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Jeanpaul Ferro- Writer in the Spotlight
Jeanpaul Ferro


Writer in the Spotlight

Summer - 2009




Rhode Island native Jeanpaul Ferro is an award winning literary powerhouse whose publishing credits include All The Good Promises (1994, Plowman Press), The Driver (1994, Thunder Mountain Press), Becoming X (2008, BlazeVox Books), You Know Too Much About Flying Saucers (2009, Thumbscrew Press), Essendo Morti - Being Dead (2009, Goldfish Press) and Hemispheres (2009. Maverick Duck Press.)

Jeanpaul, I have to say, you are my first writer in the spotlight who has their own Wikipedia article!

Well, I don't know how many so-called fans that I have, but one or two has done a handsome job of cutting and pasting my bio into Wikipedia. I'm hoping to make it a little bit bigger someday. Like say the Encyclopedia Britannica or maybe having Bob Dylan as a friend on Facebook.

I'd love to see you do a reading on You Tube... ever think about that?

I've thought about that but I hate seeing myself on camera! I might have to have someone stand in for me and read some of my work. I've actually asked some of my other writer/poet friends if they would read my work for me at poetry readings and a lot of them have said yes, so you just might see someone else other than me reading my poetry on YouTube. We'll have to come up with a new term for what this might be called. The unknown poet or stand-in poet (now reading for Jéanpaul Ferro).

I feel as if you and I have known each other a long time, but really, we didn't meet until last fall... I was reading through old e mails and you submitted three... one I turned down because it had a summer theme and I was looking for material for my winter issue... but I snapped up the other two! They were "Guilty Pleasure" and "The Triplets..."

The Triplets

Now everybody wants to buy me a drink,
make me show them the photo one more time,

they all smile and laugh down at Camille's,
we just thought it was a hell of a big baby,

and then three of them came out,
that delightful look of horror on the doctor's face,

all three babies crying in the delivery room,
like stolen children they blame on gypsies,

my poor wife—three bottles, three changings,
three more reasons to bang her against the wall,

but how could it be any other way?
wishing for more hours? more money in the bank?

a wishful magnet to pull dreams out of thin air?
I couldn't conceive of having just one with her!

I've been meaning to ask... true story?

"Triplets" was a complete exercise in fiction. I've long considered myself a novelist first and a poet second. Many years ago I made the strategic decision to continue writing both novels and poetry, but I was only going to try and get my novels published. I soon learned that getting a novel published, any novel, no matter how good, was like hoping to win the lottery. In the middle of all my novel writing I decided to experiment more and more with my poetry, and one of the things that I did was write fiction-poems-poetry that was not autobiographical, but completely fictional. It is a lot like writing the back-story for many of my novel characters. "Triplets" came from a book of poems entitled 79 Degree Probability of Loss and many of the poems in this book are what I would call fiction-poems like "The Triplets." I am actually surprised by how many people who e-mail me after reading the poem, asking me if I really had triplets and how old they are. There is no Jon and Kate plus Eight here. I actually don't have any children; never mind three!

Well I have to say, very good! You got me... and that almost never happens!

A good poem or story should make you think that maybe this is real. I'm glad I got you. That means the piece worked!

I also grabbed the summer poem, "Your Young Daughters Laughing" for this issue. So that was a real three-fer!

I'm a quick learner. It took me only twenty submissions to Boston Literary Magazine to learn that you like poems that tell a story. All three of these poems have the same foundation of realism and story telling and they all resonate the same way. They also came from the same book of poetry, so they are part of a 64-poem set.

I give you credit for figuring us out... we do love a narrative here! Okay, let's talk about the books... All the Good Promises... that's short fiction, not poetry?

All the Good Promises is a book of short fiction featuring the short stories "University Hall, To See Her in Sunlight (Was To See Marxism Die)" and the story "All the Good Promises." I believe it is out of print and it might be somewhat of a collectible by now.

Is it a chapbook or perfect bound?

All the Good Promises was a chapbook and it was my very first book in print. The title story, All the Good Promises, was about a man who returned to France twenty years after fighting there in WWII. University Hall is a short story about two college buddies discussing race in the real world and whether or not they would marry someone outside of their race. And To See Her in Sunlight (Was To See Marxism Die) is a short story about a young woman visiting her grandmother in Vieste, Italy and learning a lesson about life and how she has been going about living her life. This story was actually published recently by Bartleby Snopes and was nominated for a storySouth Million Writer's Award. You can read it here if you'd like To See Her in Sunlight (Was To See Marxism Die).

