D. I could talk all day about your teaching and how wonderful you are at motivating and supporting those around you. That is my experience with you, …Sunday Spotlight – Artist and Teacher Audrey Markowitz
Category Archives: Supporting Creators
Gallery of Guests – 2023
Wow! What an Amazing Gallery Stacking up for 2023! Enjoy the insights and inspiration.
So Many Fabulous Guests In 2023.
April posts are up! Coming Next!
January, February, March Were Amazing Too!
See also my Gallery of Guests 2022
Sunday Spotlight with the Creators of Writing Battle!
Meet Max and Teona!
What a fun conversation. I was so excited to go behind the scenes of this rapidly growing writing community contest phenomenon. Read on and be fascinated and inspired!
An Introduction from Teona
Once upon a time, Max was a software engineer for a large defence company and unhappy in the lack of creativity he was able to exercise in his job. As an amateur screenwriter himself, he had come across writing contests before but knew there was room for the framework to improve. His wife Teona, was coming to the end of her maternity leave and so Max, with the long term goal of making this his full time job, took over as full-time parent by day and used the very little time in between kiddo naps and nights to mould the contest. With iteration after iteration, integrating suggestions from his brother, the writing battle community, and a lot of long nights full of doubt, he has finally gotten to a place where the contest works remarkably well. Battle season nights can now be spent enjoying wine, reviewing feedback and chatting with Teona instead of sweating over the keyboard to ensure the forums that he built from scratch are ready for the next day (yes that really did happen). Now we are in year three, just wrapped up battle number 9 and Teona has been officially “hired.” We are so excited to watch the community grow and thrilled to hear people enjoy the tournament as much on the writers’ side as we do behind the scenes.
A huge thank you goes out to our community and supporters like Darci who make this dream work for us! 🙂
What a great intro! I had to add it here in addition to my announcement page. I can’t thank you both enough for visiting with me today and chatting about Writing Battle. I was intrigued as soon as I saw a post on Instagram, and so glad I signed up for my first battle. After participating in the Autumn Short Story Contest, I was hooked.
I’ve been noodling over how I might describe the highlights and why I enjoy the contests, but there are a lot of reasons. So, I’ll sprinkle my comments throughout our discussion and hopefully capture it all that way.
I know for me, I can get bogged down in the serious work of writing, so I’ll start off by saying, these contests are just plain fun, a great way to remind me to enjoy the writing process.
In your introduction, there are a number of pursuits mentioned, software engineering, screenplay writing, starting up a business, time for parenting, which led to Writing Battle. Can you each share more about your backgrounds and how they shaped the fantastic platform and resulting community?
Max: My background is a bit all over the place. I was super into film and music as a teenager/early twenties, and ended up joining the Navy. I went from that into Computer Science, but always had it in the back of my mind that I would start writing screenplays again. After participating in NYC Midnight and enjoying the peer critique on their forums, I thought – hey, maybe this could work as a writing platform. A writing tournament where it is entirely peer-powered. The thing with programming is that when you are coding all day long at work, the last thing you want to do is code in the evenings. For me anyway! So it was crucial that I dove head first into Writing Battle. Teona going back to work after mat leave facilitated that – where I could look after our then 1 and 3 year old during the day and code Writing Battle at night.
Teona: We were actually just chatting about this yesterday– I think like many other people during the pandemic, we were in search of something. I had just given birth to our second child and as we said in the intro, Max was very unhappy working in his defence gig which was only amplified by working from home. On my side, and I think (hope?) many parents can also identify with this, I got this overwhelming sense of loss of my own identity to the new one in parenthood; I was happy to go back to work as an EEG Technologist to regain some of that “me-ness” and in turn Max was able to continue developing the WB platform. Obviously both of us could work outside the home, but we always agreed that if we were to have children, we wanted someone at home with them (plus childcare costs in Canada are outrageous, especially having two).
Other things we did/tried during the pandemic:
Sell our house; join a cohousing community in construction; write and film a pilot concept with friends for a children’s show; serve as a script supervisor on a few short film sets; talk seriously and explore the idea of moving to other provinces, states, countries; start marriage counselling to better support each others’ search for that ever elusive “something.”
Max is the dreamer. I am the voice of reason (read: stick-in-the-mud). We are constantly trying to bring balance to each other which we are really starting to find in our own exploration of what Writing Battle is 🙂 The biggest thing we have enjoyed about WB is that we truly feel part of a really positive community, which I think at the end of the day is what we have always been looking for.
Teona rants a bit if you can’t already tell 😛
Darci. Haha. Ranting (aka elaborating) is what this creator’s life chat is all about. To hear all the exploration that led you separately and together to what participants can now enjoy in the writing community is truly phenomenal. Thank you for sharing that! I was curious if NYC Midnight influenced some of the ideas behind WB. I’ve enjoyed a few of those competitions, too, though I got a little lost in the giant forums. I must say, Writing Battle does a great job giving its participants a community forum scaled to a fun and manageable size. It’s an amazing design.
The wonderful Writing Battle homepage image (the graphics are another attraction) totally has me picturing you two battling at home with pens and paper, and the lightbulb switching on-Why not spread the fun and get a community involved in battling with us? (Thanks for letting me indulge in my imagination.) Have you, Max, designed other software for fun or for your own creativity before Writing Battle? Did you have earlier manifestations/dreams of a Writing Battle-like platform, or was it only a recent realization?
Max: Thank you haha and I never really saw ourselves in that image, but now that you mention it – I can definitely see it! Especially before marriage counselling (ha). The artist’s name is Nikita Mazurov, and does absolutely amazing art. As far as software for fun, no, not really – just for other companies. I was always interested in online games and board games that explored the social interactions between people like Balderdash. I’m going to sound like a huge dork, but I LOVE the tv show Survivor. I think it’s the coolest social experiment. That’s how I look at Writing Battle. It’s really just a month-long social game for writers.
Darci. Believe me getting to the end of the competition twice now has made me feel like a survivor! I can totally see that influence. All those are great elements and exactly the fun tidbits about the creative process I love sharing with our readers.
Besides your own creative mind and lifestyle changes, are there other people, communities, philosophies, entities who inspired you to go for this?
Teona: I’ll chime in here– I mentioned earlier about joining a cohousing community in the pandemic. I think that in the end, even though that lifestyle didn’t end up fully resonating with how we saw our future, there was something there that may have inspired what we saw WB becoming. Positivity, sharing and evolving ideas, supporting one another– these are all pillars of what that kind of environment is enriched with and we still wanted a part of that in our lives despite leaving the cohousing development. I think Max would agree that we joined the cohousing community in search of “our people” and then tried really hard to fit what we thought that meant instead of coming as we are. I think being our authentic selves and full transparency became incredibly important to us through that experience and we hope that WB showcases that.
