The Next Big Thing

"The Next Big Thing" has been called an international tag game among writers. One writer "tags" another writer to answer some interview questions about an upcoming book or other literature project. The tagged writer answers the questions and tags five other writers.Through WOMPO, a list serve of over 1000 women poets world-wide, I was tagged to participate by South African poet and musician Lisl Jobson. Jobson is the author of Ride the Tortoise, a collection of stories. Here is what I had to say:
What is your working title of your book?
Prison Terms: Poems

Where did the idea come from for the book?
From having spent eighteen years in Medium Security running a volunteer writing workshop

What genre does your book fall under?

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?
Not Patty Duke. Not Karen Valentine. I know several guys who would love to play themselves, and I am sorry we've lost Bill McKenzie, a former student who went on to act in the movie Skeleton Key and in episodes of Crossing Jordan and ER.  He always wanted to have his own story told, was working on the script in L.A. workshops when he died.
What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
Diane Kendig spent four months in a men’s Medium Security Prison, spread over 18 years, and wrote these poems about time served.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
What? I’m a poet; I don’t quite get this question, the part about an agency, anyhow. And I don't have the courage of self-publishing. I am working on finding a publisher for this and my other book, Speaking of Maria Blanchard.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?
28 years or so, sort of like a word a day, while I was writing my previous book, The Places We Find Ourselves, and grading papers and taking care of family….

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
Joe Bruchac’s There Are No Trees Inside a Prison, a 1980s chapbook I have always kept near, combined with The Lives of the Saints.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?
The courage of incarcerated men and their families to survive this brutal, overused, underfunded U.S. institution.
What else about your book might pique the reader's interest?

In addition to me and my people, it includes historical figures who prevailed over and through the prison experience: Mandela, 19th century Joseph Palmer, Lefcadio Hearn, Marie Laveau….Maybe this one poem about Marie Laveau, the voodoo queen of New Orleans, who visited and assisted men in prison there:


She did death row, the sister they never had,
trying at first her set-free spell.
But when Adam and Deslisle slipped
right through the noose, in front of the town,
they were hauled back and hanged again.

She moved on to her poisoned gumbo routine.
They died on the floor the night before hanging,
right after dinner.  Antoine Cambre, a wealthy Creole,
chose to go in the throes of her okra,
shrimp, ham, cayenne.  His own private agony. 

One, just once, she saved someone: a rich man
rescued at the edge of the gallows
by a galloping horseman with the governor’s pardon.
So Marie’d learned the prison trick:
you need money and magic to live.

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