Marly Youmans is the author of eleven books and a good deal of uncollected short fiction and poetry. In 2012, she published three books: a novel about a Depression-era orphan who flees tragedy on a sharecropper’s Georgia farm and rides the rails, A Death at the White Camellia Orphanage; a collection of formal poetry, The Foliate Head; and a dramatic adventure story in blank verse, Thaliad. Forthcoming are: Glimmerglass, the story of an artist who begins to glimpse what she thinks is the muse ; Maze of Blood, a novel inspired by the curious life of a well-known pulp writer; and Catherwood, a reprint of the 1996 novel, She now lives with her family in Cooperstown, New York. Her blog and book pages can be found at http://www.thepalaceat2.blogspot.com. To see excerpts from her three 2012 books, go here.
I HEAR YOU LIE IN BED AND EAT TRUFFLES WHILE WRITING. IS THAT JUST FOR POETRY OR DO YOU DO THAT WHEN WRITING NOVELS, TOO?

That is an unfounded but delightful rumor, possibly instigated by me. I do have an ideal of writing most anything with my feet up, tossing down the bonbons, but I seldom reach that goal. I confess a weakness for chocolate, but I am a woman, and it was scientifically proven in the late twentieth century that chocolate and women go together.

You ask about differences between the writing of different kinds of works. (Note that I will eat chocolate with any kind of writing.) Sometimes I think that there’s no difference between one mode of writing and another, that it all depends on with what shape vessel one catches the words. Sometimes I know that genre or vessel shape is a completely wrong way to think about making poems and stories: some writings come because of an itch to write, some because a work just fountains up and is irresistible, and some pour like a sluice from some distant star. Those latter sorts feel as though they are one’s own and yet not one’s own.  

I agree with the late Tom Disch that there’s nothing quite so seductive and potent as what he calls “the lyric gush,” but sometimes I feel that sensation when writing not a lyric but a novel, at least in passages.

DO YOU WRITE EVERY DAY OR ONLY WHEN THE MOOD FOR CHOCOLATE STRIKES YOU?

I am wildly erratic.

Here it’s all alas and alack and well-a-day: I do little the way “they” tell you to do, I fear.

Part of that is because I have three children. All three are at home at the moment, though only one is still in high school. Running a household of five gets in the way of things. It just does. Women still haven’t figured out the juggling act, but we’re working on it. My life works reasonably well because my husband is a superb cook and has done all the dinner labor for years now, so I don’t have to shop for groceries much or cook much. That’s marvelous help. Over the years, we have worked together in the mornings to make lunches and get children off to school, and that also was huge. Because of him, I was able to quit teaching right after tenure and stay home with words and children. (He also brings me truffles from exotic places.)

I have had a lot of demands in the past year that got in the way of writing, far more so that usual. Serving on the panel for the National Book Award in “young people’s literature” devoured months, and I also had three books come out in three countries between March and the end of the year: a novel, A Death at the White Camellia Orphanage (Mercer, winner of The Ferrol Sams Award for Fiction); next, a collection of poetry, The Foliate Head (UK: Stanza Press); and then the most unusual, an adventure tale in verse that combines epic conventions with novelistic modes, Thaliad (Montreal: Phoenicia Publishing.) So for a good long time now I have been doing smaller things—poems and revision of poetry and fiction.

With novels, I tend to have a seed daydream or a dream in sleep that sets me off, and then I am always thinking about the story until I am done with a draft, whether I am sitting at my writing table or doing something utterly boring like folding laundry. I will stay up or rise in the night to write (and I have one novel from when my children were small that was composed entirely in the night) and grab any little bits of time in order to write during the day. I am obsessive and fast during that period. Revision and tweakage are easier to fit into my days, so they are seldom a problem.

With poetry, I feel a transformative change coming on, unless it’s a poem that one writes simply because of an itch to write a poem; that is, I move into a receptive mode because a poem is approaching. Does that sound mad? No doubt it is. But it’s a delicious madness. Now and then I have a spate of poetry and write new poems every day for a month or more, and those are intense, happy seasons in my life. 

THERE ARE BIRDS IN YOUR ROOM. TELL US ABOUT THEM.

I am wandering (okay, easing around—it’s a bit crowded in here, with stacks of books in the walkway) in my writing room, looking for winged things. Bat in a basket of finger puppets, Red Rose goose from the old fairy tale series of Wade tea figurines, Fra Angelico annunciation-angel print from the marvelous show in New York a few years ago, framed Cieslawski solo show catalogue with a stork-like bird accompanying a woman who is watching some fish flow up into the air in the shape of a tree, a goofy paint-by-numbers acrylic of turkeys found in an old dresser and stuck up over the door, a preschooler’s watercolor bird in a circle of glitter and shiny paper over the other door: I never realized how many wings are in this room. It must be the vine-and-flower wallpaper that attracts them. (I inherited the wallpaper from the prior resident. She must have outgrown it, as I found hundreds of nails hammered into its tiny arabesques.)

But you must be thinking about the carved birds. Two turtledoves on a branch hang from the edge of a bookcase. Those birds were given to me after Ingledove (FSG, 2005) flew into the world. It’s a properly mushy gift for a husband to give. A sleek (ravenous!) creature on one leg, which Michael gave me after the publication of The Curse of the Raven Mocker (FSG, 2003), stands above some sea-washed stones from Aberystwyth (where I went to honor my artist friend Clive Hicks-Jenkins on the occasion of his 60th birthday retrospective at the splendid Gregynog Gallery of The National Library of Wales) and a netsuke mermaid. That carved corvid may have nested in my mind afterward because the long series of poems that I’ve been polishing, The Book of the Red King, contains a lot of ravens… The storyline focuses on the figures of the Red King and the Fool, and the Fool has a terrible past, including a time that he spent in a dank, decayed forest with the ravens. 
WHAT DO YOU WISH YOU WERE READING BUT AREN'T (BECAUSE IT DOESN'T EXIST)?

The first book that I will write after my death.


WHAT CAN'T YOU LIVE WITHOUT?

That “lyric gush.” The joy of playing with words and arranging them in patterns that follow the weird, arcing and falling paths of the human heart. Love. Grace. Joy. (And you, Alisa, thought it was truffles!)

WHAT SHOULD A READER DO AFTER READING THIS?

I wouldn’t mind a bit if a reader took a peep at the books I published last year, as it is a mighty job to play midwife to three books at once. Quotes and clips for the novel are here, for the collection here, and for the long poem here.