Archive for Muse Online Conference

Meet Michele Graf, new Poetry Editor for Apollo’s Lyre


Michele, how long have you been writing, and what do you write?
My earliest writing projects involved climbing onto furniture and using lipstick or nail polish on the walls. Red was always my favorite color. Brought tears to my mother’s eyes, and was the start of my name confusion: For years, I didn’t know if my name was “Dammit Michele!” or “Michele Dammit!” Later I found out my middle name actually is “Lynn.”
However, I found copies of a couple of Jr. High Newsletters (I was Asst. Editor) when I was cleaning out her house after she died, so she didn’t always hate my writing.
Barbara Sher, one of my favorite authors (Refuse to Choose!), created a label for people like me: we’re Scanners — fascinated by many different avenues, and want to do all of them. In the past few years, I’ve completed three NaNo Novel first drafts, a ScriptFrenzy Play, started websites about our travels and my writing, a blog about Gluten-Free Travel, published poetry, non-fiction pieces, and handled a couple of newsletters. No matter how many times I stop editing newsletters for groups I’m in, I wake up one day and find that one of my alter egos has volunteered yet again.

I also edit – novels, scripts, non-fiction, and poetry. I love to help people find the heart of their project, push themselves through the hard parts, and feel that zing when it comes together.

Poetry, however, is my first love.

Michele and I “met” several years ago at the Muse Online Conference. Can you tell us a little about that?

Wow – the Muse Conference is a whole ‘nuther interview! The short version is that an enthusiastic group of us decided to meet for live chats a couple of times each month, and share our poems. I had a goal that, if we came up with some really good stuff, we’d put together an anthology. And, lo! It came to pass . . .

Six of us from around the country continued working our way through as we poured our hearts into the project. The process truly was a lifeline. I’m very proud of what we’ve done, and eager to get it out to the world.

You’ve recently become poetry editor of Apollo’s Lyre. How is that going?

I’m still getting my bearings, but am delighted and honored with the responsibility. I challenge the poets out there to take a look at the e-zine, then send me poems that grab me – vivid, sensory, each word exact. Be part of this award-winning publication.

Can you tell us a little about your current writing projects?

Our Poetic Muselings poetry anthology, called “Lifelines” is about ready for publication. I’m editing my 2006 NaNo novel; writing new poetry. I’m also working on a coffee-table type of book I call Heart, Soul, and Rough Edges, filled with poetry, pictures, and prose pieces about our decade-long 100,000 mile journey traveling all over the US and Canada in a motorhome, working in campgrounds summers and winters, wandering in between. It took me a long time to understand that I have several books’ worth of material to deal with, and that’s okay.

I’ve got about 20 other writing projects I’d love to do, ranging from some children’s stories, to a book about the Kidney Transplant Chain – I know two people who’ve donated kidneys so others they love could get donor organs through this program.

Who is your favorite author? Favorite book?

Dangerous question!

My favorites have changed. I read and reread Catch-22, by Joseph Heller, and Exodus, by Leon Uris, every year for about ten years, in addition to whatever else I could get my hands on. Then, throughout much of a 20 year crazy work schedule, I rarely had time to indulge. That’s when I started reading magazines, short stories in general, and Sherlock Holmes in particular.

(Once I start reading, I don’t want to stop ‘til I get to the end. That usually means reading all night and pretending to function the next day, often surreptitiously continuing to read instead of whatever else I’m supposed to do. A life-long character flaw.)

I jumped at a chance for early retirement, and received a marvelous present from someone who was a great reader himself — a multi-page list of books I should read, ranging from Alice In Wonderland to works by Hunter S. Thompson. Other friends shared their favorite with me.

I made friends with librarians across the country, read local authors and history, and worked my way down the book lists. Something wonderful to relate to Thoreau’s description of traveling in Maine, 150 years after he wrote it.

