My Writing Process Blog Tour

10592671_10152641166685610_1741626350457062035_nTwo of my favorite books in the world are A Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez and The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini. Both Márquez and Hosseini are writers who tear out our hearts and blow our minds, and in the process of piecing ourselves back together we know we will never look at the world the same way again. I love these writers, but I also resent them. It’s not enough that they are phenomenal talents, but they are also doctors! It doesn’t seem fair that any one person should have so much talent and skill in his or her two hands. Not fair at all. Yes, I wanted to be a doctor for a brief time back in my early college years, but that was only because I was afraid to do what I really wanted to do, write. So after one semester of flunking biology and barely passing kinesiology (the limbs we got to examine did inspire several short stories), I realized that medical school was not in my future. Besides, it’s so much easier to look things up on the Internet and offer my opinion on medical diagnoses than it is to actually be a doctor, or play one on TV.

Another person added to my “I resent” list is Dr. Maria Maldonado. There are few whom I admire more. She is a phenomenal doctor and teacher, and she believes that doctors should use their hearts as well as their heads when dealing with patients. She’s also a fabulous writer. She approaches her writing as she approaches her patients, with an open heart and mind. She is also fearless. This is what every writer needs to be if she or he hopes to write an essay, a story, a book, a poem, or even a sentence that will change the world, or at the very least, impact a life.

If I didn’t admire and benefit so much from reading Dr. Maldonado’s words, she would really piss me off.

But I do, so I thank you Maria for inviting me to take part in this inspiring blog tour. I’m honored to be in the company of so many brilliant writers including you.

If you really want to have both your head and heart stimulated, read Maria Maldonado’s work.

She is a clinical associate professor of medicine in the College of Physicians and Surgeons at Columbia University and the program director of the Internal Medicine Residency Program at Stamford Hospital. Her work has been published in the Washington Post, the “Narrative Matters” section of Health Affairs, and the Journal of the American Medical Association.  She blogs on medical education, health equity, and other matters pertaining to medicine at http://mmaldonadomd.tumblr.com/

Here are my answers to the following four questions about my writing process:

1.) What are you working on?
I’m working on keeping nerves calm and the obnoxious voice in my head silent. I just finished my second young adult novel. My agent has it now and I’m waiting for her feedback. It’s always a challenge for me to stay positive when I’ve just handed my work to someone to read and I’m waiting for a response. This novel is a little different from my last novel. My last novel takes place during the Arab Spring in Egypt. This novel takes place in an undefined time and space. It’s a dystopian fantasy. It’s the first in a series. Yes, there will be a revolution of sorts in book two. In book one, The Other Side of What, the events are set up for the revolution in book two. Besides my working with the theme of struggle and change, as I did in Rebels By Accident, this new book also has a strong female protagonist, a grandmother, who is a central character and role model of sorts.

2.) How does your work differ from others of its genre?
Well, Rebels by Accident, is a book about an American teenager who is sent to Egypt after she gets arrested at her first high school party. Her parents think she will be better off spending the next semester in Cairo and living with her grandmother. Just days into her time there, the revolution starts. I wanted to write the journey of an Egyptian-Muslim-American teen who, in our post 9-11 world, is very disconnected from her culture, and how she finally figures out what it means to be Egyptian and American. I wanted to write a book about self-discovery and change. In a sense, a book about revolution, and not just the ones that happen on the outside, but the ones that happen on the inside. I’ve been told what makes this book different from many of the books that have been written about Muslim youth is that Mariam is an American born Muslim and she’s not saved by the “West.” She saves herself with the help of her Egyptian grandmother and her best friend.

It’s much easier for me to discuss how my current work is similar rather than dissimilar to others of its genre. Like most dystopian literature I read, it is a commentary of sorts about the society we live in and how humans, because of their own flaws and unwillingness, or let’s call it hubris, are destroying the world we live in.

I think what makes this book a little different from a lot of dystopian lit is that it’s not about the future, but it’s an unnamed world with no ups or downs, but rather just many sides. The fantasy aspect allows me to really let my imagine run, sometimes that means running from evil Attack Cats who are cloned to maim and kill, a door with a million knobs, with each turn bringing you deeper into the darker sides of your psyche. My main characters, B and Begonia, are Readers who can look into a person’s eyes and read her/his story, see her/his truth.

The book is about many things but mostly it’s about how we face or run from our fears while we try and decipher between reality and illusion. I guess this book is like my other work where there is hope in the end for the characters and the world. Figuring out who we can trust and how to believe in ourselves is what gives my characters hope.

