Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Interviews as Inspiration: Judy Reeves

This is the third of a series of Interviews as Inspiration. I'm inviting people I admire; artists, authors, people I know, and people I don't. It should be fun! and hopefully inspirational for both you and me.

Author, Judy Reeves and me.
Judy Reeves is a friend of mine. She's also an author and a fabulous teacher. Even though I've known Judy for years, for some unknown reason, I only just bought her book "A Writers Book of Days" and am starting (gulp) a regular writing practice.

A Spirited Companion & Lively Muse for the Writing Life by Judy Reeves
Revised Edition (2010) New World Library

Jane LaFazio: Have you always wanted to be a writer? How far back do your journals go?
Judy Reeves: One day in third grade Mrs. Chairs gave us our spelling words and instructed us to put them in sentences. When somehow, magically, the word carrot became part of a sentence I created, I knew this was exactly what I wanted to do the rest of my life. Also, about that time, I had a girl crush on Brenda Starr, Girl Reporter from the Sunday comics and wanted to go to exotic places and write stories about what I discovered there.

I started keeping a diary when I was very young. Maybe a few years after my spelling words epiphany. But when I was 25 I got terribly self-conscious of all my bad poetry and teen-age confessions, and threw all my diaries and journals into the fireplace. What a blaze! My current collection goes back to about the mid-70s and I've had to rent a storage unit to hold all the crates of my old journals and writing practice notebooks.
Judy Reeves at a public reading of her work

JL: Fave part of the day?
JR: I love solitary mornings with coffee and journaling followed by a brief writing practice session when I haven’t started “thinking” yet and anything can happen. The day is fresh and the coffee is always exceptionally good.

JL: I’ve signed up for your upcoming class, Wild Women in San Diego. Tell us about it. How did you decide to do a public reading at the end of the class with the participants? Tell us about that. 
JR: The Wild Women Writing Workshop came out of a workshop I started back in the mid-90s: Hot Nights, Wild Women. Some really wild, raw stuff came out of those early sessions — women writing in community about close-to-the-bone stuff and fun stuff and all kinds of imaginings and remembering. Over time, I decided to structure the individual workshops into a ten-week course that would, each week, focus on a different stage of women’s lives. I use Women Who Run With the Wolves, by Clarissa Pinkola Estes, as the primary text, but also reference many other books and poetry throughout the course.

I am always so in awe of the women who participate in the workshops and so stunned by their willingness to go to those deep places and write such beautiful, sad, funny, true stories and poems, I wanted to honor them by creating a chapbook and staging a reading event where they can share their work.

Nothing I love more than writing in community and so when the opportunity arises to celebrate a particular community of writers with a collection of their work, I do it. 

Being an artist, doing any kind of creative work isn’t always nurtured or celebrated in the “real world.” We don’t often make much money and pretty much nobody cares whether we do it or not. In addition, as artists we must embrace solitude and find a home in it to do our work. So having a community that supports us and understands us is crucial to our well-being and development as artists. Stanley Kuniz, a former U.S. Poet Laureate, said, “I think all artists, and especially poets, are forever in search of a community. It’s a solitary act, and you need a community of like-minded souls to survive and to flourish.” I encourage everyone to find that community of like-minded souls. And if you can’t find one, create one.

That’s what I did—with both The Writing Center and San Diego Writers, Ink, two nonprofit literary organizations that I cofounded. The Writing Center came about in 1992, when I was foundering around trying to decide what to do with my life. Though the Center lasted only five years, the idea and the need for a physical gathering place for our writing community was evident and palpable. Thanks to the commitment and energy of an amazing core of volunteers, in 2004, San Diego Writers, Ink rose like the proverbial phoenix out of the ashes of The Writing Center. Today, SD Writers, Ink is alive and thriving and is the heart of San Diego’s vibrant writing community.

Writers in community at San Diego Writers, Ink.

JL: I gather that a lot of your teaching involves writing prompts. Why? 
JR: That blank page or pulsing cursor on a white screen can be intimidating. Seems like no matter which word we start with, it’s always the wrong one. Our first idea isn’t the best one and the second one isn’t any good either. Sometimes we can’t even get that first word down. It’s not that we don’t have any ideas of what to write about, but that we have so many ideas we become paralyzed by infinite choice. Writing prompts unparalyze us. They work like blocks from which a runner pushes off or music that invites you to dance.
Prompts prompt images. If I say “write about a full moon,” immediately your mind will give you an image. If I say, “it’s raining; you’re not at home,” you have a place to start. Once the pen gets moving or the fingers hitting the keys, the story that wants to be written will come. It may not be what we thought we were going to write about, but it’s what wants to be written on that day at that time.
A prompt is just to get the pen moving, the ink flowing, the fingers flying. What often happens with prompts is writers write things they never expected. I love the surprises that come from writing to prompts.
Judy's office
JL: I read that two plays of your work have been produced? Tell us about that experience. Would you like to see more acting out of your words?
JR: I've worked as a commercial writer in radio and television so I’ve had quite a bit of experience having my words spoken or acted out by others. But it wasn’t until the 1995, at The Writing Center in the Gaslamp Quarter of San Diego, that I got thrill thrill of having my work performed in a live theater production. The Center was housed in a building that, in the early 20th Century was home to a brothel called the Violet Wynn. The play, “Women of the Violet Wynn,” came about when I invited a group of women to write monologues based on women who might have worked there and to see it come alive on stage was the most thrilling for me.
I’ve got a few plays tucked away in those boxes in my storage unit. One in particular still tempts me.
Judy's novel, in various drafts