There is also one person in particular that was an incredible support to Max throughout this experience and that was his brother Alex. Alex was there cheering on and pushing Max to continue in the deepest moments of discouragement. “Just keep going for a few more months… see what happens and reassess.” That on repeat was our focus. One more battle, one more goalpost with more information. Is this viable? Is this worth it? Can this passion project truly become a source of income? Even when that answer felt like a “no” Alex was there believing in WB, believing in his brother.
Darci. Fantastic. Thank you Alex for helping to keep Writing Battle going so we can all enjoy it! And I’m thrilled to hear it’s becoming viable for you as an income, Max and Teona. Here’s to continued success!
You mention the Writing Battle community feedback helping you improve the platform. What were your biggest hurdles in the beginning and your favorite suggestions?
Max: Special shoutout to Leila Poole from the forums and my brother, Alex, who I bounced ideas off of for the entire first year of Writing Battle. It started with 11 participants from the NYCM forum. Leila was one of the first to agree to participate and “got” what I was trying to do. My initial idea for the site was that it was to be Screenwriting-only, entirely free, and people would only pay if they wanted to redraw their prompts. As you can tell, we’ve had to pivot many times to make this contest work and the community feedback has been crucial. It’s hard to pick a favourite suggestion because honestly, the entire contest has been shaped by the community.
Darci: Ah. The ingredients for success and what a win win for the community and Writing Battle.
One aspect of Writing Battle that really stands out is the peer judging. When I first looked into signing up, my initial reaction was, Oh no. I’m not qualified to judge other writing, and wow that’s quite a commitment in order to participate. But after thinking about it, I could see the appeal, the potential to enjoy a variety of writing styles and learn from them, then benefit on the other side of the coin through the responses to my writing. I did experience a little of that with the NYC Midnight forum and now we know how that platform got the ideas rolling, but can you tell us more about the story behind the peer participation?
Max: The initial inspiration came from how valuable I found peer feedback for my own screenwriting, but there’s a bit more to the story – I also found that the judges for writing contests tended to all be cut from the same cloth. And I mean, why wouldn’t they be? It takes a certain type of person to apply to be a creative writing judge. To begin with, you have to think that you’re qualified! So they are typically literary academics that understand the craft of creative writing. There’s nothing wrong with that, and feedback from those folks has value, but they don’t represent the entire readership pool. Far from it. Like you say, it’s a bit intimidating to think about joining a writing competition where you are also a judge. However, if you can read, you can judge. You know what you like and what you don’t like. We believe authors should be striving to write stories that everyone wants to read. Not just academics.
Darci: I for one have benefitted from the feedback in a myriad ways, especially when there is a consistency in the tone or a specific element(s) of the story that gets pinpointed by a majority of the judges. If you can suck it up and take it to heart, you can’t help but grow by leaps and bounds as a writer. Highly recommend the experience!
When you register, there is an opt out of the judging for stated reasons. I’ve been curious. Do you get participants who select that option?
Max: No, very few people select the opt-out option. Last Battle, out of 725 people only 4 selected that option. It’s our way to help folks that may be too busy to read stories that month or perhaps have triggers that would make it too risky to read unvetted stories. All of the extra money goes to members of the community that have chosen to read more stories that Battle. Essentially, it’s a reading fee. But yeah – not very popular. People seem to love to read/judge other stories even if there is some risk involved with triggers.
Darci: You must really dig statistics like that. What a great way to know it’s working.
Now for the details because those are what infuse the Writing Battle platform with fun. I adore it when it’s time to draw my prompts! I love having options to redraw and going through the decision process to determine whether to keep my initial draw, or take a chance on another combination. The fun in this is reflected in the community comments when contestants share how they went outside of their comfort zone to write in a different genre for the first time. That’s happened to me each time (Cannibal Comedy and Lost World). When I read the results of their efforts, I’m blown away every time. Can you give us some behind the scenes on developing the tarot card idea?
Max: I was just always into poker as a kid and I love card games so that’s where the redrawing came from. Writing prompts seemed like a good fit to stick on a card. There’s no fun tarot card story really haha I just thought it would look cool 🙂 glad you like it!
Darci: Awesome! Your fun is our fun.
How do you come up with/decide on the genres?
Teona: A lot of that has been community feedback. We noticed we got the best reactions when we had the wildest genres – as long as they were from a spread of genre categories (plot-driven, spec, comedic, and more serious). Max and I have SO much fun sitting down, drinking wine, and throwing crazy genre ideas at each other. Some are solely to make the other person laugh like Cannibal Comedy. There have been some killer community forum suggestions for this last Battle that will heavily influence our upcoming competitions.
Darci. There’s that image again of you two at the table. Such a great icon. I’m going to have to find more time to read the forums. This is another great example of your creative energy influencing the writing community and bouncing back to you. I love it.
I noticed the prompts are repeated in the contests like they’ve been reshuffled for the new batch of genres. How do you come up with the prompts?
Max: They’re really just from lists that I’ve compiled from the internet, and it’s always amazing to read the stories that people come up with. In the very first battle, there was a prompt type called ‘Things’ and it consisted of every single noun in the English language (which I downloaded from some online dictionary). We’re talking tens of thousands of words that people could draw, but that just made people upset when they drew prompts like praseodymium and had no idea what to write. We pruned that list to around 600 words and called it ‘Objects’ instead of Things haha. There’s still work to do on expanding the other prompt types.
Darci: Oh that’s a great story. I’m looking up praseodymium… hmmm, a mineral from the periodic table. Might have to give it a go. Wait. I have tried that. My supernatural romance series features promethium used to make a weapon deadly to shifters because for some weird reason I wanted to incorporate rare earth minerals into my story. Love it!
I blogged a bit recently after my second contest about how Writing Battle works. I broke it down into stages, which is another fun element; the different ways we can be involved over the weeks as we move towards the final judging. But I admit, I had to describe the peer review (duelling) elimination rounds in general terms because the process is mind boggling. I’m still not sure if my story was eliminated in the second or third round. 😁
My confusion is probably due to my lack of a gaming background or some brainy, techy component I’m missing, but I would love for you to give our readers more on the concept in layman’s terms, so we might understand how it works.
Max: Haha I’m still trying to figure out how to describe it! I’ll do my best.
The first stage has the writer redrawing prompts and writing a story in a short amount of time.
After submission, the contest enters the second stage where each writer becomes an anonymous judge. They are given 10 stories total, but spread out over the course of 3 weeks – given two stories to judge at-a-time. They have to read each of the two stories, give a bit of feedback, then choose a “winner” of the two. That process is called a Duel. Those Duels help progress a massive best-of-five, single elimination tournament. The peer judging stops when the top two stories from each of the four genres have been determined and that brings us to the third stage.
There’s a bit of a fog-of-war until the third stage. No one knows who wrote what or how their story did. The third stage allows the writers to share their story in a semi-public forum called Debrief. Because the peer-judging is over, it’s now safe to reveal yourself (if you choose to do so). You read each other’s stories and comment on them, but this time not anonymously and not in a Duel. We then slowly lift the fog-of-war and reveal the tournament brackets over a week-long period while the industry judges (authors) pick the four winners from the final 8 that the peer-judging chose in the second stage.
Darci: Thank you!
Can you share the gist of the collective feedback you get from the community on participating in the Duels?
Max: I think the initial reaction is something like – “Uhhh wait this sounds like work.” Haha, which is fair! It is a bit of extra work. But by the time the fifth Duel rolls around, I would say in general it becomes their favourite part about the contest. It’s also an unexpected educational tool. You read stories of varying quality and you get to decide for yourself what works and what doesn’t and then maybe even ask yourself why something connected with you. I’ve had a participant in his 80’s tell me it not only changed the way he writes, but even changed the way he reads. I found that fascinating.
Darci: That’s great, and I can relate to my fellow participant’s comments.
How do you find and involve the amazing professional judges?
Max: I just cold-email everyone until I get a response. We’re still trying to perfect that part of the contest.
Teona: I had the exact same question when Max told me the calibre of people he had agreeing to be the pro judges! Like how? You didn’t sell our firstborn right? Haha.
He insisted he just cold-emailed them on a whim, ensured me artists were supportive of other artists and that that’s what drove them to support our little cause.
Darci: Haha. So fun to hear from you both on that. And I didn’t expect the cold calling technique though I don’t know why because it’s simple and it works. I’ve employed the “it can’t hurt to ask if you want something” policy many times. That’s how I invited you both to chat with me. 😄
I’m going to put you on the spot here. Do you get to read any of the submissions after they are open to the community?
Teona: YES! And not just after, we read them all throughout the judging stages, keep an eye on our favourites, or on members like yourself who we have developed a relationship with through the community 🙂 We are also sifting through all the feedback during the battle to ensure people are adhering to the rules. Sometimes that requires us to read stories to make sure the judges are doing their part and being fair to their duels by truly reading and providing feedback that directly addresses the stories facing off. On at least two recent occasions, Max has looked over at me at my desk and I was in tears, and he asked “what happened?” and I simply respond “I just read an amazing story that may not have existed without WB and I am grateful to be a part of that” ❤
Darci: OMG. I love it! What a bonus to see what your competition inspires.
It seems to me that the numerous contest opportunities scheduled throughout the year are planned to perfection and run smoothly at this point in time. Any plans for enhancements or additional features?
Max: Always. I am currently rebuilding the website and all of the code from scratch. The new website should be released in a couple of weeks. Stay tuned!
Darci: Ooh. How exciting! Thank you for sharing that right here on my blog!
The aesthetics of the Writing Battle website are very appealing and inviting. It adds so much to the fun. Who does the artwork/design?
Max: Thank you! I mentioned the artist, Nikita Mazurov, who did the art for the landing page. Design has been the hardest part for me. I didn’t know it at the time, but I think I (perhaps poorly) was going for a neo-brutalist web design when I first created the site. It’s been fun to learn as I go. The new website is a lot more chill and maybe a little easier on the eyes if you’re on the site for longer periods of time.
I’d like to include one more question on a personal note. Do you both find time to write and create? Max, do you still get to write screenplays? If so, what are your works in progress and goals? What are your tips for balancing it all with life and family?
Max: No writing for me for the past year, unfortunately. I have a few ideas floating around that I still want to explore. I could definitely see myself in a couple of years getting back into it and feeling out screenwriting a bit more. As far as work/life balance, it’s pretty easy when you have a couple of preschoolers running around. They have the tendency to pull you from work to focus on them haha.
Teona: I would never identify myself as a writer. I am better at stream of consciousness writing as a means to organise my thoughts and I love playing with words in doing so but I have never really tried to write a story. Maybe someday 🙂
I don’t know that we are at all qualified to be giving tips about balance. HAHA. Some days are incredibly balanced and harmonious– this is usually following a rare full night’s sleep (our kids have always been terrible sleepers). For a more accurate picture of our “balance” it is kinda just roll with whatever seems to be working that day, hour, or moment, and reassess in the evening to try and make the next day better. Having young kids and an even younger business is no joke but we are having an absolute blast with it all, learning lots along the way and for us it truly comes down to good communication.
Thank you so much, Max and Teona, for visiting today! This has been a blast. You can follow Writing Battle on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter to participate in this amazing writing community, but don’t forget to sign up for a battle!
Any parting words of advice to our readers who dream about writing, web design, and finding ways to pursue their creative passions?
Max: Thank you for the thoughtful questions. This has been a lot of fun! My only real advice would be to constantly re-evaluate and not to be afraid to pivot. I think it’s unrealistic to believe that you know what you have before creating your first prototype or draft. Get feedback and see how people use what you create. If it’s writing– then get honest critique and take it to heart. Don’t be afraid to admit when you’re wrong and pivot towards what’s working for your consumers.
Teona: Max has taught me to reach further than what I believe or perceive to be the edge of possibility. WB is proof of that for me.
Thank Goodness for Friends! Finally Got Out for a Show at the Lake
It has been too long since I’ve been in a throng of people having a good time. Not that I’m a partier or one who gets out a lot in the first place, but after three years of pandemic life, hibernating in front of my computer writing, and this year, being restricted by an unusually harsh and long winter, I realized that even infrequent participation in society is better than none, and it’s good for the soul.
So, my friend had tickets to Elle King and needed a buddy to brave the snowy mountain highway with her to Lake Tahoe, which is thirty minutes from our neighborhood, and another ten to South Lake.
I like Ms. King’s songs. I hoped for a good show. She was okay. Seemed like she’d been partying a bit hard before coming on stage. She was quite sassy and tossing out the f-bombs liberally while toking on a joint. A little of that goes a long way. What can I say? As a writer I cringe at demonstrations of limited vocabularies. We also waited a long time for her to start after her amazing opening band concluded. And she left abruptly with no encore. But that’s okay. I still had a great night out.
We enjoyed a fabulous dinner and service at the Sapori Italian Kitchen at the top of Harrah’s with an amazing view of the famous emerald lake surrounded by snow and clouds any artist would dream to paint. I loved the opportunity to indulge in good company, lots of conversation, and people watching. Even the room at the Quality Inn was cozy and the perfect place to crash before heading home the next morning.
But there are a few other highlights that made this outing special. I have an entire scene in book one of my series, The Starlight Chronicles, where Andras takes Selena for an evening out at Harvey’s. It’s a pivotal point in the plot, Andras’s big reveal, and precipitates a critical action scene. It was good to see that my impressions from previous experiences were spot on, and I felt like I was walking around in my book. The people-watching was a much-needed opportunity for character ideas. What a blast! Getting outside my head for stories is kind of amazing.
The Red Clay Strays
The second highlight was the opening band, the Red Clay Strays. I’d never heard of them and I always love an opportunity to be introduced to new music. If you haven’t listened to them or seen them live, I recommend both. If you like Country mixed with Rock, the energy of Jerry Lee Lewis mixed with a Chris Stapleton-like voice, you’ll dig this band.
