Thursday, August 23, 2018

A Gentleman and a Bon Vivant: T. Lawton Carney's Wild Science Fiction

An Interview with Thomas Williams, AKA T. Lawton Carney
by Silver Webb

Thomas Williams, pen name T. Lawtown Carney, is a consummate gentleman, world-traveler, and bon vivant, whose favorite beverage would be a Pina Colada under the banyan tree in front of the Moana Surfrider Hotel on Waikiki beach. He is also an aspiring writer, having contributed his story "Emeralds for Andromeda" to Volume 1 of the Santa Barbara Literary Journal, which you can find here. Thomas is a Pisces, and in the Chinese zodiac, an Ox. Which I think means you can depend on both deep feelings and persistence from him. Thomas has written several books on interior design, and you can visit his Amazon writer profile here.

Silver: Where are you from originally and how has it influenced your writing?

Thomas: I can’t say being from Memphis, Tennessee, has influenced my writing style, but the sultry summers in that town slow one down and allow time to consider life. More significant was having important family members living near. My mother, particularly, started me reading at a very early age, then allowed me into the adult section of the library when I was only seven. My grandfather was also a man who could tell a story that stood your hair on end if he wanted to. His memories of traveling on a river boat on the Mississippi River as a child are incredible and filled with history. So, Memphis was okay, but it was the people there who influenced me.

Silver: When were you first gripped by the determination to be a writer of fiction and what was the inspiration for it?

Thomas: I’ve toyed with the idea since I was sixteen years old. But, I needed to go to school and college and then find a job to support myself. So, I let the writing slide. Then, in 2007 I was inspired to write a non-fiction book and that fired me up again. Within four years I had produced three non-fiction books and enjoyed the process. When we moved to Palm Springs my interior design career collapsed and I was left with nothing to occupy my time. Then it hit me. I have all the time I need now to write. So, get on with it. And, that’s what happened. I started writing and haven’t looked back.

Silver: How often do you write? Are you driven to do it?

Thomas: I write five and sometimes six days a week. Usually I start in the morning and might wrap up by lunchtime. On other days, I work into the afternoon. The process for me is strenuous in the sense that my mind is working overtime when I write. I don’t find it exhausting, but I need to relax after writing for a few hours.

Silver: What do you hope people will feel like after reading your work? Are there particular emotions you hope to elicit?

Thomas: More than anything, I hope they enjoy the tale I tell. I particularly want to envelope the reader in the action and characters. I like setting a mood to start a story then taking the reader into the developing action. I hope at the end, they like the resolution I create and look forward to reading another story.

Silver: Where do you find inspiration for your characters?

Thomas: As a direct answer I will say the inspiration comes from characters I’ve seen in movies and read about in books. But, my characters usually spring from my mind when I need them. It sounds crazy, but they are living in my brain, and when I have the need for a specific type or style of person, they present themselves. It is probably one of the most unexpected surprises for me and the work I do. I love creating the personae, the name, the look, and what part they will play in the story.

Silver: How would friends describe your personality?

Thomas: I can only answer by telling what I hope they see in me. I try in every way to be kind and considerate of those around me. I work hard not to judge and expect not to be judged. I hope I have a great sense of humor. I love to laugh. I can empathize with others challenges and try not to tell people what to do.

Silver: I think all of that is true and more, Thomas! I perceive you as a very easy going person, but quite serious about writing. Are you ever satisfied with your work?

Thomas: There are moments that make my heart sing. It’s when all the words come together and create a moment for the story that is unexpected and delicious. As I write and find something that doesn’t delight me I’ll change it and I’m rarely dissatisfied with the thoughts I put on paper. As with anything, it all always needs an edit or two.

Silver: What’s the wildest adventure you’ve ever been on?

Thomas: I don’t skydive, bust broncos, white water raft or things like that. I never did. Adventure and excitement, for me, is all about travel. So, even if the trip seems mundane to some I always get inspiration and feel excited when I travel. There have been numerous trips I would call wild adventure. Traveling three weeks across the Pacific on an ocean liner. Heck, even a transatlantic trip can be fun. Flying on the Concorde and sitting in the cockpit for landing both in Washington, DC, and JFK. All pre-9/11, of course. Surprising Robert by flying stand-by with only a passport and American Express card from Philadelphia to London. Hot air ballooning over Lake Tahoe. Any roller coaster, and I’ve been on a few. Visiting New York City in 1965 for the World’s Fair. The romance of travel is what makes it a wild adventure.

Silver: Are you in a writing group and how has it affected you?

Thomas: I joined the creative writing class at the LGBT center in Palm Springs in April of 2015. The group is moderated by a man who has been writing all his life. He has twelve books in print and more on the way. He allows each of us a chance to explore our ideas and what we want to write about. The critiques are always given with respect and never meant to demean. Everyone in the class makes suggestions as to what might work better. We all have a chance to read in class, and hearing your own words can be very helpful. The makeup of the class changes every ten weeks when a new session starts. Many members return and there are always a few new people. Each adds his or her own spin on fiction and often helps another class member come up with a new idea. The class helped me organize my time when writing, and it gives me an outlet for my creativity. The group as a whole is very supportive.

Silver: Are there any particular authors that inspire you?

Thomas: Robert Heinlein, Orson Scott Card, Arthur C. Clark, Margaret Mitchell, Frank Herbert, Laura Hobson, Jane Austen, Dashiell Hammett. There are other, less well-known authors, who inspired, intrigued, frightened, and moved me.

Silver: Any forthcoming or in-progress novels, poems, books, etc.?

Thomas: I’m about two-thirds of the way through the third novel in a series of near-future murder mysteries with a favorite character named Sam Markum The first was set in Palm Springs, the second in London, and this third is set in Carmel, Ca. I’ve also completed six short stories, four longer novellas, and a number of shorter pieces.

What do you find most gratifying about writing?

Thomas: Writing allows me the pleasure of letting my mind run wild. Then it all just comes out on the paper. It frees me from the day to day horror of who’s running the country and where we might all be headed. It helps take me away from myself. I love developing characters, scene setting, descriptions, and working to fill any story with detail and excitement. That’s what I find gratifying.

Silver: You've traveled a lot and always have good stories to tell. What have been some of your more interesting experiences and how have they affected your writing?

Thomas: There’s so much to enjoy about life. I get a pleasurable buzz when I know I’m about to get on a plane and go somewhere. How exciting is that? Throughout my life I’ve loved old movies and the tight stories that were told on film. The glamour of it all, the sets, costumes, actors and the exotic locales all helped me and my ability to write. Everything I saw in those movies has, in some way, helped me arrive at a point that I believe lets me write a story someone else might want to read. All of it has fired my imagination to create.

Silver: Tell us how you met your partner, Robert, and how your life together has influenced your writing.

Thomas: I met Robert on a flight from Philadelphia to London in June of 1981. He was working as the purser on the flight and I was a passenger. After the meal service, I introduced myself and we talked for three hours as we flew across the Atlantic. Once in London I asked if he would like to have lunch as I had a long layover there. He said yes, but he needed to go home and sleep a little. He told me to come out to his place in Richmond around 11:30. I went into town and bought flowers for him at Harrods. He loved them and lunch was in his local pub. Then I flew on to Milan, met friends after a few days and traveled around France. Once in Paris, I called Robert and asked if he would like to go out to dinner the next night in London. He picked me up at my hotel and out we went. I moved out to his house the next morning and spent five days seeing the sights, plays and just fun. The day before I was due to fly home, we were walking along the tow path on the Thames, and he turned and asked, “Just what kind of relationship are we going to have?” I replied, “I don’t know, but it’s going to be expensive.” Between that date, July 3, 1981 and April 1, 1982 we traveled 32 times between Philly and London. I moved April 1 and we stayed in London another two years before coming to the US. Recently, when I was just starting fiction writing, I had put together a few things that might become a memoire. It was boring and I was getting no help from the class. Robert asked why I wasn’t writing science fiction. He reminded me how much I enjoyed that genre. The moment I started writing, it all came out in a rush. It seemed sci-fi would open my brain to the writing.

Silver: Do you hope to bring LGBTQ characters to Sci-Fi?

Thomas: I already have. Of the books, novellas, and stories I've written, six are LGBTQ themed. I have even taken three pieces I wrote earlier and turned the characters around to be gay or lesbian. That was a lot of fun and added to the dialogue and, I think, the interesting characters. I believe there really might be a market out there. Now, all I have to do is find the right publisher. Isn’t that what they all say?

