Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Writers Talk with HKatz

By day, HKatz is a mild-mannered graduate student.  By night, she’s a mild-mannered graduate student who writes.  At school she studies the human mind and is especially interested in young children’s developing language and cognitive abilities.  As a writer, she writes about anything that interests her (often the mind of a human or an anthropomorphized creature is involved), and she loves to play around with words.  When she was a teenager she won a bunch of writing awards from local to national level and had one of her one-act plays performed at a local playhouse.  For several years after she kept to herself writing-wise, though recently that’s changed; one example of this change is the existence of her blog, The Sill of the World, to which she welcomes you all.

On a personal note, I would have to say that The Sill of the World is one of the best blogs I read on a regular basis.  HKatz posts a feature each Sunday called “The Week in Seven Words.”  The writing in that feature is exquisite—HKatz writes with remarkable clarity & perceptiveness & the condensation of language available to a true poet.  Hope you enjoy her interview—I certainly did—& be sure to check out her wonderful poem, “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Pinky Toe,” on the Writers Talk blog!

When did you first realize your identity as a writer?
I had the first inklings in third grade, when I wrote a couple of stories, one from the point of view of a leaf and another told by a groundhog who loved to party all night.  But I think it was from seventh grade onwards that I came to understand that, no matter what else I’d be doing with my life, I’d need to write too.  My English class in seventh grade was structured such that part of the week was devoted entirely to creative writing, and it was the first time in my life that I wrote regularly; I loved it.  From tenth to twelfth grade I took another creative writing class with an inspiring and demanding teacher and wrote different kinds of poems, short stories, one-act plays, and multimedia projects.  I also wrote a novel in high school, and though it won’t be presented to the public eye in its current form (not if I can help it) I regard it proudly as my first major writing effort and will maybe rewrite it one day, as I actually like the characters and some of the ideas quite a bit.  In college I took more writing classes and in the few years following graduation I wrote almost entirely for myself and for a couple of people close to me.  Only in the past year or so have I started to be more public with some of my writing and to work on it in a more consistent and disciplined fashion.

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

The creative process is not infrequently marked by the need to write in inappropriate and inconvenient times and places; I’ll get an idea for a story (or for a way to revise a story I’m already working on) or a specific sentence will come to mind, and I’ll want to get it down on paper (and sometimes it’s not enough to just get the sentence or idea down – I need to start writing more and more, because my brain is already supplying a web of associations, characters, connections, plots…).  This has happened to me in the middle of exams (resulting in my teacher’s confusion as the margins around a set of equations or an essay on the Battle of Waterloo is filled with little jottings like ‘killed by a falling tree branch’ or ‘why not make them twins???’) It also happens when I’m sitting with other people at a restaurant, or five minutes before a meeting or appointment, or hours before a huge project is due, and it’s like an itch that comes over me and I need to write it down in whatever notebook I have handy, on the backs of assignments and handouts, badly labeled Microsoft Word documents, receipts, index cards (which I sometimes misplace, to my great frustration…); the itch might also come over me on the Jewish Sabbath, when I don’t write at all, so I repeat the words to myself or try to organize the thoughts in easily retrievable ways.  This unpredictability is a part of the fun and excitement of writing, and I’m thankful for it.

To be clear though - it’s not that I just sit around waiting for inspiration or illumination.  I write as often as I can, even when I’m not necessarily inspired to do so; and this is something I’m working to be more disciplined about – to sit and write and see what comes and resist strong tendencies to procrastinate – because after the first bit of heel-dragging, it’s often possible to be productive.  Even on the worse days, when the writing seems to dribble out like sludge, often there are dribbles that I can later work with.  I also love when writing surprises me.  I can have an idea of certain characters and what will happen to them, but then the characters might take over and nudge me in other directions (which can be amazing, or sometimes result in unworkable absurdity, which is at least amusing).  I’m thinking of a character I’ve been working with recently.  I meant for her to be a sharp and droll older woman, but she completely derailed and became a saccharine grandmotherly soul who tittered and offered freshly baked cookies as the cure for all of life’s woes…  and no, I didn’t want her to stay that way, and I’ve started to do some extensive re-writing to bring her back to the dry sharp-eyed dame in my mind, but I left the cookie-baking part in and that’s made the character more interesting.

For the poem (or whatever the heck it is) that I submitted to the Writer’s Talk blog – “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Pinky Toe” – I share it here largely for personal, sentimental reasons (the earliest draft on my computer is from February 2001, though I’ve revised it and shown it to people since).  But I remember writing it because I was in a playful mood and had just talked with someone about whether or not there are things you can’t write about because they’re too inherently insignificant or dull. 

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 not familiar yet with traditional publishing processes.  As a younger and more inexperienced writer I often read about the slim to nil chances of getting something published, the cliques and fads that stifle creativity and encourage conformity, and how the quality of the writing in and of itself doesn’t guarantee publication.  But until I start sending out a lot of my work, I won’t know where I stand with traditional publishing; at this point I’m still writing mostly for myself and a writers group, and am working to revise and edit my work when I have the time.  I already have a strong tendency towards self-doubt, and I don’t want to let that hold me back; I hope to keep plugging away and figure things out as I go.

