Saturday, November 22, 2014

Literary Tag

I've been lucky enough to know author, playwright, and professor Stephen Gutierrez for nearly fifteen years. He is my mentor and friend, fellow Mexicano, and Fresno survivor. I love his unapologetic style and his ability to make me more deeply consider my roots. Thanks for tagging me, Steve!

What are you working on?

Many things. I’ve discovered that I suffer from ADD in my writing life. Which is odd because I’m quite organized, efficient, and linear in my non-writing life. Several pots (and plots) on the stove at once, an author friend once told me. I’ll take it. At least I’m writing, no? Two big projects, novel-length projects are the heavies—one about three generations of women on my mother’s side, the other about a serial killer in my family. The first is a beast because it is historical, political in scope. I find myself shying away from (re)writing its pages because of its sheer size. I am in love with the characters and their lives—my great-great grandmother, my great-grandmother, and my grandmother and so they inspire me to keep going. The second is completely different, sexier because of its subject matter, harder to imagine, but exciting because it takes on many points of view—the killer, his victims, their families, the locations, the evidence—and I feel it stretches me as a writer to crawl into their skin, to see the world, the crimes, from their perspectives.

A few other pots on my stove are personal essays, short stories, a bit of flash fiction. Also, residency and fellowship applications and essays, setting up my website, researching literary journals and submitting my work, entering contests and using their guidelines as writing prompts.

In any given writing session I am working on all of these, getting bored, getting inspired, getting scared and so move on to the next project that feels warm, has signs of life.

How does your work differ from others in its genre?

In my conversations with other writers about genre I realize I am quite liberal in my definition of the term. Rather, I don’t care about it, choose not to acknowledge it. The word feels restrictive, prescriptive, and the last thing I want to think about when I finally get my butt in the chair. Isn’t our writing already working against so many other things fighting for priority? Those unanswered work emails, piles of week-old clean laundry sitting on the bedroom floor, the dog staring at you like a stranger, the unpacked suitcase from that trip you took last month. I write in that dreamy space where fact and fiction collide. I write about stuff that actually happened and I make shit up along the way. It’s all mixed up and that uncertainty is where I love to be. I feel most free as a writer in this space so I always go there.

Why do you write what you do?

My subject matter haunts me. It is something my younger self couldn’t process or comprehend but my adult self wants to dissect and understand. It is incomplete stories with no way of being made complete except with the help of my imagination. It is complete stories in need of different endings, new characters. It is something my adult self thinks a lot about, obsesses about, snippets of an argument, almost lovers, poor decisions. My mother recently told me she cannot read my stories completely, only snatches of paragraphs here and there, because all she sees is my pain, my pain relived, and it is too much for her to bear. I said to her, “it is not painful, mama, it is my joy, it feels good, it doesn’t hurt.” She said, “it’s good, it’s a way for you to process what has happened to you. I just can’t read it.” So there is this.

How does your writing process work?

A bit haphazardly, all over the place, sometimes inefficiently. I don’t outline (but maybe I should). I sometimes know of certain moments I’d like to happen in a story and sometimes they do. I generally don’t know how things will end or what the title of a piece will be. I like experimenting with form so will try the same stories inside different boxes. I’m learning to revise. I like to let stories sit for a while and then come back to them. They look something like outlines when I return to them and I go back and fill in the parts I missed the first time around. When I’m in it, tackling one of those novel-length projects for instance, it’s very slow, almost uncomfortable. I’d like to learn how to write with more abandon on a first draft. I don't want to self-edit myself out of inspiration. Working on this. When it’s working there is definitely a rhythm, a beat. When it is working my eyes close and I sometimes sob and my fingers just move, as if the story has already been told and I am only here to write it down. It is physical and it is often beyond me.

You're it!
I'm not sure how Sara Mumolo does it: mother, poet, wife, idea machine, one kick-ass boss and administrator of the arts. She's been my personal poetry guru as I try to learn the art. I love her commitment to the feminine in her work. I love her commitment.