Writers Project

Live. Write. Revise. Repeat. — David Eye

David Eye will speak and read from his work at 12:30 p.m. Nov. 8 in the Visual Arts Gallery in Dearlove Hall at SUNY Adirondack as part of the college's Writers Project series.

Eye is the author of "Seed," released in 2017 from The Word Works. The manuscript was chosen by award-winning poet Eduardo C. Corral for the Hilary Tham Capital Collection. His chapbook, "Rain Leaping Up When a Cab Goes Past," was published in 2013 in the Editor’s Series at Seven Kitchens Press, and his poems and prose have appeared in a variety of journals and anthologies.

5 Questions with David Eye

 

Q. You earned an MFA in creative writing from Syracuse University in 2008, after 17 years of working as an actor and singer in New York City. Were you intimidated about entering school as a nontraditional student?

A. I was more intimidated (and surprised) by the fact I was going back to school at all than the fact I’d be older — by some 20 years — than most of my peers. I had been a pretty terrible undergrad student, mostly because I was trying to be something I wasn’t. By junior year, I already knew I’d be an actor, but I was trying (desperately) to complete a B.A. in psychology (which I did, but by the skin of my teeth.) I think going back to school in my 40s actually helped me, as a writer: I remember quite clearly some of the younger members of my workshop voicing the concern that they hadn’t had enough life experience. After having bombed as an undergrad, it was satisfying to get grad school right.

 

Q. Is your experience as a performer reflected in the way you approach writing?

A. Yes, I think that background reveals itself in at least a couple of ways. For one, I tend to think of poems (or many of them) as little scenes, vignettes. I have a strong narrative impulse, so I'm perhaps a little too concerned sometimes about “setting” the poem in a place and time. Thinking of description and movement in a poem (or other writing) in terms of “closeups" and “zoom outs” can be helpful. The second way I think my acting background comes through is that, as I often tell my students, good writing is like good acting in that you want to hold something back. If you’re watching an actor weep or scream his or her way through a scene, it might be impressive, but you might not be moved — there's no emotional work left for the audience to do. Likewise, I try (with varying degrees of success) not to "tell the whole story” in order to allow the reader to find a way in, to project her or his own life onto the poem.

 

Q. You lived in New York City for a number of year and now live in the Catskills. Which environment is more conducive to your writing?

A. I think both are good for writing, for different reasons. The easy answer would be that the City is good for material; the country for writing it down. But it’s not quite that simple: while the City is certainly more stimulating in some ways, I can be just as interested in and excited by the subtle shifts and activities going on in the woods behind my house, or the work I do on my house, as by the noise and hubbub of New York City streets. On the other hand, there aren’t so many passersby on my little country road, so if I want to observe and write about people, I take it to the City. 

 

Q. You received a Hudson Valley Writers Guild Non-Fiction Award for humor. Do you feel comedic writing is valued as a legitimate form of American literature?

A. Hmm. I don’t know how “seriously” it’s taken — by scholars or literary critics — but I also don’t know that I care about them! I look at the popularity of someone like David Sedaris — the way people treat him as a rock star. He is beloved. We love and need humor. Especially, perhaps, in times like these, when there’s so much in the country and the world that is decidedly un-funny. I don’t read a lot of other current humorists, but as a writer, humorous prose allows me to get sides of myself onto the page that poetry does not. Or hasn’t yet. 

 

Q. Your poetry collection “Seed” has been praised for its intimacy and exploration of LGBTQ identity. How has the current conservative political climate affected your work as a poet?

A. I don’t know that the work itself has changed yet — but the current climate has definitely changed my awareness — I am more aware of myself and of my place as a queer writer, as opposed to “just” a writer, than before. It has also reinforced an awareness of my limitations; I want to write about things that matter more than my own memories and autobiography. On the other hand, as has often been said, the personal is political, and so by being true to oneself, and I think especially (right now) one’s queer or brown or female or trans (etc.) self, there’s value in getting a life down onto a page so that someone (an “other”) might experience that self and start to think differently. I have only a few overtly “political” poems, but I’m trying to find my way in.

Read more about David Eye by clicking  HERE.


Write through the doubt, fear, shame, and hubris. Keep your butt in the chair and write. -- Lisa Selin Davis

Lisa Selin Davis spoke and read from her work on Oct. 11 at SUNY Adirondack as part of the college's Writers Project series.

