Steven Wittenberg Gordon: I am fairly well read with a solid liberal arts education and a medical degree. I am a published poet currently experimenting with different poetic styles and genres. On the prose side, I am a pretty fair essayist and critic of both poetry and prose–I feature my reviews of prose on my personal website and my reviews of poetry on Songs of Eretz Poetry Review, where I am the editor (I only publish positive reviews of poetry).
I have written dozens of short stories, mostly fantasy, only a handful of which have been published. My medical/technical writing and practice of medicine keeps me in bank. I have also written a high fantasy swords and sorcery novel, a poetic memoir of my experience as a USAF flight surgeon deployed to Indonesia in the aftermath of the terrible tsunami of 2004, and several other poetry collections for which I am seeking a publisher. As the editor of Songs of Eretz Poetry Review, I enjoy the privilege of reading and critiquing the work of many up-and-coming poets and the additional pleasure of publishing a few of them.
Relf: What is your area(s) of subject matter expertise? How did you discover this niche? What intrigues you about it?
Gordon: No brag. I am actually an outstanding editor and improving daily. I have always been a good proofreader and grammarian but did not realize my potential and calling as an editor until I founded Songs of Eretz. The project began as a personal weblog in April 2012, where I read and reviewed a poem a day for my own edification. Over the next four years, the project morphed from a blog to a blog plus a quarterly poetry e-zine to a daily poetry e-zine to its present form, which features the poetry of about a dozen “frequent contributor” poets, hand-picked by me, in addition to other fine poets whose submissions are unsolicited. Songs of Eretz also hosts an annual poetry contest currently in its third year. This year’s guest judge is former Kansas Poet Laureate Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg, and a $1,000 cash prize will be awarded to the winner. The contest will run from September 1 to October 15, but “early submissions” are being accepted now (and are rolling in!).
Relf: How do you balance your creative and work time?
Gordon: The only way to balance my creative and work time was to make certain sacrifices in my medical career. I operate a modest private practice that serves a mostly immigrant population and pick up per diem work when I need more money. I make only a fraction of what my experience and education could afford me and have adjusted my lifestyle accordingly. I have faith that someday my writing and editing will pick up the slack, but I’m not there yet.
Relf: What tips do you have for other writers and/or editors?
Gordon: Be realistic about what writing is to you. Is it a career or a hobby? For 99+% of writers, it is a hobby. Hobbies are avocations, not vocations. Hobbies are enjoyed, done for fun and for personal enrichment rather than for financial enrichment. For more on this topic, please read my essay, “Yog’s Law: Should it Apply to the Hobbyist?”
Relf: What are your thoughts on the creative process in general and your creative process in particular?
Gordon: Not everyone is creative. I suspect most people are not. Creative people experience the world differently from their non-creative counterparts. I suspect most poets are musical, or at least can carry a tune, but perhaps I believe that because I am a gentleman songster. Some, while not creative themselves, will appreciate and value creativity. For example, many enjoy reading poetry, but are not poets, and many enjoy watching dancers, but cannot dance (I may be one of those).
Relf: Where do your ideas come from?
Gordon: I constantly think of ideas. I then choose among them, implement them, monitor them, and continuously improve the successful ones and abandon the unsuccessful ones. Sounds like continuous quality improvement, doesn’t it? Perhaps I’ve adapted that corporate cliché into my own personality.
Relf: Where have you been published? Upcoming publications? Awards and other accolades?
Gordon: In addition to self-publication in Songs of Eretz and Steves of Grass, my work has appeared in: Apex, Asimov’s, Eternal Haunted Summer, Hospital Drive, Mirror Dance, New Myths, Poetry Pacific, Star*Line & other SFPA venues, Scifaikuest, and Silverblade. Songs of Eretz Poetry Review was visited 50,000 times in 2015 and is on its way to 70,000 visits this year–not too shabby for a new (or any) poetry venue.
Relf: What are you working on now?
Gordon: This year’s Songs of Eretz Poetry Award Contest is taking up just about all of my spare time.
Relf: What challenges have you faced as a writer and/or with a particular project?
Gordon: Marketing and funding are the biggest challenges I have faced as a writer and editor.
Relf: How did you meet these challenges?
Gordon: First and most importantly, I had to admit to myself that I am not (yet) a professional writer. I am a hobbyist. Yog’s Law does NOT apply to me (yet). If I am going to enjoy my avocation and have any chance of ever becoming a professional writer/editor, I need to keep following Heinlein’s Rules, keep spending money, and keep improving.
Relf: What did you learn from these challenges and how did they make you a better writer and/or editor?
