Thursday, January 17, 2013

Flies for Charlotte--An Interview with Karin Gustafson

Sans Eyes Illustration by Karin Gustafson.  Image Copyrighted.

Sans Eyes
By Karin Gustafson

sands eyes, blunts
retinae, but as distinctions dim
(I tell myself), a unique
is limned; so I notice (in my peer)
how the tufts of white-tailed deer
milkweed, puffed pendula
over thickets of fall-browned
fur; my blur
is almost proud of this newfound likeness
till I mistake upon the ground more pods (soaked)
for a chewed hoofed foreleg,
and now, on the slippery
of this steep hill,
as the translucence of evening thickens, I stop,
by the loom of each branched stick, barred
by the barbed unravel
of somewhere fence, all
nearly swallowed whole
like poison
disguised in draught, razor blades
spiking a sweet, till just the second
before we meet,
some shadow
shapes sharpness.

And what am I to do?
Stuck, as night falls,
but use hands
to look ahead, and screw up
what gaze I have
as if sand could be molded
into something
that would actually outlast
this tide.

Greetings Garden Dwellers:

Today’s interview features author, poet, illustrator, blogger, lawyer, and tea lover Karin Gustafson: the creative force behind the ManicDDaily BlogShe has published three books, under her own imprint BackStroke Books, and she currently resides in Manhattan with her two daughters, husband, and a small fluffy dog (her unlikely muse for all drawings--elephantine and otherwise).

I recently had the opportunity to visit with Karin (well, we exchanged several lovely e-mails, each much more pleasant than any person I encountered in the non-electronic world this week).  It is with great honor that I end my introduction and let you all get better acquainted with this writer and artist.  

Izy:  First round is on me....what are you having?

Karin:  Ha!  Hi Izy - what a wonderful whirlwind of questions.  Before we start, I just wanted to thank you for your creativity in thinking of all these questions, and for your kindness in thinking of me.  Thanks also to Real Toads.  I so enjoy all the terrific (and challenging) prompts  and all the great poets.   I am honored to be here. 

Now, first round is, as you guessed, tea!  

Izy:  Your blog profile mentioned you drink too much tea...what kind is your favorite and do you take cream, sugar, or honey with it?   (Personally, I am a fan of cinnamon/ cardamom with a little cream.)

Karin:  Yorkshire Gold is my very favorite tea.  (Well, I have a few others I drink on special occasions, but Yorkshire Gold is the one I stash.)  It comes in huge unstrung bags.  I let it brew to swamp consistency, then add milk, keeping the bag in while I drink in the hope that every little bit of caffeine will seep out (as well as the theanine, which is supposed to have an inverse calming effect).

Izy:  You live in Manhattan, what is your favorite thing about living in New York City?

Karin:  New York City puts you face to face with some kind of fascinating intensity nearly every day.  It’s an intensity that can vary from the magical to miserable, the sparkling to the creepy, but is virtually always extremely close-up--something you walk right up to, or hurriedly away from. 

Oddly, despite this intensity, New York has always felt extremely safe to me.  I’ve lived here for over thirty years, in a variety of neighborhoods, but (except when worrying about terrorist attack) I’ve never truly felt threatened, not out on the street at least.  I love the feeling that I can go outside and walk around at almost any hour of the day or night and usually run into something quite interesting or even (where I live by the Hudson River) beautiful. 

Re Riding the Subway.  Illustration by Karin Gustafson.  Image Copyrighted.

Izy:  Your ManicDDaily blog features many of your illustrations (brain in snow bank is a favorite of mine)....what usually comes first, the poem or the picture?

Karin:  I almost ways do the writing first; it is my main project. Because I don’t really consider myself a visual artist, I approach the illustrations with extremely low expectations.  This makes them a source of real delight for me--not mucked up by ego or expectation.  

Izy:  Best case scenario:  what will a reader take from your work?

Karin:  Good question.  Hard question.  I don’t have much in the wisdom category.  I guess what I would hope is that my work offers companionship.  (The world -especially the one we live in in our heads - can be a very lonely place.) 

Izy:  You also have three books which you have published under your own imprint  BackStroke Books.   Can you share with us how you came to start your own press and why you chose these three books as your first releases?

