Author spotlight: Diana Radovan.

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I've been looking forward to introducing you to the author in today's spotlight. Some of our Story Intensive students already know her, because she is one of our outstanding TAs.

For writers who have had the privilege of working with Diana Radovan, you know her to be smart, disciplined, and full of enchanted thoughts about writing practice and magic.

I think her unusual combination of passions — including her academic experience (she has a PhD in chemistry) and her reverence for mystery — makes her such a special writer.

Diana's excerpt is a haunting and enchanted piece, a love story with an ache I feel in all five senses. In her spotlight today, she describes her process and the plan she has for this mysterious draft (including the strange prompt that triggered it.)

The energy of this writing feels rare and raw to me, especially when I read it off of my screen. It's like finding a river that flows under the ground. You can tap into it. The writing is close to the wilderness of creativity, and it wakes something up in me when I read it. Read it, and see if you feel the wilderness, too.

Love,

Sarah Selecky

Meet Diana

DianaDiana Radovan is a multilingual writer and writing coach currently living in Germany. Her work has been distinguished with various awards since 2004 and has appeared in The Tupelo Quarterly, Liternet, Ora-De-Timiş (creative non-fiction), Other Voices, Hopernicus (fiction), the anthology Evadarea din sine (poetry), and elsewhere. She works as a medical writer and holds a PhD in Chemistry.

Handwriting or computer?

Handwriting for first drafts, computer at later stages. Freewriting by hand in between.

Page count or time count?

One short story or personal essay per month, from first draft to final version. What is final for me? The point where the text is telling me that I’ve given it enough emotional truth and craft, and it’s time for me to walk away now and let it exist on its own, before I end up ruining it.

First drafts or revision?

Both. First draft are exciting, but I’ve learnt to cherish revision and to enjoy it too. I think that we tend to outgrow our stories, both in terms of theme and of writing style, so finishing them before that happens seems essential. Carrying an unfinished story inside me can make me feel as restless as not having written it at all.

Writing solo, writing partner, or writing group?

All of them, but it needs to be the right partner, the right group; what I am looking for first and foremost is simple, yet sometimes hard to find: an open mindset. Luckily, there’s plenty of that kind of support in the SSM community. I found more support there than in many offline writing groups.

Earplugs/quiet or headphones/music?

For handwriting first drafts, I love silence or the background noise of random conversations, music, and coffee machines in small cafés. When revising texts at home on my computer, I prefer peaceful piano music, chirping birds, and the purring of my two cats.


About being a TA for The Story Intensive

TA-ing for The Intensive last fall has been a life-changing experience. From the very beginning, my students had writing voices that were very different from each other; throughout the semester, they have both respected those differences and learnt from them. As they opened up to new ways of writing, they challenged me to go deeper in my teaching, and in my own writing.

I’ve learnt so much from them as a group as well as individuals. I’ve learnt deep subtext and to trust my voice, like Erin; to engage the senses, especially smell, like Anne-Sophie; to take risks in non-fiction, like Diane; to trust the power of minimalism like Césareo does; to lose myself in the magic of the tales with a twist written by Jackie; to keep in mind that dystopian worlds can also be literary, like in Allison’s writing.

I am confident that all these writers have something transformative to share with the world through their writing, something that is both emotionally true and consistent in terms of craft. I feel humbled and inspired by this teaching experience, and I cannot wait to live the magic of the Intensive with a new class this year.


Connect to yourself first

Back when I was a child, I wrote because I wanted to write. I never thought: my writing is bad, people won’t care about it, they won’t like it. Writing brought me joy, period. I’d ask my dad to write down my poems when I was too young to do it myself. I’d ask my primary school teacher to let me read my poems in class. But as a teenager, I started hiding my writing in drawers. And when I finally started submitting work, in my early twenties, I wasn’t ready for the attention it gained. Walking towards the judges to collect my fiction prize, I kept looking at my feet, which were trembling. These people had read my work! It was both a joy and a nightmare.

It was only in the middle of a personal crisis that I started standing up through my writing, exposing myself to the world as I was, without apologising. At first, I worried a lot: why are all my characters like me? Who am I anyway? What will person X think of me? What will experienced writers think of me? Despite these thoughts, I kept writing. And yet, in the last seven years, I’ve often felt guilty for not writing enough.

Not too long ago, I moved into a new flat. Unpacking my writing notebooks, I saw that I had enough of them for an entire bookshelf. On top of my full-time job, on top of many life-changing events and much uncertainty, I have been writing! What I haven’t been doing was publishing. I have, a little, and it felt good to no longer feel ashamed, not even when it was creative non-fiction, but not as much as I thought my writing deserved. I have been focusing on validation instead of joy. Between moving boxes, I picked up a pen and wrote, for my own pleasure.

