Betsie: To start this off, why don't you give an idea of what the book is about?
Wilderness Within is about wilderness places in nature and wilderness places within the psyche. The poetry comes from where these two places intersect.
Betsie: Where did you grow up and was reading and writing a part of your life?
I grew up around university towns: Columbia, Missouri and East Lansing Michigan. The University of Missouri and Michigan State University respectively. I always loved reading and began writing little poems as soon as I learned how to write.
My earliest influences were my parents. My mother taught me to read since I had a serious case of pneumonia in the first grade. My father understood good literature, so there were always good books to read around the house. He was a scientist and did original research. He let me observe what was going on in his lab when I was quite young. He also took me on nature walks and explained a lot of natural phenomena to me. When I had a question, my mother would say, “Go ask your Dad.”
Betsie: What would a typical day be like for a writer?
I receive my inspiration from many sources: dreams, people, observations of nature. Sometimes I wake up and write down something that has arrived through a dream. It may take years before I understand the meaning. My poem, “Bear Woman” was inspired by a nightmare. A grizzly bear was battering at my front door in the dream.
The poem took a few years to write because I did not understand it fully right away. People touch me, especially children. My grand daughter hated to go to bed when she was small. I believe it was because she was afraid. That is the origin of “Bedtime
Story.” It begins, “Bako, tell me about the pterodactyls.” A big scary dinosaur that flies embodies a primal fear. Fear is the idea behind the poem. Sometimes I am moved and amused by nature. My haiku about frogs is about their courtship in the spring. They get pretty noisy.
Betsie: How long have you been writing and in what capacities?
I have been writing for many years. I wrote feature articles for the Grand Rapids Press and other publications for a number of years and I really enjoyed interviewing people. I liked older people especially since they have had life experiences and wisdom that was worth noting.
I also wrote a great many travel articles.
My first book, The Dynamic Great Lakes, is non fiction. I interviewed scientists, and naturalists in different disciplines such as geology, fish biology, limnology and the like to get the information I needed. These people are generous and like to share their knowledge. I enjoyed going out on a research vessel on Lake Michigan to observe and learn. I was an adjunct professor at Grand Valley State University at that time and I wrote some articles about the research vessel and those were published. The department appreciated that.
Betsie: Which is more difficult to write - Poetry or nonfiction and why?
Writing non fiction is difficult because you must get your facts and document them. Then you must make the writing engaging to the reader. Poetry is challenging because you are working with the language in a way that will be pleasing to the ear and eye as well as meaningful. I have written some fiction, but I have not published any of it yet.
Betsie: Has there ever been a time when you wanted to throw in the towel and give up? And if so, how did you defeat those instincts?
While working on my book about the Great Lakes, I nearly gave up since I had too much material and I had to put it into some kind of format that would be easy to understand for the readers. The Dynamic Great Lakes is about changes in the Great Lakes and so if the material didn’t fit the concept of changes, I cut. I cut and cut again until I had something I believed would be useful and readable.
I never gave up hope on The Wilderness Within because poetry is something I love to write.
Betsie: What is the hardest part about being a writer?
When I worked for the newspaper I hated being edited. I still hate being edited. Sometimes an editor can really help, but not very often.
Betsie: Do you have any hobbies? What are they? How do they enhance your writing?
I like the exercise of yoga. It keeps mind and body limber. I like to play the guitar and sing. This helps me to hear. I like to dance. Dancing helps me to feel. I like to paint watercolors and work in other art mediums. This helps me to see. But since time is limited, I have chosen to write over the other arts.
Betsie: Articles and media alike make it sound as though the only way to rise to the top is to sacrifice. What do you find to be good sacrifices?
I have not sacrificed and so I have not risen to the top. I know others that have paid their dues, but this sort of thing does not appeal to me.
Betsie: What question do you get asked more than any other?
Is it o.k. to eat the fish?
Betsie: What’s the coolest thing a reader has said to you?
Several people have said, “I loved your book. I am buying more for friends.”
Betsie: What has been your feedback from readers? What do they say to you about their interpretations of your book?
Both men and women like The Wilderness Within. They laugh at the poem Vernal Equinox—about the part where men stand up to pee in the water. Responses vary depending upon the reader’s experiences. A few liked Easter Morning. A few have said my book is comforting to them.
Betsie: Do you think that as a writer you are more prone to watching what goes on around you and observing behaviors than most people are?
Writing trains the ear and the eye. But you don’t have to be a writer to make these sorts of observations. My grand daughter Rachel does great imitations of people. She’s an actress.
Betsie: Who are some of the authors you consider to be "don't miss"?
I have enjoyed reading Joseph Campbell, Carl Jung, Rachel Carson, Diane Ackerman,
Barry Lopez. There are too many to list.
Betsie: If one were looking to start his/her own career as a writer, what would you suggest his/her first step to be?
Keep a journal because you want to, not because you have to.
Betsie: What kind of movies do you enjoy?
The Cohen brothers have some good ones. I like their regional approach. I liked Fargo because the people from this region were so convincing, especially the woman police officer.
Betsie: What is your favorite city to visit, but one that you wouldn’t want to live in?
I was born in New York City but did not live there very long. I must have some early memory of it though since I feel wonderful when walking around Central Park. My mother used to push my baby carriage on those sidewalks.
Betsie: What’s the strangest question you’ve ever been asked in an interview?
If you were czar(ina) of the Great Lakes, what is the single most important thing you would do for them?
This was a good question and I enjoyed answering it but the czar (ina) part was rather strange.
Betsie: What’s the best part of being a writer?
The best part of being a writer is writing something that means a lot personally, and then sharing it with everyone who reads the book.
Betsie: Thanks to Barbara Spring for taking the time in interviewing with us and we wish her much success!