West Coast author Mary Kennedy Eastham has been quite busy lately. Her book of poetry, the Shadow of a Dog I Can’t Forget, was one of my first review copies I received. I talked with her via an email interview. Here is what she had to say about her recent projects, the art of writing, her love of dogs, and her favorite writers.
WHAT ARE SOME OF YOUR CREATIVE PROJECTS?
I am trying so hard to finish my novel NIGHT SURFING. Writing a novel is very different from writing a short story or writing a poem. There are so many more layers you must add to the whole. I keep a Fragment File which is where I put story ideas, character traits, names I like, interesting snippets of conversations I’ve stumbled upon while pumping gas, standing in line at the grocery store, or at the bar waiting for a Take-Out order. Oh, my, give a person a drink or two and they spill their guts! They say the best writers steal. I’ll add to that, nothing is lost on a writer. It makes the world so much more interesting! And I can actually say this: ‘I wish I had another life left to write even more!!!’ Although I probably wouldn’t be able to afford my health insurance!
About a week ago, I decided to take a break from my novel and start working on something new, a short story, “The Girl With Sand in Her Hair”, it’s almost writing itself. This changing gears approach has taught me that when one thing isn’t working, you MUST start something new. I am hoping to finish a first version of this story this week. Beyond that, maybe this story can become the title for my second book, The Girl With Sand in Her Hair and Other Little Love Stories. I’ve also been working on a long prose poem, “The Divorce Diarist”, for over a year. A cinematographer I met recently wants to film a version of “Divorce Diarist” to post on YouTube. That’s given me the incentive to finish the poem and start thinking about camera angles, flashpoints, where to film it. Doing a mini-documentary was one of my 2011 writing goals, so I am very very excited about this project.
MY EXPERIENCE AS A CONTEST JUDGE…
To be a Judge frees you in a way as a writer. You realize that behind every Judge is a person, a person who is usually a writer or teacher or both, a person with writer’s styles and topics they are drawn to. I have judged poetry, creative non-fiction, humour, memoirs, short stories and novels. This year was my first experience judging e-books. Wow, that was challenging, especially trying to read 150+ pages per entry online. I closed down my laptop after a particularly long reading session and I swear for a few minutes, all I could see was a blurry cloud of jumbled words swirling in front of me.
The e-book competition asked its Judges what categories they wanted to Judge. I put down Women’s Fiction and High School poetry. The gave me Paranormal Romance and Fantasy. Okay…but guess what? I learned a very valuable lesson and it was this: a good story is a good story, no matter the genre. I actually liked being in the otherworlds created by these very talented writers. Near the end of the competition, they gave me the High School poetry entries to Judge, so the experience ended up being WIN/WIN.
My advice to all of you is to send your work out to a LOT of contests. It will definitely increase your chances of being noticed.
Wow, Karl, you’re really making me work here! Let’s see … I’d been writing for a while, and I simply wanted to get a book of mine out there in the world. I took a class online with New York City writer M.J. Rose called BUZZ YOUR BOOK. I used this experience as a challenge to complete a book. My next decision was what to include. That was a tough one. But it helped me hone everything down to its purest. Then I had to decide the order of stories and poems. That took a while, a long while actually. I knew what the very last piece would be because I loved the last line … the place where he last loved me … Inspiration for me has turned into necessity. I have to write. I wouldn’t know what else to do.
The title of the book came from a poem of the same name. I like its last line as well … as if he could tell me what follows love …
I think I’ve been questioning love for a long while now. Like so many writers, moviemakers and poets before me, it’s a most fascinating, frustrating and forever after pursuit!
WHAT’S UP WITH MY FASCINATION WITH DOGS???
I think it was Thomas Jefferson who said we become one with what we surround ourselves with. I live in a house full of Golden Retrievers. I’m a part-time breeder and there is always one or two or three or four dogs underfoot as I write, work-out, cook dinner, live my life. I remember the wonderful writer Raymond Carver (Google his short story ‘Cathedral’ to read this succinctly brilliant work of art) was an alcoholic for many of his early writing years. When I would read one of his stories, he was primarily a short-story writer, at some point in the story the main character would open a beer or take a swig from a near empty vodka bottle or pour himself glass after glass of wine. As a reader, you would almost get dizzy drunk reading Carver’s words. When he quit drinking, Carver wrote a story about a man who was going back to a reunion at the prestigious university he graduated from. Carver graduated from Stanford. In the story, as Carver’s character sits down to be served drinks and dinner, he turns his wine glass upside down on the table. Small, heartbreaking details like that one are my daily inspiration/motivation to get better and better at this craft we call writing.
WHO ARE MY FAVORITE WRITERS?
Karl, you always intimidate me with your own extensive reading list. I like any writer who tells a good story. I know that sounds so simplistic and if I could teach that skill to myself and get paid to teach novice writers that secret, I could retire to Paris! I like being surprised in an O’Henry sort of way. I like being whisked away to a world I know nothing about like the circus world Sarah Gruen creates in her novel Water for Elephants. One of the first short stories I couldn’t put down was Michael Cunningham’s “White Angel”. He went on to THE HOURS book and movie fame. He also wrote the screenplay along with another fave writer of mine, Susan Minot, to the movie adapted from Minot’s book EVENING. I love the poet Pablo Neruda. Writer/political & social activist Simone De Beauvoir was one of my very earliest influences. I like Lorrie Moore, I like the author of White Oleander whose name escapes me right now. [It’s Janet Fitch. – KW] I like the vulnerable quirkiness of Annie Lamott. I love Hemingway, Dorothy Parker, William S. Burroughs, Gabriel Garcia Marquez. I just know I’m forgetting someone.
Oh, I like your mind and your writing, Karl, and I can’t wait for you to put a book out there into this crazy world. One more writer just popped into my head – Muriel Barbery – author of The Elegance of the Hedgehog.
WEST COAST LITERARY SCENE CRAZINESS…
That ANY of us continue to write at all in a Twitter/Facebook/YouTube obsessed world is a feat in and of itself. Sadly, most of the writer’s groups I belong to are online, so I don’t know how much insight I can shed on the California literary scene. Writer/Filmmaker/Performance Artist Miranda July seems to have cut quite a fancy swath across this state with her book, No One Belongs Here More Than You, her films, Me and You and Everyone We Know (she directed and starred in the film) and The Future, a film debuting in New York and L.A. this week. She also has a participatory website learningtoloveyoumore . Google her. She seems as quirky as the characters she writes about. I’m a little, no, make that a LOT jealous of her genius in promoting herself and her work.
Dave Eggers, author of the memoir A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, is a prominent San Francisco writer/ social activist who started 826 Valencia, a writing program for underprivileged kids in the city. I believe there’s now a program in L.A. as well. Dave’s own back story is quite interesting – Dad leaves mom and kids early on to basically become a drunk, Dad dies, then mom dies of cancer, leaving poor Dave to raise his younger brother Troph. Again, I act like I know these people, I don’t, but they are I guess prominent California writers. Jennifer Egan, author of The Geek Squad lives in San Francisco and seems really lovely. I asked if she would be my ‘friend’ on Facebook and she sent me a lovely response. Karl, this question has made me realize I need to get out more!
WORDS FOR ASPIRING WRITERS…
I think I’ll end with my philosophy on writing: I really like my writing. I believe in my writing. To be successful, you need to do your best every dayfor a really long time…
Thanks, Karl, this was fun!