Written by Brianna Payan
The day started off early in our creative writing class. I walked into the class expecting to see the chairs facing the direction of the board, but they were now rearranged into a counseling circle. We waited in our seats patiently for PCC's Writer-In-Residence and began to discuss amongst ourselves what she would be like:
“I heard she was super bubbly even though her book is super dark.”
“What if she’s boring and not talkative?”
We looked up at the entrance of the doorway to see Professor Kottaras enter in with writer Devi Laskar right behind her. Laskar, nominee of the Pushcart Prize and author of The Atlas of Reds and Blues, wore a bright pink blouse that complimented her smile and her curly brown hair. They both sat down and our conversations went quiet as we admired the published author.
Our professor began the conversation with an introduction about what our Short Story Writing class is about and how we practice creating short stories. Then she gave the floor to Laskar to introduce herself and talk about her book. She spoke prominently and her voice was strong and clear.
Laskar began her career in writing as a crime reporter for the Daily News. She joked that her career actually began at the age of nine when she wrote her first bad poem, which eventually got her into writing. However, she couldn’t keep the job because of her kids and said:
“Crime doesn’t start between 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.”
She still enjoyed writing though and began to take creative writing workshops. She tried to turn in old works she’d written, but was convinced by her friend to start writing something new. That’s when she began working on an idea for her novel that emulated The House on Mango Street. She then joined the site NaNoWriMo, a daily writing competition that motivates writers to finish novels and continue writing. This is how she developed her novel in 2009. She was six weeks away from finishing her book when her house was raided after her husband was accused of misusing his Universities resources for his startup.
It took six and a half years for her and her husband to clear his name. Even after clearing his name, she was still unable to retrieve her computer from the raid and ended up losing her novel.
“Back in 2010 nobody knew about the cloud,” she jokes as she talks about her lost writing.
In 2011, she began to write her novel again, but struggled to get back into the writing process. Her friend from Georgia called her up and asked her to watch the movie Julie and Julia. In the film, a character, Julie, tries to recreate all the famous dishes in Julia Lovechild’s famous cookbook. Her friend suggested that Laskar follow the same concept, but instead of recipes, to take pictures and write captions for them. On June 23, Laskar began posting pictures everyday and writing captions under them.The raid changed her as a person and as a writer; she struggled to find her voice once again, but just through those small practices of posting pictures and captioning them, helped her get her voice as a writer back.
“It just takes lots and lots of practice... Everyday!” she exclaimed.
It took her two years to write The Atlas of Reds and Blues. She received many rejection letters in the years and decided to give it to her friend, who then passed it on to a fellow editor - lo and behold, the story was published three months later.
She then leads the conversation to her favorite works by authors and how she appreciates the creativity of writing and the amount of freedom you can have. Then she directed us to take out our spiral notebooks and taught us, writers, a new technique to break out of writers’ block.
“This is the trick to get you writing. Take a cheap notebook--a cheap one, not an expensive one--and just start writing.”
She pulled out a timer and put ten minutes on the clock. She gave probing words and lines to keep our pens moving and before we even knew it, our ten minutes were up. I personally wrote about an orphan who sells poetry on a boardwalk in the 1940's. She told us to keep writing every day for 30 days. At the end of those 30 days, we should take a highlighter and go through our notebooks and read all the excerpts we wrote and highlight all of our favorite words or lines. Just like the 30 Day Writer Challenge, Devi encouraged us to write about anything for 30 days.
She began to recount a class she taught this technique to and how one of the students asked her if he could cuss in his journals, to which she responded:
“By all means, because you’ll get sick of cussing and actually start to write.”
Our class laughed.
“All it takes is practice,” she repeated five times. “Just practice! Practice! Practice!”
I personally wrote about an orphan who sells poetry on a boardwalk in the 1940's. She then gave us time to ask her questions and gave us wonderful answers about the process of publishing her book and the characters. We left class that day excited to get home and write. She sparked a desire within all of us to express ourselves creatively through our writing.
Brianna is a 20-year-old business major and is hoping to transfer to a four year, soon. She is currently studying to become a PR for the film industry. She says, "I like to express myself through any creative outlet I can find and enjoy finding people who are passionate about creativity and art."
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