All posts in "Author Interviews"

stuck/unstuck: internal conflict and writing: Kristin Thiel

In life, we are destined, it seems, to repeat certain experiences until the meaning or lesson of the experience is conscious. Since the writing life is not separate from life-life, can you share how you’ve moved through a certain block that had always influenced (hampered) your writing process? How did you enter, tolerate, remain with the internal conflict you were dealing with, how did it show up in your writing, and how did it, eventually, resolve? 

Continuing our stuck/unstuck exploration of resolving one’s internal conflicts while continuing to write, Kristin Thiel shares her view. Kristin* is co-owner of Indigo Editing & Publications. When not editing, she talks books for publications such as Rain Taxi, Bookslut, the Oregonian, the Star Tribune (Minnesota), and the Christian Science Monitor, and writes her own fiction. Her latest short story is in Men Undressed: Women Writers on the Male Sexual Experience (Other Voices Books/Dzanc).

by Kristen Thiel 

Only one particular block…? Hmmm… OK, I’ll chisel at this one a little bit: The thing that blocks me is not procrastination or avoidance—it’s something in the same ballpark, but slipperier.

I have always been a writer (dictating stories to my mom before I could form the letters of the alphabet on my own), and I’ve never been ashamed of that. I proudly called myself a writer before and after the Jane Austin Dream House™ of my dreams was replaced by the realization that most writers are poor (or certainly not rich) and some find fame only after death, too many others only infamy at the bottom of a bottle. And I never didn’t write—but I didn’t always write creatively, and that became an unanticipated problem.

It’s useful to try to make connections between dots. Most candidates for a job don’t have exact experience in each and every qualification listed in the posting—but they can make a case that the communication skills they do have will fit the skills needed. Colleges allow similar connections when they accept a transfer student’s credits from another college. We’re taught that this level of linkage is logical and natural, and it most cases it does work—but it didn’t for me for creative writing.

As a teen, I became section and then managing editor of my high school’s paper, and worked for a suburban Chicago paper. I entered college thinking I’d study to be a political journalist, but when a poli-sci class I wanted to take wasn’t available, the replacement history course wooed me into that department. Later, new friends I admired led me to add a second major, anthropology. After graduation, I was an AmeriCorps literacy program coordinator and a grant writer for a theater company.

I did all that not to not write—I did it to write more. I’d write for a daily! No, I’d write minute-by-minute field notes on the world’s cultures! No, I’d write proposal after proposal, answering pleas with reports and briefs and thank-yous! But just as driving a bumper car does not prepare you for driving a semi or for driving a four-wheeler or for driving someone up the wall, so writing one type of words does not make you an author of another type.

For the past decade, I’ve been a freelance editor and book reviewer, which are more writing writing distractions, yes—but they’re also writing aids. They get me reading, and reacting critically to, stories. You know when someone’s telling you a story, and you snap your fingers: Oh yeah! Something like that happened to me, too! I was paying attention to stuff that spurred my stuff. I’d been a reader for almost as long as I’d been a writer, but finally I was reading like a writer (also the name of one of my favorite writing reference books, by Francine Prose). And I was writing like a (creative) writer.

[*Kristin will be on the radio program Susan Rich Talks this coming Monday, April 16, 8 am PT, 11 am ET on All Women’s Radio Network.]

 

The 5-Question [Author] Interview: Denise Schipani

“When you consciously think about being creative, making something, writing something, it’s scary, and it’s my personal theory that this is where writer’s block comes from: the fear.” —Denise Schipani

Denise Schipani is the author of the brand new Mean Moms Rule, but her writing has long appeared in many national publications including American Baby, Better Homes & Gardens, Parenting, New York Times, Babble.com, and many, many more.

Meredith: Having never been pregnant myself, the first time I asked this question was to a novelist, and now I want to ask you: Is birthing a story really like birthing a baby? (I hear this analogy a lot but, well, have never been sure what to think.) If so, does the gestation period feel the same—heartburn and all? How about birthing the actual publication of the book? So I’m asking about the story part, and the biz part, too. Oh, and if not, then what’s it like? Can you create an analogy?

DENISE: I have to say – and I mean this in the nicest possible way – that the birthing a book/birthing a baby is easy, but also a little lazy, because it’s not equivalent at all. When I hear it, I sort of cringe. It’s easy, I guess, because you think of your book as being long, difficult and oftentimes painful process – which pregnancy and childbirth are, too. But the fundamental differences are pretty stark. Making a baby isn’t creative (cue the sex jokes here) in any way analogous to writing a book. And at least outside of science fiction (so far) you can’t pick and choose your baby or how your pregnancy goes or even in most cases how childbirth spools out, you know? Maybe I’m unpacking the analogy a little too much, but regardless, to answer your question, I’ve never thought of it that way. It feels cliché.

