FAQs or Frequently Asked Questions
Several years ago, when first I saw “FAQs” at an online blog, I had to look up the acronym. Being a primarily auditory person, I’d thought that the three letters signified a new form of FACT, maybe one without the conclusion of a “T”. Therein exemplifies how I work: sound comes first, then thought.
It all sounds so easy!
But “we” know it’s not. Over the past decade or so, I’ve been asked frequently by very dear friends, strangers, and passing acquaintances the particulars about How I Work. I’ve decided to formulate the FAQs into a running dialogue, a simulated session of Q&A (which I do know to be “Question and Answer”) with the Memory-Question and my Answer, then and now, and then some more info.
Q: Isn’t writing a lonely job?
A: Writing is a job that requires solitude and, often, isolation, but, for me, it is rarely lonely. I must be alone to do my most concentrated work, but the typical setting is one in which I sit amidst any of a number of distractions and, quite amazingly, block out the sounds and sights of them!
There are times when being in the self-induced “zone” has created problems: Dear Husband dutifully tells me that he is going out to run errands. Absorbed by my writing, I absent-mindedly nod. He perhaps repeats his statement.
Twenty minutes later, after my devoted darling has left the abode, I look up from my pages and — He’s not anywhere to be found! I have to go find the Cell Phone to call him and ask him where he is. Most of the time, it’s my beloveds who are the lonely ones!
Q: For creativity, do you like to “head for the hills,” or would you prefer to be alone on an island?
A: I do most of my work in my house. My home is my haven. The creative juices, however, most definitely flow, for me, from the mountains to the sea! I love the mountains and I love the ocean, nearly equally, though not for the same reasons or with the same intensity. The thought, however, of being on an island, surrounded on all sides by water, with potentially no avenue of escape: it’s a terrifying thought!
I grew up on the East Coast. At a young age, I transplanted myself to the West Coast. Access to the ocean, preferably by driving, is vital to me to attain a sense of renewal, the type of renaissance that the high seas not only symbolizes but actually does create. The mountains are where I go to find solace, to draw from my intuition the inspiration that I sense is truly divine.
I also need social contact, as a person and as a writer. It’s been said that I am an ambivert, a combination of extrovert and introvert along with a uniquely individual invention of the interface between the two personality types. I do need my hermit time, but I also enjoy fluttering like a social butterfly in small (select) groups. My nature is private, but it is also engaging. This type of person is unique among writers, at least as far as I’ve experienced them.
Having met Joyce Carol Oates, I can say that her almost palpably withdrawn self can be perceived as one end of the Writer Spectrum Norm. The other extreme is the life-of-the-party parasite who ferrets away the personal details of other people in order to write about them. F. Scott Fitzgerald sadly fell into that category a bit too often, and it ruined him in more ways than merely professionally.
Years ago, I hesitated to tell anyone that I was a writer. Women, the vain ones in particular, thought that I was going to write about them. The cat’s out of the bag, now that my published books are read around the world, but I still feel reticent to reveal this factoid about myself in my every-day life. Sometimes, this aspect of “who I am” is irrelevant!
The private side of me always protects the artistic side, so I will hazard a guess and say that the introvert half of this “ambivert” is the bigger half: The Hermit wins out over the Social Butterfly. Heading for the hills is the logical choice.
Q: Do you play music while you write?
A: As I sit here, typing this text, there is on my Bose a CD of Louis Kentner playing the works of Balakirev. Depending on the type of writing that I am doing, music is a necessary component in my composition. Essays and narration are always enhanced by classical music softly playing in the background of the room wherein I write. Dialogue, poetry, and the more technical, detailed pieces of writing demand utter quiet. I’ve been known to flinch at the sound of the fridge opening while I write at the kitchen table!
Q: Is it confining, the work of writing?
A: It can be. My routine, if there is a routine, for writing includes time for yoga, long walks in the country, activities in the yard: basically, physical exercise for the mind. There are times when I must take a break from writing and get outdoors, do something completely different from mental work. I think that “tip” is useful for any kind of job.
A good 20-minute stretch does a world of good for me!
Q: When you were a nipper, did you dream of the West Coast — sunshine, open space, blue skies, ocean?
When I was a wee one, I watched the television show, “Bonanza”, and I dreamed of going West. I was going to marry Pa Cartwright!
By the time that I moved to California in 1979, the Ponderosa was chronically closed for repairs and Lorne Greene was on that silly sci-fi Battlestar tv-show. I did finally drive up to the Ponderosa (which does not really have a 2nd story) with my husband and youngins’, just after the publication of the First Northstar. I can’t say the trip was fully worth the wait, but my children immensely enjoyed living out the visit to the Ponderosa that I began when I was their ages!
From those very young ages, I was fascinated by the sights of the American West. My eyes were especially riveted on the Western States portion of those compulsory slide-shows, the ones projected onto the ironed-out sheet hung on the living room wall. Relatives had journeyed to the Southwest and the Great Basin States. I even loved the Painted Desert slides that were upside down in the slide-tray!
