Category Archives: The Writing Life

Writing in the Time of Weirdness: How to Focus in Chaos

Bad Omen Bird

Creating art—any kind of art—demands two things: time, and focus. Right now, time, for many of us, is no longer a factor. We’re working from home or in half-empty offices where no one is calling, there aren’t any social obligations (except virtually), activities and trips are cancelled, and we’re not spending hours in the car commuting or running errands. If not all the time in the world to write, we at least have more than we did before. But what I’m hearing from many of my writing friends is this: “I’m like that guy in the Twilight Zone episode who finally had all that time to read … and his glasses broke.”

Why?

Because right now, there is no routine, no stability, no telling what the hell is going to happen tomorrow, and no hope of it ending any time soon. Anxiety, even in those who aren’t chronic sufferers, is taking over. For artists of any kind who need to have stability in the rest of their lives to create, it’s debilitating.

But there are some things writers can do to get themselves back on track.

I grew up in a completely destabilized household. Between the ages of 8 and 18, I lived my daily life at the level of anxiety, dread of the scary unknown, intense worry, and constant distraction that most “normal” people are feeling now. While my mother was dying of cancer—and then following her passing—I would come home from school every day, stand at the bottom of the porch steps, and think, What fresh hell is going to be beyond that door today? Death, contagious illness, cancelled activities because of whatever was going on, lack of food, a giant mess the kids made, the news that we had to go to Yale New Haven and sit in waiting rooms for a week, we were leaving our church and going to a different one, your brother burned down the woods again and is in jail—there was no routine. Not ever. That was my daily life. I’d wake up and have absolutely no idea what was going to happen to me or those I loved. Quite frankly, the only thing I could count on was the Sword of Damocles hanging over my head.

As C-19 began to spin out of control, I was, at first, in the same boat as everyone else—unfocused and crippled by the terrifying uncertainty. Then, one afternoon, I suddenly recognized what I was feeling—and it was familiar. I realized that I was uniquely qualified to keep focused and working when others couldn’t. I said, “Holy s***. I’ve been here before! I got this!” After all, despite all of that, I graduated from high school with fantastic grades, participated successfully in several after-school activities, kept up my personal hygiene and always looked put together, and managed to not only write, but complete many creative projects.

How did I do it?

I learned how to shut everything down.

If you’re a writer, I hope these tips on how to get back to work will help you. We are the chroniclers of these extraordinary happenings, the people who will tell the tales of what this was like to live through it, the people who will tell the first-person stories of the nurses, doctors, truck drivers, and others on the front lines while the rest of us were quarantined, the people who will share the stories of tragic loss and heartbreak. Our fiction, drama, poetry, and creative nonfiction will, one day, provide a snapshot of this historic event on a personal, emotional level. Honestly? Some really f***** good work is going to come out of this, whether it is actually about this situation or not.

TIPS

1 Find, or make—yes, even if your home life is now disrupted by children—the time to go into your writing office each day (if possible) and shut the door. Light a candle, put on your music, whatever it is that you normally do, as though the world isn’t losing its mind. Think of the closed door as that barrier between you and chaos. Whatever is going on beyond it? Not your problem until you emerge. You see, hear, smell, and are distracted by nothing while you are behind your door. If your “office” is in a shared space in your home, then make a temporary place in a closet, laundry room, or wherever. But it should have a door that closes. That part is very important. Also, tell the people in your household you cannot be disturbed for the hour. There is nothing that could happen in an hour—short of burning the house down or someone getting sick or bleeding to death—that they can’t handle. It can wait.

2 Set a designated time to watch the news or get C-19 updates, but don’t be checking all day long. I was writing in the early 1980s, and we didn’t have the Internet, but man, did we have TVs in every room and Atari video game systems, and believe me, it was just as tempting. This is an upsetting thing to watch unfold. Just step away from it—twice a day for ten minutes is enough to get the important things you need to know. It’s not necessary for it to be in your face every waking minute.