What making a book is like, or was like for me, was one-half relentless, head-down slog toward conclusion (think a magazine assignment that goes on and on and on, with obsessive word-counting and regular moaning to my patient husband that “I’ll never finish this!); and one-half pure joy. Think of a waterfall; there were times the words tumbled out in a great, beautiful rush. And there were times I could read back a chapter or part of a chapter and feel that rush again.

Meredith: When you write about a parenting style, you’re bound to get all kind of comments. But your style is something you believe in – as a parent. Can you translate this tough (but still loving) now, better for the kids (and maybe, mom, too) later, into a model for writers?

DENISE: Wow, what an interesting question. A major theme of my book is taking the long view with parenting; it’s not all about the here and now. That’s the whole reason I called my approach “mean”: not because I’m actually mean (I’m a big hugger, for example, I’m silly with my kids, and there’s often ice cream in the freezer), but because being consistent and a rule-setter and a schedule-keeper can feel mean, in our loosey-goosey sort of society. And it can be lonely, being this kind of parent, in a weird way. It’s easier to sit around with all the other moms complaining about our spouses while dispensing Goldfish crackers and figuring out ways to get our kids the “best” teachers. That’s not my thing. I’m swimming upstream, almost all the time.

Being a writer, as you know, is also a kind of lonely thing to be. You’ve really made me think here! Because I’m just now making this connection myself: I’ve always been an upstream swimmer, a square peg. So maybe my chosen profession and my parenting style match my personality. I’m relentless, obstinate, opinionated, fanatically practical, and tough. But also just soft enough in the head to be able to tap into my creative self (to be a writer); and in my heart (to be a warm, loving parent). But those other traits – the practicality, the relentlessness – inform the way I do both.

 ♦

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

DENISE: Because it’s scary. Those times I felt like the writing was like a waterfall? Or a tap that was turned on (and as an aside, I wonder why I think of water? Hmmm)? Those weren’t consciously noted by me at the time. When you consciously think about being creative, making something, writing something, it’s scary, and it’s my personal theory that this is where writer’s block comes from: the fear. It does for me, and I aid and abet my fear with all the other things that keep me from the waterfall moments – other work that’s less creative, like organizing notes or looking for sources or doing online research; or tasks such as making dinner, cleaning a toilet, dealing with a kid or a bill or whatever. These all are legitimate pulls away from the scary stuff, so you call it writer’s block. Creativity may be natural, but many things that are natural are scary and thus easy to avoid.

Meredith: Can you tell me how you move through a big project when life’s personal details are distracting, sad, anxiety producing or otherwise?

DENISE: Ah, see above. Not just the question immediately above, in which I explain how I put up my own convenient/legitimate road blocks to mask creative fear/anxiety (dinner has to be made! The dryer just buzzed! The school bus is coming! I need to call my mother!), but also the one above that, where I revealed how relentlessly practical I am. I put my head down, and bull-in-a-china-shop my way through things. I keep moving, like a shark. This, like my mothering style, I totally get from my mother, who just does, does, does, because to not do means something might catch up to you.

 ♦

Meredith: Now, from the knowing-what-you’re-meant-to-write angle…How do you stay strong and focused when your writing/creating dreams become muddled—or feel that way? How do you move beyond the muck to find the real you and, by extension, what you’re meant to write?

DENISE: I don’t know if this is the answer you’re looking for, but to be perfectly honest, my writing dreams have almost nothing to do with my writing career. My writing dreams started when I was very small; being a writer was all I ever thought I wanted to be, and by the time I got to college, up through probably my first couple of years of school, I never thought I could make a career out of being a writer, because even then I had that boring practical streak. I could write poetry and short stories and dream about novels, but I had no illusions, ever, that I’d make my living that way. It wasn’t until I met, at a summer internship, a young woman who had until recently been a magazine editor, and something clicked. Admitting it feels kind of stupid – how could I not have known that the magazines I devoured every month were created by people? I started looking for magazine jobs, and landed one right after college, and re-found my creativity in being an editor, and later a writer (I find editing amazingly creative).

I guess what I’m saying was my writing dreams were never muddled, because I gave them a practical edge, and I sustained myself, and later my family, with my dreams-turned-career.

