Nicki Blackwell teaches English at a Virginia public high school, and has worked for over twenty years as a psychologist in a variety of clinical settings. She studied at All Writers’ Workplace & Workshop with director and fiction writer Kathie Giorgio and instructor and essayist Carolyn Walker, and belongs to a writers’ group with a focus on literary nonfiction.
Her Non-Fiction story “Teaching Chronicles” appears in the Issue 2 Volume 1 Summer 2013 of Four Ties Lit Review. This interview occurred via email in late July of 2013.
“Teaching Chronicles” is great and very popular. I read it several times and thought it was quite touching each time. My compliments, but I’m also a teacher and can identify a bit with the situation in your story. When you write this kind of story do you, or how do you, plan to get into your reader’s head and heart? And who are you writing to / who do you see as your audience?
When I write, it is usually because some incident or relationship evokes such strong emotions in me that my only way of processing the situation is to attempt to put it into writing in my journal. I don’t consciously think of the audience until I begin the editing process. As I work to edit my writing, my focus is then on my audience, and I attempt to articulate the relationships and emotions in the story in a manner that will touch them as profoundly as they did me.
For some writers they are simply trying to entertain their readers others want to make them think or challenge their reader’s preconceptions. Typically, what are you trying to accomplish in your writing?
I think that most writers are by nature observers. I know I have spent a great deal of time with my nose pressed up against the glass watching the human situation as an outsider. I think the best writing is accomplished by writers who can stand outside the milieu they are in, and articulate the ridiculous or heart breaking aspects of the status quo that most of us accept without question.
How / When / Why did you begin writing?
I have kept journals since I was very young, but I began writing seriously in college when a professor encouraged me. At that time I was mainly writing poetry, but at this point in my life I primarily write literary non- fiction.
When and / or why did you first consider yourself as a successful writer?
I think most writers feel a huge sense of validation when they are published for the first time. I know that I did. Beyond that, success is such a nebulous concept. Writing is a very solitary pursuit, so the feedback that writers get from readers and other writers that appreciate their work is extremely gratifying.
Do you have a daily / weekly writing routine? Can you tell us about it?
I don’t have a daily routine to speak of, but I do have a routine in terms of my actual writing process. I begin by journaling and then writing the story long hand. I don’t censor myself at all, but just write freely expressing all the elements that feel important. This can take many sessions. After doing this, I will spend some time looking to see if there is a motif that will sustain the story. If I am successful, at this point I will begin writing the story with a word processor. Because the language in this genre is so compressed and the subtlest of nuances is important, I can spend an entire writing session on one phrase or sentence.
Do you have any writing projects that you currently working on?
I am working on some literary non-fiction stories.
If our readers want to see more of your writing where can they find more of your work?
In August I have a literary non-fiction story titled “Bamboo Chimes” appearing in the online journal ephiph.mag.com.
Who are some of your favorite authors?
I have great admiration for writers who write essays and short stories, because I think these two genres are so challenging. Dakota: A Spiritual Geography and Cloister Walk by Kathleen Norris are two of my favorite books. The essays she writes convey so much spirituality and humanity while still incorporating elements of humor in the stories she tells about small town life and the human condition. I am in awe of her. In terms of short stories, I have a great affinity for Southern literature and Flannery O’Connor and Eudora Welty are masters of this genre. Who doesn’t love Southern Gothic?
What advice do you have for aspiring writers?
Don’t isolate yourself. Join a writer’s group or sign up for a workshop. You will find the feedback will take you to the next level.
Anything else you’d like to say to our readers?
Thank you for taking the time to read this and let me share my experiences with you.
Nicki, thank you and best wishes for your future.