Saturday, July 28, 2012

Interview with Alice Osborn

Originally from Washington, D.C., and born there in "the winter after Watergate to a French mother and a civil servant father," Alice Osborn grew up in South Carolina before she migrated at bit farther west and north.  Her past educational and work experience is unusually varied, and it now feeds her work as a freelance writer and as an editor, mentor and marketing consultant for writers.  She teaches classes and writing workshops to aspiring authors of nearly all ages ("9 to 90"), both in person and online. For more details on her workshops, visit  

AFTER THE STEAMING STOPS is her most recent collection of poetry; previous collections are Right Lane Ends, and Unfinished Projects. The latter prompted these remarks from author Homer Hickam: "I love Alice's poetry.  She gives me thoughts I've never thought, and dreams I've never dreamed.  She uses words like a master potter—molding the clay of the mind into vessels that hold not things, but life, place, and time."  AFTER THE STEAMING STOPS seems a book more of broken dreams than of new or unexpected ones.  There is no sentimentality in the face of death, departures, endings: "Loss reminds you about change, / and what you are willing to throw away." The funeral of a princess becomes backdrop for a more intimate loss,
and tears betray determination more than grief: "... I cry for another death coming. / It's time for me to move out of his place, / tell him what he's afraid to say, / and take his fat cat and a few towels in the parting."  

Deirdra: When did you first know you wanted to be an author?              

Alice: I’ve always wanted to be an author and always felt this sense that I was different from my peers—I didn’t take writing in college, but always had excelled in English and writing in high school, because I had been programmed by my parents that taking liberal studies/humanities is not something you do to get a job. Turned out that my Finance degree didn’t get me a job, either! After working for years at Belk first in advertising, then in store management and lastly as a buyer, I left after my son was born and did what I needed to do to become a professional writer. I got my graduate degree in Rhetoric/Composition from NC State, took more classes, read, become a mentee to many writing teachers, facilitated writing workshops for other writers, and then in 2006 started Write from the Inside Out. Incidentally, 2006 was also the year I published my first book, Right Lane Ends.

Deirdra:  What makes you passionate about writing?

Alice:  I love unleashing my quirky voice and sense of humor out into the world as well as taking creative risks with my work. I know it in my body when I take a risk when I write about things that are inappropriate or kind of weird—I feel right that I was willing to take that chance and stretch my writing without an audience or anyone looking over my shoulder. And the payoff is wonderful when someone reads my work and gets me—this reaction just fuels the passion and makes me know that I’m doing what I was meant to do.

Deirdra: What was the pathway like for you to get your first book published?

Alice: I self-published my first book of poems, Right Lane Ends, with Catawba Publishing Company in 2006. I wrote all of the poems in Right Lane Ends over the course of just four months from April to August 2006. Talk about a real burst of creativity! My poems emerged from auditing a summer poetry class at NC State and taking a one-week intensive women’s poetry workshop. After I wrote these twenty or so poems, I had them edited and reviewed by my wonderful weekly poetry group. Then I consulted with my boss at the time who was a self-published author herself, and she gave me the confidence to call up Catawba and work up the contract. At the time I had also scheduled my book’s book launch for October 13th at our favorite local coffee shop so I knew that I had to get order my books by Labor Day so I could get my books delivered a few days before the launch—and it happened!

Deirdra:  Where do your ideas come from?  How do you know the idea is good enough to write a book about it?

Alice: I get ideas from anywhere and I know the idea is good enough when I feel my arms tingle. Have your arms ever tingled when you’ve felt a good idea? For example, I got the title of my book, After the Steaming Stops from an Aunt Jemima waffle box—if you check out the instructions on the back you’ll see some of the boxes say, “Bake until the steaming stops” after you’ve poured the batter into a hot waffle iron.  I love to make waffles on Sunday mornings and came across this phrase—and thought, “how intriguing.” I changed it to “After the Steaming Stops,” to reveal what happens after the anger and after the love is gone. Many of my poems use domestic imagery and I also wanted the title to have an element of danger—which is steaming. Steam will burn you and it can also melt your love. Love is represented by the frozen popsicle heart that’s being lowered via ladle into the pressure cooker. In this case steam, one of the three states of water, is a metaphor for love in my book. Some love is solid (you know it’s unconditional), some liquid (it flows all around you and you know it’s there), some is steam (it’s in the vapors and you don’t know if it really even exists).

