William L. Spencer–Interview

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

I have an office, I’ve always set things up so I have a space that is basically an office. This one contains a 6-foot table from Ikea, a 17” iMac and a fancy adjustable office chair I purchased (with the client’s money) for one of the industrial videos I wrote and directed. I’ve cobbled together a couple pieces so I can use the desk either seated or standing up.

What kind of materials do you use? Do you write by hand or type?

I touch type about 90 wpm, so that’s the usual. I have written fiction in bars, restaurants, Starbucks, and I sort of like to do that in a way, you can pick up so much when you look up: a gesture, an expression, the way her hair falls across her forehead and the sort of quizzical expression that sometimes flickers across her face. If I lived in New York or Paris or Barcelona I’d probably do it more often. On the other hand, it’s pretty damned convenient not to change out of your pajamas.

What is your routine for writing?

If I have something underway I’m serious about that I really want to get done, like the one (unpublishably pornographic) novel I’ve written, then I set a schedule: first thing in the morning, work for either three hours or 1,000 words, whichever comes first. Then that’s it. This allows the rest of the day to be remorse-free. I think if one doesn’t do something like this, then the free-floating guilt of never getting enough done seems to hover constantly overhead, like Pigpen’s cloud. And of course your sub-mind continues to mess with the story anyway, no matter what else you think you’re doing.

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

I’ve worked as a writer of one sort or another my whole life, so I figure I’ve probably written maybe four million words altogether. I discovered Joseph Conrad and Guy de Maupassant in the bound sets of books that came with the bookcase from my uncle’s furniture store when I was about 12, and that was probably the beginning of my downfall. I wrote for the high school paper and wrote a little in college, but I really began trying to figure out fiction when I was between jobs in the 1980s. My wife and I sold a weekly newspaper in Washington state, moved the family to San Diego, and I freelanced until I got a job writing promotional campaigns for television stations. I worked with a guy who went by Captain Buzzword, who called me Billy Blue Sky. The art director was Tommy Two Tone. A great many creative meetings took place at the Mexican restaurant we favored. (I should probably put this into a story, huh?)

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

Not long ago I ran across what Jeffrey Eugenides told The Paris Review, and it works for me, too: “…when you write, you should pretend you’re writing the best letter you ever wrote to the smartest friend you have. That way, you’ll never dumb things down. You won’t have to explain things that don’t need explaining. You’ll assume an intimacy and a natural shorthand, which is good because readers are smart and don’t wish to be condescended to. I think about the reader. I care about the reader. Not ‘audience.’ Not ‘readership.’ Just the reader.”

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

I get an idea, it just sort of bubbles up, maybe for a story, maybe for a beginning or an ending or a situation or a character and it feels like something drops into focus and I see a way into it or out of it. For example, with this story, “Schoolboy,” for some reason or other I was thinking about that particular time in my life, probably ruminating on regrets, which is a bad idea to start with unless you’re some sort of creative artist and doomed to this sort of stuff, and the feeling for the ending came to me, not all of it, just the very last last line that embodies it all. The beginning of the story, the crank calls, getting the unknown girl on the phone, all that is just as it happened at the time. The second part, going to meet the girl, that’s all fiction. I think the beginning of the story isn’t very strong, and it only picks up momentum when the narrator gets off the bus. Or to put it another way, my fiction is much more interesting than my life. Which strikes me as the way things should be.

If you Google “writer’s block” you get about five and a half million hits. A guy who knew a lot more about this stuff than I do once said to me, “There is a time of breathing in and a time of breathing out.” And, “It’s not a machine, it’s a fountain.”

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

I play golf once a week with my son, see as much of my grandchildren as I can. I try to get enough exercise, and of course I read. I participate at the online writing site Scribophile using another name identity.

What is your favorite part of the creative process?

It used to be (like I’ve heard so many others say) “having written.” Writing is so damn hard. In the last few years, though, I’ve come to enjoy the process, messing around down there in the engine room, tinkering with things, changing out the pipes and valves, which I think is probably a healthier approach, though the grease and the spider webs can be annoying.

What is your advice to aspiring writers?

Let me be specific: Master your tools. If you don’t already, learn to touch type. You can do it in a week if that’s all you do that week. If you don’t know Microsoft Word top to bottom and a lot of the keyboard shortcuts, stop bitching about it and learn it. Read “Techniques of the Selling Writer” by Dwight Swain, memorize Strunk & White. Watch all of Brandon Sanderson’s lectures on YouTube and Jordan B. Peterson’s lectures on YouTube no matter what genre you’re interested in.

Keep in mind that making up a story entails both making up an author and making up an audience. That’s an interesting question for a writer to ask oneself when writing a story (or an interview): who am I being as author? Isn’t this story, like every story, a masquerade? Why do you believe your disguise is working? These are John Edgar Wideman’s ideas.

If you’re still young, figure out what you’re going to do for a day job that’s not going to turn you into somebody you don’t want to be.

And that’s enough of that.

 

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

Charles W. Brice–Interview

Creative space: My wife, the poet Judy Brice, and I are lucky enough to have two homes: one in Pittsburgh and one on Walloon Lake in Petoskey, MI. In Pittsburgh I have a wonderful garret on our third floor where I work and in Petoskey I have a second-floor study that looks out on the lake. The truth is, however, I can write anywhere: bookstores, cars, libraries, coffee houses, hotel rooms, park benches—anywhere.

Writing materials: Most of the time I write in a notebook that I keep in my back pocket. So I usually write the rough drafts of my poems by hand. I edit as I get them into the computer and then edit some more. I love my Pilot G-2 10 ink pens and hate to write with anything else.

