Questions Answered about Hannah's Creativity

in the kitchen
© Yiftach Paltrowitz, 2010

Overview:

KJ Hannah Greenberg's lightly pert, always exuberant, writing can be found in North American, European, Oceanic, Middle Eastern, and Far Eastern venues, as well as under select budgies. Hannah's creative efforts are devoted to lovers of slipstream fiction, to second chair oboe players, and to mothers who despair of finding the bottom of Mt. Laundry.

Her Citrus-Inspired Ceramics is distributed by Aldrich Books, her A Bank Robber's Bad Luck with His Ex-Girlfriend is for sale at Unbound CONTENT, her Oblivious to the Obvious: Wishfully Mindful Parenting  is available at French Creek Press, her Don't Pet the Sweaty Things and her The Immedicay of Emotional Kerfuffles can be purchased from Bards & Sages Publishing, and her Intelligence's Vast Bonfires is sold by Lazarus Media LLC.  All of these books can also be bought through Amazon.com as can Hannah's academic collection, 
Conversations on Communication Ethics, published by Praeger.
Two of Hannah's chapbooks are available for free. Look for her Supernal Factors, at The Camel Saloon Books on Blog, and for her Fluid & Crystallized at Fowlpox Press. As per Watercolors, the musical, it is no longer available as it was last produced in 1979.

Summoning:

For the record, Hannah's husband calls her names that are private, but equivalent to "Snuggle-Ums," or he seeks her out by shouting "My Dear Practitioner of Constructivist Epistemology." Hannah's children refer to her as "Mom" or as "The Progenitor of That Miscreant Who Hid the Lizard in the Wash." Her friends don't summon her at all unless they've misplaced their adolescents, need a quick lentil soup recipe, or want to be inspired to clean the accrued crud in their bathrooms.

Interview:

(Adapted from: "An Interview with KJ Hannah Greenberg." Indie Firsts! The Magazine for Independent Readers).

1. What can you tell us about your new collection of fiction, Don't Pet the Sweaty Things?

Our problems are small, furry critters capable of casting grand shadows. If we spin so that we face our challenges, instead of refusing to embrace them, it becomes possible for us to conquer them. Perspectives that empower such actions do not necessarily transform our inner dwellers into cuties, but do take the onus of fiendishness away from them. Accordingly, although Don't Pet the Sweaty Things looks like a mild-mannered collection of brief fictions, it is at once also a series of realizations about human nature. This book's roughly six dozen flash and short stories are as much about facing down occupational hazards, relationship foibles, and never-actualized bucket lists as they are about dogs, cats, hedgehogs, space-faring beasts, and other multicellular, eukaryotic organisms. In short, Don't Pet the Sweaty Things may seem like an expose' on life forms possessed of human qualities, but the book is, at least as much, an exploration of peoples' bestial tendencies. As such, Don't Pet the Sweaty Things can help readers identify and begin to defeat their psychic monsters and can help all of us cope with other folks' manifest creepy crawlies, too. Fiction, more than coplay, therapy, or odd intimacies, is a safe means of revealing and of disposing of our brutish tendencies. Historically and globally, narrative has been and continues to be both an entertainment and a curative tool.

2. You write some unusual, but fabulous fiction that reveals such an imaginative and creative person behind the words. Was writing speculative fiction always organic for you? Who or what inspires you?

The more comfortable that an individual becomes with him or herself, the further that he or she is able to embrace his or her totality. As concerns me, in no particular order, and certainly not inclusively, I've been: an oboe player, a chemistry and calculus teacher, a weekend weight lifter, a National Endowment for the Humanities scholar (in the field of classics), a cooking instructor, a member of the Society for Creative Anachronism, a public relations intern, a community-based agriculture activist, a proponent of the Sudbury School model of education, an adherent to a very ancient religion, a flower arranger, a professor specializing in: rhetorical criticism, the history of communication, communication ethics, and media and society, a companion to multiple cats, an herbalist, a teacher of feminist sociology, a cyclist, a swimmer, and a fan of berry-flavored yoghurt drinks. I was never one to: throw pottery on a wheel, knead breads, voluntarily teach trigonometry, learn about the guts of machines, be impressed by titles, degrees, awards, publications, or wealth, forget the power of laughter, fail to solicit help with software conundrums, or enjoy my children's Uromastyx lizard. Likewise, I refuse to inflate students' grades. I quit jobs where employers press me to act unethically. I never developed an affection for chocolate-chip or for mint twist ice cream, either.

As a kid, I read Asimov, Heinlein, and Vonnegut. I also read Camus, Hesse, and Sarte. Additionally, I read about dog breeding, the history of costumes, innovative surgical procedures, and ecology. During my initital four college semesters, I moved from majoring in linguistics to majoring in biochemistry to majoring in science writing. Although graduate schools and real world job opportunities demanded that I pick (and stick to) a focus, I am happiest when gallivanting among ideas. When I taught Communication Theory or Semantics, and, essentially, got paid to jump among levels of meaning while mixing up all natures of examples and of explanations, I was enraptured. I think, all the same, I scared some of my students.

