Interview with Amanda Lovelace

We poetry fans here at YARN fell in love with Amanda Lovelace’s work with the release of her empowering first book, “The Princess Saves Herself in This One.” Good news for us–and for you, fellow fans–her latest book, “The Witch Doesn’t Burn in This One,” released on March 6, 2018 and is every bit as empowering and striking as the first. We’re thrilled to share this interview with her–and thrilled to welcome new readers into the fandom!

Writing Process:

YARN: What does your writing process consist of, from the idea to publication? If you have shelved projects like many writers do, how do you push a project you love aside to work on something new? Any tips on finding the story that demands to be written?

AL: I usually come up with the title first. After, I come up with the theme, followed by the section/chapter titles. Finally, what happens is a lot of scribbling down hasty bits of inspiration and then trying to make enough sense of it to turn into poems later. There’s also the issue of trying to make sure the collection make sense, story-wise. I do a lot of taking away and rearranging until it flows as one collective piece.

It’s not often easy to move on from projects I love. I try to take some quality time in between so I can live life, absorb inspiration, and become excited to go back and make them the best projects they can be.

Personally, I’m a fan of taking impossible ideas and finding ways to make them possible.

YARN: Have you ever felt “stuck” in your writing? What advice can you give teens who might be struggling with writing assignments and need to get unstuck before the due date?

AL: I get stuck a lot, even when I plan! I find that freewriting is my failsafe method. Just open up the document and begin writing, no matter what it is. It doesn’t even have to be relevant to your writing assignment. The act of writing itself so often gets my creative juices flowing enough to finish what is expected of me. I know this technique doesn’t work for everyone, but it doesn’t hurt to try!

YARN: Your publication history started with the self-publication of your debut collection of poetry, “The Princess Saves Herself in This One,” which was a smashing success. For those considering self-publication, can you share any tips on how to make the most of it? Do you have any suggestions for readers on how to find self-published authors when they are probably getting less press than traditionally published authors? Do you have any favorite self-published poets you could recommend?

AL: Self-publishing was, at times, very challenging. You are your own boss, which has its perks, but it also has its downfalls. You have to make every decision, big or small, and you have to do all of your marketing, which is emotionally taxing as well as financially taxing. However, no matter how draining it became for me, it was worth it to know that my words resonated with even one person, and the friendships and community I created can never be matched.

I find that most poetry today is self-published, even with the rise of interest from traditional publishers, and they’re still extremely successful. Look at any ranking list on Amazon and Barnes & Noble and you’ll find them pouring out from everywhere. Also, a good place to look is Instagram, the new popular place to share your poetry. Search tags such as #poetrycommunity and #poetsofinstagram to find your new self-published faves!

I have so many self-published faves of my own, including gretchen gomez’s “love, and you”; mckayla robbin’s “we carry the sky”; Morgan Nikola-Wren’s “Magic with Skin On”; “hummingbird” by Sophia Elaine Hason; and “Small Ghost” by Trista Mateer.

YARN: We were thrilled to see “Princess” take home the 2016 GoodReads Choice award for poetry, and you’ve since found a new home for your work with publisher Andrews McMeel. Can you share a bit about what it was like to experience such an exciting publishing journey? Has your process changed as a writer along the way?

AL: Thank you!

Funnily enough, I was signed to Andrews McMeel months before voting began for the Goodreads Choice Awards, but with the timing of it versus the process of publishing, the republished edition of “princess” came out mere months after the win was announced. My publisher clearly had faith in my work and they continue to trust my instincts now, for which I am forever grateful.

Being traditionally published still doesn’t feel real. Andrews McMeel has gotten my books into hands they never would have gotten into if I had stayed self-published, and that’s what really matters to me: reaching those who need my words.

The biggest difference between being self-published as opposed to being traditionally published is most evident in my writing process. Deadlines can really throw a wrench in things, but they have also given me the gift of structure—a reason to work hard every day, as opposed to letting myself fall into writing ruts with no incentive to pull myself out.

YARN: Has social media influenced the way you share your poetry with readers? Has it influenced the way you write or what you write about? Do you think social media has a positive or negative effect on the form? (a la instapoetry)

AL: Social media has made my work very accessible. Most important, it has also made my work possible. Without the push of inspirational quotes and poems on social media—particularly on Instagram—I don’t think poetry would be what it is today.

In that respect, I think social media has had a positive effect on the world of poetry. More people are writing and sharing their favorite works more than ever before. One small poem can change someone’s entire outlook, and that’s beautiful. However, with the revitalization of the genre has also come a lot of resistance, which, I think, is to be expected with anything that becomes popular, especially when the movement is led largely by women.

