Many Voices, Many Worlds: An interview with Melanie Stormm

After an extensive search the Science Fiction and Fantasy Poetry Association now has  a new volunteer Marketing Coordinator. Please help us welcome the multi-talented Melanie Stormm, just in time for our 40th anniversary!

We needed someone who could help the association as we spearhead our 40th Anniversary Logo redesign contest, explore vendors/pricing options for T-Shirt and other SFPA products, oversee a massive overhaul of our SFPA online stores, promoting SFPA via social media, and help to solicit sponsors for Star*Line and other awards building effective relationships and opportunities with a variety of publishers and other stakeholders. That’s no small task!

So it is with considerable excitement Melanie Stormm arrived. Like so many of us, she travels in many circles and wears many hats, and impressed us with her boundless energy, enthusiasm and professionalism. This includes a life as a Multi-Octave Songstress, and also her work as a “Poet and Writer of Speculative Fiction that Leans Literary.” In still other circles she’s known for taking too long to respond to text messages. (Fortunately, working with the SFPA will help her improve on that!)

Additionally, she writes on love and relationships and Everyday Dorking at Alive + Well (forthcoming) and Wikilerner. She is one of the founding editors at Drinking Songs for the Apocalypse (also, forthcoming.) She also runs a marketing business called MSMarketing & Media. There are also reports that she bakes an exceptional cookie. So we decided to ask her a few questions so that you can get to know her!

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Tell us a little about yourself. How did you get started as a writer? What was one of the hardest things for you to learn?

I started at about 6. I walked by my bedroom window, which was in a half of a house in the hood. The neighborhood was depressed. Laundromats, crumbling convenience stores, shopping carts like broccoli caught in the avenue’s teeth. It was evening and it was pouring, no one was out on the street.

The sodium light was blurred by the rain, the lamps of cars stretched up and down the avenue. I had this sudden sense that I could be looking out at someplace else. But just where? The only way for me to find out was to sit down and write it. Write the bodega into a boutique. Write the car passengers as fugitives. Write the girl in the window as a spy or an archer.

That was it. That’s all you need, right? Much later, my teachers noticed I carried a notebook everywhere I went. I had the good fortune of one of them purchasing me a spot in an adult writing workshop. That cemented it for me. Later, I fed myself by taking on writing tasks, brochure, copywriting, proposals.

The hardest thing for me to learn is the thing I’m always learning: I am not my writing. I am not anything I have written. I am my work ethic. Don’t get enamored with the draft.

Who do you look up to as your literary heroes and heroines?

My earliest writing teachers. Shari Brown, Marcy Gamzon, Tom Painting.  They’re my heroes. But I know that’s not what you mean. 🙂

I look up to John Crowley, William Trowbridge, Sherman Alexie, John Ashbery, Stephen King, Annie Proulx. So much more… And fairy tales. I look up to fairy tales, the scarier the better.

What’s a project you’re looking forward to as a writer in 2018?

Two are top of mind. One’s a broader, collaborative project; an anthology called Drinking Songs for the Apocalypse. I look forward to broadcasting cool voices. The other is a short story where gods are subway tokens.

Which of your poems do you like to introduce readers to first who want to know what your writing is like?

I change voice, change styles. But I suppose you can always tell my work because it’s dark and a little dreamlike. So if you read “A System” you’ll see it there.

When have you felt most challenged as a poet?

Now. Always now.

I feel like I live at the razor edge of my abilities. I live in a state that’s constantly aware of my ineptitude. Most times when I finish a piece, any piece, I have this overwhelming sense that I missed the mark or took it too easy on myself.

Also, revision is challenging. The patience of revision. Can I get an amen?

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If you could have any creature, fantastic or real, for a traveling companion, what would it be?

A Tardis. Like when Neil Gaiman turned the Tardis into a person. But I spent 15 years on the road, more or less, and have traveled with both ferrets and cats. Either of those will do, too.

Coffee or Tea?

Coffee. Tea is a treat.

Where do you feel poets often struggle when marketing themselves and their work? 

My honest opinion is that marketing yourself is like tattooing your own back. But we have to do it anyway, right? That’s why it’s so important to be authentic. Don’t put someone else’s tattoo on your back!

My perspective on where and how poets struggle is likely phrased differently than how someone would describe their problem. Maybe they’d say “It’s hard to know where my audience is.” Or, “I can’t get anyone to read or review my book.” Or, “Where to next?” Or “How can I get someone else to worry about this so that I can go back to writing poetry?”

What I’d love for all those poets needlessly flogging themselves in an angsty corner to know is that marketing is a long process, not a bunch of flashy activities. There is no magic to it but when put together correctly, it works like magic.