Karin:  It’s been difficult for me, like many, to combine job, family, and writing.  Often, it’s felt hard enough to get time to write, much less to circulate work to publishers and agents.  When I started BackStroke books, the market I was most interested in was the children’s book market, which seemed particularly impenetrable. 

This led me to self-publish my first book, 1 Mississippi, a children’s counting book  that I illustrated as well as wrote. 

I started my imprint probably because of a misplaced embarrassment about self-publishing.  I chose the name BackStroke Books because I seemed to have a gift for drawing backstroking elephants.  (Additionally, I am someone who is always backstroking on the keyboard, that is, making corrections.)

The next book came really by chance.  I had/have several novel manuscripts lying around, but a very close friend, Diana Barco (a serious visual artist) was looking for a project and I suggested that she might illustrate some of my poems.  Diana then became the moving force in getting, “Going on Somewhere,” my book of poetry, together and into publishable form.    

I published the latest book--a very silly, but (I think) fun, teen novel, called “Nose Dive” for oddly similar reasons. I was in contact with a super talented young illustrator, Jonathan Segal, who did terrific drawings for the book.  Jonathan’s drawings then motivated me to do the hard work of final editing. 

I should note here that getting a manuscript into final shape--cutting and proofing and cutting and proofing-- is a tremendous amount of work and it is easy to lose heart.  Having someone else involved - feeling like you owe something to someone else - can be a great motivation to take care of all the bits and pieces. 

Izy:  What are your future plans for BackStroke?  Do you plan on growing the press further and printing other authors?

Karin: I would definitely like to publish other books of my own.  I have, as I mentioned, a few manuscripts of old novels and also one I am trying to work on right now, as well as a number of smaller non-fiction projects.  

The problem, of course, is that all this stuff takes a lot of time and even more faith, and frankly, I find the marketing side of publishing both difficult and unpleasant.  This has made it very hard for me to focus on any book projects lately.  Blogging is much more immediately satisfying than putting together a book (that you will then have to market.) As a result, I’ve really let some of the books languish.  I do want to go back to them as each manuscript was something that meant a huge amount to me at some point.    

In theory, I’d like to expand the imprint to include other writers.  But, honestly, my life is so busy, I’d be reluctant to make any promises to anyone else right now. 

Izy:  On top of all your daily blogging, your family (two grown daughters, a dog, and husband), your illustrating, your tea making, and your publishing, you also practice law.   Have you discovered a way to fold the fabric of space and time so that you get so much accomplished or am I just lazy ;)  

Karin:  Ha!  I am very lucky to have employers who accept a certain amount of eccentricity and family members who accept a certain workaholism.   And my husband has recently taken over a great deal of the care of our very old dog. 

I am also lucky in that my main energy source is creative work. You really can’t add more hours into the day - but I find that doing something creative helps me add in a bunch more energy.   It is also tremendously helpful to be part of a supportive community like Real Toads or dVerse Poets Pub.  The acknowledgement and support of other writers gives huge energy boosts. 

The Sweater Swallows...A shaped poem???  By Karin Gustafson. Image/words copyrighted.

Izy:  When it comes to take out:  Thai or Indian (and if Indian, Northern or Southern)? 

Karin: Southern Indian.  Masala Dosa/Idli!

Izy:  What is your favorite thing to do on a Tuesday night? 

Karin:  I am usually trying to write something for dVerse Poets Pub’s Open Link Night, and do all the commenting.

Izy:  Matinee or Late show?  

Karin:  Definitely late show. 

Izy:  What is the one book on your bookshelf that I should read before I die? 

Karin:  Okay, I’ll be honest.  I am a fanatic for Terry Pratchett, the British satirist.  You probably have to read five books, not one, to really appreciate him - but any of the Night Watch series or the Witches series are great.  (Unfortunately, Pratchett is quite ill so the latest books are not his best.)

Izy:  You are throwing a fully catered dinner party and can invite any 5 fictional characters, who would they be?  Why?  What’s for dinner? 

Karin:  If I wanted to just have fun, they’d all be from Terry Pratchett!  Granny Weatherwax, Nanny Ogg, Mustrum Ridcully, Captain Carrot, Lao Tse-- But to be a bit more literary, I’ll just give myself two Pratchetts -  and then add in Ursula LeGuin’s Ged (Earthsea Series), maybe Gus from Lonesome Dove or Levin from Anna Karenina, and how about Charlotte from Charlotte’s Web (just to have someone in my corner, albeit a spider.)

