Sara Letourneau is a poet and speculative fiction writer in Massachusetts who devours good books, loves all kinds of music, and drinks copious amounts of tea. In addition to writing for DIY MFA, she is hard at work on a YA magical realism novel and recently wrote the introduction for Alison Walsh's A Literary Tea Party, a cookbook featuring recipes that are perfect for tea parties and inspired by classic novels such as The Hobbit, Little Women, and The Chronicles of Narnia. She also freelanced as a tea reviewer and music journalist in the past. Her poetry is forthcoming in Canary; and has previously appeared in The Curry Arts Journal, Soul-Lit, The Eunoia Review, Underground Voices, and two print anthologies.
Who are you and what do you do?
On the creative side, I write poetry and speculative fiction. I've had several poems published in literary journals as well as two print anthologies, and I have a new poem forthcoming in Canary later this year. None of my fiction has been published yet, but I'm currently working on the first draft of a YA magical realism manuscript about an 18-year-old girl struggling with anxiety/panic disorder during her first year of college.
I've also been a freelance writer "for fun" for 10 years. (My day job is a technical editor at an engineering firm, so the freelancing is a hobby I love with all my heart.) Each column I've done has tapped one of my passions. Right now I'm a columnist for DIY MFA, a website that offers tips on the craft of writing, publishing, marketing, and community-building for writers. I also launched the Tea Time at Reverie column at the book review blog A Bibliophile’s Reverie, where I taste-tested teas and paired each one with book recommendations; and wrote CD reviews for Sonic Cathedral, one of the longest-running webzines that focuses on female-fronted rock, metal, and progressive music. All very different in terms of topic and style – but that’s what has made the ride so enjoyable!
Do you have any writing rituals you do when you are starting your writing session for the day?
Before I start writing, I make a cup of hot tea and either turn on an essential oil diffuser or light a candle. I like to stay hydrated as I write (plus, I love tea anyway), and both the tea-making and the scent of the oils or candle create a calm, thoughtful ambiance that helps me “get into the flow” more easily.
After that, I read a few pages from the “writing craft” or “writing inspiration” book I’m currently reading. Then I review any notes I made to jump-start the writing session. I also try to sit quietly for a few minutes and meditate so I’m clear-headed and focused when I start writing. I say “try,” of course, because that last one is a brand new habit, so sometimes it slips my mind.
How did you get involved with DIY MFA?
I first discovered DIY MFA through the online writing conference WANA Con back in February 2014. Gabriela Pereira, the founder of DIY MFA, was the presenter at one of the sessions I attended. I can’t recall what her topic was, but I do remember loving the idea of a writing resource site that takes the concepts taught in a traditional MFA program and guides writers who can’t financially afford an MFA on applying those concepts in a practical and purposeful manner. This prompted me to check out the DIY MFA website after WANA Con.
Fast-forward to August of that year. I was now a full-fledged fan of DIY MFA, visiting the site on a weekly basis and reading Gabriela’s periodic e-newsletter. One day, she posted a “call for columnists” in her newsletter. I thought, “I’d be crazy not to give this a chance.” The timing was perfect, too; I’d left Sonic Cathedral earlier that year to concentrate on creative writing. So I pitched two column ideas to Gabriela, saying that I’d be happy to do either if she chose to bring me onboard. And as the saying goes, the rest is history.
Are there any poem(s) you have written that you particularly have a fondness for?
That’s like asking to pick a favorite child! However, these three published poems, in particular, are very special to me:
“Naked Truth”: One of my first two published poems. I wrote it shortly after learning that one of my favorite high school English teachers had been arrested on child pornography charges. (This happened about 4 or 5 years after I graduated from high school.) I was proud of that piece, and of how I had pushed myself to write about such a mature and controversial topic. And the fact that Underground Voices accepted it for publication (and then included it in their annual best-of anthology) taught me how much readers value honesty and courage from poets.
“Elegy”: This is a reaction piece to the Boston Marathon bombings in 2013. I wasn’t there that day, nor did I know anyone who was hurt or killed in that attack. But knowing that so many people were savagely injured or suffered other trauma that day, and that it happened in the neighborhood of Boston I’m most familiar with (Back Bay / Copley Square) and have so many memories of… I knew I had to write about it. The pain and empathy I was feeling would have clawed at me from the inside out if I hadn’t.
