Judy Reeves interview with Karen Stefano
“Sudden Squall” is a delightfully tense piece from a master story teller. It is soft and subtle and each gentle word warns of undoing. And so many stunning lines!
“Except that the hills rose and fell and nudged the horizon in a rolling cadence, the space that spread before them would have been called wide open.”
“Behind them, pillows of clouds rose in snowy banks, their bottoms flat and gray.”
“But humility didn't suit him — that regretful look changed the color of his eyes as much as the gathering storm to the west was changing the color of the sky and she hated the way he was afraid to touch her.”
“She adjusted the mirror, as much to watch the trailing storm as to see what she was leaving behind.”
Judy, what was the inspiration for “Sudden Squall”? And what’s your craft advice for writing a piece that takes place entirely inside a moving car?
I wanted to get those characters out of town in a kind of "escape" mode. The time is mid-fifties, they're going to a remote fishing camp at Lake of the Ozarks and the mother, Lilly, has just learned to drive. In a sense, learning to drive, leaving her husband, taking her daughters and setting out on her own, is representative of the early (second-wave) feminist "itch" I wanted to explore.
"Sudden Squall" is one of many pieces, both fiction and nonfiction, I've written that takes place entirely inside a moving car. Maybe I write these because there's nothing I love more than a road trip. But in writing any kind of an on-the-road scene, we can't just be getting from here to there. That would be as boring as some of those trips we've all taken with our parents ("Are we there yet?") For a story or scene taking place inside a moving car, the enclosed car (nobody can leave and nobody else can enter), the landscape, the weather, the tension of the road (anything can happen and something must), the relationship of the characters, their physical bodies, how all these elements affect each of the characters, and their interactions—all this needs to be kept alive and used to deepen the story and move it forward.
Your web site describes you as “writer, teacher, writing practice provocateur.” Tell us about each of these roles, and tell us what each of these roles means to you in your life.
Writer : I've been a writer ever since I can remember. First complete story I can actually recall: age ten, "Three Buckets of Blood," about vampires in the chicken house. Writing is my way of being in the world; it's the way I start every day. My closest community is made up of writers. I plan vacations around writing, and fall in love with writers all the time. Bury me with a pen and notebook.
Teacher : This love didn't arrive until later in life, but when it did, it was as if I'd found my way home. I especially like teaching adults, people who have day-jobs doing something else, but who have always wanted to write or who have so many stories they want to tell. Often my students or those in my writing groups have set aside their writing for as long as they can stand it and when they come to my classes or workshops, they can't wait to get pen to page or fingers to keyboard. Some, because they haven't pursued writing, are shy and full of self-doubt. I love when they write something so true and so honest, and say, "Wow! I don't know where that came from." "It came from you," I tell them.
Writing practice provocateur : This title came from my drop-in writing practice groups where I set a time, give a prompt, and we all go to it, writing to the same prompt and reading our work aloud after we've written. I started leading these groups more than twenty years ago and I'm still at it. I'm such a believer in writing practice I wrote a couple of books about it, each with daily writing prompts.
What other roles do you play in your life? And how do you balance all of these roles? How do you make it all work?
I'm a single woman of a, ahem, certain age, my children have long ago grown and gone on their own; I don't even have a pet these days, so my roles are not so varied as others who must balance family, relationships, home, day-job with their writing. Because I have time and because I enjoy it, I mentor some writers and coach a few others. I would hope one of my finest roles is that of friend.
You are the author of several books, most recently Wild Women, Wild Voices. Tell us about this book, and tell us how you came to understand our longing to express ourselves, a longing to find our voice.
Wild Women, Wild Voices came out of a series of Wild Women Writing workshops I've led since 1997. The workshop itself was inspired by the Clarissa Pinkola Estes book, Women Who Run With the Wolves. Something happens when women hear those two words, wild and woman, in close proximity: eyes light up, an excitement bubbles to the surface. It's as though those words are an incantation that opens the door to a long-ago memory of something deep and true. It thrills me every time I get to witness that moment of recognition when a woman senses that connection. And because we're creative beings, a natural response to this feeling of connection is the desire to express ourselves creatively. For the women I work with in the Wild Women Writing workshops, writing our stories offers a voice for this expression.
