Category Archives: Fiction

Writeliving Interview – C. Dale Young

C. Dale Young Photo

As someone who has juggled a career along with writing in multiple genres, C. Dale Young has been a source of inspiration for me, not just for his writing (which is superb) but also for his commitment to his craft. Hope you enjoy the interview.

– Martin Ott

Who has been a major influence on your writing?

Although this is a common question, it is also an incredibly difficult one to answer. I suspect my response, if asked about literary influences, would change daily, if not hourly. I will answer this from a slightly different perspective, answer it without the “influence” part.

After my first year of graduate school, I felt as if I were not cut out to be a writer. I felt discouraged and decided to quit. A teacher of mine, the poet Donald Justice, told me to just keep going. He told me he felt I understood what made a poem a poem. To say this encouragement was huge at the time would be an understatement. And again, in my last semester of graduate school, when I worried that I would never write poems again once I started medical school, it was Don who told me: “You always find time to do the things you want to do.” That statement is one I have carried with me ever since. It gave me permission to become a doctor and to keep on writing. So, I would say Don has been a pivotal presence for me, one without whom I am not sure I would be writing today.

Can you give us insight into your creative process?

With poems, I tend to come up with the last line first. I sometimes carry it around for months. Eventually I come up with a first line. The mystery of writing the poem for me is connecting the A to the Z. I draft fairly quickly. I might spend two or three hours getting down a draft. In revision, it could take months or years for me to get the poem to the point where I would send it out to a magazine or journal.

With fiction, I never have any idea how it ends. I come up with a sentence. I toy around with it until I am sure it isn’t a line for a poem. And then, I just rush headlong into it. I bang it out. And then, as with poems, it could take months to years for me to get the story ready for publication.

How has your profession as a physician impacted your own writing?

Medicine takes up 50-60 hours or more of my time each week. It means I have to always work to be a writer. I have to make time to read, time to draft, time to revise. I do so early in the morning before work, on weekends or days off. I always feel the urgency of time or, better yet, the lack of time.

What is the best advice you can give to a writer finding her/his voice and subject matter?

Don’t worry. You already have a voice. All you need is to become comfortable with the tools to let that voice be heard. So read, read widely. Don’t be wed to any draft. Remember that revision means re vision, to look again. No one else on this earth has your exact life and experience. So, spend your time worrying about something other than “your voice.” It comes whether you like it or not.

How has your work as a magazine editor and teacher impacted your creative process?

I edited poetry for the New England Review for 19 years. It taught me not to take rejection seriously. It also taught me that publishing is not writing. So what if someone rejects your poem or story. Send it out again. Editors do not owe us anything because we send work unsolicited. Being an editor taught me to have thicker skin, to not be rude as a writer. I might think my poem is the next great ode, but chances are it isn’t. As for my actual creative process, neither editing nor teaching has much impacted it other than limiting my time. Writing is, after all, a solitary act.

As a writer who engages with other writers and readers in a blog and on Facebook, what advice can you give about the role of social media in a writer’s development?

Social media can be great for helping one feel s/he is part of a community. But it can also be a huge distraction. People love controversy within social media. There are the fights and the always present bullying. Will social media help one develop as a writer? I doubt it. Can it help you find like-minded souls? Yes. Can those like-minded souls introduce you to things and books that might change your life? Yes. But do you need social media to develop as a writer? No.

What are you currently working on?

I finished a linked collection of stories last year. I wanted to write one more story about the main character’s mother. But I quickly realized it was something larger than a short story. So, I am writing a novel. It is in a sense a prequel to the linked collection of stories. It deals with the three generations of this family that precede the main character in the linked story collection. At this point, I have written about 60,000 words (roughly 265 pages of manuscript). I feel I am about 70% done. I am just banging it out, typos and all. Once I have the whole draft down, the real work will begin.

Have you read anything recently that really got you excited?

Rick Barot’s Chord, his recently published collection of poems, is truly magnificent. I have already read it twice. I also recently re-read Peter Cameron’s Coral Glynn and marveled at his economy of language and the ways in which he can manipulate image across an entire novel. I have also been re-reading some of Eudora Welty’s stories. My God, she is just so sickeningly good.

