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This week I thought I would shine the spotlight on my fellow blog-mates. Each of us are different in our tastes and backgrounds, and I know I always enjoy learning more about the personal side of the bloggers I read. Since I was able to reconnect with them last week in Louisville, it seemed like a perfect opportunity to ask (pester) them to answer a few questions for me.

Cheers,

Julia Blake

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DAVID DOMINE

What are your earliest memories of reading, and how did you begin writing?

My earliest memories of reading involve my Grandma Domine, who would give me books as presents even before I could read.photo (49) I remember studying the letters on the page and hearing her tell me that someday I would be able to make words out of them and then everything would be easy to understand. It seemed like it would never happen though, and when I started school I remember being excited that I would finally learn how to read. The day they took us to the school library and showed us how it worked, I checked out a book and took it home, even though I still couldn’t read yet. I was so proud carrying my book on the bus, and then finally walking through the front door with it. It was another year or so before I really understood how reading worked.

As far as writing goes, the first physical act of writing I recall took place on April 2, 1970, when I was five years old. photo (48)My grandmother had just given me a book by Jack Kent called Just Only John. I found a pen and took it and the book to a light-filled window lined with potted plants and I started scribbling on the inside cover. She always inscribed the books, so I guess I thought I should write something as well. That’s when I noticed that one of the pots had been set in the bottom half of a waxed half-gallon milk carton, and I became obsessed with copying down the letters, which spelled: GRADE A MILK. I kept having troubles with the M, though, and it turned out to be GRADE A WILK. photo (50)I still have the book today and keep it on a shelf with all the other books my grandmother gave me.

 

Eventually, I went on to write poems and stories in school. But I kept them to myself for the most part. Growing up, I never had any self-confidence. I never dreamed that I could actually be a writer or that anyone would actually want to read anything I wrote. When I went on to study literature and foreign languages that all changed, but gradually, and I finally came to realize that I had always wanted to be a writer. On a winter night in 1992, when I was working and studying in Austria, I sat down at my desk and started work on a novel. I recall that as the very moment I decided I wanted to be a writer.

What is your general writing process? Do you have any fun writing quirks or traditions you’d like to share?

For me, writing involves about 75% just sitting there and daydreaming and about 25% actual work. Generally, I get an idea and then go with it, which means that I often have several writing projects going at once. When one of them really starts to come together, I channel most of my energies in that direction and try to finish it before taking on anything new. I try to write every day, but that doesn’t always work out. In any case, I’m always jotting down ideas, lines, and words that I want to use in upcoming stories. Writing tends to be a slow, tedious process for me and I’m always going back to revise and rewrite. I wish I could write a sentence, a paragraph, a passage, and just leave well enough alone and move on to the next part, but it seems like I am forever returning and tweaking the things I’ve written.

I have a number of local cafes where I like to hang out and write, but it seems like I’m always most productive at home. I have a room behind a hidden door off of my living room and I call it my “secret library” – and that’s where I like to write best. I’ve moved lots of beat-up old pieces and most of my favorite things in there and I have Christmas lights strung up around the ceiling. I love to turn them on and sit there and write under the colorful lights.

What book could you read repeatedly, and what are you reading right now?

The only book I’ve really read repeatedly is John Berendt’s Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil because I’m studying it for a true crime book I’m working on. Once in while I’ll go back and give a book that I didn’t finish a second try, but generally, I don’t want to reread anything because that would mean taking up time that I could spend on reading something new and potentially discovering a new favorite writer. When it comes to reading, it’s much like my writing in that I’ve always got several things going on at the same time. Right now I’m reading the Partick Melrose novels by Edward St. Aubyn, Pitch Dark by Renata Adler, and Back Home in Landing Run by Mary Pophan, a Kentucky author.

What do you do when you are not writing?

