Q&A: A Conversation With Myself About Self-Publishing a Poetry Chapbook

The older I get, the more I talk to myself. So, I said, “Why not use one of these exchanges to conduct a formal interview about my forthcoming poetry chapbook, Accomplices?”

What a good idea!

So, please allow me to introduce Charlie Shifflett, the founder of PressPoem Books, the company that is publishing the chapbook. Take it away, Charlie!

PP: Charlie, thanks for agreeing to talk with yourself about your new poetry collection.
CS: It’s my pleasure. And it’s not like you have a lot of competition for my time, except maybe from my wife and my dog.

PP: So, let’s just get this question out of the way first: How does one go from working at a state-run, Communist newspaper in China to self-publishing short stories and poems in your PJs?
CS: Well, believe me, my old newspaper job in Beijing paid a lot better than the three e-book sales I’ve made, so I’m not doing this for the money. When I moved back to the States, I took a paid internship at Washingtonian magazine, wrote some freelance pieces on China, and sold a handful of Nooks at Barnes and Noble. Journalism was in crisis, and I just wasn’t able to land a full-time writing or editing gig. I eventually found a job managing a nonprofit organization’s website, which sort of transitioned me into the next phase of my career – communications and marketing. I’m now working as a content writer and creator at a consulting firm. I’m doing plenty of technical writing in this role, which I am enjoying, but awhile back I realized I needed to get back into more creative genres of writing – fiction, poetry and essays, if only as a hobby.

 

My old newspaper job in Beijing paid a lot better than the three e-book sales I’ve made, so I’m not doing this for the money.
— Charlie Shifflett

 

PP: You recently self-published a couple of short stories, correct?
CS: Oh, you noticed? I’m not even completely sure that my wife read them. But, yes, I released two stories – one set in China, and one set in Florida. Both deal with themes of abuse and injustice, and both feature acts of revenge. But they are styled quite differently. I saw them as sort of companion stories. I also have a few more stories in the works, as well as a novel whose first draft I finished last November. So, hopefully, there is a lot more fiction to come, both short and long-form.

PP: So how does your forthcoming poetry collection fit into this stream of fiction?
CS: Well, I have always enjoyed reading and writing poetry. Back in high school, I was in a rock band.

PP: Oh, yes, I remember. You went through this phase where you wore a metal bead choker and all sorts of bracelets--
CS: That’s enough on that. I don’t want to scare off our five readers.

PP: My apologies.
CS: Not at all. I just brought that up to reference the lyrics I wrote while in the band – that was probably my first foray into poetry. But it wasn’t until about a year ago that my interest in poetry was reawakened. I would find myself using spare chunks of time – five minutes here, ten minutes there – to write and revise poems on my phone’s Notes app. These short writing sessions gave me time to relax and reflect. I didn’t feel the pressure to write or finish something bigger, like a short story or a long personal essay. I could just write about a moment from the day, or a memory. I could experiment with language and metaphor. Later, I would return to these short pieces and refine and rewrite them. Of course, many of them were terrible, but a few showed some promise, and this served to restore some confidence I'd lost when I was looking for work in journalism. Recently, I found that I had enough poems to make up a chapbook, or a small collection. I’m in the final stages of revising 12-15 poems, and I’m looking forward to sharing them in October.

 

[Writing poetry] served to restore some confidence I’d lost when I was looking for work in journalism.
— Charlie Shifflett

 

PP: Where does the collection’s title “Accomplices” come from?
CS: It’s drawn from a line in a particular poem, but the word also – to me – represents the relationship these poems have had with me over the last year or so. Each poem has, in some way, sparked another, and, together, the poems have helped me to re-enter the wider world of creative writing after a good number of years away from it.

PP: One thing that strikes me about the collection is that the poems read almost like very short personal essays. The moments and memories are sketched out very concretely.
CS: Yes, that’s the way I tend to write poetry. I’ve always been drawn less to the abstract and more to the concrete – and to poets whose poems read more like scenes from everyday life. In this way, I think many of the poems in Accomplices are quite accessible to readers who don’t consider themselves fans of poetry.

PP: Is that your hard-sell? I totally teed it up for you with that last question, and you whiffed. Don’t you do marketing for a living?
CS: You thought that was too soft of a sell? I guess that’s why I never sold many Nooks at Barnes and Noble. [Sigh.] I guess I should just move back to China and go back to working for state-run media.

PP: After your chapbook tour, of course.
CS: Ha! Yes, of course.

PP: One last question. I know you have dishes to wash, so I don't want to keep you.
CS: You're so thoughtful.

PP: What have you learned, if anything, about self-publishing over the course of these last few months?
CS: I've found it very freeing. Of course, ultimately, I want people to read my writing, and it's very hard to grow a following from scratch. But I'm trying to take the long view. Every story I write, every book cover I design, every social media asset I create - all of these are making me a better professional and a better creative writer. If I can stick with this hobby and continue growing and improving, eventually (a few more) readers will come, and their pre-orders and ebook purchases might be able to...um...cover the cost of a few containers of dark chocolate caramels from Whole Foods. Hey, a guy can dream, right!?

You can pre-order Accomplices on Amazon.com. (If you dare!)

Photography and cover design by Charlie Shifflett

Photography and cover design by Charlie Shifflett