And then The Driver... I couldn't find anything on line about this one.

The Driver is a novel that I have actually since rewritten. The original publisher went out of business and along with it all information and reference to the novel. I have actually taken the original concept of this novel and rewritten it from the ground up into a completely new book. Stay tuned. It is one of two novels that I have written that you may actually here about in the future.

Was that a ton of work, was it fun, was it liberating?

I remember reading Ernest Hemingway's posthumous novel, The Garden of Eden. In this novel the main character, David Bourne, who is a novelist, has a wife, Catherine, who burns the only copy of the entire novel that he had just written. He has to rewrite the book from scratch and Hemingway says surprisingly in the book that the second, rewritten version was entirely better than the original. I had written the original manuscript for the The Driver between 1987 and 1989—I was really young and I was writing it as I had interpreted what a novel was suppose to be. Thunder Mountain Press did publish it in 1994, but it was a small printing and I was unknown and it really didn't achieve what I wanted it to be as a novel.

In 2008 I decided to give it the "David Bourne" treatment and rewrite The Driver completely from scratch. It only took about 3 weeks. I know the plot of each chapter in the old version and I started with a blank page and rewrote it as I would as a 41 year old man and not as a 21 year old young man. The new novel is really an entirely different book simply with the same plot. I'm not giving away its new title yet, but I think it's something you might see come out in the near future. It's true what Hemingway stated in The Garden of Eden. The second and new version is completely better than the original. Maybe all novelists should do this with their books. I think some actually do.

Becoming X came out quite a few years later... published by BlazeVox Book, their slogan is "Poetry that doesn't suck!"

Geoffrey Gatza, the editor and publisher of BlazeVox Books and BlazeVox is incredible. He has filled a vacuum in publishing with BlazeVox. Basically, there are the New York Publishing houses and then there are the University Presses. Your book needs to be able to get a six-figure advance to be published by a New York publisher and you have to be in the University literati circle to be published in the University world.

Exactly!

What BlazeVox has done is thrown out all the rules in the publishing world for writing. Great writing is all that matters. The big houses only look at the bottom line and all too often the University presses put out work that is so inaccessibly that no one in their right mind would ever want to read it—never mind buy it. BlazeVox has opened up the door to work that is a combination of great writing that matters that other people would actually want to read.

Here's the site, if anyone is interested: www.blazevox.org.

BlazeVox actually was brought up in the 2008 Presidential election. Apparently, Sarah Palin or her handlers objected to some of the books BlazeVox has published and she went on a tirade on one of her election stops about the what was wrong with America (and BlazeVox Books was apparently one of those huge, internal American problems). I guess there is nothing like trying to distracted the people from the countries real problems like the economy, terrorism, nuclear proliferation and the destruction of our plant.

Yes, it's so important to keep controversial literature out of the hands of the masses!

I believe H.L. Mencken said it best when he defined what a demagogue was. I'll let everyone Google that one themselves! But I was very fortunate to have my collection of poetry, Becoming X, published by BlazeVox Books. It was 14 years in between published books and I'm afraid to go and find out what the record is. Someone might go and update my Wikipedia entry.

I'm trying to think... wasn't there a huge gap between Pirsig's Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, and his second book, Leila? I'll Google it... doncha love Google? Let's see... Zen came out in 74 and Leila came out in 91. Yay, he beat you!

Okay, next we have You Know Too Much About Flying Saucers.. .that title kills me. Tell us about that one.

You Know Too Much About Flying Saucers is very similar in vein to Becoming X. Both books deal heavily in poems about current events, world situations, and the horrors that we see every day that have almost become background noise to us now.

The title poem, and the title itself, is about how we have distracted ourselves with mundane things, maybe as escapism, because we as human beings are so overwhelmed by the news and information that we are inundated every day. You can see this in the lives people lead or by the things that they do to keep themselves busy simply to distract their brains from the horrors of each day. I am guilty of this myself, but the book is about facing those horrors that are there that are almost too difficult to look at sometimes. My favorite poem in this book is Red, red moon. It's simple and straight ahead. It's about what you see others going through; others who sometimes have no voice in our modern world:

Red, red moon

I awoke in the canyon under a red, red moon.
Next to me I heard an Arab brother crying out:
"You know? You know? You know?"
And I said: "I know! I know! I know!"