Silver: And you will find the right publisher, I know it! And you're fortunate to live in a community that is very LGBTQ friendly. Describe the perfect day in Palm Springs.

Thomas: There are moments in every day that are perfect. Early, when we get up, the sun is strong on the mountain as it rises in the east. The glow is magnificent and the air is still just a little cool. Sitting with Robert with a cup of tea or coffee watching the morning unfold can be rapturous. Then perfection can be had when we’re at the Tropicale, surrounded by men and women all having a good time. The atmosphere is electric and the food ain’t bad, either. In the evening with the top down on the car driving home from a dinner party. I don’t expect perfection from a day, I loved to be surprised at the most unexpected moments. That’s a perfect day.

Silver: Thank you, Thomas, and the very best of luck in your writing career. We'll be keeping an eye out for the Sam Markum mysteries!

You can find Thomas's story "Emeralds for Andromeda" in Volume 1 of the Santa Barbara Literary Journal, available here on Amazon.

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

An Ideal Realist: Author Thomas Timmins

An Interview by Shaun Sanders and Silver Webb

Tom Timmins is the author of novels, poetry, short and flash fiction, and non-fiction. You can visit him here. His flash contributions “Leaving for Church,” “Miracle Dirt,” and “The Fox Can't Resist” are in Volume 1 of the Santa Barbara Literary Journal, available here.

Shaun: You live in Massachusetts, west of Boston. What’s the best part of living there?

Tom: I love the forest, and my wife is from here. I have a lot of friends and am making new ones. I came back to Massachusetts nine years ago from Santa Barbara and started a company. But I’m far from my children, who are all over the country. Otherwise, it’s a wonderful place, aside from the winters.

Silver: I met you many years ago, Tom, when you were writing and rewriting Aphrodisiac for an Angel, and now it’s been published through your company ZöeTown Media. The heroine, Zöe, is a remarkable fifteen-year-old.

Tom: Yes, she's driven by the notion that she can rise to heaven body-and-soul, meet her mother and her mother's friends, and return to Earth. She lives near the Pine Ridge Oglala Native American reservation in South Dakota, near the Badlands and the Black Hills.

Shaun: In the book, we see the world through Zöe’s perspective and it really draws the reader in. What was your inspiration was for Zöe?

Tom: Zöe is focused, fearless, buoyed by indefatigable optimism. Since her only life goal is to ascend to heaven in her body to see her mother who is a spirit, you might think she’s childish or mentally disturbed. But her longing to be with her mother has propelled her thinking and acting since she was six when her mother died in the car accident that Zöe survived.

I was raised in a rural Iowa town, with strong religious and moral values, and I structured the novel after the Catholic mass. In the novel, events move Zöe to follow the path Jesus followed after his death and prior to his final Ascension. When he died, he first he went to the underworld to save the souls, so Zöe collects souls to take to heaven and much of the novel takes place in an underworld.

Silver: So Aphrodisiac for an Angel is a quest tale?

Tom: Yes. And a coming-of-age tale. And a love story. As Zöe seeks heaven—and an angel to fly her there—she grows up fast. My sense is that almost all American hero novels are based on the Christ story. The basic structure of a heroine who endures terrible pain and doubt, is nearly killed while facing and overcoming evil, then through some act of immense generosity, saves people or solves the problem. This is the first book in the series, with two more in the hopper. Aphrodisiac is also an environmental novel. But if a novel doesn't feature love it's likely to be boring to most readers. The core of the book emerges when Zöe finds a drink recipe in an old cookbook called “An aphrodisiac for your angel.” With this recipe, she intends to entice an angel to bear her up to heaven. In pursuit of her angel, Zöe, her beloved stepbrother, and a Hunkpapa tribal elder stumble into what could be the most catastrophic environmental disaster in U.S. history.

Shaun: I wasn’t raised in the Catholic Church, but it seemed to me that the things Zöe sees and believes in are possible because of the element of magical realism.

Tom: Garcia Marquez was a big influence on me. Besides a literary genre, magical realism as an approach to understanding the world is something I believe in. I treasure imagination, even as I’m a fairly scientific and logical person. I'm interested in brain science and genetic biology as roots of behaviors and relationships. Studies have shown that magical thinking is networked in the brain with the same places where the imagination arises. Zöe's enormous imagination impels her through the world.

