The Shape of Blue: Notes of Loss, Language, Motherhood & Fear (The LitPub 2013) is Liz Scheid’s first book. A collection of short stories, The Shape of Blue through associative memories and facts tales the tragedy of losing one’s sister unexpectedly in the midst of pregnancy and raising one’s own children. Written in lyric and forthright prose, this collection reminds us to appreciate and move through fear with love to move forward with open hearts.
Liz Scheid holds an MFA (poetry) from California State University, Fresno. She teaches English composition classes at Fresno City College. Her work has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize twice. She currently lives in an almond orchard in Kerman, California with her husband and their two wonderful kids.
Sheila: What’s a surprising thing you know, or know how to do?
Liz: I don’t know how surprising this is or not, but I know how to gut a fish. I guess it’s pretty surprising to me because it seems like something I would be completely terrified of doing. But, I grew up with a fisherman dad. He always took us fishing and brought home (only the big enough) fish to cook. I remember it being pretty disturbing and messy, especially when the eggs of the female would spill onto the counter. But like most things that terrify us, we always want to look, and I was always a very curious kid.
S: If we were out to dinner or a party together, what’s the one thing we should not ask you about?
L: Hmm. I love dinner parties, and I love food and beer and politics and music and books and people. Well, I love most people. I’d love to talk for hours about any of those things. If you mention Rush Limbaugh, I might vent and/or spill my beer. I’ll probably say something inappropriate. But quite honestly, I’m a conversationalist, and I’m pretty open about everything, even the things/people I despise.
S: Who are some awesome female and/or feminist writers we should check out?
L: I have to mention that the first female writer I was really drawn to was Anne Sexton. I was introduced to her poem, “To My Lover Returning to His Wife” when I was a sophomore in high school. I was like, wow, I didn’t know you could say that. I read more from her, and then I started exploring my own voice and my own identity.
Throughout grad school, I read and reread a lot of Adrienne Rich. Her book, Of Woman Born, ruined me. It was able to bust through every prescription or theory I had been taught to believe about myself and motherhood and women and pretty much crush these narratives into pieces. It also spoke to me, so I felt like I had a voice, and gave me permission to speak about some of the complicated things of motherhood. I also read a lot of Muriel Rukeyser in those days, and felt so liberated and empowered and challenged. I wanted to write things. I wanted to take risks.
S: Can you tell us about a small event in your life that made you feel like you were a strong woman? A moment when you felt like a strong writer? Even though it might be small or seem insignificant, maybe it had lasting or powerful effects.
L: You know, I really did feel pretty empowered when I had my daughter. Not that both of my kids have made me proud and humbled and loved in so many ways, but she was my first and I was in grad school at the time. I remember hating the feeling of my body being so on display. It was like wherever I went, people wanted to poke and talk about my belly. It’s something that feels so private, but becomes so very public. It was all new to me. The pregnancy itself was a bit of a surprise, so everything seemed strange and intense. But I felt empowered because I delivered my daughter without an epidural (because it failed). It hurt like hell, and I realize many women do this all the time by choice, but this wasn’t my choice; I wanted drugs, and I wanted the epidural, but it failed, and I felt every contraction, and my god, it hurt. Everything hurt. But I survived. There’s no way I ever would have imagined myself surviving that. I also felt empowered because I delivered her during Christmas break and returned to class a couple of weeks later. I had to run to the bathroom during classes to pump milk. I was writing more than ever during those days. I remember being awake a lot. Breastfeeding A LOT. During those long nights, I pounded into the keyboard. I felt liberated in doing so. I was able to release and sort through all the confusion and tension and beauty, and make sense of it all. The writing that poured out of me during those newborn days was raw and real, and in many ways, I consider it to be some of my riskiest writing. Maybe because it was so unfiltered.
S: Many of your essays are written in a poetic, fragmented voice. In your notes on “Lockdown” you mention the essay started as a prose poem. What intersections do you find between essay writing and poetry?
L: Really, I’m in love with language. Whether it’s an essay or a poem, I want something that’s going to seduce me with words. A professor once told me not to do that, not to let the language seduce me, but how could you not? Plus, if someone tells me not to do something, I’m going to be all the more tempted. I received my MFA in poetry. Even when I’m writing an essay, I’m listening to the sound as I write; I’m using language to tap into the subconscious, and I’m moving associatively most of the time. I think there are many essayists out there who are also poets, and many poets out there who are also essayists.
S: How long did it take you to finish The Shape of Blue? Would you speak to the process of writing and developing your collection from submission to publication? Did you encounter any surprises? Struggles? How did you deal with these difficulties?
L: Some of the essays in TSOB were written well before I put the collection together. But when I actually started putting the book together, and by putting the book together, I mean, sorting through the essays, putting them in an order in which they spoke to one another and moved in a way that made sense, it took about 6 months. But, if I were to include the time it took to write all the essays, then I’d say it was at least three years. After, I figured out the order, did some edits, a million rereads, I sent it out to The Lit Pub contest. When Molly emailed me in September of 2012, I was stunned. I stared at the email for quite awhile. You know, I was expecting a standard rejection, so it was shocking, and felt so surreal. I was on my way to LA and my mom was driving. I said, “Mom? I think my book is going to published.” She immediately pulled over, and we shouted and cried and I called my husband and everyone else I knew. It took a year from there and underwent some major reconstructive surgery. It wasn’t, however, until the following summer that we began the editing process, and my god, I really wasn’t prepared for that. This was definitely the most challenging part, but this is also where I learned so so so much. I worked very closely with Sheila McMullin and Molly Gaudry throughout the summer through email. It was intense. It became part of my routine to wake up and find a new file with suggested edits from Molly or Sheila. Sometimes, it was exhausting, and I’d think, “Oh man, aren’t we close to being done yet?” But it was their brilliant brains and eyes that were able to see things in a way that I wasn’t because I had been too much inside it for so long. The manuscript bounced back and forth among us about ten times, and towards the end, I welcomed it and needed it because I was learning so much during that time, and each time the book came back, I saw it in a different light. During those days, I drank a lot of caffeine throughout the day, did a lot of yoga, and drank wine at night to help with the nerves. Sometimes, I also had to break away from it, so I’d take walks with the kids, bike rides, go places, and just not think at all about it. This all helped me keep my sanity.
S: What words of wisdom, tips, and advice do you have for fellow women and feminists working to publish their full-length manuscripts?
L: I’d just say to keep reading everything, and not to give up. I know it sucks to get rejections. At one time, I used to carry some around with me. I’d get pretty down, but then I’d get more motivated to get an acceptance, so I’d usually send to someplace else. It also helps to step away from the writing at times if you’re stuck or if you feel like it’s not going somewhere. There are times when I just read for months and don’t do any writing. There are also times when I just travel and spend time with my family and don’t write. Other times, I scratch down notes on envelopes or receipts or whatever I can find in my purse. I try to always be aware of everything that’s happening around me, to absorb it, etc. My kids have really been an inspiration in this way. They have reminded me to see the world with fresh and curious eyes, and you never know when something is going to strike you or shock you, so you should always be prepared to write something down when it happens.