poems in water
First edition of 40 poems by Mary Langer Thompson, 2012 Senior Poet Laureate of California.
What is the Tag Line for your book? (A short description of your book in a sentence or two)
The reader will find these poems "...thoughtful, serious, silly, playful, poignant, and an absolute delight." J. Weck
Do you write full time or part time
How do you structure your day when you write
In the morning I check social media and my appointment calendar. I am involved in many writing projects with the California Writers Club, High Desert Branch, including teaching writing workshops in schools, prisons, and in community venues. I write around those activities, and so that I have deadlines to meet, I founded the Poemsmiths, a critique group that meets regularly.
Why do you write? (Example; For fun, to make extra money, a personal experience you want to share with the public)
I can't not write. I am a former secondary English teacher, so taught writing to junior and senior high school students. Whenever possible, I wrote along with my students so that they could see I struggled with drafts and revisions.
What are you working on right now / or your most recent work
I'm working on a second collection of poetry entitled "It's a School Night."
What inspired you to create this book
Because I spent my life in schools, including becoming a public school principal, these poems tell of my experiences and observations.
What genre do you write in and why did you choose it
My first love is poetry. If lines don't "descend on me," I seek out prompts.
How much research did you do on your book? (If it applies)
I have done research for individual poems, especially if the original idea came from the newspaper or something I read in a history book or a scientific fact. No one is an expert on everything. The "naming of things" is often important, and you want to be accurate.
How do you think you have evolved creatively from when you first started writing until now
I have learned from others certain principles to look for when revising a poem. For example, I ask myself do I have a strong beginning and ending? Does this poem have specifics, yet can speak to others, with something of the universal in it? Is there a turn in the poem? Does it have strong verbs? It's good to put a poem away for awhile and to come back to it.
What was the hardest thing about writing this book for you
Putting together individual poems is not an easy task. You have to consider a theme and cover art, and realize that together your poems will have a different impact, a different life, than by themselves. My title, "Poems in Water," comes from a single poem in which I observed a Chinese artist write a poem in water on pavement with a long brush. He had an audience until the poem faded. I marveled at the nature of his art and of his living in the moment because life, like that poem, is transitory.
What was the most rewarding
People's reactions to my poems. Some found them emotional and had to put the book down from time to time. Others found certain ones hilarious that even I did not find all that funny. People had favorites, and that delighted me.
If you had to start over, is there anything you would do different
With my second collection, I'm trying to arrange the poems so there is more of an arc, like in fiction. I also want the book to end with a positive, even joyful poem.
How have you evolved from when you first started writing until now
I was more of an island with my writing, and now I need other writers, their feedback, their community, their friendship.
Are you a planner type person, or do you prefer to dive right in when you write
Poetry "happens" in many different ways. You can overhear a line of dialogue that resonates or read a fact or idea that you just can't let go of. So, sometimes a poem takes days or months or even years, and other times you have to run to your computer or to paper and get your ideas down and little revision seems necessary. The process is mysterious, even spiritual. My poem, "How the GPS Stole My Husband," began in the car with the irritating voice of the GPS and a dialogue with my husband.
How much dialogue do you have with your readers
I have a lot of dialogue with my critique group and have done presentations on poetry and workshops on how to write poems, so I have more than the average amount of conversation about poetry, I think. Sometimes people will e-mail me a poem and have me look it over.
Do they influence your writing
Because I've been writing poems for several years now, if I have a poem that has not been published and I don't know why, I will bring it to my critique group. They will tell me if a line is too obscure, or I can tell by their questions what might be wrong. Afterwards, I often wonder why I didn't see the obvious.
Do you recommend being a part of a support groups to help you with your writing
Absolutely! A support group will enrich your writing and many of these people will become life-long friends.
Do you work with an editor If so, how much input do they have
I have worked with editors on magazine articles and short stories. Sometimes they will change a word or two or leave something out. I have always been able to approve the final edits. With poetry, your poem is usually accepted or rejected as you sent it.
Was there anyone in your past that you think influenced your writing
I believe that writers should be readers, so yes, for poetry, The Beat Poets taught me that a poem can be about any subject, Emily Dickinson taught me compression, and Billy Collins taught me to attempt to be accessible to your reader. There are many more, including my own high school English teacher who taught me that writing is rewriting.
Do you have any tips or useful resources on marketing
Sites such as The Book Review help with marketing, but I sell the most books when I do a presentation to a group or a workshop on poetry. People still like meeting authors face to face, getting signatures, and asking questions. A lot of people are "secret poets" and they just need encouragement to share and shape their work.
How are you publishing this book? (Indie / self-published, traditional)
"Poems in Water" was published by an Indie publisher advertising in Poets and Writers. I like to support small publishers. Since I didn't "give up my day job" and retired from a profession, I am fortunate that I don't need to write to live and I like to help others meet their dreams, too.
What are your thoughts on book series
I'm thinking that if I can't place "It's a School Night" with a publisher, perhaps I will divide it up into two smaller books with the same theme.
How long do you think a book should be? (Pages or words)
I'm hearing from marketing experts like Penny Sansevieri that "short is the new long." There are more and more demands on people's time and more books to compete with, so this makes sense. She mentioned young adult novels being only in the 27,000 word range. Some poetry chapbooks are only 18-24 poems. Often, when you cut out words, you'll find your statement is more powerful.
Do you have a strategy for finding reviewers
When someone buys my book I tell them I would like a review. I have asked and received reviews from writers I admire. With them I usually offer a free book for an honest review.
What advice would you give to your younger self today
The same advice I gave myself years ago. "Don't give up your day job." I published the first magazine article I sent out, but I realized with the delay in payment I wasn't going to be able to make my house payment by writing. I was fortunate, I had a profession I loved related to writing and continued to write while I worked. We make the time for what we really love, so use those spare moments to write if necessary.
What is your favorite book or film
Hands down, To Kill a Mockingbird, both book and film. I taught the book to high schoolers and I believe the book teaches empathy and compassion and is a book most can't put down. Just this week I was privileged to participate in a Read-a-Thon of TKAM at my local Barnes and Noble, and I am currently reading Harper Lee's Go Set a Watchman.
If you don’t already have one, do you have plans to have a book trailer and what are your thoughts on them overall
I don't think so, and I'm not sure how they apply to poetry.
What are you working on next
Another collection of poems revolving around lakes.
When you get frustrated, how do you deal with it
I read a book until I get so many ideas I have to put it down and write, or I seek out prompt books (The Practice of Poetry, edited by Behn & Twichell) or inspiring books like Anne Lamott's Bird by Bird for a "pep talk," or I call a writing friend. Sometimes you just need to go and do something else, something mundane, and ideas will occur to you.
What advice would you give a writer that is just starting out
Join a critique group and if there aren't any in your town take an on-line or college course on writing. After I published my first poem, I took a college poetry course to learn more. My instructor invited me to join his critique group that met in his home, and I was a part of that group for several years. Seek out writers clubs, too. They support each other. When people attend our California Writers Club meetings, they often say things like, "Why, this is just like church!"