~Interviewed by Haley
Describe Bloodline in only three words.
Joe: “Hamlet, brown, San Anto…. Well, I guess that’s technically four!”
How do you begin to write a poem? Do you have a scene, character, or line of dialogue in mind?
“For me it starts with an image, and I work from the image. I guess I like to think of myself as a work-horse, and I like exercises and drafting, so I begin with an image and play with it. Ultimately, if I draft something, I usually just highlight or pull out some of the phrases that I like, and then I’ll begin building lines from that.”
Do you have any advice for aspiring writers or poets?
“I would have different types of advice for writers and poets, and then for other types of prose. For poets, I’d say just go for it and say what needs to be said. I wouldn’t expect money, riches, or fame, but I would expect love, because you write things that are honest and that resonate with other people. I think for prose writers the advice I would give would be to write the story only you can tell.”
What made you want to write for teens?
“I teach 12th grade at Jefferson High School in San Antonio, Texas. Often times I found myself wanting to recommend books to my students, and most of the characters don’t look like them, so I wanted to write a book that I could recommend my students to read about our city and people like us.”
That’s really cool! Do you teach English?
“Yes, I do!”
Taking it back to the very beginning, what was the first story you remember writing?
“My favorite, favorite book of all time, particularly when I was younger, was the Velveteen Rabbit, and I remember writing, perhaps a little monologue, about the little rabbit. I didn’t really understand the story exactly as I do now, but it was just the rabbit wanting to be real.”
Aww, that’s adorable! What is your favorite part about living in Texas?
“+The people. They’re just the nicest people. They’re so genuine. But every now and then you meet someone kind of snarky, who’s kind of in a bad mood. But for the most part, people are polite, people are friendly, and people are good-hearted. I like that.”
What has been your favorite thing about Austin, so far?
“Well, last night my partner and I went to the Gold Gym, and it was empty, which was really great because I didn’t have to wait for anything. Whereas in San Antonio, it might be a little packed.”
What do you like to do when you’re not writing?
“I have dogs! Up until last week I had three dogs, but one of them died last week. She was a pit bull named Kimber, and up until last week, my favorite thing was to sit in my living room with Kimber on one side, Tiny on the other side, and Rosie at my feet, while watching Netflix.”
Are you reading anything really interesting right now?
“My class is about to read The Road, so I started rereading it. It’s very dark, so I’m hoping to pair it with something that’s maybe a little lighter, so I don’t just immerse myself in the sadness or trauma of the world.”
Wow, that’s so interesting! What is your favorite book that you’ve taught in English so far? If you can choose one!
” It’s between The Road or Frankenstein. I say that because in the student conversations in socratic seminars and debates, the students are just really taken in. If you go back to what Socrates says about education—education isn’t the filling of a vessel, it’s the kindling of a flame—it’s in those moments you see people light up because they believe something because for the very first time in their lives for some of them, they’re feeling awesome because they know something. And they’re getting other people to believe similarly to them.”
And lastly, what can readers look forward to next from you?
“I just completed a collection of essays, called In the Absence of Great Birds. It’s not exactly targeted at young readers—it’s more of an adult book—but the YA novel that I’m working on right now is a retelling of Macbeth, called The Moon is Down. Basic plot: a boy finds a gun, and what does he do with it?”
That’s great! Thank you so much!