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Interview with Writer MM Wittle's on Her Experience with Local Gems Poetry Challenges


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MM Wittle Bio: 
MM Wittle is a writer of all genres who is a high school and middle school teacher during the day, a college professor at night, and a book worm and writer on the weekends. Wittle also knits book scarves because to her, books need to be kept warm, too. Wittle’s play “Family Guidance'' had a reading at the Walnut Street Theatre in Philadelphia, PA and was selected for honorable mention at the 5th Annual Philadelphia Theatre Workshop’s Playwriting Competition. “The Education of Allie Rose'' was a finalist in the Philadelphia Ethical Society Playwriting competition and was shortlisted in the Windsor Fringe Kenneth Branagh Award for New Drama in England. Wittle’s work has appeared in Transient, The Bond Street Review, Free Flash Fiction, The Fox Chase Review, The Four Quarters, Decades Review, *82 Review, Thin Air Literary Magazine, and Emerging Literary Journal and others. Wittle's creative nonfiction book, Three Decades and I'm Gone was published by Creeping Lotus Press in 2014. Follow MM Wittle on facebook

Congratulations on the publication of your chapbook Prescribed Burn, a winner in the Local Gems poetry challenge! How did you learn about the Local Gems poetry challenges and what prompted you to sign up? 

I've done their 30 Poems in 30 Days Challenge, which they didn't publish, and The Phoenix Rising Challenge. The chapbook I have now is from the Phoenix Rising Challenge. 

30 Day Challenge I've been on their mailing list and they have published my work before in two of their South Jersey Bards Collections. And I signed up for it because I knew I needed to push myself to write. With the pandemic and teaching, I wasn't leaving room for my writing. I figured if I had prompts helping me each day, I would be more likely to stay with it. 

Phoenix Rising Challenge I went with the Phoenix Challenge because it was only for 10 days and I figured I could write a response to a prompt for ten days while I'm teaching...during a pandemic.... 

Were there any moments during the challenges that you thought you wouldn’t finish? Were there any moments of euphoria? 

30 Day ChallengeI won't lie; there were days when nothing came out. But then, there were days when I could write 5 poems. I used my Facebook writer's page to keep myself accountable and I even read some drafts on there to hear some reactions. I think there are a few poems in that chapbook I really like (and others I really hate). 

Phoenix Rising ChallengeNot finishing wasn't an option. What I liked about this challenge was there were many different ways of looking at the prompt and I kept trying to push the idea of some of them. For example, the poem “The Shopping Cart” came from the prompt about what goes in a full shopping cart. For this poem, I thought about my trips with my mother to the local discount store. And the namesake of the book, Prescribed Burn, came from the idea of building from the ashes like the Phoenix. 

After you finished the poetry challenges, what was the process like submitting to and publishing with Local Gems? 

30 Day ChallengeI wasn't sure if the email I had for them was working, so I kept emailing to check a few days before. Then I submitted on the day it was due and didn't hear anything until the winners were announced and I wasn't one of them. 

Phoenix Rising ChallengeAfter I was done, I was given a few days to edit. Then I submitted the chapbook and the process moved along. I got my manuscript back for editing and then we discussed the cover. I used my picture of the High Water Mark monument in Gettysburg. 

What did you learn about yourself or your writing by creating these books? 

30 Day ChallengeI really like this chapbook and do have it out making the rounds. I was able to see three themes emerged and I really liked how the chapbook just weaved itself together with very limited direction from me. So, I think from this I learned to trust my process and the book will present itself. 

Phoenix Rising ChallengeThe Phoenix Rising is a very limited print. There are only 74 copies printed. Ever. And I am using that as a nod to my father because as I was writing this book, his birthday and death anniversary fell around the time of the challenge. The 74 is the age he would have been if he didn't pass away in 1985. And while I am always writing about his and my mother's death (both passed before I was 18 years old), I think with this collection, it isn't just their deaths emerging and making its way on the page. There are different ideas peppered in here. And I think my biggest win is finally writing about Gettysburg, PA (which I LOVE and have been obsessed with since 1991). 

What were your thoughts or feelings when you held your books in your hand for the first time? 

30 Day ChallengeIt's still in manuscript form, but I do like it. 

Phoenix Rising Challenge"I gotta mail these copies!" I did a presale and was feeling very bad that my supporters were waiting for their copies. But after that, I think...this is going to sound weird but, it's almost like I have this need to get rid of the book as soon as I see it. I was like that with my other chapbook, Three Decades and I'm Gone. I was happy and thrilled the book was done, but it's almost like the book isn't fulfilling its purpose sitting in a box in my kitchen/home office/classroom on Wednesdays. Like, I wrote these books to get the stories out there and I want them far...far away from me. They no longer are just mine, but they are yours and you will take the lessons and words you need from them. That got hella deep!

Is there anything else you’d like to share about your experience writing and publishing your poetry? 

I feel like the biggest thing is to believe in your work, even if that means not getting it published right away. The world is filled with many fantastic poets, and you should be encouraged and empowered to add your voice to that conversation. And as a very wise woman once said to me, come up with a list of 10 places you feel your work adds to the overall voice of the magazine, published catalog, whatever it may be. Send out 5 queries. Once you get that first rejection, move down to number 6 and get your work out there. It has a place and it will find a home. And lastly, I would say believe in your work to occasionally make special editions. I have a special print of a Sylvia Plath poetry collection owned by her editor. We all can't and shouldn't be Sylvia Plath, but our work, our voice, is as important and needs to be dressed up in special editions and limited runs. 

Interviewed by Anne Greenawalt, who connects with writers and readers @Dr_Greenawalt.

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