Laura Stamps loves to play with words in her fiction and prose poetry. She is the author of 49 novels, novellas, short story collections, and poetry books. Most recently “It’s All About the Ride: Cat Mania” (2021, Alien Buddha Press), “The Way Out: 40 Empowering Stories” (2022, Alien Buddha Press), and “Dog Dazed” (2022, Kittyfeather Press). Forthcoming novellas: “The Good Dog” (2023, Prolific Pulse Press) and “Addicted to Dog Magazines” (2023, Impspired). She is the winner of numerous awards, as well as the recipient of a Pulitzer Prize nomination and 7 Pushcart Prize nominations.
NF: You mentioned to me that you were a professional artist prior to switching to writing. Why art?
LS: I began making, writing, and illustrating little handmade books when I was five years old. I would stitch the pages together with thread from my mother’s sewing basket. In high school and college, my English professors told me I had writing talent. And I was accepted into all the honors classes in literature. But I’m also dyslexic, which meant grammar, spelling, and punctuation were difficult for me. Telling stories with paint was easier. Plus, I was winning all the art awards in school. That gave me plenty of incentive to major in Fine Arts as a career. When I was a senior in high school, I began selling my paintings at art festivals, and I continued to do that for the next 12 years. After college, my paintings were selling in galleries across the country. Prints of my paintings were published by my fine art publisher in California (Haddad’s Fine Arts, Inc.) and sold worldwide in galleries, frame shops, and chain stores like Bed, Bath, and Beyond, Target, K-Mart, etc.
NF: Why did you decide to switch careers and begin painting with words?
LS: Well, there was a problem. I was never completely satisfied as an artist. Not creatively. Not 100%. Something was missing. But I didn’t know what it was. One day I bought a “Writer’s Digest” magazine at my local Waldenbooks. I read it cover to cover and loved every word in it, especially Judson Jerome’s monthly poetry column. That column inspired me to write a poem. It was awful. But for the first time, I was satisfied creatively. Wow. That was the last thing I expected. And that was the day my art career ended. After that, I dug out all my college English grammar textbooks, studied like crazy, and ordered at least 50 books from the Writer’s Digest Book Club on how to write everything from poetry to fiction to nonfiction. I read, studied, wrote every day, submitted to countless magazines, and eventually overcame my dyslexia. You can imagine how much the 2005 Pulitzer Prize nomination for my poetry book “The Year of the Cat” meant to me, considering all the obstacles I’d overcome in order to achieve it. Now, 35 years later, I’ve published 49 poetry books, short story collections, novels, and novellas with various publishers. Many of my novels and novellas have spent months or years on Amazon bestseller lists. My stories and poems have appeared in almost 2,000 literary magazines and anthologies worldwide. And I’ve won numerous awards. The only painting or drawing I do now is an occasional cover for one of my chapbooks (like “Dog Dazed”). Persistent. That’s me. It’s a win/win strategy in the writing business. Write every day and submit every week. It works!
NF: I’ve been following your publications, and love your stream-of-consciousness style. Please explain what it is, and what made you decide to write this way.
LS: At first glance, this style of writing might seem chaotic. But it’s how the subconscious strings thoughts together, which is why it makes perfect sense in the mind of the reader. And that fascinates me! I love writing in this style and pushing it as far as I can just to see what’s possible. It’s the perfect style for creating experimental forms and breaking the rules of traditional sentence structure, which I also love. However, my college art professor gave our class some really good advice. She said the great abstract artists had to know the traditional rules for painting (perspective, etc.) before they could break them successfully. And that’s also true of good writing. You can’t break the rules successfully until you know what they are (grammar, punctuation, proper sentence structure, etc.). I like that comparison because stream-of-consciousness writing is structured in the same way an artist paints an abstract painting. Gertrude Stein is famous for her stream-of-consciousness poems and stories. Virginia Woolf wrote an entire novel in this style (“The Waves”). I’m also a HUGE fan of the experimental works of Anne Carson (“Autobiography of Red” and “Beauty of the Husband”). Every book of hers is written and structured in a different style and form. She is amazing. And, of course, there’s Donald Barthelme. Such an experimental goof! He always cracks me up. Carson and Barthelme are definitely my favorites. Always innovative. Always entertaining.
NF: Please share one of your short, published poems in the stream-of-consciousness style.
LS: This prose poem is a chapter from the novella-in-verse I’m currently writing. It first appeared in the wonderful magazine, Little Old Lady Comedy.
