Wednesday, October 19, 2016

JOURNEY TO PLANET WRITE: When a Question Becomes an Answer

by Meg Tuite

Is writing another form of depression that needs a page instead of an ear to hear it?

How often do you write the same story over and over again? Are you trying to get somewhere? But isn’t it supposed to be about the journey? What do we want to convey? Should it be in 1st, 2nd, or 3rd person, or maybe a mix? Past tense, present tense or both? Should it be written with differing voices that aren’t in linear time or should it be written at all? When does it seem like it doesn’t matter? That what is written won’t change anyone, not even the one who writes it? Is it true that anything and everything is interesting in the hands of a skilled writer? And where does the skill come from?

No one can really teach you how to write well. But, isn’t anything done well, reworked over and over again until it moves somewhere. More skill involves more time in front of the page, writing and writing and then there’s the editing part which is more intensive sometimes than the writing itself. So, then would that mean that a person with an eye for that extraneous crap in a story is really the writer?

And is there a way to lead a healthy life as a writer? Do you start off with coffee and hole up for a few hours? Or eat some eggs or oatmeal, take some vitamins, and then hole up again. Or sit in a cafe surrounded by the white noise of stranger’s voices so you don’t have to actually be alone to complete the task?

And what about exercise? Do you become a head with a body slugging behind it? How much energy is left over to run or go to a gym? And do you really care to move around after your mind has been on a treadmill trying to circumvent so many questions and possible paths? Or do you just say, fuck it, I’ll do that tomorrow and get some wine, Scotch, beer? Or maybe you’ve already been there, and so you take another Xanax and go to an AA meeting.

Do you have a social life? After spending many hours alone, does your tongue still work and do you have anything to say besides what your story or book is about? Or do you sit back and listen complacently because you have already completed your task in the world and let others tell you why their life is not coming together?

And is it a good thing to be in a healthy relationship? You know, happy and trusting and oh, yes, we both love our solitude and that makes being together all the more peaceful and uncomplicated. Or is best to have a lot of drama, so you can rage on the page and throw lamps and knick-knacks, end up sleeping with the neighbor’s cousin or stealing lawn ornaments or street signs to keep life interesting?

Do you work all day in an office, while you keep a notebook of thoughts for your manuscript
awaiting you at home? Do you turn the key in your lock and strip off your uniform and get your holey pajamas with that t-shirt you got from making the 50k words in a month NANO one year, grab some more coffee and sit at your desk?

Is there a better stream that flows at night when you hear traffic and sirens, music somewhere out there, but you just keep plugging those veins with caffeine as you remember that one time in high school, or that guy who always started his stories with ‘I got to tell you,’ or walk that fine line between waking and dreaming and let the free-float of words pressure themselves into some kind of formula that makes sense when you’re stoned or is so close to not making sense that you are sure it’s multi-layered and is one of those abstract pieces that can be interpreted so many different ways depending on the reader?

Do you surround yourself with books and a thesaurus? Do you keep checking for that one word that will absolutely blow minds with its inimitable impact? How about a word count? Do you shoot for 1500 words a day? 2500?  Or are you set up in a stark room, maybe the basement with the shades down and no books, no view, no sound but the cracking of joints when you stretch?   

And how do you know your work is authentic? Do you get out your copy of Poets and Writers and look for a summer workshop? Or maybe make certain that everyone knows you are serious about your vocation and get into an MFA program? Those are places where they attempt to guide you in a distinct direction. You are surrounded by classes full of writers just as confused as you are or maybe they aren’t? They are always tapping away on their keyboards whenever you see them on campus. Maybe that’s their voice and not your voice? Maybe they are misguiding you, and you become more and more certifiably lost as you sit with a group of other writers who continue to give you advice, though each one likes or dislikes or is confused by a different part of your story.

Or you decide to go to AWP. Yes, you are going to go to the largest writers conference for five days. You go to a panel on how to publish a book without an agent. You go to a panel on how to speak your truth, how to write a blog, what genre is best for you. In between panels you get a map of the book fair with millions of books for sale, walk aisle after aisle, booth after booth of small-press publishers, large-press publishers, literary magazine editors, MFA programs, fiction, non-fiction, poetry, screenplays, graphic novels, playwriting, agents, and in-house readings with a floor plan that makes any museum look like a bathroom stall. You stagger off after drinking your way through a pariah of off-site parties and readings each night with a bag full of books, brochures, pamphlets, buttons, stickers and business cards and rush to make your flight back home.