3 When you talk with your friends on the phone or through video conferencing, don’t dwell on what’s happening in the world. Talk, instead, about anything but: what you’re writing, what you just bought online, how your family is doing—whatever—just NOT the C-word. It’s important to feel as though life is going to carry on as normal, even if, deep down, you know it won’t. Dwelling on it makes it worse. When my mother was sick and I was living in that hell, only a handful of my closest friends knew what was happening at home, and none of us talked about it. When I was with them, when I was at school, I wanted things to feel normal. It kept me functioning and hoping for a brighter future.

4 Indulge in fantasy—check out when you can. That’s right. Sit around and day dream, think about being someplace else, and if you get the urge, write stories in which you’re the main character doing all of those things you wish you could do or being a different version of yourself. Your imagination is a powerful tool. Use it to go live the life you’ve always wanted (when I was 15 I was spending a lot of time with Indiana Jones).

5 When you’re tortured, get it out on paper. You’d be surprised how awesome spewing a bunch of emotional garbage onto a piece of paper or on a blank document makes you feel, and you might even get a story out of it.

6 Step back and realize that this, hopefully, will never happen again in our lifetimes, and watch the drama unfold as though it were not happening to you. This requires an almost disassociation with that of your physical body, but it can be done.

7 Frame the future and know that you’ll feel good again someday. Look at this time as a gift, and know that everything you do now is going to prepare you for something exciting later. Trust that the work you are doing now is important, and make it as much of a priority as you can, even as the world is heaping new demands on you and saying it isn’t. Never give up on your work or your vision of success, and believe that it will happen. All things come to an end—bad things, too.

Introducing 34 ORCHARD, a new dark literary journal!

34 Orchard LOGO

Recently, I posted a quote that read “Decide what kind of life you actually want. Then say no to everything that isn’t that.”

Two weeks ago, I had an existential crisis—well, I suppose it’s safe to say, another existential crisis, because honestly, if you’re doing this writing life right, it happens more often then you might think. There’s a reason for the “tortured artist” stereotype. Questioning what you’re doing with your life, why you’re doing what you’re doing, is actually quite normal.

I’ve dabbled in many different things, but I’ve decided what kind of life I want: I want to write, I want to read, I want to surround myself with everything that’s connected to that. It’s what I’ve always wanted. They say you shouldn’t date anyone that isn’t ‘fuck yeah, you’re it!’ about you. Conversely, you really shouldn’t be doing anything in your life that doesn’t make you want to rocket from bed in the morning and go, ‘fuck yeah, let’s get started!’

I’ve been reading a lot of fantastic short work in literary magazines lately—in my opinion, there’s a lot of undiscovered genius out there—and I want to publish the stuff I enjoy reading most. So I decided to found a new dark literary journal that will pay its writers. It’s called 34 Orchard, and the first issue will launch in April of 2020.

I’ve edited a couple of journals, and I know how stressful and rigorous this path can be—where most small journals can fail, honestly, is in the area of balancing all of the work: eventually, it’s so much arduous work, so much struggle and pain to keep up with it or deal with the grief of daily business (which sometimes isn’t pleasant), that the passion just burns out (kind of like a toxic or one-sided relationship). I had to come up with a detailed plan for something that would be sustainable in the long term, and I did.

Yes, it will be a major time investment. But unlike a toxic or one-sided relationship, I’ve figured out how to manage things so that I can just enjoy it. It will be drama free, full of joy, and make me want to rocket out of bed every morning and go, ‘fuck yeah!’ 34 Orchard is going to be the love of my life.

Our website is LIVE, and our Duotrope listing was approved and posted fewer than 24 hours after we were ‘internet official.’ The journal will be free to read for the time being, but donations are accepted. You can also sign up for announcements to come right to your email (it won’t be a blog. There will be only a few scattered announcements when there is news to share) so you’ll know when our first issue is up!

I hope you will join me in celebrating, and I hope you’ll support the journal in any way you can—share it, read it, send us comments, send us your work, donate, tell a friend. Thank you!

Main Page: https://34orchard.com/

Publishing information: https://34orchard.com/issues/

Writer’s Guidlelines: https://34orchard.com/guidelines/

Duotrope Listing: https://duotrope.com/listing/27544/34-orchard

Where have I been?

Yeah, I know. Y’all were getting used to having some content from me every Sunday, and then I disappeared. What happened?