Shaun: Early in the book, we meet Reverend Kessup, who becomes Zöe's antagonist. It’s quite a juxtaposition to go from Zöe’s point of view to this sleazy guy.

Tom: When Zöe is ten years old, she learns about the Rapture, and all the souls who are saved will rise up to heaven. And that’s part of her fantasy. Reverend Kessup comes along and Zöe believes he might help her get to heaven. But it becomes obvious that he’s really sleazy, a dark, bad guy. He represents the false manipulation of people’s minds, dreams, needs. The kind of thing we see when we turn on the television.

Shaun: The book is set in the Dakotas, and we find ourselves in conversation with Wakanda, who is a Lakota elder. I’m wondering did you did have to do a lot of research or did you grow up there?

Tom: As a kid, I spent time in the Black Hills, exploring them, camping, spelunking. I wanted to make the "Wakanda" character a contemporary citizen acting out a family vision. The book does not touch deeply on the sorrowful troubles with life on the reservation. I’ve studied Native American mythology and my sister taught on Pine Ridge in Oglala County, the poorest county in the United States. I don’t pretend to know anything from the inside of Native American cultures.

Shaun: Zöe has her own hero in her brother Devan and they stumble on a nuclear dumpsite deep in the hills near the reservation. We’re exploring a lot of interesting areas, mythology, Native Americans, magical realism, and then toxic dumping. Tell us about that.

Tom: I was born in 1945, on the day the United States dropped the nuclear bomb on Hiroshima. The mushroom cloud is a haunting, fundamental image for me of this world. Having grown up in the 1950's, I had a real awareness of the Cold War and the potential for nuclear bombs. My business is an environmental energy efficiency business, so I’m focusing on reducing energy use throughout the company in large facilities. Though nuclear energy is not polluting in the short term, it has this tremendous pollution of radioactive waste for ten thousand years or more. Right here in Massachusetts, 20 miles to the west and 20 miles to the east sit two of the earliest nuclear power plants in the country. They're closed and the waste is stored there, so I’m very conscious of the presence and dangers of the waste.

Silver: How long have you been writing and do you have a regular time for writing?

Tom: I’ve been writing all my remembered life, but I didn’t write any fiction until I was in my thirties. I wrote short stories. Right now I’m writing a lot of narrative poetry and my favorite time to write is just before I go to sleep. Somehow in that liminal world between waking and sleep, images and ideas emerged unscathed by consciousness.

Shaun: Something that strikes me about your writing is the level of intensity, there’s a lot of description, nuance, characters. I really feel gripped by it. What’s it like to maintain this level of intensity throughout the writing process?

Tom: I think that’s just who I am. I’ve written several books, run several business, I have several children, I love researching and talking. There’s some kind of a creative drive. It’s a drive.

Shaun: You’ve written in a variety of genres from poetry books, Likings for Shadows and I was just laughing, ghazals and sonnets, to Puff of Time, which has shorter stories, to novels. All of these are published through Zöetown Media, your company. How did Zöetown Media come about?

Tom: I first went the route of trying to find agents and publishers. One of my friends is a non-fiction agent with successful nonfiction authors. She sent me to some of her colleagues. They got back to me with “It’s good, but who’s going to publish it?” I received more than 100 rejections. At some point, I realized I was good at starting businesses, and together with help from my son and few other people, I started the publishing company. We expect to expand to a variety of authors. I have an interest in publishing translations of Japanese women mystery and thriller writers.

Silver: My favorite stories, of the ones you’ve written, are the Tofu Noir Mystery novels. You obviously founded and ran a tofu company for a while. How did that experience inform the tofu novels?

Tom: I had a wild ride during the times I was in the tofu manufacturing and marketing business in the 1980's, when the word "tofu" guaranteed a laugh on late-night TV shows. We were idealists who thought we had a chance to solve world hunger issues while making a living to support our families. Those ten years taught me more about the ins and outs, upsides and downsides, light sides and dark sides of people and possibilities than any other time in my life. I couldn't help but write a dark comedic mystery novel set in the tofu and international foods industry. There are quite a few funny scenes.

Silver: You have sustained an amazingly productive writing life, with over ten books published. What do you see ahead for writing projects and maybe new areas you’d like to explore?

