Timothy Perez, author of The Savagery of Bone from Moon Tide Press, sat down with Tell Tell to give us the inside scoop on writing his first book.
Tell Tell: How long did it take for Moon Tide Press to pick up your manuscript? How many other places had you sent it & how many years did it take for you to write it?
Timothy: Moon Tide picked up the book right away. I sent it to them in the early part of the summer in 2012. Michael Miller responded August 16th saying he would like to publish it. I sent it to three other small presses including Moon Tide. Sarah Kay said something interesting during a TED talk she gave, something to the effect that she had been writing the same poem just in various forms when attempting to complete the 30-30 challenge (30 poems in 30 days), I kind of feel that way about this book and about some of the pieces it contains. I probably spent, collectively, ten years writing all the poems it contains; however, it took me only three months to put the manuscript together as well as write some of the poems.
What is a typical day like for you? What are your routines, where do you work, what do you look at? Break down your day for us.
I am currently living in Bell Gardens, so I get up early to go to work. I teach English at Santiago High School in Corona. The drive is okay. I miss most of the traffic. I like getting to work early. I make coffee, eat a little something and either grade papers or begin to jot down notes for ideas I have for poems that I was thinking about on the drive to work. I will fool around with the ideas for the week and they either become something or they don’t and they just remain in the cemetery, which is how I think of my notebook. I either exorcise the ghosts or I don’t.
Your new book from Moon Tide Press, The Savagery of Bone seems to be about a speaker’s relationship with his father. When writing about personal matters, how do you balance truth and fiction? Or do you balance the two?
I write it all out trying along the way to create an image for the emotion I am trying to illustrate to the reader and, in doing so, I am deciphering that emotion for myself. I think that is where the balance comes from. When I’m re-creating a memory from the past, I need to fill in the blanks and that is where truth becomes fictionalized; however, the emotion remains true, which I think is more important than whether or not the piece is autobiographical in nature or not.
Memory is evoked in many of your poems–can you tell us what one of your earliest memories is of?
Waking up to the smell of percolating coffee. Mom used to wake us up with kisses. Pop woke us up with coffee, or at least the smell of it. When he did offer it to me, I usually jazzed it up with lots of cream and sugar. Then it was off to school or work. My father had a side landscaping business, but it was really grunt work to make ends meet; however, I learned a lot from the old man—this was how we spent our time together. Side by side, sweating—”doing another man’s work,” my Pop would say, but I believe it gave me my work ethic. I apply this to everything I do including writing.
This book also seems to explore how we live with grief, how we wear it and how it wears us: what is one way that you, as a poet and a person, deal with grief?
I don’t think I ever get over grief. Those tiny tragedies—the girl who turned you down for prom, the last meal you could’ve had with someone before they passed— have a tendency to surface on occasion and then disappear as quickly as they came, so I have to question if they even existed in the first place. I feel deeply about a lot of things, and, concerning grief, I believe I wade in it, and it shows up in my writing. On a day-to-day plane of existence, I’m like anybody else: trying to survive, trying to thrive, trying to make this place to leave this place better than I found it.
If you could only write about one thing for the rest of your life, what would you write about?
I would write about my family. I’m a simple person. I don’t like too much flash and dazzle. I really can say I enjoy the simplicities of life. I try to live minimally. Never keep up with anything or anyone, just go about things my own way at my own pace. Which, at times, doesn’t agree with many, but what do you do?
What is your writing process like?
When I was single, I wrote late at night between 10 pm and 2 am. Then I started a family and the hours were all over. I carry a pocket notebook and a pen at all times, but I have been known to write on napkins, tissue paper, burger wrappers, stryrofoam cups, and any surface able to absorb ink, and then I go home and type it all up. I still write everything out long hand. I can’t sit at a computer and just create something—I like the physical act of writing. Once the general idea is out, I take it to the computer and just play around with it a bit. Some pieces I let simmer a while; others are done in a few minutes.
If someone were to write a book of poems about you, what do you hope they’d say?
I don’t know about a whole book of poems about me—maybe one that would simply say I was one of the good ones.
Where do you see yourself and your writing in 5 years?
I hope to have some roots for my family, some stability for them. As for my writing, I would bet that I would have at least two more books published, maybe a prize or two and a nomination—for something. What that something is I don’t know: only time will tell, and I’m a patient man.