A Day in the Life Presents Poet, Fiction Author, and Essayist, John C. Mannone

 

Terrie Leigh Relf: What types – and forms – of writing do you do?

John C. Mannone: My favorite genre is poetry, but I thoroughly enjoy literary nonfiction, too, especially the personal essay (of which I gravitate toward the meditative and lyric essays). I also enjoy writing short fiction from 50 to 1500 words, though I have written longer works (like the short story) and am currently experimenting with a braided historical novella.

Terrie: If you’re also an editor, what is your niche?

John: I also edit poetry for several venues (listed in order of longest duty first): Silver Blade, Abyss & Apex, Liquid Imagination, and American Diversity Report. SB and AA are speculative, LI is kind of speculative, while ADR concentrates on all aspects of cultural diversity. But in any case, I seek literary quality work with literary depth (i.e., answers the “so-what” question).

Terrie: What is your area(s) of subject matter expertise? How did you discover this niche?

John: I have been blessed with a liberal arts education; that, by itself, gives me great range, but because I am a scientist (as well as having worked as a consulting engineer), I have access to fresh metaphors. I often bring astronomy, chemistry, and physics into my creative works.

What intrigues me about it? Though one might expect my physics to help with the logical aspects of writing, especially the revision process, but the real surprise that continues to intrigue me is how my poetry has been able to inform my science. As a poet, we know how to “think outside the box,” and this is the most important thing a scientist (actually anyone) can do to make serious contributions to the field, and hopefully, to humanity. (I won’t discuss the negative consequences of this, as they exist in everything we do as a human.)

Terrie: How do you balance your creative and work time?

Though I have been retired for the last 10 years this month (I took early retirement at 62), I have never been busier. The creative mind never shuts down and is at least processing information in the subconscious, even in my dreams. Regardless, I balance time between writerly things (which I must do every day) and responsibilities like cooking and laundry often by staying up late. I have so many projects that interest me that I will be forever overworked, but never bored.

Terrie: What tips do you have for other writers and/or editors?

John: Writers: Develop your craft. Learn that your first draft requires revision virtually always, no matter how much in love you are with it. Do not become revision-resistant. Read a variety of good work, and write often, even if only 50 words of creative prose (you might discover a kernel of a poem). Editors: be kind and considerate, especially if you held onto a piece for a long time. I know how long it takes to review poetry (without a staff). Even in my form rejections, I often make time to give an encouraging word, suggest another better-fitting venue, etc., though I am less likely to respond to really crappy work (fortunately I don’t get that many of these) or noncompliant work. Try to have the same disposition when reading all your submissions. Reread marginal ones later (together with your short-listed ones. You might be surprised to learn what was a not-so-great-piece is really quite good, especially with a tweak here and there, and the ones you thought were so good just might get demoted. We are all human.)

Terrie: What are your thoughts on the creative process in general and your creative process in particular?

John: In general, trust your process, even when you say “I cannot write about that!” or as is often in my case, “I don’t like that prompt.” If for no other reason than sheer determination to write something good from an otherwise apparent non-productive prompt or environment, do it. You will be surprised at what comes from your pen when you simply start writing. You don’t wait for your muse, you start, and then she’ll catch up to you. That’s often her M.O. (I say “her” from tradition, but in my case it’s not a her and certainly not an it—the Holy Spirit. And I make no apology in ascribing my gift to Him.) Now I say all of that in the case where you want to write, but don’t care to write about a certain thing and simply have what others call “writer’s block,” then that’s a different story. I have found the best way to overcome “writer’s block” is not to force it (some will say sit your butt in the chair and write. Sure, right, like that’s going to work!). There are several techniques that work for some, but not others, like the free-write or stream-of-consciousness writing where you write for a solid amount of time, like 10 minutes or 20 minutes, without stopping, writing the same word over and over if necessary. The idea is to keep your left-brain from intruding on the creative process (which is a right-brain- dominated process). Of all the crap you’ll write with this method, a vibrant image or line will likely emerge. That’s something you can then work with then or later. What works for me is a change of “scenery,” so to speak. If I do something else that is creative, like listen to relaxing music, take a walk in the woods, visit a museum (even virtually), then your creative side is being energized without forcing it to write that poem. Soon thereafter, words might flow like a glutted river in a deluge. And those ideas may hit you at the strangest times. I thank God for junk mail because I am often struck while driving. I might have to pull off the road to write it down, and it will often be a piece of junk mail on my car seat. I like prompts IF they are well-designed yet give you freedom to explore numerous pathways. If they are too general (like write a poem about summer), then they are virtually useless.

Terrie: Where do your ideas come from?

