Spotlight Saturday, Writing

Spotlight On Saltz

This week’s Spotlight Saturday I am lucky to have on my blog an interview with Writer, of memoirs, and musician Alana Saltz.

You can find her on her website:

AlanaSaltz.com

as we discuss such things as creativity and mental illness, whether it’s worth getting an MFA, and how to handle rejection.

And now I hope you learn as much about writing as I did from Alana.

***

KK: First, where are you located and what is your background with writing?

AS: I’m located in Los Angeles, CA. I’ve had an interest in words since my parents started reading me bedtime stories. I loved trips to the library and bookstore as a child. At my elementary school, there were some opportunities for students to explore creative writing, like our parent-run Paw Print Press. I got to write and illustrate a couple of stories, and then they were produced into little picture books with covers made out of cardboard.

I eventually majored in English as an undergraduate, took lots of writing classes, and was an active participant in my school’s literary magazine and writing workshop. After graduating, I decided to take the next step and pursue my MFA. I’ll be graduating from Antioch University, Los Angeles this December.

KK: What skills do you think are required to be an artist, either to be a writer, musician, or both?

AS: Passion and determination are the biggest ones. I also think it helps a lot to be naturally empathetic and sensitive if you want to create art that resonates with others. You have to be willing to look inside and look at others in a deep, meaningful way to be able to capture the world and reflect it back through words, art, or music.

KK: Do you believe in the connection between artistic talent and mental illness? What do you think that connection is and how does it manifest itself for you?

AS: I don’t really believe there’s a connection between talent and mental illness. If anything, mental illness can make you more internal and sensitive, which might in turn bring new levels of perception and power to your creative work. But you can be a thoughtful, insightful person without any diagnosable mental illnesses. While mental illness has given me something to write about, it hasn’t helped me actually write. It usually prefers to get in the way through discouraged, depressed outlooks and anxious, stressed thoughts that I have to fight in order to get back to work.

KK: Do you think writing talent can be taught or learned or do you think either someone has it or they don’t?

AS: This is an interesting question; I got into a debate with my boyfriend about it just the other day. I think everyone is born with certain inherent strengths and talents. Words and language have always come naturally to me, so I embraced that side of myself, and luckily felt a passion for developing it. I think it’s possible to be good at something you don’t want to do and be bad at something you wish you could do. Writing can certainly be taught, even if a person doesn’t have a natural strength with it. But it sure helps to have that. It’s much less of an uphill battle. 

I also think that empathy and insight play a role here as well. Not everyone is naturally good at looking inside themselves or seeing the world around them with clarity and understanding. You need that to create work that resonates, and I’m not sure that can be taught.

KK: What advice do you have for a writer just starting out?

AS: Every professional writer will give the same advice: Read. Read a lot, and read widely. But everyone who will ultimately make it as a writer doesn’t need that advice because they already do. You have to love reading and stories to become and be a writer. 

Besides reading, I would recommend finding a local writing workshop/critique group, maybe taking some classes, and writing whatever interests you without worrying too much about what it is or where it will ultimately take you.

KK: What does the term memoir mean to you?

AS: Memoir is a work of autobiography that has a theme, focus, or covers a select period of a person’s life. It’s creative nonfiction, meaning that it’s based in fact and experience, but some creative liberties can and will be taken in bringing it to life.

KK: What is the difference between a writer and an author? Do you think the words are interchangeable?

AS: I define “author” as someone who has published a book. A “writer” is someone who writes. I don’t think the words are interchangeable, although an “author” is certainly a “writer.”

KK: What is your writing or creative process? Do you have a routine or do you let the inspiration strike when it will?

AS: A lot of people would probably judge my creative process. There’s a lot of emphasis on the “butt in chair” routine: sit down every day, or a least several days a week, for a specified amount of time or amount of words, and make yourself write. Eventually, something will come out. They say this is how professionals work. It’s not how I work. 

I always have ideas floating around, incubating. I often write down notes and brainstorm. I typically set out to write in the mornings, but not every morning. Sometimes the writing is just thinking or note-taking. If I’m in the middle of a project, I work on that. I’ll go several days, even a week, without writing a word, then spend 10 days straight writing thousands of words a day. I let my interests, project, and ideas guide me. Deadlines will dictate it as well. 

