Kate Sherrod is one of my Twitter Peeps. She is also one of the reasons I love Twitter so much. Talented, quirky, and a voice from “God’s Country”, we became friends through the Twittersphere, where otherwise we would never have met.
What caught my attention was Kate’s project of writing a sonnet every day by suppertime. Intrigued, I stopped by her site to read a few, and I was hooked.
1. Please tell us how you got started on this “Suppertime Sonnet” project. Have you always had a soft spot for this form of poetry? What else do you create?
It was New Year’s Eve 2008 and I was listening to NPR. They did a segment on a group of photographers who had each pledged to take a photograph of wherever they were, whatever they were doing, at the exact same time every evening. It turned out to be quite a collection of images, and the photographers were all very pleased with the ultimate outcome, not just for the work produced but for what they sounded like they had learned about life and time and discipline. A lot of the photographs were of the same things – we all have our routines and habits and these definitely show up in any kind of daily project like this – but there were always subtle little differences that made each photograph special. They also sounded, these photographers, like they had discovered an astonishing freedom within these very specific limitations.
I got to wondering what the writer’s equivalent of that kind of project would be. Sure, I could blog again – anyone with a burning need to know more about me and my past, and a lot of free time, can check out my old blog “Life In A Northern Town” (http://saratogalife.blogspot.com) – but that seemed too free-form and rambling. It didn’t have the precision or the sense of capturing a very precise moment and feeling that this photography project did.
I don’t know how I hit specifically on sonnets, except that I had been casting about for a strict and compact form – I wanted that discipline that they had found, those limitations to chafe within and overcome.
Well, I found them!
What makes this even stranger is that before I wrote my first sonnet that very night, I had never written one. Not in school, not to a lover, never.
As for what else I create, I’ve just joined another blog, the Short-Story-A-Thon (http://shortstoryathon.blogspot.com) with a few of my Twitter friends. We come up with a few absurd story elements and challenge each other to incorporate them into a short story. Past examples include “zombies and pez” and “whiskey, a rabbit hole and mayhem.” My first entry was for “tube tops and tire irons” and took place in a trailer park – and outer space!
I have another big project in the works, too, seizing an opportunity that came to me as a result of my sonnet-writing, but that’s still kind of a secret for now. I also podcast the sonnets on a weekly show, Kate of Mind (http://kateofmind.libsyn.com or find me on iTunes as kateofmind), but I see you’ve addressed that below.
Kate’s podcast is a lot of fun, and highly recommended. Her voice is modulated, expressive, and the material strange and wonderful. Podcasting is becoming the next big thing, so I asked Kate about her project.
2. The podcast is fabulous and your voice is perfect for it. How did that idea come about, and what are your hopes for it?
Poetry was originally an oral form; it’s how all the cool kids spent their time before there were things like radios or television or computers. I would absolutely have been a Homer groupie back in the day, a fangirl dogging him after the show asking if Briseis really had bright cheeks and exactly which cheeks was he taking about, hmm?
I’ve fallen in, mostly through twitter, with a fabulous community of podcast novelists; not only do I listen to their work with pleasure but I find myself kicking around all kinds of goofy ideas with them and just generally enjoying being a part, however peripheral, of that world. Then about two months ago I realized it didn’t have to be quite so peripheral, my participation. As a wise friend of mine said to me in a very vulnerable moment many years ago, “You can do it, too; it’s not a show!”
So now it’s a show! And as far as hopes go, I just hope people will listen, and at some point leave me some feedback.
As writers, we are not alone in our heads, and most of us are employed with actual lives. I wondered if this were true about Kate.
3. Most writers/artists live a double life. What is on the other side of your coin?
I’m still kind of recovering from the double life thing. I worked for several years as a news/editorial/features/sports/everything else reporter and photographer for my hometown newspaper in Saratoga, WY; later I switched to working as the executive director of the local chamber of commerce. While I was doing that, I got elected to the town council and wound up serving on a lot of different boards and commissions: the joint powers board to build the swanky new community center, the county council of governments, the county economic development association, and the joint powers board overseeing the town’s water and sewer systems.
All of that activity and responsibility left me VERY little time or energy to write, to do anything, so when I moved to Cheyenne out of economic necessity and got a real, paying job I vowed to hoard my time more jealously. Which I do.