I teach foreign language classes and translation at the university, so chances are that I’ll be teaching when I’m not writing. I’m also very involved in tourism where I live so I often give walking tours and talks to out-of-towners. If I have free time at home, it’s usually spent cooking and entertaining friends. I love having people over so we can just sit around talking after a nice dinner together.

What’s your favorite thing to eat or drink? Least favorite?

I don’t like dates because they remind me of june bugs and I don’t imagine that june bugs taste any good. There are too many things that I love to eat and drink, so it’s probably impossible to come up with just one favorite, but if I did it would probably be something very simple. Home-baked bread with fresh butter and cheddar cheese would be at the top of such a list. I also love artichoke hearts, Swedish fish, wine gums, salad drizzled with pumpkin seed oil, hearts of palm, vinho verde, smoked trout, gnocchi of any kind, and Glorias, a nut-caramel sweet from Mexico.

Describe one non-writerly fun fact about yourself. 

I just saw that Ann B. Davis of The Brady Bunch fame died. (sad face) When I was a waiter at the Oakroom restaurant in Louisville in the 1990s, I waited on her one night when she came in to eat by herself. She was tiny. She wasn’t very talkative.

Do you have a favorite song or favorite band?  Similarly, do you have a favorite TV show or movie?

I’m a total dweeb when it comes to music and I’m usually way behind the times. Right now I really like the stuff out by Real Estate, but my tastes are somewhat eclectic. I love Sufjan Stevens and music in different languages. I’m not a huge fan of country and heavy metal, but other than that there’s not too much I won’t listen to. I don’t watch much TV, but one of my favorite things is RuPaul’s Drag Race. Five movies that I love are Sordid Lives, Fargo, Big Eden, Silence of the Lambs, and Lilies, a Canadian movie from 1996.

KELLY MORRIS

What are your earliest memories of reading, and how did you begin writing?

I remember my mom reading to me at bedtime when I was little. Going to the library was a regular occurrence in our house. I wrote my first story when I was in elementary school, and it was a blatant rip-off of Peter Rabbit but my mom found it and asked in this amazed voice, “Did you write this? I love it!” I think I decided in that moment to be a writer but I took some very long detours along the way.

What is your general writing process? Do you have any fun writing quirks or traditions you’d like to share?

I like to write in my house, at my desk, while drinking a cup of green tea out of a certain mug. I’m not good at writing in public placesI’m too easily distracted. I prefer to write when my kids are in school but in the summer I have to find a balance between hanging out with them and still finding time to write. I’m a big believer that if you show up every day and stare blankly at your computer, you will eventually produce something you’re proud of.

What book could you read repeatedly, and what are you reading right now?

I don’t have  a book I read repeatedly; there are too many books out there I want to read! Although I do reread passages from certain authors’ short stories: Alice Munro, Miranda July, Joan Wickersham and Raymond Carver come to mind. Right now I’m reading Renata Adler’s Speedboat and Hemingway’s short story collection The Snows of Kilimanjaro.

What do you do when you are not writing?

Hang out with my family, take my dog for walks (it’s my main form of exercise), read, text my blog mates (oh waitdoes that count as writing?)

What’s your favorite thing to eat or drink? Least favorite?

I love chocolate. I eat it after every meal. I don’t like most fruits.

Describe one non-writerly fun fact about yourself.

I don’t know how to snap even though my kids repeatedly try to teach me.

Do you have a favorite song or favorite band?  Similarly, do you have a favorite TV show or movie?

Right now I really like the band Sleeper Agent (recommended to me by one Julia Blake.) My favorite TV show of all time is Newsradio. I can probably quote the majority of that series, at least the episodes with Phil Hartman.

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RICK BROWN

What are your earliest memories of reading, and how did you begin writing?

In my mind, I link early reading with my maternal grandmother, so I probably did a lot of it with her. Three books that come to mind from my earliest independent reading are Attic of the Wind, Scuttle the Stowaway Mouse, and, of course, Go, Dog, Go!