John: My ideas are all around me; all I have to do is notice them. Everyday life is a treasure chest of writing possibilities. Focus on the little things; the big important questions will naturally evolve (but hell no, not for every poem!) Each of us has a little metaphysics that wants to bleed out from time-to-time. Observing nature often will trigger something. Don’t try to make a poem (or a story) out of everything you see. Just observe. The poem will come when you don’t try so hard.

Terrie: Where have you been published? Upcoming publications? Awards and other accolades?

John: This could take a long time to answer and remain humble. I will have well over a thousand poems (and other creative work) published before the end of the year. I publish everywhere, literally all over the world, but mostly here in the States. Some venues are easy, but I submit to them because I like them and their vision. It’s a way of giving back to the writing community. If it helps the venue attract other good writers and encourage the newbie (as I once was) because my work is featured, then that’s a good thing. But many of my pieces also appear in difficult markets. (And yes, I get a lot of rejections too; it comes with the territory.) Perhaps a way to answer this question is with a current lit bio included with this interview.

 Terrie: What are you working on now?

John: There are three general categories I have been working in: (1) Poetry and short fiction collections in various stages of completion: some of which are currently in search of a publisher, while others are in their formative stages; (2) A long-prose writing project; and (3) A variety of craft books or special interest books that are convolved with creative writing. Some of the projects below have been in progress since 2005.

Color-coded folders of collections/writing project status of full-length poetry collections unless noted otherwise:

Red = In the hands of a publisher for review or already published

Published: Apocalypse (Alban Lake Publishing, 2015, chapbook); Disabled Monsters (Linnet’s Wings Press, 2015); Flux Lines (Linnet’s Wings Press, 2020).

Submitted: Elements of Survival; Sticks & Stones; Holy Week Poems (chapbook); The Metaphorical Moon (eChapbook).

Orange = Ready to submit to a publisher barring minor details (such as formatting): Sacred Flute; A Breath of Darkness; Dark Wind, Dark Water (43K short fiction collection); Nightsongs (eChapbook); Waffle House Poems (chapbook).

Yellow = 75-90% complete: Poetic Bible: An Unauthorized Version: A Collection of 100 Bible-Inspired Poems; Rules for Revising Poetry and How to Break Them (co-authored craft book)

Green = Enough for a collection, but disorganized; individual work seeking publication: Fragments (experimental historical novella); Momma (and Papa) Poems; Sound & Silence.

Blue = Committed projects, but in their formative stages; poems are being written/published: Song of the Mountains (hybrid collection of poetry and prose); Diffraction: The Physics of Longing; Biblical Text as a Resource for Creative Writing (eBook craft/workshop); Food: Another Form of Poetry (eBook of recipes, anecdotes, history, and poems).

Purple = Uncommitted projects: None at this time.

Gray = Abandoned and or cannibalized: Not shown.

Terrie: What challenges have you faced as a writer and/or with a particular project? How did you meet them? What did you learn from these challenges, and how did they make you a better writer and/or editor?

John: Every project has its own set of challenges (and the same challenge as well, like finding the right publisher who is willing to look at my work… without spending a fortune on a maybe). For example, for two of my projects—a full-length collection on poetry infused with Native American culture, legend, and history (Sacred Flute), and my experimental historical novella (Fragments), I am concerned about cultural appropriation, especially in persona poems. But because I am sensitive to it, I am aware to tread carefully, seeking the wisdom and opinion of both the Native Americans whom I know, as well as African Americans, who are my friends. It is a difficult task to write about another’s culture that is different than mine, but that’s what poets do. Often our compassion for the marginalized is internalized and emotionally interpreted through our own traumas. This allows for emotional transference and enables a step beyond compassion, a step toward empathy. And it is empathy that will make a writer a better writer because therein lies the literary depth, the substance in layers of the poem (or story), that connection to humanity, which we all share.

Terrie: Are you plotter and planner or a discovery writer?

John: Such distinctions dishonor the creativeness of writing story. Whether genre or literary or whether so called plot-driven or character-driven, I do not see the mutual exclusivity of these things. There is no reason why we can’t have both, and I want both. A good story is a good story. So, how does a story idea start on the page? For me, it is very nonlinear. I write my prose in scenes; sometimes, the ending comes long before the middle sections. And the first section is the last thing I revise because of its importance and the opportunity to introduce symbolism, to establish mood through setting, and possibly to include some foreshadowing (which necessitates knowing how the story develops and ends). Like others, I let my characters tell me. The only “outline” I use is a very coarse one to capture things I think I definitely want in the story.

Terrie: Are you currently a writing mentor? If so, what are your thoughts on mentoring?

