Sep 152017
 

 

Every story really happened, but many are stranger than fiction. The longest is about a book challenge to a Kurt Vonnegut book in my classroom, an event that caused Mr. Vonnegut to write a letter to me about censorship.”

How did you discover that you were a writer?

A student in my education class at Monmouth College suggested I put into writing an inspirational story I’d told in class about the teaching profession. Telling and writing are two different processes entirely, and I was doubtful about the latter. However, I decided to try. After nervously editing “War and Remembrance” about fifty times, I sent it in to Teacher Magazine. They contacted me in two days and bought it. That was 2006. I thought, “Wow! It can’t be this easy.” Of course, it wasn’t after that. I self-published the teaching memoir of fifteen stories that began with that early one because publishers of education topics wanted textbooks. However, I say with a smile on my face, that this memoir has paid me a nice royalty check every quarter since September 2010. After that, I decided to move to fiction and write mysteries. My Endurance Mysteries were picked up in two weeks by Five Star Publishing (Gale/Cengage), and I’ve been writing mysteries ever since. So, I believe—finally—that I am a writer.

Describe your writing process.

Referring to my mysteries, I usually begin with an idea and spend several weeks thinking about it, making decisions, and solving problems. I also do a great deal of initial research since my mysteries often involve technical research such as mitochondrial DNA, cold case files, various kinds of wounds, blood spatter, etc. These, of course, are topics I never learned about while teaching high school English. I often interview people who can help me, especially coroners, doctors, and police detectives. I am an outliner, and I feel I must be so to make all the pieces of the puzzle fit together. The more detail in my outline, the easier it is for me to write and the less revision necessary later.

Generally, I write a chapter at a sitting, and chapters usually run around 2,000 words. I write best in the afternoon. After teaching for 44 years at 8 a.m., my mornings in retirement are slooow. I often edit as I go along, and I do a great deal of editing and proofreading at the end. When I finish writing each day, I make a list of what I will write about tomorrow. I have never had writer’s block, and that is why. I try to write every day, sometimes in my office and sometimes in my living room. Despite that statement, I don’t always manage to write every day because some days I play duplicate bridge. I must keep my priorities straight.

What was the inspiration behind what you’ll be reading at Waterline?

The Education of a Teacher (Including Dirty Books and Pointed Looks) is a series of fifteen creative nonfiction stories of students who came into my life and changed the way I thought or taught or viewed the world. It tells, chronologically, over four decades, true stories that are funny, poignant, interesting, and filled with ethical choices that teachers make. Every story really happened, but many are stranger than fiction. The longest is about a book challenge to a Kurt Vonnegut book in my classroom, an event that caused Mr. Vonnegut to write a letter to me about censorship. It is now framed and resides on my living room wall. The story I’ll read is the only one from my college teaching years. It is the final story, the period at the end of the sentence, the event near the end of the career. Every time I remember that night, I smile.

What are you working on now?

I just finished my fifth mystery tentatively called A Death at Tippitt Pond. I sent it off to my editor two days ago. While it takes place in the present day, it concerns a murder that happened in the early 1970s.

Click here for more information about Waterline’s September event.

Sep 152017
 

 

…Now I write when something–and it could be ANYTHING–captures my attention. I have learned not to try to control the poem too much but to let it have its way.  I am aware of an inner muse who leads the band, and I try not to get in her way.”

How and when did you decide, or discover, that you were to be a writer?

I always had a nudge to write. However, being raised in the 50’s, most women didn’t aspire to be writers as gender roles were pretty specific: teacher, nurse, secretary. So, I became a teacher. I taught Creative Writing, among other classes, as East High School (Rockford) for many years. During that time, I enjoyed doing the assignments with my students. Eventually, the nudge to write became a burning desire, which led to sabbaticals in which I honored the writer in me. I spent a year working with Lucien Stryk at Northern Illinois University and later another year at the Vermont Writers’ program working with Lynda Hull. They were both inspirations in different ways. Working with Lucien taught me to be more concise and tight, while working with Lynda taught me to be more lyrical and expansive. I navigate poetry both ways, depending on subject and mood.

Describe your writing process.

