An Elegy for Mathematics (Origami Zoo Press, 2013)
What are some of your favorite chapbooks? How did they influence your writing or your desire to make a chapbook of your own?
This will sound like a promotional plug, but I’d actually read all of Origami Zoo Press’s chapbooks before they published mine and loved every single one of them. BJ Hollars’s In Defense of Monsters, Brian Oliu’s Level End, Chad Simpson’s Phantoms and Laura Van Den Berg’s There Will Be No More Good Nights Without Good Nights are all wonderful. I hadn’t fully thought of putting together a chapbook of my own while reading them, but I liked the idea of a chapbook – shorter fictions, shorter pieces – as standing alone from other forms of fictional texts.
What’s the oldest piece in your chapbook? What do you remember about writing it?
The oldest piece in my chapbook is “The Water Cycle,” written in 2008 in the first semester of my MFA program at Bowling Green State University. I wrote it in a techniques and forms class instead of workshop, which involved writing shorter pieces to try out various elements of fiction. If I’m remembering right, this piece evolved from an exercise on point-of-view.
What’s your chapbook about? How is it similar to or different from your earlier work?
Though the pieces in my chapbook are varied, written in different forms and voices and also during different periods of my life, I think of this chapbook as exploring the various ways that logic fails us. Logic might offer us easy answers for various equations and formulas, but things grow more complicated when we try to find answers for loss, grief, heartache, desire. Viewed in a slightly different light, this chapbook is also about control and a lack of control: what schematics we use to make sense of our lives and what eludes those schematics.
What made you decide to gather your pieces in a chapbook instead of another format? When did you realize you were working toward a chapbook?
I noticed at some point that I was writing full-length short stories as well as shorter, flash fictions, and that compiling both of these together wasn’t really working for the format of a short story collection. When paired with longer stories, the short pieces tended to seem less significant, like “filler” pieces. So I decided to remove the short pieces from a full-length story collection manuscript I was working on and compile them separately, seeing which of those pieces fit together thematically.
How did you decide on the length, arrangement, and title of your chapbook?
Once I had selected the pieces that would go into the chapbook, I came up with the title based on what I thought the pieces shared thematically. Because the pieces are varied in terms of form, I arranged them by variety and length throughout the chapbook to mix things up a bit from start to finish.
Did you submit your chapbook to contests, open reading periods, or both?
I was exceedingly, overwhelmingly fortunate to have Origami Zoo Press solicit me for a chapbook manuscript. I’d submitted a different chapbook manuscript previously to various contests and had been a finalist for a few of them, but I ultimately outgrew that manuscript and decided to shelve it and compile something new. Rebecca King and Sam Martone of Origami Zoo Press contacted me at the perfect time, just when I’d compiled new pieces. I don’t think they knew at the time that I’d read all of their chapbooks, and that a solicitation from them was a dream come true.
In what ways did your chapbook change between the version you submitted and the final published version? Did you revise, rearrange, or make other changes? To what degree did you collaborate on the cover image and design of your chapbook?
I worked with Rebecca and Sam on revising and editing the stories before the chapbook’s publication. Though the submitted and final versions weren’t drastically different, we did go through the stories closely – their language, their lines – in order to tighten the entire manuscript. I was able to specify preferences for the chapbook’s design, but to be honest, I’m at a bit of a loss when it comes to visual art. I didn’t have much to contribute, but I do know when something’s gorgeous: Rebecca, Sam and Nate, their designer, did a really incredible job with the artwork.
What have you done to promote and publicize your chapbook?
I’ve done readings in various places since the chapbook’s release, and I’ve enjoyed selling copies of the chapbook at those readings. Social media makes me anxious, especially when posting things to Facebook, but I did create a Twitter account this year to promote the chapbook and to share others’ writing. Twitter feels like a better format for that kind of interaction, at least to me. I’ve also talked about Origami Zoo Press quite a bit, to everyone I know – they’re a fantastic press.
What are you working on now? What is your writing practice?
