Monday, December 30, 2013

An Interview with Melanie Whithaus

I first met Melanie Whithaus in March of 2012 when we ran her poetry in Umbrella Factory Magazine. Her poems in UFM's Issue #9 where her first publication.  In the last year and nine months this poet has had many other magazine publications, two chapbooks and has become an editor of  Wednesday Night Writes.  I have had the opportunity to read both her chapbooks, Enigma and Motherhood. Please enjoy the following interview.

AFI: First of all, thank you for participating in this interview.

MLW: Thank you so much for considering me for this opportunity!

AFI: I enjoyed your chapbook Enigma very much. It's a wonderfully slim chapbook with 12 poems, if you can, tell me a little of the back story. Did you set out to build a chapbook from scratch, or did you make this piece from 12 existing poems? How did you choose the 12? I see you made the cover image too, you are a photographer as well? I saw in your editor's bio from Wednesday Night Writes magazine that you list photography as an interest.

MLW: Thank you very much! I’m so glad you liked it. Many of the poems in the book I wrote back in high school. They were about relationships, friends, and my depression; I thought I wouldn’t have any chance in publishing them individually. They still meant a lot to me and I wanted to see them published elsewhere than online in my personal blogs, so I decided to put them in a book handmade by myself. The 12 poems I chose I felt all fell under the same theme of confusion, hints the title of the book. The poems themselves are hard to understand and describe, and I had a very hard time identifying who I was at the time when I wrote the poems. I like to think of myself as an amateur photographer, haha. It’s a hobby of mine, but I don’t feel that I have enough experience in the field to do anything professionally with it. I’m still proud of the photographs that I do have, especially the cover photo of Enigma. I took the photo while I was in New York on vacation. I fell in love with the city, and I think the tone of the city and the photo fits the word “enigma” very well.

AFI: I love poem “Intoxicated” perhaps it's because I identify with the line “where kisses only take place in dirty basements/and outside along dirty fences”. It feels like a tribute to youth. Rather than pressing you for the details of this poem's construction, let me just ask: what was this poem's process? And I can't shake the feeling that “Intoxicated” has a lyric quality. It feels like the second stanza could be a refrain, and other stanza could be verses. Are you influenced by music? Are you musically inclined?

MLW: The poem is about innocence and youth, but also how easily it can slip through your fingers. To me, innocence is bliss, not just ignorance. It’s about growing up, but also learning how deal with life when the dust clears. All the stanzas were personified events in my life. I wanted to make something simple sound so exciting and alive. The last line of the poem was completely true, and I have never forgotten those woman’s words. In a way, they’ve defined not only this poem, but who I am as a person. She told me to never stop writing, and here I am doing this interview. Am I musically inclined? Haha, not at all. Music inspires me, this poem in particular considering the rhyming, but I can’t read sheet music to save my life.

AFI: Another one of my favorites has to be “Blood Rush.” Again, what was this poem's process? It has cyclical feel to it, and a loss of innocence dimension that happens between 1978 and 1979. The dates seem important to the piece. Despite the I voice in the poem, I cannot imagine this is autobiographical. Where you even alive in 1978? There is something more to this narrative poem than meets the eye, right? What is the inspiration? It's really very stunning.

MLW: “Blood Rush” has always been one of my personal favorites, and no, I was not alive in the 1970s, haha. Once again, the poem is about a relationship, it coming to a dramatic end, and how the narrator deals with the changes in her life (which obviously isn’t very well come the end of the poem, haha). The narrator is almost self-abusive when it comes to her relationship because she is desperately wants to be with this person for the rest of her life even though she doesn’t truly love him. She loves the idea of him; the guilt then consumes her, and she dies with her lover even though she will be eternally unhappy. In a way, the poem reflects the relationship I was in at the time. As for the time period, I’ve always been inspired by periodical pieces, but honestly I think I just chose the year 1979 because of the Cold War and the space race. Something about that year stood out to me, and I felt it fit the tone of the poem.

AFI: The late 1970s certainly were tumultuous, I was very young, but I do remember the time. It is a great time to set such a poem. Let's talk about your background a little bit. I love to ask this question: when did you decided to be a poet/writer? Was there a specific event, an a-ah moment or a grand revelation? Who are your biggest influences, and who are your role models? Tell me about Southeast Missouri State University and what you're current studying? Plans for graduate school?

MLW: Oh gosh. I think I decided to become a writer than I was in the second grade? I wrote my first book during that year, but didn’t do much more with writing until I was about 11 years old. My older brother was writing a short story for class, and I decided I wanted to do that too. I wrote my first novel called The Wonderful Night. Oh goodness, I was so proud of that piece of junk, haha. At first it was a good thirty pages with my 14 pt comic sans font, but once I finally edited it years later, I had a ten page “novel”. I wrote a number of novels back in middle and high school, but it was all just for the fun of it. I never imagined I would get somewhere with my writing. But as I’ve grown and began to understand all the details behind writing a novel, I haven’t been able to write one since. They’re too daunting. So basically, I started writing for fun and I fell in love, and now it’s become my life. My biggest influences would have to be various friends I’ve made in the literary world, along with my favorite authors such as JK Rowling, Sylvia Plath, Joyce Carol Oates, and Charles Bukowksi. Also my family and friends have been very supportive over all these years. I’m currently a senior and studying creative writing at Southeast Missouri State University where I also study small-press publishing. The staff and the friends I have made have all been very supportive of me. But I can’t wait to get out of here and move on to my next adventure: grad school. Ideally I would love to go somewhere in New York or Chicago to receive my MFA, but more than likely I’ll end up staying in the St. Louis greater area.

