Thursday, March 31, 2011

Two Poems by Barbie Angell

the meeting.

i bumped into Truth on the subway,
his clothing was ragged and torn,
and he looked with dismay
at Hatred and Rage,
and with pity at Anger and Scorn.

it seems he had left with the world in this mess
and had given up trying to try.
and he gazed up at me,
with this look so serene,
and the tear of Fate caught in his eye.

he had hidden himself in the details
by sealing up all of the doors.
he retreated inside,
just a new place to hide,
far from the violence and wars.

he had lost all his faith in Humanity
and Humanity lost faith in him,
as he started to fear for his sanity,
seeing children abused
and the face of Love bruised
while Ignorance lied on a whim.

’cause he needed a decade to think
and mix it around in his brain.
the Hurt we inflict,
the Evil, the Sick,
the Torture, the Horrors, the Pain.

he returned with a sense of frustration
that no one could help him defeat.
quite unable to find
a Peace in his mind
that would aid his attempts in the street.

see he couldn’t abide by Injustice
and he didn’t find Racism fair
and he just couldn’t see
why someone like me
could’ve found any reason to care.

i bumped into Truth on the subway
and our meeting just doesn’t seem real.
to encounter blind grace
in such a chance place,
that’s made up of concrete and steel.

barbie dockstader angell
© 1995-2011

She’s Come Undone.

I saw her today
and she’s still unraveling.
She twists her hands in her lap,
as if she could somehow knot the ends.
For a sense of closure maybe,
or to keep herself together.
Either way, it doesn’t seem to be working.
Pieces of her scattered across the coffee shop floor.
They mixed in with the stray cigarette butts
and empty sugar packets finally released
from the confines of their ceramic caddy.
And I stared at her.
Wanting to talk to her and let her know that
I was certain that a glue would hit the shelves of
some tiny, little environmentally friendly store for
$29.95 an application and she would be saved from
the daily chore of reassembling her jigsaw self.
But before I could decide just how to correctly
phrase all that was swimming furiously through my
brain, she was gone.
She left behind quite a bit of herself that afternoon.
And it took the bus boy a half an hour to clean up the mess....

barbie dockstader angell
© 2011

Writers Talk - Barbie Angell

A happy Thursday, dear readers!  As advertised, today we have Writers Talk, & this is someone with a refreshing & to my mind, quite unique take on the writing biz. 

As has been the case with several of the writers involved in this series, I’ve gotten to know Barbie Angell on Twitter, where I find her humor & her perspective on the world & its quirkiness to be both compelling & entertaining.  As I came to know Barbie a little better, I began exploring the poetry on her blog, & was delighted to find a fresh & unique voice, chockful of wit & demonstrating a sparkling facility for rhyme & rhythm— undervalued skills in "poebiz" these days.  Here’s a brief writerly biography:

It has been said that if Shel Silverstein & Dorothy Parker had conceived a child, the result would have been Barbie Dockstader Angell. Razor wit & simple rhyming verse combine to create an innovative style. Barbie has named it “poetry for the common man.” (Although she does have plenty of women readers as well.) Bitter, satirical, humorous & sometimes brutally honest, her portfolio contains everything from rhyme to free verse, children’s and adults, as well as short stories.
Barbie was raised in Illinois & has lived in the Asheville area since 1999. She has been writing since 1986 and has won awards both academically and artistically for her poems & short stories. Barbie has been published in small press books, magazines & newspapers throughout the years & has performed her work for audiences small & large around the country.
& yes, she does have an odd obsession with Alice in Wonderland.

Barbie Angell says: “my life is in progress….constantly seeking renovations but unable to find an affordable contractor.”

I know you’ll enjoy this interview, & please check out a video of Babrie Angell reading her "Ode to Shel Silverstein" at the end of this post. Then you can read two more of her poems—“the meeting” & “She’s Come Undone”—in the post just below; these poems are also posted or on the Writers Talk blog!

