been there, done that... use it all
I've been a uniformed schoolgirl, a slouching activist, world traveler, marathoner, smoker and club maven in the days of CBGB, WaWa Hut, Mudd Club, Paradise Garage... I’m a novelist, psychologist, professor, filmmaker, gay when it wasn’t cool. Awed by the Renaissance, there's little I don’t try. I hang out in universities as a professor and a student. I travel to learn what I can from whatever and whoever is there. Africa, Europe, and especially Rome, Florence, Amsterdam are my latest targets for chasing more of everything.
I’m from Detroit – the best place because it taught me, and it has a gritty glory no matter what. But I’m a New Yorker, from back when SoHo artists lived in cavernous lofts with mice or worse, and you knew everyone at openings. It was a time of seaplanes to Fire Island when we pretended coke wasn't addictive and AIDS hadn’t changed everything yet.
So I’ve been there, done that, and I use it all. If you’re a writer you have to..
Everything in me is in the writing. That’s why I’m a devotee of do or die – and have the scars to prove it. I chase life-altering experiences. Or, they find me.
A car ran a red light and sent me flying off my bicycle on Christopher Street. I was lucky. That first accident forced me to write.
I was a student at CUNY’s Graduate Center in the rarefied embrace of its Environmental Psychology Program. But I had no money so when I met an agent who said, if you write romances I can sell them; it was an offer I couldn’t refuse.
Historical romances? Why not? To me they were like the operas I learned as a kid. Pure melodrama. Or is that just another word for nothing left to lose?
Living full made me, makes any writer, uncover our personality facets. Characters. Plots. We store them up then spew them out, transformed by that unique black box in our heads.
I used everything and wrote ten successful romances, under pseudonyms, to pay my way through graduate school. Then I walked away. I practiced psychology, but couldn’t let go of writing. So I dropped everything and followed the dream to UCLA’s School of Theater Film and Television.
I turned some of my novels into screenplays. I won awards, placed in every competition and still have my scripts optioned.
With all this being, doing and some silliness, I’ve piled up stories. I’ve come back to writing as a user, using it all.
From murders to romances, from French Connection drug smuggling to science fiction, it’s all me. As any writer will admit, we have to use all the facets of ourselves we hide inside. They come out no matter how hard we deny them. It’s this mash-up of experience and creating that I use in every book and that I teach in every class, whether it’s psychology or writing.
I look for more to learn, re-tool, try again. It’s fun. In the language of the Renaissance, it’s coraggio.
So to fellow heretics and artists:
be, do, use... everything
ROBERTA DEGNORE 2012©
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