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  • Writer's pictureMarías at Sampaguitas

Interview with Juliette Sebock

Updated: Mar 22, 2019

Juliette Sebock is the author of Mistakes Were Made and has work forthcoming or appearing in a wide variety of publications.  She is the editor-in-chief of Nightingale & Sparrow and runs a lifestyle blog, For the Sake of Good Taste.  Currently, she is curating the Stanzas from the Silence anthology and working on an array of personal and freelance projects. When she isn't writing (and sometimes when she is) she can be found with a cup of coffee and her cat, Fitz.  She can be reached at her website and across social media at @juliettesebock. 

When did you first realize your affinity for poetry? What is your “origin” story?

I’ve always loved to write—somewhere my grandfather still has a pile of looseleaf that makes up a “book” I wrote nearly 20 years ago about a little blue penguin named Petri! I dabbled in poetry a little but tended towards prose. I did write quite a few songs, though—I was heavily involved in all things musical growing up, so that bit was a natural progression!

It wasn’t until college, when a friend (and fellow poet) asked me for my thoughts on poetry, that I really acknowledged my love for poetry. At the time, I insisted that, while I enjoyed reading it, writing it wasn’t my forte. I was actually writing mostly journalistic pieces at this point! Well, it turns out that was an unintentional lie (sorry, Hugh).

Not long after that conversation, I found myself scribbling poems more and more often, until, when I decided to publish my first chapbook more than two years later, I had a surplus of material to work with! Ever since, I’ve been writing more and more often, and even more so since I began submitting last spring. I tend to write whenever I feel something particularly strong, which is more often than not, it seems.

On your website, you stated that you grew up reading a variety of genres. Which is your favorite to read? Which is your favorite to write?

At the risk of sounding horribly pedantic, I read a lot of classics as a kid—Shakespeare and Austen were two of my favourites from a young age (though, I did throw in my share of contemporary romance novels to balance it out!). Actually, this is a big factor as to why I write in mostly British English—though I did get to live in Somerset for a while as I got older, it’s more so because I taught myself to read and write with British writers!

As I got older, I added in a whole lot of Poe and, later, Fitzgerald and Capote, too. I’ve been discovering more contemporary writers as I’ve launched my own writing career, to, which has really introduced me to a whole new world of reading material!

Nowadays, I lean mostly toward poetry, historical fiction, and a bit of biography/memoir in my reading, though I return to my classics when I can (I haven’t gotten through them all yet!). Much to the dismay of my Goodreads Reading Challenge, I read a lot of individual pieces and issues from lit mags, too!

In terms of writing, I’ve always been drawn to a sort of gothic quality. One of my favourite stories from an undergrad workshop was when a classmate commented on my gothic imagery at length, only for me to reply, “Oh, I didn’t even realize I’d done that.” I suppose I can especially thank Poe for that!

Do you feel like your poetry falls under a certain category, such as experimental, contemporary, etc.? If you could have your work associated with another poet, who would it be and why?

A friend recently remarked that my writing is distinctly Romantic, which I’ll take as a compliment—Wordsworth’s concept of poetry as a “spontaneous overflow of powerful of powerful feelings: it takes its origin from emotion recollected in tranquility” has been a huge inspiration to me.

I write a lot about trauma and its aftermath, which I suppose can be a sort of category in itself. This comes from personal experience, to some degree, but also from my history background, which was largely based in the American Civil War, the Great War, and the Tudor era, all of which were pretty traumatic in their own right.

I’ve gathered a few Poe references in my time, which is always special given the impact he’s had on me, and while I don’t think I’ve ever gotten a Fitzgerald comparison (at least to my face), I hope to write something someday that makes that inevitable.

For another interview, I reached out to a friend a few months ago asking for some comparisons he might draw between my work and others’—I genuinely have a really hard time finding those sorts of parallels. He may have flattered me a bit more than I deserved, but his comparisons included Louise Gluck, Dean Young, Beckian Fritz-Goldberg, and Anna Journey.

