Wednesday, October 28, 2009

author talk: Michael K. White + Nora Nadjarian


Earlier this year, blueprintpress put a call up for micro novels - and received a pile of manuscripts that ranged from historic to futuristic. 2 of the manuscripts turned into hand-made micro novels: "The Republic of Love" by Nora Nadjarian and "My Apartment" by Michael K. White.

Michael K. White is one half of the semi-legendary playwriting team Broken Gopher Ink, and lives in Colorado. Nora Nadjarian comes from Cyprus. Her work has won prizes or been commended in various international competitions, including the Commonwealth Short Story Competition, the Féile Filíochta International Poetry Competition, the Binnacle Ultra-Short Competition and the Seán Ó Faoláin Short Story Prize.

Now the 2 authors - who didn't know each other before - met in the virtual daily cafe for an author talk:


MICHAEL K. WHITE: What is your favorite guitar solo? Mine is the one in "Cinnamon Girl." I could live my whole life inside that solo.

NORA NADJARIAN: I don’t know if this counts, but I was just listening to Sting’s “Fragile”. I love that guy, and his guitar.

MKW: Do you prefer writing poetry over prose?

NN: I started out as a poet, and the prose came later. A lot of my prose is poetic anyway; quite a few people have told me that.

MKW: I see that too. In "The Republic of Love" I like the way you write in an almost elliptical manner. I like the way you play with structure, very much like a poem, the switching of POV, etc. I really like the way you didn't explain everything. You let the story tell itself in its own way. You let it unfold.

NN: The truth is I am a person of few words, even when I speak, and so I don’t believe in writing words just for the sake of filling up a page. What you write should have some purpose, should mean something, and you shouldn’t have to fill up pages and pages just to make your point, as is the case in poetry. I loathe stories which take ages to get to the point, books full of descriptions of somebody’s fingers and toes and mango trees and 500 pages of boredom.

MKW: I agree with that. Its one thing to set the mood but it's another to kill it. I'm thinking of the first seventy pages or so of Moby Dick...the book not the drum solo, although the drum solo is just as boring.


MKW: How do you write? What is your process? Rituals? Day or night writer?

NN: I am a night writer.

MKW: Me too!

NN: I seem to be inspired only late at night. I may get a spark once in a while during daytime, then I usually don’t have a notebook to write it down, and often the idea’s gone. Otherwise it’s me and my laptop and the long night. But I have to say I haven’t done much writing lately, even though I’m immobilized by my broken ankle. I just haven’t felt inspired at all. Maybe things will change soon. I had an interesting dream last night. It involved a penis made of ice ;-)

MKW: Holy shit! A penis made of ice? Man! That suggests so many possibilities! Hahahaha! Actually Nora, that's a million dollar idea. You need to go on "Dragon's Den" and get some start up money to market that idea. You can be the ice penis queen!

NN: Ha ha ha, yes I can see the potential!! In fact, the more I think about it, the more I’m laughing my head off. I should give up this writing nonsense and try to market the ice penis idea…

MKW: And you know the really great thing about ice penises Nora? (penises? penii? what's the proper plural term here anyway?)

NN: Hmm. Now you got me there. I’m sure I’ve heard “penises” used, but then “penii” sounds kind of Latin and eloquent, so maybe that’s ok too.

MKW: The great thing is that ice melts, so your customers will always be coming back for more. No pun intended. Well maybe it was intended a little bit.

NN: Haaaaa! You talk quite a bit about music, are you into music in a big way? Like, do you play an instrument?

MKW: I have a guitar I struggle with.

NN: I cannot write at all when the music is on.

MKW: Me either Nora. I used to type away with the TV blaring and the music full blast but not for years. Now I have a machine that makes ocean wave sounds or birds chirping or raindrops.

NN: Some people can write whole novels in cafes, I couldn’t possibly concentrate on my writing in a public place.

MKW: To me writing is a very personal and solitary thing. Like masturbation. I mean when I'm writing and really on a roll, I cackle and rock back and forth and if someone came in at that moment they would think I was unhinged.

NN: Now I’m laughing. Don’t get me wrong, I just think likening the creative process to masturbation is funny-- and apt at the same time.

But seriously, I also think writing is such a solitary activity… Weird how something produced in solitude and privacy then becomes so “public” when “published” and then you will hear (or read) comments about it… and sometimes those comments are so unexpected, too. Not at all what you had in mind when you created your work. That’s sometimes the best part of the whole writing thing- getting feedback, it almost “feeds” your creativity for more.

MKW: There have been exceptions though where I've had to work fast and in bad conditions. One time we had to rewrite the ending of a play on a grimy fire escape in New York two hours before curtain time. It was thrilling! And the new ending was killer! So I can crank it out if I have to. To me the people who write in cafes are there to be seen and that's all. But come to think of it, Hemingway wrote in cafes so I may be on the wrong side of this one Nora. That happens to me a lot.

NN: I loved your “Apartment” episode with the would-be mountaineer and his seven pillows. Have you ever wanted to be something/somebody that you couldn’t?