“Eve of Spring”: Spring has always been my favorite time of year. But after a winter where I’d suffered from situational depression, I felt like I needed the change in seasons more than ever. So I wrote the first draft of “Eve of Spring” on that last night of winter, using the transition from winter to spring as a metaphor for finding joy and gratitude in the little things in life so I could move on from my sadness. And writing that poem, along with other decisions I made around that time, really did help me climb out in the end.
Would you categorize your poems as a particular type of genre?
That's hard to say. I try not to limit myself in terms of topic or inspiration. That might explain why I've written poems about everything from nature and traveling, to mental health and current events – basically, anything that moves me to the point where my feelings could swallow me whole if I don’t write about it.
If anything, I'd say I write a traditional style of free-verse poetry. It's not influenced by slam-style poetry (though I've been to a few poetry slams, and WOW are those poets incredible) or the modern style you find from poets on social media. Some of my favorite poets are venerated writers like Mary Oliver and Ursula K. Le Guin (yes, she wrote poetry along with fantasy and science fiction!) and contemporaries like Sandra Beasley, Jennifer K. Sweeney, and Susan Goldsmith Wooldridge. I’d like to think my own work draws on their influences while using my own unique voice, ideas, and perspective.
What got you started in writing/publishing poetry? It's a rare thing to see writers jump into different mediums of writing.
Oh, I’ve always been jumping back and forth between different types of writing. (*lol*) I began writing stories as soon as I learned how to hold a crayon and write my own name. By the time I was a teenager, I was writing stories, poems, and articles for the school newspaper. So variety and versatility have been essential to my craft for a long time.
As for publishing my poetry: I was fortunate to have some of my poems published in my high school and college literary journals. Then, the week before I graduated from Curry College, one of my English and writing professors told me, “You should get your work published – and I mean, really published.” And of course, I wanted to be a published writer and poet outside of school. But when you hear someone you trust and whose work you admire validating your dreams in that way, it lights a match inside you. So within a few months, I began submitting poems to print and online journals. From there, it took about 4½ years of writing, revising, submitting, and repeating the process over and over until I finally got a “yes.”
What was the Iceland Writer's Retreat? How did it impact your current work? Do you recommend writer's retreats?
The Iceland Writers Retreat is actually an annual event! It’s held in the capital city of Reykjavík; and it involves four days of writing workshops, tours of Reykjavík and the surrounding countryside, and immersion in the local culture through art, food, and history. I had already wanted to go to Iceland for some time, so when I first read about IWR in September 2016 it felt like fate was tapping me on the shoulder. The timing of the retreat couldn’t have been better, either. It happened after I suffered a huge blow to my confidence in my writing (which was exacerbated by stress and anxiety I was experiencing in other areas of life at that time). So when I came home, I was rejuvenated and relaxed from the trip and motivated to get back to writing. It also convinced me to switch gears from one fiction project to another and to start working on poetry again.
Would I recommend writing retreats?
Absolutely. They’re like writers conferences in that they’re an investment in your writing career, so the financial cost is important to consider. But if you find one locally or in an inspiring location and the program appeals to you, then go for it. There are obvious benefits to doing a retreat that’s close to home, but it doesn’t compare to traveling to a whole other state or country. At IWR, for example, writers attend from all over the world – New Zealand, Germany, Brazil, and Kenya, just to name a few. Having the opportunity with talk to people who grew up in a different culture but share your passion for writing can be incredibly eye-opening, and makes an already enriching experience even more rewarding.
If you were stuck on an abandoned island, what five items would you want with you?
1) A notebook or large journal (just because I’m on an island doesn’t mean I can’t write!)
2) A package of pens (same reason as above – plus, that counts as one item, right? *lol*)
3) My yoga mat (much more comfortable than doing yoga on bare ground)
4) A friend (because being on that island would get lonely after a while)
5) Sunscreen (my skin burns very easily!)
If you could meet any author or poet living or dead, who would it be?
Only one? Maybe Ursula K. Le Guin. She’s a sentimental choice since she’s my favorite author of all time. (If Antiquity’s readers are interested, I wrote this tribute to UKLG after she passed away earlier this year.) Or maybe Mary Oliver. She may be 50+ years my senior, but we have enough fundamental loves in common – poetry, nature, spirituality, Cape Cod – that we could probably talk for hours.