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Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Special Guest Author: Casey Quinn

Today, as previewed in this post, I'm very pleased to welcome to my blog the American poet Casey Quinn.

Casey is on a virtual book tour celebrating the publication of his first anthology Snapshots of Life from Salvatore Publishing. You can read a poem from the anthology in this blog post from last week.

Without further ado, then, let's get the interview rolling...

ND: Welcome to my blog, Casey. Can you start by revealing when you first became interested in poetry writing?

CQ: My interest in poetry definitely expanded as I got older. I have always read a great deal since I was very young but mainly fiction, mostly short stories but also a good share of novels. I always appreciated poetry and read the classics growing up, but never dove in head first to really understand the beauty of poetry or see the strength of it.

If I had to put my finger on when 'the awakening' took place, I would say somewhere maybe five years ago or so. I think it was related to the time where I decided to try and lose weight by only drinking wine and cutting out all of the beer. Well, the beer commitment never really stuck, but the poetry world was opened and kept pulling me in. The next thing I knew I had stopped buying fiction and my bookshelf was filled with poetry. It sort of just happened.

Since 'the awakening' I always jotted down notes of lines, moments or simple observations into random sheets of paper and stored them away in a little marble notebook. The more I read poetry the more I realized how many flavors of poetry really exist, and I started to pick up tastes for what I liked and didn't, sort of how I figured out I like cabernet sauvignon a great deal more than merlot. You just keep doing something long enough; you really refine your tastes. I think once you have your tastes and tone you can become serious about writing poetry. Once I found a few poets that I admired and really just loved the words they wrote, their message, their style, it motivated to take my years of random notes and ideas and try to do something with them. From there, I began writing poetry.

ND: How did 'Snapshots of Life' come to be published? Was it difficult deciding which of your poems to include?

CQ: It really took a while for me to get comfortable with my poetry before I sent anything out, but once I met a few poets whose own work I respected and started to receive great feedback I got more confident in my word choice, my form and style. In the first few years I received a great number of rejections, but a few poems here and there snuck in to fuel my motivation.

After I had about thirty or forty poems published in different print or online journals and had written another two hundred or so poems, I wanted to try and just pick the poems I felt best defined my style of poetry and would work together as a group, and see if I could get the collection published. Every day I see something and I feel propelled to write it down. Could be simple and/or comical, could have a bigger meaning. Whatever it is, I see something and I want to share it with people. Selecting the poems was not too hard, as I belong to three or four pretty active forums where I post a good deal of my work for critiques, and had most of the poems I was going to include accepted already somewhere for publication. I felt pretty confident with a subset of the poems based on all of the feedback I had gotten. I had a good idea about which poems were total bombs and which ones had value. From there it was trying to pick the ones with the most value.

Right about the time I had my collection about ready to go it was toward the end of fall, early winter of last year, and I read a post on the greatest forum in the entire internet, also known as MyWritersCircle.com, about one of the members starting a publishing company and looking for submissions. I sent in the only query letter I wrote and Guy Cousins, the founder of Salvatore Publishing, responded and asked to see the collection. About six months later the book was released.

ND: Are there any particular poets whose work has influenced you? Do you have a favorite poet?

CQ: As part of the process of defining taste you will come across poets whose work you admire, whose every line teaches you something about how to write good poetry. Poets whose poems inspire you to write a poem and read their book over and over again just in case you can find another meaning, or just to appreciate the meaning you already took away the first time.

For me, these poets include Raymond Carver, e e cummings, Walt Whitman, Charles Bukowski, Allen Ginsberg, and many others whom I started to read after trying out a sample here and there of so many different styles. These people spoke to me the most, both in their presentation of the words and the messages they spoke.

My favorite poet has to be, hands down, John Yamrus. John writes and people relate. He could kill a big bug and spin it into a poem that is humorous and interesting. He could sit in his backyard and listen to his neighbors argue and find something poetic in the moment and write it in such a way that, as a reader, you feel the poetic moment as well.

I wrote a poem and posted it for a review on a forum and the feedback I received was that the style and tone reminded the reader of a poem that Yamrus would write. I won't lie, I really felt honored. To write something and have someone compare it to someone whom you admire sort of made my day.

ND: Have you any tips for my readers who want to improve their poetry writing?

CQ: Really, the best way to improve your writing is reading. I think everyone has a unique voice, which is what makes poetry so interesting to read. Two people can see the same exact thing yet write it out completely differently. Even two people who write in the same form and style will say it differently and present the words on the page differently. Poetry is unique to the individual, and that has to be the strength of the poet. Learn what your voice is and write in it.

