Thursday, July 3, 2014

Writers on the Writing Process: An Interview with Poet Samantha Duncan

Poet Samantha Duncan
Samantha Duncan is the author of the chapbooks One Never Eats Four (ELJ Publications, 2014) and Moon Law (Wild Age Press, 2012), and she serves as Associate Editor for ELJ Publications. She lives in Houston. Follow her on TwitterGoodreads and her blog.

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

Samantha Duncan: My writing starts with observance and centers on small ideas evolving into bigger ones. I tend to look for beauty and art in unconventional places and find a lot of it in everyday life, so an idea for a piece may come from a tree in my neighborhood or an exchange I see in a coffee shop. I like to take what’s simple and expand it, perhaps beyond its surface level meaning. My first chapbook, Moon Law, literally came about from a discussion about how life and the law would have to be different on the moon if we colonized it. I took the trajectory of a fairly normal and straightforward relationship between two people and placed it on the moon. That manuscript was the result.

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

SD: My latest poetry chapbook, One Never Eats Four, took a while to come together. If memory serves me correctly, I wrote the individual drafts fairly quickly, then took a long time to do dozens of edits. I submitted most of them individually to journals and a handful were accepted, which was when I started to think about creating a manuscript. Grouping them was the hard part. I tend to be a little obsessively organized, and I think I was initially too fixated on there being a central theme to the collection, when there obviously wasn't. When I finally gave up that vision and turned my focus to multiple related subjects, instead, it quickly got picked up by ELJ Publications. Ideally, I prefer starting with a theme or subject and then writing the manuscript around it; in this instance, the reverse had to occur, as I already had months of material that was demanding to be put together.

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

SD: I've been writing since I learned how, as a child. I remember mimicking books that I read, starting with picture books (art was never my strong suit, so these were simplistic) and graduating to longer and longer chapter books when I began reading those. Despite writing from an early age, it wasn't until college that I felt I had written something that I liked and was worth publishing. I wrote a short story about a young, accomplished violin player who lost her arm in a car accident and had to navigate a different path for her life. I later expanded it into a novel, but in retrospect, I don’t think I had the skill to give the story what it needed to be great and publication ready. Another project I wrote that I remain proud of today was a short, nonlinear novel called Happy Blue. It was the first time a piece of writing seemed to pour out of me with little effort, and of all the fiction I've written, it’s the only thing I believe I could someday publish if I ever go back and polish it.

LD: How do you motivate yourself to write? Chocolates? Self-flagellation? Coffee on an IV drip?

SD: Since I started publishing my work, it’s become less about cookies and coffee and shiny things. If I find myself procrastinating on work, I think about my published pieces and how they wouldn't have been accepted if I hadn't, at some point, decided to stop staring at a blank screen. We all know people who talk about writing a lot more than they actually write, and I never want to be that person. My end goal is to create and get it out in the world, and I remind myself the only way to make that happen is to sit down, ignore Facebook, and write.

LD: Beverage of choice?

SD: Anything hot. It’s a bit of a writer cliché, but I’m a Starbucks junkie. I have rotating favorites, but my go-to drink is a soy dirty chai. When my Starbucks card has no money on it (a frequent occurrence), I’ll have green tea. That said, I don’t discriminate – I’m also a fan of crappy gas station coffee.

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