By the time my first kids were born, my academic writing had moved from Isocrates and the relative qualities of various cultures' hierarchies of values to contemporary media's presentation of the communication of pregnancy loss. By the time my youngest kids were potty trained, I left behind footnotes and research libraries, nearly altogether, in favor of foraying into provinces where heroes and villains rank as important. Those days, most often, my protagonists were furry or scaly. Bedtime, lunchtime, any time, really, was an occasion for my unbound tales. As modestly acculturated boys and girls, my children demanded action, believability, and moral sense in their pastimes. The ballads, which I made for them, featured little sex, but contained much mauling and death. Consider that traditional fairy tales are also frequently violent.

To wit, pink ponies, anthropomorphized mushrooms, berry bushes, jays, mice, and leopards populated those fabrications, which I extemporaneously built for my offspring. Such works suited my captive audience, especially during the period of their childhood when my kids faced issues of body image, of bullies, or of gatekeepers lacking compassion (elementary schools can be horrific in their insistence on prescribed behaviors). Neither completely feral nor entirely broken of spirit, my children needed the boost that speculative fiction lent them. So, I intertwined sentient slugs, reverberating piranhas, and sloths that glow in florescent light, with fairy princesses, magical toddlers and princes suffering from absentmindedness. At that juncture, I similarly granted permission to my students, whether they were in grade school or undertaking graduate studies, to enjoy seemingly madcap combinations of ideas. Although that sort of communication construction looked like play and tasted like fun, it was, as is true of my present day writing, fueled by mindful intent.

3. You didn't try to publish anything for a long time. What kept you from submitting your work, and what made you finally decide to publish it?

I never stopped writing. I did, however, get distracted from rewriting, and, hence had nothing to send off to publish. It's valuable to leave a trail for the next generation, but it's that much more essential to walk it.

Decades ago, in third grade, most specifically, I fell in love with word play. By the time I was fifteen, two newspapers paid me to contribute weekly views. As an eighteen year-old college sophomore, I merited to have a musical, for which I wrote the book and lyrics, produced. Shortly thereafter, I ran away to the scholarly world, where I invested my time in sharing at academic forums. Parenting, years later, returned me to the enormity of commonplaces and provided me with brief spans during which I'd jot down the first draft of a novel or write the rough version of a collection of poetry. Intermittent with: transforming a suburban lawn into a series of wildflower gardens, studying belly dancing, learning basket weaving, and trying, but failing, to bake cakes, I wrote another newspaper column, sketched out a limited quantity of three act plays, and made notes about characters I'd like to see in short fiction. I taught writing, speaking, sociology, and communication courses, one per semester, too (I was focused, mostly, on parenting).

I've long held, marketplace tolerance for output of questionable quality notwithstanding, one ought never to submit junk. The times when I elect to produce low fiber, nonnutritious brain food, I do so intentionally and package it nicely. More often, i go for value. So, nearly twenty years passed during which I wrote a lot, but offered up little.

When my family and I moved away from North America to a place where rhetoric professors lacking eloquence in the local tongue are in small demand, I morphed again, returning to creating assemblages of words. Toward that end, I told stories at women's gatherings, wrote a blog for an international venue, taught creative writing to ex-patriots, and began to accept more invitations to judge or to critique others' work. Eventually, I began to pull together snippets of my undeveloped creations and to send those puppies out to new homes. The subsequent positive response I received buoyed me, at midlife, to attempt to conjure new selections and to rewrite my backlog. Note: so otherwise occupied have I been with those juicy, fresh tastes that the greater portion of my older ones still sit in my file cabinet.

4. Your collection of work is extensive. It always seems that you have something, or, more often, multiple new things to share. What is your writing process like?

My mother claims that as a toddler, I insisted on regularly being lowered into my playpen to converse with my make-believe friend. I suppose it could be said that I have gotten older, but have not aged. To date, I remain this side of crazy and that side of incorrigible. Much to my logical positivist husband's chagrin, I usually work with anywhere from five to twenty windows concurrently opened on my desktop. In fairness, I likewise paint multiple canvases simultaneously, develop three or four samples of hand built ceramics at a time, and cover all of our stovetop when cooking. Synergy positions itself at the core of my creativity. I might appear staid, even frumpy, but those verities are external only. Inside, I have no issue moving ideas that suit poetry into essays or recycling personages inappropriate for novels into short stories. In fact, one of my newer projects, the book, The Bag Lady of Tsfat, is getting stitched together from remnants of recent writings.

In view of that, it's no surprise that similar to the way that I once I painted many green-hued canvases because I couldn't afford red pigments, these days, I write a lot about whichever ideas I am currently "purchasing." I have, as a result, produced maybe a dozen stories introducing hedgehogs and a number of poems on the same topic. For the while when I was fascinated with the magnetic resonance of ionic molecules, my writing featured references to that portion of chemistry. Whereas clothing designers have spring or cruise lines, I, too, seem to have, seasons and themes.

