1. What is your earliest memory of writing? When did you know you were a “writer?”
My earliest memory has to be writing cards and poems for my mom. I used to love going to the library. Reading inspired me to write. I wrote short stories after that. By the time I was in the sixth grade, I was putting a literary magazine together in school. I still have it somewhere. I also submitted poems to Blue Mountain Arts. The sappy love cards on pretty colored raw paper? They rejected all of my romantic poems, but I was excited to be acknowledged. That was in high school. I think I finally believed I was a writer when my first short story was published.
2. What do you think makes a good story and what kinds of stories are you drawn to?
I enjoy novels that end with a surprise. A lot of great screenplays have story lines where they take you to a place you didn’t see coming. I watch (I should say binge-watch) shows like Bloodline on Netflix with my husband. Whenever there is a twist that we never saw coming I usually holler “That’s great writing!” He just rolls his eyes at me. I can actually feel the physical tension in a great story and I admire the writer who crafted it.
My favorite feel good series/writing currently is The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel. I am salivating for the next season. Please! I like the nostalgia of the story. I think the setting is based around the early sixties, when I was two or three years old. Midge addresses feminism, race issues, faith issues and so much more, plus she is a working woman. She is a divorcee when it wasn’t cool, and she’s trying to raise her kids, too. I see myself in Midge’s manager, Susie. “Don’t forget the face!” The show is a feel good collection of stories that make you think about what is fun, what has changed, and what still needs to change. I actually got to eat dinner last fall in the same room where Papa, Midge and Mama ate dinner in Paris at Chez Paul. Season two, episode one. I went to a writer’s workshop in Paris with the Ink Slingers, a writing group from Canada. We had dinner and did an International Reading of our work in that room. I’m an official fan club member for Mrs. Maisel and the show’s writing. And the clothes!
3. What are some of your favorite books? Movies?
Books. Southern Goth writers are good. Anne Rivers Siddons and Pat Conroy write stories that always take an interesting turn somewhere along the line. Sunny and light stories with dark times in unexpected places.
Jennifer Egan kept me up all night reading Manhattan Beach. The book is an entertaining piece of historical fiction.
As far as craft and story goes, Toni Morrison is the queen of writing hands down. She draws you in and teaches you as she makes you think about her characters. Home is one of her best books. She has written some important essays, too. Burn This Book is one of my favorites.
I love biographies. People’s life stories are so interesting. Stephen King’s On Writing is as much a memoir as it is about craft.
Ernest Hemingway and Elizabeth Bishop, both of whom lived in the Florida Keys at one point in their lives (along with a handful of other writers) are also favorites. The two writers are polar opposites.
Hemingway is such a hyper-macho guy, and fixated on suicide, whereas Bishop has written some important feminist and lesbian poetry. She lived a very different lifestyle from Hemingway. Roosters. Love that poem! It says so much about so much that was going on in the world at the time, and still is.
Movies. I have to say that I love so many. The most recent is probably Uncut Gems. The first time I saw it I had to walk out of the theater because I couldn’t stand to see how it was going to end. The writers really knew how to draw you into the main character’s head. It was like watching sports and you get to the point where you are anticipating the athlete’s next movement; physically feeling every effort and emotion. You just knew the guy was going to keep self-sabotaging from the first few minutes into the movie. It was like watching a train wreck. Even the cinematography gave you a kind of blurred and sleazy feeling. Adam Sandler in that role! I didn’t see THAT coming.
I have also enjoyed watching the evolution of Alexander Payne’s work. I have to love him; he’s from Nebraska. He writes a lot like Hemingway in those short, clear sentences that say so much. Up in the Air and The Descendants are my favorites. My husband loves Sideways. LOVES it. His work is always entertaining, but I see a pattern. Someone is always cheating on someone in every single movie. We need to talk about that…
On a completely different note, I also liked The Help. I’ve never read the book.
My favorite movies are documentaries or movies that feel like documentaries. Each one is like an interesting piece of journalism. The interest you feel is often not based on emotions, but in the stark reality of the facts. Adam Driver’s movies strike me that way as well. The Report is riveting.
