When I was a graduate student at Purdue University, I was fortunate to meet many amazing people who shared a passion for words. I remember the first time I met Mary McCall, I immediately wanted to be her friend. (And not just because she bakes legendary cupcakes!) She is a beautifully insightful person, which shines through in her poetry. (You can read three exquisite examples here.) I was thrilled to learn her debut poetry chapbook, SINGING FOR SIRENS, was recently published by Maverick Duck Press -- you can order it directly from the press here for about the cost of a fancy Starbucks drink. These poems will boost your spirit much more than coffee ever could!
Mary is pursuing her PhD in composition/rhetoric at Purdue University where she also teaches first-year composition. Her work has been nominated twice for Best of the Net and appeared in Decompression, Chantarelle’s Notebook, The Storyteller, Thick with Conviction, and elsewhere. I am absolutely delighted to have her visiting the blog today to share more about her new book, writing habits, inspirations, and more!
Tell us about your book and how it came to be.
My chapbook has been a work-in progress since college where I started taking poetry and fiction classes as an English major/creative writing minor. Even after graduation and during graduate school, I made it a point to take online poetry classes during the summer to keep up with the craft. Being a professional writer has always been a dream of mine, but I wanted to follow this dream step-by-step. I first focused on getting some of my work published in print and online journals and then I turned my sights to putting together a chapbook. However, I wasn't alone in this endeavor and appreciate all of the support I received along the way from fellow writing friends, classmates, professors, and editors who helped me produce and shape the work that ultimately went into this chapbook. I couldn't have done it without them.
What inspires you?
I’m a Jersey girl at heart, so I've always found the ocean to be a great source of inspiration. Many of the lines and ideas for the poems in my chapbook came to me while I was swimming at the beach near my grandparents’ shore house that I've visited every summer since I was 2. There’s just something about the salt air and crest of a wave that sparks my muse. My love for books is another source of inspiration as I’m a fan of wordplay à la Lewis Carroll. I enjoy weaving literary references into my work at times, which hopefully you can get a hint of in my chapbook!
How do you find time to write in the midst of a busy schedule/life?
Good question. There are times where I’m better at juggling graduate school and poetry than others, but overall, I try to set easy goals for writing during the school year so that I don’t become too overwhelmed. For instance, I may intersperse reading a new collection of poetry with grading or reading for classes. Or I might try to finish a draft of a poem in a week. During the summer, I try to sign up for a 6-8 week online poetry course to join a workshop setting again and get feedback on my work. The Gotham Writers Workshop has been a wonderful place to sign up for classes, and I would recommend Gotham’s classes to anyone interested in creative writing. In addition to poetry classes, they also offer classes in fiction, nonfiction, scriptwriting, and many others. They offer classes for teen writers, as well.
Who are some of your favorite poets?
I’ve really enjoyed reading the work of Jeannine Hall Gailey. If you’re interested in modern takes on characters within fairy tales, I would recommend reading her book, Unexplained Fevers. She also writes from the perspective of superheros and spy girls in Becoming the Villainess. Another favorite poet is a former poetry professor of mine, Kim Bridgford. Her teaching and her work showed me how a writer can be creative with structured poetry. A good example of this is her book, In the Extreme: Sonnets about World Records. This is a fun and clever read and I especially enjoyed her sonnet about the woman with the longest fingernails in the world.
Do you have a favorite poetry prompt to share?
This prompt was the inspiration for my poem, “After-Prom at the Diner,” and comes from poet Matthew Lippman, who taught one of my Gotham poetry classes and offers his own one-to-one poetry workshops:
I would like you to locate something iconic about your country/state/city and write about that place by using the image of that “thing” to convey the geographical, political, cultural, social landscape of that place.
What is your biggest advice for other writers and artists?
As writers, we all have big dreams about where we want to take our writing—and this is great! We need these dreams to motivate us to write that next paragraph, sentence, few words when we’re tired and feel blocked. However, it’s easy (at least, for me) to become so fixated on these dreams that we focus less on how we’re actually going to work towards them. So, I’ve found it useful to break down any writing aspirations I have into smaller goals. For instance, when I realized that I wanted to publish a chapbook, I decided to work on writing and editing individual poems for this collection. I researched presses and bought chapbooks from them to both support the press and its poets and to learn more about the type and style of work that they preferred. Overall, I hope that my experience with publishing a chapbook will be a stepping stone towards my first full-length book of poetry. For me, it’s easy to compare myself to others and to feel like I’m not doing enough when it comes to writing. However, there is no set timeline for writing and I use the smaller goals I set for myself to remind me that every writer has his/her own pace—it’s not a race!
Is there anything else you would like to add?
First off, thank you for showcasing me on your blog! I’m honored to be featured here and hope that my responses help other writers as all of my writing friends and teachers have helped me. I would encourage anyone reading this to continue to write and read what you love and to find a fellow writing buddy to share drafts with and bounce ideas off of. You could even schedule a time to meet with him/her once a month or every other week to read other’s work either in-person or online if (like me) you need deadlines to keep you focused. I find this to be a great means of support when classes or workshops aren’t easily available. And, finally, pay this support forward. Read a chapbook or collection of poetry (or fiction) from a new author and/or press. Presses always need more readers and you may find a new source of inspiration in the process! A win-win for all.
Order Mary's Chapbook SINGING WITH SIRENS here: