From a Newtown Literary contributor: Rayna White
Writer Rayna White’s work was featured in issue #14 of Newtown Literary. We interviewed her about her writing and her answers are below. For more, you can follow Rayna on Instagram, Twitter and Medium.
When you think of Queens, what first comes to mind?
Diversity. I feel like everyone says that, but it's true. It's like MLK's dream on steroids. There's so much culture everywhere and it's wonderful. I love when I get into an Uber in Queens and one of us is black, one of us is Latinx, one of us is Middle Eastern, one of us is white and everyone gets along or, you know, dispassionately ignores each other as New Yorkers tend to do. You can't be afraid of other races and ethnicities and live in Queens. You'll be in a world of hurt otherwise.
How does Queens influence your writing?
A lot of my writing takes place in NY. Before I lived in Queens I didn't really think much about including it in my work, but now I always try to find a way to work it into a story. Manhattan and Brooklyn aren't the only interesting settings in NY.
Queens also reminds me that there is an insane amount of story to tell. I can recall walking to the subway one day when I was living in Woodside. I was thinking about a story I was working on where the protagonist and his family were spread between the Upper East and West Sides of Manhattan. As I was walking along the sidewalk looking at some of those three-story apartment buildings with the rusted balconies standing alongside single-family houses, it reminded me to keep things a little quirky. Everything doesn't have to be so shiny and "grandstandy." The little old lady going from driveway to driveway collecting bottles has just as much story as the fancy executive in the penthouse overlooking Central Park. So, Queens always gives me a story to tell.
What is the last piece of writing you read that made you laugh or cry (or just especially moved you)?
It wasn't anything profound. I was recently reading an article in Time magazine that was commenting on an episode of John Oliver's Last Week Tonight. They'd made a reference to one of the jokes that John Oliver told in the latest episode and I couldn't stop laughing. I guess it wasn't technically the author of the article's joke, but it was a joke from a writer on the show so it still counts. Regardless, I love when something I read makes me laugh out loud. It's great because if anyone's around they're always a little confused that writing could bring someone to that level of amusement. But that just goes to show that all of us writers don't take ourselves too seriously. Some of us just want to have a little fun and make people laugh. I'm down with that.
What inspires you?
So many things. I'm inspired when I read a good story or watch an amazing TV show or movie. I'm inspired when I watch or read something unapologetically terrible that has made it to the mainstream. (I won't point to anything specific.) I'm inspired by incredible landscapes and when I go on hikes. I'm inspired by stories of improbable success like Oprah or Tom Brady. I'm inspired by my mother who recently opened a yarn store after two decades of working for Big Pharma. I'm inspired by women like J.Lo and Janet Jackson who refuse to be defined by their ages and continue to "werk and twerk" with the best of them. I feel inspired when people quit their day jobs to pursue their passion. I'm inspired by #vanlife on Instagram. I feel inspired after a hardcore session or prayer or meditation. I'm inspired by other creative people who produce amazing works of art.
What does your writing process/routine look like?
I'm only just beginning to develop a process. Before, I'd have these manic bursts of inspiration where I'd have an idea, throw together something that sort of resembled an outline and then write until I got to the end. Now, my process is more methodical. Just day to day, when I sit down to write I like to start with a five to fifteen minute prompt or exercise just to warm up my writing muscles. Then I'll work on my project for whatever goal I've set for that day—usually, like thirty minutes. When I'm finished I'll read.
In terms of an overall project, I'll start with a proper outline, or a roadmap at least, and work from that. There are always changes along the way, so by the time I complete a first draft it only vaguely resembles the outline. When I finish a draft I set it aside for a few days or weeks depending on the length, and then I'll go back and revise. The revision process usually takes months for me—even for a short story—because I step away from the story a lot. I'll get so sick of my own writing and I can't tell if what I'm reading is any good. So, after I step away and come back I'm able to look at the work more objectively. I just keep doing that until I feel like I can't change it anymore. Of course, my process doesn't look exactly like that at the current moment. Once I started to finally get into the groove of prompt, project, then reading, I had a baby and everything got thrown off. So right now I'm just trying to figure out how to get through the day and slowly working in my old habits. Mostly, I still do those three things, but it's pretty sporadic right now. Like, one day I'll read, one day I'll work on my project, and one day I'll do a prompt. At some point, it will all come back together.
When you’re not writing, what do you like to do?
When I'm not writing I love to be outside. My husband and I love to go hiking. We can't turn away from a trail. It's a sickness. I love to read. I love television and movies. I love to hang out with my friends and family. I like to travel whenever I get the opportunity, but if I can't travel there's no shortage of places to explore in NYC and NYS.
What writing project(s) are you currently working on?
I'm currently working a short story. I feel like it's a little controversial and it terrifies me, so, naturally, I have to see this thing through to the end. I'm also working on a half-hour TV pilot and I'm exploring an idea for my second attempt at a novel.