I relish a reason to blog (shame on me). I was tagged a little while back by the wondrous Linda Graziano Niehoff, a wildly talented writer and photographer I have come to know through the meandering channels of social media and gatherings of “emerging writers”. We have both been published in, and have a robust affinity for, Mike Joyce’s Literary Orphans. Linda’s piece here, My piece here.
Linda writes extraordinary stories, her immense talent is palpable and varied. I feel a bond with Linda, our mournful observations and strange departures are thumb-tacked to unexpected map locales and demographics. Then she has the added threat component of this eye—an eye that sees the transcendent and evocative components of ordinary relics such as antique buildings, gas stations, silver water towers, Laundromats. Check out her visions here. So thanks for the tag, Linda!
So, to the meat of this exercise.
At the moment I’m feeling scattered. I have just finished a run of submissions, and I only have two works that are seeking homes right now: A CNF piece called Jagged Little Summer, and a Short Fiction piece. I will probably send each out to at least four more markets each in the next week or two.
Meanwhile I’ve tried to brainstorm, generating sixteen new “ideas” in my Word file folder, ranging from an essay on anxiety I’ve been conceptualizing, to a slipstream piece about a trolling basement recluse who hates American women. I’m scattering idea seeds and waiting to see which ones germinate. In the beginning stages my process can be very unfocused. Then I will have an epiphany—usually reached while showering—and one of those seedlings will take hold and it will be all I can think of for weeks. I’m hoping this will happen tomorrow.
Meanwhile I have two collection ideas I’d like to do—both focusing on the same topic, but I need to conquer the query process to see if I could maybe get a small press interested. I really want to do this, have been thinking and talking about it, but I’m unsure of how to go about it. I will be learning/working on that.
I’m toying with the possibility of an MFA ... just toying at this point.
HOW DOES MY WORK DIFFER FROM OTHERS OF MY GENRE?
My two main genres are Creative Non-Fiction (CNF) and Short Fiction. I also like Flash and Prose Poetry—but I haven’t been writing those lately. I’m a fairly narrative writer, especially in fiction—and I tend to realism/slice-of, the-edge-of life. I do more weaving, fragmenting, and non-linear work in my CNF pieces—which I think is unusual. I generally see more technique variation in fiction work than non-fiction. But grappling with reality gives me the impulse to dance around it.
Of course I strive to have a unique voice—but I’m no renegade, nor am I a convention buster. I write with story/arc intentions rather than style intentions, and I like to express my individuality by generating work organically (versus through prompts, or what I see as being publishable at the moment). While I write, I hold the notion of story as an interrogation of some aspect of the human experience in the forefront of my intentions. That’s my main emphasis. Even with my CNF, I’m not telling the story to tell MY story (what happened to me, my tragedies, etc.), I’m telling my story to find some thread by which to connect to YOU and to connect through the ages. I aspire to timeless narratives, angsts.
People tell me my stories are sad or depressing. I don’t see them that way, but I get the response. I’m big on fringes, borderlands, loneliness, isolation, a touch of madness, a moment of dissembling, deconstruction and busted down dolls. I also like transcendence and I’m lately liking the hero.
Finally, I’m not afraid to “write like a woman,” or from a “woman’s” perspective. This seems to mark me. I find many of today’s women writers citing only other badass male writers in their “best of” lists, and writing in ways that are highly evocative of hip male grit. I love Carver, Palahniuk, Bukowski, et. al., but I don’t have a penis, so I find it too difficult to come from there. Still, I subscribe to the notion that there are more commonalities inter-gender than there are between certain personality types (i.e. introvert v. extrovert, thrill seeker v. timid). So, my story of childlessness might resonate with men because I’m not examining the “feminine” or womanly aspect of this, I’m examining what this state means in my journey as a flawed, lonely, despairing or transcending human. My heroine, Lilly, will appeal to a male reader (I hope) because she’s facing and overcoming the specter of death for the first time—something we all might recall.
These are things that I feel deepen my work and provide it with singularity (at least in theory).
WHY DO I WRITE WHAT I DO?
