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Interview with Nance Van Winckel

Liberty Lake, WA on October 30, 2013 | Interviewer: Devin Becker

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Devin Becker: OK, So, if you would please state for the camera your name, your date of birth, and where we are?
Nance Van Winckel: OK, I'm Nance van Winckel and I was born October 24th, 1951. We are in Liberty Lake, Washington.
DB: OK, and you've been living here for?
NVW: I've been in this area since 1990.
NVW: But my husband and I just moved out here to this little condo in '07
DB: OK, and by the way, it's a beautiful, beautiful view of the lake.
DB: OK, so here's the sort of digital and physical sort of question, but… So, what genres do you work in as a writer?
NVW: Poetry, primarily, but also I write short stories.
DB: What kinds of devices do you own or have access to for writing?
NVW: Well, for writing… Electronic devices, you mean?
DB: Yeah, yeah, that's what I mean.
NVW: Yeah, I work on 3 different computers. This big iMac here that I use and then I have a laptop Mac, and then I also have an iPad.
DB: OK, and you write on the iPad?
NVW: I have a keyboard extension for it.
DB: And what program do you use to write in? Do you just write in like notes or…?
NVW: I use Pages on the app
DB: Oh, you use Pages.
NVW: I email it to myself, and then I move it in to Word.
NVW: I use that one when I'm on the road.
DB: When you're on the road, it's just the iPad…?
NVW: Yeah
DB: And you're on the road quite a bit?
NVW: When I go to Vermont-
DB: OK, when you go to Vermont-
NVW: --when I'm doing any kind of traveling
DB: You don't travel with the laptop. You just travel with the iPad?
NVW: Yeah, I don't really take the laptop with me. I have an older laptop and it's pretty heavy.
DB: Yeah, they seriously are.
DB: OK, So you have 3 devices. And you are a Mac user?
NVW: Yeah, I'm clueless with PC-clueless.
DB: Would you call one of these devices you primary device?
NVW: This one
DB: That iMac?
NVW: Uh-hmm
DB: OK, and then so, how do you… (You sort of said this but) How do you manage your files between your devices? You email them to yourself?
NVW: Yes. With the iPad I email files to myself (Do I do it any other way?). With the laptop, I have put things on a memory stick and moved things back and forth that way. When I have to give a presentation in Vermont and I have been doing a lot of powerpoint things lately with art, text and art. I bring a memory stick and use that to set up at the college. They have all good Macs and a good tech person who will help me get set up.
DB: So for your work, now, do you work exclusively on computers, or do you kind of go between the physical and digital environments at all?
NVW: I work in longhand, on yellow legal tablets, or just whatever. I have different notebooks that I have. That's what all these notebooks are here; these are my various writing projects in process. They each get their own little notebook.
NVW: I worked longhand for… Gosh, I don't know-at least 3 or 4 more drafts, at least. Sometimes more like 10 or 12. It just depends. Some things give me more groove than others before I will type something.
DB: And we're going to come back to that.
DB: What's the transition from the notebook into the digital? Do you type it out yourself?
NVW: Yeah.
DB: OK, and is that a moment of revision for you usually, or is it--?
NVW: Yeah, yeah
DB: OK, and …
NVW: And then once I get it in to a document, I'll probably revise it again a number of times.
NVW: I'm doing different revision operations (Maybe we're going to go with this?)
DB: We're definitely going to talk about revision more in depth. Yeah, that sort of like locating the practice now and then we'll see where we're at with that. So, these are the questions that, professionally, I'm interested in.
DB: So, how do you then save these notebooks in your pre-writing and all that? I mean, is there a… Do you just keep them in a box somewhere, or…?
NVW: This is 'they.'
DB: This is it, OK. But like your older ones, like ones with finished projects?
NVW: They're all down there on a shelf.
DB: They're all down there on a shelf?
NVW: Yeah
DB: OK, and then for your extra digital files, how do you save those? Do you save them just as Word docs?
NVW: Yeah, I save them as Word docs and then when I'm done with them and the books are published, then I just put them on a back-up disk and take them off my hard drive here.
DB: OK, do you print out your writing to revise it?
NVW: Often when it gets to the computer stage, not so much.
NVW: I'm just working on the screen for quite a while.
DB: And then a sort of last section on this is: how do you back up your work and (as you say) when you're finished with something, you put it on an external hard drive. Is that your digital archival back-up?
NVW: Right
DB: OK, and you don't use any Cloud-based systems like Dropbox or Google Drive, or anything like that?
NVW: Yeah, I do use Dropbox but… Not really so much for backup, but to send things to people.
DB: To send things and share things, and...
NVW: Yeah
DB: OK, are files saved in more than one location then?
NVW: Well, I do have a back-up drive and-
DB: So, on the hard drive on the computer and then in the back-up drive as well?
NVW: Yeah
DB: Do you keep print copies of your final drafts, or…?
NVW: Oh, yeah
DB: OK, so that you have a paper archive as well?
NVW: Yes
DB: What do you do? How do you keep that? Just in the boxes like the notebooks kind of, or…?
NVW: Yeah, they're usually with the notebooks. I just, once I print them out, I do some final kind of tinkering usually with the galleys. I'll keep a copy of the galleys when they book's actually coming out, and that gets filed with the notebooks then-when I'm done with it.
DB: OK, and this is kind of just a quick question from me, personally, and librarians but… Have you ever received or sort out information about methods for digital archiving activities, like best practices?
DB: No, OK. And would you be interested in information about that?
NVW: You know, maybe. I was thinking about that the other day. A couple of… I was thinking about making a book of selected stories from my 4 books of stories--
DB: Oh, yeah
NVW: --And realizing that my first 2 books of stories, I don't know if I can access the computer files of them anymore. They're like on floppy disks, or zip-disk, or something.
DB: Oh, yeah. A zip-disk
NVW: I don't know if I could. You know? Does that mean I'm going to have to retype those suckers, or what?
DB: There's usually a way to get them
NVW: Yeah, if I could even find them.
DB: Yeah, yeah. So, there's always that question
NVW: There's that, yes. You know, when we moved out here… Yeah, so that would be a major task-to locate and … So, I could probably use some help with that
DB: OK, yeah, and that's definitely something typical of that period, especially the 90s with all the different word processing softwares and all the different ways of saving them sort of put people Yeah, what do you do?)'
DB: So, that was a sort of quick beginning
DB: (I'm just going to check this to make sure… It looks like…)
DB: How long have you been writing in a more professional capacity, in a way that was sort of feeding you or giving you some sort of assistance…? When do think that you started writing as a vocation? Or as something that led to something that would be your vocation, which is probably teaching?
NVW: I guess since graduate school. I went to graduate school and I thought I would just do that for a year that was my plan. I would go to graduate school in creative writing for a year and then I would go to medical school. I had been a pre-med major all through college but when I got to graduate school I was totally happy doing my writing thing and I never looked back. So I started my so-called practice there where I worked every day on my writing. That was 1975.
DB: And where was that?
NVW: I went to the University of Denver.
DB: And was that a one year program?
NVW: No I actually stayed the regular two years.
DB: So you stayed 2 years and got your mfa. My next question is how would you describe the arc of your career? Where went from there and then elaborate?
NVW: From there, I taught. I got my first teaching job at Marymount College of Kansas, now defunct. So I taught there for three years and then I got a job at Lake Forest College, which is just north of Chicago, and I taught there for 11 years, and then I came out here in 1990, and I've been here ever since.
DB: And you retired from ..
NVW: I retired from Eastern (Washington) in '07, but I'm continuing to teach at Vermont College.
DB: So now we're going to get to the specific writing practices generally, and I have it delimited into three stages: a drafting/prewriting/notebook stage, and then an organizational stage, and then an archival/storage stage. And I'd like to go through and ask you about your practices by stage, and talk about those stage by stage.
