Friday, October 28, 2016

Interview With Poet Lucas Scheelk

Poet Lucas Scheelk

1. What influenced you to start writing and how old were you when you started?

I started writing poetry when I was 13. I was infatuated with a boy, and that was the easiest method to express my feelings at the time. I remember having a class on poetry when I was 12, but completely scorned it and had zero interest in it. It was mostly due to the teacher, but it's easier to get into poetry if one discovers it on their own.

2. Do you have a writing routine? If so, what is it? If not, why not?

I can't write daily, or for long periods of time. I've had long term projects, but for poetry I work best in short spurts. In a short spurt, I can write without anyone else around, with the option for background noise, should I choose. Sometimes I'm working on more than one project at a time and have to divide up what I write and when.

Sometimes I have no motivation to write at all so poems will sit untouched for a while.

I don't know how other writers can write everyday, and/or can work in loud public spaces; I'd be unable to separate the noises enough to properly focus.

3. Your chapbook, This Is A Clothespin, deals with autism, being transgender, and self-harm. It is not a "fluffy" read. How did you decide to tackle those aspects of yourself in a chapbook? Was there ever a moment when you thought you shouldn't?

I wrote a lot of it as I was going through those experiences in my life (specifically the self-harm burns), either during or immediately after the incidents. At the time, I used that writing as a coping mechanism, to make sure I knew it was happening, that it what real, that I was't imagining it, that the pain exists.

As far as being autistic, once I started being more honest about it in my early 20s (after being diagnosed as a toddler and attempted to hide it for many years), it became the easiest thing for me to write about. The hate directed at me and other autistic people - I could turn that into recognition, solidarity, hope, love (though it might not seem like it in TIAC) on paper.

I did have moments where I questioned whether I really wanted people to know some of the darkest parts of me, the self-loathing that still manifests, in part, from the shame of being disabled. But, the thought that always overpowered my hesitation that was someone else would need this affirmation more.

The market for autism writing is STILL mostly written by non-autistic people.

The literature on self-harm for autistic people mostly only talks about stimming. There's very little literature about non-stimming related self-harm, very little mention about the fact that many of us also have co-morbid diagnosis of mental illness, and how it affects us as we live in a world that actively hates us.

There were more moments of, "I need to write more about my pain" than not. It's been healing for me as well.

4. What draws you to writing poetry, and not, say, novels?

The length!

I used to be an English major for 6 years, and writing essays was figuratively the death of me! I can't imagine being able to write a novel.

There's a lot of wiggle room in poetry regarding length. I learned a lot of different poetic forms while in university, and after a while I got a feel as to which forms worked for me, and which didn't. I love writing acrostics and free verse especially.

5. Your second poetry chapbook, Holmes Is A Person As Is, is about the fictional detective Sherlock Holmes who, as I understand it, is neurodivergent.  What other projects are you involved with that revolve around Holmes and his variants?  What about him interests you so much?

Other than frequently finding ways to write poems about Sherlock Holmes (that's where my acrostic writing comes in!):

·  I run a tumblr blog called Autistic Sherlock in Elementary. I started it in March 2014 as a way to recap, in each episode, the ways in which Sherlock Holmes in the Elementary adaptation is autistic-coded (meaning not canonically autistic, but there are signs). In early 2016, the show introduced Fiona Helbron, a canonically autistic (she prefers the term neuroatypical) woman who becomes Sherlock's romantic interest. With Fiona's inclusion into the show, I wrote about Fiona, whether she counts as good autistic representation, and the differences between how a canonically autistic character and an autistic coded character are written within the same show.
·  I am sometimes a panelist at fan run Sherlockian conventions. In 2015, I was a panelist for "Neurodiversity in Sherlock," and "Elementary, My Dear Watson," at 221B Con. Later this month, I'll be one of the panelists for "Neurodiversity in Sherlock and Watson," and 3 other panels, for Sherlock Seattle/Watson Washington 2016.
·  In 2015, I was a consultant for S(her)lock: The Web Series []. Their Sherlock Holmes is autistic coded (because Maine in 1995), so I looked over the scripts to oversee consistent mannerisms, sensory issues within the character, etc.

