Scarlett Peterson–Interview

Describe your creative space. Do you work at home, in public spaces, etc.?

Both, actually. I work everywhere in that I keep a journal with me at all times. I don’t set aside a certain hour a day, and I don’t find any one place more productive than the next.

What kind of materials do you use? Do you write by hand or type? What is your favorite writing utensil?

I try to hand-write first because I find blank word documents intimidating. Seeing my own handwriting is not as jarring, and I find that typing it all up helps me to revise quickly and efficiently anyway.

What is your routine for writing?

I keep a daily poetry journal. My first year of grad school I took a workshop with Cecilia Woloch, and she assigned the daily poetry journal as a means to get us writing more often, and it stuck with me. Since I began sort of forcing myself to write something every day I’ve become more accustomed to looking at everything through a poetic lens.

How long have you been writing? When did you start writing?

I began writing in high school, very casually. Oddly enough, I tried to write every day back then too, but it was more of a hybrid of fiction and nonfiction then. I followed a twitter called Write One Leaf, which may still be around, and wrote whatever came to mind. I didn’t begin to see writing as a career until I was nearly out of college. I’d planned to study abroad the summer before graduation when I ran out of money and wound up staying and taking summer classes instead; I wound up in my first poetry workshop then, and I applied for my MFA in the Fall of 2015. I’m currently half-way done with the three year MFA at Georgia College, and I’m so glad that my life didn’t go quite as planned that Summer.

Who is your intended, or ideal, audience? Who do you write for?

I write for people who have experienced trauma, and I write for myself. Ideally my audience is anyone who feels something when they read my writing.

What inspires you to write? If you are blocked, what do you do?

I find inspiration everywhere, it’s just channeling it into good writing that’s difficult. When I’m stuck, I free write until I find what I need to say. I teach my comp students to do the same thing, and I think it works for any type of writing.

What other things do you do besides writing? Do you dance or play golf, etc.?

I love to cook and bake, and I love makeup. I freelance a little, but mostly I just do photoshoots and weddings for friends.

What is your favorite part of the creative process?

My favorite part of the creative process is probably the final round of revision, which is odd, because you can’t always tell that you’re in the final round until you’re finished. I love having a finished product.

What is your advice to aspiring writers?

Don’t let rejection stop you. Keep writing, and above all else keep reading. One of the first things I heard in grad school was to read every book that was mentioned by a professor, and I think that’s the best advice I’ve ever gotten.

 

Check out Scarlett‘s work in Volume 4, Issue 1.

Valerie Ruberto–Interview

1) My creative space is a park near my house. The entrance to the park isn’t very clear so not a lot of people go there. It has a steep hill and nothing else, but there’s a wooden picnic bench that I sit on when I write. I can see the whole park and the road is in the distance, so it makes me feel like I’m removed from the world around me, but still close enough to it for me to experience it if I want to. I write the first draft of my poems here, then I edit and proofread them in my house or my dorm room.

2) I usually write my first drafts by hand in a small notebook. I usually use pen because I believe that you should never edit your first draft while you write it. If I use pencil then I’m always tempted to go back and erase parts that I think could be better. I like to get in touch with nature while I write and using my laptop usually distracts me from that. But after the first draft is done, I type the poem onto a Google Drive document and edit it on there.

3) My writing process tends to be really long because I’m a perfectionist. Usually a year goes by between when I write the first draft of a poem and when I send it out to be published. After I write the first draft, I always leave the poem alone for at least a month before I start to edit it. This way, I’m looking at it with fresh eyes and hopefully a new perspective. I try to leave at least a month in between each time that I proofread it so I’m constantly seeing my poem in new ways. But since I can be such a perfectionist with my poems, doing this process can take a really long time.

4) Technically I started writing when I was 8. In my 3rd grade class, we had to do an assignment where we each carried around a notebook with us for two weeks and wrote down things that inspired us to write poems. Then we each wrote ten poems and created our own little poetry books. I carried that notebook around even after the project was done, and I’ve been writing poetry ever since then. I only started learning how to write actual poetry when I was a freshman in high school, though. I started submitting my poems to be published in literary magazines when I was a sophomore, and I got my first publication the summer after my junior year.