NVW: That makes sense.
DB: I'd like to start by talking about the ways you draft and create your work initially. So what is your typical compositional practice? And what I'm interested in here is, when you first started writing how were you generating and composing your writing at that point?
NVW: So yeah, early on - one of the things that's different now- is that early on I would probably just work on "a" poem, so I would write. I would have a page in my notebook, and there were lines, and I would move things around on the page, and then I would have another page in the notebook with a different poem. But over the years I've started working on maybe two or three poems almost kind of simultaneously, on the same page, which feels kind of nutty, but what I was experiencing that led me this way was that a lot of times things would be coming to me - images, lines --- that didn't seem to belong to the poem I thought I was working on. So I realize it might be helpful to not confine myself. So that's why that was one of the main transitions. I think that happened maybe half-way along. In the late-eighties or so I started experimenting with that and I liked it. I liked having just a page with a poem one margin, and another going down another margin, and one going across the bottom. Something like that.
DB: On one notebook page?
NVW: Yeah, on one page. And then a lot of times what would happen is - I didn't like one or two or all three of them, and eventually one of those poems would kind of gel and get its own page.
DB: It's own page in the notebook?
NVW: Yeah.
DB: Could you put that at a certain book, or was that just sort of gradual?
NVW: I think where I really started experimenting with that was a book called Beside Ourselves.
DB: That was 2003 or something
NVW: Yeah, that was really also the first book that was more a deliberate series.
DB: Yeah, I think I kind of figure out where that happened, and see that.
NVW: And then I liked that. I like working in series so much when I was writing that book that I also just decided I wanted to keep moving in that direction. I liked those series poems. And they maybe leant themselves more to that practice with several poems happening at the same time in early draft stages.
DB: How is that different than your fiction writing?
NVW: I don't really see a lot of similarities between writing stories and writing poems in terms of the drafting process … well, in terms of anything. Stories are really different. One of the first things I learned about writing stories in the drafting process is "oh! it kind of helps to know a few things about what happens in this story" unlike a poem where you're just kind of launching into the unknown. It seemed helpful to have a few scenes in mind. What some of the lines of tension, story lines, almost, not an outline, but I would often write down four or five sentences that would later become scenes.
DB: And that would happen in the notebook?
NVW: Yeah. Or just a scrap of paper in the car when I'm driving.
DB: And then did you grab those scraps of paper and put them in a notebook. Did you accumulate that detritus of composition …
NVW: Once I write the scene I throw out the piece of paper.
DB: So it's gone. That's gone.
NVW: But then my process in making stories would be - I try to write a scene a day or so in the initial drafting phase and then I just try to stay with that scene. Blow out the edges. Often it's like three times as long as it's going to actually be in the final story. Usually compressing, compressing, compressing, but initially I kind of move around, see what's happening in the periphery, sort of stay in one scene at a time and I don't worry about the order. I'm not writing the first scene first. I often start with the middle scene. I kind of know I'm writing the middle scene. I move around the chronology of the story because I have these lists. And often when I'm working on one scene I think of another scene and then I'll just write it on another sheet of paper, again, a sentence that'll prompt me so I don't forget. The process is very different [from writing poems]. When a story is happening, when I'm getting an early draft. It comes really fast. I hate it, I hate it, I hate it. Because it takes all my time. I've been known to cancel classes - I'll say I'm sorry I can't come in today.
DB: That's dedication.
NVW: Because I feel like I'm going to lose it.
DB: So when you said it's happening it feels like it's come to you, and it's not inspiration, it's accumulation?
NVW: So much is going on. I go out and I take a walk every afternoon in this park. It's actually part of my writing process. I take a walk in the afternoon, and it's like 'shut up' I'm just trying to take a walk!' People are talking in my head. It feels like this overpowering thing when I'm working on a story. It just comes over me and wakes me up in the morning. People wake me up in the morning. They are chattering away. It's very unnerving. I often push back at a story until I am really sure that I have quite a few of the building blocks in place. Because otherwise it just seems like a struggle and a fight. And it's going to occupy - it takes me like 10 ten-hour days in a row for a story.
DB: And this is all hand-written too?
NVW: Yes.
DB: Does your hand cramp up?
NVW: No.
DB: I guess your thinking and then you're writing down and then you're thinking.
NVW: Yeah. I don't know about the hand but the brain ..
NVW: And then, it's so much… Because I don't… I don't know how other writers do this but because I'm not writing the scenes in order, I'm kind of deliberately writing them out of order. I write the scene I see most clearly in my mind first and I'm not worrying about where it's going to go. Then I just put the whole thing away for a long time-that initial mess of a draft-and worry later about kind of arranging the scenes. I'm often moving things around not based on when they happened but what's more interesting to come next.
DB: OK, and so when did… Were you studying fiction as well as poetry in your graduate school? When did you start to write these stories?
NVW: I did take up a fiction writing class in grad school. I was in the poetry group but we had to take a fiction class, and I was terrible. I was terrible at it because I didn't have any sense of what made a story. But when I started teaching, especially when I moved to Lake Forest College, they thought, "well any poet can teach fiction writing. It's debatable if we can get a fiction writer who can teach poetry." So, they hired thinking that I could figure it out.
NVW: So, I think I just accidentally taught myself to write fiction by trying to help my students make their stories better and trying to diagnose: 'What does this story need?'
NVW: I remember so many days walking to my fiction writing class and trying to think about what I was going to say to this writer about her story-how to address its troubles-and I realized that I was internalizing all of this. And then the first time I got a sabbatical, I remember I was driving into Chicago for a little adventure for the day (and I was so happy I had this sabbatical I was going to work on poems, of course) and I got this idea for a story. I remember I was just writing on my car seat while I'm driving-just this little note to myself about what the story-kind of just a synopsis, like one sentence of what it would be. By the time I got in to Chicago, I had 5 story synopses written on this piece of paper, and then I just came home. That's what I did for my whole sabbatical-I wrote a bunch of stories and that was the 1st book of stories. Limited Lifetime Warranty, it was called.
DB: Yeah, and what year was that?
NVW: I think that was like 1983 or so.
DB: OK, and so you've been… Stories kind of happened to you. And they've been similar the whole time that you've been writing?
NVW: Uh-hmm'
DB: Have poems, in similar ways, come upon you? Or is it a different process than that?
NVW: Poems are more like a daily practice for me. I like poems. They don't… For me, they're more about sound and imagery, voice. Who's talking in my poems-They're often some part of me that I didn't really know it was there. You know, some aspect of personality that I'm kind of exploring who uses a language a different way maybe than my ordinary daily life self.
NVW: So, I like that kind of quick pop of a poem.
DB: Do you start mostly with a line or an image, or does it change?
NVW: I like a line with an image in it.
NVW: I like… One time I was writing an article about Charles Wright's poetry (I really like Charles Wright), and I said something in there in the review about: "the hand of the image in the glove of sound." I took that out of the review because I thought that sounded a little precious or something, but for me I like that kind of thought… They're sort of indivisible.
NVW: They come together.
NVW: But I remember talking to Charles one time and I asked him a lot of the same questions you're asking me about composition because I was taking him to the airport after our reading and I'm plugging him for everything he can tell me about how he works. He says, 'Well, you know, after I do 3 or 4 drafts then I'll turn it over to my ear.'
NVW: I liked that.
NVW: He said, 'I drive around town and do errands-go in the store, stuff like that and I memorize the poem I'm working on and then I just start moving the words and the lines around, and then I start moving the lines and the stanzas around. Just kind of trying to figure out. I'm listening to the sonic values.
NVW: I liked that. I'm doing that.
