Interview with Rene Franco

Rene Franco is a an artist, filmmaker, and writer. I have had the pleasure of knowing Rene since we were fourteen years old. Even then, Rene was an activist. Inviting me to read, think, and protest any injustices.

Now, ten years later, I am so honored/pleased/ecstatic/am I dreaming/happy to announce that his book, Proposal for an Empathetic Surveillance State was published by Paper Plane Pilot Publishing the first week of November. Cover design by Laura Khayat.

Rene, though he won’t admit it/doesn’t understand why I always say this, was one of the first people to force-feed me literature.

During our Chemistry Honors class (which I failed and had to make up that summer. Okay, I got a D+…long story) we talked the whole period (and somehow didn’t ever get in trouble?) about the books he left for me in my locker. (How do you not remember this?!) Then he moved away to San Francisco to study film/art. He ran an art gallery from his garage in San Francisco. Then he came back home to Los Angeles and worked for just about every major art museum in the city.

We worked on many stupid class projects together. Other than that, our talents had never melded together perfectly to create. When Rene approached me with his ambitious idea, we laughed about all it was trying to accomplish. I smiled and said, “Okay, Rene. Let’s do it.”

I wholeheartedly took on this project, excited to finally combine our talents into something relevant and tangible.

Now, I am pleased to share this timely interview between editors, Michael J. Hetzler and myself and author/artist Rene Esteban Franco:

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Cover Art and Design by Laura Khayat

 

1.) What part of Proposal for an Empathetic Surveillance State was the most difficult to write?

The world of hackers and whistleblowers is incredibly complex, a Borges labyrinth of insider terminology that is deliberately meant to be unfriendly so as to keep undesired attention away from it. Immersing myself into this world required more painstaking research than I ever imagined. Much of it simply was for my own understanding of this subculture as I realized that it wasn’t crucial for casual readers to understand every aching complexity of the hacker world. Deciding what was essential and how to present it was by far the trickiest thing to accomplish.

2.) What was your goal with this book?  What effect did you hope for it to have?

Over the course of working on this project I talked with many people who essentially said “Yeah, that’s an interesting issue, but I don’t see surveillance as a super important topic.” Or they would say “Yeah, it’s scary but I don’t really have anything to hide.”

These general assumptions regarding mass surveillance were what led me to seek another inroad to confronting this.

Ever since the Snowden leaks of 2013, the questions and qualms brought forth have loomed over me. I was obsessed with researching it because I believe, as Snowden and many other journalists and activists do, what the NSA is willingly doing is an existential threat to the little democracy we have left. And yet, there seems to be a fundamental lack of interest in engaging with this issue. It seems too large, too present, too much someone else’s issue. By taking away some of the off-putting technical language and personalizing the issues in a narrative fashion I was hoping to present an alternative means of creating a dialogue around the ramifications of everyone’s complicitness with the surveillance state.

3.)  How does your artistic and cultural background inform your writing?

I approach every project according to the medium that best suits it. This is a means of remaining open to whatever the process will dictate is the best “end” goal for the project. In this case, I didn’t start out with the intention of writing a book. It was solely supposed to be a short film. However, over the course of researching this and adding in supplemental backstory to the hacker I realized it could not all be contained in a condensed 15-minute film.

4.) You work with various forms of media. What can you do with writing that you can’t do with film/visual art?

Writing allows for a directness that I am not comfortable with in other mediums. I can directly address an audience (such as using the second person) and craft a narrative that is much more didactic and implicates the viewer as well as myself in the process.

5.) What were the advantages and disadvantages of your multi-media approach to this book?

The loss of control of the narrative was something I realized midway through the process. Because, surely, there will be people who only read the book and not see the video and vice versa. And to my mind they may only take away half the intended meaning from one of those forms but that, I’ve realized, is okay too. It’s far outside my control to see what anyone will take away from either experience and trying to assume otherwise is silly.

6.) Did you expect your predictions of the election to come true?

Absolutely not! I was just as shocked as every other liberal in America by the whitelash unleashed by this election. I was listening closely to every poll and every projected estimate all day throughout Election Day and this was not at all what I assumed would happen.

When I started this project, the election was not a factor at all. I was focused on the issues of privacy and surveillance but through the narrow lense of this hacker who is obsessed with Julian Assange. As the election became a spectacle I couldn’t ignore anymore, I realized it was a crucial part of this narrative. Still, even in speculating what a future Trump presidency would look like I only intended that to come across as a metaphor for the consequences of continuing to ignore the mass surveillance apparatus that currently exist. But it’s no long speculative. A racist, sexist, petty demagogue is about to control the most sophisticated surveillance arsenal ever constructed. And that should scare everyone.

7.) Who were your influences for the writing of this book? (artistic and otherwise)

I am eternally in debt to the work of artists who did much of this research ahead of me with access that I could never have. They include Hito Steyerl, Trevor Paglen, Simon Denny, and Laura Poitras.

For the writing portion I’d say Junot Díaz and Leslie Jamison’s book The Empathy Exams.

As for the video there were tons of video artists and filmmakers who shaped my approach from Jordan Wolfson, Cecile B Evans, Doug Aitken, Chris Marker’s La Jetee, and Francis Coppola’s The Conversation.

