Today we welcome author Susie Clevenger.
Book ‘Em: Tell us about you and your life outside of writing.
Susie Clevenger: I am an avid reader and traveler. I can be in the process of reading three books in any given week. My husband, Charlie, and I love to travel. We have spent a lot of time in the Caribbean and traveling the United States. We also travel with our music friend, Mike Zito, selling his merchandise at his shows.
Our travels also take us to book signings and art events. Of course, I do the books, and my husband shows and sells the jewelry he makes. It is a blessing to be able to share a love for the arts. It is a bond that keeps us constantly exploring our creativity.
Book ‘Em: Which books have you written? What are they about and why did you choose to write them? Do your books have a message? Are they fiction or non fiction?
Susie Clevenger: I have written three poetry collections, Dirt Road Dreams, Insomnia’s Ink, and my latest collection, Where Butterflies Pray. Dirt Road Dreams was born from my desire as a teenager to put my thoughts into poetry. I wrote often then, but my adult life I was busy raising a family so I left it behind. Ironically it was a car accident in 2006 which caused a traumatic brain injury that brought me back to writing poetry. It caused personality changes and memory issues as well as ADD. One day I was sitting at my computer and the thought popped into my head to write a poem. The rest as they say is history. The book is part my life and parts of others I have observed through the years. I begin the book walking barefoot on gravel and end dancing in dust.
Insomnia’s Ink is pretty self explanatory. It is poems pulled from the hours of being awake. I have had insomnia bouts since I was a child. It is a small book divided into two parts, midnight and birdsong. Most people dream while they sleep. I dream wide eyed. I often call writing my pencil therapy. Insomnia’s Ink is just a small peek into that world.
My latest book, Where Butterflies Pray, is written from my connection with nature. It is my tabernacle, my place of God, spirit, hope. I spent the majority of my childhood outdoors roaming the woods around my home. I learned early nature had a lot to say if I took time to look and listen.
There are many reasons I chose to write them. First of all I felt a need to get my voice into print. My mother had Alzheimer’s and although I don’t dwell on what could be sleeping in my genetics, I wanted to make sure my daughters had my work. Most of my writing is in first person. Again, not every poem is my experience, but from what I’ve seen and heard. My reason for first person is a reader will immediately identify if they have or know someone who has had a similar experience. My biggest hope is my poetry will help someone. Once when I googled my name I found one of my quotes I had placed on Goodreads posted on Central Asia Institute’s website in an article titled, Dreaming Freely in Afghanistan. The institute’s goal is to empower girls and women through education. The article quoted,” Poet Susie Clevenger wrote, “A dream doesn’t die because it has no truth. It dies because you fail to nurture it.” It is hard to express what I felt. To see my words placed in an article about scholarships for educating Afghanistan women brought me to tears.
Book ‘Em: Do you have any works in progress?
Susie Clevenger: Yes, I do. I am working on my fourth poetry collection which I have titled, It Takes a Woman. It will be full of sass and a woman’s viewpoint on life. I am not sure when it will be finished. I can’t rush poetry to meet a deadline. It comes when it comes.
Book ‘Em: What was the most difficult section/piece you ever wrote? What made it difficult?
Susie Clevenger: The most difficult poem I’ve written at this point is, A Hero Fighting Shadows, which is in my book, Dirt Road Dreams. It is about my husband’s struggle to help me not only emotionally and mentally, through a dark period, but also physically. I was a sexually abused child. I kept the horrid secret until I met my husband Charlie. My abuser had manipulated me into blaming myself for what happened to me, and thus made me feel unworthy of the love of anyone, especially the love of my husband. Writing the poem I had to revisit that dark period. There was no real help in 1970 for sexual abuse. My family doctor told me Charlie was the trigger for my agony and I needed to leave him. (I still can’t believe he said that.) Falling deeper into my darkness Charlie found me attempting suicide. From that point on for a solid year he slept holding on to my wrist so he’d know if I left his side. To quote from my poem:
My hero, my husband,
fought an adversary
he couldn’t see.
A dragon slayer
fighting my demons
to save me from me.
Book ‘Em: What sort of research do you do for your work?
Susie Clevenger: Research, someone once told me poetry didn’t require research; it just comes from your mind. Poetry comes from so many things. Perhaps I am a receptor for what I see, hear, smell, and feel. I use it all as an inkwell to fill my pen for poetry.
Book ‘Em: What books and authors do you read for pleasure? Is there an author who inspires you?
Susie Clevenger: Goodness, where do I begin? I read a lot of authors for pleasure, but I think I will focus on one who really changed my life. As I mentioned before I was fighting the demons of childhood sexual abuse. In 1998 Oprah Winfrey had Debbie Ford as a guest on her show. They were discussing her book, The Dark Side of the Light Chasers. It is a book on self realization, dealing with what has harmed you, moving forward, healing. On the cover it uses this description about what is in the book, “reclaiming your power, creativity, brilliance, and dreams. The book planted a seed for a journey I didn’t know I could take.
Book ‘Em: Was there a person who encouraged you to write?
Susie Clevenger: The very first person who ever mentioned I should or could write was my high school freshman English teacher, Mrs. Kilgore. She introduced me to poetry through the writings of Edgar Allan Poe. I like to refer to him as the godfather of my poetry. It was in her class I discovered my poetic voice. Her notes on my work were invaluable to learning and growing fledgling wings of communication.
Book ‘Em: What would you say are your strengths as an author?
Susie Clevenger: Oh, goodness, I am not sure how to answer that. I suppose I’d say the hunger for expression.
Book ‘Em: How often do you write, and do you have a strict routine?
Susie Clevenger: I used to be hung up on having to write daily. I stressed myself into writer’s block. Now I write when I feel the impulse, the creative whisper to put thoughts to poetry.
Book ‘Em: Five years from now, where do you see yourself as a writer?
Susie Clevenger: That sounds like an eternity almost. I really don’t know. With my ADD I have trouble planning and staying focused on a day. Writing, that is as close to an answer for five years as I can come.
Book ‘Em: If you could offer one piece of advice to a novice writer, what would it be?
Susie Clevenger: Believe in yourself enough to grow through critique, and don’t give up when presented with no.
Book ‘Em: What would you consider the best compliment a reader could give your book?
Susie Clevenger: She is real, relatable and honest.
I will finish with a poem from, Where Butterflies Pray.
Alone is the place to learn
the meaning of whole.
Kneeling among my scars
I find each sharp edge
and speak love until
I no longer bleed.
Links to Susie Clevenger’s work:
Dirt Road Dreams http://a.co/fyQkpiN
Insomnia’s Ink http://a.co/fSv3wLU
Where Butterflies Pray http://a.co/7R9hA1Z