To draw from some of my peers, though, I would adore any and all associations with Sabrina Benaim, Courtney LeBlanc, Lannie Stabile, Carla Sofia Ferreira, Kailey Tedesco, Jean-Marie Bub, and, of course, our very own Keana Aguila Labra (I’m sure I’m also missing a few!)!

Do you participate in spoken word/slam poetry? If so, where can we find your performances? How is writing spoken word different from ‘traditional’ poetry?

Believe it or not, I’ve yet to actually perform any poetry, as of this interview! It’s especially strange as I have a strong performance background, in music and theatre. I currently live in the middle of nowhere, so I don’t frequently get the opportunity to participate in live readings.

I do have a few digital performances planned, both with the Poet Kind podcast and Z.M. Wise’s YouTube channel. I also have a few upcoming publications that have either digital options or potentially sort of nearby launches where I might have the chance to perform a bit, so stay tuned.

In the meantime, I have been recording a few pieces, both for the audio version of my chapbook and for my poem with my literary magazine, Nightingale & Sparrow. While it’s not quite the same as performing live, audio versions have been a fantastic new challenge! I’ve read pieces to myself while editing, and I always consider how they’ll sound when writing, but it’s a whole new game to return to a piece and relay it vocally.

Is your ‘process’ different when writing poetry versus articles? Which is easier for you to write and why?

Process-wise, the biggest difference for me is in the inspiration. For articles, I usually either have a topic given to me or have researched the market to find something that might appeal to my audience. For poems, I usually start with a memory or a particularly vivid image or emotion (again, thank you, Wordsworth), and build off of that. I haven’t thought of it before this moment, but I wonder if my particular interest in writing poems based on themed submissions calls may be related to that initial topic assignment when I’m writing articles!

In terms of what comes to me more naturally, I’d definitely say poetry—I’ll sometimes just have a few lines pop into my head, versus more journalistic writing which tends to be a struggle. I like parentheticals and analogies far too much!

But, at the same time, articles are easier in terms of the emotional impact. Because I do draw so much from personal experience in writing poetry, it can sometimes be a bit draining. Often, it’s almost revitalising, cathartic, I guess, but from time to time I actually need to stop and recover a bit from the emotional toll a piece has taken on me. I don’t really run into that in article writing.

Which do you prefer more: writing poetry or articles? Why?

Based purely in my own emotions, I prefer poetry by a landslide! Don’t get me wrong, I don’t dislike writing articles by any means, but at the end of the day, poetry has my heart. In a poem, I can write what I feel and, for the most part, there’s no expectation of proving why I feel that way. In an article, I need to have sources and research to back up what I’m saying—that onus of proof is entirely on me as a writer. I tend to see things in shades of grey and appreciate that poetry doesn’t need to be as black and white as an article typically does.

That being said, poetry’s not exactly lucrative—my wallet much prefers articles, especially as I work on growing my freelance business!

Which do you prefer more: reading poetry or articles? Why?

This depends quite a bit on my mood at that moment, and, to some degree, on the writer or topic in question. Pieces about certain topics are bound to draw me in whatever the format and the same goes for certain favourite writers or publications. But, with that in mind, I definitely get into moods where I particularly want to learn something from an article or feel something from a poem, and that will make my decision for me.

We checked out your blog, “For the Sake of Good Taste.” What inspired you to start this blog? How long have you been vegan?

I’d tried blogging on and off for years before For the Sake of Good Taste, which has lasted the longest so far (and, if all goes according to plan, will continue to!). This site grew from its initial subcategories of “food, organisation, fashion, life, and frugality” to the far less lengthy “vegan lifestyle” brand it has now. I’ve never really wanted to write about just one narrow topic and this site, while still a pretty distinct niche, allows for that freedom that I’ve always craved. Plus, it’s important to me that non-vegan readers don’t feel entirely excluded and I think a lot of my posts are able to reflect that.

