riverbabble presents Francine Witte as our Featured Writer for issue 14, winter 2009. Charles P. Ries writes in his review of Witte's chapbook that it's a "treat to see Witte bob and weave structure, pacing, and story with such alacrity." We agree and it's an honor to publish her work, which includes her poetry and fiction.
When Francine Witte agreed to be riverbabble's featured writer, we gave her approximately 30 questions to consider for this interview. After much discussion by email lasting several months, we narrowed the questions to the ones which appear below.
LR: What is your relationship with the natural world?
FW: I live in an apartment. I take a bus or cab to work and then I am in a building all day. I live most of my life indoors. Have always preferred the indoors to the outdoors. But I do love a good beach.
LR: What is your favorite place?
FW: Niagara Falls, Canadian side. Most beautiful thing I have ever seen.
LR: Do you consider yourself a regional writer?
FW: No, not really. I suppose there’s a natural bit of New York City in my writing, but I don’t feel like I am specifically writing about the city. Most of my stories are set “anywhere.”
LR: When did you write your first story?
FW: I really started as a poet. I was writing little poems in elementary school. It wasn’t till I was 13 that I wrote more seriously. It was rhymed mostly, with little poetic technique, but very deep, I think. My parents were so excited and encouraged me so much with my writing. I think we become what our parents and teachers tell us we are good at when we’re young. It’s important what you tell kids.
LR: Have you kept your unpublished early work?
FW: I still have a spiral notebook, pages yellowed with age.
LR: What are you working on now?
FW: Right now, I am working on putting a collection of my flash fiction stories together. I recently had my chapbook of flash fiction stories published, and now I would like to get a longer collection published. I am hoping to find a publisher for it in 2009.
LR: Does teaching writing and literature affect your practice?
FW: I teach high school English in the NYC public school system. It is really hard to get a lot of writing done during the school year. That’s one of the reasons I love flash fiction so much. It doesn’t take much time to write a draft. I used to teach a creative writing class, and that was fun. I loved sharing my writing with my students.
LR: What would you recommend that a writer study?
FW: I think itís necessary for a writer to learn craft. Essential, actually. I wrote for years without formal training and really didnít know what I was doing. Talent is essential, but you must either be an avid reader or take classes. Actually, itís best to do both. I studied creative writing. I was an English major. Then I got my MFA in poetry as well as an MA in English. I have also taken many, many workshops and writing courses.
LR: What did you study as a student? What would you recommend that a poet or writer study?
FW: I studied craft. Julia Alvarez was my first writing teacher. Best teacher ever. Taught me all about craft. You have to learn what’s done and what’s not done. Once you learn all of that, craft, what you are supposed to do, etc. you can go on and do your own thing. Not before.
LR: Are all words equal to you? What feeds your vocabulary?
FW: I love words. All writers do. Or should. Some are more interesting and more powerful than others, but they all have a purpose. My vocab is fed by new words that shake up meaning.
LR: How has your style evolved? What draws you to your subject material?
FW: I look at my old stuff and I feel okay with it. I think I take a lot more risks now. I have evolved in that sense. I expect my readers to “get it.”
LR: Does revision play a large role in how you work? Or, does a work come to you nearly whole?
FW: Revision is more like tinkering between middle and end. I usually have a pretty good shape at first. Beginning, middle end. Good first line, good last line. After I have that, I edit for flow and try to find better ways to say things.
LR: What are some of your favorite films? Music?
FW: Just saw Slumdog Millionaire today. My new fave. But I love American Beauty, Fargo, Being John Malkovich. I love alternative music. Pearl Jam and all that. I also like Bach and Handel.
LR: Which writers do you read? Which writers do you teach? Why?
FW: I like Bernard Malamud, Ernest Hemingway, Tennessee Williams. I like to teach Arthur Miller. He was extremely sensitive.
LR: How much time do you spend on the internet including email? Is this a blessing or a distraction?
FW: I spend the normal amount of time. By normal, I mean I haven’t had to quit my job or anything because of the time I spend online. I love emailing people. Saves so much time. I think the internet is amazing. You can research things instantly, contact people, do everything.
LR: Today, many people are writing BLOGs. Do you have one?
FW: I don’t have a blog yet. I haven’t had the time to pursue getting one. I do have a website, though – franigirl.com. I hope people will check it out. I have a lot of my writing on it, as well as lots of writing by other talented writers I have as guest writers. I also offer writing critique, and I am hoping to segue from full time teaching to online critiquing very soon.
LR: When teaching writing workshops, you often assigned Flash Fiction, why?
FW: Flash fiction is my life. Iím not kidding.
LR: What has been the impact of online magazines such as Doorknobs & BodyPaint or riverbabble to your writing?
FW: I love online magazines. I am rooting for the paperless universe. Doorknobs & BodyPaint was the first journal that I found that gave flash fiction a home. I found a real purpose for my writing with the contests.
I think the less paper we use, the better. You can submit electronically to online journals and when you get something published, you can share it more easily. You canít always show someone your story in a printed book because it would seem vain. You can however, send someone a link to your story. ďThought you might like to see this.Ē Seems much better.
I love Doorknobs & BodyPaint and riverbabble. The D&B contests are fab.