Archive for the ‘Interviews’ Category

Robert May: Documentaries and Advice for Aspiring Artists

March 4, 2014

My previous blog entry discussed producer Robert May’s creative process and the mechanics of moving a fictional film through production. This week, I conclude the two-part series by discussing his process for documentary films and his advice for aspiring story-tellers and film-makers.

According to May, there are two prominent categories of documentary films: ones with an active story, and ones in which the story has already happened (inactive story).

While the story components of an inactive story are already present, there must be an especially compelling reason to revisit the events. Otherwise, retelling a pre-existing story may not be worth the investment. “There is more research required,” May explained, “because you may need to find a new angle.”

For either form of documentary, “seed money” is needed to begin a project. People need to be hired to gather the initial footage, and then if the project is worth moving forward, the rest of the money is raised. If the project is deemed unworthy of production, it is abandoned entirely.

An active story, however, is an entirely different type of project. It is already compelling by nature, since it’s still unfolding as it is being told which gives the story momentum, but May cautions that, “an active story can’t be too tragic; it has to have a dynamic for people to be interested in seeing it.”

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May used his most recent film, Kids for Cash, as an example of what he means by “dynamic.” He does not believe that any story should be presented from a single side, because much like the reality he is trying to capture, people on both sides of a story present sometimes opposing perspectives. He insists, much to my unbiased approval, that he would not have begun production on the film without having the former judges appear in it as well.

In order to gather footage from both angles and to have both “villain” and “victim” appear in the same film May makes it clear that the producer must maintain absolute secrecy until the film is finalized. Because obtaining an interview from a subject requires building a rapport and earning that person’s trust, the discovery of an interaction between the film-maker and the subject’s offender can cause emotional repercussions (I assume), or even negatively affect the promotion of a film.  Furthermore, if the subjects suspect that an undesirable contact is being interviewed, their responses will be less genuine and the project will lose its integrity.

A hazard of attempting to film active stories is that they can be extremely unpredictable because they develop as the project is being filmed. “You know it’s going to be a wild ride; you have no idea where the story is going. You just need to keep assessing and reassessing the footage,” May said.

As an example, during former Judge Ciavarella’s trial, an outraged mother burst onto the scene to confront Ciavarella on the courthouse steps. She began raging at him—who she blamed for the tragic suicide of her only child—and her raw, emotional outburst intrigued May greatly. He knew then, roughly two years into filming, that he had to include this woman in the movie.

 Because of the wide variety of people filmed, some characters must be cut entirely for the sake of time constraints. May filmed many people who were involved in the Kids for Cash scandal who did not make it past the editing room. His explanation was that, while initially the story may not be clear, once it begins developing and gaining prevalence, filmmakers must decide which “characters” contribute directly to the overall theme or point.

There is also a certain sensitivity involved regarding what the subjects choose to divulge. According to May, unlike reality shows, the subjects’ interviews cannot be altered to take statements out of context. It is a careful science conveying the subjects’ meaning precisely as intended.

After filming is complete, the editing process can take longer than a fictional narrative because of the “sheer mountain of material.” At one point he had three editors, five assistants, and an assistant editor working on the project at a single time.

Once the film has been released and is in its final stages, May initially feels “exhilaration,” but he quickly explained, “…if there’s a lot of money owed, I worry to death. ‘Can we pay people back?’ ‘What will people think [of the film]?’ ‘What will critics say?’” May spends the few months after a release fretting about the film’s success.

Another big source of anxiety for May is sharing the film with its subjects. “When you put the ‘villain’ and ‘victims’ in the same film, you have to be worried about the victim’s response. The product can take a very human toll, but hopefully the movie will advance the healing of the people involved.”

While May recognizes the necessity of promoting his movies, he does stress the importance of moving on to begin development of another project. He indicates that some of his colleagues have recommended taking a break between projects, but in an admirable admission of dedication to his art, May claims that, “You need to be doing it[film-making]…you need to keep moving forward.”

In regard to other potential projects, May clarified that Kids for Cash is his first directorial credit, a role in which he is beginning to gain confidence. He is now considering taking up the mantle of director again for future projects. Either way, May does not plan to linger long in the ether of “between projects.”

Finally, May provided some useful advice for aspiring writers, story-tellers, and prospective film-makers alike:

“A film is the most collaborative art form there is; you have to be a good collaborator.” All of the people involved in the production of the film are necessary to create a successful product. You have to be open to criticism, willing to work with others, and unafraid to change anything that isn’t being perceived the way you want it to.

With that in mind, he goes on to say, “Writers need to be very open to ‘trying to figure it out.’ When we give notes and people contend every note—Don’t! Try to figure out why people are saying what it is that they are saying. Embrace the collaborative process and embrace the notes that people are giving you. Decide whether you want them to feel that way, and if you don’t, figure out how to change it.”

Then & Now: Q&A with Dawn Zera

January 8, 2014
Dawn Zera

Dawn Zera

Then & Now: Q&A with Dawn Zera         

By Heather Lowery

Writer, editor, and instructor Dawn Zera is a graduate of the Wilkes University creative writing program. In this Q&A, she shares her experiences in working with Etruscan Press, Kaylie Jones Books, and Nancy McKinley as part of the education internship. 

HL: What is life like after the M.F.A.?

DZ: I have to use the F words here—fabulous and frightening.

HL: What did you learn from your internship experience?

DZ: How to teach! Frankly, I knew nothing about pedagogy or teaching practices. Dr. Nancy McKinley is not only a teacher I want to emulate and a talented creative writer, but also is a source of constant advice for those students interested in entering the profession. I still check in with her every now and then for advice and encouragement.

HL: Has that experience helped you get to where you are now?

DZ: Absolutely. Thanks to Dr. McKinley’s advice, her recommendations combined with other instructors at Wilkes, and the experience I gained during the internship, I was able to land two adjunct college teaching jobs even before I officially walked at summer graduation ceremonies (in September) to receive my M.F.A. (I officially completed the M.F.A. program in July 2013. By August I was hired to teach at the University of Scranton and also Marywood University).

HL: Any advice for those considering the M.F.A.?

