Interview With Poet and Novelist Mary Mackey

Mary Mackey, author of the poem When I Was a Child, very graciously agreed to be interviewed.  After struggling to come up with questions that she had not been asked thousands of times, I finally retreated to my writer’s group and another group of friends, who supplied me with questions they would like to ask.  The questions and Mary’s answers follow.  I’d like to thank Mary here publicly for being so gracious.

1. Does your muse flow easier after tragedy, comedy, or exultation?  Mary: Tragic events seem to drive me toward poetic inspiration with the most force.  Poetry is often a way that I try to make sense out of the world.

2. Who, or what, most inspires your poetry?  Mary: My poetry is inspired by many things, none of which I can predict in advance.  Nature is a great inspiration.  I do a lot of hiking and canoeing with my husband.  Also, for many years I have been traveling to the tropics.  The jungle never fails to inspire me with its beauty a complexity.  Love also inspires me to write poetry, as does death.  I think the most concise answer to this question is: strong emotions of joy, fear, love, and terror inspire me.

3. Do you write more about what you have already experienced or what you wish to experience?  Mary: I almost always write about what I have already experienced.  Sometimes I change the experience slightly in the interst of writing a better poem.  On some occasions, I write about fictional experiences and people.  For example, in my forthcoming collection Sugar Zone (which will be published by Marsh Hawk Press in Fall 2011), I have created a fictional character named “Solange” who weaves her way mysteriously through many of the poems.  Solange is me/not me: muse, dream, a being who came out of my imagination.

4. Do you work a piece in one sitting or over days?  Mary: I do the first few drafts in one sitting.  Then I spend a long period of time revising.  Sometimes it takes years before I feel that a poem is complete.

5. Do you find specific settings or circumstances that are more conducive to writing poems over fiction?  Mary: I can write poetry anywhere – on a beach, in a coffe house, sitting in a tree.  Fiction demands a more stable environment because I need access to a computer, the Internet, and my research materials as well as long periods of time when I am not interrupted.  In contrast, I usually write my poems on a piece of paper using a pen.  When I am writing poetry I don’t need electricity or wi-fi, just a small window of peace.

6. Do you have a sense when a piece is ended or do you revise the ending?  Mary: I usually write well past the end.  Most of the time, I end up cutting the original ending and writing a series of new ends which I also cut and revise.

7. Do you experience any interaction between novel writing and poetry?  As in one inspires the other, one leads to a desire to write the other, etc.  Mary:  This is a particularly interesting question.  On several occasions, I have written a poem which later turned into a novel.  For example, a number of years ago, I wrote a long poem about a Civil War battlefield (which you can find in my collection Breaking the Fever, Marsh Hawk Press 2006).  This poem, which is entitled Lynchburg, was the seed of my two Civil War novels: The Notorious Mrs. Winston and The Widow’s War.

8. What’s your favorite dessert?  Mary:  Chocolate cake!

9.  What’s your opinion on how the publishing world is changing due to public platforms, hand held readers like Kindle, the direct access an author has to the internet, etc.  On a related note, do you think this is changing the previous perception that self-publishing meant works of a lesser standard?  Mary: Changes in the publishing world are going on so rapidly right now that no one, not even the publishers themselves, can grasp all the implications.  At present, due to the economic downturn and the rise of e-readers and public platforms, publishers and bookstores both are in a difficult situation. It’s probably not an overstatement to say that many of them are fighting for survival.  At present, I think there is still a lot of skepticism about self-published works, primarily because they have not undergone a rigorous selection and editorial process.  This may change in the near future, but I think it’s too soon to tell.  Meanwhile, the primary problem with self-publishing is getting your readers to know that your book is out there.

10. What question about writing would you like to answer but no one ever thinks to ask?  Mary:  Question: “Why do you write?”  Answer: I write because I love language, I love telling stories, and I love giving my readers poems and novels that they will enjoy and which, perhaps, will in some way change their lives.

Mary finished the interview with: ‘If you would like to learn more about my novels and poetry and sample some of my work, you are invited to visit my web page:  I can also be found on Facebook.”

Again, I would like to thank Mary for taking the time to answer our questions.  There are many things here that give me food for thought, not the least of which is how wonderful it is that writers make themselves so accessible.  Now I’m off to the library to find some of her novels.

4 thoughts on “Interview With Poet and Novelist Mary Mackey

  1. GREAT interview Lisa! Covered all bases for me! Sno-Isle has ONE of her books, a novel, and I got one copy, but two other copies of same book are not checked out, from other towns though!!! I LOVE your website here – we figured out that now with your new computer and this website I can send you pieces that before would not boot up on your computer. Will try to do that today. You should at least have in print what I’ve sent Beth, which are likely buried.

    LOVE all you are doing here – have more comments to make, like on the section of the group! I think I’ve now read all your entries. Thanks SO much for doing all this and pushing yourself WAY beyond your comfort zone. APPRECIATE! Pat


    • Glad you liked the interview, Pat. I’m sure you recognized some of the questions that came from your poet fingers. I’m looking forward to reading more of Mary’s work. I’d like to find the novels as well as more poetry. And I loved the image of her writing poetry sitting up in a tree. Lisa


    • I wondered about that. Trying to get some color so it wasn’t just white. I think I’ll leave it for a bit and see what other comments I get and how I get used to it. Thanks for visiting and commenting.


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