Sunday Spotlight with Award Winning Filmmaker Graham Streeter
Truly Insightful and Inspiring for any Creator who Takes on Years-long Projects
Welcome to my Sunday Spotlight Graham. What a delight to have this opportunity to catch up with you and have you share your works with us. I’ve not …Sunday Spotlight with Award Winning Filmmaker Graham Streeter
Sunday Spotlight with Award Winning Filmmaker Graham Streeter
Welcome to my Sunday Spotlight Graham. What a delight to have this opportunity to catch up with you and have you share your works with us. I’ve not had many guests where I could say “I knew you when.” And that makes our chat special for me because when you took those steps after high school to set off on your creative journey, which led to your amazing career we will chat about today, you helped me take a few bold steps of my own. I’ve always been grateful for that.
So let’s start by introducing you as the principal behind Imperative Pictures, a film company with an exciting and eclectic body of work our readers can check out on IMDb. Your 2018 film I May Regret was selected for the San Diego International Film Festival and won the Grand Prix at the Vienna Independent Film Festival, and Blind Malice did fabulous on the awards front as well. Grace Zabriskie earned a best actress award, which I was thrilled to see. She’s always been a favorite of mine. All the actors gave us potent scenes in that film. It was also a special treat to join your crew to watch it at the Sacramento International Film Festival on the historic Delta King riverboat. And you’ve gone on to win many more international film awards. Congratulations!
D. How long do you work on your story ideas, the writing, before a piece becomes a full-fledged project? Or do they start life as a film concept, then comes the writing?
G. I always start with a subject matter. Usually through the act of general wide-cast exploration I eventually stumble blindly upon a subject matter that I had little or no knowledge of. That’s when I get interested. That’s when I become intrigued. It usually means I’m not alone and the subject matter is worth furthering to educate people like myself.
Then I ask myself is it a big enough subject matter?
If so, the writing process always starts off super fragmented, at best. I try not to focus on a storyline, but instead, I’m usually fixated on an ending; an outcome; a take-a-way. Having a specific ending in my head from the start is essential. It’s the core driver for everything else that will take place for this project for the rest of my work. Even after the film is done this core still drives marketing and promotional possibilities.
Once I know what I wish to say about the subject matter, then I can start creating an actual narrative that takes us on a journey that ultimately lands on that final point or message. I guess you can say it’s reverse engineering.
D. As a writer, I have been interested in the differences between writing a novel or a screenplay, especially since I noticed that many writing challenge platforms offer screenwriting contests along with short story writing. Which means to me, many fledgling writers want to write that next epic screenplay. I think the main thing is creating scenes that build on each other through a story arc. But what other key features are there in writing screenplays?
G. I don’t have a clue about writing a novel but I do know a bit about screenplays. The work is not random. A good story may appear organic and without format, especially done well, but once you strip away all the glitter it is a body of work that usually fits the model of a solid 3-act structure specific to screenplay writing.
The challenge of a screenplay is that, unlike a novel, a screenplay never overtly articulates the inner thoughts of a character. A screenplay can only provide observation. Moving pictures. So glances, body language, choice of words, or lack thereof, emotions you can see, manipulative actions you can witness. Clues like a faint smile. A welling up of the eyes. A nervous clearing of the throat. Those are the visuals an audience relies on to gain insight into their minds.
A screenplay is only a roadmap for the director to get you from A to B. In many ways, unless detail tells you something to actually further the story, it is never included. The roadmap can be widely interpreted and visualised. No two people read a screenplay the same way, and thus a director who embarks on a writer’s work has the opportunity to tell the story from his or her unique directorial perspective. A unique directorial lens.
The same story can appear unrecognisable from director to director. But each story ultimately says the same thing in the end. The roadmap takes the director to the end.
D. Fascinating. Exactly the insights I was hoping you could give our audience and a wonderful glimpse into the creative freedom of a filmmaker.
D. As the writer, director and cinemaphotographer on your films, which would you say is your true calling, or is it a combination? Do those roles change with each film where you might do more of one than the other?
G. I love every stage of filmmaking. If you truly love every creative process, why not do it all. Right? I think of filmmaking as approaching a painter rightfully approaching an oil painting. The painter would never sketch out a drawing, paint half of it, and then hand the brushes and paint over to another painter and say, “Hey, wanna do the rest?” No. A painter usually picks a subject matter, outlines the concept, lays down the base coat, paints in the images, indulges in all the detail work and finishings. Signs it. Frames it. Heck, the artist might even have a strong opinion about how and where to hang it.
That’s how I feel about filmmaking. I enjoy and love doing every aspect of the work.
D. That’s a fantastic analogy. And that passion shows in your finished product.
D. How do you assemble your team? Do you have a crew who is part of Imperative Pictures, or do you recruit for each project? Do you have a system you follow each time, or is it more organic? Feel free to expand on your creative process, how a film comes about from start to finish.
G. It’s a hybrid. We have garnered team members who consistently work with us if they are available. We have others we recruited for one project, and then they go on to bigger and better projects as their careers advance.
Many years ago we created the Imperative Pictures Internship Program in conjunction with Emerson College Film School, Boston/Los Angeles. As a result, when we are gearing up for a production we take on any number of young and inspiring interns who spend the semester learning how we approach filmmaking. Then, timing permitting, they roll into production for an actual feature film production experience. They truly get their hands dirty in the business.
They also walk away with IMDb credits for a feature film. It’s a great program and we love launching bright new students into the film world.
D. What a brilliant program. A win for everyone.
D. I have to say you have a knack for creating a story that has me on the edge of my seat from the start. I loved the opening scene in Blind Malice just as an example. Is suspense a favorite genre and method for telling the character’s story?
G. Yes, I love suspense. I also love psychological thrillers. I guess you can say I like when the mind has to work hard to understand another person’s mind. It’s the human connection I focus on to tell my story. If we can connect with the main character by creating a character who is both flawed and inspirational; undeniably human; the possibilities of where that character can lead us is endless.
D. Beautiful. I can definitely relate to this as a writer, and it’s something I strive for.
D. Your films bring an awareness to challenges many of us face in life, whether physical, cultural, or social. Was that an underlying purpose for making them, or a happy accident that became your trademark?
G. Happy accident. But not without some master planning. Making a film consumes many years of a filmmaker’s life, and after the film is done it runs over and over in perpetuity. So, I always want to be sure I’m making something that has meaning, purpose, and will be relevant and serve to better our society as the story is told. It needs to be worth my time.
The earliest of storytelling was to teach lessons for the community. Feature films have even more of an opportunity to inform its viewer and potentially a wider audience. A film garners a captive audience. What an opportunity it is to make a body of work that can provide insight, perspective, and clarity to a topic that could ultimately change another person’s life somewhere in the world. That’s the power of film.
We take film seriously. It can literally shape a person’s view of the world for a lifetime.