There are tools like social media, advertising, performances, etc. Publishing in lit mags is a marketing tool, really. Whatever activities you engage in, they have to work together within a larger, longer strategy.

And I do mean long. Marathon long. Most of marketing’s marvels are forged in two fundamentals: pre-promotion time and knowing your reader. (For example, blogs take 18 months before they really make an impact on your market.)

So if you’re thinking about marketing your poetry because you have a book coming out, you’re already later than a white rabbit. You’re not giving yourself a fair shake! It’s okay. You still need to do it, but look at the data you get as being useful for the *next* campaign. Head start! 😀

Collect data. (Lookey! Two peeps from Pennsyltuckey read my blog post about the mating habits of Tyrenese Cannibal Gold Fish! Consider connecting with them.)

Start building your audience now, not by wowing them with how amazing you are, but just connecting. Be authentic. You can do this! Make sincere friendships with other poets, artists. After all, if you make friends with other poets…tada! You’ve found your market. Poets read poetry. Pretty much.

Don’t try to appeal to people outside your market. Go bullseye with this one. Don’t try to talk to people as if your work is for everyone. It’s not. And that’s great. That’s marketing. It’s making sweet sassy love to an audience of one. Don’t water your lovin’ down.

Identify the people that really get what you’re doing. Listen to their interpretation of your work, rather than grabbing testimonials, write down their words in order to understand your ideal reader better. What made them read? What keeps them reading? Who else do they read? (Marketing is about understanding the end user, not so much the business that wants to reach the end user.)

You may start with only 1 or 2 people, but that’s great. You don’t want numbers, you want high engagement. Then you want to grow those engagements like cell division. Almost precisely like cell division.

Failure is as valuable as success in this game. Have you failed? High fives! Me, too, and I studied this isht for 5 years in college + all the yearly courses! 😀

So you’re in it for the long haul. That means you only have to build two or three people at time (list building.) Before you submit, or even write that next chapbook, how about you head out the door now? Start a blog. Pack a bag, carry a walking stick. Take it easy, man, you’re in this for the continental drift. Bring lembus bread. Stop in at Elrond’s and shoot the shit.

Don’t spread yourself thin. Don’t worry about writing your bio as perfectly as you can. You’ll be rewriting it a hundred times as you learn your ideal reader. It’s cool.

Look for community in your ideal market. Before you have anything to promote. Go lend a hand.

If you need to pick a brain, I know there are other marketers among the SFPA group, but I’d be willing to lend an ear or eye. Maybe you just need a shoulder to cry on. It’s okay, I understand.

Here’s my shoulder.

Here’s some lembus bread.

Also, here’s some mead. I keep it in this handy bucket.

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What’s a skill you’ve picked up that has proven unexpectedly useful in your art?

Being vulnerable in my most intimate relationships.

I write into the tender spots not about tender spots. Never thought that could work out that way. It’s rewarding, whether or not I’m any good at it, lol.

How would you describe your typical writing process? And what’s in your ultimate dream writing studio?

I write every day 3-4 hours. Sometimes longer when it’s in my time budget.

I’m usually in active project mode, which I work on a single phase of a project until it’s completed. Depending on the size and scope of that project I won’t write what I call “throwaways.” Throwaways are sometimes character studies, words sketches, technics.

If I’m revising a poem, which usually takes me several days and 30-40 drafts (at this point) then I usually break it up by vomiting throwaways into my journal, making little technics dance. When I’m between projects I let myself dream, I do writing prompts or chase random ideas.

My ultimate studio has great insulation and a cross breeze. It has a desk and a sprawling bed. I use the desk to organize my projects but I usually write on the floor or sitting in bed (old habit, bad habit.)

What keeps you going as an artist?

Love. I love this so much. I don’t care if anyone reads it. I can’t stop doing it. It’s the most pleasurable thing there is.

What’s your advice for beginning writers who want to write poetry?

Write. Read. Write. At first you will be in love with the fact that you have written. That’s okay. Get over that. Write diversely. Find writers that are better than you. Fear the room in which you’re the best writer.

Get better at it. Know that this is as painful as it is beautiful, but when you’re a poet, you miss nothing in life. You eat a little deeper from the banquet table. Your siblings will roll their eyes at you. They’re just jealous.

The haters.

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Where do you dream of performing one day?

I’ve performed a lot of places, but as a vocalist. But I’d like to go back to Paris. San Francisco, too. Minnesota is a magical place for me. All that snow and dark. And the unique Minnesota personality. It’s art rich.

 

You can visit Melanie on Twitter at: https://twitter.com/veryzenromance and also: https://www.coldwildeyes.com!
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