DB: So, I guess that's a good space to move on to revision. I mean, so when you're revising a poem, are you revising mostly by sound, or the sonic values, or are there different stages?
NVW: Well, you know, every poem just presents different troubles to me. I guess these are some of the questions I have to ask myself (but this is just for me. I don't know that these would be other people's problems by any means but). I'm asking myself, 'Who the heck is talking at this part? Who is this person?' Because sometimes I just- And I mean that in a physical, literal way. I have to see a figure almost. You know, maybe it's me, but it's me when I'm 12, or it's me with big, red hair.
NVW: So, I'm asking: Who is this person? Where is she, or he-sometimes I think I'm in a kind of gender shift. I like that because I was a real tomboy as a little kid. I think I kind of squashed that little tomboy down and he likes to come back and say things once in a while. He's a little bit of a sassy, snotty kid. And I like him!
NVW: So, who is she; where are we in the poem? I need to get located in time and space. And what the heck is going on? What dramatically is happening in the poem? A lot of times I'll have a fix on one or the other of these questions and am really feeling unclear about the others.
NVW: So, I kind of know questions to ask myself, and that's what I do in the really early stages of drafting a poem and trying to figure out the answers to some of those.
DB: And how do these questions translate into the basic physical manifestation of your writing? Are you still in your notebooks working with this?
NVW: Yes, still in notebooks
DB: And are you writing these questions in the pages, or…?
NVW: No, no I'm just… What I'm doing is I'm just giving my imagination a chore, a task. I'm staring in to space and trying to see: where is the set; where is this unfolding? Trying to give myself-
DB: I'm interested in this material, and I'm realizing-
NVW: That's right, you're a poet, too.
DB: But I mean it's also like, [writing] happens so much up here [in the head]. It doesn't happen on the page-it doesn't happen. It happens a lot, a lot just going to the store and thinking about things, listening to your own sounds, which is another hard thing to document, or to sort of record.
NVW: Yeah, and see, none of this takes place with fiction. With fiction, you sort of have that. You got all that as you walk in to the first scene.
DB: Right, well then, what is your mode when you're revising a story? Like how do you work through the drafts of a story?
NVW: Well, with a story I'm really I really think a lot more: why does this happen? or why did this happen? (in the past tense). I ask myself a lot of questions about motivation, with characters, on what their relationships are like; how did they get to this moment. I'm often trying to think about some details or back story.
NVW: Again, all these things--it's really helped to have heard myself ask my students these questions for the last 30 years because they're kind of in there.
DB: I bet.
NVW: Yeah, the questions to ask yourself- But I think what I'm mainly doing once I have addressed some of these questions, mainly have to do with interiority, and psychology of people. In revision, I'm just trying to get the story to move along. I'm really paying most attention to the pace, and I think in that regard, now poetry and fiction maybe have a little more similarities when you get to that stage of revision where you're really starting to tighten.
NVW: (Are we there now? Is that what we're talking about?)
DB: (Yeah, absolutely)
DB: (OK)
NVW: So then with a poem, I slash mercilessly. I'm a slasher, and I move things around, but often when I'm moving around, I've got too many lines on the landscape, on a row here. I've got 10 lines about the freaking place where we are, that's boring. But sometimes I won't cut them-I'll just take 4 of them and put them in a different place. I don't worry too much about like how to get back there because that's easy to do later.
NVW: Same in fiction, I'm really thinking about pacing. I'm thinking about- The opening of the story, I'll just start with a scene that we're going to catch back up to in the middle because it's got some interesting dialogue or something interesting that's going on with the characters. I'm going to start there and then circle back, and then catch back up to it midway through the story, 'Oh, here's where that scene comes.'
NVW: That's typical for me to move around like that. So, I'm just going, 'OK, we've got to see the dialogue. Now, we're going to have: how did these all start. Now, we're going to have a scene where we've got some dream or some thinking. Now we're going to go back to dialogue.' I'm just kind of having some syncopation of pacing things.
DB: And that kind of happens throughout your books, too, right? Not only within the story but within a collection of stories- there's sort of that same repetition of images, repetition of scenes. Or not repetitions, but kind of allusions to the same place and time and space.
DB: So .. When you're revising the entire book, or when you're putting together the book itself, is that also happening?
NVW: Yes.
DB: OK, so have these modes of revision that sort of focus on pacing, the moving around and changes, have these changed over the course of your career? When you were first starting out writing, did you have to come to this kind of way of revising, or was it there from the beginning?
NVW: No, it's been a slow, gradual process.
DB: OK, and then in the beginning … Were you doing it more by the book, so to speak …?
NVW: Oh, gosh. I don't know how I was doing anything at the beginning. You know, my first book of poems, I had help. I've never had an editor again like I had with my very first book.
NVW: Larry Lieberman at the University of Illinois Press. He weeded out some of the weaker poems but also helped me to shape up some new things I was working on, and put them in. Helped me with the arrangement and, you know, I've never had help like that again. But that was very instructive to me. He would write me these interesting little letters where he would explain why he thought this ought to go here, this go there, and this stanza needed to be gone, this was stupid …
NVW: It was just so helpful to have somebody be such a close reader with me. I've never had that again, ever.
DB: So, do people play a role in your revision process now, or is it pretty much just you?
NVW: Well, my husband reads everything and he's a really, really tough critic-really, really tough.
DB: That's good to have.
NVW: It's very good, but… he's a smart reader and he also kind of know what I'm capable of, and if I don't measure up, he'll tell me.
DB: Yeah, so you don't… you're not corresponding with other writers with poems, or…?
NVW: I have a couple of fiction writer friends that I have shared work with. A novel… I had a 2-book contract with the book of stories before this one, and they wanted the second thing to be a novel-the publisher who I told you they decided they were going to go quit fiction
DB: Right, right
NVW: --fiction. They wanted the 2nd book to be a novel. So, I tried three times to write a novel, and I got 200 pages in three times. I showed a couple of those books to friends who are fiction writers and they confirmed for me what I thought was true. The way I phrase I phrase it to myself is: they didn't have a big enough engine.
NVW: I like short stories-
DB: I know. I'm not-
NVW: I like the go-cart.
DB: I like short stories, too. I was struck though in Quake … I was reading that and I thought… I mean, it read to me and felt to me a lot like the way that Jennifer Egan's Visit by the Goon Squad worked, in that separate stories were all kind of investigating certain kinds of dilemmas and interesting kinds of metaphorical or metaphysical ideas.
NVW: Well, thank you. I like that Goon Squad book, too.
DB: Yeah, well, I mean, what if she'd called this a novel… I mean, I was just wondering. It's not…
DB: Anyway, there's just… It's just very arbitrary, but it seems like you composed them very much kind of separately but they are related, right? I mean, they're linked stories.
NVW: Yeah, they've all been linked.
DB: Yeah
NVW: I really love all the different possibilities of ways to link stories, but in terms of the engine, I like a little small engine that I feel like I can fix what's wrong-with the little, small engine.
DB: Yeah, I get that.
NVW: And I don't know if I could… The novel thing, it's kind of overwhelming for me to think about how much you have to sustain; how much it needs to drive the big novel.
DB: Right
NVW: I love novels. I love reading them, but I'm intimidated by the arc, how huge it needs to be, and how much (maybe) you need to know before you sit down.
DB: Right, there's a certain research part of it.
DB: Does your writing entail any sort of research, historical or otherwise…?
NVW: Yeah, Quake was a good example. I loved doing all that research on the gypsy culture and the country-I just loved that, and that just really fed my stories when I was working on it. And this new book that has a dinosaur dig in it, that was really fun. My husband and I went on a dig in Montana. That's part of the research for that. It was fun.
DB: Did they just have that like dinosaur versus dinosaur discovery, or something, this summer? Did you see this?