I can’t really talk about my day job, though. I sort of promised. I’m not being coy, but I like my work and want to keep doing it ^_^
What other things fuel the mind of a sonneteer? Inquiring minds want to know.
4. Besides writing and podcasting, what are some of your other interests?
I read voraciously, all kinds of stuff: fiction, non-fiction, weirdo blends of the two, essays, poetry, biography, science, comic books.
I am an amateur (in the very root sense of the word: there is love in amateurism) entomologist and astronomer; either involves a lot of time outdoors in the dark with a blanket and a lot of strange gear, and whether it’s insects or stars I’m looking at determines which variety of crick I’ll get in my neck.
I have developed a deep and abiding passion for cycling; not racing or big cross-country stuff, just going around town and taking in the small stuff motorists miss (also a good fast coast down a long hill really is a lot like flying).
I also love what I can only call collaborative weirdness. Running jokes on social media, spinning spontaneous and ephemeral tales about ourselves over a bottle of wine with my friends… it’s all very #snarftastic.
I also — and I have to say that in this case “love” does not seem to be a strong enough word — love film. I can watch for hours at a time and talk about it for more — especially if we’re talking my favorite directors. I would sit through cat food commercials by some of those guys and take them in frame by frame: Peter Greenaway, Wim Wenders, Eric Romer, Ridley Scott (ask me sometime about the light — just the light — in Blade Runner if you have an hour), Werner Herzog, Michael Haneke, Katsuhito Ishii — and these are just the more or less current ones. Lately I’ve developed an absolute mania for classic Japanese films, though samurai flicks still don’t do it for me. Sure, Akira Kurosawa, but also Hiroshi Teshigahara and Kon Ichikawa. The light alone in Ichikawa takes my breath away and makes me glad I have eyes — as do those crazy German abstract expressionist silent flicks like The Golem and The Cabinet of Doctor Caligari.
So if you ever want to freak me out and watch me curl up in a little ball, first take away my pen and my FIELD NOTES and then cut off my Netflix subscription. It woudl be all over.
You don’t really hear from the people in Wyoming. Here’s a shout out!
5. You live in Wyoming, what some call “God’s Country”. Where you born there? What do you like and dislike about living in Wyoming?
I was born and raised in Wyoming, mostly in a little town (not even 2000 people) called Saratoga, in Wyoming’s Upper North Platte River Valley. The valley is surrounded on three sides by the Medicine Bow (colloquially called the Snowy Range) and Sierra Madre Mountains and the Medicine Bow National Forest, and is a very laid-back, funky place to visit and to be from – which means it’s the sort of place a teenager cannot WAIT to escape. Which I did: college was at Bard College in New York’s Hudson Valley, then I podunked around New England for about six more years (western Massachusetts, Maine, finally Boston) before I realized I really wanted to go back. I missed the landscape and the space and the quiet.
We joke a lot out here about coming to Wyoming and turning one’s clock back 30 years, and it’s true. This is both a good thing and a bad: when I walk down the street in my hometown people make eye contact and say hello instead of brushing rudely past jabbering on their cellphones, but sometimes all that coziness gets to one. We all know entirely too much of each other’s business, which really gets to be a strain during the long, long winters when the highways close.
But really, the only thing I truly dislike about living Wyoming is the music. Both kinds, country and western.
Via Twitter, I have learned that Kate has a deep and abiding love for All Things Dr. Who. She’ll watch episodes until her eyes bleed, so before I pop in a DVD, I want to know the story behind that. I hate it when my eyes bleed. Heh.
6. Does Dr. Who really make your eyes bleed?
That all got started when I realized how much of Doctor Who I had actually missed. Like most American kids of my generation, my first exposure to Doctor Who was via the Tom Baker episodes endlessly cycled and recycled on PBS. Eventually even PBS moved on with the times and showed some Peter Davison and even threw back a bit to Jon Pertwee, but that was all I’d really seen. Then I went to college and missed all the Colin Baker and Sylvester McCoy years completely. I didn’t think too much about it until the BBC brought the series back with Christopher Eccleston, whom I just love and is now my favorite Doctor. His Doctor is so much darker and angrier than the goofy Tom Baker or the dishy and kind of empty Peter Davison – I just HAD to fill in as much backstory as I could. So lo, with the power of Netflix, a glut of Who has been mine to take in.