After reading everything you can, write every day. Write about something that happened to you, something you saw on the news, anything. Just write a poem every day and be very specific about the event. There are enough poems out there about death, life, happiness, suicide, teen angst, hate, and every other vague, cliche word I can throw at you. Be specific and write it so the reader can live it. Don't write from the 10,000 foot level, but as if the reader was watching it happen.

Show feelings. If someone broke your heart, don't tell me they broke your heart. Write that the picture of the two of you on the counter is shattered and in the trash, and that your box of tissues is empty. I will get the point that your heart is broken. Reading good poetry you will just naturally pick up why it is considered good poetry - because it deals with specific moments in time and a specific event.

Listen to people whose own writing you respect and love. Everyone has their own style, and groups of people can write in similar styles. I have found people tend to critique poems trying to convert the poem to their own style rather than accepting it in the style it was written. Many poets believe their style is good and other styles should learn to be more like their style. Listen and work on improving your poems, but maintain your own voice. Listen to people whose own work you respect. Do not get defensive about your poems. When people critique a poem of yours, they are only critiquing the poem. They are not picking on you as a person or your writing in general. If someone does pick on you as a person or your style of poetry in general, just write 'thanks for your review' and ignore them. Don't get upset over feedback.

ND: What do you think about poetry writing contests? Do you ever enter them yourself?

CQ: I think money should flow to writers, therefore I am usually against poetry contests that charge an entry fee. I think poets do not make any money as it is, and really have only a few venues to make a name for themselves and, for me, poetry contests are not one of them. There are too many scams out there looking to make their money by taking advantage of writers. All contests generally end in an anthology or collection being created. The sponsor of the contest should make money by selling the books, not by the entry fees.

I will enter a poetry contest if I know the person running it or if I belong to an organization sponsoring it. I only do this to help the organization; I see it more as a donation then really participating in a poetry contest.

ND: As well as writing poetry, you also run an online magazine called Short Story Library and a publishing house called ReadMe Publishing. Could you tell me a bit more about both these ventures?

CQ: Short Story Library is now officially a one year old! I love to read short fiction and poetry, and in addition I write a good deal of short fiction and poetry. As I looked for venues online to submit work to, I realized that many sites were done poorly and decided to try and create a nice looking, professional magazine for people to display their work in. To be honest I had no idea of the amount of work it really takes to properly run a magazine.

We get about 25 submissions a week and only publish 3 or 4 items each week. It took a while for me to get used to the process of rejecting others and editing the writing of the ones I did accept. The first few months were a little rocky, but after about four months I really felt comfortable with my editor hat on and publisher hat on. We started out with a small number of subscribers, but now one year later we have over 2,000 readers each month, or about 500 a week for each issue we publish. My goal was to help short story writers and poets find an audience and I am pretty happy with the growth of the magazine. I think each week we put out quality writing and it shows in the loyalty of the readership.

ReadMe Publishing is a newer venture started at the end of last year, early this year. The more I got interested in publishing online, the more I realized that the printed word is what will last. I had a thought about one day loading up Short Story Library and the site was down. I would call the host and they would say there was an error and the database crashed. All the data is lost. It hit me that online, nothing lasts. Websites and blogs come and go, and when they go, so does the record of the publication ever existing. Only the printed words will remain. ReadMe Publishing was created really just to help more writers see their work in print and know that long after they leave this earth, their name will be in a book somewhere, maybe being read by someone.

ND: Finally, a question I like to ask all my visiting writers: What are your three favorite websites and why?

This is a tough question, as really so many websites out there have helped me improve as a writer, editor, and publisher. I think for me the site that has helped me learn the most about the writing world is the AbsoluteWrite forum. This place is filled with professional writers from all genres and styles. It includes bestselling authors, well-known poets and publishers with many titles in bookstores all over the world.

Number two on my list will be, of course, the MyWritersCircle website. I tend to not stray too far from the poetry section of the forum, but the feedback from the poets that reside on the site has been priceless. They are tough, honest and constant.

The third on the list has to be my own writing forum at Short Story Library. While not as big as AW or MWC, the Short Story Library folks have been around really since the beginning of the site and pop on to say 'Hi' and talk about general things in addition to writing. Many of the folks on the site have encouraged me over my time there with my writing and let me know when I have just written a piece of junk or when maybe there was potential. There is also just a great general feel to being home and knowing the folks on the site.

ND: Many thanks for answering my questions today in such detail, Casey - and thanks also for your enthusiastic testimonial on behalf of my forum at Mywriterscircle.com! I wish you every success with Snapshots of Life. I really enjoyed reading it.

CQ: Thanks, Nick, for the interview. It has been great, and best of luck with your own upcoming release from Salvatore Publishing.

Finally, just my customary reminder that Casey's book Snapshots of Life is available via the website of Salvatore Publishing. It's an entertaining and accessible read, and I'm very happy to recommend it to anyone who enjoys good modern poetry.

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