I don’t wait for inspiration, exactly. I have to keep my mind open and searching so I have something to say whenever I do sit down. But I tend to sit down when I feel compelled to, although I do have a nagging sense of obligation that makes me force myself now and then.

KK: What is your experience with writing programs? Do you believe it is important to be trained or can there be other ways of gaining the same wisdom and experience?

AS: I have mixed feelings about writing programs. If you just want to write for fun, take some classes here and there, maybe join a local writing workshop. If you want to teach, get an MFA or PhD. That’s necessary. If you want to write professionally, it depends. Classes and workshops are a must, but I don’t think a degree is necessary. I wanted the option to teach, and I love writing classes and workshops and being part of a community, so that’s why I pursued an MFA.

KK: What do you think is harder to write: fiction or non-fiction/memoir? Why?

AS: For me, it’s probably memoir. In fiction, you have to create a whole world from scratch, but you can dictate and structure what happens in it. In memoir, you already have the materials, the enormous, misshapen pile of clay that is your life and memories. From that, and only that, you must sculpt a beautiful statue. You have to take a million little moments and turn them into a structured, cohesive, engaging narrative that makes sense and will connect with others. And if you don’t have an amazing memory, it’s even harder. I’m glad I kept journals as a teenager, or I’m not sure I could have written mine. But both genres are tough.

KK: How do you handle rejection and what tips can you offer for dealing with it for other writers?

AS: I don’t handle it as well as I’d like, but it depends on the rejection. Individually, they aren’t so bad. One after another can be discouraging and make me question everything. I’m one of those people who can’t not write, no matter how much I get rejected, no matter how low I sink in confidence. It’s part of me. If it’s part of you too, just remember that it takes rejection to get to acceptance, and becoming a successful writer will take time and perseverance. Try not to let it get you too down in the meantime. Editors, agents, and teachers are all subjective in their tastes and feedback. Take their advice seriously, but know each one does not represent the entire world of opinion.

KK: What is your feeling about traditional publishing vs self-publishing? What do you see for the future of both?

AS: This is a tricky question. I’ll start by saying that I’m an advocate of whatever path works for you and your project. I think self/indie-publishing has an interesting and promising future ahead of it. I like the idea of writers taking our work into our own hands, maintaining creative control, and publishing on our own terms. 

That said, traditional publishing still has its place. It’s very hard to get teaching or lecturing positions as a self-published author, if that’s your goal. Publishing houses also have more resources and money for promotion than you’ll most likely have on your own, unless you’ve developed a huge following already. People say publishers make you do all your own promotion, but that isn’t true. From what I can see, you’ll spend way more time promoting as a self-publisher than a traditionally published author. If you self publish, it’s all up to you. No one is helping. And that can be really, really tough.

KK: What do you have planned for the future for your own writing?

AS: Right now, I’m querying a memoir about my struggle to overcome anxiety disorder and depression as a young adult. I also have some essays in the works to submit to blogs and magazines. I’m planning to do NaNoWriMo in November to get a new novel going. I have a couple novel drafts in my virtual drawer that I occasionally look at and revisit. So, I have a lot of different projects in the works. I’m not sure which one will take off first.

***

Thank you Alana, for your candid answers to my questions. I wish you lots of luck with NaNoWriMo next month.

For more on Alana, visit her on:

Facebook,

https://twitter.com/alanasaltz

http://instagram.com/alanasaltz”>Instagram.

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Fiction Friday

Trypanophobia

Last Friday I wrote about those creepy, crawly critters that so many find so frightening:

Arachnophobia.

In this week’s post I tackle a fear that is so real for so many: the fear of needles.

I used to be afraid of these sharp little things myself, until I received so many that my arms, (baring witness to hundreds upon hundreds of medical tests and required blood work) gave me little choice in the matter. I had to face my fear and accept that the anticipation is usually the worst part. Not in the spooky tale below however.