I also write nonfiction essays about a lot of different things but mostly, not unlike my fiction, they are stories that reflect my version of the world—how I see the people around me and how I think they see me. Yes, delusional at times, heartfelt at other times, ramblings at best. Yes, it’s all about me. I’m grateful for the short form when it comes to writing personal essays. Limiting myself to a maximum of a thousand words forces me to get to the point and spare the reader from getting lost in the land of the Tangential Queen.

3.) Why do you write what you do?
Rebels by Accident wasn’t a choice. Not at first anyway. I was taking a writers class and this voice just came out. I was told that it sounded like I was channeling the character of Mariam. I must have been because I would never have chosen to write from the POV of a teenager. They’re too tough an audience. But every time I tried to write from the adult’s point of view, Mariam kept sticking her ten cents in. She wouldn’t shut up. Much like my teenage son can do, she wore me down. So, I wrote her story.

I joke around and say that this current book, The Other Side of What, is my sell-out novel. Yes, I wanted to write something that I could make the big bucks with. Dystopian-fantasy, at the time, seemed the way to go. Then, about two or three sentences into the book, the story started to matter. I immediately cared about my protagonists and their stories. Damn it! I just wanted to get in and out fast, write the book and be done with it. Three years compared to the seven it took to finish Rebels By Accident, I suppose is somewhat fast, but it’s still not over. I probably have more revisions on the horizon. I just hope not four more years worth.

Again, there wasn’t a choice about who would tell the story. The voices of the protagonists came through and I had to follow their leads. There is more than one narrator; the story is told from three points of view.

4.) How does your writing process work?
It depends on the month, the year, the time of day. I used to wish that I were the type of writer who got up every morning at 5 am and wrote for hours before breakfast, but I’m not. The only writer I know personally who is able to do that grew up on a farm. So depending on what I’m writing and what stage of the project I’m in, my process changes all the time. Also, if I have a deadline, I work very differently than when I don’t. I need deadlines to get things done, even if they are self-imposed.

When I’m generating new work, what works for me is to take one day a week when I have nothing else planned, no obligations, and I just stay in bed and write. When I’m revising I need to get out of the house. I go to my Starbucks or Cosi, somewhere where there are no home distractions and the management doesn’t care if I work for hours after I’ve finished my coffee or eaten my lunch. If I stay at home, I start cleaning behind the refrigerator.

Another big part of my process is managing to understand who I am, and recognizing when that ugly and vulnerable insecure writer pops into my head, and I’m second and third guessing everything and I have written, I need to help to shut her up. This is when I turn to my support group of writers and listen when they say, “Pat you don’t suck!” Then I move on and push through.

And finally, an important part of my process, is doing everything I can to not think when I’m working on first drafts. Prompts and time writing exercises help me with this. I know if I can get through a rough first draft, or as Anne Lamont would say, “A shitty first draft,” all the answers to my questions about character, plot, the whole story, I’ll also realize that most of the answers, if not all, to my story, are right there in the work. If I really shut off my conscious brain and let my subconscious take over and I write through the end of a first draft, all of the answers to what my revision needs is already in the book. Sometimes it’s a line or an image but usually the answer as to where to go next or what has to change in the plot or character development is already there. It just needs to have the spotlight shined it.

riding a camelIn short, my writing process is a bit like it was to ride a camel for two and half hours in the Sahara. I had to trust my Bedouin guide to take me where I needed to go. Without the trust in the process, instead of feeling safe, I could feel freaked out and not have any fun at all. Yes, my writing process, when it’s working, is about having faith and letting go so that my characters can guide me from one sand dune to the next.

Maria, thank you again for inviting me to be part of this wonderful blog tour.

I am thrilled to be able to introduce our next three writers. Check out their posts next Thursday, August 21, 2014, and find out who grew up on a farm and gets up every morning at 5 AM to write.

Alexandra Soiseth will be posting next week, on August 21, 2014, at: http://alexandrasoiseth.com.

AlexAlexandra is the Associate Director of the MFA Writing Program at Sarah Lawrence College where she also teaches. She has her BA from the University of Saskatchewan, her BAA from Ryerson University and her MFA from Sarah Lawrence College.  She has taught writing to a variety of students including undergraduate and graduate students, as well as high school students, seniors, and men and women in prison. She is the recipient of a Canada Arts Council grant, an Ontario Arts Council grant, and is the former managing editor of and communications director for Global City Review, a New York City based literary magazine. Her work has appeared on babycenter.com, literarymama.com, and in McGill Street Magazine, CrossBRONX: A Showcase and Resource for Bronx Writers, and on the radio program LifeRattle, among others. Her memoir, Choosing You, was published in 2008 by Seal Press.