The blog, and then the book, are different – those, plus personal essays I’ve written/published, allowed me, finally, to let the voice in my head talk out loud, which is really all I ever wanted to do, anyway, when I dreamed about being a writer as a child. To talk, and to have people listen, and then understand.

Denise has a varsity letter in badminton from high school. “This is the bit of information I used to use for those horrid office-party games when you had to match the fact to the colleague. No one ever guessed mine (and now I have to think of something else).” She lives in New York with her family.

Visit her website to find her parenting blog, and much more by clicking HERE.

[Thanks, Denise!]

stuck/unstuck: internal conflict and writing: Steve Almond

In life, we are destined, it seems, to repeat certain experiences until the meaning or lesson of the experience is conscious. Since the writing life is not separate from life-life, can you share how you’ve moved through a certain block that had always influenced (hampered) your writing process? How did you enter, tolerate, remain with the internal conflict you were dealing with, how did it show up in your writing, and how did it, eventually, resolve? 

Continuing our stuck/unstuck series with contributors from the anthology Men Undressed: Women Writers on the Male Sexual Experience, is Steve Almond, whose introductory essay launches and frames the collection in a unique way. He is the author of eight books, including Letters from People Who Hate Me. His newest collection, God Bless America was a finalist for The Story Prize.  He writes The Week in Greed column at The Rumpus.

by Steve Almond

My own sense is that writers are blocked mostly by their own inhibitions about being truthful on the page, and about allowing themselves success. For me, the big block has always been writing a novel. My hunch is that writing a novel has come to represent a form of adult achievement that would somehow deprive me of certain feelings of inadequacy on which I have, perversely, become dependent. The subconscious is a torture device with no apparent off switch. At any rate, I have spent most of my career either attempting and failing to write a novel, or berating myself for avoiding the effort. It is not something I’ve resolved. Nor, I suspect, am I close to resolving it.

But what I have been able to do is find other ways to put work into the world. A decade ago, for instance, I spent two years writing an 800-page novel that was painfully inept. Several readers, including a literary agent, confirmed how awful the book was, and I promptly plunged into a depression. But what I found was that this depression actually had a liberating effect. It stripped me of certain literary vanities and allowed me to pursue a project that was much closer to my heart: a memoir about my obsession with candy. This has been the basic pattern throughout my writing life: I fail at a novel, get bummed out, and find another project to pull me out of the bog.

I guess what I’m saying is that you don’t always work out your deepest internal conflicts. You find ways to manage them. Recently, one of my best friends, a younger guy who’s long looked to me as a mentor, published his first book — a remarkably funny and moving novel. It was tough for me. On my worst days, I felt completely crushed by envy and self-loathing. On my better days, I felt a kind of brotherly admiration and awe. I did my best to support him, which is what he deserved.

I’d do just about anything to write a novel — doesn’t even have to be great. A good novel would be enough. But I won’t let myself, at least not yet. So I’m stuck clinging to the stuff that gets us by when we’re failing: humility, patience, mercy.

The Word: Andrew Tonkovich, Editor of Santa Monica Review

[Bringing this piece to the fore…it is, one might say, from the archives. Enjoy.]

Individual tastes and interests in a story vary from person to person, and within that person, from day to day. What remains a constant, however, is the story’s (or essay’s, novel’s, memoir’s) ability to tap into what is real, to mine a buried truth, whether or not the intellect always agrees.

Andrew Tonkovich is the editor of the literary magazine the Santa Monica Review, for which he reads hundreds of submissions each month. He’s also host of the program Bibliocracy Radio on KPFK-FM where he speaks with award-winning authors and poets, often about social issues but also about fiction and nonfiction writing.

When I asked Andrew a while what must occur in a work to make it a story that moves other people, to take them to a place where they relate, Andrew suggested that relating to a subject may not actually be the most crucial factor in a work. Here’s what he said:

“I am not sure what moves other people. Lately I feel like moving away from other people or shouting at them, loud, especially those who seem not to relate to the story, as it were, of the collective nightmare we seem to be dreaming just now, the war and the drift to fascism and a president who wants to kill whales in the name of national defense. With that clumsy but important caveat, let’s say that I am not sure that relating is exactly how I’d put it, and why aren’t more people writing about those subjects, huh? Sure, I know what you mean, but instead of relate I’d prefer “be engaged” or something that describes that exquisite condition of not being able to put the story down, of being in on the joke, of hearing the voice of the writer. So that when I pick up a piece of writing and find myself both excited by reading it and despairing at getting to the end of it, I know I am engaged.

