Author spotlight: Diana Radovan.
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.
Diana 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.
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!