every other day

1 SEPT 06

How has your first book changed your life?

29.  Sarah Mangold

cover of Household Mechanics

What do you remember about the day when you saw your finished book for the first time?

I don't really remember first seeing the book. Gosh, I feel like a bad parent. I do remember finding out I had won. Herbert Scott, the editor at New Issues, called early in the morning Seattle time and my boyfriend (now husband) took a message. He said that someone called about some poems. So when I called back a few hours later I had no idea I was calling New Issues about the manuscript. It was amazing. Herb spent a long time with me on the phone saying how much he liked the book and was happy I had won etc. etc. I called in sick to work, my parents sent flowers, and it started to snow, a rarity in Seattle.

I first received a bound galley that's an 1/8 of an inch shorter than the finished book. That's the copy I still read from. I had seen the cover and the text formatted so it wasn't a huge surprise. I remember the anticipation of the books arrival. We were going to be out of town (at AWP for the books official release) and I asked our upstairs neighbor to watch the mail for us, that I was expecting a box, the box might be heavy because it's full of books--but I felt too strange to say "it's MY book."

Did you imagine that your life would change with your book's arrival?

Hmm, I didn't expect my life to change but I thought the book would introduce the possibility of change. New Issues sent an informative packet "What happens next, and what to expect" so I was up to speed on the realities of the First Book. I did hope maybe someone would love the book and be interested in publishing the next one, maybe I would get lots of reading invites, maybe I could get a teaching job. None of these happened but I was kinda looking around to see what happens next. Household Mechanics is a shortened version of my MFA thesis Operation Bird Dog. It was my secret dream to 1) have the thesis published as a book and 2) have a book by thirty. I was incredibly lucky both came true. (It was close though, the manuscript was selected three months before my thirtieth birthday.) If neither came true I'm sure I would still be sending it out since I still genuinely enjoy the poems in the book. I'm also very aware having a book published is a bit like winning the lotto---there are lots of poets with terrific manuscripts that haven't been picked up yet. Every time I see a finalists list at a contest I think, ooh, I want to read their books too.
How has your life been different since?

I've had more confidence to ask for readings and apply to residency programs. And I have the great satisfaction of having "a book" which legitimizes my hours of writing to just about everybody and takes a little sting out of the monthly student loan payments (which I'll have paid off in my seventies if I'm lucky).

Had you sent the manuscript out often before it was chosen by C.D. Wright for New Issues?

Yes. I had sent it out for three years--five or so contests a year. The year I won I had sent out two different versions of the same manuscript--one long, and one a bit shorter. New Issues sent on the longer version to C.D but she thought it was too long, so they sent the shorter version which ultimately won the prize. I was thrilled to be a "finalist," kinda like a super-hero "The Finalist," since the manuscript had never made it that far before. And actually having the manuscript chosen by C.D. Wright was incredible. She's one of my favorite writers and knowing she liked and understood my work was such a mental boost.

Were you involved in designing the cover?

Yes, a little bit. New Issues asked for ideas and they passed those on to the graphic design student who had read the manuscript and would design the cover. I liked that the cover would be a collaborative project and help someone out with their portfolio. I asked for something "domestic"--like a picture of an open cutlery drawer or one of those old refrigerators kids have been known to get trapped in. I'm happy with what they came up with. The first draft of the cover had some writing on the wrench but I had that taken off.

Were there things you thought would happen that didn't?

I didn't really know what would happen. I knew there was the possibility of something new happening, maybe? At the time I didn't know anyone else with a book. The New Issues packet explained how the book process works and what may or may not happen and not to be discouraged, this is all normal.

Do you still have that "What happens next, and what to expect" packet? What kinds of things did it say?

I do still have the packet. It works as a de-briefing before the book publication. Ideas about what to expect, what happens, what to do, and what the press is doing and willing and able to do. There's a list of things to do before the book comes out, like getting blurbs, an author photo, writing an author's statement, and sending out remaining work with a note that it will appear in your book to be published--I had a much better success rate getting work into journals with that line "they will appear in my first book…" than I did the months/years before with no book. They also give a timeline of when ads will be reserved and where, when and where review copies will be sent, and the press's success rate of having reviews in particular publications. They encourage setting up readings at local bookstores/libraries and are ready to send out promotional kits as requested. There's a section on reviews, "It may seem to the author that her book (finally) comes out and nothing happens. Reviews may be few and slow in coming"--which is realistic. But mostly they stress the press's belief in the book and the importance of the author remaining an active writer, reader, and promoter.
What have you done to promote the book and what were those experiences like for you?

