All posts in "Author Interviews"

The 5-Question [Author] Interview: Kerri Fivecoat-Campbell

“I always ask myself if that part of my story will harm others and if so, is it necessary for the story’s lesson…”
—Kerri Fivecoat-Campbell


Kerri Fivecoat-Campbell
is a journalist and author living her dream life with her husband and 5 dogs in a 480-square foot cabin in the Ozark Mountains. Her memoir, LIVING LARGE IN OUR LITTLE HOUSE is published by Reader’s Digest. One of her mottos: Living Large is a state of mind. She blogs at livinglargeinourlittlehouse.com.

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Meredith: Given your affinity for large lives in small spaces, this question feels apropos: When you’re in love with a particular idea so much, how do you know when enough is enough—for example, words in a sentence, a line in an essay, a chapter in a book (memoir)? Corollary: how do you find the focus when the focus is…your life?

KERRI: This was actually the hardest thing for me. I met my future agent in 2011 and wasn’t able to develop a book proposal for the story until 2014. At that point, the story was still changing and evolving and I also couldn’t put a finger to the takeaway. Luckily, my agent believed in my story and was patient with me until I felt I could bring that story to life. Once I felt I had the life lesson I needed to learn to put together a memoir; she then guided me in creating a proposal and a book she could sell. As it turned out, my story, as well as some of the others I tell in the book, continued to evolve even after the book was supposedly finished.unnamed-1

 

Meredith: Is waiting the hardest part for you—particularly waiting for a response from the outside about an idea, a piece of writing, a body of work? If so, how do you temper your anxiety? If not, how do you put it in perspective when something feels so personal and dear to your heart?

KERRI: I do not like having to wait on others to do things in general in my life, I like to be in control, so yes, I would say waiting is a hard part of the writing life. The best way I’ve found in my freelance life to get over the anxiety is to develop an idea, send it off and move onto the next project. I see so many young freelance writers agonizing over a pitch they sent to their dream publication, or a pitch that is dear to them. If they keep that up, they’re going to have very short, anxiety-fueled lives. My motto is to put it into the universe, follow up in 7 to 14 days and if I still don’t have a response, re-pitch to another publication and think of something else for that dream publication. I use the motto I try to use in other aspects of my life: Let it go. Everything in its own time.

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Meredith: Corollary to the above: How do you keep the faith—or whatever you call it personally—when acceptance doesn’t seem to be coming?

KERRI: Oh, if I had a dollar for every time I look at my calendar, see I’m not making my financial goals for the next month and feel like a complete failure, I could stop pitching tomorrow and really live the dream, which is to write only what I want whenever I want! I have to remind myself that I’ve always manage to find the next assignment, even if it’s just enough to keep me going until the next month. If I need a reminder of how far faith in myself has brought me, I take my dogs for a long walk in our woods—you can never think life isn’t going your way while walking in the woods. However, if that doesn’t work, there’s always chocolate.

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Meredith: When you find yourself scared and paralyzed, either of something you are writing, of revealing yourself through the work, or for any other reason, how do you start moving again? And by moving I mean forward, not backwards, as in retreating?

KERRI: I think anyone who writes essays or memoir, particularly in this day and age of judgmental and cruel online bullying, is brave. However, sometimes I do feel like some of the superpersonal confessions some writers are engaging in these days may be detrimental to them, or maybe to even society in general, in years to come. That remains to be seen. That being said, I think all of us as writers have a personal responsibility to be true to ourselves and our story. There are some things in my book that sometimes haunt me in the middle of the night about how that part of my story will be received. I think there are instances where you may have to retreat. I always ask myself if that part of my story will harm others and if so, is it necessary for the story’s lesson, not to mention putting me at risk for libel. That’s where a good editor comes in, to help guide you in telling your story or advising you to take a different approach or even removing it all together.

Meredith: You’re an accomplished journalist, so tell me this: what is it that many of us misunderstand about telling a story? About finding hooks in a story? How did you learn to master your understanding of storytelling (article writing, memoir writing) in terms of understanding what a story is supposed to do. Please share.

KERRI: Well, first of all, thank you for the compliment. I was actually a business school graduate who had a deep love of journalism from an early age. But because I went to business school, I had to spend a lot of time learning and honing the craft, but that unconventional route worked in my favor. Unfortunately, I believe our society is in one of those periods in which people don’t appreciate the value of journalism in a free society. They’re drifting away from the meat of the story and looking for the sensational headline that gets them to click on that site. My high school journalism teacher, Patrick Bosak, who, in my mind, will always be the most wonderful teacher I ever had told me on my first day of class that drawing your reader in with a compelling lede is the most important part of your story, but you have to also know how to keep them engaged by telling them why this story is important to them. These sensational headlines oftentimes fail to deliver the meat.

News hooks aren’t always sexy, they’re not always sensational. They should be something that interests the public and also informs them. Whether I’m writing a news story or writing an essay or memoir, I’m constantly asking myself, “What is the takeaway, what can I help my reader learn or understand and what makes it relevant to their lives?”

