Meet Lydia Suarez
When writing fiction, readers will not believe that you are lying. The reader assumes the experiences, events
and emotions must be the truth. With memoirs, one tells the truth and others may dispute the way it happened.
Writing for me, is filled with contradictions and defeats. Mellifluous words that sing in my head, clunk on the paper. From
the time I learned to read, and it was not at a prodigious age, I was captivated by the boxes that arrived with my weekly
reader. My father paid for my first and only book club when it could have been considered a luxury. My mother, a gifted
and animated reader, acted out those stories of Ping's late arrival on the Yangtze, Lyle the Crocodile's musings on
the Upper East Side, and Harry the free spirited suburban dog. I was raised in apartments, in a city across the river from
Manhattan where factories released coffee bean aromas that mingled with the clean scent of Laundromats and summertime's
simmering tar. We had our own version of Harry near a dye plant where the stray mutts were indigo furred. Literature
transported me and made me pliable. As a first generation American of Cuban parents, I was overprotected, socially inept
among my peers who were not sheltered and blessed to be an outsider. That made me a writer.
Meet Kausam R. Salam
Coming Together with Poetry
I often think
back to when I was five or six and wrote down my earliest nightmare about a black wire on an open field. I don't know
if that wire was a barbed wire or a simple black thread upon the horizon. In my mind, I was alone and had to climb over it
or climb under it, but I knew I had to do something. When my eyes opened, I wrote and wrote in my child's handwriting;
words scrawled all over the page, tall letters and fat dots--this energy let me know everything, even nightmares have a solution.
Poetry was a solution, sometimes a resolution about unexplained phenomena; it was the first cause of my communication with
those around me. Fragmented words and hushed syllables came out of a little voice that was expected to answer the adults around
As I grew older, I heard so much music--poetry was sung to me at breakfast,
old lyrical songs in Persian, English, Urdu, and even German--the human voice had the power to move me to tears and joy at
the same time. Grandfather's poems my father sang aloud, explaining their translation in English. Irish songs and Afghani
songs had nothing to do with me superficially; yet their melodies enchanted me. Then I read A Child's Garden of Verses,
a colorful first book of children's poems by Robert Louis Stevenson. This was my first conscious birthday gift from my
There were more chances to listen to poets of various languages
recite their poems on the weekends. Akka (my father) would take me on the subway to Manhattan's Metropolitan Insurance
Company where the only "insurance" talk was a group of poets who were given a life-guarantee that their voices would
be heard--the Bengali poet sang his lines, he who lost both home and family to a dictator enemy who destroyed humanity to
shreds. Another poet sang in Urdu about her identity and her personal value in a humorous, satirical way. Then, some poets
recited their ideas in English; others nodded and achieved "hal qal"--a kind of heightened sense of...well highness...over
nothing but mere words, for alcohol was never served here. Thus, poetry came to mean a universal language, like music, that
no one could divide or separate from despite those who lived for cultural divisions. Poetry and unity came together for me.
In college, poetry became my reclusive nature, and I celebrated the Ozarks
with childish romantic lines. I listened to Derek Walcott and Lahna Diskin and Miller Williams give their recitations and
felt a strange kinship that drove me away from traditional book learning and into the heart of people's hearts. A certain
comparative literature professor named John Locke, yes that was his real name, let me write notes in poetic form and offered
bonus points for poems related to each class. Then, he'd invite the fragile, overly sensitive students in his office for
a chat where he kept clean white towels folded up as in drawers of hotels, in case someone couldn't take his criticism
anymore and had to have a good cry. Sadly, I cried and kept taking his criticism. One time he called me an "airy fairy"
who kept her face in the air instead of "over here."
As a teacher,
many years later, I discovered John Locke was killed by a favorite graduate student, shot right in the heart, and died instantly.
Poetry and violence came together for me on that day. I met a descendant of the American poet, Holmes, who proudly taught
a creative writing course. He allowed experimentation and celebrated a blend of styles. Then, a severe director-poet told
me not to apply for an MFA, that an easterner couldn't possibly write for a western and southern audience--"stay
with the education major, honey...you'll be safe that way." Then poetry and criticism came together for me.
Later when I read more of Billy Collins, I remembered Miller Williams' criticism of this
dynamite poet. And poetry and praise came together for me.
As I taught at
a rural school in Cisne, Illinois, the Spanish poets Neruda and Machado came into my poetic consciousness. Dreams and reality
came together for me.
In the inner city, Galena Park, my Flushing-Queens-jump-roping
childhood came back to me. I read Tupac Shakur--whose poems influenced my student, Gerald, "Big G." Poetry and perception
came together for me.
I couldn't stop thinking through every new idea
without the lens of poetry. Every important conversation became a poetic entry in my journal, and poems became my personal
oral tradition as I communicated with my students and my own children.
