Helen R. Peterson's poem, "When Even The Neighbor's Cat Feels Sorry For Me", appears in the Autumn 2010 issue of The Battered Suitcase.
Helen R. Peterson is the managing editor of Chopper Poetry Journal out of New London, CT. Currently she has work in Girls With Insurance, Moronic Ox, Maintenant Quatre, and will have work in the upcoming issues of Southword Journal, Bull Spec, Foundling Review, Literary Tonic, The View From Here, and poeticdiversity. Her work was also featured in The Work Book, an anthology put out by Poet Plant Press in 2007.
I can’t remember a time when I didn’t want to write. In high school I would write silly little poems in birthday cards, giving hints to what I’d given my friends.
Why do you write?
Because I have to. There comes a point, if I haven’t written anything in awhile, that things start boiling over, and I can’t concentrate on anything else. At that point, it’s either write it out, or go to work without my pants on.
Is being a writer/poet anything like you imagined it would be?
It’s a lot less glamorous. I always imagined at this point I’d be lunching at the Algonquin, taking calls from my publisher in between puffing on an extra long cigarette holder.
What do you think makes a good story?
An old story, told with a new slant, always works best for me, as a writer and a reader.
What's your favorite genre to read?
I read pretty much everything. Working in libraries will do that to you.
Who is your favorite author or poet?
I have a soft spot for Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett and C.S. Lewis as writers. For poets, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Sylvia Plath; dead women I couldn’t live without.
What books or stories have most influenced you the most as a writer?
I get a lot of inspiration from the Bible, which I read daily. I’m always finding words or phrases that are particularly lovely or odd, and I’ll write them down and spin something around it. I do the same with folk tales and fairy tales, I love messing with archetypes.
What books or stories have most influenced you as a person?
I find the same goes for me as a writer and a person. Bible and folk tales, not so much the fairy tales though.
Where/how do you find the most inspiration?
I am constantly surrounded by the most amazing people, especially my children. I happen to be blessed with a very full and interesting life. In this past year alone, my job was eliminated and my husband left. That was two huge blows, two things I loved and identified myself with gone in a matter of months. A lot of the zombie stuff I wrote this year came from this feeling of losing control of my life. But there’s a lot of joy in my life as well. My kids are amazing. I have a huge and quirky family. Life is one big writing prompt, and I’m never without a notebook and pen.
What does your family think of your writing?
They enjoy it, especially now that I’m publishing a lot. I think they’ll love it more when I finally have a book out, or the New Yorker starts calling.
What is your work schedule like when you're writing?
Between a full time job and three kids, I write whenever I can snatch a moment, usually five to ten minutes a night if I’m lucky and the dog doesn't run away.
Do you have any writing quirks or rituals?
Not really. I tend to write down notes, freewrite, whenever I feel or see something, and then when I get home organize those notes into a poem or story. There’s usually music playing. When I can’t find anything to write about, I put music on, and write about that.
Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing?
Finding the time to write, edit, send things out. The waiting is the hardest part. I have two manuscripts out there, a chapbook and a full length book of poetry, and I think about them all the time. Hoping someone offers to publish them. Hoping all that time I put into them pays off.
What are your current projects?
Like I said, there are two completed manuscripts I’m trying to find a home for. The chapbook is poetry and flash fiction inspired by music and the anonymous people I write about on the street, making up little lives for them. The full length book is poetry and flash inspired by my life growing up as a navy brat during the end of the Cold War, and then raising kids of my own Post 9/11. I’m also working on a book of poetry inspired by David Foster Wallace’s dictionary. After Wallace died, Salon.com wrote an article about a dictionary he owned, and the words he underlined. I’ve been using some of those words, and then researching some unusual and arcane words of my own to wrap poems around.
What are you planning for future projects?
I have a novella started, about the Biblical Cain, wandering Midwest America during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. I haven’t worked on it for awhile, a project like that needs more focus than I can give it at the moment. I’d also like to put together a book of flash fiction based on female fairy tale characters. I’ve written one on Little Red Riding Hood, which Moronic Ox published at the beginning of the year, and one on Snow White, which was published by Tales from the Velvet Rope. I have an idea for Goldilocks next, and then, who knows?
Do you have any advice for other writers?
Grow a thick skin. Know your markets. Submit a lot, especially in the beginning when no one knows you. Don’t expect the big high paying journals and presses to accept your work without a decent publishing history behind you. Small presses and non paying journals are your friends.
Where can we find your work?
My blog, http://mspetersonexplains.wordpress.com/ , has an updated list of my publishing history, as well as some other cool stuff about me.