Davis was born in Saratoga Springs and spent most of her childhood in Western Massachusetts. She moved to New York City at 21 after earning a degree in experimental feminist video. Davis started her career working in film and television (including Blue's Clues) and later earned a master’s of fine arts degree from Arizona State University. In addition to publishing the novels “Belly and “Lost Stars,” she has written articles for The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and Time.

5 Questions with Lisa Selin Davis

 
Q. Has your work as a non-fiction writer influenced your fiction?

A. I think in the beginning they were intertwined: I wanted to write about urban planning, based on my love of Saratoga's built environment and my fear/hatred of the suburbs, and the fiction I wrote was inspired by that. I think in me they work the same muscle, though some people find the two processes very different — most fiction writers can handle some non-fiction, but not all non-fiction writers can or want to delve into the world of fiction-writing.

One of the fun things about writing fiction is that you never know what's going to come out, what snippet of information or observation will make its way into a character's head. And in that way, writing about all kinds of things — film, the environment, architecture, parenting — has allowed me access to information I might not have had or observations I might not have made otherwise. 

 

Q. How has your hometown of Saratoga Springs shaped your writing?

A. Saratoga has inspired so much of my work. Before I had the courage to drop everything and be a writer, I went to two graduate programs, one in Environmental Psychology and the other in Urban Planning (I finished neither, and instead got an MFA and used my previous studies in my work), because of my experience in, and out of, Saratoga. After my parents split up when I was five, I only lived in Saratoga during the summers and after high school. I lived in a number of other places, from Georgia to Massachusetts, that never felt like home, and the longing for Saratoga, for its people and for the actual physical layout of the town, never left me. I wondered why I felt such a strong sense of community there and not in these other more suburban neighborhoods I lived in, and eventually I found it had much to do with the built environment: the width of streets, the prevalence of porches, the density, even the variety of architectural types and sizes of homes that allowed different kinds of people to co-exist. I found it a kind of urban planning Shangri-La. 

It was also a completely different place when I was growing up, a down-and-own faded gem of a city that had abandoned lots to play in and seedy characters walking down the street during track season. There was a romance in its destructed glamour. Now it's the kind of place that is so self-consciously charming that it's lost a lot of charm, but I will forever love it and appreciate it from an urban point of view. 

 

Q. Your novel “Belly” features an “antihero” as a main character. How difficult is it to create a seriously flawed protagonist while still eliciting empathy from your readers?

A. That, to me, is the great promise of fiction: to allow you—the writer or reader — to empathize with someone else. I start with the question, "What would it be like ...?" In this case, I wondered what it would be like to have been someone important in your town and then to be erased, and to have to navigate your life as someone with reduced status, someone in great pain who has spent his life trying, in vain, to escape it. I don't think it's difficult to create a flawed protagonist — who would want any other kind? — but the empathy only comes if the author experiences it herself, if she can really imagine what it's like to feel the way someone else does. And that's the fun part, also.

 

Q. Your book “Lost Stars” has been labeled as a Young Adult novel. Did you write the book for younger readers, or is the YA label more about marketing?

A. I set out to write "Lost Stars" as a YA novel, in part because a friend sent me a note after I published a personal essay in The New York Times' Modern Love column that said, "You know this would make a great YA book, right?" I had not, in fact, known that, but it seemed like a good idea, and was easy to stretch out that shell of a plot and fill it in with someone else's journey. There are many books in our canon that would be marketed as YA today, most notably "The Catcher in the Rye." There's no concensus on what makes a novel YA versus adult, but my editor says it has to do with a teenage protagonist navigating her world, with adults on the periphery and a close POV. Few narrators are looking back from adulthood on their teenage years. The great coup these days is to write something that can be marketed both as YA and adult literature. I'm still working on that!

 

Q. What makes a fictional character believable to readers?

A. I believe that the job of fiction is to surprise readers in a believable way. How to do that? It's a mystery every time. Part of it is specificity, the details that make up a character's rich interior world or his physical surroundings. But most of it is what you asked about before: empathy. To feel how he feels, to see the world from his point of view, to understand why he makes decisions, to be able to step outside yourself and walk in his shoes — that all contributes to the holistic creation of a character. 

Read more about Lisa Selin Davis at www.lisaselindavis.com.

 


Write what you’re not supposed to write. — David Ebenbach

David Ebenbach, author of the novel “Miss Portland,” spoke and read from his work on Sept. 27 at SUNY Adirondack as part of the college’s Writers Project series.