I’m an eclectic and voracious reader – always have been – and usually have several books going at once. I love stories that capture the absurdities of life, with a wicked sense of humor, like Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (one of my all-time faves), Tom Robbins’ Skinny Legs and All, Kinky Friedman’s crazy books, and Life Among the Savages, a fifty-some year old book by Shirley Jackson (better known for her dark works like “The Lottery”). Two series by Alexander McCall Smith are in this category; I love Bertie in his 44 Scotland Street series, and the Portuguese Irregular Verbs characters.

At the same time, I’m willingly pulled into The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency series; achingly haunting books like The Lost World of the Kalahari, by Laurens van der Post. And the all-encompassing Harry Potter saga by J. K. Rowlings, which a friend said contains all the lessons of the Bible.

I love mysteries, like Sue Grafton’s letters of the alphabet, or Robert Parker’s Spenser series, and Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot – the “who done it, how, and why” – especially the “why” part, maybe because “why?” is allegedly the first word I ever spoke. (Second was “moon!”)

I’d love to be able to write a wildly absurd cozy, with lots of intrigue and no icky stuff that gives me nighmares. There’s enough darkness beyond our control; I much prefer to let my imagination run wild with these things.

If you could be any character from any book at all, who would you be, and why?

Mary Russell, a fictional equal and partner of Sherlock Holmes, in Laurie King’s series (great books!). She’s brave, strong-willed, holds her own with the mighty Sherlock, and is so many of the things I wish I could be. (When I was younger, I wanted to be Dale Evans (complete with horse), and after I started reading, Nancy Drew.)

Do you have a writing schedule? A particular place to write?

How I wish I wrote on a schedule! I thought that after I retired, I’d have so much time to do all those projects I’d postponed while working. I’m making peace with routines to make it easier. I write in many places. Poetry and journaling are almost always handwritten, with a fountain pen, either curled up on the couch or sitting at my dining room table. I have a great office with my desktop computer, and lose myself there for as many hours as I can get away with. I edit on my laptop away from where I originally wrote.

What do you find inspires you as a writer?

Strong reactions, whether to beauty, absurdity, or pain.

Since the Muse online conference has been such a big part of both our writing lives, can you say a few words about how that has influenced you?

I have a very special place in my heart for the Muse Online Conference. I met Carolyn Howard-Johnson at a luncheon in the Palm Springs area in 2005. She said she saw the world in images, during her presentation, and immediately I connected. Yes! That’s the way I see the world, too! We talked after she finished reading her poetry to us.
With Carolyn’s encouragement, I submitted a poem to The Desert Woman magazine, and it was accepted. She was my first poetry mentor, although I’d written poems most of my life. Carolyn and I have stayed in touch since then. She told me about the conference she and Lea Schizas were organizing, and the rest is history.

What do you feel has been the biggest impediment to your evolution, for want of a better word, as a writer, and conversely, what do you feel has contributed the most to your progress?

The voices in my head that said if “whatever” I did wasn’t perfect, it wasn’t worth doing, and certainly not worth sharing. For most of my life, which involved a lot of writing (newsletters and newspapers in work environments, supervisor and management training, labor contract language, and more), until someone else said my words were okay, I didn’t know if they were or not. I had no clue if I’d guessed right.
That paralyzing perfectionism colored much of my world, like riding a bike downhill with the brakes on, never letting myself experience the exhilaration and joy of my creative side.
I still fight that demon, but I’m better at accepting my own worth. I credit the Muse connection for helping me see that. I’ve been part of three different critique groups, two online through the Muse Conference (non-fiction and the Poetic Muselings), and one in-person poetry group. Finding support on the personal as well as professional levels has been hugely helpful. The process of opening up, sharing, learning, is something I never had before.

Any last words?

Thank you for inviting me to your blog. I’ve loved working with you, and watching how we’ve all grown since meeting. Good luck with your projects – I look forward to the new book and all the others percolating.

Where to find Michele on the web:

Road Writer

Gluten-Free Travel

Apollo’s Lyrre
And you can email Michele at Apollo’s Lyre at
[email protected]

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