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  • umbraeverborum 000 on 000 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , publishing, teresa carmody, writing practices   


    My last interview, with Teresa Carmody, was not spontaneous as the others had been. She kindly arranged it with me on Friday of &Now, and when I showed up on Saturday I had a tape recorder ready, because my writing hand and wrist were in pain. Here is a very lightly edited transcription of what she had to say.

    ROSE MIREYA: Well, thank you very much again for taking a few minutes to talk to me. I totally enjoyed your reading. Unfortunately because we get so swamped at UCSD, I hadn’t really heard about it before, but I felt like you were channeling the characters that you were reading, and that just makes me curious about how you go about writing that sort of thing. Can you talk a little bit about your techniques as a writer for characters and stuff?

    TERESA CARMODY: Well, I came to writing thru voice. In other words, it’s been, as I was learning, the point of entry for me as a writer, to learn about what writing might do or text might do was thru voices. And so … this project is a project that I’ve been working on for a very, very, very long time. A very long time. … I say this because it seems that I don’t know what will happen when this book is done. Like I know that I’m more interested, that I’ve become increasingly more interested in narrative, that entry point has not been thru voice, it has been thru oftentimes thru visual imagery. But I think that learning to write takes a really long time, and that oftentimes … it seems that, it seems that some writers, maybe a lot of them … maybe not a lot of them, but enough of them, have whatever projects that they need to write initially to go thru and get out of the way and then they can continue on, thinking about other things. And so, for me, like this project that you heard from today is very—it’s not a memoir but it has a lot of autobiographical—you know, it comes from personal experience. The voices I grew up with.

    R.M.: That’s cool. And do you have any specific technique for recalling those places and making them your own?

    T.C.: No … I think that … sometimes using something, which is not the case in this book, but sometimes using something really arbitrary … can actually help you hone a voice more distinctly. So, it might even be something like using a certain kind of grammatical pattern, or syntax pattern. Or, in … my collection of short stories that came out a few years ago … all of the stories play with voices—starts with a single voice, goes to two, then it’s a polyvocal piece, and they’re kind of monologues, but in the one that has many different voices, one of the layers of editing I did was assign a different vowel sound to each of the characters and go thru and do an edit where I was actually putting … a lot of that vowel sound in, which I then actually ended up taking out some of that—I like, overdid it, and then … did back, but it was like almost as if I saw these things as if you were painting … it’s almost impressionistic, so it’s like you have a figure that’s coming and then maybe you need to put a lot of red, but then maybe the red needs to be covered up. So that’s one of the elements of sound or language that you can do that with …

    R.M.: What is something that’s particularly fun about writing for you?

    T.C.: Already having written. … I’m actually quite serious about that—that, sometimes, the most fun thing is having already done it. … I really like it when you’re at a place in a project where you start seeing all of the little pieces start to connect … there’s little webs that are being made between the kind of imagery, there’s sonic sense that’s happening between different things, and that takes some time to get to in a piece, and so when you get there it “A,” means you’re getting close to being done, which is fun, getting back to my first thing, but that’s just part of the symmetrical delight, or the formal delight, in writing.

    R.M.: If somebody wants to do what you do, with Les Figues, can you talk a little bit about steps they would take to start doing that?

    T.C.: To start actually having a press? Well first of all, I think that … the steps would be figuring out what it is that you want to do, and then trying to articulate a vision, and then coming back a year later after you’ve already started doing it. … I see making a small press as kind of similar to making a piece of writing, where you could have this idea or this dream or this sort of sense, but then once you actually get into the logistics of making it … it’ll start to become increasingly clear what it is that you’re trying to do, as long as you’re reflecting on it. But it’s also really easy to do now. … I mean you can use a POD publisher and make books that way easily. But I think the thing … that we’re really smart about with Les Figues is having a really articulated vision of what we’re trying to do. And again that has been fine-tuned, but coming back to that, over and over again. … And a little bit of insanity. Or a lot of insanity.

    R.M.: Are there certain personality traits that are helpful to have?

    T.C.: No, but just like being willing to work really hard, for no money, and just being a little crazy that way.

    R.M.: So on that note then, what keeps you going to work for little or no money? I’m sure a lot of my classmates would be interested to know. I’m interested.