So here’s the most important I have learnt about writing:

Your relationship with your writing is a direct reflection of your relationship with yourself, and – since we don’t exist in a vacuum – of your relationship with other people. These relationships constantly shape and reshape each other. When you write to get a positive reaction from someone (you want validation), or you don’t write because you worry of what he or she may think of you or your text (you feel shame), you are not allowing yourself to be. But remember that social constructs are not your playful inner child.

To really write, give yourself the mental permission to become who you really are, as a human being and as a writer. You hang out with yourself, and you write. It may take a lot of writing and rewiring your brain until you make it happen. Write anyway. Write to rediscover and replenish your source of wonder, until you forget your shame and need for validation.

Writer’s block is a living block; it has nothing to do with your writing, but your writing has everything to do with it. When you stand tall in your writing and are free of real or imaginary censors, you can truly connect to other people. There will be times when this will come more naturally than others, but the magic will tend to stick around if you invite it in and then become it. Do write to connect, but write to connect to yourself, first and foremost.


Tell us about the excerpt you're sharing today.

The draft that I am sharing today is more mysterious than middle. The text was triggered by a writing prompt involving oversized jeans; the jeans are gone, but the mood of the initial text stayed. I don’t have an entire story yet. I don’t yet understand the main character’s yearning, but I like spending time in her dream-like world. In the next drafts, I plan to work on pacing, time and setting, make the female character act more, use direct dialogue, know and flesh out the male character better. There is still a lot of unexplored emotional potential and structural work to be done. I also hope not to end up overblowing certain symbols.

Excerpt from "Purple Rain" by Diana Radovan

Back when I was a child, the sky was never blue. Not in my drawings of the sunset at least. There was no sun, but there were many colors.

I dreamt of caterpillars turning into butterflies, of mermaids and unicorns. Sometimes, I was one.

On summer camp, David and I didn’t talk at night. We kissed and danced. Purple Rain. He kept growing against my thigh. His palms kept sweating against my back.

In the morning, under the pine tree at the waterfalls, his hair smelt like firewood after the rain.

The pain was inside me, and I was the pain.

Not looking into his eyes, I thought of giant whales falling all the way down to the bottom of the ocean, decomposing slowly, equally killing and breeding things on their way. I thought of cotton candy balls on sticks, exploding in pink on a field of gray and brown dry land. I thought of poplars crashing and meeting in the middle of the street, as if hit by lightning. I thought of my parents on their wedding night.

He pulled away and pebbles were scratching my back. Neither of us spoke of love. How would I get from here to choosing a husband for life?

That afternoon, we went searching for the sun.

We found it in an orchard, in the abandoned village at the bottom of the hill. I took a bite from an oversized apple that fell at my legs, then another one. I pushed some of it into his mouth.

He choked, I laughed.

I asked him if I was too much for him, then kissed him and told him I loved deserted places. He said it was a sign that something or someone had been taken away.

Didn’t I know that reality was never an extension of our dreams?

I can't remember why we broke up. He cried when I dumped him and he wouldn't go away.

Fifteen years later, we drink on a Saturday night. Inside the bar, our friends dance in the dark, beautiful silhouettes hanging on to their youth just a little longer. We smoke outside and watch the city lights. His wife is pregnant. Will I have children some day?

It’s raining. We share a taxi to his place. His hair smells like firewood after the rain, more than ever before. In the taxi, he presses his forehead against mine. And if I kissed him now? It’s hailing with apples, and then he’s gone.

At the edge of the town, I ask the driver to stop. It's been years since I last saw my childhood home. The walls of the house are in ruin. My parents have long been dead. The silver door turned into a wall.

Inside the puddle in front of my feet, beneath the morning sun, the indigo’s lifted up by an orange cloud.

The wooden blinders open and shut, they open and shut.


Note: These monthly spotlights showcase Mysterious Middle Drafts (MMDs). That means they are somewhere between first drafts and final drafts. This is a challenging stage! Emerging writers bravely share their work-in-progress here for discussion, but this is not a book review or critique: this is a venue for the appreciation of Mysterious Middle Drafts. Thank you for making this writing space safe and supportive.

Discussion:

  • What remains with you after reading Diana's work?

  • Can you articulate what’s working in this excerpt — and more importantly, why it’s working?

  • How is your own writing practice like Diana's? How is it different?

Please leave a comment below. And thank you, Diana!    


