I am so pleased to have the opportunity to interview Mindy Pollack-Fusi today. As a writing teacher, I found The Ice Cream Stand inspirational and profoundly moving. The collection gives voice to the gifted authors and talented emerging writers from The Place for Words and Workshops. I was touched by the humor and warmth in stories like “The Color of Love,” by collection editor Mindy Pollack-Fusi, and the compassion and gut-wrenching reality in pieces like Bruce Nickerson’s story “The Soup Kitchen.” Together, these stories pulse with the gorgeous, sometimes raw beat of humanity that connects us to each other – and to the better part of ourselves.
Interview: Mindy Pollack-Fusi
Would you please tell us about yourself?
I have always been a writer of one sort or another, starting with the first stories I drafted at age eight and then short stories I wrote in high school. Although I made my career for a long time in the public relations field, doing writing of all kinds and creating print publications, I always wrote essays for fun on my own time. I started publishing my essays in my 20s and 30s (Boston Globe/Chicken Soup for the Soul) and then when I turned 40, I started easing out of public relations and into journalism, mostly for The Boston Globe, where I’ve had some fabulous assignments interviewing local celebs etc. At the same time, I began taking creative writing classes and wrote children’s stories, a novel and a memoir.
What is The Place for Words and Workshops? How and why did you develop the program?
As my family grew up and I saw an empty nest pending, I knew I wanted to work more outside of just my quiet home office but wasn’t sure I could return to the workforce after many years away. One thing led to the next, and I started teaching writing for Bedford Center for the Arts, an active arts organization in my town, and I learned that I had a knack for teaching-something I never knew I could do! When a fabulous space opened in an office building in my town, my business concept took off: a place entirely for writing of all kinds. I now coach high school students on their college application essays, teach intro to creative writing classes to groups, work one-on-one with adult students on their writing goals, and bring in guest poets and writers to teach one-day workshops. And of course, the recent highlight is our book of stories and poems!
How did you select the participating writers and/or decide which stories to publish? Did you have to reject stories? If so, was that hard? How did you – and also your students – handle the rejection?
I invited every adult creative writing student who ever took one class with me to submit up to a few pieces, and I invited my longer-term students to submit even more than a few. The result was submissions by 19 students (plus myself and my poetry teacher). I worked with a small committee to decide which stories to eliminate, asking the committee for help only when I was uncertain I wanted to include a piece. If we really wanted a story but it needed a bit of editing, I asked the student if editing was okay, and nearly all were thrilled. I did have to let some stories go with a bit less editing than I would have liked, but overall everyone was cooperative and gracious and thrilled to have their work in a book!
How did you conceive The Ice Cream Stand? Why? What was your goal?
One day very close to the deadline, I noticed that the Bedford Cultural Council was seeking to award grant money to deserving arts projects. I knew my students’ work deserved to be shared outside of The Place for Words, so I quickly pulled together the concept of a book of stories and got the grant!
What do you hope readers take from the collection?
The same thing that I teach: that writing doesn’t have to be one certain way; writing that is from a relaxed place in the soul emerges after learning a toolbox of techniques that turn everyday stories into jewels. I want readers to see that even basic stories with my writers who only took a few classes are still worth sharing in a book like this because they are about life issues we can all relate to. I suspect that folks reading our book are writers themselves, or people who wish they could write (they can!) and like to admire those who took the plunge!
When were the stories written? Were they generated in one semester or over several?
The minimum number of classes the writers in the early part of the book participated in were four sessions. But most of the writers took classes with me for 2-4 years.
I love the way you’ve organized the collection – around prompts. At the same time, the stories show a real progression in the mastery of craft. How did you come to decide on this structure?
I didn’t want the book to be about one individual writer showcasing all of his or her pieces in a row, so the concept of keeping like stories together emerged. As the book continues, however, we didn’t always recall the prompts from stories written by more advanced writers, so we created themes for section headings.
Would you be willing to share info about the editing process? How many times were the stories revised? How did you go about editing?
