5 BURNING QUESTIONS WITH MELISSA BROOKS-CUFFEE

  1. What is your first memory of writing for fun?

This is a tough question. I don’t really associate writing with fun. It’s more of an inner battle between my outside self, my inside self, and the rest of the world. That probably sounds awful, but it’s true, for me anyway.

I do have a memory from middle school that sticks out in my mind though. There was a story I had written about an angsty teenager who was trying to solve a murder (in case you’re wondering, the stepfather did it). I didn’t have a computer then, so I’d written everything by hand and stapled sections of the story together. My peers passed those pages around until they were ragged and were anxious to get from one part to the next. I remember when I finished it, I was so excited that I called my best friend, not realizing it was well past the average bedtime for an eleven-year-old. I can still hear her father asking me if I realized the time.

Anyway, it’s not necessarily the writing that brings me joy or feels fun. It’s putting those words into the hands of the readers. That is a feeling like no other.

  1. How many drafts = done?

Light theory suggests that if you add 2 to 4,000,075 and divide the uncommon denominator by the hypotenuse of 17 triangles you’d still never get an accurate answer to this question.

  1. What is your favorite book or favorite book-of-the-moment?

Right now I am reading The Sun Does Shine: How I Found Life and Freedom on Death Row by Anthony Ray Hinton.

I was spending a lazy Sunday on Facebook when I came across an interview Mr. Hinton did with Oprah. I was immediately drawn to his story. He reminded me of my father. Maybe it was the salt and pepper beard and mustache or the way he spoke with so much love for his mother. It could have been his smooth brown skin, the cadence of his voice, or the light in his eyes, but in him I saw my father. And because of that, I could see my brothers and my sons. I knew that his story wasn’t just his story; it’s the story of all the men I love. It’s a story the highlights the importance of mothers. It’s a story of friendship. Of purpose. Of unconditional love. It’s a story everyone should read.

  1. What is it about your discipline that gets you the most excited?

I think I answered this a little in the question about fun. I get excited about finishing and sharing my work. Having my work in the hands of a reader–it’s such a gift to be invited into someone’s home and heart in that way.

Have you ever read something that makes you question what you used to believe? Or maybe it’s made you think, “Wow, me too.” Have you ever had a book affect you so much that days after you finish, you’re still thinking of it?

It’s exciting and gratifying to know that someone may have that kind of a soul connection with something I’ve written.

I also get excited about helping my fellow writers reach that point. It can be hard to navigate the tricky feelings that come along with the refinement of a story. Helping others navigate those murky waters to uncover their vision and to reach completion is a beautiful thing. I know how amazing it feels to make that breakthrough. To share that moment with a fellow writer is awesome.

  1. What’s your favorite word or words? What about it/them appeals to you?

Love. Because it’s the root of everything good.

Bonus question: Why is a raven like a writing desk?  

They both speak to you in a language you don’t know but somehow understand.

~

I’m with you on LOVE, Melissa. I also LOVE your description of writing – “inner battle between my outside self, my inside self, and the rest of the world.”

Come out to Writers & Words next month, July 10th at 7pm at Charmington’s Cafe to hear Melissa and the rest of our awesome lineup! 

Melissa Brooks-Cuffee holds an MFA in Creative Writing & Publishing Arts from the University of Baltimore. To pay the bills she’s worked as a blog writer, social media manager, website designer, and telephone operator (next door to a hospital morgue).

Her essays have appeared in Skelter and Plorkology: Stories, Poems, and Essays.

She shares her heartbreaking and laugh-out-loud funny stories with readers in hopes that they’ll walk away feeling less alone and more comfortable in the skin they’re in. She is currently working on the follow up to her debut memoir collection, [/brāk-iNG/], which can be purchased at www.melissabrookscuffee.com.

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5 BURNING QUESTIONS WITH TAVOR

  1. What is your first memory of writing for fun?

I must have been six or seven years old. I was sitting under my desk in my bedroom with the coolest tiny notebook (I was, and am, still into notebooks) writing a fantasy story about a witch, and her broom, and their adventures. I still have that notebook tucked away in childhood home of Chicago. I must admit, I didn’t really grasp the concept of character development, but the plot was very clear.