2016 AWP Round-Up.
Don't put writing on your to-do list.

26 comments

The feelings of melancholy, longing, hopes and dreams make me want to know more - about the character and how the story will unfold. I love that you're sharing these MMD's. It give me hope. My writing often evokes a feeling and then remains suspended in space - leaving me confounded as to where to go from there. Have you considered sharing First Draft's, Middled Drafts, Final too?
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I like the staccato feeling of the writing, the pace, the way it moves along and there is something really lovely about some of the descriptions of what his hair smells like. And the rain, there is something in that that indicates the pain that is in this first draft.... which rhymes with rain , doesn't it? I like that. I wrote something similar about a first love.
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Angie Gallop

Powerful draft -- the randomness of the imagery and how it pushes the story forward really shook my mind up a bit -- in a very good way. And I *loved* what Diana has to say about writers' block. I'm putting it up and my wall and I'll be quoting it a lot. I promise to attribute it each time. Thanks so much!
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Thanks for sharing, Diana. What clarity you have in your sentences! Even though the piece is rather dreamy each sentence is straightforward and visceral. My favorite part is the apple falling at the woman's leg instead of her feet. I realized just now that maybe it is an Eden reference, but what I like is how true and unexpected the detail is. I've sent time in orchards and it's not all sweet perfume and fruit on the grass, so your detail really triggered memories with its accuracy. How pleasantly surprising that I felt a long history between the couple even though you used very few scenes and words. I'm always tempted to add buffers on the sides of big events. "Can't write the breakup until I have that scene about folding socks!" This draft is a great example of how that isn't necessary. Thanks again for sharing. So much about your practice is inspiring. I have never finished a story in a month, but I'm going to give it a shot! Well, ha, maybe two months!
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Shiva Sadeghi

First off, I thought wow what a marvelous idea this is, the MMD's. I wrote so many of those pieces over the years I had to file them under "Random Notes". Then forgot all about them. Thanks Sarah for reminding us to care for them. This piece evokes those universal sensations of youth we've all felt, more or less, at some point, regardless of our race or nationality. And the aches of adolescence. The writing engages our senses through sensual and colorful images. And the reminder that some memories linger with us long after they were created; especially the sense of smell is always a strong one and a means of association with other senses/feelings. I loved reading this piece and the element of mystery about what happens to the character emotionally and how she's dealt with this tacit pain- also why the blinders open and shut and/or by whom- makes me want to read the rest of this story if Diana decides to share it. I don't know why I related (pictured in my mind) the character of "Deanie" (Natalie wood) in the last scene of Splendor In the Grass as she drove away in the car with her friends looking back at Bud (Warren Beatty).
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Diana, I'm grateful for your thoughts and insight in the section headed "Connect to Yourself First." I will reread it whenever I'm not "standing tall" in my writing. I love that image. Thank you. What stays with me after reading your MMD, is the sense that this woman is afraid of opening herself to something she is simultaneously longing for, a true connection, love, family? I wonder what happened in her parents' marriage that may have lead to both the fear and longing, though I don't think I need to know the details to understand her emotional trepidation. I'm struck by her deeper connection to aspects of the natural world—colors, rain, trees, animals—and I find myself hoping for her happiness in spite of a feeling that it's unlikely. Does she have that kind of courage?
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Susan Papov

It feels like a confession. A conversation. Dancing through a potent memory, the images like notes of music I like the pace. Thankyou, You are tricky and that is a fine quality in an author.
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What remains with me is this strong feeling of trying to reach out to catch something but it's gone. Almost like when you miss the very last bus—the stages of emotion that come over you as you walk home in the dark on this route that you have probably had to walk before, trying to remember all the last times you missed the bus before and thinking about what could have done differently to get back those 30 seconds that were all that you would have needed to have made it in time. The things that are working for me are the poetry and grounding of the single-sentence paragraphs, the feeling of animism of everything she is interacting with, and that moment when the characters see each other again and share the cab home—that made my heart beat hard. Beautiful, would love to read the finished piece.
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Diana Radovan

I'm so glad that it gives you hope, Pam! I was so tempted to include a more mature draft but there are so many levels of "middle" that we never get to see because we're all too scared to share them, so I think it's important to know that stories can start in many ways, in places of deep vulnerability that we may not fully understand when we first tap into them (and that's exactly the point at a very early stage, to let go of trying to understand the story - this comes later). The final question is more for Sarah, I guess, but also something that I am now considering to share on my website (www.dianaradovan.com).
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I like the line about the silhouettes and hanging onto their youth just a little bit longer. The sense that time is slipping away is all there. As well, I like the bite of the apple she takes, then puts it into his mouth and asks if she's too much for him. The writing feels true. The moments described are recognizable but not often articulated.
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Diana Radovan

Thank you, Diana! I haven't considered the connection rain-pain until you pointed it out. I hope to get the chance to read your story (or stories) one day.
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Diana Radovan