What I saw as a child were visions of grandeur, panoramas of heavenly colors and shades, landscapes of limitless scope and beauty. I felt an immediate sense of unimpeded freedom. Though my birthplace is New Jersey, I was born a Westerner.
And though the vistas here in the West of the U.S. of A are not as uncluttered as they used to be, there’s still a whole lot of land and open space for all to see. And there’s still a lot more freedom than the grumblers and the gripers will ever be able to appreciate amidst their grousing and groaning!
The Spirit of the West is optimism: sunshine, open space, blue skies, ocean. I aim every day to live up to that spirit and to enjoy those blessed sights.
Q: Do you ever run out of ideas?
A: No, I do not “run” out of ideas. In fact, the ideas seem to flow, evermore, from one aspect of my artistic endeavours to another. I am constantly inspired by my love of fabrics, interior design, music, architecture, historical costumes and furniture, lands distant and far, and the land before time that is known as Ireland.
I find the beauty in the details. My desire to pen my thoughts is more my heightened appreciation of other arts than the conscious need to WRITE. Ideas for any creative work arrive at the doorstep of your artistic soul if you permit yourself to grow, and if you do not hamper your thoughts with notions about what your life ought to be, and where it ought to be — on any given day, year, decade.
Life is where it is, right now. Live it, fully. That idea is the cornucopia of creativity. It’s the fount of life, truly lived.
Q: Did you always want to be a writer?
From the age of seven, or from about the time when I finally conquered the art of reading, I wanted to be a writer. And a painter, and a singer.
My first love is music; my second love is art (visual); my third is writing. I pursue my first two loves through the realization of my third one. For me, all three art forms are all closely related — intimately, you might say!
Reading did not come easily to me. I was predominantly auditory at the age when children were expected to master their A,B,C’s. I was busily making up my own “language” and speaking it too! I took very little interest in learning my alphabet or even in how to spell my first name. At the age of six, I was taught this five-letter proper noun by a much older sister.
That learning session was not quite Annie Sullivan spelling W-A-T-E-R into the palm of Helen Keller, but I do recall the exasperation of my sister as we sat by the barn on the acreage of the wide-open rural area where we lived. After about half an hour, this young adult drew a picture of a ZEBRA, and she made the comparative spelling for me.
The zebra has, ever since that summer afternoon, held affectionate importance to me.
I was, at the age of six, fundamentally, even willfully, resisting attempts by my schoolteachers to force me to learn a skill or a subject that I was not yet ready to learn. Student-paced learning was, and remains, my philosophy for teaching. “They” really ought to try it sometime nowadays. The mania for statistics has become sadistic.
Way back then, back in the day, the educators fretted about this under-performing, under-achieving pupil. Then the Experts tested me, discovered that I was “gifted”, placed me into a class for creative children, and I excelled in reading. I excelled in many subjects, especially music and drawing.
Mrs. Helen Hirsch knew that Debra was not “backward” or “behind” or “developmentally deficient” in any way. Because that wonderful teacher believed in me, I became her “star” student. It was with tears in her eyes that Mrs. Hirsch said goodbye to me after 2nd grade ended, and she told my father: “Teach her and she will go far.”
Under her wing, I went from reading Dick-and-Jane textbooks to volumes of World Book encyclopedias. I still enjoy each end of that reading gamut, and not much in-between. Being in the middle has never felt comfortable for me. Becoming a writer was, I believe, my way of trying to stay out of the middle of things!
Q: Do you ever get tired of writing?
A: No. I am very grateful to my Maker that my work is my play, and my play is my work. The fatigue factor does affect me whenever I am not fully ready to write a scene or an essay that has not been fully “fleshed-out.” In that case, there are many other tasks, activities, duties, and chores that rescue me from the craft of writing. I know the words will come to me . . . Patience is a wondrous virtue!
Q: You tear up the pages of your Writer’s Journals after you’ve taken out the notations you need for a book. Why?
A: I had to think hard to come up with an answer for this question. I did not know why I manually shred and then throw away those used pages of the bound journal. In fact, I enjoy that process as I go along: typing the written notes into my Pages file, periodically pulling out the pages from the journal, tearing them up, and then, almost like a 3-pointer, throwing them into the wastebasket.
My most honest hunch is that I do not want anyone to see my handwritten journal notes. They are intensely private. The oddity is that I’ve often performed this part of the writing process with people around me!
Once that creative matter has entered the digital file, however, it’s much less mine. Perhaps I need a systematic way to say goodbye to personal thoughts so that they can become universal ideas and concepts for others to read. Writing is always a matter of striving beyond your own self to reach the higher plane of poetic truth.
If you, Dear Reader, have any other questions about How I Work, please navigate to the Contact Me portion of this website. I will do my best to answer inquiries into how I work — hopefully, to assist you with how you work.