INTERVIEW: TIFFANY LEE BROWN
You wear many proverbial hats as a creative: you're a writer, an editor, a performer, a producer, a publicist. What compels you to play such a wide variety of roles?
Can't help it! In Girl Scouts, I got a badge called "The Dabbler." (This was before they kicked me out of my troop.) I am not, incidentally, a publicist; I am forced to send out PR stuff about projects I love and work on for free, namely Plazm magazine and New Oregon Arts & Letters, because we can't afford to hire PR flacks.
I envy people who can go deeply and permanently into one kind of practice, partly because the culture is more accepting of it, and it's easier to explain what you do. I just love doing a bunch of different stuff. I consider all of it, mooshed together, to be My Art Practice. The writing informs the music informs the performance. Editing, curating, and producing feel like the same thing to me--I'm finding stuff I like, honing it with the artists and writers who made it, contextualizing it, and trying to put the right stuff all in one place. It's not important to me whether that manifests as a magazine, website, social practice piece, or a big multimedia event.
Can you talk about your involvement with Plazm? In particular, why are you drawn to working on an art + design journal moreso than, say, a traditional literary magazine?
Plazm is all kinds of awesomeness, and I've been a fan since it started twenty years ago. I've worked on larger 'zines and independent publications for twenty years, too, and all of them were eclectic and far-reaching in subject matter. Frankly, I feel that most lit journals are narrowly focused. Writers read them. They get a bit self-referential and preach to the choir (or at least recite scripture to the choir, if not preach). Mind you, I like them for what they do, and I'm always honored to be included in them; it's just not a place for me personally to work.
Casting a wide net is important because if your publication or the show you produce includes poets, performance artists, musicians, and visual artists--not to mention assorted quirky weirdos--you're kinda asking different creative subcultures to deal with each other, possibly to open their minds to each other. Does the average graphic designer read a lot of short fiction? Doubt it. If she stumbles across three short stories in Plazm, might she read one of them? I think so.
What's the most important thing a beginning writer needs to know?
Don't bullshit yourself. Don't bullshit your reader. Don't bullshit your editor. Lies can be told not just in facts or by misrepresenting subject matter you know nothing about; they creep into style, word choice, tone, musicality, even structure. They cause the reader to suspect you of posturing, trying too hard, of sending forth a message about how *you* want to be seen as a person and as a writer, rather than you working hard in service of the piece you are writing. That bullshittiness is rife in the work people send me in hopes of getting published. They're imitating something they don't know how to write yet, and it shows.
It ain't easy to find your true voice(s), especially if you write in many forms and genres, for many markets, but in my experience you can approach everything from fiction to interviews to advertising copy with a spirit of honesty. Deciding when something is merely self indulgent, rather than self indulgent for a good, honest reason? Hell, I haven't figured that one out yet. Start with the honesty part. Find out how craft can serve your truth; don't let the workshop machine turn you into another Proper Literary Fiction zombie for the sake of ego or out of desperation to get published. Beware the story you've told yourself about who you are as a writer; it can become your own special lie. It's a story that needs to be rewritten every day.
If I may add a second point: read the goddamned publications you're trying to get published in. Support them by purchasing their wares. Be selective.
TIFFANY LEE BROWN is a writer, performer, and interdisciplinary artist based in Portland, Oregon. Author of A Compendium of Miniatures, she is an editor of Plazm magazine and is the director of New Oregon Arts & Letters.