Thursday, February 4, 2010

Stabbed in Stanzas Feature Poet: Rain Graves

Rain Graves lives in San Francisco, California where she writes full time. She won the 2002 Bram Stoker Award for her poetry collection, The Gossamer Eye.

KLN: You moved to California to be a rock star. Please describe that experience. How did that journey affect your writing?
RG: I was very young—about 20. I had been playing music since I was tiny; mostly guitar and vocals, when I got seriously passionate about it. I moved here in 1995 to follow my music dream, only I didn’t have a clear idea of what that dream was. It was more a creative one than strictly a musical one. I was living with a pro musician at the time who made records and toured, and got a healthy dose of that lifestyle. I decided it wasn’t what I wanted for my life, and slowly quit the music side of things (though you never really quit). I needed a creative outlet to stay sane, and had often written in the past to flesh out songs or whatever I was working on. I just started writing a lot more to enable that creative outlet to flow…so it impacted my writing a great deal. If I had continued to pursue music, I wouldn’t have developed as a creative writer. I wouldn’t have taken it seriously, I don’t think.
KLN: Were you in a band? If so, did you write the lyrics and did those lyrics find themselves into your body of written work, particularly in your poetry collections, The Gossamer Eye and Barfodder: Poetry Written in Dark Bars and Questionable Cafes?
RG: I was in several bands on the east coast – the last one before I left was called Aislynn; a hair band, basically, with three girls and three guys. I played guitar – trading off lead and rhythm with Pat Cornette, one of the founders (with Anji Cornette). That band has since evolved and believe it or not, is now a successful Christian Rock band called HARVEST BLOOM. I never wrote lyrics for that band, though I did in others. Song lyrics, ironically, didn’t often come quickly to me, though I wrote a lot of poetry during that time. Guitar riffs, however, did. None of the poetry I wrote before age 20 was any good. It was self serving and angsty, without a clear voice – hand-staple-forehead stuff. Nothing anyone would want to read, not even me, when I was done. Ha! The poetry in TGE was written much later, and in a very different way from BARFODDER, which was done along my travels and in bars and cafes all across the cities I visited frequently then.
KLN: You worked with Mark McLaughlin and David Niall Wilson on the collection, The Gossamer Eye. What can you tell the readers about that experience? How did you all meet? Why did you decide to work on the project? Are you planning future projects together? Are you planning a project with just Mark McLaughlin or just David Niall Wilson?
RG: Collaborating is a good experience, though not everyone can do it. You write a bit, send it to your collaborator. They edit and write a bit more, then send it back to you. And so on. You really have to be in tune with your writing partner to make that voice seamless, not chopped up. When you are done, it’s very rewarding, since so much of what we do as writers is a solitary thing. It feels good to create with others.
David N. Wilson and I met what seems a lifetime ago, in a message board or chat room—can’t recall which—about vampires and vampire characters. We argued vehemently about something—not sure what it was—and a few days later Dave sent me an email to smooth things over, introducing himself as a writer (he wrote some STAR TREK VOYAGER stuff back then—the book not the TV show), and had heard I wrote too. We exchanged some of our stories, and became friends. He really pushed me to send stuff out to publishers at the time…something I hadn’t considered doing at all. I did it for me; not to get paid.
When he finally won me over to the idea, the first thing I sent out I sold to a pro publisher, won an award (2nd place), and got published. I figured…Hey! He was right! There might be something to this after all. If I can make money doing what I love, that is.
Later I met Mark at a convention somewhere. I don’t remember if it was World Horror or World Fantasy. He had read some of my fiction and poetry somewhere along the line, and invited me to be the Feature Poet in The Urbanite #11 – a great magazine that’s unfortunately no longer being produced. David and I had, at that time, already collaborated on a few short stories together—most of which were published.
David, Mark and I were all at the same convention one year, having a chat with Stephen Pagel, who owned Meisha Merlin Publishing. We were discussing doing a book of poetry as single authors separately when Stephe said he’d publish it if we collaborated and did one book together. Thus…TGE was born. At the time, no one was doing that kind of thing—publishing a book entirely of poetry, or even mostly poetry. We got lucky. Meisha Merlin broke the code of “we don’t publish entire books of poetry,” in the small press industry.
KLN: Your biography in Barfodder mentions you were adopted. Why did you feel compelled to offer that information?
RG: I did two different biographies in BARFODDER because I thought one would be funny and one would be what people really wanted to know. In the funny one, I also said I was a serial killer…though that’s not true. Ha. Though it is true that I’m adopted. My mother’s second husband adopted me from my biological father—but I consider my biological father as “Dad.” I thought it was a funny thing to include, since so many people like to profile writers as the person who their fiction or poetry is about. Poetry is so much more personal – there is a pound of truth in the ounce of sarcasm instead of the other way around. But the reader is intended to internalize all that muck and find a way to identify with it, from within themselves. Poetry is supposed to make you feel.
