Thursday, January 31, 2013

Author Insides - Jack R. Johnson

Jack R. Johnson currently lives with his wife and daughter in Richmond, Virginia. His short stories have appeared in U.S. and foreign literary magazines and his novel, Arges, was top listed in the Fish First Novelists literary contest out of Ireland. He produces a local radio module called Hidden Histories which can be streamed at or can be heard via local airwaves every Monday, Wednesday and Friday at 10 a.m. on 97.3 FM in Richmond, Virginia.


When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?
Probably when I was editor for a college newspaper back in my early twenties. My entry point to serious writing for public consumption was journalism; but for fiction, which is a different creature, it may have been earlier when I developed a series of comic strips about my family. I kept them hidden for years for fear of ticking off someone; but they were loads of fun.

Why do you write?

It depends on the type of writing. For the non-fiction work which includes my radio show [Hidden Histories], and radio interviews, a lot of that is putting scripts together for on air discourse or commentary. These are usually heavy on facts, and historical references, light on dramatic effect. For fiction, the purpose of writing is not to regurgitate what I've read or think in some easily digested format, but to discover what I know. The effort is all about discovery. Discovering characters --who they are, what they'll do, what their lives will look like. Without characters, there is really no point to this, outside of some financial benefit--and, my accountant informs me that writing may not be the easiest route toward early retirement.

Is being a writer/poet anything like you imagined it would be?
In some ways, sure! I drink a lot and tend to have a good time with my friends--but I'd probably do that even if I didn't write. At the end of the day, it's just work. There are no great writers, hell, there aren't any good writers, who don't spend a large portion of their life perfecting the craft. A few poets--Rimbaud, for instance--may get away with a burst of creativity that carries them into posterity, but for the rest of us, it's a daily chore. Now days I think what limited recognition comes our way is something akin to an act of grace.

What do you think makes a good story?
I am remembering a few of my favorite stories -- Italo Calvino's Marcovaldo series (the seasons of the city), Nathaniel West's Miss Lonely Hearts, Gogol's The Nose, Faulkner's Old Man. They all have highly dramatized situations. In a few, there are surreal elements, and with Gogol, of course, a deadpan absurdity which is wonderful--and much funnier than anything Kafka wrote.

I think there is a poetic sense of voice. Frequently, a story will recommend itself based on a single line: Salinger's A Perfect Day for Banana Fish has the memorable 'She was the type of woman, who, for the sound of a ringing phone, would drop exactly nothing.' Nearly every one of Faulkner's works contains a jewel or two. Other stories have little vignettes, or parables that stand out. One Southern writer I know wrote at length about candies they received on Valentine's Day promising 'VD'. That is an anecdote worthy of Harry Crews. Those are the bright spots that make a story stand out. However, channeling Gertrude Stein, there still has to be a there, there--characters changing at some level, conflict, as Faulkner said, 'the problems of the heart in conflict with itself'. Some of the avant-garde types might argue against this. Robbes-Grillet for example tends to write descriptions of rooms as stories with potentially manifold meanings, but I do not have the patience for that -- and I am not so sure the reader does either.

What's your favorite genre to read?
I'm all over the map. Recently I've been reading Richard Russo's Empire Grill which is a hefty novel that feels really light while you're reading it and contains memorable blue collar characters. What kind of genre is that? Romance, family drama, comedy? It's somewhere in between or a conflation of all of these. I also like Carl Hiassen's enviromental/comic novels about Florida politics, TC Boyle's historical dramas and his comic short fiction, Gore Vidal's political/historical fiction, William Faulkner when I am feeling sad or a glutton for rhetorical excess, Vonnegut's shtick which is some strange amalgam of science fiction, fantasy and social commentary. I tend to stay away from the heavily typed genres--romance, adventure, science fiction, mystery; although I have once or twice dove into a John Grisham novel and thoroughly enjoyed the ride.

Who is your favorite author or poet?
I don't think a reasonable person can answer that question without cheating somehow. For poets, I really love Rumi & Rilke--I'm not sure if they are my 'favorites' but I tend to turn to them more often. Rilke can be so incredibly tender, it is heartbreaking. Mayakovsky is also excellent and fun, as is e.e. cummings. For authors, the sky's the limit, it probably would make more sense to talk about a favorite set of works: Gogol's Dead Souls, Delilo's White Noise, West's Miss Lonely Hearts, Dostevesky's Notes from the Underground, Miller's Tropic of Cancer, Kundera's Unbearable Lightness of Being, Nabokov's Lolita etc...