“When I look up and find that I am giddy and self-conscious with delight at my own little participation in the project, and see, joyfully, that I have been tricked or seduced into this condition and eager, finally to see the writing succeed and scared that it won’t, well, that’s what has to happen.On these occasions I never have even a doubt and often do not even reread the story, cannot, painfully sweet that is, just think about it lots and congratulate myself for being its lucky reader and, of course, contact the writer immediately to lay a tiny wreath at her feet.

“How does the writer do that? I’ll limit myself here to ‘beginnings.’ By quickly, very quickly,bringing the reader into the experience of the telling, with suspension of disbelief, characterization, voice, a premise elaborated upon, a world quickly made real. All of that, of course. One of my favorite opening lines of a story, this one by Jim Krusoe, titled “A Cowboy’s Story”: “Howdy.” That is voice (funny, droll, self-conscious) and the promise of a story. Perfect. Now somebody out there should write about a whale being tortured by U.S. Navy sonar which begins, ‘Lately my ears hurt.’ ”

Read The Writer’s [Inner] Journey with Andrew about his writing here.

Visit the Santa Monica Review here.

stuck/unstuck: writing with a new baby in the house

Today I’m launching the first of a new feature: the stuck/unstuck series for writers.

Many people I know who are writers have young children. Many of them are concerned about getting back to their writing after a baby is born, or when a child is growing up and demanding more time, or when a teen is getting older and demanding more (or less, or more) time, and even when a child leaves home. When our daughters first arrived from Russia, though they were older (10 and 13, and therefore, self-sufficient in many ways but understandably dependent in others), I still went through the same anxiety, even moving my desktop computer from my office to the kitchen table, in order to work at the same time I was helping them with English homework they had yet to understand (at the time, they only spoke Russian).

It made me realize: The notion of having more time or less time may turn out to be less of an issue than simply using the time we have.

So, then, I’m starting the series with an interview with Barbara DeMarco-Barrett, whose first book, Pen on Fire: A Busy Woman’s Guide to Igniting the Writer Within (Harcourt, 2004), squeaked onto the Los Angeles Times best-seller list and was honored with a 2005 American Society of Journalists and Authors Outstanding Book Award. She is founder of the Pen on Fire Speakers Writers Salon. But the book, for Barbara, grew out of this exact conundrum, trying to find time—and then make use of time once it was found.

(Over the next couple of days we’ll be hearing from writers, creatives and novelists about their own getting back into writing after a child arrived.)

Meredith: How have you managed to transform what is defined as “Lack Of Time” (so big and powerful it seems!) into something that is actually a good friend to you. How have you seen your students make the leap, as well?

BARBARA: The more time I have the less writing I seem to get done. I don’t know why that is.  After college I had so much time, and got so little written.  Perhaps it was the lack of deadlines, or it was because my calendar was wide open—too open, I’m not sure. But I do know that when I am busy, I get more focused writing I get done.

[Yes, alert!] The key for me has been to use those lil bits of time and not wait for the weekend or wait for that hoped-for time when all I have to do is write. So now I don’t wait for the days that are totally wide open, when nothing else is required of me, because I never have days like that. My kid is 17 now, but still has need of me, and I want to spend time with him, so I use the time he’s at school or busy to schedule in my writing time.  I also write articles (these days mostly for The Writer magazine and Southern California-based magazines) edit a writers’ publication, The ASJA Monthly, run a bi-monthly writers’ salon here in Corona del Mar, host and produce a radio show, teach two private writing workshops and one online class with Gotham (“Jumpstart Your Writing”), volunteer, and knit & weave (and have begun to sell work or take commissions). Despite all these commitments, I just wrote THE END on page 266 of my memoir.  Now begins the revision phase, and I imagine I will continue to use bits of time to do that.

Meredith: I think the premise of your book is, in a way, taking what appears to be “less than” (as in, enough time) and making it “more than enough.” Tell me what this looked like when you were writing this book, about this exact topic.

BARBARA: I started Pen on Fire when my son was a toddler and wrote it as he was growing and I was driving him here and there. Once at a soccer practice–he was much shorter than he is now–I was the columnist for the Women’s Business column for OC Metro, an Orange County bi-weekly, and my deadline was slapping me in the face and I hadn’t written a word. I found an old brown shopping bag in the car, and there in the waning fall light, I wrote a draft of the column.

It occurred to me that there was no ideal time to write, but lots of minutes everywhere throughout the day—especially when I waited.  Instead of getting on the phone, I wrote.  Instead of watching TV, I wrote.