I’ve been vegan fully for about five years now, and mostly for a few years before that (my family took a bit of convincing, especially when I was still a minor!). I’d never liked meat and developed a dairy allergy in my early teenage years—coupled with a lifelong love of animals, it was a pretty easy choice!

We checked even further and found “Thoughts, Opinions, and Everything in Between.” What prompted to transfer? Do you miss your previous platform? What are differences you notice between “For the Sake of Good Taste” and “Thoughts, Opinions, and Everything in Between”?

You did do your research! I love it. :) TO&E was my first “serious” blog, which I started after my roommate at the time introduced me to her Disney blog. Her passion was so clear that, while I’d toyed with blogging a few times in the past, I was determined to make it stick, and TO&E did just that for quite a while.

I wrote about a little bit of everything which, from a business perspective, isn’t the best idea. But I learnt most of what I know about blogging along the way, so I’m absurdly grateful for the experience.

After a hiatus from blogging for quite a while, I decided I needed a bit of a fresh start, and I was determined to build a brand that I’d be able to grow into a business in its own right down the road. FTSOGT isn’t quite there just yet, but I’m so proud of how far it’s come and how much farther I think it will still go!

What inspired you to birth Nightingale & Sparrow? We love the two quotes placed on the main page of the website. Are these two quotes the origin for the name of the mag? We also love your poem with the accompanying audio reading!

Thank you! I’d been toying with the idea of starting my own lit mag for a few months before launching Nightingale & Sparrow, but I kept telling myself I needed to amass X number of publications or hit some other milestone before I could. To some degree, I guess I felt the need to prove myself as a writer so that I’d be taken seriously as an editor, too. But the more I interacted with other mags and the more I learnt about the process of publishing, especially in an online space, I realised that it wasn’t a lack of experience holding me back—it was completely and totally me, myself, and I (and, I’m happy to report, I’ve since far exceeded those publishing milestones I first set for myself!).

I saw firsthand the impact that these small lit mags had on writers, myself included, and thought that giving that to others would be a great way to contribute to the community on a larger scale. I’d run a Buzzfeed-esque magazine in college and had enough of a writing and blogging background that I was confident I could build this from the ground up. And that I did!

I was incredibly indecisive about a title for my new publication for quite a while, but kept coming back to those quotes. “Little Sparrow” and Romeo & Juliet both have some personal significance for me; in fact, the latter quote was one I battled with a high school English teacher on when he marked my answer as incorrect on a quiz—I know (and knew!) my Shakespeare! As I thought more about what I wanted this space to be, I decided on Nightingale & Sparrow. Then, as I tried to put those meanings into words, the accompanying poem came into being.

You also do photography?! What can’t you do! What’s your inspiration behind these photos? (I love the Romeo & Juliet reference with “Light Through Yonder Window.”)

You know, there’s a possibility that my love for photography actually came a tiny bit before that of writing—if not, it was practically simultaneous! I spent a lot of time with my grandparents growing up, and my grandfather was an avid photographer. He’s been featured in quite a few local publications over the years and I learnt a lot from him growing up.

I’ve never had the proper equipment to take photography as seriously as most “real” photographers do, but even with my outdated iPhone, I’ve pulled off some pretty decent shots (if I do say so myself!). I’ve always liked a sort of gritty, almost vintage, dream-like aesthetic, so it sometimes works in my favour!

As I submitted more poetry, and, more recently, some prose, I found myself thinking of some particular photos I’d taken over time. There were a few that I was particularly fond of! “Light Through Yonder Window” was the first photo I ever submitted, and that was entirely in conjunction with my poem in that issue of Vamp Cat, “The World We Knew.” The editors, Lorna and Alessandra (and Cookie!), kindly offered the option to include a photo with your piece if you had one in mind, rather than them choosing one to accompany it. These two pieces fit together nicely and I finally had an excuse to let myself submit a photo.

Since then, I’ve only submitted a few more, but I’ve been lucky enough to have acceptances from both Rose Quartz Mag and here at Marías!

AND you write book reviews!? Madam. Do you have a time turner? How do you choose which books to read and write about?

