We’ve been interviewing Stories on Stage featured writers since the blog’s inception. This week, we introduce our Local Writers Interview Series, beginning with Kate Asche, interviewed by Janna Marlies Maron.
Kate Asche loves our local writing communities and always hopes to meet new writers and find new resources. She writes poetry and essays, and she teaches creative writing and college composition. She reads for the literary journal Memoir(and) and volunteers for Sacramento Public Library, Sacramento Poetry Center and 916 INK. Her black cats, Tuna and Pearl, as well as her photographer husband support her writing and her lifelong love of music: she plays clarinet in a classical wind quintet as often as she can. Kate graduated from the UC Davis Creative Writing program and was associate director of Arts, Humanities and Writing at UC Davis Extension, where she coordinated The Tomales Bay Workshops. She maintains a local literary events blog; follow her and get the scoop at www.kateasche.com or email asche(dot)kate(at)gmail(dot)com.
Looking to get some new writing done this spring? Registration is open now for The Craft of Shapely Writing, Kate’s spring generative writing workshop for all genres (starts April 11; early enroll discount honored anytime if you mention Stories on Stage!). More information and registration instructions at www.kateasche.com/workshops.
Kate, I’ve known you for several years as very active in the local writing and literary community and as an advocate of bringing that community together in Sacramento. Can you share a little bit about how you established yourself as a go-to person for the community and about how important community for is you as a writer?
I established myself as a go-to person completely by accident. At the time I started working on the writing programs at UC Davis Extension–actually, exactly four years ago yesterday, I think–I had no connection to the Sacramento and Davis writing communities. In fact, I lived at 26th and Q for a year during grad school, and I tried to find Sacramento Poetry Center (at 25th and R–for us map buffs out there, that’s less than two blocks walking, only one as the crow flies) and I couldn’t–they didn’t have a sign yet! Once I started working at Extension, I found myself getting to know new and long-time Extension writing teachers and students, and each person connected me to parts of the writing community I didn’t know existed. So I just ran with it. And this is really important: I didn’t realize that I was so thirsty for a writing community until I started to find ours. I realized then that I had found my tribe, and that my tribe was passionate and engaged and so deeply welcoming. I think that’s something that is so special about the Sacramento and Davis writing communities: they are deeply welcoming, wherever you are in your writing journey (and whatever kinds of stuff you like to write).
As for the importance of community to me as a writer: When I think of building community for writers, I think first of Pam Houston, with whom I have worked for seven years to put on The Tomales Bay Workshops. Before I even knew that writers needed community, she was showing me this, and teaching me that to create community takes time, persistence and the faith that writers need to give and receive support, insight and thoughtful feedback to/from one another, and that writers also need time to blow off steam together. Let’s face it: artists are strange people–we stand a little askew to the universe (that’s how we see it the way we do, and why we are moved to respond through art). We need each other to remind ourselves that we aren’t alone in the strangeness, and we all feel joy when we celebrate each others’ successes–in writing for the first time, in finding voice again after long silence, in finishing the first manuscript, in signing the first copy of the book. I think it’s incredibly important to get to know, and to serve and support and be supported by, writers in all kinds of places along their writing paths.
I also want to add here that supporting local publications and organizations is such an important part of being in a writing community. Part of why I chose to host my private workshops at ThinkHouse Collective is because TH spends time and energy supporting writers in town, from hosting events to providing valuable business and networking resources. I Street Press at Sacramento Library promises to be a valuable resource worthy of support. We also have some fine publications created right here in Sacramento: Tule Review, The Farrallon Review, and Under The Gum Tree, to name one in each genre off the top of my head. As writers, we should be buying, reading and submitting to these magazines that enrich our community through readings, events and by spreading the good work of Sacramento writers beyond our geographical place.
So I hear you’ve had several pieces published recently — congratulations! Tell us about what you’ve had published and where.
Yes! I am excited. It’s been fun and interesting to see who takes what, and also to note the wide variety of response times. I look forward to receiving the 2012 edition of RHINO, which comes out in April. I have a poem coming out there; RHINO is an amazing poetry annual and nonprofit that has been doing all kinds of work in Illinois since the ’70s. I also have poems coming out in Studio One, a magazine that’s run for 30 years out of College of St. Benedict-St. John’s University in Minnesota, as well as in a newer journal from Pennsylvania called Schuylkill Valley Journal. I sent out two rounds of submissions last year (in 2011) with the goal to publish six poems from those rounds. To date, I have published 4, plus the contest finalist and publication at The Missouri Review online, for my audio poem for two voices, “Know/Don’t Know” (listen here). I am still waiting on a few submissions, so I may yet make my goal!
Would you talk a little bit about your writing process — do you have an established rhythm to creating new material, getting feedback, revising, and finally submitting?