Alia Yunis will be posting, on August 21, 2014, at www.aliayunis.com.

Alia_YunisGermanyBorn in Chicago, Alia Yunis is an award winning journalist, author and filmmaker who grew up in the Midwest, Lebanon and Greece but spent the longest time calling Los Angeles home. A Pen Emerging Voices fellow, her debut novel, The Night Counter (Crown/Random House 2010) has been critically acclaimed by the Washington Post, Entertainment Weekly, and several other publications.

It was also chosen as a top summer read by the Chicago Tribune and Boston Phoenix. In 2012, she produced Dreams in the Eyes, a short documentary filmed in Lebanon that won several awards at international film festivals. She is in post-production on a half hour documentary, The Return, and in production on a feature length documentary, The Golden Harvest, about how olive oil changed the Mediterranean. Her writing has appeared in several journals and anthologies. Her journalism includes articles for The Los Angeles Times, Saveur, SportsTravel Magazine, and Aramco World. Alia currently teaches film at Zayed University in Abu Dhabi, and has just completed a middle grade novel, Making Miracles in Minnesota.

Gregory A. McVey-Russell, or less ostentatiously gar, will be posting, on August 21, 2014 at http://www.thegarspot.com/about/.

garGar was born in 1965 in White Memorial Hospital, meaning he truly was born in East LA. He was then raised in South Central LA. And yes, he continues to call it South Central. He bumbled around at UCLA for a few years then ended up in the Oakland where he’s lived since 1989. He is married and he plays tabla.

Why I Write by Liz Worth

For much of my life, I’ve felt unheard, unseen.

WorthPhotoWhen I was a kid, I remember sometimes putting my hand up in class to be the first to answer a question, but the teacher would overlook me and call on the kid who was second to raise their hand. Sometimes someone might point out that I should have gone first, and the teacher would raise her eyebrows, surprised. “Oh, I didn’t even see you there.”

I was the first of my friends to go vegetarian, but no one noticed until over a year later, when someone else in the group went veg. Then it became a big deal, but when I did it, it was forgettable, as if it wasn’t even real. Or maybe I wasn’t real.

When I was 13 I was struggling with depression and self-harm, but any adult who got involved followed the rules they felt were right, rather than listening to what I wanted, what I needed. I felt like I was something they wanted to fix rather than a person they were trying to help.

Whenever I tried to explain the impact it all had on me in the years to follow, I felt like people didn’t get it. Whenever I tried to open up about something I would get blank stares, stiff lips, changed subjects.

When I was working as a freelance writer for a few years, stories I’d pitch would go unanswered sometimes, only to appear six months later under another writer’s name. I know it happens to other people, but I couldn’t help but wonder if it was just another case of going unheard, unnoticed. I could almost hear the editors on the other end of the inbox saying, “oh, I didn’t even see you there.”

When I first asked myself the question, “why do I write?” I actually answered, “I don’t know.”

It’s only recently that I’ve come to enjoy the writing process. Up until recently, I more enjoyed the feeling of having written.

Because there have been times when I resented writing, when I felt it kept me from living my life, kept me missing out on Sunday brunches and shopping with friends and regular trips to the Laundromat.

Instead of wondering why I write, I would ask, “why do I do this to myself?” But still I returned to the page, often day after day, pushing myself as much as possible.

I’ve never had a mandate or a mission for my work. Instead, I’ve often rushed forward with it, sometimes with blinding obsession, working past the lump of anxiety that inevitably settles deep in my chest if too much time passes without hitting the page.

I knew that I wanted to write the types things that I would want to read – punk rock poetry, obscure bands, spirit animals, haunted girls and the ghosts that lived in the – but I wasn’t on a mission. I didn’t have a reason to write, just an urgency.

I believe that creating is the most important thing you can do, and for me, building structures out of words is what I am most drawn to, what is most exhilarating.

But I can, and do, create other things. They don’t come through me the way writing does, though. I don’t feel driven by them in the same way. I don’t feel like I need them in the same way.

So why do I write? Why choose words over another medium?

When I look back at everything my writing has brought out of me – so many truths, so many secrets that would have remained hidden and unheard, so many things that people have told me they always wanted to say but never knew how – I see now why it had to happen.

