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Lisa Taylor will be on the panel titled She Did What? Weaving the Elements of Fiction into a Story. She was interviewed by Ellen Meeropol.

Why did you become a writer? When did the writing bug first bite you?

I began writing at age 12 (sixth grade). We had a poetry lesson in Miss Van Dyke’s class and I wrote a poem called The Storm. The last lines were: The storm was a menace/it made the ships tilt/but as for the sea/it felt no guilt. She put my poem up on the bulletin board and told me I was a poet. I continued to write regularly in my journal after that. I went on to win first prize regionally and nationally in the National Scholastic Writing Awards at age 17. It was another teacher, Mr. Lyons, who entered my poems in the contest. If not for these dedicated teachers encouraging me, I’m not sure I would have continued. I was late to publish and late to give my writing the energy it needed. In my last career (before adjunct work), I was a grant writer and writer-in-residence in schools. I also taught in the creative writing department of an arts magnet high school. I’m grateful every day that I made the decision to go back to school and get my MFA fourteen years ago. The mentors I had and the relationships I made continue to enrich my life.

For you, what’s the most rewarding part of being a writer? The most frustrating?

There is no feeling comparable to being in the “zone” or having a good writing day. I don’t believe in writer’s block but there are definitely days when words flow easily and days when it is a struggle. Writing is like breathing for me; I have to do it. The most frustrating part of being a writer is the marketing, submitting to magazines, and lining up events. I love doing readings, panels, or workshops; I just hate organizing them. I prefer to promote other writers. Those of us who publish with small presses take on a lot of the marketing. We do it because we believe that writing needs to be in the world and we want these literary presses to survive. I know my publisher (Arlen House) puts nearly everything back in the press so my success will ensure another worthy writer can be published.

How do you balance writing time, with the rest of your life? With political activism, the need to earn a living, the need to stay sane in a crazy world.

Finding time for writing is necessary. I’m in the process of developing a daily discipline after finishing the book, but activism, family obligations, and my teaching all take time. One thing that helps is to remind myself that writing is a form of activism. Words are powerful and they are one way we can move a culture forward.

At this year’s conference, you’ll be on the “She Did What? Weaving the Elements of Fiction into a Story” panel and will be focussing on plot. This is a craft element that many writers have trouble with. Can you explain to us how you approach plot in your stories?

I struggle with the idea of plot as somehow separate from character. In my fiction, plot is character. A character voice comes to me and I follow it down the road, into the coffee shop, or up the mountain. My process is all about character. If I cannot hear a character’s voice, I don’t have a story. I trust the character to reveal the complications of his or her life. Of course I throw obstacles in the path but only after I have developed the character voice. One rule I teach my students is that a character must somehow change by the end of the story. I also teach that emotional truth rules over literal truth – that is, it must feel authentic even if it is preposterous. Rising action, falling action, denouement, and resolution can be subtle. Some stories play out backwards. Some characters end up worse off because of the action of the story. What is important is that protagonists are altered in some way.

I’ve had the pleasure of reading your new collection of short stories. Tell us a bit about the collection, and about the title, IMPOSSIBLY SMALL SPACES.

IMPOSSIBLY SMALL SPACES was born out of the idea that many of us periodically find ourselves in tight spots, literally or figuratively. In the title story, Hildy locks a man in an airplane bathroom because he interrupts her while she is vaping. The confinement is symbolic of her emotional state, her feeling of being trapped in her life after her mother’s death from alcoholism. The varied characters that embody my stories often create obstacles for themselves or they rail against the obstacles imposed upon them by the world. In BABY ANGEL, a girl is chosen by a pre-adoptive family only to be returned when the supposedly infertile foster mother becomes pregnant. Enid displays lasting damage but also resilience, and humor. I am drawn to non-conforming characters and unconventional solutions to the problems they invite. I also fly a lot, which might explain why airplanes are featured in this collection.

You write both poetry and fiction. How do you decide what form an idea will take?