I love this question, because it’s a question that comes up in almost every class I teach, and it causes me to pause and note my process, and how it’s changing, regularly. For context, I work between three and five jobs at any given time, and I do a lot of volunteer work, and I struggle–as we all do–to find any time to write, let alone enough. These days, my writing life looks like this: I jot things down on sticky notes at my day job probably twice each week, and then I generate first draft work in the classes I teach and in a weekly writing group (or two) that I attend as often as I can. In both group contexts, we’re using the Amherst Writers and Artists (AWA) method of generating, and receiving feedback on, first-draft work. I was skeptical about this approach for a long time, but I totally buy into it now as a way to build community and to write what is–I truly find–my strongest first-draft work. For pieces that are in progress, I tend to mull things in the back of my mind for weeks (sometimes months) on end, until a gap opens in my schedule and I can dump it all onto the page. I can write first-draft work in little snippets–even just an image at a time–but I find, for revising, I need big chunks of time–at least three or four hours at a stretch. I am not sure that I recommend my approach, but for me, it’s the best I can do at this moment in my life.
In terms of submitting pieces for publication: I’m about to say something that will be anathema to many writers, but it’s the truth. I started by utilizing a submission service to help me kick my own you-know-what into just jumping in and getting a couple of big batches of submissions out. I sent to a variety of journals–top tier to relatively new, print to online-only. And I got pieces taken. What was great about this is that it took the sting out of rejection for me: I got so many rejections, so quickly, that they turned into simply pieces of information. Which is great–it turns out that, these days, much of publishing is a numbers game, and no matter how good your work is, you have to be the tortoise, not the hare. (Side note: the fastest rejection I ever got arrived within six days of my postmark date–by standard mail. It was one of my first rejections–and it hurt a little, what can I say? And yet, the rejections felt so much less about me after that!) Now, I am doing my own submission research and am targeting only top-tier magazines for first-round send-outs, with the understanding that response times at these are often much slower.
Oh, and I find posting my submission experiences on facebook creates a pretty good carrot-and-stick setup: I tell people what submissions I am going to send out, so that I then have to do it, and then they “like” me, and the world is a happy place–especially when I can report back that something’s been picked up.
You write both poetry and essays, so I’m wondering what it’s like for you to shift between the two genres?
You know, oddly, I think I haven’t exactly been asked this before, so excuse what I expect is going to be a rambling answer. First thought: I didn’t mean to write essays. I actually had been trying to turn a personal story into fiction, and oh my word, it was awful. I wrote the story four times, changing tense, POV, order of the scene elements–bad. No one’s ever seen it. It turned out that part of the problem is that I was trying to tell one story by writing another. So I scrapped the fiction, and at The Tomales Bay Workshops several years ago, one morning I put Sigur Ros on the stereo and wrote this personal narrative that started in prose and then fell naturally into lineated poetry. The voice that came out then was a voice I hadn’t heard from myself before, and it clearly wanted to express itself in both prose and poetry, in the same personal story. So I followed it. I have been following it for almost 100 pages now. That project is actually on hiatus, but the great thing it taught me is that I love to write sentences, and in fact, I had all along–so many of my poems operate through complete sentences. And so many of my poems are “nonfictional” in the sense that I stick to what I can recall of a lived experience, and the poem blooms from there. So personal essay/creative nonfiction was a natural expansion for me. I actually categorize my prose as lyric essay, because its energy is image- and form-based; in other words, there are definitely narratives there, but the meaning I’m after seems more often to reveal itself through association and the mystery of resonant images.
Whose work are you inspired by lately, and why?
Brenda Miller, Creative Nonfiction: Her work is so intentional, so polished, it shines. She makes revising look easy. And I love the way her mind wanders. (And, she’s a great teacher! I was able to work with her this past January thanks to Valerie Fioravanti’s Master Teacher Weekend Workshops.)
Judy Halebsky, Poetry: I literally just learned about, and met, Judy last week at Literary Lectures at Sacramento Poetry Center. She writes about experiencing two languages and two cultures, and her work seems energized by the idea of language as material in such a way that there is deep humanity in her work.
Mark Doty, Criticism/Memoir: I just taught The Art of Description by Mark Doty, and I am going to teach it again. It’s fantastic. I also love his memoir, Firebird, for what it is and for what it can teach writers about strategies memoir.
Kevin McIlvoy, Fiction: I bought and read Hyssop after Mc came to Stories on Stage in the fall. It made me want to mend fences with my own fiction–this book tells a story with lyricism and deep tenderness. He will be teaching a Master Teacher Weekend Workshop September 1-2, 2012.
Elizabeth Bishop, Poetry: I am revisiting her, after my first reading of her work back in grad school at Davis. Her poetry operates on so many levels. It is smart, and layered, and I am truly captivated by some of her pieces.
Melinda Moustakis, Fiction: Okay, so, full disclosure: Melinda is a long-time (I am talking 11 years now) friend. And her Flannery O’Connor Award-winning book, Bear Down, Bear North came out this past fall. And it’s gorgeous–poetic, associative, gritty.
You’ve been teaching private writing workshops since fall 2011. Tell us about them, and about the inspiration behind them.
