I am honoured to introduce my friend, Judith van Praag to Warrior Wednesdays. I first “met” Judith through She Writes and then got to know her even better through NaNoWriMo and the online group we both belong to on Facebook called Warrior Chat. In this time of a little over 6 months I have come to like, admire and respect Judith as a person, an artist and a writer. She is a woman that is as wise with her words as she is warm with her friendship. I am proud to have her on Warrior Wednesdays. So make yourself comfortable while Judith and I discuss Scriptwriting, Writing as a form of healing and redemption and viewing the world as an artist. I welcome the multi-talented, multi-lingual Judith van Praag. (I may be enjoying some delicious dutch apple pie while we talk…will try not to scatter any crumbs.)
Judith: Hi Kim, Thank you so much for inviting me! I’ve brought a slice of my Dutch apple pie for you. (How did you know that was my favourite dessert. MMmhhh…Delicious!)
girl with a quill: Tell us a bit about yourself. Who is Judith van Praag?
Judith van Praag aka the Dutchess Abroad is a writing artist from the Netherlands who makes her home in Seattle with Texan husband and Basenji-Terrier mix pooch.
girl with a quill: When did you decide that you wanted to be a Writer?
After reading the Diaries of Anaïs Nin I realized one could write about one’s life and create fiction after life as well.
girl with a quill:How long have you been writing for?
I’ve practiced compulsive automatic handwriting since the late 1970s, and for publication since 1994. In 1995 I attended Centrum’s Port Townsend Writers’ Conference and work-shopped a few short pieces that were based on memories of my childhood. In 1997 I attended the conference again and made contact with a writer who invited me to the critique group she was a member of. Everyone in that group wrote children’s books. I wrote about myself as a child, material that has become part of a memoir with the work title “Painting for Life”.
girl with a quill: You write both screenwriting and fiction. Do you
have a first love of either of these?
Until NaNoWriMo 2010 I had never really written any fiction to talk about. In 1989 I went to Los Angeles to study scenario writing with John Truby. Everything I learned about screenwriting applies to fiction I think. Only a film tells the story in moving pictures and dialogue, while in fiction the imagery is dependent on the narration. You have more room to narrate what goes on in a character’s mind in a novel, unless you use voice-overs.
girl with a quill: Working in these two creative disciplines would
require a different set of skills for each. What tools from
screenwriting have helped you in your fiction writing and
The skills are the same, at least in my mind. I’m strong with dialogue, which is important for a screenplay. What’s narrated in a novel becomes just a scene or action description in a script. You have a whole lot less words available in a script to say what’s going on. You have to keep in mind what the camera will see/ show.
girl with a quill: Congratulations on being a winner both of NaNoWriMo and ScriptFrenzy. What is it about these challenges, do you think, add to your writing skills?
If you’re not working under contract, or if you don’t have an assignment with a deadline you just work slower than when there is a deadline such as the last day of the NaNoWriMo or ScriptFrenzy. I don’t think either adds to my writing skills. It’s my skills that make it possible to produce readable material during that period though.
girl with a quill: You are an artist, writer, producer,publisher. Creativity is obviously something that is very important to you. How and Where do you find your inspiration for all this creativity?
Life in general, nature, psychology, relationships, justice or injustice are the greatest source of inspiration. When I worked in the theater in the Netherlands I was most attracted to multicultural productions to help minorities voice their stories, to say something about their situation in the world. Writing enables me to tell my own story.
girl with a quill: Do you find that each of your creative roles inspire the others? How?
My tagline is that I paint portraits in color and words. The way I see the world is influenced by my artist’s eye.
girl with a quill: Many people in 9-5 jobs have a water-cooler space where they go to talk with their colleagues about work issues. Do you have a “water-cooler” group for your writing life?
I’ve been a member of the FreeLancers Association for Journalists and we communicated on forums. Some blogs, such as Anastasia Ashman’s Expat+Harem are great hubs, but the focus is not on the craft of writing. With eight of the women I met thanks to Anastasia I have regular contact via Linkedin, Twitter or Facebook, we’ve even published as a blog-ring as Hybrid Ambassadors.
Since NaNoWriMo 2010 when you, Kim, invited me to Word Warriors, followed by the invite from Lia Keyes to join the Warrior Chat Group I have found what you call the virtual water cooler. Beside the constant flow of information that is shared, there’s a sense of camaraderie that’s quite amazing.
girl with a quill: You are a prolific blogger with more than just one blog. What do you enjoy about blogging?