MKW: Ha! Nora I spent most of my life wishing I were someone else. It is only really within the past five years or so that I have learned to become who I am. I'm still working on it. I decided I wouldn't worry about anything anymore. I wasn't going to spend one more second of whatever time I have left worrying.

NN: Exactly.

MKW: What are your feelings and thoughts about the death of print and the future of the written word? If print dies do we evolve into a strictly oral society, via audio readers, TV etc? Does written language eventually become obsolete?

NN: These are interesting questions, Mike. I do think a lot of people are turning to the internet for publication and I have to say a lot of stuff online is pretty good. But there is a lot of crap out there, people getting “published” just because it’s so much easier now. I don’t think written language will become obsolete, but I think quality will be much more difficult to find.

MKW: I think quality always calls attention to itself. I don't mind that there is a lot of shit out there. It's a lot more democratic now. I think "publishing" itself has become redefined in the past decade. It used to be all about being published, but now it's all about being read.

NN: I do agree with you to some extent, but I still think there is way too much shit out there. Again, I’m not saying that because I think that what I write is brilliant.

MKW: Well I'll say it then. Your book is brilliant.

NN: I’m blushing! No, I don’t think that at all I just wish there was more quality and that people were more honest, both to others and to their own selves.

MKW: Honesty doesn't always equal quality. But yeah I know what you mean.

NN: Is such a thing possible: honesty with one’s own self?

MKW: Well I'm honest with myself when I say your book was way way better than mine was. Goddamnit!

NN: I don’t know. The more people I meet and talk to the more I’m convinced that self-knowledge is lacking in the emotional range of 21st century humankind.

MKW: Yeah I know. I mean quality is such a subjective thing, isn't it? Realistically, yeah there's tons of crap being published on and off the internet, but so what? I look at that as my competition. Diamonds will still shine even if they're covered in shit. You know? I just write and hope that someday I'll write something so good no one can deny it. I don't worry about anything else. Why should I? The more shit out there the better my stuff looks. For me quality is about connection. If something you write connects with someone on an emotional, physical, spiritual or atavistic level then that's really something.

NN: Agree with you totally. Work that moves me or that I can connect to, yes, you’re right: that is true literature or art, because somebody’s soul has gone into that work and you can see parts of yours too, while you're reading it, or while looking at the picture…

MKW: I once had a playwriting professor tell me I didn't write plays correctly because I didn't count the syllables in my lines of dialogue. What? I mean by then I had sold a few tickets, you know what I mean? I can't imagine a more joyless way to create. Because that's the name of the game isn't it Nora? We're never gonna be rich or famous like we expected to. So why not shoot for at least leaving something behind that represents us as we truly were. Everything I write is humor. Comedy. I bear witness Nora.

MKW: Is an author's opinion about his story any more valid than the person who is reading it for the first time?

NN: Tricky, and I’m sure I don’t know the answer to this- because I’ve often been surprised by people’s positive reactions to a story I haven’t thought much of after I’ve written it. On the other hand, stories I’ve thought were very good have failed to be accepted for publication or be placed in a competition.

MKW: Hell yeah I know that feeling. I am often not the best judge of my own work. That's why I think my opinion about what I write is no more valid than anyone else's' I mean, I know what I intended (sort of) but I hardly ever get there. So it becomes its own thing, and I am left trying to explain something I don't understand myself. And if there's one thing I hate it's trying to explain what I wrote.

NN: I know! I know!

MKW: That's why we don't put out plays under our real names. Because we want the work to speak for itself.

NN: Do you think people appreciate you more as a writer or as a person?

MKW: I don't even know how to begin to answer this question. I'm embarrassed at even the concept of being appreciated in any way at all. But to be honest with you, I think and hope it is as a person, although I would much rather be thought of as a writer.

NN: That says a lot about you.


NN: What role has mayonnaise played in your life?

MKW: Okay, this is weird. One of the most influential books for me was "Trout Fishing in America" by Richard Brautigan, which ends with the single word, "mayonnaise." So you can say that mayonnaise has had a profound effect on my writing. Jesus Nora, how could you know that? It's like you looked right into my soul. I'm getting scared now.

NN: Now that IS TOTALLY WEIRD! I just put that question in for fun, because of the mayonnaise licking incident in your story about the guy and the little dog. But yeah, it’s scary and wonderful that a book actually ends with the word mayonnaise!!!

MKW: This is still pretty fucking weird Nora. I was re-reading that book that very week you made that comment and it freaked me right out. Are you sure you don't have some latent paranormal powers?

NN: Ha, ha, no one’s ever asked me that before!

MKW: It's like you stuck your finger right into the very heart of all my influences with that one word.

NN: I’ll never be able to see that word again without thinking of you, Mike!

MKW: Anyway, you better try and develop that talent you have, maybe you can make some money on the side with it.

NN: Oh, I’ll be soo rich soon!

NN: Do you keep a diary?