***

3.
Needles. We hate sitting in the doctor’s office. Tapping our foot and waiting for a nurse to register our flu shot. Just before the needle goes in, we grow anxious. We wait for the sting, knowing it’s coming and knowing it’s not worth the stress. We torture ourselves in the final seconds as anticipation has become one of our most agonizing experiences.

***

The room is dim and shadowy. These shadows play tricks, dancing shapes on the wall in the early morning light.

Suddenly I jump when I realize there is someone else in the room with me. What room is this? I don’t even remember where I am or how I got here.

“Who are you?” I see the shape, this time of a nurse in a cap and white uniform. She looks like she does not belong in this decade, or even this century. “What year is this?”

“Please just give me your arm,” this stranger, this supposed nurse demands. “You will feel much better, very soon.” Something in her voice makes me doubt her promise.

“Where am I?”

“You are in the best place for you. That’s all you need know.” She doesn’t say it, but she seems to be hiding some piece of information I should have been given. Why would this woman keep something from me?

I want to rise from this…bed, was it? This room smells of disinfectant. I hear a low murmur just outside the door. I have the urge, then, to scream. Maybe someone out there could answer my questions.

“Just relax. Stay still. I need to give you your medicine.”

“Medicine? What medicine?” I feel like this situation calls for some questioning, some resistance, but before I can find it in me for either of these, I feel that sharp sting and the damage is done.

“It’s just something to make you feel better,” was all this mysterious elderly lady will say. She appears, even in this fading light, to be more frail than I am, as if she’s barely even there at all. Maybe she isn’t.

If only I could find the strength to sit up. I am sure I could take her on. If only I could get past her and out into the hall. Now it’s too late. The fog that rolled away just moments ago, to reveal my surroundings, comes roaring back with such ferocity that I can not push it off of me.

The woman remains, staring at me, but soon her shape becomes fuzzy to me and a blur with the shadows returning to their dance routines on the walls of my prison.

All that remains of reality: the stinging, burning sensation in the spot where I was stuck and now I am stuck for good, in a land of shapes and shadows. Each time I feel my control and consciousness begin to return she appears with that sharp tool in her hand and I feel the familiar stabbing pain once more.

***

check out the post responsible for the Fiction Friday Halloween-themed posts here on KKHerHeadache this month:

5 Fears And What They Say About Us.

Thank you Young and Twenty, for this. For your Halloween writing prompts and I shall be back next week with the second-last instalment in this series: fear of heights.

Do you have some level of Trypanophobia or do you find needles, like me, to be no big deal?

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Kerry's Causes, Memoir and Reflections, Special Occasions

“He For She” and EQUALITY

An article on TheAtlantic.com (The Unsafety Net: How Social Media Turned Against Women) says:

“A 2013 report from the World Health Organization called violence against women “a global health problem of epidemic proportion,” from domestic abuse, stocking, and street harassment to sex trafficking, rape, and murder.

Last Saturday, October 11th, was The International Day of the Girl. The United Nations declared it thus back in 2011 and this year this day just so happened to follow the announcement that was years in the making.

After all she went through at such a young age, all for the basic right to get an education, Malala Yousafzai was awarded as the youngest ever winner of the Nobel Peace Prize. with her advocacy and bravery when speaking up for girls and their right, everywhere around the world, to receive the same educational opportunities as boys, this equality is key for a bright future for both sexes and I have found it a hopeful sign.

I recently found myself growing more and more interested in speaking on gender equality. I often feel like I have a double burden placed upon my back, being both a woman and with a disability.

I guess I used to feel like I couldn’t say anything about my thoughts and feelings on the subject, for fear of sounding like a whining, complaining victim. Oh poor me! Poor her…the poor blind woman!

I feel I am not that far off from being born in a time or a part of the world where I would be less lucky than I currently am and this thought gives me chills. Where would that leave me then? What would my life be like if I had not been alive and brought up at this time in history, in Canada? A blind girl wouldn’t historically or culturally be given all that many opportunities or rights.

I guess it’s only been a coming together of very recent events, first the speech Emma Watson gave at the UN with her “He For She” campaign. And then with Malala’s award. These two aren’t keeping quiet and neither am I for that matter.