[Thank you, Kerri!]

The 5-Question [Author] Interview: Jen A. Miller

“I like being slightly uncomfortable when I’m writing about something….It forces me to dig deeper and learn more than I’d probably ever use in the piece.”
— Jen. A Miller

 

Jen A. Miller is author of Running: A Love Story. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, Washington Post, Philadelphia Inquirer, Runner’s World, espnW, Allure and SELF. She lives in Collingswood, N.J. with her Jack Russell Terrier Emily.

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Meredith: Homeostasis is a concept I learned on my first day of graduate school. It means the desire to revert back to the familiar, for things to remain the same. As a writer, how do you remedy this type of stagnation that can thwart creativity? Or, do you believe there’s a time for it?

JEN: When I’m bored with work, I know I need to shoot higher. Before I even had the idea for Running: A Love Story, I wrote a travel guide about the Jersey Shore, and then I updated that book three years later for the second edition.

It was great! The books were fun and interesting, and lead to a lot of work that spilled over into my freelance life. I was known as Jersey Shore Jen for a while.

But it got a little staid. While things are always changing down the shore (especially after SaIMG_0163ndy), I could only write so many travel guides. When I was offered the opportunity to update the book for a third edition, I had a choice to make. It would have been relatively easy money, but I wasn’t excited about doing it. I had gotten comfortable being known as the Jersey Shore expert, but I started to feel hemmed in by it too.

I turned down the offer, and started talking about writing “the big book.”

It was a huge risk: professionally and personally, especially when writing is the thing that pays your bills. The path to book publication, even if you’ve written books before, can be an onerous one – not even including the idea! There’s writing the proposal to get the agent (I represented myself on my first two books), picking the agent, writing the proposal to sell the book, picking the publisher. One book project that I was told was a sure fire hit didn’t happen. That was a major blow, and it took me a while to try again. I’m glad I did.

When I reach that crossroads of do I stay or do I go now, I think about times when I took the shot and made it, and what a difference it’s made in my career today. Have I missed? Sure. But I don’t even remember all of those misses. So I take the shot.

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Meredith: How do you block out the chatter—yours and everyone else’s?

JEN: Sometimes it’s a matter of putting in your headphones, putting your head down and writing away. If I’m overwhelmed bIMG_3874y something, I’ll physically move locations, whether that’s to my bedroom, where I have a writing surface; to my mom’s sunporch; or even to a hotel. I wrote big chunks of Running: A Love Story while locked away in hotel rooms overlooking the ocean.

On a bigger level, though, I need to block out a lot of noise about trends, the writing industry, etc. Those things are important, but if I read every single piece about how freelance writing is terrible, how publishing is terrible, I wouldn’t have even started. It can be overwhelming, which is why running (and when I’m not training for a race, hiking) is so key to me. It hits pause on everything, even if it’s just a half hour or an hour, and makes everything not seem so bad. Of course that’s when I get some of my best ideas too.

I’ve taken a lot of long road trips too, that have had nothing to do with writing projects. They’ve helped take me out of my environment for a while, take me to somewhere new. When I’m back, I’m refreshed.

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Meredith: When you’re in love with a particular idea so much, how do you know when enough is enough—for example, words in a sentence, a line in an essay, a chapter in a book (memoir)? Corollary: how do you find the focus when the focus is…your life?

JEN: I can’t agonize over something forever, so I use deadlines to make me wrap things up. From the time I got the book offer for Running: A Love Story to when I turned in the final chapter of the manuscript was five months (that may sound short, but I had been working on the book for nearly a year before it sold). I also turned in the chapters on a rolling basis so that I was just about done with some of the early chapters two months after I sold the book.

Not everyone works this way. I do because I know that with long deadlines, I won’t work on it, and if I hold onto something too long, I’ll start picking at it, which can make it worse. Not to quote Frozen, but sometimes you really do need to let it go.

And if I’m at the end of my writing rope – with books or articles – I usually send it to my editor and say “tell me if this is finished.” Sometimes they see that it’s done – or not done – and I don’t. That’s why I’ve worked hard to build and maintain relationships with editors who are OK with that. It’s lead to some of my most popular (at least as they tell me) New York Times pieces. It’s so key to have that other person keep you in check.

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Meredith: The screenwriter, author and therapist, Dennis Palumbo, has a quote at the very end of Writing from the Inside Out, from Shunryu Suzuki: “In the beginner’s mind, there are many possibilities; in the expert’s mind, there are few.” There is this collective sense that experts are better, but perhaps, in a roundabout way, what it suggests is that more power comes to the beginner, because the beginner sees hope and has no expectations. Like, if you’re going to be an expert, be an expert in being a beginner/newcomer. What’s your take?

JEN: That’s interesting. When I wrote the Jersey Shore book, a criticism I sometimes heard was that I shouldn’t be allowed to write the book because I didn’t live there. I think that’s one reason I should have written the books. I’d been going to that area of the country since I was a baby, so I knew enough so that I wasn’t parachuting into the place, but I had enough of that visitor wonder and curiosity that I wasn’t skipping obvious things. When some locals read the books, they told me that they learned things about shops or buildings or landmarks they passed every day that they never knew.

