Kristin Kowalski Ferragut–Interview

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

I write primarily in the Nook of my bedroom looking out on a hill and four thin pines I pretend I own, although it’s really just the back of my condo. I find I write particularly well when I go away to a remote airbnb or retreat. I dream of finding a more permanent, isolated writer’s space, maybe a cabin or shed in the woods. 

I also enjoy writing in coffeehouses. One of my favorite things to do with friends is to meet to “parallel work,” which largely means to hang out and ignore each other between smiles and short conversations. Not all of my friends enjoy this pastime. 

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

I primarily type on my laptop although I love pens, especially colored, erasable gel pens these days for outlines and notes.

What is your routine for writing?

I’d like to say I wake up early every morning and write; that is usually my plan and sometimes a habit, but my routine is more typically random. I’m typing these responses at 3:00 am after drafting a poem. I see nights like this as writing between two naps.

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

I started most of my creative writing after college, when I began identifying as a writer. I lived what I considered a good writer’s life–traveling and collecting experiences, but not spending enough time writing or editing. I rarely wrote when my children were little, but started writing seriously in 2015. My children, now 11 and 16, are supportive, which helps inspire me.

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

I know that I’m supposed to have an audience in mind, but I don’t. I have faith that most of what I put out there needs to be read by someone, but I don’t usually imagine who that might be. I write primarily for myself. At times, I might write something as a gift to someone, but even then, it’s my wanting to capture feelings, ideas, and phrases primarily to study, understand, or celebrate for myself.

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

I’m a better person when I write. It’s how I process the world and it helps keep me centered. So any manner of hardship or crisis inspires me to write. As Philip Roth said, “Nothing bad can happen to a writer. Everything is material.” With that said, when life is too chaotic or rushed, it’s hard to find the mental space and stillness to write. At those times, things that help include a day off, a walk in the woods, and a good scented candle.

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

I paint a few pictures every summer to enter in the county fair. I sometimes imagine I’ll keep it up year round, but never carve out time for it. I play guitar. I’ve been playing on and off for years, but got serious with it last spring and am nearing competent now. I’m working on writing songs too.

What is your favorite part of the creative process?

My favorite part of the creative process might be the window-staring. Also, it’s wildly satisfying when I struggle with a piece and think it may be one to give up on, but stick it out and Voila! It comes together. Usually my writing is slow and steady, and I have more than my share of work I’ve trashed, but sometimes it comes together in the end. How it does sometimes astounds even me. And sometimes it’s easy, the work just writes itself, which calls to mind all sorts of mysterious notions I enjoy musing about.

I always feel grateful to be writing, even when it’s not going well, even when it’s difficult. I never take for granted the time and space and presence of mind writing requires. It’s all a great luxury.

What is your advice to aspiring writers?

When I reflect on why I produced so little in my 20s, despite having lots of time, I conclude that I cared too much about what other people thought and took feedback poorly. I now regularly seek feedback, and it consistently improves my work, but I don’t take it too seriously. So I guess that would be my advice to aspiring writers, not to take any of it too seriously–criticisms, expectations, yourself. They’re only words after all, easily deleted, trashed, or erased.  

Check out Kristin‘s work in Volume 6, Issue 1.

Jennifer Makowsky–Interview

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

I usually write at home in a chair that’s situated in front of a row of windows that go from floor to ceiling. It’s an odd place to write since it’s in the living room and there is foot traffic around, but I can’t resist the light coming in.

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

I write on my laptop. Once upon a time, I wrote in notebooks, but I have become a slave to the keyboard over the years.

What is your routine for writing?

I get up at 5:30 every morning to write before I go to work. The early hour is my opportunity to write before anyone else is up, before the bad news of the world has had a chance to seep in, and I still feel somewhat connected to a dream state. But none of this happens until I get my coffee, of course.

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

I started writing as a kid. My first story was about my dog.

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

I guess I would say anyone who has wrestled with feeling like they’re misunderstood, an outsider, or aren’t good enough.  

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

Nature, music, and books inspire me most. Also people. The world is chock full of so many characters.

If I’m blocked I just vomit words on the page and take it from there. I think the most important part of creating anything is not being afraid of making a mess before making it into something palatable. I’d say I embrace my shitty first drafts.

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

I have a piano I toy with. I’m also a teacher, which allows for a lot of creativity.

