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.

Paul Mills–Interview

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

If I’m working to a tight deadline, it doesn’t matter where I work; I can be productive anywhere. At other times though, I find there are too many distractions if I try to write at home, so I often find a coffee shop, or a pub or even a park to write in. (A park may not seem like an obvious choice, but there’s no wifi, so you have nothing to do other than writing!)

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

I always write on my laptop.

What is your routine for writing?

Routine? Ha haaa ha ha ha ha ha ha! Routine! Ha ha ha!

No. I have no routine. If I have a story I’m really passionate about, I’ll find the time to write it by setting aside some spare hours in the evenings or weekends to sit down and write. This results in maybe one story a year, which is a distinctly unsatisfying average. So to get myself to write more, I recently started finding ways to give myself deadlines. At first, this meant entering competitions, but I still wasn’t getting that much written. So a little over a year ago, I set myself a goal of writing a story a month for a year, and to make sure I stuck to this, I set up a club on the internet of like-minded people, and every month I gave us all a prompt and a deadline. The knowledge that the other club members were expecting me to write a story gave me the motivation I needed to force myself to meet the deadline. Typically, I’d do pretty much nothing for the first three weeks, and then get the story written in a mad rush in the days coming up to the deadline, and at least once I stayed up until six o’clock in the morning on the night of the deadline to get my story finished. (I figured that so long as I finished it before I went to bed, it counted as having met the deadline.)

It worked out really well for me. I find that having a deadline forces me not only to make time to write, but also to come up with ideas I would not have had otherwise. I now have twelve new stories (admittedly, of variable quality) that I never would have written otherwise.

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

I guess I’ve written on and off since I was a kid. After university I started writing more regularly because I joined a writing group, and we met weekly to share what we had written that week. It meant that if I went more than a week without writing anything, I felt a bit foolish, because I’d be coming in to the meeting saying ‘Um… I didn’t write anything again this week. So, er, who’s next?’ But it’s hard to find groups like that that meet weekly, and when I moved to a different city, I found I pretty much stopped writing. I only started writing more seriously again within the last couple of years, because I started my one-story-a-month project.

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

I write for myself. I figure that if I succeed in writing something that I would enjoy reading, the chances are that there’ll be other people out there who would enjoy reading it too.

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

It’s difficult to generalise about what inspires me. The story “Slow Fade,” in this edition of The Magnolia Review, was written because the first sentence just appeared in my head, and I figured I could write an interesting story from it, but that’s not how I usually come up with stories. Often I have a message I want to convey and I try to write a story that illustrates the message.

If I get blocked, I go for a long walk. It works for me. That said, I rarely get very blocked if I have a deadline looming.

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

I play the piano. Well sort of. What you’re supposed to do when you’re learning an instrument is start off with easy pieces and get gradually harder, but I couldn’t be bothered with that, so I started with Maple Leaf Rag, by Scott Joplin, which is not an easy piece at all. I’ve learnt it, but it took me about a year of going through the sheet music chord by chord, painfully slowly, then very gradually getting faster and faster. Now when people hear me play it, they’re very impressed, and they assume I’m a fantastic pianist—they don’t realise that it’s the only piece I can play!

What is your favorite part of the creative process?

I love the whole thing. I love thinking about stories I could write; I love the mental effort of actually putting the plot in order, making sure all the information is in there; I love reading over what I’ve done; and I get a huge kick out of hearing positive feedback from other people.

What is your advice to aspiring writers?

Read as much as you can, write as much as you can. That’s it, really.

 

Check out Paul’s work in Volume 4, Issue 2.

Simon Perchik–Interview

  1. I write in a public space, a coffee shop most often. Sometimes the YWCA.
  2. I use a fountain pen, write by hand,.
  3. At 9 am I’m at the table and write till about 12. Sometimes later, depending on progress of the poem.
  4. I began writing in college, but when I retired in 1975, I began writing full time.
  5. I don’t think about who will read what I write. I just want something to be there that wasn’t there before.
  6. Great question. Especially since I have the answer. I have attached my essay dealing with this question (read it below). It also deals with how never to be blocked from writing.
  7. I read. I estimate I read 5 or 6 poetry books a month.
  8. My favorite part is when the poem is finished. The process is not enjoyable in any sense of the word. It’s brutal.
  9. My advice is not to take anyone’s advice. But read. You have to know what’s been done.

