Monday, June 15, 2015

Blogger Spotlight: Author/journalist Christine Estima

Then in school, we had to take keyboarding class, so we all learned how to type on typewriters. At the time we didn’t appreciate the class because we didn’t think it would be a skill we would ever use. I remember a girl in my class said, “I’m not going to be a secretary when I grow up, why do I even need this?” But now I’m so grateful, being a writer, that we had this class. I can type about 90 wpm and it allows my essays and op-eds to just flow free.

I love the font of typewriters, I like the tactile quality. I love the ding at the end the of page, I love slamming the platen back to home. I love the gorgeous THACK THACK THACK noise the keys make as you type. There is also a violence to typewriters that I quite enjoy. The keys strike the page with such torque, I half-expect blood to drip from the page . . . if only it would.

It’s strange, as an adult, and living in a computerized world, to want ditch the digital and return to analog.

As far as I can remember, I’ve always been telling stories of some kind. I see myself more as a storyteller than a writer. At first the storyteller in me took the form of performance, and I thought acting was going to be my path, but despite my many achievements in that area, there was something about it that left a bad taste in my mouth. Probably the idea that you can be denied a job not because of talent but because of how you look, which I think is pure fuckery. How can you measure talent and ability in appearance?

But also, personally, I struggled to really be vulnerable on stage. In truth, I don’t like being vulnerable in front of a large group of people. But in writing, I don’t mind being as vulnerable as I can. There’s some kind of disconnect for me when it comes to performance, and I feel like I’m revealing too much of myself in person, but I don’t mind revealing myself in my words.

Every once in a while, the performer in me comes out, it’s probably my need to be a ham. I’ve done a lot of Spoken Word and Live-Storytelling at events in London, New York City, and Toronto, in front of huge audiences.

Being vulnerable in my writing always came much easier. I got my first professional publication when I was 18 and I never looked back. Since then, I’ve had everything published from essays, op-eds, editorials, music/film/theatre/book reviews, travel writing, academic essays, and interviews with celebrities, to short stories and I’ve even had a few plays produced professionally as well. I’ve been really lucky to have my fiction published in prestigious literary magazines that only accept around 1% of the submitted work. My main focus has always been fiction, and it always will be. I’ve always loved dreaming up stories and scenarios and exploring them to their fullest.

Writing is very cathartic and I get to explore ideas and themes that I find it difficult to explore in conversation sometimes. I often feel like the people I talk to aren’t actually listening to me. Everyone has ADHD or they’re checking their phones, and it’s hard to find people who truly listen to you. But when it’s writing, people can read it at their leisure in between Instagramming so at least the message gets across. And I have to say, most of the stuff I write has garnered a lot of great feedback. It’s great when something you’ve poured yourself into incites a deep emotional response from someone. Or when something satirical or comedic gets all the laughs in the right spot.

When I’m angry about an injustice, I write. Like when I wrote about a woman who asked me to kill her cat. Or when I wrote about the #FHRITP phenomenon that glorifies rape culture. When I’m sad and going through a lot of pain, I write.

I feel like great art requires great suffering. The best work I’ve ever done has always come out of my pain. So when I’m done wallowing in self pity, I pick myself up, pull myself the fuck together, and write.

So far it’s been a really fruitful journey. I’ve been really lucky with the places I’ve been published: national pop culture magazines, literary journals, academic journals, anthologies, once I was even published in an encyclopedia!

Always having an eye for stories and engaging content is a skill that takes years to cultivate. I’m not like Jack Kerouac who wrote On The Road in 2 weeks. I have to admit to myself that I’m not naturally gifted. I had to work for years to develop my style and tone and voice and form. Those things didn’t just appear in my brain by fairies. Cultivating talent means a lot of failure, and lemme tell you, I’ve had a lot of rejection in my life. I’ve had story after story rejected, and the stack of rejection letters I’ve received could fill a warehouse. But unlike some writers I know, I never let that destroy me. I always knew I was good at what I do, so I just let that stuff roll off my back and I kept going.

For example, recently a short story of mine was accepted into a literary journal. That story made the magazine rounds for TWO years, and was rejected again and again. But I knew it was good, so I just kept submitting it and finally someone saw its worth and bought it. Same thing happened a few years ago when a short story of mine was rejected across the board for two years, then one day I received word that it was shortlisted for the 2011 Writer’s Union of Canada short prose award. That really gave me the confidence boost I needed, and I continued to submit it until finally a great literary magazine bought it.

Perseverance, patience, and ambition are probably a writer’s greatest asset. It’s true that talent is super important as well, because the cream will always rise to the top, but I know a lot of talented writers, better than me, who gave up on writing years ago because they didn’t have any drive or ambition. They don’t particularly care to see their name in print or to pursue this as a career. It is a very precarious career that offers little security, so it’s not for the faint of heart. All that stuff never bothered me really, I’ve always been a bit of a nomadic waif anyway. So for me the talent was always paramount with my ambition. You really need to have both if you’re going to make a name for yourself in an industry that doesn’t owe you any favours.

I always tell writers, you gotta hustle! You gotta pitch all the time, send out queries, write as often as you can, read as often as you can, and follow up! Pitch, follow up, and if they don’t like it, pitch something else. Strive to always come up with ideas and brainstorm them until they are refined and cohesive. I don’t always get it right, I’ve published some things that missed the mark a little and weren’t my best stuff. But you have to fail as often as you succeed, otherwise the payoff isn’t as great.

And the best thing about being a freelance writer is that I am beholden to no one and no place. I can work from anywhere. Which is why I’ve been living on-and-off in Europe since 2007. The only things I need to do my job are a WiFi signal and a cup of coffee. Thanks to the mobile nature of my work, my nomadic nature, and my dual citizenship, I ended up living in nine cities across Europe, including London, Cologne, Brussels, Amsterdam, Copenhagen, Berlin and Paris. I just packed up and moved whenever I felt like it, and in every city, I would write and write and write. I probably know all the best cafes in each of these aforementioned cities because I wrote in all of them! And my body of work shows it.

Now that I’m back in Toronto, I’m really pulling all the strings and networking all the contacts that I’ve made here over the years, and hustlin’ like mad to get my writing and ideas out there. I have a lot of stuff in the can, and a lot of forthcoming publications to look forward to. I’m also editing my second novel, and that is taking up a lot of my energy, but I love it and can’t wait for the day it’s published to share it with the world.

Little sneak peak: the novel features a typewriter that is an integral part of the plot. ‘Natch.

- Christine Estima

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