Honestly, without the Internet, this world of writing would be far lonelier for me. I meet so many incredible writers on these bits of code, including the lovely poet Susie Berg. Please enjoy her interview today.
How to Get Over Yourself is my first full-length collection. It deals with the idea that everything in life isn’t so damn serious — it’s life. We all face horrible trauma and tragedy, and it’s those things that shape us. Parts of the book are very dark; parts are very light-hearted; and some are so frankly sexual that my teenagers were none too pleased to be in the audience the night of my book launch. Clearly I’ve done at least my parenting work well.
Currently I’m working with poet Elana Wolff on a series of poems inspired by one another’s work. In hearing one another on stage, we found a lot of resonance within our poetry and ended up having a long talk about art, writing, and truth. It led to this collaboration. We’ll do a collaborative piece of art for the cover, and the book will be published in September 2015 as a limited edition, handbound chapbook from Lyrical Myrical Press.
2. What role, if any, did books, writing, and reading play in your childhood?
You mean did I ever leave my room or was I in there every free minute reading? Every free minute. And some that I was supposed to be doing other stuff. Like homework. Or setting the dinner table. I started writing stories at about age 8, and publishing them (by hand, this was loooong before computers) and distributing them as newsletters around the neighborhood. I collaborated even back then: the series The Adventures of Kitty and Katy, written with my friend Liane, was a big hit. I had a wonderful teacher in grade 5 who encouraged daily creative writing, and I began writing poetry in earnest (and I do mean earnest) at about 12.
3. What is your writing practice, your writing routine?
My favorite way to write is to wake up and to just start writing. Some days I journal. Some days I edit and revise. I have tried to set aside an hour each morning to write, but that fluctuates depending on my work schedule and my kids. Twice a year I go away for a week to any place a friend will let me crash for free. I do nothing but write. I often don’t even go outside.
4. Who are you reading now?
For the past year I’ve just been reading anything and everything. Poetry and novels by Canadian writers whose launches and readings I attend (Infidelity: A Novel by Stacey May Fowles; Watch How We Walk by Jennifer LoveGrove; Based on a True Story by Elizabeth Renzetti). Books on my ‘list’ that I’ve been meaning to read, usually based on recommendations in The Globe and Mail or the NYT Book Review or from my friend Bonnie. Books for book group (Far From the Tree by Andrew Solomon; This Is How You Lose Her by Junot Diaz). I’m very into non-fiction these days: ideas seem to grab me more than stories that I fear will disappoint me with their endings. By the time this is published, it’s hard to say who I’ll be reading, so I’ll try not to guess. But I have begun now to put down a book I don’t love. Books that challenge me are fine, but books where I feel the writing isn’t carrying me in some way, those I’ve learned to put away.
5. What are three of your all-time favorite books? Why do you love those?
The Shipping News, E. Annie Proulx: I love her unusual sentences and the humor woven so deftly you don’t even realize it’s there until you start laughing. Reminds me of A.A. Milne.
Olive Kitteridge, Elizabeth Strout: I love honesty; and realistic, rather than happy, endings. This book is layered with honesty and pain and choices and decisions. I don’t usually read books more than once. But I’ve read this twice. As I have The Shipping News.
Cloud Atlas, David Mitchell: Talk about layered. I love Mitchell’s unfolding style; I love being lost in the links between parts of the novel. I think this book is stylistically brilliant and amazing because its overarching themes are so important I was able to explain the entire book to my then-10-year old daughter succinctly. She’s a teenager now; probably time to hand it over to her to read.
6. How do you balance “building a writing platform” and the actual writing to set on that platform?
I had to Google to find out what this means. That might partially answer the question. But truthfully, I see the administration of my writing (researching publishers, building a platform, social media presence) as part of my writing. So some days I do the business of writing, and some days I write.
7. What is a typical day like for you?
I wake up hoping to write for an hour or two, then work (I’m a freelance editor in educational publishing), then exercise, then read. Some days that happens, and I carve a writing zone for myself. Some days it doesn’t. When I feel myself getting too far from that typical day, I try to rein things in and force the routine. A routine also helps my kids see that there are times and spaces that are for me, and they have to fend for themselves.
8. Describe your dream writing space.
A clean, quiet cottage by the ocean, any ocean, any time of year, with all the comforts of home. Walking distance to a small town and groceries. Alone and silent.
9. What is the hardest writing critique you ever received? How did you respond?
I am lucky not to have been harshly critiqued — which likely also means I haven’t yet been pushed as far as I can be in my writing. I have, however, been rejected for grants at a rate of nearly 20 per year for the past 8 years, which is tiring. My response is largely to get really frustrated. I even decided not to apply one year. And the deadline came close and I figured ‘what the heck’ and applied anyway. I still got rejected, but I was glad I hadn’t given up.
10. What is the best wisdom you have to share with other writers?
When I feel frustrated with writing, I remember that Stephen King says that reading is writing, too, so I read and I don’t apologize for it. It’s all part of the process.
Susie Petersiel Berg is the author of How to Get Over Yourself (Piquant Press, 2013) and the blog The Starbucks Poetry Project. She co-curates the Plasticine Poetry Reading Series, a long-running monthly reading series in Toronto, ON, and her work has appeared in such publications as The Mom Egg Review, Desperately Seeking Susans, carte blanche, Switchback, and Ars Medica. Find her online at sber40.wix.com/susieberg or follow her on Twitter @SusieDBerg.