with Melinda Smith:
Q1: When did you start writing and first influences?
Melinda: I wrote from the time I could construct sentences, though I don’t think I realized I was a writer until a few years ago. I wrote a few songs for a musical when I was 11 and then moved on to angsty poetry as a teenager (spoiler alert: nothing every came of either). Then, in graduate school (I studied neuroscience), I had this idea for brain tech that I thought would make a cool backdrop for a novel. Like a total naïve idiot, I began writing the novel with no thought or training. It was terrible. Not the idea, but the writing. I am working on rewriting it entirely and I think it’ll be great in a decade when I finally finish it. Some of my early influences were Rudyard Kipling, Dr. Seuss, and Roald Dahl.
Q2: Who are your biggest influences today?
Melinda: My biggest influences today are Ray Bradbury, Ted Chiang, and Ken Liu. All three of these writers marry speculative/science fiction with beautiful writing and philosophy so well. In a more practical sense, I am very inspired by a wonderful writing group who have shaped my growth in the most challenging and supportive of ways. Finally, I credit the Twitter writing community and the #vss365 challenges for really kicking my game into high gear. The prompts challenge me and have taught me to economize with my prose.
Q3: Where did you grow up and how did that influence your writing? Have any travels away from home influence your work?
Melinda: I grew up in Southern California but have travelled to many countries. I lived in Italy for a year. Being immersed in centuries old art, architecture, and music definitely wakes the senses. I don’t know if it’s true, but an Italian there told me that to Italians, the sounds of the sentences were more important than the content, unlike how Americans write. I also spent time volunteering in orphanages in Haiti and Ghana. I learned that where abundance was not an everyday concept, you still see art, song, dance, and laughter spilling through everything. So even without all the riches that commissioned cathedrals and frescoes, art perseveres. It has to. Overall, travel has showed me that much of the world sees things in very different and magnificent ways.
Q4: What do you consider the most meaningful work that you’ve done creatively so far?
Melinda: I think my latest venture (putting spoken word poetry to original music) has really been an awakening for me. I love to write, read poetry, and arrange chillwave electronic music, so this project has really put to use all creative parts of my brain. My artist name is Iambic Beats. It seems to have gotten good reception and I’m excited to see where it goes! One of the best parts about it is getting to collaborate with other poets. Some of my Iambic Beats songs are from my own poetry, but I’ve also worked with 9 or 10 poets to make songs from their work. Every collaboration has been unique and fun for (I think) both parties.
Q5: Any pivotal moments when you knew you wanted to be a writer/artist?
Melinda: When I was young, I longed to be an opera singer. But I also loved science and felt very torn about which I would pursue in college. I have always had a very difficult time going in one direction. I love to write poetry and prose, sing, paint, and compose music. While parts of me still feel that this gives me too much breadth and not enough depth, I remind myself that combining different hobbies can create new and exciting angles. And the science fits in too! I have acquired a real love for science fiction and my training helps me construct (somewhat) plausible technology and scenarios. My music also incorporates science concepts.
Q6: Favorite activities to relax?
Melinda: What does relax mean? I have two little girls and a job as a science writer, so there is very little down time. But my creative outlets really do feel like a decompression for me at the end of the day. I’ll pick up my guitar and sing a little, paint something, or write, and I’m a happy camper.
Q7: Any recent or forthcoming projects that you’d like to promote?
Melinda: So the major undertaking I’ve been working on is the Iambic Beats project I mentioned above. My first two albums, Chiasm and Dark Matter, are out now. I have plans for at least two more in the works. The next album will be called AlgoRhythms, and it combines all sorts of cool math concepts. While a lot of my work is influenced by science (as you can tell by these titles), I don’t consider it at all “sciencey.” It’s all about relaxation and enjoying spoken word. My albums can be found on my BandCamp page or on iTunes, Spotify, Amazon Music, or YouTube music
Q8: What is a favorite line/stanza from a poem of yours or others? What is some of your favorite artwork?
Melinda: One of the lines on my upcoming album Mathematica is currently making me very happy: The equations exist whether we solve them or not. It was inspired by the idea that some people don’t “believe” in science. To me it’s like, ok, believe or not, but it’s there anyway, you know? Here are some of my recent paintings.
Q9: Who has helped you most with writing?
Melinda: I have always been my own worst critic, but the tender and constructive criticism given by my writing community friends on Twitter has really taken my work to a higher level. More specifically, a couple of close friends who I have hired to edit my work (have taught me a lot about where I specifically need to grow. It’s been humbling and wonderful to see that the process is never done. You never learn it and say “I’m done; I’m a writer now.” You just have to keep examining your work, trying new things, and reading different styles of writing. The alternative is stagnation. And who wants that?