Youmans (pronounced like 'yeoman' with an 's' added) is the best-kept secret among contemporary American writers. --John Wilson, editor, Books and Culture

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Pups of Letters, no. 2: Eileen St. Lauren

Yes, Marly-the-absent-one is back from 25 marvelous days at Yaddo! I came home with the draft of a short novel, written at maniacal speed, and a new story... I'll be off again to New Haven before I can possibly sort out the wreckage of my once-tidy house, but after that I will stay home for a while (cleaning, no doubt.)

It's time for a new Pup of Letters. One has to fulfill those New Year's Resolutions...

A thing I find interesting is how varied--astonishingly so--the Pups in the Litter are. The novice writers who wander into the Palace have a wild variety in their obsessions, life histories, work, religion, locale, politics, taste: indeed, in all things that could affect how one dreams a book. This is a boon to my curiosity that, cat-like and hope-like, springs eternal.

The current Pup is Eileen St. Lauren, a young novelist who says that she is "in the tradition of Reynolds Price, Flannery O'Connor, William Faulkner, Eudora Welty, and Willie Morris." I sent her a batch of questions before I roared off to Yaddo, and in my absence she has answered them.

MY:
Eileen, you’re now looking for an agent. Have you learned something from this arduous rite-of-passage? What’s heartening about it, and what’s frustrating?

ESL:
I have had wonderful literary agents and editors to read my samples and write me beautiful rejection letters. I have made some great friends along the way. In truth, no one has slammed me and most have hated to tell me “no.” However, I have come to learn that so far what I have composed may not be the ONE that will break me into the commercial market. That has prompted me to move forward and compose a new work of fiction with hopes that it will be the ONE journey that an agent then the world falls in LOVE with. It’s entitled, Everybody in Town. It’s set in Plymouth, Massachusetts, and about the garbage in our lives.

MY:
Here is a link to your online story, Mozella. Is this a landscape that feels like home to you? Say anything you would like as an introduction to the story.

ESL:
Mozella (and the little grey squirrel) just came to me one sunny day in Amherst, Massachusetts, while sitting on the Emily Dickinson Homestead grounds near dark silhouettes of Emily Dickinson and Robert Frost. I believe Mozella is an ageless spirit who wanted her story told. The seven bells that ring at the end are from the church house where the homeless were being called to supper directly across the street where I was feeding squirrels from a-top of my New Testament Bible purple grapes and crusts of bread. Then I took a walk over to the graveyard was where Emily is buried and used actual names from the headstones in my cemetery. Mozella is about peace.

MY:
Your publication at BigCityLit.com came from a mention by James Simpson in the first Pups of Letters interview. Can you tell us something about this upcoming piece?

Glory, Ananias, is forthcoming in mid-May in BigCityLit.com. I am eternally grateful for James’ words to submit. And more so that poetry editor, Nicholas Johnson, loved the piece. Nick is a gem.

In the story, characters from the unpublished novel, The Adventures of Myra Boone, book one, Goodlife, Mississippi, Myra Boone and Margie Anne Roberts visit a frail, paralyzed, and the fallen old soul, Ananias. Sitting in a wooden wheelchair that sports a jaunty, tiny American flag and a daisy cloth-covered Bible pouch, he tells the girls of a place between heaven and earth called Glory that holds the Saints and protects them from an Enemy called Death before their souls cross over into Heaven. It’s sublime.

MY:
As a Southerner, I look at you and see the unmistakable stamp of the deep South. Tell us where and with whom you liked to play on a hot summer’s day when all the work that belonged to a child was done.

ESL:
Strangely enough, all my friends from childhood are dead save one. At times in my early life, every afternoon after school, I read an entire book then walked down West Cherry Drive to see the pansy beds soaking up the southern sun with my black rabbit named Cricket who I taught how to fall asleep on command... On more than one occasion, my imagination brought voices, characters, and distant lands into my childhood all of which served me well as playmates, friends, and such. Most of my childhood and life has been solitary and lonely yet humorous. Oftentimes I muse, that if it wasn’t for books, my own imagination and ability to create and personal faith in God, I would have nothing. It seems as though I have always been in LOVE with words, and am still. And in truth, I’m blessed to have a supportive, understanding husband.