Ebenbach is the author of six books of fiction, poetry and non-fiction and has received numerous writing awards, including the Drue Heinz Literature Prize, the Juniper Prize and the Patricia Bibby Award.

A Philadelphia native, Ebenbach lives in Washington, D.C., and works at Georgetown University, where he teaches creative writing and literature at the Center for Jewish Civilization and promotes student-centered teaching at the Center for New Designs in Learning and Scholarship. He earned a doctorate in psychology from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and a master’s in writing from Vermont College.

5 Questions with David Ebenbach

 

Q. You write fiction, nonfiction and poetry. Do you take a different approach with each genre?

A. I think you have to. I mean, there’s no bright line between the genres—for example, it can be awfully hard to tell the difference between a prose poem and a piece of flash fiction in some cases—but I think differently when I’m writing one versus another (including prose poems vs. flash fiction). When I’m writing a piece of fiction, I’m more interested in the development of a character and a story, preoccupied with movement and progression; when it’s a poem I’m focusing more on language and imagery and a search for tiny moments that will blow the lid off the world; when I’m writing non-fiction I’m usually trying to make a point, and all the story and language is ultimately aimed in the direction of a “And what does this all tell us?” kind of question. 

 

Q. Your biography states that you started writing as a kid. What authors inspired you the most when you were young?

A. Well, I was seven or eight when I started thinking of myself as someone who loves to write, so we’re going way back. I was probably reading the Paddington Bear books at that point. I loved that catastrophe-prone, earnest bear. Or Choose-Your-Own-Adventure books; I was really into those. I used to fold the pages at each decision point so I could go back and take the other path when I was done with the first path, so that I would have access to every story. And then when I became a tween and a teen I got into science fiction and fantasy. It’s interesting—I really don’t read much science fiction or fantasy these days, but it did a lot for me when I was young. I read J.R.R. Tolkein, Ray Bradbury, C.S. Lewis, and a bunch of not great books (that I loved) based on episodes of Doctor Who. There was something so wonderful about the expanded universe that was created by these authors—it made life seem exciting and full of possibility. Maybe that’s why I went on to enjoy magic realism—Salman Rushdie, Isabelle Allende, Gabriel Garcia Marquez—as a young adult. It wasn’t until a little later that I decided that ordinary life—the everyday life led by people like you and me—was itself full of wonder and possibility, and well worth reading and writing about.

 

Q. In addition to earning a master’s of fine arts degree in writing from Vermont College, you also have a doctorate in psychology from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. What role does your background in psychology play in your work as a writer?

A. Much less than you would expect! The kind of psychology I studied was social psychology, which was really a way of learning about people by studying a bunch of people at once and seeing what they were like on average. That’s a perfectly good way to learn about people, but I think it’s the opposite of what you do in creative writing. In creative writing you look not at averages but really closely at one person (at a time) in order to see the whole universe refracted through them.

 

Q. What is your favorite comment you have received about one of your published works?

A. I was once forwarded a personal essay by Mike Anderson Campbell in which he described being by his father’s deathbed, trying to figure out what to say to him in his father’s last hours. Eventually he decided to read his father a story, and the story he chose was my story “We’ll Finish When We’re Done.” Why did he choose it? It wasn’t personal—he and I didn’t know each other at all. In his essay, he wrote, “I wanted to say something about dying and about the body and about our hope for an eternal whatever that moves past us and continues when we’re done in the flesh. And I think Ebenbach wants to say something about those things, too….There was real comfort in the story, for at least one of us.” This is the most moving thing anybody has ever said—or could ever possibly say—about my work.

 

Q. As a creative writing teacher, what are some of the hardest bad habits to break in your students?

A. I hate to trot out the old chestnut “Show, don’t tell,” but I think it’s the right answer to this question. Unlike visual art and music and dance, writing has very little sensory power, very little gut-level power for the person taking it in—unless we can use imagistic words to evoke a sensory experience for the reader. We need images. And beginning writers often struggle, at first, internalizing that crucial principle. It’s easy to write “it was nice” or “he was unfriendly” or “everything was sort of confusing”; what’s harder is using language to make the reader feel those things as though that reader is right there experiencing them. Words are unpromising tools, but we can make them do amazing things.

Read more about David Ebenbach at www.davidebenbach.com.

 

All Writers Projects events, which are free and open to the public, will be held at 12:30 p.m. in the Visual Arts Gallery in Dearlove Hall on the Queensbury campus.

Additional programs in the fall include book editor Naomi Huffman on Dec. 6.