Monday, June 8, 2015

My First Time: Catherine Kyle

My First Time is a regular feature in which writers talk about virgin experiences in their writing and publishing careers, ranging from their first rejection to the moment of holding their first published book in their hands.  Today’s guest is Catherine Kyle, a Ph.D. candidate in English at Western Michigan University, where she has taught writing and contemporary U.S. literature, including banned books, graphic novels, and young adult literature. She is the author and illustrator of the hybrid-genre collection Feral Domesticity (Robocup Press, 2014) and the author of the poetry chapbooks Flotsam (Etched Press, 2015) and Gamer: A Role-Playing Poem (forthcoming from Dancing Girl Press, 2015). Her fiction, poetry, and comics have appeared in The Rumpus, WomenArts Quarterly, Superstition Review, and elsewhere. She currently lives with her husband and two cats in Boise, Idaho, where she teaches writing at the College of Western Idaho, helps run the Ghosts & Projectors poetry reading series, and edits the online literary journal The Ruby Spellbook. You can read more about Catherine and her work at

My First Collection

The story goes that, when asked at four years old whether I’d prefer chocolate or strawberry ice cream for dessert, I looked at my mother perplexedly and replied with total earnestness, “Why make a choice if we can have it all?” I don’t know whether that story has been exaggerated over the years, but if it’s true, it sounds like not much has changed since I was a kid. In creating my first manuscript, I wanted to have it all. A longtime fan of comics and manga in addition to prose and poetry, I wanted to blend text and image, fusing several genres into one. I wanted to include illustrations in work geared toward adults, something that’s still often considered unusual. I wanted to embrace hybridity.

By the start of 2013, I had a manuscript with which I felt satisfied. It contained poetry and images that reflected nearly four years of work. I eagerly sent it to the first press I found that accepted hybrid-genre submissions. After receiving a kindly worded (though still form letter) rejection, I rebounded within a week and sent it to another publisher. The editors told me I’d made it past their readers’ first cut, but eventually, the book was turned down. Undeterred, I sent it to a third press, where the editor responded with interest but suggested several revisions. We wrote back and forth for over a month before she finally decided it wasn’t quite right for her needs. Of course, I was disappointed, but out of this exchange came ample good advice and perspective on the manuscript. I trimmed it, rearranged it, refocused it, and renamed it. Then I found Robocup Press.

In founder/editor Tamryn Spruill’s own words, Robocup publishes “experimental writing that doesn’t quite fit into a single category.” She adds, “For us, it’s about the and, the other, and the exception.” I was thrilled when I found Robocup. I remember thinking at the time that regardless of whether they accepted my manuscript, I was glad a press like this existed in the world—something devoted to the “ands” and “others.” I sent my revised work to Ms. Spruill in the fall of 2013. In January of the following year, I received an email from her congratulating me on the acceptance of my manuscript, Feral Domesticity. I was ecstatic. I had dreamed for years of having a collection in print, and now it had become a reality.

Structurally speaking, Feral Domesticity is an unusual work, something that would have had trouble finding a home at a press invested in traditional genre boundaries. It consists of six sections, each telling the story of a different woman through one image, one poem written in first-person, and one piece of fiction written in third-person. I took this approach not only to explore the line between subjective and “objective” narration, but because I wanted to see what would happen if I approached the same emotion from a variety of different art forms. I’ve loved visual art, poetry, and fiction for as long as I can remember, and all access different parts of me. Poems often touch me in ways distinct from fiction or visual art, yet poems, fiction, and visual art can speak to different aspects of the same general experience. Just as we use our five senses to fully appreciate the world around us, I think we can gain a better understanding of emotions, psychology, and the small moments that make us who we are by reflecting on them through a broad range of means. That was one of my goals in creating Feral Domesticity.

Since Feral’s publication, I’ve had a poetry chapbook accepted by Etched Press and a “choose-your-own-adventure” style chapbook accepted by Dancing Girl Press. While I think Flotsam, the manuscript taken by Etched Press, works best as “officially” poetry only, I see it as a loose story in verse; I originally sent it to the publisher as such. Gamer, the manuscript taken by Dancing Girl, bends the standard poetry genre by inviting the reader to interact with the text. Another manuscript I have in the works is arranged as a set of dystopian horoscopes, including “advertisements” intended to add to the collection’s overall impact. I dream of making a cabaret-themed chapbook, one that would mimic the experience of a variety show by telling stories through as many printable genres as possible.

One of the things I like best about writing is its flexibility—its ability to evolve and adapt and accommodate new imaginings. I love reading work that forces me to reconsider what I think I know about literature, and that’s the kind of work I want to create. Wherever my writing takes me and whatever else I make, I’ll always be grateful to Robocup Press, Tamryn Spruill, and the many loved ones who encouraged me to explore, experiment, and express in as many ways as felt right.

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