Searchlights & Signal Flares


Tiny Lights' On-line Writer's Exchange

“WHEN ASKED, ‘WHAT DO YOU WRITE?' HOW DO YOU ANSWER?” (03/15/04)



Featured writer: D.Jayhne Wilson Edwards



Contributors this month:
Anne Silber
Betty Winslow
Connie Mygatt
Cristie Marcus
D.Jayhne Wilson Edwards
Jennie Orvino
Karen Trimbath
Marlene Cullen
Susan Bono


D.Jayhne Wilson Edwards



WHAT DO I WRITE? Good Question!

What I write is actually not under my control, at all. You see, it's what comes spurting out of my fingers and onto the keyboard. (That keyboard used to be on an electric typewriter, but now it's on one of my computers.

There's some sort of connection, like an electric current, that flows from inside me somewhere....Who's to say?...my brain?...my consciousness? my memory? And then the words and phrases are birthed to a life of their own. They are most likely to exist in prosaic fashion, finished off with a period. But sometimes they dance a graceful dance between the commas. Other times they strut about amongst marks of exclamation. And they may even take a doubting stance as they put up a banner with their quizzical, even incredulous, questioning mark.

What I write is Choreography, and I choreograph the dance of life.



Anne Silber



When you are asked, "What do you write?", what do you answer?

I am asked that question often. I used to hem and haw and try to think of a great answer that would reflect my "I am a serious writer" persona.

Actually, the only answer is to tell questioners what I have written to date, which includes a Young Adult Novella, numerous essays and Op-Ed pieces, and published letters to editors, too numerous to mention. Out of that explanation comes the answer to "What do you love to write?" There are definite themes to my writing.

I further explain that I believe there is a great deal more writing in my future. I am presently working on a General Fiction novel, an Autobiography and a collection of short stories.

There is only one category of writing that I can honestly tell people I will never write: Poetry. So help me, I just can't do it.

When people hear of what I have already written, I am usually surprised and pleased at their reaction, for they do see me as the serious writer I believe I am. It's good feedback to be asked what you write, and to gauge the reactions of people listening to your answers.

Of course, I can't help but harbor the pleasant thought that someday, a total stranger in a distant place will approach me, and say, "You're the author of "Whatever", aren't you?! I really enjoyed that book!"

Someone who already knows what I write….sigh….I can dream, can't I?

Anne Silber dreams and writes in Colorado Springs, CO, and lives with a wonderful cat, Missy, who has finally learned not to jump onto the keyboard while Mommy is writing.

Betty Winslow



It depends on what kind of a mood I'm in. I live with sarcastic teenagers and a wiseacre husband, so my first reaction would probably be a wisecrack along the lines of "Words!" Then, I'd think better of it and try to come up with a serious-but-interesting answer.

But, you know, my first answer would be the true one. And it's true for all of us. We all write words. Some of us arrange them into novels, still others into poetry or plays or song lyrics. Some of us write magazine articles. Others write technical manuals. Or copy for direct sales. Or Sunday school curriculum. Or short stories. Or picture books.

So, the real question is, what do I arrange my words into? To the best of my ability, I arrange them into whatever form best fits the needs of the moment and of their intended audience (whether it be a poem for a loved one, a how-to article for an editor, or a letter to my mom.) I arrange them with truth, beauty, encouragement, knowledge, mystery, paradox, and belief.

And while certain arrangements may bring in cash (which I deeply appreciate!), what I really want is for my words to be arranged in such a way that they bring enlargement of soul - even for a moment - to those who read them. I write words. So do you. How will yours be arranged?

Betty Winslow, Bowling Green, Ohio, hoping you liked this arrangement .

WHAT DO YOU WRITE?

  by Connie Mygatt

Recently, at a painting workshop, the instructor said, "Art is the antidote for normalcy." He went on to explain that neurologically our brains attempt to keep things in a normal balance.

When I read the March Searchlights question I thought of how that applied to the art of writing. Of course, when asked that question, I usually reply that I like to write personal essay or short stories. What does this really tell someone? When considering the idea that art is the antidote for normalcy, I now have a better answer.

If asked, I would like to say: I write about what inspires me from the edge of an idea, that nervy "what if" that rests just around the corner beyond where the normal eye cannot see.

Whether I am writing an essay, memoir or short fiction isn't what is important, but whether I say something that will offer a mind shift in the reader—that is where the art lies, that is the antidote to normalcy.