Can you share an example of overcoming adversity to keep your writing dream alive?

Writing means everything to me. I could give up many things in my life, but I cannot imagine not writing. With that said, writing is a privilege. One writes when one can. I don’t believe in overcoming adversity as a writer, but I am biased, terribly biased. I watch people work to overcome cancer every day. That is adversity. Writers, myself included, love to wallow in the misery of this slight or that slight. But that isn’t really writing any way. That is the business of writing. When you are deep in the process of drafting, when time stops and you are outside of time absorbed in getting the words down, in getting the words right, that is writing. And that is an incredible thing. The rest of it is all business. I have overcome many adversities in my life, but none related to writing. Maybe I am the lesser for that.

What is something about you that writers and readers may not know?

Just before starting college, I was in a terrible auto accident. I broke my neck. It is surprising enough I am alive. It is surprising enough I can walk. I was originally told I might not walk again. But I did. I may appear crazed in my constant desire to work, but it betrays something very different than ambition. I think many think I am just overly ambitious. I’m not. I work hard and work so much because I know I am on borrowed time. I became a doctor and practice medicine because I owed it to those people who saved me to do the same for others. I feel grateful every day to be alive, to walk. I live with an immense amount of pain, but I am alive. I will work hard and write until the day they roll me into the grave, because I know this is borrowed time. I escaped the grave once before. I may not escape it the next time.

About the Author:

C. Dale Young is the author of four collections of poetry including The Halo, forthcoming from Four Way Books in early 2016, and a collection of stories The Affliction, due out from Four Way Books in early 2018. A recipient of fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, and the Rockefeller Foundation, he practices medicine full-time and teaches in the Warren Wilson MFA Program for Writers.

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Writeliving Interview: Aimee Bender

Aimee Bender Photo

I read the short story collection The Girl in the Flammable Skirt after graduate school and I knew immediately that a fresh and important  literary voice had arrived on the scene. I was thrilled to be able to take a UCLA extension writing course with Aimee Bender not long after I read her book and she made an impression on me as a teacher–how to take chances and explore possibilities. Two of the stories in my forthcoming short story collection Interrogations started in Bender’s class. Hope you enjoy insights into her creative life.

Martin Ott

Who has been a major influence on your writing?

How to pick one? Today I will pick William Maxwell, because I’ve taught his beautiful novel So Long, See You Tomorrow many times and every time it reminds me something crucial about plot/absence of plot and how big feelings can revolve around tiny moments.

Can you give us insight into your creative process?

Blocks of time, stopping at a predetermined time even if it’s going well, no windows to look out of, no internet, no coffee shop, perhaps a yogurt.

How has being a teacher affected your own writing?

It supplies structure in my day and the pleasure of talking to smart students about writing which validates my own investment in this strange and wonderful and difficult thing a group of us do! Teaching is social, which provides a useful foil for the solitude of writing. The two acts are so different.

What is the best advice you can give to a writer finding her/his voice and subject matter?

Tangents are useful. Staying on point is not the point, especially in early drafts. Wander, explore, make messes.

How does writing short fiction and novels impact the other genre?

My stories are often longer now that I’ve written novels. Novels have helped train me in scene writing. Stories help with sentences, though sentences are pretty key to novels too. Both are hard and fun in different ways.

What are you currently working on?

Finding a novel.

Have you read anything recently that really got you excited?

So much! The first of the Knausgaard series was fantastic, Dept. of Speculation by Jenny Offill, and Silence Once Began by Jesse Ball both thrilled me, and I just read the David Shields’ conversation book I Think You’re Totally Wrong and found that pretty fun and stimulating to read, too.

Can you share an example of overcoming adversity to keep your writing dream alive?

All the piles of rejections from journals and magazines I gathered over years. It was a trudge and I felt discouraged a lot. An agent said my stories were ‘little’ in a way that felt very defeating.

What is something about you that writers and readers may not know?

I can play the beginning part of “Wish You Were Here” by Pink Floyd on the guitar. The easy part.