One key is scheduling your writing in, and writing down what you need to accomplish on a given day or during a given week.  If it’s on the page, my brain isn’t continually churning, trying to remember what I have to do. I can look on the page and see. And I love crossing things off.

As for those bits of time, as I respond to these questions, I’m making my son breakfast.  Put in the toast, return to the computer and type a few more lines.  Take the toast out and butter it, and return to the computer and write a few more lines.  This may not work for everyone, but somehow I’ve made it work.

Learning to write in the midst of life going on around you isn’t new. Didn’t Jane Austen write in this way—or was it Louisa May Alcott?  When Jodi Picoult started out, her children were babies, and she wrote with them at her feet.  A room of one’s own is a more modern invention. So many writers write wherever and whenever they can.

I also took to heart something I heard many years ago: If you write a page a day, in a year you have more than you need for a first draft.  Likewise, you have to work at putting the perfectionist to sleep—at least while you’re getting out that first draft. The perfectionist has a way of stopping you from writing because she tells you there are far better writers than you out there, and why waste your time using up precious paper?

So it’s a combination of putting the perfectionist aside and connecting with the part of you that feels great when you do your writing. And no one can take that away.

The mantra: “Somebody has to make it, so why not me?” worked for me, too.  No one was born published.

Meredith: Now, about new moms and dads (or new grandparents, or empty nesters for that matter, or those starting a new job, or schedule, or going through the stuff we know as life…welcome or crisis).  Many feel such guilt and anxiety about what they do or do not accomplish on the page (let alone for their children or the situation at hand). How have you found a way to back out of this trap and settle back on the page? When did you recognize that, indeed, it was the small period of time that added up to something so much bigger than themselves? How can others do the same?

BARBARA: In the end, following your passion and pursuing your dreams is good for everybody—especially for you.  We are a guilty culture—and part of that guilt is well founded. With so many people suffering around the world, even in our own back yard, it’s so easy to feel guilty taking time for yourself. When the poet Billy Collins came on my show, he said something that has stayed with me. He said it’s good to look at life in terms of eternity, in terms of the grand overview. When I reduce that down to however finite my time is on this planet, I figure I might as well enjoy myself. While this has hindered me in some ways, it’s helped me to prioritize how I spend time and not put off things. When I hear people in their twenties talk about what they’re going to do when they retire, it blows me away. First off, that’s so far off, and secondly, who’s to say you’ll still be alive? All this to say, you take time for yourself in so many ways, and probably waste a good amount. I know I do. So what’s wrong with taking some of that time, even 15 minutes a day, and use it to write something—either just for yourself, or for possible future publication?

One very wonderful and loving thing to do with your writing that will bring no guilt whatsoever is to create a journal for your new baby, or grandbaby. Write about them and write to them. When my son was born, we started a journal for him. The first entry includes a sprig of rosemary from the garden and I wrote about how when he was a week old, I walked him around the garden and broke off this rosemary sprig and how he wrinkled up his nose at the pungent fragrance. As time went on, I wrote down interesting or funny things he said, his blooming vocabulary, on and on.

Who wouldn’t want this keepsake later on in life? I wish my mother had done the same, and most writers, and artists, would probably agree that they wish they knew more about who they were back when they were children or teens.    Not only that, but don’t you wish you knew more about the inner workings of your parents, or even grandparents? I do.  Photographs can only take you so far.

Art of all kinds makes our world a more liveable place, and your words can be works of art. Think of your writing as a valuable contribution and a good use of your time.

Barbara has worked as an Avon lady, auto parts runner, baker, waitress, crisis intervention counselor, secretary, semiconductor inspector, and more. Her essays and articles have seen print in Orange Coast Magazine, Westways, The Los Angeles Times, The Writer, Writer’s Digest, Poets & Writers, The Toronto Sun, Sunset, and more. She co-hosts “Writers on Writing,” broadcasting from UC-Irvine and streaming at www.kuci.org and iTunes / college radio. Barbara was recognized with a Distinguished Instructor Award in 2001 at UC-Irvine Extension and awarded with Literary Magnet #1, on Orange Coast Magazine’s Best of Orange County list, 2008. In addition, her short story, “Crazy for You,” based in Costa Mesa, was published in the noir anthology, Orange County Noir, in April 2010. She blogs about writing and teaches “Jumpstart Your Writing” online for Gotham Writers Workshop.

Tomorrow: more writers on stuck/unstuck after baby.