4. What inspires you?
I am a writer who has lived through a lot of trauma. Who hasn’t? There was quite a bit of independence, of never having been a child, then the Marine Corps, sexual assault in the military, a few bad relationships. Reading is an escape. Watching films is an escape. They always have been for me. Figuring out what makes people tick is an interest and a safety mechanism. One can learn about others through reading, and create solutions and alternate worlds through writing. I’m an experience junkie. Writing and taking pictures is how I express things and figure out the world around me.
5. What is your writing process like?
I still have some of the same writing habits that I’ve had all my life. I drove Fred Graver crazy when he led our writing group. I never got anything turned in until the last minute. I’ve always been that way with deadlines. I have the idea in my head. I keep turning it over. Things get jotted on paper or into my cellphone. I wake up at night and have to write things down as they come to me. The last minute stuff is a safety mechanism, I think. If you didn’t have time to really read it over when I turn it in, you can’t critique it, right? Something like that.
The WGI workshops are a huge part of my current creative practice. They have given me more structure and helped me to place importance on my writing practice. I value being able to sit down and give a character life. I have cut lots of things out of my life to do this work because I love it. It is not easy for an experience junkie who works full time to use the “butt in chair” approach to life, but it is worth it when the writing flows. I also write with Nebraska Warrior Writers, a veteran writing group in Omaha, NE. We started five years ago. I am certified to lead writing groups using the Amherst Writers and Artists (AWA) method. I lead healing writing groups using the AWA method. We write together and we share together. I have carved out an office in my home where I have set up a coffee pot (mandatory in succeeding as a writer) and all of my books surround me. I have learned to just sit there and dedicate a block of time to writing. I used to do a lot of it on the fly (literally when I worked as a flight attendant) but I am really working on the discipline. I use writing prompts to get myself started. Pictures, smooth stones, my husband’s hospital bracelet from his cancer surgery, strips of paper with words and phrases on them. I saw a container of cherries at the store with the name Skylar Rae on the package. That name will appear as one of my characters someday. I am drawn to it.
6. What’s the most surprising thing you have learned from writing?
The most surprising thing I learned from writing is that for me it really is therapy. There is something about the ritual in writing, whether you do it on a laptop or in your leather bound journal with your favorite pen. I’ve gone through some hard things in my life, like when my son (also a Marine) came back from Iraq. Definitely had to write that stuff out.
7. What is your interesting “writing quirk?”
My interesting writing quirk is that I probably shouldn’t even be writing. I am blessed with a bit of dysgraphia. I tend to write the end of the sentence first, start the list from the end, and transpose letters and numbers sometimes. I am too stubborn to let that stop me.
8. How do you juggle writing with everything else you have going on?
Insomnia. I have trouble sleeping. PTSD will do that to you. I get a lot of writing done late at night. I also carry a notebook with me, or take notes in my cellphone. Giving me a deadline for a piece of writing also helps me focus. I just do it whenever I can schedule it, but I have become more intentional, or the writing time doesn’t happen. Being a shut in other than work for the last few months has definitely given me more time to reflect and write, or is it write and reflect? There’s the dysgraphia again.
9. What do you like to do for fun?
Fun: Enjoyment, amusement, or lighthearted pleasure.
At this point, anything involving being outdoors and not wearing a mask is fun. I do love to travel and really miss it. Some of my best ideas come from things I see or hear while traveling. I am always taking pictures of landscapes and interesting objects. I used to run marathons and jump out of airplanes but those days are over. I value my knees too much to continue those endeavors.
10. Any advice or tips for anyone struggling with writing?
Put the pen to the paper and let it flow. Do not stop to edit, add a comma, or worry about spelling. The most important thing is to get your voice, your idea on paper. The thought that you lose stopping to worry about the small stuff is not worth a missed idea. You will revise later. And don’t be afraid of revision when the time comes. Just get it down, then leave it for a day or two and come back to it, especially if you are feeling stuck.
If you are writing and the work is flowing, let it flow. You can eat, sleep and shower in a few days if the writing is working really well for you. But don’t forget the coffee.
Your story needs to be shared because it isn’t anyone else’s. Just yours. That seems like a good place to start.