Check out the Atlantic article,

Here.

***

I found myself in a fast-food restaurant today with my two-year-old nephew and sister. As my sister got up to dispose of our tray, I remained by the table with my nephew. I held my white cane and he examined it with great interest. He needed to be reminded not to pick it up and let it fly in the air, risking bodily harm to other customers, but then he grabbed my hand and led me carefully out of the restaurant.

Any aggressive little boy behaviours such as playing with a long white stick indoors were instantly switched up for a more intuitive, thoughtful, and sensitive act like helping me out of the restaurant. Just these very gender specific behaviours are valid ones and we can teach both young boys and young girls to be whatever they want to be. That is what we should truly be fighting for, both men and women of the world.

It was the second time he has done this and as I cautiously walked with him to the door, through the entrance, and out and safely crossing the street to the car I felt again a growing awareness in him. Perhaps I am imagining this because I know how smart he is, but he seems to be developing an understanding beyond his years, a thoughtfulness he shows in wanting to help his auntie. This is what I hope, that he receives something many other children don’t, that I can give him an outlook on life through my relationship with him. I will always just have been his aunt first, but his blind aunt with the white cane too.

It’s not about him having to drag me along with him, relieving me of any responsibility for myself as the adult, but that he knows what a white cane is and what it means to hold out a hand and help someone. I see, in him, a growing empathy and kindness that more of the world could stand to learn for themselves, boys and girls from a young age and into adulthood.

I am a big fan of symmetry, more it seems, as I get older. I found this mid-week, Wednesday, Mid-month, October 15th to be highly satisfying. Speaking of equality, for disability, October 15th is International White Cane Safety Day. I want to be taken seriously as a woman with something to offer and as a person, who just so happens to carry a white cane. I hope that campaigns such as Ammas’ and awards such as the one given to Malala and the occasions such as todays’ will make our world a more tolerant place, full of opportunities for us all equally.

***

And finally…

For Ronald McDonald Children’s Charities. Today I remember my memories staying as a patient with my family and, years later, giving back as a volunteer. I celebrate the house that welcomes sick children and their families with open arms, during some of the more difficult moments in life.

I continue to hope for a “Day of Change” all around.

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Guest Blogs and Featured Spotlights, Memoir Monday

The Horse and the Bird

Last week I answered a question on the subject of:

National Disability Employment Awareness Month.

This time I share some pivotal moments and events in my journey.

***

Q: What are some significant moments/events in your life that connect to disability?

A: When I would sit down at my school desk the first thing I would do was put on my glasses and the world would come into a sharp focused clarity. I was ready for the day to start. I was ready to learn with my peers.

I loved art and I loved to draw. We were learning shading in our seventh grade art class. I used my dark, thick pencil, like I used to write my spelling tests and my French assignments, and I started to draw a picture of a horse. I needed this darker, thicker pencil, but I was then abel to complete the art assignment like all the other kids. I had been born blind and did not remember what it was like to be anything other than what I was. I had come this far and I had done okay.

On my last day in art class before that all changed I had the large piece of white paper on my desk in front of me and my pencil ready. I had been so proud of my horse and my teacher had been pleased. Now he told me to try drawing a picture of a bird. It was the end of class and I had barely started, only the first outline, of the bird’s head, when the bell rang and I put my barely begun picture away until next class.

A few days later I was admitted into the hospital, after a bad night of the worst pain I had ever experienced, a hard pain that felt like it came from somewhere deep behind my left eye. Now it was necessary to admit me to find out the cause. I would stay in hospital for a week, receiving continuous IV’s and diagnostic tests, trying to stop the mysterious disease that was taking over my already limited eyesight.

By the end of the year I had my left eye removed and an artificial eye made. The pain was gone and the highly potent medicine had been the only thing to stop me losing all the precious vision I still had.

I see this as a turning point in my life. No longer could I place a pair of glasses on my face and find the kind of clarity and focus that I once knew. I had been blind all my life, but this was the first time I truly understood what that meant.