5) Audience is a tricky subject for my poetry. I try really hard to not think about the audience while I write. I just write what I think sounds good, and I see which literary magazines seem to agree. I hope that, whoever my audience may be, they are inspired by the poetry I create and enjoy reading it.

6) A lot of my inspiration comes from the stories of others. When I hear about people’s life experiences or see interesting stories on the news, it inspires me to put myself in that person’s shoes and try to write a poem from their perspective. So whenever I’m experiencing writer’s block, I just think of interesting books I’ve read, or TV shows I’ve seen, or stories from the news, and use those as a starting point to build a poem out of.

7) I’m currently majoring in psychology at Tufts University. Psychology is my passion and I recently started a business called Brain Tiger Supplements where I sell natural supplements that I’ve created to improve a person’s psychological health. Most of my time goes into that and school, so I don’t have much time for anything else.

8) My favorite part of the creative process is when I begin editing a first draft after not having read it for a month or two. It’s always so interesting to try to figure out what was going through my head when I wrote the poem, and I love mixing together my new ideas for it with what I had already written the first time. It’s so cool to see how a poem starts as one thing and morphs into an entirely new piece of writing.

9) My advice for aspiring writers is to not be too hard on yourself. I’m my own worst critic. I’ll write a poem and think it’s the most awful thing I’ve ever written, but then I’ll take a chance and send it to magazines for publication not expecting them to actually want to publish it, but then they’ll surprise me saying that they love the poem. Poetry is so subjective and some people may love what you write and others may hate it. But the most important thing is to not get too caught up in the negative responses you receive. Just because some people think a poem is terrible doesn’t mean that everyone will.

 

Check out Valerie’s work in Volume 4, Issue 1.

Wilda Morris–Interview

Describe your creative space. Do you work at home, in public spaces, etc.?

I write sitting on a bench in the wetlands, a museum, or a Mexican park; at an outside table at the Morton Arboretum; on a pew in an Italian church, or a stump in the woods; standing in front of a painting at the Art Institute; and riding the commuter train into Chicago. I do a lot of my writing at Panera (alone or with friends), where I can fill my mug with Hazelnut coffee as often as I wish, and I don’t hear my landline phone ring.

What kind of materials do you use? Do you write by hand or type? What is your favorite writing utensil?

Inspiration seems to flow most readily though pencils into spiral notebooks. I prefer pencils to pens because I lose good pens, and the disposable ones bad for the environment. Most of my editing is done on the computer. I often make changes as I type the first draft.

What is your routine for writing?

I wish I had one.

How long have you been writing? When did you start writing?

I wrote poetry when I was young. Having had great instruction in English at Iowa City High School, I passed a placement test which fulfilled the English requirement at American U. I made the mistake of not taking any English classes, and not writing poetry. When I was first married, I published a few poems, but while we were raising five active children, I didn’t make time for writing. Two things contributed to my becoming a serious poet. One was that my oldest grandchild had a painful, degenerative genetic disease and died shortly before her seventh birthday. I needed some way to express my feelings. The happy coincidence was that I was asked to volunteer as a curriculum counselor at the Green Lake Conference Center for about three weeks each summer for a number of years. The program director wanted me to attend conferences while I was there, including the writer’s conference. Those conferences helped me to hone my skills in poetry.

What inspires you to write? If you are blocked, what do you do?

I find the inspiration to write in many places: a painting or sculpture, a news event, a childhood memory, poetry by others. Flipping through the pages of a family photo album can also spark a poem or two. Perhaps my most dependable source of inspiration when I feel blocked is a book of good poetry; I find a poem to respond to, or a line to write from.

What other things do you do besides writing? Do you dance or play golf, etc.?

My favorite activity, besides spending time with family members, is travel. I also like to walk in the woods or wetlands, on the beach or the river walk. I take continuing education classes at The Newberry Library in Chicago—and use what I learn there (or what I read for class)—as inspiration for poems. I teach an adult Sunday School class, and sometimes write a poem inspired by what we discuss there.