DZ: Do it. It’s only an extra year, which means only one extra residency. You do not have to attend the final residency. I thoroughly enjoyed the experience of writing an M.F.A. analysis paper with my M.F.A. mentor Kaylie Jones, and I am using the books I read for that M.F.A. as a source of information for a World Literature class I will teach this spring.

HL: What is your current occupation?

DZ: Writer, college instructor at University of Scranton and Marywood University, editor with Kaylie Jones Books, public relations guru, creative writing workshop leader for Penn State summer camp and local libraries. I enjoy doing all these things and do not feel it necessary (or financially feasible!) to limit myself to one at this time.

HL: What were some of your favorite things about the M.F.A.?

DZ: The people and the learning experience. This extra year gives students extra time to get to know people in the program better, do creative work under the guidance of a mentor, and figure out a plan for how to proceed in life after earning their degree.

HL: What were some of your not so favorite things?

DZ: I think each student should be judged individually for whether or not they can handle both a publishing and teaching internship. I was told I could not do both because they had tried it in the past and the students had not been able to complete the work. Thankfully, I was able to figure out a plan in which I officially did the teaching internship to fulfill my M.F.A. requirements, but switched my graduate assistantship from the creative writing office to Etruscan Press. I also did volunteer work for the Kaylie Jones Books imprint. All of this was fun and I learned a lot. In addition, the work I did for Kaylie Jones Books has been of interest to people when I go in for job interviews. Even though I am doing it on a volunteer basis, I enjoy it and Kaylie wrote a nice recommendation letter for me.

HL: Would you recommend getting the M.F.A.? Why?

DZ: I believe it depends on the individual. There is never a one-size-fits-all solution. If a student plans to go into teaching or publishing, then the M.F.A. is ideal – it provides that extra calling card that says s/he did the extra work of analyzing a particular topic, writing a paper about it and did an internship. In applying for teaching jobs, it gave me an edge over others with similar credentials who had an M.A. but not an M.F.A. In order to reach a decision on whether or not to pursue an M.F.A., each student has to plan for the future and ask themselves why they are in the creative writing program in the first place.

HL: How did you make the most of your experience?

DZ: I was a sponge and worked hard. Serving as a graduate assistant taught me a lot about how Etruscan Press, the Wilkes University creative writing office, and SenArt works. I also listened to good people who gave me outstanding gifts of their knowledge and experiences. Everything my mentors—Bev Donofrio and Kaylie Jones—said was remembered and taken to heart. Every story of experience shared by Dr. McKinley, Dr. Lennon and Dr. Culver was remembered. I sought the advice of faculty members and cohort members whenever I could and every single one of them was approachable and kind and willing to share their knowledge. Ross Klavan gave me feedback on a screenplay synopsis. Fellow cohort member Rachel Wiren, a college teacher at Baptist Bible College, shared her PowerPoint presentations that she used in her composition classes and offered valuable advice. Fellow cohort member Laurie Powers gave me feedback on a play and did pro bono special effects work on a film I produced. Dawn Leas recommended me for the Penn State summer camp position. Ken Vose, Gregory Fletcher, Sara Pritchard, Lenore Hart, former Etruscan Press editor Starr Troup, former associate program director Jim Warner—all these people, in addition to the ones already mentioned, took time to assist me in some way even though they weren’t my official mentors. In turn, I stand ready and willing to help these people in any small way I can.

HL: Anything else you’d like to add?

DZ: The program is what you make of it. In order to get something out of the bank, you need to put something in. Invest your time, energy, thoughts, writing, and anything else you can offer into the program, and you will get it all back, with interest.

An interview with Lori A. May

December 31, 2013
An interview with Lori A. May
By: Heather B. Lowery
loriamay1 - web size

Lori A. May

A woman who can call both Canada and Detroit home is a woman who must be well rounded. Lori A. May, poet, performer, speaker, instructor, is a jack-of-all-trades—at least when it comes to the writing, marketing, publishing, speaking side of things. So pretty much anything that has to do with communication Lori has on lockdown.

Lori A. May writes across the genres, edits, teaches and travels as a frequent guest speaker. If you want to know how to save a buck she can spout out a list of fifty tips in less than two minutes. You can find her work in print and online with publications like Brevity, The Writer, Phoebe, Writer’s Digest and The Atlantic.  

Lori has a new collection, Square Feet, out in January 2014 by Accents Publishing. In the following interview, Lori shares what her writing process entails, details about her collection and gives advice to struggling writers.

When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer? And how long did it take you embrace it?

Of course I wrote when I was a kid and that’s really when the desire to be a writer grew within, but I’d say I started taking writing—as a vocation—more seriously when I was in my early to mid 20s. There was definitely a time when I wrote only for myself that transitioned into wanting to share my work with others and seek publication. That grew very quickly into thinking how nice it would be to do this in a full-time capacity. Once I had proven to myself that I could finish a book-length manuscript, it became very clear to me that I had to find a way to make this writing gig a permanent and prioritized part of my life.

What does your writing process look like?

crumpled-paper

It’s messy. From idea discovery to complete draft, there’s complete disorganization in between. Or, so it may seem from the outside. I tinker a lot and let things simmer; I go back and forth between projects and seem to be all over the place. Then, one day, I’ll have this moment where I realize how close to first-draft-finished a project is and I’ll wonder how it all came together. That sounds magical and it’s not at all. For me it’s more of a trust in the organic mess, that what starts off in clunky drafts gradually grows into something better. I guess that’s why it’s called a process and not something more definitive.

You are a writer of many genres. Do you see a merging of genres in your work?

At times, yes. When I’m writing poetry, I let the draft take shape but then I step back to see what the story is arising from the verse, then use that to revise and tweak. When I’m working on prose, I’ll poke around at the draft material to revision how I might improve word choice and sound quality—like I would with poetry. I think all writing feeds itself.

What motivates you to sit down and write even when you don’t feel inspired?

I remind myself how fortunate I am to write. To have that leisure to write any time, all day, or not at all. Writing is my choice, my pleasure. Sure, there are times that I don’t feel like writing or, more accurately, like sitting at my desk. Writing is work. It is never perfect, not in the beginning, nor in its final draft. It takes effort and patience and, as Maya Angelou said, “We delight in the beauty of the butterfly, but rarely admit the changes it has gone through to achieve that beauty.” Inspiration is overrated. Persistence gets the work done.