MKW: No. I never kept a diary or journal because I would be tired of writing in it and would never write anything else. For me writing is like a performance. I prepare by getting my mind to the place it has to be to receive. I feel like the writing comes through me rather than from me. (When I'm really wailing that is). For me the fun of writing is the winging it. Making it up as I go along. Writing myself into corners, improvising. Life isn't all planned out so why should my writing be?

NN: You’re right. None of my plans ever work out anyway…I had plans for this summer and look what happened to me…. :-(

MKW: Yeah but you'll get a great story out of it!

NN: Thoughts are going through my mind, but I haven’t written anything substantial yet. But yes, I can feel a good story coming out of it.

MKW: I take a few notes, but not many. I absolutely do not believe in the suffering artist act. I have blast writing. It's everything else that is a problem...

NN: Oh, all those problems, I know, I know. Let’s have a blast writing, Mike.


NN: I wonder: if we met at a party and I didn’t know who you were, would I be able to guess you lead a double life as (for example) a financial analyst by day and a brilliant playwright by night?

MKW: Well I'm neither of those things Nora.

NN: Would you be able to guess I’m a teacher by day and a writer by night??????

MKW: I know if I met you on the street or we spoke at a party I know I would recognize you as an Artist.

NN: That’s the best answer yet! You’re so totally right, Mike. Artists will recognize each other without even seeing the other’s face

MKW: I think we would instantly recognize each other for what we really are. Isn't that what we do?


NN: Now I will end with my TOP 5 favourite quotes from your book. Maybe you can do the same for me?

“Then all he had to do was make himself into another man, and witness the sunset of the last day of his life, alone, but finally not afraid, a mystery, at the very top of the world.”

“I’ll give you five dollars,” she repeated. “If you kill yourself.”

“I put all my love into my baking. It’s a special thing.”

“He did not remember his old wire framed glasses were bent and taped and the lenses were so thick with oily fingerprints that they resembled cataracts.”

“…he caught a reflection of himself in the window glass, dirty, old, mayonnaise-faced holding a wiener dog with a huge cherry red erection and girls laughing, laughing at him…”

MKW: here are my five favorite quotes from "The Republic of Love"

"...she must be a courageous girl. She was in her thirties and didn't have an iPod." I laughed out loud when I read that line Nora. Good one!

"The rest of his life will be a fight against that moment."

"Teach me something I don't know." That line still gives me chills.

It's not a quote exactly, but I really love the imagery of the egg breaking on the floor. The symbolism of it. It's very powerful.

"That there are keys and coins in the river and some people throw in their lives" Whether meant literally or not, this too is very powerful.

Of course, I really love the poetic motif, like a sad little melody:

"I live in a house with pale blue walls, the colour of the sky. The house has many windows, each of which is a different gilt framed painting, through which I can see beauty if I look hard enough."


further reading + browsing
- micronovels with excerpts + author bios
- blog Nora Nadjarian
- website Broken Gopher

other author talks
- Daniela Elza and Arlene Ang on poetry, collaborations, plus the birds & beasts
- Jessie Carty and Mel Bosworth on breating, writing, the internet, scares & boxes
- Rose Hunter and Dorothee Lang on short stories, places, anticipation, reality & identity


  1. Thanks for the fun and lively talk Michael and Nora.

    I might have to disagree on the coffee shop writers point, Michael. I, for one, was, and still occasionally am, a coffee shop writer. Ironically, it was to go somewhere I will not be seen. Where I can work without being obviously a writer. Once I started being seen (like when people will get to know me and want to talk to me), I had to change cafes to become invisible again. Do not get me wrong, I love talking to people. It is just that I also have to get my time with myself, with the pen and the paper. The house was full of distractions. Not to mention it is hard to get out of the mother mode there. :-)

    I would totally agree that writing is blissful. The very act of writing is its own reward. A reward you give to yourself first. And, if we do it well enough, to other people as well.
    Never have sub-scribed to the the image of the suffering artist.:-)

  2. I enjoyed reading this!

    Have to disagree with you about coffee shops though. I'm like Daniela, I think they are good places to become invisible. Also, I find the low-level hum of other people's business going on around me, comforting. I don't like to write in complete silence....

    I think I agree with this, a lot:

    "I think "publishing" itself has become redefined in the past decade. It used to be all about being published, but now it's all about being read."

    Thanks for the talk! :)

  3. okay okay! i guess i'm just jealous because i'm not cool enough to write in coffee shops. i take it back!

  4. Thanks for your comments, Daniela and Rose! Mike, don't worry you're really cool ;-)When you come to Cyprus I'll take you to some tiny coffee shop in Old Nicosia, we'll take our laptops in and pretend we're writing, while secretly watching old men playing backgammon. OK? ;-)

  5. Enjoyed the interchange of ideas and ideologies these 2 writers bounced back and forth. It emphasized the different approaches we all take, but also many similarities in how we approach this art form. Especially funny to me was how it was NN who finally changed the subject of the Ice Penis (which seemed as if it would take over the conversation, as sex-related conversation can overtake just about anything). Even wars. Very enjoyable read here.

  6. I liked this.