What books or stories have most influenced you the most as a writer?
Stylistic influences are hard to gauge, not because they don't exist, but because I consciously try to avoid imitating anyone. I suppose, if I were to look at my fiction, I'd say it's more like a John Irving or Anne Tyler, though I haven't read that much of either. My daughter, bless her soul, compared some of my writing in An Animal's Guide to The Great Gatsby, which I found wildly off the mark, at first, and then she pointed to some obvious symbolism, especially of East Egg and West Egg and the use of the Sauer's Seasoning Chef and I thought, well, what do you know? But, truth is, she probably just wanted to use the car on Friday night.

I do tend to favor the pared down narrative, distrust strong adjectives without sufficient emotional distancing. It probably has something to do with being raised Catholic.

What books or stories have most influenced you as a person?
What we're really asking is which books have moved me to change my life? Or changed my view of life? I think those books tend to be more philosophical in intent -- Dostevesky's Brother's Karamazov, for example. Passages of Rumi where he yells at you to get rid of the nafs! (we Christian types would call them temptations); and then, of course, the writings of Henry David Thoreau especially On Civil Disobedience. In that vein, there are also a slew of environmental writers that have affected me -- Edward Abbey, whose Monkey Wrench Gang is delightfully transgressive, Annie Dilliard's Pilgrim at Tinker Creek with it's echoes of Thoreau, Barry Lopez's Arctic Dreams and finally, Daniel Quinn's Ishmael.

Where/how do you find the most inspiration?
Mostly true life stories, bent just enough to keep them interesting; although of late, I've been doing some non-realistic stuff that seems viable. We'll see.

What does your family think of your writing?
They're generally supportive, but a bit suspicious. After Animal's Guide, my mother thought I spent too much time pontificating. Especially, I suspect, the parts where I deliberated on the impiety of Christians and their general lack of philosophical consistency. In the novel I'm currently trying to put together, there are no family members, just friends. By the time I finish my writing career, I may be the most hated man on earth.

What is your work schedule like when you're writing?
I have an insane work load--40 hour work week for bread and butter stuff and then I do three radio modules each week for Hidden Histories, plus my fiction writing. I try to carve out about two hours every day for fiction, usually first thing in the morning. I'm happy to squeeze out 3-4 pages a session. If I miss a page here or there, I usually make up for it on the next go around, but there is no denying the need for a routine.

Do you have any writing quirks or rituals?
Right now, I'm happy just to have a straight two hours of relative silence. In my undergraduate days, I used to be able to write with people partying in the room next door, U2 wailing from the speakers, drunks in the bathroom, etc... I even used to be able to write a synopsis of Kierkegaard in that kind of environment. No more. Now, I really value just a little quiet so I can hear my own thoughts.

Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing?

I think some of my more esoteric leaps into what a philosopher thought about such and such might be off putting in the context of fiction, but I always remember that the etymology of novel isn't 'story' or 'narrative': it's 'new' ...

What are your current projects?

I have three big projects in the works. Two novels I want to roll out shortly--one is a kind of hybrid Edward Abbey /Miguel Cervantes with environmental concerns. The other is actually more of a novella that I've been toying with for years about a Roma girl (gypsy) who avenges her family's massacre in Romania during the fall of Ceausescu. Finally, I've a novella or collection of thematically related stories I'm fine tuning entitled Decalogue which will be a re-telling of the ten commandments through more or less contemporary parables set in the United States.

What are you planning for future projects?

I'm currently half way through a novel on a 'Beckian' radio personality, a men's dream group and a would be shaman that get caught up in a catastrophic hunt for the archetypal CNN 'missing blonde' -- this is the novel with a few of my friends in it. If/when it gets published, I'm moving to Greece :-)

Do you have any advice for other writers?
Spare no one, least of all yourself.