In my essay, “What I Want to Write When I Grow Up,” I mentioned a self-referential “book” I composed as a child, the pages of which I bound together with safety pins. But my first serious attempt at writing (i.e., a process that included revision) was the penning of lyrics as a teenager. Some songs were better than others; and since I was hoping to follow in the footsteps of John Lennon, most of them were political in their message or somehow rooted in drug use. I also wrote science-fiction-y lyrics a la Rush and some apocalyptic stuff  too, as I was ever conscious of the late-Cold War nuclear threat.

What is your general writing process? Do you have any fun writing quirks or traditions you’d like to share?

There was a time when I observed a writing schedule of driving every morning to a local Barnes and Noble café, where I would work until the early afternoon on a novel draft. And, when I was younger (in my teens and twenties), I spent a great deal of time writing poems, lyrics, and what I thought were short stories in notebooks; stuff that I seldom bothered to revise because, of course, it was “perfect” just the way it was—received wisdom. In retrospect, most of it was garbage. Lately—and especially since Literary Labors—I’ve become an eleventh-hour writer. I really enjoy the challenge of coming up with a topic, writing, revising, and rendering a decent finished product in a short space of time. I typically start some time on Sunday and post on Monday afternoon.

And as far as quirks or tendencies go, I can only say that I know I’m truly onto something when I look up from what I’ve been writing to realize that it is now late in the day, I’m still in my pajamas, and I haven’t eaten anything yet.

What book could you read repeatedly, and what are you reading right now?

There are numerous books and stories that I return to again and again, and for various reasons. Some of them I have reread so many times now, and for so long, that I’ve forgotten the original reasons why I was drawn to it. The book/story may have been life-informing in some manner at some point in my life; but now I might return to it for nostalgic reasons or simply out of habit. I exhibit a similar pattern with movies, and certain albums (now CDs). Among the written works I revisit are Hemingway’s, The Sun Also Rises and A Moveable Feast; Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, and his short story, “The Rich Boy”; any of Louise Erdrich’s novels, but especially Four Souls and Tracks; historian Philip Ziegler’s The Black Death; and an anthology of fiction and nonfiction pieces, titled, Writers on World War II.

What am I reading now? I find myself in a restless, hard-to-satisfy space lately, where I “page around” in several books at once and don’t settle on any one of them. But that is a normal phase in my reading cycle.

What do you do when you are not writing?

While it’s not fashionable to admit it, I will anyway: I’m not writing far more often than I am writing. So, to answer, I’m doing everything else in my life between my writing fits—a partial list of which might include being a father, a musician, a thinker, an owner of commercial and rental properties, a runner, a Facebook addict, a reader, or a daytime napper.

What’s your favorite thing to eat or drink? Least favorite?

My favorite things to drink are coffee and milk, but separately. I don’t know that I have a favorite food, but I probably eat cereal more frequently than anything else. Least favorites? Out of necessity, I no longer drink alcohol, so that probably counts in this category for beverages. As far as food goes, I don’t like any type of seafood and never eat it.

Describe one non-writerly fun fact about yourself.

I find it difficult to concentrate on driving while making conversation or, especially, while eating a McDonald’s ice cream cone. One time, while so engaged, I actually pulled off the highway without realizing what I was doing and wound up in an empty parking lot. That was a damn good cone.

Do you have a favorite song or favorite band?  Similarly, do you have a favorite TV show or movie?

I don’t have a favorite band, though I followed the Grateful Dead for years—at least as much as my vacation time limits from work allowed. I also love Gordon Lightfoot and The Beatles. While I watch TV, I haven’t been dedicated to a particular show since probably the early 1980s. If pressed for an all-time favorite, though, I’d admit to a tie between “The Carol Burnett Show” and the “Bugs Bunny – Road Runner Hour.”

JULIA BLAKE 

What are your earliest memories of reading, and how did you begin writing?