When did you first realize your identity as a writer? 

from the time i was 6 years old, my dream was to be a lawyer.  i had seen the t.v. show “paperchase”and desperately wanted to make that my life.  while i was living in the children’s home “Mooseheart”my english teacher Miss Ruch encouraged me & i won the only award that the school gave out for writing; the memorial day award.  i met Jerry Dellinger my senior year & he convinced me to turn down my acceptance to harvard & instead attend lincoln college where he taught theater.  by my second semester freshman year, he had become such a force in my life that i didn’t hesitate to follow his advice.  he assured me that i was a writer not a lawyer and he encouraged that up until his death in august of 2010.

Describe the creative process involved in any one piece you’ve written—this could be book, a story, a poem, an essay, etc. 

a great deal of my pieces begin with one line.  typically it’s something that i say in conversation or post on a social media site.  there are poems which i have been revamping for years and ones which took only a few hours.  i am constantly editing & revamping my work.  mostly i try to look at anything from a new perspective.  of course, this becomes difficult when the perspective i’m trying to steer away from is my own.  there is a piece entitled “the meeting”which i began writing in 1995.  it starts with the line, “i bumped into Truth on the subway”  i was hanging out with my friend michael horn at denny’s after seeing the movie “mr. holland’s opus”and for some reason i spoke those words.  at michael’s urging i wrote them down with the intention of using them in a poem.  it was a full year before i ever was able to continue that thought.  the poem was originally “completed”in 1996 and went on to help me garner much attention, multiple publications and achieve a 12th place out of 1400 poets in competition.  last year i gave it a complete overhaul and i still don’t know if i’m done with it.  at times i write while listening to favorite music for this is Peter Gabriel....but other times all i need is a place to sit and ideally be uninterrupted.

Could you describe your relationship to the publishing process (this can be publishing in any form, from traditional book publishing to blogging, etc) ?

my poems are normally not accepted in the world of academic poetry.  rhyme goes in and out of vogue and most publications do not even finish reading a work in that style.  i consider my writing to be “poetry for people who don’t know they like poetry.” because of this, i typically get passed over in publications geared toward “traditional”verse and instead find opportunities in places where one does not normally find any type of poetry.  i currently publish my own books as it is difficult to find an entry into the world of publishing when one has an untapped area in the world of literature.  the bias in literary circles doesn’t bother me however.  if one is so close-minded that they will not accept rhyme as a viable art form just because it wasn’t written 75 to 100 years ago....then that is obviously their own issue to deal with.

Has being a writer affected your relationships? 

absolutely.  arguing with spouses in the past, the thought of, “are you going to write about this?’or “was that line or piece about me?”has come up.  when i was living in bloomington, illinois i was incredibly well-known as a performing poet.  this caused quite a large problem with my boyfriend at the time since i was garnering more attention than he was a musician.  we simply couldn’t go anywhere without my being recognized & asked to sign something or recited a piece.  i’m far less well known here in asheville, nc but it never bothered me at all.  i think that it’s really only an issue because i’m a performer and not just a reader or writer. 

How would you describe the community of writers you belong to—if any?  This may be a “real”or “virtual”(in more than one sense) community. 
most of my community is online.  i’ve found them to be predominantly supportive, even if my style of work isn’t what they believe is the “correct”way to write poetry.  i get a lot of messages and critiques from people who attempt to convince me that i shouldn’t rhyme.  they seem to not notice that i do write in a variety of styles including micro-fiction, prose and free-verse.  but, as i’ve said, the anti-rhyme perspective doesn’t concern me at all.  if i painted my house green and green was someone’s least favorite color then their dislike wouldn’t bother why should a dislike for rhyme be an issue for me either?

What are your future goals in terms of writing? 

literary world domination.  : )  i’d like to get a literary agent and ideally be published with Grand Central Publishing.  my goal used to be Harper Collins because they published Shel Silverstein, but Grand Central publishes two of my favorite authors....Rachel Simon & Steve Martin.  i’d also like to have work in The New Yorker.  Dorothy Parker and Steve Martin were both regular contributors and i feel that my work would be well-received by the magazine’s audience.

