An Interview

Do you enjoy cooking? Do you have a favourite thing to cook, and is it different from your favourite thing to eat? Is there a recipe you have always wanted to make?

I do like to cook (though it's less fun now that I'm a mom and have to feed other people on a regular basis). I love to bake -- bread, and lots of different kinds of cookies. When my husband and I lived in California, his coworkers called me the cookie goddess, and my chocolate chip cookies once caused a riot at a memorial service. But I try to use my powers for good, mostly. I love Asian cuisine of all kinds, and I think I'd enjoy learning how to cook Indian or Thai food. But right now I have too many picky people in my house. As I've gotten older, I've grown much more willing to experiment with new tastes. To me, being open to new experiences is a part of growing as a writer.

Tell us about your first poetry rejection, and your first poetry sale. Was there a vast gulf in between? Did you find yourself doing something differently to sell a poem, or was it a matter of finally finding the right market?

I got my first rejection, at age twelve, from Yankee magazine. That was the only grown-up magazine I knew of that published poetry. I think the editors might have been kinder if they'd realized the poem was from a little girl (not that they were mean -- I think they just assumed I was another adult).

After that, it was a long time before I sent poetry out again. During high school and college I wrote self-important emo poetry. I finally took a great poetry writing class for my last semester at BYU, and the teacher encouraged me and tried to show me how to write poetry that was more grounded in concrete images.

I started writing speculative fiction after college (without much success), and I began playing around with poetry that had some weird themes. I had no idea where to send those poems -- though I had a pretty good idea that The New Yorker wouldn't have much interest in a poem about a disemboweled chicken -- so I started looking for speculative markets that accepted poetry as well as fiction. And I found that many editors in the community were really open to strange poetry, and willing to work with an ignorant newcomer.

Writing speculative poetry freed me in a lot of ways. I realized I didn't have to rehash my own emotions and experiences over and over again -- I could step out of that world and experiment with other voices. I've always loved folklore and mythology, so incorporating them into my writing felt natural to me.

Is there a fairy tale or folk tale you identify most strongly with?

I love so many fairy tales. There are elements of Rapunzel or The Twelve Swans, for instance, that I identify with -- the years of silence, the blind wandering in the wilderness. But my favorite fairy tale has always been The Snow Queen. My parents had a very cool illustrated version of that story, and I loved the heroine. Unlike so many tales, the heroine in The Snow Queen acts, and makes an incredibly difficult journey in order to rescue the boy she loves. And along the way, she meets all these interesting characters. Plus the Snow Queen herself is fascinating. I wrote a poem for her called “Queen of Winter” that appeared in GUD #3 last year.

You write often about a road or a path, about journeying somewhere difficult to reach. Are you a traveller? Where would you like to go, if you could go anywhere in the world?

I love to travel. I think I inherited that characteristic -- my grandmothers and my dad all love to see new places and have adventures. In high school, I had the opportunity to go to what was then the Soviet Union. So I've been to St. Petersburg and Moscow, as well as a Black Sea resort and Azerbaijan and the Baltic republics. It was an amazing experience, and my study of the language and culture has had an impact on my work.

Since getting married, I've done most of my traveling in the United States -- one thing I learned while growing up is to enjoy the adventures close to home as well as those far away. Inspiration is hiding everywhere -- it's more about being open to the possibilities than anything else.

But I do want to travel the world. Being a historian by training, I dream of seeing all the places I've read about. I'd love to go to Machu Picchu, the pyramids of Egypt, the Holy Land, the Great Wall of China, the ruins of Troy. I'm a bit envious of my friends in the military because, hey, Babylon is in Iraq. Though I'm sure they don't see it that way.

Your poetry collection is called Signs and Wonders. Do you believe in signs and wonders? Do you find yourself occasionally acting in a way prescribed by superstition or folk tradition?

I'm not superstitious in the fearing-black-cats-and-thirteens sense, but I've learned to be mindful of coincidences and dreams, because I think that they can sometimes reflect deeper truths that can be obscured by day-to-day life.

The term 'signs and wonders' actually comes from a verse in the Bible. In that context, it was given a pejorative meaning. I liked that ambiguity -- signs are always open to interpretation and misinterpretation. They're mysterious, and sometimes they're uncomfortable. And sometimes they lead us away from the easy life to something more complicated and dangerous -- but ultimately more rewarding.

