Friday, June 6, 2014

"My Writing Process Blogtour" June 7th, 2014

The day California Chrome runs for the Triple Crown in the Belmont Stakes.  And yes, I met my bookie this morning over breakfast in a diner.  He had a muffin and I, a greek omelet.  I pick my horses with pure gut, just as I did on my father's knee, 47 years ago.  Yes, I've been picking horses for 47 years.

This blog tour is a barrel of monkeys of one artist asking others to blog on process, and it just may go on for long enough to amass thousands of writers jotting down notes on their habits.  Here we go.

Q: What am I working on?
The truth is I don't like to talk about what I'm working on, not now.  I am working on my third book. I've just published a chapter in the Ocean State Review, thanks to the advocacy of writer Nancy Caronia's scholarship of my work.    Here's the link:

Q: How does my work differ from others in the genre?
My book "L is for Lion" (SUNY PRESS) takes on a vast array of subjects through 40 odd years of my life and three generations.  Other memoirs focus on a theme of life, a slice of life.  Examples:  Michael Klein's "Track Conditions."  Augustin Burrough's "Running With Scissors."  Anchee Min's "Red Azalea."  Reynaldo Arenas' "Before Night Falls."  Honor Molloy's "Smarty Girl"    I think the push in memoir is to focus on a theme.  Burroughs writes serial memoirs.  In the first, his father is a minor character, to be taken head on in the second book.  I am aware that I could have made "L is for Lion" into two or three thematic books of memoir.  Instead, it is structured in five sections.  I took it on with the principles and craft of narrative, and the vastness of autobiography.

Q: Why do I write what I do?
I write everything in my consciousness.  Family characters loom large.  I face family history that is painful and gut-wrenching, and yet I must write these stories.  There is an imperative.  I can joyfully write songs walking in the garden or bicycling along the river.. but the memoir writing requires much more awesome tasks, verification, filing, dealing with family artifacts, and painful truths.  There is no alternative.  It's not the life I imagined as a child.  Perhaps not Oprah's vision of your "A-side" life.  But here I am, making beauty through words out of the memory of shards.

Q: How does my writing process work?
I wrote my heart out for decades.  In the 1980's, I picked up a St. Mark's Place Poetry Calendar and saw an ad for "One on One Workshops - with Denya Cascio"   I liked her name.  I liked the idea of "one on one"  I studied with her for several years.  Her exercises on newsprint with colored pastels and pens and objects and tarot cards unleashed my imagination.  She brought me into her community of writers where I met: Ruth Danon, Michael Klein, and others and began to teach writing and perform at open mics in NYC.

My path goes on from there: to Sarah Lawrence with the writing mentorship of Joe Papaleo, who took me to the Italian American Writers Association....  Joe taught me this about process: "Seat of the pants in the chair.  When you wake up, start writing before you brush your teeth, before anything." And its been brute hours of working class mentality ever since.  A hard road.  No easy breaks. Decades of labor.  Working every connection until a door opened, and by then, having lost all: relationships, housing, health, savings, anything....But a door did open in the form of a book contract with SUNY PRESS thanks to the advocacy of Joanna Clapps Herman and her husband Bill Herman to Joanna's editor James Peltz.

The steadfast peer editing by writer Rosette Capotorto, made the book bloom over our year of editing into 300 odd pages of beauty.  The miracle you see has many friends names along the way. And stacks of books read since infancy.

"The thousand hour pencil" my uncle Stanley Maltzman told me, when I asked him, an artist, what is the best kind of pencil to sketch with?  And so I would say the same.  "The thousand hour chair."

  • The thousand hour chair
  • the emptying of oneself and one's soul
  • the trust of paper 
  • the fast typing fingers trained by nuns
  • the belief that my story can save me and save others
  • the rapture of books on my mind
  • the walking in gardens
  • the hours weeks months years alone at the pages
  • the keeping of files
  • the keeping of errant notes
  • the lugging of 100 pounds of notes cross country to retreats.
  • the letter writing to and from Marc Choyt about our work over the decades.
  • the friendship of other writers and artists of all stripes.
  • the help of my mother putting a roof over my head
  • all I've learned from every lover, every woman is a teacher to me
  • my long partnership with Audrey Kindred, life long in all its manifestations.
  • the companionship of my dog gods Scaramooch and Cherub
  • coffee, chemo, lung meds, anti-depressants, anti-anxiety
  • jobs here and there, paychecks here and there.
  • air
  • trips to the desert
  • hundreds of notebooks filled
  • visits to the Beineke to hold Gertrude Stein's notebooks and Whitman's letters
  • the companionship of books
  • when I dive into the writing, I am submerged, I am scuba diving, I will barely come up for air.  I've never had balance.  Just hard work like cutting stone.
Q: Who is next on the blogtour?
Audrey Kindred, Clare Ultimo, Melissa Sutaris