Sunday, December 16, 2012

Meet Poet & Memoirist Deva Haney

Spike Note: A couple of years ago I was doing a mini-workshop at the Hampton Branch Library down south when a participant stood up and shared some of her remarkable story. After the meeting, I invited her to stay in touch. A year or so passed, and I thought of that woman a number of times, but never heard from her. Until I did. In August, 2011, Deva Haney showed up in my inbox and ever since I have had the exquisite honor and pleasure of being on the receiving end of many of her first drafts. I am so pleased to tell you that Deva just released her first chapbook, and on Tuesday, December 18, 2012, she will give a reading from that book, Until You Electrocute Everyone, at DOMY Books. I am honored to be giving the opening reading. I sure hope you'll join us. Here's a Q&A I did recently with Deva. You can get her book at DOMY and BookPeople or you can email me at and I'll hook you up.

SG: You just had your first book come out-- tell me about it (title, contents, genre):
DH: It's a small green chapbook called Until You Electrocute Everyone. It's poetry culled from things I've written over time that I finally, after some encouragement, pulled together into one place. I'm really happy with it. It's the first thing I've put out, and it's really been enlightening just to know that it's possible to get yourself out there. 

SG: But you've actually been writing poetry a long time. The book's dedication refers to this. Will you tell me about that? 
DH: I have. My joke is that I've been writing since I learned how to spell. Poems, stories, really bad songs. I've found there's a severe difference between writing and writing songs, by the way. But the dedication, it's for my mom and it refers to a poem I wrote for her when I was a kid. It was for Mother's day, and my mom would tend to get emotional when I wrote her a poem, so I knew ahead of time that she was going to end up crying. The poem said a bunch of reasons why I loved her,' because you this'..'.because you that'...and the last line was 'because you're crying,' which she was by then, so I  got her with that one. It totally made me look psychic, though, which was cool. 

SG: Why poetry?
DH: Because I'm all made up of poetry. I feel like, when I write, even if it's working on things other than poetry, it still comes out through the poetry filter. It's just built in, and if something's going to come out, it's always going to be tinged with poetry. I realized, after I came out with Electrocute, that the very first thing I said I wanted to do when I grew up was to be a poet. And then approximately five minutes later I realized that, of course, no one can grow up to be a poet, because that's just not how it works. So when I got here, when I finally put together a book full of things I'd written when I really didn't even tell people I wrote, it was a huge personal accomplishment. I feel like there are a lot of folks out there who write and never really make a big deal about it. It's way more common than I thought.

SG: You've been in love with writing for a long time, you are a stunningly kickass writer, but you are only now sort of dipping your toes into putting your stuff out in public-- what held you back? 
DH: You know, again, writing is something that I've always just done, regardless of whether or not I thought I could get a job doing it or whether or not other people knew I wrote. I do like that about the way I write, the fact that no matter what I'm doing it always feels very personal, I'm very connected to it. But I think I met quite a few people who were like, Oh sure, I write poetry. It got to be this thing in my mind that just everybody probably did, so why make a fuss about it?  And then later, I was married with two kids and there wasn't much beyond the day-to-day routine to provide an opportunity to actually pursue the things I maybe wanted to do versus what I needed to do to make rent. Again, I think this is probably a really common thing. You do what you have to do, you get up with the baby ten times at night, and then again in the morning, and there's not much fuel left to put into your personal desires. I kept writing, I'll always write, but the fact that it wasn't going to be a focus in my outward life just started to be a given. I'm in a different situation now, and I have to say that it's both terrifying and liberating to put myself out there. I'm liking it. 

SG: Do you want to talk about the memoir you're working on?
DH: Yes. Before I put out this chapbook, or simultaneously, I guess, I started working on a memoir. I was in a car accident in 2009 on the night before Thanksgiving, and in that accident I lost my husband, my son, my daughter and my brother. At the time of the accident, I had just found out that I had been accepted into the nursing program at ACC, and I decided to go ahead with it. So, about six weeks after my accident I started nursing school, and two years later, when I graduated, I started working immediately. I did that for about seven months and then I just began to feel like everything was catching up with me, that I needed to stop and process, which I hadn't fully done yet even though I do it, in a way, on a daily basis. And the way that I process is to write. So I thought I should write about it. The other motivating factor was all the grief books I read. Almost down to a one, they didn't seem to fit, didn't seem to apply to me. I bought probably twenty grief books and I only finished one. That, to me, signaled an open space that I could fill, and if what I come out with helps someone like me, someone who tends to just half-finish and then throw grief books across the room, then I'll call it a job well done.

