Thanks Dr. Sadler for participating in our interview.
Dr. Sadler, please tell us something about your personal and professional background. I noticed you are a former college president and the recipient of many awards.
An only child, I grew up on a farm in North Carolina. My father, at least, wanted a boy, so I was taught to do all that a male child would (climbing the tier poles of the tobacco barn, for example). I was always (or felt this the case, at least) the one in the middle—between the townies and the country kids. That’s still true.
I’ve never been in a clique. Wherever groups war—and where don’t they?—I’m the one seeing something right on both sides and trying to make peace. My parents divorced when I was in the ninth grade; the scene remained so poisonous that my mother and I moved away my senior year of high school. Sheer determination propelled me.
I took the unexpected route for a female of going straight through to a doctorate without stopping, then quickly moved from the college classroom into administration. I developed the view that, if your way gets blocked, you create a new way.
When I hit a College President Wall, I turned to creative writing, not the most expected route for a Miltonist! I write it all: poetry, fiction, creative nonfiction, and plays. I try not to maintain the academic side but am constantly [self-?] trapped into more “scholarly” projects. As an example, I recently completed editing another book and am the Editor of Footnotes, the newsletter/journal of the Duplin County [NC] Historical Society. Right now, I’m chairing the year-long (!) Centennial of the county I live in. It’s rather like being a college president again and far worse than all the movies make it out to be!
I’ve won an Extraordinary Undergraduate Teaching Award; pioneered in Computer-Assisted Composition; and received a civil rights award from Methodist College’s Black Student Movement, the Distinguished Women of North Carolina Award for education (1992), and the Paul Jehu Barringer, Jr. and Sr., Award for Exceptional Service to the History of the State from the North Carolina Society of Historians (2004). I was Visiting Distinguished Scholar in the “Educational Leadership for a Competitive America” seminar of the United States Office of Personnel Management (1992), presented at the First International Milton Symposium in England, and was Director of a National Endowment for the Humanities Summer Seminar for College Teachers on “The Novel of Slave Unrest.”
I’m an inordinate punster, though I can’t compare with my husband. I love to cook and, especially, dance. I laugh a lot. I’m highly organized. I’m passionate about wanting us to be more civil and push, when possible, what I learned from Milton: example all alternatives carefully, including the probable ways opponents will be forced to react to your choice. I’m passionate about wanting people to be educated and to care for higher-order priorities (e.g., good literature). I’m passionate about college basketball (Duke’s in particular).
When did your passion for writing begin? What keeps you going?
I’ve always been a writer, toyed with going the creative route when I was a Duke undergraduate, but one professor model in particular, Dr. Gale Carrithers, sent me the academic way. Still, I remained curious about my prowess as a creative writer.
What keeps me going, like everyone else, is partial reinforcement, plus the momentary dips “in the groove.” In the midst of forty+ obligations/deadlines, your mind seizes one, gnaws at it as you sleep. You remember it, work from it, your forces concentrating, everything else put aside. However short the time there, it’s worth all your efforts and continuous reachings.
Goals still loom: published, recognized novels; a play on Broadway; a Pulitzer . . . . Perhaps I should exchange goals for dreams, as in “dream on!”
What's your advice to achieve success as a writer?
Keep your works circulating. As an academic, I made a pact with myself that I would get any article that was rejected back out in the next mail. It worked; sooner or later . . . . Creative work, I’ve discovered, is the same. You will find the responsive editor and audience—if you persist. I have also survived/thrived by never, ever doing what I was told to do in the way of “correcting” (unless my critics had found a typo), and I certainly do little more than skim the venom that sometimes comes gratis. Understand, of course, that I, with a Ph.D. in English (which I’ve learned to keep to myself) am appalled at what passes for writing of a grammatical persuasion from ever-so-many editors.
Do it your way. Don’t follow every whim that’s catching on; don’t try to write to a particular journal, style, whatever (unless you have a commission or contract!). Don’t be Oprah-ish, non-Oprah-ish. Be you.