What is your favorite part of the creative process? 

Watching something take shape after the initial word vomit–that point when you realize there’s something coming together in that mess you’ve just made.

What is your advice to aspiring writers?

Keep at it. I meet so many people who say they used to write. You don’t have to be good at first. You just have to do it and do it a lot.

Check out Jennifer‘s work in Volume 6, Issue 1.

Susan Taylor Chehak–Interview

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

I work at home, and always have. Now my children are grown and I have more time for that, but I don’t always use that time as wisely as I might. I have a desk in an office with windows that look out onto mountain peaks and forest land, but my desk faces a blank wall and I try to keep my gaze inward rather than looking up. I’ve created writing spaces in closets and basements and all kinds of dark places, and that has always worked best for me.

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

I handwrite the first drafts of my stories, outlining them first, spending a good while developing my stories before I put pen (Unibal Deluxe Micro pen w/ black ink—I buy them by the box) to paper (plain brown cardboard-covered narrow-ruled 7.5×10″ Moleskine notebooks). I let that draft fester for a week or more before typing it up on my laptop. And then spend several weeks editing and polishing, with more festering time between workdays to keep it fresh every time I go back to the page. Sometimes I use a device called a FreeWrite typewriter to create a first draft (this is usually what I do with novels), which is like the original word-processers that we used back in the day, where you didn’t have a full screen, just a keyboard and about two horizontal inches of screen that showed the last few words typed. This thing sends the draft up to a folder in my Dropbox as I type, so I can’t do any editing or double-thinking, just have to spill it out, as I do with handwritten pages. To me, the ability to make a mess is important to really get down to the intuitive, gut-felt writing, before I go back in and clean it all up later. This is how the voice of the narrative begins to emerge for me, too.

What is your routine for writing?

I am an early riser and compose handwritten drafts when I first get up before dawn, only a few pages every morning. Then later in the day, usually mornings, I’ll be drafting on the FreeWrite or working on previously drafted work, editing and polishing, cleaning up the messes I’ve made… or simply dreaming up new stories, outlining and working out sequences and scenes. Afternoons are spent reading and gathering information for whatever it is I’ve been working on. Somewhere in there I’ll go out into the forest and mull over all that I’ve been dreaming up. I call that taking “long walks in deep woods with big dogs.”

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

My grandfather “published” my first story 60 years ago, when I was 9 years old—by making mimeograph copies and distributing them to my family—and I’ve been writing one thing or another, pretty consistently, ever since.

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

I don’t think of an audience when I am writing. I write for the piece itself. I spend a lot of time examining the messes I make to see what they’re asking of me, what they’re telling me, what I need to do to turn them into something that has some meaning or some beauty or some something that will make them seem whole and in some way complete.

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

I’m inspired by the people I talk to, the stories they tell me, the situations I see, the feelings that overwhelm me. When something disturbs me or someone I know, when I see pain or grief or confusion, my impulse is to use it somehow, to do what I can to turn it into art. I feel I might be able to find some redemption that way. When I’m blocked (which is rarely anymore) I go out into the world, either into the forest or onto the street or into the city…it doesn’t really matter where. A change of scenery makes everything look new and marvelous to me again. If I can’t get out, I go inward: meditation, reading, watching TV and movies, looking at art. I also like to strike up conversations with strangers, to get myself out of myself when I’m feeling stuck.

What other things do you do besides writing?

I always have a lot of projects in the works to keep me busy. I knit sweaters and socks and blankets and mittens and washcloths and hats. I design and sew skirts and pants and shorts for myself. I play with embroidery, weaving, cross stitch, almost any kind of textile work that I can do with my hands. I have a small art studio where I draw and paint and build sculptures and collage, and I’m learning to play guitar and piano. I hike in summer and snowshoe in winter and practice Transcendental Meditation and Kundalini yoga year round.

What is your favorite part of the creative process?

The moments when whatever I’m working on speaks to me and I understand what I need to do to make it work, to turn it into what it will become. This almost always comes as a beautiful surprise to me, as if it were someone else who created the thing in the first place. Also, when I’ve just finished something and I can look at it and say, “That’s done,” and then move on to something new. I am always learning. I am always failing and starting over, making mistakes and fixing them, running into walls and picking myself back up again, finding another way around or another way in or another way out. For me, the creative process is a never-ending adventure. Where I get stuck, really, is afterward, when I have to figure out how to get whatever I’ve created out into the world. I’m not very good at that at all, and so I generally leave it to others to do it for me. Sometimes that works and sometimes it doesn’t.