Tom: The next book to arrive (fall 2018) is Zom, a graphic verse novel. Then two more books of poems. I have a non-fiction book in the final draft stages and notes for the next two Aphrodisiac novels.

Shaun: Thank you very much for speaking with us, Tom.

Shaun Sanders is a Kiwi author and independent publisher who has lived in Carpinteria for the past eleven years. He has two novels available under the pen name Ray Swift, and he also contributed an essay "The Good Ship Pallamary" to Volume 1 of SB Lit Jo, available here.

Monday, August 6, 2018

Kate Graves: An Introspective Santa Barbara Songstress

An Interview by Laura Hemenway

Kate Graves’ quirky, vulnerable songwriting style is exemplified by "Clubhouse," her contribution to Santa Barbara Literary Journal’s Volume 1, available on Amazon here. As a person, she is warm, funny, and constantly soul-searching to create slices of life in her songs. In this exuberant and thoughtful summer evening conversation, Kate reveals a bit about her Santa Barbara childhood, her musical influences, and the inspiration and renewal she receives from attending the annual Song School in Colorado, sponsored by Planet Bluegrass. 

*Kate will be playing Soho on September 12, please come out to support our local girl! Tickets here.*

LAURA: What kind of encouragement did you get, in your early life, to be a creative person?

KATE: My dad is a visual artist, and he’s also a really big music lover; he doesn’t play an instrument. But he listens to a lot of different music, and all the time. So, I think he was probably my first. I wouldn’t say he was an encourager (laughing), but I would say that he exposed us to a lot of good music and just creating, in general. I remember we would sit on a Saturday, and he would want us to draw a still life…an apple, a bowl,…so I think I was exposed to the arts through him. And then when encouragement came when I went to Santa Barbara Middle School, and I got into Theater, and singing. The music classes were taught around the piano, by Maureen Hazard. And we would sing like, David Byrne songs. And none of us knew how to sing, but it was so fun. I think that it really sparked the joy that I think was necessary to get me more interested in continuing to sing and practice.

LAURA: Since we’re talking about creating, did you have something that you gravitated towards, that was your favorite method of creating.? Painting? Music-making? Singing? Acting?

KATE: I loved acting. I took every theater class I could. It was kind of improvisational, taking a lot of creative liberties with the plays, not structured in a lot of ways, but with enough structure to hold it together. So in thinking about it now, that does correlate it with performance, too. Because, I was very shy, and I still am shy, in certain situations. But I was still compelled to get on the stage.

LAURA: Did the stage feel comfortable, like home?

KATE: It felt terrifying. I’m very sensitive to environments. And with the stage there is this separation. It was a way that I could still communicate with people. So I could have enough distance, yet still connect. For instance, I’ve always liked coffee shop jobs, rather than waiting tables, because there’s a bar between me and the customers. I think I would probably love bar-tending. I like that boundary. But you still get to have that connection.

LAURA: When did you start to create songs? Was that a natural extension from theater and what you were getting at school?

KATE: I wrote my first song in Middle School. It was a little song called “Gonna Get Away.” It was definitely full of angst; I was probably 14 or 15. But my teacher, Marco Andrade, helped me (because I didn’t play any instrument at the time) write the music, and he put a drum track to it, and we recorded it. It was a really lucky experience, for a kid. And after we recorded it, they gathered the school one day, and they played it in front of the school. It was my rock star moment, at age 15. I was so proud of that song. And then, I didn’t write again for a long time. I had my one big hit! (laughing)

LAURA: What songwriters are touchstones for you?

KATE: Well, Joni Mitchell. Her poetry and her musical prowess. When I first heard “Blue” when I was 17, it was just very monumental. Like when I heard Bob Dylan’s “Blood on the Tracks,” those two albums. It was the first time I remember playing a record on repeat. And I just played it, and played it, and played it.

There’s a songwriter named Christine Kane. If I need a cathartic experience, I just go to one of her shows. I remember going to the bathroom at one point, during one of her shows, and wondering, “Can I go back out there?” Because she’s somebody who definitely hits something sonically emotional, for me. And of course, Mary Gauthier, is one of the best writers around. She and Christine are both mission-driven, at this point, to give back, not just do the “selfish artist” dance that I’ve done a lot of my life. There’s a lot of selfishness to being an artist.

LAURA: You kind of have to be selfish. It’s a double-edged sword, for sure.