My process has become more spontaneous after decades of writing. When the burning desire first took hold, I wrote every day in the wee hours of the morning. It seemed like I was drawing from a bottomless well. After writing furiously for several years, things tapered off a bit. Now I write when something–and it could be ANYTHING–captures my attention. I have learned not to try to control the poem too much but to let it have its way.  I am aware of an inner muse who leads the band, and I try not to get in her way. I used to revise so much that I sometimes took the life out of the poems, but now I tend to trust my own process and revise just a little here and there. I am more aware now of shaping poems rather than rewriting them altogether. Since nature informs my work, I do enjoy learning Latin botanical names, which in themselves are remarkably poetic. I don’t outline my poems, but I do outline my books, and see groupings that seem to fit together thematically. I write at home.  For many years I had to use long hand for the kinesthetic sensation that went along with the poem, but gradually I have grown more comfortable at the computer.

What was the inspiration behind what you’ll be reading at Waterline?

I was inspired by a newspaper article on Oppenheimer many years ago. Travel and aging are inspirations as well as politics. Sometimes they all spin together.

What are you working on now?

I am excited about my book just released–Wild Fruition. I am looking forward to readings.

 

Sep 142017
 

 

I’m a great believer, especially with poetry, in grabbing the moment. Often poems arrive as if dictated and it can be critical to capture them. Dangerous too in the event you happen to be driving.”

How and when did you decide, or discover, that you were to be a writer?

From the time I was a young child, I was an eager reader and was also lucky to be encouraged by my father who read to me from Shakespeare, the Odyssey, Dickens, Kipling, Scott, etc. I began to write my own little stories. I think I always knew I would be a writer. In my day jobs, I’ve worked as a journalist, editor and teacher of writing, so it was always a focus.

Describe your writing process.

Process is such an individual thing that I don’t know that one person’s experience is valuable to another. I’m a great believer, especially with poetry, in grabbing the moment. Often poems arrive as if dictated and it can be critical to capture them. Dangerous too in the event you happen to be driving. I advise pulling over, but confess to scribbling down the gist of a poem while haphazardly steering. I tend to be rather prolific so generally I write daily. Of course, much of what one writes is expendable, so it is also important to put a piece on ice for a while before exercising one’s critical judgment.

What was the inspiration behind what you’ll be reading at Waterline?

The inspiration behind the Carnival poems was engendered by memories of the many carnivals and fairs that afflict our towns and counties every summer. After writing the first one the rest came in a rush. I already had a potential chapbook manuscript that I’d been working on which I was calling Invented Histories, poems that projected the futures of literary or mythical characters. Renaming that Sideshows made is conceivable to partner it with Carnival and then conclude with some circus poems.

 What are you working on now?

I have a new book that won’t be available in the U.S. till January, 2018–the publisher, Presa Press, has a contract with a U.K. distributor that gives them a 6 month exclusive. The book is called Her Heartsongs–I have my contributor copies already and I have brought along some drafts of the P.R. that is going out.

Sep 132017
 

I spent a lot of time outlining an entire novel, and when it was finished I didn’t want to write it. I already knew what would happen, so it bored me. I prefer to discover what will happen bit by bit as the story progresses.”

How did you discover that you were a writer?

In elementary school I started writing stories and plays. In sixth grade I wrote, directed, and starred in a play that was performed before the entire school. What a way to live your life, doing something fun to produce something that people like to read or watch! My mother taught me to read before I went to school, and my father always encouraged me to write my stories.

Describe your writing process.

There’s a process? Much of my work takes place in my head before I begin putting words on paper. Trained as a journalist, I am always watching, listening. Often I start with an overhead phrase, a scene, a character observed. Then I see them in other circumstances and the story forms around them or their words. I don’t outline. I spent a lot of time outlining an entire novel, and when it was finished I didn’t want to write it. I already knew what would happen, so it bored me. I prefer to discover what will happen bit by bit as the story progresses. There’s an anecdote regarding Flannery O’Connor where someone asked her when she knew a man would beat another man with his prosthetic leg. Her answer was, “When he did it.” I have the same process. I rewrite as I go, re-reading the entire work before I start the next day. As a short story writer, this is possible. As a novelist, it is impractical. Perhaps that is why I am a short story writer.

What was the inspiration behind what you’ll be reading at Waterline?