I’ve always been a huge reader. I remember my mom teaching me how to read when I was little, and she would reward me with stickers whenever I learned a new word. I clearly remember learning the word “all” this way. As I grew up, I would primarily ask for books for my birthday and for Christmas, and my brother would make fun of me for lining them up on my bed and taking pictures of them. (I don’t do this anymore.)

As far as when I began writing, I really got cranked up around sixth or seventh grade, and I would fill notebooks with this awful angst-ridden poetry. (Note to self: Find and destroy the notebooks the next time I’m at my family’s house.) I stopped writing from my late teens through my mid-twenties, and when my grandmother died in 2009, I needed to channel that grief into something. That “something” turned into a completed novel.

What is your general writing process? Do you have any fun writing quirks or traditions you’d like to share?

If it’s a first draft, I try to get it down as fast as I can so that the scaffolding is in place. First drafts feel the hardest for me to do, and I’m relieved once the plot is out of my head. With revisions, I do multiple read-throughs looking for certain variables, and then I’ll go back over and read the piece as a whole. If it has multiple POVs, then I’ll pull out each thread and make sure it works on its own.

I don’t have any traditions per se, but I’m one of those people that needs absolute silence when I write. I can listen to music before I write to get into a certain mood that matches where I need to go with the writing but definitely not during. I sit on my bed with my laptop. Half of the time my cat is right next to me, and my dog is always asleep close by. They’ve heard me read my work out loud more than anyone else, I dare say. They have yet to offer their opinions on the quality of my writing.

What book could you read repeatedly, and what are you reading right now?

I read Kate Chopin’s The Awakening probably twice a year. I can’t even verbalize why I love it so much, but it’s inspired me in a lot of ways. I don’t have any tattoos, but I’ve always said that if I get a novel published I would get the line “That night Edna dined alone” on me somewhere. (We’ll see if I follow through with that.) I’m a big dystopian fan so I reread 1984, Fahrenheit 451, and Brave New World. Annie Dillard’s The Maytrees is so beautiful I have to revisit it when I need to be blown away by stunning prose.

I’m probably reading ten books right now, and those include Rachel Louise Snyder’s What We’ve Lost is Nothing, Jonathan Dee’s The Privileges, and The Collected Stories of Eudora Welty.

What do you do when you are not writing?

I’m a contributing faculty member in a graduate mental health counseling program, so I am always busy with work. Other than that, I try to keep up with my four-year-old, and I run. A lot. Someday I hope to run a half, and I toy around with training for one but haven’t made it to that point just yet.

What’s your favorite thing to eat or drink? Least favorite?

I seriously hate zucchini. I also dislike chocolate on chocolate (e.g., chocolate cake with chocolate icing, which I call my “dessert worst nightmare”). As far as favorites go, being a Mississippi native I tend to like stuff that clogs my arteries, but I rarely eat that up here in D.C. I try to eat pretty well because I like my life and want to live it for a long time.

Describe one non-writerly fun fact about yourself.

I used to do a lot of dancing growing up—ballet (badly, however), liturgical, and dance team. My dance team in seventh grade went to a national competition (we lost), but it was at Disney World, so win. I’m also incredibly clumsy. Inevitably, I fall down the stairs in my house once a year. Turns out last night was my lucky night. 🙂 I decorate for Christmas the day after Halloween.

Do you have a favorite song or favorite band?  Similarly, do you have a favorite TV show or movie?

I love “Shuffle” and “Lights Out, Words Gone” by Bombay Bicycle Club. They never fail to put me in a good mood. As I would walk to workshop at Spalding when it was my day to be critiqued, I would listen to “Shuffle” to calm my nerves (also before flights). Like many others, I love the Beatles. I listen to Primus when I have to work late (which means I listen to Primus a lot). And I totally have a thing for Hall and Oates.

As far as TV shows go, my favorite is Friends. I never watched it when it was on, so I’m ten years late to that. I love Newsroom and Homeland, too. Picking a favorite movie is a bit difficult because I don’t have time to watch them, but Scott Pilgrim vs. the World is my comfort food movie.

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