Tree: Well, Susan, these are going to be your last soul-searching questions, unless we come up with some more. I want to pry a bit into your innermost thoughts today, so my first question is this:
Do you keep a journal?
Susan: I have never kept a journal. I was taught if you write it down, you've already begun. I'd rather just dive right into the fiction and poetry.
I spend a huge amount of time revising my fiction, many stories have gone through thirty to fifty rewrites. Same thing with the novels.
Huge amounts of time spent on rewrites. I end up with a mound of papers before the piece is complete for me. Raymond Carver said you know you're done when you take out punctuation, put it back, then take it out again. In other words, when the redundancy kicks in. I can tell I'm done when I'm happy with it each time I read it over.
Sure, over the years, I can see things in published work that I might tweak a bit. But once it's done, it's pretty much set in stone for me.
Poetry is a little different. I write short poems that come out fast. Some work well and get published quickly. Others, I let sit, and might revise a year later. Revision for me, with poetry, is more about form than words. I write abstract poetry, so in revision I might slide the lines around a bit, which can cast the poem in a different light. Abstract poetry is more like painting, in the sense that it makes its statement on the page by where it appears when the line is "speaking." I hope that makes sense.
Tree: I know this is a question asked of all writers but for me it has an enduring interest. What writers do you return to and read over and over? Contrastively, who are some new writers you are excited about?
Susan: William Trevor is a staple for me. I have never read a William Trevor story that failed. He has brilliance on every level: his craft, his choices, the way he understands the human psyche and its weaknesses and failings. Simply amazing. I think that's a true gift some are born with, and he made the decision to steer it into writing.
I also read Jean Thompson. Her unusual take on life really spikes her fiction, I'm very fond of her work.
Mark Wisniewski, who I've been reading for twenty years, just knocks me out. He goes places I wish I could go. I think of Mark as my "spirit writer." I finally met him, when I invited him to read in my FIZZ series at KGB Bar. He is as nice as he is talented.
With poetry, it's Simon Perchik that I read over and over. I interviewed him twice, and reviewed his opus book Hands Collected for the Boston Review. That book spanned fifty years of his poetry. We have become close friends, and Simon is my poet mentor. I feel truly blessed by this.
Tree: I go back to Trevor over and over, keep his big fat collected stories beside my bed. Mark Wisniewski is a favorite as well. What an enigmatic thinker! I'll have to investigate Jean Thompson (like tomorrow!). Simon Perchik is wonderful. We like so many of the same writers. No wonder I'm drawn to your work. Okay, let's go on to the next question.
Would you free associate these phrases. No need to explain. We won't make the mysterious mundane!
The first phrase is this. What do you think of when you think of a good place to be?
Susan: My bed, in a sweater, St. Martin in the Fields Church concert, KGB announcing my readers, greenhouse in winter, local ice cream parlor, Prague, Waterloo Bridge, tea in the Crypt, St. James Park, Marios cafe, the Jimmy concerts
Tree: What are some places where you wouldn't want to go?
Susan: Cemeteries, Madrid, Las Vegas, Detroit, para-sailing, deep sea diving, family reunions
Tree: Well, I said I wouldn't ask but I hope someday you'll explain these to me. I can understand not wanting to go to Detroit, but Madrid? And I've always thought Las Vegas would be the Grand Canyon of Neon. Love to go there just once.
Okay, this is the final question. Let us in on the secret. What are you working on now?
Susan: A bunch of things. A novel of linked stories, a story about a museum guard, a story about a man who lives in Prague. And always poems... when they want to come to me. !
Tree: Susan, thank you for spending this time with us. Good luck with Deer