I can neither confirm nor deny the existence of my time turner…

I actually started writing some book reviews on For the Sake of Good Taste before recently launching my book-specific blog, Pencils & Pages. If I remember correctly, I was actually searching for a new side hustle when I came across Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours. They don’t pay in money, of course, but I’ve never been one to turn down the chance to read new books!

I signed up with HFVBT and Amy was kind enough to pair me with some fantastic campaigns. Over time, I’ve found books that relate even more to my own interests and passions (most recently, Tony Riches’ Brandon - Tudor Knight and Samantha Grosser’s Shakespeare’s Witch).

Since building a bit of a portfolio with HFVBT, I’ve expanded my reviews to include the works of some of my peers, mostly in poetry. I can’t often afford to purchase copies of my friends’ and co-writers’ books, but I try to support them as much as I can and, when review copies are available, I’m able to help spread the word as well as read what are typically amazing books!

And that’s not even the end of it – as we very well know (for those who do not know, it is with Ms. Sebock’s help that the Marías at Sampaguitas website was born), you offer freelance services as well. Are you self-taught?

Yes! I offer website services (like for the Marías at Sampaguitas website) in which I can build or revamp writing/art/publication sites for those who might want that professional presence but don’t have the background to do it themselves! I’m largely self-taught on that front (thank you Google and thank you blogging!), though I did take an introductory Computer Science course in school that was a nice refresher!

I also have some more writing-centric offerings, like commissioned pieces, sponsored/guest blog posts, and even writing coaching! There’s all sorts of information on my website about all of that, or you can always reach out with any questions if you’re interested.

I know a lot of poets/novelists, writers in general, struggle with marketing themselves and their services. Have you ever encountered this feeling? If so, how did you overcome it?

This is definitely something I’ve had to work on, and I’m still not great at it! I think it predominantly comes down to knowing that your work has meaning—if not to the larger world (as it feels far too often), then at least to you! For me, I legitimately love having others read what I’ve written, even though I’m still a bit in shock whenever someone comments that they have (if you’ve ever felt the need to make my day, tell me something you liked about something I wrote, especially without my pointing you to it!). It’s pretty hard for people to come across my work if I don’t share it, especially my first book, being self-published. That’s a large part of my reasoning for looking for a press for my next few books—I’ve found myself longing for a partner in all of this!

What are your methods for overcoming ‘writer’s block’? What do you do when you can’t seem to find inspiration?

Frankly, I don’t often encounter this! If I’m on a deadline and need to write something, I write. If I don’t have a reason to and I’m not inspired to write, I won’t; but I honestly don't find that to be the case very often. At the end of the day, I love writing and I recognise that I’m incredibly lucky to be able to do it as frequently as I do.

A lot of writers struggle with time management. Do you have a day job? If so, how do you balance work, writing (poetry and your novel), family, and personal time?

I’m determined to turn freelancing & blogging into my full-time gigs going forward, but as of right now I do have a “day job” on top of everything else. I work as a transcriptionist, typing out audio recordings for a variety of fields—podcast transcripts are a particular favourite!

The sort of typing involved in transcribing isn’t particularly beneficial for some of my health issues (that’s a big factor in my wanting to go freelance full-time), but I’m lucky to have a position where I can work from home and on my own schedule.

That being said, it takes a lot of balancing to manage that as well as writing, blogging, various side hustles, and family and friends, much less finding time for myself! It may sound antithetical, but I’ve found that forcing myself to take breaks is critical. If I’ve been working at my computer for a while, I’ll take a quick meditation break, walk the dog, or even do a chore or two (I can’t tell you how many times I’ve bribed myself into finishing a work project with the promise of doing a load of dishes when it’s finished!). If I’m exhausted, I’ll take a nap.

I also make it a habit to try and balance out my to-do list between my various categories—I’ll do X number of work projects, then work on a submission, take photos for a blog post, answer N&S emails, then apply to some freelance postings. That really helps to minimize getting burnt out in one or the other (though it does still happen from time to time).