Is Foot Ways your first novella and how did it come about? Was it easier or more difficult to write than your poetry? What challenges or obstacles did you encounter while writing this novella? How did you overcome these challenges?
Foot Ways is my first novella, and I don’t think in terms of ease or difficulty as I turn from poetry to play to fiction. Whatever the project is, it’s simply the next one, and I do it. Nor do I think very much about creating “literary” as opposed to “genre” (e.g., science fiction) writing. I just write. Then, as I review calls on the services I subscribe to (e.g., WinningWriters.com, Insight for Playwrights), I realize that, yes, something I have already written may serve and not be formulaic but fresh (though I frequently write in answer to “calls”). I don’t write “crime fiction” per se, for example, but my short story won the 2002 Cape Fear Crime Festival Award.
How did you create Mr. Rufe in Foot Ways?
Mr. Rufe spins from a man (of that name even), who used to appear periodically at our house when I was a child. He did read me Uncle Wiggley stories. He did have a dog named Doodlebug. I liked him; wondered about him; never found out anything about him; felt child-blocked, as customary, from adult knowing. Nothing was sinister. The sexual overtones derive from a one-time experience with a much older cousin. As is often the case, a poem (about Doodlebug) came first.
Where did the whole come from? I’m a Southerner, after all, though I can hardly be said to write “predominantly Southern.” Myth, tradition, the Bible, literature, music, archetypes . . . mingle in and drive Southerners more than most, assuredly—and drive Foot Ways.
The hearkening to myth can be good and/or bad but is always fascinating. Myth is not just for children, never was; it was life-encouraging mostly, though it, in the remotest times, evoked literal sacrifice.
The title Foot Ways is a pun that, in larger terms, encapsulates the footway/journey each of us goes in life, but even the specific “ways of feet” in the novella are huge by implication, e.g., encompassing every bogey man who ever frightened a child, every luring and seductive figure, every combatant of said luring figure (all who help mark the Devil’s foot in warning to the rest of us), and on and on.
Myth endures; it’s now fully decked out in technology. The question in my work is how in informs and influences generations. How do those who give themselves to it deal with retribution? Can those who try to shut it out be fully human? The novella starts with the “modern-day” daughter who has imbibed myth from her cradle and birthright and has, unconsciously, educated herself in it. Yet, she is strikingly different from her mother, is both Polly Junior and not Polly Junior.
It is her mother’s version of the myth—the myth in (one version of) flesh—who gives her that name. But myth is not wholly female, either. The son of Polly Senior’s mythical lover is Icarus-like in wanting the powers of his father. He ends getting that tantalizing verbal duplicity of fairy tales and genie jokes, but he has a chance at redemption and so is permitted to come to the aid of Polly Junior. Her own jousting with myth (e.g., figures on a Toby jug) yields the reward of honey from Bee. Myth is never resolved, or it is not true myth, but the lives of those who open themselves to it (e.g., John Donne, e e cummings) are rich beyond measure.
What is your biggest reward of life as a poet and writer?
Getting “the next one” accepted is first. My résumé is 53 pages (Times 10 pt.) at present. I’m isolated, more so than most writers, I imagine, and certainly feel the sting of “A prophet is not without honour, save in [her] own country.” The game I play is seeing what I can write. After the fact of me is gone, someday, perhaps, I’ll be truly “discovered.”
Being asked to/commissioned to write something is second; giving a reading is third. Undergirding them all is the sheer exhilaration of having “done” another topic. My “thing” may be publishing on a wider range of topics than anyone. It’s my version of conquering worlds.
How do you come up with ideas for what you write?
1. I always have a notepad handy and, on the spot or later, jot the word, phrase, or point of view or scribble about the scene, etc., that caught my attention.
2. My husband and I, for five years, traveled around the world by ship, at three and a half months per trip. I wrote, as we went, or took notes to write about what we were seeing, experiencing. After the first year, I took a laptop.