NVW: Eh-hmm
DB: Like this private digger found these perfectly reserved fossils of like a tyrannosaurus rex or like stegosaurus like right next to each other, they must've died like mid-fight. And they sold… Like instead of giving it to the Smithsonian, they sold it at auction for some ridiculous price.
NVW: Really?
DB: There was some sort of debate about that.
NVW: Just like a couple of femurs or something, or a couple of… Or the whole--?
DB: The whole
NVW: --the whole features? Wow!
DB: I mean, it was just like an insane find in the Montana's bone district.
NVW: Well, what I understood was… This isn't pertaining to your thing but what I heard was that all those glacial floods (what happened) and they basically washed all these bones over. So, there'd be like this giant bone bed of 20 different species just because they've been washed by the flood like that at the same place.
DB: You probably know more of that. I just thought that was sort of exciting. '
DB: I guess a couple more questions about revisions. One of the like… I've been reading this book called The Work of Revision which is really an interesting book kind of tracing the history of revision from the Romantic up to the Modernist Period, and then kind of like how textual criticism works with it. She was… Her name… Hannah Sullivan wrote it, and she was sort of delineating kind of three modes of revision. One being a creative or additive, like Joyce adding all this stuff to Ulysses, and then this sort of excisive or subtractive way that you seem to do, and then there's that sort of substitution. And I'm wondering is there a primary mode between those three that you used for your revision or is it a combination?
NVW: I would say I really kind of start with the accretion first, and then go in to the subtraction. And then probably this substitution is like a tinkering I do at the very end.
DB: OK, and physically, where do these processes happen? I mean, when you're taking something away, does that happen in the notebook, or does that happen on the computer, or does it happen in both spaces?
NVW: Usually, I've excised much of what I'm going to take out before I type it up.
NVW: So, I probably-as I said, I probably do 2 or 3 handwritten drafts and I'll actually rip the notebook page out. I have notebooks and notebooks where I have a big X through the page so that I do not get confused that I'm actually done with this version, and now if I look hard enough in the notebook, there is a later version of these poems. But I throw the old, ripped up pages in the back of the notebook, and there's a newer version somewhere in there. But the older ones are fatter and often… I'm also experimenting with line break, then too, with the shaping issues…
DB: So, just to confirm, you're doing that in the notebook?
NVW: In the notebook still.
NVW: And then I feel like when I move it to the computer, I'm sort of getting to a place where I want to look at it… There's something that… I'm sure you're going to hear this with lots of writers my age-that there's something about when you type it up that starts to make it look permanent, especially for me in terms of the shape of the poem, the line lengths especially in a poem. I'm less inclined to fiddle with line lengths once I've got it on the computer. I do that. For some reason it still feels easier for me to do it on the page because like I just stick my slashes in there.
DB: OK, so once they're actually broken in to lines on the computer, then it seems… You don't feel like you have that freedom to do--?
NVW: Well, I do. I do.
DB: Right
NVW: I do experiment or something. I'll go, 'Oh, this is 15 lines. That's so close to a sonnet. Why don't I help it along?' You know?
DB: Yeah
NVW: So, then-
DB: You feel like there should be another term for a 15-line poem.
NVW: Yes'
DB: OK, so and then at that point, are the poems ordered into the way you'd like them in the book?
NVW: Oh, no. Never
DB: OK, so how's that… What's that process like?
NVW: That's just another process of just printing out all the poems and just living with them. That takes, I don't know maybe a year, two, maybe even longer sometimes of experimenting with sections, you know, the arrangement. I'm working right now on a book of prose poems-just really struggling with what's it even going to be in this book, sorting-
DB: So, there's a number… So, once you get to the computer, are you putting like all the poems from one notebook in one word file say, or you're putting them in individually?
NVW: No, I don't put… Each poem is its own file until I really start to make the book as a book.
DB: So, just technically, then you call that file whatever the title of the poem is?
NVW: Yeah
DB: And then save it in a folder with…?
NVW: My folder is called "Poems."
DB: No, that's fine
NVW: I know, and there are some subfolders in there like-
DB: OK, for a book would you make a subfolder then, or…?
NVW: Oh, then each book gets its own file then.
NVW: Yeah
DB: OK, but… So the poems are kind of in one big folder, and then as they accumulate in to a book then they'll be one file.
NVW: Exactly, and when they get published then I put them in another file called "Published Poems."
NVW: So, I don't get confused in sending stuff out still.
DB: Yeah
NVW: And then there's some old… You know, I've files called "Poem '08" that are just like…I'm probably not going to do anything with them now, but they're still sitting there.
DB: They're still in there, somewhere.
DB: OK, and is that the same-Does that same sort of transfer happen with fiction, too?
NVW: Yeah, I mean I've got a file in there just called "Stories In Process." I don't know if they're going to be a book.
DB: You're sort of figuring them out.
NVW: Yeah'
DB: So, we'll get back to the computer stuff a little bit more. Let me just sort of talk a little bit-move from revision and talk a little bit more about kind of organizational (and we're already kind of taking about it-these things all sort of mesh in but…).
DB: So, I mean… OK, with the computer then, you know, you move from your notebook and then you type it up. That sort of moment of revision for you, too?
NVW: Uh-hmm
DB: And then you have several other different moments of revision when it's on the computer, but some of those happen on paper because you print them out?
NVW: Right
DB: And then that arrangement happens physically usually first?
NVW: I'll look at it on… I'll come back to it over a period of a couple of weeks on the computer then (once it's on the computer file) and look at it, probably tinker with it a little bit more before, and then I'll start sending it out probably.
NVW: So, fairly soon after I type it up-maybe a month, 2 months. There comes a point where I feel like I'm making it worse. My tinkering's starting to make it worse. That's the only thing that stops me.
NVW: And then I start sending it out, and if the-
DB: Are we talking about the entire book right now, or are we--?
NVW: No, just individual poems
DB: Just the individual… OK, yeah
NVW: --and if it comes back rejected, often I'll tinker with it a little bit more and send it back out again in a week.
DB: OK, so you use the sort of publication and submission process as a sort of revision prompt?
NVW: I do, I do.
DB: OK, that's interesting.
DB: And then, so they come together in one file as your book thing and then you send that out to publishers. Is that a similar sort of thing- if it's rejected then you revise again, or is it once it's in that file, once you've got it there, you just sort of want to give it a space?
NVW: I'll probably revise it a little bit more if it comes back rejected, but usually once it gets in book form, it seems sort of subtle to me and often (this may also be the case)… the reason for that being that I've probably moved on to another book and all.
DB: OK, another notebook that will then become a book, or…?
NVW: Yeah, yeah… No, an actual-I'm actually compiling another book at that point when I start sending one out.
DB: So, how many books do you usually have going, or how many projects at one time do you usually have going?
NVW: Well, I almost always have a book of poems in process that I'm working on like I said right now I'm working on trying to shape up this book of prose poems, and then I almost always have a book of fiction that's sort of in process-right now, I'm working on a e-book novel, novella thing. And then I'm doing the Photoems now. So…
NVW: In terms of like publishing individual pieces now, I'm really doing those a lot. '
DB: OK, and then so, in terms of just saving and archiving your work (we talked a little bit about this), you keep your notebooks basically in boxes on the shelves, and then your files are in a folder and they stay in the same folder, and then you put them to an external drive at some point.
DB: Is there any other archival or back-up procedures that you go through for your work, or is that pretty much it?
NVW: I guess that's pretty much it. I mean, my publishers I think have copies, you know. They have pdfs of everything.
DB: Right, right
NVW: So…
DB: You rely on them?
NVW: I rely on them-that those are not going to go away.
DB: Sure
NVW: I don't think they will, will they? They won't go away, will they?
