Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Alors, Monica Carter! Writers On Fire In France participant wins 2010 PEN Emerging Voices Fellowship - Final reading of all 2010 fellows at the Hammer tonite!

 Chateau St. Philippe

When Monica came to the inaugural Writers On Fire In France retreat in August 2006, she blew us all away with her charm, raw talent and razor-sharp wit. She was still feeling her way into writing, still seeking her own voice and style. Four years later, Monica is one of a handful of 2010 PEN Emerging Voices fellows. She has also recently been named a 2010 Lambda Literary Fellow. I couldn't be prouder.

Monica is living proof that tenacity, focus and discipline coupled with talent can pay off. In all my years of teaching, I have seen countless gifted writers disappear. Just vanish. It always pains me. Often the most talented seem somehow unable to find the discipline, or the moxie, to make good on their creative promise. When talent and drive combine, it is truly cause for celebration. I also hope Monica demonstrates to you what can be achieved in a relatively short number of years [yes, four years is short in writing terms!] if you're focused and dedicated and willing to learn.

While Monica zoomed around the groovy Silverlake area getting ready for her event tomorrow night, and I hewed close to magical Topanga canyon, we engaged in a casual cyber-interview. I texted her a flurry of questions and Monica chose the ones which sparked her. The following is our exchange.

Enjoy! Let Monica's success encourage and inspire you. I hope you will come to the reading tonight at the Hammer! (For more info on reading and PEN Emerging Voices fellows, scroll to bottom of post).

Monica's prized 1934 Corona typewriter

RR:  Can writing be taught?
MC:  Hmmm.  Like comedy, I don't think writing can be taught.  I think you can hone what's there, but you can't give someone that innate ability to create. I can be taught to function in a world of numbers, but it doesn't come to me naturally and thus, I am not an accountant.  The same applies for the arts. We have natural proclivities and hopefully those are reflected in our choices in life.  My writing has been positively affected by others, but I was not taught how to write.  I was taught how to make what I have stronger, more effective.  If it could be taught, then everyone who graduated form an MFA program would be successful and that is clearly not the case.  I think in teaching, you can inspire, harness and refine.
RR:  What inspires you?
Stairs downtown
One of Monica's shots today of inspiring architecture
MC:  What doesn't?  The choices people make inspires me. It makes me question how I have lived, how they live and what causes us to make different decisions.  Architecture, especially tall buildings, inspire me.  Every moment in every life contains thousands of details and in a tall office building, say, there are millions of details that are particular to those lives and particular to how they intersect with each other.  The same goes for busy city streets, subways and airports.  Lives and their traces of living are there for all of us to examine and it just depends on whether we notice them or not.  I tend to treat real life like television. It's difficult to stop watching.  [My bolding and italics; take note, aspiring writers! Observe the world around you! It is your paint box, as Stephen Elliott says.] Black and white photography inspires me.  Music inspires me.  Dramatic choices inspire me.  The art of living inspires me.

Downtown library
Another Monica snap of inspiring architecture from today
RR:  How would you describe your writing journey? One word.

MC:  Arduous.
RR:  Ha! Now. Has reading a book ever changed your life?

MC:  The Great Gatsby.  I know people misconstrue this as an homage to the rich, but seriously, the language is transcendent and the social commentary is trenchant.

RR:  You're just trying to justify your purchase of expensive shoes today for your event tomorrow! Who're your influences?
MC:  Toni Morrison, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Dawn Powell, Leonard Michaels, Edward Albee, Deborah Eisenberg, Emile Zola, Graham Green.
RR:  Impressive list! You remind us how important it is to read. I always say, you're only as good a writer as what you read. So. You were at the first Writers On Fire In France retreat. How did that fit into your writing journey? Do you have vivid memories of the experience? Of France?

 Writing exercise outside chateau
MC:  Writers on Fire was really integral and necessary for my growth as a writer.  I wrote things I was uncomfortable writing about which in turn freed me to delve deeper into myself and write what I was afraid to write.  I gained so much confidence during that retreat and learned to trust my own intuition.  I became less worried about what I was going to write and discovered how to trust what I was writing.

