Why We Write: Sheila Frye-Matragrano

Q1. What inspires your creativity?

 

I watch people. I eavesdrop. I ask personal questions. (Somehow I still get invited to parties.) Lots of my stories are inspired by personal events, but I combine characters, exaggerate situations, leave things out or just change them all together to stick with my theme. Usually, by the time I am done with the story I can’t remember what is true and what I made up.

 

Q2. What conditions do you like to write in?

 

I need quiet and solitude, usually in the morning with a cup of coffee, or at night with a glass of wine.

 

Q3. Are there any authors that you most strive to be like and why?

 

I admire Barbara Kingsolver’s ability to write distinctive voices, as she did in The Poisonwood Bible. I also admire Andre Dubus for his ability to write so well from the perspective of men, women and children. I strive to make ordinary people and common situations poignant, like Fred Busch manages to do in many of his short stories. I try not to imitate anyone, though, because then I lose my own voice.

 

Q4. What is your favorite book and why?

 

I love any book in which I get so caught up I forget I am reading. If this doesn’t happen, I find myself analyzing the author’s choices. I prefer an escape. My favorite book changes depending on my mood, and my age. When I was young my favorite book was Lillian Hellman’s memoir Pentimento: A Book of Portraits, mostly because I wanted to live a life like hers (even though it was probably more fiction than memoir.) I read Louise Erdich’s books Love Medicine and Beet Queen almost 25 years ago and still remember some of the scenes. I really enjoyed the historical novel Ahab’s Wife: Or, The Star-Gazer by Sena Jeter Naslund. My most recent escape was The Tiger’s Wife by Tea Obreht. I love her unique sense of language.

 

Q5. Do you have any tips about the writing process?

 

Write honestly, even if it frightens you.

Why We Write: Gigi Papoulias

Q1. What inspires your creativity?

Besides my own memories and experiences, I am influenced by what I see/hear/feel every day. Life in Athens has always been filled with contradictions, dualities. I see this everywhere – because of the current financial crisis and its dismal consequences, these opposing degrees of reality are felt even more so. Observing and experiencing this often inspires ideas for a narration, a story…

Q2. What conditions do you like to write in? Standing on your head, sitting on the bus, eaves dropping at a party…

I was in a busy Starbucks recently and observed all the people with laptops, tapping away, totally immersed in their work… I am always amazed at this ability to block out the noisy world and just focus on doing your thing. When I’m writing, I need to be completely alone and completely unplugged… No noise or outside distractions. I quietly enter my own odd little writing world; sitting at my desk, surrounded by my books, slurping iced coffee, chewing on the straw, then crunching the leftover ice, typing, pausing, swirling around in my swivel chair while pondering a word or a phrase, making the appropriate sound effects after coming up with a particularly nice sentence (BAM! or Ppp-shhh!)… or after deleting a particularly bad paragraph (wah-WA)… I think it would be quite embarrassing if I acted like this at Starbucks…

Q3. Are there any writers that you most strive to be like and why?

There are a lot of writers that I admire but I can’t say I strive to be like them. When I read a piece that I like, I try to use it as a sort of spark to get my own ideas going – how would I have approached this topic? We all have unique abilities and talents; our own perspective on the world. I strive to continue improving my own writing, and see what new ideas emerge.

Q4. What is your favourite book and why?

Too many to mention really but some writing and authors that have always remained with me: the book The Yacoubian Building by Alaa Al Aswany; the poems of C.P. Cavafy; the book Report to Greco by Nikos Kazantzakis; the writing of David Sedaris…

Q5. Do you have any tips about the writing process?

Well, I can only tell you what has worked for me. I’ve found that it helps to surround myself with like-minded writers. I take classes. I listen. I keep an open mind. In a writing workshop or class, I take into serious account the critiques/comments about my writing – and I don’t take anything personally.

I read only what inspires me.

Figure out what works for you – so many times I read advice like ‘the golden rule is to write every day!’ I never write every day. It just doesn’t work for me. In reality, the key is to take all this ‘advice’ into consideration, maybe give things a try and see what ‘fits’ into your own writing process…

Why We Write: Irving Greenfield

Q1. What inspires your creativity?

Any of the four conflicts that make up a story.

Q2. What conditions do you like to write in? Standing on your head, sitting on the bus, eaves dropping at a party…

When I was younger, I tried to emulate Hemingway. But I discovered Hemingway was Hemingway and I am me. I had no choice but to remain with me and improve upon upon myself.

Q3. Are there any writers that you most strive to be like and why?

Too many to list.

Q4. What is your favourite book and why?

I don’t really have a favorite book. I reread Moby Dick seven times, War And Peace an equal number and many others.

Q5. Do you have any tips about the writing process?

Keep your eye on the end of the your story; that way you will have someplace to go to, a journey to complete.

Why We Write: Curtis Heaven

If you were to ask me about how I decided to become that struggling author who submits work after work, knowing that he’ll never get anywhere, I wouldn’t know where to begin. It could be because of the deaths in my family that kick-started my fetish for writing emotionally powerful stories or spending a summer course with Dr. Jaime Poissant and seeing all of my classmates encounter shell shock when reading my gory short story about a psychotic mechanic.

