Interview with Diana Friedman, Q4 Creative Nonfiction Contest Runner Up

Sunday, December 12, 2021
Diana Friedman is an award-winning writer whose fiction, articles and essays have appeared in numerous publications including New Letters, The Huffington Post, Newsweek, The Baltimore Sun, Bethesda Magazine and Whole Earth Review. She is the recipient of the Alexander Patterson Cappon Fiction Prize and a Pushcart Prize nomination, and her work has been selected as a finalist at multiple magazines and presses. She has received funding from the Arts and Humanities Council of Montgomery County, the Maryland State Arts Council, and was a National Park Artist-in-Residence at Catoctin Mountain Park. Diana is also a writing teacher: she has taught creative writing at Writopia Lab, professional writing at the University of Maryland, and facilitated small group workshops. She currently co-facilitates a long-term writing group at the New Directions Program at the Washington/Baltimore Center for Psychoanalysis as well as an online collective of artists and writers. Diana considers herself a midwife for emerging writers, offering support and guidance for those new to the artistic process to claim their voice. She is delighted to be joining forces with the dynamic Georgina Howard, founder of Pyrenean Experience, to offer Creative Writing Workshops in the uniquely inspirational setting of Iaulin Borda in the Basque Pyrenees of Navarra, Spain.

interview by Marcia Peterson

WOW: Congratulations on your top ten win in our Q4 2021 Creative Nonfiction essay competition! What prompted you to enter the contest?

Diana: I found WOW on a list of publications recommended for short pieces. I was immediately drawn to WOW because I could see by the diversity of essays that you publish that your primary metric for judging is truly “quality of writing.” Many literary journals state that they are looking for something “fresh” and “new,” or that “wows” them, but with many of these publications you have to figure out how to match their specific aesthetic, which I find difficult, and to be honest, a bit tedious. For this piece, I wanted to tell a story in my own voice, and WOW seemed to be a place that accepts a wide variety of styles and voices, so I’m delighted you took it!

WOW: I loved your entry, “My Summer of Love,” and I felt like I was there watching and listening to everyone as you did. What inspired you to write this particular piece?

Diana: It originally started as a brief anecdote about my father dumping the butter-bowl on my mother’s head—a story which, by the way, remains legendary in my family!

After finishing the first draft I realized that some “child” part of me still felt anger and resentment at my parents for divorcing and disrupting what had felt like a happy childhood, given all of the freedom we had and the love we felt during the time the story takes place. As I rewrote, I realized the piece was not just about the anger but about that love. And also about how a child of nine or ten can’t fully interpret what’s going on when adults are not quite behaving like adults. So, the first challenge was to try to convey how I, as that child, struggled to make sense of that moment.

Now, when I look back on what was going on at that table, I could write a very different story, for example, my parent’s inability to work out their problems in a mature way, which, as I just mentioned, is where the piece started. But as I rewrote the story, I really wanted to make it about both; how love can be messy, but also magical, especially in those moments when everyone feels so united. How as an adult, you can look back at the family disfunction and still hold two conflicting ideas at once. I mean it sincerely when I say that those crazy times were some of the happiest of my childhood because there was so much love everywhere.

I think I was also motivated to revisit that era because of all the recent political events—the polarization of the country, the hatred spewed on social media, the way the pandemic has divided us into those of us who feel we care about the safety of the group versus those screaming about their individual rights to not wear a mask even if it means harming others. All of that has left me nostalgic for my experience of the early 70s when there didn’t seem to be so much venom. I miss the feelings of permissiveness and freedom. In my family that permissiveness filtered down to my brothers and me, and I am grateful to my parents for the freedom they gave us to explore.

WOW:  You co-facilitate creative writing workshops in Spain, which sounds fabulous. What would you say are the main benefits of attending a writing retreat?

Diana: The first time I attended a writer’s retreat, I was amazed by the volume of work I accomplished. In just seven days I stripped down to the bone a draft of a novel and restructured 200 pages; at my second retreat I rewrote five chapters in under a week.

But retreats are not just about the sheer volume of what you produce; the growth you experience as an artist when given the opportunity to focus uninterrupted on a creative project free of family, work and general responsibilities is unparalleled. At a writer’s retreat, with no phone, children, bills, leaky faucets, etc., I experience what I call the “unweighting,” which comes from the lifting of the 24/7 responsibilities. For me, this unweighting provides access to an internal silence, and it’s into that silence that my ideas for plot and theme and conversations with characters all pour unbidden. Having access to that deep well where ALL of my thoughts are on my work and my work only, allows me to create at a level far more profound than anything I can accomplish at home.

Iaulin borda, the farmhouse where we have the Pyrenean Creative Writing Retreat, is without question my favorite place in the world to write. I am not exaggerating when I say it is unparalleled in terms of inspiration and beauty. The bedrooms look out over a lovely garden at the base of the hill; beyond that is a majestic view of the ‘hobbit-like’ farmlands of the Basque Pyrenees. Every morning, you open your curtain to a new landscape sculpted by the shape of the fog, the temperature and the position of the sun. Throughout the house, there are nooks and crannies to focus on your work. And when you need a break, you can soak in the views from the terrace or the dining room, or, simply head out on one of dozens of walks that takes you around the mountains or down to the villages with medieval church spires and terraced fields.

I’m very excited to be co-leading this retreat. It’s designed for writers of all levels of experience. We have optional sessions in the mornings to discuss building blocks of story for newer writers, along with writing prompts to help get creative juices flowing. The rest of the day is free for writers to work as they choose, until the evening when we gather around the dinner table where we work together to help each other power through setbacks, discuss writing blocks, and equally important, celebrate triumphs.

Oh, and the food—local Basque and Spanish cuisine—is fantastic. Plus, the wine is unlimited. What’s not to love about any of that?

WOW:  It sounds wonderful! Can you tell us what projects are you currently working on? What can we plan on seeing from you in the future?

Diana: My main project right now is a novel set in Spain. After months of research, I’m on the verge of finishing a first draft and it feels like a house under renovation; screws and faucets and wood planks and drywall scattered everywhere. How on earth will I get all the pieces into place? Next year—2022—I’ll be focused on taming the story into a piece of work that readers will want to read.

I also have a number of essays in the pipeline that focus on contemporary issues such as the environment, my family, a long-ago sexual assault, and getting caught in Spain with my son in 2020 during the first wave of the pandemic.

WOW:  Best of luck with the novel and your essays! Thanks so much for chatting with us today, Diana. Before you go, can you share a favorite writing tip or piece of advice?

Diana: Don’t get complacent. In order to keep growing as a writer, work on the aspects of writing that are hardest for you. For me, that’s revision, because I know that when a piece is ready to send out, rejection will always be around the corner. For this reason, I tend to let many pieces that are almost done gather dust on my computer rather than deal with the fear of rejection. It’s very easy to be self-destructive as a writer, and this is definitely my weak spot.

To counter this, my goal for 2022 is to submit enough short pieces to enough outlets that I can receive 100 rejections! While I certainly hope I receive some acceptances in there, setting 100 rejections as a goal will push me to get my work out into the world faster than I usually do, and, I hope, push me to get past what’s hardest for me.


For more information about our quarterly Flash Fiction and Creative Nonfiction Essay contests, visit our contest page here.


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