MY:
Please tell us about the long works you have on hand, finished or near-finished.

Book one: The Adventures of Myra Boone: Goodlife, Mississippi ~ On October 31, 1956, in a remote area of Jackson County near the George County line in Mississippi, nine-year-old Mary “Myra” Boone finds herself at the Salem Camp Meeting a Holy Ghost healing service. It is there that she begins her journey into the spirit world—a world that can only be seen with the eyes of the heart. Through inexplicable spiritualism, Myra hears voices, sees spirits and souls outside herself where the supernatural power of God, the Devil, and their angels exist.

Book two: My Neighbors: Blue Roses ~ Neighborly, but solitary and often hilariously sad, voices of people whom sixteen-year-old Myra Boone lives among in Goodlife, Mississippi, after the tragic death of her family inspire the young writer with their painful humor and heartfelt simplicity in My Neighbors: Blue Roses. The personalities bare their souls, merging the mystical and the real in the towns of Soso, Goshen, Glossolalia, and Goodlife. The essence of My Neighbors: Blue Roses is love, peace, provision, redemption, faith, glory, and death.

MY:
You clearly have been encouraged and helped by a number of writers. Tell us something that you gained from one of these.

New Year’s Day 2007 I wrote Daniel Wallace, author of the beloved Big Fish and forthcoming July 2007 Mr. Sebastian and the Negro Magician. With grace and professionalism, Daniel told me to submit my work to literary journals, magazines with hopes that an agent would read my work, and contact me for more. And I read an interview he did where he talked of writing FIVE novels before getting that first ONE accepted. Lastly, he said that if the story takes off on page 100 then that is where the book should begin. That prompted me to begin Goodlife, Mississippi, on page 100. And it worked. One more thing, Daniel suggested not spending all my time on trying to get published instead to continue being the writer that I am. Meaning I’m a writer not a publisher. In time but not at first, his words made good sense to me and the light came on to begin a new novel, Everybody in Town. So far, I am having a lot of fun with it and look forward to spending time with my characters. It brings me joy.

It’s rare for an author or a poet to reach out his or her hand to another and if they do be eternally grateful and keep the boundaries. Daniel’s simple kindness and a few words from time to time were invaluable to me and indeed helped me along my way. Other great writers and poets were kind to me over the years too—Anne Tyler, Richard Wilbur, and the now-late Charles Edward Eaton who was my best friend and longtime mentor. These are but a few that I am eternally grateful to have known and read.

I also have learned a great deal from a rare, brilliant giving soul and former New York Times Book Reviewer turned literary agent—Roger Jellinek of Hawaii. Words of agent, editor wisdom that I just learned from Roger are, “Don’t be preoccupied with being a “writer.” Try and be as transparent as you can be. Put all your energy into telling the story, and into the relationships between your characters, and less on your relationship to your reader—less concern with the impression you are making as a “writer.”

All the money in the world won’t buy time or good, sound advice like Roger, Daniel, and the others have given me. And I must thank you dear Marly Youmans for this opportunity to speak via this interview on your breath taking website for it means the world to me. To be in the presence of great company such as yours is priceless.

Back to the interview: in truth, we writers are on our own in the real world. Either we have it (talent, a good story) or we don’t, period. By this I mean, either the book will sell or it won’t. There are no maybes when it comes to publishing. For a well-known successful author to endorse a first time novelist is priceless. Though in the end, it’s all about the story—your story. Either the reader like an agent falls in LOVE with the journey the writer takes him on or he doesn’t. Either the reader will want to keep reading or he won’t. Again, no maybes come into play. It’s just that simple.

Oops! You asked me to talk about “one author that I gained something from…” I just couldn’t help myself to mention a couple!

