How has your first book changed your life?
69. Ryan Murphy
How did your manuscript happen to be published by Otis Books/Seismicity Editions? Had you sent it out often before that?
I had been sending the manuscript out for about two years before it ended up at Seismicity. A poet in California who was familiar with the books that Seismicity was publishing suggested that I try sending to them. I did and they ended up accepting it.
Do you remember the day when you saw your finished book for the first time?
Vaguely. There was a lot of run-up. You know, the book was accepted and there was a huge thrill, and then I saw the proofs, and then the cover. By the time the book actually arrived I think I was a little frazzled. I was probably nervous and filled with a little bit of dread, since I could no longer go back and change it...
I do remember the first time I saw it in a bookstore--at McNally Robinson in New York--I felt a little nervous for it there on the shelf.
Before that day, did you imagine your life would change with its arrival?
I did imagine that my life would be different. I thought I would wake up the next morning a different person. That the existence of this thing outside of me would somehow strip my personality of certain conflicts, anxieties, etc. I'm not sure how to say it, but I did think in some ways that I would take on the characteristics of this neutral thing (the book) as opposed to the self I knew.
How has your life been different since?
Of course none of what I just described happened, so my life isn't recognizably different. A lot has changed in my life since the book was accepted and published but it's hard to separate those changes into various strands...
Though I will say that the book does make it somehow less embarrassing to tell family members (extended and otherwise) and strangers that I'm a writer, because the second question is always "do you have a book?"
Were you involved in designing the cover?
No. Seismicity has a pretty specific design sense (Guy Bennet being the amazing designer that he is) and I was fit into the series. I think it was certainly for the best that I wasn't involved as I probably would have just gotten in the way, been fussy and difficult, etc. And they did a wonderful job.
Were there things you thought would happen that didn't? Surprises?
Sure, I thought the world would stop and I would be universally feted. I thought children would point and laugh at me on the street. I thought I would look somehow different, that my posture might improve. I mean not really, but a little. I had just written a book!
What have you been doing to promote the book and what are those experiences like for you?
Well, I have read a few times here in New York, and I got to go to Los Angeles and read at Otis which was quite a thrill--to get put up in a great hotel in Little Tokyo, get taken out to dinner, etc. all very exciting. And my family came out as well which made it pretty special.
The most successful things that I did for the book were to read at my hometown library--since my family is pretty entrenched in a small town a lot of people came out--and at the urging of my mother made a postcard that we sent wedding-invitation-style to friends and family outside of poetry. And they all bought the book so that was nice.
Those are things that I can measure, and was a part of. Otis sent the book out to a lot of people, which was incredibly generous of them, and probably did some other things that I'm not aware of, as the book is now in a second printing.
What advice do you wish someone had given you before your book came out? What was the best advice you got?
I doubt very much that I would have would have listened to any advice if any had been given to me, and I would guess that some wise people preached patience which is probably why I don't remember.
What advice would you give now to someone about to have a first book published?
I personally found it hard--I was in such a hurry at the time--the ups and downs, the wait, the expectations, what feels like a very strange silence after the book comes out (I mean it felt so momentous to me, the publication, is it really possible that no one else felt it?). I found the entire process rather difficult to enjoy. I don't know if one can really be prepared for it, but hopefully some can enjoy it more than I did.
What influence has the book's publication had on your subsequent writing?
It's relaxed me some I guess. And I think that I can see a bit more clearly how to structure a book. I'm probably a little bit more confident as a writer as well.
How do you feel about the critical response so far and has it had any effect on your writing?
Well, if someone likes the book it makes me feel pretty good, and if they hate it I feel pretty bad, but it has absolutely no effect on the way that I write or try to write.
Do you want your life to change?
In some ways yes a great deal, and in many many other ways not at all.
Is there something you're doing now that you think will bring about a change that you seek?
I hope so.
Do you believe that poetry can create change in the world?
I think that poetry changed me and I am in the world, and I would guess that it has changed many people in an unimaginable variety of ways, so in that sense of course. But I doubt very much it's going to save any endangered species or stop any wars or bring down the levels of carbon emissions or prevent starvation or diseases (which I always suspect is the thrust of these types of questions...)
A poem from Down with the Ship by Ryan Murphy:
So-and-so was here.
If locusts bend to their reflections.
And, out of nothing, a breathing.
The border from which
By way of recognition
on the rocks of a shallow stream.
The smell of tulips
how the room outlasts you.
. . .