John: There are a few people I want to help because I have seen the brilliance in their work while they are still thinking I am flattering them because of friendship. I will be kind, but I will not flatter a fellow poet-friend into misleading them into thinking they are great poets, nor will I extend an invitation to them to submit to the journals for which I edit poetry. There is one poet whom I have worked with for four years. I told her that one day she will blow my work away. She is a natural and brilliant. All she has to learn is more craft. and she has, and she’s entered poetry contests and gotten accepted in good journals. In general, I mentor anyone who wants advice. I do it on social media, in writing groups, in workshops, hell, I’m even doing it here. Mentoring is a way of giving back. I think it is a wonderful thing to do.

Terrie: Since you’re a fiction writer, who are your favorite characters? How did they come into being, and what do you love – or loathe – about them?

John: I do write short fiction (50-2000 words) and I love all my characters because they evolved organically.

Terrie: Are you currently, or have you ever, been in a writing group? Your thoughts?

John: Yes, I have been part of many writing groups, as I am today. I believe strongly that these are a vital part in the growth of a poet or writer. There are different types of writers groups: (a) Critique groups where elements of crafting might be learned; (b) Writing groups where the focus is on creating works, often to a prompt. Whether these prompts are short 8-minute writes or take-home ones where you might spend 20 minutes to 2 hours, getting to share rough, or more polished work, is a valuable morale builder; (c) How-to groups may not be about creating your work, let alone revising it, but rather discussing things like finding markets and publishing strategies. All these groups will help the writer as well as being supportive.

Terrie: I know our readers would love to hear about your networking, marketing, and promotional experiences – including tips.

John: Networking is vital and is one of the main reasons I attend writers conferences. It is part of the marketing strategy. Most poets and writers don’t care to fool with marketing, but it is a necessary think IF you want to share your work beyond a circle of family and friends.

Terrie: Your thoughts on having an agent?

John: I don’t write long fiction, like novels, which would normally be agented work. I suppose I will learn in the next year or so as I complete my novella. (I know, I said I don’t write long fiction, but this is my first attempt to break out of that.)

Terrie: Your thoughts on self-publishing?

John: I believe in a diversified publication portfolio, so self-publishing surely has its place. Because there is less scrutiny in self-publishing (read that as “there’s a lot of crap being published”), simply vet the work by either having earlier works traditionally published (probably through an independent publisher), or in the case of collections, try to get half of the work published as individual pieces. Those who are under the impression that self-publishing is too hard because you’ll have to do all the marketing yourself are in for a surprise—there’s not much different with the small presses; you better be ready to market your book regardless which you choose).

Terrie: Anything else you’d like to add that I haven’t asked? For example, what would you like to see more of in your specific genre?

John: I don’t have a specific genre, though I identify mainly as a poet, but I write across the main literary genres (poetry, fiction, and creative nonfiction (which some people like to call literary nonfiction)). Except for political poetry (which often decays into a rant), I write in many genres or types of poetry. Yet, I eschew the label “genre poetry” because of the baggage it carries. As I have said before, good writing is good writing. I am pleased to find an increasing number of quality Christian poetry venues appear. In the publishing field? The so-called “horror genre” publishers accessible to us are very limited. There’s a lot of junk out there. The few good publishers are perpetually closed or open only by invitation. I would also like to see a better reception of dark short fiction collections. I write a lot of very good dark poetry and short fiction, but apparently there’s nowhere to send my collection to publishers who consistently publish high quality work. I don’t want my poems and stories to be mixed with gratuitous gore. Where do you see yourself in the next year? In more of the highly regarded journals. Next five years? I can only dream, but most certainly significantly better than I was the previous five years.

Terrie: Thank you again, John, for creating the time for this interview! Dear readers, please review his bio below and visit his website and Facebook page.  

 

John C. Mannone has recent work appearing in the North Dakota Quarterly, the 2020 Antarctic Poetry Exhibition, Le Menteur, Foreign Literary Magazine, and others. His poetry won the Impressions of Appalachia Creative Arts Contest (2020), his fiction, the Carol Oen Memorial Fiction Prize (2020), and his creative nonfiction, the Joy Margrave Award (2015, 2017). He was also awarded a Jean Ritchie Fellowship (2017) in Appalachian literature, as well as the Horror Writers Association Scholarship (2017) and Weymouth writing residencies (2016, 2017) and served as celebrity judge for the National Federation of State Poetry Societies (2018). His latest collection Flux Lines: The Intersection of Science, Love, and Poetry is forthcoming from Linnet’s Wings Press (2020). He edits poetry for Abyss & Apex and other journals. A retired physics professor, he lives between Knoxville and Chattanooga, Tennessee.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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