Where else can we find your work?
Vagabondage Press,, Barnes & Nobles, plus local bookstores and art galleries in the Richmond, Virginia area--especially the Fountain Bookstore in Shockoe Bottom, God bless them. For audio work (Hidden Histories, Interviews, etc.) listen to 97.3 FM, locally, streaming at, or the podcast at

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Writing and Mourning - Guest Post from Adriana Paramo

Writing and Mourning
Adriana Paramo

I tried to give birth to this book seven years ago but the darn thing refused to come out. I had had it in me way too long, it had run its due gestation course. It had reached full term. Yet, I couldn’t write the last chapter and the thing remained unborn for a long time. It wasn’t a simple case of writer’s block, or disinterest, or lack of time. I mean, I have been chasing an undocumented woman, with a compelling story of loss, up and down the Florida peninsula for almost two years. Along the way, I found other undocumented women, other equally compelling stories, who also lived extraordinary lives in the underbelly of the Sunshine state.  I thought, dreamed, breathed, read and wrote about nothing but women. Soon after finding Esperanza, my mother died and that was it. I hit a wall and my project became rapidly stale. I lost hope in having the book finished, let alone published; I lost confidence as a writer and purpose as an anthropologist. Continuing my research, focusing on other women seemed an act of betrayal, a disloyal negation of her death, an insult to the memory of the bravest woman I’d known: a single mother of six after my Dad walked out on us when I was seven. I would sit in front of my laptop, heaps of hand-written interviews on each side of it, cups of half-drunk Colombian coffee on my desk and window sills, our dogs lying somewhere at my feet. I waited for the nagging feeling to finish the project. Instead, I would get sucked into a cosmos of trivialities. I listened to the kitchen faucet; it had been leaking for weeks. I wrote down on a post-it: Plumber’s tape for kitchen. One of our dogs developed a rash on her tummy. She licked and scratched uncontrollably. Another post-it: Get Hot Spot for Honey. I turned the computer off. Saw my reflection in the black screen and noticed two forming folds on each side of my nose running down to the corners of my mouth. I turned the computer back on and Googled, Is Botox safe? One day, I opened the manuscript and searched for the word Esperanza. It appeared 263 times. I have never liked odd numbers. I went to the last line and wrote Esperanza, once more. There. That’s better. 264 times. I felt accomplished. I treated myself to a tall glass of Riesling. Went back to the laptop and I stayed with my fingers hovering above the keyboard until it was obvious that I would not write a single word. I turned the TV on, tuned in to the Cartoon Channel and watched two and a half hours of The Roadrunner. And I laughed. I did this for days which turned into weeks. I would not finish the project.

In the midst of this creativity stalemate, I started to write about Mom and growing up as the youngest in a household of women back in my homeland, Colombia: a country that in memory never changes, a country I can’t go back to because it exists only in a corner of my heart. It was only after “My Mother’s Funeral,” my manuscript about Mom, had been accepted for publication that I dared turn my attention again to the undocumented women. It would be fair to say that mourning’s rude edges were softened and humanized by the subtle grace of acceptance. I finished the manuscript, revised it, rewrote the whole thing and submitted it to the Social Justice and Equity Award in Creative Nonfiction organized by Benu Press, an indie publisher. And it won the contest, which meant, it was accepted for publication. “Looking for Esperanza,” is now available in print and as an ebook. It is a happy story with a humbling end.  Once I received my copies and held this stubborn baby in my arms, after I went around doing a celebratory dance and kissed my husband, once the high was over, I was left with the million dollar question: now what? How does a new writer sell copies of her books about suffering women?

Who wants to read stories of deprivation, loss and pyrrhic victories? For those who do, here is the press release:, the link to
Professional website:

Writhing at the Thought of Writing - Guest Post from Tommy Vinh Bui

Writhing at the Thought of Writing 
Tommy Vinh Bui

Writing is still a painful and sobering process to me. And I’ve been doing it for years. It wreaks havoc on the soul and kneads the brain to the point of malaise. I feel writing is something I won’t build a tolerance to. It won’t get easier as the years go by. I find the more growth you experience from producing reams and reams of creative output; the more reluctant you are to put yourself through the spiritual wringer. It’s a punishing process. To grow as a writer you strike out to unfamiliar territory. Push yourself out of your comfort zone because pain is growth, right? Uncharted waters. Here be dragons and so on and so forth. But there will be that voyage which will be one voyage too many. And you find yourself in a maelstrom of troubled waves. Oars about ready to snap. Compass needle spinning like a buzz saw. And you’re tied to the mast because only a rodent deserts a sinking ship.