What is your favorite part of the creative process?

I prefer the writing to submitting and keeping records, but that is probably true of all poets (a secretary and filing clerk would make my life easier!). The best time is when the poem takes charge and leads me in an unexpected direction. That is one reason I experiment with different forms. The rules often take me somewhere I had not intended to go, and would not have gone had I been writing free verse.

The camaraderie of small groups where we write together, and critique each other respectfully, is nurturing and fulfilling.

What is your advice to aspiring writers?

Read, read, read. Write in different genres and forms. Consider spending time writing rhymed and metered poems before you write a lot of free verse. It gives you practice in cadence and musicality. When I first tried writing sonnets, the results were terrible. I decided to read sonnets (and only sonnets) every day for several weeks. That got the meter of the sonnet in my head. My next attempts didn’t read like Shakespeare, but they were not unmitigated disasters, either.

I strongly advise aspiring writers to find or create a small group composed of people you trust and respect, people who will give you honest feedback and encouragement, and applaud your successes (and not be jealous), and for whom you can do the same. You can write together or meet regularly to critique and encourage each other.

 

Check out Wilda’s work in Volume 3, Issue 2, and Volume 4, Issue 1.

Sean J. Mahoney–Interview

Describe your creative space. Do you work at home, in public spaces, etc.?

I work primarily at home. That said though I always have a pen and some sort of scratch paper with me so that I can make notes or jot ideas down cuz let’s face it – none of us have any control over when an idea knocks or makes itself known. And I at least wouldn’t leave such delicate matters to memory alone. Memory is a flawed and temperamental beast at best. Why else do you suppose the phrase ‘If memory serves…” is so commonplace.

What kind of materials do you use? Do you write by hand or type? What is your favorite writing utensil?

Funny. I’ve been reading a lot about Kenneth Patchen lately in researching a piece I’m working on for Wordgathering.com. His picture poems! I would enjoy…I think…incorporating more construction paper and paint and calligraphy. But until that actually happens I type or write by hand using a Uni-ball Roller Micro 0.5mm in black.

What is your routine for writing?

I think perhaps that the majority of us who aspire to be full-time making-a-living-by-writing writers, the only routine is consistency. That is, trying to carve out some time each day to write, to make things up and commit them to paper. And coffee. So wait. I didn’t answer the question. I don’t have a routine. I write when I can, or when I can’t sleep, which happens occasionally.

How long have you been writing? When did you start writing?

Probably 8 or 9 years old. That’s the earliest I can remember making up stories for school assignments; about being a cheetah, about being invisible. Then there was nothing until after high school. That’s when I began journaling. And I was doing that every day. But I didn’t begin sending stuff out until about five years ago. Like right after being diagnosed with MS. Shit gets real after that.

Who is your intended, or ideal, audience? Who do you write for?

In terms of poetry? Anyone who will listen? At least for now. Big people are notoriously finicky when it comes to their Lit diets.  I’ve written some stuff for my niece and nephew, and I have an itchy inclination to maybe point those stories towards the YA markets, but they’re not quite ready for that just yet.

What inspires you to write? If you are blocked, what do you do?

Things that actually happen. Real world events. Some of the stuff going on politically right now is so ridiculous and outrageous that if you actually read it in a book you may throw up a little bit in your mouth. Yet each day the news cycle churns out the chum and the actual real good things that are indeed happening get cast aside because they’re not considered crazy enough. That’s disappointing.

What other things do you do besides writing? Do you dance or play golf, etc.?

Oh I like movies. And food. SoCal is a foodie paradise. God I used to love playing basketball but I don’t really run that well anymore. I like to garden, to grow things. Tomatoes especially. And kale and hot peppers and pomegranates.

What is your favorite part of the creative process?

Hmmm – hitting send when a piece is completed. Getting it to its editor or respective site.

What is your advice to aspiring writers?