DB: Yeah, that's…
NVW: Because that's what they send me to proof now.
NVW: Yeah
DB: OK, and they used to send you galleys or printed copies?
NVW: Yeah
DB: OK, do you do much revision at that stage, or is that much more type of--?
NVW: No, they don't want you to.
DB: OK, so then I guess one question more and then I want to talk about kind of computers specifically but… Do you see kind of in this talking that is there… Was there sort of … Can you kind of delineate stages of your own writing over the course of your, you know, the years you've been writing sort of professionally? Do you see distinct stages, or do you think it's just been kind of a gradual…?
NVW: You mean that's where things have just changed dramatically?
DB: Or like, you know, it could've changed like a couple of years, but I mean, would you say there are stages, or would you see it kind of similar? And if there were anything that kind of prompted some of these changes, what were those (I guess is what I'm kind of going with this)?
NVW: Well, I think it's mostly been gradual. I've grown more comfortable doing some revision work on the computer and especially with the fiction, and maybe because fiction still feels like a newer form to me. One shift that has felt a little bit more dramatic with composing is that I have found myself, when I'm working on short stories, actually doing some new composing work right here while I'm sitting. Like I'll be working on a story thinking… I'm typing in from my notebook…
NVW: Actually I remember working on this one story and I had written something-a note to myself in my notebook that said, 'Flush out her dream right here,' and I had forgotten to do that. So, I remember sitting here doing it while I was typing in the story in to my Word file, and I though what I wrote was OK. It sort of freed me up then to do that more frequently-to let myself do some of the initial composing although I still kind of like have a little cue what it's going to be. Like there's a little whole that I forgot to do, and I have a note to myself in the notebook to do that.
DB: Good, and does that… I guess, how… What's the difference in feel between, I guess-dare I describe it as-2-handed writing versus 1-handed writing?
NVW: Yeah, one of the things I like about doing it on the computer is that I can close my eyes which is really odd but I like it. So, it seems to lend itself to… not to dialogue or action, but to real kind of interior moments where I'm in a character's mind and I want to replicate her thinking process. Like I said, the first time I ever tried it was where I kind of tried to render a dream that the character had had. So, I closed my eyes (and of course, we can type with our eyes closed but I can't write with my eyes closed).
DB: OK, it'll be really illegible.
NVW: Yeah
DB: Huh, that's fascinating.
DB: OK, so then in terms of computers, generally, when did they enter in to your writing process?
NVW: Well, I remember when I moved to Lake Forest College… (I knew you were going to ask me this. I was trying to think about this the other day) We got these… I wish I could remember… KayPros
DB: KayPros? OK?
NVW: Have you heard of those?
DB: No
NVW: Oh my God. They were these huge, gray boxes. They were given to us - this must have been 1980-right around there, 1980 - At Lake Forest College, all the faculty got these KayPro computer things, and really all they did was word processing but I liked them. I remember a lot of the faculty were complaining but I like them because I was moving from this electric typewriter, or something, and this machine was so much easier to do corrections and everything. So, I took to the computer right away. I really liked it.
DB: In 1980?
NVW: Yeah
DB: Wow, OK, that's very early I think.
NVW: Well, I can remember the exact year.
DB: But somewhere… I mean, you started teaching in Lake Forest in?
NVW: In '79
DB: So, it's….
NVW: It was right around there-when we first moved there.
DB: Yeah
NVW: And that's all they did. They didn't do… There was no internet, or…
DB: Right, right, right.
NVW: Yeah
DB: So, you were just word processing and… Did this… Well, the advent of this computer and then maybe like the kind of more… the prevalence of computers kind of like change your writing practices pretty drastically eventually, or…?
NVW: Well, you know, the academic world- I don't know if I hadn't been in the Academy, if I would have the same relationship with technology as I do because everywhere I went to teach, I was presented with a new computer when I walked in the door. And it's nice because, you know, Apple made its money by habituating, habitualizing people (What's the word I'm trying to say?)-
DB: No, I think…
NVW: --to their technology. That's how they became so great, you know-get all these freshmen hooked on Apples when they're in college because they're in the labs and then the next thing you know, you've got generations out there…
DB: Right
NVW: So, anyway, I'm a total Mac person. I love them. They seem really intuitive to me to use them-but I've grown up with them. I mean-
DB: So then… I guess, what about the software that you use? Did you start with the sort of basic word processing, then did you move to an Apple word processing software, or was it like Word Perfect or…? Do you remember? I mean… I can't even name them.
NVW: Oh, gosh. I'm not going to be able to remember all the different program names, but… Yeah…
DB: And now are you using Microsoft Word?
NVW: Yeah
DB: OK, but you're also using Pages?
NVW: Yeah
DB: So, you're moving between software. Has that been a newer thing since the iPad, or…?
NVW: Yeah, I may get a new iPad pretty soon, and I don't know if I want to buy another Microsoft Word.
DB: Yeah, Pages seems to…
NVW: And it's fine.
DB: Yeah
NVW: It moves in to Word just fine.
DB: Right
NVW: But I learned Photoshop when I was the magazine editor. I edited Willow Springs for about 6 years, and so that was in 1990. I took over the editorship of that magazine when I came out to Eastern. They were doing the magazine with… Oh, my gosh. There was no computer technology. The woman who had done it before me was like-she was into the light board thing, which I had learned in college, in journalism class. You know, with the sticky, peel-y things?
NVW: Do you actually know this stuff?
DB: I think I saw this in high school in my journalism class. So, yeah.
NVW: And I could not believe they had no computer program or anything. So, a guy in the journalism department gave me a copy page maker to put on the computer, and I instantly fell in love with it. I just, 'Oh, I love this."
NVW: I love doing the art for the magazine. I did the covers. You know, I mean I found the art and made the covers myself because there was nobody else to do it.
DB: Right
NVW: And so, I learned PageMaker at the very beginning when it was just out, and as you probably know, that became Photoshop.
DB: Right
NVW: So, I just kind of stayed with it all these years, and now-
DB: So, essentially, you've been using Photoshop for 20 years. Wow, that's awesome.
NVW: I buy every other Photoshop. That's been my MO. I don't try to keep up with every single new one. So, I'm on 5 now, but I will probably get 7 when it comes out.'
DB: I'm a little worried that they're not going to do that anymore. They seem to be moving to that like subscription basis.
NVW: Really?
DB: Yeah
NVW: How do you mean?
DB: You know, we buy it a lot for the digital computers, and I'm starting to hear that they're… You know, they're offering it now so you can basically pay monthly fee and get Photoshop, or get InDesign, or get the Design Suite.
DB: So, I'm not sure how often-if they're going to be selling those like Student/Teacher kind of like Editions anymore.
DB: Or if they're going to be charging a subscription fee which in my mind is going to be way more expensive especially because we have so many copies. It might be cheaper, overall, for an individual but…
NVW: Interesting
DB: Yeah
DB: So, I'm not sure. I'm not actually positive about that but I sort of have heard on the wind that that might become around.
NVW: Wow, that would be…
DB: I don't know-
NVW: Hey, it's a tax write-off. So…
DB: Yeah, there you go.
DB: So, you were pretty familiar with computers from pretty much most of your professional career, As they became more prevalent at large, does that affect… I mean, I guess, it affected probably your correspondence with your editors and what-not with things like that.
NVW: Exactly
DB: Did that affect anything in the way that you write? Did it start to feel different, you writing feel different?
NVW: It felt more constant, I guess. Like my students at Vermont College, they want to send me their work everything online now. I feel like I cannot get away from sitting here, you know, 10 hours, 12 hours a day.