The thing that interests me so much about Sherlock Holmes is the fact that they're so relatable to me in many ways. Even back in the original canon, the mannerisms and interests, to me, scream that they've never been neurotypical. 

Of course there's arguments over whether the original was autistic (of which I say - even if you disagree with Holmes being one of us, autistic people have always existed, even if the modern terminology hasn't), but the safest route in my opinion is to find other disabled Holmesians to squee and debate with. I'm not joking.

6. You self-published Holmes Is a Person As Is. Why self-publish?

Mainly because I could choose my own publishing schedule.

Also because I could choose my own price as well. For this chapbook, it's completely free on PDF format.

Other than the commissions I got to write some of the pieces in the chapbook, it wouldn't be right for me to charge for solely Sherlock Holmes poetry. There's a limited amount of accessible Holmesian poetry out there, so by making it free, I could make it accessible to more people.

7. Have you had to deal with ableism in the publishing industry?  If there were any specific incidents, how did they turn out?

Thankfully nothing too terrible in comparison to others' experiences.

One publisher, two years ago, only wanted to publish a quarter of my "This Is A Clothespin" poem. At the time, it was 4 pages long (now it's only 2 and 1/2 pages long). Cutting some of the poem for editing/space in the publication is understandable.

However, cutting out the majority of the piece, where it talks about how neurotypical society disenfranchises autistic people, was very suspicious to me.

So I rejected the publication.

My literary baby was going to have a home in its entirety, or not at all.

Most of the ableism in the publishing industry comes from the not-so-subtle language, both from publications and from other poets.

Starting with "blind submission" - I won't speak more on that because I'm not blind, but that's one example.

8. Are you working on a new poetry collection or project?  If so, how is it going?

A poetry chapbook that I completed before "Holmes Is A Person As Is," entitled, "A Prayer For A Non-Religious Autistic," is still in search of its literary home.

One would think that I should take a break from writing, given that Clothespin was published in Jan 2016 (Damaged Goods Press), Prayer was completed in May 2016, and that Holmes was started in July 2016 and published this month.

But one never knows. Earlier this year, I started on a project where I'd write an acrostic poem based on each of the original Sherlock Holmes stories by Conan Doyle (the ones in the public domain, anyway). I might start that up again after some rest.

9. Who are your literary influences/favorite writers? (They need not be disabled/neurodivergent.)

I'm glad that this says writers and not poets, because I tend to lose people when I say I read more fanfiction than anything else.

With my executive functioning and attention span always rollercoastering, it's a lot easier for me to just start off with a fanfic already knowing the characters and their universe.

When I was younger, I was really into Anne Rice's Vampires, Dracula, Phantom of the Opera, Frankenstein, Stephen King novels, etc. I'm drawn to characters who are shunned by society, whether because they're queer-coded, disabled, etc.

I'm a big fan of John Finnemore's. He wrote Cabin Pressure, which is a radio comedy about airline pilots. There's transcripts available online, which really really helped me out back when I got into the show.

10. What advice do you have for aspiring poets?

Figure out which writing style and schedule works for you. 

Don't be afraid to go raw (or be afraid as you do so; some of it is frightening!). 

Acknowledge where you've gone wrong as a writer (racism, sexism, ableism, etc.) and don't do it again. 

Don't compare yourself to any other writer.


Lucas Scheelk is a white, autistic, trans, queer-identified poet from the Twin Cities. Lucas uses they/them/their pronouns. They are the author of This Is A Clothespin (Damaged Goods Press, 2016), and Holmes Is A Person As Is (2016). Their writing has appeared in publications such as Sibling Rivalry Press – Assaracus, Barking Sycamores, Glitterwolf Magazine, THEM, and QDA: A Queer Disability Anthology, among others. Lucas Scheelk was a recipient of the VSA Minnesota Emerging Artist grant for 2016. You can reach them on Twitter [@TC221Bee], and Facebook [@lucasscheelk].

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