Recently, the literary community learned that small press publisher, ELJ Editions, is closing up shop. Barrelhouse wants to help make sure the voices of their authors are still being heard and so will be hosting interviews with ELJ authors on the blog for the next little while. Thanks for reading and buying and otherwise loving small press authors!
Interview by Amber Edmondson
1. What is the origin story of Audrey: A Book of Love? What brought
this story to you?
Many years ago I fell in love with an older woman who felt magical. I was surprised, and my life was turned upside down. "Imagine My Surprise" as Holly Near sang in those days. With my novel I wanted to explore what can happen to a woman's soul when she chooses to love against the grain of society's recommendations. Although the laws have changed, I do not think it is all that much easier today than it was in the 1980s for anyone who is not strictly heterosexual to answer the simple call of love.
2. Tell me about Audrey. How would you most directly describe her
character and her journey in this book?
Audrey is a magical entity. To those outside of her, including students and lovers and other witnesses, she functions as a guide through the intense mysteries of the universe. As often happens for guides, her own journey is not easy. The more she projects her dramatic guidance out into the world, the more she experiences increasing rage at not having her goddess-like gifts rewarded by devotion fit for a goddess. She really wants to be a guide, but she then somehow despises the plain humanity in those around her who are still limping in reality.
3. In what ways did your previous works prepare you to write Audrey: A Book of Love?
I wrote the first draft of Audrey almost thirty years before it was published. It was in the nature of a brain dump, written quickly and feverishly, and not much of that first draft has remained. Meanwhile I honed my craft on other writing, and when I came back to Audrey, my self-editing skills had improved. The main thing that changed in the intervening years is that I realized I moved away from "just philosophy" (a short-coming in some of my writing, I think) to more vividness and emotional writing.
4. In your blog, Writing a Woman's Voice, you write, "There's more to writing in a woman's voice than imitating the footnotes and intellectualism of academic men." What marks your voice and your work as women's writing?
In the 1970s when I and the latest wave feminism simultaneously came of age, there was a lot of brilliant writing done by women writers, but it sometimes got bogged down by the very understandable desire to be intellectually respectable. Footnotes, sources, what have you. I completely understand. We have to prove we are intelligent in this world that often attempts to persuade us otherwise. Personally, though, I'm more drawn to the passion of things rather than the philosophical dissection of things. (Interesting, after I just said above that I still have to learn to get less philosophical and more vivid in my writing!) I think what marks my writing is that I want to honor the passion and the authenticity in our lives and especially in the lives of women. I'm not at all sure that I've found the right voice just yet that would perfectly express this, but I'm working on it. I am looking for a voice that is personal and radiant and tender and exuberant and I have to believe that voice is looking for me too.
Of course, like everybody else, I have been educated in a male consciousness tradition, which makes my own voice a curious and sometimes uncomfortable mixture of distrust, rebellion, questioning everything, and yearning for the essential beauty and majesty of the tiny planet we inhabit.
5. What writers would you recommend to women writers?
There are so many brilliant ones! I will list a few favorites, in all kinds of genres (I tend to read everything).
Mary Oliver's poetry
Doris Lessing, The Marriages of Zones Three, Four, and Five – my favorite dark feminist fairy tale
Julia Cameron, The Artist's Way and The Right to Write
Susan Griffin, Women and Nature: The Roaring Inside Her – my favorite classic feminist text, and, yes, it has respectable notes, but the text is wild
Ursula K. Le Guin, Dancing at the Edge of the World and Steering the Craft – both are brilliant collections of essays on writing and/or feminism
Elizabeth George's mysteries – especially her early ones
Sally Beauman, Destiny – a sweeping mainstream novel
I have a longer list of favorites which I will update and post on my Writing in a Woman's Voice blog in due course. The last time I compiled such a list was for a course I taught in 2003, so it's a bit out of date.
6. What writers did you find most influential in developing your voice as a writer?
The first influences on my consciousness were fairy tales. I still want to retell all of them my way. So we're talking oral traditions and Brothers Grimm and Hans Christian Andersen and Arthurian legends and other medieval tales. Coming to English from my native German, I was quickly overwhelmed by Romantic poets, especially John Keats, and William Blake (who lived in the Romantic era, but was more or less in a league of his own). And then I discovered women writers, philosophers, fiction writers. (Perhaps philosophy is fiction or vice versa). At first I devoured all I could find; lately women have become so prolific that I can hardly keep up. I remember special enchantment with Germaine Greer, Simone de Beauvoir, Susan Griffin, and Doris Lessing. I had to read all of those at night, even when I was student, as they were on no course syllabi at the time.
