writers on the creative life
featuring Susannah Indigo
Susannah Indigo is the editor of Slow Trains, and also the editor-in-chief of Clean Sheets, a zine devoted to literary sexuality. She is the author of Oysters Among Us, a novel in stories that follows the adventures of a group of friends and family as they sort through their various fantasies and truths, always on the lookout for ways of living more sensual and erotic lives. She is also the co-editor of From Porn To Poetry: Clean Sheets Celebrates the Erotic Mind, an anthology of erotic fiction, essays and poems. Her work has been featured in dozens of books, including Best American Erotica, and she was a finalist in the Moondance International Film Festival for her story god@ heaven.com .
1. When did you start writing?
A long time ago. For almost twenty years I wrote, and wrote, and wrote, and always ended up discarding everything. Then I stopped doing that, and have had a lot more fun. Who knows why? It was always a secret, private thing for me, something I did to release the craziness, and I never had a serious drive to be published, since I was busy with business and travel and babies. Then I met someone nine years ago who I actually shared the writing with, and he gave me the belief and incentive to shine some light onto my words.
On my better days I am highly disciplined -- every morning, I exercise, then meditate, then write for a minimum of two hours. After that time I am free for editing, for the consulting day job, for children, for living. But I am often consumed with both writing and editing and end up doing it more or less around the clock, which is never quite as productive as those two magical morning hours before any interruptions have arisen. I use headphones and great music to alter my state when I'm writing, which is certainly healthier than swigging champagne at the hour I get up.
John Irving and Henry Miller had a huge influence on me as a teenager, at about the same time. Irving came out of nowhere with this great imagination in The World According to Garp -- my mother always said my middle name was "imagination", and here was this storyteller whose imagination I couldn't touch, telling stories within stories, and being funny about it. Henry Miller was, and still is, my ideal for writing from inside sexuality and passion. I've always had a lot of "male energy" in my writing, people say, and I assume it stems from my early influences. Other writers I adore include: Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Richard Ford, Paul Theroux, Bruce Chatwin, Nobokov, MFK Fisher, Joan Didion, Walt Whitman, Clarissa Pinkola Estes, and of course....
...Hemingway, which has inspired me to write Bad Hemingway for the annual contest almost every year. I was one of ten finalists a few years ago, and had my Bad Hemingway read out loud at Harry's Bar -- and really, what else is there? This year I just got an email from Hemispheres, the United Airlines in-flight magazine that publishes the winner, informing me that although PEN/West has dropped out of sponsoring the contest, they will continue with it, and they said, please, encourage everyone to keep writing Bad Hemingway!
On starting Slow Trains: When I was quite young, I was in love with The Paris Review -- The New Yorker was my weekly romance, but TPR went the distance. Pop-music & working at Burger Chef & The Paris Review, that represents my schizophrenic suburban teenage years in the lost-culture land of middle-america. There was something about the artistry, and what I thought of as discovery, and talent of TPR that always inspired me, and I knew that some day I'd have my own literary journal, as far-fetched as that seemed at the time. I keep a list of 100+ things to do before I die, and that was always on the list -- to contribute to the world with my own vision of creativity, to work with talented writers, and to bring it all together in a stylish way. I had no idea back then that it would be on the Web some day -- who could possibly have imagined this format? The form that Slow Trains takes now -- everything from the title, to the use (humbly!) of a line from one of my poems for the tag line -- sophistication pales against the rhythm of slow trains -- came to me in dream form. I can't recall ever struggling to envision it -- it was floating around on the right side of my brain more or less complete, and then I got it all down right on the Web, with a great deal of help from our talented Web designer, Brian Peters, and every time I bring up the front page of Slow Trains I confess to feeling happy and superior to the rest of the known universe, at least for two minutes.
So many things. Music, preferably live and in person; drumming; African dance; my meditation practice; baseball; kids, particularly working with kids & creativity. The mountains -- I have a cabin in Grand Lake, not far from Rocky Mountain National Park, and the two-hour drive there from Denver can transform your state of being better than drugs. Skiing; racquetball; chess; learning; the work of art that I am trying to make with Slow Trains.
Very much so -- jazz, bluegrass, the Grateful Dead, Van Morrison, Bob Dylan, all have a very strong influence on my writing and my life. First there's the celebration of live music festivals, which I can only hope to capture through my writing some day. Then there's the dancing, the African drumming, the rhythm of the words. Finally there are the words themselves -- great lyrics are always an inspiration. I would find it more satisfying than any award imaginable to create a phrase as fabulous as "tangled up in blue" before I'm done with my writing life.
San Francisco, the Rocky Mountains in Colorado, New Mexico. I travelled a lot when I was younger, and lost any real desire for constant new things; now I try to only travel to soul places. You know how every now and then you see a movie or read a book and you are inspired creatively, it moves you to write, and write better, or differently? Not for any logical, linear reason, but just because you've experienced it. That's how I feel about travel -- that's what I want out of it, to shift my state of mind, to find inspiration, both external and internal.
Sometimes from lines that children spout; sometimes from dancing; but most of the time from just shutting down the conscious mind and letting the imagination and words flow.
These days my biggest vices involve things like the joy of soaking alone in my hot tub under the big aspen tree in the backyard, which is truly an addiction after too many hours spent living inside my head. And Diet Pepsi, a silly but seemingly permanent habit ( I know, because as soon as I typed the words "Diet Pepsi" I had to go get one!). OK, one more -- I really love the nitrous at my dentist's office and how it shifts my state in five minutes. I would be in big trouble if I had a tank of this in my office, I'd be inhaling every morning.
Sex, death, music, baseball, children, and the challenge that is the art of living, which is actually much more fascinating than death. Why do people do the things they do? And even more of interest to me in terms of creativity and motivation is the opposite question, why don't people do the things they mean to do?
Everything. I am overwhelmed with possibilities at the moment. I have paused in the heavy focus on my own writing to get two books into print from two magazines ( Slow Trains Volume I and From Porn To Poetry: Clean Sheets Celebrates the Erotic Mind), both of which will now be annual series. From Porn to Poetry has just been picked up by Doubleday Book Club; Slow Trains has had a story selected for the new "best of the Web" print anthology coming up with Pam Houston as guest editor (more on this when it's formalized). Several other books are on the horizon for me, including my novel, Mapping Charlotte, about a woman who simply 'disappears' from her ordinary days, currently excerpted at Eclectica Magazine.
©2002 by Susannah Indigo
Featured work in Slow Trains includes:
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