About the Author:

Aimee Bender is the author of five books, including The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake and most recently, The Color Master, a NY Times Notable book of 2013.  Her short fiction has been published in Granta, Harper’s, The Paris Review, and more, as well as heard on “This American Life.”  She lives in Los Angeles.

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Novel Insights – Road to Publication

EthanReid_AuthorPhoto

– Guest blog post by Ethan Reid

A few weeks ago Martin Ott asked if I’d share my publication story with his readers. For those who don’t know, Martin and I attended graduate school at USC together and co-wrote a screenplay we pitched to a talent agency. Before that, I had educators along the way who helped foster the idea of becoming an author — and a wife willing to go along with the sacrifices it takes to get there.

In the mid-1990s, I had finished my undergraduate work in English with a Writing Emphasis at the University of Washington in Seattle, feeling like I still had much to learn about writing a novel. My craft wasn’t there yet, and I knew it. It’s been said that while some authors write for the process, others write to get published. I fall into the latter category and knew I needed to perfect my craft, so I entered USC’s Masters of Professional Writing Program. During my time there I met adjunct professors who helped me greatly, worked at a talent agency, and was lucky enough to meet Martin.

After Los Angeles, my path to publication nearly get derailed many times. Saddled with a student loan, I found myself working at KING TV as a news producer. My wife — a reporter at the station – was kind enough to let me shift to part-time work to finish the first novel before we had children. I wrote the second. Took three before one landed.  My son was born somewhere between two and three.

Back then, the trick was still about getting out of the agency slush pile, and as I felt so many queries were not being read, so I began to attend conferences. I volunteered at the Pacific Northwest Writers Association summer conference, working with the agents and editors behind the scenes. I pitched to many literary agents over multiple years, listening to the their reasons for declining representation for the first book, set it aside and wrote the second manuscript based on their feedback. The second MS came even closer to acceptance — by then I was hearing agents tell me I had nearly hit it out of the ballpark, but needed to refine my craft — so I put book two down and started the three novel with their advice rattling about my brain. Book three, The Undying, finally found a home.

Shortly before it did, I had a dozen agents who were ready to see my third novel. I sent the MS out in July in 2011 and months later received the phone call from the 212 area code from one of the agents I had met at the PNWA’s summer conference. I signed with Barabara Poelle of the Irene Goodman Literary Agency and she found the book a home at a new Simon & Schuster imprint, Simon451. My editor, Sarah Knight, acquired The Undying as the first novel for Simon451 and it dropped this October. They’ve since acquired the second novel in trilogy to be released in May, 2015.

This last October, the publisher flew me to New York to attend the NY Comic Con. I was lucky enough to sit on a panel with R.L. Stine. I still work with the PNWA, helping run their agent and editor pitches at th summer conference.   I’m currently editing The Undying: Shades while working on the publicity side of things. It’s all oddly familiar to other authors’ path to publication, I’m sure. Expect to sacrifice a lot. Hope for help along the way. If you want to land an agent, I’d recommend attending a conference. Listen to why the novels are rejected. And most importantly, write a kick-ass book.

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About the Author:

Author of The Undying (Simon451, 2014) and The Undying: Shades (2105), Ethan Reid received his BA in English from the University of Washington and his MFA from the University of Southern California’s MPW Program, where he studied under author S.L. Stebel, Oscar-nominated screenwriter Sy Gomberg, and Oscar-winning screenwriter Frank Tarloff. Ethan is a member of the International Thriller Writers, the Horror Writers Association, and the Pacific Northwest Writers Association. He lives in Seattle with his wife and son.

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Internet Literary News, July 2014

Nadine Gordimer

In July, I found myself looking back at some literary masters, publishers looking at new ways to sell books, writers thriving on social media, and a few lessons, bad and good, in our ongoing efforts to live the writing life. Please enjoy.

Martin Ott

The Loss of Nadine Gordimer

I was saddened to hear the news of the loss of one of my favorite writers Nadine Gordimer. In a year of saying goodbye to some of our best writers, this one hurts.

