Interview with Mary Jensen, author of Chiaroscuro

Mary headshot

You are the author of a new book of poetry, Chiaroscuro. Can you tell us a little about the book?Chiaroscuropromo

Chiaroscuro is a poetry book about the contrast and balance between light and dark. Poems range from internal conflict to worldwide war to creatures of myth, but all follow the themes of finding havens of light in dark days, persisting despite the odds.

What was your experience of putting the collection together? How difficult/not did you find the organizing?

The collection slowly came together over eight years. Back in 2008, I took a course at the Muse Online Writers Conference called “How to Turn Your Poetry Into a Saleable Chapbook.” I had a lot of poems in my portfolio and wanted to create a cohesive collection.

I looked over my poems, and sorted them into themes. I found a lot of them were on the darker side: death, pain, abuse. It hadn’t really dawned on me until then how much I use poetry to deal with the darkness.

With encouragement, I went ahead with the dark theme. Chose my title, Chiaroscuro. My initial tag line was: Exploring the darkness, bringing the monsters of death and abuse into the light.

That first time, I printed off all the poems that matched that theme. I sat on the floor and shifted poems around until it felt right. Wasn’t much reasoning for any of it other than gut.

The process became much easier once I got Scrivener. In that program, you can drag individual items in the sidebar to reorder them, and view them as individual items or as the whole collection. I also tagged everything with more specific themes – fantasy, war, relationships, doubt, death. With that visual I was able to first group by theme, then shift them around to best tell a story.

The collection starts out darker, with a world falling apart. Then slowly becomes more focused – nature, people, self. As we approach the end, it shifts more into the light. One poem that never changed location in all my revisions was the end poem: “Ash and Water.” That last line, “And I turn from death to embrace life” really summarizes the entire book.

Are any of the poems written specifically for the book?

What was initially planned as a 25 poem chapbook, later expanded to a book length collection to enter into a local writing competition. Most of the additional poems were older ones which I revisited and revised, but I did write new ones with the theme in mind. Most notably: “Dark Days,” “Danse Macabre,” and “Ghost of Childhood”.

How did you decide which poems to include and which ones to leave out?

These are themes I find myself revisiting often in my poetry, so I didn’t have to search hard to find enough to fill a book. There were a few poems that I wrote later and added to fill it out more.

I chose most of my poems for their ability to tell a story. Those felt like they had more impact than ones that simply asked questions or explored a topic.

Another big help was my poetry group, The Poetic Muselings. They helped me identify my stronger poems.

What’s your favorite poem from the book? Would you mind sharing it with us?

Ooh, this is a tough question. Three really come to mind for different reasons.

“The Sun Sets” is really the center of the collection. It’s one I wrote back in high school, the oldest of my poems to make it in the book.

“Concrete Forest” is more a mixture of the dark theme and the other topic I write a lot about: fantasy. It’s about a fairy in today’s modern world.

The third poem is much shorter than both of those, and is the one I will share with you. I love the sound of this one, and never tire of reading it aloud.

The Ocean

Beauty in endless motion,
the ocean,
she takes as oft as she gives.
A cherished ship meets its doom
in her womb,
and still, the sailors forgive.

You did a lot of research before you decided where to submit your collection. Can you tell us a bit about that?

I did searches on Duotrope and Writers Digest, making a list of all the poetry book publishers I could find. I made a chart in Excel and went through each website to get stats on book length, theme preferences, payment, format. I made a list of what I most wanted in a publisher:

clear information

print options

listed response time

ease of submitting (email)

I know self-publishing is an option, especially for poetry, but I’d prefer to go through a publisher for the formatting, marketing, cover book, all those things that intimidate me. It’s a process I’d rather not go through alone.

SynergEbooks was one of my top choices, but their submissions were closed when I began submitting. When their submission window opened again, I still hadn’t gotten a publisher so I sent them my query and sample poems, and they loved it. Lesson learned: don’t be afraid to aim for your top picks. You can’t hit a target you don’t shoot for.

You write fantasy as well as poetry. Do you have a preference?