I thought for sure eventually it would prove to be too much; hence the hashtag on Twitter, #doctorwhotillmyeyesbleed (and the corollary #doctorwhotillmyearsbleed for the audio dramas and music). Strangely, this has not happened. I am either a glutton for punishment or simply oblivious to the damage.
I’ve also learned what a geek Kate is about her techno-toys.
7. What is your favorite piece of modern technology and why?
I see a new piece of new technology every day these days, thanks to the internet, and it immediately becomes my favorite. Currently it’s a tie between Talia Radford’s futuristic water purifier (http://www.core77.com/blog/object_culture/talia_radfords_futuristic_water_purifier_14207.asp) and these artificial glass leaves some UC Berkeley scientists invented that generate electricity via transpiration (http://www.inhabitat.com/2009/08/03/fern-power-artificial-glass-leaves-produce-energy-via-transpiration/). They’re both absolutely beautiful from a design point of view; they’re stunning examples of “green” technology; and they harness the power of what’s already all around us; gravity, sunshine, the chemistry of life, our own muscles. I’m a big fan of self-powered or human-powered or gravity-powered tech of any kind, dynamos, piezoelectric crowd farms, stuff like that. It doesn’t’ *have* to be as beautiful as these two examples are, but if it is, so much the better – if it’s worth building and using, it’s worth considering its aesthetic qualities, too.
Of course you notice I’ve employed web addresses to show your readers the devices I’m talking about, and indeed it is via the internet – and a few wonderful bloggers – that I found them myself, so I suppose I should really say “the internet,” but that did feel like a cop-out.
Really, I’m always waiting for the next new thing. I want a laptop computer that was as much grown as made (Bruce Sterling’s novel DISTRACTION has a wonderful example of this). But I also want the wonderful old things that don’t require outside agency to work, like the Curta calculator – entirely mechanical, beautifully put together, durable as all hell.
For me, it’s all about sustainability and user-serviceable parts, which is why, though I type on a laptop PC right now, when I’m doing what really matters I’ve got that lovely little Olympia C portable – manual – typewriter that’s depicted in the banner of Suppertime Sonnets. It’s not perfect, though – I still have to buy ribbons for it. I need to get going on – or find someone out there who already has – a way to make those everlasting, renewable, reusable.
Usually, I get moaning and groaning when I ask this question. Kate surprised me!
8. Name your top five authors and tell us why you chose them.
Neuromancer, his first novel, came out when I was just 14 years old and it just slid into my brain, took up residence behind my eyes, and changed me forever. It wasn’t so much the cool, gritty high-tech/low life scenario he created, or that he coined within these pages the term “cyberspace” and first got me thinking at that tender age of just how weird our technologies had already made us and how much weirder we were likely to get, though these were all key. I still sort of drool at the thought of someday just being able to jack a “microsoft” (in the book’s parlance; nowadays we’d probably say some kind of mini-flash drive) directly into my brain and suddenly have a complete dictionary and grammar of any language I wanted there in my head to draw on as I speak, of course, and who doesn’t want, at least just a little bit, a secret weapon like Molly’s retractable fingertip blades? But really, it’s William Gibson’s prose that affects me the most. I compared it on my podcast a few weeks ago to a really great drug, and that’s what it is: a drug that one can read. There’s an inimitable elegance to it, to the way it slides along over the smooth surfaces of the component materials of things; the reader slides right along with it and falls right off and down the rabbit hole — but instead of Red Queens and grinning cheshire cats, one gets mirror-shaded drug-dealers with cybernetic arms and the grin belongs to the terrifying, bland Belgian, Hubertus Bigend.
JORGE LUIS BORGES
Borges combines a fabulist’s imagination with the erudition of a Renaissance scholar, which is pure Kate-bait. I return to his stories, essays and poetry again and again, and always find something new; sometimes, too, I return because of something I came across in, say, a history of art pigments or a manual on chess tactics that reminded me of something in Borges and am illuminated all over again. Gibson makes reality weird; Borges makes weirdness reality. Esta habitacion es irreal; ella no la ha visto.