Currently I am dwelling exclusively in the world of fiction. Maybe it is the landscape of the country that has led me deeper into my imagination. I don’t go back and forth between fiction and poetry though I admire writers who can do this. Occasionally a situation will warrant a poem but that is rare these days. I do believe that my training in poetry has made me pay attention to detail, image, and metaphor. I also favor stories that open to a larger truth at the end. This probably comes from my love of poetry. I honor white space and believe that what you don’t say is important too.

What are you working on now?

I’ve returning to the novel I’ve been working on for three years. It came out of a short story in my GROWING A NEW TAIL collection. I knew this character had a great deal more to say. I’m currently on the third draft of the novel. I continue to write short stories and I have also written creative nonfiction, mostly personal essays. A couple of these have been published in online magazines.

How can we find you online?

You can find me on Twitter @dreamingchange, Instagram, Facebook, or my website. I hope to see you at a reading or event.

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HollyWrenSpauldingThe following interview with Holly Wren Spaulding was conducted by Liz Bedell, moderator of the Doing What You Love panel at this year’s WriteAngles conference.

Why did you become a writer? When did the writing bug first bite you?
I arrived in this world with writer’s DNA hidden in my cells, and because I grew up in a home full of books and readers and artists, my tendencies were encouraged. Without a TV to hold our attention, we were encouraged to entertain ourselves by making stuff up, drawing, acting, dancing it and making-believe. This served me well.

I wrote my first full-blown story (with chapters!) at age nine: my mother typed while I dictated an adventure tale about a girl who travels to Moscow to study ballet. In high school I was lucky enough to work with a poet through an Artist in the Schools program. The experience of finding my artistic kin was definitive. He was my first mentor and helped me begin my formal education as a poet

What is the most rewarding part of being a writer?
While there are real hazards to making one’s life in art, I wake up every day feeling so glad that I get to do this all day long. I’m free. I’m not in traffic, and I’m not spending my days in a big climate controlled office building, serving some corporation. As I see it, each day that’s my own, and each day that’s not owned by someone else, is a victory against all of the ways that it’s possible to waste my life.

Then there’s the reward (small, usually private, very quiet and very dear) of the poem itself. And that is another essential freedom. With poems I’m learning to live better by paying attention, by looking close, and by making the time to attend my experience with every part of myself.

The most frustrating?
Working for myself is existentially challenging. The frustration is how much of my life force goes into managing the uncertainty of my economic condition, and into reminding myself that it matters that I do this work. But so far I’ve proven to be constitutionally prepared for the bare knuckling that’s involved in this path, probably because I grew up within an immersive counter culture that critiqued capitalism and articulated its discontents.

Another thing is the pressure to market and promote one’s self and work. I would prefer to maintain my privacy. I would prefer to ignore social media for the most part. And I really and truly don’t care for the hustle that’s so much a part of the business of publishing. I find this not only frustrating, but unseemly and very much at odds with my ethos and sensibility. I’m not a writer so that people will know my name, or take interest in my clever quips via Twitter. I would prefer to read and write and think and teach. But that’s probably how most writers feel!

Can you tell us about your latest release?
This month marks the release of Pilgrim (Alice Green & Co.), a collection of what I’ve come to think of as epistles from the interior life of a solitary narrator interested in where and how the mundane meets the metaphysical. These poems are often under the influence of ancient Japanese poetic forms, and they’re attentive to the natural world, to the senses, to the body and the question of belonging.

What inspired it?
The collection took shape after about a year of writing more or less every morning. I was closing out my thirties and while I’d completed another full-length manuscript, I needed a new project; something that would feel more immediate and satisfying than the process of trying to publish those earlier poems. I’d just moved to Massachusetts and I wrote these poems from a sort of exile, I guess. I wrote them to keep company with myself.

I give my editor, Jill Peek, credit for recognizing which poems out of the many I submitted to her, belonged together. I really wanted to make something clear and intimate and delicate and I think we accomplished that with Pilgrim.

You’re sitting on the Doing What You Love: Sustaining Your Writerly Practice panel at this year’s conference. Can you tell us a little bit about what you’re planning?
It’s easy to talk about these things, but to I tend to think that a lot of talk is cheap whereas “direct action gets the goods,” which is an expression associated with the Industrial Workers of the World, and others who organize to change the conditions of their labor.