D. Tell us about Imperative Pictures’ latest film, Unfix.
G. Unfix. It’s my newest film. We’re currently doing sound design on it. It’s a story about a 35-year old man named Ari who, at age 11, following a brief encounter with another boy, was forced into the torturous practice of Conversion Therapy. But now Ari is 35 years old and happily heterosexual, and “fixed”. But when the pandemic hits, Ari’s world is turned upside down once again, awakening dormant questions about his fundamental authentic self; casting doubt he was ever really gay.
I stumbled upon the topic during my rabbit hole research phase. I knew a little about conversion therapy but the more I dove into the topic the more convinced I was that this was a topic that needed to break the walls of specific sexual orientation to make it universally relevant. We hope the story achieves that.
D. It’s hard to imagine parents putting their child through such trauma instead of nurturing the child’s discovery of where they fit in the world. Yet, it happens to a lot of us, sometimes in more subtle ways. I’m glad you’re telling the story.
D. I’m going to hark back to high school because for me, the most fascinating aspect of this interview is knowing you back then and having you share how you got here today. There were so many ways you expressed your creativity in those early years; music, art, drama, starting up social groups and small businesses to spread creativity to others, and finally traveling to Japan. When you were exploring all those ideas, did you have any inkling you would end up behind a movie camera?
G. Settling into film took some time. Maybe subconsciously I already knew when I bought my first video camera in Japan in 1980. It was a dinky little compact micro-cassette SONY camera and I took it everywhere and I made so many little movies. And then I started making “Santa Sightings” short films for my niece and nephew every year. Then short films. Then finally bigger and bigger films as my confidence grew.
But professionally, I was working in News. Then LIVE TV work. By being in the field, I was learning that I don’t like the chaos and uncertainty that accompanied that kind of production. I eventually discovered I am more of a planner. I like being organised. My dissatisfaction with LIVE TV and NEWS ultimately steered me toward film. Film is calculated. It is planned. It employs strategy. All the parts of the brain I like to exercise, while still being fully creative. The feature film medium found me.
D. I bet your niece and nephew adored those movies. My imagination is taking off thinking about how you told them.
D. How big a part did living in Japan play in forming your film career? Did you travel there with the idea there might be opportunities for your future, or did you simply set out on an exciting adventure?
G. Japan moulded a great deal of my work ethics. Japan also served as the foundation of my first 20 working years in production. Oddly, Japan also made me feel like an outsider, and I was okay with that. That feeling helped me make decisions for myself, not for others.
I owe so much of my creative autonomy to travelling outside my comfort zone, learning how to survive and flourish in another culture, chipping away at another language, using a part of my brain that would otherwise have gone unused, to who I am today. Especially in the 80s, Japan was as far one could get from the “Western” culture.
I grew immensely from those 10 years abroad and 10 more working for a Japanese TV network back in the states. It gave me a unique sense of confidence as I moved forward in life.
D. A great learning experience to pass on. Thank you for that, Graham. We were fortunate to travel there in an era when Japan was opening up to western culture. Even in my three-month visit, I ran the gamut from dealing with the challenges of being an outsider in a traditional Japanese family to being thrown into the middle of the family’s western growing pains.
D. What would you say is your biggest influence or turning point that got you where you are today?
G. There has never been one big influence or turning point that got me where I am today. It’s always been about achieving productive goals every day. Small bite-sized goals over weeks and years that lead to bigger daunting life-changing goals. Slow and steady progress requires staying on track, and not veering off my course. I did not know how I would get there, just that I wanted to get there. I am still “getting there”.
My father once gave me perhaps the greatest advice ever. I was 16. I was fixated on what I would do when I grew up and how I would get there. He asked me to take out a piece of paper. Fold it into four quadrants. He instructed me: in the first quadrant write DAY. The next one, write MONTH. Next, write YEAR. The last one, write ULTIMATE. He explained, to get to your ultimate destination you just need to set clear specific but small and easy goals that will lead you there.
Daily achievements will result in monthly success. Months quickly turn to years and as long as your ultimate goal is in view, you will move in that direction.
“But remember,” he said, “Set goals you KNOW you can achieve so you don’t set yourself up for failure. Give yourself tasks you know you can check off daily, so you feel like a winner everyday. Use it every day. Keep it folded up nicely in your back pocket. Constantly remind yourself of the ULTIMATE goal.”
I use this method to this day.
D. I love this! Thank you.
D. Who would you say most inspired you, or your works?
G. I love all art. I study art but not necessarily film artists. I am a consumer of movies but never try to emulate work I’ve seen. I try to let it come from within, depending on the story I’m telling and what I’m feeling.
One of my greatest inspirations has always been my father. He was an artist. I learned from watching him work.
D. When you talk to people about getting started in the film industry, what are your top pieces of advice?
G. My advice to anyone who wants to be in film? Get a business degree! Film and art and all the juicy creative things in life we will study our whole life long, but taking the time to get a solid business degree, so you can survive in the real world as you pursue your art is essential.
In the end, if you want to make a living in the arts, you need to remember art is a business.
D. Are there works in progress? Where can we follow you to see what’s coming next?
G. For now I’m still consumed with UNFIX. After sound design, we will go to festivals, touring for a year. Then I will slowly start the cycle again; indulging in research and asking myself what topic is out in the world that I don’t know anything about and is very important to learn more of. That will be the beginning of a new chapter in my life… a chapter that will, again, consume many years, and ultimately last a lifetime.
Like all my films. Actually making the film takes about 4 years. In 4 years time I can go to college and get a degree. It should be at least that powerful for me.
D. This is the most surprising insight, the amount of time and commitment to each film. Your analogy really puts that in perspective.
D. Where do you see yourself as a creator in the next ten years? Same question for Imperative Pictures?
G. I hope to never retire. I hope I can keep making movies deep into my 90s while I sit poolside in some resort! Haha. The topics that will be important in 10 years time are inconceivable at this time. I am an optimist. I trust the future will be amazing, and I’m sure the world will be, in many ways unchanged and in so many other ways, literally unrecognisable.
Ten years is just around the corner. I hope to have a few more films on the platter. I just want to keep doing what I love. I’m in a sweet spot right now, and I hope to continue this.
D. I have no doubts you’ll be making movies in your 90s. I hope the same goes for writing my stories. I’ve got enough planned to get me there! Poolside. Hmmm. I like it…
D. Thank you so much for visiting, Graham! Any parting words of advice to our readers on following their creative passions?
G. Filmmaking is a very long road to travel to make a film. If you aren’t operating from a place of pure passion you will eventually fizzle out. Find a partner in life that you can travel on that creative journey with. My partner is Alex. He is my producer, my advisor, my manager, my best friend, and the love of my life.
I will close with this. Thank YOU for doing this spotlight, for me and all the interesting stories of the inspiring people you share with your readers.
Like filmmaking, you are providing your own unique platform that can potentially give insight and inspiration to others, shaping a person’s view of the world for a lifetime – all through your Sunday Spotlight.
Recommended Short Story Video – Moon by Lucky Noma
Enjoy this short story and more. Subscribe to Lucky’s YouTube.
This Sunday – Spotlight on a Filmmaker
Meet the man behind Imperative Pictures and get a glimpse into a day in the life of filmmaking.