I traveled to New Orleans for the official book release at AWP, signed books at the New Issues table, plus did a reading for the Unassociated Reading that happens at AWPs. New Issues sent out a hundred review copies so I felt that was covered. I've read where I could. Travel costs and time off work cut down on asking for readings too far away.

What prompted you to create Bird Dog?

Bird Dog began around the same time I was sending out Household Mechanics. I wanted to create a space for women writers, long poems, visual pieces, and work that didn't necessarily fit in standard print publications. I knew there was interesting work out there that might never be published in a book and if it did find a print magazine, only one poem here and there would be selected. I try to give as much space as possible to everyone so we can get a feel for what they're doing. I also find painters and other artists to feature along with the writing. To keep costs down (and I love book-arts stuff) I make color laser copies of anything that needs to be in color and hand tip-in. The print run is small (200, what I can afford with my day job plus subscriptions) but it gets around--besides Seattle, Bird Dog can be found in Berkeley at Pegasus Downtown, Portland at Powell's Books, and in Brooklyn at Adam's Books. Also, several academic libraries subscribe, so Bird Dog might be closer than you think.

Do you see publishing a journal as a method of promoting?

I suppose publishing is a method of self-promotion but I approach it as a gift and support to other writers. I'm happy when people write asking for someone's contact information because they like their work and want to publish more of it or if a few writers discover they live in the same town and their sense of the local poetry community is expanded.

What advice do you wish someone had given you before your book came out?

I wish I'd known:

1) You have to invite yourself to read. I was rather naive and I thought reading series sought out all their readers--so not the case. Plan a little book tour--save up vacation time and arrange as many readings as you can.

2) You have to write your own jacket copy and find your own blurbs. I don't think I did a very good job with that. The "brilliant" on the back cover is from New Issues, not me. "Eccentric" was also on there but I asked for that to be taken off--since I do not feel the work is eccentric and I'm not a shut-in living with a hundred cats. It was really hard for me to ask for the blurbs--it's even hard for me to ask for reference letters--it seemed so presumptuous. Laura Moriarty wrote a great blurb for me and C.D.'s foreword was so dead-on I couldn't ask for more.

What influence has the book's publication had on your subsequent writing?

I'm now very conscious of the printed page size and I wish I could let that go. I'm working on it. The long poem "Blood Substitutes" was a projective verse, long lined kinda thing that was adjusted to fit the printer's margins. I find myself writing shorter lines that stay near the left margin instead of exploring the whole page since I know it's not economically feasible for most presses and journals to print a larger format.

But the book publication itself was such a gift and validation I'm on the right track. The new manuscript is in year-one of the submission process. I've added non-contest presses this time around.

How do you feel about the critical response and has it had any effect on your writing?

I've had one review that I know about. John Olson, a friend and local poet, wrote a review for First Intensity which I very much appreciate.

Do you want your life to change?

Sure, change is good. I'd like to spend more time writing and studying and less time working to pay rent and student loans.
Is there something you're doing now that you think will bring about a change that you seek?

I've adjusted my work hours from forty to thirty-two (while keeping my health insurance) which is good for my writing but not helping the rent or student loan situation.


A poem from Household Mechanics by Sarah Mangold:

Architecture of This City

A man comes to our house
"I know that wonder boy of yours
he won a silver spoon for his pears"
the pressure of this discovery
Here were people who had authority
They had their dogs drowned in circumstances
but I am always thinking
English it's a more percussive habit
a woman who infuriates her father
a sort of bendy battlefield
absent-minded, like a park

He seemed to speak
sadness that does not seem to be
among these people
habits of his own country
side effects such as slight rash
frescoes and indoor plumbing

Boy scouts slept beneath the stars
suspended in time and space
spaces are either segregated
even socially awkward

The scale model with all the little people
collisions for public consumption
Phillip is an anthropologist
Alice is a particle physicist
how to play to or on that feeling
the writers just went to sleep
you can spin lazily
where everyone knows his place

Ever since the closet door swung ajar
There's no fixed path
all you have to do is drive

Just look

. . .

next interview: Steve Mueske

other first-book interviews

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