1. What is your earliest memory of writing?
I was 9. I’d just seen the film Race With The Devil a film starring Peter Fonda (massive crush), Loretta Swit (massive crush) about “two couples heading from San Antonio to the wilderness of rural Texas for some off-road motocross. What they find instead is a Satanic cult sacrifice, and they are unfortunate enough to be caught observing the ritual. Naturally, this doesn’t sit too well with the cult members. Now Roger and Frank are on the run from what is apparently a very sizable Texan Satanist” (WikiKnowItAll)
I was fascinated by this idea of suddenly finding yourself in a situation and circumstances that hurl you into the complete unknown, the world beyond carnal everyday, a netherworld where no amount of money, celebrity or rebel rousing could save you from the other supernatural, occult forces. How unsuspecting and quickly a life could turn. One day you’re on a road trip, the next day you’re being chased by Satan’s film crew and location scouts. The sense of imminent danger always lurking and in close proximity.
I grabbed my notebook, plopped onto my parent’s bed and spent the next 3 hours writing the story of a young girl who on a leisurely walk spilled into the woods and kept spilling deeper and deeper into the dense and dark until she was surrounded by countless no way outs. There she witnessed a sacrifice, maybe human, maybe animal, a twig cracked under her weight, the witches and warlocks heard the snap and all eyes turned in her direction. Stolen clip by clip from Race With The Devil. But in the writing I discovered and added and imagined and ripped off other clips and cameos from my own life. I was in a trance. The world melted away. As I wrote, I lost any and all traces of myself. I wasn’t there. Something else was at play, a presence not mine. I was simply along for the ride, alternating between passenger and driver.
I missed dinner and no one came for me—perks of a big family; you can disappear for hours before someone notices you’re missing. My mother “lost’ me at the beach once for 6 hours. But that’s another blog.
When the writing fever broke, I collapsed onto my stomach, spread eagle across my parent’s mattress. I…it was done. The writer did not end the story. The story ended the story. And ended me along with it.
2. What inspires you?
Think L. Cohen put it best: “If I knew where the good songs came from, I’d go there more often. It’s a mysterious condition. It’s much like the life of a Catholic nun. You’re married to a mystery.”
My short list:
Poetry. Not poetry readings. Poetry.
Rumba, Amparo Dávila, Cleaning, DEEP cleaning, Criterion Channel, Leonora Carrington, Alejandro Jodorowsky, meditation, lifting (occasionally hurling) things twice my size, Mysticism, Brujas, Folklore, Flâneuse-ing for days, ancient eyes (old people)—they’ve outlived their ambitions, cemeteries, Café Bustelo, Edward Gorey, Giacometti, oppressive heat, the ocean, swimming, Spanish films of the Franco era, travel, found objects, making maquetas (miniature sets), reading-writing-speaking Spanish, Buddhism, flamenco, drawing, sorcery, and sitting alone in abandoned chapels surrounded by figurines of saints and sinners.
While all the above have proved to be bite size morsels and mouthfuls for the muse, as true if not truer is this: I have no idea when and where a thing collides me, slaps me awake and says pay attention! Inspiration comes less from the obvious tourist attractions in my life and more from a quality of attention, a precision in observation. The subject of my gaze may be the most ordinary and perpetually overlooked person, place or thing but it is the intense devotion to observing it that always finds a story, characters, a life unfolding. I love taking seemingly lifeless mundane people, exchanges, incidents and bringing them to life with story, character, voice, using both what I witness and what I imagine. Bird watchers know well the art of stillness and observation.
They know how to stand idle, uneventfully for hours. But the quality of their attention must never wane, because the moment they nod off, they’ve missed the monk parakeet swooning by or missed the blade of grass screaming for life under the thick of their boot.
3. What do you think makes a good story and what kinds of stories are you drawn to?
Unexpected turns, detours. Having no idea where the story is going but following, stalking it obsessively nonetheless. In a word: GRIT. TEETH. INCISORS. Debunks my thinking, provokes me in some profound way, forces me to think about the impossible or unheard of. I’m drawn to the dark side of human behavior, the Persephone when she’s not upstairs making small talk and thanking the help for warming her bath.
4. What are some of your favorite books? Movies, TV shows and why?
(WAY too many to list, but off the top o’ me head):
The Elegance of The Hedgehog, How To Do Nothing (for obvious reasons), Chronology of Water, The Iliac Crest, The Unbearable Lightness of Being, Birds Art Life, Emily The Strange, Tales from Outer Suburbia, anything Poe.
Movies: La Femme Nikita (French original), Cinema Paradiso, El Espiritu de la Colmena (Spirit of the Beehive), Cria Cuervos, Happy Hour (Chinese), The Shoplifters, Rojo, Capernaum, Paterson, In The Mood for Love, Pan’s Labyrinth.
They are quiet, intense studies of life, humans, simplicity and complexity..
TV Show: Rita (Danish series) Intelligent, brutally honest, daring portrait of the mess of humanness. Unapologetic Womanbeing.
5.Tell us about your writing process.
It is fraught with inconsistency which I have happily renamed, Style
- What’s the most surprising thing you have learned from writing?
