1. What inspired you to write Hobble Creek Almanac? I know that you are the founding editor of a journal called Hobble Creek Review. Is Hobble Creek a real place?
First, thank you for asking me to answer a few questions regarding my book and process. Right now I am in a bit of a dry spot and I am about to start getting back into the swing of things, and this has always been a good way for me to get thinking about my writing.
Hobble Creek is certainly a real place from my past. It's the small creek which runs through the town of Springville, Utah, which was originally named Hobble Creek by the Mormon settlers who came to the area in 1850. Of course, you would probably need to look up Springville on Google Maps and Wikipedia to get any sense of what the town is like. When I was growing up in Springville, it was not yet a commuter/sleeper town and most of my social life revolved around Hobble Creek. The creek cuts right through the town, so there were very few people whose geography and recollection of Springville was not affected by the creek. My friends and I would float down its waters every day we possibly could, stopping to hand fish for trout along the way. We would go up into Springville Canyon and camp next to the creek. Every autumn, driving into the canyon to see the leaves catch fire was compulsory.
I was inspired to write this book after I had exercised a lot of personal demons in a previous manuscript scheduled to be published later this year. I had returned to a place my heart really loves---that of landscape meditation. However, I had already written a book of landscape meditation about Springville, so I knew I needed to write something with a difference, so I set about to employ both history and narrative into the structure of this book. I suspect I have at least one more book about Springville left in me, and I hope it is as much a departure from Hobble Creek Almanac as HCA was from my first Springville book.
2. A reader can easily see the influence of poets like E.A. Robinson and Edgar Lee Masters on your work, given the focus on a particular place and the people who inhabit that place. Is there a poet whose work provided a model for you in Hobble Creek Almanac?
There were a lot of poets who helped provide a model for this book. I am flattered you mention Robinson and Masters. I really do think if you are going to write about any group of American people, you owe certain poets a nod, and these are two of the most important in that sense. In a more direct sense, however, I modeled part of my book after Wendell Berry's Sabbath poems. I did not take literally from his structure, but the idea of them, the need to look at something from a specific window of time. I also owe a great debt to my friend David Lee, who is sometimes called The Pig Poet. He has devoted a tremendous amount of his writing to present the lives of the people and places from his past. He is the one who got me started down the path of allowing myself to write about these things so many years ago. His book My Town won the Western States Book award, and was a landmark in my poetry education. Finally, I would be remiss to not mention William Kloefkorn. From him I learned how to contextualize a single subject into many different poems. His Alvin Turner as Farmer and ludi jr. really were an education in and of themselves.
3. What kind of research did you do for the book? Where did you find all of the information that you used in the poems?
I started with the things I knew about Springville, or rather the things I though I knew about Springville, and then looked ate gaps between those two things. My Bachelor’s degree is in history, and I don’t mean to sing it too loudly, but I learned what real research is from some really good professors. Research always begins with questions, ad so I started asking questions about those gaps in my consciousness. Then I started reading. My dear friend, Ben Smith, gave me a 1973 reprint of a history written by the son of Springville’s first patriarch, Aaron Johnson. Don Carlos Johnson’s 1900 book was a wonderful source, but when reading such books, you have to be able to look past the bias of times, familial relations, and the overwhelming predominance of the Mormon religion which colors most everything in early Utah history. There were other books, too. One of the residual benefits of writing about early Utah history is the sense of history most Mormons have. There really is no shortage of historic material when one wants to research something. My grandmother had Mary Chase Finlay’s 1947 history, and my sister gave me a copy a book of G.E. Anderson’s photography, written and edited by Rell G. Francis. These were the core texts from which I drew historic names and events. I also began making contact with people who were part of the Springville Historic Society. The Daughters of the Utah Pioneers (of which my grandmother and several other relatives are members) runs a museum specifically focusing on the History of Springville, as doe may other chapters, or camps, do for their own towns.
During the initial attempts I made in writing the book, I had convinced myself I was supposed to write a book with long, narrative poems interspersed with shorter, lyric poems which would focus on landscape meditation. I was completely wrong. It took a while, but I abandoned that plan and went with my strengths. Part of that was coming to realize I needed to have a book which covered the timespan of Springville. I needed to structure the book in such a way where there was a continuous thread to illustrate the unbroken chain which is the generational transition from the town’s founding to what I knew as a child. The most direct way to do that was to talk about my family, which I had done before in previous poems, but I wanted the book to be a book anyone in Springville could relate to, so I had to find a surrogate. I found that character in Achilles Blanchard. He was a contemporary of my great-grandfather, and it turned out he was also a poet. I began to research Achilles and create a hybrid fictional character, giving him the experiences from my own family history and that of his, as well as some imagined events to create a central figure for the middle section of my book. The more I researched, the more I knew he was a natural fit or what I needed.
