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Tuesday, February 03, 2009


Interview with James Tipton, Runner-Up

Interviewed by: Anne Greenawalt

James Tipton lives with his wife Martha and his daughter Gabriela in the tropical mountains of central Mexico in the town of Chapala, south of Guadalajara. His collection of poems, Letters from a Stranger (Conundrum Press, 1999), with a Foreword by Isabel Allende, won the Colorado Book Award. He has a particular interest in short poems and short (including flash) fiction. A collection of haiku, Proposing to the Woman in the Rear View Mirror, has just been published (October 2008) and a collection of tanka, five-line poems, All the Horses of Heaven will shortly be published (January 2009) by Modern English Tanka Press (http://www.modernenglishtankapress/).

Jim is currently completing a collection of short stories set in Mexico, Three Tamales for the Señor, many of them about expatriates living south of the border, and a collection of short poems, Washing Dishes in the Ancient Village, set in Mexico and Latin America, which is finished and is being translated into Spanish to be published very soon in a bilingual edition.

He lives in a “high-estrogen” house consisting of his wife, daughter, two female dogs, a female cat, and various young mothers who make their appearance almost daily (often with their daughters) to visit his wife and daughter. All of these females serve from time to time to inspire him and to provide him with subject matter; and if nothing else they give him lots of excuses to retreat to his upstairs office to write, versus all the excuses not to write that he used to come up with when he was single.

James Tipton's latest book, Proposing to the Woman in the Rear View Mirror, has just been released. It is a collection of haiku and senyru, three-line poems, some about the natural world, some about the human world. William J. Higginson, author of The Haiku Handbook, says these poems are "by a man who is not afraid to be himself," who can tell "the truths of his mind without flinching or apology".

Proposing to the Woman in the Rear View Mirror can be ordered on line for $9.95 plus shipping and handling at

James placed as a Runner Up in the WOW! Summer Flash Fiction Contest. If you haven't done so already, read his winning story, Howard and Helen Play House, and then come back for a chat!

WOW: Congratulations on placing in the Summer 2008 Flash Fiction Contest! I see that you are already an accomplished writer of short poetry. And based on your award-winning entry, I’d say you have a gift for saying a lot in only a few words. Do you find it challenging to make the transition between writing shorter and longer pieces? If so, in what ways to do you find it challenging?

James: I've always loved short poetry and short fiction. But I think about "short" poetry and "short" fiction a very "long" time. While others dash out thousands and thousands of words, I muse over what I want to say, and then I diligently work and rework what few words I finally end up with. I was influenced by reading Kenneth Rexroth's translations of short poems from the Japanese and the Chinese, mostly love poems. My own poems, as Isabel Allende points out in her Foreword to my book of poetry, Letters from a Stranger, are often about "ordinary experiences--wings, canyons, rocks, flesh--but mainly about that other extraordinary" Love (and its various facets) for me, is always immediate, experienced in the moment, and somehow this is related to why I write short love poems.

I do like working on longer pieces of fiction, though, but rarely over 8,000 words. Right now I have almost completed a collection of short stories about expatriates living in Mexico, titled Three Tamales for the Señor. And all of them, one way or another, are about love.

And speaking of Mexico, I have a collection of 100 short poems (generally three lines) about Mexico and Latin America (but also about love) that is coming out in a couple of weeks, titled Washing Dishes in the Ancient Village. (I live in Mexico, but the book will be distributed in the states by Bread & Butter Press, 1150 S. Glencoe, Denver, CO 80246.)

And still on the subject of short poems, Modern English Tanka Press, which recently published a collection of my haiku, Proposing to the Woman in the Rear View Mirror, will publish a collection of my tanka (a 5-line Japanese form) in February titled All the Horses of Heaven. (

Both All the Horses of Heaven and Washing Dishes in the Ancient Village are published bi-lingually (with Spanish translations).

WOW: Congratulations on your recent and upcoming publications! We’ll have to keep an eye out for them. You’ve mentioned that many of your poems and short stories are about expatriates living south of the border. Are you an expatriate? How did you come to make the decision to live in Mexico, and how long have you been living there?

James: For decades, actually, I have wandered around Mexico and parts of Latin America. The Hispanic culture is richly textured, closer to the earth, more connected to magic, and at least in the little towns the people care a lot about each other, and children, and neighbors. The violence that has developed because of the drug business (to provide the United States with "product") is beginning to touch all of us, though--I personally know of five murders in our little village--Chapala--this past month or so.

I am married to a Mexican woman, Martha, who grew up in a little Indian village near the Pacific...dirt floors, thatched roofs...the type of childhood I think I sometimes hungered for, and we have a lovely daughter, Gabriela. I have been living here full-time for about five years. Prior to that I was a beekeeper and writer in the high desert region of western Colorado.

WOW: How did your story “Howard and Helen Play House” take root?

James: I like "heroes" and so many stories I read are about sad losers who allow circumstances to determine their lives. Helen in my story "Howard and Helen Play House" is not, finally, a loser, and like the classic hero she does not allow her situation to destroy her. The catalyst for change that wakes her up is when her husband throws an unopened can of tuna at her and splits open her forehead. I have left relationships that began as romantic ones after a significant and defining event, a variation of that can of tuna tossed so carelessly and callously at Helen. Helen discovers she is a strong woman, much stronger than Howard has ever imagined.

When she walks out, she is no longer a child "playing house" with another child, her husband Howard.

WOW: What do you believe is your greatest writing accomplishment, and what do you hope to accomplish in the future?

James: I don't think much about accomplishments past, present, or future, although awards come my way now and then. Letters from a Stranger, for example, won the Colorado Book Award.

I think a lot about words, about love, about real things that have happened to me and to others, and then I like to distill those thoughts and experiences into poetry or fiction, usually short poetry or fiction. I suppose my greatest accomplishment is that I've stuck with it for decades without much real success in the way people usually think about writers and success.

The "sound" of words is also very important to me and for years I have read aloud what I have been writing and rewriting, feeling the taste of those some strange way it is almost erotic to me.

WOW: Sticking with something that you love, with or without traditional success, is definitely a great accomplishment and I commend you for being able to do that. Do you have any tips for aspiring writers?

James: Don't think much about being a writer. Think about writing.

Let yourself be seduced by your own heart and then see what happens to you.

Advice? Maybe there is some hidden in my poem, "One Night I Picked up in a Bar," which begins:

One night I picked up in a bar
a woman named Poetry,
and she was drunk, or I was drunk,
but at any rate I took her home
and listened to her.

If you haven't done so already, read James' award-winning story "Howard and Helen Play House".

Enter the WOW! Women On Writing Winter Flash Fiction Contest, open now. Deadline: February 28, 2009.

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