Right now, my workshops all have a generative element, and often a generative focus, which means we take time to draft something new during every class meeting. I utilize the AWA method for this part of the class. I like the method for myself because it taught me how to play again in my work, which I had sort of forgotten how to do. I like it in class because it levels the playing field and reminds all of us that we are all writers who deserve to be heard, and that there is something memorable or beautiful in every draft. What I missed, though, in the AWA method was that engagement with critical thinking that comes through reading and discussing criticism, craft books and published examples. So, right now in my workshops, I add in this reading and discussion component. We also do manuscript critique in some of my workshops, which I facilitate in a very deliberate way to keep enjoyment, respect, engagement through thoughtful questioning, and support of what’s already working well as primary goals.
As a fellow teacher, I find that working with students is a subtle form of accountability for my creative work — it forces me to practice my craft and to stay current. In what ways does teaching affect your creative work?
Teaching affects my work in many ways (and probably some I’m not even aware of!). I think, mostly, it keeps reminding me that I, too, am forever a student. I learn so much in every class I teach. For me, teaching isn’t about having answers. It’s about creating a space for play and questioning in our work. It’s also about selecting a question, concept or pattern as a starting point for discussion, not an end point. I don’t lecture in these classes. Teaching also gives me access to an endless list of suggested readings, as class participants share the works that inspire them. And, yes, it can put a useful deadline on my own work, forcing me to take stock on a regular basis. Sometimes I like this, and sometimes it falls mid-way through some massive revision and I get irritated that I can’t finish the revision before it’s time to workshop my work (when I teach a critique workshop, I also put my own work on the block). And that, too, is a good reminder–of what the other participants are going through, and also that art doesn’t happen on schedule for most of us. We do our best to get to the desk regularly. And we do our best while we sit there. And there is something we can learn about letting go and letting our work just be what it is, at that moment. Teaching reminds me that my work comes out of me, but it’s not me–it’s its own thing, once it’s there on the page, and my job is (like a good teacher) to listen to what the work is really saying, to ask the hard/right/best questions and then make a space for the work to answer.
Writing is a very creative art and often a solitary one. How do you balance finding space to work on your craft with other work necessary to pay the bills?
Well, I am not superwoman. Exhibit A: My desk is a catastrophe right now. The pile to the left of my laptop is six inches high. Exhibit B: I don’t work all these jobs for fun. Some of them I do, but I have taken on a lot lately in hopes of working my way back toward a day job that more deeply connects with my writing life. In the meantime, I only get any writing done because I have an incredibly supportive partner (who’s also an artist) who values my writing as much, or maybe even more, than I do. My husband does nearly everything at home right now–cleans the toilets, shops, cooks, does the never ending dishes, scoops the cat box for Tuna and Pearl…he even makes my lunches and would make me breakfast, if I would stop and eat it. I rarely put dedications on my work. It was so fitting when the very first poem I published was the one I dedicated to him. I guess I should be dedicating more to him! I also have to shout out to my mom, dad, brother and step-mom, as well as my in-laws, who are local and so supportive of my work in so many ways: they record and edit audio, show up to readings, and even (in the case of my mom) perform with me.
What are you working on now, and what can we expect from Kate Asche in the next year?
My goals for 2012 are: host my first creative writers’ submission party (folks can watch my blog at www.kateasche.com/katesmiscellany for that, later in the year); have at least one private workshop running most weeks of the year; send out my first round of creative nonfiction for publication; finish a draft of a story (that maybe I can see performed someday at Stories on Stage!) and place six more poems for publication, though I am already running behind on send-outs for that, and…start eating breakfast again!
A self-proclaimed “woman in progress,” Janna Marlies Maron is most passionate about creativity and the power of the written word. She sees herself as something of a creative curator–a facilitator, if you will. She enjoys almost nothing more than piecing together smaller components (both tangible and abstract) and rearranging them until they meld into a larger, cohesive whole. If she had to sum up what her professional and personal life is all about in two words they would be: authentic storytelling. That’s the core of why she writes, why she publishes stories, and why she teaches others to write their story. She runs ThinkHouse Collective with her husband; she publishes Under the Gum Tree; she takes on select editing projects; she teaching writing at Sacramento City College. Oh, and, she has her own writing to pursue, which appears in all different forms: blog posts, weekly emails, ebooks, editor’s letters in Under the Gum Tree, feedback for her students and clients, and even in craigslist ads.
Write creative nonfiction? Submit to Janna’s literary magazine, Under the Gum Tree
Under the Gum Tree is a digital literary arts magazine, published quarterly and accepting continuous submissions. The editors are looking to publish creative nonfiction: true stories about human interactions — with each other, with food, with music, with film, that are told in original and beautiful ways. In particular, we are seeking stories related to music, film and food. Get a free copy of our premiere issue when you sign up for our newsletter and see we what type of stories we are looking for. Submit by 5/25 to be considered for our Summer 2012 issue. For more information and submission guidelines, visit underthegumtree.com.