Many thanks to Kirsten Imani Kasai for inviting me to participate in the “My Writing Process Blog Tour.” Please click here to read Kirsten’s articulate and thoughtful Q&A last week, and to find out more about her amazing work.
Q&A with Michelle Augello-Page
1) What am I working on?
I am currently working on a poetry chapbook which I plan to submit for publication, so my primary focus recently has been creating and revising poems which form a collective arc, a journey, as inspired by the myth of Persephone, the Tarot, and the life/death/life cycle of love relationships. Once the chapbook is completed, I plan on immersing myself in writing short fiction. I have at least a dozen ideas for stories that I put on hold in order to complete the chapbook, and many other stories that are in various states of completion. After the publication of my book Into the Woods a few months ago, I knew that I wanted to move forward and expand even more in my fiction writing. In many ways, a collected publication of one’s work is the end of something. However, I know that the end of one cycle is only the beginning of another. I wanted to take some space from storytelling to wrestle and fall in love with language again in its purest, most distilled form. Poetry was my first love, and it’s the place I instinctively turn for reawakening, renewal, and regeneration. Poetry is the essence, the heart, of all my writing. I’m really happy with the way the chapbook is coming together, and I will be sad when it is completed. But it’s a great feeling to know that after it is completed, there are so many other things waiting to be written. As much as I love the project I’m working on, I’m always very excited to begin a new writing cycle.
2) How does my work differ from others of its genre?
Because I write and publish in different genres, I don’t fit neatly into a box. There are both benefits and drawbacks to labeling oneself in a certain way and keeping within a specific genre. Some of the benefits include fitting into a group or a community who will support your work, keeping a specific focus in your writing, and being able to reach readers who look for new work based on the genre they like to read. Some of the drawbacks to identifying with a certain genre include stagnation, limitation, subscribing to stereotypes, and furthering the hierarchy and misappropriation of all writers through genre.
For example, many people feel that “literary fiction” writers are somehow smarter and more relevant than “erotic romance” writers. Of course this couldn’t be further from the truth. Truly the only distinction between the two genres lies in the way that sex is represented. Some people say that erotica’s biggest crime is that, in this genre, the characters actually enjoy sex. Though I feel there is some truth to that joke, I think that erotica writers are generally much more cognizant about the power sex holds and how this power manifests in our relationships, and they consciously use sex as a lens to explore how we relate deeply to ourselves and others.
Nevertheless, inherent in this bias is the fact that “literary fiction” writers tend to be published in “respectable” (i.e. academic, scholarly, traditional, high paying) journals and receive book deals from more traditional publishing houses (which are able to promote to the public more successfully, giving wider distribution and more money to the writer). They are also more likely to receive associate and tenured professorships, giving them a monetary cushion in academia while they pursue their writing. This is only one example. In some genres, only one gender or race dominates the scene, making it harder for writers in the minimized role to be seen and heard because of the stereotype. This can also apply to writers who are marginalized in the dominant culture, where their “otherness” is directed into genres which only serve to reinforce their outsider status. I see this prejudice and inequality among writers as a problem that seems based directly in genre.
My philosophy has always been to write first, and try to find the “fit” later, because genre really only comes into play when one is trying to publish his/her work and needs to find a way to present it to the world. I have never set out to write a genre-specific story or poem. During the process of writing, I am only interested in the act of creation and bringing ideas, concepts, and images to light through language.
One of the reasons I started Siren is because I wanted to create the type of publication that didn’t exist for me, a place where I would have loved to send my work, a place for writers and artists who were interested in pursing their craft in edgy and experimental ways that didn’t necessarily fit into the mainstream or subscribe to a genre box. My book, Into the Woods, is a collection of dark erotic fiction stories that could have been labeled in a number of different ways. Upon publication, the book was labeled “fiction and literature” because that is a general, all encompassing term. One of the reasons why I was so happy to work with Onerios Books is because they are a genre-less specific publishing collective, interested in quality writing and art that both explores and expands our traditional views about the kind of art we create, the meaningfulness of what we write without regard to finding a box to put it in, and how we publish and share work through new and non-traditional paths.
3) Why do I write what I do?
I feel that this question is really asking, “who are you?” I write the things I do because of who I am, and I’m aware that this answer is both simple and complex. I write to explore my interests, my obsessions, my questions, my world. I write about the things that drive me to write.
There seems to be a very high level of control assumed in this question that I don’t think writers necessarily have. Writers channel dreams and visions into language. It is true that they sublimate real experiences into their work because no writer lives in a vacuum. But when you are dealing with creative and imaginative writing, it is necessary to open yourself up to many things that none of us, and that includes the writer, truly understands. I often say that writing is a type of seeing, more than anything else. I think of “revision” is a literal re-vision, a re-seeing. Writers develop a kind of inner-vision, and in the process of writing they are touching upon something very real that is also very magical and mysterious.