SqFt_LoriAMayYour new collection is called Square Feet. Where did you get the idea for that title?

The title came to me fairly early on in the process. I had been working on a few poems about life behind closed doors—where we laugh and share secrets, where we grieve openly without shame. I found myself working on the human component, yes, but also looking at those domestic objects that surround us and either comfort or irritate us: utensils, furniture, photo albums. The title was a gift, dropped in my lap from the working subconscious, and once I had it on my tongue I knew I had a direction with the full manuscript. It rarely works that way for me, by the way.

You have a good number of poems that deal with co-existence: spouses living together, partners trying to make it work, family members visiting, etc. It is interesting to see how all of those relationships are different, and yet have the same struggles in common, accommodation and compromise being two major themes. How did you come to those conclusions?

I don’t know that I did so with intention, but at the end of the day aren’t we all the same? Aren’t we all after the same things—love, acceptance, a sense of security within ourselves and in our lives? These things are possible, sure, but they often require compromise. I think Square Feet shows how our lives touch one another—for better, for worse—and respond to one another, particularly in small or private spaces.

Any advice for writers who are struggling to finish a piece of work for whatever reason—boredom, pain, exhaustion, time, etc?

I’m easily distracted so it’s not uncommon for me to work on a project ten or fifteen minutes and then lose focus. When that happens, I give myself a choice: continue to work on Project A or shift focus to Project B and so on. It’s good to have multiple projects on the go. There’s always something to work on. Writing needs time to breathe and simmer on its own, so if something is giving me a hard time I’ll adjust focus and move on to something else. But I try not to abandon projects, unless I know I’ve hit a wall and don’t want to break through it. I think, for all writers and especially emerging writers, it’s important to remember to have fun and not put too much pressure on one’s self. The writing will come, in time, and it’s okay to take a break from something. Find something else that moves you for the time being.

What’s next on the agenda for you?

I’m excited about 2014! I’ll be traveling often and working on a number of projects. I’m also thrilled to say I have another book coming out at the end of the year. In December 2014, I’ll have a new nonfiction book out with Bloomsbury. More details will be shared on my website, www.loriamay.com, very soon!

Where can interested readers get a copy of Square Feet?

I’d love to see readers pick up the book direct from Accents Publishing, but an indie bookseller can make sure the book is ordered and/or delivered. Of course, readers can also find Square Feet on Amazon or at their local Barnes & Noble. The B&N in Wilkes-Barre PA has some copies in stock, too. During AWP in Seattle, I’ll be signing copies of Square Feet at the Accents Publishing table in the bookfair (AA3) on Thursday Feb 27, from 12-1pm and books will be available there all weekend. Signed copies can also be purchased directly from my website: http://www.loriamay.com.


Photo credit for crumpled paper: acrumpledpaper.wordpress.com

Interview with poet Loren Kleinman

December 25, 2013

Loren_NYC-8

Loren Kleinman is a young, American-born poet with roots in New Jersey. Her poetry explores the results of love and loss, and how both themes affect an individual’s internal and external voice.  She has a B.A. in English Literature from Drew University and an M.A. in Creative and Critical Writing from the University of Sussex (UK). Her poetry has appeared in literary journals such as Nimrod, Wilderness House Literary Review, Writer’s Bloc, Journal of New Jersey Poets, Paterson Literary Review (PLR), Resurgence (UK), HerCircleEzine and Aesthetica Annual. She was the recipient of the Spire Press Poetry Prize (2003), was a 2000 and 2003 Pushcart Prize nominee, and was a 2004 Nimrod/Pablo Neruda Prize finalist for poetry.

In 2003, Spire Press (NYC) published her first collection of poetry Flamenco Sketches, which explored the relationship between love and jazz. Kleinman judged the literary entries for the book  Alt-History: New Writing from Brighton published by QueenSpark Books (UK). She was also a contributing editor/writer for the Cancer Dancer by Patricia San Pedro. Kleinman is also a columnist for IndieReader.com (IR) where she interviews NYT bestselling indie authors. Many of those interviews in IR reappeared in USA Today and The Huffington Post.

Her second collection of poetry, The Dark Cave Between My Ribs,  is due to release in 2014 (Winter Goose Publishing, 2014). She is also working on a New Adult literary romance novel, This Way to Forever; and a collection of interviews and essays that explore the vibrant community of indie authors called Indie Authors Naked: Essays and Interviews on the Indie Book Community  (Publisher: IndieReader).

Kleinman recently presented a two-day seminar at Sentences 5: A Conference on Writing Prose at Drew University in July 2013. She also owns and operates a small, boutique editorial firm, LK Editorial, where she edits poetry, offers social media services, and instructional design consultations.

Kleinman shares insight into her writing life and news about her latest book here on The Write Life.

Hi, Loren. What can you tell us about your forthcoming book, The Dark Cave Between My Ribs?

My second collection of poetry, The Dark Cave Between My Ribs, is due to release in March 2014 by Winter Goose Publishing. It took me seven years to finish. The collectionattempts to bear witness to trauma and its healing process. Trauma survivors will clearly remain tortured as bodily wounds may heal, but the wounded psyche bears witness to years of reconstruction.  I’m exploring love and loss. I’m trying to find its language. The Dark Cave Between My Ribs will appeal especially to those craving an authentic voice that is at the same time raw and universal.

You’re also working on a novel, aren’t you? How do you balance the time and energy in writing for multiple genres? Have you always wanted to write for multiple audiences?

I just finished a New Adult literary romance novel, This Way to Forever and am seeking representation.  The novel explores how young people deal with love and ambition and the choices that come with each.  Other themes the novel explores are choosing romantic love over security, love as an ideology, and long distance love/dealing with long distance relationships.

Finally, I have a collection of interviews and essays that explore the vibrant community of indie authors called Indie Authors Naked: Essays and Interviews on the Indie Book Community (Publisher: IndieReader). Indie Authors Naked explores and defines the world of independent publishing.  Comprised of a series of essays and interviews by indie authors, booksellers and publishers, readers will get a look at the many aspects of the indie community, where publishing professionals of all types come together with the simple goal of creating something unique; something that speaks directly to the reader, no middleman necessary.  Contributors include James Franco, Hugh Howey, McNally Jackson Books, Sarah Gerard, OHWOW Books, Raine Miller, David Vinjamuri, Toby Neal, Rachel Thompson, Eden Baylee, Christoph Paul, Jessica Redmerski, and more. The book is due to release 1/15/2014.