 

The 5-Question [Author] Interview: Monica Bhide

The author discusses how memory sparks creation, staying true to what she loves and the unexpected benefits of uncertainty.

Monica Bhide is a chef, cooking teacher, prolific food writer and essayist. She writes a food column for the Washington Post, and her recipes and work also appear at NPR.org. She also has two masters degrees—in engineering. Seven years ago she switched from that left-brain world to create and write full time about things she loves. Monica is the author of The Spice Is Right: Easy Indian Cooking for Today (Callawind Publications, 2001) and The Everything Indian Cookbook: 300 Tantalizing Recipes–From Sizzling Tandoori Chicken to Fiery Lamb Vindaloo (Everything Series). Her latest cookbook is Modern Spice. Her most recent release, the ebook, In Conversation with Exceptional Women, is available for purchase.

MEREDITH: As a food writer and chef, where and when does creation really start? The kitchen, the page…at 3 am when you wake up starving or after a meal when your belly is full? Do words come first, or ingredients?
Monica: Early in my career, I talked to a chef who said his recipes came to him in his dreams! I wish I were so lucky. When I have to create a new recipe, I go to the grocery stores – I go to Giant, to the local Indian market, to the Asian stores – and pick up ingredients that I like and then I come home and play. It is such fun to see what works well with what. Almost always, memory sparks a creation – the memory of a perfectly cooked lamb perfumed with rosemary, a chilled lemonade under a hot sun, the nutty smell of my mother’s brightly white basmati rice.
MEREDITH: How do you know when enough is enough—an ingredient in a dish, a line in an essay, a chapter in a book? I’m wondering if cooking, not just in a metaphorical sense but in real, tangible life, is anything like writing? Are there pieces that translate for you?
Monica: When the reader reading my essay or my chapter leaves it with a sense that they want to return for more…that is when enough is enough. It is hard to translate into words but I know it when I see it – when I make a recipe that tastes delicious, [excellent-reminder alert:] I try to hold myself back from adding just another garnish, or tweaking another ingredient, why mess with something that tastes good without all the fuss?
MEREDITH: When you cook does your mind wonder first what you would like, or what others would? Do you think about pleasing the crowd when you’re first beginning? Now answer this question again, but rather than about creating a dish, tell us about creating work on the page.
Monica: Actually the answer to both is the same for me – whether I am cooking or writing essays, I try to stay true to what I love and what I want to focus [on], what I want to talk about and I think it shows. I do develop custom recipes for large corporations and national magazines and while those are created based on what the company wants, I try to stay true to the ingredients I am fond of and think other people will enjoy as well. Let me give you another example – I don’t eat oysters and so I don’t create recipes with them. If I don’t enjoy them, how can I cook them well so that others will?
MEREDITH: Edgar Degas, the painter, said, “Only when he no longer knows what he is doing does the painter do good things.” Do you have a personal take on this as a creator whose art (your food, your words) is in many ways, eclectic?
Monica: In my essays for sure. I see this all the time. I start writing and I have no idea where the piece will go or what I am going to say and it is this sense of uncertainty, this sense of adventure that has led me into doing some of my best pieces. It is hard for some people to let go and let the creative process take over. People write outlines, focus on endings – I think that it is perfect for works of how-to-do-xyz-type nonfiction and for services related stories to do that but for nonfiction essays, for short stories, for fiction, [love-this-out-loud alert:] I feel a writer has to let go of control and not worry about the direction things are going. If you trust the process, it rewards you well.
In cooking, not so much! I think if you know and understand your ingredients, you will be well rewarded but standing in front of a stove and trying to cook up salmon without a clue as to what to do is not smart! Pick up a basic recipe and then play!
MEREDITH: When writing, do you wait for the muse, or do you see creating as a job to be done whether the muse is there or not? And by the way, what is your muse?
Monica: I write every day, muse or no muse. Some days are better than others. There are times when I feel compelled to write and those days, I do my best work. My muse is a man who writes as a woman! Yasmina Khadra is one of the best writers I have ever read. I keep his books by my bedside and always read a few lines from them. His words always inspire me and compel me to write.

When I asked Monica to tell me a few things that are quirky and unique about herself, something she didn’t often get to squeeze into conversations: (for example, if she likes to eat—gasp—ketchup on her pasta) she told me: “I love to eat hotdogs from my local 7-11, I love deep-fried foods and I think Nutella should be declared sacred.” Monica lives in Washington, D.C. with her husband and sons. She also owns a cooking school there. See what she’s cooking at her website by clicking HERE.
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