When an idea, character, image, circumstance births itself that is completely foreign. It’s like suddenly I am speaking a language I’ve never studied or even been remotely or consciously exposed to. The sense that writing taps into the unconscious and that that unconscious is the whole world, people, cultures continents away, perhaps even previous lifetimes. I have written things that astonish me, asking “where in the hell did that come from? I‘ve never been to a car-parts manufacturing plant in Clearwater Florida and why are my protagonists talking in this peculiar accent? And how did I know the first vending machine dispensed holy water?” My imagination is not mine, but tapped into a universal imagination. Freaky and extraordinary.
- How do you juggle writing with everything else?
I’m seeing it is less about the juggling or carving out time to write than it is about refraining from people, work, activities, other projects that drain my energy and exhaust my bandwidth. The creativity impalers, energy leeches, soul-sucking distractions disguised as life’s everything else. Knowing when to turn things down, say no, or set a timer: “I will hang out with Debbie Downer, Ursula Urgent, or Marco Melo-Fucken-Drama Queen for 20 minutes then I will suddenly remember a Gyno appointment that slipped my mind and rush off, feigning hysteria and regret. I have only a certain reservoir of quality attention per day. Zoom zaps me at an accelerated rate, beating out most of the competition. Identifying battery drains is crucial in my practice.
On “juggling writing with everything else,” a colleague of mine often tells me, “We are always writing.” Whether at my desk, walking down the street, passing canapes to anorexic celebrities or groping avocados at Trader Joe’s, I am always writing and everything else is life doing what life does: living.
Still…not a bad idea to break into Debbie, Ursula and Marco’s GPS and reroute them to Madagascar. If only for a brief sojourn.
- Any tips on creating a writing structure?
Find out what is the best time of day/ night for you to write. I’m at my most fertile in the morning before the corruption and external nuisances start to trickle in. Personally, I can’t do any one thing every single day, let alone at the same time every day. Including writing. I do try as best I can to at the very least honor the window of time, those 4-5 hours upon awakening every day. The muse lifts her skirt highest at sunrise. Late afternoons and most evenings, she is pole dancing at the Knotty Pine bar. On rare occassions she has thrown me a peep here and there during graveyard shifts and hurricanes. Almost as moody as me.
- Any advice or tips for anyone struggling with writing?
1. Write anything. Write your dreams. Write badly. Eavesdrop. Write what you hear, see, don’t see, want to see, don’t want to see, imagine. Describe an object in your room. There are millions of writing prompts out there.
2. Don’t write. Do something entirely unrelated to the form of writing. Take a long walk. Take a drawing class or just doodle. Go ice skating. Climb a tree. Take a cooking class. Swim in the ocean. Read a book. Read a comic panel. Sneak into a cinema in broad daylight. Pick up something, anything that you do not feel you have to be good at, let alone master. Pick up the guitar, learn three chords and play. Be awful, just suck out loud. Something happens when you do something without the pressure, insistence and demand (whether from others or myself) to be great. I tap into a new freedom. Marvelous freedom to let myself suck, to encourage, even cheer on my sucking bigger, better, push the envelope and be willing to make a complete fool of myself. I tend to take myself and my writing way too seriously, assigning astronomical stakes and consequences to every word I burp, every comma I spit. What creativity could possibly breathe, let alone come to fruition, under these conditions? To quote: “Everything I ever wanted had claw marks on it.”
3. (Bonus track): Do nothing. Lay idle in a field. Be still. Stop chasing it and trust a coming to you. I remember attending one my first writing and meditation retreats. About 30 minutes into meditation, I had a flood of ideas. Naturally I grabbed my notebook and started scribbling away, warp speed because I know too well that, much like the mercurial nature of dream recall, memory will vanish an idea that is not concretized immediately onto paper. The instructor came over and asked me to sit, just sit, without writing. She saw the terror in my eyes, and recognized immediately: If I don’t write it down, it will flee, race off, never to return, gone…forever.
I seethed and growled, wishing her dead. But first I’d get my money back. Then I’d kill the bitch. I put the notebook down. I was nearly in tears. Then she said, “Trust where it comes from, rather than when it comes. It will come back. It always comes back. Truth is, it never goes away, it’s just safely tucked elsewhere, like all wild animals know to hide when hunted. Ideas don’t want to be captured and colonized. Let it return on its own terms. It will return. Trust.”
I’ve practiced this repeatedly, sometimes I write it down on the spot. Sometimes I don’t. The thoughts, ideas, a line of dialogue always wraps back around. Thoughts disappear as quickly as they arise. I don’t torture myself as much when I forget from one second to the next, the brilliant sharp turn of my short story. I go on about my day’s tasks, brush my teeth, shoot out emails, overwater my succulents, check my bank account for the sixth time. At some point, later that day, later that week, one hour from now, guess who slips in through the air vent? She always arrives when I’m busy doing everything else.
4. (Double Bonus Track) Go watch animals. They know what to do.
- What do you like to do for fun?
Sneak into vacant cinemas in the middle of the work day, smuggling a small feast in my knapsack and watch foreign flicks while the world 9 to 9’s it’s life away.
Translate English pop songs to Spanish. I’m currently working on Creep by Radiohead and Night Fever by Bee Gees. Lotsa syllables in Spanish, like three per every one in English. Orthoepy got me good.