I can't imagine a life without poetry in the same way I can't imagine a life without the contemplation of God.
Meet Marjorie Petesch
I love writing, and
I look forward to the daily two-hour block I've decreed as my ‘I'm writing; don't bother me' time.
Still, sometimes it's really hard and all I want to do is quit.
worked full time for thirty-plus years and only began to write when my younger son went off to college. That's when
I decided it was time I fulfilled one of my lifelong dreams. I signed up for a creative writing course at the local
university and by the end of the semester, I was hooked. I registered for a second class, joined a writing group, and
began attending writing workshops.
Finishing my first novel took
a very long time, even though the entire story had been in my head for months. Fast forward six years: My novel,
my beautiful baby, was finished. I edited, rewrote, re-edited, shoved it in a drawer for six months, pulled it out,
re-edited, rewrote. I did my homework, crafted a compelling query letter, and sent it off to my carefully-researched
list of agents. After forty-three rejections, I tossed both the novel and its half-finished sequel into a hat box, sulked
for a few weeks, and turned my focus to short stories.
there has been a bit more forthcoming. I've had seven short stories and one piece of flash fiction accepted for
publication; three short stories were included in anthologies.
my writing to competitions and literary journals is a large part of what keeps me writing. Some days, what I write isn't
all that good, but sometimes it is. And when I've edited, studiously ignored it for several weeks, then pulled it
out, polished, and edited to the best of my ability, I send it off and cross my fingers. It may not win, but I know
I've submitted my best work. Besides, hope springs eternal. You can't win if you don't enter!
Family and friends from time to time say, "You know, you really ought to write about
. . . . [fill in blank here]. And I try to become excited about their suggestions. But inevitably, I fail.
Their passion isn't my passion. I can only write about what captures my imagination. Sometimes it's the
odd comment in an obituary; perhaps an offhand statement overheard in a restaurant or grocery store. Now and then, it's
a news article, usually on an obscure topic, that catches my eye. Then the ‘what if' thoughts flood my brain,
and the fun begins. I wander off to that place where I create the reality and let the characters point the way.
I read voraciously, always on the lookout for that novel that pulls me
in so completely that I'm disappointed when it ends and I'm tossed back into real life. If my writing can make
that magic happen for a reader, I'll consider myself a successful author. That's the carrot that keeps me writing.
My husband and I are hard at work on Life-Phase II. We spend our
weekends, holidays and vacation time clearing long-neglected pastures and fields on property we bought in rural North Carolina.
Our dream is to build a small house, retire from our day jobs and become gentleman / gentlewoman farmers.
I can't wait to sashay out of the fast lane and into a life where, first and foremost,
I write. Any spare time I might have, I'll devote to tending a large orchard and vegetable garden. We're
toying with the idea of raising a few cattle, meat goats, guinea hens, rabbits, and possibly a horse or two for the grandchildren
to ride. But for me, it's the writing that's important.
Not writing isn't an option.
As a child, I wrote stories to express the things I could never
seem to say out loud. In the quiet of my room, alone with a blunt, heavily chewed pencil and a scrap
of paper, I felt free. If I made a mistake, I could rub it out and get it right the second time, or the
third. I shaped the words with my small, chocolate-stained fingers, and the results pleased me. So
different from spoken words, which seemed to come out of their own accord, often jumbled or inaccurate, and could never be
These days I have a laptop, and my fingers are stained with coffee
rather than chocolate, but otherwise my writing process remains remarkably similar.
The results, of course, are different. My ideas have changed radically since I was eight. Rather
than being obsessed with the unfairness of teachers or parents, I am now obsessed with societal injustice. Instead
of grumbling about having to clean my room, I grumble about who will clean the planet. I have been influenced
by literature from around the world: Jorge Luis Borges, André Brink, Kazuo Ishiguro and others. I
have had formal training, too: a history degree from Oxford University, a master’s in journalism from Columbia, three
years as a staff reporter for the Wall Street Journal in New York. I have learned much from all of these
sources and have watched myself improving as a writer.
But now, as I
enter my thirties, I have decided to return to my childhood instinct that the truth is best told through fiction. I
have moved back to London, taken a break from journalism, and written a couple of novels and a drawer full of short stories,
one of which was recently published by Leaf Books. In the novel excerpted on this site, I try to express the sense of smallness, both geographic and psychological, that I felt on returning from America to Britain. I
imagine a couple of Londoners, inspired by Jack Kerouac’s Beat classic “On the Road,” setting off on a road
trip, only to discover that the horizon of Britain in 2008 is not so broad as that of fifties America. I
also explore the two countries’ fascination with each other’s mythology, a subject that has informed much of my
No matter what I write about, though, my main aim right now is
to recapture the freedom I felt as a tongue-tied eight year old letting rip against the world with his grubby little HB pencil.