8.) What aspect of the book are you proudest of?

Probably the part I had no role in: the publishing! I would have never been able to do this without an incredible set of editors who were crazy enough to try to meet my seemingly unrealistic deadline.

9.) Who do you hope reads this book?  Why?

Is it too much to hope everyone does? Namely because we are all implicated in the systems (surveillance, patriarchy) that the hacker travels throughout the course of the book. And I understand that it may not be comfortable reading for most especially in the manner that it parallels reality up until a very key point. But we need dystopias. Relevant ones not ones that cast our villains in an unrealistic manner. The real horror at the moment isn’t going to come from Skynet or HAL. It’s going to come from ourselves and our lack of indecision to do something to stop plausible dystopias before it’s too late.

10.) What’s next for you?

I’ve always aimed to try to make relevant political work. The election of Trump only confirmed my need to continue to make more, only at a much quicker pace. Which is why for the next year at least, I’m attempting to make one completed artwork a month that protests a specific component of Trumpism. I want to make this administration my muse as perverse as that may seem. I refuse to see alternatives because to look away from it would be immoral in my thinking.

 

For a review PDF of Proposal for an Empathetic Surveillance State email thepaperplanepilots@gmail.com. To follow Rene’s art, writing, and film, watch out for Wandering Savage‘s posts on Paper Plane Pilots.

Interview with Eric Morago

In November of 2016, the Paper Plane Pilots had the honor of publishing Feasting on Sky by Eric Morago.

I initially met Eric during my undergraduate studies. The writing circle at my school announced a reading featuring Eric Morago. After hearing his poetry, I bought his book and proceeded to follow his writing for the next four years.

Eric’s poetry had a large influence on the growth of my writing. I had initially sought a degree in creative writing to develop my fiction, but after hearing Eric read, I realized that I gravitated toward contemporary poetry.

Thanks to Eric, I am now not just a poet, but a publisher of poetry working with some of my major influences.

Now, four years later, I’m pleased to present to you an interview with Eric Morago on his latest book published by Paper Plane Pilot Publishing, Feasting on Sky:

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Cover art by Gabriel Chavez. Cover design by Laura Khayat.

SK: What was your main goal with Feasting on Sky?

My last book was more of a collection about love and longing, and with Feasting on Sky, I wanted the narrative to evolve and take risks.  My goal, working on these poems, was to explore subject matter that was uncomfortable to confront, to shine light on some of those guarded parts of myself that I keep hidden from the everyday world.  As someone who struggles with anxiety on an almost daily basis, there’s often a lot of shame associated with admitting it, but in my poems, I find I can take ownership over it.     

SK: What type of poetry do you aim to write? Who is your demographic?

I set out to write poems that communicate to the reader, and audience, what I am thinking and feeling in way that allows them room to infer their own meaning.  In doing so, I hope my poems reward with multiple readings. I consider my style direct and sincere.  As for my demographic, I want my poetry enjoyed by the “everyman,” by those who wouldn’t expect they’d like hearing/reading a poem, so I strive to make my work, as Billy Collins would say, “hospitable.”  I try never to alienate my readers with ambiguous imagery or obtuse language, yet still strive to explore complex themes.  

SK: You write a lot about mental illness in this book.  What effect do you hope to have by elucidating this topic?

I hope to empower others who suffer from some form of mental illness and to start a dialogue about how it’s more normal than not to feel a little abnormal.   

SK: Who are your main influences as a writer?

I tend to gravitate to poets who write clearly and with a razor’s edge honesty.  I enjoy reading poems that are bravely imaginative and offer surprising imagery.  I like poets that make me laugh as well.  There are so many poets I could name that have inspired and influenced me over the years, but if I had to name three who have had the biggest effect on my growth as a writer, I’d give credit to Charles Harper Webb, Ron Koertge, and Mindy Nettifee.

SK: What role does your humor play in this book?

Humor plays a large role not only in this book, but also in my writing.  I think humor is the perfect vehicle to drive a reader through complex emotion.  Humor is healing.  When we laugh, we open ourselves to the bigger truths of the universe, reflect, and release.  

SK: What does performance provide that unspoken words can’t?  Is there a particular poem from this collection that you love performing?

Performance allows a poet to really bring a particular piece to life.  Not all poets are skilled in performance, nor do they need to be.  But, if a poet knows how to read well, they can captivate and engage an audience with more than just their words on the page.  As far as a particular poem from the book that I love performing, it changes based on how I’m feeling on that particular day and on the audience.  

SK: What do you think poetry can achieve that other forms of writing can’t?

I think poetry, as a writing form, can offer a more concise and intimate look into an experience, and benefits from the musicality of language more so than other genres of writing can.

SK: What do you particularly love about the literary scene in Los Angeles?

What I love most about the literary scene in Los Angeles is its diversity of voices, and how vastly rich this city’s poetry is with its history and culture.

SK: Do you have any social media links you would like to share?

Sure.  If people want to stay up-to-date on what I’m doing in the poetry world, they can like my Facebook author page . You can also follow me on Instagram where I usually post pictures of my dogs, Legos, and sometimes my writing life.

SK: What’s next for Eric?