MY:
Are you still involved in radio? Can you give a nutshell version of your time there?

ESL:
I would LOVE to be on NPR and radio again. Since moving to New England, it has been difficult to get accepted. While on NPR in Nebraska, I wrote State, Nation, and World Commentaries in the satire / humor vein with a southern twist. I look forward to reading my own work in book form on tape.

MY:
Despite the fact that everybody in publishing complains about everybody else—the editors, the agents, the writers (who get it from all sides), the publisher, etc.—it’s a plain fact that writers make money for everybody else in the food chain. They tend to get less of it, of course, and the very great majority of writers will never make a decent living with words. Yet writers keep going. As a writer, what keeps you going?

ESL:
Composing is like washing my hands under cool water filled with early light. I was born to write. Writing is my calling—I cannot not be a writer. If I don’t write, I will die slowly but surely. I HAVE to write, period.

MY:
If you were to create a little museum-in-a-shoebox to explain yourself to us, what five objects would reside within its walls?

A Bible plus a writing journal, a recording of Bruce Hornsby’s Greatest Radio Hits, paintings of the ocean’s waves, a kaleidoscope, and a lilac lead pencil with a hand-held eraser that I have always composed with.

Bio—Eileen St. Lauren is a Southern literary writer and poet from Petal, Mississippi, who has over 80 publications. A graduate of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and a former Commentator on Nebraska Public Radio Network, she is an award-winning photojournalist, news, and feature reporter.

At present, she is composing Everybody in Town. In 2007 she completed two novels, The Adventures of Myra Boone: Goodlife, Mississippi, and My Neighbors: Blue Roses. Glory, Ananias, an excerpt from the unpublished series is forthcoming in the online magazine, Big City Lit.com, New York City. She has had work published in The Antigonish Review. She lives near Boston, Massachusetts, with her husband in a golden neighborhood where 100+ years ago Henry David Thoreau and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow planted trees and composed. http://mysite.verizon.net/eileenstlauren.

As always,
Eileen St. Lauren
http://mysite.verizon.net/eileenstlauren

27 comments:

  1. Like a whirlwind, a tonic, a bracing wave in the sea; she back, wow, if I can feel it here this side of the Atlantic I wonder how it is over there!! Wonderful to have you back Marly,it has been very quiet and well, not dull for fear of offending any one but, let’s say you've been missed!

    I have been a bit busy too but will catch up soon.

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  2. Yippee x 100!!!

    Am glad you're back, and eagerly skimmed your new Pups posting. (I really should learn to read slowly and thoughtfully, no matter how excited I am.)

    Of course I'll be back, at another time not quite so near dreaming-time -- so glad you had a good productive sojurn at Yaddo.

    If you can, please tell the Pot-Boy I will shush my yippee-ing soon -- I realize I've made quite a racket, just couldn't help myself!

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  3. Robert,

    You couldn't have been too bored, what with disagreeing with Chris over artists! But thank you.

    I just mentioned to Chris and Amanda that the sculpture studio at Yaddo is almost always vacant. If you ever get wanderlust...

    Lori,

    Well, I'm not staying home for long--but then I'm not going for long, either.

    Yes, one must pay attention to the pups or their will be no lords of the pen to bark later on.

    The Pot Boy... Where is he? People just keep rambling off, don't they?

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  4. Composing is like washing my hands under cool water filled with early light.
    Wonderful.

    Welcome back, Marly! You've been missed. I'm delighted to hear your time at Yaddo was so productive. I hope it was in non-quanitifiable ways as well. What is your connection to New Haven, or the purpose of your trip?

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  5. Wow. Five novels before publication. Is that discouraging or encouraging? So you are following his model?

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  6. Am I the only one to find the label "Pups of Letters" somewhat demeaning? Within that phrase is an uneasy sense of a subjectively-imposed, hierarchical writer's pecking order inconsistent with a creative process which shouldn't consider resume or seniority, only talent. Whether a pup or a bitch, all muddy paws leave an imprint.