I feel heard when I write, and sometimes I get the privilege of knowing that my words have connected with someone else.

postapocWriting also lets my bypass the fear I often have of sharing something out loud. I still experience that feeling of being ignored, or misunderstood – even in some of my closest relationships. When I write, I can send my words out there, weighted in black and white, and trust that they will find the people who need to see them. I don’t have to risk a blank stare. I don’t have to ask for someone to try to hear me out. The words are there for whoever wants to receive them, and that’s all the work I need to do.

Strongly introverted, writing also lets me talk to a lot of people without leaving home. Sometimes, there are things that need to be said, but without the power of a blog or the delicacy of a fresh poem, certain pieces of my life would never be known outside of myself.

I write to connect, to pull out every truth and jagged edge I can, to understand myself better and in the process maybe reflect back someone else’s truth, too.  I write to make sense of who I am and I write to find freedom and I write to liberate aspects of myself that would never otherwise be known.

But mostly, I write because I have to, because that lump in my chest just keeps nagging if I don’t.

At just 31 years old, writer Liz Worth has blown readers away with stunning poetry and a fascinating tribute to Toronto’s music scene. Worth has worked as a journalist, but these days, she is mostly focused on poetry, fiction and performance art. Her writing has been published in Exclaim!, Dead Gender, Carousel, The Toronto Star and Broken Pencil. She published a collection of poetry called “Amphetamine Heart” (2011, Guernica Editions) and the non-fiction book, “Treat Me Like Dirt: An Oral History of Punk in Toronto and Beyond” (2009, Bongo Beat/ECW Press) that gave an in-depth account of Toronto’s earliest punk scene. She has written three chapbooks – “Eleven: Eleven,” “Manifestations” and “Arik’s Dream” Worth’s latest work, “PostApoc” comes out Oct. 15 from Now or Never Publishing. Excerpts from the book have appeared in Dead Gender and Carousel. Worth lives in Toronto, Ontario.

 

Diving into mud, blood, and the real world By Bill Hayes

billThe inspirations that have driven my career as a writer slide sideways when they speed into the turns of the purely creative and brilliantly artistic. Sure, my writing—like everyone else’s—is a wondrous personal and emotional outlet; it’s mental comfort food when nourishment is needed in the endless, ever-righteous battle against outside forces and stress. But as far as being over-the-top creative in a plot-crafting sense, or wildly artistic simply to entertain—no.

That’s not me.

I write nonfiction.

I dive into mud and blood and fear and fun and the seven deadly sins and everything else non-vicarious.

There’s the turns and twists that drive me.

There’s my inspiration.

I always have my eyes wide open, looking for ways in which I can tie the world together with the good and the bad, with strength and cautiously-measured meekness, and with all the wild-true juxtapositions that make readers shake their heads, slap their foreheads, sweat, wish, dream, cringe, be thankful for who they are.

This is why I write.

All of those twists and turns and reasons and inspiration came together when I skidded into Triumphs and Tragedies: A True Story of Wealth and Addiction. This was an end-over-end careening through the guardrails of everything else I have written. I—again, like everyone else—generally enjoy the safety of “writing what I know.” And what I know has taken me in the direction of some pretty interesting stuff. I’ve authored books about outlaw motorcycle clubs, the Black Panther Party, international crime, and the backstage of the radio and music business. Triumphs and Tragedies, however, took me over a cliff and down a sharp rocky drop that caught me a little off-guard.

But what that wild ride showed me was that going beyond what you know—expanding yourself—is the perfect reason to write. Knowing that you can intensify that head-shaking and forehead-slapping even more in readers is another; and that was more than apparent right from the beginning with this book.

The subject matter and focus here is brutal: drug addiction. Okay, I’ve dealt with dark and narrow ledges of life before, but not like this. This involved a different kind of research. Immediately, I had to wallow neck-deep in the filth-gutter grip of hard drugs (a place, thankfully, I’ve never been); while at the same time learning what it’s like to roll with people who carry as much money in their pockets as I make in a year (a place, unfortunately, I’ve never been). This made the horror of substance abuse even more snagged in the confusion of questions that have no answer, and a paradox more difficult to convey.

I also had to get into the minds and emotions of an entire cast of characters—the slight problem here being that two of the main principals were dead, and drawing information out of some of the living was not a whole lot easier.

But there was a challenge; there was expansion.

And this is why I write.

I clawed deeper.

I had to struggle for weeks with box-puzzles of police records, personal journals, tear-stained handwritten letters from prison, photos with smiles that had long turned sour, and a timeline of triumphs and tragedies that all begged to be tethers tying together a very stark part of life.