When that impendent deadline is barreling down on me I find myself seeking solace in procrastination with shocking frequency. Thinking up new modes of procrastination is something of a knack of mine. Much creative thought goes into avoiding creative work.  And I get pretty excessive with my procrastination. One time I actually re-tarred my entire roof just to avoid writing a paper on Hamlet. And when someone quotes Shakespeare (to this day) I still get dizzy from those tar fumes.

Sometimes I’ll just crawl into a good book and roost for days. With that inexhaustible deadline looming large. And whatever I’m reading is going to inevitably pry its way into whatever I’m writing. I’m surprisingly impressionable and susceptible to outside influence. If I have to write an article on the Byzantine Empire (deadline tomorrow) and there happens to be a documentary on armadillos on television in the background, then that paper will be entitled “The Migratory Mating Habits of Constantinople: The Leathery Armored Shell of the Ottoman Empire”.

But even despite the haggard hours, the pittance compensation, and the fusillade of neurotic napalm that I shower upon myself throughout the writing process; I still do it. Because harpooning down that period key and finishing up a first draft of something is a sensation unlike any other. It’s deeply intoxicating. Almost narcotic. And the feeling all too fleeting and ephemeral unfortunately as you set that completed work aside and get cracking on the next project. Inexplicably you find yourself re-donning that steel helmet and charging up that next literary escalade.

Times are tough for writerly warriors. But, oh, those flying arrows make such a lovely whistling sound.

If you delude yourself enough, it sounds slightly of “Camptown Races”. And being a good writer is learning to jig to the sounds of your own impending demise.

Doo dah.

Doo dah.  

Tommy Vinh Bui is prone to concise confabulations and off-kilter katzenjammers. Growing up in soporific small-town Los Angeles he was quick to cast off the bowlines and traverse the world. His travels have taken him from the bonnie bucolic bryns of Wales to the vast and desolate steppes of Kazakhstan. Tommy will admit to being interested in antique timepieces, scrimshaw, and obscure cheeses. But he will staunchly deny an interest in McRibs, cafĂ© racers, and Metal Gear Solid. He hopes to score a decisive goal for England in the World Cup some day. 

Tommy holds an MA in English Literature and is a returned Peace Corps volunteer who served in Central Asia. 
Many can attest that he is mostly underwhelming.
Further ditherings can be found here: 

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Author Insides - J.S. Watts

Author Insides - J.S. Watts
J.S.Watts is a British writer. She was born in London, England and now lives and writes near Cambridge in East Anglia. In between, she read English at Somerville College, Oxford and spent many years working in the British education sector. She remains committed to the ideals of further and higher education despite UK governments of assorted political persuasions trying to demolish them.

