Self-Published Saturday/Grief Songs

Self-Published Saturday is my attempt to showcase works by self-published authors. Saturdays are dedicated solely to self-published/indie authors and their works. These authors have to do it all, from editing to cover design to marketing. Self-published Saturday (or SPS) is my effort to try and help with the marketing side of things as much as I can. I also need your help in the form of sharing this post with your social media followers to give these authors more exposure. Today I want to bring your attention to a wonderful book of poems by Elizabeth Gaffreau. Written in Tanka style, they are a tribute to her departed family members. Liz also agreed to answer some questions for us, so don’t miss the Q&A below!

BOOK REVIEW

Grief Songs is a beautiful collection of Tanka poems, accompanied by family photographs. Each poem pays tribute to a family member and often goes behind the scenes, telling us what is happening “beyond the frame.” It is a wonderful and unique look at a family, both good times and bad.

To anyone who is unfamiliar with tanka poems, here is a quick definition: Tanka poems are Japanese in origin. They are very specifically 31 syllables, 5 lines. The first line has five syllables, the second 7, the third 5, and the last two lines have 7. The first three lines are supposed to evoke an image, and the last two describe an action or emotion based on that image.

In Grief Songs, Gauffreau gives heartfelt tributes to her mother, father, and brother George. Some will make you laugh, and some will draw a tear. My absolute favorite is Angelic, which is aptly named. It is accompanied by the most adorable, and yes, angelic, portrait of two children I have ever seen. Liz and her brother George look like the most beautiful, well-behaved kids ever to sit for a portrait in the history of time. However, the the last two lines of the accompanying tanka read: “George had cried piteous tears/while I railed against my bangs.” This made me laugh out loud–maybe not so angelic! The bangs in question remind me of a lot of pictures in my own family album of home haircuts where the bangs ended up a little too short, usually right before a school picture. This is just one example of the way Gauffreau brings the photos to life with her poetry.

Gauffreau’s ability to weave poems, even poems with strict guidelines, into very descriptive stories is quite evident in this book. A Goodwill Love Story is a great example of that. She describes her parents’ meeting, courtship, and marriage in 5 lines, 31 syllables, and we see pictures in our minds that go far beyond the accompanying photo.

Grief Songs will inspire you to pull out your own family album, remember your lost loved ones, and think about the stories behind the photos. It is a beautifully constructed book of memories full of joy, admiration, and pain.

I received a pdf from the author and also purchased the ebook. My review is voluntary and my opinions are my own.

Grief Songs will be released tomorrow, September 26, 2021.

BUY GRIEF SONGS

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BOOK TRAILER

Q&A WITH ELIZABETH GAUFFREAU

Thanks so much Liz, for answering my questions today.  I am so pleased to review your book, and I’ve become a big fan of your writing.

Thank you very much, Bonnie. I’m delighted to be here. I enjoy following your book review blog. You are a voracious reader!

Let’s go beyond the bio.  Could you tell us a little more about yourself?.  What are your hobbies and interests outside of writing? 

I lived in Virginia for a number of years when my husband was in the Navy. While living there, he and I developed a keen interest in exploring historic sites and historic homes. The Colonial Parkway and Jamestown Island outside of Williamsburg were our favorite spots to visit. 

We also enjoy being out in Nature and exploring the back roads of northern New Hampshire and Vermont. After being away for so long, I was very surprised to discover how many dirt roads still remain.

Grief Songs is a collection of Tanka poetry that delves into the grieving process.  What was your inspiration for this book, and why did you decide on Tanka poetry?

I had no intention of writing a book of tanka until two things in my life converged. The first was reading Colleen Chesebro’s syllabic poetry blog and trying my hand at writing a tanka just out of curiosity to see if I could do it. Up until that point, I had resisted syllabic poetry as being too restrictive. I tried one poem and was pleased with the result.

Then, two months later, my mother died, leaving me the only person in my immediate family still alive. As I was going through our family photograph albums, poems started coming to me, and I soon had enough for a book. Writing the poems was a way to stay with my family just a little longer.    

Tanka poems have a very specific set of rules.  Did that inhibit in any way the message you wanted to convey in your book?  

The confines of the tanka form were actually a saving grace because I had to focus at the line, word, and syllable level. I found those confines comforting, like an infant being swaddled. 

Tell us a little about one or two of the poems that are your favorites.  

One of my favorite poems in the collection is “In the Wilderness,” inspired by a photograph of my mother snowshoeing in a state park outside Presque Isle, Maine. When she initially mailed me the photo, my immediate thought was, “Kay in an Alien Universe,” because she looked so small. The other reason the poem is one of my favorites is that readers have told me it prompted fond memories of their own mothers.