I’ve been a vegetarian for many years.  Flies for Charlotte. 

Izy:  There is an unlabeled can sitting in your kitchen cupboard.  It has been there for two years.  Do you open it? 

Karin:  No. I’m perfectly content to have unlabeled cans sit in my kitchen cupboards for many many years. 

Izy: When it comes to transportation:  subway, bicycle or car? 

Karin:  I travel as much as possible by foot.  Of course, in the City, I have to take the subway a fair amount.  In the morning, it is a place where I get a fair amount of work done.  In the evening, I practice being a sardine. 

Izy:  I will drop you off at the airport tomorrow with a ticket that will get you onto any flight...where are you going?  

Karin:  At the moment, I would primarily travel in search of time to write rather than a new site or adventure   I guess this means I’d want to go somewhere relatively cheap, pretty, with lots of quiet places to sit and walk around (hopefully outside), internet access, and easy accessibility to good, hot tea. 

Izy:  You have developed a rare and specific super power....what is it?  Here I am looking for something beyond the power to fly or be invisible.....

Karin:  One of my manuscripts is a fantasy novel where some of the characters have odd super-type powers.  The main heroine has the ability to convey her feelings to others - a kind of reverse empathy - people actually begin to feel what she feels.  I’m not sure if that’s the power I’d want, but it was interesting to write about.

Izy:  What’s the best lawyer joke you have ever heard?

Karin:  Lawyer joke!  Lawyers aren't funny!!!

Izy:  What are three things you never write about? 

Karin:  First, I would absolutely never write about a client.  Secondly, I try never to write about my children (except rather superficially, or with their specific consent).  My children didn’t ask to have a writer for a mother, and I feel very strongly that their privacy should not be invaded in my search for content. 

After that, this becomes a somewhat difficult question.   One does not like to “mine” people for characters, especially if that could be hurtful.  At the same time, both noveling and poetry often involve fairly direct reference to personal experience.  This problem of writing things that have some basis in memory has actually been a big concern for me, and is a reason that I focused for many years on only writing children’s stories, children’s or teen novels, and even this one large fantasy novel.  I found I could really separate my writing from my life much more easily in those areas.  And yet, there is great power in writing about what one knows personally.  (Sigh.)  

Izy:  What are your two favorite words? 
Karin:  Ha and Haha

Izy:  What is one quote you’d like to end the interview with? 

Karin:  I’m going to cheat here since I’m a Gemini:   Wallace Stevens:  “I was of three minds/Like a tree/In which there are three black birds.” 

And a wonderful short poem translated from the Japanese by Kenneth Rexroth (which I’m quoting from memory so may it get wrong) - “Some day you will think of this time/in which you are so unhappy/and remember it fondly.” 

Karin Gustafson, drinking tea!!!  Image Copyrighted.

Karin's work is readily available (follow these links for more details):  Nose Divean extremely light-hearted mystery about teenagers, musicals, love, noses, New York (illustrated by Jonathan Segal); Going on Somewherea collection of poetry (illustrated by Diana Barco), and 1 Mississippia very cute  counting book, heavy on elephants and gouache.


Manicddaily said...

Thanks again, Izy, for your much time and effort (as it says above). And thanks to Real Toads. It is very kind of you to show my work and some pics. Much appreciated. Thanks also for the wonderful sense of community you provide and foster. k.

Susan said...

FLies for Charlotte! I really like that. I love how you brought out Karin's sense of humor, Izy, and seeing more of the artwork. I love the head burp, Karin, and the sanded eyes. I truly relate to the aging vision. This is such a fine interview, I feel as though we just had tea together.

Fireblossom said...

What do you call three lawyers at the bottom of the sea?

A good start.

Mary said...

Nice interview. Waving to Karin here....keeper of a blog I always enjoy visiting. I have started drinking a bit of tea too, replacing some of my USUAL coffee. Tea specialty stores are springing up around here. What a treat! Always love your illustrations and your perspective.

Manicddaily said...

Ha! Shay! and thanks Mary. Unfortunately (fortunately), many lawyers can swim! Although they may be less good at holding their breath (if it requires not talking.) K.

Anonymous said...

And thanks, also, Susan! I am on my third large cup of the morning! k.