You could choose either one, I’ll leave it to you. When I sit at my laptop trying to think of new and extremely irrelevant ways to make my characters concern the reader, a glass of whiskey always helps. Reinventing painful memories from my past seem to force my fingers to move and create. Unfortunately, sometimes it goes on for so long that I find myself having to backspace to get rid of “l;s;oidgn;oang” and other random strings of text that occur when your face gains weight from the warmth of alcohol. I think that may be my strongest connection with other writers, the love for something that evokes emotion and creative flow. I don’t really concern myself with being like a specific author but rather like all of them. Taking all of their skills and creating my own self is what I hope for.

Before you ask, no, I don’t have a favorite book. There is no chance in hell that a true lover of literature could name a favorite book, period. The occasional reader (usually the ones who prefer the movie versions) may say something like The Hunger Games or Twilight. I’m not taking any credibility away from these novels, but a true reader, loves them all for each quality they have.

If I were to give a tip to aspiring authors and even those making millions it would be, “Never give up, never surrender”. You shouldn’t have to ask why.

Why We Write: Albe Harlow

Q1. What inspires your creativity?

I’m not exactly sure what causes one to produce art. At the risk of being reductive, I’ll say that I have a great human desire to avoid entropic oblivion.

Q2. What conditions do you like to write in? Standing on your head, sitting on the bus, eaves dropping at a party…

Alone, sometimes amidst a crowd, often with a drink. (Invocations of solipsism are incidental.)

Q3. Are there any writers that you most strive to be like and why?

The question is a bit too vague for my taste in relation to the infinitive. Carving out a market for one’s personal style seems to be a process of riffing and imitating, consciously and unconsciously. My first imitations were poetry and proverb, hewed as the sorts of things I’ve come to loathe: the sugary, the lyrical, the cute, the positive, lush with rhyme and symmetry. I venture to assert that this kind of drivel is not uncommon among young persons inclined to write.

Q4. What is your favourite book and why?

After reading The Sun Also Rises for the first time, I put my shoes on. Maybe I’d eaten lunch and then put my shoes on. Anyway, I went about my business and did not think of the book. Over the course of about eight years, the occasional memory of some exotic adventure passed through my mind. It occurred to me as a blend of fiction and lived experience, an ephemera of emotion and color and smells, the feeling of a place to which I hadn’t ever been; a flash of red, the taste of fresh trout and vinos de la tierra, a jolt of acceleration over the dark Seine, a wrinkled nose, lovely and odious; eventually, these memories had grown into something of a private myth. One day I was scanning or cleaning my bookshelf when I came upon Hemingway’s novel. Immediately, the lighting in my mind changed: a lazy Spanish countryside day, an adrenaline-lashed Parisian night. I set the novel aside for another read, aware of its relationship to my strange recollections. After I was done, I wrote the first draft of my novel in four months. It might go without saying that the initial manuscript was a Pernod-informed disaster, but when writers talk about that first time, I’m personally reminded of The Sun Also Rises.

Q5. Do you have any tips about the writing process?

I am not sure that I’m in the position to give others advice. If I was speaking with a close friend, I’d tell them what’s worked for me: write more, read constantly and shed pretension like sweat in a Jamaican summer; in a tautological sense, anything integral to voice will survive the purge.

Why We Write: Amit Herlekar

Q1. What inspires your creativity?

On the top of my head, I’d say, good books, movies, situations which I find disturbing, personal experiences and, eye catching words, phrases or lines. When any of these trigger a train of passionate thoughts, they become the potential for my creativity – food for my writing. In fact, they trouble my mind so badly that I am at ease only when I let them out in writing. It keeps my mind and soul very healthy.

Q2. What conditions do you like to write in? Standing on your head, sitting on the bus, eaves dropping at a party…

I need absolute silence (along with a hot cup of tea, if available). It helps me to be all alone with my thoughts so that I can concentrate better. Mostly, I draft my work in my blog when I am on the laptop. Thanks to its technology; it saves my work on every key press. Also, I have kept notepads both at work as well as at my home. They help me a great deal when my laptop is away. Thanks to my smartphone; I use it to save my thoughts whenever I am on short trips. I know how annoying it is when my mind comes up with something and I don’t have anything to write it up as there is a constant fear that the thought may get lost in the very next instant. It is as good as being handicapped.

Q3. Are there any writers that you most strive to be like and why?

No, I don’t strive to be like other writers. Every writer has his/her own style. Having said that, I always admire works by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Mary Shelley, Ayn Rand and Jeffery Archer. Basically I like any work which emits ardent intelligence and power. To me, reading a book is not only to enjoy the story, but also to understand the art that makes it so beautiful.

Q4. What is your favourite book and why?

That’s a tough question. I have few favourite books by different authors. But, I love all the books of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Because, as I said, Sherlock Holmes exhibits tremendous intelligence which he often regards as “Elementary!” There is not only intelligence; the conversations Watson and Holmes hold in the rooms at 221b Baker Street, make me live with them. The way the stories are articulated, I think it’s just sheer brilliance.

Q5. Do you have any tips about the writing process?

Hmm, OK. I don’t think I am fully entitled to answer this because I am a budding writer myself. I will just share my process of writing. Don’t write just because you always want to write. Make sure the idea has stuff in it. If you think the idea is good enough, then scribble down the first lines that spark in your head. Once all the thoughts are captured on paper, articulate them and then chisel them until the written piece looks perfect to you. It’s like a giant boulder given to you and you are the sculptor. You work until you make a monument out of it. That said, you will also learn the virtues of perseverance and patience.