I’ll be setting up readings throughout Spring for Feasting on Sky, but will also be starting an exciting chapter in my life as the new publisher and editor-in-chief of Moon Tide Press.  I am very grateful for this opportunity and looking forward to giving back to so many deserving writers (and readers) of great poetry.

If you are in Los Angeles and would like the chance to see Eric perform in the coming weeks he will be a feature at:

Coffee Cartel in Redondo Beach with the Redondo Poets on Tuesday January 17th at 8 PM.

1820 S Catalina Ave #102
Redondo Beach, CA 90277

He will also be a feature for Two Idiots Peddling Poetry at The Ugly Mug in Orange on Wednesday January 25th at 8 PM ($3 cover).

261 N Glassell St
Orange, CA 92866

Eric Morago is a two-time Pushcart Prize nominated poet who believes performance carries as much importance on the page, as it does off. Currently he hosts a monthly reading series, teaches writing workshops, and serves as an associate editor for the online literary journal, FreezeRay Poetry. Eric is the author of What We Ache For (Moon Tide Press) and has an MFA in Creative Writing from California State University, Long Beach. He lives with his wife and three dogs in Los Angeles, California.


Sara Khayat was born and raised in Los Angeles, California. She is editor-in-chief of Paper Plane Pilot Publishing. Her latest book, ¶: unspeakable poems, is an experimentation with strikethrough and language (nouns that become verbs, verbs that become nouns in different contexts). She always chose truth over dare at elementary school parties. Proof of her writing can be dated all the way back to old kindergarten findings and floppy disks. Her mind is full of wildflowers, ladybugs and grey matters. Give her a shout and she’ll give you a whisper.

An Interview with Brian Andrade

I recently had the immense pleasure of chatting with PPP’s resident avant-garde poet Brian Andrade. We discussed a plethora of fascinating topics, and I was able to dig into his beautiful, unorthodox brain. Here are the results.

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Q: First thing’s first, you write often and in detail about sex. Was that always something you were comfortable expressing in your art?

Sex wasn’t something I expected to express in great detail with my art. In fact, I felt uncomfortable even discussing it.

I’m not really talkative about sex to begin with. I guess I write about sex a lot because it’s an important life experience that is often too taboo to casually talk about. Crazy, since it’s something we think about daily.

It wasn’t until I started to think about what exactly it was about sex that fascinated me that I started writing. When the sex is mutually-sided, it’s a momentary expression of passion and connection with someone.

Q: Do you feel, then, that writing is a way to talk about things we can’t in everyday discourse?

Writing is definitely about expressing what can’t be said in conversations. It’s the job of a writer to dig into subject matters that other people won’t.

It’s about going to the dark and taboo places in our existences and exposing them to the world.

Q: Sounds like you have a transgressive streak. Are there any authors that inspired you to bare yourself like that?

Yeah, let me go down the list.

James Baldwin always features impulsive characters that disregard rationalities. While they can be self-destructive, they’re effective in showing what chaos and power the human mind can have when one acts on their own desires.

Bukowski never failed to communicate all his thoughts in his poetry, no matter how questionable that made him as a person.

Audre Lorde’s poetry discomforts the reader in order to effectively communicate a message.

T.S. Elliot dealt with isolation, loneliness, and chaos, and embraced his pain in poetry; which is something that some writers, including myself, struggle to do.

Q: I notice a few writers who dealt with discrimination in their work. How do you feel about the current literary field/publishing industry, and do you feel it’s finally moving away from its white hetero-normative past?

Good question!

I do think that the current mainstream publishing industry is moving away from the standard white-hetero-normative narrative to a minimal degree. Other narratives whether it be racial or about sexual orientation are more prevalent but they’re only treated as subcategories of fiction.

I prefer an industry that can publish works of different experience but still market them toward general audiences. For example, a novel with a gay protagonist is already marketed as queer fiction and nothing else. Every person deals with universal issues, therefore every narrative should be treated universally no matter their specialized focus.

Q: Do you think the secret is to stop treating it like a niche topic, like in erotica or young adult novels; but rather to present these characters as entirely normal in the context of their existence?

Yes! Minorities in the literary world are subjected to subcategories, and are treated one-dimensionally. Writers of color will be subjected to that title even if they offer more than racial dialogue in their work. The literary world leaves a burden for minority writers and minority writing..

While I’m a Mexican and Salvadorian writer, I wouldn’t want to be categorized as just that. I also wouldn’t want to be categorized for my sexual orientation since my existence and my experience is more than that.

I deal with the fear of death, and everlasting hunger and the joy of friendships, and a self-sufficient vanity just like everyone else does.

Q: Self-sufficient vanity is an interesting term. People don’t want to use the word selfish because it’s so demonized. Are they wrong for being afraid of pride?

Damn straight.

Q: Care to elaborate?

No one else in this world, except maybe your mom and significant other, are going to celebrate your accomplishments with you, so might as well celebrate them yourself. Society is too damn self-loathing, I’d rather remain prideful than stick to a self-destructive view of myself.

Q: Shifting gears a little bit, what is your ultimate ambition with your writing, both for yourself, and on a bigger scale?

