with Deb Ewing:
Q1: When did you start writing and first influences?
Deb: I’ve got my first-ever short story framed and hanging on my wall. It’s from 1971, I think, Kindergarten or first grade. Somebody printed it with letterpress and taped it to a piece of orange construction paper. It’s called Gus the Ghost. It stabs my heart a little to realize that this piece of paper was created before computers, when typewriter font wasn’t that big. Teachers noting my work is what fueled me.
Ray Bradbury was the first written influence on me – the way he strung together sentences felt right in my mind. Later, I learned that Agatha Christie is the master of drawing a scene in dialogue alone, or without defining the thing. She describes the pomp of an estate by saying, “I don’t need to tell you. You know what it looks like. It’s in all the tourist brochures.” And with just that, you do know.
Q2: Who are your biggest influences today?
Deb: Gabriel Garcia Marquez still teaches me how to string a very long sentence in a satisfying way; Salman Rushdie, too. I’m always surprised to learn that other people actually love what I love. Salman was like that for me. Otherwise, my biggest influences are contemporary writers who are not famous yet: Melinda Smith, Barlow Adams for storytelling; Lisa Alletson, Mark H. Fitzpatrick, and Jonathan Roman for poetry. Discover them. Reading them, working with them, I’m always provoked to do more. That’s what’s really important in creativity: more.
Q3: Any pivotal moments when you knew you wanted to be a writer?
Deb: No. I was raised by two artists: my mother, who abandoned it to raise a family, and my grandmother, who painted portraits of barns in rural Michiana where she was raised. I was with my grandma when she burned a stack of paintings. I asked if I could keep one, and she said no.
We stood side by side watching spark and flame rise from a rusty burning barrel – do people have those anymore? It occurred to me that I was the only family member who understood that moment, and I’m glad I could be there with her. Can I explain it? No, I don’t think I can. Sometimes it feels right to take out of the world what you’ve brought into it. We can kill our poetic babies, in a way, if they aren’t going to flourish. The art world is brutal. You have to protect your human children in a way you can’t with creative work.
Q4: Who has helped you most with writing?
Deb: The Twitter writing community has helped me the most. It’s where I found you! I mentioned Melinda Smith and Lisa Alletson; we have two others in our cadre: Shannon Mastromonico and Leslie Almberg. They found me at a time when I was really questioning myself. Our gestalt supports, encourages, and even goads one another to keep going.
Q5: Where did you grow up and how did that influence your writing & did any travels away from there influence your work?
Deb: I grew up in Southwest Michigan, a giant swamp between Chicago and Detroit. I had important encouragement from teachers, but was harrassed by the bully culture of my peers. When my family moved to East Texas I learned that sunshine is real and people don’t have to be like that, but I also learned about deeply rooted racism. I learned to feel like moving was normal and I did so every few years for a long time. It wasn’t until I married, living in Washington, DC, that I learned how to go on vacation and come home instead of just moving somewhere. I’m really ready to move somewhere now.
So, yes, travels away from there definitely influenced my work. Everything I do is for the story, and every story I tell – in words or in paint – is true.
Q6: What do you consider your most meaningful work you’ve done creatively so far to you?
Deb: Sundogs is what I’d call my best painting to date, though I recently did a classical portrait that I can’t release right now. I want to build a series on each style. Most meaningful, though – I don’t feel I’ve hit it yet. I’ve started a few experiments, and even as I finish them I realize they are steps on a pathway to something else. Something more. I keep using that word.
(c) Deb Ewing
I felt like I lost myself at times. I wanted a list of three things I really love. I finally came up with writing, art, and in a more tangible context, letterpress print. So I designed a tattoo – an elaborate ampersand – to remind me what I am in case I come close to forgetting again. Ampersand literally indicates more. I strive to be more me than I already am.
Q7: Favorite activities to relax?
Deb: Relax? I like to get all wound up and combust in a creative frenzy. Live music makes me want to dance. What I’d do with my free time if I had the choice would be to disappear down the wormhole of focus until I emerge with something magical on the other end. If I really need to meditate, I mow the lawn or pull weeds.
Q8: What is a favorite line/stanza from a poem of yours or others?
Deb: I have some favorite songwriters that inspire me with great lines like:
“We love with conviction/and some sleight of hand” – Dan Navarro
“Unencumbered by the tedium of other men’s ways/our path was our own” – William Elliott Whitmore
I quote my own poetry often in conversation, knowing full well nobody recognizes it. ‘I am calm in the face of maybe’ is a favorite. The one I use the most is:
suddenly I realise all my words already have been written
giving them that much less impact
this page feels like such a waste
I first wrote those words in 1996, in what was probably a love poem to a friend, a writing partner, who moved away. I can’t recall anything else from that poem, so I recycled the stanza into ‘clock-hours’. It’s in the book mycelium..
Q9: Any recent or forthcoming projects you’d like to promote?
Deb: Please keep an eye on Igneus Press. It’s a small press started in New England by my mentor, Peter Kidd, operated now by his daughter Dr. Sophia Kidd. Sophia is dedicated to honoring her father’s legacy, and enjoys drawing poetry into the world of performance art. I sent her this scratchboard piece, White Skunk, inspired by her father’s poem ‘Autumn Afternoon Reflection.’ I can provide the entire poem if you’d like to see them together.
I’m working on a 2nd and 3rd companion piece to my sci-fi supershort ‘FRIEND’, which won first place in the 2019 Loudoun County Write On! Adult Short Story Writing Contest. It’s also serialized on my blog, debnation.com.
I’m continuing to make prints of my art available through American Frame. I’ll be releasing The Zorya soon – I need to clean up the digital file so it will print well for us. The original art is in a private collection now.
Bio: debora Ewing is a poet, artist, off-the-cuff author and editor. Her poetry and artwork are featured around the globe: from Plainsongs by Hastings College Press (in hard copy only) to Beyond Words, Creative Nonfiction, Dodging the Rain, and Shot Glass Journal, to name a few. Her hub is a pool hall in Annandale, Virginia, but she’s probably traveling to somewhere right now.