What are you reading these days? Do you love/hate/feel neutral about it, and why?
Joyful by Ingrid Fetell Lee. Although it is a departure from topics I typically explore, I find myself delighted reading it. It’s a curious explanation of how color influences our minds as well as our day-to-day lives. Through cohesive scrutiny, she discovers and reveals its surprising impact and how living more colorfully can bring us greater joy.
Could you provide for us a passage of writing that deeply shifts something inside you?
Yes, there was one line in specific in the book mentioned above that resonated with me:
“We think of color as an attribute, but really it’s a happening: a constantly occurring dance between light and matter.”
I love this line because it evokes a sense of awe which lies nestled within the ordinary. A sense of wonder tucked beneath the easy-to-overlook folds, draped over objects of the mundane. Color is so common that nearly everyone takes it for granted until a particular hue jumps out at us. But how fortunate are we to witness such a happening, regardless of shade or vibrance? It struck me as a beautiful sentiment to think of this sensation as bearing witness to a perpetual dance and I will always try to keep it in mind.
When you are working on a piece, what inspirations do you draw from?
A lot of it comes from everyday life, things I see in it or ideas that come from a result of it. I’m always ready to pull out my phone and jot down a quick note about something someone said in a peculiar way, or a unique and or surreal happening that I witnessed and wish to incorporate in my own story. Beyond that, a lot of what inspires the creative process for me comes from surreal and absurd comedies or science fiction series that utilize the art of storytelling well.
What craft elements are you most interested in/attached to within your writing?
A lot of the novel I am working on centers around world-building. There are a number of planets the protagonist travels to, as well as space-faring ships he travels on and space-stations that he visits, all with their own unique flavor. For each planet, I have outlined the species native to it, what kind of society they have, their system of government, the various characters we meet there, what the inhabitants of their cities, towns and villages might look like, how advanced their technology is, their history and relationship with other civilizations, local flora and fauna, sentient species, “situations” (a.k.a. conflicts small and large), the physical landscape of their world and what kind of vehicles you’d see being used to traverse it. What I find most interesting is I had an idea of these places first and then would find concept art that aligned with them, and filed the images under those categories for that planet.
The other element I focus on is tone. The story is about a young man growing up in an ever-changing world (and later, worlds). Although most science-fiction novels are about epic space battles, superpowers, or conflicts between species, this one finds its place in the seemingly quiet life of an observer - someone who is neither the hero nor the villain but a normal person passing through, witnessing the bizarre experience life offers. In a lot of ways, this is how I feel living my own life, so writing that way really resonates with me and I think it will with others, too.
Who (or what) are some of your writing obsessions, and why?
I love alternating between grounded material and the surreal. Anything that has a home in our world but also travels beyond it to the unseen piques my interest as both a writer and a reader. Much of the film and television I watch also contains this quality. Floating somewhere between the mystical and the practical. I find that life is less a polarity of one or the other but a delightfully slippery spectrum, depending on the flow of things. Much of the inspiration for my book comes from this balance and the contrast between the dream world and waking life.
What are some ways in which you remain productive/find time to be a writer?
In order for me to be productive I have to suspend judgement about what I’m writing and let it spill out onto the page. One technique I use is to tell that voice in my head to get lost every time it shouts how terrible that line of dialogue is or how improbable it would be that these characters would do whatever it is they are doing. There is no quicker way to kill productivity than through judgment.
The other method I employ is to try and structure my life so that there is dedicated time for writing. There is always going to be too much to do, but if you don’t set aside time for your passion, it won’t flourish. You must water the garden if you wish to see it grow.
What are some ways in which you get through a block in your creative work?
In almost every case, I encounter blockages because what is happening in the scene I’m working on has lost the trail of logic and sense. If the dialogue is too harsh from a certain character or I’m trying to force certain elements into a scene to make ends meet that would not normally be present, I have to go back and adjust the backstory, or the previous chapter, to match. This always slows me down. When it does happen, I spend a lot of time thinking about the predicament I’ve found myself in and start bargaining, trying to assess if I have to do that or if I can find some other way to make the dots connect without a rewrite. It’s always better to find a way forward than change what you’ve already written, but sometimes it takes an overhaul to make things flow again.
I did encounter one tremendous obstacle which had less to do with creativity than it did with breaking plausibility. I had inadvertently baked flaws into my character’s backstory and there wasn’t a way to honor their continuity without the story becoming incredibly tedious for the reader. This sidelined me for a good while, as I kept searching for a way to try and keep what I had already written, but there was no chance. I finally accepted that for the story to continue, I would have to scrap an enormous chunk and write an entirely new beginning. It felt awful, but once it was underway I saw how much better it was working, and I could not have been happier. Cohesion is the name of the game.
