A Writer’s Habits: Kristina Chiappetta

What type of writing do you do?
I mostly write fiction about real people in more or less real situations, but I also blog on the side.  I’m not sure if that counts as nonfiction.  I kept a tumblr back when I went abroad, and I started a little something on WordPress when I returned.  I’ve never had a real focus; it’s just been a fun way to keep myself busy and writing all the time (plus, I keep at it ’cause my mom likes it).  I’ve also blogged for a couple of companies on summer internships.  I wrote about food and food events in NYC for one site, and I wrote about super 8 film and wedding trends for another.

Where is your favorite place to write?
In a notebook.  I don’t really care where I write–in my bed, at the library, in the kitchen, on a train, on a plane–as long as I have a notebook.  It slows me down, and I think it ultimately just makes for more thoughtful writing.  My ideal place to write would be on a nice, long train ride, but I never find myself on a train.  Probably because the US has a pretty horrible train system.

What’s the first thing you wrote that you can remember?
The first thing I wrote I remember quite clearly.  I had just discovered Microsoft Word, the font Impact, bolding, italicizing, and underlining.  I wrote a story that featured several chapters about a little Japanese girl, “Takashi” if memory serves, who secures a beautiful doll from the local shop, only to have her brother throw it into the lake.  She dives in after it and nearly drowns.  She is saved and rushed to the hospital, where she recovers.  But her doll remains at the bottom of the lake.  It might sound a bit morbid, but it was written in Impact, bolded, italicized, and underlined, which has to count for something.

How early did you begin writing?
Probably only a little bit before I wrote the story about Takashi.

What’s your favorite thing that you have written?
The story about Takashi.  Or “Cherry Wood,” a story about a young family that moves into the ‘burbs.  A prized piece of furniture goes missing.  The creepy old lady from across the street only gets creepier.  And so on.

Where did you find your subjects?
Real life, mostly.  I think when I was in middle school I heard the old rule “Write what you know.”  It really stuck.  I feel like a phony writing about anything I haven’t experienced/witnessed first-hand or heard directly from someone I know.  Which is why I never write anything very fantastical, or anything that takes place in Texas.  My characters — the interesting ones, anyway — are always based on people I’ve known or encountered on the bus or something (riding the bus is really good for coming up with characters).

What’s the best thing you’ve read recently?
I’m currently reading Elia Kazan’s 800-page autobiography.  It’s pretty incredible, partly because his life was fascinating and scandalous, and partly because it turns out he’s a sharp writer.  You could pick a completely random sentence anywhere in the book and not look up from the text for at least half an hour.

What writers have influenced you?
All the ones I’ve read in Paula Sharp’s classes!  Steinbeck, Hemingway, Bausch.  Writers who write cleanly.

When you start writing, do you start with a complete story in mind or do you pursue an idea and see where it takes you?
I usually start with a character, and I try to think of what situation I could put the character in to create the most tension.  I wrote a really short story last semester called “Fine Dining.”  It was about a clueless high school senior from rural Arizona who takes a solo graduation trip out to New York City and goes to a fine restaurant for dinner.  Intense awkwardness ensues.  For longer stories, I like to map out the story before I begin writing–major plot points, where characters will enter and exit, etc.

How do you know when you’ve reached the end of a piece?
When I read through a draft and have nothing more to add or change.

How much do you consider the reader when you write?
A lot.  I actively want my writing to be accessible to lots of folks, whether they be Wesleyan students and professors or not.  My mom has a copy of “Cherry Wood” at the hair salon she owns in New Jersey, and when I stop by random clients will say, “I loved your story!”  I appreciate that middle-aged suburbanites enjoy my story and even request sequels.  Also, I myself happen to be a reader, and I do consider whether I would want to read what I’m writing if it were written by someone else.

What has your favorite writing class at Wes been?
My favorite writing classes were COL 201 “Creative Writing” and COL 216 “Writing Long Fiction,” both taught by Paula Sharp.  Professor Sharp has an uncanny ability to explain clearly what makes good writing work, and what makes bad writing not work.

Do you hope to pursue writing in the future? How?
I’m moving to the Bay Area after graduation, and I’ve already created a blog to record all of my dining escapades.  Aside from that, I think I might move toward writing more serious, longer form nonfiction about whatever strikes my fancy out there.  I’ve never been to the Bay Area, and I don’t know a soul out there, so I’m assuming I can put some of my feelings of alienation and general foreignness to good use in stories.

Kristina Chiappetta is a senior Film Studies major also pursuing the Writing Certificate. A Writer’s Habits is a series of interviews with student writers on campus.

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