theInternational Examiner. She has read at various venues, including the San Francisco Public Library and the Evergreen State College. She has received awards and honors from the Ford Foundation, the Japanese American Citizens League, the University of Iowa, the Asia Pacific Fund, and SheWrites. Two of her personal essays (“My Log Cabin Sukiyaki Song” and “Snapshots from a Nikkei/Filipina Album”) have been translated into Japanese,Spanish, and Portuguese by the Discover Nikkei project (Japanese American National Museum). One has been reprinted in several countries (Argentina, Brasil, Canada, Perú).
She lives with her family in Tacoma, Washington, where she taught literature and writing. She blogs here at Kikugirl, her “own private MFA.” She is currently working on a memoir and a novel.
Andrea Dunlop is the social media and marketing director for Girl Friday Productions, a full-service editorial firm in Seattle, WA. She began her career at Random House in New York, where she was an in-house publicist for Doubleday. She also writes fiction.
Samantha Claire Updegrave writes creative non-fiction, micro-essays, profiles, book reviews, and poetry. Her work has appeared most recently in Bitch, Crosscut, Literary Mama, Bacopa Literary Review, hipMama, and the Shambhala Sun’s blog SunSpaces. She is an Elizabeth George Foundation Scholar and an MFA student at The Northwest Institute of Literary Arts, where she is also an assistant non-fiction editor at Soundings Review. By day, she is an urban planner. She lives in Seattle, Washington, with her partner, young son, and cat.
The Cardiologist's Daughter Cover is Born: Four Rooms (paper cut out) by Michael McDevitt and design by Kelli Russell Agodon
On this India Independence Day, I'd like to share the cover to my first full-length collection of poems. Notice the Hanuman in the top room as rendered by the talented, Michael McDevitt. For the nineteen years in which I've known the artist, I have been awaiting the day when I could see his work on the cover of my book. In college, I called him up asking if he would illustrate my children's book project for a child development class I was taking to fulfill my major. He did this on the fly because that's the kind of guy and artist that Michael McDevitt is--always at the ready to dive into some collaboration, go hiking for potential elk antlers, or engage in a lengthy conversation of the pros/cons to having a half-goat/half-human child (something, I believe we discussed at least once in a former Virginia life). So many thanks to you, Mr. McDevitt for listening to my ideas about the cover and for proposing we select an image from each section of my book to place in each chamber. Brilliant!
Tremendous thanks to Kelli Russell Agodon, the graphic designer and co-editor for Two Sylvias Press, who let me take much more time than we anticipated with generating ideas. In between her adventures and the promotion of her own new beautiful book, Hourglass Museum, she gave me space while going through the end of a particularly rough quarter and Boards, to breathe and regroup. During this time, the thought of using red pulled from Michael's art as the color of the title popped into my mind. Kelli added to this by playing with my name in white to make it appear as a cloud above the sea. When we started, I had no idea how my book would look and I can say that I am over the moon thrilled with the way this turned out. Also, the wrap-around sea just tickles me.
Enormous thanks to the other Sylvia, Annette Spaulding-Convy, who has been reading and re-reading my book with the attention that only a former Latin/English teacher can. Annette is the kind of editor/writer who notices the small details. If there's a comma out of place or a word that might better suit my meaning, Annette is going to help me find it. Annette is also one of my favorite contemporary poets. Her first book, In Broken Latin, placed in the Miller Williams Poetry Prize by the University of Arkansas Press. So, when she asked me this January (on my birthday) if I'd ever consider having my work published by Two Sylvias, it was an emphatic, "Yes!"
Together this group of artists has helped me achieve something I have dreamed of, but never knew quite how to realize. There are more to thank…but that shall come in further posts. For today, I'd like to concentrate on this trio. What a thrill to have these three literary and visual artists, whom I deeply respect, infusing my first collection with such thoughtfulness, creativity, and attention. Thank you!
A month has passed since my last post. Boards came and went and so did the slice of chocolate cake I celebrated with in my post-Board haze. Recently, my garden grows in large part to climate change (when have we been able to grow perfect tomatoes here in the NW?) As of yesterday, I achieved my first sunburn since I left California three years ago. This leads me to not-so-silently bemoan that my melanin, from my father's side, has taken a long nap during my adult life in the Pacific Northwest, allowing my mother's Dutch skin to kick in just enough to permit some redness.
What is really on my mind? At the forefront is the launch of my first full-length poetry collection. While in some ways The Cardiologist's Daughter prepared itself, I have been actively writing this book for over ten years. During this time, I have been on the editorial end of publishing (Crab Creek Review), I interned at Small Press Distribution Books in Berkeley which gave me an inside peek into distribution/marketing, and I transcribed audio for Mark Watts at the Alan Watts Center. I've sat on panels, including Artist Trust's Literary Panel to determine who would receive GAP grants in 2012, I reviewed books, mostly for Rattle, and now I sit on the somewhat passive side of things.
In about a month, this decade's worth of work will be set in print and there will be no more revisions. This is where I put my faith in the small press that is publishing me. Right now, Two Sylvias Press is giving my book one last read, making sure each comma was intended, that any line break revisions needed due to length constraints make sense. As a small press, this is the level of examination and detail that they are exhibiting. When the first suggestions came in months ago about flipping the order of two of the book sections, I instantly knew they were right. How perfect to start with a poem that, while chronologically out of order, sets the stage for the intense tone of the collection.
Beyond this, I think of the age-old argument against what may appear to be confessional poetry. While I maintain that my work isn't straight narrative, including elements of fiction where necessary to maintain the lyric, I can feel some eyes rolling already. In particular, I'm recalling a personalized rejection I received from a literary journal where they told me my poetry was "interesting but murky and seeming too private/personal in places". Setting the argument of murky or not murky aside for a minute, this comment struck me as compelling because most of the submission was fiction. Apparently, intimacy in poetry, even when explored through the lens of fiction, can be too much for some editors. And maybe this is what gets to the core of what I am feeling, the book is written and it will not please everyone, but it is set.
Natasha Kochicheril Moni is a writer and a licensed naturopath in WA State. Enjoying this blog? Feel free to put a little coffee in Natasha's cup, right here.