Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Writers on the Writing Process: An Interview with Writer Rachel Dacus

photo credit: Jim MacKinnon
Rachel Dacus is the author of Gods of Water and Air, a collection of poetry, prose, and drama. Her poetry collections are Earth Lessons and Femme au Chapeau. Her writing has appeared in The Atlanta Review, Boulevard, Prairie Schooner, and many other journals and anthologies.

Laura Davis: Where do you write? Paint us a word picture. Put us there. And that other place you like. Or just send a real picture. 

Rachel Dacus: I’m in a field, a plum tree has just started dropping its fruit on the grass, some edible, some smashed by careless feet or paws. The birds have pecked many, but I pick up an unblemished one and bite into it, the juice running down my hand. I look up at mare’s tail clouds and a feeling strikes me blowing by and riffling. Another plum falls. I think about ripeness and ruin. I go and sit in the swing and dictate into my phone. Like that on the luckiest days. On others, with coffee, in bed, not quite awake, noodling around with word sounds and wispy sense. Clouds in the brain.

LD: How do you begin writing? Do you just dive in? Warm-up exercise? Daydreaming? Any rituals that involve smelling a drawer of fruit? 

RD: Apparently, from my previous answer, fruit can be involved. But not necessarily. I just daydream, having set aside time for writing – usually in the morning, when the boundary between the dream state and the intellectual one is shifty and broad, allowing for incursions from either army.

LD: How often do you write and for how long? What time of day?

RD: I write every day, most often in the morning, middle of the day, and at night. Really. I like to start my business day with poetry, and after a few hours of working at my day job stuff, dive back into whatever I was working on. I’m also writing a novel, so it depends what I most need to work on, and that’s what I might work on after dinner. Breaks help me do a lot of work in any given day. Most days I don’t have this much time, but on the best, I do and make the most of it.

LD: Describe the process of making a recent poem or story. Lightning? Slow-dripping faucet? How long did you work on it? 

RD: I started writing poems in response to reading Emily Dickinson. I know that seems like a rash idea, treading in such overworked territory, but I couldn't help feeling a little like Emily’s BFF. Like only she and I understand each other’s secrets. Arrogance, I know, but that’s what happened. So recently, I read another ED poem (I dip into the book cautiously because a line can hit me like a bullet), and this line leaped on me and wrestled me to the ground.

LD: How long have you been writing? What’s the first thing you remember feeling good about having written? 

RD: I've been writing since I could hold a pencil. The first piece I was proud of was a Halloween short story written in third grade. I was asked to read it out to my class and got huge laughter. Getting laughs hooked me on writing. Just think – a thing I made out of my imagination made people laugh! What could be better. Of course, the next story fell entirely flat. I was inducted into the writing profession at age eight, skinning my knees on the reality of my first workshop critique, but the blood couldn't detract from the high, so I was hooked by early success.

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