16 May 2014

insider insights: an interview with austin alexis

Austin Alexis, author of Privacy Issues (photo
credit: Martin Bentsen, City Headshots)
I’m happy to bring you an interview with writer Austin Alexis as this week’s insight into the publishing battlefield! Austin joined us here in the Jungle last May, and was gracious enough to offer his insights into the process and pursuit of publication for you all this month! Read on, and enjoy!

Austin Alexis’s latest collection, Privacy Issues, is available at Barnes & Noble 7th Avenue in Park Slope, Brooklyn.  It is also available at the Court Street Brooklyn Barnes & Noble and at Saint Mark's Bookshop in Manhattan's East Village.  It is slated to be on sale at NYU Bookstore, McNally Jackson Bookstore in the Nolita section of Manhattan and at CourtBooks, an independent bookstore in Brooklyn on Court Street.  It is also available from Amazon.com, GoodReads.com, B&N.com, LotusPress.org, and Wayne State University Press. The book was reviewed by Linda Lerner in Small Press Review (on-line and in print) and by Clif Snider on Amazon and GoodReads.  His first chapbook, Lovers and Drag Queens, is slated to be reissued later this spring by Poets Wear Prada Press.  Austin has individual poems forthcoming in Poetry Pacific (Canada), Home Planet News and in the anthologies The Venetian Hour and Rabbit Ears: TV Poems, the first anthology of poems about television.  If you happen to be in the New York metro area, be sure to catch one of his upcoming readings! He will be reading at Cornelia Street Café in Manhattan on Friday, May 16th, 2014 at 7:30 p.m. and at the Lower East Side Arts Festival on East 10th Street near First Avenue (Manhattan) on Saturday on May 24th, 2014 at 1:00 p.m. He will also be the featured reader at the Kairos Poetry Café Reading Series on Sunday, July 20th, 2014 at 4:00 p.m. at Saint John's Church on Christopher Street , close to Sheridan Square, Manhattan.

Your latest collection, Privacy Issues, was recently published by Lotus Press! How did you go about selecting LPI as a potential home for your work?
Last fall and winter I entered the manuscript of Privacy Issues into as many contest as I could afford.  There was no fee for entering Lotus Press's Naomi Long Madgett Contest, so that was an added incentive to send the manuscript.  In all, I sent to about eight competitions, changing the manuscript slightly each time.

What is your submission process like?
I try to send my work to journals and presses I feel are open to the kind of work I write.  I also try to keep a list of journals and presses that have sent encouraging notes to me, and I send new work there.  If a contest announces who the final judge will be, I decide whether or not I think that judge would be open to the kind of poetry or short fiction I write.  I don't send work if I feel the judge is not likely to feel sympathetic to my kind of writing

A lot of writers feel like "failures" when they get rejected ... What would your response be to them?
Every so-called failure brings you closer to success.  Years ago I received lots of rejection.  But now I receive fewer rejection slips.  The more I read, write, rewrite, think about writing, experience the world, etc., the more I improve as a writer and I think editors perceive that improvement in my work.  All writers need to realize that editors want to acquire very good writing, and when we strive to send the very best work we are capable of, there's a chance that some editor, somewhere, will recognize the quality and accept it.  We minimize rejection by sending out our best work and by studying the market to learn what publications are open to our particular voice and sensibility.

In a recent interview, you discussed how you sometimes give yourself writing assignments, or use the arranging of current work to inspire new work. Can you discuss more of your writing process, and how much of it is personal (writing to express something for yourself) and how much of it may be public (writing to express something to others, and/or in anticipation of being shared)?
For me, it's difficult to separate the personal and the public.  Much of my work is inspired by current events and/or historical events, and, since I feel these events on a visceral level, when I write about them, I feel them as though they are personal.  When I write about something that is purely personal, my instinct is to connect my personal experience to the larger concerns, such as issues in the world (climate change, for instances) or issues in the literary community (such as varied point of view or the place of myth and archetype in contemporary literature).  I'm saying that for me, writing to express myself and writing to communicate with others is one and the same.

How do you deal with the dreaded "Thanks but no thanks" message from an editor or publisher?
Years ago I'd brood over rejection.  But now I realize how subjective the process of responding to literature is, and that makes rejection less difficult to deal with. Also, sometimes an editor likes work but can't use it for her/his journal because it doesn't fit with the aesthetics of the journal or with the work of the issue the editor is working on.

Both in the process of publishing individual pieces and extended collections, the selection of the work to send and submit can be pretty involved. How do you know when a piece(s) is "ready"?
Knowing when a piece is ready is a daunting task.  I put the work away for a while, so that I might look at it with new eyes when I'm ready to assess it.   If you look at your work four months (as opposed to four days) after you wrote what you thought of as the final draft, you are better able to see it objectively, better able to decide whether it is truly ready to be shared.

How much time and work do you put into editing and revising your work? Do your pieces go through many, or few, drafts before you think of them as "finished" pieces?
I find that each work requires a different degree of revising/editing.  Surprisingly, some short works require eight or nine drafts but some longer works might be "ready" after only three or four drafts.  Each work has its own vision and that vision might be difficult to achieve on the page, or might be more accessible than you'd imagined.  Almost always, my first drafts of poetry are  written by hand.  I transfer them to the keyboard when I'm further along in the creative process.

What is your definition of "failing/failure" as a writer? How do you define "success"?
Deeping and fully achieving your voice and vision are signs of success.  Not growing, not developing as an artist is how I define failure.   If you as a writer execute a work as well as it can be executed, to me that is success.  Then, even if it's rejected many times in the market place, you are still succeeding because you have fulfilled yourself and your work.

What's up next for you and your writing?
Spurred on by the slow dying and eventual death of a close friend, and by solitude, I've written a huge amount of poetry over the last fifteen months.  At the end of this year I will try to assemble my new work into another full-length poetry collection and then send it out to competitions and to individual publishers.  Also, I recently wrote a short story--my first in about a year.  I've sent it out, and will send it to a few other places later this week.  Also, I recently took out the novel I started to write in late-January, 2013.  I've begun to work on it again!  I still have less than fifty pages, but I hope to make great progress with it this coming summer.  Wish me luck.

We wish you luck, Austin ... And good luck to all you writers out there, as we head into another weekend of submission frenzy!


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  1. Great interview. Thanks for that Khara.

  2. Yes Khara, thanks so much for this...While we're nowhere near the same place in our careers, I am beginning to develop the same attitude to my work and my attitude to rejection as Austin has detailed here; ie., not taking it so personally, realizing that revision is actually a gift of time, and a way to evolve as a writer, getting much better at sending out and resending, until work I believe is ready finds a home. It is starting to become gratifying and I can see something of a framework for the future...nothing so organized as what Austin describes but certainly better than it used to be. Thanks again for a great and encouraging interview.

  3. Thank you both for your comments! And thanks again to Austin for his great insights!


Thank you so much for your comments! Please feel free to share your thoughts here; I look forward to engaging in conversation with you!

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