In the first installment of this two part series, we hear from John Newman, Olga Zilberbourg, Edmund Zagorin, and Michelle S. Lee.
Writers are junkies
Olga Zilberbourg: I like a formal challenge. For example, writing in a first person collective we voice that doesn’t resolve in a single first person speaker I but transitions into the third person they. For example, “We went to the store to buy groceries. Anna wanted whole milk but Ben wanted 2%. We stood in the middle of the aisle and glared at each other.” It’s a fun way of writing about a couple or about a small group of friends who think they’re on the same page but aren’t quite. The danger, of course, is that a story like this might seem incomprehensible. Readers will keep asking me, “But who’s really speaking?”
Edmund Zagorin: Early stories I published under a pen name because I was nervous writing about sex. On the one hand, sex is just another banal aspect of planetary life. On the other hand, it is maybe the number one thing that makes people’s blood boil. I love to write moving in between places, which is how the Aztec story happened. On an airplane , I saw two people sitting in adjacent seats, shifting their weight around uncomfortably, and I thought: four and five hundred years ago, they might have been at each other’s throats. Now they fight over an airplane armrest instead of spilling blood and treasure. Old enmities smolder along tenaciously, but do you ever even the score? Such a question can be a reason to write stories.
Before writing and submitting certain poems and stories,
I questioned their public life.
Michelle S. Lee: Over the last year, I have become more “real” in my writing. I have delved into the gray areas, issues of ordinary life: marriage, children, fantasies, desires.
The reason going “real” is, and has been, risky: my readers (friends, colleagues, students, readers) believe that the speaker of a poem, or the main character in a short story, is me. Of course, the work comes from my psyche. But it may not be who I am. It is comprised of ideas, observations, pieces of glass held up to a world I see.
Before writing and submitting certain poems and stories, I questioned their public life. I wondered what people would imagine, wondered how they would fill in the blanks, wondered if I would be viewed differently. What if my family was viewed differently? Yet when I looked at these works, I saw a level of depth I had never reached before. So out they went.
And I have gotten the comment: Is this you? Did this happen? And I said and will say: it’s poetry, it’s fiction. You cannot assume the speaker or narrator is more than anything than on the page.
Find work from these exciting authors and more in Writing That Risks: New Work from Beyond the Mainstream.