Starting in 2004 I covered Arts & Literature for the Seattle based International Examiner. In 2005 I launched my website DutchessAbroad and at the same time Hope Filled Jars a catch-all blog where I posted material I knew I wouldn’t sell to a publication, but that I wished to share anyway, my poster board. The garden blog that I created for retired friends in the Netherlands, was from 2005-2010 my virtual Dutch territory, as well as a way to stay in close contact with those friends.
girl with a quill: These days it is expected for anyone in the creative worlds to build a powerful online platform promoting themselves. What 3 tips would you give to a person who is just starting off to build an online presence?
1 – Figure out what it is you’re passionate about. If it’s writing, which age group, genre, and specialty?
2 – Don’t wait any longer, create a blog/website, right now. Posterous.com is particularly user friendly, WordPress.com can make your blog look like a website, and if you sign up with WordPress.org you can use your own domain name. I’m stuck on Blogger because I’m loyal, plus I don’t look forward to another learning curve, and they’ve really improved since the early days.
3 – Sign up for Social Media accounts such as Facebook, a personal and professional page(s): content on the former is only visible within the FaceBook “structure”, while content on the latter is visible on the Internet at large, which means more exposure for your business or profession). Sign up for Twitter and Linkedin in your own name and/or in the name of your business.
girl with a quill: You also are a dual language writer/artist. Do you find you have to build two separate social platforms because of this?
Since I plan to publish my books in Dutch as well as English, I have recently started a Dutch language blog for myself and signed up for Dutch accounts on Facebook and on Twitter.
girl with a quill: Who or what is the greatest influence on you as a writer? and Why?
In 2003 an agent asked me what I liked to read. Saul Bellow, Henry Miller, Anaïs Nin, Jean Rhys, Henry Roth, Philip Roth, John Updike, Virginia Woolf. He stopped me and said: So you’re writing literary fiction. OMG I thought, do I really? Perhaps my memoir writing would one day magically turn into fiction? Since then I’ve discovered Esther Freud, who bases all of her fictional writing on her family (among whom Sigmund and Lucian) and Linda Grant who does the same. I love these ladies, do they write literary fiction? Possibly. Have they influenced me? They and the others have one way or an other. Why? Because the characters they create are so real I believe I know them. And yes these days I as well am writing fiction from life, even if it’s life imagined.
girl with a quill: If your life story were a novel, what genre would it be and what would be the story-arc up to this point?
Literary Fiction LOL! Over the hill (more laughter).
girl with a quill: Tell us about the place that you write? What do you fill that space with?
My writing den is like an art installation, filled with pictures, texts and maps relating to the book I’m working on, a painting of a cow, journals and a calendar to mark my progress. And very important, my dog’s chair.
girl with a quill: Tell us about your writing process from that magical moment when the story’s idea / character voice
interrupts your thoughts…what happens next?
A lot of the writing takes place in my head, actual sentences and scenes form while I’m doing totally unrelated things. By the time I sit down, all I have to do is type. Or, I sit and stare into the distance and imagine myself in a situation, in the head of a character and I just start rambling, spewing, or barfing as Morris Berman calls the stream of words that hit the page before you get to the good stuff. Sometimes I cry, I often weep while writing as a matter of fact. As a child I would make up stories in the bathroom and I would be in tears, overcome by romantic notions by the time I came out. My mother would remedy that with a bowl of stewed prunes.
girl with a quill: Are you a plotter, a pantster or a little of both?
I’ve written so much without any plotting whatsoever I’m having to organize everything after the fact and that is quite a chore.
girl with a quill: Do you have a beta reader or a writing partner? If yes, What are the benefits of having these people in your life?
My husband reads everything I write and he’s become quite the critic, but I know I would benefit from having readers who don’t know me as well as he does.
girl with a quill: Can you tell us a bit about the books you have written?
My book Creative Acts of Healing: after a baby dies, published in 1999 is a longitudinal account of loss, grief and recovery. It attests to the healing qualities of creativity. Notwithstanding the in your face title, it’s a hopeful book.After the publication of this book I became active in support groups and forums and until 2003, I wrote a column about loss and grief for a Dutch parental magazine.
girl with a quill: Have you turned any of your fiction into scripts?
The script The Counterfeit, which I wrote for ScriptFrenzy is based on my NaNo WIP “Forgiveness”. It’s about the love story between a crime victim and the sister of the perpetrator.
girl with a quill: Why do you write?