I remember reading a writing prompt about change, and I thought about how people count out change from a cash register. Not many people do that anymore; they just look at the readout on the register and put it all in your hand at once. The Spanish word for grandmother, abuelita, resonates with me because of two lovely songs titled “Abuelita” that I play often.  Richard Shindell’s song of a fierce and protective grandmother who stands and waits to catch a glimpse of her grand daughter stolen when she was a baby, and Caroline Herring’s song of a woman sitting under a tree in Costa Rica inspired this piece. The story, “Nibbling at the Bloodstains,” had a working title of Abuelita. However, since there’s no grandchild in the story, I changed it.

What are you working on now?

I am working on a stage play and and more short stories. I’ll be reading at the Dundee Library in East Dundee on September 21 at 7 p.m., and at the Other Words Literary Conference in Tampa, Florida, October 14.

May 192017
 

… I am sure that the reading of great classic and modern literature through the years, as well as–surprise!–the study of grammar in elementary school–gave me a feel for the language, not only the sound of good poetry but the balanced construction of phrases and ideas.”

How did you discover that you were a writer?

I was always a voracious reader and a good writer in school . I loved my English classes, but by the time I got to college and grad school, academics and music eliminated any time or thought for creative writing. Later, as a high school English teacher, first in Chicago, then in the suburbs, I was assigned to teach Creative Writing, I would write with my students, and they taught me a great deal as we exchanged daily critiques in the classroom.

Describe your writing process.

I don’t have a specific writing process, but I am sure that the reading of great classic and modern literature through the years, as well as–surprise!–the study of grammar in elementary school–gave me a feel for the language, not only the sound of good poetry but the balanced construction of phrases and ideas. My study of Latin, French and Italian also gives me a feel for unusual syntax and vocabulary, which helps me draft a poem, then edit and revise it many times before submitting it to editors of literary journals.

What was the inspiration behind what you’ll be reading at Waterline?

The inspiration behind my writing at Waterline is people! For some reason, important people in my life, both the living and the dead, have been circling me lately, and I’m giving them voice and tribute in this reading.

What are you working on now?

My seventh book of poetry, EDGES, was just published a few months ago, so I am working on spreading the news, and am grateful to Waterline Writers for giving me the opportunity to do just that, both through readings and also my blog, donnapuccianipoet.wordpress.com.

May 182017
 

… a high school English teacher turned me to poetry, and I took off. And those were also the days of Simon and Garfunkel, and Leonard Cohen, and others, writing real poetry set to music, and that really helped me take off.”

How did you discover that you were a writer?

I’ve always known I was a writer. I started with the obligatory third-grade haiku, started writing little adventure stories in junior high, and then in high school, had an ongoing epic, “Joe Cowboy,” which depictedthe daily silliness, adventures and imaginary activities like smoking blueberry cigars and drinking Genesee Cream Ale in frosted mugs which the bartender slid down the bar to us. (Actually, the soda fountain clerk, a relative of mine, used to slide down “buckeyes,” which were root beer floats; it was almost as good.) But then, a high school English teacher turned me to poetry, and I took off. And those were also the days of Simon and Garfunkel, and Leonard Cohen, and others, writing real poetry set to music, and that really helped me take off. My high school English classes were the last English and literature classes I ever had, but I never quit writing. I just read a lot and wrote a lot, and now, here I am.

Describe your writing process.

My writing process is kind of quirky. I keep a notebook, in which I enter lines or words or images that occur to me. Then, twice a week or so, I go to the Limestone Coffee and Tea here in Batavia, early in the morning, look at my notebook, and start drafting. I don’t always know where I’m going or what I’m writing; I just write until I finally know, “oh, this is what I’m talking about!” And then the revision starts. I don’t know about other writers, but for me the revision, the shaping is the most fun, finding the music of the poem. The hardest thing is that as I revise, I get a better, sharper sense of what I’m doing, and then I sometimes have to take lines, or chunks out that I really like. But they just don’t belong in that poem. That’s where the notebook comes in, and the various drafts: I always still have the stuff I had to take out for one poem still available for another poem some other time. Finally, I do some writing every day, and I write with pen and paper, not the computer, until the poem is done. Then I enter it into my computer, making a few last-minute adjustments as I see how it looks in print. I’m sort of a neo-Luddite.

What was the inspiration behind what you’ll be reading at Waterline?