Bonus Question: If your writing were a musical instrument, what would it be?  

the violin.  it’s an instrument which can be used both as a violin or a fiddle.  the versatility of it is reminiscent of my variety of styles and genres. as i understand it, a slight change in pressure and tempo can change the same combination of string, wood and space into an entirely different instrument.  that appeals to me and is precisely what i attempt to do with my words.  recently a theater company in illinois produced some of my poetry for the stage.  i wasn't involved with any part of the production, not the choice of poems, order of pieces or how they were performed.  i was happily surprised to see that some work, which i had always thought presented itself as comedic, came off well as dramatic or vice versa.  i was honored to discover that not only was my writing far more adaptable than i had imagined, but also able to be enjoyed as a performance even without me being onstage.

it is my habit online to type in all lower case unless i capitalize to illustrate respect or for emphasis.  this being an online interview i chose to continue this practice....i hope that it has not interfered with your understanding of my responses. : )  thank you for reading.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

"Blackbird Lawn" - Juliet Wilson

Blackbird Lawn

This male blackbird has one white eyebrow
but sings as beautifully as the rest.
His mate is the brown of polished chestnuts
with a beak as bright as his.
Dutifully they collect food, wait
every morning for the scattered raisins
to carry to their brood.

Soon they will come to the lawn
with large-mouthed, speckled young -
teach them to pull worms from grass,
to recognise the footfalls
that promise sweetness.

Juliet Wilson
© 2010

from the chapbook Unthinkable Skies, published 2010 by Calder Wood Press

Writers Talk - Juliet Wilson

Please check out Juliet Wilson's Writers Talk interview on Robert Frost's Banjo!

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Wolves at Bay - Jack Varnell

Wolves At Bay

I loved you enough to not understand.
I could not fully relate or sympathize.
I did not really want to, even if I could have.
Whatever he, or they, did with you, or to you,
will die with you, though it lives, churning in you now.

Rusty autumn day, leaves fell like youth abducted.
Stumbling from the abandoned house on Bay Lane,
late using your latchkey, emerging disoriented,
with school uniform blouse ripped, and a bloodstain
red like maple leaves, on your skirt.
"Do you believe in God?" was the first thing you said.

For the first and only time in my life
I was very aware and very sad I wasn't God,
and that holding you seemed wrong.
Comforting you, an elusive goal.

Together, over the years,
two creative spirits led by denial, and fear
conspired enough to create a band-aid tale.
One of how you encountered, in shortcut alley
a slobbering, rabid alpha wolf,
followed by his frenzied omega pack.

You escaped out the window,
with the leaves raining orange and red like fire.
You stumbled down leafy paths,
into the safety of the concrete paths
where kneeling, you were reborn.
By asking if I believed in God.

It seems so long ago,
almost another time and place.
Even now, when I hold you in my arms,
I wonder where you are.
If you are hiding from me.

From my deepest slumber
I sometimes awaken to hear
the howls of wolves at Bay,
and your sleepy whispered cry.

I wonder if it is their night.
I check out the window,
with leaves raining orange and red like fire
wondering if the moon is full.
I ask myself if I believe in God.

Jack Varnell
© 2011

Writers Talk - Jack Varnell

It’s Thursday, & time for Writers Talk!  I’m most gratified that we can include Jack Varnell, AKA The Emotional Orphan, in this series.  His poems are memorable: flashes of emotion & image, & are very direct, a characteristic he shares with one of my own favorite poets, Kenneth Patchen.  Here’s a brief writerly bio:

Jack Varnell is a contemporary prose poet & writer living in the suburbs of Atlanta, Ga. USA

Usually writing under the pseudonym "The Emotional Orphan", & predominantly an online writer, he has been published at Culture Sandwich, The Literary Burlesque, Verses In Motion, Undead Poets Society, Sick Of 'Em, Pigeonbike Poetry, & Red Fez

Print Selections include Guerilla Pamphlets 7, & due this spring from Popshot Magazine, & All The King's Horses-Volume 3 in the 'Expression of Depression' anthology series from LittleEpisodes/Little Brown Book Group in the UK

Jack's blog is Emotional Orphan.
His RedRoom author page is at this link.

Please be sure to check out Jack Varnell’s poem “Wolves at Bay” over at the Writers Talk blog—& now, on to the interview!