This is why I write.

Then it got personal. Because of the era and the setting and the place, I had to go back into my own youth, a growing-up that just happened to coincide with the main action in the book. I had to push—once again—through the Southern California haze of the crazed 1960s, where the beauty of the beach could quickly turn into the bowels of social hell. I was well into the heads of the people (and victims) in this book, and they were burning in mine. We were one.

This is why I write…

Working the “triumphs” in this saga against the tragedies was vital; it was a balancing act that absolutely couldn’t end in a fall. The drug downside in this book is not the whole story; the honest climb up to a mountain of wealth, hampered by the obstacle-course hurdles of drugs is quite a journey in itself. The mix had to be just right.

So was this learning experience.

I worship being able to slide into curves like these. They are the hairpin switchbacks that represent life in all of its glory and ignominy; with its horror, laughs, tears, wonder, and confusion. And, really, what is better than life—real life?

This is why I write.

Bill Hayes is an author, musician, and co-owner of Old School Kenpo Karate in Torrance, California. He has written four bestselling books about the “outlaw motorcycle” culture and has co-authored five others with his partner, Jennifer Thomas. He is regularly featured on television documentaries that deal with the biker world and is considered one of the primary experts in that field. More about Bill’s work can be found at www.billhayesauthor.com and www.triumphsandtragdediesthebook.com .

 

Why I Write by Ginger McKnight-Chavers

mcknight_chaversPat asked me to tackle this question some time ago, and it has taken me a long time to work up to a response. Probably because I don’t have a clean and simple answer. Is that a mark of a writer? It may not be a universal trait of the literary-minded, but it is certainly mine – I write the things I cannot explain verbally or cleanly or neatly (to use far more adverbs than is permissible for anyone who aspires to “good” writing).
Contrary to my current personality as a chatty, former lawyer who shed most of her self-consciousness a long time ago, my early years were quiet, contemplative ones.

I was a shy Black kid in Dallas, Texas, a loud, extroverted community of cheerleaders, beauty queens, oil barons and barnyard barkers. Folks who loudly slapped dominoes onto card tables, bleached their hair to blinding levels of brassiness and bared their navels and most of their asses in skimpy suits to salute their favorite football teams. Everything’s big in Texas, I learned at an early age. But I shied away from big, at least verbally. All my biggest, bestest, brassiest work, worthy of my lengthy Texan heritage, was on paper. What I could not, would not say with words from my mouth, oozed from my pencil like so much Texas crude, literally and figuratively. On paper I could at least attempt the salty flourish of my Texan heroines, Barbara Jordan, Ann Richards, Molly Ivins, my mother (who happens to be in the Texas Women’s Hall of Fame); women with superior smarts and dry wit as searing as the Chihuahuan desert. When I have a problem to resolve, a gripe that’s eating away at my gut, pea-green envy, herkey-inspiring flashes of joy, dark doubts, dips into despair, or just random, itinerant commentaries on everything or nothing; for some reason that I have yet to understand, I am best able to process it, react to it and then keep my life moving forward and not mired in it, by writing it down, whatever the “it” happens to be.

At some point, not long after I left graduate school, my random, written-down musings made their way into stories that enabled me to blow up my observations and sentiments into surreal statements that both amused me and helped me to cope with the world around me. As I have grown older and not entirely wiser, these stories have moved from hobbies to necessities to keep me going – kind of like exercise. What I used to do only for fun when I felt like it is now what keeps me alive. I write because I can’t not write; because it’s my one, true voice, however imperfect. Because it is the one place I can be myself, think for myself and remain utterly, imperfectly human. And Texan, to the extent that humility, humanity, thoughtfulness and Big Brash Texan can ever peacefully co-exist (for this transplanted New Yorker, that contradiction only resolves itself on paper).

Ginger McKnight-Chavers, a Dallas native, is a graduate of Georgetown’s School of Foreign Service and Harvard Law School.  After sixteen years practicing corporate and arts/entertainment law, she became a full-time writer and was the 2008-09 Gurfein Fellow at Sarah Lawrence College.  She resides in the New York City area and recently completed her first novel, Messages From Midland. She has also contributed articles to New York Family, SheWrites.com and Scribe, the blog of the Writers League of Texas.