I’m working on two manuscripts right now, which I don’t usually do, but I’m finding that they’re complementing each other well. I’m midway through a novel manuscript and a new short story collection; when I get stuck in the novel, writing a new short story helps get things moving in the novel. They’re on similar subjects – the city of St. Louis, broadly speaking – so they’re informing one another in really fascinating, productive ways for me.
What advice would you offer to an aspiring chapbook author?
I would recommend reading as many chapbooks as possible. Not only is it beneficial for learning format, and how other writers have put their manuscripts together, but it also means exposure to so many great presses. Reading widely has always been a good advice for me, in all aspects of writing.
Do you have a favorite prompt or revision technique? What is it?
In recent years, I’ve gotten much better at letting my writing sit for awhile before sending it out. In the past, I’ve had a hard time not wanting to send out a story immediately, as soon as it’s finished. Putting a story away and not looking at it for at least a month has helped me come back to the story with a new perspective, so I can see what really needs to be revised and what isn’t quite there yet. I’ve also learned my own habits better, in terms of a daily routine – I like to write first and then go for a run, because I’ve noticed that whatever problems I’m having with a particular scene or the structure of a story are worked out (almost magically) mid-run. I’ll realize a question that the story needs to answer, or what needs to come first, next, last.
A question from Weston Cutter: Did you write this chapbook while listening to anything, or do you listen to anything when you write in general, or is it all silence?
Though music is an important part of my writing process, I don’t listen to anything when I write. I’m pretty sound-sensitive. I need either complete silence or else some kind of white noise when I’m writing, like the din of a coffeeshop or the hum of the refrigerator. I do listen to music after I write, however – usually while running, walking or commuting. Music can open up new pathways for me after the fact, regarding revision, but while I’m writing I find it distracting. I worry that I’ll consciously or subconsciously take someone else’s lyrics as my own, or that I’ll impose an emotional state on the writing that has more to do with the music than the writing itself.
A question from Travis Mossotti: What do you find to be the most difficult and/or rewarding part about the writing, revising, publishing, and promotion process?
I’m likely not the only writer who feels this way, but one of the most difficult aspects of writing is navigating the waves: the waves of rejection, the waves of success, the long stretches where nothing at all happens. I think it’s easy to get caught up in this, and I’ve learned that the best way to handle this rollercoaster – and the most rewarding part of writing, coincidentally – is to just stay focused on the page, on getting the words down. There’s frustration in sitting down to write every day, in facing the page on your own. But there’s also tremendous gratification in it: puzzling through the structure, getting the language right, making the pieces fit. The process itself is the most rewarding part of writing, and for me, it always blocks out the noise of waves.
What question would you like to ask the next chapbook author featured at Speaking of Marvels?
What are some of your favorite presses that publish chapbooks?
Anne Valente is the author of the forthcoming short story collection By Light We Knew Our Names (Dzanc Books, 2014), and the fiction chapbook An Elegy for Mathematics (Origami Zoo Press, 2013). Her fiction appears in Ninth Letter, Hayden’s Ferry Review, Redivider and Copper Nickel, among others, and her non-fiction is forthcoming in The Believer.
from If I Had Walked the Moon
I’d have planted down stakes. Not rods, not poles, to hold a flag that failed us – for what’s a nation, now? You never knew the word.
I’d have dug my stakes deep into mineral, into basalt. Into solid terrain that fooled us, uninhabitable, and sent us home to a world that blinked bright, hurtled us open-eyed into the future, white hot. We blazed, arms race to space race, mottled meteor shuttling light until our heat, whipped by wind, burned low and quivered out.
Once, we moved against the sun. Once, we had waxen wings.
If I’d known everything then, I’d have pierced my stake into cratered soil. Pockmarked, all the more beautiful in its flaws, visible now from the window above your bed, so close, impossible in proximity. You sigh, you roll over. I rub the small space of your back. You breathe air in your sleep, air no longer safe, air filtered through the closed walls of our barren, sheltered house, through pumps strained free of toxin.
There were seasons once. Maple trees blazed the color of our ash-darkened sky. There were daffodils and lily pads and weeping willows that grazed their soft limbs against the peach-skin of our cheeks. The trees breathed. They held the memory of our weight.