Wednesday, April 17, 2013

"If It Makes You Cringe, Hit Delete:" Words of Wisdom from Anna Scotti

            A thousand miles from the quiet lake by the Chautauqua Institution, Anna Scotti lives in the blur of sunlight and sound that is Hollywood, California. By day, she is an English teacher; at night, a writer whose contributions to Chautauqua have made the journal what it is today.
            She began her writing career at a young age, when at thirteen her English teacher submitted one of Scotti’s short stories to The New Yorker. Now, she admits to having been “really surprised” that it was rejected, but her early experience with the publishing industry did nothing to diminish her self-confidence.
            “[My English teacher] Miss Jenal’s confidence gave me confidence in myself,” she says.
            Scotti continued to study writing in college, reading and sharing random poems with classmates and friends. Her first published work, however, was prose—and born out of a nightmare. While living and working in San Francisco, a man saw Scotti on the street. He began to stalk her, going so far as to move into her apartment building for the purpose of threatening her. When he was finally arrested, she says, the police found an “apartment full of weapons.” In need of a fresh start, Scotti moved to Los Angeles, but she couldn’t shake the memory of the stalker from her mind. A co-worker suggested that she write the story down. As a way to cope, Scotti parlayed the experience into her first novel, Sweet Dreams, My Darling. She sent it to her uncle, an agent in New York, and published it under the pseudonym Anne Joseph.
            While she enjoyed working on novels and poetry, Scotti’s agent thought that her voice was better suited to magazine writing. He recommended that she pursue a job for a brand-new magazine, Buzz, where she wrote an anonymous column, “Whispers.” There, Scotti talked about restaurants, nightclubs, and celebrity news around LA. She also wrote profiles for magazines like Redbook and Ladies Home Journal.
            “I specialized in rather boring celebrity and style fluff, and also in what’s called ‘real life drama,’” she says. “Crime, disease-of-the-month, adoptions gone wrong…interesting stuff, but also very difficult. I was never able to distance myself from my subjects as real journalists learn to.”
            Scotti stumbled across Chautauqua in an unusual way—she found the copy of the journal at a yard sale, and was immediately hooked. She was “intrigued” by the division of the book into sections, and “worked up the courage” to submit a handful of poems. She ended up being featured in multiple volumes. Writing talent runs in the family, as well; Scotti’s daughter will be featured in our Emerging Voices edition this June.
            Now, Scotti works as a history and English teacher of middle and high school students, people who she says inspire her, “in a very real—and… completely unsaccharine way.”
            “My style as a writing teacher is somewhat infamous, but also effective,” she confesses. “I mostly just stand over the desk and yell, ‘Not good enough!  Make it better!’” And the kids deliver. They walk away from Scotti’s classes with both a desire to learn and the understanding that creative work is never perfect the first time around.
            “It took me a long time,” she says of the writing craft, “to learn something very simple:  if it makes you cringe, hit delete.”
            Because she wanted to write in a variety of genres, Scotti began her career with a pen name. Now, however, she is using Anna Scotti, for everything from the young adult novel—Big and Bad and How I Got My Life! Back—in the works to her next project, an as-yet unpublished collection of poetry called The Proximity of the Sun. The only exception to the no-pseudonym rule is when Scotti writes “occasional poetry,” a time-honored tradition where a writer puts together a poem for a special occasion like a birth or a wedding.
            “Writing an occasional poem is like solving a puzzle, and it’s good exercise,” says Scotti. “It takes the poet outside of herself and outside of that favorite pastime of all poets, contemplating our own navels.”

1 comment:

  1. What a wonderful literary journal- for those who haven't read it, you should definitely pick up a copy. To know when to hit delete is something I've been working on, also. Easier said than done!!