Why I Write by C. L. Stambush

It started with trips to the library––my mother loading my brother and me into the family station wagon and carting us over to the neighborhood branch where I’d indulge in stories ranging from children living in boxcars or attics to a girl sleuthing and solving mysteries. With each book I’d slip into a world far from the one I knew, journeying along with the characters. The adventures showed ways and shades of life I could never have imagined without the aid of books. Moving like a shadow in the stories, I stole through those narratives with my eyes and mind opening wider as the ideas of others filtered through me, instilling in me new possibilities.

I was a shy and reticent child, so it was natural for me to find solace in the imaginary worlds of books. I wasn’t a tragic loner, just a little timid. The worlds in books, however, filled me up in ways my own ordinary childhood never could. But beyond the excitement delivered by the heros in the stories I coveted, I found particular inspiration and strength in the female protagonist. Those girls were strong and capable and confident, the mirror opposite of my vulnerable, clumsy, unsure self. They believed in themselves and the world never doubted or questioned their possibilities or accomplishments. And in reading about them, I began to believe in myself. It took time, but little by little, as the unquestioning acceptance of those girls’ capabilities seeped into me, so did their power. My mousy manners eroding bit by bit, each strong-girl story adding a steel rod to my spine that I would one day grow into. And I did, going from a shy wall-hugger to being the first and only woman to have ridden a motorcycle solo around India. An accomplishment borne out of confidence instilled by books.

I come from a long line of storytellers, so I suppose that, coupled with my love of reading, it was inevitable that I would want leave the world of passive reader and step through the mirror to try my hand at creation. To let others learn a thing or two from my experiences (even the ugly ones…especially the ugly ones).

I’ve got a kinda grrr in me when it comes to letting the world know how capable girls are. But more than that, I want girls, no matter what their age, to realize their strengths and competencies. To rise up from the sidelines society secretly shoulders them to and shout I Can, I Do. So the reason I write is two-fold: as a girl stories empowered me, now as a woman I want to empower others with stories, filling them up with possibilities never before imagined.

 

C. L. Stambush is a writer, national motorcycle instructor, international traveler, and feminist who has lived, worked, and meandered through more than 20 foreign countries in Europe, the Middle East, and Asia.

She is also one of the few female motorcycle adventure riders, having ridden a Royal Enfield Bullet motorcycle (in 1996) solo around the edge of India––five months and nearly 7,000 miles on a 350cc Thumper. She has written a book about the ride titled Naked on the Edge: a Motorcycle, a Goddess, and a Journey Around India that she hopes to publish soon.

Her writing has appeared in The Chicago Tribune, Cosmopolitan, Far Easter Economic Review, Travelers’ Tales and a handful of national and international newspapers, as well as a few literary presses and regional magazines.

She is an Indiana University Bloomington graduate with a BA in Journalism and a Sarah Lawrence College graduate with an MFA in Creative Nonfiction Writing.

She blogs about opportunity, risk, passion, transformation, and empowerment. You can read her blog at www.clstambush.com.

On joy – On Writing by Davita Joie

It’s not the big moments. At least not for me. My life has largely been devoid of those multiple, milestone events that we would normally associate with joyous occasions.

Ah, but the small moments. My life has been replete with tiny, wondrous moments of joy that inspire both gratitude and the gravitational pull to put pen to paper. Cradling a sleeping child, my nieces’ laughter, friends and family gathered in my home around food that I prepared, intimate conversations, a poignant line from the poem of a dear friend, a neighbor’s puppy who lays at my feet, with wagging tail begging to be touched, a firefly on a warm night, my daughter (anything and everything to do with that amazing creature), artistry in any form that moves me to tears; this is joy. It goes without saying (but I’m saying it anyway) any salon service you can think of also fits in this category.

These are the moments of joy that propel me to write. These are the moments where hidden truths are unearthed, where stories are discovered, where the lines that divide us are torn and our shared humanity is exposed. And for me, as a woman and as an artist, these miniscule moments are the lifelines that pull me back from the brink of despair, that keep me from a perpetual state of mourning, and remind me to give place to hope.

This muse rescues me. Writing saves my life. And I hope, when others read my work, joy is what keeps them returning to the well.

 

Davita Joie is from the Bay Area of California (by way of upstate New York) and recently graduated with her MFA in writing from Sarah Lawrence College. She is currently turning her thesis into a book called “The Boxer’s Daughter”, a collection of essays and is also working on a second book of poems about the 1957 unsolved murder of her aunt.  She is also furiously trying to find a way to turn her literary life into a paying gig.