Tell us about what your writing/creative space looks like.
My writings space appears wherever I can sit comfortably for extended periods of time. Just before the pandemic, my fiancée and I bought a bed with a motorized frame (remote included) which you can use to adjust the head and leg height. I think of all the places I work, this is by far the most comfortable. With the head nearly as vertical as it can go and the legs slightly elevated, nothing goes numb for a very long time.
In this place, everything within a glance appears as a normal bedroom, except there is a teal dresser caddy-cornered and heavy sliding doors barring entry to the closet. My fiancees desk where she completed her masters thesis sits against the far wall and while modern, still fits our beach color scheme.
Two very plain nightstands without drawers buttress the sides of the bed each holding up a salt lamp which keep the room lit just enough to set the scene. Aside from their dim luminescence, I write in the dark. If it’s too noisy or I really need to focus, I’ll put on a pair of somewhat noise-cancelling headphones and listen to “traincar sounds” playlist from Spotify (sounds from inside the train, that is). It’s very soothing. I scale down the application I use to write to 80% of the screen and in the right 20%, I’ll squeeze a browser window and click the bookmark, launching a gif someone made of a view from within a traincar facing the window, watching the landscape pass by. I honestly don’t know why this works, or how I got the idea but I did and it does.
How do you navigate the experience of submissions/rejections/acceptances?
I suppose I use Alan Watt’s "Backwards Law” in a way. I submit without consideration of whether or not it will be accepted. Essentially, by not writing for the purpose of being accepted, you can write genuinely. I do submit pieces, as that is how you share work, but without any attachment. When I used to write with audience in mind, I’d get all balled up and snuff out those naturally occurring creative capacities.
Some time ago, I caught a terrific response from the creator of a tv show, though I can’t remember which. The exchange took place on Twitter with one fan asking “What was the creator thinking when he wrote this episode? Who is their target audience?” and the author responded with “Me. I’m the target audience. I only write things I would like to read.” That’s the best way to go about it. If you can successfully achieve that, rejections will mean nothing in the course of your literary pursuits.
Regarding your pieces in Issue 02, what do they mean for/to you?
"Costumes" is a translation of an emotional entanglement I found myself in during the budding stages of a new relationship where I recognized that I had to reconcile the path I was walking contained a fresh reality. It had become apparent to me that, in order to forge a partnership with someone, something would be gained and something would be lost. In that poem, I used the imagery of a balloon devoid of any anchor to convey the sense of wonder and freedom that is felt when venturing out into life alone. You can take your time, explore and get lost- often as a balloon does. But without an anchor you can sail away forever and never come back, too.
In some ways the word anchor carries a negative connotation, but it also provides stability. After all, few sane people would sail the Atlantic without a sea anchor. The last line in that poem is reminiscent of my resistance to accepting that the anchor, this new way of life, is actually good for me. We sometimes resist those things that are best for us. Waking up earlier so that we don’t have to rush to work. Going to the gym to stay healthy as we age. Eating well so that our brain and body function optimally. We resist it, but we know it will help us. Spending so much time alone, I resisted a new way of life because it appeared to mean less freedom. But it had to be turned on its head, something which was not explored in the poem. Recognizing that you choose to have an anchor, or stability-building a foundation with someone, that can serve as the bedrock for a remarkably fulfilling life.
As for "Me and Mine," the piece describes the lack of awareness most people have and diminished capability or willingness to self-reflect and assess their experiences and relationships with others. We tell ourselves stories about people without ever attempting to verify them and then we blame them for not matching our assumptions. Others do the same to us. We go on staring at shadows, giving them names, instead of turning to see what stands in the light.
Is there anything else you would like to share with other writers?
You’re probably better than you give yourself credit for. If you think your work is shoddy, that’s because you can recognize quality, which means you can turn what you’re working on into something great. It’s a matter of practicing detachment from active assessment. Write like no one will ever read it and be as free and fast as you can tolerate. Truly exceptional things do follow. As my favorite character Jake, from Adventure Time, puts it: “…sucking at sumthin’ is the first step towards being sorta good at something.”
I will leave you with the same thing I tell anyone who struggles with their early attempts on any project- you cannot polish anything without first acquiring the raw material. Just write.
Scott Thomas Meistrich is a writer of poetry and prose, working to blend the essence of both through a series of novels on the nature of dreams, untapped human potential and the future of the human race. His propensity for allowing the imagination to roam and penchant for collecting science fiction concept art have launched a journey he hopes new readers can join in on soon.