Her poetry, short stories and book reviews appear in a variety of publications in Britain, Canada, Australia and the States including Acumen, Envoi, Mslexia and Fantastique Unfettered and have been broadcast on BBC and independent Radio. She has been Poetry Reviews Editor for Open Wide Literary Magazine and, until its demise, Poetry Editor for Ethereal Tales. Her debut poetry collection, Cats and Other Myths and a subsequent poetry pamphlet, Songs of Steelyard Sue are published by Lapwing Publications. Her novel, A Darker Moon, is published by Vagabondage Press.  Find her online at and When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?
It was at the beginning of secondary school. I’d always enjoyed writing, but hadn’t thought beyond that. Then a teacher I really respected commented on one of my short stories, saying she thought that one day I’d be good enough to turn professional. That was the spark that ignited the dream.
Why do you write?
Because I am alive. Because it’s what I do – for me it’s like breathing, really.
Is being a writer/poet anything like you imagined it would be?
I’ve written for so long in one form or another, that I find it well nigh impossible to answer this question.
What do you think makes a good story?
A good beginning, a riveting middle and an entertaining end or a riveting beginning, an entertaining middle and a good end: perm it how you will.
What's your favorite genre to read?
I don’t have one genre, but I read a good deal in terms of literary fiction, fantasy, science fiction, crime (a little), poetry, historical fiction, biography, literary criticism and anything else I feel to be a good or interesting read.
Who is your favorite author or poet?
I don’t have just one, but in no particular order (and with apologies to those I have left out) I’d list: Sylvia Plath, Ted Hughes, Alice Oswald, Anne Sexton, Charles Causely, Emily Dickinson, John Donne, Wilfred Owen, T.S.Eliot, Thomas Hardy, Ray Bradbury, Alan Garner, Rosemary Sutcliffe, Hilary Mantel, Angela Carter, Sebastian Faulks, Roger Zelazny, Philip K. Dick, Douglas Adams, Terry Pratchett and, if I had the time, I’d go on…..
What books or stories have most influenced you the most as a writer?
As you can probably gather from my list of favourite writers, it’s going to be difficult to narrow it down in any meaningful way. I like to think that all those I have listed as favourites have influenced my writing in some way.
What books or stories have most influenced you as a person?
To a certain extent the answer is the same as the one above, but I can still vividly recall crying in class (in primary school) when finishing Rosemary Sutcliffe’s "The Hound of Ulster" because I found the ending so sad and similarly (in secondary school) crying over a short story by Ray Bradbury for the same reason.
Where/how do you find the most inspiration?
Things, ideas, emotions around me that I connect to.
What does your family think of your writing?
They are very supportive and appreciative, but aren’t most families?
What is your work schedule like when you're writing?
I don’t really have a schedule, I just write in the time available to me.
Do you have any writing quirks or rituals?
Not that I’m aware of, unless you call the way that I write a quirk: always longhand and often in pencil. After that I type up onto the PC, editing as I go and from there on in I edit by hand and then type any changes into the manuscript.
Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing?
It’s been said before and better by others, but writing a novel is a bit like running a marathon (not that I’ve ever done the latter). Finding the stamina to keep going as you re-write your re-writes and edit your edits (and that’s before you even get to publication stage) can be a challenge.
What are your current projects?
Editing (yet again) the second novel, writing the third, writing more poetry and short stories.
What are you planning for future projects?
Finishing the third novel, getting the second published, producing a third poetry book.
Do you have any advice for other writers?
Where else can we find your work?
All over the place! – my poetry, short stories and book reviews appear in a variety of publications in Britain, Canada, Australia and the States including Acumen, Brittle Star, Envoi, Hand + Star, Mslexia and Orbis. My two poetry books, a collection, "Cats and Other Myths" and a pamphlet, "Songs of Steelyard Sue" are both published by Lapwing Publications. You can find more detailed information and links to relevant websites (and sales outlets) on my website: You can also find me on Facebook at


Wednesday, January 23, 2013

JENALYN from Marianne Villaneuva

Seventeen-year-old Jenalyn dreams of a better life. From the vantage point of her home island of Cebu, in the Philippines, America looks like a haven, a place where poverty and hardship can be left behind. When Jenalyn attracts the attention of a much older American man, she and her family assume the rest of her life will be happy. But Jenalyn is unaware of the secret he hides, and the unexpected fate that awaits her.

JENALYN explores, with unflinching exactitude, the interplay of hope and delusion in the mind of a young woman who aches only to break free.

Marianne Villanueva is the author of the short story collections Ginseng and Other Tales From Manila, Mayor of the Roses, and The Lost Language. She is the recipient of fellowships from the Stanford University Creative Writing Program, the Bread Loaf Writers Conference, and the California Arts Council. Her work has been widely anthologized and has appeared in many literary journals, including The Threepenny Review, ZYZZYVA, The Asian American Literary Review, J Journal, Juked, the New Orleans Review, and Our Own Voice. "Jenalyn" is her first published novella.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Writers Can Change Identities - Guest Post from Susan Tepper

Writers Can Change Identities
Susan Tepper

Today, while buying a bottle of shampoo, for which I paid cash, I was asked for my name.  My name? I said to the woman taking my money.  Reluctantly I told her.  Susan, I said.  Then she asked for my last name.  No, I said.  I will not give my last name.  This is a bottle of shampoo.  I’m paying in cash.  Why do you need my name?  I don’t, said the woman.  It’s a store policy.  It’s absurd, I said.  It’s an invasion of privacy.  Now the government or some agency will keep tabs on what kind of shampoo a person buys?  The woman agreed.  It’s horrible, she said.  Tell you what, I said.  I’ll give a fake name.  Go for it, she said.  How about Jesus Christ?  Jesus is good, said the woman.  She typed it into the computer.