Gordon: I have learned some sobering lessons from marketing my work. The most important is “no means no.” I have sent some markets over 100 submissions and received back over 100 rejections. I now follow this rule: If a market rejects my first submission without encouraging personal feedback, I’m “done” with that market until/unless I significantly improve my writing and reputation. There are thousands of markets out there, just as there are many fish in the sea.
Relf: Are you plotter or a discovery writer?
Gordon: The short answer is both. Some poems and stories write themselves; some require some research and planning first.
Relf: Are you currently a writing mentor?
Gordon: I’m going to say “yes,” since I provide personal feedback on every poem submitted to Songs of Eretz and to its annual contests. I have received positive feedback from submitters and contestants concerning this practice.
Relf: What are your thoughts on mentoring?
Gordon: I wish I had had one and could have one now. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if Neil Gaiman took a shining to me and wanted to help my work get to the next level? Are you listening, Neil?
Relf: Since you’re also fiction writer, who are your favorite characters? How did they come into being, and what do you love – or loathe – about them?
Gordon: My favorite characters come from my unpublished novel, The Last Paladin. Gondomir, the novel’s main character, is a youth chosen by God to save the world from a coming evil calamity. He has the powers of a D&D paladin and is loosely based on a player character I played and on my own life before I became a father. Gondomir’s father, Fondor, is loosely based on my life after I became a father. In contrast to Gondomir, Fondor is more of a swashbuckler and worldly, while his son is holy. There are many other side characters of whom I am fond, from Hrothgar–Fondor’s childhood friend, a gruff, disillusioned soldier turned innkeeper–to Danule–a homosexual balladeer just coming into his own. The only thing I loathe about my characters is that, barring an unforeseen change in my fortune, no one will ever read about or enjoy them–they languish away in unpublished oblivion.
Relf: Are you currently, or have you ever, been in a writing group? Your thoughts?
Gordon: No. While I can appreciate the appeal and would give it a try if invited, I enjoy writing as a private, solitary activity.
Relf: I know our readers would love to hear about your networking, marketing, and promotional experiences – including tips.
Gordon: I believe I have addressed this question, but to summarize:
- Follow Heinlein’s Rules
- Know Thy Place–Be Thou Pro (professional) or Ho (hobbyist)?
- No Means No!
- Continuous Quality Improvement (CQI)
Relf: Your thoughts on having an agent?
Gordon: One must be successfully published in order to acquire an agent, and one must have an agent in order to be successfully published. I have not yet cracked this Catch-22.
Relf: Your thoughts on self-publishing?
Gordon: Walt Whitman self-published Leaves of Grass. Are you better than Walt Whitman?
Relf: Where do you see yourself in the next year? Next five years?
Gordon: Songs of Eretz Poetry Review is in transition from avocation to vocation. Over the next several years, I see the venture becoming solvent, then profitable, and finally profitable enough for me to be able to make it my full-time vocation and to be able to relegate my practice of medicine to an avocation rather than a vocation. I see the Review becoming a paying venue at a professional level–at least $50 per poem. I see Neil Gaiman as a guest contest judge. In addition to the daily on-line offerings, I see a beautifully illustrated quarterly print magazine and an annual “best of” Songs of Eretz anthology. I see a professorship in poetry and literature for me, at first at the local community college, and eventually at the local university. Finally, I see literary agents contacting me with offers to market my poetry collections–and one might say, “Oh, you wrote a novel? Let me market that, too.”
Relf: Here’s to bringing those dreams into being! Thank you again for creating the time for this interview, Steven. Be sure to review his bio below, spend time at Songs of Eretz reading the poety, blogs, and yes – ENTER THE CONTEST!
Poet, writer, physician, and gentleman songster, Steven Wittenberg Gordon was raised in the dairy country of upstate New York. He received his BA from Amherst College and his MD from Albany Medical College, and then completed a family practice residency in Wisconsin. After practicing medicine for several years in various locations, he volunteered for service with the United States Air Force and had many memorable adventures as a flight surgeon. Dr. Gordon resides in Kansas with his human family and a poorly trained Airedale terrier. Now semi-retired, he maintains a modest private medical practice serving the local immigrant population. In addition to occasional appearances in Songs of Eretz Poetry Review where he is the editor , his poetry has been published in: Apex, Asimov’s, Eternal Haunted Summer, Hospital Drive, Mirror Dance, New Myths, Poetry Pacific, Star*Line & other SFPA venues, Scifaikuest, and Silverblade. Learn more about him and his publication history at Steves of Grass. Follow him on Twitter @SongsofEretz or email him at SWGordonMD@gmail.com or friend “Steven Wittenberg Gordon” on Facebook.