Writing Routine: I read in the morning, poetry, novels, nonfiction, whatever, then, after lunch, go to my study and write all day. That’s not quite true: I consider submitting part of my writing day. Usually I’ll start something new or edit existing poems (some poems go through 30 edits), but always finish the day with submitting to at least one venue.

Writing, how long? I wrote poems in college but when I met my wife, Judy, I read some of her poetry and stopped writing myself for about twenty years. Her work was so good that I thought I’d be better off not writing anymore. I shouldn’t have done that, but it’s the truth. I started writing fiction again about 20 years ago. I got a few stories published but found that people really enjoyed my poems and they started getting published frequently so…I became a poet.

Audience: My first audience is my wife, Judy, then our son, Ariel, then my best and closest friends. I always have someone in mind when I write. Even though writing is a solitary process, it’s a relational process for me. I love to get my work published because I love to have people read it. It’s a special boon for me when I meet someone new because of my work. That’s happened when people have read my work on Facebook. I love it!

Inspiration: Reading other poets really inspires me, in fact, I’ve got this crazy idea that the worth of a particular poet I’m reading is directly proportional to the number of poems I get inspired to write while reading her/his work. I’m blessed, I’m never blocked. I think this is because, years ago, when I was in college, I had an English prof named Bernie Beaver who taught us that “anything can be a poem.” That piece of advice has been so helpful to me, Another teacher of mine, Jack Ridl, says that out of ten poems he’s written only one might be publishable, but the other nine were worth it. That’s a liberating thought, one that has helped me write about anything, anywhere! I’m also a member of a terrific writing group at our public library. I get a poem a week out of that group.

Other things I do: On my third floor in Pittsburgh sits the exact drum set that Ringo Starr played in the Beatles—a Ludwig Oyster Pearl drum set with Zildjian cymbals. I love playing them. I was in a rock band and a soul band when a young guy and have recently taken up jazz drumming. Also, I love taking long walks with my dog Mugsi. She’s a sweetie!

Favorite Part of Creative Process: I love editing—tinkering around with the original draft. I think of it as sculpting, getting the poem into a particular shape usually dictated, eventually, by the poem itself rather than by some design of mine. I agree with Billy Collins who says that the best part of the writing process is being surprised by what comes up in the poem, especially the ending.

Advice to writers: Get rid of your inner critic! When you hear that voice say, “it’s crap,” or “you’re no good,” give it the inner finger and write. Find your own writing rhythm. I write every day, and I’ve got friends who tell me that I’m so disciplined. I’m not disciplined! I love what I do and that’s what feels right for me. If you write only when the muse arrives, then that’s great. My wife writes only when the mood hits, and she’s a tremendous poet. Also, if you don’t want to submit your work, that’s fine. There’s no law that you have to, but if you want to publish your work, you’ve got to get it out there. You can’t catch fish if you ain’t got no bait, as the old blues song goes. Make submitting part of your normal writing day. Don’t take rejection personally. Wear rejection like a medal on your chest! It means you’re trying your best. Read like mad and eventually you’ll find your own voice. If you have a book, market it like crazy! The books don’t sell themselves! People who feel that marketing is somehow beneath them get what they deserve—few sales. They also are often the ones who whine that no one reads poetry anymore.

Check out Charles’s work in Volume 4, Issue 2, and the review of Mnemosyne’s Hand: Poems in Volume 4, Issue 2

Aloura Hattendorf–Interview

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

My creative space can be pretty much anywhere. I sometimes have random flashes of inspiration where I have to drop everything and write. It could be at the store, walking my dog, out with friends. For my brain, it doesn’t matter. I do prefer working alone in the quiet because it lets me think over what I’m trying to say. And when I need to read it back aloud to myself I don’t look like a lunatic.

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

My preferred tools are simple: a (specifically) blue ball point pen, lined paper, and hours of alone time. I’m not entirely sure why I like blue ball point pens. The only thing I can think of that makes me really like them is how smooth they move, I guess. I like using loose paper because it allows me to easily look back on what I just wrote.

What is your routine for writing?

I have a structured system. I write what I have, expand on that, check tenses, then I add onto what I have until finally I type it.

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

I’ve been writing on and off for years but it wasn’t until about a year ago when I really started taking it seriously. I’ve been writing since I was little but I really got into it in high school and have been trying to incorporate it into my life ever since.

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

I’ve never really thought about an audience. I want to write to those who need to express their emotions but just can’t. By that, I mean they’re almost stuck. One thing I’ve learned is that, personally, I can’t get anywhere without sorting out my feelings first. I know what it’s like to be stuck in a constant state for days, and days. It can drive the best people insane.

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

My inspiration comes from my day to day life, even in stories. I try to take the highs and the lows of a day and turn them into something everyone can enjoy. I can make it rhyme, I can incorporate it into a fantasy story, it all depends on my mood. If I have a block I go and do something. It could be anything, it’s to jumpstart my engine and remember what my end goal is.

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

I like to draw and paint. I find it very soothing and at times, cathartic. It’s very nice to bring the people, things, or worlds that have been floating around in my head in both words and pictures. It helps organize my thoughts.

What is your favorite part of the creative process?

My favorite part is when it all falls together. It’s so rewarding. It feels like finding the missing piece to a puzzle you’ve been dying to solve and you finally did it, and it’s the most beautiful thing ever. It feels like a new kind of euphoria.

What is your advice to aspiring writers?

Use lots of emotion and this can apply to stories and poems. It’s emotion that drives us to become better. There’s never a moment when you’re not feeling, so it’s important to use that.

 

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

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.