Sharing! – The Tenth Annual Contest Of Whatever!
Originally posted on Evil Squirrel’s Nest: Ten years, and creativity tastes just as groovy as ever! It’s February and you know what that means…… ***…The Tenth Annual Contest Of Whatever!
In Like a Lion, Out Like a Lamb
The weather for sure. Yikes, I’ve never lived in so much snow. But my guests are anything but lambs in March! Sunday, March 12, will be award winning filmmaker, Graham Streeter. We will chat about his growing body of work and all aspects of bringing a film to life.
And two special guests from Nova Scotia will be joining me on March 26, the creators of Writing Battle. Yep, Max and Teona will be here to talk about the amazing writing contest platform and its growing community.
But you can still visit my February guests and all my amazing guests in my Gallery. Check out my conversations with South African Sci Fi Romance author, Sevannah Storm, and author of the newly relaunched YA Fantasy series, A Pendale Tale, Jorma Kansanen.
My Creator Spotlight – Inspiration for Me, and for You!
You can’t help but be motivated after meeting creators like you and learning what motivated them through the ups and the downs of their journeys.
The year is flying! I can’t believe I’ve already had two amazing guests drop by. If you haven’t met Madeline or Isa yet, visit their posts for inspiration and two super enjoyable conversations.
I thought I would blog a bit about my Spotlight feature. The joy and inspiration I get from engaging in this process has turned out to be the biggest surprise in my writing journey.
I have had the privilege of interviewing members of the writing community and other creators I meet along the way, mostly fantasy and sci fi writers like me who are new at it and working hard to get their stories out in the world. I also interview editors, book reviewers, artists, and photographers. Even an old high school friend is dropping by in March who is an award winning filmmaker.
My guests are from around the globe, including Australia, Canada, the U.K., Nigeria, Portugal, Texas, Seattle, Hollywood and my own town, Carson City. I’ve got more lined up from South Africa, New Zealand, Scotland, the U.K., Montreal, Vancouver, and Seattle. This is inspiring in an of itself.
Every one of my guests has been a delight and so generous with their time. And this is an opportunity to thank them all for participating. Drop by my gallery where all conversations are housed for continued inspiration.
This month, my two guests proved again how supportive the writing community is. Madeline and Isa spent a lot of time and effort on a robust Q&A. These two are phenomenal at supporting and inspiring others, and it really comes through.
My interviews center around a creator’s life; what inspires it, the highlights and lessons of the journey, and how to balance all the things, and every one of my guests has something different to offer, yet every bit has been relatable and translates to all of us who are endeavoring to grow and succeed through creative expression.
One Conversation Up – One Coming This Sunday! Come Chat With Us.
Sunday Spotlight with Historical Fantasy Writer and Musician, Madeline Davis
I’m so glad we finally got to chat on my blog, Madeline! I know this is a super busy time of year for you with all your pursuits. Hopefully, you got a nice winter break. Since we actually need to catch up, tell me first about what you’re currently working on and how are you feeling about your progress?
Thanks for having me! A busy time for you too I’m sure, and you’ve got quite a variety of projects running yourself—new books, new platforms, new connections, wow! I’m looking forward to seeing your new ventures as well!
Right now I’m just focusing on completing my first novel: an historical-fantasy based on Louis IX and Isabel of France. I’ve gotten to do a lot of research for it these past few months with a medievalist professor, digging into 13th century France and the royal family, and am now about halfway to a complete draft (various degrees of polish). While there’s still a considerable way to go putting all the pieces together (I write many scenes out of order, and this particular project started as a series of short stories too, so lots of structure work), I am quite hopeful of finishing it in the next few months.
You make me wish I would have started writing in my youth, combining fiction writing with academia. I don’t know which would be more fun, writing or the opportunity for that sort of research! It sounds exciting, and I can’t wait to read it. We’ve talked a bit about writing scenes out of order, and there is a lot of merit to that method. Can you share a little more on that?
Actually, I’m not sure I would recommend it, unless you have a solid framework for the whole story, and are willing to rewrite those scenes after the other parts are finished–not necessarily very efficient! But it is motivating at times to dig into a more substantial scene, something that reminds me what I found so fascinating about this project in the first place, and which stews in my head without my trying. I find that especially helpful if the gears aren’t turning so smooth at the current place. Rather than saying I’ve hit a block, I’ll write something I know comes later, (but have enough of an idea to write it) and work backwards from that–a little like doing a large puzzle, where you do the corners, then edges, then chunks of the more singular-looking parts, till you can put those together… but if you don’t know what the whole looks like, that would be quite difficult! (And I have some unfinished manuscripts testifying to that).
The themes of your stories have such a classical feel, like I’m stepping right into medieval times, only where dragons roam. It makes them both magical and entrancing. Tell me how you came to this style of writing. How would you classify your genre? Do you explore writing in other genres?
Funny you should ask about classification, as it took some frantic searching to find historical-fantasy as a genre; I worried for a while I was fiddling too much with the two genres I loved best! I love history, but have a healthy respect that makes me leery of deviating much from the real, so I find the flexibility that fantasy offers very reassuring.
That being said, I love medieval history more particularly. Delving into the people and cultures that created wonders like Chartres cathedral, the Divine Comedy, the Lindisfarne Gospels and so much more is just fascinating. Also, the themes that it offers are universal—love, duty, loyalty, honor, sacrifice, devotion, and many others—but I’ve found some particularly striking examples in the medievals that it would be a shame for our own time to lose in forgetting. So we need their stories! (Never mind the many misrepresentations and misconceptions about the medievals as dirty, dumb, and monolithic that modern scholarship has been disproving, but still need combatting in entertainment. Highly researched fiction is my penny in that project).
Also, I think my approach is shaped by my vision of literature–including fantasy—as not an escape from reality, but a lens for better appreciating it. Through literature, we can return to the real with eyes refreshed. Literature can draw into focus the lines of reality with artistic emphasis and perspective. Fantasy’s particular gift for manifesting unseen realities in concrete, memorable ways is particularly compelling, so I do tend to write more in the fantasy genre than anything else. But I’m quite a new writer, and wouldn’t box myself into any category just yet, having experimented with science fiction, more strictly historical, memoir, and contemporary so far, with plans to try others in the future!
I am catching your passion! Thanks for sharing that. I’m experimenting with a historical fiction novel (though not that far back in time) mixed with fantasy, and this is encouraging insight.
Oh lovely! Actually, in researching the genre, there seem to be many more examples of more-recent historical (especially Victorian) than medieval, so I’d say you’re likely in good company! And if you enjoy research as well as writing–double win!
When and how did you start writing?
Before I could write! Well, at least I like to joke that the pictures I drew and scribbled squiggly lines around before I had learned letters were my first attempts—these princesses and maids must have had tales! But I don’t really remember not being able to read, and books have been such a substantial part of my life, it seemed natural to want to make my own as soon as I could. So I’ve scribbled away at stories since grade school, and always thought I wanted to try to give back some of what I enjoyed—I guess I’ve more or less always had something simmering, though in high-school I started paying more attention to the craft of writing itself; that might mark my actual “beginning,” entering the world of online writing forums and focusing on improving different aspects of storytelling.