Why I Write by Kent Evans

Hmm… so this is a pretty broad one. I just got asked this very same question for another interview so I’m just gonna expand on that to even further numb ya J

I started writing poetry at a pretty early age, probably in defiance to a junior high school teacher who thought Asians could only rock at the sciences (yeah I did, and I also studied martial arts and you can stop right there). My first poem came out in a local paper that year, 1988 if I recall, and seeing it in print left a real impression on me.

I had discovered that poetry provided a form of expression that I had a natural connection to. In high school I was constantly producing it as an outlet for my angst filled adolescence and all that, both for school and on my own time. I wrote for the school literary magazine and newspaper whilst at Fairfield Prep, and had great mentors in Barry Wallace and Maureen Duffy. When that proved to not be enough I started an underground paper and submitted short stories to zines under various pseudonyms (one amusingly enough was Damien Wood, which is the protagonists name in my new novel, and like me is a practitioner of spoken-word). I also started a punk band which was my first attempt at combining words and music. At the time I was pretty locked in the whole “so dark and deep is my life” thing that comes with angry young men, and a hell of a lot of my stuff was in rhyming or more traditional forms.

By the time I moved back to the New York City in ‘93, I was pretty prolifically putting out pieces in Zines and doing lots of open mics. Spoken word was something I pretty much stumbled into. As I recall, one drunken afternoon me and a couple friends saw a flyer for a poetry slam at Tower Books and decided to go as a laugh. I had just dealt with the suicide of a stranger (a fictionalized version of this event occurs in Crash Course), and written a poem to a girl who bore mutual witness. I read the piece at the slam, along with some other stuff I had been battling around, and ended up winning the thing.

At the time, I was a musician with lots of connections with the hip-hop scene and it was just sort of a natural evolution from there. Throughout the 90’s I wrote for urban culture magazines like YRB, and put together underground events everywhere from the Wetlands to CBGB’s. My goal at the time was to try and bring together poets, musicians, DJs, MCs, photographers, dancers – you name it. I had a weekly party called Open at Baby Jupiter, where I did exactly that. It was a good time to be a young writer and performer.

During all this, I also had some great writing mentors at NYU, like Jillian Medoff and Pearl Abraham, who helped me on my way. I am still in contact with Jillian, and she was in fact instrumental in helping me with the early drafts of Crash Course.

I’m a poet who loves performing and hates being pigeonholed. That’s probably why I went off in my own direction instead of focusing on slams and the like. I’ve always felt kind of like a lost child with that scene: too literary for some of the hip-hop heads, too street for the coffee shop crowd. But even as I’ve pulled back from the performance and slam scene to focus on recording and solo work, I still feel some degree of debt to it. In a way spoken word allowed me to bridge the gap between writing and music which are my greatest loves.

I finished and started off the millennium doing a pretty complicated juggling act of writing articles (popular, academic, corporate, you name it), organizing and participating in multimedia and theater events (DUMBO Theater Exchange, Augenblick, Wanderlust, stuff with Soulkid), and writing and recording in and with various places and people around the globe (Meitz in Berlin for example). But post 9/11, I departed in another direction.

The towers, death of my first serious relationship, and general burn out left me wanting to get out of the city. Hitting the road again, I ended up travelling South through Mexico, and began focusing on writing longer fiction and poetry once more. The end result of that was Malas Ondas (TFG Press, 2003), and it’s subsequently chaotic tour (my mother died one week after its release). What followed, with trying to sort my parents’ lives, disastrous relationships, and an ill-advised jaunt off to Asia for most of 2006, provided much of the inspiration for writing Crash Course. In a way it provided me an outlet for sorting out the mess of my existence in those years.

The last few years, have afforded me the opportunity to turn those experiences into both a novel and Original Soundtrack which I’m about to hit the road with once more (in the case of the album we’ve already started playin it out). All and all I’ve been lucky (and starved through all of my teens and twenties for anyone wanting to get jealous). After the tour I plan on starting another novel, album, and to dust off some neglected poetry collections. You gotta keep movin if you don’t wanna drown…

So then, the answer to the titular question of why I write is ultimately because I have to. I love it often, hate it sometimes, and need it always. Exploring and exorcizing my demons, then caging them in paper has always seemed to best way to stay sane. Well that’s the theory anyhow…

 

Kent Evans is the author of Malas Ondas: Lime, Sand Sex and Salsa in the land of conquistadors, a semi-autobiographical novel about selfdestruction throughout Latin America and finding that corniest of motivators – love. He was a fixture on the spoken word and experimental art scene throughout the 90’s, and the internationally acclaimed artist has performed at such venues as the Festival Internacional Cervantino, Madison Square Garden Theater, Acadamie Beaux Arts in Paris and Nuvorican Poets Café in Greenwich Village.