Connie Mygatt is fighting normalcy in Santa Fe, NM.

Cristie Marcus



What do I write, you ask…I write what comes to me while taking a shower.

Ideas come in droplets. Some cascade over me; others pelt to make me take notice and not forget.

The warm water spray nourishes a sentence, an opening line. As I stand with face upturned to the flow, entire paragraphs grow. In my head, I repeat the story, to etch, for later scribing.

While taking a shower, my best work sprouts.

Cristie Marcus, Santa Rosa, CA

D.Jayhne Wilson Edwards



WHAT DO I WRITE? Good Question!

What I write is actually not under my control, at all. You see, it's what comes spurting out of my fingers and onto the keyboard. (That keyboard used to be on an electric typewriter, but now it's on one of my computers.

There's some sort of connection, like an electric current, that flows from inside me somewhere....Who's to say?...my brain?...my consciousness? my memory? And then the words and phrases are birthed to a life of their own. They are most likely to exist in prosaic fashion, finished off with a period. But sometimes they dance a graceful dance between the commas. Other times they strut about amongst marks of exclamation. And they may even take a doubting stance as they put up a banner with their quizzical, even incredulous, questioning mark.

What I write is Choreography, and I choreograph the dance of life.



Jennie Orvino



"I write poems," I answer first, and more readily, now that poetry is back in fashion. "I write especially for the fun of reading it out loud." I like making a direct connection, with one other person or a room full of listeners. When I'm working on a piece, I always speak the lines to know where to break them, to be more aware of how the sound matches the sense of what I'm trying to communicate.

When asked what I write about, I say that I started writing at age 15 in a dime-store diary with a lock and key, and that reading my work might be like peeking into a lifetime of subsequent volumes of that diary. My most passionate themes are self-discovery and honest expression, sexuality and relationships, war and peace. I am not a nature poet.

As a journalist, I write features, mostly personal profiles. It is sweet satisfaction to hear from community groups or individuals, "You really captured our essence." In interviewing someone, I look for the pathway to trust and literary intimacy. (If I'd admit to aspirations, one would surely be to join the ranks of Terry Gross, Barbara Walters and Amy Goodman).

I also write erotica. Not fictional stories but autobiographic journeys into what it means to be fully alive as a sexual being. I explore the particulars of women's portal experiences of pleasure and the connections of spirituality and sex. I'm either too dumb to be embarrassed or too much of an exhibitionist to be self conscious! I try to stay close to the artistic edge, without succumbing to either puritanical or pornographic pressures. I'm interested in writing through, and about, the wisdom centered in the body.

Jennie Orvino lives in Sonoma County, CA. Her work can be seen (and heard) on the web at www.soundofpoetry.com and www.cdbaby.com/orvino. Her CD, Make Love Not War, is a spoken work/music collaboration.

Karen Trimbath



When asked, "what do you write?" how do you answer?

This question, no matter how well meant, is a minor irritant. That's why responding vaguely gives me a perverse pleasure: "Oh, I'm writing a story about some weird people..." My voice trails off, and the subject is quickly changed. This reply is often repeated with family, friends and acquaintances who unknowingly recite the dreaded question as if from a too-familiar script. I'm not lying, just protecting my work from the exposure. You see, there's the writing I do for others to pay the bills, and then there's the writing I do for myself. I don't want to shed too much light on my secret stories lest they shrivel up. A recent newspaper article showed how to make trendy flowerpots by baking vinyl LPs in an oven. Once surrounded by heat, they shrink to fit a mold, and their music is heard no more. That's what will happen if I should talk about my personal writing too much.

Karen Trimbath is a writer and editor from Pennsylvania. She also blogs at www.americandemeter.motime.com.

When asked, "what do you write?" how do you answer?

  by Marlene Cullen

This is easy to answer. First, I stress that I write every day, no matter what. Then I detail the specifics. I write to-do lists, grocery lists, notes, letters and emails (I am gifted in that I can write either short, swift and to the point emails OR I can write elaborate, lengthy emails).

Mostly, I write reminder notes to myself. Otherwise, I wouldn't know what to put on the to-do list and there I would be, a writer without a cause.

Marlene Cullen glibly strikes computer keys with reckless abandon.