I like being slightly uncomfortable when I’m writing about something – and that applies to article work too. It forces me to dig deeper and learn more than I’d probably ever use in the piece. It keeps me from being lazy.

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Meredith: What was the single most debilitating self-imposed rule you had to abandon in yourself and your writing—the rule that you thought made you feel safe and in control but actually didn’t—before you could put yourself on the page? How did you let it go—or maybe you didn’t?

JEN: Way back when I started out as a freelance writer, I told myself I couldn’t fail. On a macro level, that was “fail as a writer.” On a micro level, that was “fail in getting this assignment; fail at getting this interview,” those kinds of things. I quickly realized, though, that failing was OK. Not trying would have been a whole lot worse. And when I failed, I assessed what happened, and learned from it too.

I still trip up on this occasionally. I was 25 when I became a full time freelance writer, and I had much lower overall life costs then. If I failed, I could have slipped back into an office job. I don’t know anyone who would hire me know. Even though I’m further advanced in my career, that idea of failing is still there. I temper it by having some what I call “gimme” work. It’s not the most exciting stuff, but it pays the bills, and it allows me to take those chances I still need to take.

Visit Jen at JenAMiller.com.

[THANKS, JEN!]

The 5-Question [Author] Interview: Nora Baskin

Measuring ourselves against those we admire and aspire to be is what making good art is all about.
I reach as high as I can.
—Nora Baskin

Nora Baskin is an award-winning author of books for children and young adults. She has written more than a dozen books, most inspired by her life events growing up. Her newest book is Ruby on the Outside. Her next book, Nine, Ten: A September 11 Story will be released later this year. norabaskin.comauthorphoto

Meredith: Taking the stance that creativity is a natural state, why do we get stuck? 

NORA: I don’t think we can get “stuck.”

Creativity can happen all the time, in every possible way. When we write, draw, dance, what we think while we walk in the woods, sing in the car, play the guitar all alone in the hallway. What does get in the way is when we try to force our creativity into a form that we think we can “sell” or will get us praise; when we worry about what someone else will think about our work.

Creativity is a natural state. It is free flowing and constant.

That is not to say there isn’t an external aesthetic by which to measure the results of our creativity. I am a believer in educated, thoughtful criticism. Society needs a measure by which to place art in time and history; to judge what is good, what is relevant, what is meaningful. (Note that sometimes it takes years for this to happen, often long after an artist is dead)

RubyOnTheOutside_1But actual creativity (not to be confused with the ART that is produced) is a constant. It’s always there. It’s a matter of separating heart and mind, those nagging voices in your head that can get in the way. It keeps us from getting out Ann LaMott’s “Shitty first draft.”

Meredith: The Talmud  (in one way or another) says that “Every blade of grass has its Angel that bends over it and whispers, ‘Grow, grow.’ Do you have a personal interpretation for what this means to you as a writer?

NORA: As a matter of fact, I do. I tried to get published for nine full years, meaning nine years of sending out my work and often coming home to a mailbox stuffed full of self-addressed stamped envelopes with my handwriting! (From the days before email, of course.) It was hard to keep the faith, so to speak. After a few really difficult rejections and disappointments, I decided to just write the story I had always wanted to write but everyone in my life had told me “get over.” It was the story of my mother’s suicide, not exactly the stuff of a middle grade novel. But I had just read an award-winning book called “Belle Prater’s Boy,” which had a similar topic and was told in a poignant but hu
morous style. I could do that!

I didn’t care if anyone bought it or not, if anyone wanted or liked it. I wrote it for me, and I used everything I had learned over the last nine years. It sold to the very first editor who read it.nine ten rev front cvr

I dedicated the book to my mother, because it was the worst thing in my life that became the very thing that made my greatest dream come true. I’m not sure there was any angel involved, but maybe.

Meredith: How do you block out the chatter – yours and everyone else’s?

NORA: I am alone a lot. And I walk in the woods with my dog a lot. That helps.

I also grew up in a home of artists. Success in my family was never about money. It was always about artistic integrity. I greatly admire artists who have come from banker-type families. Their journey is harder. They have a system they have to buck. I didn’t and for that I am grateful. And poor. 🙂

Meredith: A kind of corollary to the above question: When you write, do you keep your eyes on your own paper, so to speak? In other words, have you mastered the art of non-comparison (to other writers)?

NORA: No. And I don’t think you should. Measuring ourselves against those we admire and aspire to be is what making good art is all about. I reach as high as I can. I read books I consider to be of the best literary standard, and I try to learn from them. If I get even halfway there, it’s something, right? My goal as a writer is to continue to get better and better. I set higher and higher standards. My goal is to be embarrassed to read my work from ten years ago (this I’ve certainly achieved.) Of course, what one considers good is personal and objective. There is not one single work of art that every single person agrees upon. And thank goodness for that.