Do you remember whom you met? You look on your phone and see tons of photos of you with other writers or publishers or were they editors? Do any of the notes you made make sense? Why do you feel so depressed? Did you lie in bed for a week after it was over wondering why you have no energy to even open your computer? You might remember snippets of introductions of authors who have bios that go on like breakdowns. You remember staring out over a balcony at what looked to be enough people to fill a city and think that every one of them has written at least one book, if not more, trying not to calculate. Your back aches and your credit card is maxed out.

And while you’re lying in that bed, do you remember that first desk you sat beneath? Not the one at school, but the one your mom bought you for five bucks at the school rummage sale that waited for you every day against a corner of your room. And do you remember that you wanted to be dead when you were three? And when you got that writing desk with paper and sat at it when you were eight, it was the first time that you found a way to disappear and appear without anyone seeing at the same time.

You sit in a therapist’s office with headphones on and a beep that goes back and forth. “What do you see,” asks the therapist? Your eyes are closed. Aren’t those images of snapshots you saw when you were a kid? Yeah, you see your Dad. And yeah, you are shaking. “No,” you hear yourself think. “Nothing is clear,” you say. “It’s a blur of images.”  You can’t be sure of any of them, even if you spend an entire lifetime trying to hide the tremors that unhinge you.

You do know one thing, for sure. Writing is the only reason you’re still alive, whether anyone reads it or not.

by Meg Tuite

The girl didn’t want all the necklaces from the store rack that she slipped into her coat pocket the size of a rural mailbox opening, but did want friends to notice that she wasn’t as afraid as the tremors that spread across her face like the make-up and lipstick she just palmed in her hand that would only make her imperfections brighter, more shrill when one of her friends got too close to her and whispered  secrets about other girls that could have been her pimples, flat chest, crazy thoughts, secrets that her mom told her would save her from the captivity of convention, anchor her within her own breed of otherness, keep her from walking within the lines as her mother slipped a pen and notebook into the girl’s pocket and went back to confiscating the wail of wind in stranger’s depressed faces, demolished buildings, the bruised colors of the girl’s interior with a paintbrush, humming a soft, velvet tune that the girl wanted to crawl inside larger than her bulging pocket filled with sparkly trinkets she would hand out to friends at school the next day.  

(Published in MadHatter’s Review)


Meg Tuite is author of two short story collections, Bound By Blue (Sententia Books, 2013) and Domestic Apparition () San Francisco Bay Press, 2011), and four chapbooks. She won the Twin Antlers Collaborative Poetry award from Artistically Declined Press for her poetry collection, Bare Bulbs Swinging (2014) written with Heather Fowler and Michelle Reale. She teaches at Santa Fe Community College, and is a columnist at Connotation Press and JMWW. Her blog:

Hollow Gestures” nominated for Best of the Web at Blue Lyra Review

Fingerprints,” ekphrastic flash w/ art, music on video published by Michael Cooper, Orange Monkey Publishing.

“Worn-Out Fabric” published in People Holding

Video book trailer for "Grace Notes" with David Tomaloff and me; video by Marc Neys
Root People” published in Nervous Breakdown

Wednesday, October 12, 2016


by Jen Knox

Angst. A hard-hitting, Midwestern mixture of anxiety and unfocused resentment kicked off my journey toward Planet Write. I was a high school dropout with unrealistic ideas about what the world owed me. I’d had a hardscrabble journey to adulthood, and a lot to say about it, but I had yet to make my way to a writing life.  

Angst propelled me. I knew things needed to change, but the future was blurry. After getting my GED, to help with job prospects, I applied for financial aid and enrolled at Columbus State Community College. Next thing I knew, I was back in classes, self-conscious about being a few years older than most of my contemporaries. The high school I had spent many days avoiding was known for teaching survival skills, not sentence structure, so I began in remedial English.   