Along the same lines, you've sometimes written about creativity being a way of connecting to the Divine. Would you care to elaborate on that? Do you consider yourself a spiritual person, and if so, what form does your spirituality take? Does it influence your writing, or do you try to keep it separate?

My spiritual life and my religion are an important part of my life, and thus my work. I don't try to deliberately insert my beliefs into my work -- though I admire C. S. Lewis' writing, I don't necessarily want to follow in his footsteps -- but it's there, at least for me. When I write, particularly in my poetry, I'm often writing out of my pains and fears and questions, rather than because I have a handy answer. Yet I'm always surprised by the reactions of my readers, especially those with whom I share a religious background. The poems that, for me, come out of my most doubt-ridden and despairing moments often prove to be the ones that others find most moving and meaningful. Last week at church, a friend told me that she went back often to reread "The Theater of Heaven" because it really touched her. I would not in a million years expect that it would be her favorite, but it makes me happy that she's been helped by it.

I feel like I'm on a spiritual journey, and my writing forms a big part of that progression. As a Mormon, I attend church regularly, and that's meaningful for me, but I also do a lot of reading on comparative religions in my free time. I've been blessed to know people from lots of different spiritual backgrounds, and I think in all of them there are elements of value I can adopt in my own life.

You also write short fiction. What makes you take an idea and think, "this should be a poem" instead of "this should be a story"? Do you feel inspiration strike differently when it comes to fiction than when it comes to poetry? Do you expect that it should?

That's a good question, but I'm not really sure how to answer it. The ideas just feel different to me. With poetry, it's more of a single image or scene. Hopefully I can tell a whole story or convey a sense of mood with that, but I know I'm dealing with a much briefer medium. (I almost never write poems which are more than a page or two in length -- if they are longer, they tend to come in 'scenes'.) That said, there are poems I've written that want to be stories someday. “Thousand Flower Sun,” [ ] which was published in [ ] Strange Horizons last year, is one of those.

Do you listen to music while you write? Do you find it feeds into your writing at all?

Sometimes I listen to classical music when I write, if there's too much extraneous noise in my house. But usually I prefer quiet -- it helps me feel the rhythm of the words.

I do find inspiration in music, though. Interesting juxtapositions of images in lyrics (like Jesca Hoop's) or the drama in soundtracks or classical pieces. I love Russian composers. Mussorgsky is my absolute favorite, but I have a bunch on my iPod, so I can dial up whatever I need.

What is the most frustrating thing about being a writer -- or an editor, for that matter?

For poetry, I wish I was more widely read, and had a better grasp of technical details. I think I'm too sloppy. Obviously, those are fixable problems, once I've put in my time. I probably can't change the fact that the poets whose work I love are mostly dead already. So I'm coming to grips with the fact that I'll never be cutting edge.

As a fiction writer, I wish I were better at plotting. If I try to outline a story before I write it, I lose interest. But I lose a lot of time rewriting stories because I've taken a wrong turn.

As far as editing goes, there's no surer way to make an editor wrathful than to submit without proofreading or checking out the magazine's guidelines. It's amazing how many people don't notice errors in their opening paragraphs -- or even the titles of their stories. I don't understand that.

What are your Reader Pet Peeves? You know what we're talking about. You're reading a perfectly acceptable story, and then That Plot Twist happens, or That Character Starts Falling Into THIS Rut.

I used to be pathological about finishing any book I started. But I've learned that some aren't worth finishing because the irritation is too great. I hate books in which the characters act stupidly in order to advance the plot. That includes characters withholding necessary information from each other, and bad guys who are incompetent just to give the hero a chance to survive, and whatever. After a few years of editing, I became really adept at sensing when a writer is holding out on me so they can hit me with a 'surprise' later. Or spotting the point where the author said, "La la la I have no idea how to get them out of this spot -- I guess no one will notice if I do this." Guess what? I noticed. And your book is now at the second-hand store, waiting for some other unsuspecting victim.

In her dreams, Jennifer Crow sees strange buildings with mysterious towers and doorways to other places. No doubt there's a castle in Neverland that's made up of all those corridors and balconies, just waiting for her to find it. Jennifer's poetry has appeared in a number of print and online venues, and received honorable mentions in several editions of The Year's Best Fantasy and Horror anthologies. Her first collection, Signs and Wonders, is available now from Sam's Dot Publishing. To find out more about her work and upcoming appearances, check out her blog.

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