Meredith: How do you know when to stop? Either when it’s complete/done or when it’s never going to be complete/done? Have you ever been sad to have moved away from a particular work?

NORA: You’re right. It’s never done but at some point it goes to print. I’ve been back and forth with my editor, copy editor, and proofreader. It’s good to have other people make that decision. I try never to read my work once it’s published. I always want to change something.

I’ve seen friends of mine who mark up, change, edit their hardcover books for readings. I get such a kick out of that because I know how they feel. I’ve had my dad come to my house and cut up his old paintings.

I guess that’s what it is to be an artist.

[Thank you, Nora!]

The 5-Question [Poet] Interview: Patty Seyburn

“I believe that the body knows something that intellectually, I can’t access.”  
—Patty Seyburn

 

Patty Seyburn has published three volumes of poetry. Her third book, Hilarity, won the Green Rose Prize given by New Issues Press (Western Michigan University, 2009). Her two previous books of poems are Mechanical Cluster (Ohio State University Press, 2002) and Diasporadic (Helicon Nine Editions, 1998) which won the 1997 Marianne Moore Poetry Prize and the American Library Association’s Notable Book Award for 2000. Her poems have appeared in numerous journals including The Paris Review, Poetry, New England Review, Field, Slate, Crazyhorse, Cutbank, Quarterly West, Bellingham Review, Boston Review, Cimarron Review, Third Coast, and Western Humanities Review. She won a 2011 Pushcart Prize for her poem “The Case for Free Will,” published in Arroyo Literary Review. She holds an MFA in Poetry from University of California, Irvine, and a Ph.D. in Poetry and Literature from the University of Houston. She is an Associate Professor at California State University, Long Beach. Patty Seyburn’s official website: click here.

[Note: bolded text is my emphasis; these passages really spoke to me {m}]

Meredith: I was trained as a therapist and as a result was trained to strike a delicate balance of letting the client guide the session but also encouraging growth and change. There are, however, times when the therapist, in order to help the client move forward (or deeper), must raise issues to keep the process from stagnating. How do you see this playing out for the creator/writer? For you?

PATTY: My first instinct is to question whether the poem is the therapist or the client…

Frost wrote, “Like a piece of ice on a hot stove, the poem must ride on its own melting.” For a while, early in the poem’s life, it rides on its own melting. And then, it stops, and it’s not always evident what is next. Is it done? Possibly. To stay with Frost – is it a fork in the road, “two roads diverged”? Probably. At that point, I try to look at what the poem wants to say. Some people will tell you that they never do that, that in the course of writing, they never think about ideas, like William Carlos Williams: “No ideas but in things.” I grant that the consideration of meaning (that’s an obscenity for some poets) must come later in the process, or you end up guiding thUnknowne poem to “say something,” though it’s probably more like “say anything.” I don’t really want my poems to say anything. They represent me out in the world. They are often not autobiographical in terms of narrative details, but they certainly speak to how I think. They don’t have to say whatever is “the right thing” (not that I know), but they can’t lie.

Of course, the poem can’t say: here’s what I want to talk about, but I don’t know how, or, are you still mad at your mother? In a way, however, it does just that, if you ask nicely. The way to do so, for me, is by scrutinizing each line, and trusting that when the language merits attention in the mouth and body, the content has something to offer. I trust the ear. I trust that catch in the stomach when I hear a C major 7th chord (think of the song, “Misty”). ”). I believe that the body knows something that intellectually, I can’t access.  When I manage to craft a strong line, then I have to take seriously what it says, though I’m not always happy with that, because it reveals something about me to myself that I may not know (and like), or may not know (and not like), or may know (and not want to admit). I think a good therapist does not let you lie to her or yourself – or that’s the goal. When you write a poem you are proud of, it does the same: it reveals you to yourself, and also, to others. Though, ultimately, it’s a less private affair than therapy, if you publish.I beli

Meredith: Homeostasis is a concept I learned on my first day of graduate school. It means the desire to revert back to the familiar, for things to remain the same. As a writer, how do you remedy this type of stagnation which can thwart creativity? Or, do you believe there’s a time for it?

PATTY: If the familiar is defined as a poem that I already know how to write, which is to say, I have already written, then I have limited interest in returning to that technique or strategy. What thwarts the seeming ease of this response is that, to some degree, once I have written a poem, I no long know how to write it. Each poem makes different demands, and just because two poems may seem to share a form, or a rhetorical approach, does not mean that they have anything else in common. I can read Phil Levine’s What Work Is (the collection, and the poem, itself), over and over, and though many of the poems are visually similar, their internal moves continue to surprise me. As well, once I have a little more distance from a poem, I truly don’t know how I did what I did.

