AUTHOR INTERVIEW: 'GHOSTS OF OLD VIRGINNY' MILLA VANDER HAVE



Milla van der Have (1975) wrote her first poem at 16, during a physics class. She has been writing ever since. One of her short stories won a New Millennium Fiction Award. In 2015 she published Ghosts of Old Virginny, a chapbook of poems about Virginia City. Milla lives and works in Utrecht, The Netherlands.

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What’s inside the mind of a poetry author?

Poetry is always on my mind. Like a salesman who looks at things and thinks, can I make a profit out of this, I see things and immediately check: is there a poem in this? Or at least a good line? That exact habit helped me write my poetry chapbook Ghosts of Old Virginny. I wrote it during a writer’s residency in Virginia City and literally anything I encountered there could work its way into a poem. From Bernadette, the donkey that I passed on my way to the town, to the wild horses that roam in Virginia City to the legend of the last gunfight a local told me in the bar. Everything is food for poetry.

What is so great about being an author?

I always have an ‘escape route’, something to pour myself in completely and something that gives life its essential meaning for me. Plus, I get to have a whole different kind of souvenir: all the poems in the chapbook have some memory for me, whether it’s from a book I read on the history or an actual thing I experienced, like a trip to the Chollar Mine. In fact, being an author is what enabled me to go to Virginia City in the first place.

When do you hate it?

When I stare at a blank page or wrestle with a poem that just doesn’t want to be written. The first ever poem I wrote for this chapbook was, much like a first pancake, a bit of a mess. I needed to write it, to make space for the rest of the poems, but getting a poem that just isn’t ‘it’ out of the way can be a hassle.

What is a regular writing day like for you?

I write on my day off, usually in the morning, because that’s my best time. Then, when I get stuck or my attention wavers, I go do some grocery shopping. On a good day, I write some more in the afternoon and then I reward myself with a good television show to watch. In Virginia City I had a slightly different routine. In the morning I worked on my novel in St. Mary’s Art Center, where I stayed. Then into town I went for a coffee in the Roasting House. After a walk around I went back to write some more. The afternoons were reserved for reading and writing poetry, in my ‘spare’ time, when the day’s work on the novel was done. 

How do you handle negative reviews?

I’m lucky enough not to have experienced really scathing reviews. It’s never fun to get a negative review. But in the end I will remind myself that this is not something that should bring me down. Part of being a writer is having a thick skin. You pick up the things that you consider genuine flaws in your work and fix them. The rest is opinion.

How do you handle positive reviews?
They make me float on air, for a bit. It’s always rewarding to see your poetry touch someone. I especially like it when people see something in a poem I hadn’t seen in it myself. In that way a poem gains in meaning and I always enjoy taking in other people’s perspective on my work. It also helps in making a poem more autonomous.
But after a while I sit down to write a new poem, facing that blank page again and then all deals are off. 

What is the usual response when you tell a new acquaintance that you’re an author?

People mostly want to know what I write about. Especially when it comes to poetry, that can be hard to explain. Although I found that ‘about love’ is an answer that usually satisfies. But now with Ghosts of Old Virginny, it has become much easier to answer that question, because it’s inspired on an actual place and historical people. That makes the poetry come alive for people. 

What do you do on those days you don’t feel like writing? Do you force it or take a break?

With this particular book, I was on such a productive streak, I didn’t have days where I didn’t feel like writing. Such is the magic of Virginia City :) But back in the Netherlands, I do have days like that sometimes. My approach varies. On some days, I just don’t write and give myself a break. On others, I do try to force it. That doesn’t always work, unless I remember that taking a break, whether or not it’s shopping or vacuum cleaning, generally results in better writing. And you know, sometimes, forcing yourself can actually help you push through and get something good out of it. 

Any writing quirks?

Speaking along with my sentences and a penchant for jazz music as a background. I recommend Cannonball Adderley’s ‘Something Else’ or  ‘Quiet Kenny’ by Kenny Dorham.

What would you do if people around you didn’t take your writing seriously or see it as a hobby?

Then they wouldn’t really know me. The support of my partner and friends is essential for me and I am very passionate about my writing, so I don’t think ‘considering it a hobby’ is possible :)

Some authors seem to have a love-hate relationship to writing. Can you relate?

In part. Writing itself isn’t always a joyous occupation. It can be hard work. I spend a great deal of my spare time on writing, where I also could’ve done other things, like going to a movie or hanging out with friends. I write on holidays, when on vacation. But that too is exactly the beautiful part of it. Writing is always with me and I feel I am actually doing something ‘real’. And when I am in a writing flow, it feels wonderful.

Do you think success as an author must be linked to money?

Not necessarily. It seems nice, because money can buy writing time, in a way. Right now, I write next to having a day job and I can imagine if my books earned enough money, well… ;) But money will also take writing time (at least when you get real famous) and will maybe even dictate what you have to write next. Then again, I wouldn’t turn it down when offered :)

What has writing taught you?

To persevere. I started writing when I was 16, during a physics class. Back then I never imagined one day I would be going on a residency or having a book published in America

Leave us with some words of wisdom.

A 1940’s movie about Virginia City has the tagline: “Go West!...to Virginia City...for excitement, for adventure, for primitive romance!!!” Even though Virginia City has changed a lot since its heyday, I would still advise that. Excitement and adventure can be found in many different ways, especially for poets. Ghosts of Old Virginny is proof of that.

About the Book:

Title: GHOSTS OF OLD VIRGINNY
Author: Milla van der Have
Publisher: Aldrich Press (imprint of Kelsay Books)
Pages: 42
Genre: Poetry
BOOK BLURB:
Virginia city, Nevada has been drawing the adventurous for over 100 years. It has been the home of gold-miners, businessmen and writers. After the bonanza, Virginia City reinvented herself and became a ghost town that draws travelers and artists. And, as it happened, a Dutch poet.

Milla van der Have visited Virginia City in 2014, on a writer's residency to finish her novel. But once there, something happened: the Comstock got to her. In Ghosts of Old Virginny Van der Have explores the legends and history of the Comstock by reimagining them. These poems deal with being uprooted and leaving the known behind. They speak of miners, ghosts and horses and throughout of the comfortable tension of love, that greatest journey of all.

You can purchase your copy of Ghosts of Old Virginny at Amazon.


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