Indie Spotlight: Mackenzie Leanne and Swimming in the Black

My fifth indie spotlight is about Mackenzie Leanne and her debut collection of poetry Swimming in the Black.

About the book:

Swimming in the Black is a collection of poems and prose chronicling thoughts of spiraling into heartbreak, anxiety, and depression; the feelings relating to searching for someone; emotions of love; and life as a new adult.

My review:

Swimming in the Black is a collection split in to five parts, chronicling the different emotions in love and heartbreak. Mackenzie’s poems are often short and punchy, and the natural order they’re written in feels less curated than other collections, which I ended up really liking!

There’s great use of page layout in the book- poems aren’t all situated on the same place on the page, which drew me to certain poems throughout. I never really consider the ways in which layout makes an impact until I see it done well!

The collection might not resonate with everyone, as is the way of all poetry, but for anyone who has experienced heartbreak or a relationship that drains your soul- especially if you’ve later found love or fulfilment- there’s likely something that will strike a chord.

Interview with Mackenzie Leanne:

I chatted to Mackenzie Leanne about her experience of publishing independently!

How have you found indie publishing so far?

Independent publishing is tough. Word of mouth is the most important way to get your work noticed, but as an independent author this can be difficult without an established following. Sharing my work is something very new to me, so finding that audience has still been an endeavor. It may have been best to try to form that audience before publishing, but I was impatience and excited. I am just starting to realize however that there are a niche of people who want to help indie authors succeed, and that has been really great to see and gives me hope.

So what made you choose to go the independent route?

I went with self-publishing because I wanted to share my work. It is uncertain of if, or when, an author will hear back from a publishing company, and I no longer wanted to keep my poems to myself. It may be the harder path, the least likely to succeed path, but I am still happy with my choice.

Any experience of the other side of the publishing coin?

The only traditional publishing experience I have is through being a co-author on two psychology research papers. In my undergrad at university I was involved in a research lab, and through that experience I coded data and edited a paper for publication. That experience does not allow you to be creative, and it is kind of hard to compare it to publishing novels.

So speaking of word of mouth and finding a new audience, tell me about your debut and where people can find your work!

My debut poetry collection, Swimming in the Black, is more poetry than prose, but I think that is the new trend with poetry. In fact, that is what got me interested in writing poetry. Before, I was not interested in writing in the genre. I have written drafts of dystopian, fantasy, and contemporary, but never poetry. Realizing I did not have to write something that fit a certain schematic in poetry, really opened my eyes and my creativity. It has been an interesting experience to realize I like writing in this genre. The themes that I cover in this collection are related to anxiety, depression, heartbreak, love, and life as a new adult. They are based upon my own experiences – sometimes directly and sometimes more loosely. Swimming in the Black can currently be found on Amazon.

Soft in the Middle by Shelby Eileen

I’ve seen the cover of Soft in the Middle around the internet for a while now and it’s been on my ‘to read’ list the whole time because it’s just so beautiful. Now that I’ve read it I can confirm that the inside is just as beautiful as the outside.

A lot of this book hit me hard. I have so many pages bookmarked so I can read them again and again:

you think too much love could break a thing like you
but one day the right love will walk through your doors
turn a different light on each day
blow dust off of one thing at a time

and will know that your heart requires one who treads carefully

Seriously, this book is so powerful. Many of the poems revolve around body image, heartbreak, love and loving women and each one packs such an emotional punch. I adore the current influx of modern poetry and the fact that Soft in the Middle references body image, asexuality, struggling to let go and societal pressure means I want more and more from Shelby Eileen.

If you’re not a fan of modern poetry then this book may not be for you, but if you’re open to reading more poetry then I really recommend Soft in the Middle. It’s short, but powerful and- to me- immensely relatable.

Indie Spotlight: Fariha Khayyam and Shards

So this is the first in a series of posts I’m making highlighting independent writers that deserve more recognition! First up is Fariha Khayyam and her collection of poetry, Shards, published through Createspace back in December 2017.

About the book

This girl,
is shattered
and broken.

she fights back
to rise
and reform.

This is
Her journey…
Her Shards…

SHARDS is a modern-poetry collection.
It is about the journey of a girl as she struggles to come to terms with what she has endured. It is divided into four sections, where each section covers a major aspect of her journey. And how she gains the courage to stand up and give herself second chance at life and people. It explores various topics such as: solitude, abuse, racism, suicide, grief, and negativity.

My review!

Shards is a beautiful book. It’s both hopeful and painful at the same time, covering such deep topics as abuse, suicide and building yourself back up after trauma. It’s always difficult to be objective when reading poetry that taps in to such personal experiences, but for me it’s an incredible thing to be able to get insight in to another’s experience, whilst also being able to relate at times. Personally, it spoke to me.

Modern poetry often gets, unfairly and unjustifiably, a bad reputation. But Shards is proof that the style is meant to portray something deeper than critics assume. It’s raw, it’s heartbreaking and it’s uplifting all at once.

Being an independent writer.

I talked to Fariha about her experience of independent publishing so far, why she took that route and what’s in store for the future.