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  7. Thank you MB.
    Composing feels natural like the early light to me. Have you ever been alone and watching the early light rise and had a thought that it rose, came into being, just for you? Stories like that just rise up inside me.
    And sometimes during a soft rain listen closely and then write what you hear for you will find that you are one with nature.

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  8. anonymous,

    Perhaps you are taking me and it too seriously. Perhaps you are not leaving enough room for play. Perhaps it never came into my mind to regard myself as somewhere immodestly "up" in a "hierarchy."

    Or perhaps you are quite right. In which case you should come up with a suitably serious title, no? Perhaps you should offer some titles. I'll let any other visitors weigh in, meantime.

    The easy thing, of course, would not to bother with any but the Lords of Bark.

    To interview myself and my ilk, I'd call a series the Middies--middle-aged midlist. I suppose that's rather silly as well. On my blog, I do not object to being both silly and serious, sometimes at the same time.

    "A subjectively-imposed, hierarchical writer's pecking order inconsistent with a creative process which shouldn't consider resume or seniority, only talent." I must say that you sound a bit humorless in this particular instance, though you are no doubt delightful in person.

    Yet fire away with some better titles. I'm quite willing to learn from my visitors...

    mb,

    I'm doing two 90-minute presentations with artist Makoto Fujimura. He has done a series of 9 paintings in response to a story of mine, "The Pilgrim Soul." I wrote the story at his request--though he wanted an essay!--and then he decided to do paintings. He says that he had new ideas while painting them, so I can't wait to see...

    We haven't quite worked out the wrinkles yet, but the events will be given at a conference at the Yale Divinity School. I think I'll also read a poem that I wrote about Mako and his methods of working. So we'll have a walk-around time to look at the paintings. We'll both talk about our art. (I'm contemplating a short essay, to be written today, I hope.) Then I'll read the poem and story. Then we'll take questions.

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  9. Greetings from New England Susan!
    For years, I have had many authors tell they wrote two or more books before that first one was the ONE.
    No, I don't follow anyone's model rather I found Daniel's words comforting to my soul and encouraging in a positive way to do what writers do: Write.
    In essence, he gave me Hope not to give up and to keep writing!
    Think of it like this: Would you hold your breath just because your heart stopped or skipped a beat? Had a heart attack and brought back to life?
    If you answered, "NO!"
    Then you will write until you get it right.
    Take care and keep writing!

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  10. God bless you, Anonymous.
    At least, we know you are thinking about Marly's brilliant word choice and kind heart.

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  11. Eileen, your description seemed wonderful to me because I've long experienced the process of writing as the upwelling of an underground river of water-which-is-light. (It's a synesthetic kind of sensation that leaves me wallowing in mixed metaphors.) Anyway, your description struck me as very familiar. Perhaps there are many writers that feel this way!

    Marly, oh I wish I could be there to see and hear. You must be very excited to see these paintings. What an extraordinary collaboration! I hope you can find some way to share with those of us in farflung places. I have a question that I shall email to you.

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  12. Ah, yes, the waterfall. And the pouring fount! Will look for the email, mb--

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  13. Greetings once again, MB,
    I read some of your WONDERFUL Blog--WOW!
    Everyone that reads poetry should read yours.
    I can gently suggest a place or two to submit if you like.
    I agree with what you said about light / water / Carly Simon comes to mind singing, "Like a River" on "Letters Never Sent."
    Have you heard that song?
    Listen.
    Take care.
    ESL

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  14. very informative interview.

    my breath caught when you said your childhood friends are dead.

    more later, I am still processing.

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  15. oh M,

    did you see the awards that I gave out to my profs! who needs establishment awards. I am so glad you are back..and that you got stasrted on some new stuff. That totally rocks!