I’m very territorial about my time. I take one day off a week from writing, which is Saturday. The rest of the week I work full-time and write after work. When I take breaks from writing, I’m reading a lot. The only way to keep to schedule is through discipline. I keep my energy by working out and eating a mostly organic diet. Your body is a tool. You have to maintain it in order to function at your best. Anyone can write. It’s another thing to be in the place to write.

As far as writing for multiple audiences, it’s always been something I considered, but have been too afraid to try. I’ve always written poetry, and thought I could never write fiction. Really I was terrified. Fiction is scary. It’s a beast. And you have to outline. You can’t mess around. I wrote the first line of something: Everything we know is fiction. Even love. I showed it to my close friend and fiction editor and he said, “You’ve got something here.” A year later I finished my first novel This Way to Forever.

My point is, it’s important to be verse in different genres. While it’s scary, you have to keep readers surprised. I cried through most of the re-writing of the novel. It was awful. But I did it.

You’re a busy freelancer, too. Can you tell me about LK Editorial and what sort of services you offer?

LK Editorial is a small editorial firm that specializes in select projects. I primarily work on press releases, media kits, bios, LinkedIn profile writing, and poetry collection edits. I also manage a writing program at an NJ college so I’m incredibly active. Right now I taking more time for my writing, and being even more selective about the types of projects I take on. Again, I have to be territorial about my creative life.

You also conduct an interview series and so much more. How has freelance writing and editing contributed to your overall writing life? Do you ever feel these activities distract from the creative writing?

I feel that they add to my writing life. It’s important to network, to develop your community and be a part of a creative community. The more people I meet, the more exposed I become to what’s trending or up-and-coming. I schedule all of my interviews at least 6 months in advance so I can keep on track. So, it’s also about planning out your time so you can get your own work done.

Essentially, the blog, Twitter and Facebook keep me connected to readers and writers. If you are writer or another creative, you MUST plug into social media. It’s the only way you are going to reach readers. And it’s not a sad truth, just the truth. I’ve met so many fantastic people via social media and through all of the interviews I’ve done. It’s an important aspect of who I am. Naturally curious.

I also believe in forming alliances, in supporting each other through the writing process. I mean, seriously, it’s scary sometimes and mysterious. I feel less alone when I interview someone and they say the same thing I was thinking. Or they something uplifting and charming. It’s great. It’s such a snapshot of life. They always make want to write more.  True story.

Where can readers learn more about your work? Do you have any links to poems or other work available online?

Readers can follow me on Twitter for updates. The best is to keep checking the website. I have sample poems on my site and links to all interviews and publications.

So stop by any of these platforms to say hi:

Website: www.lorenkleinman.com

Winter Goose Publishing Author Page: http://wintergoosepublishing.com/authors/loren-kleinman/

IndieReader Column: http://indiereader.com/category/columns/loren-kleinman/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/LorenKleinman

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/lorenkleinman1?ref=hl

Email: lorenkleinman@yahoo.com

Tumblr: http://lorenkleinman.tumblr.com/

Then & Now: Q&A with alum Justin Kassab

December 4, 2013
Justin Kassab with Kaylie Jones

Justin Kassab with Kaylie Jones

Then & Now: Q&A with alum Justin Kassab

By Heather Lowery

Justin Kassab is a graduate of the Wilkes University creative writing program. He has authored a number of short stories and his first novel, Foamers, will soon be on bookshelves. Justin is also the Managing Editor for Kaylie Jones Books.

HL: What is life like after the M.F.A.?

JK: I have a novel under contract.

HL: What did you learn from your internship experience?

JK: I learned how to build wordpress sites, and platform on social media.

HL: Has that experience helped you get to where you are now?

JK: It has helped build a platform for when I become published.

HL: Any advice for those considering the M.F.A.?

JK: If you have other means of income and are looking to supplement it with adjunct [teaching], it is a good choice. However, with the current teaching market I would advise going for your Ph.D. if your goal is to become a tenure track professor.

HL: What is your current occupation?

JK: Currently working pro bono as Managing Editor of Kaylie Jones Books.

HL: What were some of your favorite things about the M.F.A.?

JK: The guidance of Phil Brady.

HL: What were some of your not so favorite things?

JK: Combining my internship with my GA position and giving up sleep for the semester.

HL: Would you recommend getting the M.F.A.? Why?

JK: It would depend on your personal situation. From what I am learning from job hunting it is a great supplemental degree, but there are few avenues where the M.F.A. is exactly what someone is looking for.

HL: How did you make the most of your experience?

JK: I connected with as many mentors and students as I could to increase the amount of writer interaction in my everyday life.

HL: Anything else you’d like to add?

JK: Don’t let networking opportunities pass you by. Connect with the agents, publishers, mentors, and other students as much as you can each residency.

Then & Now: Q&A with alum Kaitlin Keller

November 27, 2013
Kaitlin Keller

Kaitlin Keller

Then & Now: Q&A with alum Kaitlin Keller

By Heather Lowery

Kaitlin Keller is a graduate of the Wilkes University creative writing program. She finished the program in summer 2013 and, while she’s continued to work on her writing, this Q&A shares some of the other ‘life’ moments that hold her focus.

HL: What is life like after the M.F.A.?

KK: A struggle to find a job.

HL: What did you learn from your internship experience?

KK: I learned how to write a book review and how to write for a variety of audiences.

HL: Has that experience helped you get to where you are now?

KK: It’s enriched my knowledge as a writer.

HL: Any advice for those considering the M.F.A.?

KK: Try something you have never tried before or never thought you would be interested in. Branch out. It’s worth it! Trust your voice.

HL: What is your current occupation?

KK: Nine-month-pregnant woman awaiting the birth of her first child.

HL: What were some of your favorite things about the M.F.A.?

KK: The research! I loved reading the dozens of books for the M.F.A. paper and learning so much. I also loved working with Phil Brady [from Etruscan Press] and Lori A. May [from Poets’ Quarterly].

HL: What were some of your not so favorite things?

KK: Writing book reviews.