And to read more about Simon on Writing, check out the essay “Magic, Illusion and Other Realities.”

MAGIC, ILLUSION AND OTHER REALITIES

Where do writers get their ideas? Well, if they are writing prose, their ideas evolve one way. If, on the other hand, they are writing poetry, their ideas evolve another way. Perhaps some distinctions are in order. Distinguishing the difference between prose and poetry may not be all that simple. There are many definitions, all of which may be correct. For the purpose of this essay allow me to set forth one of the many:

It seems to me that there is available to writers a spectrum along which to proceed. At one end is prose, appropriate for essays, news, weather reports and the like. At the other end is poetry. Writers move back and forth along this spectrum when writing fiction.

Thus, prose is defined by its precise meaning that excludes ambiguity, surmise and misunderstanding. It never troubles the reader.  To define it another way, prose is faulty if it lacks a coherent thrust guided by rules of logic, grammar and syntax. It will not tolerate contradiction.  Poetry, on the other hand, is defined by its resistance to such rules. Poetry is ignited, brought to life by haunting, evasive, ambiguous, contradictory propositions.

This is not to say poetry is more or less useful than prose. Rather, they are two separate and distinct tools, much the same as a hammer and a saw. They are different tools designed for different jobs. If an essay is called for, the reader wants certainty; exactly what the words you are now reading are intended to give. If, on the other hand, consolation for some great loss is called for, the reader needs more: a text that lights up fields of reference nowhere alluded to on the page. This calls for magic, for illusion, not lecture. Thus, one of the many definitions of poetry might be: Poetry: words that inform the reader of that which cannot be articulated. To be made whole, to heal, the reader needs to undergo an improved change in mood, a change made more effective if the reader doesn’t know why he or she feels better. Exactly like music. That’s where poetry gets its power to repair; an invisible touch, ghost-like but as real as anything on earth. A reading of the masters, Neruda, Aleixandre, Celan…confirms that a text need not always have a meaning the reader can explicate. To that extent, it informs, as does music, without what we call meaning.  It’s just that it takes prose to tell you this.

This is because prose is a telling of what the writers already know. They have a preconceived idea of what to write about. With poetry it’s the opposite. The writers have no preconceived idea with which to begin a poem. They need to first force the idea out of the brain, to bring the idea to the surface, to consciousness. With poetry the writer needs a method to find that hidden idea. If the originating idea wasn’t hidden and unknown it isn’t likely to be an important one. Let’s face it: any idea that is easily accessible has already been picked over. It’s all but certain to be a cliché.

To uncover this hidden idea for a poem the writers each have their own unique method. As for me, the idea for the poem evolves when an idea from a photograph is confronted with an obviously unrelated, disparate idea from a text (mythology or science) till the two conflicting ideas are reconciled as a totally new, surprising and workable one. This method was easy for me to come by. As an attorney I was trained to reconcile disparate views, to do exactly what a metaphor does for a living. It’s not a mystery that so many practicing lawyers write poetry. Lawyer Poets And That World We Call Law, James R. Elkins, Editor (Pleasure Boat Studio Press. Also, Off the Record, An Anthology of Poetry by Lawyers, edited by James R. Elkins, Professor of Law, University of West Virginia.

The efficacy of this method for getting ideas is documented at length by Wayne Barker, MD. who, in his Brain Storms, A Study of Human Spontaneity, on page 15 writes:

If we can endure confrontation with the unthinkable, we may be able to fit together new patterns of awareness and action. We might, that is, have a fit of insight, inspiration, invention, or creation. The propensity for finding the answer, the lure of creating or discovering the new, no doubt has much to do with some people’s ability to endure tension until something new emerges from the contradictory and ambiguous situation.

Likewise, Douglas R. Hofstadter, in his Godel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid writes on page 26:

One of the major purposes of this book is to urge each reader to confront the apparent contradiction head on, to savor it, to turn it over, to take it apart, to wallow in it, so that in the end the reader might emerge with new insights into the seemingly unbreachable gulf between the formal and the informal, the animate and the inanimate, the flexible and the inflexible.