I awoke atop Mt. Everest in the midst of a white cloud.
Within the snowstorm I heard an Indian spirit praying:
"You know? You know? You know?"
And I said: "I know! I know! I know!"

I awoke in the ghetto in a graffiti filled room.
Outside in the hallway I heard a bang, and then
someone shouting: "You know? You know? You know?"
And I said: "I know! I know! I know!"

I awoke in the desert under the shade of a date palm.
Jesus came signing to me in my hand, and he was saying:
"You know? You know? You know?"
And I said: "I know! I know! I know!"

I awoke in the sea under a heap of green, green waves.
I was about to let go when I heard your ghost screaming:
"You know? You know? You know?"
And I whispered: "I know. I know. I know."

How fantastic! That's a great, great theme! This is why I love your writing... not just the visuals (still not sure I believe that "Triplets" isn't true....) but the rhythm and the tone. Just great.

Essendo Morti - Being Dead is not quite out yet, but I did have the honor of reading this one pre-pub!

Essendo Morti - Being Dead is really what I would consider my opus. In poetry anyway. I was in a really dark place once and I wrote this book within those dark confines. It essentially deals with ones own personal loss and also about the loss of the concept of America and the American Dream that seemingly doesn't exist like it once did. When I was a kid your parents and your teachers used to tell you that you could be anything and accomplish any goal that you put in front of you, because anything was possible in America. I am not a pessimist by any means, but you don't hear people taking like that anymore. Essendo Morti is about the loss of that outlook and the wrestling within ones own self to come to grips with this. It really takes a worldview on America; something that some people find too painful to come to terms with.

It's an outrageous collection. With your gorgeous photograph on the cover!

Debra Marlar, the editor in chief at Goldfish Press has done such a suburb job on the book that I could not have envisioned Essendo Morti coming together as perfectly as it has. Working with Debra is really like working with someone who really knows me and what I want to portray. She has definitely spoiled me in many ways, but I have to say that every one of her suggestions has been spot on.

And Hemispheres... due out later in the year... ?

Hemispheres is actually an outtake from 79 Degree Probability of Loss. 79 Degrees is really written in two parts: the Key West poems and the European poems, and Hemispheres is only the poems from 79 Degrees that are set in the Florida Keys. Both "Guilty Pleasures" and "The Triplets" are featured in Hemispheres. Maverick Duck Press who also publishes Chantarelle's Notebook is publishing it. The editors, Kendall and Christina Bell have been great supporters of my work over the past 5 years, and they are just another example of the new world of poetry and publishers that has opened up outside of New York and the University Press world.

You and I had a discussion not long ago... about being a novelist vs. a poet... much tougher route, isn't it!

Had I only known …

You know, Robin, there isn't an American Idol or some other outlet out there where novelists can go and put their wares out there and have someone discover them based on their talent.

The publishing world has set up this system that is such a bizarre maze that I don't see how any artist or writer who isn't already famous can maneuver through it. Every novel must be written the same way using the same plot skeleton with only action, and really no description to speak of, and then it must fit in a certain slot that is aimed at only a certain demographic, and it must be like similar novels that a certain publisher has already published, because they have already had success with that type of book. If writing was a date the romance would die within the first few seconds.

I started out writing the novels I wanted to write. Back in the early nineties I got a lot of great feedback from publishers and agents and I felt I was on the cusp of making it, but those same agents and publishers put me under extreme pressure to write the types of books that they were looking for, which I did. What happened was that I wrote six more additional novels that were so bad that I could not even recognize my own writing within them. After flailing around doing this for 14 years I went back to my roots in 2005 and began to only write for myself from then on. If it got published, hey, that would be great. If not, I didn't care. Well strangely enough my work has started to gain momentum. I began to get published in some of the great literary journals and all of my work in general really taken off. And now I am right back where I should have been back in 1991 if I had not turned left and started to write what I thought publishers wanted me to write.