I definitely want to create more representation [for minority] experience in my writing. Much of [it] is homo-erotic as retaliation to the continuous stream of Nicholas Sparks romance novels of white straight middle-class couples falling in love.

A lot of writers complain that everything has been done, but representation is still an important issue. In other words, I want to write about universal issues through the lenses of minority experiences. I want to write about my experiences, which I never could find in books.

In terms of more technical goals, I plan to continue writing every day [in order] to build a larger collection, and to sharpen my technique.

Q: How much do you think about money when projecting your future? Is monetary validation as important as creative validation – or do neither of them effect the way you write. In other words, at the end of the day, do you think it’s necessary to write with an audience in mind?

Honestly, I’m just looking for a career after university that can support my writing. I don’t write with financial profit in mind, but that’s always a plus.

Q: So for you validation doesn’t have to do with “success,” whatever that means?

When it comes to audiences, they should be of secondary importance in writing. I write about the things that make me think while standing in the shower, and I wouldn’t change my interests for the sake of an audience. I write what I have to write and then focus on who my work would appeal to after it’s completed.

Success has to do with validation in terms of publicity and active readership but not finances.

Q: So other than writing what will we be reading about you on your Wikipedia page once you make it big?

You will be reading about how fucked up a place my mind is and how I came to celebrate that madness.

Q: What made you want to become a writer, and what inspires you to continually push the boundaries of great art?

I’ve always been a passive socializer whose fear of rejection gets the best of him. Many of the important things I want to say often go unsaid. In writing, I have a power that I don’t have anywhere else.

Honestly, all the bullshit I see in the world makes me want to push the boundaries of great art. I’m sick of not being able to talk about our fears and desires openly to the people important to us. Even when a close friend of mine was dying we never talked about it, mainly because death was too taboo. So we talked about pointless shit like politics while avoiding the most important things at hand. That’s bullshit. If speech is limited to social constraints, then writing has to be the place that transcends it.

 

An Interview with Willie Watt

The other night, Willie Watt and I sat down (figuratively of course) for a fun and enlightening chat about all kinds of stuff, but mostly writing. Here it is.

So, first question and perhaps the most obvious one, what inspired you to start writing?

Jealousy. Plain and simple. My sister Sarah wrote little short stories and my parents gave her attention for it, so writing was, and kind of still is, a ‘fuck you’ kind of exercise.

What writers are your biggest influences and why?

I find less influence in writers lately. I’ll read something totally badass – like Cloud Atlas by David Mitchel – and think ‘wow, that was amazing, but I would never write like that.’ I find that music and films actually inspire me aesthetically more than books, although I do read enough to learn from the masters.

If I had to pinpoint influences, though, I’d be dishonest if I didn’t mention F. Scott Fitgerald, George Orwell, Thomas Pynchon, Charles Bukowski, Tolkien, and Dostoevsky.

How has music and film shaped your style?

The film thing needs a little back-story. When I first moved to Austin Texas a little over a year ago I didn’t know a single soul in the city other than my roommate.

I just kind of went to work in an unfamiliar place, and came back to a cheap apartment with virtually no furniture. In that kind of crushing loneliness I would sit on a pile of blankets on the floor (I didn’t have a bed yet) and watch weird art movies. I don’t really know why I was drawn to these eccentric kinds of auteur-driven movies, but I just gorged myself on them for months until I made friends and had a social life.

I found that there were certain directors whose visual style was as unmistakably singular as any author, and I learned to siphon that into my own creativity.

The music thing is easy. I still listen to Eminem or Tech N9ne or some shit while I write.

Care to describe your writing process?

My writing process is completely unsexy. It doesn’t matter what you read on fucking tumblr, being a writer is not setting up your typewriter next to a window with a panoramic view, sipping on an espresso.

I usually write in my car on lunch break,or hiding in a public restroom on my phone, or at 3 in the morning with bags under my eyes and a lungful of shisha smoke.

Usually I fixate on a general idea, or a concept, or sometimes even a single word and I just free-associate my way through a poem – then go back and make it readable.

Prose is different. I’m a ruthless perfectionist with short stories, which is why I don’t write them that often.

As a writer, what would you say your role in society is?

I don’t think the writer has a specific role other than to be brutally, sometimes horrifically, true to his/her vision. I always thought being an artist -a real artist- was in and of itself an act of rebellion against societal pigeon-holing, and obligations. So I guess the short, unsophisticated answer is “fuck-all.”

Digging a little deeper, I think there are good arguments for the writer being a sort of cultural historian, acting as a sponge capturing micro-details that the large-brush portrait of a time period will inevitably miss.

But that’s secondary. First, an author must exist for his/her self. If that is missing, the art will fail, and the reader will intuitively sense it.

So would I be correct in assuming that for you, authenticity is more important than accessibility?

Absolutely. Moby Dick is inaccessible (and overrated, but that’s another subject), Ulysses is inaccessible, Don Quixote is inaccessible; but those books have stood the test of time because even when the formal complexity of the language/structure flies over your head, there is still a sort of unshakable feeling that the author is doing something very pure and true and honest. As cliche as it is the best authors are true to themselves, authentic as you put it, and the rest of the chips will fall one way or another but cannot be manipulated.

With that said, I don’t think I happen to be a particularly inaccessible writer, although I’m often told otherwise.