What is your advice to aspiring writers?

Write all the time. Read everything. Go deep into your own self and your own imagination and dreams and listen to what your unconscious is telling you. Open up your eyes, your heart, your mind, your windows and your doors, and let the world come on in, too. Then turn your experiences into art.

Check out Susan‘s work in Volume 6, Issue 1.

Mirana Comstock–Interview

Describe your creative space. Do you work at home, in public spaces, etc.? 
As a screenwriter, singer/songwriter and advertising copywriter, as well as a poet, my creative space and process varies for each of those forms of writing. For the purposes of this interview, I will concentrate on poetry. A lot of my creative space for writing poetry is actually between my ears…inside my head. It’s portable, custom made especially for me and always available. The cons? When it breaks down…distraction, lack of sleep or inspiration…there is no tech to fix it. Except me.

It is only at the very last round of working on a poem that I commit to paper…well, actually to screen…on my computer. Usually because I am afraid I will forget it or, if scrawled on the back of some envelope, won’t be able to read my not-so-great handwriting when I return to it. Before that happens, most of the writing leading up to that moment tends to be while walking my two rescue dogs. We live in a seaside town and there is nothing like walking next to the ocean at dawn or dusk to get my head going. That whole alone but not alone thing really works for me. Because I work sitting in front of a computer all day as an advertising copywriter, I also think being in motion, outside, helps to separate it out from work.

My actual in-home creative space is in a former pantry of our late Victorian house. It is furnished with a rolltop desk and the old oak swivel chair that my late grandfather, author Konrad Bercovici, had in his study. The chair is really uncomfortable,  even with lots of pillows to cushion it. But knowing he wrote all those books and stories sitting in it is a whole other kind of comfort. 

What kind of materials do you use? Do you write by hand or type? What is your favorite writing utensil?
When it comes to actually fine-tuning what I have written in my head, I use an iMac. I do love being able to move words and phrases around and trying out alternate versions without having to figure out exactly what I wrote in an earlier session. My handwriting does become somewhat of a scrawl in inspired moments.

What is your routine for writing?
I usually have a poem or two that I am working on in my head and I sort of try them out while walking to see if anything starts to come together. Sometimes I check through my computer poetry file for any unfinished work before heading out. Letting things sit for a while and then coming back to them can really help give you some perspective on your work.

How long have you been writing? When did you start writing?
I actually can’t remember a time when I wasn’t writing. I come from a family of noted multi-field creatives. Painters, singers, sculptors…they all also wrote. Because of this, I remember a teacher one time…I think it was in the third grade…questioning whether family members were writing my assignments. She left me in a classroom, alone, and asked me to write something. I was scared at first, then got sort of defiant about what I could do…and she couldn’t. I ended up writing a poem about a plant in our window communicating with a plant in another window across the school courtyard. They never asked me to do that again. I wish I had a copy of that poem.

Who is your intended, or ideal, audience? Who do you write for?
I don’t really have an intended audience. I guess I mainly write for myself and hope someone else “gets it.” That said, I really do love it when younger generations are into the work. I use a combination of rhyme and free verse…with rhythm and rhyme anchoring the words, phrases and lines. Since rhyme can be considered old school, I like it when the new school or even the still in school appreciate it.

What inspires you to write? If you are blocked, what do you do?
Everything inspires me. The wind at night. A new scientific discovery. An odd juxtaposition of events in the news. I try to let it all in and link with whatever else is already in my head. I don’t think I have ever been truly blocked…maybe less inspired…but not fully blocked. The flow is usually still there. Part of that may come from my copywriting day job. If you write for a living every day, you can’t really allow yourself to be blocked. 

What other things do you do besides writing? Do you dance or play golf, etc.?
I am a singer/songwriter for alt rock duo Theory of Tides, a screenwriter, and a photographer. I consider the later the closest to poetry in terms of catching and holding a moment.  I also love to dance and am a pup parent who spends a lot of time walking, playing with and just loving the pure joy and enthusiasm of my two rescue dogs.