These days I publish most regularly on my blog, which I’m happy I started (I was wary about blogging at first and didn’t know what would come of it).  Thankfully I’ve met wonderful people online and have gotten great thoughtful comments and emails from readers.  Although I haven’t posted my own stories or poems there I might in the future.  On the blog so far I’ve been working mainly on one ongoing writing project – my ‘Week in Seven Words’ – and also sharing some photos and some commentary on fiction and poetry I read.

How has being a writer affected your relationships?

Writing is solitary; other than that, I don’t know.  I’ve gotten some sincere encouragement from people close to me, urging me to keep writing; others see it as a nice hobby that has its place but is not really a practical use of time (and they have a point, while also missing the point).  I also worry sometimes that when I do start making my stories more public, people I know will think that they can figure me out or deduce things about me based on the writing; there’s a sense of exposure and scrutiny.  We’ll see how things go.

I think the main struggle with writing now is finding time for it, in light of the fact that I have relationships that I want to form and sustain and that I’m a student, which takes up an enormous amount of time.  Writing doesn’t always fit easily with what else is going on in my life, so that’s the main struggle; but I can’t see myself giving up on it either (if I go too long without writing I get terribly restless and feel like a huge pressure is building up inside).

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.
Offline, in January 09, I joined a writers group in my community.  At any given meeting there are usually no more than 10 people present, and the group is made up of several regulars as well as people who drop by on occasion; we meet roughly once every two weeks throughout the year, except for the summer, when the meetings are usually three or four weeks apart.  I love the group.  The members come from different backgrounds and have different interests as writers and readers, so they present a variety of perspectives on any given piece.  Most importantly, the feedback they give is clear, honest and specific.  The group encourages me to write regularly and be productive.  And they’re a lot of fun to meet with; we have wonderful discussions, and as a member I also get to see good writing in the works.

Online through my blog I’ve met great people too, and there are certain blogs I visit regularly (Robert Frost’s Banjo included).  So I feel like I’m part of an online community of people who love writing, photos, music and art.

What are your future goals in terms of writing?

To persist in writing regularly and to manage my time better – even though I don’t like the expression ‘time management’ (it doesn’t capture the messiness of mental processes or the fact that even when you’re not doing anything in particular your brain might be working hard on something).  I suppose what I’d like to improve most is discipline – to make sure I’m regularly working on something, whether writing, re-writing, or finding potential venues for the work.  I hope to figure out how to fit writing into what is often an uncompromising schedule.  Sometimes I feel pulled in multiple directions and respond to that pressure by procrastinating too much, which is a kind of self-sabotage (though on the other hand, taking a break has its place too and can result in better ideas and writing…).  These things are tricky.

Since the end of junior year of college or thereabouts I’ve slowly been working on a novel.  Work on it has stopped and stalled at various points; I love the characters, but realized about a year and a half ago that there wasn’t much of a plot to speak of (just me making the characters stroll around and talk, which is great for getting to know them better but not so great for a coherent novel).  Fortunately by now a better story has emerged for the characters.  At some point I’d like to sit down and get it written.

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

I’m thinking of a piano in my parents’ house.  Mostly I played on the keys and loved it – the range of notes, the grand chords and delicate trills, the blur of sound when I held the pedal down too long.  And after I was done playing on the keys I liked to go around to the side of the piano, lean into its belly, and run my fingers over the strings; I loved those other noises too, the strange purr and whispery echoes. 


  1. Another terrific interview, John!

    Thank you HKatz for opening up to us.

    I must tell you that I was seriously disappointed to learn that you aren't yet published (notice I say, "yet") because I'm hooked on the "killed by a tree-branch" notion.

    I have one of those novels that will probably never get written a) because I can't work out the plot and it's a mystery and I can't think of any new permutations on that score that might be of interest.
    b) the "time management" of which you speak (I am a terrible procrastinator.)

    You have given me a push to start writing more often, rather than just waiting for inspiration.
    I thank you.


  2. I really enjoy reading The Sill of the World too! This is an excellent, insightful interview.

  3. John, thanks again for giving me this opportunity; one thing I realized after writing it was that certain things became clearer in my own mind as a result. And thank you for visiting my blog and for your kind words about it (and about the pinky toe poem, which is a dear one to me!)

    You have given me a push to start writing more often, rather than just waiting for inspiration.
    I thank you.

    You're welcome, Kat (I need to remind myself often enough to persist and to just write). As for who or what gets killed by a tree-branch... one day that knowledge might be made available to the general public... I'm glad you enjoyed the interview.

    This is an excellent, insightful interview.
    Thanks, Crafty Green Poet, I'm glad you thought so (and that you like reading The Sill of the World too!)

  4. Hi HKatz: Love the poem & your interview is a delight--I'm so happy that you participated & that it was a good experience for you!

  5. John, I agree with you, H. Katz is one of the very best writers in the blog world. I loved reading her interview here.

  6. Hi Relyn: Thanks for stopping by! Yes, The Sill of the World is really a marvelous blog!

  7. "And after I was done playing on the keys I liked to go around to the side of the piano, lean into its belly, and run my fingers over the strings;"

    I loved that imagery. It made me feel like the piano was alive and you were communing with it and thanking it for letting you play it.
    *happy sigh*
    Karen :0)

  8. Hi Karen: Thanks for stopping by--you're up next!


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