Is there anything else in your mind that separates great poetry from merely okay poetry?

I’ve read a lot of okay poetry, most of it my own, and I’ve read a lot of good poetry, most of it not my own, but I honestly can’t say I’ve read much great poetry.

I should admit at this point, that I haven’t read a lot of the “great” poets extensively, like Frost, or Woolf, or Emerson.

What I find that really strikes a nerve with me are poems that reflect a certain urban experience that is simultaneously high and low minded. The kind of shit that’ll reference Wittgenstein in one stanza and then vividly describe sex or violence or drugs in the next.

If it’s not too lower class of me to say, I think that Kendrick Lamar and Childish Gambino are two of the most important poets of my generation.

So my next question is a tad vague, but in a lot of more literary minded writing, the author expresses a certain worldview, a philosophy if you will, that informs the poem or novel or story. What is your philosophy about life, society, and the human experience in general?

If I had the answer to that I’d be writing about it, but here it goes anyway, and I apologize in advance, because this is the part of the story where I lower my “hopeful writer” facade and show how utterly pretentious I really am.

My view of the world is obsessed mainly with the aesthetics of the infinitesimal. This is not a term you’ll find in a philosophy textbook. It’s something that haunts me when I’m trying to write, and it is directly derived with my relation to the world.

I don’t have enough page space to really write it all out right now, but the short version is that everything in life is inevitably composed of almost fulfilling something, almost attaining wholesomeness, almost being happy, almost being destroyed… but for one reason or another being perpetually returned to the center fully aware that the experience will re-occur but that you can’t really do anything about it.

What I’m interested in, as an artist, is the brief moment of intense mania, depression, euphoria, paranoia, horror that occurs before the room stops spinning and everything goes back to normal; in other words, the infinitesimal essence of an experience before it inevitably loops back on itself and the entire thing is brought into doubt.

So how did you come to find yourself among the ranks of the Paper Plane Pilots?

By being a kiss-ass. I was obsessively reading a brilliant poet, who is now a kind of long distance friend of mine, by the name of Nicholas Gagnier (AKA Retkon Poet), and he did some projects with our lovely commander-in-chief HoldenLyric, as well as writing for the Pilots. So the rabbit hole led me to the website, and Sara started reading my stuff, and eventually I was drunk and was just like ‘Yo, can I be one of you guys?’ And Sara was like, “Fuck ya,” or something similar, and that made me feel really good, so I tried to contribute as much and as often as possible.

What do you think distinguishes the Paper Plane Pilots from other writers?

Well not to shamelessly self-endorse, but I think there’s a raw, embittered, razor sharp intelligence that permeates the writing on the site. Some of the material is hard to read, either because of how avante-garde it gets sometimes, or how decadent the material is, but there’s a truthfulness to it that is undeniable.

It goes back to that purity of vision I mentioned earlier.

The collective talent doesn’t hurt either.

What do you hope to achieve with your writing?

To be self-sufficient from it, and to write well.

I think a lot about legacies and stuff like that, but it’s all so premature at this point I try not to indulge my fantasy too much.

I think if I find myself in 20 years sitting in a quiet room, debt-free, writing professionally then I’ll be relatively satisfied. There’s a hunger for more than that, but that’s the first thing.

And for the last question, it’s an easy one, aside from being a writer of profound talent and vision, what else do you like to do with your time?

You flatter me.

I’m currently a full time student who works forty hours a week so I don’t get to indulge myself that often. But I love watching movies, longboarding, free-running, stargazing, and smoking too much shisha.

Also naps. The world needs more naps. I think that’s what all my poems are really about

Interview With Jent Garrison

Why do you write? What is your motivation ?

My motivation is my sanity. I feel that if I didn’t I would be a completely different person, bottled up with all this useless energy and emotion. For as long as I can remember I have written to make myself feel better, and get whatever I am feeling out in the open.

Besides writer’s block, what can be a challenge for you when writing?

Rewriting a piece until it becomes terrible. I try not to read things over and over again because if I do the more I change it the worse it usually gets.

How do you pass writer’s block?

Let it work itself out. I try not to force it and I focus on other things. Once I start doing other things all I want to get back to doing is writing.

How often do you write? Is it premeditated or spontaneous?
Never premeditated always spontaneous. I tend to write minimum of once a day. Whenever I feel it’s necessary to.

Within the last three years how has your writing evolved?

I think it has evolved dramatically with the events that have taken place in my life. I’m always writing loosely about my current situations in life, so given my shift in life over even the past year I’d say it has evolved into a type of writing I never thought I’d dive into.

How often do you write pieces that you don’t post/publish?

A lot more than I do post/publish. I post things I feel people want/need to hear, and I won’t post certain things if I wrote it specifically to give to someone, or sometimes I honestly can’t bring myself to post some things I’ve written. Maybe someday…

If you could put any author/writer in your pocket, who would it be? Why?

Mitch Albom, just to see what his take on everything I do would be. Have always loved his writing, wouldn’t mind a few daily conversations with the guy.

Do you prefer ebooks, paperback or hardcovers?

Paperback…for life!

Do you feel that traditional paperback and hardcover books will no longer exist?