Truthfully, social media has inspired me so much. Not only have I found nearly all my favorite poets through social media, but I’m also often inspired by things such as photography and conversation. With “witch,” I tried to pay attention to how people were talking about current affairs, especially leading up to the #MeToo movement, so I could authentically express what so many survivors, including myself, were feeling at the time.

Your Books:

YARN: “The Princess Saves Herself in This One” is a collection that resonates with so many readers with its clear message of empowerment beginning with the title itself. Poetry in general, and the thoughtful layout of so many of the poems in particular, really draw readers in. (The keyhole shape poem! The lists! The stark punches to the gut throughout!) Did you try writing any passages in prose or essay format along the way, or was it always poetry to you? When there is a visual component to your poem, how does that come about? Do you start with the idea of the shape itself or do you start with the words?

AL: When I was writing “princess,” prose and essay formats weren’t on my mind whatsoever. Between “princess” and “witch,” when I started picking up more modern poetry collections, I noticed that other poets were dabbling in prose poetry—a paragraph here, a paragraph there. I found myself intrigued and ended up dabbling it in myself as I wrote “witch,” which includes a few prose pieces, and I ended up loving it so much that I wrote quite a few prose pieces for my fall 2018 release, “to make monsters out of girls.”

Some of my pieces just need space to grow and breath. Prose makes that possible. If I ever go back and revisit “princess” in the future, I can totally see myself including some!

All of my poems with visual components—such as the keyhole poem—often happen by mistake. Usually, I write the poem without the intention of making it any sort of shape and eventually notice that it’s made its own vague organic shape, so I go in and try to make it work. It’s a miracle when the shape ends up being relevant to the actual poem!

YARN: “The Witch Doesn’t Burn in This One” takes the empowerment from your first book a step further. The book starts with a helpful trigger warning that includes abuse, assault, eating disorders, trauma, and more, and some of the poems go deep into those spaces. Like “Princess,” this is a book I wish I’d had as a teen: to know I wasn’t alone, to realize I had the power within myself to recognize my worth. Do you have any words for teens who see themselves in any of these situations?

AL: As the title of a poem in “witch” goes, “your winter will come to an end.”

YARN: The words/ideas/roles of princess and witch have been a central part of storytelling for a long time. Why do you think these still resonate with writers and with readers?

AL: In terms of princesses, I think it’s easy to resonate with them, because who doesn’t want to be treated like royalty, especially in a world where women are often treated with disdain and violence?

Witches are all about going against the grain. Rebellion, even. We’re finally taking the title that was used against women for so long and making something powerful and positive out of it instead. There’s something satisfying about it.

YARN: Part of what makes your work so strong is its directness, sharpness, pithiness. Do you have favorite authors or poems that particularly inspire you? Do you have sources you return to, sources that help you dream up or create stories?

AL: Rupi Kaur has always inspired me in that area, along with Kim Addonizio. I love reading things that are almost uncomfortably raw and personal, and even a little bit messy. That’s when you know the work is honest and working towards something much greater than itself. With Rupi Kaur especially—the way she writes about sexual violence is always a gut punch. The voices of sexual assault survivors are often silenced, and she not only takes the risk that comes along with breaking that silence, she takes an axe to it. Strength like that is admirable.

YARN: Can you share a little snippet from “Witch”? Favorite line or paragraph?

AL: This is the first time I’m being asked this question! Yay!

One that always stays with me is found on p. 175.

It reads, “here’s / the tricky thing / about fire: / it stays soft / even while it / destroys / everything / in its / path, / but / it’s up / to you / to / make sure / that / it doesn’t / burn the / good / with / the rot.” – we can’t lose our empathy.

I’m ready for what’s next. For change. I’m ready to salvage all the good that is left and help making something livable out of it.

YARN: “Princess” and “Witch” are both part of the “Women Are Some Kind of Magic” series (an amazing series title, by the way). Do you have other titles in the series forthcoming?

AL: I do! The third and final installment in the “women are some kind of magic” series will be called “the mermaid’s voice returns in this one,” and it’s about escapism, trauma, and healing. It will also include collaborations with a handful of poets. Look out for it a year from now in March 2019!

YARN: You provided the voice for both of your audiobooks. How was the processing of recording your own words? Did it give you a new outlook on your writing? Do you personally prefer to read or listen to poetry? Do you find one format more powerful or does it depend on the situation?

AL: A lot of practicing went into it. Not so much with “princess,” since I recorded it so long after the initial release and tour, where I performed most of the poems at one point or another. “witch” was another story, as it was recorded before I performed hardly any of the pieces, aside from one or two of them. In that respect, it did help me figure out how certain pieces should be read in front of a live audience!

