12 Questions with J.L. Herndon

J.L. Herndon (he/him) is an author of speculative fiction and poetry. All his characters are Black unless otherwise noted. A psychologist by training, he is fascinated by people, families, and their relationships. His poetry appears in Star*Line Magazine. Originally from Texas, he now resides in Greensboro, NC with his wife and dog. You can find him lurking on Twitter @jl_herndon.

IB: What is it like being a writer/poet during a pandemic?

JL: Harder than normal, which is saying something. I was reminding myself just this morning to balance pushing myself to be productive and giving myself space to feel the feels.

IB: Do you have any pandemic practices that have helped you cope?

JL: I have a writing buddy that I meet with most weeks where we just support each other. Those meetings are so inspiring and rejuvenating.

IB: Are you approaching creative work differently now?

JL: Not really. I sit down most days and try to make something happen with varying levels of success.

IB: What poems/writings are helping you through the pandemic? What do you keep returning to?

JL: I love mysteries and I love speculative fiction, so I’ve been reading Dark Detectives: An Anthology of Supernatural Mysteries and I’m pretty excited about it. There’s something about coming to understand why people commit crimes in these stories that’s oddly comforting. Also poetry written by Black poets in the 60s when the country was just as ridiculous as it is now. I read “I Rise” by Maya Angelou this morning before work and needed a minute.

IB: You write SpecFic/short stories. How is that different from poetry writing? How is it similar?

You’re always trying to get your ideas out in the most interesting way possible. With poetry though, you need to get where you’re going with a quickness. It’s a challenge I enjoy as someone who talks all the time. 

IB: What things/elements do you look for in a poem? Why?

Strong imagery, precise word choice, and a rhythm. These are the things are that make me smile. Also, read your poem out loud, because I’m going to and I’ll know if you didn’t.

IB: How do you know when a poem or piece of writing is done?

JL: I cackled. I think when you’ve done everything that’s within your power as a writer, but only you’ll know that. Is the message exactly what you want it to be? I can tell you when it’s not done from experience – the first time you say to yourself “I think this is done.” If you haven’t read it out loud multiple times (poetry or prose), it’s not done. 

IB: We are living in unprecedented times. What does it mean to be a Black, queer, writer right now?

JL: Right now, it feels like any identity that isn’t cis, white, or straight is under attack, so just being yourself without apology is defiance. The writing is essential because seeing yourself and experience in a piece is everything.

IB: What is a piece of advice you can give to your younger writer self?

JL: Start writing sooner. Becoming a better writer is a process and there’s no shortcut, even when a random blogger tells you there is.

IB: What writerly things are you working on, if anything?

JL: I just finished a chapbook in December. After writing 25 poems in around 7 weeks, I transitioned away from poetry for a bit, which really just means I write like one poem a week instead of six. I’m also editing stories and writing a new short story.

IB: Where can we read your work?

JL: You can find my work in Star*Line and forthcoming in Inkwell Black.

IB: And here’s one final question for deep thought: If you were a hot dog, would you eat yourself?

JL: Probably. Definitely if I was covered in mustard, chili, and cheese.