  1. How many drafts = done?

I’m not entirely convinced that a song can ever be “done.” What’s the fun in that? The way I sing a song varies every time I pick up the guitar, always looking for a stronger way to convey meaning. In songwriting, when I look at the words I’ve pieced together and the story or emotion I was attempting to portray, and I think to myself “there it is…” Well, that’s as close to finished as I’ll ever be. There was a song that I finished years ago, performed hundreds of times, and was completely happy with, it’s called “When the Rain Arrives.” As I was playing it a few weeks ago, I heard new words come out of my mouth to replace an old line. It wasn’t intentional or planned, but the improvised moment of creativity made me realize that what the song meant to me was entirely different now than it had been a few years ago. What I love about music is that it transforms with you and sometimes without you realizing it. It’s finished, but it continues to change.

  1. What is your favorite book or favorite book-of-the-moment?
  1. What is it about your discipline that gets you the most excited?

Performing and rehearsing are entirely different animals. I love the discovery that happens while I practice a song, finding ways to challenge my muscle memory, feeling safe to make terrible vocal mistakes. But performing is an altogether different beast. I am at my most vulnerable and passionate while performing and it’s the greatest cathartic exercise I’ve ever found. Unlike in practice, I hold nothing back on stage—mistakes and all. It feels amazing. It feels like such a true version of myself that I’m unable to express in normal situations.

  1. What’s your favorite word or words? What about it/them appeals to you?

Honestly, I have no idea. But my favorite chords are E and AM, especially when paired up. There’s a darkness to the major E and a hopefulness to the minor A that connects to something deep inside of me.

Bonus question: Why is a raven like a writing desk?  

Ravens are symbolic of change, prophecy, sometimes bad luck. At least at my writing desk, all of those things can be true, too.

~

Darkness/hopefulness, what more could you want? I hope you play some of these chords for us next month.

Come out to Writers & Words next month, July 10th at 7pm at Charmington’s Cafe to hear Tavor and the rest of our awesome lineup! 

Tavor is a folk and dirty-blues singer songwriter, based in Baltimore. Her fearless bluesy vocals and edgy lyrics illuminate the trials and triumphs of the everyday and the never-ending search for more.

Check out Tavor’s music here!

5 BURNING QUESTIONS WITH JULIA FRIEDRICH

  1. What is your first memory of writing for fun?

Fun? My first memory of writing was just feeling sad about a boy and inserting line breaks into my feelings. Behold: a poem. I still do this by the way.

  1. How many drafts = done?

Usually, as soon as I finish the poem I’ll call it done! Then, six months later I re-read it, I say fuck, and then I am never done with revisions. Never. It’s why I haven’t published yet. I think of my writing as painting and I keep wanting to add touch-ups and it drives me insane and takes up all of my time when I get absorbed. Right now? I just want to write more than publish. But, uh, this girl wants to go to get her Ph.D. in Poetry so it’s time to suck it up and publish and make that CV say “now go ahead and you just look at me.”

  1. What is your favorite book or favorite book-of-the-moment?

All right. Book of the moment. Anyone who knows me is going to laugh because I’m obsessed with The X-Files, but I’ve been reading Miss Subways by David Duchovny, and actually, I love it! Sidenote, we should all remember that in addition to being Fox Mulder, Duchovny went to Princeton and studied literature at Yale (didn’t finish his Ph.D.) and this is his third book. And he wanted to be a poet and novelist first before the acting career!

But, is my copy signed by Duchovny? Yes. Did I sniff the Sharpied autograph when I received the book and was it still fresh enough to smell? Oh…oh, yes it was.

  1. What is it about your discipline that gets you the most excited?

Bit of an intro is necessary here: I think television and pop culture is having an amazing and frankly literary moment. The stuff that’s out there is so good–Breaking Bad, Better Call Saul, Mad Men, and Bojack Horseman (yes, I’ll fight you on that one in particular if you disagree).

But, especially for me it’s all about Black Mirror. I love writing contemporary pop culture into my poems and I love writing about the virtual persona having lost its early internet anonymity (for the most part) and the invariable consequences of that, the differing content I put on different social media platforms, and instead of wondering if a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it did it make a noise? Forget that. Now I write: if you didn’t digitally document it and no one noticed you–were you even there? That’s where I want my poetry to go.

