“I feel that if life is too sweet of a deal, then maybe your brain has gone a little soft,” Cheryl Klein, author of “Lilac Mines,” shared with City students.
Klein was one of the featured authors in this year’s 4th Annual City College International Book Fair. Klein spoke to a room filled with students interested in beefing up their writing skills.
Klein shared her experience while writing “Lilac Mines,” a novel about Los Angeles lesbian name Felix, heartbroken by her city and former lover, that seeks out her “old-school lesbian aunt,” for refuge, but finds a sleepy town shrouded in mystery that might not be so bad after all.
Hector Martinez, English and Chicano Studies professor, was on hand with some of his students to hear about Klein’s experiences with the writing process.
Although originally slated as a creative writing workshop, Martinez did regret to inform the attendees that it would just be a reading. “By the time the change was made, the agenda was already posted.”
Klein did offer some advice on writing and even offered an exercise for students to inspire the creative process.
“Usually in groups like this, I have students make a list of three things: one should be a mode of transportation, another should be an emotion, and lastly, an object,” Klein described. “Then I have everyone take their list and swap it with a neighbor. That now becomes your basis for your piece.”
Klein explained that the exercise “forces you outside your comfort zone,” and brings a new perspective to your writing.
Klein talked about how there is “definitely a love-hate relationship with (one’s) work as a writer.”
“I will always love (the characters in her stories), but I might not always like them,” Klein noted.
She continued to explain that you go “back and forth with emotion” with your characters as the writing process continues, and that once the process is done, the “The minute I finish writing a novel, I think, ‘Oh wow, it’s genius,’ and then three days later I think, ‘Oh, no, what was I thinking? Why did I send that to my publisher?'” Klein shared.
Klein noted Writers At Work, a writing group in Los Angeles, as a forum for feedback on pieces of writing.
“Once I got out of school, I found that the feedback process was very important for me, so seek out a writing group,” Klein suggested. “Sometimes you can be burnt out on feedback in general, and I find it hard to have a combination of people with an opinion that you value and people that don’t flake. Plus it’s hard to get someone excited to read your piece when you ask them, ‘Hey, do you want to read 300 pages of really flawed work?'”
When asked by a student what inspired her to write, and if she found inspiration by listening to music, Klein shared that she found “white noise” helped her the best.
“I can’t just have dead quiet,” Klein said. “I find coffee shops to be the best environment for me because they play music that I didn’t chose.”
Klein was also quick to remind students that her “real job” is pretty administrative and that she doesn’t write for a living. Even though Klein works as the west coast director of Poets and Writers Inc a non-profit organization, she does dream of making it big.
“Don’t get me wrong, I do have fantasies of getting a great book deal,” Klein said. “I do dream of that little house in Hawaii.”