    :P

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  16. Greetings from New England Susangalique,
    I know, I know, I know what you mean. Still, I await the news for the last one to go...In truth, I believe that pain, heart break, and how we handle both can make for good writing.
    When I worked as an Editorial Assistant for the poet and writer, Hilda Raz, Editor at "The Prairie Schooner," she would always tell her class of 15 students on day one at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln, this: If you haven't suffered, you cannot write so get out of my class..." She would then go around the table and ask them the worst thing they had ever been through or to tell her about a death of someone near, dear to them--more or less.
    At least, that is what some of her "Wanna-be-poets" came and told me. Then, they would wait for me to respond and soothe their newly found pain of rejection from their Idol before they had even written a single word never you mind, composed a poem or essay and found themselves even more shocked by my answer of, "Everyone I ever knew from childhood and most of my family--aunts, uncles--save for a couple of people (my momma, daddy, sister and her children, who are my age) are dead. And the ones that are alive don't have a clue as to what being a writer entails..."
    I will sign off with this: It is fair to agree with whoever coined, "Truth is stranger than fiction."
    All good wishes to you and those that remain!

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  17. Susanna Alabama,

    Wrote you elsewhere...

    ***

    My mother just wrote me that Erik Kreusch, park archaeologist, has discovered the foundation of the Hall cabin where Horace Kephart stayed in the Smokies. So very interesting to me.

    ***

    Eileen,

    Hold the fort!

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  18. hip hip hooray, marly's back!
    Have noticed that the narky unpleasant people on blog comment threads are mostly anonymous - perhaps it's the same one! Hi, anonymous sweety darling!
    OZOHTS says the comments verification, I couldn't agree more!

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  19. Lucy,

    I'm going off again very, very soon. But not for long.

    Yes, it's interesting how often the verification seems pertinent! On the other hand, I wonder if that is an exclamation (O, zohts!) or a statement (Oz ohts) or a place (Ozo Hts.)?

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  20. Wow, this is delightful. And you are off to New Haven (or in New Haven as I type) (some of the worst years of my life were spent in New Haven, but it isn't the poor city's fault)
    And how wonderful your time in Yaddo yielded well.

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  21. Marly, the pouring fount, I suppose that's it! Did you go already?? Safe travels!

    Eileen, thank you for your kindness (I emailed you, too) and I will look for that song.

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  22. Greetings MB,
    My pleasure.
    Resend that e-mail for I have not received it.
    Take care,
    Eileen

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  23. I have resent it. (Sorry, Marly, to be clogging your comments with this!)

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  24. jarvenpa,

    Just back--what a deluge in the email! And will write about the event next week...

    eileen,

    Thanks for holding the fort!

    And mb,

    I sent Eileen your email...

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  25. Wonderful interview, Eileen. Best of luck and continued success!

    Jim


    MY: word verification is "ovonife" -- egg slicer?

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  26. I have a hard time with the word variations. I always misspell them and have to redue.

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  27. Yawn.

    I just zapped off an overdue story and am toddling to bed.

    Jim,

    How's the novel? I need to march over and find out. Did you come over here today because it was Hall of Fame Day today in Cooperstown? No school, naturally. I did make it to the parade. My little guy marched with the Farmers' Museum float. They gave him a t-shirt and an old-timey firehat, but a dog ate the hat...

    My eldest sold hotdogs, or some such, all in service of the Senior trip. And the middle one celebrated by having a gang of friends over and laughing uncontrollably.

    Susanna,

    "Redue" is very apt!

    I'm always having to do them over as well. The letters all rubbed off the keyboard, so I blame it on that.

    Hope you have recovered from the mandatory letdown that comes after graduation excitement...

    I'll visit later; I'm too tired now. Still have two more stories to turn in, so I'm not done. But it's impossible to finish; I may as well sleep!

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Alas, I must once again remind large numbers of Chinese salesmen and other worldwide peddlers that if they fall into the Gulf of Spam, they will be eaten by roaming Balrogs. The rest of you, lovers of grace, poetry, and horses (nod to Yeats--you do not have to be fond of horses), feel free to leave fascinating missives and curious arguments.