From then on I learned to live without the colour and clarity and bright sharp focus that even I had taken for granted. I miss those things every single day and there was no hiding in the world of the sighted like I had been able to pull off, even a little bit before, but I will never forget that shaded horse and those first few lines that would have been a bird.

***

Next week, for the:

Redefining Disability Awareness Challenge,

I will answer this question:

Are your activities of daily living effected by disability? If you’re comfortable, share a little of your daily routine.

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Guest Blogs and Featured Spotlights, Shows and Events, Spotlight Sunday

Nuit Blanche

My brother’s only real glimpse of Toronto’s all-night art festival, Nuit Blanche, a big inflatable octopus in the subway station.

This did not help me understand this event and in fact it made me even more confused. He is an artist/photographer and even he couldn’t seem to explain it to any real satisfaction. Sometimes there are no words.

I drove away from the city as night fell and imagined all those people wandering through the streets of Toronto, all night, in the cold and the damp October chill.

Check out my friend’s experience with,

Some Untimely Thoughts: Nuit Blanche

She has studied art for several years and could sum it up better than most people.

I found her descriptions intriguing and curious and I think you will too.

All art is subjective. There is beauty in it all, whatever you make of it.

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Memoir and Reflections, Spotlight Saturday

A Friend in B

To a friend on her 30th Birthday.

I crouched against the warm brick of my new school, hidden by a row of bushes from the prying eyes of passing teachers. I waited for my new friend to return with the news of the mission I had sent her on.

“She doesn’t want to be friends anymore,” B informed me. I was crushed by her returning message.
Here I was with a new friend, who wanted to get to know me and who volunteered to help me out. She was standing right in front of me, the girl who would be the one to always be there, and I didn’t even know what I had in her.

It had been on my first day at that new school, fourth grade and my best friend from the previous few years was meeting a whole new group of kids. We were growing apart, but on my first recess at this new school I was approached by three or four new girls, all wanting to be my friends. I still often tend to think it was the novelty of having a blind girl in their class that caused them to do this, at least in the beginning, but perhaps it was just my luck and personality that drew them to me that September day. Just perhaps.

B lived in a big house that was always full of a chaotic energy I sat quietly in the midst of. She had a satellite dish and an above-ground pool. We used to sit in her high-ceilinged living room and watch movies, often having to change the channel from the non-PG rated ones when her younger brothers and sister were around. We would lock ourselves in her parent’s bedroom to play Monopoly in peace, as much peace as possible with four small fists pounding on the door.

In our teen years we would escape down to the basement. B and I bonded over teen romantic comedies and the hot leading guys starring in them. We both loved The Gilmore Girls and learned the lines by heart, consuming cup after cup of black coffee to stay up all night for a marathon. In the summer we would spend hours in the pool, just talking about anything and everything under the sun that shone brightly down upon us.

Years later I found myself sitting next to B in a college lecture on genetics. I was just visiting this place, to spend the day with her and see what university life was really like. She was living the life I had always dreamed for myself and of which I had missed out on. I didn’t understand a word the professor spoke, but I was in awe at my friend and how far she had come from that ten-year-old girl she had once been.

After she finished college she applied to medical school in Ireland. This was something we’d always talked about. We would spend hours on the phone as teenagers, discussing our future plans to go to Ireland and Africa. She always wanted adventure and I followed along. I wanted to experience those places through her eyes. She had a spirit and an enthusiasm for life that I gravitated toward.

She was always just there, as a friend. She was quiet at times, while we all went through the phases of feuding and fighting all young girls go through.
I never felt like her blind friend, not after that first meeting on the playground. When I would hold onto her arm she would bounce along with every step. Her laughter infectious, could always make me smile. “Grab on,” she would say, and away we’d go.

She and another friend of hers were going back to Ireland, a few weeks before her final year of med school, to tour around, from south to north and back again. I was never very impetuous, not free like her, but in that moment I jumped at the chance to join them and away I went.
Although she was the one far away, we kept in touch more often than any other friend I’d ever had who remained close by. Distance couldn’t break our almost twenty-year bond.