I write to bear witness, to bring to the surface what has been hidden, to draw attention to issues that need to be addressed.
girl with a quill: Do you have a common theme or Omni-Premise that threads its way through all your writing? If so, what is it?
Hiding is my theme.
girl with a quill: If you found a golden lamp with a genie and he told you he could either make one of your stories come true or that you could become a character for a short time
in another author’s book, which option would you choose and why?
Since my fiction is based on real life or on reality as I imagine it may have taken place in the past long before my birth, and that particular reality isn’t really something I’d like to re-create In Real Life, I opt for becoming a character for a short time. I’d like to be Lady Chatterley in D.H. Lawrence novel. Because it’s one of the most suggestive roles I can think of.
girl with a quill: What is more important to you: Story or Character? Why?
Character makes story, and by character I don’t just mean living creatures but a land- or cityscape, and the awe inspiring nature.
girl with a quill: Who is your favourite character that you have created and why?
Since I’m new to fiction I have to pick one of the characters from the novel and/or film scenario I’m working on right now. I’d say Jake, the protagonist. He has an easily ignitable temper, is somewhat of a quack and a realer dealer, but also funny, gregarious and takes care of the people he loves, even if at times in inappropriate ways.
girl with a quill: Who is your favourite character in the literary world and why?
Can’t help it, but every time I look at the question Mickey Sabbath comes to mind, the awfully flawed protagonist in Philip Roth’s Sabbath’s Theater. I know, it’s horrible, but he seems SO real and in that his plight touching.
girl with a quill: If you could throw a dinner party and invite 5 famous creative people, who would they be and why?
1 – Robert Wilson, the avant-garde stage director. I’m a great fan of his work and would like to reminisce about a few friends we have in common among whom the godfather of Dutch Design the late Benno Premsela, who hosted many a dinner party. I hope he’ll enjoy mine!
4 – Bette Midler, besides being funny, an awesome performer and having great legs, she’s an avid gardener and has turned N.Y. wastelands into public gardens.
5 – Alice Walker, talk about interfaith, interracial, writing.
girl with a quill: If you could throw a dinner party and invite 5 of your favourite fictional characters, who would they be and why?
1 – Clara Forsythe Allen, Augustus “Gus” McCrae’s old sweetheart in Larry McMurtry’s epic novel Lonesome Dove. Clara lives with her comatose husband Bob and their children on the Platte, near Ogalalla, Nebraska. She’s a great example of the strong American frontier women, pioneers who lived under the toughest circumstances, buried children and stood by their men, while being their own person as well.
2 – Asher Lev, the young Jewish painter in Chaim Potok’s novel My Name is Asher Lev. Asher Lev refuses to let his artistic talent go unexplored and as important even, unrecognized. I appreciate the difficult path he has chosen.
3 – Sarah P. Worth, voice in John Updike’s S. I’ve been in similar situations as Sarah and I think we would have great fun schmoozing together. Also would like to hear what she thinks of Updike taking on the project to tell a woman’s story. If there’s anything she would like to change or add.
4 – Kinsey Millhone, the sleuth in Sue Grafton’s alphabet mystery series. Just love her and want to sit her next to number 5 whom I think she must admire as much as I do. And perhaps she also feels as sorry for him as I, and will amuse him. Not completely sure about the latter, since we’re talking Old World Male and California Wild Card. But you never know and opposites do attract. Just really, really want to make up for all the hardship caused by that big B of wife of his.
girl with a quill: If you could give you yourself one piece of advice at the beginning of your writing career, what would it be?
The advice I would give now to other aspiring writers wouldn’t have helped me back when, because it wasn’t possible to take Creative Writing at the time. If you don’t take that in account I would have told myself: Go to school, don’t do it all on your own, by yourself. I don’t think you need to, or that everybody necessarily will learn to write well in an MFA program, but I do think, that by not going to school, you lose out on the community of peers and faculty. You lose out on being mentored and both at the time and later on receiving recognition just for the fact that you got the degree.
girl with a quill: What is the one piece of writing advice you could give your future self, 10 years from now?
It only gets better.
girl with a quill: What do you want your lasting legacy, as a writer and artist, to be?
She opened Pandora’s Box, granted it took a while, but when she did, she set not just her self free.
girl with a girl: Finally where can we find you and your creative works on the web?
Dutchess Abroad Judith van Praag
Dutch – In haar moerstaal