Somewhere along the line, college began to click for me. Much to my surprise, I enjoyed writing narrative essays, especially for classes that weren’t English. I loved the credibility of being a writer who knew a lot about subject X or Y. I spent hours writing entire essays that weren’t on the syllabus. Taking every sociology and psychology class I could, I began writing fictional case studies – getting into the minds of those I wanted to understand. I really kicked off my writing life in those psychology classes, exploring the research and theories of Erikson, Freud (Anna and Sigmund), Jung, Maslow, and Pavlov. Mental illness became the mainstay of my creative writing for many years after.  

Those first few years of college were long. I worked full-time in factories, clubs, restaurants, and gas stations. I took classes as I was able to pay for books, general fees, and transportation. I had to time things with the bus line for a few years, which wasn’t ideal, but I got through, and I wrote most of my essays on the bus or during breaks at work.  

When I was accepted into Otterbein University, I began to take writing seriously. I met a few instructors who opened new worlds for me. Dr. Shannon Lakanen urged me to explore my personal experiences in creative nonfiction, and, before I knew it, I couldn’t shut up about myself. I studied Joan Didion, Michel de Montaigne, William Hazlitt, and Phillip Lopate. I learned that when I wrote true stories, even traumatic stories, they lost their emotional grip on me. Writing allowed me to reframe reality.

I was lucky enough to study with Phillip Lopate personally after Otterbein because, at the urging of a few professors, I applied to a single grad school and, go figure, got in. I remember getting the acceptance letter and thinking, Shit! I can’t really do this.

Bennington was tough for me, but I was so grateful to be there that I absorbed everything it had to offer. I didn’t take a single breath in Vermont for granted. Although I continued to study creative nonfiction, I realized that the fundamental benefit of writing transcends genre and form.     

Once a graduate left to find sustainable work (after years of working and school, working alone feels rather strange), I found time to write but no structure and no audience, so I wrote what I wanted when I could, and I continued to read everything I could get ahold of. I also began to share work, mostly in online journals and small press publications. I had a voice.

I currently direct a program that connects writers to community settings around San Antonio. The writers, who are published and stellar instructors, bring their passion and expertise to young people, adults, the elderly, the incarcerated, and the homeless in order to show them that their voices matter. So many people do not understand how valuable their stories are.

I remember my angst vividly. It was my companion. I had been through quite a bit in my formative years that made me fear the world; and fear is a place from which we either make bad decisions loudly or hole up and hide. I hid.

It was writing, in all its “otherworldliness,” that freed me. I attempt to pay this forward with my work, both as an educator and a person who connects those who know the value of writing with those who are yet to discover the power of words. It is my belief that Planet Write should be about inclusion, and that it will only be made stronger with the addition of voices that have been silenced due to lack of access or time. So many people live every day just trying to get by.    

Writing, for me, is necessary, urgent, and sometimes it feels more real than reality itself. I recently published a book with Rain Mountain Press, After the Gazebo, and I am beginning to shop a new collection of eco-centered fiction. I am also finishing a very strange novella, To Shake His Hand.

My journey as a writer has just begun. It is only within the last few years that I’ve truly tapped into the authentic, creative voice. Writing equips me to deal with the messy stuff of life, and it has become a bridge to opportunities I could have never imagined existed. I suppose if I were to summarize what drives my writing life today in a word, it’d be gratitude. 

Lottery Days
by Jen Knox

You told me not to play with matches that summer, so I palmed a corner-store lighter. The serrated metal tickled and warmed as it rolled against my thumb. The flame reached for the tip of your blue Crayon, and globs of wax fell on my thigh. I pressed the warmth, eager to melt the whole thing, but you knocked the lighter from my hands. You wanted to color the sky, you said, and I wouldn’t ruin your chance.

(Excerpt from “Lottery Days,” which appears in Literary Orphans)


Jen Knox directs Gemini Ink's Writers-in-Communities Program in San Antonio. She is the author of After the Gazebo (Rain Mountain Press, 2015), and her short work can be found in The Adirondack Review, Chicago Tribune's Printers Row, Chicago Quarterly Review, Istanbul Review, Literary Orphans, Room Magazine and The Saturday Evening Post. Find Jen here: