Writing the Book: Frankenstein & the Phoenix

Phoenix flying from candle with candlewick in mouth attached to stitching needle

It’s been a while since I went behind the scenes. And for this week, I want to dive into writing the book Frankenstein & the Phoenix.

I wrote the majority of this poetry collection in two weeks. Yes, two.

NYT Bestseller, Jeffrey Blount, review

Picture the moment: I’m sitting at a stoplight while running errands. As usual, my mind is pouring over writing ideas. What works, what doesn’t. And for a while, a single thought keeps reappearing. I hate that the Frankenstein story is so cheap. Mary Shelley’s great masterpiece is reduced to a chintzy Halloween figure rather than the exploration of life and death she meant it to be.

I go through keywords in my head related to this topic. Life, death, mortality, human frailty. Then it comes.


Yes, that’s the one. With water jug in hand, I drive across the 5-mile long James River Bridge mulling over what this word means to me and to others I know. And I can’t help but think of fire. The image of a phoenix suddenly hits me, and I chew the inside of my mouth. A good analogy- both figures experience the resurrection process, but one is artificial and the other organic… Will people get it?

Doris Gwaltney review

Two mythological creatures with deeper meaning but cheapened by commercialism; a bit of a daunting task to reclaim through poetry. But I love the idea of examining what it means to rebuild oneself through unnatural means versus letting the process happen. And even as I reach my destination, I’m more determined than ever.

So yeah, I didn’t let much stop me.

A regional independent publisher had been urging me to publish a book with him. I’d put it off for almost a year, prioritizing my Ph.D. research. But in this moment, I tap my cellphone thoughtfully. Taking the leap, I email him a simple question: What if I give you the draft for a book in two weeks?

Ann Falcone Shalaski review

A series of email exchanges follow, and he’s interested. When he asks me the name, I shoot off my gamble title (though I know it’s the one I’ll fight for): Frankenstein & the Phoenix. To my surprise, it strikes him and he doesn’t fight it. A raised eyebrow perhaps, but not push-back. He wants the draft, and I set to work.

I craft a larger story.

So many poetry books these days are centered on a story that is only about the author. I often refer to it in conversation as “diary poetry.” And that’s fine, but it’s not my style. I want my work to be broader in reach, and not just be a story of my life. Sure, my experiences are in it. But they are laced and woven with the stories of others, deepening the connection of the theme. At some time or another, we must all choose whether to stitch ourselves together or burn and be reborn.

If you open the book, you’ll find it to be a comprehensive story. Of hope, betrayal, youth, womanhood, isolation, resurrection, courage. And, ultimately, love. From the threads of story, I fashioned this collection to speak to individuals who know what it’s like to be broken. And despite the distance between us, imagine that it is my way of reaching out, taking your hand in mine, and saying: You are made of powerful things. Embrace that.

In Courage & Care,


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