Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Time & Circumstance - Theresa Milstein

Today I am happy to have Theresa Milstein here to talk about her new book, Time & Circumstance.

How and when did you come to writing?
I'd always dreamed of being a writer. Even though I inhaled books and always earned A grades in English, certain people told me my dream wasn't a practical way to make a living. I didn't pursue it. But the dream didn't completely die. I took a creative writing class in high school and college. After graduation, I'd find myself creating a story in my head. I'd begin typing. Then I'd remind myself that I wasn't a writer and close the file. 

About ten years ago, I was working in a fifth grade class, and the author, Melissa Glenn Haber, came to visit our school. She talked about notebooks filled with stories that she'd hide in drawers. That sounded like me. One day Melissa's husband said she should try to write seriously because she seemed happier when she was writing. I admitted to myself, I was happier when I wrote too. 

I waited on line, making sure I was last. When it was my turn, I shared with Melissa my deepest secret: I'd always wanted to write. She received that information like it was the most normal thing in the world. She said something like, "You should do it." Melissa gave me her business card and told me the name of her agent. 

That led to me a six-week writing frenzy, which led to a middle grade rip off of Harry Potter with every cliche imaginable, which led me to join SCBWI, which led me to many workshops, conferences, retreats, how-to books, and critique groups that have taught me how to actually write. 

I think a lot of my early work was a rip off of somebody, too, lol. How did you get from there to Time & Circumstance?
A couple of years later, Vine Leaves Literary Magazine was looking for an assistant to the editor, which meant reading and voting on poetry shortlists. I applied and got the job. I eventually became a poetry editor. Reading hundreds of submissions for each issue helped me improve my own poetry writing. While I concentrated on my middle grade and YA manuscripts, I wrote vignettes for myself and sometimes shared them on my blog. 

The editor, Jessica Bell, asked for a few of my poems for some project she was working on. I sent them and promptly forgot about it. The literary journal expanded into Vine Leaves Press. Sometime later, I asked Jessica about the poems I'd sent. She said the project didn't work out, but she liked them. If I had enough pieces, I should put a collection together and submit to Vine Leaves Press. 

This terrified me.

Months later, I finally found the courage to take my vignettes and stick them in a document. I moved them around, looking for cohesion. Something began to take shape. I finally hit send. A few more months later, Vine Leaves Press accepted my collection. 

How did you choose what would go into Time & Circumstance?
Every vignette I'd ever written went into one document. From there, I searched for patterns. I decided the pieces should be ordered chronologically by the age of the different protagonists, with the exception of two poems I thought should start the collection. The unrelenting passage of time jumped out as a theme for me, so I came up with title from my favorite quote by James Baldwin. Then I read everything through. A few pieces, especially from my early attempts at poetry, stood out as bad, so I took them out. When Vine Leaves accepted the collection and sent me the first developmental edits, the first poem, a couple of other poems, and a prose piece all hit the chopping block. The editor suggested I divide the collection between poetry and prose. I had to reimagine how each piece worked together again. At that point, a prose piece I'd forgotten about was added. In the end, arranging the poems and prose required the most consideration. 

Explain a vignette, and how you ultimately chose to arrange both prose and poetry around one another.
Vine Leaves Press named itself after the vignette--which originally meant "something written on a vine leaf." I found a more thorough and lyrical explanation on The Review Review: "a literary form that absorbs readers in a setting, a mood, a character and allows the atmosphere to ripen through textual exploration." Instead of writing a story with a beginning middle and end, it’s a refreshing way to write.

Since vignettes can be both poetry and prose, I wanted to include both. I believe I first set up everything chronologically. During the developmental edit stage, the editor suggested dividing the two. So now the first part is prose and the second is poetry. Each section has its own chronological order.

What was hardest about the publishing process? Easiest?
 The hardest part about the publishing process is putting my work, myself out there. I’m quick to promote others, but asking for people to support me by hosting or reviewing or buying my book—that’s out of my comfort zone. I’m trying to connect with the local poetry community, and it feels less penetrable than the kid lit world. I attended my first poetry reading. We sat around a round table. Everyone was friendly and supportive. But when my turn came, I had to clear my throat and I stumbled. My hands shook like crazy. The next time it was my turn, I managed to speak a little more coherently and my hands stayed steady. When I finished, I looked at my chest shocked that my pounding heart didn’t make my shirt move.

What are you working on now?
I’m about 24k into a YA rough draft that’s going very slowly. My critique group looks at chapters, and I keep going back to fix what I’ve done instead of forging ahead.

And finally, just for fun (because those of us who have them love to talk about our pets…), Cats or dogs or Cats and Dogs living together? Who are your furry friends?
I’m a cat person, and I think this is because I’m much more like a cat in real life. My 12-year-old tuxedo cat and I understand each other. Each morning, we walk down the stairs together. She often sleeps on my bed and snuggles on my lap, but sometimes she’s got her own things to do. I respect that.

About 5 years ago, I broke down and let my family get a dog. He’s a Beagle. He’s fine. Friendly and all. But the cat and I are suspicious of him. He seems desperate for attention.

I think a lot of dogs are, lol. Theresa, thanks so much for coming and answering all my question, and I wish you the best of luck with Time & Circumstance!

“If you could relive any moment in time, what would it be?”

Leave a comment and you’re eligible to win a prize during Theresa’s blog tour!

1 $25 Amazon gift card
1 signed paperback copy
1 ebook

Extra entries if you share on Facebook or Twitter and link it to me.
@TheresaMilstein on Twitter.
@Theresa Milstein on Facebook
#ReliveMoment or #TimeandCircumstance

Winners will be announced on April 5, 2017

$3.99 AUD (eBook)
Kindle AUS
Kindle US
Kindle UK
Kindle CA
iBooks | Kobo | Nook

$12.99 AUD (paperback)
Amazon US
Amazon UK
​Amazon CA
Barnes & Noble
Book Depository
Chapters Indigo


  1. Thanks so much for interviewing me, Marcy. I really enjoyed your style of sending one question at a time.

  2. Interesting the path that led you back to writing and to this collection of stories and poems. Arranging them all together must've been a challenge.

    1. Alex, it was an interesting challenge to see how everything would work together. It took several tries to get it right, and a few pieces were cut.

  3. So glad you didn't listen to the people who said writing isn't practical. Congrats on your book, Theresa!

    1. Natalie, thank you. I try not dwell on where I could've taken my career that much sooner. A lot of it was fear on my part.

  4. It is amazing how a little thing can spark creativity and getting us moving forward. I always enjoy reading these interviews. Thanks!

    1. Sage, it really is. I've written pieces using canister scents too!

  5. Lovely interview. I'm so glad you followed your dream.

  6. Glad you found your way to writing. I know what you mean about dogs. They're way too... something...

    1. Liz, yeah, dogs definitely are ... something.

  7. Congratulations. Practical, shmatical. Sometimes we need to follow our dreams. I love that yours was fulfilled, and am so very grateful to writers - who enrich my world.

    1. Elephant's Child, can you go back to the 80s and give me that advice please? Thanks!

  8. I adore the cover. Congratulations Theresa. Super interview and look forward to reading it. Wishing you every success.

  9. Congrats to Theresa! Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  10. Congratulations! I am not so brave to share my favorite OCs (yet). As for my favorite moment in time, it is my wedding day. ~grin~ Best wishes!

    1. Darla, choosing a wedding day is pretty great! Thanks!

  11. Thanks for hosting me, Marcy! I've shared the winners' info on my blog.


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