When did you first realize your identity as a writer?
I began writing at a very young age. I wrote a short story called “Freddy the Rat” at around age six. It was around the same time my mother held a figurative gun to my head in order to encourage me to play the piano rather than concern myself with silly games like baseball. I had seen “Ben” with Michael Jackson, and “Willard” - those cheesy 70’s movies about the rats, and decided the theme from Ben needed to be the song I did in my recital. “Freddy the Rat” was homage to him. Ben. Not Michael.

Since I never really attended school successfully, I really didn’t write too much in my teens and early twenties. My imagination was always on spin cycle, and I was more concerned with living the stories that eventually become poems. I read all the time, and developed a keen taste for some of the masters like Hermann Hesse, Sartre, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Nietzsche and the likes, but missed a bunch of the more familiar contemporary authors, and studied few contemporary poets. I tended to lean more towards a spiritual, philosophical, or even utopian or dystopian type of write, so when I did pick up a pen it was usually something flavored by those writers. My writing output was limited, with the exception of sappy, silly love letters, legal briefs, letters to the Parole Board asking for leniency, and Writs of Habeas Corpus for my hoodlum buddies.

I am a recovering addict, clean for seventeen years now. In rehab I was told I was told I was an “emotional orphan”, and that I needed to learn how to get in touch with my feelings at a deeper level. Journaling on a daily basis was the tool they used to have me learn that, and I discovered that it worked, and more importantly offered a way to express myself in a truthful and creative manner. I rarely do fiction, and have been writing essays, stories, shorts and poetry since then. Much of my work is under the pseudonym “The Emotional Orphan” for that very reason.

Describe the creative process involved in any one piece you’ve written—this could be book, a story, a poem, an essay, etc.
Most all of my poetry follows a similar pattern, and it is a little different than most poets I have known or read about. I generally am focused on the actual who, what, where, when, and why of my own life experiences. I don’t usually shy away from topics that are not that easy to swallow because that is how a lot of my life has been. I have had a colorful and exciting life with exposure to things most have only seen on television or read in books. Anything I may be exposed to may end up on the page at some point. Some have notebooks of stories, poems, etcetera. I have phrases, anecdotes, half finished pieces, observations and random thoughts.

My writing usually includes two important factors. The first is honesty. I cannot succeed if I am afraid of telling the truth, or with too much concern of how it will be interpreted. Secondly, my experiences are the key piece of evidence in my crimes against poetry or literature.

Could you describe your relationship to the publishing process? (this can be publishing in any form, from traditional book publishing to blogging, etc)
At this point, my relationship with the publishing process is a bit like two teenagers at a school dance. She is the homecoming queen, cheerleader - too pure for any car backseat. I am the acne scarred guy, leaning against the wall staring lustfully at her from across the room. The secret weapon is poetry, not beer. 

I have been writing, and refraining from doing submissions for about two years, and simply focusing on the art, and the mechanics involved. I also want my voice to be heard so I read any and all journals, lit mags, and different publishers with the intent of learning where that voice might get heard. I did a little self publishing test online to evaluate the potential, and timing for a chapbook or larger collection.

I’ve been experimenting with Broadsides, and simply writing to build an arsenal of poems ready to be …somewhere.

Having a sales and marketing background, I have also been somewhat a student of the changes in the publishing world and who is responsible for the success of a writer. The reality is that ultimately the writer controls his own fate. Branding has been important to me with the Emotional Orphan Blog, and  twitter, tumblr, posterous, and many other social media outlets, blogs, and writing / arts communities.  So, if you look at your business card and the words Penguin, Copper Canyon, or something similar is attached to the company you work for, I have done half the work already.

How has being a writer affected your relationships?

Although writing is a solitary exercise, I have been given so much from the writing community from across all genres, and forms. My real world relationships may have been minimized a bit.They have been replaced by a strong core group of creative and talented friends who support each other and offer critique and feedback, from an honest perspective with the intention of perfecting their craft. Writers like Caroline Hagood, Laura Mercurio Ebohon, Fran Lock, and Jodi MacArthur, whose writing styles are completely different, have been particularly gracious and instrumental in sharing words of wisdom and making sure to pay attention to my work that gets “out there”        

Besides them, there are possibly hundreds of writers online that I read as often as I can, and many others who lend support through Facebook and other social media outlets. Daily, I am embarrassed by running across someone that I meant to keep up with that I have neglected to read.