Teresa said...

What a delightful interview. This might have convinced me to change my opinion of lawyers...maybe just a tiny bit in this and only this one instance.

Kerry O'Connor said...

I'm a tea drinker (Earl Grey, Lime flavoured Green Tea) and a Gemini (I love both quotes so very much. Stevens' Blackbirds are carved in my heart, and I've copied and pasted the other for my firefly jar). I so love your elephants and your poetry. It has been such a treat to read this interview and get to know something more about your world.

Sherry Blue Sky said...

Wonderfully fun interview. I enjoyed the repartee (and the other kind of tea, too). I adore the sweater poem, with the head burping into a room that tastes like sky. OMG! Brilliant!

Fireblossom said...

I missed the drawings on my first visit. They're way cool!

Marian said...

oh crap, i mine people for content all the time. watch out or i'll mine you!
karin, i loved this interview and am pleased to learn we have a lot in common. who knew?! we should have tea sometime :)

Hannah said...

What a treat!!! Thank you Izy and Karin!! It has been great to get to know you better! I like the idea of projecting empathy for the superpower, Karin and I really like what you left us with a s parting quotes...especially the translated Japanese one...SO true!! Thanks you gals!!! :)"s

hedgewitch said...

Two of my very favorites--Izy interviews and Karin--combined! What a way to wake up today. As always, such great questions bring out some interesting, entertaining and enlightening responses. I especially liked hearing the insights Karin gave into New York, as I am not a city person, despite growing up in Chicago, and find large urban centers baffling and intimidating, which so obviously she doesn't, and the answer she gave is often expressed in her work, making the city seem very palatable--true talent.

"I guess what I would hope is that my work offers companionship"

i loved that line, very indicative of what draws me back to Karin's blog daily. Thanks ladies, for a great morning read, with plenty to carry over for later mid-afternoon tea. I am a Red Zinger fan, myself.

Manicddaily said...

First, thanks for all the kind comments and thanks again to Izy for her great questions.

Second -Red Zinger! Yes, it tastes good, and you have plenty of Zingers, Joy - but=--to modify some fastfood slogan - where's the speed!?

Kerry - my daughter has discovered a french Earl Grey - Mariage Freres Silver Tips - unbelievable. If you have someone that will give it to you - ask them.

Thanks to all for your acceptance of lawyers! I am admittedly a super odd duck in the legal world, and have been lucky to find people there that overlook the quackery.

Thanks for all the specific and general kindnesses.

Marian - I don't know where you live - but if in, or near, NYC - sure! k.

Unknown said...

Total Kick to better get to know Karin and learn what makes her tick. Now, I'm switching to iced green tea...

Lolamouse said...

Another fantastic interview! I love the whimsical drawings, and Karin's comment about her poetry providing companionship. I need to drink more tea and less coffee!

Grace said...

Another fantastic interview Izy ~ I have been reading Karin's work for some time so its a pleasure to know more about her ~

Great work ladies ~

Unknown said...

Another fun interview! Karin - great choice of 2 favorite words!

Audrey Howitt aka Divalounger said...

What a great interview! I didn't know you were a lawyer--wow--multi-talented

jane hewey said...

I have three sisters already, but if I got to add another one, it would be you.
Your wish to provide companionship has come true, for many of us, I am certain.
I will be looking for and trying Yorkshire Gold.
So very enjoyed this interview, Karin.
With great questions from Izy!

Susie Clevenger said...

What a wonderful interview. So happy to know more about you, Karin. Izy, you seem to pull the best out of everyone you interview! Oh, and I do love tea!

Anonymous said...

Dear Jane, Audrey, Susan - anyone I haven't answered. Thanks so much for your kindness. I feel so blessed to be part of the online poetry community! It's really been a great discovery for me, and such a boost creatively to be able to get to know so many people's work and to get to know people through their work - thanks very much.


Ella said...

I love tea and grew up with a mother who collected elephants, but never bought one. People were happy to give them to her. Great interview Karin n' Izy~
I love your insight, the stirrings of tea and your art ;D

Kay L. Davies said...

What a delightful interview. I enjoyed it so much, and the "portrait, with tea" at the end is wonderful, as is the quotation from Wallace Stevens.
I have a wee baby grandnephew, so I must get in touch with Karin about a copy of 1 Mississippi.