My husband and I went to a newly opened restaurant for brunch.  This place had been touted for its great food when it was at its old, smaller location.  The new location was very trendy and nice.  Red leather booths, black and white tiles, lots of 1950’s chrome.   For brunch we ordered the French toast that they’re famous for and a side of crisp bacon.  After waiting a long time, the food was placed in front of us.  The French toast was made of the ends of a loaf of hard French bread.  It looked and tasted bad.  The bacon was not crisp, nor was it flat.  It was curling, fatty strips.  Disgusting.  Don’t eat that, I told my husband.  You could get trichinosis from undercooked bacon.  We were pretty annoyed.  Then I noticed some woman flouncing around the place moving knick-knacks and straightening pictures.  She had attitude.  I called her over.  Are you the owner?  I said.  Yes, she said.  The pride in her eyes couldn’t be disputed.  Well this food is disgusting, I said.  Who cooked it?  Well our regular chef is off today, she said.  I said, So you’re telling me the guy who cleans up cooked our food?  More or less, she said smirking.  OK, I said.  Well I’m the food critic from the Star Ledger.  I’m here to write a review.  The woman turned pale.  That’s not fair, she said.  You’re supposed to let us know ahead of time.  Oh, really, I said.  Why is that?  So you can clean up your act?  My husband, who is used to my different incarnations from time to time, well he could hardly keep a straight face.  People work hard and spend their good money for restaurant meals, I told the woman.  Now they’ll know to steer clear of this place.

As writers we can make characters of all ages, shapes, sizes, colors and creeds.  What is a creed?  At any rate, it’s our writer gift to carry these characters into reality, here and there, if we choose to.  As long as we don’t overdo.  We have to remember who we really are, even as we make ourselves over into someone else.  Like Jesus, for instance.

Susan Tepper’s current book From the Umberplatzen (Wilderness House Press, 2012) is a quirky love story told in linked flash fiction and set in Germany.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Live Poetry Readings, and What I Learned from Children - Guest Post from Julie Catherine Vigna

Live Poetry Readings, and What I Learned from Children
Julie Catherine Vigna

One of the most frightening experiences I can think of as a writer is to read my work aloud in front of an audience – and even more so to children. I used to say that I’d rather walk through fire than do a live poetry reading; memories of being so excruciatingly shy in school that I would be physically ill before having to read an essay in front of the class still fresh in my mind, even though my school days were over many years ago.

It seems not that long ago I finally allowed my friends and family to read my poetry, and then talked myself into submitting some of my poems to anthologies for publication. Having several poems accepted early in 2012 in various publications gave me the much-needed self-confidence to realize a life-long dream of self-publishing my own poetry book, which I did this past July.

I suppose everything I’ve accomplished with my writing in the past year led up to being able to screw up the courage to schedule not just one live poetry reading, but three (what was I thinking) in the space of a week!  The first was an reading for the ladies of the library board in the small town of Provost, Alberta; followed by readings several days later at both the public and separate schools in town. To top it off, I was invited to be interviewed by our community television station before the library poetry reading. Looking back, I suppose I figured as long as I was getting my feet wet, I might as well just jump in the deep end – sink or swim, either result was better than agonizing over whether to dip a toe in the water or not.

What surprised me the most is how well my poems were received— and how much I enjoyed sharing them with people of all ages. I know I’m a good writer and have lots of support and encouragement from friends and family; but having perfect strangers, children especially, come up to you afterwards and tell you they enjoyed your poems is a completely different feeling from having family say your work is good— it’s so validating, and makes the extra effort of actively promoting yourself and your writing so worthwhile.