Umberto Eco is just plain fun for a geek-about-everything like me. His first novel, a murder mystery set in a medieval monestary, sent me careening into the past at around the same time NEUROMANCER got me tripping on the future, with its meditation on knowledge lost and found and what some people will do to keep it hidden. Then, a few years later, out came FOUCAULT’S PENDULUM, concerning a trio of publishers in Milan who start having a little too much fun with the schlocky esoteric manuscripts they keep receiving from purveyors of what skeptical types love to call “woo-woo.” It starts out as a sort of Revenge of the Nerds for the ridiculously erudite (the kind of people who enjoy pages-long excurses on how the automobile and its parts may serve as an extended physical metaphor for the secrets of creation. I confess to being that kind of person, in full knowledge of how annoying that probably makes me sound) but when these three characters’ hilarious rethinking of the Plan of the Templars manages to come back and bite them on the asses, it also serves as a good warning not to get too carried away with one’s own cleverness.
His later novels – ISLAND OF THE DAY BEFORE, BAUDOLINO, THE MYSTERIOUS FLAME OF QUEEN LLOANA – carry on in this same vein in their different ways, blending the minutia of history and culture with the silly and are great fun to read; his collections of essays, especially HOW TO TRAVEL WITH A SALMON are hilarious; his meditations on semiotics (the real-world and much more demanding version of Dan Brown’s ridiculous made-up discipline of “symbology”) and TRAVELS IN HYPERREALITY are more drugs in prose form. Oh how I love this man.
PHILIP K. DICK
Ursula LeGuin once described Dick as our own, home-grown Borges and she was right. Whether he was letting the I Ching guide him into writing a novel about the I Ching guiding a novelist into proving that history hadn’t really unfolded the way his readers had been taught to believe and that it really hadn’t produced the world they thought they inhabited (THE MAN IN THE HIGH CASTLE) or taking his intensely personal paranormal experiences of a pink ray of light beaming life-saving information directly into his brain (the VALIS novels) or taking an aching, haunting look at a post-apocalyptic world and the psyche of the scientist who’s blunder had created it (DR. BLOODMONEY), Dick brought something new to science fiction, and to all of us. With each passing year, it becomes more and more obvious that it is Philip K. Dick’s world and we just live in it. Or do we?
I first delved into Joseph Conrad’s sea-scented tales as a teenager looking to escape from high and dry Wyoming, and get a look at the rest of the world. But is a strange one to turn to for escapism, isn’t he? Kurtz going up the river, going native and losing his mind, Verloc watching helplessly as his hapless brother-in-law gets “redistributed” trying to help forward others’ clandestine schemes, the battle for Freya Nelson’s heart and ticket to a future in the East Indies, the corruption of the incorruptible Gianbattista “Nostromo” Fidanza, all of these plots sound like melodrama, and they are, but not only that. Conrad never took the easy or comfortable way out of a story. And English, the language in which he wrote all of his fiction, was not even his first language; Conrad, real name was Korzeniowski!
You asked only for five but I cannot help also mentioning Neal Stephenson, Alastair Reynolds, Bruce Sterling and Charles Stross. And Douglas Adams. I owe all of my most #snaftastic political satires of the last seven months to Douglas Adams.
An artists influences say a lot about them as people, don’t you think?
9. Who or what has been the one biggest influence in your life?
Undoubtedly my parents, each in their separate ways. My mother was a working journalist at a time when very few women were, and wrote a lot of pricelessly wise and funny columns over the years about balancing work and family (many of which featured funny stories about her children under the pseudonyms of “Gabby” and “Gus”. Which one I was will be left as an exercise for the reader). My father is a born storyteller with a unique gift for the bizarre and original turn of phrase – as I commemorated this year in my Father’s Day sonnet. With those two as parents, there was no question, really, that I would end up a writer: more a question of when, and of what.
Which questions I am still trying to answer!
Interested in future endeavors, I asked this next question. I have to say, the answer didn’t surprise me, and I’ll be waving from the ground. Heh.
10. Where do you see yourself in five years?
Five years is probably too short a time frame for what I have in mind. Let’s say ten, possibly 15, in which time I hope to have hustled my way onto some private sector venture’s crew for developing, planning and living on a human colony outside Earth’s gravity well. An orbital habitat? The Moon? Mars? A generational ship to an as-yet-unselected habitable exoplanet? I will not be picky.
It’s a pretty good incentive for staying in shape, too.
Stop by and treat yourself to a tasty sonnet! If you’re craving dessert afterwards, you can’t beat a delicious podcast of the best of the best, read in the author’s own voice and covering subjects from the edges of the universe to the workings of friendship. You will not be sorry.
Thanks, Kate! You were a most cooperative, fascinating, and friendly etherised victim. Heh.