Issues of Re-Issues

Writers have a hard enough time finding readership — do we really have to worry about deceased literary heavyweights vying for a share of the marketplace? Last month, I highlighted new poems from Neruda. In July, Grove announced that it is issuing a lost story from Samuel Beckett. Scribner is also reissuing Hemingway’s classic novel The Sun Also Rises with a previously discarded first chapter. It seems as though publishers are starting to mimic movie studios in the way they mine old material to obtain a new audience.

Don’t Go Into Poetry for the Money, Honey

Kate Angus penned a great article at The Millions about how, even with the proliferation of MFA graduates and the hard work of small press and mainstream publishers, Americans seems to love poetry just not poetry books.

Writers Who Run the Literary Internet?

Flavorwire published a spotlight on 35 writers who run the literary internet. While it looks as though a few on the list purchased followers and  reach on Twitter, most of the writers highlighted here are worth following.

Let Amazon Run the Library System (It Runs Everything Else in Literature)

No Forbes isn’t the Onion, but it saw fit to publish Tim Worstall’s article “Close the Libraries and Buy Everyone an Amazon Kindle Unlimited Subscription. We all know the public library system is no engine of efficiency, but it provides more than just books to our communities (such as computer and internet access). Digitization is part of the future, obviously, but we need to find a way to support those of us who can’t afford the internet fast lane.

Odds and Ends

Here’s a few other links I found entertaining:

The First Asian American Superhero: The Green Turtle

What Writers Can Learn from Goodnight Moon

Computer Engineering: a Fine Day Job for a Poet

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Recycled Reads: The Poisonwood Bible

My third installment in a series of recycled reads – a review of books found in my  local Goodwill – is The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver.

Published in 1998, The Poisonwood Bible has been widely praised and was nominated for a 1999 Pulitzer Prize. The story follows the Prices, a missionary family, that moves from Georgia to the Congo in 1959. The story is told by the women in the family: Orleanna, the abused wife of patriarch Baptist minister Nathan Price, and their four daughters: Rachel, Leah, Adah, and Ruth May. There is a political undertone throughout the novel focused on the abuse of Nathan Price on his wife and children, and the abuse of the United States and European powers on the Congo, and the entire African continent.

There’s no doubt in my mind that this is an important work of fiction, and it is a book I highly recommend for readers. As a writer, I found myself thinking about a few decisions that the author made that potentially undercut the novel:

Length – The main plot arc is Shakespearean in the way it follows the tragic, headstrong, and ill-advised decisions made by Nathan Price and the escalating danger he puts his family in, leading to the death of his youngest daughter Ruth May. Imagine The Lord of the Flies, if the second half of the book followed the lives of the survivors over the next twenty-five years after being rescued. The politics of Africa shown over the final decades of the novel  are fascinating, but feel like a second story has been tacked onto the first (and more powerful) one.

Antagonist is Abandoned – Nathan Price, at the moment he puts his daughters in the most danger, disappears almost entirely in the narrative, and is not present in the moment when the mother and daughters decide to leave the mission. Nathan turns into a ghost, a rumor. Perhaps this is because it is Kingsolver’s intent to have the larger antoginist to be patriarchal America vs. the family patriarch. For me, the lack of active conflict before the climactic moment of the novel took away from its overall impact.

Author Intrusion – There are times in the narrative when the diary-like voices of the daughters are abandoned for a narrator’s voice giving us the horrific background to the political upheaval caused by Europe and the United States in Africa. This sometimes happens with an occasional paragraph and in other cases, as with the ending, there are longer stretches where the narrator sums up the meaning of the story for us. All of this additional context if powerful, but it pulled me out of the drama of the core story.

As writers, we are always looking to take lessons from every book we read. I have no doubt that others may disagree with my analysis. Please feel free to comment below.

Martin Ott

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Fiction Spotlight: Mandy Campbell Moore

MC Moore

Recently published by Word Riot, “Heimlich,” a short story by Mandy Campbell Moore, promises to unsettle from its eerily calm yet chilling opening line: “An ugliness blooms in Nina’s husband when their daughter is born.” The juxtaposition of these two “births”—one presumably a cause for celebration and one a cause for dismay—immediately puts us on guard. This is not the average couple with growing pains; something more has gone wrong here.

