Thursday, September 13, 2012

Thankful Thursday: Interview with Writer Brenda Miller

THE PEN & THE BELL: Mindful Writing in a Busy World

Authors: Brenda Miller & Holly Hughes


Interview with co-author, Brenda Miller:

1.  Brenda, congratulations on your new book, The Pen and the Bell: Mindful Writing in a Busy World (Skinner House Books, 2012), which you co-authored with Holly Hughes!  I’ve been reading about it and it looks to be a very inspiring book for poets and writers.  I’m curious, how did this book come into being?

 Holly and I were both interested in how to bring the contemplative aspects of writing into the classroom. We both teach classes that incorporate centering meditation practice with writing, as a way to help our students deal with the stresses of life. Holly sat in on one of my classes at the Rainier Writing Workshop Low-residency MFA program, and we began talking about creating an anthology of our favorite contemplative poetry and prose. That idea expanded into our personal experience with the topics. We decided to spend our sabbaticals (we both had sabbaticals at the same time, a lucky coincidence) corresponding with one another about contemplation and writing, just to explore the topics. But we enjoyed writing the stories in the letters so much, they actually became the rough draft of the book. We revised a lot with editorial feedback to shape it into is final form. 

2.  I’ve also co-edited a poetry anthology (Fire On HerTongue) with a good friend and I found it very rewarding as well as a lot more fun.  What did you like about working with another writer?  Did you and Holly Hughes discover your own individual strengths while creating this book?  What were the challenges you faced when putting this book together?

 It was so much fun! The best part was the writing of the letters; I always knew where to start! The simple phrase "Dear Holly...." became like a mindfulness bell, immediately putting me in both a contemplative and writing frame of mind. As we corresponded throughout the year, the vagaries of life (loss, joy, holidays, family, pets) all became part of our collaborative story. Having another person to respond to is a great gift for a writer.  I think we brought different strengths to the project, different backgrounds--Holly has lived an amazingly diverse life and is a wonderful poet; I brought my experience as an essayist and my obsessions with the body--so the resultant writing has many layers to it.
The more difficult part came with revision: letting go of the letters to create the book the way it needed to be. I tend to make revision decisions pretty quickly (maybe too quickly); Holly was a bit more thoughtful about it!

3.  Who do you feel this book was written for?  What reader would most benefit from this book?

 Because the book is written as a conversation—with stories from everyday life and examples of a wide range of readings that illustrate our points—I really do think it can be for anyone who is interested in allowing space for creativity in his or her daily life. 

4.  What is your biggest challenge as a writer yourself?
 Allowing space for creativity in my daily life! (I need to read my own book....)

5.  Do you have a favorite section or part of The Pen and the Bell?
 I think my favorite sections have to do with our dogs (Abbe and Fox), and the chapter on how doing daily chores can be an opportunity for mindfulness. I also really like the last full chapter of the book, where we apply this work to the greater work of the world. 

6.  Is there anything I haven’t asked, that you think would be helpful for readers to know about your new book?

I think it would be a great book to read/use with others. Writing can be such a solitary act, in a world that isolates us in our busyness. This book provides a great framework in which to commune with others in the creative life.

The book also continues a life online, with our interactive website We try to post a new "letter" with a writing/contemplation prompt every week, as well as interesting news and tidbits from around the web. 

Thanks for the great conversation Kelli!

Other info:

You can purchase the print version of The Pen & The Bell: Mindful Writing in a Busy World Here


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