I’ll admit, I have a few poems that I wrote recently and am wondering how I could employ that strategy again, because I like these poems and think their approach to the subjects worked. If I go back farther, for example, to my third book, wDSC_0916-1ritten from about 2001-2005, I have no idea how to write these weird little semi-surrealist, image-driven sort-of lyrics. If I go back to my first book and look at personae poems written in the voices of unnamed or unsung women from the Hebrew bible, I think, wow, how did you do that? Then I was working with Richard Howard, one of the great poets/critics/translators of the 20th-21st century, and he championed those poems, which, no doubt, inspired me. I truly have no idea how to write those, anymore. Not a clue. So, for me, while the familiar has no theoretical attraction, in practical terms, I don’t even know how to get back there. “You can’t go home again,” wrote Thomas Wolfe. One’s poems each provide a temporary home, and you can’t go back to any of them. Sigh. A lot of lonely wandering with clouds for company.

Meredith: I once heard Ira Glass, host of This American Life, say:  “Keep following the thread where instinct takes you. Force yourself to wait things out.” Does your writing require a lot of waiting?

PATTY: Whereas I value patience in the writing of poems, and in life, as well, I am less interested in waiting for “the muse,” and I try to teach my students not to value that idea. “Instinct” is a tough word, in relation to poems. Actually, I don’t really understand it, in relation to poems. I trust my instincts (sometimes) about people, about situations. When I write a poem, it’s not instinct at play. It’s language, which contains music, idea and image. It’s not a guessing game. I don’t “wait” for something to happen, in order to write a poem. I observe the world; I take in, ingest, inhale as much as possible, and I trust that what I take in has some resonance, in on the same frequency as something else that matters to me. I don’t wait for inspiration, or for the mood. Having a family and a job precludes what could be interpreted as the passivity of waiting. I think the idea of “forcing – waiting” is an interesting dichotomy. When I have time to write, I write. If I can’t write, I read. Sometimes I’ll read first. I imagine he’d say I was being ornery, but I’ll admit, I cherish urgency more than patience. I don’t do much yoga.

Meredith: How do you not hold on so tight to a piece of writing that isn’t working (that you wish would work) and let go so you might discover what will work?

PATTY: I have had to school myself in editorial brutality and trusting in the editing wisdom that comes with time. Generally, when I revise a poem into oblivion (as I did just the other day), and it’s taken up a great deal of my time (of which I do not have much, being a mom and a professor at Cal State Long Beach), I know that all I can do is put it away, put it away, put it away. Sometimes I will tape or pushpin it above my desk, so there is a constant passing flirtation with the poem. But since I am the being with consciousness and agency, I can choose to not walk by, and sometimes, I will do that, too.

I was watching that movie about Stephen Hawking last night, and it occurred to me that I should try to reread A Brief History of Time, though I remember finding it impenetrable when I first bought it. Now I think, if 10 million people bought it, and at least some percentage of that managed to get through it, I should give it another swat. I say this because in my own life, the relation of poetry to time maintains a strong attraction and equal elusivity, and I constantly address the issue of time in my poems. It is the only entity that can give you a completely honest assessment of your work. A friend can’t. A critic can’t.  Both may want to be candid, but their own proclivities in large and small terms inhibit that possibility, well-intended or purposeful as it may be. Allowing the poem to brew, to stew in its own juices, invariably calls attention to what demands to be changed. And sometimes, the result it: get rid of me. But keep a few good lines – and those germinate a poem that has not entered that futile realm. I should not even say “futile,” because if that enterprise generated a few good lines, or helped me understand language a little better, then time was not wasted. But the truth is: you have to be willing to “waste time.” Many people think writing poems is a waste of time, anyway. May as well indulge them.

As for the brutality of editing one’s own work – Australian poet Les Murray was the first to say to me: “Sometimes you must kill your darlings.” (Apparently, this quote has many possible sources – Oscar Wilde, Eudora Welty, G.K. Chesterton, Chekhov, and Arthur Quiller-Couch in his Cambridge lectures “On the Art of Writing.”) Whoever said it first – it made sense to me. I recognize that sometimes what I feel is the best line in a poem might be the worst. On the other hand: don’t be a fool. Maybe it is the best, and the rest of the poem needs to step up.

In order to access the cruel inner-editor, I read the poem aloud. I ask it questions – usually when driving, alone. I pretend that I’m interviewing the poem, or (how narcissistic will this sound?) interviewing myself, about this particular poem. On the radio. No one wants to sound like an idiot on the radio, and I’ll usually end up talking to myself about where the poem wants to go and should go, but is not going, and making self-demeaning comments that, fortunately, no one is there to agree with. Then I go home and try to make the poem behave. I love the tension of the editing process. It’s a struggle, a wrestling match, a prize-fight with each poem. I don’t always win, but then, you could say, who is the winner? Is it better if I win or the poem wins? Does the poem want to write itself out of existence? Am I holding on too tight? Ultimately, I am the judge of the poem’s success. The poem cannot say: I’m done. Put a fork in me and send me to The New Yorker.