Moore continues to unsettle us, building tension between Nina and Alex through carefully selected details and gestures that define these people so well, it’s as if they’re the neighbors whose ratcheting frustrations we can’t avoid hearing through a thin, shared wall. Alex nags and controls, Nina drifts through the days, bleary and placating, and we await a violent confrontation that can’t help but explode. Then Nina makes a choice that deftly defies our expectations and leads to a heart stopping conclusion. Top notch storytelling and lucid, seamless prose make this a tale you won’t soon forget.

Colette Sartor

About the Author:

A graduate of Antioch University’s MFA program, Mandy Campbell Moore is in the final throes of her first novel. She is a North Carolina native who lives in Los Angeles.

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The Poetry of Sherman Alexie’s War Dances

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One of my New Year’s resolutions is to better utilize the lengthy commute to my job by the Los Angeles airport. Another is to read more in 2014 than in 2013. Another is to be more budget conscious. Multi-tasker that I am, I decided to combine all of these resolutions together in the form of library audio books.

So I went to the Los Feliz Public Library and was embarrassed to discover that my old library card had gone inactive and I needed to fill out a new form. My first selection with my new card was War Dances by Sherman Alexie.I have read a number of Alexie’s stories and poems in magazines over the years, but hadn’t yet read one of his books.

War Dances is a combo platter of short stories, flash fiction, and essayistic vignettes. I was quite moved by Alexie’s ability to weave hardscrabble stories with complex themes and layered mythologies while still managing to shape the stories in a way that made it seem like your literate uncle was sitting down next to you and sharing a story from his life. Alexie’s voice was hypnotic for my commute that week, and I instantly became aware of poetic threads throughout his work::

  • Bookend poems that help frame the collection
  • Odes to mix tapes, sweethearts, and pay phones
  • Imbedded poems within stories

What strikes me most, however, is that there is little difference between the poetry and the prose. The poems have the same accessibility and humor of Alexie’s prose, and the prose contains aspects of what might be considered narrative poetry. For example, I’m not sure I’ve encountered a prose writer who so effectively and continuously utilizes repetition. Nouns are repeated throughout the book in a singsong flurry, mostly in groups of threes. In the story Invisible Dog on a Leash, the protagonist states: “Isn’t it cool to live in Bigfoot country? In the heart of Bigfoot country? In the heart of the heart of Big foot country?”

There are also multiple examples of meditations on things, that remind me of object poems, from the bat in Breaking and Entering, to the owl in Bird Watching at Night, to the cockroach in War Dances. There are also a few times where Alexie provides clinical or dictionary definitions of certain words, then use the word in a metaphor or analogy. In The Ballad of Paul Nonetheless, the protagonist defines “microlender” in the context of a woman he is interested in, then later uses it in a different context to define his relationship with his daughter.

Even though I occasionally become annoyed when it felt like the author’s voice intruded into the stories, I happily listened to War Dances twice. I’m pretty sure that the fiction writer and poet inside of me won’t have to get into a fistfight for me to select another book of Alexie’s for a future week of commutes.

Martin Ott

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Misplaced Person: Anton DiSclafani

disclafani_photo

Here’s another in a series of interviews about writers and place. This time it’s Anton DiSclafani: Tennessean, Floridian, St. Louisan.

The title of Anton Disclafani’s debut novel, The Yonahlossee Riding Camp For Girls, is a trap. It sounds…pretty. Yonahlossee. So pretty. Say it three times while jangling your spurs and you might be transported to a sylvan fantasia with gurgling streams, crisp mountain air, youthful maidens astride loyal, stately beasts. And, well, it’s for girls. How dangerous could that be? But once locked in this novel, shackled to the narrative and the language, one finds that it’s gorgeous, yes, but treacherous, jagged, thorny, not a safe space at all. Following Thea Atwell through her depression-era Florida and North Carolina ain’t pretty at all. And that’s the way we like it.