How would you describe the community of writers you belong to—if any?  This may be a “real” or “virtual” (in more than one sense) community.

I have some long time friends and writers who I try to interact with regularly. I also float in and out of various groups designed to support, enlighten and critique each others work. The HIGHdra Syndicate is an outstanding group of young writers and poets who study at the feet of the masters from the Outlaw Poetry Movement. We are pretty headstrong about making some noise, and a difference in the publishing world, and the reception and recognition of poetry at large. Outlaw poetry, as described by the incomparable S.A Griffin just last night, is not picking up guns, robbing banks and going on the lam, it is about having a finger on the pulse of society and having the courage to shake things up a little in order to wake up the masses. Poets like S.A., A.Razor, Rafael F.J.Fajardo, Scott Wannberg, John Dorsey, and infinite others have been doing it for a long time. There are many others like Frankie Metropolis, Edaurdo Jones, Diana Rose, Murphy Clamrod, Jason Hardung, High Jack Flash, Jack Shaw, Christian Alvarez, Yossarian Hunter,  Newamba Flamingo, Sean Hogan, and a host of others are making some noise. Publishers like Epic Rites Press, and Wolfgang Carstens are giving an outlet for the voices of writers like Rob Plath, John Yamrus, Jack Henry, and Karl Koweski, while keeping alive the words of Todd Moore, one of the original Outlaws and a master no longer with us …in the physical. We believe pretty strongly in the power of both the spoken and written word and make use of any and all tools available to connect with the masses. These tools include everything from banged up antique typewriters, to iPhones, and our internet radio channel on BlogTalk Radio.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the community of artists and writers at Little Episodes. Primarily based in the UK, LE has a stated mission of “Dispelling the notion that art is a corporate commodity-Giving the artistic industries back to the artist- Promoting the arts as a platform to incite empathy and understanding.“  It is an incredible community of support, and talent that has proven to be an indispensible place to give and take in order to grow as an artist.

What are your future goals in terms of writing?

For now, my intention is to keep writing, and submitting. I have had some success, but I don’t necessarily measure that in number of books or poems published. It is more about gleaning all I can from those more educated, and experienced, and following the proven method of getting the words out there. I tend to be a little analytical about it all. The words of my fellow writers are more powerful to me than how often I have been published, the rejections with critique more valuable than the acceptance letters.

I think finding a cure for my aversion to apostrophes and extreme addiction to ellipses may be equally as important, and I do have a secret desire to actually finish an English class one day. Hopefully royalties from my first book may provide the means to actually go to college. For a while, at least.

Bonus Question: If your writing were a musical instrument, what would it be?

Let me clarify, would a machete be considered a musical instrument?

Seriously, I think my Mother’s statement many years ago about how I would one day regret that I didn’t pursue the piano with a little more dedication holds true. I believe a piano would accomplish what I would like to with my writing. It has the potential to offer intense and powerful music, while also having the ability to calmly tickle the imagination and take it to places unseen. There is a journey to be enjoyed, and if you just close your eyes it can take you almost anywhere through the good, the bad and the ugly. For the bad and ugly, it offers a solution and some peace. You can find a home there.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Erasmus on Rise Again - Lana Bortolot

Erasmus on Rise Again

New York, February 1, 2011

As the abandoned, 225-year-old Erasmus Hall Academy in Flatbush slips into decay, some have been dismayed by the Department of Education's apparent lack of interest in saving the building and by private donors' broken promises to do so. But it now looks as if Erasmus will finally get its angel.

A new, $300,000 matching grant from the state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation is likely to jump-start restoration of the building, which once housed the oldest chartered high school in New York and counts Founding Fathers John Jay and Alexander Hamilton among its early benefactors.

While the DOE had no apparent plans for the academy building, it gave the New York Landmarks Conservancy its blessing to pursue a rescue plan. When previous attempts by the alumni association to raise awareness or funds were unsuccessful, the conservancy sought grants on behalf of the city and commissioned a survey of conditions in the building. The report, completed in December, raised new hope for Erasmus.

