{{{AUTHOR INTERVIEW}}} Milla Vander Have, author of Ghosts of Old Virginny @millavdh

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.



Q: Welcome to The Writer's Life!  Now that your book has been published, we’d love to find out more about the process.  Can we begin by having you take us at the beginning?  Where did you come up with the idea to write your book?

A: Thank you! The idea for writing my chapbook Ghosts of Old Virginny came while I was on a writer’s residency in Virginia City, Nevada. I was there to work on my novel, but while there, something happened. I remember one moment in particular. I was writing on the porch, which is my favorite place to write. So I was in the zone, working on a chapter and when I looked up, a herd of wild horses was grazing on the lawn. I hadn’t even heard them approach! That moment, I knew I had to do something with my surroundings because it was all so special, the
nature, the people, the horses. I began writing poems about it in my spare time. Now, I realized that Virginia City’s history isn’t my history, so I had to add my own perspective. I decided to take its history and legends as a starting point and reimagine them into something new. For instance, the story how Virginia City got her name has been transferred into a love poem, A Boomtown Love. Then, the poems became my guide to get to know Virginia City better and what I got to know about it, found its way back into the poems.

Q: How hard was it to write a book like this and do you have any tips that you could pass on which would make the journey easier for other writers?

A: This book was fairly easy to write, due to the productive nature of my stay in Virginia City. I wrote these poems when I wasn’t working on my novel. They were a way of relaxing. I would go on walk, look around and work that into a poem. That’s how I got one of the first poems I wrote for Ghosts of Old Virginny. It was on a walk to the cemeteries and I saw horse dung everywhere. I knew the wild horses hung out there as well. That resulted in the poem Silver Terrace Cemeteries. So many things I encountered are in this book, because Virginia City was such a wealth. Bernadette, the donkey I passed every day on my way to town, is in there. Figures of legend, like Julia C. Bulette, are in there. Even the tarantula hawks, fearsome critters as far as I’m concerned, are in there. And that would be my tip for other writers: find a place that inspires you and go there on a retreat if you can. Having a place that makes you so productive, that is, to stay in the terminology of Virginia City, pure gold.

Q: Who is your publisher and how did you find them or did you self-publish?

A: My publisher is Aldrich Press (an imprint of Kelsay Books). I found them online and 
submitted my manuscript. What spoke to me was their professionality in combination with their personal approach. The books they publish are the results of care and attention and that was exactly what I wanted. Within a week I got an email that they wanted to publish it.

Q: Is there anything that surprised you about getting your first book published?

A; Everything went very smooth. And what amazes me, still, is that we were able to get this done with me being in the Netherlands and Karen Kelsay, my publisher, in the US. And I had someone read through my poems before I sent in my final draft and she lives in Berlin. So it is a very international production, thanks to e-mail and Hangouts.

Q: What other books (if any) are you working on and when will they be published?

A: I am working on a novel. It’s quite a big project. It has echoes of Ulysses in that it’s set in Dublin, in the same street Leopold Bloom lives in. That is the starting point. And it shares the comprehensive approach. There are 12 point of view characters, whose tales are weaved together, so you can imagine it’s quite a project. Right now it’s in the second draft phase. I hope to be querying for an agent at the end of this year. Also I have a final draft ready of another place-inspired chapbook. This one I wrote during a vacation in Japan, so that's a whole different context than for Ghost of Old Virginny.

Q: What’s one fact about your book that would surprise people?

A: I think it is that the book is written by a non-native speaker. Almost 10 years ago I switched from writing in Dutch to writing in English. For no particular reason, other than that I read a lot in English. Somehow English feels like a more suitable language for me to write in. And maybe not a surprise, but I hope the book communicaties the wonder and awe of a stranger visiting the American West for the first time.

Q: Finally, what message (if any) are you trying to get across with your book?
A: There is no explicit message in my book. In fact, I am always intrigued by the possibility of text containing several meanings and messages at once. That is what I was looking for in this book too. For instance, there’s a story a local told me, about the last gunfight in Virginia City. I worked that into a poem that can be read as dealing with a relationship and being close to someone. Or the little spider skin above my door (which scared the heck out of me) that turned into Black Spider Moan, a poem about spiders as something much bigger, maybe even about our relationship with spiders as symbols or with nature in general. So I hope the poems can be read from different perspectives and contain many messages. I actually love to hear from people who read something I never expected in my poems. 

Q: Thank you again for this interview!  Do you have any final words?

A: I am very thankful for the chance I got to see this part of the US and delve into its history. Especially for a Dutch person, the American nature is awe-inspiring. I mean, the biggest bird I get to see at home is a seagull. In Virginia City vultures circled overhead as I walked. I had never expected the West would touch me so much, but it did. And I am thrilled to have Ghosts of Old Virginny as proof of that!

About the Book:

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.

Powered by Blogger.