HL: Would you recommend getting the M.F.A.?  Why?

KK: For your own personal satisfaction, yes. For career advancement? No. There’s no money in it.

HL: How did you make the most of your experience?

KK: I tried to take myself out of my comfort zone as much as possible. I pushed myself to do things I wouldn’t normally seek or want to do.

HL: Anything else you’d like to add?

KK: The M.F.A., like writing itself, is a wonderful experience for those looking to enrich their lives and intellect…but not their wallets.

 

Brooklynite gives back: Lowery interviews Florio

November 20, 2013

Interview with Patricia Florio, by Heather Lowery

Patricia Florio

Patricia Florio

Patricia Florio’s book My Two Mothers: A Memoir with Recipes was released this November. A recent graduate from the Wilkes University creative writing program, Florio reveals how her experience at Wilkes helped shape her into the writer she has become. From Brooklyn to Jersey, Florio is doing great things in the creative writing community.

Heather Lowery: Your book, My Two Mothers: A Memoir with Recipes, was just recently released this November. How does it feel to have your work out there in the open?

Patricia Florio: My Two Mothers: A Memoir With Recipes is a spinoff of my original MA thesis at Wilkes. The idea for the book was inspired in my 510 nonfiction class with John Bowers. I guess it was the way I shared the scenario with the class, “My mother gave me to her sister after I was born.” That sentence triggered a whole lot of conversation between friends and cohorts from other classes that I shared the idea with, and the idea constantly churned inside my head in stages of how I would sit in front of the computer and write this all down trying to make sense of it.

HL: With memoir, the potential of revealing something about yourself that a small amount of people, and sometimes no one else, knows about you can be paralyzing. How did you overcome this fear?

PF: It felt a bit odd writing about my family, to actually expose one’s self to whatever type of criticism from peers. For one thing, there was a part in the book that a kidnapping took place, and I wasn’t sure I wanted to write about that fact. I backed away from writing the book for several weeks, trying to come up with another idea for my thesis, until I could figure out how to handle this much talk about family situations. When it was clearer in my mind, and without using names, or I should say giving this particular family member, the kidnapper, a different title, Uncle Sly Fox, I was able to live with the fact that in memoir the facts have to be true, the names didn’t have to be. So I continued moving My Two Mothersforward writing. But for a while there, I thought I was going to chuck out a year’s worth of writing. Then I remembered why I was writing this book: I wanted to acknowledge both of these women, pay them a tribute for raising me the way they had with all the difficulties like “too many cooks in the kitchen spoils the …” Yes, I was doted on by Aunt Jennie. I also knew I was loved by her. It made me feel privileged, even to this day, to have two mothers at different parts of my day, every day of my life.

HL: Where did you get the idea for your title?

PF: The title is from the second chapter and a sentence in the book, “When I came into the world, I came in having two mothers.” My mother’s oldest sister Jennie, whom I called Nanny, couldn’t have children of her own, and my mother already had two older children, my sister and brother (my sister 15, my brother 10). We all lived in the same three-family house, in different apartments. My mother handed me over to her sister Jennie, “on loan, that is, to care for me.” For the first fourteen years of my life I had two mothers.

HL: What does your writing process look like?

PF: I grab time at the computer every day, perhaps not at the same hour of the day, but shortly after I awake I open up the computer and write something. It could be a continuation of what I left off the day before, or it can be an idea I have for entering a short story contest, or it could be a travel piece.

I write for www.stripedpot.com and I like to travel; living on the Jersey Shore gives me access for picture-taking, trying out new restaurants along the shore, and writing about those places for my articles. I read a lot. Sometimes I can have one audio book going in the car. Right now it’s Dr. Sleep by Stephen King; another book by J. Michael Lennon, A Double Life, Norman Mailer’s biography; and even something different to read before bed, like Dr. Wayne Dyer, Wishes Fulfilled. And I take notes, lots of notes, when I’m listening or reading books. It’s an occupational hazard from being a court reporter for seventeen years. I write everything down. It gives me fodder, new words, a bit of wisdom from authors who are up there in the industry.

HL: Is there are particular mindset, or a frame of mind, you need to be in to write?

PF: I have to have the house to myself. So when my husband is off to work and the house is quiet, I love that time most of all to write. It’s not that I’m glued to the screen, because I do find myself going down to the laundry room in the middle of a chapter to put in a load of wash. It’s just the way my brain works. There’s no daytime television for me. I can’t do it. I take after my birth mother on that score. She never watched daytime television until she was 90, and I don’t either. It gives me the ability to get into what I’m writing without distraction. There are literally days that I forget to go down and eat breakfast or lunch. Oh, I make up for it later on in the day, but I’m so into what I’m writing. I’m there with these people in my book that I don’t want to leave the feelings, the joy, the occasional tears, so I stay in the moment and let it happen.

HL: What was it like growing up in Brooklyn? How has that affected your writing?

PF: A lot of who I was as a child growing up in Brooklyn comes out in this book. The ethnicity of growing up in an Italian ghetto absolutely has affected my writing. At some point, I’d love Brooklyn to be the main character of a book I write, and maybe it is a bit in My Two Mothers: A Memoir With Recipes. The food is definitely Italian-Brooklyn, the smell of meatballs frying on a Sunday morning, not only from my mother’s window, but from the entire neighborhood of Italian women’s windows. And yet, I was tremendously influenced by my Irish neighbors, nuns, priests, my sister’s husband’s family who are Irish and very much a part of my life. Brooklyn is neighborhood living. You’re outside in fresh air amongst people, sitting on the stoop in spring, summer and fall. You’re not in a backyard. The kids played softball, baseball in the school yard across the street from our house, stickball in the street. You talked to people, interacted, shared stories. I think it was a freer time. You knew who your neighbors were. The peddler who sold groceries, his wife comes in as a named person in my book when I was lost. She knew me even though I was out of my neighborhood at a faraway movie theater. She came to my rescue. It was a different world in Brooklyn.

I was also influenced by osmosis by all of the other well-known writers who came from Brooklyn. I think about working as a court reporter in a courthouse on Clinton Street in Brooklyn Heights, surrounded by the energy of Norman Mailer, Tom Wolfe, Burroughs, Walt Whitman, and so many others. I’ll always have Brooklyn!