As we explored along the rugged Irish coastline, she was the only one brave and bold enough to wade into the freezing cold water. I ran in after her, but did not go out nearly as far.

I have the image forever frozen in a treasured hard-cover photo book of our trip. Rocks dotted the ground for what seemed like forever; large boulders with nasty ankle-breaking crevices in between each one, but I stood there on one of those rocks and watched her. She jumped gleefully from rock to rock, her arms spread out wide in triumph. She was as free in that moment as I’d ever seen her, and I felt free too.

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Uncategorized

Arachnophobia

Last week I started the first of the five Fridays of October with a writing prompt from:

Five Fears and What They Say About Us.

My story:

Phasmophobia,

well it seemed to frighten some more than others.

Now, for Week Two, Young and Twenty makes a good point about spiders being a metaphor for the differences we shrink away from. A creature so different from us is likely to give us the creeps and it does for so many. This can easily be turned into the nightmares of horror movies or dark dreams.

When I think of spiders, I don’t think of the little guys crawling on my arm. I think of the giant spiders in Harry Potter or the evil female spider and her descendants from Tolkien’s Middle-Earth.

Then I try to write from what would be my nightmare, something that could happen in what might seem like everyday life. When you can not see one little spider is nothing really to freak out over. The texture of walking into a web or brushing up against one with my hand is enough to make me squirm though.

***

2.
Spiders. Although many spiders are less dangerous than a bear, we hold a stronger sense of resentment. We fear the unknown and we hate the idea of living amongst something so different than us. It’s not surprising that we hate spiders, as we’re guilty of looking at everyone different from us as though they have eight legs.

***

No big bad monsters that chase around a dark town square. No evil spirits haunting dreams. No lions and tigers and bears. Oh my!

I just happen to glance down and spot him crawling along your arm. You automatically flinch and pull your arm away, as a shiver of revolt pulses through you.

“He’s just a little spider. I can’t believe you are afraid of a measly little daddy longlegs.”

“Oh but they’re gross.”

Now that you’re alone and it’s not just a joke, the walls seem to be crawling with, not just one, but millions. You could handle one of them on your arm, others who have no fear of spiders mocking you, but now you see them everywhere you look, crawling out of every crack and cranny.

The sun shines through the window, but the pane soon fills with their bodies and their legs, eight at a time, (sixteen, twenty-four, thirty-two…) Webs stretching this way and that.

You stand and try to run from the room and your face feels the sticky spidery tangle. They are weaving their homes all through the room. They all communicate with one another, squeaking their plans all around their webs.

“Don’t let the human escape,” they conspire.

You are being closed in. Oh, how you’d like to go back to that one tiny crawling spider on your arm, when now spiders and webs encircle you. Just outside you can hear the birds chirp and the cars drive by, but it’s as if these hair thin webs are becoming a sound barrier, blocking out the world. You could scream, but the spiders say it’s no use. You don’t know how you can hear them, how you can make out their cries from all around you, but somehow you understand every word.

“Pinch yourself,” you say in your own head. Or was it? Strangely assuming, hoping you said it in your head so these monsters can’t hear you. What are you talking about? Spiders can’t understand English, even if you could open your terrified mouth to speak out loud.

You lift your arm to pinch the other, hoping you will awake, but webs tickle your hand and you instinctively pull back, your hand dropping to your side. You are being pinned in and you suddenly realize you have been backed into a corner. These spiders have forced you into the corner by the television, which was on and up loud when you noticed that first spider on your shirt.

I hear the plug being pulled and the sound of the electrical charge makes this, suddenly, all so real. As if all these spiders weren’t real enough. Maybe you think you would have been woken up when the sound splits the air of the heavily webbed room. Nothing can save you now.

The sounds from outside are muffled now by the squeaks of these eight-legged web-weavers…did they hear me call them that? you wonder. No…they couldn’t possibly. The room grows dimmer and dimmer now, no more light streaming in.

***

If my above story doesn’t cut it, isn’t enough to freak you out then I include, as a final thought, this news story:

http://abcnews.go.com/Weird/wireStory/spiders-force-family-upscale-missouri-home-26106285

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