3. I especially like to be “dared” to write about X, Y, or Z.
4. I like to go at topics I know nothing about so that I’m learning as I prepare to write/write.
5. I keep a “hot shit” list on computer for words I hit, say in the crossword puzzle, that intrigue me. Sooner or later, they’re apt to spin into, at the least, a poem.
I noticed when I Googled you that there was a poem you published in The Copperfield Review pertaining to Sephardics. As my wife Lily is a Sephardic Jewess, I was wondering if this in any way is connected to your ancestry. How did this poem come about?
You’re referring, I think, to “Alfred Mordecai Could Not.” No, so far as I know, I’m not of that lineage, though I’ve done quite a bit on Jewish themes. My maiden name is Veach, and I find distressingly few Veaches. The origin, I learned in graduate school, is either Anglo-Saxon for “leader of the tribe” or “La Vache,” the cow. I don’t have to tell you which I prefer, I’m sure.
Actually, I didn’t know about Alfred Mordecai until I took a Continuing Education class on aspects of the Civil War [which we Southerners are taught to refer to as “The War Between the States”] at North Carolina State University about two years ago. My teacher, who was Jewish, read some of my work and encouraged me to pursue Mordecai, even gave me background data on him. Mordecai was an impressive individual by any measure (as was the teacher).
Simply put, I like to write “out of character” and about what I don’t know.
As you are a poet and a former academic, how can teachers foster a love of poetry, rather than a fear of it, in their students?
I wish we’d expend some effort toward reviving the oral tradition—in our schools and not just in the World of Rap. My husband received a shock recently when a former student of his mother (an eighth-grade teacher) described how much he had learned from her about baseball. Emory didn’t know she knew anything about the subject, and we finally decided that she didn’t. One of her favorite poems was Ernest Lawrence Thayer’s “Casey at the Bat,” and she frequently recited it to her students. My own eighth-grade teacher read to us every day for a half-hour after lunch. I especially remember awaiting the next chapter of Les Miserables, but she read poems, too. Wonderful!
I wish teachers had “world enough, and time” to invite “us” [writers] in more often to read from and talk about our work. I was asked to write a performance poem for middle-schoolers; it turned out to be “Fun Is Phat Dope, Or, A Lot of Love in the Schoolroom Today” and was probably at least as much fun for me to write as for them to “perform.” When I visited a fifth-grade class some time back, the students had obviously been primed to have questions ready. I have a distinct image of this quite delightful African-American male student on the front row. He meant to be first with his question and most assuredly was. Here’s the poem I wrote about the episode:
Color THE WRITER
The fifth-graders had rather ask questions
than hear THE WRITER pontificate.
The plump young man on the front row
has waited his chance,
can wait no more:
“What is the name of your latest play?”
My tongue is a whirling dervish:
“Lillie Langtry’s ‘Lash La Rue Sweet Potatoes’ World Crusade, Or,
Why You Can’t Buy Quintussential Western Wear Boots!”
He fires back from the lip:
“Bet you can’t say that three times!”
Color THE WRITER blocked.
I have a feeling that, still, “the [teacher’s] the thing/Wherein [we’ll] catch the [interest] of the [would-be] king[s] [and queens].” I judged a high school poetry reading last year. The students gave every indication of boring one another. They don’t seem to hear much about audience responsibility.
By the way, the legacy of not allowing us to hear and recite poetry costs us writers, I think. How many of us are good readers of our own work? I don’t know very many, in fact find most readings embarrassing.
Is there anything else you wish to add that we have not covered, and what is next from Dr. Lynn Veach Sadler?
Thank you so much for interviewing me (and other writers) and for obviously having done homework of your own.
I am trying to work on the novel Tub to the Whale, meet umpteen deadlines, and “re-stock.” This year, as suggested above, is so given over to the Centennial of Lee County, that I need to write to replace the works that have “dropped” (been accepted for publication). I’ll be editing a book on General Crook.
Thanks once again and good luck with all of your future endeavors.
To read Norm's Review of Foot Ways CLICK HERE