Don’t be afraid of rejection. All writers have experienced rejection. Don’t fear the reaper. Don’t look back. Don’t fall on me. Don’t let’s start. Don’t stop believin’.

Don’t you forget about me.

You know I bet there’s a song in there somewhere.

 

Check out Sean’s work in Volume 4, Issue 1.

 

Toti O’Brien–Interview

Describe your creative space. Do you work at home, in public spaces, etc.?

How did you guess? Yes, I work in public spaces, as it comes to the creative process. They are various and unpredictable (the spaces), as I always carry a tiny notebook along. I can start scribbling whenever the occasion presents itself. Line at the post office. Transportation. My car, if I have arrived earlier for a commitment. A bench, anywhere. Doctor waiting rooms. Hospital waiting rooms (how many of those…)

I said: “as it comes to the creative process.” I review, of course, on a computer, mostly at home.

What kind of materials do you use? Do you write by hand or type? What is your favorite writing utensil?

I mentioned a tiny notebook. Hopefully it is at hand. Luckily, I seem to have developed the ability of finding anything writable-upon. I am amazed at the variety of matter that might work. Surfaces don’t need to be clear. I can write between lines, around lines, on top of them. As for the tracing instrument, everything goes. I confess having tried a lip liner, once, with poor results. So… I write by hand, yes, and I review on a computer. Two completely different processes.

What is your routine for writing?

There really isn’t one. But I have few “unwritten writing rules.” One is embedded in my previous answers: the first drafts inevitably occur in the open—interstitial, impromptu, spontaneous, free. Two—if something comes to mind I feel I should (or would like to) write, I have a deal with myself: yes, I will. No excuse. That seed will go into the ground. That thing, whatever it is, will be laid on paper, always. The third unwritten rule is that I devote time to review, rewrite, polish drafts, submit, edit, take care of all publishing practices, as often as possibly—daily is the ideal, and I rarely skip a day. Meaning a night, because the time I devote to such practice is nocturnal.

How long have you been writing? When did you start writing?

As a child. Which means I have done it for a lifetime. But I have immigrated twice, each time settling in a new language, and restarting from zero. Each new beginning took decades of adjustments.

Who is your intended, or ideal, audience? Who do you write for?

This is a fascinating question. For a long time I have “perceived” an audience I semi-consciously tried to reach as I wrote. I suppose it was banally made of those people I have loved the most, and somehow I have missed to reach in depth, or they haven’t responded to my wish of mutual understanding (relatives untimely passed or unavailable, failed relationships, teachers/mentors inaccessible or gone). Of course, that doesn’t make a crowd. Just a couple of souls from which I’d have liked to get a nod back. Through the years, these hidden interlocutors have vanished—and I like it better this way. When I write, now, it is like sealing a message in a bottle—for the unknown person who will enjoy what I have to say. I can’t wait to meet that person, yet waiting is exhilarating, and serene.

What inspires you to write? If you are blocked, what do you do?

I could describe what inspires me to write as “emergency.” Something (anything) that breaks the surface of my usual perceptions, insistently comes to mind, keeps whispering in my ear, demands for attention. Usually, a bizarre feeling, bizarre association of ideas, curious pattern of events. Like a knot that needs unraveling. Like a path in the woods I want to follow to see where it goes.

I don’t experience blocks. Not really. As I said, my writing is spontaneous and intermittent, though frequent. I’d continue on a piece because there is more to say, whenever there is more to say. If I pick up my text—wherever interrupted—and read it afresh, there will be certainly some corrections to make. As I make them and read over, something will follow. Even a little bit. Some things are irresistibly drafted—they pour out unstoppably. Some things accrete slowly. I don’t fret over them. They will bloom eventually. Nothing, ever, remains unfinished.

What other things do you do besides writing? Do you dance or play golf, etc.?

I am an artist and crafter, a professional dancer, singer, and musician. I have always done all these things for my living. They are my curse and my blessing.

What is your favorite part of the creative process?

The end, of course. The moment when, by magic, something is in front of me that didn’t exist before. Like when you smell the pie in the oven, and it has risen, and it is golden brown.