Moreover, the self-induced fit is standard operating procedure in the laboratory. Allow me to quote Lewis Thomas, who, in his The Lives of a Cell, on page 138. describes the difference between applied science and basic research. After pointing out how applied science deals only with the precise application of known facts, he writes:

In basic research, everything is just the opposite. What you need at the outset is a high degree of uncertainty; otherwise it isn’t likely to be an important problem. You start with an incomplete roster of facts, characterized by their ambiguity; often the problem consists of discovering the connections between unrelated pieces of information. You must plan experiments on the basis of probability, even bare possibility, rather than certainty.  If an experiment turns out precisely as predicted, this can be very nice, but it is only a great event if at the same time it is a surprise. You can measure the quality of the work by the intensity of astonishment. The surprise can be because it did turn out as predicted (in some lines of research, 1 per cent is accepted as a high yield), or it can be a confoundment because the prediction was wrong and something totally unexpected turned up, changing the look of the problem and requiring a new kind of protocol. Either way, you win…

Isn’t it reasonable to conclude that the defining distinction between applied science and basic research is the same as that between prose and poetry? Isn’t it likewise reasonable to conclude that the making of basic science is very much the same as the making of poetry?

In a real way I, too, work in a laboratory. Every day at 9 am I arrive at a table in the local coffee shop, open a dog-eared book of photographs, open a text, and begin mixing all my materials together to find something new.

For the famous Walker Evans photograph depicting a migrant’s wife, I began:

Walker Evans     Farmer’s wife

Tough life, mouth closed, no teeth?  Sorrow?

Not too bad looking. Plain dress

This description went on and on till I felt I had drained the photograph of all its ideas. I then read the chapter entitled On Various Words from The Lives of a Cell. Photograph still in view, I then wrote down ideas from Dr. Thomas’s text. I began:

Words –bricks and mortar

Writing is an art, compulsively adding to,

building the ant hill,

not sure if each ant knows what it will look like when finished

it’s too big. Like can’t tell what Earth looks like if you’re on it.

This too goes on and on with whatever comes to mind while I’m reading. But all the time, inside my brain, I’m trying to reconcile what a migrant’s wife has to do with the obviously unrelated ideas on biology suggested by Dr. Thomas. I try to solve the very problem I created. Of course my brain is stymied and jams, creating a self-induced fit similar to the epilepsy studied by the above mentioned Dr. Barker, M.D. But that was my intention from the beginning.

Sooner or later an idea from the photograph and an idea from the text will be resolved into a new idea and the poem takes hold.

No one is more surprised than I. Or exhausted. The conditions under which I write are brutal. My brain is deliberately jammed by conflicting impulses. Its neurons are overloaded, on the verge of shutting down. I can barely think. My eyes blur. The only thing that keeps me working is that sooner or later will come the rapture of discovery; that the differences once thought impossible to reconcile, become resolved; so and so, once thought  impossible of having anything to do with so and so, suddenly and surprisingly, has everything in the world to do with it. Or has nothing to do with it but can be reconciled with something else it triggered: one flash fire after another in the lightening storm taking place in my brain.

Getting the idea is one thing but the finished poem is a long way off. And to get there I abstract so my subconscious can talk to the reader’s subconscious, much the same as an artist abstracts the painting so the viewer’s subconscious can listen to the artist’s subconscious. There will be nothing anyone can point to and say, “That’s why”. Exactly like music, the most abstract of all the arts. Thus, for each poem its opening phrase is stolen shamelessly from Beethoven. He’s the master at breaking open bones and I might as well use him early on in the poem. Then I steal from Mahler whose music does its work where I want my poetry to do its work: the marrow.

Perhaps marrow is what it’s all about. Abstraction, since it contradicts the real world, is a striking form of confrontation which jams the brain till it shuts down confused. It befits the marrow to then do the work the reader’s brain cells would ordinarily do. And though what the marrow cells put together is nothing more than a “gut feeling”, with no rational footing, it is enough to refresh the human condition, to make marriages, restore great loses, rally careers.