The pieces I’ll be reading at the Waterline are a mix of serious and humorous poems. They’ve some–a few–of the many poems I’ve written in the last six months, since a visit to my small home town in northern New York for an Italian family reunion, and a March working vacation in Tennessee, where I stayed with some friends. It was ideal: Jim went to work, Hannah went to work, I stayed at home, and wrote about the area, and stuff that had nothing to do with where I was; it was a chance to get to some work done that I hadn’t had time to do. These are some poems that I have a serious fondness for.

What are you working on now?

Currently, I’m putting together a book of poems called “Night Travels.” It’s pretty dark, but I like it, and it does have its lighter moments. I’m still playing with what gets included and in what order. There are a lot of kinds of dark; this book explores some. I’ve also started reading at more open mics around the Fox Valley area. I’ve also started exploring short fiction (I’ve published all three of the short stories I’ve written so far, one of which won an Editor’s Choice 2016 in the journal, “Inscape”), and mixed genre. I’m curious to see where that all goes. God knows I’m never bored! Thank you for choosing my work. In these days, especially, shalom.

May 172017
 

Shepherd & the Professor springs from my interest in how we’ll be remembered after we’re gone. So I created a protagonist with a terminal illness who isn’t afraid of dying as much as being forgotten.”

How did you discover that you were a writer?

I came to writing as a broadcast journalist at NPR / WNIJ, learning how to use “the fewest, most powerful words” to tell stories. In recent years, I began interviewing authors for WNIJ’s “Read With Me” series and found myself in a master class. It didn’t matter whether I spoke with an internationally-known writer (Robert Hellenga, Amy Newman, James McManus) or a self-published author — I learned their tricks about the craft of storytelling. So I took those lessons and wrote my own novel, Shepherd & the Professor.

Describe your writing process.

I write on weekends and when I’m on vacation. I tend to write best in the morning and edit best after a mid-day walk. And I never outline. I like to start with two characters in dialogue. After that scene resolves, I create another scene with two characters, resolve that, and then find a way to connect these scenes to form a basic plot.

What was the inspiration behind what you’ll be reading at Waterline?

Shepherd & the Professor springs from my interest in how we’ll be remembered after we’re gone. So I created a protagonist with a terminal illness who isn’t afraid of dying as much as being forgotten. Susan Shepherd lived a life of service — as a Gulf War vet, cop and single mom — and she’s trying to publish her memoir. After dozens of rejections, she’s down to her last publisher. For this submission, she converts her memoir into one long letter to the editor who will decide whether to forward her manuscript. The first excerpt I’ll read is Susan’s initial query to this editor, which reveals much about her emotional state — and her feelings about the publishing industry.

What are you working on now?

Keeping with the legacy theme, I wrote a story called “The Caretaker” that appears in the journal Crack the Spine (#209). This is about a man who’s retiring after decades of working for a vampire. The story is a memoir/confessional but also a guide to the person who will succeed him in the caretaker role. I hope to expand this into a novel. The story that serves as Chapter 2, “The Interview,” is under consideration by a handful of journals.

May 162017
 

I’ve always been fascinated with making things. As a kid, my favorite toys were LEGO and K’NEX. The wonderful thing about writing is that it really allows you to make anything out of nothing.”

How did you discover that you were a writer?

I’ve always been fascinated with making things. As a kid, my favorite toys were LEGO and K’NEX. The wonderful thing about writing is that it really allows you to make anything out of nothing. Basically as soon as I could write I would write stories and even make them into books using cardboard. I guess I really started taking it seriously towards the end of grade school where I won an award for writing Pokémon fan-fiction and also had one of the poems I wrote for an assignment get confused with that of a classical poet. So while I’ve always loved writing and felt like a writer, there have been a few accomplishments that have made me feel like I might have some talent with words.

Describe your writing process.