Meredith: The artist, Juan Gris, said, “You are lost the instant you know what the result will be.” Many would find this counterintuitive, believing it’s actually better to know where you are headed. You?*

PATTY: Poetry distances itself from expository writing by not being goal-oriented. In a piece of persuasive writing, for example, to be effective, clear logic must be in place, and contribute to the result, the summative moment. In contrast, each line of a poem must strive to surprise the reader, while, at the same time, not seem utterly random. One of the many fashions in modern poetry is what Tony Hoagland calls the “skittery poem of our moment.” In a smart essay examining this trend (yes, poetry has trends! It’s just that no one makes any money off of them), he writes, “Systematic development is out; obliquity, fracture, and discontinuity are in.” The skittery poems don’t come naturally to me, but I have written some, particularly when I feel my mind working in perhaps too linear a fashion. Who determines the boundaries of “too”? Me. I love a good narrative poem, and that must move through time with some sense. I don’t want to herald discontinuity to excess, which I see in poems where I feel the writer does not bother to wonder why certain images or moments that seem to have no relation to one another belong near each other in the poem. I think those poems lack rigor, and I think the poet should work hard for the reader’s time and attention.

I never know where a poem is headed when I’m working on it. Never. I do not have a point to make, ax to grind, etc. It’s not that I don’t like points. Did you see that movie, “Planes, Trains and Automobiles”? Steve Martin says to John Candy, a character whose stories never seem to go anywhere: “And another thing: have a point!” I could relate to that. But that’s different than knowing where the poem is going. My poems usually swerve a few times and end up concerning themselves with a completely different issue, or focused on an image or piece of language that I did not see as vital, earlier in the poem’s development.

I grew up in Detroit. I like driving. I like the swerves. And as I get older, I trust the swerves. I used to fear them more – would the poem resume its course? Did the poem need a course? As the poem strays farther and farther from “the interior” (I always think of Joseph Conrad when I use or read that term), and the connection between the initial impulse to write the poem becomes more and more attenuated, it’s easy to get nervous. I think of that Dave Matthews band song that I listen to as I run: “Where are you going?” We are conditioned to desire and maintain direction, and in life, that seems to be, for the most part, how one makes headway. In a poem, it’s the opposite: trusting that there will be a result, but not writing toward that result, and even keeping yourself from knowledge or suspicion of that result. You don’t want to see a light at the end of the tunnel. You want to catch one of those peripheral lights, like the ones in that vision test (that increasingly, I fail. I invent them).

When I asked Patty what she doesn’t usually get to squeeze into a conversation she said: Let’s see: well, I have a strong affection for kitsch, which probably contributes to the “soup” of my poems, but when they enter the realm of cliché, I drop them like the worst old boyfriend. I even had to look up kitsch to explain this: “art, objects or design considered to be in poor taste because of excessive garishness or sentimentality, but sometimes appreciated in an ironic or knowing way.” I am exhausted of the snarkiness of irony, but it remains part of my personality. A good example of kitsch is the lava lamp. I love lava lamps. Some people like them ironically, but I like them genuinely.

One more thing: I am incessantly moved by displays of genuine effort – remember that Olympics commercial in the ‘70s when you see Olga Korbut’s face as she pulls her body, against laws of gravity, up over her head on the balance beam? That made me cry. If I saw it now, I would weep. Finally: I am unmoved by children’s talent shows, though I have children, adore my children, and am fond of talent. I think they should be called “variety shows.” There should be a bar. If I go on more about this, I will sound mean, and I think mean people are tedious, so I’ll stop there. Also: I hate Ron Howard movies.

[Thanks, Patty!]

The 5-Question [Screenwriter] Interview: Shane Weisfeld

“The key isn’t necessarily producing fast enough, but being consistent, persistent and self-critical. That, in effect, means I’m striking the balance of producing and creating and then they become one and the same.”  
— Shane Weisfeld

SHANE WEISFELD is the co-writer of the crime-thriller film “FREEZER”, released worldwide, starring Dylan McDermott, Peter Facinelli and Yuliya Snigir. Follow him on Twitter: @ShaneWeisfeld

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Meredith: Do ideas come to you in words or images, sounds or phrases, or something else?

SHANE: Coming from the medium of film, they mostly flow in the form of both words and images. It usually starts with a concept and grows from there, including characters and theme. Also, I come from hip hop, which has influenced everything I do, say and how I see the world, and it has made me what I am today. I owe everything to it. Hip hop has given me a plethora of ideas, because the music and culture is the best at painting images in your mind with words. If there are any sounds or phrases that come to me as ideas, they stem from words and images first.

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Meredith: How do you balance between creating and producing? Have you ever felt that you were not producing fast enough? How do you deal?

SHANE: It’s important that there is no distinction between creating and producing. When I create something, it has to mean I’m producing as well, that once I create something, it’s progressing forward as I go on. However, when it comes to screenwriting, and writing in general—it’s a marathon and not a sprint. The key isn’t necessarily producing fast enough, but being consistent, persistent and self-critical. That, in effect, means I’m striking the balance of producing and creating and thefn they become one and the same.

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Meredith: Do you show your work? When is too soon, or too late? Does it make you anxious? Calm you down?