AFI: I chose Goddard College for grad school, it was a great experience. I think you should get off to grad school. Your blog is fantastic. How long have you been at it? Have you had any revelations as an artist as a result of keeping your blog? Also, your social media presence is impressive, Facebook, Twitter, etc. Have you received good response from your fans/followers?

MLW: My blog is fantastic? Haha, I never would have thought that, but thank you! That’s very encouraging actually. I try to keep all my social media up to date so I can reach the biggest audience I can get. I would say I have a decent amount of followers as an up and coming artist, but who doesn’t want more? Networking with other writers and publishers is definitely key as well.

AFI: Tell me a little about your magazine Wednesday Night Writes? What is your role in the magazine's organization? How far do you plan to take this magazine? What are the magazines objectives for the future? What do you think are the roles and responsibilities of literary magazines?

MLW: Wednesday Night Writes all started on Wednesday nights after our weekly night class. We went to the local Denny’s and talked about class, other stories/books we’ve read, and publications. We finally decided we wanted to start our own literary magazine. There are six of us on staff currently and we all play the role as co-editors. It’s a new magazine and we’re trying our best to work out the kinks. As for the future, we just hope to publish as many great and upcoming writers as we can. I’ve learned that lit mags are A LOT of work. Between reading submissions, editing, formatting, building a website and a following, it’s hard to sit back and admire all the work you’ve already done. It takes a lot of responsibility and dedication to keep a mag up and running smoothly.

AFI: I too have found literary magazines to be a lot of work. You seem very new on the publication circuit. The half dozen publications you list on your CV have happened very quickly. You seem to be on your way to success. What is the end goal and what is your current process? Many poets and writers have publication as their ambition and yet so many poets and writers don't even bother to submit their work. What is your advice to someone who wants to be published? Which of your publication experiences has been the best?

MLW: I like the think I’m on my way to success, and yes, everything has happened very quickly. I didn’t start publishing until about two years ago and since then it’s been a real rollercoaster. My goal in life is to be on the New York Times bestseller list. Maybe not as popular as JK Rowling, but definitely a mentionable name in the literary world. I love being published. It brings such a sense of accomplishment knowing that my work is being praised by people outside my comfort zone. My advice is to never stop trying; someone is going to like your work, it’s just a matter of finding the right publisher. My best experience is when I actually had a book launch this past summer for Enigma at the bookstore/publishing house I was interning at, Rocking Horse Publishing.

AFI: Motherhood, your second chapbook, just released. How much different was the process with this publication from Enigma?

MLW: Motherhood was actually a mini-chapbook that started off as an art project. It’s only five poems and I didn’t have any plans to do anything with it other than hand it out to a few friends. I really made the book just for my own pleasure. Now I’m in the works of listing it on Amazon as an ebook. The difference between Motherhood and Enigma is that I had a common theme in mind when making Motherhood, and the poems are much more up to date. Lately, my poems have been about motherhood (even though I myself am not a mother) and what it means to be a mother. The description of the book pretty much summarizes up my thought process: “The collection highlights the author's fascination with the idea of what it means to be a mother with pregnancy scares, miscarriages, and abortions in mind. To her, simply loving a child–born or unborn–considers you to be a mother.”

AFI: Enigma starts with a Charles Bukowski quote and you inscribed my copy with a Ernest Hemingway witticism. If you will indulge me, leave me with something good: give me some serious Whithaus wisdom.

MLW: I love Bukowksi. I’m such a fan girl that I actually have a bluebird tattoo because of his poem “The Bluebird”. I can honestly say haven’t read much Hemingway, but I have great respect for him. Some of my own advice? Whithaus wisdom? Haha, I’m not my father! But I guess my best advice is going to be lame advice, and that is to never give up. Believe me; I know what it’s like to be your worst critic, especially after being diagnosed with depression. Just keep trying and prying and begging and writing and networking and you’ll eventually get noticed.

AFI: Thanks again for participating in this interview.

MLW: No, thank you for interviewing me! It was a great time. Thanks again!

Melanie Whithaus is currently studying for her undergraduate degree in Creative Writing at Southeast Missouri State University. Her work has been featured on websites such as and, and her blog can be found at She has poetry published with Umbrella Factory Magazine, Scapegoat Review, and 1of25 magazine; short stories with Crack the Spine literary magazine, The Rusty Nail literary magazine, and Palaver Journal; and her self-published chapbooks Enigma and Motherhood. Her writing is known for its raw, straight-forward voice, and her “no holds barred” style.

Anthony ILacqua believes in the independent press, small or large, as the best representation of modern literature in America and the ideal place to connect well developed readers to the best writing available. Anthony's novels Dysphoric Notions and Undertakers of Rain are available from Ring of Fire Books. His screenplays have been made into widely praised animated films at Rocket House Studio. He currently works as fiction editor for Umbrella FactoryMagazine.

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