JL: You’ve written a number of books on writing that have been very well received. Now you’re working on a novel? Your first? What’s it about?
JR: I’ve always written fiction. The novel I’m working on now is actually one that came out of another novel that is also in one of those boxes in my storage unit. In that novel, one of the characters, a teenage girl who dreams of being a singer, ran away from home. When I put that original novel in the drawer and was casting about for a new project, this girl kept showing up in my writing practice notebooks. So I decided to follow her to see what happened. The novel is set in 1957 and begins when she runs away to Kansas City. The main character’s idol, Ruby Diamond, told her “Anyone can be a success, honey. You just have to know what you want and be willing to give up everything to get it.” That’s what the story is about.
Judy Reeves

JL: Future goals, dreams?
JR: Finish the novel!  first goal: finish this draft this summer. second goal: find an agent. third goal: agent finds a publisher. fourth goal: publication. fifth goal: celebrate!
Also, I want to write some shorter pieces. Something about those women trick riders who rode the rodeo circuit in the early part of the 20th Century has been teasing me for a few years. Wearing the writer/teacher/writing practice provocateur hat, I’m producing a writer’s desk calendar that will be available this fall and I’m planning to produce some downloadable, portable writing workshops. I’ve tried to be a full-time writer, but I love teaching and leading groups so much, writing in community, that I don’t think I’ll ever stop doing that.
A writer rewrites
JL: Give us some titles of your favorite books. 
JR: I have shelves sagging with writing books that I look to for inspiration and use in my classes and workshops—evergreens like Janet Burroway’s Writing Fiction and Annie Dillard’s The Writing Life. I love Greywolf’s “The Art of…” series on the practice of craft and criticism. I usually try to read a book on the craft as part of my morning reading and writing practice. I just finished Adair Lara’s, Naked, Drunk and Writing, a terrific, funny, practical book about writing personal essays and memoir. Who doesn’t love Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird, Betsy Lerner’s The Forest for the Trees. Oh, I could go on and on. Did I mention the Rose Metal Field Guide to Prose Poetry and also their Field Guide to Flash Fiction? I’d also like to plug my friend Midge Raymond’s new book, Everyday Writing. And every writer should have Diane Ackerman’s A Natural History of the Senses on her bookshelf.

Fiction: Give me anything by Toni Morrison and don’t expect to see me for a while. I read pretty much anything by Barbara Kingsolver—fiction and nonfiction; same with Annie Dillard. Ann Patchett’s State of Wonder is wonderful. Colum McCann’s Let the Great World Spin, Arundhati Roy’s The God of Small Things. Jonathan Safran Foer’s, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. John Irving’s A Prayer for Owen Meany and The World According to Garp. Most of the earlier Tom Robbins books still make me laugh out loud— Even Cowgirls Get the Blues, Jitterbug Perfume. Oh and some TC Boyle and Annie Proulx (would they like being coupled together in a paragraph?) I could go on and on and have to force myself to stop naming books and writers I love. 

I like books about making book art, which is something I like to play with. The Griffin and Sabine series by Nick Bantock, and The Art and Poetry Series published by Welcome Books, especially may I feel said he, with the poem by E.E. Cummings and paintings by Marc Chagall. 

I’d better stop now, even though I haven’t even mentioned my favorite books of poetry or non-writing nonfiction books.

Links to my other Interviews as Inspiration:

Rachelle Archer, expressive arts therapist at a school for homeless
Cas Holmes, textile artist
Mary Beth Shaw, artist and Stencil Girl Products founder
Marcia Derse, textile designer
Lesley Riley, artist and author
Danny Gregory, artist and author
Judy Reeves, writer
Carlo Roberts, The Blue Walk travel company founder
Jane Powell, Random Arts owner 


  1. Your sketches are always lovely and have inspired me to try it. I enjoy your art simplicity yet there is depth and so much beauty.

  2. thanks so much for the introduction, jane...i love writing and feel that journaling saved my young life...i shall look forward to checking out this to read your other interviews...

  3. The year before I left an abusive 30 year marriage I discovered Judy's "A Writer's Book of Days" and was able to use each prompt to write out my rage, pain and possible hope for a new future. It is impossible to express how important it was. Imagine my delight a couple of years later when through a mutual friend I was able to meet Judy and tell her in person what her book had done for me. We see each other now a few times a year and it's been wonderful to develop a good friendship with someone whose work had such an impact on my life.

  4. Wonderful interview! Thank you for the reminder about prompts, I've often thought of creating a jar of prompts to draw on when I need a warm up, as they would be great for any medium.

  5. Love Judy, loved your interview!

  6. I have this book and love it~ I use it with my students, and it provides such a great framework for them to get started.

  7. Excellent interview! I've used Judy's Writer's Book of Days for many years and was so pleased when the new addition came out with all new prompts. Now I'm almost done with those. Where do I get some new ones?


Thanks so much for visiting!

Related Posts with Thumbnails