  1. What’s your favorite word or words? What about it/them appeals to you?

My favorite word. Meanwhile.

I’m not telling you why. Meanwhile, I hope you kinda like some of my poems!

Bonus question: Why is a raven like a writing desk?  

Ravens understand the concept of revenge and spite and they won’t forget your face if you wrong them. I keep them on my desk.

~

Best answer to the raven vs writing desk question ever.

Come out to Writers & Words next month, July 10th at 7pm at Charmington’s Cafe to hear Julia and the rest of our awesome lineup! 

 

5 BURNING QUESTIONS WITH DANA HARRIS

  1. What’s your least favorite thing about writing?

The pain of ripping my hair out in order to get started.

  1. Which author would you like to have a drink with (Dead or alive. Them, not you).

Toni Morrison

  1. Who is your favorite author that you don’t know personally? Who is your favorite author that you do know personally?

Don’t know: So hard to pick one, but okay…Lauren Groff

Do know: Baltimore’s own: The amazing Jen Michalski

  1. What about your discipline (fiction, poetry, etc.) do you wish you were better at?

Not being afraid to dig deeper into my characters thoughts and motives.

  1. What kind of creative rituals or patterns do you have? 

I always start out writing with pencil and paper. There’s something about the hand-mind connection. It helps me freewrite and keeps me from self-editing.

Bonus question: If you met Sean Connery, Divine, and the Olson Twins in a bar, whom would you talk to first and why?

Definitely Divine! He’d be the most bold, entertaining and hilarious, but also complex. He was never afraid to be vulnerable.

~

I’m with you on the pencil and paper method. Always my favorite way to start.

Come out to Writers & Words next week, June 12th at 7pm at Charmington’s Cafe to hear Dana and the rest of our awesome lineup! 

Dana Harris lives in Baltimore and teaches a discussion and writing program in prisons and after school programs. She is also Vice-Chair of the CityLit Project. In July, she begins the MFA in Creative Writing program at St. Francis College in Brooklyn, NY. Some of her favorite things are making fig bourbon and body surfing. She lives with her faithful mutt Stella. 

5 BURNING QUESTIONS WITH DANIELLE EVENNOU

  1. What’s your least favorite thing about writing?

Left-handed ink smudges.

  1. Which author would you like to have a drink with (Dead or alive. Them, not you).

I don’t drink, so it’d be coffee or tea. I’d go with Adrienne Rich. I got to see her read when I was an undergraduate at Rutgers University. I recall telling my creative writing professor at the time that it was like the Pope of Feminism had come to visit. Her passing is a terrible loss.

  1. Who is your favorite author that you don’t know personally? Who is your favorite author that you do know personally?

My favorite author that I don’t know personally is Jill Talbot. My favorite author that I know personally is Evie Shockley.

  1. What about your discipline (fiction, poetry, etc.) do you wish you were better at?

I wish that could correctly scansion iambic pentameter. (I think that the New Jersey accents I heard when I was growing may have something to do with my shortcomings in this area.)

  1. What kind of creative rituals or patterns do you have? 

I use my iPhone timer frequently when writing. For me, writing in a series of short, timed increments makes venturing into the unknown (or deeply personal) a little less scary. I also love writing in fast food restaurants. Chipotle is a solid standby, as is Shake Shack. Sometimes I go to Panera.

Bonus question: If you met Sean Connery, Divine, and the Olson Twins in a bar, whom would you talk to first and why?

The Olsen Twins! More specifically Mary-Kate. First, I would bum a smoke. Second, I would observe every detail of her ensemble and ask her a question about my favorite component. I watched Full House religiously as a kid and feel a deep connection to the Olsen Twins. If the conversation’s going well, I might try to convince Mary-Kate to do an episode of Fuller House.

~

I wish you all the luck in the world convincing Mary-Kate to do an episode of Fuller House. In this imagined scenario. Thank you, Danielle!

Come out to Writers & Words next month, June 12th at 7pm at Charmington’s Cafe to hear Danielle and the rest of our awesome lineup! 