Kent has appeared on NPR for shows including Nuestra Palabra, the Front Row, and Living Arts showcase. His creative non-fiction and opinion pieces have appeared in numerous national pop-culture and literary zines and publications.

His forthcoming novel A Crash Course on the Anatomy of Robots releases September 17, 2012 from Pangea Books.

Half Cantonese and half UK, Kent was born in New York City in 1975 and grew up between New York, Connecticut and Rhode Island. He graduated in psychology and dramatic literature from New York University, and began traveling extensively throughout the US, Canada, Mexico, Europe, Asia, and the Caribbean. He fully expects to answer that “but where are you really from” question the rest of his life.

Why I Write by Sally Stephenson

Exploration. After considering this question for a while I realize that this is the only true answer that I can give. By writing we explore the world around us, people we create and scenarios we come up with for our characters. Initially I wrote because I didn’t know what else to do with the prose that kept popping into my head and writing has always been something that has been in my life. But it is exploration that keeps me writing and also travelling. Through the style of writing that I’ve chosen to develop my skills in I’m able to ask big questions and try and work out the answers through my writing.

With Wildflowers the main question I wanted to try and answer was ‘Would you be with someone if it meant risking everything?’ ‘What lengths would you go to be with someone?’ and ‘What would you do for the person you loved?’ There were also some other questions that I tried to answer but I wanted to explore human emotion with Wildflowers.

Human emotion is a key element in writing no matter the genre and by writing where exploring the limits and extents of what humans are capable of when it comes to love, hate, revenge, glory, perusal and so on.

I’ve been writing for as long as I can remember, it’s become a key part of who I am and how I’ve grown as a person. My writing has also grown, I mainly wrote fantasies before but none were very good. Now that I’m trying to learn how to write for the literary genre I realize that a lot of these books explore what it means to be human and what it means to connect to other humans.

I write because I want to explore these themes as well, I write because it’s how I find out the answers. Like most writers, I hope to write something that will be memorable enough to last for a long time, but I think at the end of the day I simply want to write something that means something and so through years of practice and years of reading I might eventually get there. It may not be with Wildflowers but it’ll be with something, so I’ll keep writing till I find it but for now writing helps me explore the world and the people who live in it.

If I write to explore the world around me I also write to explore the language that’s around me. From the eloquent to the profane to the foreign, language is a strange and complex thing. Every time I write and try and up my game when it comes to prose. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. I’ve read numerous books that have inspired this exploration of language; The Time Travelers Wife, Hotel on the Corner of the Bitter and Sweet, A Thousand Splendid Suns and more. All these writers have explored their world and characters by using language that delights my senses. As genre changes so does the style of writing. The language style of J.K. Rowling, is far different to that of Jamie Ford or Jack Kerouac but her words are still a delight. Perhaps it’s the simplicity of it, the idea that choosing a single word, putting it next to another one and so on in the right order can create something that is magnificient!

Language transports us into worlds, introduce us to characters and make us understand the world a little better. By exploring characters, human emotion, language and writing it fuels those of us who are creative. When we find something that inspires us we find the fuel that we need to create something new, something that is ours. That can come in the form of many things, but for me it’s always been writing. I’ve tried other creative outlets; painting, design and so on but writing has always been my strength and comfort.

There are many reasons why someone writes but I believe that it’s because writers ultimately want to create something. Some want to recreate a greatness that has already gone before them, others want to create something new. Some want to create something that they think was missing from something they loved and some just write because there’s no alternative. For me I think I’m a mixture of all this, depending on what mood I’m in. At twenty five there’s still a lot of the world I have left to explore, whether it be through travel or through people I meet I know I’ll still try and find answers through writing. I’ll ask the big questions and hopefully find a creative way of answering them. For me that’s why I write, so that I have answers and can share them with whoever wants to read what I’ve come up with.

Sally Annabelle Stephenson was born in Leeds, West Yorkshire in 1986 to Nuclear Physicist Ian Stephenson and secretary Lesley Moore. Growing up stories were abundant in her household. Her mom would spend her early childhood reading to her. At age six, She wrote her first short story for a class assignment. She graduated with a B.A. in American Studies in 2008. She has had two short stories published to date and a handful of journalism articles with more in sight for the future.

Order Sally’s book here!

http://www.sallystephenson.com/