I believe they always will. Nothing can compare to holding the weight of a book and turning pages dramatically as you race to the end of a great story.

If you were the original creator of any book and/or film, what would it be? Why?

The usual suspects. Because that is a brilliant film and a brilliant story, and always will be the film that made me want to become a writer.

Where do you want to be in 5-10 years ?

Writing televisions series and creating stories that people love and hate to get attached to.

Interview with Holden Lyric, conducted by M. Alden

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  1.  How do you perceive that your voice and style has developed since you began writing?

When I first began writing, I was a kid. I wrote short stories just for fun and saved them to my floppy disk. I recently found a story I wrote when I was five. It depicted a day where it rained pennies. I thought to myself: Why pennies? Why not quarters or hundred dollar bills? I think in first grade my teacher read one of my stories aloud to the class. In junior high I thought it was “uncool” to write, so I began writing music instead. ln high school, I reconnected with writing and began my first novel.

So, I guess my writing has aged much like a body would. Wiser, but more concerned with aesthetic.

2 Your poems are constructed using a myriad of forms and tropes such as strikethrough, parentheses, and spacing in between letters. What poets have influenced this aspect of your work, and how do you tend to employ it?

Hm, that’s a good question. I just get bored with one certain aesthetic and have to change it up. It’s like an itching in me to try something new. My mind starts to pace and it won’t settle unless I feel there’s some kind of evolution taking place. E. E. Cummings was a huge influence for me in that regard. It’s actually funny. In school, I was really antiform in poetry. I hated form with all of my guts. But, in hating form, my lack of form became a form? A lot of peers that reviewed my work in workshop called me a “form” poet and I was like…wait…WHAT. It’s funny to me now. A lot of things are.

3 You write a variety of both poems and short stories. How does your writing process differ between the two, and do you have a preference for one or the other?

AH! haha that is a great question. I don’t have a preference. I tend to use both formats in their own way. When I’m aiming for raw and honest, I write a poem. When I’m aiming to unleash feelings or ideas I find wouldn’t fit well with a poem, I tend to bury them in a story. Stories, to me, are a way of elongating and exploring a certain feeling or emotion that I don’t feel comfortable doing with a poem. I love to get lost in worlds, which I find I can’t really do with a poem. When working on a novel, I look up after hours of writing and feel like I really just escaped to this place only I have the key to enter. It’s an incredible experience I can’t quite describe.

Sometimes, I confuse myself. I don’t know whether or not what I’m writing is a poem or a story. Often, I find people tend to see my poetry as narrative poetry and my prose as poetic prose. So maybe it all just blends together.

  1. Do you feel that reading and writing poetry has shaped the way you perceive the world?

Yes, I do. Before I wrote poetry I used to be a really quiet person. I never spoke. I had a lot of thoughts and opinions, but I never voiced them. I always felt they weren’t well-formed opinions or convinced myself they didn’t matter. Once the poems started flowing, I became a lot louder. I made a lot of friends, and the conversations I’ve been apart of with creative people on curbsides, in parking lots, and on random front porches are some memories I value most.

  1. What is your dream career?

I’d like to be an editor for a publishing company. I love the process of creating, and I’ve done a lot of freelance editing as well as working for some presses in the past. I’ve edited manuscripts of poetry, fiction, and creative nonfiction.

  1. What places, people, and moments have most influenced you as a writer?

Well, my mother was definitely a huge influence when I was a kid. She was a Literature teacher and definitely encouraged creativity. We used to get prizes for reading books. One summer, I read 60 books and I got a gameboy. My siblings were mad because I was the youngest and they said the books were “easy”. (The books were written for a demographic three grades ahead of me though, it was totally fair! Ahem, we still debate about this.)

Also, a friend of mine in high school (I won’t call him out, but he is a Paper Plane Pilot) used to lend me novels. We used to sit in the back of our chemistry honors class and talk about philosophy, the beats, art, film, you name it. I ended up failing the class and having to take summer school.

  1. How has being a writer impacted your own sense of identity?

Well, there were things I never really paid much attention to when growing up until I started writing. For instance, my spinal surgery, Lebanese-American identity (or lack of haha). It has also helped me get through some other hard times as an adult that I think would have been really difficult to get through if I wasn’t able to write out some kind of a conclusion or insight.

One question I do often ask myself after I’ve had a taxing day or am feeling emotionally overwhelmed by a situation is: What can you take from this?

  1. If you could collaborate with any writer, who would you choose and why?

This is tough. haha I want to answer this question, but it’s kind of personal and I don’t want to call this person out. (I’m a terrible poet if I still have a sense of “too personal”)

Though, I’d say, if it’s just a writer I admire and don’t know personally, I’d go with Aimee Bender. But then I’d probably end up freaking out and thinking my work was shit and go in the fetal position in the corner and stay there for a few days.

  1. You began PPP in 2012, and since then the collective has put forth two anthologies, a chapbook, and hundreds of poems and stories. What hopes do you have for PPP in the coming years?

My vision for Paper Plane Pilots has changed dramatically over the years. At first, it was just an online workshop for some friends. Then we randomly gained followers, and lost the “workshop” vibe. We started In-flight Literary Magazine because I wanted the opportunity to publish people outside of the collective’s work. I also wanted it to be peer-reviewed, since Paper Plane Pilots isn’t (unless you include me editing every post.) My aim is to promote global empathy and bring writers from all over the world together to share in their common love for expression.