It’s been a learning curve, really. I had heard mixed things about self-publishing before, but upon doing it myself, I’d want to stick to it. It’s the flexibility I like in it. You are your own boss, no deadlines, no long waiting duration, unlike traditional publishing, where querying can easily take up to three months.

I always wanted to write a book, and I always wanted to self-publish it. (which I did!) but going forward I’d like to take the more traditional approach, however if that doesn’t go too well, I’ll be happy to return to self-publishing.

I am working on two very different genres. I’d like to publish them once (if ever) I finish writing them. I also occasionally write short stories. You can find them all here:

What about advice to aspiring writers looking to go down the independent route?

I’d say go for it. Though you’d have to work extra hard on your marketing skills to get the book out there in the hands of your readers, but other than that, all other steps will be considerably easier, than traditional publishing.

And finally…

If you want the chance to win a paperback copy of this gorgeous collection then you have until 7th April to enter the Goodreads giveaway!

Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds

I bought this one on a whim off the back of seeing it all over twitter in the run up to its release. Didn’t even look at what it was about, which I have been known to do when people I trust recommend a book. So I was especially pleased to find out that it was a novel in verse, which are a very under appreciated medium in my humble opinion!

Long Way Down tells a powerful story over the course of 67 seconds of Will’s life; from the point he steps in to an elevator determined to kill the man he thinks shot his brother to when he steps out on the ground floor. On each floor another person steps in to join him, each one from his brother’s past and there to give him another piece of an ultimately tragic puzzle.

2017 has been a bit of a year of poetry for me. After having shunned it since university five years ago I’ve been hooked on modern poetry recently! Long Way Down combines everything I love about it; gut wrenching themes, varying form and it draws you in to a narrative. That it’s also making such a heart breaking comment on gun crime makes it all the more powerful. We see Will’s turmoil over whether to follow the ‘rules’ he’s been taught by his brother, or to move forward in his own way and also see how gun crime in poor neighbourhoods can have ramifications that last generations. It’s a fantastic book that I read in one sitting and would thoroughly recommend.

#NotYourPrincess ed. by Lisa Charleyboy and Mary Beth Leatherdale

#NotYourPrincess is a collection of stories, essays, poetry, art and photography that aims to show what life is like for Native women living in America. It’s a short book- only 112 pages- but it packs a powerful punch. This was one ARC that I was very excited to be approved for. I have #NotYourPrincess on preorder already (and I really think that reading it on my kindle did not do it the full justice it deserves- I’m very excited to see that art and photography in print proper.) and have heard great things about it already.

The book contains variety of styles, my favourite being the ‘visual scrapbooks’ illustrated by Sierra Edd containing poetry and shorter thoughts about life and childhood as a Native woman. Each piece of writing is interspersed with artwork and photographs; there’s a fantastic number and range of contributors to this book. 

For an Own Voices review of #NotYourPrincess I’d like to point you in the direction of my friend Weezie’s review. I can’t personally speak for the quality of representation for Native woman myself but I trust the opinions of Native reviewers who I have seen applauding it so far.

#NotYourPrincess is released on 12th September in the US and 10th October in the UK and I would urge you all to preorder it. It’s a beautiful book that gives a voice to a group of women that have so often found their words ignored.

(TW for suicide, self harm, abuse and death)

Outside the XY edited by Morgan Mann Willis

Outside the XY is one of those books that feels like it should have been around for years- a collection of own Voices essays on why it means to be black or brown and live outside of cis manhood- but given the nature of publishing has arrived now to give a voice to people so comprehensively shunned by the Big Five.

Outside the XY is a powerful anthology; no two entries are alike and they show a real scope of experience. For someone who very much lives in the realm of white cis womanhood the book is clearly not written with me in mind but it remains an educational and thought provoking read. More importantly, for people who see themselves echoed within the writing I can only imagine how important that must be. There are so many viewpoints and topics covered; from black trans men trying to balance masculinity and not upholding the patriarchy to non-binary Native people speaking about the colonial nature of binary genders.

Understandly, there are some portions that are difficult to read (TW for anti-trans behaviour aimed at the writers in their stories, domestic abuse and self harm) but overall it’s an uplifting book about learning to love yourself completely. 

Twenty Love Poems and A Song of Despair by Pablo Neruda

I was recommended Twenty Love Poems and A Song of Despair for my Chile book by a friend on Facebook and read it in one sitting (it’s a fairly short book). This is the fourth book I’ve reviewed for Read the World project and probably, so far, the one I’ve enjoyed the least. Not because I’m sure Pablo Neruda isn’t a genius, but because it turns out I don’t enjoy translated poetry (poetry in general I’m slightly iffy with). Which is my failing really. It’s not that I didn’t enjoy it at all, just that it took a few reads for me to get my head around the poems.

I picked this one because I wanted to branch out from novels and short stories and poetry seemed like another layer (I also have some memoirs on my list). Pablo Neruda’s background fascinated me too, the idea of a politician who is also a poet is fairly outside my realm of understanding.

Objectively, the poems are beautiful representations of love and desire and I loved it the fact that my edition of the book included the original poems as well as the translation. My Spanish is awful, but I enjoyed trying to understand them before reading the translation.