SG: So, yeah, that sucks that you lost your whole family. How do you even begin to write about that-- what are some chapter topics?
DH: Working on this memoir has been incredibly difficult. It has been one of the hardest things I've ever done. It was the first time I really buckled down and made myself write compared with just letting something flow out of me, and it's very, very hard. At times it has been positively visceral, I've gotten shaky, I've taken fifty smoke breaks. I talk about very concrete things, like planning funerals and all the million things involved with that that nobody thinks about, especially when you have to plan three of them at once. But I also talk about the general things that happen when your life changes as mine has. Like the things that people say to you when they discover that you're harboring a loss that great, and let me tell you, people will and do say almost anything you can imagine. In the book, I talk about the best and worst comments that people have made. I hear a lot about people's dogs dying. I had a hairdresser suggest that maybe my kids weren't wearing seat belts. And the best thing anyone ever said to me, a very simple and heartfelt, "That sucks."

SG: What's your process-- glue your butt to the chair? ADD? a combo? 
DH: Yeah, I'd say it's a mixture. The holidays can really take their toll on me, so I've been nice to myself and haven't been pushing too hard right now when I feel like there's enough swirling around in my head already. In general, I'd say I give myself little nudges, not exactly like 'I'm not going to leave this chair until there's two pages finished, damn it!' But I try to clear out a day here and there so that I have no other obligations, and sometimes that frees me up enough for something to come out. When I do write, say if I'm working on a chapter, I tend to write for hours and just get through it to the end, rather than nibbling at it over several days. But all of this talk about process, it's really contingent on my mood, so I definitely go back and forth with the way that I work. 

SG: You have a nursing degree but you decided to put that career on hold while you work on your memoir. How does that feel? Liberating? Terrifying? 
DH: Both! I have some guilt, too. Like maybe I shouldn't be wasting my education just writing poetry. But when that thought comes up I counter it with the fact that I'm really happy right now, doing just what I'm doing. I've met some amazing people, I'm working through things with the memoir, I'm learning to be a little nicer to myself. I do feel a little awkward when I see people that I haven't run into in a while, and they ask how nursing is going, and I have to give them the little run down. But mostly, people are really supportive. It was a big decision, but I feel so much happier, like a weight has been lifted. I'm completely okay with taking a break from nursing. I have a hunch that I'm doing what I'm supposed to be doing, so as long as I go with that I can't beat myself up too much about anything I'm not doing. 

SG: You self-published your poetry. Tell me about that process please.
DH: Honestly, I found it really refreshing. I don't know why more people don't do it. I had a lot of preconceived ideas about publishing before I came out with the chapbook. Fortunately, I guess, I don't have to find out just yet how many of them are true, because it turns out, you really can just do it yourself. I had a lot of help and support throughout the process, but really it wasn't as scary or impossible as I'd pictured it being. You want something published? It can be done. I'd love to help more people do it.

Big Red shows off Deva's book at BookPeople
SG: How did it feel to get the books and hold them?
DH: When the books came in, it was unreal. I had been stalking the tracking number like a serial killer for days, and when the box showed up and I saw stacks of books with my name on it, well, nothing says you're a writer more than a book you've written that you can hold in your hands, does it? It was very affirming. 

SG: Your writing often has such a meta quality to it-- are you able to easily and instantly just tune into the running commentary in your head and just shoot it through your fingers to the keyboard?
DH: Ha, I guess if you say so. I feel very much like a conduit when I'm writing, so I can't say how it works with as much honesty as I'd like. Sometimes I feel like I'm taking an easy way out or something, all this writing down what I'm thinking. I'm still surprised sometimes when it resonates with others, and delighted, too, of course. But yes, it often just shoots out. I had a bad day at work last week and during my entire commute home, I let things kind of roll around upstairs and when I finally parked the car and sat down on the couch, I was like, I am gonna write about this so hard! And I did, and I felt much better for it. 

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