My approach to this conversation is concrete and practical because I like solutions. I’m planning to bring my best ideas for how to address some of the common challenges we face when we sit down to work, and some suggestions for precipitating breakthroughs. I’ll want to talk about how to act serious if what we’re truly serious about writing. I’ll also bring a resource list and some writing prompts.

What are you working on now?
I’m thinking a lot about how to share this new book in a way that feels authentic and true to the work. I’m hoping to collaborate with a letterpress artist to create broadsides of some of the poems because I’m increasingly interested in the visual dimension of the poem. I am working on an idea for an outdoor installation and reading of the work, and unrelated to Pilgrim, I’m designing a workshop for high school art students in which we’ll create a large scale, collaborative installation using projected text, recorded heartbeats and instrumentation. It’s all related to my wish to find ways of bringing poetry off the page into other parts of life.

Where can we find you online?
My website www.hollywrenspaulding.com and I blog about poetry and teaching at www.thepoetryforge.com. You can find out more about my workshops, retreats and creative mentoring in both of those places.

Is there anything you would like to add?
Where a sustainable writing practice is concerned, it’s helpful to be among those who are similarly serious about their work. It’s helpful to cultivate a few trusted readers—or even one—who will engage you in conversations about what you’re doing. Certain books are especially good companions in the process, and I often recommend Twyla Tharp’s The Creative Habit, and fellow panelist, Christian McEwen’s lovely book The World Enough and Time: On Creativity and Slowing Down. Finally, I don’t know what I would do without the influence and ongoing apprenticeship of the other poets I love and read every day. They show me the way.

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AineGreaneyThe following interview with Aine Greaney was conducted by Liz Bedell, moderator of the Doing What You Love panel at this year’s WriteAngles conference.

Why did you become a writer? When did the writing bug first bite you?
I was always a voracious reader, so I dreamed of being a writer, too. I also kept a journal for most of my life. But I never did any “public” kind of writing until after moving to the U.S., in 1986.

What is the most rewarding part of being a writer? The most frustrating?
I think the more rewarding part is that piece or paragraph that you just lose yourself in and lose track of time. You know the piece isn’t perfect, but you also suspect that you’ve got a good narrative voice and idea going here. It’s almost religious when that happens. The most frustrating for me is the amount of time and energy that life requires us to spend away from the work or creative process. It’s also hard when that little voice is whispering that the piece is starting to stall or stink or both.

Can you tell us about your latest release?
I had an ebook, “Snow” released from Pixel Hall Press, a U.S. publisher which releases collections plus standalone short stories.  Pixel Hall will be releasing another one of my ebook shorts later this fall. Before that, “Writer With a Day Job” was released from Writers Digest Books.

What inspired it?
I wrote “Writer With a Day Job” because I had just returned to work full time and was desperate to find some way to keep writing. I knew that there must be thousands of us writers with day jobs out there, so I drew on my own survival techniques, did lots of research and drew on some of what I had learned from years of teaching writing workshops.

You’re sitting on the Doing What You Love: Sustaining Your Writerly Practice panel at this year’s conference. Can you tell us a little bit about what you’re planning?
I like to be able to inspire attendees to be very bold and, if need be, idiosyncratic in how they create and adhere to a writer’s life for themselves. As well as giving actual in-the-trenches tips, I like to inspire people.

What are you working on now?
My memoir-in-progress, “What Brought You Here: Leaving My Own Country to Find My Own Life,” is with my agent and doing the rounds of publishers. I am keeping my fingers crossed. Meanwhile, I have personal essays in various forms of almost or non-completion, and I just started a new piece which is either a long short story or a novel. We’ll find out.

Where can we find you online?
I’m on Twitter at @AineGreaney. Also on Facebook at Aine Greaney, Writer. My website is at http://www.ainegreaney.com.

Is there anything you would like to add?
I’m just really looking forward to this conference, and, like all of these events, I know there will be conversations that will inspire me and stay with me for many days afterward. It’s a nice blend of topics, sessions and people.

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