Deirdra:  Can you tell us a little about your book, After the Steaming Stops.

Alice: All of my poems in my book are stories, or narrative poems, about love’s flare-ups and endings. They are mostly true stories of what happened to me as a three-, eight -or ten-year old and how inappropriate my parents acted with me. As a kid, I remembered these incidents, locked them into my head so one day I could write about them. All of the quotations from my folks are real. Some poems weigh more on the father than the mother to give them equal time and I’m sympathetic with both. I also love to write about death! I also have two historical poems about a near death and a death and how they affected me. My poem “Early” is about a train engineer who kills someone on the tracks just because he was doing his job. I got the idea from that poem by reading the paper. The article said that over the course of a train operator’s career, they will kill three people on average.

Deirdra:  What’s your secret to making the characters in your books come to life?

Alice: My endings! I like to give readers an unexpected punch in the final line. I use stories and images that will stay in your brain for years (so sorry about that!) and many of my poems include my dry sense of humor, too. My poetry is very accessible and easy to understand BUT the more you read my poetry, you’ll discover more layers and more intrigue! I feel the emotion and sometimes see the image I want to end on, but have to enter the writing process in order to find the right words. I investigate where the emotional hot points are in the poem and either make a statement or find the right image that captures the essence of that poem. I also work very hard to make sure that the poem has earned its ending and everything that I’ve already written has climbed that mountain to the end.

Deirdra:  Besides writing what other talents or hobbies do you have?

Author:  I love to sing and have started voice lessons. I’ve even sung at several of my poetry reading events! I run, hike and organize a monthly book club so that I keep up with my reading even if I’m very busy. I love networking and connecting good people with each other.

Deirdra:  What are you working on now?

Author: I’m working on a full length collection of poems and have about 10 written so far. The theme is pop culture, historical figures and celebrities—sort of like a Jeopardy! Board. Predator, Kathy Griffin, the Devil, Hamburger Helper, Captain Bligh, and the Road Runner will all be making cameos.

Deirdra: What words of advice do you have for other writers who desire to have their manuscripts become books in print?

Alice: It’s all about making an appointment with yourself on the calendar and giving your own work top priority. I choose certain days of the week to get my own work done and this further trains my brain to get into the creative spirit. I’ve also found that contests, publication deadlines and open mics help me get motivated to produce new work and they can help you! Even when I was on maternity leave four years ago I wrote every day and used my online and offline poetry groups to keep me accountable. My advice is to write down your deadlines in your daily planner or on your smart phone. Also you need to write down your writing goals and be specific. How many markets do you want to submit to in a month? When you do you want your first draft of your book ready? Writing your goals down will make them real and measurable and will fuel your desire. You can also give yourself a reward when you do reach your goal—my reward is hanging out on Pinterest or Facebook.

There are consequences when you’re an artist not practicing your craft: if you aren’t consistent with your work and procrastinate by being too busy, you’ll lose your creativity and it’ll be so much harder to get back into the game. I write in some shape or form every day. It may not be a poem, but it’s certainly rewrites for a client, a blog post, an article, an essay, or a proposal. Professional writers write and keep producing no matter if they feel sick or if they know they’re work is crap or if they are too busy. They just do it.

Deirdra: Where can readers go to find your books and order them?

Author: That’s easy! Go to and you can order After the Steaming Stops right from my home page. You can also order my book through Amazon. I’ll personally sign your copy and give you a custom-made bookmark.

Deirdra: Any final words you would like to share?
Author: If you want to be a writer love books and read everything in sight! Join a book club so you can see how the masters craft sentences you will one day craft. Take writing classes either online or in person. Go to Open Mics, conferences and writers’ guilds in your area so you can meet other writers. Most importantly, you need to connect with other writers and join a writing group—you’ll need these folks as you ascend in your career and to keep you accountable.

Thank you so much. It’s a real honor to get your insights.


  1. I enjoyed the interview very much. I loved reading about how Alice drew from her own life to write.


Share |