In her Q&A last week, Kirsten Imani Kasai said something that really resonated with me. She said, “Storytelling is a collaborative effort between me and the characters who need to speak – I act as an interpreter of dreams and the hidden world.” Yes.
The way we engage this process is dependent on who we are, and the results are specific to who we are. Throughout my life, I’ve been intrigued and drawn to certain aspects of the world. I have always been drawn to reading. I have always felt a great love for books. This was something within me that I nurtured, but one might also say that it was nurtured because it was within me. I’ve always loved fairy tales, mythology, folk tales – stories of deep archetypal truths that have been carried down from generation to generation. I’ve always been drawn to art that is sensual and erotic, surreal and dark, because I recognize something in myself there. As a woman and a mother, I have a deep feminine consciousness. I am also drawn to writing that is not typically considered “creative” and I love learning and exploring psychology, philosophy, science, history, and religion. All of these things contribute to who I am and what I write.
I know that my entire life has prepared me for the path of being a writer. Yet, I still can’t truly explain why when I walk into a bookstore or a library, or any place where books dominate the space, my entire being goes “ah” … I’m home. This is how I’ve felt from the time I was a child.
4) How does my writing process work?
There are many different ways that I engage my writing process. Probably the first and most important way is by reading. Reading good work by other writers is a great way to immerse yourself in the craft, and to expand and grow in your own work. Reading can inspire and challenge you. Reading teaches you how writing has been done and it shows you the potential that has been reached so far. When I read good work, I am excited, enthralled, invigorated. I am invested in learning. What I get from reading, I bring into my own work, with one eye on what’s been done and the other eye in the realm of what’s next. I am not interested in doing what has been done before or what I already know works. I want to explore further and to push myself further, and reading helps me find inspiration from those who have (or had) similar motivations.
Another part of my process is thinking. I am not the type of writer who does a lot of preliminary writing. I do a lot of preliminary thinking. I’ve noticed that often when I am thinking of a story or a character or a poem or an idea, I tend to draw. Oftentimes, these drawings are very strange maps of my thoughts, almost like a blueprint from the non-verbal side of my mind. Art is essential to my creative process, and I am constantly inspired by visual art, music, and the natural world of the environment. I also write in a journal nearly every day, and I find it both necessary and important. I need the tangible act of writing and drawing with a pen and paper as much as I need the sensory stimulation of typing on a keyboard. Journal writing helps me try to figure out what I am doing with my life and my work, and it is the place where I practice deep, stream of consciousness thinking.
Beyond that, my writing process is simply finding long stretches of time to write. I use short stretches of time for revising, refining, editing, and sending out work. But as far as creating and generating work, there is really nothing like sheer unaccounted-for time to write. Between working for money and carrying the responsibilities of a family, I have to find time to write. Sometimes I steal time to write. Sometimes I will stay up all night writing, knowing that I will suffer the next day. Sometimes I will ask my kids to give me space, and I’ll be at the computer typing frantically all day on a saturday afternoon. But no matter how I get there, when I am there, I am there. I allow myself to fall into it, whatever “it” is. I am still amazed that I will be working on something and then look at the clock to see that hours have passed. Where was I during this time? What experience has moved through me? Though I am very interested in why and how this happens, I think at this stage I have just completely given myself over to it. I am open and receptive. I am there to discover, to learn. I am there because I have no choice but to be there. It is beyond me. Long ago, I accepted this gift, and it has both blessed and cursed my life. Every day, I accept the gift; I am so grateful for it.
Next week, June 23, 2014, the “My Writing Process Blog Tour” continues with writers Eric Nash and Lucy Taylor, who will answer these same questions from their own unique perspectives. Be sure to visit the sites below to read their insight into the writing process.
Eric Nash lives amid chaos in the south-west of England. On occasion, he escapes to his laptop and writes something dark or wicked. He has discovered that he rather enjoys editing and is looking to attend a self-help group to address this issue. Eric’s short fiction has been published in various digital and print anthologies. He is currently writing his first novel. Read Eric’s interview at eanash.wordpress.com
Lucy Taylor is the author of seven novels, including Dancing with Demons, Spree, Nailed, Saving Souls, Eternal Hearts, and the Stoker-award winning The Safety of Unknown Cities. Her stories have appeared in over a hundred magazines and anthologies, including The Mammoth Book of Historical Erotica, The Best of Cemetery Dance, Twentieth Century Gothic, The Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror, and the Century’s Best Horror Fiction. Lucy lives in Pismo Beach, CA, where she volunteers with cat rescue organization, attends Buddhist retreats, and plots daring escapes to exotic and fantastical places. Read Lucy’s interview at darkfantasy.us