Angie, I love what you say about the randomness and the imagery pushing the story forward. Before entering the SSM community, I was allowing myself to freefall to some extent, but I always wrote with the ending in mind; now I don't, and it's incredibly liberating. It took me a lot of time to learn to allow it, to allow myself not to constantly try to control my story, not to push it into the direction that I *rationally* think it needs to go or else...In a way, I am still learning to find that delicate balance between what I set out to do and what presents itself to me, with every story and every new life chapter. Being able to stay open and non-judgemental is a precious thing, but easy and hard, but it gets easier when we allow it to become a habit.
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Diana Radovan

I love how you call it "dancing", thank you, Susan!
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Diana Radovan

Thank you very much for your insightful observations, Heidi, especially regarding the character's connections to the natural world. Now that you pointed them out I can see them more clearly, and I can also see how they could work even better in the next draft.
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Diana Radovan

Thank you, Shiva, you see so many things in this piece that I haven't closely considered so far! I love that you mention universality. As writers, I think we're constantly trying to tap into it. In line with a previous comment, I am currently considering sharing the next drafts and the writing process for each step on my website in the next weeks. Now I'll have to rewatch Splendor in Grass and pay closer attention to its imagery.
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Diana Radovan

Elle, I'm glad that you're feeling inspired after reading this. Great comments on apples and orchards! It was a subconscious word choice but I love how you see so much meaning in it. I feel inspired by your comments.
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A stirring piece that remained with me for some hours after I'd first read it. I really liked the linking sensory moments - the smell of his hair mentioned twice and the colours of the sky at story opening and close. My sense of the MC is someone who experiences the world through the corner of her eye. She's aware of details but not focussed on the whole of the moment particularly in strongly emotional moments. When they make love, her mind is revolving with metaphors, not present with him. She visits her parents home after it is ruin, she paints the colours of the sky but avoids the sun. She dumps Him, but doesn't recall why. It's as though she can see the bark, the leaves, the knots in the wood and the birds and insects that make it their home but, despite her yearning, she can't or won't step back and see the tree in its entirety. She can't/won't experience life or the bigger/more potentially overwhelming aspects. Why not? What happened to her? Why can she only see the world out of the corner of her eye? These are the questions that remain with me.
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Diana Radovan

Your comments are incredibly deep and helpful, I'm seeing the character from a new angle.
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Diana Radovan

Thank you, Barb, for pointing out the time slipping away. I'll focus on that more when revising.
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Diana Radovan

Oh, missing the bus, I love that! All your comments are so helpful, thank you.
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Diana Radovan

My reply got lost further down on this thread! "Dancing through a potent memory, images like notes of music" - maybe that could become the start of one of your poems?
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This excerpt was fun to read. Draws you right in. I could fully emerge in it even with my children running around me. :). The whale part really got to me. It was all so dark and beautiful. She seems lonely, and running from normal. Are her parents really dead or just removed from her life somehow? The love that makes her stay will be very colorful I think. A unicorn. Thank you for sharing this.
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Diana Radovan

Thank you, Donna, I feel flattered to know you were drawn in even with your children running around. Whales seem to keep appearing in my stories but I can never really answer the question: what does the whale symbol stand for in your story/stories? I have a few ideas but it's never just one straight answer, and I'd rather let my readers come up with their own.
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Diana, what struck me very powerfully was that the first two-thirds of your piece is filled with negation, with pushing away possibility: the sky was never blue, no sun, David and I didn't talk, not looking into his eyes, Neither of us spoke, Didn't I know, I can't remember, he wouldn't go away. Then suddenly, there is no more negation (grammatically), but wondering: will I have children, if I kissed him now? Yet the loss that remains (he's gone, the house is empty, parents are dead) seems very much a result of that early inability of the MC to accept… what, I'm not sure, but I feel the key is somehow her asking him, "am I too much for you?" Perhaps because I can relate to that feeling, that fear of being "too much," this really struck me -- made me think of how often I have pushed away good things simply because I was afraid I was too much for someone else, when perhaps in reality I was projecting that fear -- and the joy of someone else loving me was too much for *me* to bear. Not sure if this is helpful -- this is the first time I've shared comments on Sarah's site--but I appreciate your posting this middle draft. I, too, am a medical/science writer and have been trying to recapture the pleasure I once had when I wrote just for fun, before everything got so serious and data-driven. :)
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Strong, real emotions. I enjoyed the firewood smell being carried through. Enjoyed it.
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Diana Radovan

Dear VL, this is extremely helpful and insightful, and something I haven't thought about until you pointed it out! I have recently met a fair share of medical/science/technical writers and scientists who are also very passionately pursuing creative writing careers. There's more of us out there then you may think. Don't forget to give your analytical brain a rest when writing first drafts of short stories (it can be hard for us to let go of control!), you can keep him/her busy enough during the revision steps. Happy writing, and I hope to read you one day.
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