That is a great concept, to give back what you enjoyed. To me, that means you experience joy both ways. Can’t lose with that as motivation. I also love hearing when a writer has grown up with a passion for telling stories. Thanks for sharing that.
Who and/or what were your biggest influences?
To pick one author, I’d have to say J.R.R. Tolkien. That sounds natural enough for a fantasy author, but I would say not just for his creation of Middle Earth: I’ve found his views on literature (particularly in his essays, “Beowulf: The Monsters and the Critics”, and “On Fairy Stories,” and especially his short story, “Leaf by Niggle”) really resonate with the view of art I feel called to create: a sort of “subcreation” that reflects the beauty that already exists but bringing to light particular facets in a profound collaboration with the first creator.
In addition to that, I’m driven by the notion that art exists to delight and instruct (Can’t claim originality in that either—Horace defined art that way over 2000 years ago). If either of those is missing, it’s falling short of its potential, as there is always so much more for us wisdom-hungry humans to take in, but we need help—especially the help of delightful beauty—to really learn! So I find it essential for me to write with a solid philosophical and theological framework that gives enough light to grasp the edges of mysteries, and yet realize these are only the edges. The idea that our human intellects can fathom a measure of beauty, order, and purpose in the universe, but not contain it— and then to highlight that with literature—that idea, slowly forming for me, has influenced why, how, and what I write.
But we are what we eat and we write what we read, so I’d have to say I owe a huge debt to my mother for making classics fun (homeschooling), and to the authors of many classics (Charles Dickens, Jane Austen, Mark Twain, Herman Melville, Flannery O’Connor, to name a handful); in the realm of fantasy, C.S. Lewis, Andrew Peterson, and Megan Whalen Turner as the most inspiring; and many, many different historical authors (some fiction, some not) as well as philosophers like Plato, Aristotle, Augustine, Aquinas, and G. K. Chesterton, just to get started…
Wow! Thank you for this, Madeline. You’ve given our readers some well-articulated concepts to analyze for themselves why they might love literature and writing. I know it’s given me some things to chew on. Reading Tolkien’s essays-Way to go. and when it all comes down to it, Mom was the one who started the ball rolling. Awesome!
We belong to a great writing community and you were there to greet me when I joined. What drew you to the group? What do you think are the biggest benefits of belonging to a community of writers? What other communities have you found beneficial to your growth as a creator?
Writing is, of all art forms, I think, the most bonding, and yet also the most isolating. Writing can reach very deep places in the human person, engaging us on different levels of being, and giving us those moments where we exclaim “How did they know that?!” Or “Me too!”
But the writer doesn’t usually get to witness someone experiencing that, but instead spends a lot of time withdrawn from the rest of the world typing symbols that have no inherent meaning onto a screen. [(I love words and crafting them, but studying a variety of languages, I’ve come to be pretty sure there’s very little in any one alphabet that really gives the symbols themselves intrinsic meaning, which is different from the media of other arts—think of how color exists apart from painting, notes apart from music. Words–particularly written words— just don’t work like that.)]
But writing is art, also reflecting reality. Having support in creating it is immensely helpful not only for persevering through the process of making it, but giving it an authentic balance—it won’t resonate and connect if it comes from an island!
For that reason I’d say that I’ve even found less-than-communal participation in various writing forums helpful. Fanstory.com, writingforums.org, Underlined.com, and Absolutewrite.com, where people were pretty much all strangers, were each helpful (in different ways–absolutewrite being the largest) because of the outside perspective exchange they could facilitate. For writing to bridge well, getting feedback from different perspectives is critical, and I am grateful for finding those there.
But having a more tight-knit community of people who all know what the joy and struggle of writing is like, and with such a diverse pool of experience (writing-related and also not) to draw on–that’s another type of support that I would say is quite helpful. I’ve appreciated finding that through Richie Billing’s discord group, where it’s much easier to get to know individuals and exchange on a more personal level. I’ve also found that in a local writing group at my college, where having in-person community adds another dimension of encouragement and opportunities for sharing—resources, feedback swapping, or just writing at the same time, like buddying up for an exercise program.
An African proverb that runs something like: “If you want to go fast, go alone, but if you want to go far, go together” sums it up well, I think. Putting in the actual work to write well at all is the first essential, and requires personal commitment– as Stephen King well said in his On Writing: “Life isn’t about supporting art, art is about supporting life.” But finding support sure makes the long-term commitment seem more feasible!
I appreciate when my guests give us quotes to illustrate the conversation! These are wonderful and convey the benefits of support communities perfectly. Thank you! Also as a note to our readers, I’ve provided the links to Madeline’s listed resources in the text. I also belong to Richie Billing’s group. His Fantasy Writer’s Toolshed Podcast, and newsletter are phenomenal free resources.
I love that you play the harp. Another element of you that is classical. Can you share that journey? How long have you played and what kinds of engagements do you participate in? Does playing an instrument help with or influence your writing and vice versa?
It’s certainly been a journey, with multiple providential moments. I had to have become fascinated by the harps in books, as there’s no way I saw one in person before I became obsessed. But I do still have the concert programme that says, “Madeline, I’m sure you’ll be a lovely harpist someday”–I’d run up to get the autograph of the harpist in the President’s Own Band because here was the first real live harpist I’d ever seen! (hard to hear in the middle of such a large ensemble, but that was certainly the highlight of that special concert for me). At the time, that seemed incredible–we already had a piano (which my mother taught), so why on earth would I play harp? Never mind how. But a few years later, a friend of my grandmother’s heard about my interest and offered to lend me her little lap harp, just at the same time that we met a family with a daughter who played harp and had found a teacher, and we could carpool, and so, 14 years ago… it all worked out!
It has certainly been a journey since then. Each of the teachers I’ve had have really shaped me–not only as a musician, but also as a student and person, and the way I approach learning and accomplishing new things.
Because of that formation, it’s always been quite clear to me how intertwined the different arts are, even while distinct. Music is more imitative than writing, consisting of sounds and rhythms that evoke associations and emotions, and perfecting the performance of a piece usually written by someone else. But writing shares with music the requirement of perfecting technique by repeated, focused practice (it’s not just practice that makes perfect, as one of my teachers insisted—practice makes permanent, but focused practice, as perfect as it can be in certain aspects, makes for perfection). And while a musical performance has a certain time-sensitive finality—once that wrong note is played, there’s no reversing it–writing is also subject to that in a way with publication; the practice, practice, practice of the music room finds a reflection for me in the revision process, and bringing a piece to performance level has become to me a model of editing written work. Also, in both music and writing it takes another special skill to synthesize all the technical aspects and make something beautiful, but it does come with diligence in the bit-by-bit exercises. And then, the result: humanizing beauty to be shared with fellow humans.