Danielle Evennou is a writer who grew up in suburban New Jersey. For over a decade, she has kept herself busy by hosting poetry readings, workshops, and open mics in Washington, DC. Her poetry and memoir appear in apt, Beltway Poetry Quarterly, Dryland, and Split Lip Magazine. Her chapbook, DIFFICULT TRICK, is available from dancing girl press. With the help of therapy, she is learning how to calm the f*** down. Find out more about Danielle and her work at www.whatevennou.com.  

5 BURNING QUESTIONS WITH SHAUNNA JACKSON

  1. What’s your least favorite thing about writing?

Deciding what to write about next.

  1. Which author would you like to have a drink with (Dead or alive. Them, not you).

Beverly Jenkins.

  1. Who is your favorite author that you don’t know personally? 

Sidney Sheldon/Danielle Steele.

  1. Who is your favorite author that you do know personally?

NA

  1. What about your discipline (fiction, poetry, etc) do you wish you were better at?

Not expecting the first draft to be great.

Bonus question: What kind or creative rituals or patterns do you have?

I have a set time to write each day. I usually turn on music that will inspire me for the project on which I am writing; gospel, jazz, slow jams, etc., but if I don’t need the inspiration and am ready to flow, jazz is my go-to background soundtrack.

~

I love jazz as a background soundtrack, I’ll have to try that. Thank you, Shaunna!

Come out to Writers & Words next month, June 12th at 7pm at Charmington’s Cafe to hear Shaunna and the rest of our kickin’ lineup! 

Shaunna earned a B.A. degree in Psychology and Social Welfare Services, and is completing her second term of service in AmeriCorps. She served 5 years as Parish Pastor in the Redeemed Christian Church of God, receiving the John Maxwell Million Leaders Mandate Certificate of Achievement in 2016, for exemplifying outstanding leadership by empowering, equipping and encouraging leaders.     Shaunna is the author of two published books, and is the owner of the blog, Occupy Purpose. She is a graphic designer and personal development coach. Many hats, one purpose; encouraging people to pursue passions and live a life of faith and purpose.

5 BURNING QUESTIONS WITH GWEN VAN VELSOR

  1. What’s your least favorite thing about writing?

Can I say everything? I’ll do anything to avoid it. Walk the dog, take a shower, wash the dishes, reorganize my inbox. I hate writing right up until the moment I run out of time, or someone interrupts me, then all of a sudden I can’t live without it. Also, I really dislike typing. My constant journaling over the years has trained me to feel the words with the motion of handwriting. I don’t get the same good vibes when typing.

  1. Which author would you like to have a drink with (Dead or alive. Them, not you).

This is tough to answer because the thought of actually meeting and conversing with someone I admire gives me the cold sweats. I would probably clam up and spit out cliches, “I love your book sooooo much!” That said, I’d love to chat with Natalie Goldberg over milkshakes and french fries. We’d write furiously in our journals until the ink runs out of our pens.

  1. Who is your favorite author that you don’t know personally? Who is your favorite author that you do know personally?

My favorite author is Abigail Thomas, best known for her memoir A Three Dog Life. Her books remind me that it’s ok to be a person in the world with weird thoughts about life. My favorite author that I do know personally is Cija Jefferson. Her book Sonic Memories gives me that fuzzy, spine straightening feeling when you relate to every single word the author writes.

  1. What about your discipline (fiction, poetry, etc) do you wish you were better at?

I wish, oh I wish…(hands clasped, looking at stars), I wish I were a REAL writer. Nah, but seriously, I wish I had more confidence. I will dwell on an idea, a sentence, a draft, for years before telling a soul about it.

  1. What kind of creative rituals or patterns do you have?

As a Julia Cameron junkie, I practice the art of Morning Pages. Morning Pages are three, full-size, handwritten pages done in the morning before completing any tasks for the day. The pages are non-negotiable, mostly full of dribble, and a fool proof way of clearing my head and creating space for the good stuff to come through.

Bonus question: how many weddings are you going to this year?

Only one, not until October. It’s too bad, I love weddings.

~

Aw, shout out to Cija, our fabulous host, and equally fabulous writer! And I totally agree about journals vs typing. Even if I can’t read my own handwriting half the time, I always prefer pen and paper.