KATE: Yet there’s a kind of gorgeousness about it.

LAURA: What’s your favorite kind of venue? Is there a specific favorite that you’ve played, so far?

KATE: Going back to the stage, I really enjoy good light, and good sound, and intimacy in setting. I’ve played enough gigs with terrible sound, to know that when you have good sound and someone running it, it is a real gift. I like Soho, here in Santa Barbara. I love their family, I love that they’ve done so much for musicians over the years. They’ve had really great, caring sound guys. I also like living room shows, house concerts. And I know, for practice, that there’s nothing wrong with a coffee shop gig, It has its own important value, in terms of getting over myself, and being able to just run the songs.

LAURA: What’s your favorite part of the creative process: creating a song, performing a song, or recording a song?

KATE: My favorite part is once I get into it, once I get into that river. And I start the song. The hardest part is always starting, like doing anything, right? But my favorite part is, once you kind of get rolling with it, and you’re not yet editing, you’re in flow with the ideas coming and forming.

LAURA: You enjoy that even more than performing it, when it’s finally realized? Or recording?

KATE: Well, I do love performing. I’m actually not that great in the recording studio. I get antsy. Sitting all day long, and going over each note, I’m like “Let’s move it along!” Which is why I always need a good engineer! (laughing) I need someone that cares about it. But I love when I’m writing, and it’s coming, and it feels like time is in a different place.

LAURA: Can you point to anything that sustains you on a daily basis; something that keeps you coming back to write, again and again?

KATE: My ego. (laughing) No, it’s not true! Well, it’s true and it’s not true. I feel connection, on a higher level, when I’m able to perform my songs. I feel connection between me and the audience; that is a big gift to me. Someone listening to you is a really big gift in this world, where there are a lot of people talking. So that communication is really powerful for me. That keeps me wanting to write.

But also, as a practice, writing is a healthy way for me to stay connected with myself. It’s a really good way for me to uncover how I feel about something , or to process something. I’m actually interested in working more with people, in writing, because I think that writing is a really cool way to get in touch with ourselves, in a cathartic way. Just to access ourselves. Life is so busy in the modern world. It’s really easy to lose touch with ourselves and others.

LAURA: So, you’ve never gotten to the point where it’s like, “Man, I’ve nothing left to write about.”

KATE: Oh, no! No way. There’s always something to write about, it’s just a daunting task to sit down. I’ve been doing writing for ElephantJournal this summer. I took an online writing course. I’ve been getting into a pretty good flow with just writing, daily, and the ritual of it feels great. It’s amazing how, once you get into that flow, it’s a lot easier. Because you’re generating material, so the next day, you’re combing over something you did last week. All of a sudden it doesn’t seem nearly as hard.

LAURA: Writing begets writing, for you.

KATE: I’m seeing that it does. I used to be of the mind that “I’ll just write when I want to write.” But I’m finding that right now, for me, that’s changing. I’m finding that if I write at the same time of day, in the morning, that sets me off on my day. Then my subconscious thinks all day about the piece. I’m working on it while I’m not working on it.

LAURA: You’re about ready to take off for Colorado. Tell me a little bit about Song School.

KATE: If you say the word “pilgrimage,” I think that describes the experience, for me. It’s where I got into songwriting, after that one song at age 15. I didn’t write another song until I was about 24. I went with my sister…reluctantly. I did not want to go. I had just broken up with someone; I had my heart broken. And she said, “You’ve got to stop feeling sorry for yourself, and get out of the house.” She was doing a lot of songwriting, and she kind of dragged me along. I didn’t play guitar then; I was a fish out of water. I sang, but I didn’t have any songs.

I took a class at Song School; it was a beginner’s class. And we were asked to pair up with someone, and tell that person a story with a beginning, a middle, and an end. And your partner then told you a story. And then we were to spend a week crafting a song, to share with them. And it was such a powerful experience, because I got, again, that spark I had when I was 15. I just wanted to tell her story well. I wanted to honor her story. And it was just beautiful. I wrote a song about her mother, who was a poet, but not a great mother. It was called “Wildflower Poet.” It was kind of the story of a mother/daughter who had this connection through art. And wasn’t really your typical idyllic mom/daughter relationship.

