1. What is your earliest memory of writing?
I grew up on the 700-block of a 2 block street in a small NJ town. The summer I was 10, my friend and I were thinking of ways we could earn ice cream truck money. Grove Street was bustling with activity, and we watched it all from my porch while playing with an old typewriter. A lightbulb went off, and The Grove Street News was born. We’d walk the street looking for news, noting whose Cutlass Supreme was parked the straightest, whose tulips were blooming, whose son learned to ride without training wheels. My dad would sneak into our church at night to make free Xerox copies so we could keep prices low, and I think that that business strategy made each issue a real bargain at 25 cents, delivery included, tips accepted. It was pretty successful in that its readership eventually expanded to the lesser-known 800 block, but folded shortly thereafter (coincidentally the same time of year the ice cream trucks stopped making their rounds.) I still have a few original editions in my basement, and while I hesitate to share my most recent writing sometimes because I doubt its merit, I will never shy away from talking proudly about the articles in The Grove Street News. It was my first experience feeling like writing- my writing!- could help people form positive connections.
Where do you find inspiration? I’ve tried to live by the “make lemonade from lemons” mantra, so when I’m having a crummy day, I usually get through it by imagining it as a story. Flat tire? That stinks, but it’s not very interesting. Now if it starts to rain, my son locks me out of the flat-tired car, and my other son throws up in the back seat, my day just got worse…but my story got infinitely better. Score!
2.What do you think makes a good story?
I studied Sociology in college, so I’ve always had an interest in why people behave the way they do. Writing seems like such an obvious extension of that, especially the kind of writing that I do. There are so many things that can make a story good, but what I strive to do is to convey a feeling through, perhaps, a different lens than the reader has viewed something through before. I think a good story makes the reader understand the view being put forth (for better or worse.) A mentor once told me my writing strength lies in dialogue. I so very much admire writers and speakers who can paint a beautiful picture with multi-syllabic words and flowery descriptions, but that doesn’t feel as natural for me. So I digested that advice, loosened my grip on my thesaurus, and have been traveling in that direction ever since.
3.What’s your writing process like?
I try to put a feeling into words, and I do it with the end goal of hoping that someone feels a connection. I spend a lot of days (months or years, even) thinking about ideas. Sometimes I’ll write down a phrase, or a topic, or an observation, or words that sound cool together. I’ve got a lot of lists going-my “future writing.” Sometimes the future writing grows into something longer. If it does, I re-read it incessantly to tighten it up or change a word or examine it from a different angle until either a deadline approaches or someone takes it away from me. I’ve been working with another writing friend on a book called Twenty-Something Myths: A Collection of Hard Truths We’re Learning in our 20s for exactly 28 years now. We’re thinking of changing the title.
4. What are some of your favorite books, tv shows, movies?
Books made into movies or vice versa. I truly enjoy the perspective writing allows. I’m more fluent in writing than I am in talking. For me, I can’t fully convey my feeling or feel someone’s perspective through any medium better than the written word. Choosing words is like turning a channel and adjusting the bunny ears on the tv, trying to tune in to a feeling. So because I value the different perspectives part of reading (someone can read the exact same word and have it feel different to them) my favorite books to read are books that have been turned into movies. My favorite book/movie combo is House of Spirits by Isabell Allende and the 1993 movie with an amazing cast that includes Meryl Streep.
5. How long have you been involved in WGI and how has participating helped your writing?
While I continued writing after college, it was most often only in response to a school assignment. I know that writing for enjoyment would not have happened without WGI. And what a tragedy that would have been for me. In 2012, WGI hosted a large writing workshop in a local school for people affected by Hurricane Sandy. While my personal loss related to the hurricane was minimal, the school I teach at was closed because of it for months, and my students, my friends, and their families were suffering. I thought the workshop could give me ideas to share for working through grief, and along the way it rekindled my own love of writing. A year later there was another workshop, and then a couple more workshops followed. WGI asked for submissions for their annual gala, and I entered. I cannot find words to describe the feeling of having my writing chosen and performed on stage by an amazing cast of generous, skilled actors. Remember how I said I love how writing offers people different perspectives? There’s no greater gift to a writer than hearing the likes of Kathryn Hahn, Lois Smith, Andrea Martin, and Sunita Mani offer their interpretation of a piece you wrote. Speechless. I’ll be forever indebted. I can’t thank enough all the members of WGI and all the people who make the annual gala happen. Truly life changing.
6. What’s the best or most valuable thing you have learned from writing?
Writing an event down makes it seem more real. Writing is healing. Writing can bring people together, or it can do the opposite. The pen is mightier than the sword, and all that.
7. Do you have a “writing quirk,” if so, what is it?
When I write in the initial stages, I don’t worry about if it makes sense to anyone but me. I tell my writing students that, too: write anything down and as long as you understand what it is, you can build onto it later. I have a note saved on my computer: “it’d be so easy to kill him but harder to change him. same epiphany. –Al” I know exactly what that means and how many endless pages of writing that could inspire.
8. Any advice or tips you’d like to offer?
The advice most often offered to me has been “stop what you’re doing right now and just write.” Don’t worry about what it turns into. And when I doubt my writing’s merit, it helps to remember that writing’s like pizza: there’s no bad pizza. When tempted to compare your writing to others, Niels Bohr said it a little more eloquently, though: “the opposite of a correct statement is a false statement. But the opposite of a profound truth may well be another profound truth.” Good writing is a profound truth.