I didn’t really edit enough, to be honest. I tried to keep editing to a minimum in most cases. In a few cases, I made a fair bit of edits, but mostly to be sure the stories flowed properly-proper paragraphing, proper use of quotes and attributions in dialogue. In class, we only share orally; the translation into the written work helped me realize-ouch!-some folks need help with basic writing style. That was really the toughest part of my job: line editing took more hours than I’d like to remember! My husband felt he’d lost his wife to this book for many, many months! (‘Goodnight dear, I’m working late again tonight’ was typical!)
How did you develop the writing prompts? Are some more helpful than others? If so, why?
I wish I had a rhyme or reason for my prompts, but I don’t. Other than the basic common prompts I use early on (experiences in a car or eating ice cream or talking about holidays), I might just come up with a prompt on my drive to the office before a class! Honest-that’s how spontaneous my prompt process is. One favorite was driving past the four-way stop sign near my house and providing that as a prompt. Rhona Barlevy’s ‘Stop Sign, Stop Sign’ evolved from that prompt and is absolutely fabulous!
What challenges did you face in the editing and publishing processes? How did you overcome them?
My biggest challenge was how to work with createspace.com, which published the book. I do not have a great grasp for technical details, so I made many calls to their support folks in a panic! Also, one of my students, Lea Ann Knight, had already self-published her book, The Fitch Tavern Tales, so a few breakfasts with her-at her home in the Fitch Tavern!– addressed lots of my concerns about how to get ISBN numbers etc. Looking back, it wasn’t difficult, but I tend to stress over what I don’t understand! Learning curves need patience-or friends to guide you through them.
Would you share your best advice for emerging writers?
Just go with your gut and read and learn and relax. Be yourself, find a supportive writing group, and get started. Being a perfectionist and waiting to write when the timing and craft is perfect will produce only dreams, not copy.
Were the students open to edits? As a teacher, I sometimes find less experienced students resistant to changes. When they see the progression, they’re thrilled, but it sometimes takes time to get there. How did you motivate students to revise?
In class, I always review what works well in a story and then get to what I find ‘off’ in one way or another, but then I ask the group to respond, too, because sometimes it is simply opinion. We don’t all read or like the same books, do we?, so I feel it’s the same with writing: there is a story for everyone. Occasionally I get a defensive student, but part of my job as the teacher is to know when to teach and when to coast, so as not to shut down someone’s creativity and dreams. With time, they get the ‘ah-ha’ moment and see what they can improve.
Could you please tell readers where they can find The Ice Cream Stand? How can fans connect with you?
It is for sale on Amazon as a soft-covered book and ebook. I must say that as a former PR person, I have done a minimalist-and that’s being kind to myself-job of marketing. Mostly we marketed in our town through loads of book talks and visiting a book club. I would be happy to visit more book clubs that wish to read the book, or do more interviews for blogs. Thank you, Terri, for inviting me to do this!
About Mindy Pollack-Fusi
Wrote first novel at age 8 about hiding from my sister who wanted to kill me. LOL. Started writing short stories my friends “commissioned” in high school…a love story with a break up about Debbie and John, who soon broke up…oops. Published first journalism writing at SU School of Communications my sophomore year and never looked back. Published my first essay in The Boston Globe in 1985 and never looked back. Wrote my first novel and memoir in the early new millennium though I still can’t spell that word correctly (and haven’t taken the time to try to sell my books, go figure.) Found my way to teaching writing in 2008, published my students’ writing with this book (The Ice Cream Stand) in 2011 and e book 2013….and now my muse looks out through my eyes more often than visiting my fingers at my keyboard, but I’m working at changing that…
An unforgettable collection of short vignettes, stories, essays, poems/rants by 21 writers from The Place for Words & Workshops. Two are previously published writers; 19 are adult students ages 25-75 of The Place for Words. The collection will make readers laugh and cry as the writers imaginatively portray everyday events based on personal experience, including memories of family holidays, humor, suspense, romance, friendships, relationships of all kinds and much more. As the book unfolds, readers experience the individual voices that emerge in this collective tapestry.