I’ve played harp in a variety of settings–weddings (of course), funerals,church services and other special events, as well as concerts as soloist and as an ensemble member. Of all the venues and types of playing I’ve done, two have impacted and shaped me the most: playing in nursing homes for the sweetest, though often loneliest people, and being part of an ensemble.
In an ensemble, I really experienced the mutual dependence of being an artist with a small role participating in a larger whole. That whole was definitely greater than the sum of its parts, but it depended on each part performing well. Even while any part played individually might not make much sense, the great whole depended on the quality of its contribution, (which was itself a combination of personal preparation, knowing one’s part really thoroughly, and flexibly following the conductor and listening to the other musicians and their parts). That doesn’t sound terribly different from any other type of teamwork, but it really demonstrated that to me in a singular way for the arts, and how much could depend on the personal commitment of an individual, as well as the work of the ensemble as a unity.
In writing, I think there’s a similar interdependence of artists, each with their own part, their own contribution–but the whole is much harder to grasp, something that might be generalized as cultural, but really defies a perfect synthesis. So I hold onto that truth of the parts coming together in the orchestra, and work on my part, but try to also listen to “the other parts”–other writers, which across time and place, can form a symphony of the human imagination.
Goodness, that was a long answer to a straightforward set of questions! But if you give a mouse a cookie, or you give a writer something fun to think about…
I was utterly riveted, Madeline! And you gave me exactly what I hoped for. I am fascinated by multi-creative lives and how the aspects of one art impacts another. Thanks so much for providing this insight.
How do you balance all your pursuits with life and work? Do you have any tips on time management and how to fit in what you love doing with what you must do on a day-to-day basis?
That’s an excellent question that I’d be a giant hypocrite pretending I have a very helpful answer to, but as best I can: for me it mostly comes down to evaluating (and regularly rechecking and reevaluating) priorities, particularly lining up where things fall on an urgent-important grid (I think I first read that in Sean Covey’s 7 Habits of highly effective teens… Excellent book, and there’s an “adult” version by his father too).
But sometimes it is possible to combine necessities and art.
Practically speaking as a writer, I’ve found audiobooks extremely helpful. To fill the need for direct instruction in the craft I’ve found books like Sol Stein’s On Writing, and several lecture series from The Great Courses on writing and editing particularly insightful in laying down principles. But besides that, listening to quality literature sharpens my own sense of style, and makes me more aware of the patterns and rhythms of fine English prose. And enjoying lighter works in my genre helps me understand what’s already been done, works well (or not). And listening to any of these is all manageable while doing other mundane things! Driving, cooking, cleaning, dog-walking,(I do those also for part-time work), exercising (actually very helpful supplement for creative work!), etc—I’ve really appreciated the efficiency audiobooks allow.
The beauty of art, though, especially writing, is that everything can be seen as “research”; that is one reason that, even when occupied with life and work, I think of myself as a writer—it’s a lens for the way I look at the world, gathering strands from every source I encounter. Not that I’m quite like a journalist that’s always ready to pounce on some incident thinking, “Ooh, that would make a good story”–but it’s always in my mind that what I live day-to-day can help shape my writing—I just have to keep my senses and mind open.
My part-time job helping an older woman as a living assistant for example—it’s not just a job, but an opportunity for me to recall the trials of getting older most of us will someday face, and to keep in perspective what I do with the limited time I have. I find that especially valuable for me as a college student, usually surrounded by youth who don’t have that at the top of their minds—but preparing for death and dealing with the loss of abilities is worth reflection, and I’m grateful for the reminder.
Experiences pleasant or painful, awkward or funny, happy, sad, and everything in between can all help deepen the well I write from. Sometimes it just takes a simple perspectivizing of an experience to make that happen, and sometimes I realize later I’m processing something through writing—so I don’t see “real life” as getting in the way of writing so much as providing the material for it, and shaping me as a writer. Perhaps that’s a view that will shift for me with time, but for now, I’m settling into the awareness that much of what I want to write requires long processing—there’s much to be gained from my own maturing before I try to “literaturize” some of these ideas, and I’m not so worried that the world is missing a lot if my still inchoate efforts don’t reach the light of day very soon. True, some things require more of the approach I take to poor writing—but that hardly leaves them valueless, if analyzed as examples of errors to be corrected for myself, or warnings of what to avoid.
I can attest to the trials of getting older, so kudos to you for opening yourself to so many perspectives in your daily life! And then using the efficiency of experience and absorption to generate art. Harks back to your Stephen King quote about art supporting life.
Where do you see yourself in five years?
Teaching Latin and/or Greek (what I’m majoring in),and/or history, literature (probably in one of the classical charter schools that I’m glad to see developing in various places, especially not far from where I’ve grown up—go classical learning!). In terms of writing, I hope to be publishing short stories, and if traditional publishing hasn’t worked out for my current novel (and the next), getting into self-publishing. That’s a flexible vision, though—I know a lot can change in five years, especially looking at the last five! (Five years ago I was entering a cloistered monastery, and if I hadn’t run into health issues 2.5 years in, would have happily spent the rest of my life there. As it is, I will be eternally grateful for the time I did get to spend in that vocation).
What were your biggest highlights in 2022? Any exciting plans for 2023?
Writing this historical-fantasy novel was certainly one! I only realized the other day that before February of 2022, I didn’t have a single inkling of this story, and now it’s certainly grown more than I would have thought. Another 2022 highlight has been meeting other writers (live and through discord)–which has also led to joining a small, live critique circle, that’s just getting started. I’m very excited for the possibilities there, especially with my experience in 2022 of feedback swaps—both the giving and the receiving feedback on longer pieces has brought growth I can almost see as it happens, and I’m looking forward to continuing that (moderately) as well.
In 2023 I’ll also be tackling a different kind of writing challenge: researching and writing a thesis (for graduation) on a topic from either a Greek or Latin classic. While writing 50 pages of academic writing is quite different from 50 pages of fiction, I’m looking forward to the growth as a student and crafter of words such a process will entail.
Thanks for sharing this and demonstrating how life can zigzag surprisingly for us all, and here’s to more exciting things ahead for you!
Thank you so much for visiting with me. Do you have any parting advice for our readers who want to pursue their creative passions?
Time is precious, and making art is worth it. The time, dedication, and patience that it takes to make good art, though, is also worth remembering, and this is not a journey that has to be done alone—support, instruction, and the wealth of experience that each person accumulates through a reflective appreciation of their life can all contribute to something beautiful. And there are so many people out there with a lot more experience than me—if you found the time to read this advice, you can find someone wiser too!
My Spotlight Guests for the New Year are Lining Up to Meet You – Here is a Little About Them
Meet Madeline! Sunday 15 January Spotlight Feature
January Madeline Davis – Harpist, Scholar, U.S. Fantasy Writer Madeline and I met in the Fantasy Sci Fi Writer’s Alliance and enjoy helping each …My Spotlight Guests for the New Year are Lining Up to Meet You – Here is a Little About Them