So that’s kind of what Planet Bluegrass is for me. Touchstone is a good word, these places that are kind of central. I found my tribe of people there. That was the biggest thing.

I haven’t been able to go every year. But I’ve gone whenever I could. Every year is different. Every year brings me a completely different kind of lesson. I always have one solid breakdown, in a good way. I always have a break through. I’ve kind of recommitted to making sure that I get there.

LAURA: What’s the structure?

KATE: Long days. 3 classes a day, but there are workshops. You camp by a river, (some people get AirBnBs), and everybody stays up at night. By Day 4, people are tired. It’s good, it’s very much an intensive. The teachers are amazing. Mary Gauthier teaches there; Peter Himmelman teaches there…one year Josh Ritter was a teacher. He was darling, and so sweet. Anais Mitchell was a teacher one year.

LAURA: What kind of workshops?

KATE: They bring in songwriters who are going to be playing in the festival, and they teach workshops.

LAURA: How many people in attendance?

KATE: About 100.

LAURA: Would you recommend it to other songwriters?

KATE: Absolutely. And I would say, get your ticket early, because they’re selling out now, in December, and it’s not until August. Go to the website. They run the Telluride Bluegrass Festival, and they run Rocky Grass, which is a bluegrass academy. My friend Jill is going next week to the bluegrass academy, and she’s making her second mandolin. You make your own instrument, and you play bluegrass all week. It’s amazing.

LAURA: Do you have any other performances coming up?

KATE: September 12 at Soho. It’s Natalie D. Napoleon, and her friend Gina VillaLobos, who is putting a tour together with Amee Chapman, a friend she used to play with years ago. I think it’ll be fun. I love playing shows with women. (Tickets available here.)

LAURA: Any advice to give to creative people out there?

KATE: Find something that you love. It doesn’t matter…cooking, …you can be creative in sports…you can be creative doing anything! Creativity is a playful, open way of approaching something. You can be creative in conversation. We all use the same language, but if I wanted to invite my imaginatively exuberant, wild child, mystic bird person…you can open that up, in language. I kind of see creativity as playfulness. A lightness, in a way.

LAURA: Do you ever look at a songwriter and think to yourself “if only that person would just do such and such, they would have it all together?” Any advice that you would give to a songwriter, or songwriters in general?

KATE: In songwriting and performing, the shorter the better. You don’t need 10 verses. Unless you’re Woody Guthrie. (laughing)

LAURA: I’m going to embroider that on something. (laughing)

KATE: That’s one thing. Err on the side of cutting your song down. And when you start writing about something, write about something you can access your feelings to and talk about. Because if you write about something that’s too close at that moment, you haven’t processed it yet. You lose your perspective. Write about something that you really care about, and write about something that you can talk about logically. Because when you’re writing you can translate what you’re thinking .

Oh! And start off by word association games! This works great if you’re just starting to write songs. Where you just pick a word, and start associating other words with it…that will get you in your poetic side of your mind,. Give yourself 3 minutes, and start with say, periwinkle. Periwinkle reminds me of that yoga mat, which reminds me of the floor, then head, then ear…make this giant list of words. Then go back and circle the words that are coming out for you. That’s a good place to start getting ideas for metaphors you might want to use, to write about. I think the main thing is that it gets you into this creative side of your mind, and not the side that’s “I’m going to write my magnum opus right now!” For me, that works. The clustering works.

LAURA: We’ve got some great stuff here! Thanks, Kate!

KATE: Thanks, Laura!

You can find out more about Kate Graves’ music here.
Tickets for Kate’s September 12 show at Soho are available here.
Kates' song "Clubhouse" is available in Volume 1 of the Santa Barbara Literary Journal, available here.

Laura Hemenway curates the SB Lit Jo section of Lyrics, which endeavor to treat song lyrics with the same importance and eye as poetry. She lives in Santa Barbara with her husband, songwriter Dennis Russell. She plays cello with the SBCC Orchestra, sings in the women’s vocal ensemble “Lux,” and is a “regular" at Palm Loft Songwriter’s Circle in Carpinteria. Laura has served as Music Director for Out of the Box Theatre, has played cello with the Santa Barbara Folk Orchestra, and has served on the board for the Goleta Valley Art Association. She is a painter and her work can be seen here. Her favorite activity is playing accordion and singing backup on gigs with her husband, Dennis Russell.