Some years ago, I met Theresa Milstein at the annual conference of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI). She fascinated me. She was teaching grade school, working towards an additional master’s degree, taking care of two children—and writing. I was in awe of her dedication and energy. A couple of years later I convinced her to join my critique group and we began to read each other’s work. Theresa was sharing fantasy for young adult and middle grade readers with us, but privately she was indulging her passion for poetry. Her first collection, Time & Circumstance, a mixture of poetry and prose, will be published by Vine Leaves Press on March 21.
I asked Theresa how she got started writing her small pieces. She explained, “Ever since I began writing seriously, I’ve been signing up for workshops, conferences, and retreats to improve my craft. At some point, a poetry workshop was offered at the Cambridge Center for Adult Education. I thought learning how to write more sparely and lyrically would improve my longer pieces. I signed up. Nothing I wrote during that workshop was salvageable, but I learned a lot. In between novel-length manuscripts, I kept writing poetry. Here and there, I started submitting to literary journals.”
The prose pieces in her collection are quite short. Theresa calls them “vignettes.” I asked what sparked her interest in that particular literary form. She said, “Vine Leaves Literary Journal began as a platform for vignettes. Unlike a story, which has a beginning, middle, and end, a vignette is a moment captured, something that could fit on a vine leaf. The journal thought both prose and poetry could be vignettes, so I began submitting both. Vine Leaves accepted one of each in 2012.”
And her book, Time & Circumstance, how did that come to be?
“At some point, I sent the editor of Vine Leaves Literary Journal, Jessica Bell, a few poems for a project she was considering. That project fell through but she asked if I had enough pieces to make a collection for Vine Leaves Press. I knew I didn’t have enough poems, so I asked if I could include prose too. She agreed. Terrified, I sat on the idea for months. One day, I pulled all my vignettes into a single document. If I could find cohesion—and muster enough bravery—I would send the manuscript. It took a long time, but I finally hit the “send” button. It was accepted and now an actual book is coming out next week.”