who the heck knows anything, anyway

Friday, June 6, 2014

Blog Hop: A Writing Q&A

When Maisha Johnson asked me to participate in this Blog Hop, my heart leapt. Maisha is one of those friends you absolutely look up to, a human reason to do better because she has such killer taste in...everything. Poetry/Lit, social causes, the internet, friends--she rocks it everywhere it counts. I encourage you to click on her name up in that first sentence and to read her Blog Hop entry, as well as her archives. Thanks, Maisha!  My friend Moye Ishimoto did one, too! And I'm passing the torch along to Kate Sheeran Swed next, so keep an eye on her blog next week.

Ok, so: What am I working on?

I am working on a novel. It has female protagonists. It deals with sex and religion and race, and takes place in Portland, Oregon, because that's where I grew up. The Portland I know is pretty different from what it is now. I grew up on NoPo, and I wish that I could go back, that I could live in the place where I grew up, but I know I can't because it doesn't exist anymore. Nostalgia, man. It's a killer. My story is a little bit about that, too. I don't feel comfortable going into too much detail, because I've been hurt by idea-stealers before (and, jeezus, that hurts), but I am excited to let the world love this one day.

On days when the novel is hard to touch, I work on comics and the occasional short story.  My comics are usually auto-bio, or, rather, are my personal reflections on Life, The Universe, and Everything, with animals talking for me. My latest project is a podcast called Audiodidact. It's a part of the Apiary, which is my beau's and my little "interdisciplinary beehive." I'm looking forward to bringing in some scientists and philosophers for the next few episodes, and for getting a ton of my writing friends to be guests when I'm back in the states in June.

How is my work different than others in its genre?

My work ranges from sci-fi, to horror, to weird fiction, to noir, to the lyrical, though I like to think of it all as "literary."I am not into genre-shaming. I write what I like, and what I like doesn't fit into one (or even two, or even five) box(es). Other people are doing that, too--writing outside of genre limits--but my particular focus is the marriage of story and language. When I write science fiction or horror, it should read just as beautifully as any artful, literary prose.

Why do I write what I do?
I write stories about mortality and existence and why anything matters, because that's all I think about. Sometimes I obsess about dead bodies. I write a lot about religion, because I was raised Catholic and I love history (mmm, hagiography). I write about the Pacific Northwest, because that's home.

How does my writing process work?
The first thing I come up with is a scenario or a vignette. With "Canis Lupus Astra," the idea came from thinking about Project Orion, and how it would have been possible to colonize space in the 1950's/60's. Characters never--and I mean never--spring fully formed, Athena-style, from my mind. I am very jealous of people who (claim to) experience that. I also revise constantly. I read and watch good TV and listen to podcasts, and all three inspire me. I know a lot of prose writers are anti-TV, but I love it. (Well, I love the good TV. I have a low tolerance for bad writing. But I have the same rules for novels and comics--I only read the good stuff* and I only watch the good stuff, because I only want to make good stuff.)

On rare days, I feel pretty confident about the quality of my work, but on most days, I struggle with your standard writerly intense-self-doubt. I'm having some issues with my novel right now, and that's rough. You know what else is rough? Talking about your "novel." What kind of writer shaming has occurred to make me feel dirty and poser-y every time I talk about it? Yikes.

*a note on "good": everyone has a different opinion on what makes something good, and that's awesome. You are awesome.


Thanks for inviting me to do this, Maisha!

Maisha Z. Johnson is a writer, an activist, and a troublemaker of Trinidadian descent. She has an MFA in Poetry from Pacific University, and she studied creative writing at San Francisco State University. Through writing and workshops, Maisha lifts up voices of those who are often silenced, including LGBTQ people, people of color, and survivors of violence. Her work has been published in numerous journals and nominated twice for a Pushcart Prize. She explores the relationship between art and social change on her blog, at www.maishazjohnson.com.

also see her full website


Kate Sheeran Swed loves hot chocolate, plastic dinosaurs, and airplane tickets. She has trekked along the Inca Trail to Macchu Picchu, hiked on the Mýrdalsjökull glacier in Iceland, and climbed the ruins of Masada to watch the sunrise over the Dead Sea. Following an idyllic childhood in New Hampshire, she completed degrees in music at the University of Maine and Ithaca College, then moved to New York City. She is poised to complete an MFA in fiction through Pacific University’s low-residency program at the end of June.