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

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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.

A short conversation with Dani Blue

I had the pleasure of interviewing the beautiful and talented Dani Blue…and here is what she had to say!
What is your main inspiration when starting to write?
When I feel that it is time to sit down and write, something has happened. I heard something, seen something, or had an odd reality check. There’s a ton of emotions scrambling to get out so that I can move on and stamp it “lesson learned”.
What do you feel is your biggest challenge?
My biggest challenge is committing to a story. I’m sad to admit that I’m a commitment phobe. Although, I’d rather convince myself that I’m not. I’ll work hard and spew loads of energy into a short story.
Do you believe your personality and writing style are similar? Why or why not?
Yes! And it’s something that I used to despise and wanted to run away from. For awhile it was hard to separate the two. Combining my writing style and personality once was a way to glamorize myself to myself–more than others–and I didn’t like that. Now  I embrace it, balance the two, without writing Stephanie’s fairytale volumes 1-3.
When did you decide to start writing?
I started writing when I was in middle school. So around 12-13 years old.
Is length important to you when writing a piece?
Usually l don’t consider length unless it’s required for an assignment.
What do you do when you get writer’s block?
In the past, when I would suffer from writer’s block syndrome, I would completely abandon a story. Literally I’d get up, go make a sandwich, maybe even make another one and forget about the story. I’ve found that ranting in a freewrite helps and gets me in a place to continue.
Do you get inspired by any specific authors? If so whom?
Most authors that I’ve read have in some type of way inspired me in one way  or another
What is your favorite book/line or section from that book?
Alright, I absolutely admit my favorite book changes from time to time. Right now it’s Chronicle of a Death Foretold, a novella by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. It’s a crazy journey that begins and ends several times in several ways.
Do you like or dislike books being made into films?
If I love the book–meaning I’ve read it more than once and it’s packed away in my book collection in my mom’s garage–then I’m not the happiest person when it turns into a film. It’s really not the same. But I will still watch it and then buy it on blu-Ray.
Where do you see yourself going in the future?
Hmm, the future. Honestly, my future is quite unclear at this point. I packed all my things and drove up to Seattle with my boyfriend in a two week timeframe. In a month I could be the president of a small island. I am planning on continuing my education and I’m positive that great things are ahead of me.
Where do you see the publishing world going in the future?
It seems that the publishing world is expanding more and more everyday. Self-publishing doesn’t seem as frowned upon. Big publishers should watch out.
Where is your favorite place to write?

Washington is beautiful. The scenery here is absolutely awesome. By far my favorite place to write.