Mary McLaughlin Slechta on Reading, Writing and the Arts

 

 

 

 Contributor Conversation with Mary McLaughlin Slechta 

 

Interviewed by Matt Staley

Date of Interview: January 18, 2015

 

MS RSR

Photo: Mary McLaughlin Slechta

 

Mary McLaughlin Slechta is the author of a poetry collection, Wreckage on a Watery Moon (FootHills) and two chapbooks. Some poetry and fiction have recently appeared in Workers Write!, The Caribbean Writer and Midway Journal. 

INTERVIEWER

Tell us a little about your background growing up Jamaican-American and how that affects your writing?

 MARY MCLAUGHLIN SLECHTA

My father carried a great love of literature from Jamaica, so the sound of poetry has always been present. He was also a role model for reading in bed whenever and as long as possible.  His life, sadly altered by a car accident in 1996, is the main subject behind a poetry collection, Wreckage on a Watery Moon (FootHills).

 INTERVIEWER

The flash fiction piece you wrote for Red Savina Review in Volume 1 Issue 2, “The End of a Thousand Weekends,” was fantastic.  You captured a perfect moment in time.  Do you find flash fiction difficult to write?

 MARY MCLAUGHLIN SLECHTA

Thanks. If I think about writing flash, I’m paralyzed. So far the pieces I’ve been successful with have been short stories that were quicker to tell than predicted. I realize they’re more character- rather than plot-centered and focus on a particular mood.  In some ways, they’re a hybrid of stories and poetry. For the story in RSR, I struggled to write humanely about a woman’s situation I didn’t respect. Then I recalled working in an office with hilarious people and a crazy code of conduct and used that as a frame.

 INTERVIEWER

Do you have to prepare yourself mentally to write poetry, or do you just write?  What is your creative process for writing poetry?

 MARY MCLAUGHLIN SLECHTA

I experience stretches of not writing poetry—not feeling up to it or interested—that I picture as being denied entrance to the most sacred temple in the universe. It’s painful in a way that not writing fiction never feels and I’m convinced each time that the pain will never end.

When I’m lucky enough to be in the right zone, and can talk about a process, I don’t waste a minute or worry about getting anywhere on time. It’s pretty much all I’m going to do. Sit in a chair and not move from in front of the keyboard and probably look like Jack Nicholson in The Shining.  I rarely finish anything on the spot or even in a few days. I just keep showing up to that sort-of-draft, on bad days and good, tinkering with the cross outs and scribbles until I figure out what I’m doing.

  INTERVIEWER

Sometimes I fall into a state of mind where I feel like my creativity is waning.  I write, but I can’t seem to get any momentum or direction.  Does that ever happen to you, and how do you overcome it?

 MARY MCLAUGHLIN SLECHTA

I hear you completely and maybe this helps. I took someone’s advice long ago and try to ride out those stretches by reading more, writing in a different genre or simply not writing at all.  It’s a good time to hit used book stores for the raggedy copies of old books that often turn out to be magical and to go to the theater or a gallery or a reading. Melt into the audience and enjoy the arts!

 This answer reflects, of course, the positive behavior I exhibit. Sometimes I just succumb to Netflix and wine.

 INTERVIEWER

I read when you were asked once what book changed your writing forever, you said, “Always the last book I read.”  What is the last book you’ve read, and how has it affected your writing.

  MARY MCLAUGHLIN SLECHTA

Aha! I’m jumping through a very large anthology entitled The Time Traveler’s Almanac (eds. Ann and Jeff Vandermeer).  The imagination of the writers is stretching my brain, and, in the weird way the mind does its own work, helping me write poems about the painful subjects right in front of us: Ferguson, climate change, drones, war, insecurity….

 INTERVIEWER

Does your writing change you?  How?

 MARY MCLAUGHLIN SLECHTA

I’m too afraid to check, but I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t exist if I didn’t write. Rather than a reflection of my thinking, it is me, thinking.

  INTERVIEWER

If you had to title your life, what would that title be?

  MARY MCLAUGHLIN SLECHTA

Work in Progress

 INTERVIEWER

What are you working on now?

 MARY MCLAUGHLIN SLECHTA

I’m in the final stages of a Choose Your Own Adventure book with Night Owls Press. In the nearly two-year process of working with a fantastic editor, Saga Briggs, I didn’t lose my mind (or way) and instead gained the discipline and confidence to take on longer fiction.  (At least I hope I did.) I’m using what I’ve learned to develop another detective series—and yes! there will be time travel.

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