Where do you expect to see yourself (as a writer) in the next five years? The next ten years?

I recently started writing a list of “dream writing goals,” a sort of writing bucket list of things I want to do “someday.” I want to be published in The New Yorker, to be somebody’s favourite poet, to have somebody get a tattoo from something I’ve created, to publish a collected works. I bring this up because I would love to have these accomplished in a ten-year range; I set pretty ambitious goals for myself, especially in writing, largely because of my various chronic illnesses. There’s a part of me that’s never really sure I’ll have a long bit of time ahead of me to accomplish the things I want to, so I want to do what I can while I can.

With that in mind, I really want to get my next manuscripts published, preferably in that five-year timeframe! Including the two I’m currently submitting, I have almost a dozen manuscripts either finished or in-progress right now, primarily of poetry. I’d absolutely love to form a relationship with a press (or, to really daydream, an agent!) where they’d hear I have a new book ready and they’re dying to publish it! But, I’m currently querying several different presses with my current pieces and I’m planning to keep doing just that as I finish more and, hopefully, publish these!

Of course, I want to keep growing as a writer, both in terms of my actual craft and, naturally, my list of publications. I want to keep growing Nightingale & Sparrow and my freelance business and blogging. I want to find a great press to work with on my anthology project, Stanzas from the Silence, and, optimally, grow that beyond one anthology to a full-fledged movement.

I want there to be people besides my friends and family who see my name and think, “Right, that’s that writer!” And, maybe most importantly, I genuinely want to help others along the way. That’s why I started N&S and it’s why I’ve been coaching (mostly students) in writing. I want to be able to give others the kind of support I didn’t necessarily have when I was just starting out and, as I learn more myself, I’m confident I’ll be able to do that more as well.

Your book, Mistakes Were Made, was published in 2017, and you mentioned to us that it was during a “dark period” in your life. What do you feel when you reread and reflect on this piece of work? How do you feel your writing has evolved since then? Can we expect to see another full-length publication from you in the future?!

Looking back on it now, Mistakes Were Made is very much a “first book.” There are definitely some things I would do a bit differently if I published it now, but ultimately it taught me a lot and I wouldn’t change that for the world! I’ve gotten some new readers for this little chapbook in the past several months as I’ve tried to get it some new reviews, and I’m really grateful for the support it’s received—it may not be at the same level I’d produce now, but this little collection means a lot to me and was an extremely personal project (which is a large part of why I’m promoting it more now than I did at the time). It was really something I did entirely for myself and I’m so glad I did.

Of course, I can’t leave you with just one! I currently have both a chapbook and a microchap under consideration with a few presses, and nearly a dozen ideas or drafts otherwise. A few are for additional chaps & microchaps, but I’ve got a few full-length manuscripts in the works that I’m especially excited about! I’m hoping to publish most of these with small presses, so it may take some time before they’re all complete and find the perfect home, but rest assured that there’s lots more to come!

Are there any immediate events or publications that you have coming up that you want the readers to know about?

I’m lucky enough to have quite a few forthcoming publications, mostly of poems, though there are a few photos and prose pieces waiting in my submissions tracker! I update my website pretty regularly with news and new publications, so check there or on social media for some pretty frequent updates.

I’m also always willing to take on some events (local readings are few and far between, so I’d love to get involved with more digitally), interviews like this, or even projects—commissions, freelance opportunities, or solicited submissions are always welcome!

What do you want the readers to know about you?

This one took a bit of thought, so I’m going to give a quick bulleted list!

I try to be really open about myself, as a poet and a person, but I can guarantee you don’t know everything about me—hell, I don’t know everything about me! I’m still learning about myself and I’m excited to share that with all of you.

Many of my poems are super personal, but that doesn’t mean that the speaker is always me.

Maybe most importantly—I’m human! I love doing interviews like this because I love to communicate more about my work. That being said, do reach out! Shoot me a message about a piece you read. I want to “meet” you!

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