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July 17th ~ Q & A

By Kathryn Pritchett
July 17, 2020

Writers draw from all sorts of creative wells and are inspired by creative people who rarely put pen to paper. Today the Paper Lantern Writers talk about “Who is a creative person (not a writer) who has influenced you and your work?”

Ana says, “I performed in a singing group my senior year of high school. One Saturday we were driving to a show, and I was riding shotgun, just enjoying the sunny Florida scenery and not doing much of anything else. 

I looked to the back seat and saw my friend and fellow singer Kay. There she was, juggling five or six sheets of music on her knees, a pencil in one hand making changes, her other hand brushing off the eraser leftovers. 

Even though it was the weekend, even though we weren’t in school, even though there were no teachers to impress, Kay was totally intent on improving, on understanding, her notes and her lyrics. Kay’s attention to detail and her ability to postpone pleasure was not something I’d grown up with or had modeled. Although I didn’t start emulating Kay then and there, I’m still inspired–and humbled–by her dedication to craft.  

So much of writing is just keeping your butt in the chair. The memory of Kay’s determination often keeps me in mine.”

As for me, Kathryn, “I don’t think my father ever wrote much beyond a letter. At the end of his life he kept notes in a pocket calendar, using cryptic phrases to describe what had happened in his day. These life fragments are often repetitive, rarely reflective. They capture weather, field conditions, water board meetings. They are nothing like the expansive, entertaining stories he shared from his spot at the head of the table or behind the pulpit as a lay church leader. Those stories were often about our shared ancestors. One—about how the first wife in a polygamous marriage responded when introduced to my great-great-grandmother, her new sister-wife— became the kernel of my novel, THE CASKET MAKER’S OTHER WIFE.

I wonder now about the stories that rumbled around his head as he worked the potato fields or fed the cattle. He was a fifth-generation farmer and aspiring cattleman in the Upper Snake River Valley near Yellowstone and Jackson Hole. He was a hard-working, “creative” steward of the land who took risks and prospered. When he was fifty-six, he was elected to the state legislature where he spent three winters at the state capitol in Boise, gathering more stories while the fields were at rest and my brother tended the cattle. He passed away before I started writing my novel. There are so many stories that went with him; stories I wish I’d heard before they were gone forever.

My dad often said that a church sermon needed to include a good story in order to stick. People didn’t want preaching as much as they wanted a good story. I think about that as I write and revise. ‘People want a good story’ is another way of saying ‘show don’t tell.’ It’s also encouragement for me to keep writing.”

Linda recalls, “My father, Ed Walters, was the most creative non-writer I know. He originally planned to be a high school art teacher, but didn’t like his student teaching experience at Watsonville High School in the early 1950’s. He ended up being an elementary school teacher for nearly forty years. His bulletin boards were always artistic and often humorous. In the 1960’s, his teacher friends called my father Mr. Ed, after the talking horse in the TV show I loved.

Every day Dad drew a cartoon on his brown paper lunch bag of Mr. Ed, the talking horse, in some sort of humorous situation. I don’t remember Dad having much outlet for his art other than that, but I remember him whistling as he created sample art projects for his class. When he was really involved, the whistling stopped and his tongue slid out one side of his mouth a bit. One of my favorite memories is early in the morning, sitting at our kitchen table as the sun streamed in the window. He read the paper and drink his coffee, and I ate my breakfast and read the comics. It was a time of peaceful quiet. I became a teacher like my father. Like him, and his father the painter, I inherited the creativity gene. He was the only person who understood when I began writing that I was an author at heart. My novel UNDER THE ALMOND TREES features his mother, grandmother, and great aunt. He died two months before it was released and never got to read it. I take comfort knowing that the family creativity has been passed on to my older son, who is an artist with a camera.”

C.V. says that “My father always wanted to write a novel and on rare occasions the thought would briefly flit through my head. However, it was never a serious thought. When my middle son was in the 2nd grade, he was assigned a genealogy project. Before that time I knew very little about the history of my family on either side.

My maternal grandmother used to say some strange things about her family and we all thought she was a bit delusional. Turns out she wasn’t. In the course of researching my son’s project, a relative sent me a partial translation of a little known book written by a son of Victor Hugo. The booklet had been lovingly put together by a cousin of my great grandmother, Aunt Lilly as they called her. I was riveted and couldn’t believe that a novel had never been written about some of our ancestors. It was at that time that I decided I would undertake the task.

As my children were young and I had a full time job, I never had time to fulfill this dream. Now that my children are grown, I have tackled the project with gusto and am just as inspired after spending almost three years of writing the story as the day I first read it. I don’t exactly know who to thank for inspiring me to sit down at a keyboard and type away; the historical figures themselves for their amazing story, Victor Hugo’s son for writing that one book that included their history, or some very distant relative who died before I was born that took the time to translate their history into English and mail it across the ocean as a gift to my grandmother and her siblings.

 

Katie ‘notes’ that “This answer sounds impossibly snooty, but hear me out. The person who has influenced me the most is Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750). 

For background, I’ve been playing the piano since I was four years old. I have a Bachelor’s degree in Music (with a concentration in Piano Performance), and in my twenties, my day job was accompanying ballet classes and playing for churches, and whatever odd gig I could find (French restaurants, funerals, the what-have-you). But when I was in high school, I hated playing Bach. His work was dry, methodical, boring. I loved the massive crashing of Rachmaninoff or the flowing sentimentality of Chopin far more than the one-note-by-one-note plodding of Bach. When I got to college, I learned what was really happening. We studied the technique–called counterpoint–early on in our theory classes. I learned the story of how Johann viewed the spinning out of his themes as mathematical, their intricacies and direction inevitable. How he was born into a musical family (like me!), and how Frederick II of Prussia summoned him to court, played him a theme on his flute (Frederick II of Prussia was an accomplished musician in his own right–but let’s face it, not a genius like Bach) then demanded a six-part piece of counterpoint. Bach sat down (at age sixty, after a treacherous and long winter carriage ride) started to play, only to stop. The Prince asked him what was wrong, and Bach confessed he could not do it. Frederick crowed that he had stumped the great composer. But Johann said that it wasn’t that he was stumped, it was that the theme was impossible as a six-part confection. It could be done with fewer parts, which he then demonstrated. Or it could be done by slightly altering the line, and demonstrated that. 

But that story is not why Bach has loomed large in my life. His genius was clear, but it was his work ethic and profound humility that showed that genius is nothing without production. He said, “I worked hard. Anyone who works as hard as I did can achieve the same results.”

At the height of his career, he had princes vying for his talents. At his lowest, he was a music teacher at a school where he and his family were housed in a lead-poisoned cottage. Many of his children died there. His eldest son, an accomplished musician (one of Mozart’s teachers) and composer, CPE Bach, hated his stepmother, JS Bach’s second wife (also a court musician when they met). JS Bach had trials and hardship, he always had a house-full of children and pupils, constantly pumping out new work on a weekly basis. He had an ego, but he never stopped working. “Ceaseless work, analysis, reflection, writing much, endless self-correction, that is my secret.” 

It’s a reminder that the most effective advice in any pursuit is to just keep going. 

When I have the most acute case of Imposter Syndrome, when my brain weasels tell me that I can’t write my way out of a paper bag, it’s J.S. Bach (and Sherman Alexie, but that’s another story) who keep me returning to the computer keyboard. 

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Kathryn Pritchett
Written by Kathryn Pritchett

Kathryn Pritchett writes about strong women forged in the American West. To interact with her and the other Paper Lantern Writers, join us in our Facebook group SHINE, on Instagram, and Twitter.

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