Andromeda Romano-Lax | An interview with Monica Devine

Water Mask, an essay collection by long-time Alaskan and children’s book author Monica Devine, will be published March 15 by the University of Alaska Press. From the back cover: “In Water Mask, Devine skis woodland trails with her baby on her back, navigates sea ice with whalers and whirls two thousand feet above the tundra with a rookie bush pilot. She negotiates the death of her father, and the near loss of her family’s cabin on the Copper River. Reflections on family, place, memory, work, perception and Native culture are woven into a seductive tapestry…in a land that both beguiles and rejects.” See bottom for info on Devine’s book launch March 17th at Jitters Cafe.

49 Writers asked Monica to share what she learned during the process of editing and revising this beautiful collection. Congratulations and take it away, Monica!

1). The learning curve was steep on this book. I hired a developmental editor to help me shape the structure and content, and that experience was invaluable. A good editor is well worth her weight in gold. I knew the work wasn’t quite ready, and I had to dig even deeper to show obstacles and moments of overcoming them to make each piece better. No earth-shattering obstacles, by no means. But I learned to refrain from tying up each essay with a bow at the end, or finishing with a positive, pat resolution every time. My first drafts started with a question or observation, and circled back at the end with a quick resolution to the question. I thought that was how writing essays was done, but not so. Resolving quickly does not serve reader’s minds, or show them you trust their own judgments.

2). I’ve learned to accept my writing style, as well as a certain degree of sentiment. I work slowly, sometimes spending hours on a single paragraph to get it just right. Acceptance cut down on episodes of frustration where now I can just sink into a piece and trust the process. I move through life on a feeling level, wearing my heart on my sleeve. In this collection I learned to pull back some, which forced me to cut a lot of fluff. I’ve got a long way to go in the learning process, but I love being inside my head, so writing is pleasurable. But at the same time, it is very hard work.

Monica Devine

3). I include a Bibliography in Water Mask, though I was told it was not a requirement. I felt it very important to note sources so I’d feel comfortable making certain statements or coming up with inferences, especially in regards to Alaska Native issues. Plus, a good friend asked the question, “how do you know this?” which forced me to think beyond static references. Some passages require a reference, others are folklore. And even others are stories people told me that have no definitive source that I know of.

4). I am in a very vulnerable position with this book, because I speak frankly about experiences that aren’t always pleasant. I include passages about my Dad’s decline in health in a raw, unsettling way because that is how I experienced it. This is tricky, the business of balancing dialogue with exposition in revealing exchanges with people you love. I lay it all out on the page. The book is about family, work, culture, memory, perception and the like, but it is also about my interior life and how I struggle with fear, self-doubt, and trust. Overall, the collection is part meditation, part travelogue, part memoir. There are long passages of dry facts, as well as inner life ruminations. I can only hope my voice works for readers.

5). Finally, I’m very happy to be working on fiction now. It’s lighter, expansive and more exhilarating to make things up! In a way, fiction and non-fiction are similar; no matter what, you have to grab the reader’s mind and give it a good shake. It still takes me a long time to write a single paragraph, but now I’m having more fun doing it.

Thank you, Andromeda and 49 Writers.

Water Mask will be launched at Jitters Cafe in Eagle River on Sunday March 17th from 1 to 3 pm: reading, signing and good coffee.

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