DB: Yeah
NVW: That part, I don't like as much. I like reading, you know, in a comfy chair and I feel like we're moving away from that now, that that's becoming less. You know, and I'm writing e-books myself now, so I'm a culprit, too.
DB: Right, right
NVW: But I can read my iPad in a comfy chair.
DB: Yes, yes, you can.
NVW: I still like reading in bed but once I discovered that I can read my iPad in bed, I was happy. '
DB: I'm sort of interested to- I guess in sort of typographical, or graphical things. And I mean, you are familiar with PageMaker. Did any of that like ability of the computer adjust or…? I mean like I think in Quake with those breaks that were kind of like little lines-like little jagged lines (I don't know where those came from)-if that was a computer thing, or…? Do you know what I'm talking about?
NVW: The section breaks?
DB: Like the breaks within the stories, that would be like… Yeah, like section breaks that had kind of…?
NVW: I think that might have been the designer, the book designer.
DB: Oh, that was the book designer.
NVW: Yeah
DB: OK, but did any of that influence your writing? I mean, did you start to… I mean, you obviously work with fonts and design aspects and layout. Did that influence anything with your poems? I mean, I know they also… You know, a lot of them have… At least the earlier ones some of them would move kind of tab by tab, and then I mean there's other different sort of strategies in the earlier poems, too. But they're… I don't know. I guess…
NVW: I'm trying to think about what you're asking me because I'm just not remembering if there's any particular way that that changed in my writing itself.
DB: Yeah, I mean I don't think it was a… I don't know if I can say that it was, but I guess
DB: When you're writing in your notebook (Maybe that's the way to get)-when you're writing in your notebook, are you writing with some sort of indentation, Or other things like that? Are you pretty much writing down the left margin? Does that sort of layout thing transfer in to the computer, or…?
NVW: Right, right. You know, what little experimenting I've done along those lines with poems, I've done on the computer screen. '
NVW: I mean, that's I think my… I know we're going to talk about this later. What I'm doing now, I'm doing this altered book pages.
DB: Right
NVW: I don't know if I showed any of those because those are locked files. But I'm doing these altered book pages, and that's where all of everything I know about Photoshop And my poetry is finally coming together in to something that feels more, I don't know, my own.
DB: Yeah
NVW: Different
DB: Yeah, so… And we can talk about that. I mean, what… So, it that different from the Photoems?
NVW: Yes
DB: And it's… What sort of formatting do you use …?
NVW: I'll show you
DB: Yeah, I'd love to see
NVW: So, I put these online. I've been… This is mainly what I've been publishing lately. I've found this old encyclopedia up here from the '30s and I've been scanning the pages-especially pages that have a lot of graphic material in them. (Let me just show…)
NVW: I put them on this website but in a locked gallery because this is how I share them in with editors. So, let's see. I'll try to find the encyclopedia once I… Let's look at this right here.
DB: So, ZenFolio. Is it like a web service kind of?
NVW: Yeah, this is really for a photographer's website but I just like it because it has really clean look, and their slideshow mode is really nice.
DB: Yes
NVW: So, this is the book I'm doing with my husband right now, and these are his illustrations.
NVW: (So, I can actually put this in a slideshow. You can see the…)
NVW: So, this is my fiction project that I'm-
DB: This is the novella?
NVW: This is, yeah. This, I will only… I haven't shared this with any editors yet because I'm only just putting this online. (That's a section divider page)
DB: (I can see that now)
NVW: This is called Pull for Stop, and then the story goes like this. So, these are Rick's pieces and then I have this little story that goes with these characters in the book here. Each page, I think of it as a little like flash fiction. So, I kind of think of them as linked flash fictions.
DB: And they're relating in some way to the image?
NVW: Oh, yeah
NVW: So, that's that book. And I was telling you about the encyclopedia, and that's Book of No Ledge.
NVW: So, this is how I send them out now to editors. I'll probably send like 2 or 3 of these pieces in, you know, the online submission or whatever. And then I send them a link to this.
DB: To the whole…?
NVW: To this gallery, and the password that they need to access it because it's a locked gallery. That way I can kind of track on how many people are looking (editors are looking) at my stuff at the same time. And then when somebody takes a piece, I put these little asterisks. (This is my screwed-up thing) So, they kind of realize all those are out of commission then.
DB: Sure
NVW: So, that's what… So, now I'm kind of actually putting a poem. (I hate all the sales stuff in here, but) Then I'm kind of replacing the text that was here in the encyclopedia with a poem.
DB: And so, you'll do that in Photoshop. Like you'll erase the text and you'll… Are you trying to match the font in some way it looks like? Or…?
NVW: Yeah, yeah, I am.
DB: And those are kind of images from the text originally?
NVW: Yes, actually they're from like 3 different pages in the text, and then I colorize them, too.
DB: Those are cool. That's like a really neat project.
NVW: It's really been fun. I like doing that. You can see I've kind of done a little bit of erasure stuff right here-
DB: Yeah, yeah
NVW: And then this part is my poem over here. So, I like…
NVW: (I should put these in slideshow so they'll come out larger, see them better)
NVW: But I kind of like having a mix of what was the encyclopedia language with Nance talk, kind of. I like going back and forth, so that's… This has been where I've really started to use the technology much more than I was before. So, I have all these little… This is the straight encyclopedia-Nance stuff, and I hope they kind of talk back and forth to each other-the language.
DB: Yeah, I know. I see what you're saying.
NVW: My language here and their language
DB: Well, it sort of like-it contextualizes it and sort of de-contextualizes it. Yeah…
NVW: Yeah, this is my little conversation with Proust. I've been reading Proust this year. Me and Proust are on a time-out right now.
NVW: Anyway, so that's what they look like. I like the pages from the encyclopedia that have all this graphic material so I can kind of take what was , you know… What do I have? I put all these kind of romance words around. In this one: timber wolf love nips, must axle me
NVW: But a person would have to sort of go in there and look a little bit. That's the thing.
DB: Yeah, I mean it's like you need it. It pays to pay attention, right?
NVW: So, that's where things have sort of evolved, computer-wise, for me. '
DB: And how's that… I mean, what's the… Does it feel different, or does it seem like it's the same creative process for you? I mean, it's visual and textual, so, there's that. But in terms of using the computer to make, is that a change?
NVW: Well, so the way I've been, I have some really interesting, different ways that I've been doing these that has never been even remotely like working on the poems or the stories. So, I'll print out first the original scans in black and white, and that's what I carry around in my little notebook. I'm still fixated to the notebook there.
DB: Right
NVW: So, I'm carrying those around in the notebook, and then I just actually start scribbling on the pages-scribbling stuff out. One of the things that I'm kind of doing with this book project-with the encyclopedia-is: this is my version of a collected poems of Nance Van Winckel.
NVW: So, I'm kind of mining some of my early poems because I-
DB: OH, that's really fascinating.
NVW: --The idea of doing a collected or selected, or something, is kind of boring to me actually. But this made it more interesting to do because I'll just pull out, 'Oh, I always like this stanza.' So…
DB: Yeah, yeah
NVW: I like this stanza." and then I just "Forget the rest of that poem," you know.
DB: Right
NVW: But these 5 lines I like. So, I'll sprinkle them in there and it's been fun to kind of find the visual material that I think they fit with.
DB: Yeah
NVW: So, anyway-
DB: And with the, you know, wealth of human knowledge form 1930 and the wealth of poems-
NVW: Exactly
DB: Yeah
NVW: And, you know, I feel like I'm kind of talking… I had… I sense one of the things that's going on in this project is that I'm talking back to history in a way and saying, 'No, that's not right,' and I like that. I like that versus-
DB: And I guess in some way the software allows you more purchase on making those deletions and adjustments-
NVW: Exactly
DB: --than it would have in like just crossing out, or a light board for instance.