What is your favorite part of the creative process?
When words just kind of flow in without any apparent mechanical action on the part of my brain. Sort of like speaking in tongues or channeling some deep part of myself or my surroundings. That is the ultimate high. Then the work begins.

What is your advice to aspiring writers?
Keep your mind open all of the time. You never know what words, thoughts or images will come on in, make themselves at home…and eventually become a poem, a story, a song.

Check out Mirana‘s work in Volume 6, Issue 1.

Aidan Coleman–Interview

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

I like the idea of writing in coffee shops, and often do drafting there but the main business of writing takes place in my cluttered study at home.

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

I mostly work on the computer … Boring, I know.

What is your routine for writing?

With poetry at least, I’m usually working on something else and I’m taken by a line – never by an idea. I try to write the line down as I receive it, and that usually provides a way into something. Often my first draft is quite similar to the final version in terms of the trajectory, rhythm, tone etc. but some of the language will sharpen through drafting. I have more of a set routine writing prose because you can just turn up with prose and some days are better than others, but you know you’ll get something down. With poetry you’re really at the mercy of the Muse.

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

I wrote limericks and stuff like that as a kid but I started writing seriously when I began university—so about 22 years now.

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

I would have said in the past for as many people as possible, but I have come to the reluctant conclusion that most people like clichés, and as poetry is a war against cliché (a statement that may be a cliché itself) the poet really can’t write for everyone if they want to be true to their art.

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

Reading great poetry, especially contemporary work.

I’m not particularly prolific, but I’ve never worried about writer’s block.

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

I teach, play with my kids, read, watch soccer, and go to church.

What is your favorite part of the creative process?

The initial rush of a line, and the final edit.

What is your advice to aspiring writers?

Read all you can … and—if they’re not too famous—seek out those writers you admire and ask for some pointers. Most likely, they’ll have done the same in the distant past, and they will be happy to help. This is an easier proposition if they’re poets. If you are aspiring to be a poet, just enjoy being part of the community and you will quickly improve. Once that happens, never assume a poem you write is good just because you’re a good poet. Resist becoming one of the two or three stereotypes society assigns to poets. … Keep reading.

Check out Aidan’s work in Volume 5, Issue 1.

Steven B. Rosenfeld–Interview

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

My wife and I each have home offices in our West Village apartment, so I am fortunate enough to have my own creative space, and do almost all of my writing there.

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

I use my home computer, both for writing and for the online research I do for my stories, when research is needed.  It’s very efficient, because it allows me to pause during writing or revision, when I discover that I need to check or research facts, do the research, and have the draft right there on my screen to access as I do the research.

What is your routine for writing?

I wish I had one. Even though I am “retired” as a full-time lawyer, writing is still very much an avocation for me. I’m involved in a lot of volunteer work as well as being a father and grandfather, so the quantity and quality of time, and my ability to block off allotted time for writing, varies widely. When I do find that I have time, I try to allot at least half of the day for writing/revising or writing-related activities—such as answering this questionnaire.

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

As a practicing lawyer in New York City, I have been writing for over 40 years—numerous briefs, articles in legal periodicals, op-ed pieces and reports, including large portions of the 1972 Report of the N.Y. State Commission on Attica, which was nominated for a National Book Award, and the public reports of the NYC Conflicts of Interest Board, which I chaired from 2002 to 2013.  However, I only began writing short stories, originally just for fun, about three years ago.

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

I don’t really have an intended or ideal audience. I think I write for whomever might enjoy the particular story I’m working on at the time, which I guess varies as widely as the subjects of my stories, which have included things drawn from my own memories and experiences, humorous/satirical pieces or, like “Risky,” a (somewhat tongue-in-cheek) suspense story.

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

I think I’m most inspired by the sheer joy of writing itself, whether or not what I’m writing is ever going to be read beyond my loyal circle of friends and family. When I first began writing short stories, I was – and still am – inspired by this quote from one of my favorite writers, Gabriel Garcia Marquez:

                “. . . because of my helpful suspicion that perhaps nothing I had experienced . . . was true, I did not have to ask myself where life ended and imagination began. Then the writing became so fluid that I sometimes felt as if I were writing for the sheer pleasure of telling a story, which may be the human condition that most resembles levitation.”