SHANE: I show my work to myself, that is, the critical component of myself. I step outside of myself when I read my work and dis-attach myself from it in order to be as constructive as possible when it comes to criticism, feedback and notes. Basically, once a first draft is done, it’s time for edits and a rewrite. I don’t bother slaving over a first draft, so once I bang it out, it’s prime time to make changes. Only once I’m convinced it’s the best it can be is when I show it to the masses, and even then, it’s still not good enough until somebody says it is, in this case, the gatekeepers. It certainly makes me anxious when the right person reads my material, but if they come back with proper notes and ways I can make it better, and if I’m in Freezer domesticagreement with these ways, then that’s what calms me down.

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Meredith: The screenwriter, author and therapist, Dennis Palumbo, has a quote at the very end of Writing from the Inside Out, from Shunryu Suzuki: “In the beginner’s mind, there are many possibilities; in the expert’s mind, there are few.” There is this collective sense that experts are better, but perhaps, in a roundabout way, what it suggests is that more power comes to the beginner, because the beginner sees hope and has no expectations. Like, if you’re going to be an expert, be an expert in being a beginner/newcomer. What’s your take?   

SHANE: Speaking from experience, and to quote Damien Karras in The Exorcist: there are no experts. I’m 41-years-old and have spent years making mistakes and getting knocked down, but also jumping right back up and getting the hell out of my comfort zone. Does that make me an expert? Well, maybe I’m an expert at knowing myself and what I’m capable of. However, that all started from humble beginnings and hope. I don’t know when I transitioned from newcomer to expert. I guess I’m an expert at knowing exactly who I am, therefore there’s only one possibility. However, if I were to ever quit (which would never happen), but if I did, then I’d be a beginner at quitting, in which case there really is only one possibility as well, because if you’re a beginner at quitting, you’re also an expert at quitting. So my take is: be an expert at knowing yourself and what fuels your fire. Unfortunately that may take years, and even more unfortunately, most people quit before they find out.

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Meredith: When you’re in love with a particular idea so much, how do you know when enough is enough–for example: words in a verse, input from a particular instrument, or the length of an entire show?

SHANE: Everything, just like stories, and life, has a beginning, middle and end. You need to know when and how to end it. It’s not so much ideas I’m in love with, but more the expression of that idea. However, I don’t look at my material and love it. I don’t see it as a piece of art. It’s a product—that’s all it is. My job is to keep honing and chipping away at that diamond in the rough, and enough is enough only when I feel that I can’t make it any shinier. At some point I do need to let go of an idea and move on to the next, bigger and brighter thing.  

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SHANE: I love rejection. I actually crave it. It has been a good, blunt, honest friend of mine. Rejection means I’m doing something right. It means I’m throwing myself out there, continuing to develop the thick skin and backbone that’s needed to persevere. It means I’m not afraid. However, I’m never one to say “Oh they said no to my material? Well they don’t know what they’re talking about.” You know what? They do know what they’re talking about many times over. I need to take that and run with it. Learn from it. Improve from it and keep coming back better and stronger the next time. What’s also great about rejection is I can look back on it and say it was worth it, to get to this point I’m at and continue to propel me forward.

Also, on a psychological level, rejection has taught me who I am and what I’m capable of. What I am is not a quitter. What I am is not someone who sulks and questions his talent or ability to make things happen when he faces some rejection. Again, this all stems from hip hop. That’s where it all started for me and continues in my heart. Making something from nothing, taking raw talent and building on that, staying hungry, never biting off more than I can chew, and most importantly, persevering.

Many people ask how I stay motivated after all these years, especially when facing rejection. I don’t really look for things to motivate me. I just do what I do regardless. As long as I’m breathing, I’m writing. As long as I’m an artist, I’m going to face rejection. If I don’t want to hear peoples’ opinion or take or interpretation of my work, then why the hell am I doing this? I guess the motivation could be the outcome, and everything leading to that is the journey (which has currently been over 17 ½ years). It’s pretty simple: if you want and need something bad enough and can’t see yourself not doing it, then that right there is pure motivation and nothing should stand in your way of achieving your goal(s).

Follow Shane on Twitter: @ShaneWeisfeld

[Thanks, Shane!]

The 5-Question [Author] Interview: Paolina Milana

 “It’s taken me a long, long time, but I’ve learned to swim in my own lane.”
—Paolina Milana [on writing]

Paolina Milana is the author of The S Word, a memoir about secrets—those a young girl coming of age in the middle of crazy does her best to keep—secrets about her mamma’s schizophrenia; secrets about her sexual awakening; secrets about her seduction that turns to rape; secrets about being the good Sicilian Catholic girl. There are so many secrets that silence and nearly suffocate her, until she finds the strength to save herself. Paolina won the Psychology Category in the 2015 Indie Excellence Awards for The S Word.

