Interview with James P. Roberts

One Hundred Breaths

What age did you first begin writing, when did you become serious?

“I first began writing when I was in eighth grade (and still possess some of those early ephemera!) It wasn’t until I was a freshman in high school that someone (a girl, naturally) who first told me I had a talent at writing and that I should ‘stick to it!’ I first became serious as a junior and senior in high school when I started learning about the small press and how to submit my stuff.”

Did you know you wanted to be a writer? Did you ever doubt your path?

“I wanted to become a major league baseball player! I was a pretty decent left-handed pitcher (Warren Spahn was my idol, even though I never saw him pitch except on film) and a steady line-drive hitter. I still have letters from the Cubs, Padres, Angels and Phillies who were interested in scouting me. Unfortunately, a bout of spinal meningitis during my senior year virtually wiped out my senior season and when I recovered, I had lost what little running speed I had, so that was that. Once I got into the small press movement in the early 1980’s, I knew that I wanted to be a writer. I have never doubted my path. Many of the jobs I have held over the years were taken primarily because they allowed me time to write; once the job threatened my writing, I moved on.”

 What responsibilities come with being the vice president of the Wisconsin Fellowship of Poets?

“Generally, I am responsible for organizing and holding one of the bi-annual conferences the WFOP puts on every year, on a rotating basis between the seven regions within the WFOP; so, basically, I get it once every four years, sort of like Presidential elections (except this year, for obvious reasons); maintaining the email list of the members in my region; organizing whatever poetry-related events I believe may be of interest to the local and area members in my region (The main one being the annual Winter Festival of Poetry, which runs for eight consecutive weeks beginning in mid-January and ending in mid-March. Each Sunday afternoon during this time, six and sometimes seven poets will read for ten-twelve minutes. This was the eleventh year I have organized and hosted it, but the Winter Festival of Poetry has been in existence since 1987 at various venues). Lastly, I am responsible for writing a column of the activities in my region for the quarterly WFOP Museletter.”

Although you are working on poetry currently, you have written in the realms of dark fantasy and non-fiction as well, what genre is your passion? Why?

“I usually write whatever interests me. While dark fantasy and science fiction are very much influential in my writing, I have also published an anthology of poetry & art from the Baltic countries of Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania (Haunted Voices: Selected Poetry & Art From Lituanus, 1996, White Hawk Press) as well as a non-fiction baseball book about the Madison Black Wolf, who were an independent professional baseball team that played in Madison from 1996 to 2000 (Howlin’ Wolf!: A Fan’s History of the Highs and Lows During Five Stormy Seasons With The Madison Black Wolf).”

How long did it take to write One Hundred Breaths? Did you encounter any hold-ups or difficulties?

One Hundred Breaths has had several incarnations and has morphed drastically many times. In previous lives it was called Eternity, In A Dark and Lovely Place, and Tiny Seconds. The primary difficulty was in selecting poems that had previously been published that fit with the overall theme of intensely personal observations as well as not including poems that were currently in submission elsewhere! Also, not to include poems that I have already selected for yet another chapbook of poetry which I hope to send out again soon! I think I went through seven or eight ‘drafts’ before committing to the poems in the manuscript.”

What is your favorite poem from One Hundred Breaths? Why?

“Oh dear!  I don’t think I can select just one poem. So many of the poems were written around a certain event or a personal observation, but I have long wanted to see ‘The Stations of the Poet’ in print because it was written shortly after my mother’s death.  Yet I wanted it to appear as part of a collection and not by itself in a magazine, but I can’t exactly explain why I felt that way.”

Could you discuss the process of choosing and the meaning behind the title of OneHundred Breaths?

“This may sound a bit facetious, but there’s a Queen song, ‘You Take My Breath Away,’ that, to me, perfectly encapsulates the feeling and tone of the poem. I could imagine taking one hundred breaths just kissing someone during that song!”

The book is made up of four distinct sections. Why did you decide to split the sections in this way? How did you decide on the titles Whispers, Cries, Shouts, and Laments?

“This came late in the process, while putting together the final manuscript. It is similar to whatI did in my collection Spirit Fire, which is also broken into four sections: The Land of Shadows,Songs of Nature, Human Mysteries, and Places. Here, I was trying to tie the sections together because each of them requires one to breathe in a different fashion or manner. It is a subtle reminder that we cannot live without taking a breath, if only to remind ourselves that we doExist. (Yes, I am getting metaphysical…sigh.)”

What does it mean to be published?

“It means I’m probably not making any money! But, seriously, it is always a great thrill to see your name in print on something that you created and someone was interested enough to share it with the readers of their magazine, or what-have-you.”

What advice would you give to young writers today?

“Write every day! I have kept a regular daily journal since 1990 and am on my forty-fifth notebook (about 300 pages each), Write down your dreams. Do your research, know your market, then submit. Don’t be discouraged with the rejections. Celebrate the successes!”

James P. Roberts is the author of 15 published books of fantasy & science fiction, poetry, literary biography andbaseball history. Recent work has been published inRosebud, Weirdbook, Mirror Dance, Sand Canyon ReviewandZingara Poetry Review.He lives in Madison, Wisconsin where he stays involved in many literary activities and haunts Little Free Libraries in his spare time.

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