"Now, for the first time we have a report that says here's what has to be done, and it's not a building that's going to fall down unless people allow it to," said Peg Breen, president of the landmarks conservancy. "It's to [DOE's] credit that they're willing to work with us and turn us loose."

Built in 1786 on land donated by the Flatbush Dutch Reformed Church, the Federal-style wooden structure has good bones and an undisputed pedigree. In 1966, it became one of the earliest city-designated landmarks; it received National Register for Historic Places designation in 1975.

Inside Brooklyn's Very Old School

The 225-year-old Erasmus Hall Academy in Brooklyn once housed the oldest chartered high school in New York and counts two founding fathers among its early benefactors.

But the academy, enclosed in the quadrangle formed by the newer Erasmus Hall High School, a Gothic structure that's also a city landmark, has been vacant for more than 10 years. Cracked paint, crumbled porches and broken shingles now define its exterior.

Inside, a few artifacts—mannequins in period costume, Colonial furniture and school memorabilia—hint at its failed stint as a museum. It's now used as storage for school records and discarded band instruments.

Ron Schweiger, Brooklyn's borough historian, visited the site three years ago. "I don't know what's going to happen to the thing—it's a piece of local and national history," he said. "It's a shame because it's part of the education history of New York and Brooklyn."

No schooling has taken place in the academy building since the mid-1930s; students attend the adjacent high school, which boasts a long list of noted alumni such as Barbra Streisand, Eli Wallach, Mickey Spillane and Oakland Raiders owner Al Davis.

Despite the exterior deterioration, a sagging attic and considerable water damage, the consulting engineers who surveyed the building gave the former school a good report card.

"It's remarkable that we still have this building intact and in a condition that's not so bad that we have to throw our hands up," said Daniel J. Allen, partner at Cutsogeorge Tooman & Allen Architects, the firm that prepared the conditions report.

Still, exterior restoration is estimated to cost $2.2 million. Paint abatement for toxins such as lead, a new roof, dormers and windows are the highest ticket items. Structural work is estimated at another $500,000.

Before restoration can begin, the conservancy must first match the state grant. Then it can prioritize work to stabilize the building. Full-on restoration likely won't begin for a couple of years. In the meantime, the conservancy has recommended no-cost measures such as gutter maintenance to allay further water damage.

"Bringing in the funding is on the horizon. We first had to understand what we were dealing with," said Karen Ansis, the conservancy's funding manager and an Erasmus alumna. She met with alumni Jan. 22 to apprise them of costs and funding strategies.

Finding a use for the quirky building is another challenge. Its location within a secured school setting presents access and related issues for others using the building. People close to the project envision a cultural or community center or administrative offices for educators.

"It's an issue for the DOE to figure out how to use the building; we don't regulate the use," said John Weiss, deputy counsel at the city landmarks commission, adding, "[But] the future certainly looks bright for a building that is very historically significant on a national level."

A DOE spokeswoman said it was too early at this stage to comment. The department will remain owner of the building, and the School Construction Authority—DOE's building and design division—will likely oversee restoration. What remains uncertain is whether a user will be found for the building.

That doesn't deter Ms. Breen. "I think in the midst of all this—who's on first and how we're going to do this—we have this incredible building with ties to our Founding Fathers: How can you not go all out to save it?"

Published in The Wall Street Journal, Feb. 1, 2011

Writers Talk - Lana Bortolot

Happy Thursday to you!  I’m so pleased to announce that after a month-long hiatus, Writers Talk is back—& we’re celebrating its return by interviewing a special writer & a special friend, New York City journalist Lana Bortolot.

My association with Lana Bortolot dates back to the early 1980s when we were both studying English literature at the University of Vermont.  Lana moved on from studies of Henry James, Geoffery Chaucer et al. to work in a Washington, DC law firm, but on to study journalism & obtained her masters degree from New York University by way of Virginia Commonwealth University.  Lana is a regular contributor to The Wall Street Journal and amNewYork, where she covers arts & culture, & urban affairs as well as other travel/lifestyle magazines. She specializes in historic preservation & community development, wine & travel, especially in regions where grapes grow (she is someone who gives her passport a regular & thorough workout).

