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.

Michael Whelan–Interview

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

My prime space is a sitting area in my bedroom, where I have a great rocking chair, which is where I do my writing on NOTES in my mini-pad.  I also like to write in the Starbucks right down the street from my condo.  In spaces like that I get a sense of creative energy from the people around me.

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

I write almost exclusively on my mini-pad, using the Apple NOTES app.  I revise constantly as I write and go back many times during the day to look and re-write again when I am onto creating a new poem that has promise.

What is your routine for writing?

Often, I write first thing in the morning — before breakfast and before looking at any emails or other business.  I find that time of day my mind is most open to exploring creatively and going in new directions.

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

Have been writing poetry as my main focus for about 10 years.  Have written all my life — professionally as a business journalist, corporate marketer, creator of a series of writing seminars that I taught to international financial executives (World Bank) in 30 countries.  In between I wrote creatively in both prose and poetry on occasion, including magazine and newspaper feature pieces.

Have mentors played a role in your writing?

Very much so — particularly in writing “After God,” my first published collections of poems, which took me four years to write.  It’s a memoir in verse, tracking my experience with the enigma of God from age four to the present.  At two points in the writing, I turned to different outstanding writers  mentors — both had been friends with me for many years before I asked their input as a mentor.  The first was Dermot Healy, one of Ireland’s leading poets, novelists and dramatists, and the second was Terence Winch, who is both poet and musician highly regarded in the Washington DC and US poetry world. I turned to them after I had written most of the text and their editing suggestions and other guidance were invaluable in boosting the quality of my final product.

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

I don’t have a specific audience, but I do write for people who are reflective and who enjoy play of language.  My style is deliberately accessible.  It seems to work because many people who like my writing tell me that they usually don’t usually read poetry but they like reading mine.

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

I am currently working on a new collection of poems on the philosophical — including awe and mystery — of quantum physics and relativity.  These will be poems designed specifically for people who give me a funny look when I tell them what I am doing.  There will be a lot of humor in the poems, and lots of play on metaphors springing out of science — by which I hope to make the poems accessible to non-science readers.

If I’m blocked I either write on free form without worry about wording or content — or I let the idea of the poem sit (for a few days or a few months) until it takes more shape in my mind.

What is your favorite part of the creative process?

Looking at the empty screen or the empty page — just at the moment when writing begins.  And not knowing where or how my piece will end.  And the creative discoveries I will find along the way.  And the ways I can and will play with sound, rhythm and all the fascinations of language.

What is your advice to aspiring writers?

Attend good-quality writing workshops to start. Early on, I attended an excellent  Getterysburg Review workshop and an Aspen workshop taught by former poet laureate Robert Pinsky. One-week workshops are ideal for in-depth learning and getting feedback from both peers and the expert writers who teach the courses.  Also, look for a good mentor to work with.  You need other eyes looking at your product, especially after you have done early drafts.

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

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