My earliest recollection of ‘being a writer’ is of a time in third grade when I wrote a story during a sleepover with my friend Cheryl. I have no idea what that story was about, but I recall that we also wrote a letter to the President of Romania. We had high hopes that the spritz of perfume we added before sealing the envelope would inspire him to introduce us to our idol, the gymnast Nadia Comaneci. Actually, I think I dictated the letter to Cheryl. She had better handwriting… I ended up editing my high school and college newspapers, earning an undergraduate degree in journalism, and have continued processing my experiences of the world through writing in various genres, ever since!
Describe your writing process.
My writing process is pretty organic, and it’s only in the last few years that I’ve begun accepting and even celebrating it as valid. It works for me — and besides, it’s fun! In a nutshell, I try to strike while the iron is hot and write when the spirit moves me. (If I’m lucky, I also manage to avoid too many cliches ;) ) I work best under pressure — i.e., I’m deadline driven. My mom once reassured me that this doesn’t mean I am a slacker, but more of a percolator. Yes! I allow ideas to percolate (or marinate … aren’t metaphors fun?) until they’re ready — or until my editor is ready (deadlines!), and then I begin typing. In some cases I type nothing but the wee kernel of an idea, and just hope for the best. Yes, I wing it. I trust that the process of getting the ball rolling will allow those ideas to further unfurl. Sometimes they don’t, and remain sweet nothings. Other times, they blossom.
In this way, writing, for me, is more of a lifestyle than an activity that begins and ends at my desk. As I go about my days I keep my antennae up for material for my stories. I stay tuned-in to my experiences of the people and the world around me, and if I hear something or see something that resonates with me somehow, I’ll jot it down (or message myself on my phone), and later, after percolating a bit, will do that sit-down-at-the-computer-with-the-wee-nuggets thing, and see what develops. I get a huge kick out of puzzling things out, especially when ideas begin to hang together well, and then further sculpting (i.e. trimming / editing) them into something others might find coherent and palatable. So no, I’m not an outliner, or a ‘daily, ’butt-in-chair’ kind of writer. I’m more of a pull-over-to-the-side-of-the-road-and-write-on-a-receipt — or dictate something to whichever kid happens to be in the passenger seat, kind of writer. Or a wake-up-in-a-sweat-at-3:00 a.m.-and-write-it-on-my-arm-in-the-dark-lest-I-forget-it (because where is that dang notebook?) kind of writer. I abuse a lot of hyphens — and ellipses. Yeah. And I obsessively edit (letting go is hard!), even after I’ve clicked SEND, and yes, I do lots of research, unless the piece in question is pure memoir. I have a desk in the den, but no door, so no dice. Too many distractions — so my ‘real’ desk is an antique red painted table I picked up at a yard sale 11 years ago, which now is stuffed into a corner of my bedroom, and my chair is an antique, oak office chair I nabbed at a flea market for $25 — which, I love! And which, I suppose, could use some oil.
What was the inspiration behind what you’ll be reading at Waterline?
Inspiration for the next piece I’m reading at Waterline? Fear, frustration, and then clarity, about how we all can reclaim our authority as the electorate we are and turn this ship (the state of affairs re: guns in America) around. Yeah, especially THAT.
What are you working on now?
What am I working on right now? Among other things, an absurd, and hopefully humorous rhyming picture book (most of my picture books are written in prose, however), for which I jotted down the kernel of an idea eight or nine year ago, following a particularly humorous but trying walk to the quarry beach. Perhaps it will resonate with the artist behind this illustration, which I spotted a few years ago (left). Yeah. Inevitably, there are moments, at least one a week, when such things happen that inspire me to write. But those weeks when I’m feeling too weary to be inspired or simply have ‘no (publishable) words,’ for that thing about which I’m really preoccupied but about which I absolutely couldn’t or shouldn’t write about for publication, about he-or-she-who-shall (for now)-remain nameless, when a column is due anyway? I still gotta come up with something — and sometimes, what I come up with really sucks. Please don’t read my column, those weeks, OK?