Our Vintage Sundress series features authors who have published with Sundress in the past and takes a look at what they’ve been up to since their work was released. In 2013, Donna Vorreyer published her first poetry collection, A House of Many Windows, with Sundress, followed by Every Love Story is an Apocalypse Story in 2016. For our latest installment, editorial intern Riley Steiner spoke with Vorreyer about her experience with the publication process, her sources of inspiration, and more.
Riley Steiner: What has changed for you since Every Love Story was published?
Donna Vorreyer: As a writer, honestly, not much. Of course, it’s a delight and a privilege to have books in the world when so many wonderful poets I know still have not had this happen for them. Publication means someone else thought my work worth sharing, which lends some credence to my label as poet.
Calling myself a poet is always difficult for me as I have an enormous case of impostor syndrome. I often think, “Is my voice necessary in the literary landscape?” and the answer that mostly comes to mind is no. Having poets I admire so greatly write blurbs for the book was a humbling and heart-warming experience, but hearing from readers of all ages about how they connect with the work has been the best part of having that book in the world. Everyone can relate to love and loss, whether it’s in an intimate relationship or some other area of life.
As a person, a lot has changed for me. This past year has been especially difficult, losing both parents within a five-month span among other things. It has me thinking a lot about mortality, about how I am choosing to spend my time. Starting to write through those losses has helped with the healing process, but sometimes it also reopens the wounds. It’s a delicate balance, and it has impacted how much I have written and put into the world in the last eighteen months, how much I am willing to give over the time I have to writing.
RS: Your first book, A House of Many Windows, was published with Sundress in 2013. Did your experience with the publishing process differ between your first and second books? If so, how?
DV: Yes! Mostly because I had gone the traditional route of sending the first manuscript out to multiple publishers and contests. I didn’t really have any knowledge about the publishing of poems or a book except researching on the internet and trying to find books by those presses at the library.
After many rejections, I took a manuscript workshop with Daniel Khalastchi that helped me to solidify the poem order. He also convinced me that the book was worth publishing when I was ready to quit.
Luckily, the connection with Sundress happened organically. I had stopped by their table at AWP Chicago to thank Erin for publishing one of my poems in Stirring, and our conversation led to Sundress reading and accepting that first manuscript. (Authors—THANK YOUR JOURNAL EDITORS! You never know … ) For the second one, Sundress asked for a first look and liked the manuscript enough to publish it, so the anguish of the contest/reading period submission was eliminated.
Once the manuscripts were accepted, I was very lucky to have Erin Elizabeth Smith edit the first manuscript and Sara Henning edit the second. Both of them were thoughtful editors, not just accepting the manuscripts “as-is,” but working with me to hone them. Suggesting line edits, changes in order, haggling over section titles—these are all things I appreciated immensely and would expect from any editor who truly cares about the work they are publishing. The second book even had a completely different title before the editing process, and I’m so glad it changed!
RS: Has the publication of A House of Many Windows, and then Every Love Story, altered your perspective on the literary community?
DV: Certainly, having a book in the world makes one more keenly aware of all the different aspects of the literary community, both in person and online. As I work full-time outside of academia and do not have an MFA, my lit community has been built person by person, through workshops, appearances in journals and in online groups. (I wasn’t on Twitter when the first book came out and had just started using it when the second one did, and the way things spread on Poetry Twitter is a wonder to behold.) I got more readings and attention for the second book as my community had grown, especially online. This helped me to expand my reach for readings and promotion beyond the Chicago area where I live, and that was very exciting.
As a result of not getting much publicity after the first initial push and swirl of AWP for each book, I realized how important it is for books to remain in the public eye, at least in the literary public eye. As a result, I began to write reviews of poetry books, and I have been steadily publishing reviews since the release of Every Love Story. For me, it is an avenue of literary citizenship that enriches me as a reader and a writer as I learn much from the deep reading that a review requires. Although the literary community CAN be a divisive place, full of contention and one-upmanship, I prefer to settle into it as a middle-aged cheerleader, reviewing and promoting the work of others in a gentle and positive way and hoping that the golden rule comes into play when my own work enters the world.
RS: One of the things that struck me the most while reading the poems in Every Love Story was the vivid natural imagery. Do you often find yourself drawing upon the natural world while you write? What are some other sources of inspiration for you?
DV: The second manuscript actually began as a response to my reading of the journals of Lewis and Clark. Their deep scrutiny of a new wild married with my own affinity for the natural world in many of these poems.
Once the manuscript started to be shaped into its narrative cycle, the natural world became an easy canvas of images with which to paint love, loss, descent into despair, and hope, cycling as the seasons cycle. I return to the natural world often as it is the first and perfect mirror for all human experience and a type of imagery with which all readers can connect. I am also often inspired by sounds, and the sonics of a poem are important to me, so much so that often the topical direction of a poem sometimes changes based on the way I want the language to sound. It’s my job as a poet to notice, to observe, so inspiration is easy to find. It’s finding something to say using that inspiration, something unique, that is the difficult part.
RS: What is something worth noting about being published that you would want unpublished writers to know?
DV: Holding your book in your hand for the first time is an irreplaceable feeling, a feeling that never goes away. It may open doors to new people and new experiences. It may bring you a sense of personal achievement or (if you’re lucky) some level of financial success.
But it is not a magic wand. You will not suddenly be in demand to speak around the country or win big monetary awards or get offers to write in a Tuscan villa for a month. You could, but it’s not likely. You should be pleased that your hard work has put your words in front of readers, made a connection with someone beyond yourself. Which is the point, right?
RS: What else have you been up to since Every Love Story?
DV: I am always writing new work, sometimes at a snail’s pace, but always writing. I have been writing a lot of reviews, as I said earlier, but have also been publishing poems. A chapbook of prose poems, The Girl, was published in 2018 by the wonderful Porkbelly Press.
RS: What are you working on now?
DV: I currently have a third manuscript out in the world, and I have been writing a lot about aging, loss, and about, despite how awful the world can be, how lucky and blessed we are to know love. It seems that these two forces balance one another, and the way they interact is of interest to me.
RS: Looking back from where you are today, is there anything you’d tell your younger self before A House of Many Windows, and then Every Love Story, was published?
DV: Well, since I was 51 when House was published, I was long past my younger self already! I didn’t return to writing poetry with any sort of serious effort until I was in my early 30s, so I never had any expectations that I would have any sort of “success.” If someone told me I would work at it for twenty years, learning as much as I could through reading and taking workshops before I would do any sort of regular publishing, I probably wouldn’t have believed that I would have had the stamina.
I would tell myself then to remember what one of my mentors, Diana Goetsch, told me early on—to write with fire and complete belief in your work, and then send it into the world with absolutely no expectations. This way, you will always be proud of what you’ve accomplished whether the “poetry world” validates you or not. This is always a struggle—to not equate the value of one’s work with the fickle tastes of the publishing world. I would remind myself why I started writing in the first place—because it helps me to both celebrate and figure out the world.
Donna Vorreyer is the author of Every Love Story is an Apocalypse Story (Sundress Publications, 2016) and A House of Many Windows (Sundress, 2013) as well as eight chapbooks, most recently The Girl (Porkbelly Press). Her poems and reviews have appeared in numerous journals including Waxwing, Rhino, Quarterly West, Poet Lore, Diode and Sugar House Review.
Riley Steiner is a senior at Miami University, where she studies Creative Writing and Media & Culture. Originally from Columbus, Ohio, she enjoys baking, cheering for the Green Bay Packers, and spending way too much money at Half Price Books. Her creative work is forthcoming in the Oakland Arts Review.