HL: I saw that you studied creative nonfiction at Wilkes University as part of the MA. How has that experience influenced you?

PF: Wilkes was a very important step for me. I came back to school late in life. My father never believed in college education for women. Obviously, he was from the World War II generation: women get married, so why waste the money on higher education? I took myself out of court reporting in the year 2000, just upped and quit because I had been taking courses in the community college—creative writing, and the whole gamut of journalism. Then I went to Rutgers, which took seven years piecemeal to graduate. And then my friend Carol found the Wilkes MA and MFA programs. We went together and completed both the MA and MFA. During that time, I wrote for local and major newspapers as a freelancer. Not a stringer, just a freelancer, until I landed the Scene Page for the Two River Times, making $75 an article. At Wilkes, although I felt I made a big mistake in taking screenwriting, my nonfiction classes were the best. First working with John Bowers, then selecting Rashidah Ismaili as my MA mentor (who made weekend house calls), and then Phil Brady for my academic paper on Survivors in Memoir, I had a ball. I loved it, the good, the bad and the ugly; it had to be one of the best times in my life. Of course, the 501 Cohort with Nancy and Mike is some of the best care an aspiring writer can get. I am still in touch and visit with students, some of whom I know will be friends for life.

HL: I also heard that you have a reading series and a writing group in New Jersey?

PF: Back in the year 2000, Carol MacAllister, also a Wilkes alumna, and Gayle Aanensen and I formed what we called Tri-Muse. We three encourage one another and eventually sparked an interest because we turned into approximately 18 writers who are now called The Jersey Shore Writers at The Jersey Shore Art Center. We have found our voices collectively and individually. We are quite a group, critiquing, listening, supporting one another, as well as our arts center, where every form of art takes place.

Irene Maran, another Jersey Shore writer and newspaper columnist of A Slice of Life, and I put together what we named Literary Adventure at the Belmar Arts Center where we selected several Wilkes students and paired them up with our Jersey writers for a great Sunday afternoon of authors’ readings. After a year or so, our Arts Center in Ocean Grove got jealous and said, “Hey, how about sharing those writers in our venue.” And this year we have been exclusively bringing authors and writers in from the Noir series of Akashic Books, Johnny Temple’s company. Monique Lewis, another Wilkes alumna, runs At the Inkwell Series in Manhattan. Monique has introduced some of her NYC writers of noir, and it gave The Jersey Shore Writers a challenge to write noir stories—crime, mystery, and so on. Two weeks ago we put on an event for ourselves and a very interested audience, Taste of Noir—along with some tasty noir treats—we gave our audience a taste of our noir stories. Hopefully, this series will be published as an anthology by the Jersey Shore Writers.

HL: How important are reading groups and gatherings like that of the Jersey Shore Writers to the idea of “community literacy?”

PF: In our particular area of the Jersey Shore, I see lots of senior citizens coming to these readings, like this is something from the story-telling era of their past. For them it’s a social event, and an informative event where individuals can, and do, chat with authors, featured readers and other participants to discuss books and their own attempt at writing. Many times, they share a poem or a story at open mic that they’ve written, becoming part of the fabric of writers in the community. It makes me feel good that they are interested and want to become part of the Jersey Shore Writers in their own capacity. We, as a group, have been invited to take part with a group of artists to put words to pictures. We’ve become an extension in the community. And while we can’t attend everything, or have a literary adventure series everywhere, we are a stronghold in the community at the Jersey Shore Arts Center.

This past September I had reached out to teens who were interested in writing and have held two workshops thus far. My hope is to add younger writers into the mix, with their own workshops and their own separate meeting date. As the writer-in-residence for the Jersey Shore Arts Center, I’m hopeful that this teen program will come to fruition in the future. I will be approaching the Cape Meeting Association, the body that governs our town, this spring to present this idea to the Youth Movement at the Youth Temple in Ocean Grove.

My hope was always to help emerging writers and authors to have a place to share their work, whether you’ve been published or not. I just love being with other writers. And I know the Jersey Shore Writers are happy to meet writers from other states and cities. We network together to learn about agents, publishers, about who’s looking for what genre. We’ve broadened our horizons and we’ve now captured the attention of our beach community neighbors to see who we’re bringing in next to read.

We’ve had so many Wilkes writers and authors to the Shore: Bev Donofrio, Charles Salzberg, Kenneth Wishnia, Anne Henry, Brian Fanelli, Monique Lewis, Jackie Fowler, Amye Archer, Joe Wade, Gale Martin, Dawn Leas, and Jackie Nash, among others. I’m probably forgetting some names, and I’m sorry about that. But coming up on December 8th [will be] J. Michael Lennon, Ross Klavan, Brian Fanelli, all three with new books. This is not work for me. It’s a joyful occasion when I get a ‘yes’ from an author to come to Ocean Grove, to the Arts Center or to Belmar Arts Council to read from their latest books.

How important community literacy is to me and others? I see it as a colorful mixture of talent from the veteran writer to the writer just getting their feet wet, starting their process for the first time; they are on my color chart of writers.

HL: What are you working on now? What is next for you?

PF: I’ve been working on another memoir I’ve called Searching for the Man in the Gray Fedora. I’m giving my father his due in the next memoir. Sometimes I think I’ve given the impression that I was actually raised by two mothers, totally independent of a man. Well, that’s not true. Although, it’s taking me time to figure out this book, several years now, and I did send it out to an agent with a proposal, the prologue, and three chapters. I received a response from the agent that they admired my voice and the premise of the book, but it felt jumpy to them. They suggested I work harder on a narrative arc. So it’s back to the drawing board.

And the other idea I have is for a narrative poetry book called Confessions of a Court Reporter. I seem to be picking this up more often than not. The whole idea of being able to tell a detailed story in poetry has captivated me. Trust me, I’m not a poet, but I’m learning. And that’s another thing about me, I enjoy learning. My husband would laugh at that comment, and say, “Give it a break!”   

HL: Where can interested readers get a copy of My Two Mothers: A Memoir with Recipes?

Cucina D'AmeliaPF: Right now the ebook can be purchased on Amazon, either as My Two Mothers, My Two Mothers: A Memoir With Recipes, or just the cookbook, Cucina d’ Amelia. We are hopeful the print version will be out before the holidays.    