KLN: What type of dance is the Argentine tango, or is it a dance at all? How did you find out about it and what made you want to teach it?
RG: Argentine tango is most definitely a dance. Many call it a way of life. It’s not Ballroom, and it’s not the rose between Morticia’s teeth. It’s the oldest type of tango; the original, and often called a “war between legs.” It’s a full contact sport. I fell into tango as a happy accident. A former flame and I took the beginning classes together. We broke up. He swore never to dance tango again, and I kept right on doing it…it was sort of like therapy. You could turn your brain off and just…dance. Pretty soon I was obsessed with it; dancing 4-5 times a week; taking lessons like a fiend.
Later, I was entered into an amateur competition put on by the American Tango Association and the Argentine Government, with my first partner. We won in the end—“Best American Couple,” and an all expenses paid VIP trip to Buenos Aires on De LaRua’s dime right before his regime fell, plus radio spots and classes with Maestros. My partner didn’t go due to some legal issues getting out of the states. I don’t think his passport was valid or something.
I went…and that launched my pro career as a dancer. After that, I wound up working with and dancing with some of the best dancers in the world. Teaching at that point, came naturally. I had a recognizable style, and legend as a partner. We performed all over.
It was in 2006 that all that came to an end. I was in a bad car accident, and though the impact damage to my knees and ankles was manageable, I hadn’t been treated for the terrible concussion I had. It changed my life. I soon found out I had a very nasty, chronic vertigo. I tried and tried to dance, but when the vertigo would hit, I’d go down like a ton of bricks. No balance; no dancing. It was a hard realization to make… Since then, it’s calmed down quite a bit. I don’t get it every day or even every week anymore…but I still get it enough that it impacts what I do and choices I make for physical activity. Even more sad, my former partner, Omar Vega, passed away from a heart attack in Buenos Aires two years ago.
You can always say in the moment that you’ll never be “here” again – and I’m so glad each and every time I danced, I danced like it was my last.
KLN: Why do you write poetry instead of the popular longer fiction? Do you plan to write a novel someday?
RG: I actually got my start in fiction – not poetry. I sold a ton of short stories (most of which are no longer in print). Poetry was a happy accident—no one ever thinks poetry will sell, but for me, it did. So I kept on writing the poetry. Still do. It’s ironic to me that it’s what I’m known for more, since the fiction is what got me started getting the poetry sold. I have started and stopped writing novels for many years. I have a complete one that no one will ever see—it’s past the shelf life, and couldn’t imagine it in print. I just started working on a new one now—it’s just prioritizing what will make you money first, when you write for a living, versus what you really want to be doing at that moment. When I had a full-time day job it was different. I could pick and choose. In a way you could say I still do. If I don’t have a passion for a project, I’m not going to finish it before I finish something else.
KLN: You were the editor-in-chief of Do you have other editing projects planned? What did you look for in submissions?
RG: I have been tossing around the idea of editing a book for the Haunted Mansion Writer’s Retreat I’m hosting ( this September. I haven’t aggressively sought out a publisher yet for it, simply because I don’t have all the main attendees confirmed. I’ve opened it up to other writers, though it’s not posted yet on the website. The idea is to be holed up in a paranormal location for four days with other writers, and just…write about your experiences, or write whatever inspires you there. I think some amazing work will come out of it all. I’ve talked unofficially to a couple of publishers about doing the book, but so far the pro rate of pay has reluctantly scared them off. It’s not unreasonable, but certainly harder for small press houses that are used to paying writers what they made in the 1930’s, come around to the year 2010.
As for what I look for in a submission…the writing has to be good. It has to make me feel something. When I read poetry submissions, there is nothing I hate more than seeing a poet force rhyme into their work when it doesn’t belong there, and isn’t good. I love it when poets write in form—really get their heads around a Villainelle or type of Sonnet. But if they get the syllables or rhyme/meter scheme wrong—it just doesn’t work. So why force it? Free verse is often just as beautiful and get’s your point across in the way you know how. That’s it in a nutshell. What people often forget is how much bad poetry is floating around in the world. For every honestly good submission, I’d get 100 more that weren’t. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try to submit your poetry somewhere. It just means you should only submit your absolute best.
KLN: Thank you for agreeing to this interview. I appreciate your time. Is there anything additional you’d like to share with our readers?
RG: I thank each and every one of you for buying and/or reading my work. I appreciate the time you take out of your lives to read it, and hope you never stop.

Check in with Rain here

(The Black Glove thanks Rain Graves for her time and efforts)

--Karen L. Newman