I know Lana as someone with a dry & incisive wit, deep passions & an equally deep sense of integrity.  All these characteristics come to thefore in her writing, which is consistently crisp, clear & inviting to the imagination as her words take the reader to exotic locales—whether those locales exist on the shores of the Adriatic or the sidewalks of Astoria.  I’m very pleased to bring a journalist’s perspective to the Writers Talk series & even more pleased that the journalist is my dear friend, Lana Bortolot.

Please check out the companion Writers Talk blog for a piece Lana contributed to the Wall Street Journal (published in the Wall Street Journal, February 1, 2011
—here's a link to the article on the WSJ site, where you can watch a super slideshow the Journal put together for the piece), & you can also check out more of her writing, as well as find back stories for her reporting on Lana’s excellent blog. & now—here’s Lana:

When did you first realize your identity as a writer?

I wrote my first short story when I was nine years old and that’s when I thought I would be a writer. I didn’t write anything again until a few poems in college after a heartbreak. When those poems were dwarfed by the more brilliant writer in my life, I didn’t pick up again on writing until I went to grad school for journalism about 10 years later. But it took a while to figure out what to write because I was never interested in a news beat: I fancied myself a features writer. Which, of course, is in high demand and pays quite a lot. As I’ve evolved as a journalist, I found I could cover news stories in a humanistic way—and even incorporate those elements of creative non-fiction to which I’d always been attracted. People don’t think news stories are crafted. But that’s not true. And when I realized that, I evolved from being a journalist to being a writer.

Describe the creative process involved in any one piece you’ve written—this could be book, a story, a poem, an essay, etc.

While living in Italy, I wrote a number of travel essays for newspapers and guidebooks and I always remembered what Zinsser said about travel writing, which pertains to much writing: “The writer must keep a tight rein on your subjective self … and keep an objective eye on the reader.”

So, my approach was experiential: what did it feel like to be in a place and why? Was it mystical or romantic because of history? Some sense of loss or abandonment? Why would a reader forsake the better-known sites to come to this one and what were the rewards? Those were always the questions I had to answer before I pursued some folly of a story. Those details have to be significant to someone other than me. Once I articulated the experience of being there, I went back and inserted the facts that were the backbone of the story. The goal: make the story serviceable, imaginative and free of cliché.

Could you describe your relationship to the publishing process (this can be publishing in any form, from traditional book publishing to blogging, etc)

I’m on deadline for everything I produce, and it’s a pretty clean relationship: my editors assign and I deliver. But now, with the onslaught of social media and the necessity of engaging in that as a form of self-promotion, I spend a lot more time thinking about how I can extend the story beyond my assigned word count. Having a blog, for instance, allows me to write the back story. And it also allows me to deliver uncluttered copy to my primary publisher, usually a newspaper, knowing I can explore related ideas or segues into a blog. It’s a lot more work—sometimes writing the story twice—but it also gives me license to combine experiential writing with more candid observations outside traditional journalism.

How has being a writer affected your relationships?

I have made a vow to never become involved with another writer. So, while I have no competition, I also have no support. Oh well.

How would you describe the community of writers you belong to—if any?  This may be a “real” or “virtual” (in more than one sense) community.

I find journalists fairly supportive of each other because there’s enough room for everyone to find a niche and thrive. So, there’s a lot of room to be admiring, supportive and congratulatory. Maybe that’s because NYC, where I live, is so huge, there are a million stories and a million opportunities to succeed. And when things are bad, we all bitch about the same thing, and that’s strangely bonding. About half the time I write about wine, which is a much smaller community. Still, I find my wine-writer colleagues friendly and willing to share sources and ideas. Maybe it’s because wine journalism is such a social vocation?

What are your future goals in terms of writing?

I think I have a memoir in me somewhere. I would like to try writing in longer, more descriptive form that doesn’t bow to the ecomony of words. But, I am also very happy in my current urban-affairs reporting gig, which allows me to pursue under-the-radar stories, and I’d like to develop that more. Technology is causing us to lose so many human stories; that kind of journalism helps preserve them.

Bonus Question: If your writing were a musical instrument, what would it be?
A cello: long and deeply thought. Not easy to get into, but, I think, with an unexpected reward at the end.

Image of Ms Bortolot in the Writers Talk graphic is from a photo by Uschi Becker.