HL: Anything else you would like to add?

PF: Thanks for asking me these questions. It’s given me an opportunity to look at myself as a writer, honestly and completely. And to take a candid look at how much writers mean to me. I admire a human being who can sit in a chair in front of a computer, solo, endless amount of hours and bring a humorous, heartfelt, fiction or nonfiction piece of work to fruition. In the Italian sense of who I am, I say Brava to that woman and Bravo to that man.

Brian Fanelli: All That Remains

October 30, 2013

All That Remains Front CoverAlum Brian Fanelli has just released a new poetry book, All That Remains (Unbound Content). Here, in this Q&A, we catch up with Brian about the new collection, as well as some of his current events.

Tell us about your new book, All That Remains.
The process of All That Remains started while I was completing my M.F.A. at Wilkes. I had poems that ended up becoming my chapbook Front Man, but then I had poems that didn’t fit that manuscript and its very specific theme. So, after I graduated from Wilkes, I continued writing and revising poems and, eventually, I had enough commonality between the poems to build a full-length collection. It was a process that took five or so years. When the book was done, I researched different publishers and presses and discovered Unbound Content through Poets & Writers. Not only do I like what they publish, but also the way they interact with writers. It’s been a great process leading up to this point.

Were some of the poems in the book previously published in journals? Where might readers find a few samples of your work?
About 3/4 of the poems first appeared in other publications. Some of the poems appeared in Boston Literary Magazine, Portland Review, Third Wednesday, Harpur Palate, vox poetica, and a lot of other print and online journals. Some of the links can be found on my blog, All the Right Notes, or through a simple Google search.

Will there be a launch event anywhere? Any other events and readings planned?
[I had] a launch party on Friday, Oct. 25 at 7 p.m. at the Vintage Theater in downtown Scranton. I am reading at the Seeley Memorial Library at Lackawanna College on Friday, Nov. 1 at 6 p.m. and at the Hoyt Library in Kingston, PA Nov. 18 at 6:30 with Amye Archer and Rick Priebe. Then I have several readings out of the area, including in New Jersey, New York City, and other parts of PA. I’m reading at the KGB Bar on January 8 as part of the At the Inkwell reading series, which was launched by Monique Lewis, a Wilkes alum. On Dec. 8, I’m reading with Dr. Lennon and Ross Klavan, two Wilkes faculty members, at the Belmar Arts Council in New Jersey. This reading series was started by Pat Florio, another Wilkes alum. I’m grateful to have made these connections while at Wilkes and thrilled that so many of the program’s current students and alumni are hosting reading series in their communities. All of my other reading dates and events can be found under the events section of my website, www.brianfanelli.com.

Congrats, too, on the NEPA BlogCon nomination for your blog. What do you hope to accomplish with your blog? Where else can readers find you online?
My blog started as a way to have a conversation about poetry and post various tidbits and news about what’s going on in the poetry world. I also use it as a space to post information about my own writing process and events happening in the local poetry community. There is a link to the blog on my website, or through the direct website: http://brianfanelli.wordpress.com/.

Online shoppers will find All That Remains available at Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

Nicholson interviews Campion

September 19, 2013

Inside the Writers’ Dojo:

An Interview with Christopher Campion

by Travis Nicholson

 

Chris Campion began training in the martial arts at eleven, when an Okinawan karate studio opened near his home. With the encouragement of mentors both “on the mats” and behind the typewriter, he has recently completed his debut novel The Jiu-Jitsu Bum (Northampton House, August 2013). He’s also published short fiction through Fiction365.com and East Meets West: American Writers Journal. I recently had a chance to catch up with Chris and get his thoughts on martial arts, life after publication, and Alec Baldwin.

Chris Campion

Chris Campion

Travis Nicholson: So, the big topic first. Tell us about your book.

Christopher Campion: It’s about redemption and second chances set amidst the seedier side of Scranton PA and its characters. I guess you could say it’s slightly noir. The protagonist has to fight not only himself but the world, which always seems to be against him. Practicing Jiu-Jitsu helps him come to accept his lot in life, which changes him mentally, physically, and even spiritually. Like anything in life, nothing is gained without losing something in the process. There are no clean new beginnings.

TN: How has your own experience with the martial arts helped shape your work?  Any experiences in a tournament or training you’d like to share?

CC: I practically grew up in a dojo, so martial arts and budo tenets were chiseled into my little brain. I’d like to credit my karate sensei of many years for that. He was not only my sensei but a real mentor whose advice kept me on the straight and narrow. Later in life, when I’d slip from time to time, I’d hear his voice in my head, and it’d get the wheels back on track. I guess that lasting effect is something I wanted to incorporate with my main character and the novel’s plot. I also wanted to inject some real life situations and people I’ve met through years of sweating on the mats. I did a couple Jiu-Jitsu/grappling tournaments, mostly in New Jersey. I didn’t do particularly well, but it was great experience. I remember this one guy caught me in a neck crank, and I literally heard my neck slowly pop a few times like popcorn. Another Brazilian guy cut my face open with his gi as he went for a choke. Things like that I put in the book. Other than the possibility of nasty injuries, it’s a real rush. You feel so alive after you compete that you never really want to come down from it. It’s certainly one of the best ways to see what you’re made of. Because of that, I knew I had to have a tournament scene in the novel.

 Campion2

TN: What’s next for Chris Campion? Working on anything new these days? Publicizing The Jiu-Jitsu Bum, maybe? What’s your strategy with Northampton House to get it in readers’ hands?

CC: Well, I’m always reading to build my vocab and overall familiarity with literature and the craft. I’ve been working on a couple short stories that I’d like to submit to competitions and journals. I’ve also been plotting a new novel, but I’m really taking my time on that. In fact, there might even be two or more novels in the making. I’ve got to sort everything out and see what I’ve got to work with. I want my next one to be a hundred times better than the last. I want it to have more of my own thoughts, experiences, and personal philosophies on the world. And of course, I want it to be well-written and have a page-turning plot. As for my marketing strategy, I watch Alec Baldwin’s Glengarry Glen Ross “art of selling” speech then cold call random names from the phone book. Just kidding. I’ve been trying to  get the word out about The Jiu-Jitsu Bum anyway I can through Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, LinkedIn, interviews, guest blogging, and hitting up anyone who’d be potentially interested in the book. It’s draining, but it must be done. It’s kind of nice stepping away from the seriousness of writing and learning a little bit about promoting something. I’m also in the process of trying to get in on more local readings. They’re always fun to do. But as I told another writer, I think the best way (so far) to get the word out is by simply telling people face to face about it, especially avid readers. Nothing seems to beat word of mouth. I’ve honestly gotten the most sales that way. But that’s just me. I don’t think ANYONE truly knows the best way to sell. You just have to get it out there and see what works.