WHEN PEOPLE ASK, “WHAT DO YOU WRITE?” HOW DO YOU ANSWER?

  by Susan Bono

When people ask me what I write, I usually say something like, "Nothing much, really," because I don't write as often as I'd like, or as much as I think I should. Deep down, I still believe that a Real Writer produces X number of words per week and braves the indifference of editors and publishers on a regular basis, so that leaves me out. I can't really count the time I noodle, muse, sit in front of my computer fussing, cutting, pasting, reading aloud those words that don't sound quite right yet. None of that seems like writing when people ask. That just seems like struggling.

The best days to ask me about my writing come when I've actually finished something, or think I am about to. "Oh, I'm writing an article for the local paper," I'll say with what I hope is off-handed nonchalance. "I'm trying to get my editorial for Tiny Lights pulled together," or "I just sent a piece to the Beach Tar Review." That's because I equate writing, not with the act of pondering and scribbling and patching and deleting, but with the moment when all those activities are completed. Real Writers finish things. Theoretically, I know this belief makes most of what I do—what most writers do— meaningless.

I don't know who I'm trying to protect or fool when I say I'm not a Real Writer. I spend most of my waking hours with words, writing, reading or analyzing them. It's not like I'm ever going to get some official seal of approval from the Real Writers' Bureau. Sometimes I feel like Pinocchio trying to pretend he never even wanted to be a Real Boy. If I decided to call myself a writer, even if these might be the last words I ever write, who in the world would object?

Susan Bono is writing for an answer in Petaluma, CA.

Searchlights Editor:

Susan Bono

Columnists:

Christine Falcone, David Samuel Johnson, Betty Rodgers

Susan Bono is a writing coach, editor and freelance writer whose work appears in newspapers, anthologies and the Internet. She has published Tiny Lights, a journal of personal essay, since 1995, along with its online counterpart here at tiny-lights.com. From 2000—2005 she helped coordinate the Writer's Sampler series for the Sebastopol Center for the Arts. Her short essays and columns have appeared in various anthologies, magazines, newspapers and on the radio. Her most recent credits include Passager Magazine, Red Hills Review, the St. Petersburg Times, the Petaluma Argus Courier, the Anderson Valley Advertiser and KRCB radio's Word by Word.

Christine Falcone has been writing most of her life. Her work has appeared in print and online, and it has aired on public television and public radio. One of her writing goals for 2008 is to find an agent for her recently completed first novel, "This Is What I Know," which was named as a finalist in the William Faulkner Wisdom Creative Writing Competition out of New Orleans. She is currently in a new writing space, painted purple for inspiration, busily at work on another novel -- this one having to do with the nature of violence.

David Samuel Johnson was reared on a mountain in Arkansas. He lived the bohemian lifestyle in the Ozarks as a hillbilly vagabond, traversing the mountainside shirtless and most of the time shoeless, exploring the sensuality of the aromatic, organic-rich soil of the forest floor or the harsh poetry of greenbriers twined around a devil’s-walking-stick. As a kid he wanted to be a writer and own a snake farm when he grew up. His Mama knew she couldn't dissuade him from either goal. When he brought a poisonous copperhead snake home in his pocket, she bought him a book about snakes so he’d know which ones he could bring home and which ones to leave behind. When he wrote his first poem to a girl in kindergarten, she showed him how to use a dictionary so he could spell the word "beautiful." David's goal of a snake farm and the love of his mountain have manifested into a PhD in ecology. David’s dream of writing has evolved from his first poem in kindergarten to essays in newspapers to interview articles in magazines and columns in this journal. He is living a beautiful dream, some of which you can glimpse below.

David the Writer

David the Scientist

Betty Rodgers and her husband, Ken, live and watch birds in Boise, Idaho. A transplant among transplants, she has chosen to learn the local landscape through the lens of her Pentax K10D. Her writing career began at an early age when she wrote plays and coerced her boy cousins to perform them. She has enjoyed a life-long affair with journalism, writing for the Sacramento Bee, the Cloudcroft Mountain Monthly, the Sebastopol Times and News, and the Boise Weekly. Born in Steinbeck Country, she has also lived in Maine and New Mexico. Betty publishes a bi-monthly online newsletter for Idaho writers, a labor of love inspired by Terry Ehret. In 2006, she published A Mano, a book of poetry by the late Vince Pedroia.

Thanks to all who participated this month. It's good to know you're out there! We're looking forward to hearing from you and those you inspired sometime soon! Check this column each month to see what's new. Return to Searchlights & Signal Flares menu for future topics and guidelines.

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