– David Schuman

Where do you come from, originally?

I was born in Memphis, Tennessee, and lived there until I was seven; then Davie, Florida until I was eleven; then Ocala, Florida until college.  I think of Ocala as my home, simply because I lived there longest, and remember it best.

What geographical area would you say defines you as a person and maybe also as a writer? This can be a specific place (New York, Cleveland) or a geographical element (mountains, prairies, ocean). How has this place or element defined your work, if it all?

In my first book, the mountains inform so much of the story.  They’re there from the very beginning.  The main character moves from flat, hot Florida to cool, mountainous North Carolina, and that move–the cognitive effects of going from one place to the other–is very much a part of the novel.  I prefer the mountains to any other landscape.  If I had my druthers, I’d have a mountain home.

My new book is set in Houston, Texas, and there is very little of the natural world in it, at least so far.  I’m writing about a city, instead, which is a bit of a shift from my first book.

Writing about a city kind of feels like writing about a person; writing about the natural world feels like writing about something else entirely, if that makes sense.  The natural world is permanent, or at least a lot more permanent than we are; when I was writing my first book I liked the idea that I was, essentially, writing about the same mountains that my character would have seen one hundred years ago.  Buildings are a reflection of the times, of the people who build them:  some of the buildings in 1950s Texas were almost impossibly ugly.  But I like writing about that manmade setting, a setting that is changeable and personable and meant to be receptive to its citizens. But there is nothing otherworldly (to me) about a building.  We build them, we tear them down.  They have character, but not permanence.  On the other hand, there’s something magical about the natural world.  We don’t know it, we’ll never know it.

Describe where you are now–describe a few things you’ve learned about this new place that have surprised/frightened/frustrated you?

I live in Saint Louis, Missouri, where I’ve lived for nine years, the longest I’ve lived any place.  I really like St. Louis, but I think I could like any place, given enough time.  I ride horses, and I like that I can drive out of the city and be in the country (at least semi-country) in half an hour.

How has your current location filtered into your work or your writing life?

This is the first place I’ve lived that’s had four definite seasons, so I write about seasons now, in my work.  That’s a very explicit answer.  On a different level, I like how uncrowded St. Louis feels, for a city.  There’s lots of space to write.

About the Author:

Anton DiSclafani’s first novel, THE YONAHLOSSEE RIDING CAMP FOR GIRLS, was a New York Times bestseller, an Indie Next pick and bestseller, and longlisted for the Flaherty-Dunnan First Novel Prize.  It was named a most anticipated book of the summer by The Wall Street Journal and Publishers Weekly, and was a summer book pick by USA Today and National Public Radio.

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Fiction Spotlight: Lisa Mecham

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On the same day I mentioned to my fellow Writeliving bloggers that I thought we were giving too much love to poets (not possible I know), I saw a Facebook post from multi-talented writer Colette Sartor giving kudos to the short short story Asylum by Lisa Mecham in Juked.  I have read the story a half dozen times and I am still amazed by it. The tone feels authentic and the subject matter is intense. The main characters in the story make you feel more than one way about them. And like many of the best pieces of flash fiction it hangs out there remarkably unresolved. Please check it out and share.

– Martin Ott

About the Author:

Lisa Mecham’s work has appeared in Carve, Barrelhouse Online, The Drum and other publications. She is a regular contributor to The Rumpus blog and a reader for Tin House. A midwesterner at heart, she currently lives in Los Angeles where she’s working on her first novel. More at lisamecham.com.

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Writeliving Interview – Kazim Ali

kazim_bio2

I have long admired the work of Kazim Ali, and the grace with which he writes in all genres. We’re thrilled to have him shares his insights into his creative process.

– Martin Ott

Who has been a major influence on your writing?

Physical practices (yoga and mid-distance running) and meditative practices as well. Anything to quiet the conscious mind in relationship to the world that exists. Sometimes words and phrases come on walks, sometimes in breath, once a couplet that turned into a whole book (The Fortieth Day) came as I sat in meditation staring at a white wall.