NVW: Yeah, and the erasure thing that a lot of people are doing, that seems like… You know, I'm good friends with Mary Ruefle-doing that amazing erasure stuff. So I feel like "unless I could one-up Mary Ruefle …" I'm not doing that. I'm not going there.
DB: I know
NVW: There are people who are doing that so much better.
DB: Yeah, I've always been a fan of that Radi Os, the Paradise Lost deletion by Ronald Johnson which I didn't like… And I like… Who did one? Like Jonathan Safran Foer did it, and I was like, 'Oh, no.'
NVW: He did it?
DB: Yeah, he did some…
NVW: Really?
DB: I don't know. He bugs me anyway.
NVW: Yeah, a lot… Maybe too many people jumped on the erasure band wagon
DB: It's fun, but I mean, it's hard really to do it. I mean, in the way that Mary Ruefle does it. It's really, really hard. I mean like… Yeah
NVW: Here's what Mary Ruefle says, 'The way I do it is, I look at the page and then pretty soon, if I just stare at it for a while, a few words float up.'
NVW: Good, OK
DB: That's hilarious
DB: It's good to be-to have that happen would be fantastic.
NVW: It really would--a few words float up
DB: (Let me think here)
DB: I feel like we've answered a lot of these questions in the course of it. Yeah…
DB: Oh, can you find your files? Like if you're looking for a certain poem on your computer, do you have difficulty locating them, or is your organization is such that you pretty much know where things are?
NVW: I have lost things, yeah. Almost every week, I have little battle because I can't remember what I called something, or…
DB: Yeah, do you worry at all about the security or sort of fixity of these digital files?
DB: No. That's good
NVW: You mean somebody else accessing them, or something? That kind of security?
DB: Or, I mean the kind of fidelity of them, I guess. I mean, you do say that you have floppy disks and old WordPerfect that you can't access. Is that a concern to you, or you just think that would kind of take care of itself?
NVW: It's not a concern to me-maybe it should be.
DB: No, I actually don't think you should be, but… And I'm the one who should know that. So…
NVW: OK, good
DB: But I mean, there's definitely things that we can do. But I mean, it's one of those things that I think…
DB: Well, I guess the other question is, have the changes in computers… I mean like, you know, probably in the late '90s, early '90s, computers crashed much more often and you were more likely to lose work. Did that influence the way that you work on computers, or was that…? Or have you pretty much kept the same strategies?
NVW: I have pretty much kept the same strategies. You know, I've never had a really bad thing happen where I've lost a harddrive or anything like that.
DB: You're so lucky
NVW: I know, I know. And it's because of all the Macs.
DB: That's hilarious. They got you-they got you there.
NVW: They do. I just love all their products. I do. '
DB: So, a few questions about correspondence and teaching (although I think we've covered some of that), and then we'll talk about Photoons. Then that would be it.
DB: So, have you ever corresponded very much in like physical letters? Is that ever been a portion…? Or are they… I mean, related to your writing. I don't need to know like personal correspondence (not so much), but I mean like writing-wise, career-wise, is that ever a concern?
NVW: Oh, physical letters, I've… Well, like I was telling you with that first book of poems, I've kept all the letters that he wrote to me about revision. I don't know, they just… They're very dear to me that somebody took that kind of time with me.
NVW: And then I have a good friend who's a poet. I think I mentioned her to you.
DB: Yeah
NVW: Jennifer Boyden. And she really loves the physical letters, and I've kept all her letters that she's written me over the years.
DB: Great.
NVW: Because they're just so beautiful
DB: Awesome
NVW: And it just always seems like just the idea that somebody is writing this JUST to me, you know, this three page letter with her thoughts and ruminations about things and they're just so beautifully written; that she would take the time to do that, you know, it seems like a treasure thing because it's a passing, but do I do it … ?
DB: Do you have any similar feelings for any emails? Do you have emails that you would feel dear about?
NVW: I do keep some emails I have, you know, files with emails that I keep from certain people.
DB: And then, a sort of corollary to that, do you feel like a, and this is an odd question, but do you have any sort of feelings towards your digital files about like your poems? Are they dear to you maybe in the same way a notebook would be dear to you or…?
NVW: No, the notebook is dear-er
DB: OK, yeah.
NVW: I don't know why, that's weird.
DB: You touch it. A big part of it, I think. I mean, I don't know. It's one of those things. I don't know if that will change, like if someone never had like the physical in the future. If they'll have this special folder on their desktop… That just seems odd to me. '
NVW: You know, I try to be careful that I've always got a hard copy somewhere of the material that I'm working on. Like this book that I'm doing with my husband.
DB: OK, so that's some of the images I guess.
NVW: And there they all are.
DB: Oh wow, those are nicely printed.
NVW: To finish that thought about just being careful: Because if things go awry here, I really don't want to lose the work completely.
DB: Right
NVW: So I try to make sure that I have a hard copy. It might not always be the most recent copy--
DB: Yeah
NVW: --But there's a copy.
DB: Right
NVW: So, with this book, I did all of the arranging of it. I stuck them on that wall in the hallway.
NVW: All the pages were on that wall and I had little sticky things on the back and I was moving them around to make the sections of the book, but it was up there for like three months.
DB: Yeah, three months? So, would you come home and see them and make a few changes or would it be like a dedicated time you'd go to it?
NVW: Well, I was at that stage where the book where I had all these pages, but I wasn't exactly sure how I was going to arrange the chronology, again, of the story. So, I started experimenting with different orders of things, by trying the sections on the wall that way. Yeah, moving them around. So before, each page had its own file in there, and now, they have sections too. I think there are five sections in the book.
DB: OK, and those came from the wall?
NVW: Yes!
NVW: But I could not figure out a way to look at that many pages on the screen at one time. I mean actually see the print. So I felt like the technology wasn't allowing me to see the big picture the way I needed to.
DB: Need a big touch screen.
NVW: Yes!
DB: I'm sure they're coming, or I'm sure they're here, you just haven't seen them yet.
NVW: That's it exactly!
DB: You need a big wall that's a computer.
NVW: Yes! And if Mac makes it, I'm buying it.
DB: There you go.
NVW: It's going to be a million dollars.
DB: Yeah, that would definitely be expensive. '
DB: We did talk a little about your teaching and that you do correspond by email with your students mostly. Is that now?
NVW: If they insist on sending me their work as attachments and everything, I'll read it that way. I don't mind doing it with the poets, but with the fiction people, I would much, much rather they send me their work in the mail. And usually they're OK with it.
DB: So you can kind of take it and not have to be connected …
NVW: Exactly
DB: Yeah
NVW: I just do not like writing my comments with the blackboard program or any of those. The college has that available to us and I have done track changes in Word. I know how to use that OK. I just like to scribble in the margins.
DB: So in that aspect of your work and your life, you would just ultimately prefer physical correspondence in total?
NVW: Yeah'
DB: OK, yeah. I guess the other thing with like, writing and distraction, I guess, is like are you connected to the internet when you're writing? Do you ever have to like disconnect, turn off your Wi-Fi or something? Is that a problem or concern for you? Or do you use it, like are you looking things up while you're writing at all?
NVW: Oh well that's a good question. I don't like to be disconnected from the net anymore.
DB: Yeah
NVW: It's terrible. I like to check in with my peeps all the time now. And yeah, I use the dictionary on here all the time because it's just so much faster.
DB: Yeah, so it's a tool, and whatever writing space you're in, be it notebook or not, you're still using your computer as a tool to assist you.
NVW: Yeah, and I mean I've always got something going on that's like you know, right now, I'm talking to agents and if they email me, if I see an email come in while I'm actually working on something, I got to go see if that is from my agent.
DB: Right, right. And that distraction point of it is not a real concern for you? I mean, you are producing quite a bit.