The process itself was very challenging. Some of my poems are unconventional in terms of style—such as lists, strikethroughs, and scribbles—so we really had to put our heads together and figure out the best ways to read them and still get my original point across. It has made me more mindful of how I write poems for future releases because I always want all readers to be able to get the full experience of my work.

I’m much more into reading poetry than listening to it, but that’s all personal preference! I like to be able to find myself in poetry and attribute my own meanings without the influence of the writer.

YARN: In “Princess” you answered the question of, “What are you going to do with your English degree?” in a wondrous way. What advice would you give students who are dissuaded by others (or themselves) for one reason or another to not get said degree?

AL: From the very moment I declared English Literature as my major, I was met with doubt. I was told I wouldn’t get a job. I was told to major in something else—a trade. I was told it would end up being useless in everyday life. Obviously, that ended up not being true. For myself, pushing my hands into every kind of literature inspired me to do my own soul-searching and writing. A degree in English also teaches you more about the world than anything else. Reading and analyzing teaches technical things, but it also teaches empathy, clarity, and critical thinking, and those traits are invaluable in every career path. Major in the thing you love. Everything will fall into place later.

Other Books/YA stuff:

YARN: Do you have any advice for writers struggling to find the best format to tell their stories? (plays, verse, prose etc.) Any specific advice for those who admire poetry but feel like they are not poets themselves?

AL: Read everything. Experiment. Don’t be afraid to fail. You won’t find what you’re looking for unless you get your hands dirty.

YARN: What are a few resources you’d suggest to writers who feel they want to grow, but they aren’t sure where they can get some help and support? (These might be books, articles, online classes, writing groups, blogs – whatever/whoever you think offers great support for writers.)

AL: Aside from taking classes in the genre, what helped me was going to poetry events, especially open mics, even if it was just to observe how it’s done. If you’re not sure where to look, go down to your local café and ask! They’re much more common than one might think.

A great guide on writing poetry is “The Poet’s Companion” by Kim Addonizio and Dorianne Laux. It’s a book I was assigned in college, and it’s one of the few I keep around because it has some amazing advice, samples, and writing prompts. In fact, quite a few poems in witch were written as a result of those prompts!

YARN: What writers or books would you say have influenced you most as a writer? What books helped you become a writer or helped you realize you wanted to be one?

AL: Emily Dickinson, Rupi Kaur, J.K. Rowling, Laurie Halse Anderson, and Tahereh Mafi—just to name a few!

My love for music as a child was a massive push. Listening to something that summarized all I was feeling but keeping inside myself was my biggest catharsis before I knew the meaning of the word. After a while, I started to write my own lyrics, only to realize they weren’t just that. They were music and poetry, all in one. After all, music is really just poetry set to a tune. Linkin Park and Evanescence were some of my biggest influences at the beginning.

YARN: What books would you like to give a shout-out to? Also, what’s in your TBR pile right now that you’re most looking forward to?

AL: “Blood Water Paint” by Joy McCullough deserves all the love. It’s very similar to witch in that it’s about sexual violence against women, except it’s in the form of historical YA fiction. It’s a book that I know will change lives. It changed mine.

I’m reading “The Hazel Wood” by Melissa Albert right now—dark fairy tales for the win!—and next up will be “Restore Me” by none other than Tahereh Mafi. It’s so fun when series you love get surprise installments. 🙂

YARN: When it comes to feminism within YA literature, what do you think can be done better? What do you think has not been discussed yet?

AL: As a queer author myself, queer representation is something I find there’s never enough of, especially as it applies to f/f relationships. There are certainly more books than we had years ago, but it’s still not enough, and the ones we do have don’t get the push they deserve. Representation is important, especially when you’re a teen trying to navigate this wide, sometimes scary world.

I would love to see someone publish a book about a demigirl—unless that exists already and I just haven’t found it yet!

growing up a word-devourer & avid fairy tale lover, it was only natural that amanda lovelace began writing books of her own, & so she did. when she isn’t reading or writing, she can be found waiting for pumpkin spice coffee to come back into season & binge-watching gilmore girls. (before you ask: team jess all the way). the lifelong poetess & storyteller currently lives in new jersey with her husband, their moody cat, & a combined book collection so large it will soon need its own home. she has her B.A. in english literature with a minor in sociology. the princess saves herself in this one is her debut poetry collection & the first book in the women are some kind of magic series. the second book in the series,the witch doesn’t burn in this one, is out in 2018.

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