Certain writers have been important to me. It is hard to make a list but Donald Revell, Lucille Clifton, Jean Valentine, Fanny Howe, Jorie Graham, Li-Young Lee, Agha Shahid Ali, Lisel Mueller and Mahmoud Darwish would be a starting point. In painting Agnes Martin, Hans Hofmann and Makoto Fujimura. In music Alice Coltrane, Yoko Ono, Donna Delory and John Cage. In fiction Virginia Woolf, Carole Maso, Bhanu Kapil.

Can you give us insight into your creative process?

I write longhand. Drafts for a really long time. I need time and space between initial writing and trying to see the shape of something. Sometimes I wait three or four months, sometimes I wait a year or more. Often I will end up with a manuscript suddenly because it has been coalescing in scraps for so long. Then I can read it like a book and revise it for almost equally as long.

How has teaching impacted your writing?

It’s forced me to read more deeply. If I give enough time between draft and revision I can look at my own writing as if a stranger wrote it. That is why it is good for a student to write something good every week, so they can stay fresh and keep moving forward. What’s wrong with creative writing pedagogy (including, at the moment, my own) is that we then ask students to revise this work in the same semester it is written. That can feel false and forced. Better to keep turning the page, keep moving forward, keep generating material. I am not sure I believe in the “workshop” as a way of teaching. I would rather teach by just introducing and talking about the poems I love the most and then give the students assignments. Then they come back and read the assignment to the class. General discussion can follow on craft and energetic direction of the work.

What is the best advice you can give to a writer finding her/his voice?

Read widely. Do not waste too much time trying to write a perfect poem. Write as much as you can. Expression is important. Vowels are important. Study another language long enough that you are able to read in that other language. Write a poem in English that you think would be impossible to translate into another language. Translate a poem from another language into English. Consonants are important too. You don’t have to read the tradition but you should study the mechanics of prosody. Be very very serious about making time for reading and for writing.

How do you go about balancing the mythic and personal in your work?

I’m not sure I do it. Icarus is me. The myths speak to our true human natures. My poems were filled with boys falling from the sky and boys drowning. So I guess it was because I couldn’t breathe. We are drawn to those stories that speak most clearly about our own nature. Though I am a maker of things, I never related to Daedalus, the father but rather with Icarus, the son.

Can you share an example of overcoming adversity to keep your writing dream alive?

At a certain point you have to choose writing. Like Rilke wrote to the Young Poet, you think about it all the time. You stop getting attached to it as a “dream” and start thinking of it as a biological function. Diego Rivera said, “I make paintings the way a tree makes leaves.” It’s just something you do, it is a way of encountering the world.

What is something about you that writers and readers may not know?

Before I returned to school to study for my MFA I worked for four years as an organizer and was very active in the student movement, serving as the president of the United States Student Association (www.usstudents.org) and as a trainer for the Midwest Academy (an institute devoted to training social justice and union organizers).

About the Author:

Kazim Ali is a poet, essayist, fiction writer and translator.

His books include several volumes of poetry, including Sky Ward(Wesleyan University Press, 2013), The Far Mosque, winner of Alice James Books’ New England/New York Award, The Fortieth Day (BOA Editions, 2008), and the cross-genre text Bright Felon: Autobiography and Cities (Wesleyan University Press, 2009). He has also published a translation ofWater’s Footfall by Sohrab Sepehri (Omnidawn Press, 2011), and (with Libby Murphy) L’amour by Marguerite Duras (Open Letter Books, 2013). His novels include Quinn’s Passage (blazeVox books), named one of “The Best Books of 2005” by Chronogram magazine and The Disappearance of Seth (Etruscan Press, 2009), and his books of essays include Orange Alert: Essays on Poetry, Art and the Architecture of Silence (University of Michigan Press, 2010),Fasting for Ramadan (Tupelo Press, 2011).

In addition to co-editing Jean Valentine: This-World Company (University of Michigan Press, 2012), he is a contributing editor for AWP Writers Chronicle and associate editor of the literary magazine FIELD and founding editor of the small press Nightboat Books.

He is an associate professor of Creative Writing and Comparative Literature at Oberlin College.

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