Putting the reading and research together is another thing altogether. One of the poems in the book deals with a double murder early in Springville’s history. A lot of the information regarding the events was hushed and buried. I had to do a lot of searching, e-mails, and parsing between the biases of various writers and reports. Thank goodness for the internet, too. From the comfort of my home I was able to read many different version of what happened, and e-mail back and forth with legitimate historians who had conducted a considerable amount of research of their own and were willing to offer their insights to me. It may not sound like it, but this was actually a lot of fun for me. Untangling this particular riddle made for a truly pleasing experience as I was writing and revising.
Anyone reading my book will not be able to do so without running headlong into footnotes. I saw footnotes as a necessary part of the composition of this book. The book is full of found poems or so-called found poems, poems which relate real life events and events which are partially true. One of my goals is to present a tapestry for the reader, a record which presents a story with varying degrees of truth, half-truth, and outright fiction. If I have done my job well, the reader will not know with any certainty where those lines are blurred. This lets me reveal my admiration for Tim O’Brien and his novel, In the Lake of the Woods.
4. What was it like assembling the manuscript? Did you have an overall narrative arc in mind?
Assembling the manuscript was easy for me. In truth there were very few questions of an aesthetic nature which were not almost immediately answered. Of all my manuscripts, this one was the easiest for me to organize.
My first consideration was to break the book into sections---something I have never done before. Once I knew the rage of those sections, it was as simple as wanting to tell a story and finding the most interesting way to tell it. If you want to get technical, it’s based upon Aristotle’s idea of a beginning, middle, and end. The first section would be how the town was established. This decision required certain poems and excluded others. The second was the middle period, expressed by the Achilles Blanchard poems I had written. The final section is where I left the town as I entered adulthood, a description of how I knew Springville.
5. What advice would you give to writers looking to have their book published?
Of course every poet’s advice to other poets has the universal caveat of what I know is based upon my own experiences, and as such should also be universally ignored. With that in mind, these are some of the things I have learned over the course of my very fortunate publishing life.
First, write because you love it, not because you want to get published. As writers we all want to share our words with others, but if you allow yourself to become obsessed with getting a book published, you will expend a tremendous amount of energy worrying about something for which you have very little control. It is best to expend that energy on making your manuscript the best it can be. I am not saying you shouldn’t seek publication, just don’t be wasteful with your energy.
Next, because this is advice related to the specific process of getting a book published, I will advise you to research the places you want to submit your manuscript. I and many other poets have spent a lot of money on contest fees and reading fees, hoping for our manuscripts to be accepted for publication. Right of the bat, research helps you to save money, because if you know the personality of a press (by reading their web pages, the bio’s of editors and judges, and even a quick look at a few books published by the press) you should be able to know whether you are on the right track. Even 10 minutes of research can save you $25-$40, simply by recognizing your manuscript will most likely not be selected. This takes a little bit of an ego adjustment and acknowledgement you book probably doesn’t have a reasonable shot at the Walt Whitman Prize or the Yale Younger Poet Prize. It’s not about lowering your expectations. It’s about taking the time to align you and your book to those presses you feel confident in submitting your work. Having a positive working relationship with my editor is in my opinion much more important that what name appears beneath mine on the title page.
And it is work. Never let anyone tell you what you do is not work. You have to believe in your manuscript. You have to forgive and ignore the ignorance your friends and family might express, dismissing your work as a mere hobby. They will not understand the very real emotional connection you have with not only the work you create, but the process by which you create it. The public acknowledgement a book represents is powerful, but it will mean nothing if the only reason you want a book is to show it off. If you are a serious writer, the books will come in time. Overnight success only takes ten years.
And yes, I know how it sounds for me to say things like this sitting where I am sitting, having had so much good fortune for the past nine years of my writing career. Please remember this about me: I started to get serious about my poetry in 1990. My first poems were published in 1994. It was three years before I had another poem published in 1997. It was another three years before I had another poem accepted for publication in 2000. My first chapbook was published in 2005. It takes time, and looking back now, I am thrilled it took as long as it did.
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Justin Evans was born and raised in Utah. After high school, he joined the U.S. Army, where he served in Texas, Germany, and in combat during Operation Desert Storm. After, he spent the remainder of his enlistment at Ft. Bragg, North Carolina. Upon being discharged, he returned to Utah, marrying his wife, Becky. He also continued his education at Utah Valley University, studying Humanities, and Southern Utah University, where he graduated with a degree in History and English Education. After serving as an adjunct writing instructor at UVU, he took a job teaching a variety of history and language arts classes in rural Nevada, where he still lives today with his wife and their sons. Justin's poetry has been collected in four chapbooks (Four Way Stop, 2005; Gathering up the Scattered Leaves, 2006; Working in the Bird House, 2008; and Friday in the Republic of Me, 2012. He is the author of Town for the Trees (Foothills Publishing,2011) and Hobble Creek Almanac (Aldrich Press, 2013). His third full length collection, Sailing This Nameless Ship, is forthcoming from BlazeVOX. Justin edits the online literary journal, Hobble Creek Review.