 A few of the participants at local village cafe, Le Duc de Savoie.
Monica is second from the left

The environment there was awe-inspiring from the chateau to the food.  France seems to be a magical force for me.  I have been so many places there and each one has inspired me to write.  From the city to the country, it is saturated with history and a simplicity that strikes a creative chord with me.

 Chateau St. Philippe, front exterior at dusk

RR:  We were lucky to have you with us. How has the PEN fellowship changed or affected your writing? Do you have a special medal or something so people know?
MC:  I am still absorbing the PEN fellowship experience.  There was so much to learn and so much that has helped my writing, I think that the benefits will seep out over the years in my writing.  I have no medal, but a PEN tattoo on my forehead.

RR:  I'll be looking out for that forehead tat at the Hammer! Btw, do you write to music?
MC:  I do write to music, but not all the time.  I look to music to put me in the mood or to set the tone.
RR:  What are you afraid of?

MC:  Cockroaches, real and imagined. 

Inhibition.  Mob mentality.  Militants of any kind.

RR:  Love that you're afraid of inhibition. That's profound -- and a sure sign of a writer! I certainly hear you on mob mentality, too. So just now I saw a car advertising Survival Kits in the parking lot of Trader Joe's. WOULD YOU SURVIVE? was spelled out on in ominous white lettering on the side of the car. It got me thinking. What's your response to those words?
MC:  Yes.  I am a bull.  And I never go back.
RR:  What's your opinion on gay marriage? "The Real L Word"? Lindsay Lohan? Stephanie Meyer? Elizabeth Gilbert? Bjork?

MC:  I think if they all got married it would be a really good Real L Word.  Ilene Chaiken scares me.
RR:  What's your opinion on gay marriage?

MC:  Opinion?  It's good.  What's not to like?  We are a capitalist society and any chance for for us to make money should be law.  Whose to say we can't participate in the misery like everyone else?  Besides, society owes us.  I mean, where would reality television, fashion and humor be without us?

RR:  How would you describe Los Angeles? Do you see the city as a woman? If so, what kind?
MC:  Los Angeles is the ultimate cool blond.  You can discover her, but you never know her and she never asks you to.

RR:  Brilliant! What is easy for you and what is hard in writing? How do you work on what's hard?
MC:  All of it is hard and nothing is easy.  To work on what is hard, I sit down everyday and try to write.  And not judge what I have written.

Monica Carter

Monica Carter, a 2010 PEN USA Emerging Voices Fellow and a 2010 Lambda Literary Fellow, has been published in Black Clock #12 and Pale House II. She is the owner and curator of her own website dedicated to international literature, Salonica World Lit. Ms. Carter is working on her novel, Eating the Apple, set in 1930’s Manhattan which tells the story of an aging, alcoholic lesbian writer caught in a love triangle.

The 2010 Emerging Voices Fellows are Lorene Garrett, Natashia Deón, Monica Carter, Bev Magennis and Simone Kang. This year has been an amazing journey with these five talented writers. Please join us in celebrating the completion of their fellowship with a reading and reception at the Hammer Museum.

Wednesday, July 21st at 7 pm.

Hammer Museum
10899 Wilshire Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90024

ALL HAMMER PUBLIC PROGRAMS ARE FREE. Tickets are required, and are available at the Billy Wilder Theater Box Office one hour prior to start time. Limit one ticket per person on a first come, first served basis. Hammer members receive priority seating, subject to availability. Reservations not accepted, RSVPs not required.

Easy parking is available under the museum for $3 after 6:00.

Emerging Voices is a literary fellowship program that aims to provide new writers, who lack access, with the tools they will need to launch a professional writing career. Over the course of one year, each fellow participates in a professional mentorship, hosted Q & A evenings with prominent local authors, a series of Master classes focused on genre, and two public readings.  

[How cool! I also had the pleasure of teaching Lorene Garrett one day when I guest taught at Samantha Dunn's UCLA master class. The new breed of writers, coming to get ya!]