Lone Stars, Abstractionism and Other Thoughtcrimes: Talking with Holly Lyn Walrath

Today we have an interview with SFPA member Holly Lyn Walrath, who is also our guest editor for the Eye To The Telescope’s Time issue this Spring. She was recently with the SFPA Texas Chapter at the 2017 Comicpalooza and Armadillocon, and she has been an active figure in the Texas literary scene.

She is a writer of poetry, nonfiction, criticism, and speculative (flash) fiction (and other things). Walrath attended UT Austin (B.A. in English) and DU (M.L.A. in Creative Writing). Her verse has appeared widely, often incorporating her favorite themes of abstractionism, geekery, self-aggrandizing statements, feminism, dystopia, and cats (among others). 

Tell us a little about yourself. When did you realize you were passionate about art and literature? What was one of the most difficult skills for you to learn in this process?

I was writing poetry in my college days when I was an English major at UT Austin. I always knew that writing was something I wanted to pursue professionally, but I spent about 10 somewhat despondent years working in non-creative fields, including working in retail, at a printer’s shop, and as a financial advisor (bet you didn’t see that one coming.)  About three years ago I moved to the Houston area and finally took the plunge to pursuing my writing and editing career. This was a bit of kismet, as the Houston writing community really took me and helped me learn the ropes as a new writer.

I think I’m still always learning something new as a writer. Every time I visit a convention or a workshop, I gain some new understanding of my work. The most valuable lesson I learned as a new writer was about process—understanding that writing requires time and energy in large quantities. I had to learn to make space for my creative process, daily writing, and breaking out of the boundaries of what I was taught about how writing works. It’s okay to break the rules; it’s okay to write “weird”.

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What’s a poem you usually suggest for a reader who wants to read you for the very first time?

One of my favorite poems I’ve had published is “For Lonnie,” which appeared in Liminality in 2016 and was nominated for a Rhysling Award. When I wrote this poem, I was thinking about my relationship with my brother and how to negotiate the emotional landmines there. What I ended up with was a poem that navigates between reality and the uncanny.

 

What are some of the trends you see in speculative literature that are really exciting you? Is there anything that’s boring you or that you see potentially as a literary dead-end?

I get really excited about experimental forms now appearing in speculative literature—hybrid works, erasures, and stories that cross genres. I’m thinking of the early work of Ken Liu using faux-erasure, as well as writers like Bogi Takács exploring hypertext poetry, Michael Janairo’s video poem from Mithila Review. Speculative literature is exploring more and more the definition of what we consider speculative literature. Another example is Riddled with Arrows, a new literary journal that focuses on writing about writing. It’s great to see so many venues and editors willing to showcase these new forms.

I’m also really interested in the international voices coming to the forefront now in speculative literature. I love the translations coming out of China in Clarkesworld, which I think paved the way for other publications to publish more international writers. Mithila Review , and Samovar (an offshoot of Strange Horizons) are two others which are doing wonderful work towards this, as well as our esteemed leader of SFPA Bryan Thao Worra and his work with Laotian writers. We need more champions of our global community in speculative literature.

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What’s one of the best opportunities for you as a writer in Texas, and what’s one of the most frustrating challenges?

Houston has one of the biggest writing scenes in the country, so I feel really lucky to have landed here in the space city. I volunteer with Writespace, a local literary nonprofit that helps new writers find their voices through workshops and Writefest, a yearly writing festival. My Writespace community is what keeps me going, whether it be via my critique group, mentoring new writers, or helping bring new voices to the city.

I can’t think of a challenge to being a writer living in Texas. It’s a vibrant literary state with a lot to offer to writers—whether it be at the Texas Book Festival in Austin or The Art & Words Show in Fort Worth (run by speculative writer Bonnie Jo Stufflebeam).

 

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

I’m working on a story right now about a therapy cat that goes into space. I think it would be pretty fun to travel the stars with my two kitties, Cleo and Panda. Of course, I’d love a dragon too.

 

Coffee or Tea?

Both! I usually wake up early and have one cup of coffee while I write. Then, I transition into editing and sometimes I’ll have an herbal tea in the afternoon. I can’t drink more than one cup of coffee though, or I’ll keep my poor husband up chatting away about life and the wonders of the world.

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What’s an unexpectedly useful skill you’ve picked up as an artist?

It’s strange, but being more outgoing and willing to get out of my comfort zone has been the most useful skill I’ve learned so far. When we imagine writers and artists, we see Hemingway— tortured, drinking away in the dark over a typewriter. However, creative people thrive in communities. Having someone else you can bounce ideas off or talk to can be extremely helpful. So I’ve had to learn to step outside my shyness and talk to new people.

 

What do you think you’ll need most to keep going as a poet in the future?

I write what seems like a lot of poems each year, at least compared to my other poet friends. I’ve been called prolific—to a fault. Once someone told me that I should be glad for this creative time because one day it might stop and that idea made me sad, because I don’t believe that creativity is a well which will one day dry up. It’s a wellspring—and hidden beneath is a river that just needs replenishing sometimes. For me that means talking with other writer friends, going to workshops and conferences, reading, and finding the space to write. As long as I have these things, I think I can keep going for many years to come.

 

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

Write more! (Seriously, go write something this very moment.) When I was younger, I didn’t realize that finding a process for writing meant you had to write often. This is different for every writer—some work best in fast snippets, others need hours to write, and still some can spend a whole day working on a piece. In the end, every problem that new writers come to me with seems to be solved by writing more. This is an approach you can take to revision too—if there’s something about a piece that you’re not sure how to fix, consider writing about what’s bugging you and how you might fix it. I call this “meta” writing—it helps your brain to order your ideas.

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If you could write anywhere in the world, where would you like to be?

I’d love to say that if I could write in Paris, Spain, or Italy then I would be a better writer, but the truth is I write best in the local coffee shop where I haunt the back corner, headphones plugged into Brian Eno, laptop open!

 

What’s coming up next for you?

While I’ll always be a poet at heart, I’m trying to stretch my wings and write more short fiction. I’m very excited to say that Fireside Fiction will be publishing my first SFWA-qualifying piece of fiction soon. (What were they thinking? I’m still in shock.) It’s a piece of flash fiction inspired by the work of filmmaker Hayao Miyazaki. I’m always cooking up community events for Houston writers, so stay tuned to my website and Twitter feed for updates.

 

Visit Holly Lyn Walrath online at her website: http://www.hlwalrath.com or on twitter at https://twitter.com/HollyLynWalrath Be sure to submit your verse to the Time issue of Eye To The Telescope by March 15th!

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