I answered that in part above—the need to connect through space and time to others. To find that simpatico pathologist, to reach outside of the boundaries of my selfness, to attempt in the best way I know how to surpass my solitary. And, I think since I don’t have children, there is always the notion of legacy—I write with the vast hope that I will leave something worthwhile behind.
Simply stated (and oft repeated by other writers), I write because I’m called to. I’ve always written. What craft I have has been honed from reading great works, and they have influenced me immeasurably. I write what I do because an idea comes to me, an impulse, an itch—but that itch initiated maybe 30 years ago when I discovered magical realism, or in my teens when I read Willa Cather, or from an audience watching an Oscar Wilde play.
I love what my friend, Linda Niehoff said in her response, “So I write about the things that haunt me, as I think we all do.” Agreed. In the end, I’m haunted and written upon, and I must write that always and again. Haunting. I write, as Linda, and Norman, and I suspect all writers do, because as sentient humans we are haunted.
HOW DOES MY WRITING PROCESS WORK?
I’m not as disciplined as I should be. I don’t force myself to write something every day. I rarely work off of prompts, although I think I should do more of this. I go with what my energy dictates, ebbs and flows, surges and recessions. I’m in a recession at the moment, but when my brain is charging, I can barely stop the influx of ideas—many of which I write into a brief Word document, fragments laid down frantically while dripping from the shower, or scrawled on a notepad by my bed. I revisit maybe 5% of these. Water is one of my biggest inspirations: Water, wind, the white noises of nature, a shower can be my best inspiration.
I only began writing as a concerted effort January, 2013. Because I was uncertain of where to begin, I spent much of last year pulling out old works from college and reworking them. The pieces were completely made over. I felt like a sculptor given a skeleton and told to emulate Bernini—I just kept layering over the structures. CNF pieces turned to fiction, entire themes were extracted and became the new focus. I didn’t retain more than 10% of what I had once thought was a completed work. I found this process inspiring.
I am not a quick writer. I don’t churn out a story, wipe my hands and call it a day. I’m more a wry observer and gifted with language sort of writer, rather than a born storyteller. I admire those who imagine freely and have stories galore in their DNA. I have written stories almost from start to finish in one sitting, but they don’t remain in that form. I work and rework and distill and extract. I’ve yet to regret tearing down a piece. It is always better for it. It’s hard to describe, but I come at my work from multiple angles. I keep goading it. I’m very analytical during the process. I’m utterly anal, there isn’t a word in a story that I haven’t thought through. It’s a problem.
I read or write every day. Even if it’s just on social media, I try to lay something down that is rising from within that is deeper than a comment or a memo. I read Poets & Writers, Glimmer Train, Creative Non-Fiction and something from every journal I submit to, and others for which I don’t have appropriate work. This reading inspires my process. I don’t feel I stand above the fray. I’m a writer who admires other writers and seeks to learn something from them. If I love your work, I’m studying what you do and what makes you sing. I don’t seek to copy it; I seek to access your muse.
I don’t force myself, I just don’t. If I’m stuck, I swing through some music on YouTube, I read, I play some brain games, I play with my dogs, I clean. Sometimes I play one of my in-progress stories th back on a voice recorder and listen.
That’s it! I’m imagining most folks didn’t read all this, but the exercise of writing it did me good!
I met the extraordinary Cathy Bell when I read her Pushcart-prize nominated piece, Wash Me Clean, at Hippocampus, where I also published a CNF piece, Stitching the Womb. Cathy’s style is raw, beautiful, emotional, insightful, personal and deeply interested in family dynamics and history. (More bio to come)
Lynn Carter is a woman whose work I discovered when she submitted a beautiful story (still one of my favorites we’ve ever seen at Drunk Monkeys) called Las Sinverguenzas (The Shameless Girls). We have since beta’d each other’s work, and formed what I feel is a lovely bond from East to West coast. Lynn is an elegant writer, with a definite Brooklyn pulse in much of her work. (More bio to come)
Matthew Guerrecky is the founder and editor-in-chief of Drunk Monkeys, and the first editor who published my first story submitted to my first choice, Drunk Monkeys. Matt is of the here and now, hip and smart, unique, imaginative, whimsical and wry. (More bio to come)