NVW: It was more when I was younger, but I guess maybe I'm learning how to disconnect from it and go back to my work pretty fast then.
DB: Has there been something you've found to help… I mean like if you're distinguishing between your younger working and now…?
NVW: I guess maybe it's like a lot of younger people, I'm just more used to being attached to it. I'll be doing something on my iPad, communicating with somebody or talking on Facebook or whatever, while Rick and I are watching a movie at night. So there's much more multitasking.
DB: You've learned a sort of way of compartmentalizing it that seems pretty seamless--
NVW: Yeah
DB: And the last question about teaching: When you've had now, you're probably getting students who've grown up only with a computer, right?
NVW: Yes
DB: Has that changed your relationship to the way? Has that sort of changed your idea about what it does, its effects, anything like that?
NVW: Well, it's changed to the sense that when students talk to me about their own composing process, and of course they do everything on the computer, they don't ever, a lot of them, write anything at all in longhand.
DB: Yeah
NVW: I don't even know if they can. And so I'm OK with that. I feel like I sort of made my peace that people are perfectly able to write, to find a good composition process that works for them that doesn't have to do with paper and pens at all. So, I'm accepting of that. You know, I don't try to like, shove my process off or say to someone, "Have you ever thought you might like to write it on a piece of paper first?"
NVW: What, you know, why? that's - -I know, I know that I'm hanging onto something that's -
DB: If you would -
NVW: -the pen... The pen and paper to me, um, they have some, there's something else between the eye and the hand and the page.
NVW: And I still feel that when I'm working, especially on poems, that there's something happening between the eye and the fingers and the page. It's very tactile that I'm hanging on to that, which I like.
DB: And so you would say, I mean for those that are only composing on the computer and not ever going to handwriting, or never using handwriting at all, that's what they're missing, that sort of hand-eye coordination.
NVW: I don't know. I don't think they necessarily are missing it. I think they've probably learned or are learning to do a step in the composing process. You know, maybe that thing where you're writing with your eyes closed. I mean, that they grow up with that, and so they get the same whatever imaginative connection with the keyboard.
DB: Do you find that they're as open to revision as maybe an older student?
NVW: Well, they can be made to... They can... That's just part of the learning process.
DB: Right, so you don't think it's anything distinct to this generation?
NVW: I think they just have to... Many of them, some of them get it right away, that revising can actually make a work better.
DB: Yeah
NVW: I've been working with this woman right now who came in saying that she doesn't like to revise because she likes to sit down and write everything out really fast in one big draft.
DB: Right
NVW: And her stuff is a mess! And so it's my personal mission with her to help her to come to believe that actually revising or working on some other manner, you know, like maybe having writing a scene at a time -
DB: Right
NVW: -would benefit the work. But she's very young and it's her first. She didn't even have an undergraduate degree in writing so, she's starting at square one.'
DB: OK, well, the last kind of group of questions I have are about the Photoems and, um, but I guess you have a number of different... I was thinking of these as being your sort of primary computer assisted project, but you have several going at the same time, so you use, including the collected, uh, your novella, are there other projects as well? OK, and are they, um, are they supplanting your fiction and poetry writing or are they sort of just 'in addition to'?
NVW: I'm wrestling with this question myself.
NVW: I think the poetry right now, new poetry, is kind of going into the these altered book pages that I'm doing. I have four, four of those projects going on right now.
NVW: And, um, I am working on a book of regular poems (those prose poems).
NVW: But all the fiction I'm working on right now are all e-books now. I've just completed a novella, not this one, but a different one that's an e-book that's um in the form of a scrapbook form, photograph album.
NVW: And that's the one I'm trying to talk to agents about.
DB: OK, OK. And they're going to... And you have only, you don't expect any physical form at all, you just...
NVW: This is the question that we are trying to work through. I don't care about seeing it as a print book. Um, but apparently publishers don't want to take a book unless it can also have it as a print book, because they don't make any money on e-books -
DB: Yes
NVW: - so -
DB: You can blame Amazon, right?
NVW: Yeah, so an agent doesn't want to take me on as a client unless I am doing the print book. And the e-book is the sort of bonus.
NVW: So that's what we're kind of going around and around about and I then think, "Well, maybe I'll just go out there and do it on my own, or try to do it with an e-book publisher who is just doing that." So I'm just trying... I'm just … I am just... This is all new to me, new territory and I'm just trying to navigate it myself right now. I don't know what I'm doing.
DB: But in terms of like the process and the composition and everything, it still seems pretty much, you know, computer or non-computer, like it's still like the kind of - Well, I mean the computer's a big part of it, but still writing the notebook and pushing it in, or is it a lot of that still happening - Are the e-books happening on the computer?
NVW: No, I'm still writing the text part in the notebook.
DB: OK. Um, how does the sort of visual aspect relate back to your writing especially sort of maybe... I mean you use a lot of imagery in your poems and in your fiction, but now you are actually using images -
NVW: Yes!
DB: - so what's that feel like? I mean are you using them in the same ways you used imagery or is it a totally different...?
NVW: Well, I mean, you hit it right on t…he head That's it exactly, I mean everything I loved about poetry, you know, the image thing - now I'm making actual images. And, you know, I'm putting a little bit of text in there, and you know, now I'm starting to wrestle with well that's too much text.
NVW: You know, it's... Everything that's happening now has gotten to be less, less, and less text. I'm trying to find the right balance between the visual component on the piece and that sort of means minimal text, I think, so that they don't fight each other.
DB: I mean, so what is like... How do you find the right language for that? I mean that seems like a different, almost a different thing than writing poetry.
NVW: Yeah, yeah. I mean...
DB: It's like placing...
NVW: This is what, for me, when I turn 60 and I'm doing this work, it's made it exciting again, like when I was 20.
DB: Yeah
NVW: Because I am... Language has gotten, it's been refreshed by this new sort of interjection of the actual visual material in the same location with the text.
DB: Right
NVW: And it's made it like a brand new thing for me and I'm just, I don't know, I feel like I'm, "Oh good. Now I can get through to my 80s OK without being bored."
DB: Now, if you didn't... So kind of two part question, if you didn't have that facility with the computer that you have and that you developed from working with PageMaker and/or if you just had not worked with a computer, do you think you would've turned to visual art in a physical format?
NVW: No, it would've been too much to learn, I think. I mean, it still feels like a lot to learn. I mean, I take classes every week. I'm taking online classes. I mean, I still can't get how to do text on a path. What's wrong with me?! I can't make my paths good.
DB: Yeah, I am no Photoshop expert.
NVW: Yeah, well anyways I take these little online classes through Photoshop.
DB: Do you take any... I mean, your husband's an artist, do you take any sort of art instruction as well I mean -
NVW: Yes. Oh, yes. From him. Yeah, and I've been taking like regular college classes, too.
NVW: When I taught at Bucknell for a semester - when they asked me to come out there, I said, "Well, yes, I'll come. But, do you think it'll be alright if I sat in on an art class while I'm there? " I wanted to take some kind of photography class. But, they weren't offering anything so I took a film editing class instead. But, anyway I just, I felt like I just needed to be in that environment with visual artists where they're talking about composition - because that's, I was starting at the path, the beginning place - just composition and design.
NVW: And my husband comes in, I invite him to come home early a couple nights and month and I supply him with some wine. He sits here and I show him the pieces that I'm working on, some of these Photoems or whatever.
NVW: And I'll say, "Just, if you don't like a piece, just tell me and we'll move on."
NVW: So this is what he'll do, he'll go, "Next." But then, when he likes a piece he'll explain to me what he thinks is working and it's all about composition and design. And that's what I needed -
DB: And so that's a big part of your education, too.
NVW: That's what I needed to learn.