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MEREDITH: Where you find yourself scared and paralyzed, either of something you are writing, of revealing yourself through the work, or for any other reason, how do you start moving again? And by moving I mean forward, not backwards, as in retreating?

hite flag…even putting the manuscript in a drawer and trying to forget about it. Even when the story was going to press and then the publicity started, I wanted to say, “Whoa! Never mind, Fugettaboutit.” And I did. The only problem is that the Universe wouldn’t let me completely walk away. Some person would cross my path that reminded me of why I wanted to tell my story or some scenario would unfold right in front of me that would underscore the need for my story to be told. At the end of the day, even though I struggled with spilling the secrets and exposing myself and my past, I would drag myself to my laptop and just start anew. I got myself through it by telling myself that it didn’t have to go anywhere…it just had to get onto the page. And if I chose to make that the end of the journey, okay, but I could not stop until it was all out.Paolina black and white shirtPAOLINA: In writing The S Word, I found myself scared and paralyzed no less than about a million times in the decade-plus that it took to vomit the story out of me. There were times when I pretty much just decided to wave the

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MEREDITH: Some people refer to their creations as their children. Some view them as entities entirely separate from themselves. Sometimes it feels to me like our creations are more as an extension of our own biology. In other words, our words are who we are, just expressed in an alternate form (kind of like how water freezes to ice and then melts and flows again). How do you view your creations and how did you come to seeing them this way?

PAOLINA: Given that The S Word is my memoir (the first of two books…the next one called The C Word), my creations are, indeed, real. Sometimes I wish they were not. LOL For me, I had to view this all as the exact opposite. I had
to pretend that this all happened to someone else…that the people in my path were just made up…and in dong that, I was able to – I think – treat them more objectively and fairly. While my “creations” started out as wanting to expose and blame and bring to light all the injustices suffered, this frame of reference allowed me to realize that everyone was doing the best he/she could in any given moment, and that forgiveness and redemption allowed each of my very real creations to morph – like your water example – between good, evil, right, wrong, prey, predator, innocent and guilty.

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MEREDITH: When you are in the middle of a project that feels the equivalent of crossing the Atlantic Ocean in a bathtub and the only thing you can do is row (put pen to paper, fingers to keyboard), how to you nurture youThe-S-Wordrself/support yourself when there are no signs that offer feedback because it’s too soon for feedback and the only thing you are supposed to do at that moment is to keep rowing?

PAOLINA: Actually, this is the part of the process that I love the most. When you’re just lost in you and your story, and you don’t have those voices of doubt and negativity and judgement screaming at you, it’s for me the purest moments of joy and of transcendence. There have been times in writing some of my other stories when a character will do something, and I literally have to sit back and say….”no way…you did not!” I love when they tell me what they are doing or thinking.

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MEREDITH: How do you keep the faith—or whatever you call it personally—when acceptance doesn’t seem to be coming?

PAOLINA: When I was looking for an agent or publisher, I only sent out a few dozen queries. Believe me, it felt like a ton more than that. But I was researching and finding the right person for me, or who I thought to be the right person for The S Word. Turns out, those people didn’t think they were a match. And so rejection after rejection came. That said, not a single rejection was a form letter; rather, each one was heartfelt and a note of encouragement, simply telling me that they loved my story and wanted to make sure it found a home with the right person who could take it to where they thought it deserved to be. I was told by Jennie Nash, one of my writing mentors, that that is rare, and I should take it as a sign to carry on. Acceptance, I have learned, can only come from within.

And to “keep the faith,” I would find myself taking out pen and paper and documenting the timeline of my life, recalling every incident or memorable moment in my last ten years on this planet. I marked each with a smiley face or a frowning face: death of a parent, wedding day, etc., etc. Doing this exercise reminded me that life is full of ups and downs and that sometimes when you are in a valley, you can’t see the top of the mountain and its view until you climb out and look back at how far you’ve come. Without fail, every single peak in my life proved to be somehow influenced by the valley that came before. Remembering that helped me keep the faith.

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MEREDITH: When you write, do you keep your eyes on your own paper, so to speak? In other words, have you mastered the art of non-comparison (to other writers)? How do you handle that in writing groups or when you share your work?

PAOLINA: For me, I’ve never been one to look on other’s papers or to compare my writing with others. I always love and appreciate a great story, whether I’m writing it or someone else. And maybe it’s because I used to be a reporter or that I’ve made my living writing for decades and throughout, I’ve been critiqued so much that I really don’t take it as anything other than feedback – mine to choose to take or not. Oh, sure, sometimes every one of us thinks, “wow, I really suck at this,” or “OMG, why can’t I write like her?” – but we need to recognize that for what it is…humility, a dash of fear, a sprinkle of reverence for others, and momentary doubt on ourselves. All of those come and go…as long as you don’t allow them to stay. Someone once told me that the quickest way to unhappiness in through comparison. It’s taken me a long, long time, but I’ve learned to swim in my own lane. Only I can do the “Powerlina stroke.”

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Born and raised in Chicago, Paolina currently lives on the edge of the Angeles National Forest in California. She blogs at PaolinaMilana.com [<<awesome blog] and welcomes the opportunity to share her stories with interested audiences.

[Thanks, Paolina!]