TN: About six months ago you had an article about confidence published by The Write Life. Anything you want to add now that your novel is out there in the hands of strangers?

CC: I think at this point, I won’t have too many moments of doubt when it comes to writing. I think I hit a point where I was doubting myself and overanalyzing way too much. Looking back, that was kind of pointless because I’d already published five short stories and I had a bestselling author encouraging me. It’s kind of like that scene in The Last Samurai where the one samurai tells Tom Cruise’s character that he’s not winning because he has “too many mind.” Then he tells him to have “no mind” (to stop thinking about everything and everyone around him and just go with it) and that changed everything. Lately, I’ve just been writing from my gut. I know I’m not perfect and I know I still have so much to learn. But I’ve recently been writing with a lot confidence and not looking back. And I make sure I’m still having fun doing it. I think that’s how it should be. But it’s always some kind of a struggle. Writing has never really been “easy.”

TN: Here’s a fun one: Who would you cast in the movie version of your novel?

CC: George Clooney as Evan. Elisabeth Shue as Cindy (Evan’s wife). Jack, the oldest son, would be John Cena and the youngest son, Tim, would be played by Russell Brand. Victor, the sensei, would have to be Bas Rutten* – no doubt. Samuel L. Jacksonas Tyrone. Ginger, the street vixen, would have to be Charlize Theron. And I’d cast Anne Ramseyfrom Throw Momma From The Train as Sherry (Evan’s mother) but she died a few years back, unfortunately.

*Bas Rutten is a world-renowned mixed martial artist who has recently made the transition into acting

TN: How did the Wilkes Low-Residency Creative Writing Program help you accomplish your goal of publication?

CC: Wilkes and everyone involved taught me (both directly and indirectly) everything. Coming into the program, I had so many holes in my writing ability; I was so naïve about the publishing industry; and I was especially naïve on how hard I’d have to work to create something worth publishing. But Wilkes changed all that. It exposed me to so many authors and perspectives on literature that I was simply oblivious to. It taught me to trust my visceral instinct when it came to feeling a story coming on. Plus, my cohort, The Mobies, was just awesome because we were all serious but could laugh at one another too. I wouldn’t change meeting them for the world. And I have to give mad props to my mentor David Poyer who took me under his dragon-like wing and made me think like a serious novelist. I could have never imagined learning so much from him and accomplishing the things I did from his constant encouragement and corrections. So when it came time to publish with him (at Northampton House Press), I was already in a serious mindset and had no problem meeting deadlines and getting things as flawless as possible. Plus, David always gave me the confidence to write like myself. From day one, David treated me very seriously and the time with him was intense (to say the least) but he taught me how to fearlessly stand on my own two feet and to become a dedicated and professional writer. In all, I don’t think I could have learned everything I did, immersed myself in the writing life, and had that kind of personal attention anywhere else than Wilkes. It’s just an awesome program.

Bum Check out the novel at Amazon.com

TN: Any final thoughts you’d like to share with your potential readers?

If you’re looking for a book that has some literary elements but some heavy/noir moments along with nasty fight scenes, then I think The Jiu-Jitsu Bum will be right up your alley. I’m toying with a sequel and I’m also outlining (slowly) two other novels. I’m always plotting a short story or two. There are so many sides to me besides the martial arts in terms of views on the world and personal philosophy and I’m really looking forward to incorporating that sort of thing in my future works, whether they are martial-arts themed or not. I think every writer secretly wants to achieve that. In closing, I’d like to thank The Write Life for this enjoyable interview. Wilkes has always been there for me and the teachers, staff, and students are extremely exceptional people. I could never have achieved the things I have without them.

Time of the Locust by Morowa Yejidé

August 14, 2013

It’s always great to share news of our alumni, but it’s especially great to share news of forthcoming first novel publications.

Morowa Yejidé

Morowa Yejidé

“When you work so hard at something and constantly dream and strategize about it and then you finally do get a YES, it’s hard to believe it,” Morowa Yejidé said. “That was my initial reaction to hearing that my novel, Time of the Locust, was going to be published by Atria/Simon & Schuster. Disbelief.” The Wilkes alum said the premise of her novel had been floating around her mind for several years before she even put pen to paper. It’s the story of an autistic boy living in the universe of his mind and his supernatural relationship with his incarcerated father.

Prior to focusing on her thesis, Morowa had a few sample chapters that were published as short stories. With that early success and encouragement, she took the project further. “I decided to give a complete manuscript a serious effort through the Wilkes MFA. The faculty really seemed to be in the trenches as working writers—which was what attracted me to the program,” she said. “I listened to Robert Mooney read one of his powerful, visually-driven narratives and knew right away I wanted to work with him as my Faculty Mentor.”

Morowa was determined to strengthen the story, but she was also eager to have an audience. “I continued revisions along the way, working with Mooney, sending the manuscript out, sort of building the plane while I was flying it. After many rejections from various agents and publishing houses large and small, I decided to try some national competitions.” That’s when she began making headway. “Time of the Locust placed as a finalist in the 2012 PEN/Bellwether Prize and the Dana Awards.”

The Wilkes alum had already seen success in other venues. Her short stories have appeared in the Istanbul Literary Review, Ascent Aspirations Magazine, Underground Voices, the Adirondack Review, and others. One of her stories had been nominated for a Pushcart Prize, too, but she still wanted the book manuscript to strike a chord with publishers. Once she had the selling point as a finalist for the PEN/Bellwether Prize and the Dana Awards, Morowa took another chance. “I sent out more queries. The rest is, as they say, history. Time of the Locust is forthcoming Spring 2014.”

More about Morowa Yejidé can be found on her website at http://morowayejide.com.


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