“Part of why I became a writer was because I’ve always admired the way artists can transform imagination into art. It’s magic!”
Girl’s Guide to Leaving (University of Wisconsin Press, 2022)
Could you share a representative or pivotal poem from your book? Perhaps something that that invites the reader into the world of the book?
I think the title poem “Girl’s Guide to Leaving” (first published on Radar Poetry) is a good invitation into the world of the book.
Why did you choose this poem?
Once I wrote that poem, I felt like a book was taking shape. There’s something both scary and thrilling to know you’re working towards a manuscript. At the time, I wanted it to be a second chapbook but my dear writing friends gently guided me towards the idea that it was a full-length.
What obsessions led you to write your book?
Folklore, storytelling, mythmaking
What was the final poem you wrote or significantly revised for the book, and how did that affect your sense that the book was complete?
For me, it wasn’t writing the last poem for the book that made me feel like the manuscript was complete. It was when I wrote a poem that felt like a new project all together. There was the sense that I was moving forward and away from writing towards Girl’s Guide to Leaving.
Do you have a favorite prompt or revision strategy? What is it?
Choose an existing poem, then write the opposite word for each one in the poem.
Sometimes there is no opposite word, so the prompt forces you to think metaphorically. To find an opposite for a word without an obvious answer, you’ll begin considering things like: texture, color, shape, emotion, or relation to other words. The prompt helps me consider words more closely and begins tuning my brain toward seeking metaphor where there might not be any (yet). Though there will be many sentences, phrases, and lines that have become nonsense after you’ve completed the exercise, there are inevitably some that are resonant and open for expansion.
This is a prompt I learned from KB Brookins which I enjoy doing when I’m looking at a blank page and feeling blocked. I want to take a moment to promote KB’s writing—their debut Freedom House (Deep Vellum Publishing) is coming out in April. I highly recommend folks preorder it!
What has the editorial and production experience with your publisher been like? To what degree did you collaborate on the cover image and design of your book?
My editor, Sheila McMahon, was wonderful! We went back and forth on copyedits twice, which helped me consider the manuscript as a whole and rethink some small but important language choices. We reviewed the book again after it was typeset. She was my main contact throughout the process.
For the cover, the UWisc Press Art Director Jennifer Conn had me send examples of book covers I liked and some potential artwork that I liked. I had an artist in mind, Ale De la Torre, whose work is on the cover. The book’s designer was Jeremy John Parker. I didn’t get to work with him directly but got to speak with him briefly later on.
What are you working on now?
I’m working on a collection that explores the power of naming and our connection to the natural world.
If you could choose another artistic path (painting, music, dance, etc.) what would it be and why?
Oh man, I wish I could draw or paint! Part of why I became a writer was because I’ve always admired the way artists can transform imagination into art. It’s magic!
What advice would you offer to students interested in creative writing?
Write bravely. Revise until the language surprises you. Try to think of everything you write as an opportunity to learn something new about the process and to become acquainted with yourself as a writer. Tune in to what brings you joy.
Laura Villareal is the author of Girl’s Guide to Leaving (University of Wisconsin Press, 2022). She earned her MFA at Rutgers University—Newark and has been awarded fellowships and scholarships from the Stadler Center for Poetry and Literary Arts, National Book Critics Circle’s Emerging Critics Program, Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, and the Dobie Paisano Fellowship Program at University of Texas-Austin. Her writing has appeared in Guernica, AGNI, The American Poetry Review, and elsewhere.