The writer shares his views about taking it slow, starting from a place of strength and how writing is like a puzzle.
“RIGHT IS CREATING THE SHADOW-IMAGE THAT RESEMBLES REAL LIFE BUT A DIFFERENT VERSION OF IT I GUESS, MORE THOUGHTFUL AND POETIC IN ITS ELABORATION. SUSPENSION OF DISBELIEF BUT STILL PLAUSIBLE”
Andrew Tonkovich is a graduate of the MFA Creative Writing Program at UC Irvine. He is the editor of the Santa Monica Review. His writing has appeared in The Ear, Kinesis, Faultline, Radical Teacher, OC Weekly, Los Angeles Times, The Orange County Register, Green Mountains Reviews and the anthology, Geography of Fear. Andrew also hosts Bibliocracy, a weekly literary arts program on Pacifica Radio affiliate KPFK in Los Angeles. He has taught at UC Irvine, Santa Monica College, Irvine Valley College and University of Redlands.
The Writer’s Journey: When it comes to writing would you describe your mind as a friend or foe?
Andrew: I THINK WOODY ALLEN SAID HIS MIND WAS HIS SECOND FAVORITE ORGAN. SO, FRIEND I GUESS. BUT IF YOU ARE ASKING ABOUT THE INSTINCTUAL AND SPONTANEOUS I GUESS MAYBE OVERTHINKING MIGHT GET IN THE WAY. I HEAR VOICES, FOR INSTANCE. THAT SOUNDS LIKE MAYBE MY MIND’S EAR. I THINK MUCH OF WRITING, COMPOSING, IS A PUZZLE. I WISH I WERE ONE OF THOSE WRITERS WHO HEARS, UNDERSTANDS, REALIZES THE STORY AND THEN WRITES IT DOWN, A DRAFT. NOT ME.
The Writer’s Journey: Ira Glass, host of This American Life, said something about stories a long time ago: “Keep following the thread where instinct takes you. Force yourself to wait things out.” Is this how you write?
Andrew: HEY, I AM GLAD I USED THE WORD “INSTINCT” TOO, LIKE IRA. I DON’T HAVE TIME TO WAIT, BUT THEN AGAIN I DON’T HAVE ENOUGH TIME TO WRITE. BOO HOO, RIGHT? EVERYBODY COMPLAINS ABOUT THAT, I KNOW. ABOUT FORCING, YES, TO SIT DOWN AND WRITE AND STRUGGLE WITH THE PUZZLE. STARTING IS REALLY IMPORTANT I FIND. FOR ME THE THREAD PART IS JUST BEING ABLE TO HOLD ONTO IT AT ALL. AND I GIVE UP QUITE A LOT. AND THEN START AGAIN.
The Writer’s Journey: The child development writer Joseph Chilton Pearce said: “To live a creative life, we must lose our fear of being wrong.” When you write are there “rights” and “wrongs” for you? What’s that like?
Andrew: FUNNY YOU SHOULD ASK SINCE I GOT A FEW REJECTIONS THIS WEEK. SO SOMEBODY THOUGHT I WAS WRONG, MAYBE. WRONGS ARE WHAT’S TOO EASY AND CUTE AND DERIVATIVE, WHICH I ALMOST ALWAYS RECOGNIZE IMMEDIATELY.
RIGHT IS CREATING THE SHADOW-IMAGE THAT RESEMBLES REAL LIFE BUT A DIFFERENT VERSION OF IT I GUESS, MORE THOUGHTFUL AND POETIC IN ITS ELABORATION. SUSPENSION OF DISBELIEF BUT STILL PLAUSIBLE. REGARDING A CREATIVE LIFE GENERALLY, I FIND THAT I AM LESS AND LESS AFRAID, AND CERTAINLY NOT AT ALL AFRAID OF BEING WRONG, NOT CONSIDERING THE CULTURAL-POLITICAL HORROR OF LOWEST COMMON DENOMINATOR, USA, INC. WHICH IS NOT TO SAY THERE ISN’T AMAZING WRITING, ALWAYS, OUT THERE. I WANT TO RECOMMEND CHRIS BATCHELDER’S US AND JONATHAN MILES’S DEAR AMERICAN AIRLINES AND EVERYTHING BY MEG WOLITZER. PERSONALLY I REALLY, REALLY DON’T LIKE MAKING MISTAKES. MAYBE THAT’S WHY I WRITE SLOWLY AND EDIT A LOT. READING OTHER PEOPLE’S WONDERFUL WORK FOOLS ME INTO THINKING I HAD SOMETHING TO DO WITH IT, THEIR NOT MAKING ANY MISTAKES.
The Writer’s Journey: How has editing the Santa Monica Review changed your own writing?
Andrew: BESIDES READING A LOT, A WHOLE LOT, I AM NOT SURE THAT IT HAS — EXCEPT TO TAKE SOME COURAGE FROM STRONG, CONFIDENT, ODD, SMART VOICES AND TRY TO ENCOURAGE MYSELF THE WAY I ENCOURAGE THEM. I TRY NOT TO BE DISAPPOINTED BY BAD WRITING, AND INDEED HAVE PERHAPS LEARNED SOMETHING ABOUT FINDING GOOD, STRONG IDEAS OR SECTIONS IN OTHERWISE UNSUCCESSFUL STORIES. SO THAT MAYBE MY EYE AND EAR ARE KEENER THAN WHEN I STARTED. (THOUGH, OF COURSE, MY EYES ARE TIRED, TOO.)
The Writer’s Journey: Does your creative process come from a place of something that scares you or from a familiar place of strength?
Andrew: I WISH IT COULD BE BOTH. MAYBE ON A GOOD DAY. I OFTEN START FROM A PLACE OF STRENGTH, CONFIDENT ABOUT THE PREMISE OR SCENE. SOMETIMES THAT FALLS APART PDQ, WHICH IS SCARY AND DISAPPOINTING. MY EARLY WRITING HERO WAS GRACE PALEY, WHO SEEMED NOT TO BE AFRAID OF ANYTHING, BUT CERTAINLY TOOK ON THE BIG ISSUES. OF COURSE, SHE WAS FUNNY AND SMART. HER WORK IS BUILT ON CONVERSATION AND IDEAS AND PEOPLE. I LIKE ALL THREE. I ALSO LIKE THE GERTRUDE STEIN QUOTE: CONSIDERING HOW DANGEROUS EVERYTHING IS, NOTHING IS REALLY VERY FRIGHTENING.”
Andrew lives in southern California with his wife, the writer Lisa Alvarez and their son Louis. In the summer, however, you’ll find him at the Community of Writers at Squaw Valley where he is a staff member. Visit Andrew’s radio blog at: http://bibliocracyradio.blogspot.com/. Visit the Community of Writers at http://www.squawvalleywriters.org/ . Visit the Santa Monica Review at http://www.smc.edu/sm_review/.
Photo by Noah Black on Unsplash