What is your advice to aspiring writers?

I am not too much of an advicer, alas.

But I could say: you know what you do, and why you do it.

Trust your contents, let them dig their own riverbed. Never harness them, never force them.

Try to never double-guess yourself.

Never listen for a single second to any negative comment you might receive, no matter how authoritative the dispenser.

Take all positive comments with a grain of salt.

Go on.

 

Check out Toti’s work in Volume 4, Issue 1.

Steven R. Jakobi–Interview

Describe your creative space. Do you work at home, in public places, etc.

I live on a 15-acre property in a rural part of New York state. I spend a lot of time in the woods and it is during my forays that I jot down ideas in a small notebook. I have a small office (my wife calls it a “man cave,” although we both spend a lot of time in there) and I like to go there late at night when everyone is asleep.

What kind of materials do you use?

My motto is: “happiness is a handful of sharp pencils.” I prefer wooden pencils and a legal pad. Then I use Word for transcribing and storing the hand-written work.

What is your routine for writing?

I do most of my writing in the winter because I spend my time outdoors when weather permits. I scribble ideas on paper and write in my head. Sometimes I have to interrupt what I’m doing and sit down to write but, generally, most of it is already worked out in my mind. I don’t like routine and I don’t set a specific time aside every day for writing.

How long have you been writing? When did you start?

I spent most of my professional life as a biology professor. As such, I have done a lot of scientific/non-fiction writing, starting with my dissertation. In the 1990s I lived in Massachusetts, and I started writing a regular nature-oriented column in a regional newspaper. I put creative writing aside for a number of years, but in the back of my mind I had this idea that wanted to write a book of short nature stories for the non-scientist. Key to that was the concept that the stories had to be no more than 3-8 pages long and non-technical, so as to keep the interest of the reader. I hope to have accomplished that in my two self-published books, Giorgio the ‘Possum and Other Stories from Nature, and Birds, Bats, Bugs, Beaver, Bacteria: Lessons from Nature. I came to poetry late in life and have been writing poems for only a few years. I find poetry to be very liberating compared to other forms of expression because it allows me to use imagery and language that are not always suitable for other types of writing.

Who is your intended, or ideal, audience? Who do you write for?

I have always enjoyed writing in a simple, straightforward manner, so that anyone reading any of my work wouldn’t have to sit and scratch their head about the meaning of my work. In poetry, I admire the writings of Wendell Berry, Robert Frost, and Carl Sandburg, among many others. In fiction, my characters struggle with the imperfect human experience that we all face at one time or another. In my non-fiction writings, I hope to target an educated and curious, but not necessarily scientifically savvy, audience that is interested in the natural world and its protection and preservation.

What inspires you to write? If you are blocked, what do you do?

I like to share with people. More often than not, the same thoughts and feelings that bubble to the surface of my consciousness are also the same ones that occur to others. We are social animals and the one thing that we MAY be able to do better than other life forms is the capacity for a variety of ways to communicate. Let’s share with one another: paint, sculpt, play music, write!

When I encounter a creative block, I don’t fight it. It usually works itself out subconsciously if I am patient.

What other things you do besides writing?

I like to garden and recently became a master gardener to help people with planting problems. I also do other volunteer work: meals-on-wheels, and have done several tours of work after Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy and, most recently in Louisiana and Texas. I love to read and try my hand at photography. For sport, I play racquetball.

What is your favorite part of the creative process?

I am always amazed when an idea comes to my head that I can work into a story or a poem. I have written many short stories that no publisher has been interested in, but I love them because their characters are always people who have some sort of problem or conflict to work through. They are people who are dear to me.

What is your advice to aspiring writers?

Every one of us is a story teller and writer. Sit down, take out a piece of paper and a sharp pencil J and write. Write for yourself and you will also write for others. There may be a few writers who were born with the talent to pen something extraordinary, but even those are not always understood or are sought after in their lifetime. For most of us, it is a leap of faith to write. So, be bold, be adventurous, be creative, and be happy.

 

Check out Steven’s work in Volume 4, Issue 1.