She sits down. At her desk. And selects a postcard. “Dear Elaine,” she writes. “I used to be married. Loneliest years of my life. They were. My husband thought if he read my posts. Online. On Instagram. That was all he needed to know. About me. My life. That he never needed to listen to me. Discuss anything with me. Plan with me. Talk to me. Not that he didn’t talk. He did. About himself. Endlessly. His worries. His problems. His complaints. His plans. Him. But here’s the thing. Instagram is not my life. A snapshot. A glimpse. That’s all it is. Too bad. He never knew that. Never realized I’m more than that. More than a post on Instagram. More. Much, much. More. Too bad. So I left him. And then, and then. Six months later. I saw a dog. A Yorkie. Her photo. On a dog rescue page. Holly. That was her name. This Yorkie. Sweet, calm, affectionate, low energy. That’s how the rescue described her. Ten years old. A senior with a skin condition. That too. But those eyes. That face. I couldn’t resist. Couldn’t. Drove four hours to meet her. Adopted her. That day. Took her to a wonderful groomer. For a super short cut. Bought special food. To heal her itchy skin. Bought her warm sweaters. Lots of them. I did. Because, because. She was mine. And now. We talk. Have wonderful discussions. Just the two of us. Holly and me. And now. She knows everything about me. All of it. All. Because she cares. Listens to me. Loves me. Hey. Forget Instagram. Forget it. Sometimes a dog is better than a husband. I mean, who knows, right? Well. I know. I do. Yeah. I do.”
NF: When do you prefer fiction over prose poetry and vice versa?
LS: I prefer fiction when I’m writing a novel or novella. I love the long form of novels. It suits my temperament because I’m a very patient person. Plus, it’s easy for me to see the beginning of a novel all the way to the end. I love the novel-writing process, no matter how long it might take. The ride is everything. What fun! And that’s probably due to the way I work. I write chapter by chapter. After I finish the first draft of a chapter, I go back and thoroughly edit it before I write the next chapter. And so it goes. One finished chapter after another. When I reach the end of the novel, I go back and do one final edit to catch any typos I might have missed and to make sure each chapter flows smoothly into the next. Then off it goes to a publisher, and I start the next novel. I’m a storyteller, whether I’m working on a novel or a prose poem. I write both in the same stream-of-consciousness style. To me, there is little difference between my prose poems, flash fiction stories, and novels. In fact, I’ve published several novels-in-verse. My first draft process is the same for fiction or poetry. The main character introduces herself to me. She tells me her story or poem. I write it down. Edit like crazy (at least 40 or 50 edits, sometimes more) until it’s finished. If it’s a novel, I follow her around, month after month, until her book is finished. By then the main character in my next novel has already appeared and is anxious to tell her story. This is why I write every day of the year. New characters and novels are always appearing. I never take a break between books. My characters won’t let me!
NF: It seems you’ve had dogs on the brain lately. Do you have any dogs, or are they imaginary?
LS: I love small dogs. The smaller the better. But I grew up with big dogs. Three German Shepherds. A Norwegian Elkhound. An overweight Beagle. Several very sweet mutts. And lots of cats. I’ve been involved in feral cat rescue for over forty years. I’ve cared for as many as twenty-one cats and kittens at one time in my feral colonies. My goal is to get them all fixed, socialized, and adopted. Because of that, no dogs for me at the moment. However, I just spent ten years caring for six senior cats. And I have to say I love seniors! Too many senior dogs are being surrendered by their owners to shelters these days. Even high-kill shelters. Unfortunately, small dogs don’t do well in shelters, so they tend to be euthanized quickly. Chihuahuas (my favorite breed) are the most frequent breed to be euthanized simply because they’re so small. Crazy, isn’t it? In the future, I plan to adopt a senior Chihuahua. But not now. Currently, I have four big, energetic cats. All socialized ferals. All teenagers. And they play way too rough for a small senior dog. But in a few years when these crazy kitties calm down, there’s definitely a senior Chihuahua on my bucket list!
NF: Are “The Good Dog” and “Addicted to Dog Magazines” autobiographical at all? If so, in what way?
LS: No. Both novellas are entirely fictional. They just happened to be the stories those particular characters wanted to tell. However I am a child abuse survivor and a domestic abuse survivor, so I have experience with all the nasty stuff that goes along with that, like PTSD, anxiety, and depression. I’ve also experienced my share of stalkers and bad-news men in love relationships. That’s why my books, no matter how humorous, are always empowering. I like to highlight the positive and offer hope to my readers. There’s enough darkness in the world. I have no desire to add to it.
NF: What projects are you working on now?
LS: “The Good Dog: A Novella” comes out in March (Prolific Pulse Press). “Addicted to Dog Magazines: A Novella” comes out in May (Impspired). We’ve been working on the covers and text design since December to prepare for the launch of these two books. Other than that, I’m currently writing my next novella-in-verse. Each chapter is a prose poem, and most have already been accepted or appeared in magazines. There are 25 chapters so far. And it looks like there will be at least 100 chapters in this novel. Possibly more. The main character is another hilarious, wacky woman, and I’m having a blast with her. She’s just too much fun to end this book any time soon. And, yes, there is a dog in this one. A senior Yorkie (my second favorite breed). This novel will probably be finished in the fall. But you know me. I’m toying with the idea of a really experimental form for this one. Possibly a series. We shall see!