Thursday, August 26, 2010

Writers Talk - Jessica Fox-Wilson

Jessica Fox-Wilson is a poet, writer, & educator who lives in Minneapolis with her husband & cats.  A graduate of Hamline University's Master of Fine Arts in Writing, her poetry has appeared in several journals, including Poetry Motel, qarrtsiluni, Epicenter & Rive Gauche.  Her articles have appeared in print & online publications, most recently online at Read Write Poem. She blogs at

To get some sense of Jessica's writing, please check out the Writers Talk blog, where you’ll be able to read a four poem sequence.  

When did you first realize your identity as a writer? 

I identified myself as a writer once I reached high school. I struggled academically and there were a few key teachers who encouraged my writing. Their early encouragement also inspired my interest in education as a professional career. However, in high school, I participated in all of the artsy activities – I was a theater-art class-lit journal geek.

Once I reached college, I initially hoped to triple major in Theater, Education and Creative Writing. I realized pretty early on that three majors might kill me, so I dropped Theater, since it didn’t allow me enough free time to write. In college, I met some of my best writing/real life friends, including my husband. I’ve labeled myself as a poet educator ever since.  

Describe the creative process involved in any one piece you’ve written—this could be book, a story, a poem, an essay, etc.

This winter, I was writing a chapbook manuscript about my recent knee injury and surgery, and I knew I needed a series of poems that rose above my own experience. In my thesis manuscript, I wrote several persona poems from the voice of fairy tale characters or mythological figures to achieve that same goal. (I wrote more about this part of my aesthetic on my blog, in case you’re interested.) My hope was that I could connect what I was experiencing in my healing process to something larger about physicality and female identity.

I started to research fairy tales that dealt with legs, walking, et cetera and found a translation of The Little Mermaid. After re-reading the original story, I wrote a poem called “The Mermaid Loses Her Voice,” which I hoped capture the original’s tone. As the manuscript developed, I wrote the entire arc of the fairy tale as individual poems. The arc of the story served as my structure for the manuscript.

Could you describe your relationship to the publishing process? (this can be publishing in any form, from traditional book publishing to blogging, etc)
If I had answered this question in college or during my MFA, I would have said that my main goal was to publish a book of poetry with a traditional publisher.  As I’ve gotten older (and lazier), I’ve found that I don’t have the persistence for the traditional model of publishing.

For me, self-publishing is a much more sustainable model. Right now, I self-publish through my blog and my Twitter account. Beyond my blog, I hope to one day self-publish in actual book form. I’m inspired by (what I’m calling) the Amanda Palmer of self-publishing, which you’ve mentioned on your blog. Artists should take ownership of the dissemination of their work in the world. And they should get paid for it, if there is an audience who will pay for it.

Now, I just have to find the time and the appropriate format for self-publishing. I’m interested in hearing feedback from folks who have self-published through a POD or traditional printer and hearing about their experiences.

How has being a writer affected your relationships?

Writing has been the common bond for many of my relationships. My husband is a fellow writer, my best friends from college are fellow writers, and most of my non-writing friends know me as a writer.

I think the challenge of being a writer with relationships is that I feel I have to sacrifice one for the other. There are times when I have to be a bad friend because I need writing time. Luckily, most of my friends give me the space I need. There are other times when I choose to give up a little writing time, so that I can spend time with someone who is important to me. I don’t think I could ever be a recluse-writer because I need those relationships in my life.

How would you describe the community of writers you belong to—if any? This may be a “real” or “virtual” (in more than one sense) community.

In real life, my most important writing community is my husband. He keeps me honest and focused on my writing, even when I feel discouraged. It’s a blessing to have someone who believes in your art, especially when you live with him. Together, we participate in a monthly writer’s group, with two other writers.

In my online life, I am a blogger, Twitter user, Facebook user, and general community floater. When I first started blogging, I found a wonderful poetry-prompt community called Poetry Thursday, which eventually morphed into Read Write Poem. I made several good poetry friends there, before the site ended earlier this year.  Since then, I’m floating a bit. I like Big Tent Poetry quite a lot, which was founded by some truly awesome Poetry Thursday/Read Write Poem folks. I also like We Write Poems, which also started from the Read Write Poem community. Hopefully, I’ll alight on one or both of these lovely sites soon.

Without the online writing communities, I don’t know if I could have remained as committed to my writing as I have been, in the five years since I finished my MFA. There is such a great opportunity for collaboration, connection, and motivation through the internet that isn’t always possible in real life.  I can chat with writers in Idaho or India, without ever having to leave Minnesota, and learn from them. It’s pretty amazing.

What are your future goals in terms of writing?

Keep writing. In all sincerity, that’s my main goal. At this point in my writing life, the biggest threat to my writing is the accumulated competing claims on my time.  Individually, they don’t seem like much. There’s a job, relationships, and other art forms. But in aggregate, they become overwhelming. I’ve seen many writers lose the focus of their writing because everything else takes precedence. I honestly just pray that I can stick with it.

Bonus Question: If your writing were a musical instrument, what would it be?

My writing would be a player piano, with slightly asynchronous timing.

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