Anna Scotti: You Have to Live Before You Can Write
Author, teacher, poet, and songwriter, Anna Scotti, once thought of becoming an actor, an ornithologist, or a journalist. After graduating from college, she modeled and worked background in films and TV before landing a job with an export firm. She continued expanding her résumé with a career in journalism, then came motherhood, teaching, a Master of Fine Arts, and a metamorphosis—to poet and novelist.
“I think everything I’ve done is grist for fiction and poetry,” Anna says. “You have to live before you can write.”
A full-time teacher, she credits working with middle-schoolers as a sure-fire method of fueling creativity. “They’re fearless about writing in a way few adults are; it’s inspirational.”
When she assigns her students to write a poem or a story, she writes one too. Imagine the volumes of new literature that would populate bookshelves, fill rooms, and pour into our communities if every teacher did this.
Among the bounty, naturally, would be Anna’s poems—many of which have appeared in The New Yorker, The Comstock Review, Crabcreek Review, Compass Rose, Yemassee, and Chautauqua, to name a few literary journals that have published her work. Her short stories published in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine would likewise fill the coffers.
Intrigued by her description of a series about a librarian on the run and in witness protection, along with a new novel, Swelter, that takes place during the civil rights movement, and a poetry collection, Bewildered by All This Broken Sky, scheduled for release April 30, 2021, I asked Anna what it’s like to work on multiple projects simultaneously.
There are pros and cons, she explained, but the projects tend to inform and support each other. “I’ll come up with a phrase or a sentence while I’m writing a mystery, and it’s not quite right for that story, but then it resurfaces as the line of a poem.”
Nothing goes to waste. What doesn’t get used in a poem, novel, or short story might even find its way into a song, as Anna has forayed into writing country music. The natural bridge between lyrics and storytelling bodes well for her latest creative endeavor, which I’m certain will be a success.
I spoke with Anna about her novella, Big and Bad. She loves dogs and the story grew out of her horror at the cruelty and indifference people show them. “I wanted to tell a good story, but I also wanted to show what can happen to dogs that are abandoned or left at the pound.” It’s heartbreaking when someone dies or an older person moves into assisted living and close friend, neighbor, or family member can’t take in his or her pet.
The novella is written from two points of view—one canine, one human. Candy is a teen-age girl in Los Angeles whose mother has died. Bear is a dog who’s been shuffled around to various owners and served several stints in the pound. The voices of Candy and Bear came easily for Anna. However, keeping the timelines straight required careful note-taking and frequent comparison to ensure the two threads of the story lined up.
When she began writing this book, Anna didn’t know how it would be structured. “I originally conceived it as Candy’s story, and while Bear was a big part of it, most of the book was seen through Candy’s eyes.” While writing Bear’s backstory, however, she realized he needed his own voice. “It’s a trick to make an animal think in a voice that is intelligible and serious, yet quirky enough to seem the way a dog would narrate if he really could.” The final effect is magical and endearing.
Anna’s novel in progress, Swelter (a working title), takes place in 1968, the year of the March on Washington and the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The protagonist is a seven year-old girl who leaves Washington, DC to stay with family in the South. Anna worked at length on certain early scenes only to realize they undermined the explosive tension of a pivotal, later scene. As difficult as it was to see good work go down the drain, she cut the earlier passages from the manuscript.
“I think most writers have experienced that in one way or another,” she said. “Faulkner said ‘You must kill your darlings,’ and it’s true—but sometimes it hurts!”
Hungry for writing advice, I asked Anna about her writing practice and whether she keeps a journal, diary, or idea notebook. Although many writers and writing teachers swear by them, her take is that writing in a daily diary would take time away from other projects and seldom provide usable material for her fiction or poetry.
As for an idea notebook, though, she said that is one of her goals. “Right now I have post-its, old envelopes, paper napkins, and torn scraps of paper strewn about the house, stuck to nearly every surface, with ideas and notes—some legible, some not.”
I could picture the scene, and her description sounded familiar and oddly comforting to me, as my thesis project lies scattered upon the piano and kitchen island. With my guilt subsiding, I thanked Anna for her candor. We shared a laugh over her confession about finding a piece of paper stuck to a mirror that simply said, in bright red sharpie, “Don’t forget!”
Anna Scotti’s newest poetry collection, Bewildered by All This Broken Sky, can be ordered from the publisher, Lightscatter Press. Preorders are discounted until the release date of April 30, 2021. To order, go to https://www.lightscatterpress.org/product-page Lightscatter Press will be launching the collection in traditional text and as a multimedia experiences that will “expand the worlds in which the reader can encounter the text.”
To read more about Anna Scotti, go to: www.annakscotti.com