Two Worlds, One Writing Love
A Collaborative Introduction
One perk of writing on Substack is the opportunity to meet other thoughtful communicators from different cultures, backgrounds, and worldviews. The Substack team encourages writers to partner with others working in the same genre to promote community and cross-pollination. This is something I had not quite worked up the courage to doing anytime soon. Although I believe in my work, it’s hard for me to promote it in a cold-call fashion. It takes guts to contact a perfect stranger and say, “Hey! I’m writing in the same category as you! Wanna do a thing together? Be pals? Can you help me out?”
(Whew! Just typing that makes my heart beat with anxiety.)
Thankfully, Shari Lopatin, author of The Apollo Illusion, took the initiative and spared me the awkwardness of sending the first invitation. (Thanks again, Shari!) On Substack, Shari writes Rogue Writer: serialized fiction, personal narratives, poetry, and occasional political commentary.
Now, Shari and I write from very different worldviews and would likely have very different takes on politics, religion, and certain social issues.
But to view someone merely as a one-dimensional personification of an opinion with which you disagree is to lose sight of their humanity.
In these polarized times, it’s refreshing to have honest, gracious communication. In our back-and-forth preparatory emails, Shari impressed me with her courage, candor, and willingness to converse. Not argue. Not demoralize. CONVERSE. We are both women, writers, and citizens of this country. And as we got to know each other, we discovered we actually have several affinities in common — the greatest of these being our mutual love of writing.
So without further ado, enjoy our dual interview!
What states have you lived in?
Shari: Arizona. I was born here, grew up here, and still live here. I’ve lived in various parts of Arizona, but I have never lived in another state!
Katie: I was born in Washington D.C. and have lived in Maryland, Maine, Georgia, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Germany (though I know that last one’s not a state).
What is your cultural background?
Shari: I’m Jewish and liberal. My parents moved to Arizona from New York in the 1970s, so I picked up their accents. People used to ask me if I was from back east, and they were always shocked to learn I was born and raised in Phoenix! Even though I grew up around Mexican food, I never ate a tamale until I was 25 years old. My parents raised me on bagels and cream cheese, tuna salad, blintz, and Broadway musicals.
Katie: I am the first generation (on my father’s side) to be born in the United States. My father was born in Germany to Polish and German parents. My mother’s side is predominantly German and English. Bottom line, I cannot tan – only freckle. I grew up in a conservative, church-going family eating lots of farmer’s rye bread, good cheese, my mom’s lasagna, and the occasional seafood treat like blue crabs or fresh lobster. My mother’s side gave me a love for animals (lots of zoo trips and pets in childhood) and performing in musicals. And though I never poured tea from a teapot until I turned 22 years old, I am a huge fan of tea time, Jane Austen, The Great British Baking Show, and Death in Paradise.
What are your top 3 things you like about living in the United States?
Shari: (1) We crushed the Nazis. I honestly owe all those who fought in World War II (including my grandfather). If the Nazis had succeeded, being that I’m Jewish, I would never have been born today. (2) The United States is the only country where I can be a Jewish woman with a Latino boyfriend, and we can grab Italian food then enjoy live calypso music by a steel drum band without ever leaving the neighborhood. (3) Freedom of the press. The U.S. has the freest press in the world. As a former journalist, I personally witnessed the importance of that freedom in holding consolidated power to account.
Katie: 1) I think our country’s governmental design is pretty genius. Not only does having a three-branch system balance the power between our executive, legislative, and judicial institutions, but I also like how our country governs us both generally as a united nation at the federal level and particularly in a more “boots on the ground” way at the state level. Each state has equal say in the Senate (as each state gets two senators apiece) and a populationally-proportionate say in the House of Reps. I think these guidelines along with the Constitution help protect our freedoms from those who would otherwise grab more power than allotted.
2) If we don’t like something about our government, we can vote to change it! This has not been the case for most people in world history. If a King wanted to kill off a certain group, take all the land, or subjugate a people, he could do it with no questions asked. Our leaders are bound by our nation’s written code. And despite how polarizing politics can be, I’m grateful we have not had to go through bloody regime changes every time we elect a new president.
3) I love to enjoy international flavors from the convenience of my own city. Two hundred years ago, I would have had to sail a ship around the world for about a year to taste such a variety of cuisine. But in 20 minutes, I can easily find authentic tikka masala, sushi, sopes, bratwurst, low country linguine, wood-fired pizza, Mongolian beef, tilapia imperial, she-crab bisque, and classic burgers. I also really like our National Parks. (Just to sneak in a #4).
At what point did you decide you wanted to be a writer and how did you discover your voice/niche/genre?
