INTERVIEW: DAVID MEMMOTT
You not only publish short story collections and novels via Wordcraft of Oregon, but also write short stories, poems, and novels. How can you tell, either from an editor's or writer's point of view, when a piece is really finished?
It's something like comparing bells: a brass bell sounds different than a glass bell sounds different than a ceramic bell. Some bells may be poorly cast or have clappers too long or too short or made of the wrong material. The truth is in the tone. If it rings rich, full and clear, it sets off a sort of harmonics of the soul and you know it's right. To tune your ear, you've got to have heard a lot of bells ring.
How do you know you're giving or getting good criticism about a manuscript?
Good criticism excites you about the work, brings new energy, makes you want to get at it again. If it leaves you feeling a little sick in the stomach, then it's blocking energy and you have to let it go, no matter how long the critic's resume. You have to trust your own gut reaction. So I think of criticism like energetic healing, it either opens up or blocks the energy. A good critic or reader can stick you with needles but you don't feel any pain, only this energizing warmth spreading throughout your body.
What sort of tricks do you employ during your own revision process?
It's interesting that Jacob dreamed of a stairway to heaven with angels ascending and descending, then later wrestled with god until dawn and went off limping with a dislocated hip. That's what the revision process is for me, the dream followed by a struggle to find the right form. There are no tricks. You start again from the beginning and work through. A helpful tool has been Thomas E. Kennedy's checklist for self-editing called "Torturing Your Sentences," including advice such as: less says more, le mot juste (finding the right word), use strong verbs, avoid unnecessary repetition, etc.
DAVID MEMMOTT is the editor/publisher of Wordcraft of Oregon, a Rhysling Award winner, and author of several books of poetry. This interview first appeared in Rebel Yell (1998).