Come out to Writers & Words next month, May 8th at 7pm at Charmington’s Cafe to hear Gwen and the rest of our kickin’ lineup! 

Gwen Van Velsor writes creative nonfiction and pseudo-inspirational prose. She started Yellow Arrow Publishing, a project that publishes and supports writers who identify as women. Raised in Portland, Oregon, Gwen has moved many times, from sea to shining sea, now calling Highlandtown her forever home. Her major accomplishments include walking the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage in Spain, raising a toddler, and being ok with life exactly as it is. Her memoir, Follow That Arrow, was published in 2016.

5 BURNING QUESTIONS WITH ANTHONY DOBRANSKI

  1. What’s your least favorite thing about writing?

The parts that aren’t writing – the outlining, the planning. I have a very oral sense of composition, loose and aloud. I recognize the need to build a plot and character lattices for my sentences and stories to curl around but it’s grunt work to me.

  1. Which author would you like to have a drink with (Dead or alive. Them, not you).

Philip K. Dick. He wrote flawed human people in crazed sad worlds. I have all his novels. I think. 42 of them, anyway, bought mostly in the early 1980s in the bookstores of several countries.

  1. Who is your favorite author that you don’t know personally? Who is your favorite author that you do know personally?

I am hugely impressed with author Jeff VanderMeer, as an artist – Annihilation blew me away – but also as an excellent writer on both creativity and career-planning.
My favorite author who I do know personally – who was in my wedding party – is Geoffrey Kabaservice, a pundit and historian best known for Rule and Ruin. https://www.amazon.com/Rule-Ruin-Moderation-Destruction-Development/dp/0199975515

  1. What about your discipline (fiction, poetry, etc) do you wish you were better at?

The downside of loose composition is that there’s a lot of editing. I would like to write fewer words in the first draft that I have to throw out later. At a panel, Holly Black said that this was “hacking your process” and that it was hard to do. She’s right.

  1. What kind of creative rituals or patterns do you have?

In first drafts, I can’t pick up where I left off or skip ahead. I have to look a couple pages back, make a couple fixes, pick up the feeling. I write better standing up. If I start looking at tech sites hoping gear will improve my productivity, there’s definitely writing that needs to be done. The trick is to get through that phase without actually buying any new gear.

Bonus question: how many weddings are you going to this year?
None, to the best of my knowledge. I’m 51 but with young children, so out of the main wedding zone.

~

Ah, the wedding zone is a thing, for better or worse.

Come out to Writers & Words next month, May 8th at 7pm at Charmington’s Cafe to hear Anthony and the rest of our fab lineup! 

Anthony Dobranski writes fantasy and science-fiction novels with big ideas and personal stakes for untraditional characters, in crisp, stylized language. He grew up in the Washington DC area and lives in the city now. When not writing or reading, he likes odd movies, inventive theater, and skiing black-diamond bumps.

5 BURNING QUESTIONS WITH LAURA B. PLASTER

  1. What’s your favorite thing about writing? 

That I’m not doing dishes or heavy lifting.   Or, that it gives me a reason to notice and a reason to think about the noticing.

  1. How often do you get new ideas? A thousand a second, or every 12 years when the moon is full and the stars align?

I suppose it depends on whether or not I’m paying attention and whether or not a child is screaming because I won’t let them eat hand sanitizer (real example from this morning). When I open my eyes or ears or nose to what’s around me, I get a lot of leads I want to follow and my trouble is knowing which one to choose and then, of course, finding the time to do it.

  1. Who is your favorite author that you don’t know personally? Who is your favorite author that you do know personally?

 Impossible question.   Ok, I’ll stick to poets:  Marie Howe, I’d say, or Elizabeth Bishop. The second part is just as hard…I got to know so many incredible poets up in Brooklyn through an organization called Brooklyn Poets (check out the Poet’s Bridge through them–wonderful resource for posting work and finding yourself an editor/mentor.)   That whole crew–Jason Koo, Joe Pan, Nicole Callihan, Jessica Greenbaum, Patricia Spears Jones, V. Penelope Pelizzon, among many others–provide me so much inspiration, encouragement and hope.

