The Magnolia Review: Describe your creative space. Do you work at home, in public spaces, etc.
Kirie Pedersen: I work in a 10×12 foot hut I call Eagle Cottage because bald eagles nest nearby, and they cackle as I write. Eagle Cottage was repurposed from a 1924 schoolhouse that was being demolished. If away from home, I write wherever I am and however I can: in the cramped corner of a rented room, a tent, or a bench outside in the sun.
TMR: What kind of materials do you use? Do you write by hand or type? What is your favorite writing utensil?
KP: Eagle Cottage is lined with journals, poetry, plays, novels, short stories, and books on writing craft. Close beside me are jars of colored pencils and fountain pens. My preferred pencils are the Japanese Ito-ya and American Palamino Blackwing 602. If you’re an addict for writing materials, as I am, I suggest checking out Johny at pencilrevolution.com. I also love cartridge ink pens. I write in notebooks and confess to scraps of paper tucked into small wooden boxes beside my writing perch in Eagle Cottage. I’ve always liked to type, and do so on my laptop.
TMR: What is your routine for writing?
KP: I’m up at dawn, downing coffee before I get out of bed. After early morning bonding with my husband, also a writer, I head to Eagle Cottage along a path through the trees. Before I start writing, I read a poem out loud. I just finished Words for the Wind by Theodore Roethke, and now it’s Czeslaw Milosz New and Collected Poems (1931-2001). I write in forty-minute increments. I set my phone alarm on the other side of the cottage, so I’m forced to move. No matter how hard it is to start writing every single day, once I start, I enter a time warp. I call these forty-minute increments “ticks,” which I jot in a notebook in Roman Numeral form, and at the end of every week and month, I report my ticks to my Artist Chicken.
What on earth is an Artist Chicken?
An Artist Chicken, since you ask, is an art partner. My Artist Chicken is Norwegian-American fiber artist Lise Solvang. Lise and I check in every week to talk about our artist goals. If we’re in the same town, we talk while hiking; otherwise we meet by phone. We alternate who goes first, and when the other is speaking, we don’t interrupt or comment. Our purpose isn’t to critique each other’s work, but to support each other for completing artistic goals. Siri named us. After Lise and I attended a workshop on goal-setting, where we learned how important an art-partner can be, we decided to formalize our hiking chats. “This is to confirm a weekly artist check-in,” I voice texted Lise. When I noticed the correction, I thought “Artist Chicken” made perfect sense. Lise raises chickens and ducks, and they watch her as she works. Their search for sustenance juxtaposed with perching and producing, the threats from predators, and their complex communications provide the perfect analogy for the creative life.
TMR: How long have you been writing? When did you start writing?
KP: As recorded by my mother in my baby book, as a toddler I was telling her “talking dreams.” “The little voice talks to me, Mommy, and gives me the dream,” is how she describes it. My mother was a writer and my father an artist, so I progressed to drawing picture-stories, and then to actual writing. I didn’t really know how to interact with other kids, but I received early praise for writing, so I just kept going.
TMR: Who is your intended, or ideal, audience? Who do you write for?
KP: When I was a child, my parents and five siblings were my “first readers,” and I’d force them to sit around on the beach or at a picnic table as I read my latest work. Later, my parents would go over a piece, Dad tearing it to bits and Mom praising, and then I’d stay up all night rewriting. When I started publishing (“send it out,” my mother’s refrain) once the story, article, essay, or poem was “taken,” it was as if I hadn’t written it at all. When I read my own work, I still wonder who wrote it.
TMR: What inspires you to write? If you are blocked, what do you do?
KP: It’s hard for me to get the clutter of talking-story out of my head. If in a public place, I am recording ideas based on what I overhear. When I’m walking on forest or desert paths with my dogs, stories or essays “write themselves.” My block isn’t about writing, but for sending work out. One trick is to treat submissions as play, using brightly-colored pens and pencils, Semi-Kolon boxes, notecards and clips to trick my inner five-year old into this “game.” Another is to treat submissions as work, as in I show up for jobs for forty or sixty hours a week, so why not show up for myself? It helps that I have to report to my Artist Chicken. Who never judges or condemns.
TMR: What other things do you do besides writing? Do you dance or play golf, etc.?
KP: I am crazy over wildlife and read guidebooks on natural history: types of plants, trees, mammals, sea life, birds, snakes, and insects. On walks and hikes, I encounter some of these in the wild, and I like to know their names. When I’m in a new town, city or country, I learn everything I can about the culture, language, architecture, and history. I was actually hired to guide hikes in a town I’d only visited for less than a year. Besides walking alone with my dog, my favorite activity is to walk one-on-one with a friend.
The quiet joy of my life is reading. I prefer reading hard copy, but I also maintain a database of around 500 magazines, and over the space of, say, a year, I read them all. I also follow and support fellow writers. Two favorite blogs are Becky Fuch’s Review Review and, from Britain, DoveGreyReader Scribbles, about books, gardens, and textile arts.
TMR: What is your favorite part of the creative process?
KP: The motion and magic of pencil or pen on paper, or fingers on keys. I believe writing begins as a form of play; perhaps the child who loves listening to stories or reading and then creating stories of her own. She carves figures onto the wall of the cave, even in secret that no one will ever see. The little voice talks to me, Mommy, and gives me the dream.
TMR: What is your advice to aspiring writers?
Writing is about showing up for myself. Writing is how I make sense of the world. If writing (or drawing, painting, throwing pots, weaving, singing, or dance) is how one figures stuff out, she needs to continue for as long as the act kindles some kind of joy.
On the other side of that right-brained act, though, is showing one’s art and self to the world. For me, being seen was the scary part. I’d spend years on a book, send it to one place, and if declined, that was the end of that. I’ve met so many talented writers who spent years in incredible graduate programs, and then met once with an agent or publisher, and that was the end of the writing life for them.
I love the darkest days of the year because that’s when I take time to reflect. What do I want to accomplish in one year, or three, or ten? If I were to die painlessly in six months, how would I live until then? What are my guiding principles? Without thinking much, I write lists, set them aside, and then revisit. Every year, I select ten or twenty goals, and then boil those down to the top three. If writing’s my top goal, I examine each day to carve out, at least, fifteen or forty minutes. I become accountable for how I want to live.
Practice “cool loneliness:”
I’ve wasted plenty of time creating drama and caretaking others, whether they asked me or not. Now I step back and observe my thoughts and behavior. I keep my drama on the page, including the drama of comparing. If I can’t have what she has, I won’t write at all. If he’s mean to me, I’ll strike back. But how can I become better at what I love if I never try?
Read and play; play and read:
Read literary magazines. Read books. Support independent bookstores. Find colored pencils or pens and draw a picture story. Celebrate every day in some small or big way. Despite witnessing (and battling) great evil in World War II Warsaw, Nobel Prize winner Czeslaw Milosz instructs: “…have a beautiful time/As long as time is time at all.
Check out Kirie’s work in the issue, Volume 3, Issue 1, which won The Magnolia Review Ink Award.