  1. What do you hope to achieve with your work?

Honestly, I have no idea. My goal when I was younger (and naïve) was to be able to make a living on writing. Now I kind of just want to reach people. I want to connect with people and be able to discuss the art and more meaningful topics with great minds. I guess it’s just a good (and valuable) way of passing the time.

  1. What inspires you to initiate a poem or story?

It can start with anything. I could be listening to a song and mishear a lyric, I could be driving on the freeway and my “inner voice” will say something that I feel starts a poem, I could be watching a TV show and think, man I thought this is where they would go with this, a certain experience I have, or maybe a true story I hear.

For instance, this is the idea I’ve had for a story for a while now:

I found out recently that I am a citizen of Lebanon by birth. I was born in Hollywood, but since my dad is a Lebanese native, apparently his children are also Lebanese citizens? Once I found that out, I came up with an idea for this short story (I won’t give too much away here, because I have yet to write it.)

I feel like that was a long tangent and I don’t know how to bring it back.

  1. What is your ideal writing environment?

Hm. I do like a lot of silence. I’ve never been able to write with other people around (including classrooms and cafes.) Sometimes, I do write in my phone when I’m out. I think I have like 1,000 notes in my phone. I just pretend like I’m texting and I blend in. I get distracted really easily, though. So it helps if it’s a secluded, familiar place.

  1. What does your personal editing process look like?

Usually I write it out and I end up hating the form and change the form. I don’t do too much editing on my work, which I’ve actually been trying to change. It’s not because I think it’s perfect, I’m just afraid of messing it up even more. haha If I don’t know where to go with a piece, I usually just send it to a friend and ask their opinion on it. (Which you’ve been the victim of a few times. haha [is it normal to say “haha” in an interview?])

  1. How would you characterize your own writing voice?

My writing voice is much like vomit. Okay, that’s not very appetizing. I’d say it really depends. It could be stream of consciousness. I’ve been told very opposing things. Some people think I’m really funny, which confuses me? Some people think I’m really depressing, which, makes a lot more sense.

I always try to find the beauty and the hope, even in writing about something that is seemingly devoid of both. I never like to write “mean” things about people. I always try to find the beauty, even if I have to invent it myself.

One thing I will say is: I try to make my writing accessible to the reader whether through narrative, vernacular speech, or even just accessible language.

The ever so handsome Derek interviews the beautifully talented Gabby

Recently, this blogger had the rare privilege of communicating with fellow Paper Plane Pilot Gabby McCullough: an exceptionally talented writer, poet and budding photographer. Below is the interview that transpired…

1) How and when did you initially discover that writing was a passion of yours?
I don’t quite remember how I discovered my love for writing, but I would guess that it was fostered from a passion for reading.  I have fond recollections of writing down small poems and tidbits at the age of about 8 or 9, and resting my notebook atop a colossal volume of classical poetry, so the two are so interconnected for me.  Perhaps the truest thing that I’ve come to understand about my own writing process is that it’s so heavily influenced by other writers.  One of my favorite feelings is that of a blissful overwhelm of emotion when I find a poem or piece of fiction that profoundly moves me.  Language is such an interesting and difficult thing to master, both in reading and writing.
2) Might you share who your favorite poets/writers are, and why?
Oof.  This is a big question!  Here are my top five (in no particular order):
(1) Samuel Taylor Coleridge.  There is such a power to his writing. Everything from his sense of rhythm to his sense of sound, his ability to paint an extremely visceral image, his mastery of rhyme and storytelling–I’m amazed.  Perhaps what’s more, he’s willing to traverse extremely dark places in his poetry.  His literary struggles with repentance and morality and innate evils and societal entrapment are all gorgeous and heartbreaking.  Perhaps more heartbreaking and more fascinating than that is the many ways in which he deconstructs a societal norm and then proceeds to plaster and bandage up (quite incompletely) the destruction that he just enacted.
(2) E.E. Cummings.  If ever there were a poet who could so beautifully baffle me, it would be E.E. Cummings.  The fluidity and brightness of his poetry is so contrary to the (typically) heavy subjects that he discusses.  There is an enormous tension between the cadence of the poem and what it actually imparts to the reader.  I’ve spent hours examining and re-examining “anyone lived in a pretty how town” and have, happily, been unable to reach any decisive conclusions.
(3) Frank O’Hara.  The emphasis on wandering, both in the phrasing of his stanzas and what they contain, the disconnectedness of his ideas in the way that they’re presented–he’s able to enchant and entice readers in a way that few others can.  His poems beg to be spoken, and to me they drip down the page like a Salvador Dali clock.  Truly, they’re just glorious.
(4) Terrance Hayes.  Another man whose poetry begs to be spoken aloud.  His toying with time as a concept and as a construct is so intriguing to me, and it’s challenging to find words to describe just how necessary his voice is.  There is a heaviness in the fall of his words; they refuse, in fact, to fall softly, regardless of the structure of the poem.
(5) Ishion Hutchinson.  Dwelling in the strange and beautiful liminal space between the abstract and the concrete, Hutchinson is able to paint with words some of the most haunting images I’ve ever come across.  There is a music to his stanzas, and his works all have a whispering melody.  Every words is measured and weighed, and he manages to say exactly what he wants to without compromising meaning or rhythm or intent; his words are pointed.
I realize now that these are all poets, and they are all male.  Truthfully, these are just the first of many to come to mind, but I feel I’ve drudged on quite long enough about these incredibly inspirational beings.