Maybe I came first to recognize this yearning in myself and because I love being in community of like-spirited people, I invited others to join me in exploring this need. Out of this came the writing practice groups I've led for nearly twenty-five years, and writing workshops and retreats of all manner. Something happens when we write with others in community. I say the Muse likes to work a crowd. Here we are, a collective of people who might otherwise not ever know each other, joining together for the purpose of giving voice to our experiences, our imaginings, our thoughts, and feelings and observations.
Your bio is stunning. You founded The Writing Center, which served as the center of San Diego’s literary community in the 1990s. You co-founded San Diego Writers, Ink, where you served as Executive Director for many years. You’ve written several award winning books and taught hundreds of workshops. It is both daunting and inspiring to read your accomplishments, and if I weren’t absolutely certain that every one of these were born from sheer love and joy in the writing process, I might even say it sounds exhausting. Tell our readers: what’s next for you in your writing career?
I'm looking forward to doing some online workshops and classes. I've barely dipped a toe in those waters, and I want to go deeper. I'm in the researching stage right now, wearing my water wings. I also plan to package some of the "live" workshops I've done over the years into other formats to make them accessible to those who don't live in the San Diego area.
For my own writing, I want to explore personal narrative a little more, maybe some memoir-ish material. (I'm hesitant to say the "M" word yet.) And definitely more short stories, flash fiction and nonfiction. Of course, I'm always open to having a poem grace my pages.
In “Sudden Squall,” your character Lilly is at a terrifying turning point in her life. Tell me, do you ever get scared? What scares you most in this world? How do you comfort yourself when you feel scared?
I do get scared. On a global level what scares me most is the hate some humans have for others and the disregard for human life, the ease with which we harm one another and cause so much death and destruction in the world. On this level, I try to keep an open heart, and come from a place of love rather than anger or judgment and to hold the belief in peaceful solutions.
On a personal level—and this sounds so petty after considering the global aspects of what scares me, but I'll go ahead anyhow—sometimes I commit to something I want to do and then lie awake half the night before I'm to do it, imagining all the ways I might make a fool of myself. I get scared that my work won't measure up.
I used to be an innate speller, and of late, I find myself baffled by some simple word that I know perfectly well; I have to go to the dictionary more and more often. Like many I talk with, especially women, I'm afraid of losing my memory, of losing language.
On this personal level, humor is the best antidote for fear, that and information. But mostly humor and mostly self-directed.
What’s the biggest risk you’ve ever taken as a writer? What’s the biggest risk you’ve ever taken in your life generally?
Many years ago I took a Dangerous Writing workshop with Tom Spanbauer at Haystack in Cannon Beach, Oregon. I'm not sure how Tom does this, but he had me writing about something I had not dared to touch upon in any of my previous work. He urged us to go to the wounded place, and by lunch that first morning, I was scribbling away at a long-held secret. More than a decade later that piece was finally published in an anthology, The Frozen Moment, which featured stories by several writers who'd worked with Tom.
As for my life generally, I'm not sure whether the greatest risk was the time I sold everything and bought an around-the-world airline ticket and set out with a single suitcase, on my own, for a year-long journey. Or whether it was several years after I returned from that adventure and, with a partner, co-founded The Writing Center, a nonprofit literary center in San Diego's Gaslamp Quarter. The organization, which had a lively five-year lifespan, was the precursor to San Diego Writers, Ink.
What are you most proud of in your writing life? What are you most proud of in your life generally?
In my writing life: My first book, A Writer's Book of Days, is still my favorite and the one of which I am most proud. I wrote it when I didn't know I could write a book; I thought it was going to be a desk calendar. I was on fire with that book and with the idea of sharing my experience in writing practice groups with others. The Revised Edition, which came out in 2010 is such a beautiful thing with its tequila sunrise cover and book flying through the air like some kind of angel come to bless us. (Thank you Tracy Cunningham, New World Library, for the gorgeous cover design.)
In my life generally: I consider The Writing Center and later San Diego Writers, Ink to be my legacy to San Diego and to the writers who have shared so much with me, and with all of us, and who have helped make our community such a warm and welcoming place for all writers.
Of course, I would be remiss if I didn't puff my feathers up and talk about my son and daughter and my daughters-in-law, and those gorgeous, gifted grandchildren. Proud of and grateful for.
Judy, thank you! We’re so grateful that you have shared your work –and yourself– with Connotation Press!
In order to preserve the artistic arrangement of the writing, this piece has been created with Print2Flash Flashpaper.