We talk to Debra McQueen about nonfiction, serial killers and San Francisco. Debra’s poems appeared in issue thirty-nine of Neon.
You mention in your biography that you write nonfiction. Could you tell me a little about that – what do you write, and how does it differ from or resemble your fiction?
I have to come clean here. I’m a total failure at making up anything worth reading. I worry that it makes me a narcissist to only write memoir, but there it is.
Your poem “Ted Bundy” revolves around the notorious serial killer. Do you remember how you found out about Bundy? Did the story of his actions haunt you as much as it does the narrator in the poem?
I was a sheltered little kid, blissfully ignorant of human beasts, when Bundy was caught, tried, and convicted. Years later, as a twenty-year-old woman living alone in San Francisco, I watched the TV miniseries about him and became convinced that a monster lived under my bed.
Your poem “Golden Gate” is set very firmly in San Francisco, where you previously lived. Do you miss your old city? Was the poem written whilst you lived there, or after you moved away? Do you think it would be different if it had been written at a different time?
I can never seem to write about anything as it’s happening. Most of the time, two or three years’ distance is about all I need. But I didn’t write “Golden Gate” – part of a series of poems set in San Francisco in the late 1980s – until twenty-five years after moving away.
As to missing my old city – no and yes. I don’t wish to live there now, but I wouldn’t mind time travelling back every once in a while to hang out in the Castro on a sunny Sunday listening to Donna Summer while sipping a cappuccino at Cafe Flore with George.
Can you tell me about a writer or poet who you think is significant, and why?
In the mid-nineties I saw a Bill Moyers program called “Voices of Memory” that featured a guy named Li-Young Lee. He had a great stage presence without being a “performer”, and his work convinced me that you could take the imprecise memories of your particular life story and make poetry of them. He did it (and continues to do it) so elegantly. (You, too, can fall in love with Li-Young Lee the way I did at this link: billmoyers.com/content/voices-of-memory) And definitely read the poem “Persimmons”.
What is the best way for readers to find more about your work, or keep up with what you are writing?
I don’t have a web page or a chapbook, but as soon as that gets remedied, I will shout it to the heavens (after letting you guys at Neon know first)! Meanwhile, I can be found most Wednesday nights at the open mic at Drip Coffee on Saluda in Columbia SC. And you can always friend me on Facebook: www.facebook.com/debra.mcqueen. In fact, I’d love that!
Debra McQueen teaches school, rides a motorcycle, and loves to travel. This year she’s published a scandalous resignation letter in WORK (www.workliterarymagazine.com) and poetry in The Legendary (www.downdirtyword.com). Her creative nonfiction appeared in The Art Of Medicine In Metaphors in 2013. She’s from San Francisco, now living happily in South Carolina.