Kathryn Kulpa is the author of the story collection Pleasant Drugs (Mid-List Press) and has published work recently in Monkeybicycle, Northville Review, Metazen, decomP and Stone’s Throw. She is the editor of Newport Review, a literary e-zine. She comes very close to living in Rhode Island.
Have you had mentors? Do you mentor? Talk about the mentor relationship if you will, its importance for a writer…
I didn’t have mentors as a kid or teenager, even though I was writing. The writers I knew were dead! I’ve only had one true mentor. That was Jincy Willett. She was an amazing writing teacher, and brave. She would share her own work for us to critique. I love her short story collection, “Jenny and the Jaws of Life”; I’m not sure if her influence shows up in my work, but I think we do share a similarly mordant, fatalistic humor. What I really remember from working with her is the intensity of attention she would give to every story, which is something that has strongly influenced my teaching style. No matter what the quality of the writing, I look hard for what can be salvaged.
Just as important as having a mentor is having a writing friend, partner in crime, someone who gets that you devote hours to this insane, non-remunerative practice. Someone who’ll read your first drafts and share theirs with you. I’ve been fortunate to have them over the years.
What do you do when you feel stuck or uninspired… suggestions for unblocking creativity?
I have a writing group, and we do writing exercises together. It’s amazing how a time limit and a prompt can break down the blocks. “15 minutes–GO!” And I just go. Stopping at 15 minutes is the hard part.
Are there favorite writing practices/exercises that you can share? No worries if not.
I like using visuals: old postcards, random family photos found in junk shops, pictures cut out of magazines. My flash story “Winter White” (from Metazen) was inspired by an advertising image. Random word prompts are also great story starters. Magazine cutouts, scrabble tiles, fortune cookie fortunes. I always like to have a bag of words and a bag of pictures handy.
As an editor, what does a story need to do to jump out from the others in the slush pile? How important are first sentences, etc.
A good first sentence matters, but I think some writers think you have to throw out some shocking, world-ending first sentence, and that’s not true. A story can build quietly. I just need to get a sense of assurance by the first few paragraphs–a feeling that yes, this is a voice I can trust, this is a writer who knows the craft, this is someone who will tell me a story worth reading.
What is the best advice you ever got as a writer? Words of wisdom…
I remember being a young writer and agonizing over taking a character in a story past adolescence … he was an architect, and that was important to the story, but I knew nothing about architecture, and I’d never had a job beyond working in bookstores and so on, and I didn’t know this or that about various grown-up things, and someone in my writing class just said “Make it up,” and I thought oh… right. It’s writing, not medicine. You can’t actually kill anybody if you get a detail wrong. Of course, you can always go back later and do the research, but don’t let worrying about facts stop you from creating fiction.
And what is going on with you these days with your writing?
It seems to be getting smaller and smaller. Short, mini, micro. Maybe someday it will just shrink to one sentence, or a word … or maybe it’ll slingshot around the sun and come back longer, and I’ll start writing nothing but novels.
Please talk about what you love the most about editing Newport Review if you will.
Discovering new writers, giving talented people their first chance at publication–that’s got to be the best.
The Fictionaut Five is our ongoing series of interviews with Fictionaut authors. Every Wednesday, Meg Pokrass asks a writer five (or more) questions. Meg is the editor-at-large for BLIP Magazine, and her stories and poems have been published widely. Her first full collection of flash fiction, “Damn Sure Right” is now out from Press 53. She blogs athttp://megpokrass.com.