JD Curtis’s poetry and writing have been published online and in journals and her work has been anthologized. She lives, writes, and works in Cincinnati, OH.
In what genre(s) do you write, and why? Do certain subject matters lend themselves more to a particular genre? Did you choose your genres, or they, you?
Poetry attracted me before any other genre—children’s books and songs at first. Then came Longfellow, Coleridge, Eliot, Yeats, Browning, Millay, Sexton, Ransom, cummings, Reiss, and many more. It seemed natural to write poems. Covering years in a matter of lines or saying something intensely personal seemed to work better in poetry than in prose. Poems served to connect me, reassure me that other poets would share sensitivities to social justice. Protesting anything works better in poetry—the short quip, the satirical turns of phrases, the snapshots of short moments. Poems can also work to tell stories, too—as in the poems I wrote to protest the ad-like calls to war in the Middle East, because sarcasm and the catchy phrase don’t often get lost in the forest of words that novels and short stories pose.
Although stories can be full of words, they lose (in a good way) the ambiguity, word play, and intensity that is harder for most people to understand on a first reading of a poem. At a party, I read a short story that I had written. During the reading of my short story, “My Life as a Pinball” to a group of friends, the same person who told me to stop reading my poems, because she needed to “see” a poem to really understand, encouraged me to continue. Surprised by how much a story could pull in an audience, I embraced the genre of the short story. Plus, if I needed to grapple with a situation that confounded me, I’d use a story to sort of explain things to myself and to others. It seemed to be more of an amusement for others and a tool for me to overcome and understand my own situation. I could use an appealing setting, character, or scene to pose and understand a difficult experience—usually about the opposite sex. Love songs usually end up being popular classics, but sometimes love is too hard to cover in just a few lines, so I am working currently to write out some of my troublesome relationships in short stories that I hope to turn into a second novel. Plus, I am working on expanding “My Life as a Pinball” into a full-fledged novel. At the moment, it is a novella, at about 26,000 words, but it needs to be twice that length to really be marketable.
Has your work as a teacher in academia added or detracted from your work as a writer? Please explain.
As for my engagement in teaching, I have both lost and gained. Teaching is time-consuming—much more time-consuming than writing, because there is not only planning meaningful lectures, classroom activities, quizzes, and tests but providing careful feedback that could be helpful and positive—a chore which takes so much time for me, as the child of very impatient and blunt parents and teachers who didn’t dance around the truth the way Millennials seem to demand. For Millennials, it’s as if education should satisfy short-term needs and instantly gratify with the smallest effort--the way a correctly-made McDonald’s hamburger and fries do—without considering long-term goals. It has confounded me, but the gain is in my review of writing itself—terms like character, plot, setting, and other story elements.
On the other hand, my writing has become more essay-like as a result of teaching and responding to College Writing for roughly a decade of my life. Hopefully, I can break free of the strangle-hold of the essay, or maybe even embrace it as yet another way to formulate understanding.
What are you working on now? What have been your greatest challenges as a writer? Greatest rewards?
As I mentioned earlier, I am working (slowly) to finish my first novel and to begin another with a set of stories. There was a definite reward in having finished the novella version of “My Life as a Pinball,” a short story that I began in a writing class as a sophomore in college. The reward was in realizing that readers and fellow writers have an enormous ability to empathize with my 13-year-old character. My biggest challenge as a writer will be to find an agent, a suitable publisher—and to have the courage to release my deepest ponderings into a world that seems unforgiving, uncaring, and harsh.