  1. What is your most re-read book, if any, and why?

Honest answer:   I reread a lot of favorite fantasy fiction (young adult and otherwise) as a stress reliever–Lloyd Alexander, Tolkien, Ursula Leguin, Madeleine L’Engle. My go to poetry reread is Marie Howe’s “The Kingdom of Ordinary Time.”

  1. What kind or creative rituals or patterns do you have?

Sigh. Working on it. I used to have a certain spot at a certain table at a certain coffee shop in Brooklyn and I haven’t quite find my Baltimore nook yet. I love having my back up against a wall, literally.  Corners are important, so are mornings. Life goal is to be less precious about where and when I write and make it happen. For instance, I made myself do this interview even though it’s 3 in the afternoon which is my least favorite time of day to work with words!  🙂

Bonus question: April is the month when a lot of Aries are born; do you hate them? 

Nah, they’re fine. 😉

~

Correct answer to the Aries question.

Come out to Writers & Words TONIGHT, April 10th at 7pm at Charmington’s Cafe to hear Laura and our other rad readers. Check out the rest of the line-up on facebook here

5 BURNING QUESTIONS WITH NICOLE CLARK

  1. What’s your favorite thing about writing? 

The words. I really like words.

  1. How often do you get new ideas? A thousand a second, or every 12 years when the moon is full and the stars align?

This might be TMI, but I tend to get great ideas when I’m PMS’ing. I think my mood (read: hormones) during that time of the month makes me naturally prone to self-reflection and creative impulsiveness. And to eating too many French fries. I’m trying to harness my inspiration (and my cravings for starch). I’d like to figure out a means to throw a halter around it and tell it to heel when I need it. I’m finding if I just show up to my laptop with the intent to write, that helps create a means for ideas to pop into being.

  1. Who is your favorite author that you don’t know personally? Who is your favorite author that you do know personally?

 Don’t know her but wish I did: Annie Dillard. Also, I was at Writers and Words in February when local author Jeannie Vanasco read portions of her new book The Glass Eye. I bought the book and read it in a matter of hours. Her writing is dark and fantastic, and I’d love to meet her. Just gonna put that out there.

So, I don’t know any authors personally. See above. #lifegoals

  1. What is your most re-read book, if any, and why?

Eek. I don’t re-read books very often. That said, “To Kill a Mockingbird” is a book I’ve read twice. I first read it when I was twelve and adored the character Scout Jean Louise Finch, so much so that I looked into the legal process to change my name to Scout. My parents weren’t keen on the idea, so here I am, still Nicole. When I read it as an adult, I did so with a more complete appreciation of Lee’s brilliance and her ability to present two versions of the same character in one story line – the little girl Scout who is experiencing the events of the plot, and the adult Jean Louise who is telling the story. Also, there is a Radiolab episode that features Jenny Hollowell’s reading of her short story called “The History of Everything, Including You” that I’ve listened to at least ten times. Each time I listen to it I think, “Damn, I wish I wrote that.”

  1. What kind or creative rituals or patterns do you have?

I throw paint when I’m at a creative impasse with my writing. I have an unfinished basement filled with pieces of wood I’ve salvaged from Baltimore alleys, canvases of unwanted fine art I’ve bought from thrifts stores and gobs of cheap acrylic paint in plastic tubes. I get stuck more often than not when I write and will go months without writing a damn thing. During these dry spells I throw paint on the wood and the cheesy art I nab from Goodwill. A lot of it ends up on the brick walls of the basement. Down there, there’s no messing up. All you have to do is chuck some color around and watch where it lands. Eventually, I come back to writing.

Bonus question: April is the month when a lot of Aries are born; do you hate them? 

They can’t help that they were born in April versus a super duper cool month like, oh I don’t know, say, July. #NoteveryonecanbeaCancer.

~

That’s two Cancer readers this month! Interesting. Us Aries are outnumbered. I also appreciate your TMI answer to #2 – it’s not TMI at all. We’re all friends here.

Come out to Writers & Words on Tuesday, April 10th at 7pm at Charmington’s Cafe to hear Nicole and our other rad readers. Check out the rest of the line-up on facebook here

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