I'm dying to hear an example of something you wrote that was really bad...

I had one novel that basically was a bigger version of The Bridges of Madison Country only set in Key West. And I had another one about the 1996 Presidential election. My heart just wasn't into what these books were and I really need, as a writer, to be writing from a point of inspiration and not for the sake of simply writing-to-get-published.

As a six-time Pushcart Prize nominee, do you have some writers who influenced your work? Who did you like to read when you were a kid?

I think as a novelist I've been influenced the most by H.P. Lovecraft, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway and Sylvia Plath. Also, Tennessee Williams and Eugene O'Neill have been big influences on my novel writing. I think you can learn something different from all of these writers. H.P. Lovecraft and F. Scott Fitzgerald are the Shakespeare's of the Twentieth Century. Both rare writers who were born with the gift of writing something down as those they are seeing it within their vision and transposing that vision to the page. Their descriptive power is unlimited. And I personality think that because Lovecraft wrote American horror, he has simply been overlooked by many because of his subject matter. But if you go and read his prose and his descriptive verse, it is staggeringly beautiful at times. Hemingway did so many things beautifully: the nature of his characters, the realism of his verse, the power and simplicity of his dialogue, and he has a great sense of humor that resonates in almost everything that he wrote. Sylvia Plath is definitely known as a poet, but her fiction ranks as some of the best I've ever read.

Other writers that have influence me are Truman Capote, John Fante, Michel Houellebecq, John Steinbeck, Oscar Wilde, and fellow Rhode Islander Cormac McCarthy.

On the poetic side, I think some of my major influences have been another fellow Rhode Islander Galway Kinnell, Walt Whitman, Edgar Allen Poe, Octavio Paz, Pablo Neruda, e. e. cummings, Langston Hughes, Charles Bukowski, Anna Akhmatova, and Czeslaw Milosz—an eclectic mix if there ever was one. And one of my favorites is friend and fellow New Englander Corrine De Winter.

Any advice for poets trying to get their stuff accepted by on-line magazines?

My advice to writers just starting out would be to make sure you are professional in your query e-mails and submission letters. Editors are looking at thousands of queries a month. If you submit sloppy work you are telegraphing to that editor that you don't care enough about your submission to take it seriously.

Edit and spell-check all of your work. Just because you think you are the next big thing doesn't mean you have to put some time in to spell everything correctly and have everything looking perfect. Editors are there to publish your already polished and complete work. They are not there to fix all of your work. Your work should be perfect when you submit it to literary journals and magazines, so that an editor does not have to change anything.

Do not respond to a rejection letter with an angry e-mail back to the editor. I have had experiences where a publication rejected me 40 times before they began to publish my work. If you get the feeling that a publication is absolutely not interested in your work then simply move on to the next 10 that might be. There is no use wasting your time on a publication that is never going to publish you. On the other hand, a year from now you might write something different that is perfect for that magazine. Don't burn any bridges that you might be able to use in the future.

I also don't see the point in getting your work published in any literary journal or magazine that does not have at least an online version of their publication where people can find your work. This is the 21st Century now and a publication must have an online presence and you must be able to submit via e-mail or an online submission manager. Those publications that are not doing this are basically the equivalent of a bicycle in an automobile world.

And my final advise would be to build up a strong portfolio of publishing credits and to make friends with everyone you can in publishing: editors, publishers, agents, and other writers. You are all in this together and it feels really good when you can help someone else out. If you can match up a writer friend with an agent or just have friends in different areas of publishing, it will add to your experience no matter if you are making a living from it or not. You really need to be a writer for the love of it and not for the sake of money. If you do it for the latter you're probably going to be very disappointed and feel unfulfilled. But if you do it for the love of writing you'll get a lot of satisfaction out of it and any success that you have will be a wonderful surprise.

Jeanpaul, thanks so much for talking to us! I always love hearing about the process of writers. Especially the truly talented, insightful ones like you!

Robin, thank you. You are one of the great success stories in writing and publishing, and being a writer yourself you have a keener insight into other writers than most publishers or editors. It's always a pleasure talking to you.

Jeanpaul Ferro's most recent collection of poetry, Essendo Morti - Being Dead, is now available at Goldfish Press at: Essendo Morti – Being Dead by Jeanpaul Ferro.







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