Amontillado at Cemetery 10-19

A glass of amontillado toasts the opening of Poe Season at our favorite October cocktailing spot.

I’ve been writing short fiction—a lot, and honestly, I’m not the type of writer who can do both. While most of the year was spent on my novel Tidings, my muse let me down on that one for little bit, but inspired three new pieces. “Omniscience” and “Threading the Needle” are out for submission; a third, “Temporary Inconveniences,” is being workshopped, and after that, I’ll be finishing one I started last year post-“Wrecking Malcolm” called “Feast or Famine.” Ideas for new pieces are coming out of nowhere, and I mostly have to give them all of my attention except for necessary adult things like bill paying, cleaning the house and getting the windshield repaired on the car: a novel I can work on and balance life. Short fiction? Not so much. It’s pretty much bye-bye Krissi.

Providence’s Waterfire.

Providence’s Waterfire.

Of course, around all of these projects, Read the rest of this entry

Special extended TWL episode: Howe was the book signing?

 

I had a blast last week up at Howe Caverns for a signing of my new collection, The Shadows Behind. Rather than put up a bunch of pictures, I decided to do a special extended episode of my This Writing Life series. Enjoy!

 

Apparently…

…I didn’t like being interrupted while I was writing back then, either. This was taken in the early 1970s. I wrote my first “short story” when I was about five (which I might still have someplace–it was about a tree who killed itself and consisted of a couple of drawings and three sentences), so this photo makes sense for that time frame.

1973KristiWritingHeyWhat'stheBigIdea

 

What I learned as an obit writer

Mass cards

My first job out of college was as an obituary writer for the Putnam Reporter Dispatch in Carmel, NY.

Obituary writer! You’re thinking, “like someone who writes those long things in The New York Times!” Well, you’re right, but not really. I was more of a compiler than anything else. Nowadays, it’s more common that the families write up a tribute, give it to the funeral home, and then get charged to run it in the newspaper.

Back in the early 1990s, nearly all obituaries were put together Read the rest of this entry

Well, THIS was hilarious!

If you know me personally, you probably know that I don’t do well with math; thanks to my dad realizing I’d never be a rocket scientist, he put me in classes that focused on what I’d need to balance my checkbook, pay my bills, and function in life.

Although I’m glad he did—and I have a solid handle on basic skills—sometimes I still have issues, particularly spatially. If something is described Read the rest of this entry

Spend five minutes with me at GINGER NUTS OF HORROR

 

I’ve rarely gotten to spend more than five or ten minutes with anyone lately because I’ve been so busy … but now I might have the opportunity to spend time with you vicariously!

Ginger Nuts of Horror Logo

Ginger Nuts of Horror has featured me in an interview in its “Five Minutes With” series. I have to admit, some of these questions were tough and not of the usual variety, which was a refreshing, fun challenge! I dish on the term horror’s sometimes negative connotations, how the socio/political climate is affecting the genre, which of the characters I’ve created is my favorite, which cliché/trope I’d eliminate if I could, and much, much more. You can read the full interview here: https://gingernutsofhorror.com/interviews/five-minutes-with-kristi-petersen-schoonover

Ginger Nuts of Horror Five Minutes With Custom Logo

Off to the Cape to write…

The beach near our rented house.

The beach near our rented house. It’s my understanding that portions of this beach are reserved for the piping plover, a shore bird whose populations have suffered because of human activity on the beaches, and I did get to see some, which, as a novice birdwatcher, was a real thrill!

I’ll be up in Cape Cod this week for some much needed quiet time.

The writing life can be crazy, because no matter what anyone Read the rest of this entry

An ode to something old…

Old Journal 1

This old memo book reeks of mildew, but that’s part of what makes it magical for me–it smells like my dad’s old den.

It’s spring, and for many of us, that means the deep clean: dusting the baseboards, washing the curtains, Q-tipping between the floor tiles. For me it means cleaning out junk, too, especially in my basement, which seems like a never-ending project.

What’s cool, though, is when I find something I’d forgotten I had that I can still use. Back in the late 1990s, I was buying Read the rest of this entry

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