Thursday, November 22, 2012

Why I Became a Writer

Today a number of writers are trying an experiment. We're all writing on one theme and linking our sites. Today, we're writing about why we write. Watch my video, read the text, and then check out the other blogs! The links are below. --John

And here is Sunny Frazier, answering the exact same question


I've often wondered if writing is “nature” or “nurture.” While vocabulary, grammar and craft can be taught, imagination fostered, are some writers born with the gift and drive to write?

I grew up in a home without books. We were a Navy family and household items are shipped by weight. The military only covers so much when you move. Books are heavy. I didn't realize this growing up and mistakenly thought my family was purposely depriving me of books.

However, my father is from the South, North Carolina tobacco farmers. In the winter, men would sit around the potbelly stove at Bell's store and swap stories while they whittled and drank bottles of RC laced with peanuts. When my father was home from cruises, he would tell stories at bedtime. I grew up hearing tales of Uncle Doll, 100 years old with knots on his head who gnashed his teeth and chased my father and his cousin from his house. The laborer during the tobacco harvest who asked my grandmother for a glass of baking soda and water, then promptly dropped dead of a heart attack. The glass sat on the shelf above the fireplace, never to be used again, a reminder that death could strike at any time

Every tale had a purpose, a moral for a child to absorb. From these stories I picked up rhythm, cadence, color and the art of storytelling. Without influence or exposure to great writing, I blindly found my own way and my own voice.

In school, I was taught to write strict, boring, soul-killing compositions. Eventually, I broke away and wrote a series of stories for my classmates. Fairy tales where Snow White and Cinderella were transported to the 1960's and did the Watusi in mini skirts and go-go boots. As the stories were being secretly passed around in class, the teacher confiscated them. We heard him laughing at his desk while I reddened with embarrassment. He made me stay after class and said, “Do you realize how talented you are?”

No. I thought everyone could write. I never considered what I did as special. I'd kept it secret for so long that, until I was 12, nobody was there to mentor me. After that, there was no stopping me. I was the kid who loved essay questions on tests because I could pen my opinions and not be restricted by “True,” “False” or multiple choices. I was elected editor of the high school newspaper, guaranteed to kill one's social life. When I joined the Navy and they denied me the rate of Journalist to make me a Dental Tech, I volunteered to write for the base paper at every new duty station. Washington D.C. took notice of me. I got out and went to college on the G.I. Bill for a degree in journalism.

I worked as the token woman on a city newspaper. When I realized I was underpaid, I confronted the publisher. He said I should have a man supporting me. I walked away from journalism job and turned to fiction writing. When I went to work as a narcotics secretary for the sheriff's department, I discovered I was a mystery writer.

Why did I become a writer? Because I had the tools and the instinct at an early age. Because I had initiative and never let obstacles stand in my way. Because I never doubted myself or let others discourage me. Because I pushed to have my words heard. Because I had no choice.

I am a writer.  

Kyle Van Sant          

Charlotte San Juan

Chris Swinney

Saturday, November 17, 2012

East of Los Angeles

This was originally posted in text form on Oak Tree Press's blog. Here I am reading it as we drive through my part of Los Angeles. This road, at least, hasn't changed.

The impact of living in Los Angeles on my writing has been unbelievably powerful. My desire to leave Los Angeles has been equally powerful. How has place changed your view of the world?

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Confessions of an Extrovert

I believe there is a commonly-held belief that extroverts are shallow and introverts are complex. I had that belief anyway when I was younger. I even tried to pass as an introvert declaring that I liked being alone. Well, the truth is that I do like being alone sometimes, but it's also true that I get energy and vitality by meeting people, and meeting people is about all I've been doing in November. I'm behind in everything. I have book reviews piling up, forewards to books that I need to write, and about 100 essays and stories to grade, but for the last two weeks, I've been meeting new people and stealing the energy of their vitality.

Rise up extroverts. We are not shallow. We are simply people who like people. And if we have the ability to meet and talk to people, we have the ability to bring our work to those who would never have seen it before.

So what have I been doing? It started on November 1st at Laguna College of Art and Design. Grant Heir invited me, Kevin Lee, T. Thrasher, Luke Salazar, Paul Tayyar, Donna Hilbert, Sarah Miller, and Lorene Delany-Ullman to read for his classes.

I cannot believe how beautiful the campus was.

Indoor spaces, outdoor spaces, places for people to work and think. I found myself envious of what these students were doing and where they were allowed to do it. Grant Heir is doing amazing things for these students, teaching artists how to write and how to expand their artistic vision into the written word. He is amazing as is his program.

The reading was a reading of the new generation of California poets, but I was able to leave my detective writer's mark all over the campus. I have business cards with information on my upcoming book from Oak Tree Press. On the otherside I have the words "Murder Is Easy" in huge type. I left these about.

The reading itself was a thrill. These poets are some of my favorites. I use their work when I teach poetry, and it was an honor to share a stage with them.

At the end of the night, Grant asked me to list my favorite poets. I never emailed him back, but I wanted to give him my list of living poets. Why promote the dead? Here's a SHORT list of the poets whose work I love, Grant: everyone who was on stage with me, Gerald Locklin, Billy Collins, Lloyd Aquino, Sharon Olds, B.H. Fairchild, Michaelsun Knapp, Michael Torres, Ted Kooser, Thomas Lux, Scott Noon Creley, Elder Zamora, T. Anders Carson, Clifton Snider, and . . . ah what's the point of going on. There are so many many many. Let me point out though that Luke Salazar's new book is exceptional. He's the one standing to my right.

And I've been working on promoting and paying for the SGV Lit Fest ( We had an evening featuring a number of my favorites at my house -- Luke Salazar, Clifton Snider, Sergie Smirnov, Jo Scott-Coe, and Charlotte San Juan. All great writers and much pasta was consumed by everyone. Everyone donated, everyone had fun. If the festival will be great it is because of these wonderful people.

And the fund-raising goes on in the weekends with the poetry classes that I've been teaching. It's amazing to see the growth people can make in just 4 lessons so far. The only sad note is that with Marta Chausee's recent move, she hasn't been able to make it.

Finally, the two readings at Whittier College. They've been using my poetry book down there -- East of Los Angeles -- and it's such a thrill to read to people who know your work. They were insightful and interested. Only two of the many were English majors, but they all were interested and focused. My parents went to Earlham College in Indiana -- Whittier's sister school, and I found myself jealous of them. Small class sizes with professors like Scott Creley and Tony Barnstone to give them individual attention.

So that's what I've been doing for the last two weeks and it's been exhausting by fun. As an extrovert, meeting people and reading my work is what I love to do. It's great to see my name in a magazine, but seeing people actually reacting to my poetry or fiction charges me.

Well, this has been a long blog post, but I wanted to leave you with a question to reply to or think about. For me, writing is about making a personal connection, letting people know that we're all in this together, and the best place I can do that is in a reading or meeting someone face to face. What is writing about for you? No wrong answers here, just different ways of seeing the same thing.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Trailer for Study Abroad

Here's the trailer for my new poetry chapbook. Some of you have already pre-ordered it, and it will be sent soon!!

Thanks to Daniel Cuesta
Charlotte San Juan
Brendon Williams
David Falkinburg
Ann, who has the camera