    T.C.: The thing with Les Figues, when Vanessa Place and Pam Ore and I started it, we didn’t really have a writing community, or the writers that we knew were not necessarily the kind of work that we wanted to be engaged with … or we liked their work fine but … there weren’t the kinds of conversations about writing that we wanted to be having, and we found that it was really—like if you go to a cocktail party … and you say like, “Well what are you trying to do with your writing?” people don’t like to answer that question in the context of a party. And so … we were trying to figure out how could we have conversations about that, and … it’s that very thing of having those kinds of conversations, and building the community. And also just—I mean, I really love the work that we publish, and seeing it go out in the world and seeing people, other people read it and get excited about it. I love that.

    R.M.: Do you think it helps or hampers a writer to have an audience or demographic in mind when creating any kind of work?

    T.C.: I think it depends on the writer, and what kind of writer the writer wants to be in the world. So some people want to …write to a certain audience and be a voice representing that group, and other people are a voice representing that group, but they don’t necessarily have the self awareness, because … you know. But I think that … one should be absolutely free to do whatever it is, and if you start writing something and it makes you upset, then that’s a place to continue writing.

    R.M.: I can see that. You’re hitting something—

    T.C.: Yeah, exactly!

    R.M.: You’re hitting some nerve, some hot spot.

    T.C.: Again, some writers want to be the head of a choir that already sings the response they know is gonna be sung when they hit this note. That’s not the kind of writing I’m interested in. I don’t want to be that kind of writer. But I get it that there’s a place in the world for that kind of writer. … The hard thing is that there is no one way, and there is no one right way. And so it’s all about, how do you deal with that anxiety of not knowing how to be, and not knowing like how long it’s gonna take. … When I started my MFA program in 2000, one of the things I kept saying to myself was that, if you practice something for 30 minutes a day, every day, you will become an expert after 10 years. I don’t know if I have reached expert status, but I definitely have more facility with language and writing than I did 10 years ago, and that’s just because of that practice. Like, whatever talent I had didn’t matter. And I’ve seen that over and over again too, if somebody’s talented and they don’t practice.

    R.M.: I think everybody in college sees that at some point …

    T.C.: But I think there’s a lot of anxiety about … what makes a writer a real writer. And so, you also see a lot of people’s bios—people are like, “I’ve been writing since the age of five!” Well that might be true or not true, but it doesn’t make somebody more or less of a writer. But I think it’s like people try to cling onto this idea of what makes a writer … which is fine, it’s just … know that that’s what you’re doing.

    • Danielmn 000 on 000 Permalink | Reply

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  • umbraeverborum 000 on 000 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: anomaly, carl diehl, creativity, failure, solutions   

    INTERVIEW WITH CARL DIEHL (“Polterzeitgeist”)

    On Thursday of &Now, after watching Carl Diehl’s “Polterzeitgeist” mixed video media presentation, I asked if he could spare a few minutes at some point to chat with me about his work. He graciously met up with me on Friday, 14 Oct. 2011. This is what he had to say, in a conversation that essentially stemmed from the first question I asked him.

    Asked why he addresses the issues or themes that come up in his work, Diehl quickly replied, “I’m fascinated with the subjects, ” and went on to say that he addresses things that he’s curious about and wants to learn more about.

    “Metaphors work well for me,” he continued; they are “a strong way of making sense of things,” for they create spaces where things can make sense. His work involves much research—is driven by research in fact, he said, which “mobilizes” the written parts of the work. This “doesn’t temper the setup” of the work, however; of his video presentations, he said, “It’s not built for maximum coherency.”

    One particular point of interest for Diehl is the “production of obsolescence,” and he challenges the concept of obsolescence in his work, looking at “anomalous ways to re-use technology.” It became clear that Diehl has a thing for “anomaly”—the “wrong” path can often lead to discoveries.

    “It’s important to do things wrong and to make mistakes,” Diehl said, “because that point of failure” is where we see the potential for more and better new solutions than we thought possible before. It is also important to work under many “creative parameters”—deliberately or not—because parameters help create problems, and make us find anomalies, which in turn help inspire solutions. Something he read once struck him, which he summarized as, “Anyone who’s not creating work that could fail is, basically, ‘in the wrong.’”