7. You have written in a wide range of genres and Joani Reese (Editor, MadHat Lit) said in a review that Audrey: A Book of Love "reinforces[her] belief that poets do indeed write the best prose. Is your process different for different genres? How does your work in each
genre affect your work in others?
My process is pretty similar for all my writing. I write a lot. It's a form of meditating or ruminating. And then I find some gem in there that I start polishing. My first love was poetry, where that's pretty straight-forward. Idea. Image. Polish. Remove. Polish. Replace. Repeat. Not necessarily in that order. From time to time I get obsessed and write a long fiction piece. I tend to write forward without stopping and then go through the process of polishing and culling. For me it usually involves culling a lot. I tend to go on and on. I really, really love ideas and words.
8. What environment do you find you write best in?
Solitude. My casita. When we moved to New Mexico in 2013, my husband commissioned and financed our erstwhile carport to be enclosed and turned into a studio for me. The window by my desk faces sunrise. In a pinch I can write at the library or in a coffee shop. I used to have to write at the kitchen table. The beauty of writing is that it really can be done anywhere at all. My very first writing spot was in a no-traffic corner of a wooden walkway that was part of the castle a few blocks from where I lived as a child. But my casita with sunrise and alligator juniper just outside the window is hands down best.
9. What is the best and worst writing advice you have ever received?
Best: My first poetry workshop teacher, Roland Flint, told us to write in a notebook. Every day. Muse in attendance or not. I have not always followed this advice, but when I have, it has gone better for me. Later I found this advice repeated in Julia Cameron's The Way of the Artist and have followed her so-called morning pages to good advantage ever since. (Even later I found out that she had once been a Roland Flint workshop student, too.)
Worst: The ugliest advice I ever got was from an agent during a writing conference. He asked: How long is your book. I said 104,000 words. He said that's too long. It had to be 90,000 words or less. The end. He wanted to hear nothing else about the book. And I still had to pay for my meeting with him.
But the worst advice ever was a male facilitator in a workshop telling me not to write in first person. I was in the process of writing a novel which I then tried to rewrite in third person, and neither version has ever come to anything, though the idea still intrigues me. So far that novel remains in a coma. However, at least Audrey survived in first person narrative.
10. What do you plan for future projects?
I am working on a collection of poems called Samsara, with poems that celebrate the passion of this life and the sanctity of women, nature, beauty, as opposed to succumbing to the endless temptations to avoid this live while yearning for the next, or for nirvana, or otherwise detached and juiceless existence.
I might revisit the novel that's still in a coma and see if I can't coax it out of its coma. It is called Soleil Madera and tells about a movie actress who comes back from a two-year retreat to find that a look-alike has taken her place in the meantime.
I'm toying with the idea of a series of letters called Dear Kevin. In my novel Tango: We Are Not Forever, which is currently looking for a publisher, one main character, Robin, writes in her notebook to her husband Kevin of things she can't say in person, disappointments, yearning for volunteer love, validation, and other things that he doesn't hear with his charmingly convenient hood of cluelessness over his ears.
Amber Edmondson is a poet and book artist living in Upper Michigan whose work has appeared in publications such as Autostraddle, Freeze Ray Poetry, and Menacing Hedge. She is the author of two chapbooks: Darling Girl (dancing girl press) and Lost Birds of the Iron Range (Porkbelly Press).
Beate Sigriddaughter grew up in Nürnberg, Germany, not far from the castle where she sometimes sat in a corner to write poems or rewrite fairy tales. She now lives and writes in Silver City, NM, Land of Enchantment. The background to all this enchantment, though, is living as a witness and participant in a world that is steeped in misogyny, ranging from subtle avuncular belittlement to legal or vigilante execution for infractions of male entitlement. The background is a world where people are addicted to conflict and competition and where peace and partnership are simply not (yet) sexy enough. In all of this, she still hopes to one day fulfill her lifelong dream of creating a language of joy that will triumph over a language heavy with addiction to conflict and sorrow, no doubt created and sustained in an effort to gain love and attention that way. Beate has a B.A. in English and Philosophy from Georgetown University. Her published works include two novels, a novella, and many stories and poems. Three of her stories received Pushcart Prize nominations. She has also created the Glass Woman Prize to honor other women’s stories. More information, with links to many online publications, is available at her website. For more information about or to purchase Audrey, please visit here.