Gabriel Garcia Marquez

I like to think that I’m never “blocked” (do doctors have doctor’s block?), but when I am having trouble thinking of ideas for new stories, I have taken in-person or on-line workshops designed to stimulate new ideas. One of them, run by Beth Bauman at the West Side Y in NYC, is called “Filling the Well”—and it’s helped fill mine several times.                     

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

I read The New York Times every day, The New Yorker every week, and more short story magazines than I can get through, so the pile on my bedside table keeps growing. I occasionally read (or listen to) novels as well. I don’t dance or play golf, but my wife and I are frequent theatre, opera and concert goers—and diners-out.  And I work out with a trainer twice a week.

What is your favorite part of the creative process?

Getting a new idea and jumping head-first into it. Getting an acceptance email is a close second, though.

What is your advice to aspiring writers?

Just do it—don’t be afraid to tackle any idea that occurs to you. Take all the writing workshops you can (in-person, if you can, on-line if you can’t), because it puts you in touch with other aspiring writers and shows you that, even though the actual task of writing can feel lonely, you’re hardly alone. Oh, and even if you’re 70+ years old like I was, it’s never too late to start.

Check out Steven’s work in Volume 4, Issue 2. Check out his story “Cousin Dora” published in The Flatbush Review.

Theresa Williams–Interview

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

I work at home. Since all our children moved out, I have taken over half of the house. In one room I have an art desk.  In another room I have my computer and most of my books. And in still another, I have a big table where with a paper cutter, various staplers, more books, and a tall tool box where I keep my art papers and finished work.

What kind of materials do you use? What mediums do you work in?

Water and Copic proof markers, Copic markers, colored pencils, pastels, and gel pens, mostly.

What is your routine for art? Do you always sketch first?

Not always. For The Diary of Lea Knight, I sometimes draw images on paper and glue them on the journal pages. That way if the picture doesn’t turn out as well as I’d like, I can try again. I think of it like doing a collage. Sometimes if I feel confident, I draw directly on the journal pages.

How long have you been making art? When did you start making art?

Since I was a child. I ALWAYS wanted to be an artist first. I got an undergraduate degree in studio art at East Carolina University. When I graduated, though, I got two Master’s degrees in English and upon graduation taught English courses at the university level. I thought it was a more stable path financially. I didn’t draw for a long time. I came back to it about 7 years ago. My plan all along was to somehow combine art and writing.

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

I make it for myself first. I make the sort of thing I’d like to see or to buy.  I want to have fun with my art.  I trust that my concerns are universal enough that they will connect with others. My ideal audience would be people interested in the inner life of a character, not so much lots of action.

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

I get curious about how a person would handle certain difficult situations. I’ve written a lot about death because I think that’s the hardest experience for people to come to terms with. So a lot of my work has to do with loss and dealing with loss. The Diary of Lea Knight, for example, is about a woman who lost a baby and is in a rocky marriage. Her diary is her way of coming to terms with hard times.  If I come to a standstill, I read whatever interests me. I have lots of books and am always buying more. I also have lots of art books and I look at them to get ideas about subject and composition. I rarely get blocked anymore, but I do come to a pause sometimes, and then I need to think about where to go next.

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

I’m really mainly consumed with art and writing. I don’t do a lot of other activities. I teach nine months out of the year, and that takes a lot of time. So when summer comes, I just want to be creative. I don’t want distractions.

What is your favorite part of the creative process?

The surprise. Each day is an opportunity to explore something different. I don’t like to plan too far ahead with my work. I have a rough plan but work organically. For instance, Lea’s birthday diary entry was only supposed to be four pages or so, but the idea grew as I worked. It took me places I hadn’t planned to go. It was exhilarating.

What is your advice to aspiring artists?

Just to do it. Inspiration is overrated. Your ideas come from working. You discover as you go. Work with archetypes. Use what’s universal but discover the personal, too. To find your personal archetypes, you have to draw and sketch a lot of pictures; that’s the only way. Don’t emulate any certain style. Forget about being Leonardo Da Vinci or anyone else. Find your own style.

 

Check out Theresa’s work in Volume 4, Issue 2, and upcoming in Volume 5, Issue 1.

Theresa won The Magnolia Review Ink Award for “From the Diary of Lea Knight” in Volume 4, Issue 2. Check out the announcement here.