    Finally I asked him, “How did you get into what you do?” It turned out that from the beginning, Diehl has worked under constraints—parameters set by himself and what equipment is available to him—and benefited from what some would call “failure.” “I wanted to do animation,” he said, “but my camera couldn’t ‘do’ animation. So I [ended up making] videos with friends.” In the process of experimenting with those, he learned what else he could do.

    So maybe we really need to stop freaking out every time something we’re working on goes “wrong,” because it could show us new ways to make it not only right, but better.

  • umbraeverborum 000 on 000 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: amanda gray, author, , jeffrey deshell   

    On Thursday night, two writers published by FC2 kindly allowed me to pester them with questions (and I‘m sure more writers would have done so, had I had the time to stick around longer). Here is what they had to say.


    Why address the issues or themes that come up in your writing?:
    Deshell said that seeming themes arise “just to move the plot along.” I found this insightful; certainly, fiction writers dealing with plots find themselves drawn to certain solutions for moving it along.

    How do you see your body of work? (I.e., a random series, or something more connected?):
    Deshell immediately said, “It’s not random.” He went on to say that “there’s probably a project in” trying to find the connections between his works—but “I’m not the right person to ask,” he said with a laugh. He did say that his works had something in common, however: “things in language that interest me.” When I asked, “Anything in particular,” he replied, “Problems of language,” and “problems of narrative.” “Narrative,” he said, “is always a series of problems.”

    How did you become a writer?:
    “I was a music major first,” Deshell said. “Then I moved on to fiction.” I asked, “Any particular reason?” and he replied, “Well, I wasn’t good at music.”


    Before approaching Amanda Gray, I overheard her saying that she has to “take on a personality” in order to read to an audience; otherwise it would be too scary. I did not doubt it; her reading voice and body language were way different from those of her conversations with the other writers.

    She cheerfully provided me with the following in response to my questions.

    Why address the issues that come up in your writing?:
    The issues in Gray’s writing are “things that are crawling through my brain,” she says. Her writing emerges as a “collage of life”—obsession and other feelings for certain people; current or previous occupations; roles people play. She sometimes changes details about characters—gender, age, location—from those of their inspirations; but, she said, “A kernal of it is always something really basic.” I said it’s weird to me how finished pieces (if they’re finished) spring from those “really basic” things and end up as they do. Gray agreed: “It’s weird to me too.”

    Do you feel that [the work is] detached from you once it’s done?:
    “It’s super-detached.” Gray went on to say that writing is “like a kid when it’s born”—it’s going to grow and develop, but when it’s done growing it’s “out of my hands.” As for when a work is done, she quoted: “A poem is never finished, only abandoned.” (A Google search indicates that the quote is from Paul Valery.) She also recommended that I read Letters to a Young Poet, by Rainer Rilke.

    How do you see your body of work? (I.e., a series of random spasms, or something more connected?):
    Gray had a couple of answers for that. One was that her body of work was a collection of recurring themes, particularly hair and cottage cheese. The other was that a body of work is like her life—“we see life as one life, but with different parts.” One part of it may be spent in school, another in a job, etc.—so it goes with writing.

    How did becoming a writer come about for you?:
    “I was pushed in the right direction by some teachers.” Gray also did an MFA program. However, she then said, “Writing’s always been something I’ve done because I have to.” She went on to say, “The fact that this is even a profession blows my mind.”

    Gray went on to answer another question I had, but didn’t have to ask—namely, how a writer supports herself while writing:
    Gray supports herself with, as she puts it, an “unglamorous” job that pays the bills: she works as a “marketing freelance writer,” writing about various topics (lately, online education). She does this job because that way she doesn’t have to teach or publish—common day jobs for writers which she says she doesn’t really like. Most importantly, it takes pressure off her work. “The best way to work as a writer is with as little pressure as possible,” she said.

    This led me to the last question …

    Do you think writing with the intention to sell compromises the work, or the writer?:
    Some people write in certain, “formulaic” ways because it sells, Gray said. As for herself: “I think it would be weird to make a lot of money. So I don’t.” Overall, she maintains that each writer does what works for him or her: “Whatever works.”

    I’ll be trying to chat up more writers until they’re all gone.

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