Of course abstraction is just one of the ways writers arrive at the poem with their idea. But however they come they all leave for the reader poetry’s trademark: illusion. It is that illusion that builds for the over-burdened reader a way out.

Perhaps, as you may have already suspected, a poem, unlike a newspaper, is not a tool for everyday use by everyone; it’s just for those who need it, when they need it.

Check out Simon’s work in Volume 3, Issue 1, Volume 3, Issue 2, Volume 4, Issue 2, and Volume 5, Issue 1.

TJ Neathery–Interview

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

I prefer local coffee shops (note the plural use of “shops”). I appreciate a change of scenery now and then. Right now I have about three or four coffee shops that I cycle through any given month. I just love the ambient noise and the little distractions that help energize my writing process.

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

Ideally, I like to write longhand in a college-rule notebook. I wrote my first novel manuscript on two notebooks. The ability to take notes is important to me. For example, I might think of a scene that should come ten pages later so I just write that idea in the margins. I can’t really do that as easily on a computer. I also love writing with Pilot G2 07 pens. Those are the best pens. End of discussion.

What is your routine for writing?

Waking up around 7:30 am and heading to a coffee shop. Granted, it depends on the project. Right now I’m writing a weekly local artist feature/interview. The routine for that is much different than, say, writing a novel or short story. Deadlines are a big difference. But the length is a factor, too. I can sit down after a long day of work and transcribe an interview just fine. It’s harder to do that with a novel. That’s why I like blocking out larger sections of time to write fiction.

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

I wrote my first stories as a kid—five or six years old. However, I started taking fiction writing seriously my junior year of college after taking my first workshop. A professor encouraged me to pursue my MFA and so I did.

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

Someone who’s honest about problems in the world and someone who still has hope despite that honestly. Someone who’s willing to engage in theology but, again, in an honest and vulnerable way.

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

Many of my stories were inspired by friends who wrote in different styles and genres than I did. I don’t really write sci-fi or fantasy. I lean more realistic or historical. But a friend in grad school challenged me to write a sci-fi story and it was fun being able to incorporate new themes into my writing. It also pushed me outside my writing comfort zone.

Personally, I’m inspired by faith. In almost all of my stories, I’m exploring how characters struggle with and are influenced by religious faith in some shape or form. My writing hero is Marilynne Robinson, and her book Gilead has been extremely important to my identity as a writer.

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

One of my hobbies is collecting tangible music. CD’s and vinyl mostly. I own about 350 CDs that I’ve amassed since high school. There’s just something about listening to a full album that relaxes me. Spotify is great, but sometimes I get tired with the scattered, never-ending playlists that I listen to. Records end and I have to make the conscious effort to flip the album over to the next side. That’s kind of crazy in today’s media environment. Plus, I love being able to pick up a keepsake whenever I go to a memorable live show. For those of you familiar with the Enneagram, I’m a type five. That explains the memento thing.

What is your favorite part of the creative process?

Having my work published. Just kidding. I love the moment when the story “clicks.” It’s the same with writing academic, argumentative essays. I often spend a lot of time doing research and creating outlines and writing bits and pieces to explore my characters. But there’s always a moment when I realize something. “Oh, that’s what the central conflict will be!” or “That’s the key motivation!” After that, the story just opens up and I can breathe for a second. It’s moments like these that keep me writing.

What is your advice to aspiring writers?

Find out what you can and can’t compromise on. If you decide to only write dark/horror novellas about train conductors told from the second person, then I wish you the best. But you might find it difficult to find homes for your work, and you might want to rethink your standards/requirements. Then again, if you’re championing a special cause, trying to love another human being through your work, or if you’re contributing a unique voice to the writing community, then by all means follow your passions and don’t compromise. Here’s an example from my life. I prefer reading and writing longer short stories (6000-7000 words). However, current publications tend to prefer 3000 word stories or even flash fiction. Of course, I’m trying to keep the integrity of my writing intact, but I’m currently pushing myself to work within these shorter restraints. And I’ll likely become a better writer for it. Crisp, efficient writing never hurt anybody.

 

Check out TJ’s work in Volume 4, Issue 2.