I try to be disciplined, but it doesn’t always work out. On a good day, I have a morning routine: I wake up, drink water, brush my teeth, stretch, meditate, and then brain dump in my notebook for a page or two. This brain dump is literally just a stream of consciousness, so whatever’s on my mind at the time–I also use it as a time to make a list of tasks I need to accomplish throughout the day. After the brain dump, I do some more focused writing, which is either continuing work on a previous project or planning out / getting started on a new one. I’ve always got something to work on. After that I’ll usually read and then carry on with the rest of my day. I’m a big fan of the Pomodoro Technique, so it’s usually 25 minutes of fully focused writing followed by 25 minutes of fully focused reading. If I’m really excited about a project, I’ll probably come back to it later in the day and do more sessions. I’m a morning person, so ideally this all takes place around 6am  / 7am. I want to do this every day, but I have an extremely erratic life that doesn’t always allow for it. As far as my actual process goes, it’s a little different depending on what it is I’m writing. Poetry can come pretty quick, initially, but will usually go through quite a few revisions before I’m satisfied with it. When it comes to longer material, there’s usually a long process of note-taking, researching, outlining, etc., which can take weeks before I actually get to writing. I like to keep things focused and disciplined, but I’ll never stop myself if I feel drawn to writing at any time–it’s why I always keep at least one notebook with me and have no less than three heavy-duty writing apps on my phone!

What was the inspiration behind what you’ll be reading at Waterline?

I plan to read a couple of poems from my book of poetry, That One Black Kid. That One Black Kid was inspired by one night during a workshop hosted by my non-profit, Teen Writers and Artists Project. During this workshop, somebody mentioned how they rarely hear poetry about what it’s like growing up black in the suburbs. This comment inspired a poem which then inspired another poem and the next thing I knew I had enough poems to fill a short book of poetry. The book is quite the departure from my typical work, but was a fulfilling journey into a side of myself that was just begging to be explored.

What are you working on now?

Following the completion of That One Black Kid, I plan on exploring narrative gaming (or interactive fiction, as it’s sometimes called). As a big fan of video games myself, I’m planning on exploring some programs and seeing if I can craft some truly immersive interactive experiences. Other than that, I have half-written screenplays and novels to work on, as well as another book of poetry, potentially. Outside of writing, I perform improv comedy every other Sunday night at 8pm at The Comedy Clubhouse in Chicago with my group, Friar Pryor. I will also be performing a one-man variety show in the Elgin Fringe Festival which takes place September 13th through September 17th.

May 152017
 

I have always been a storyteller, I would say. Writing came later … . I wanted to tell stories like the ones I read, from faraway places and about interesting things.”

How did you discover that you were a writer?

I have always been a storyteller, I would say. Writing came later. I was a newspaper boy in my youth and would stop and read the paper during my deliveries. I wanted to tell stories like the ones I read, from faraway places and about interesting things. In my teens, I was into music and played in a band. Soon, I was writing music and that in many ways for me was storytelling. When I became a radio broadcaster, I then told other kinds of stories. Journalism was my next stop and it was then that I started to concentrate on writing. Stories in print and on the radio soon became bigger stories in journals and then books. Becoming a writer was a long process.

Describe your writing process.

I have recently built a shed, a writing studio on my property. It’s a simple place but it’s all mine. I go inside and I’m alone with books, art, and photography and I write. Mornings are the best. I usually work two hours or so and record my word count, a sort of ritual, really. But I also like writing in coffee shops. Sometimes I like the noise—the whir of the espresso machine, the conversations around me. I do not outline but I do take lots of free-form notes and do some research before I jump into the writing. But I am much more organic than a lot of writers. Then, of course, comes the drafting and revising. I love this part. The shaping of a piece or a book is a wonderful experience. That’s when the story comes to life for me. It is solidified and all the pieces—the ingredients, if you will—make for one single entity.

What was the inspiration behind what you’ll be reading at Waterline?

It’s from my memoir October Song. I never expected to write this book. But the experience was so interesting and so personal, it was impossible not to. The story is about when your dreams are no longer realities. When do you give up a dream? And as we age, do we just acquiesce to what age eventually does to all of us—wear us down? The story is about a road trip, music, love, and the power of our dreams.

What are you working on now?

I’m writing another memoir. It’s about the notion of home…what it is, what it means, how we discover it. The subtitle of the work isn’t fully flushed out, but it is about growing up, moving on from our childhood home, and the eternal search for our own place under the stars. Home means so much to all of us. Good and bad. And for me, there is so such rich material there. I had parents who grew up, met, dated, fell in love, married, bought a home, raised a family, and died all in one neighborhood. That fact is hardwired into me and I have forever been influenced by it. I think readers can find their own stories in mine.