Here is an experiment. It’s a bit like those chain e-mails that were all the rage back in the days of AOL (remember that, kids?). You’d get them every day: a message promising that your secret crush will suddenly call you, or you’ll find a small fortune under that couch cushion, or that mysterious rash will suddenly clear up and save you an embarrassing trip to the doctor. All you had to do was forward the e-mail to your top three hundred friends, and your dreams would come true.
Needless to say, I hated those things. The difference here is that this can actually be useful. Here is something that asks a few questions about a writer’s work and process. I’ve found the answers other writers have given incredibly insightful, so when my friend Krystal A. Sital asked me to be a part of it, I happily obliged. She’s also quite terrifying; I always do what she says.
Anyone who has met Krystal cannot forget her. She is vivacious and enrapturing, and commands attention whenever she walks into a room. Apart from her indelible presence, Krystal is also a phenomenal writer. I have been privy to her immense talent for many years now, and have watched her flourish into what can only be described as “the real deal.” There are many times when reading her work where I feel like a charlatan—a tourist, simply auditing the world she inhabits so comfortably. I aspire to the command she has over her voice. When I start the Creative Writing MFA program at Hunter College this fall, I will have to work very hard to fill the crater she left behind after graduating.
Krystal is an inspiring peer and a wonderful friend, and I love her dearly. I cannot wait to corrupt her children when she’s not looking.
What Am I Working On?
In the last six years since graduating from New Jersey City University, I have been quietly toiling away at a full-length memoir, tentatively titled “Echoes.” It began as a final memoir piece for Professor Edvige Giunta’s Memoir Workshop, and has since grown into the manuscript I intend to work on during my tenure at Hunter College. “Echoes” focuses on my experiences growing up both with and without my father. My goal is to examine our canyoning relationship as I go from adolescence to adulthood, my struggles in learning to become a man without a man’s guidance, and my attempts to understand him despite how little I know for sure.
With the help of my writing group, The ReCollective, I have been able to workshop and refine over 30,000 words of this manuscript. Once I begin the MFA program at Hunter I will be digging in even deeper, and hope to produce a complete first draft by graduation in 2016. I would say that it will be a lot of work, but I have a hard time considering labors of love to be work. I will bust my ass, and I will enjoy it.
How Does My Work Differ From Others of its Genre?
I am admittedly, and quite sadly, under-read when it comes to memoir. I’m sure that there are a slew of titles under the “My Daddy Didn’t Love Me Enough” umbrella, but I honestly don’t know much about it. At first I was afraid that delving into other memoirs would color my voice and have me thinking too much inside the box in terms of style and tone. However, now that my memoir is well underway and I’m more secure in my own voice, I do want to see what I can draw from the work of other authors. What I hope I can achieve in my writing is that my own point of view comes through. I hope to convey my memories and experiences in a way that brings the reader there with me, and have them coming away from it with a strong sense of who I am. Memoir is, after all, about relating.
Why Do I Write What I Do?
Because I have to.
How Does My Writing Process Work?
I tend to liken my creative process to a glass slowly filling with water, drop by drop. It begins with a simple idea or basic framework for a piece.
I then spend a lot of time structuring and crafting the work in my head, while I occupy myself doing other things.
An idea arrives at three o’clock in the morning, or in the middle of the day at work, or while I’m watching a movie.
The fragments keep coming, and I begin to have a through line from the beginning of the piece to the end.
Drop. Drop. Drop.
Eventually the glass is brimming, and all I need is that last drop to send it spilling over the edge. That’s when I sit down to write. By then, I’ve been unconsciously processing it for so long that what results is a very nearly finished draft. I’ve rarely had to go back and completely restructure a piece. The editing I tend to do is mostly cosmetic tightening of the prose: cutting excess words, refining images, and sharpening dialog. I also prefer getting it all out in one sitting, which can be pretty intense for pieces longer than five or six pages. Writing 20-page chapters for “Echoes” has been a learning experience for me in terms of pacing myself and knowing how to build larger pieces in multiple sessions.
Laura McKeon is a memoirist, poet and photographer, born on the island of Key West and raised on the concrete streets of Jersey City. Her written work has been awarded by The NJ Scholarship Project and featured in various college publications, Instigatorzine magazine, and the book “Voices of Student Teachers: Cases from the Field.” Laura is also the author of The Redress of America’s Mother, a commissioned poem for the centennial celebration saluting The Statue of Liberty. Her photographic work has been featured in in various venues including Art House Productions and Casa Colombo in Jersey City, the Oakeside Mansion, sponsored by the Bloomfield Cultural Commission, the Monmouth Festival of the Arts, and the SMI Galleries at Academy Square in Montclair. When not behind a lens or working on her memoir, In the Wake of My Fathers, Laura works as a procurement analyst for the NYC Department of Education.
Annie Rachele Lanzillotto is a writer, actor, songwriter, and performance artist. She is the author of the books "L is for Lion" (SUNY Press) and "Schistsong" (Bordighera Press). Singer/Songwriter of the albums "Blue Pill," "Carry My Coffee,” and "Eleven Recitations" (StreetCry Productions).