I’ve been a fan of your work since I read your book “Telling Sonny.”  You’ve also had many short stories published.  Could you give the readers a description of “Telling Sonny” and your other work, including any current project you might be working on.  Is another novel on the horizon?  

Thank you, Bonnie! I’m so glad you enjoy my work. Telling Sonny began with an odd little note from my mother after she had asked me to write a biography of my dad for our extended family. The note, on a sheet of lined notebook paper, read, “Elliott I. committed suicide and had a sister Dorothy.” It seemed such an odd juxtaposition of facts, I had to write a poem about it: “My Father’s Side of the Family.” 

However, the poem wasn’t enough to get that line out of my head. It rolled around in there for months, until the inciting incident for a novel came to me: Sonny’s mother put in the position of informing him of his father’s death because he had become an afterthought to his father’s family. The novel tells the story of how Sonny’s parents met and parted, all in the setting of small-time vaudeville. 

Much of my short fiction is set in Enosburg Falls, Vermont, where I grew up. Right after I graduated from high school, I got it into my head that I could be the Sherwood Anderson of Enosburg because no other writer had given the village a voice. Then, many years later, I discovered writer Hildreth Wriston, who was born there. Well! She wrote children’s books, however, so I’m telling myself I can still be the Sherwood Anderson of Enosburg. Youthful illusions aside, I’m planning a short story collection titled Enosburg Stories.

In the meantime, I’ve begun work on a novel about the last poor house in Vermont, which wasn’t closed down until 1968. I expect it will take me awhile, as I need to do a fair chunk of research.

Your first book, “Telling Sonny,” was traditionally published.  “Grief Songs” is a self-published work.  Tell us a little bit about the differences you have experienced between the two.  Do you prefer one over the other?

I would have to say that the experience of being traditionally published and the experience of self-publishing have both been an education at the School of Hard Knocks. I went through my undergraduate creative writing program, as well as my graduate program, at a time when the focus was on the craft of writing. The business of writing and self-promotion was not addressed in the curriculum and barely mentioned in passing by my professors. 

As many other authors have noted, even when traditionally published, the lion’s share of marketing and promotion for the book falls on the author. That being the case, I prefer self-publishing because I am in control of each phase.  

What advice would you give to new authors who are just starting their journey?

I will pass on the writing advice that my first writing professor gave us: Master your craft before seeking publication. I found that advice incredibly liberating because I was able to focus on what I enjoyed most without being distracted by rejection slips. 

Thanks again, Liz!  I so much appreciate you following my blog, and I am so happy I was introduced to your writing. 

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56 thoughts on “Self-Published Saturday/Grief Songs”

  1. Great review of Liz’s book and I appreciate you remdomg us what’s tanka is and then how Liz masterfully used this prose style to connect to her grief theme.
    And side note A the word tanka is so yucky to me – not sure why – but maybe I think of war tanks or something automotive for children – and so this review put some flavor into the word for me and I hope to read and review this book as well.

    Regarding the interview with Liz – I think she modeled what she said about honing the craft before publishing – a while ago she shared on her blog on how she had a lengthy manuscript but it never unfolded into a book! I mentioned then how that really stood out because sometimes folks are so quick to keep publishing and for her to “see” the limits and not force it through still has me curious-
    The upcoming novel about the last poor house 🏡 also sounds interesting

    ☀️🙏📚

    Liked by 2 people

  2. I read all of this interview with great interest, Bonnie. I haven’t been following Liz for a long time, but I thoroughly enjoyed Telling Sonny. I wish her well with this latest effort in Tanka-style poetry. I especially enjoyed hearing Liz’s thoughts about traditional publishing vs. self-publishing. I’m doing the reverse as I self-published with my first book, and this time I’m giving myself a year to see if I can find a traditional publisher via an agent.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Wonderful review and interview. I love the idea of ‘going beyond the frame’. That pulls me right in to the poetry. And it’s always good to get to know an author better. Liz gives new writers excellent advice they need to listen too–Master your craft before seeking publication. Then, you’ll be proud of your creation

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Wonderful review and interview, but I’m sorry to hear Liz’s mother’s death was part of the inspiration for her collection. May she rest in peace. I live in Virginia, and I totally understand Liz’s interest in exploring all the interesting historic sites we have in the Commonwealth. Congrats to Liz on the recent publication of Grief Songs!

    Liked by 2 people

  5. I enjoyed this review and interview, Bonnie! I loved when Liz said two months after she tried the Tanka, the poems just came to her because her mom passed away and the poems kept her memories of her mom and other family members a little longer. I look forward to reading your book, Liz. I’ll start reading it tomorrow.

    Liked by 2 people

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