3) Do you pursue writing in a professional sense, or is it strictly a pastime that you appreciate?

In the poems and short stories I write, it’s largely just for the appreciation of creating something.  I love the process.  I love laboring over the words and the music in the lines.
Professionally, I’m an undergraduate majoring in Neuroscience and English.  The influence of both discourses tends to find its way into my poetry.

4) Apart from poetry and prose, are there other artistic creations that you enjoy?

I fancy myself a bit of a photographer.  I much prefer the process of film rather than digital works, largely because I feel as though I have more control over the actual creation of the image, but I love the careful thought about perception and perceiver, the composition of images, and how the image interacts with its viewer.  Maurice Merleau-Ponty describes vision as palpation with the eye, and I can’t help but consider that when I work with photography.

5) After reading some of your poetry, it is clear alliteration is a poetic technique you employ. What other techniques do you incorporate into your poetry, and why?

I’m a huge fan of alliteration!  When I write, I try to be very conscious of the ways in which words sound together.  For me, poetry has always been a paired auditory and literary task, and so I try to give my poems sounds as I try to piece together image.  I guess it’s sort of like trying to create an odd film soundtrack for each poem.

6) Free verse appears to be a style of poetry you occasionally write in. What is it about this style that appeals to you?

I’ve definitely messed around with a lot of styles, and I’ll typically try and write images first and then see how they fall on the page.  I’m a believer in the idea that form is fluid and, while I’ve written occasionally in more rigid poetic structures, I tend to vary even the forms that I do attempt to write in, re-owning them in small ways.

7) In regards to the words you use within some of you work, would you consider yourself to be a bit of a sesquipedalian?

I am incredibly fond of all words, but yes–I am particularly fond of lengthier words.  I like the way that the syllables roll off of the tongue and into one another.

8) What passions and values are often thematically discussed/referenced in your writing? Might you kindly explore why?

I suppose that I tend to work a lot with images of death or decay.  I would like to think that I do this to better acquaint myself with the idea of dying; the idea that it’s an incurable and inevitable side-effect of living is quite terrifying, and I think I write about it so that I can try better to understand and come to terms with it.

9) One of the things I appreciate about poetry is the multiple interpretations a single piece can have. With this in mind, what do you enjoy about poetry?

I love everything from the sounds to the shapes to the fluidity of the verse.  I think the best way that I’ve ever heard poetry described is that a poem is like trying to fit a tornado inside of a Tupperware container.  There is so much power and force and chaos–all crammed into such a small amount of space.

10) Regarding the aforementioned question, might I ask, what is your poem, ‘the Library’ about?

Insofar as I was writing with any sort of single meaning, I really wanted to explore closely the impact that parents, societal norms, and literature jointedly effect a child.  It was, more than anything, meant to be a physical expression of mental phenomenon and a competition for mental energy and freedom of thought.  I suppose that freedom itself and the idea of defying norm values was really at the core of it.  The sections were meant to be slow developments and slow progression of age as we track with the narrator through her life.

11) ‘Still Patient’ is a very powerful and emotive piece of yours. I personally often write about particularly painful moments in life for the therapeutic benefits, and because heartbreak, pain and loss are often relatable themes for a wide variety of people. Might I ask, what are your motivations behind some of your more poignant work?

Works like “Still Patient” arise from a deeply personal place.  Typically, I’ll write the beginnings of the end products to stories or poems like this months before they’re actually done.  At the time, it’s my way of expulsing the emotions boiling over inside of me and leaving them to settle for a bit before I return to them.  The return is the coming to terms with what’s happened, and piecing things together, and the slow beginnings of moving on.

12) Your name milady, McCullough – is this Irish or Scottish? Do you think your racial/cultural background influences the type of work you produce? If so, might you explore how?

McCullough is, indeed, Irish!  I think that it has a subtle influence, particularly because I’m a strange and uncommon mix of things.  I’ve got Irish, Lebanese, Spanish, and Ukrainian blood running through my veins.  Each of these places has such a unique and fascinating history, and while I don’t feel as though I’m explicitly aware of their influence, I believe that they effect most writers implicitly.

13) There is no thirteenth question. Thirteen is a wretchedly evil number, so I will not include it here.

Huzzah!
 14) Do you often find yourself answering questions from random strangers concerning your writing practices?
Not at all!  This is a very infrequent occurrence, but one which I am incredibly thankful for!  Thank you for your kind and thoughtful questions, and thank you for the opportunity to reflect on my own writing process!
I would like to personally thank Gabby for taking time out of her busy schedule to answer these questions. I would moreover, like to thank Paper Plane Pilot Publishing for granting me the opportunity to conduct this interview. Lastly, I wish to thank you, dear reader, for taking the time to read this interview. Have a great day!  🙂