Shari: I honestly think writing has been therapy for me since I was a kid. I’ve written stories (that I never finished) and poetry for as long as I can remember. I always knew I wanted to do something with writing as a profession, but I was struggling with my advertising major in college—too many numbers—and my mom suggested journalism. After I switched, I started getting straight As. As for my voice/niche/genre, I've been struggling to define that lately, but people tell me I write with a lot of emotion, that I'm real, and that I'm good at writing suspense. I don't really pigeonhole myself into a specific genre, but I tend to lean toward writing contemporary fiction, dystopian fiction, straight-up suspense, or some weird combo of all three. I write serialized fiction, personal narratives, poetry, and occasional sociopolitical commentary on my Rogue Writer newsletter on Substack.
Katie: Everyone told me to take a semester off my junior year of college to adjust to married life. (*Eye-roll.*) I didn’t need much adjusting and soon grew bored when I couldn’t find a job right away. That’s when I started writing seriously, although I’d always loved storytelling as a child and adored my English classes. After getting my Sociology degree, I co-wrote and self-published my love story with my husband. Then came two illustrated children’s books, a book trailer, two murder mystery manuscripts, and my author website.
I was lucky to get a literary agent for the mystery series, but she was unable to find a publisher and challenged me to write something completely new. I had a few friends caring for their elderly mothers with dementia at the time, and the idea of personalizing the aging process plus my agent’s charge led to me writing Ephemeral: a futuristic sci-fi novel where grad student, Clara Milton, visits a planet with accelerated development and realizes she will age 40 years in 40 days, far exceeding Earth’s global age limit by the end of her summer internship. You can read it serially for free on my Cup & Quill Substack page.
How do you desire to affect your reader? What should one of the main takeaways from your writing be?
Shari: I like making people think. After reading one of my stories, I hope people may empathize more with others, develop a deeper understanding of life (whether in general, or their own life), or challenge their existing worldview. I'm fascinated by the human condition and social issues that affect our ability to live. I therefore love writing about ordinary people who are thrown into extraordinary circumstances, sometimes in the context of a changing or changed society.
Katie: I am a storyteller, be it through narrative nonfiction or straight-up fiction. I want to intrigue, entertain, and encourage my readers through well-woven plots and engaging characters. While I do sometimes tackle sensitive subjects such as murder, suicide, or euthanasia, I don’t consider myself to be a particularly dark writer. I value humor in the forms of wit, whimsy, and wordplay. And ultimately, I want to help create order out of chaos and affirm life’s significance.
What writing advice would you give an aspiring author/journalist?
Shari: Get clips, even if you have to freelance for free! After graduating with my B.S. in Journalism, I freelanced either for free, or for cheap, for five months. However, that portfolio of published clips landed me my first full-time staff reporter position on a daily newspaper. Hiring editors want to see what you’ve done.
Katie: I agree with Shari. The best advice for a writer is to write – and keep writing and rewriting what you’ve already rewritten. For the novelist, I would encourage one to write at least a paragraph a day to keep plotlines fresh. I would also challenge someone to try to write a summary of their entire story (including the major plot and *POV character development arcs) in five double-spaced pages BEFORE setting about the book as a whole. Then summarize that summary in one double-spaced page. This will help you identify the most important parts of your book from the get-go and save you months in editing. And do what you can to publish smaller works along the way to help build your credibility when seeking publication.
*POV = Point of View. Basically, the protagonist or character the reader follows most closely.
What are your top 3 non-writing joys?
Shari: In no particular order: (1) Working in my yard. Not straight-up gardening vegetables and stuff, but planting new bushes and trees, and caring for them. It’s so therapeutic! (2) Hanging out with my boyfriend, friends, or family (this includes my two kitties!). Like literally, just chilling and talking, or Netflix-binging with some good food (or playing catch-the-mouse). (3) It’s a tie between going for massages and traveling (whether local road trips or across-the-world plane rides). Ever since COVID, traveling has felt way more stressful though, so massages may take the lead—for now.
Katie: 1) Taking tea with people I love. Seriously, having a regular tea time (complete with tea pot, tea cups, creamer, and the occasional homemade scone) has impacted my own self-care and deepened my relationships in ways I could not substitute. Even the time it takes waiting for the kettle to sing helps slow my soul a bit and makes it easier for me to connect with others.
2) Hiking (without a backpack) on TN trails near my home.
3) Okay, I’m not trying to cheat. But it’s honestly a four-way tie between eating out, singing, dancing jazz, and enjoying my animals. (I have two fluffy Ragdoll cats and about 30 chickens – some of which will hopefully lay blue, green, chocolate brown, and freckled eggs when they’re mature.)
Shari: OMG how could I forget about hiking?! Thank you for reminding me, Katie. :) Yes, hiking is my “cheating” number four, as is dancing around my house!
Interested in more of Shari’s writing? Check out her substack page!
If you’d like to see more of my musings, join the Cup & Quill community!