They satisfy me in different ways. A great thing about poetry is that I can write one in a single day. The feeling of finishing a project is very gratifying. Poetry also focuses more on the moment, and allows me to play with language. Fantasy delights me in other ways: I can create new worlds, explore magic systems, and really delve into a story in a way that poetry cannot.

How do you balance your writing time between fiction and poetry?

Sometimes I try to keep them in two separate boxes, a poet in one moment and a fiction writer in another. But they are both a part of me, and they definitely bleed into each other. I’ve written poems and songs for my novels, and I tell a lot of stories with my poetry.

That being said, most of the year I’m more a fiction writer than a poet. Poetry tends to come in waves. I can go a year without writing a poem, and then write forty in one month. It’s much more reliant on inspiration than my fiction.
You have a young son. How do you find the time to write?

Since I don’t have a day job, I try to get my writing done while my son is in school. Summer has always been a challenge. This year, I’ve scheduled an hour every day that is “alone time”.  He also earns two hours of solo video game time each day. That gives me three hours that I can use for myself – either recharging or writing.
What are you working on now?

I have a hard time focusing on just one project. I actually have five novels in progress. The two I’m (mostly) focusing on are:

The Minotaur Staff:  A (mostly) modern supernatural adventure, with time travel. A treasure hunter finds an artifact that summons a gladiator from ancient Atlantis.

Race to 100 Deaths: Traditional fantasy. Three elven diplomats are captured by a human baron that wants war. He forces them into a contest – a race to 100 deaths.

Where can readers find your book?

You can order Chiaroscuro directly off of SynergEbooks.com (http://www.synergebooks.com/ebook_chiaroscuro.html). It is also available for Kindle and Nook.

Where can readers find you on the web?

Website: marywjensen.weebly.com

Blog: http://marywjensen.blogspot.com

Twitter: https://twitter.com/MaryWJensen

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/MaryWJensenFanPage

Pinterest: http://pinterest.com/feywriter/

Group blog: http://poetic-muselings.net

LinkedIn:  http://www.linkedin.com/pub/mary-jensen/30/793/68

Any last words?

We are all unique. We each have a story to tell: through our blogs, poetry, fiction, film, art, or other mediums. We can all contribute to the world. When we stop contributing, we do the world a disservice.

I’d love to hear from you. I’m giving away a free PDF version of Chiaroscuro to one of the commenters, so don’t be shy.

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7 thoughts on “Interview with Mary Jensen, author of Chiaroscuro

  1. Caroline Glen

    With kindness, my personal opinion, of course: not very happy with the first three lines – just me, I seldom like one word on a line; not keen on ‘beauty,’ and ‘oft.’ Informed years ago to avoid abstracts, and oft ‘old-fashioned Like the last three lines.

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  2. Mike Dailey

    Where did you come up with the title of the book? I think having a title that catches the attention of the potential reader really helps. I also like the way you organized the collection. I have laid out collections like that several times and each time I did, I came up with a different order. By the way, what do you consider a good number of poems for a book length collection. I have done two self-publishing collections and am working on my third. I have enough material of different themes for another two or three collections and am considering looking for a publisher instead of self-publishing them. Any advice you want to give me?

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    1. Mary W. Jensen

      Great questions, Mike. As for the title, “chiaroscuro” has long been a favorite word of mine, ever since reading “The Golden Key” by Melanie Rawn. The word is an art term for the contrast and balance between dark and light. I felt it fit the darker nature of my poems.

      As for length, I went off the publisher’s guidelines. There was a lot of variation, but most were between 50 and 100 pages. I did have to be careful to note whether their guidelines mentioned a min/max for *pages* or *poems*. The difference is important if you have multiple small poems on a single page, or poems that exceed a page in length.

      Good luck in your own publishing journey. My main advice is to read the guidelines and find out as much about a press as you can before submitting. That includes checking out their published titles. If they accept poetry book submissions, but haven’t actually published any, then it might not be the right fit.

      If you have any more questions, feel free to email me at feywriter @ hotmail.com.

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  3. Jcaska

    Great interview! I especially enjoyed learning how the collection came about, including the process of organization and identification of theme, and your preference for those that in particular tell a story. Looking forward to reading more of your work!

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