Children are devastatingly honest, even when they’re at their most polite and on their best behaviour. The prospect of reading to kids from grades three to six terrified me. The librarian casually mentioned that they would probably ask how old I was and how much money I made, and suggested that honesty is always the best policy when discussing such matters with children. I never had any of my own and haven’t spent time around kids, so had nothing to base my fear on— just that sick feeling in the pit of my stomach as I entered the doors of the public school on a warm September afternoon. There were five groups, one right after the other, with no breaks, fifteen minutes per group. I read four poems and allowed for a few minutes for questions before one group filed out and the next made their way in to sit in a semi-circle on the floor in the music room of the school.

The separate school had less groups, which allowed for longer reading and discussion times, and a short break between each class. It also meant more time for the kids to probe into areas of my brain I didn’t even know existed, as they wanted to know whether I’d written poems about practically every animal known to nature, exactly how did I know what words to use in my poems and how many poems had I written in all the years I’d been writing. My head was spinning by the time the teacher announced that would be the very last question.

No one ever did ask how much money I make (thank goodness, because I haven’t made anything yet); but sure enough, every group wanted to know how old I am, and when I first started writing. They calculated that I’ve been writing for 50 years faster than I could subtract six from 56, and I wasn’t sure who was more astonished by that— them or me. They didn’t appear to hold my age against me, though, probably because I saved the spooky Halloween poem for last, and they’d forgotten all about it by then. What I really enjoyed was their rapt attention and complete enthusiasm for the pieces I read. The difference between the polite clapping when I began the sessions and the wide-eyed saucer looks in their young eyes as they discussed the flights of imagination my poems led them to by the end of the readings was a thrill I will never forget— a memory to treasure and keep in mind as I work on my debut YA adventure/mystery novel. That’s the reaction I’ll be aiming for, the bar to set my sights on and to reach for as a measure of success.

My debut poetry book, Poems of Living, Loving & Lore, is available at the following locations under my pseudonym, J C Edwards:
Amazon  (Paperback & Kindle)
Barnes & Noble (Paperback & Nook)
Xlibris  (Paperback)

Where to Connect with Julie Catherine:
Fan Page
J C Edwards Page

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Writing and the Creative Process - guest post from Daniel DiStasio

Writing and the Creative Process 
Daniel DiStasio

When asked about writing and the creative process, I always fall back on the basics. Writing is story. Story is character. On a neighborhood street, I see an old woman walking a little dog and I imagine her previous life. The heartbreaks, landmarks, first kiss, last orgasm.  Did she bury her husband or leave him in Moscow? Were the dirty bedroom slippers and knee highs once fine silk stockings and sexy sleek pumps?  There’s a daughter in Humboldt working at a medical marijuana facility who calls once a week.  A son who got caught up in fire arms deal on the Mexican border and was never heard from again.  But Ida, the name she assumed so many years ago, Ida knows the son is dead, just as she know the daughter will be relieved when she dies, so the obligatory phone calls can cease, and the daughter can lay back in bed with her girlfriend on Sundays and not have to worry if she is too high to follow a conversation.   But Ida is the story. Ida is the character.  I love Ida. I will follow her wherever she goes.

My creative life began as an actor. I studied the Stanislavsky’s method, observed Lee Strasberg at work in “The Actor’s Studio”, took classes with Uta Hagen and spent weeks preparing for roles by meditating myself into a trance of belief in characters that did not exist.  Writing became an extension of this living with characters.  If the characters are not real to me, they will never be real to an audience.  How do they become real? They live real lives inside of me.  Many writers keep journals; I do too.  But they are not my journals; they are the diaries of my characters.  They write them, and I channel them, and become them. I listen to their favorite songs, eat their favorite foods, suffer through their pains and tremble with their fears.

For writers, writing is living. Often, it is living someone else’s life. Someone you know, imagine, love and cannot live without.   Maya Angelou said, “There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.”  Story is character.  If a character lives inside you, let her out. As Maya Angelou says it’s unbearable to keep her inside.

My first novel Facing the Furies had twelve characters who fought the forces of nature during hurricane season in the Keys.  The strongest reaction I get from readers is about the characters.  Readers speak of them as real people.  They worry about them after the story ends. They tell me they know these people.  They never say they are characters. They are alive.  They are the story.

Facing the Furies is available through Vagabondage Press, Amazon and other online outlets.  If you would like to read more of my wanderings, including running the NYC marathon this Fall, excerpts from my next novel, please check out