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An interview with prolific contributor Sharmagne Leland-St John.

Q: Tell us more about yourself.

S: I am a Native American from the Confederated Colville Tribe of Nespelem, Washington. I am a former concert performer. I play the tamboura which is an Eastern Indian instrument made from a gourd with a very long neck and sympathetic strings. Basically it is the Indian bass. We had a band which was the original group called Orient Express. Lowell George was in our band as well as Bruce Langhorn and Peter Walker (Vanguard Records Rainy Day Raga, and Second Poem to Karmela/Gypsies Are Important).

I am a former actress and I have just agreed to recreate the role of Silver Indian in an upcoming tribe of the 60's rock musical Hair. I spend most of my waking hours in the garden, either mine or someone else's. I have created gardens all over the world.

Q: How long were you a member of the now defunct Themestream? What made you decide to write there?

S: I joined in early September 2000. After receiving an e mail or instant message from Themestream writer called Frank Millard. I would say I decided to publish for exposure. Many of my poems are actually songs without music. So there is always the possibility that someone will come along who would like to collaborate and set them to music. I did it for freedom of expression.

Q: Have you ever had anything published and if so where?

S: So far, I have been published in a Native American magazine Turtle Tracks. I was recently invited to perform one of my poems "Promised Land" at the United Nation's Dialogues on Civilisation Through Poetry. That poem is now published on their web site. My Poem "I Will Dance For You" is being included in The Silence Within, an anthology scheduled to be published this summer. It will also be included on a 3 disc album called The Spoken Word. I have had poetry published in an e-zine called eThis.

When Henry Mancini first read my poetry and songs he sent them down to Nashville with his publishing company name stamped all over them but nothing ever came of it. I am now writing with Darby Slick who wrote one of the only two hits the Jefferson Airplane recorded. He has recently set music to my song lyrics "Jimmy's Song". We are now collaborating on "Calico Apron," a lullaby.

Q: What or who has most inspired you to write?

S:I am inspired by many different things as well as moods and people. My former beau and dear friend the late Paul Rothchild was perhaps the most influential person in my life as a writer. when I was a beginner, I would always share my work with him because I respected his opinions. After all he was at the time one of the top record producers on the scene. One evening we had a disagreement that turned into a heated argument about something or was it someone! And in a fit of rage and anger I picked up my typewriter and heaved it across the room.

It hit the wall and landed at his feet. As we both stood there looking at it in shocked silence I realized it was beyond repair and that made me really morose. I loved that typewriter. I loved the sounds that it made as we wrote. It was akin to sitting down at a finely tuned piano or harpsichord. Composing note upon note. You know when you write there is the sound that each word makes as it falls against another word and there is also the sound of silence in between the words. That typewriter had those sounds down pat. It hummed, it purred, it sang my words back to me. I was very distraught that I had just killed my "writing partner." So I did what any normal woman would have done in the same situation. I sat down and began to weep.

The next day Paul presented me with a brand new electric typewriter with a gift card enclosed apologizing for making me so angry and adding "I respect your talent as a writer so much that I would not want to be responsible for stifling it." I would have to say Richard Sylbert and Michael Butler were also instrumental in my early writing as they evoked emotions in me that I had never felt before and the only way to express them was via pen and paper. (or Quill and Parchment!) Peter Yarrow, from the folk singing group Peter, Paul, and Mary, and I wrote together. That was a very inspiring experience because it meant there was enough there for him to want to set it to music and produce it on a record for all the world to hear.

And lastly Pierre la Mure the French writer and artist once said to me on the occasion of having heard "Poetry of Lies" recited before an audience, "You have poetry in your soul, ma petite." That certainly made a very deep impression on me and was perhaps the real start of my desire to write professionally.

Q: How do you think you can improve as a writer?

S: I think I would improve as a writer just by writing more. And by being fearless. When I wrote my poem "I Said Coffee," I took a great chance. It was totally different from anything I had ever written before and it certainly went to places that made a few people feel very uncomfortable -- judging from the "hate mail" I received. On the other hand I got some incredibly positive critique and realized I have hit a turning point in my life as a writer. I can now take almost any incident that happens in my life or on the outside and romanticize it into a poem or short story or song.

Since I am auto-didactic another way I might improve as a writer would be to take a class in writing at a junior college.

Q: Who are some of your favorite writers?

S: Susan Power who wrote The Grass Dancer and a new novel called War Bundles coming out soon. Barbara Kingsolver author of Animal Dreams, The Bean Tree, and Pigs In Heaven. I still like Kurt Vonnegut quite a bit especially his early works such as Cat's Cradle. Ira levin is incomparable. I have had a romance with Mildred Cram's writings for many years now. She wrote Forever and was one of the screen writers on the original film version of An Affair To Remember.

Shirley Jackson was also a long time favorite. You may remember her as the author of The Lottery one of the most controversial short stories ever written and published in The New Yorker magazine. Sadly she died very young but a few years ago her children received a carton full of cobwebbed files which were discovered in an old barn in Vermont. They turned out to be original manuscripts and some of her unpublished short stories. They have since published them in a book of short stories called Just An Ordinary Day.

The late Richard Farina was one of my favorite poets. He died so young....for a poet. So many unsung songs went to the grave with him. Joy Harjo, T. S. Eliot, Sylvia Plath, Charles Bukowski, Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen and Tom Waits rank as only a few of my other favorite poets.

Q: What besides writing stirs your creativity?

S: Painting. Henry Miller once said to me "To paint is to love again" and I hadn't a clue what he meant at the time. Then years later I began to paint water colors and I got it immediately. I have also noticed that once you start painting, things never look the same again. Everything you see is through the artists eye.

Q: Do you write for any other sites and if so which ones?

S: I recently gave permission to Poetik to copy any of my already published Themestream works. I had a request for "I Said Coffee" from eThis for the February edition this year. They said it had exactly that quirky twist they needed to round out the Valentine's Day issue. I will publish it here at Quill and Parchment soon.

Q: What are your goals for the future as a writer?

S: I am working on a screenplay and I have a children's book which I wrote a few years ago that I have been having trouble finding the right illustrator for..I don't want to be assigned one by a publisher who may not see the book as I do. One other dream is to publish a book of my poetry which I would call Unsung Songs.

Q: What is your favorite type of article to write?

S: Poetry and love songs. We used to call them "emotional Band Aids" Because they seemed to have come just after somebody had done somebody else wrong. I like to write articles that might change someone's life for the better. For instance A Secret From My Garden. It was the first piece I published on line and it has a little tag at the end which makes it almost a sort of cautionary tale in itself. I will be publishing it here at Quill and Parchment in the not too distant future.

Q: Any suggestions for fellow writers?

S: Keep a diary or a journal and copies of all personal correspondence. You have no idea how many times I have been reading an old diary or an old love letter when a line jumped out at me willing itself to became a new poem or song.

Q: If you could go back in time is there anything you would want to change?

S: Yes, I would tell those Pilgrims to get back on that damned boat!!

Q: Is there anything else you would like to add?

S: The other thing that I would like to mention is that I am working on a Native American cookbook. If in the future Quill and Parchment publishes a recipe section I will be sharing some of those recipes there.

Don't be afraid to lay your soul bare. It is a cleansing experience. You don't have to share it but I feel it is a necessity if you intend to become a great writer. You can burn it or keep it for yourself but write it just to know that you can do it.

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