5. You write a lot about your children. Does parenthood affect what you find yourself writing?

Used wisely, parenting is more than an opportunity to nurture a new generation or to heal the rough spots of one's own earlier life. Parenting can equally become permission to free one's self, temporarily, albeit within limited domains, from the encumberments of society.

My kids liked linking together clover crowns, painting pictures directly onto our walls, and taking nighttime slug walks. Yet, it was their mom who got crazy over computer-assisted physics games, who wanted all of the visitors to our home to try fashioning eggplants into deserts, and who had to be pulled back from stroking every cute puppy, every domesticated alpaca, or every chinchilla coat that wandered by. Whereas my sons and daughters grew up in an environment that both intentionally and inadvertently encouraged them to engage in critical and creative thinking, it is more likely that their mom was most profoundly impacted by our prevailing practice of non-judgment. Consequently, today, there's nothing surreptitious about my fictions concerning: face-eating spiny mammals, purple and green refrigerator colonists, or orphaned chimeras confounded by humanity's overall lack of dry wit.

At the same time as those teens and twenties, who were born to our manor, try to figure out how to hide me when their friends visit, I revel in all of the succulent goodness granted to me by parenting them. Shamelessly, I hang hand-dried flowers over the tops of all of our livingroom cabinets, and, frequently, flap my arms when sitting in the passenger seat of our car.

6. You have done just about everything: write, edit, teach, critique, blog, and the list goes on. Is there anything that you like (either guiltily or without apology) above the others?

The best is in the here and now, always was and always will be. It may seem trite to talk about the "present" that is our lives' great "gift," but I'm a believer in the excellence of the current moment. Beyond such gratitude, and with no hesitation, I'd shout, a loud, that being a wife and that being a mom are the greatest things to happen to me.  Although the varmints I birthed had the audacity to grow up and then to weigh me down with the irrestible play things they left behind (ever lonely and bored, my older son's pretend Komodo dragon, for instance, recently decimated a significant per cent of my hibernaculum of imaginary hedgehogs), I still write about my family, either directly, or by allegory, as often as possible. In celebrating life, I celebrate them.

7. Do you have any advice for aspiring writers or people who are trying to get their work noticed?

There are four ingredients to writing: read, read, read, write, write, write, rewrite, rewrite, rewrite, rewrite, rewrite, rewrite, rewrite, and risk soliciting feedback from people whose efforts you esteem. Reading increases vocabulary, creates new synaptic connections, i.e. expands mental capacity, and builds an innate sense of pace and of other qualities of discourse. Like playing basketball or making soufflés, word work is improved with practice. Beyond that, feedback uncovers blind spots. Rewriting, though, is the essence of writing. I contend that revision is so invaluable that even after a text is published, it is unlikely that the effort behind it is complete. Many of my already distributed pieces have undergone further polishing before they became reprints or got rerooted in anthologies.

8. What can we expect from you in the future?

More books! I'm sitting on several completed collections of short works and on a handful of finished novels. The next short story compilation to be sent out of my gate will likely be Elizabeth Steppe and the Observation Car. I think I'll offer A Grand Sociology Lesson as my next full-length book of poetry. Probably, The Nexus of Sun, Moon, and Mother will be my next set of gathered essays. Per novels, I need to devote energy to reworking my Kyra of Lil fantasies. That series, so far, consists of five books about challenged parasomatics, i.e. about troubled truthsayers, temoigners, and literal visionaries, all of whom struggle with awkward moments of adolescence and early adulthood. Then there's Ten Kilo and One Million, a mainstream tale about a professor who needs to lose ten kilo in order to keep the million dollar windfall she garnered at a Furry convention. Her life is populated with fascinating folk including a python-whisperer, a ceramicist, who used to be a chemist, the inventor of peanut butter and jelly sushi, and a gal pal who makes good money painting highway scenes on leather handbags. In addition, I want to bring forward Upon the Lion and the Serpent, a story that draws upon serious, contemporary, political matters in North America, in Europe, and in the Middle East. 

Easily distracted by shiny things, I'm also focusing on my Jim-Jam O'Neily series of stories (six are already published or set for publication, another is sitting at a publisher, and two more are in various stages of development). Jim-Jam Make-It-or-Break-It-That-Will-be-Fifty-Dollars-an-Hour-to-You-Mister, is not a nice nerd. He uses his cognitive gifts to amuse himself all the while placing his questionable corpus at his school's social apex. Jim-Jam has gotten punched in the nose, grounded, and threatened by organized crime. Nonetheless, he's adorable in that he acts out many of the "what if" fantasies that are dear to geeks. The Jim-Jam O'Neily stories, being necessarily very stylized, are among the most challenging work I've written. Yet, their texture purposefully captures their protagonist's narcissistic/genius thought process. These tales are necessarily full of causally linked, wildly divergent, quickly moving ideas.

It's also the case that I find myself, weekly, roughing out some combination of freestanding brief fictions, poems, and essays, as well as keeping up with my blogs. These regular stints make me honest and provide me with fairly immediate platforms for heartfelt topics.